“In Trinitarian evangelism, then, the God we proclaim is the Father of Jesus who has eternally loved his Son (John 17:24). And this eternal Son is filled with the very life and love of God—the eternal Spirit (John 3:34ff). He joins the children of Adam in his incarnation and, through his cross, reconciles hell-bound sinners to his Father (2 Cor. 5:19–21).”
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
These words, attributed to Albert Einstein, should be tattooed on the inside of every evangelist’s eyelids. Simple is good. But there are simplifications that subtract and subvert. And our modern inclination to mute or sidestep the Trinity is one such “simplification.” It abandons the very gospel it seeks to proclaim.
Historically, the church’s “simple” explanations of the gospel have been explicitly triune (think of the creeds and “rules of faith”). Today, however, we’re bemused if an evangelist “complicates” his message with the Trinity. Perhaps we look back condescendingly at St. Patrick and his unfortunate shamrock analogy. Yet shouldn’t we admire his goal? Patrick’s intention was to introduce Ireland to God. And not just any God—the Christian God, the Trinitarian God. Where are today’s Patricks—concerned to preach Father, Son, and Spirit to the nations?
My plea is for a return to Trinitarian evangelism. Before I unpack what that means, let me clarify what I don’t mean.
What Trinitarian Evangelism Is Not
1. It’s not about particular language.
The word “Trinity” and the conceptual language of Nicaea is, of course, unnecessary in evangelism. Jesus and the apostles got on fine without these words and phrases.
2. It’s not an exposition of the creeds.
We don’t have to walk unbelievers through the Athanasian Creed. Creeds are like a recipe; we’re called to serve up the food of the gospel, not the ingredient list.
3. It’s not a meditation on “threeness.”
Our image of the triune God is not a heavenly group hug or an eastern icon—it’s Jesus (Col. 1:15; 2 Cor. 4:4). Proclaiming the Trinity is not a description of the divine “round dance” or the concept of “threeness” (though occasionally that may have a place). Truly Trinitarian evangelism is earthed in the Son of God and in his gospel activity.
4. It’s not about analogies.
Analogies of the Trinity are rarely helpful, but the one thing worse than the analogies themselves is our perceived need for them. The simplicity and centrality of the gospel story, not analogies, is our window into God’s life.
What Trinitarian Evangelism Is
Trinitarian evangelism—like Trinitarian theology—is all about Jesus. The Trinity is the doctrine you get when you come to know God in the face of Christ.
In Trinitarian evangelism, then, the God we proclaim is the Father of Jesus who has eternally loved his Son (John 17:24). And this eternal Son is filled with the very life and love of God—the eternal Spirit (John 3:34ff). He joins the children of Adam in his incarnation and, through his cross, reconciles hell-bound sinners to his Father (2 Cor. 5:19–21). He rises again to new life, and all who receive him in repentance and faith become children in the same family. We get his Father as our adoptive Father and his Spirit as our indwelling Spirit (John 1:12; Matt. 3:11). This is the good news and it is irreducibly triune.
If we fail to be Trinitarian, the results are disastrous. A sub-Trinitarian gospel will distort the good news in at least four ways.
Four Common Distortions
1. The being of God.
Evangelism must, of course, be God-centered. The question is always which God are we centered on? Our “God-talk” cannot be vague. We must proclaim the God of Jesus—the Father of the Son. And as we center on him, the implications are cosmic. This God is not simply a supreme power; he is a life-giving Father seeking to adopt many children in his firstborn Son (Rom. 8:29). Because this God is love, his gospel unfolds in an utterly unique way.