Column entry, Joining the Trinitarian Dance, by John Hatch

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Column title: Crossed My Mind: Thoughts on Culture and Communication

Column entry: From Eastertide to Pentecost: God’s “Yes!” Breaking Forth

By John Hatch, Ph.D.
Eastern University (retired)
CCSN Senior Fellow

Column Description: As Christians, we are called to have the mind of Christ. This goes against the grain of our social and cultural conditioning. We seek personal or political advancement; Christ seeks the lost and the least. We grasp for cultural ascendency; Christ descends to the cross of love. This column is dedicated to thinking about culture and communication under the sign of the cross.

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June 26, 2023  

Joining The Trinitarian Dance

Last month, I focused on the implications of Eastertide and Pentecost for our cultural engagement. Since Trinity Sunday was in June this year (on the 4th), I’d like to use this month’s column to reflect on God’s trinitarian nature and its implications for our self-understanding and our relating with others different from us.

If we’re honest, for many of us the Trinity has often seemed little more than a theological curiosity, a molehill-turned-mountain for the mystification of believers and condemnation of heretics by Church leadership. Hardly inspiring! In fact, I’ve heard clergy joke about getting stuck with the task of preaching on Trinity Sunday, as though one could not help but either bore or confuse congregants with the subject. Yet in recent years, I find myself more perplexed by such sentiments than by the Trinity itself; for, as theologian Clark H. Pinnock observes, a robust trinitarian understanding “depicts God as beautiful and supremely lovable . . . not a featureless monad, isolated and motionless, but a dynamic event of loving actions and personal relationality.”[i] And when we consciously enter into God’s dynamic and loving relationality, our approach to relating with others is transformed.

The concept of the Trinity emerges from the gospel revelation of God’s actions in Christ. The Father sends the Son into the world and hails him as “My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased;”[ii] the Spirit confirms Christ’s Sonship at his birth and his baptism;[iii] the Son mirrors the ways of the Father and promises the Spirit before going to the cross.[iv] If the Son’s triumph over sin and death occupies center stage during Eastertide, the Holy Spirit enters the spotlight at Pentecost – and yet, what the Spirit does here is attest to the Son who has risen as Lord and Messiah and credit the Father who has resurrected and exalted him.[v]

The Father raises the Son; the Son promises and then pours out the Spirit;[vi] the Spirit glorifies the risen Son by calling and welcoming all peoples and cultures into his kingdom;[vii] believers worldwide are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[viii] And so the circle continues, unbroken. From this biblical picture of perfectly unified collaboration among divine Persons—what theologians refer to as the “economic Trinity”—emerged the orthodox understanding of God’s nature as “social Trinity”: Persons in the give-and-take of loving communion.

Pinnock captures this understanding in Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit: “According to the gospel the nature of God is a communion of loving Persons, the overflowing shared life that creates and upholds the universe. Early theologians spoke of the divine nature as a dance, a circling round of threefold life, as a coming and going among the Persons and graciously in relation to creation.”[ix]

Of the three, the Spirit is perhaps the hardest to grasp; in fact, Scripture presents God’s Spirit in terms of such un-graspable forces as wind, fire, and a dove. Augustine and other church fathers characterized the Spirit as the personal bond of love between Father and Son.[x] In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis gives a measure of clarity to this mystery: “The union between the Father and the Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person . . . . This third Person is called, in technical language, the Holy Ghost or the ‘spirit’ of God. Do not be worried or surprised if you find it (or Him) rather vaguer or more shadowy in your mind than the other two. I think there is a reason why that must be so. In the Christian life you are not usually looking at Him. He is always acting through you. If you think of the Father as something ‘out there’, in front of you, and of the Son as someone standing at your side, helping you to pray, trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third Person as something inside you, or behind you.”[xi]

As Lewis’s explanation intimates, the life of the Trinity grounds, surrounds, and animates the life of faith. In fact, Pinnock says, “Prayer is joining an already occurring conversation. The Spirit calls us to participate in the relationship of intimacy between Father and Son and to be caught up in the dance already begun.”[xii]

When we think of God as simply one, rather than three-in-one, we tend to objectify the divine and then project onto this mental object our egocentric desires, loves, and dysfunctions. If our God can be captured in a simple mental image, it is too easy to fashion Him in our image. Depending on the image-maker, God becomes a self-absorbed dictator or a doting grandfather; a stalwart capitalist or a doctrinaire socialist; a white supremacist or a colorblind deity; etc.

