Dr. Gary Deddo: an overview of Trinitarian Theology

I recently attended a workshop with theologian, Dr. Gary Deddo (see picture).  He gave an overview of Trinitarian Theology and answered related questions. Following are excerpts from my notes.

Jesus, the center

As we study scripture we come to see that it has a center, which is not a What, a Why, or a How, but a Who, namely Jesus Christ. He is the central figure - person - message -truth of all scripture. If our view of scripture is eccentric (off centered) it “wobbles.” If everything organizes and emanates out of the true center, we get re-centered. True theology, which progresses in and out of this center, is necessarily trinitarian because Jesus is the Son of the Father, who sends the Spirit. Jesus' ministry is to take us to the Father and to send the Spirit. What he does, is who he is. When you deal with Jesus, you deal with the whole Triune God.

Jesus, God's supreme, self-revelation

This Jesus is the self-revelation of God - God revealing himself as himself, through himself (self interpretation). Other revelations of God (like Scripture) are true, but are not God himself. Take, for example, the Law. It is true, but a lesser revelation than Jesus. However, some try to place Jesus within the framework of the Law (Jesus becomes the great Law-keeper). But doing so is backward—Jesus is the center, into which the Law is placed and thus rightly interpreted. Thus, we don't judge by the Law, rather the Law is judged (defined) by Jesus.

Arius defined Jesus by his human experience as a father with a son, and thus concluded (wrongly) that there was a time then the Son of God was not.  He started with his own understanding of creaturely relationship, rather than the inner-relationships of the triune God, where we find a different definition of Father-Son.  Arius' erroneous thinking was out of a center other than Jesus in union with the Father and the Spirit. Such thinking is not theology but mythology (where God is seen out of a projection of our own creaturely experience). We must die to our own pre-understandings, and let God interpret himself, by (through - in) himself.


Even through Arius used a lot of scripture to make his point, he was involved in un-godly thinking (which is idolatry). He reasoned out of himself (his own experience), rather than out of God's self-revelation. To repent is to re-center our thinking so that God’s self-revelation comes to the center of our thinking. In Jesus, God has given us inside knowledge of himself.  And we must let go of all other knowledge that is not conformed to this God-knowledge (this theology). 


Think, for example, of the covenants. Instead of taking a legal approach to understanding the new covenant, we see that Jesus, himself (as he is in his divinity and humanity), is the new covenant. In and throughhim we are united to God, and God to us. Jesus, the one Mediator, is the right relationship of God with man, man with God, and man with man. Jesus fulfills the two great commands of covenantal love in himself. He embodies the covenantal relationship. Jesus is the one true worship leader (Hebrews) - standing in our place, on our behalf. We go to the Father, in him and with him. He is the one true minister.

A Christo-centric hermeneutic

In reading Scripture, we need a Christo-centric hermeneutic rather than a chronological one. Scripture is like a mystery novel - you don’t have it figured out until you get to the end and learn "who done it.” Then when you go back to re-read the full story, you see the clues more fully in light of what is revealed at the end - you now see the parts in terms of the whole (the center). Jesus is that center, who in himself is the interpretive key of all Scripture.

Trinity: one, yet three

Theology is the discipline of interpreting from God all we know about God and ourselves. This God is said to be "one." How?  In nature, one means identical substance (all gold has only one type of molecule). But in God there is another type of oneness that he defines as unity: one in communion—one in fellowship. God is a unity of three persons.  

But what is a person?  God must define out of himself, what a person is, just as he must define what “one” is.  God is a fellowship of three persons in one community - fellowship. God is one of a kind, you can’t compare him directly to anything in creation. We have to start with the self-revelation, not with the creation. We can’t, for example, say God is a family.

So God defines for us what it means to be one being in three persons. The oneness points to the being; the threeness to the persons. In this, our language is stretched to the breaking point and we must allow for mystery. All analogies to describe the nature of God eventually fall short – but perhaps the best ones are found in human relationships (God is a fellowship or communion that constitutes the one being of God). 

But no matter what analogies we use, we have to keep three truths about God simultaneously in mind:
1. His unity (one in being and communion) to counter tritheism
2. His equality (of the persons) to counter subordinationism
3. His difference (eternal distinctions of the persons) to counter modalism


This word was used historically to speak of God's mutual indwelling - coinherence - in-existence. The whole God is present in each person. “Making space for one another in themselves”—the idea is one of divine hospitality. It involves "in-existing" one another. The Father is the unbegotten;  the Son is the begotten;  the Spirit proceeds.

Union with Christ 

By the Spirit, we share in Jesus’ sonship (his relationship with the Father), making us God’s children. We are participating in Jesus own relationships ("Where I am you also will be with me"). The Holy Spirit unites without collapsing the differences: to and from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. This is the trinitarian life. We are given to share in this life - in the Spirit (which is Jesus' Spirit) sharing Jesus’ own joy, life, righteousness, peace, work, evangelism, etc. “I’m united to Christ, thus all he has is really mine!”


