Essay / Theology

"When I accept Christ… I am in Communion with the Entire Trinity" (Schaeffer)

Francis Schaeffer had a powerful doctrine of the Christian encounter with the triune God. I’ve explored it here and here. One of the most remarkable characteristics of his teaching on the subject is how it consistently combined two virtues: simplicity and depth.

Over and over in his teaching on the Trinity, Schaeffer uses the phrase, “When we accept Christ as savior,” and then describes some things that follow it.

That phrase, “accept Christ as savior,” is a comfortable phrase for evangelicals, and also a clear central point to emphasize for unbelievers. If one of Schaeffer’s innumerable conversations took a sudden turn in the direction of immediate personal application, Schaeffer was never far from the direct presentation of the gospel: Accept Christ as savior. If someone asked him in real earnest, “what must I do to be saved,” he would not lead them on a twisting dialectic through the innards and gizzards of sacred and secular thought: he would say “accept Christ as savior.”

That’s the simplicity.

But Schaeffer also brought the depth: Look at the second half of any of his “accept Christ” sentences:

“Now that we have accepted Christ as our Savior, God the Father is our Father…”
“When we accept Christ as our Savior, we are immediately in a new relationship with God the Father. … but, of course, if this is so, we should be experiencing in this life the Father’s fatherliness.”
“When I accepted Christ as my Savior, when my guilt was gone, I returned to the place for which I was originally made. Man has a purpose.”
“when I accept Christ as my Savior, my guilt is gone, I am indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and I am in communication with the Father and the Son, as well as of the Holy Spirit –the entire Trinity.”

The simplicity (“accept Christ”) leads into the depth (“I am in communication with the Father and the Son, as well as of the Holy Spirit –the entire Trinity.”) This depth is the spiritual reality that Schaeffer heard young people lamenting the absence of; it is the depth he was missing in 1951 when he called everything to a halt and re-evaluated his status as a believer. “It is a moment-by-moment, increasing, experiential relationship to Christ and to the whole Trinity. We are to be in a relationship with the whole Trinity. The doors are open now: the intellectual doors, and also the doors to reality.” (from the chapter “The Supernatural Universe,” in True Spirituality, Works III:264)

Remember that at that time he asked God “But then where is the spiritual reality, Lord, among most of that which calls itself orthodoxy?’ And Schaeffer didn’t get a thunderbolt from the sky, or a special revelation, or a second work of grace, or a Pentecostal baptism in the Spirit, or a new revelation that nobody else had ever heard. No, recall his words: “gradually I found something. I found something that I had not been taught, a simple thing but profound. I discovered the meaning of the work of Christ, the meaning of the blood of Christ, moment by moment in our lives after we are Christians –the moment-by-moment work of the whole Trinity in our lives because as Christians we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. That is true spirituality.” (Works, III:416-417).

That’s Schaeffer’s trinitarianism: Always poised between the simplicity and the depth, able to draw from each as he or his audience required, he presented the deeper experience of the Trinity as an invitation to come and live out what all Christians implicitly believe: “It is … possible to be a Christian and yet not take advantage of what our vital relationship with the three persons of the Trinity should mean in living a Christian life. We must first intellectually realize the fact of our vital relationship with the triune God and then in faith begin to act upon that realization.”

Though we cannot develop it at length, 2 Corinthians 13:14, which we usually use as a benediction, makes the same point: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God (the Father), and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The “communion,” or the communication, of the Holy Spirit speaks of the Holy Spirit as the agent of the Trinity, wherein Christ could promise in John 14 not only that Christ would not leave us as orphans, but that both He and the Father would come to us. Surely, as we look at the book of Acts, we find in the early church not a group of strong men laboring together, but the work of the Holy Spirit bringing to them the power of the crucified and glorified Christ. It must be so for us also. (True Spirituality, Works III:251)

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