A robustly trinitarian understanding of God helps throw such image-making off-balance. When we live in tune with the Trinity, it becomes just as important to walk with the humble Jesus as it is to worship the exalted Father. We not only look to Christ for our self-affirmation and salvation, but look at others through the eyes of the Holy Spirit—the very Spirit of Christ—with a view to their affirmation and salvation in God.

What is more, when we realize that humans are made in the image of the Trinity, we can move beyond seeing our personhood through the short-sighted lens of western individualism, with its focus on the self-determining ego. It becomes clear that the Three-In-One God not only created and loves our unique individuality, but made us with and for others—just as each Person of the Trinity is with and for one another. As Pinnock puts it, “God is not an absolute Ego, unchangeable and all-determining. God is not a single self, isolated and solitary. God is a beautiful and alluring relational and dynamic community of love who does not alienate but fulfills us. God’s glory does not lie in self-aggrandizement but in self-giving. God glories not in domination but in loving.”[xiii]

If the personhood of Father, Son, and Spirit—each one—is inseparable from their loving relations with one another, then neither can we fulfill our human personhood apart from loving relations with other human persons. South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously expressed it in this way: “We say, ‘A person is a person through other persons.’ . . . ‘I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.’”[xiv] This African conception of humanity is closer to the truth than Descartes’s famous aphorism, “I think, therefore I am.” From a Trinitarian perspective, we are fulfilled not by measuring ourselves against others (rejecting those who fail to measure up) or pressing them into the mold of our own likeness, but rather by letting the Spirit shape us and our interrelations with others into the Divine likeness over time, bringing forth a beautiful unity-in-diversity. Or, to use metaphors from Scripture, instead of treating human beings like pressed blocks stacked into a Babel-monument to our own egocentric/ethnocentric glory,[xv] we let the Spirit take us and place us as Christ’s “living stones”—each one uniquely and irregularly shaped—building us up into a temple gloriously indwelt by God—the Body of Christ.[xvi]

When we realize that unity-in-diversity describes God’s very nature, we can begin to see why reconciling diverse peoples and cultures to God and one another would be central to Christ’s gospel. As Pinnock puts it, “From the Trinity we learn that the Creator is not static or standoffish but a loving relationality . . . that creation is grounded in God’s love and that grace underlies the gift of life itself.”[xvii] Moreover, “As loving communion, God calls into being a world that has the potential of realizing loving relationality within itself.”[xviii]

Bottom line: we are called to join in the Trinitarian dance, to “live and move and have our being” in the ever-circling flow of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[xix] Franciscan writer Richard Rohr describes what this looks like in practice: “Trust love, trust communion, trust vulnerability, and trust mutuality. Always seek to be in relationship, finding little ways to serve others, to serve people who are sick or poor and cannot pay anything back. Know that our hearts have been given to us so that they may be handed on, just like the Trinity. And we’ll begin to know ourselves inside this mystery called Love.”[xx]

Let’s join the dance!


[i] Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 42.

[ii] John 3:16; Matthew 17:5, NKJV.

[iii] Luke 1:41-43, 2:21-32; Matthew 3:16.

[iv] John 5:19-20; John 14:15-17, 25-26.

[v] See Acts 2.

[vi] Acts 1:4-5, 2:33.

[vii] Regarding the Spirit’s work of ever-widening ethnic/cultural inclusion in the early church, see last month’s column: “From Eastertide to Pentecost: God’s ‘Yes!’ Breaking Forth,” CCSN, May 28, 2023, For key biblical examples, see Acts 1:8; 2:1-11; 8:14-17; 10:19-48; 11:1-26; 13:1-5, 13-15, 42-52; 15:1-28.

[viii] Matthew 18:19b, NIV.

[ix] Pinnock, Flame of Love, 22.

[x] See St. Augustine, The Trinity, trans. Edmund Hill (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1991), 15.17-19.

[xi] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 175-76.

[xii] Pinnock, Flame of Love, 46.

[xiii] Pinnock, Flame of Love, 44.

[xiv] Desmond Mpilo Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 31.

[xv] Genesis 11:3-4.

[xvi] 1 Peter 4:5; Ephesians 2:19-22.

[xvii] Pinnock, Flame of Love, 23.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Acts 17:28.

[xx] Richard Rohr, A Spring within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2016), 261–262. (Quoted in Jo Hardison Lauer’s June 7 post on “Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation Sharing Group,” Facebook,

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