Though some think it as a mere change in location, salvation is sharing in the Son’s sonship. He who is the Son of God by nature, became the Son of Man by connecting himself to us; so that we who are the sons of men, by grace, might become the children of God. 

Think of it this way: salvation = being a child of God (by grace) = adoption (sharing in the divine nature).  Salvation is thus a relationship. And it has two dimensions:

1. What we are saved from. Sin is that which destroys our union and communion with God. It's our trying to give ourselves our own being. When we sin we are cutting ourselves off from our own existence which is in God) God sends all that sin away – rescuing us.

2. What we are saved for. We re redeemed for sonship, which is our union and communion with God. God is a communion - fellowship making God.

Sin and hell

Those who resist the reality of who they are in Christ get splinters because they are going against the grain (sinning). But this resistance does not change the grain. Rather, it is a denial of reality. Denial of the reality of Jesus in union with all humanity does not change that reality, but it does bring upon us, and others, great pain (as we go against the grain of what is true).

Could one deny this reality unto all eternity? It makes no sense to do so, but that’s all we can say.  However, we can say that the Lordship of Christ is not relative to a person’s response or choice. The Spirit wakes us up to the choice to say “amen” to the truth, but the Spirit will never force us to do so. Those who are in hell are those who eternally and implacably, say “no” to God’s “Yes.” They will think they are in charge – thinking they have manipulated God into sending them there. Sin is a rejection of grace (or more precisely a rejection of the Holy Spirit, who brings us this grace). There are consequences when we live against the grain of reality - consequences that can go on forever if our "no" to God's "Yes" is forever.


Ministry is going with Jesus – doing what he is doing, going where he is going; sharing obediently in his ministry, rather than disobeying by going where he is not going. Obedience and fellowship are one and the same thing.

What motivates our participation with Jesus in his ministry? Faith, hope and love (vs. guilt, fear, anxiety, which are motivations Satan uses). All our obedience (the imperatives) flow from the indicatives of grace. We “work out our salvation” on the basis of God at work in us (united to Christ) giving us the will and the power to act according to his good pleasure. Legalism is obeying without faith, hope and love.

Example: If people do not do evangelism, it’s because they don’t know who Jesus is, and thus lack a foundation for doing what Jesus is currently doing.

We don’t trust that grace will produce obedience, so we turn God into a contract God and hook into people’s fear, guilt and anxiety. But Paul says what is not of faith is sin – legalism in this case.

Never preach the commandments on their own – always say who God is first. We love God because God first loved us. Put the emphasis on the action - the grace - of God. What flows out of the embrace of this grace is the “obedience of faith”—the obedience that belongs to faith. Trust God to bring, through grace, the obedience God desires for people.

As a paradigm for ministry, think of Jesus' feeding of the 5000. Jesus knew how to involve his disciples in what he was doing. Who fed the 5000? It was an act of fellowship and communion - together, with Jesus, in the Spirit. Jesus’ great joy is to have his people involved in what he is doing: his great saving - reconciling work.

It’s not our ministry - it’s Christ’s ministry; the One who is raised and ascended is ministering through the Spirit; extending his saving presence to others.  Jesus continues to minister by his Spirit.

Sometimes we’re tempted to trust in our own loaves and fishes (programs; techniques, even our theology).  We’re looking for the secret - trying to make things “effective.”  We see our ministry alongside Christ - then we try to control it and compare it to others’ ministries. Putting our trust and faith in our methods; our faithfulness. This leads to burnout in ministry. Yes we should have our programs and techniques – but don’t put your hopes there. Just give it to him and let him use it. Focus on sharing in Christ’s continuing ministry.

How do we discern how - where Jesus is working? We know God always acts characteristically. “If I know God, then…” We are his ambassadors. We know God is pursuing all; and meeting their resistance. To discern his act, we must know him and his act.

Present the gospel by meeting people where they are and then telling them, in that context, who God is, including the incarnation and the atoning work of Jesus.  Identify the work of God, through Jesus, in the Spirit, presently active in the life of that person (or people group). And then join in.

As believers we must know the center point – but we might start somewhere else with a non-believer. We might, for example, start with the creation and then go to Jesus, the center, from there. Then as we disciple the believer, we are coming alongside them to enable them to grow in their participation with Jesus in his ministry.

The atonement

At the cross of Christ, God was not acting to “equalize the pain” in the sense of retributive justice. He paid the actual cost to purchase our forgiveness. There is no Father against the Son. It is the one triune God acting for our salvation. The atonement must be seen in terms of God's ordained end (goal), which is Sonship (adoption-inheritance). And then, in the light of the ends, see the means which includes sacrifice, penal satisfaction, debt satisfaction, etc. Some models of the atonement confuse the means with the end.