Tuesday, May 9

Are we trinitarian in theology but not in missiology?

Jeff Dunson writes in his new blog an interesting post entitled, Church Planting: Where the Sidewalk Ends. After briefly describing their church planting strategy there in Brazil he states...

But so far, the dream has been slow to come about. I have continually had to beat the drum, emphasize our vision, and try to keep the ship on course...In the meantime, I've been asked a number of times "how is your strategy of house churches and evangelistic Bible studies going?" with a sympathetic shake of the head indicating that it won't work and that I'll come around someday...In three weeks of canvassing the neighborhood, our core group had a grand total of one study scheduled. I showed up yesterday to go out visiting and to do the study and discovered that the couple had moved...
Did anyone ever mention that church planting would be so hard? Why is Jeff's description so typical of many of us? Are we missing something?

Yesterday in our monthly English-speaking missionary prayer get-together, we too shared about our sense of powerlessness in ministry. It seems most of what we do is just that--what WE can do. What we long for is what GOD would do in and through us. While all of us believe in the Trinity, it was admitted that we know in practice and experience very little about the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. We are almost AFRAID to even talk about the Holy Spirit, sensing someone will tag us as Charismatics or Pentecostals.

With these thoughts spinning around in my head, when I got home last night I read an interesting comment on Ken Sorrell's blog by Bruce Carlton.

...The whole issue of best practices is one that think needs to be addressed. Best practices can easily slip into pragmatism to the neglect of the role of the Holy Spirit. Over the past two years as I have worked on my dissertation, I have come to believe that many evangelicals are trinitarian in their theology, but not trinitarian in their missiology. We tend to favor pragmatism over the Holy Spirit. Within Southern Baptist circles, perhaps it is because of the charismatic issues that keep arising. Whatever the reason, a return to Biblical missions demands that we be trinitarian in our missiology and missiological practices...

Why are we so hesitant to speak about the Holy Spirit and His involvement (or non-involvement) in our work and ministry? Some of the questions that came up in yesterday's prayer gathering and in my own heart and mind were:

  • are we afraid of being filled with the Holy Spirit?
  • is "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" really a no-no, or is it something to seek?
  • are we too controlling (pragmatic) and thus "grieve the Spirit?"
  • are not the real issues spiritual in nature and not so much strategic?
  • what would happen to us if we did have some kind of experience with the Holy Spirit and were filled, maybe even speaking in tongues?
  • do we fear the IMB more than we fear the Spirit of God?
  • does He truly have the freedom to do in our lives what He would desire to do, or do we limit the Spirit by our own prejudices?

Are we indeed trinitarian in our theology but not in our missiology?


Gary Snowden said...


I'm sorry. I inadvertantly posted this to your previous post by mistake and am reposted it here where it belongs.

I think your series of questions is very valid, but I also can't help but suspect that you have just painted a huge bulls-eye on yourself by suggesting an openness to experience whatever the Holy Spirit might choose to give you--even the gift of tongues. I fear that such questions will trigger the same response from some folks that waving a red cape in front of an angry bull does. I pray that won't be the case as the Lord is obviously blessing your labors alongside other GCCs and your Equatorian brethren.

Mike said...


Great blog and great questions. I'm a Southern Baptist and have been my whole life, but God called me to a parachurch, church planting ministry. I sort of walk in both worlds. I love that you referenced Carlton. I had the pleasure of hearing him teach recently. His pragmatism comment is dead on. God gave Joshua a unique battle plan for Jericho, one that was not repeated. He always seems to give a unique plan for every situation. One that is ... spirit led. I'm not really qualified to comment deeply on the issues of the filling of the Spirit, but I do believe in radical obediance which requires utter, total dependence on the Lord and the filling of His Spirit.

God bless you in your work in Ecuador.

Ross Garner said...

Hi Guy

Have you ever heard of or read anything by Jack Deere. I heard him tell his story last year. He is an excellent speaker and has written a few books too. His web site is http://jackdeere.com/

This is an extract:
In 1986 after months of concentrated scriptural study, Jack reversed his position on the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. He became convinced that all of the gifts of the Spirit were meant to be used today, including healing and prophecy. God had never withdrawn these gifts, rather many in the church had withdrawn from the gifts. Even though he had no supernatural experience of his own, Jack and Leesa along with others began praying for the sick and listening for the voice of God. Almost immediately, they saw some wonderful healings.

Hope this is helpful.

J. Guy Muse said...

Gary, Mike, Ross,

I realize what a "hot potatoe" this issue is for people coming out of our denominational backgrounds, but where are we to turn for honest questions? I believe in community, in church, in ekklesia and that we are there for one another. If we can't be honest and ask the questions of our fellow brethren, where are we to turn?

If one carefully reads the book of Acts and epistles, there was a lot of things happening that we do not see today in our own ministries. My desire is to know God in a deeper way and know His power in my life and ministry.

