What is Christian Literacy?

refers to the ability to use a language - to know what words means, to be able to use grammar, sentence structure, to be able to converse in that language is to be literate.

Religious literacy
means having the ability to understand and speak about our faith intelligently. It’s the ability to communicate the basic tenets of our religion.

I'm very grateful to B.U. Professor Stephen Prothero for his excellent book, "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn't." This book, along with my desire to teach the faith, served as the inspiration for this effort.

Friday, June 8, 2012


Martin Luther once said, "To deny the Trinity endangers your salvation; to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity."

Let's give it a try anyway.

You might be surprised to learn that the word "Trinity" is never used in the New Testament. The concept of the Trinity, however, is certainly found there. The word of course means "Three in one." Tri-Unity. Three in Unity.

In Matthew 28 Jesus says "Go forth into the world and make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

At Jesus' own baptism God the Father spoke words of blessing upon his Son - "This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And God the Holy Spirit came down upon Christ in the form of a dove to empower him for his ministry.

In John 14 Jesus speaks of the Father sending the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Spirit to be with us and in us.
John 14:16 - "I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever."
John 14:25-26 - "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you."  So, God the Son is talking about God the Father sending God the Holy Spirit to be with them forever."

Early Church Theologians looked at these passages and more, and said this:

God the Creator is God.
Christ, the Word made flesh, is God. And,
The Holy Spirit is God - God with us and in us.

So they came up with this concept of one God in three "persons." One God with three expressions.

St. Patrick compared it to the 3 extensions of a clover leaf.

A. If you look at the Creator/God the Father passages you learn many important things about God. We serve a God who is holy, a God of justice, a Covenant Maker, the Creator of all that is, etc. That's one extension of the clover leaf.

B. If you look at the extension of the leaf of Christ, you learn other things about God - the God of grace and forgiveness, the concepts of salvation, eternal life, discipleship and more.

C. And if you look at the extension of the Holy Spirit you learn yet even more - the Gifts of the Spirit, the Indwelling of the Spirit, the Fruits of the Spirit, etc.

It's the one God with 3 expressions, 3 roles, 3 manifestations. Of course it's all  mystery and metaphor. It's the best we can do with our finite minds seeking to understand the Infinite One as revealed in our scriptures.

Theologians talk about the Trinity as God over us, God for us, and God with us.

God the Creator is God over us, God greater than us - the expression of
God as Almighty God, the Majestic Creator of the entire Universe.
Jesus Christ is the expression of God who distinctly reveals to us how much God is for us, and how far God is willing to go to show us this love, even to the Cross.
And God the Holy Spirit is God with us and in us.

God over us.
God for us.
God with us.

I think those simple words get at the heart of the Trinity - who God is
and how God relates to us.

Here's a thought: We need all three. We need a God who is over us, greater than us, mightier than us.  But we also need a God who is decisively for us. Christ came to show us how much we are loved. And we need a God who is with us and in us, God the Holy Spirit. Otherwise God is way up there, and not down here in our midst and in our souls. 

Prayer: Thank You, Precious Lord, for being exactly the God we need. Amen.

Extra Credit - Trinity Illustrations

In addition to the clover leaf here are a few more.

A. I am a father and a son, and my spirit is evident in my children.

B. An apple has skin, the meat of the apple and the core. All comprise the apple. Distinct, yet one.

C. The sun, its rays and light itself. Distinct yet emanating from one.

D.  Ice, liquid and steam. Different expressions of the same thing, H2O.

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