Recovering Our Identity as People of Trinity

Recovering Our Identity as People of Trinity

My friend Dean Blevins presented a paper at Trevecca Nazarene University titled “Global Pedagogy: A Table Conversation.” He discussed three current ways of teaching, conversing with, and shaping the coming generations (the first two are found in Benjamin Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World; the third is Blevins’ response to them).

1. “McWorld” is the attempt to standardize culture through consumption of goods.

Companies portray their products as generic, but they contain cultural and theological assumptions. Marketing these goods persuasively convinces people that the quality of their life is rooted in the consumption of these goods.

Images and slogans reduce persons to passive consumers. The assumption is “one size fits all.” There is only one way to think about life and one product that delivers that life to the willing consumers.

2. “Jihad” is the logical reaction to McWorld. This extreme term accurately describes various, often violent, responses.

The political implications of jihad are horrendous internationally. Jihad forms communities through coercion. The mind is shaped to react to outside influence, rejecting positive contributions, and restricting reflection and critique.

Jihad refuses diversity and adopts a peculiar and often intimidating fundamentalism by insisting on a particular way of viewing the world. Teachers compel students to adopt one vision while trivializing or attacking other approaches.

The church lives in a world being shaped by both ways of forming communities. The American church, rampantly consumerist, has clawed its way to respectability on the cultural stage by its growing ability to outsing, outentertain, outclass, outbuild, outearn the world. We have effectively learned to “outworld” the world.

When our Christian brother wins the Super Bowl, “American Idol,” or a Grammy, we have arrived. We have now tasted the world’s goods at the highest level. Our “stars” become the teachers of our young as they are encouraged to go and do likewise.

But when we cannot get the world to cooperate with our attempt to rule from the consumerist perch, we take a page from the jihadists and attack the enemy with a violence of words and characterizations that destroy. The church is schizophrenic, not knowing whether to compete on the global platform for the prize or huddle in fearful safety as we condemn the infidels to hell for not agreeing with us.

But there is a third possibility—

3. “Table Conversation” is a theological metaphor suggesting that we are a family gathered around a common meal.

Our meal is rooted in the sacrament of Communion, reminding us of the story of Jesus. He came that we might be one as he is one with the Father and Spirit.

We are invited into the love that exists among Trinity and are shaped by the kind of conversation that might occur among Trinity.

This family finds its identity, not in what it consumes or in what it labels enemy, but in the ways of Trinity. We are not clones or dittoheads or robots. We are brothers and sisters related to each other in Christ.

When we eat together at the Lord’s Table, we do this in remembrance of him. We relive the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus through our formation as a Jesus-like community.

When we talk at the table, we are practicing the love that flows within the family of Trinity. When we leave the table, we are being given to the world for God’s purposes, going into it as God has already gone into it—to bless. As we go, we are charged with “seeing God” in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned.

We view the world through the lens of servant, not consumer or coercer. We become the presence of God, the body of Christ, as we are the location of the activity of God.

I am convinced that our best hope of a charitable discourse, of having a holy conversation, is to recover our identity as the people of Trinity. But we have a major issue with our view of ourselves as individuals.

We Must Redefine “Person”

Maybe our definition of “person” is all wrong. Our culture identifies a person as a separate individual with an identifiable body, a recognizable face, and distinguishing characteristics. In other words, we identify ourselves as separate skin-sacks of blood and bones.

But in the Bible, a person is identified not by his or her separateness from others but by a connection to others. Covenants unite people and give them their identity. Personhood is not our radical difference from each other but our radical belonging to each other.

And where did we learn this? By looking into the face of God. God cannot be divided into three pieces that make sense alone. When we say “God,” we mean Father, Son, and Spirit. God is inseparable.

Have you ever seen three children in a circle, holding hands, going round and round in an ecstasy of laughter, love, rhythm, and unity? This is a picture of Trinity. That there are three means that a decision has been made to be inclusive. Movement depends on paying attention to the others. Each follows in step. No one leads. The joy on each face is a reflection of the joy on the other two. Life and energy exist in the center of the circle.

The table simply reminds us that we are graciously invited in the name of Jesus into the fellowship known as Trinity. We step into a stream of holy talk that started before the world was formed. We are latecomers. And lest we think that we have discovered something new, we need to remember that creation itself flows from the center of this circle dance.

If we can change our understanding of “person” from “an individual disconnected from others,” to “one defined by belonging to a common story and people,” we have a good chance of having a charitable discourse on divisive topics. We will become a reflection of Trinity.

Today’s post is an excerpt from A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us.




  1. As I read this excerpt/post, I am reminded of Walter Brueggemann’s “Reality, Grief, Hope,” as well as John Zizioulas’ “Being & Communion.” It is kenotic nature of the perichoresis which is simultaneously loving, prophetic, sacrificial, grieving, and hopeful. It is difficult for me to know what to do with the hierarchies of our ecclesial denominations and institutions where leadership becomes defined by power and authority rather than service and kenosis.

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