Thanks, guys, for the helpful input. Hopefully others will chime in as well.

Kiki Cherry said...


I'm with you, and have asked the same questions. And yes, I DO believe that many are only 2/3 Trinitarian in methodology.

I was also glad to see the quote from Bruce Carlton. I think the fruit of his ministry bears its own testimony.

He came, along with some other incredible Church Planting specialists from NAMB, and trained us last year.

I was just reading in Romans, and this passage struck me.

Rom 15:18-21 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience--by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God--so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, "Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand."

What made me think was the part "by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God."

I hear a lot about word and deed. But where are the signs and wonders? Do we limit the Holy Spirit?

The more I study the Word, the more I question. If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, then wouldn't there be consistencies then and now in how the Holy Spirit manifests Himself????

Tim Sweatman said...

This is one of those issues where I just can't come up with a clear, consistent answer.

One one hand, I see no biblical basis for the idea that the sign gifts are no longer valid. But at the same time, one can infer that after some point the apostles may no longer have been performing miracles (Phil. 2:27; 1 Tim. 5:23; 2 Tim. 4:20). Are there individuals today who have sign gifts similar to those of the apostles in the early years of the church? I have no idea.

At the moment my view about signs and miracles tends to be that God definitely is still actively working miracles, but I'm not sure that He is doing so through individuals with the gift of miracles. (He could be, but I just don't know.) I think He mostly uses the pattern found in James 5:14-15, working through prayers offered in true faith.

The one thing I can say with certainty is that we usually tend to work in our own power and strength, and the results (or lack thereof) prove it. I don't know how much this has to do with any preconceived limits we place on the work of the Spirit, but I'm convinced that it has a lot to do with self-centeredness, independence, and pride.

The other thing I can say with certainty is that most of what I have just written (except for the last paragraph) is probably not correct.

Kiki Cherry said...


Go and read what God has been doing through Jaeson Ma, a campus minister at UCLA. His blog is www.jaesonma.blogspot.com.

There have been many testimonies recently of God's power at work through modern-day miracles.

I think if you talked to our IMB missionaries, particularly in the really dark countries, you would hear about more miracles. I recently heard one such story coming out of Kazakhstan.

I don't know why--but it seems like God is using Christians from Korea/China/Taiwan in amazing ways right now.

I can't explain it--and am still trying to figure it all out myself. But it has definitely challenged me.

Jaeson, "Daniel" (a campus minister in China--disciple of the Heavenly Man) and even our local Korean pastor have a power and authority in their faith like I've never experienced. And they exercise some of the sign gifts. But not in a showy or self-glorifying way.

They are so genuine, humble and gracious. And man, can they PRAY. When Jaeson prays, it is like the heavens come down.

It's just made me think. I'm still wrestling with all this, too.

J. Guy Muse said...


Your uncertainty is my uncertainty. If we are cessasionists, it is easy to dismiss all of the "signs and wonders" and we can theologically explain "being filled with the Spirit." If, like I believe, the gifts are still valid today, then we have to wrestle with these issues and the implications they have on us and our ministries.


The Romans 15 passage really got my attention. Seems that so much of what Christ taught and we read in the Book of Acts is so beyond our personal experience. Jesus said we would do the same works he did and greater works. Last time I checked I don't recall having healed a blind man, raised anybody from the dead, etc. yet these things are taking place in the world today. Is it due to our lack of faith, or as Tim says above, it is that we work in our own power and strength and are simply seeing the results of the flesh?

Kiki Cherry said...


Those are the very questions that I have been asking for about a year now. I'm just glad that you had the courage and boldness to say them publicly.

I've often wondered if I'm the only person in the whole Southern Baptist who asks those things.

Do you ever wonder where you really belong denominationally? Or IF you really fit with one group?

I desperately want to be right with God, and for my life to be pleasing to Him. I deeply desire to know what the TRUTH is, and find the answers to these questions.

That's why it makes me uncomfortable sometimes in my own denomination when we start talking about the Holy Spirit. On one hand I want to be loyal to what I've been taught, and fall under authority.

But when I get in the Word for myself, and really study some of those things, I am not convinced that what I have been taught is what the Bible really says.

It feels like I'm being asked to deny the true character of the Holy Spirit!!!

And yet, I can't fully line up with some of the teachings of the charismatic church, either. Biblically I just can't find support for some of their teachings.

So what do I do? Where do I fit? How do we KNOW what is true about these things?

David Rogers said...


I also appreciate your questions. And I have wrestled long with many of the same issues.

Some thoughts I have come to feel some sense of peace about along the way include:

1. It is God who sovereignly distributes spiritual gifts and manifestations to whom He wishes, in the way He wishes, and when He wishes. We should thus be careful to not try to take God's place in this process.

