Essay / Misc.

Trinitarian Evangelism: Sending, Filling, Following

John Teter listens

An insight on the role of the Trinity in evangelism, from John Teter’s book Get the Word Out. Teter devotes the final three chapters to showing that “God is not distant in any dimension of our evangelism experience. He goes before us, he is behind us and he is even inside of us. We are offered endless intimacy and resources as we get the Word out –with God, never apart from him. We are not alone.” This is a great encouragement in a general way, but Teter unpacks it using categories from the gospel of John, arranged in trinitarian form: The Father sends witnesses, the Spirit fills them, and the Son follows the witnesses.

The Father sends, that’s abundantly clear from John’s gospel. And the Spirit fills, or as Teter says (quoting Darrell Johnson), “the Spirit of God comes into us to fill us with his passion to see the Father and the Son glorified.”

But the Son follows? You might expect to hear that we follow the Son, and look for a biblical theology of discipleship here. But Teter is not just plugging in whatever’s available, he’s actually trying to put the gospel of John’s theology of witness into operation. And as he listens to the gospel of John, Teter finds an intriguing pattern. Here’s what he finds in the gospel of John; see if you think it’s really there or if he’s hallucinating.

John repeated a theme seven times in the Fourth Gospel: Jesus follows his witnesses. That number is significant. The number seven is the number of God’s completion, his wholeness and his victory. And Jesus followed witnesses seven times. Whenever a witness would go before Jesus, preparing the way by declaring the words of life to a group of people, Jesus would then physically follow that witness to personally visit the people. Seven times he spent time with the people personally, and the spiritual impact was invariably the same; the result of Jesus’ follow-up was genuine faith and the conversion of the hearers, and deepening of the witnesses’ faith. …It was as though Jesus’ traveling and ministry schedule was determined by the ministry of his witnesses.

The seven instances of follow-up are:

1. John the Baptist wtinesses in John 1:19-36; Jesus follows in John 10:40-42
2. Andrew witnesses in John 1:40-41; Jesus follows in John 1:42
3. Philip witnesses in John 1:43-45; Jesus follows in John 1:47-51
4. The Woman at the Well witnesses in John 4:28-30; Jesus follows in John 4:30-32
5. The Blind Man witnesses in John 9:8-34; Jesus follows in John 9:35-38
6. Mary Magdalene witnesses in John 20:18; Jesus follows in John 20:19-23
7. The Ten Disciples witness in John 20:24-25; Jesus follows in John 20:26-29

Seven is a cool number in John (seven signs? seven “I am”s?), but to me it doesn’t matter much if this count is accurate. What matters to me is that Teter’s observation makes sense of some odd moments in the Gospel of John that I’ve wondered about before. Jesus is conspicuously absent a number of times, and returns dramatically after somebody has testified on his behalf. First the witness, then the Word. It makes sense to me that John has artfully narrated his gospel in such a way that the easy way of telling it (“disciples follow Jesus”) catapults the reader into the situation we are all living in as the church (“Word follows witness”).

And as Teter points out, the whole Gospel of John might be counted as the eighth witness, written that you may believe, that the Word might come to you and follow up.

The application to evangelism seems like a direct hit: “As his witnesses got the word out, the Word himself would follow the word. The Son of God performed the follow-up himself!” Thus the sending Father, the filling Spirit, and the following Son surround the work of evangelism as God prepares and accompanies his witnesses.

File this one under, “I always thought the Trinity was a problem, but it turns out it’s the solution.”

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