Towards a Trinitarian family culture

Recently my family discussed the Nicene Creed during family devotions. Of necessity, this required a discussion of the Trinity. The Trinity is one of those funky doctrines that people have died to defend, but which few moderns could actually apply to “real life”. Often this doctrine is treated as a shibboleth to test for orthodoxy, but the practical outworkings of this doctrine are not known, let alone discussed.

Of late, though, this has been changing. Theologians like James Jordan, Peter Leithart, and Doug Wilson have begun to apply the practical outworkings of the doctrine of the Trinity to life, especially our corporate life together as believers. Let me explain how this works.

The doctrine of the Trinity states that there is only one God, but He is three distinct Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are not parts of God or roles that God plays or masks that God wears. They are really separate Persons, and they are really one God. As the Athanasian Creed states:

5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.
6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

Or, to quote the title of a friend’s blog, “Me and you and God makes…5“.

The important thing that I want to stress here is the equal ultimacy of the statements “God is one” and “God is three”. These are both equally true. This is how Christianity resolves the classic problem of the “one and the many“. We point at God and say, “Both are true. There’s nothing to resolve.”

The reality, though, is that we tend to undercut the truth that God is three. In practice, we are modalists, believing that God is “really” one, and that this Trinity thing is imposed somehow on God’s “true” essence.

This undermines our understanding of Christian unity. In John 17, Jesus prayed, “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21). Our unity is the same as that of the Trinity. So, seeing how the Trinity is unified should help us understand our own unity in Christ.

And this is exactly what I explained to my children. God is one, and so we can be one, being of one mind, directed at one goal. At the same time, God is diverse, which means that we can be diverse without sacrificing our unity. The Father and the Son are one, yet the Son does His work, which is not the Father’s work. In the same way, I can be united to other believers without sacrificing my individuality. Indeed, my individuality strengthens our unity, because I provide strengths, talents, and perspectives that are unique to me, which can help in supporting the larger Christian community.

In particular, when I discussed this with my children, I talked about my family. I have a wife, five children, and a sister who lives with us. That’s a household of eight people, who are very different from each other. To give an extreme example, my daughter Arianna is very different from me. Take a look at my blog. I entitled it “A Dark and Quiet Room”, for crying out loud! And I write about stuff like this! If Arianna had a blog, she would call it, “Happy Pink Pretty Things!”. It would be pink, with flowers and waterfalls. She would write about happy, pretty things that sparkle in the sunshine. How Arianna came from my genes is beyond me.

However, because we are Trinitarians, we can cheerfully accept our differences. I can say to Arianna, “We are very different people but that doesn’t matter.” We can love and serve Jesus together, helping each other without my having to like pink and without her having to dress in black.

Which brings me to my real concern.

There’s a lot of concern about “family culture” in the circles I move in. People around me see the erosion of the family and are zealous to shore it up. And right so, I might add. The truth is that our individualism has shattered us, leaving us without family or heritage. I remember reading about a man who, upon getting married, combined his last name with his wife’s to create a new family name for their family. I thought, “What about your children? Where will they have their roots? You’re cutting your descendants off from their past.”

At the same time, in our zeal to recover the “Biblical family”, we have this nasty tendency to veer into other kinds of problems. If modern day individualism is too focused on the “many”, I wonder if conservative Christian family supporters are too focused on the “one”. I have this nagging suspicion that, in the pursuit of “family culture”, we have forgotten to allow our children to flourish as individuals. Instead, we want to require them to fit into the mold of our family culture, requiring that they accept our cultural ideals and preferences instead of being allowed to develop their own delights and preferences within the context of wise counsel and guidance.

Another Arianna example. As I intimated earlier, Arianna is the black sheep in our family. She likes pink and things that sparkle and flowers and bunnies and cute things. This is reflected in her musical taste. Arianna has fallen in love with classical music and acoustic guitar music, which means that she tends to look down her nose at things like David Crowder Band or Evanescence. Go figger. Now, should I be requiring her to settle into my cultural preferences, by forbidding her to listen to classical music? By no means. Instead, I try to encourage Arianna in these pursuits. There’s no room for being unkind to those in the family that actually like Evanescence (like her father, for instance), but at the same time, there’s no need for her to like the same things that I like, just to fit into my family’s “culture”.

Indeed, Arianna’s delights and preferences are part of our family’s culture.

Let me restate that, to be clear.

The family culture is the culture of the family, not the father. I’m not denying the role of the father in all this. He is responsible to raise his children in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) Among other things, that means providing guidance to his children as they explore their world, directing them, encouraging them, pushing them as necessary, correcting them as required. However, the familial culture is the sum of all the members of the family, not merely the father. And, as such, this culture will evolve over time into something bigger and stranger and more wonderful than any one person could produce.

The Ephesians passage that I quoted earlier starts with this instruction. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.” I have heard stories of children from good, Christian, conservative, homeschooling families that grow up and eject as quickly as possible, fleeing the faith of their fathers. Or were they? Is it possible that they were simply fleeing their fathers, who were determined to force a uniform mold onto them? Could it be that, in our zeal to preserve our families, we are destroying our children? Are we provoking our children to anger?

In Christ, there is room for our differences. As we are united with and dwell in the Triune God, we have space to be the individual that God has made us to be. But, in doing so, we also become more the corporate union that God has made us to be as well. So, let us teach our children to embrace their individuality. Let us encourage them to pursue odd paths that diverge from our own. Let us rejoice in that which makes our children rejoice, even if it is alien to us. And, in all this, let us teach them that they also must pursue unity, strengthening the Body with these pursuits, and not merely themselves.

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One response to “Towards a Trinitarian family culture

  • Pastor McDonald

    Very insightful post Seth! It certainly helps us as parents to remember God gives each individual talents and capabilities. And you have done a good job in pointing out that the father is not the sum and total of the family, but is responsible for leadership which entails, by default, direction. For instance, Abraham was chosen because God knew he would raise Isaac in the faith (Genesis 18:19). So, although the family is a blend of all, each member are of the family represented, and each member is to be known by the name Christian.

    Again, great thoughts!

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