2. Being filled with the Holy Spirit implies being totally submitted to the Lordship of the Holy Spirit. We should thus be completely open to whatever the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives, no matter what the consequences.

3. A lot of what goes on in some Charismatic/Pentecostal circles is basically spiritual manipulation. I have compared it to Elijah pouring gasoline instead of water on the altar in his showdown with the prophets of Baal. If God is truly sovereign, and truly omnipotent, He does not need an emotionally-charged atmosphere in order to get done what He wants to get done. This does not mean that authentic spiritual emotion is bad or necessarily to be avoided. But we should be wary of spiritual manipulation.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that we are more concerned with the emotional issues. God does want us to know him emotionally and intellectually. I believe that we would like to put Him in a box. We would like to be filled (controlled) by the Holy Spirit but at the same time want to limit what He can do in our lives. As you look thru stories from IMB sources you fread more and more power encounters like Dr Chuck Kraft and Peter Wagner wrote about. I grew up in a pentecostal church. So many times it seemed like the prayers were trying to manipulate God into doing something. On the other hand, prayers for healing in my SB church tend to be directed to the doctor knowing what to do. There is a balance here. Take a look at a story I ran across from one of the IMB regions, the Pacific Rim: http://www.go2pacrim.org/content/view/266/44/

J. Guy Muse said...


I too have often wondered if I were the only person asking these kinds of questions, but know now there are many more of us! I can really relate to the questions you bring up above, especially that last line about where we fit in, and what do we do?


I agree with your 3 points. You write in #2 We should thus be completely open to whatever the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives, no matter what the consequences. That's the scary part. I want to be open to the HS and anything He would want to do, but its those consequences that scare us!


That was a great story you linked us to! What is even more amazing about it is that it is coming from IMB-SBC missions! This is exactly the kind of thing I am struggling with, why don't we see more of this kind of thing in our midst? Either this was an act of God, or it wasn't. If it was, then God is beginning to do some things amongst us that many of us aren't ready for yet. How will we respond if He chooses to do more of this kind of thing in our own Baptist backyards?

Anonymous said...

I think more is happening than many want to admit. Signs and wonders seem more common. I think, however, that we attempt to make things more complex than they are. I read a story recently from a GCC group that puts scriptures on cassettes. It was in Ghana and the group of Twi people were listening to the NT and understood the miracles that Jesus and the disciples did. And they thought among themselves as followers of Christ this should be part of their life. Immediately, a villager came with a sickness and they laid hands on them and the person was healed. More signs and wonders followed and the whole village followed Jesus! Simply hearing the Bible and doing what they heard! Or, read the Heavenly Man by Paul Hattaway. The simple faith of the Chinese house churches reads like the book of Acts. Seems like we need to move back to the simple faith of reading and doing with the Power of the Holy Spirit!

MediaDude said...

I keep hoping someone will keep this thread open. I know SBs get nervous when you start talking about the power of the Holy Spirit, but....

J. Guy Muse said...

May 14 Anon.

The Heavenly Man is one of my favorite books. After my wife and I read it we decided to read it aloud a chapter/day with our children.

M Dude,

Go right ahead and keep the thread open! Post some more of your thoughts on the subject. No "buts..." allowed! :-)

MediaDude said...

Sorry about the HTML above. I was trying to post that Tsunami Miracle video that the Board and sent out during the upswing to LM. It can be found here: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=767855163144970652. I found it interesting that we saw it in our 120 year old SB church. When you talk to your SS class and ask for prayers that Asians will have dreams and visions (a large % of those who come to Jesus have seen Him in a dream or had a vision), the staid SB says well, God has to do miracles over there because they don't have the Bible and doctors. I find this attidude difficult to reconcile with Hebrews 13:8, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever."

J. Guy Muse said...

DANIEL--Gracias por su visita y por su comentario. Estoy de acuerdo que podemos aprender y aplicar muchas cosas buenas de nuestros hermanos pentecostales y carismaticos. Yo en particular tengo mucha admiracion por la forma que crecen tan rapidamente, no solamente en Latinoamerica, sino alreadedor del mundo. Cual sera su secreto?

Anonymous said...

Great blog! I believe we need the Spirit of God (The Holy Spirit) in our lives to accomplish the mission of the Church and to accomplish God's purpose. We fall short in our own efforts and Jesus' words start making more sense: "You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit is come upon you." and "I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you. You know the Comforter, for He is with you and shall be in you."

To live a Christ-like life, we encourage the people of the church to rely on the Spirit of Christ working through them. To reach the unchurched of our community, we encourage people to be led by the Spirit and the power that comes with that Spirit in us. I hope to see this kind of discussion continue as we become a Church more committed to the mission Jesus called us to fulfill.

J. Guy Muse said...


Thanks for stopping by and for your insightful comments. I too hope to see this line of discussion continue in that we cannot do in the flesh what the Spirit of God does working through us. It is time we got that through our heads!