[Th]e most strategic decision we ever make is the decision of what to emphasize.
Evangelicalism has always been concerned to underline certain elements of the Christian message.
- We have a lot to say about God’s revelation, but we emphasize the business end of it, where God’s voice is heard normatively: the Bible.
- We know that everything Jesus did has power for salvation in it, but we emphasize the one event that is literally crucial: the cross.
- We know that God is at work on his people through the full journey of their lives, from the earliest glimmers of awareness to the ups and downs of the spiritual life, but we emphasize the hinge of all spiritual experience: conversion.
- We know there are countless benefits that flow from being joined to Christ, but we emphasize the big one: heaven.
Bible, cross, conversion, heaven. These are the right things to emphasize. But in order to emphasize anything, you must presuppose a larger body of truth to select from. . . .
Instead of teaching the full counsel of God (incarnation, ministry of healing and teaching, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and second coming), anemic evangelicalism simply shouts its one point of emphasis louder and louder (the cross! the cross! the cross!). But in isolation from the total matrix of Christian truth, the cross doesn’t make the right kind of sense. A message about nothing but the cross is not emphatic. It is reductionist. The rest of the matrix matters . . . .
Knowing what to emphasize in order to simplify the Christian message is a great skill. It is not the same thing as rejecting nuances or impatiently waving away all details in order to cut to the main point. There is a kind of anti-intellectualism that is only interested in the bottom line, and considers everything else disposable. Certainly that kind of anti-intellectualism can be found in evangelical history, but it is a deviation from the true ideal. Emphatics are not know-nothings. The emphatic approach to Christian witness has a different impulse. It knows that the only way to emphasize anything is precisely to keep everything else in place, not to strip it away. . . .
Does the doctrine of the Trinity belong to the cutting edge of emphatic evangelicalism? No, it does not. It constitutes the hefty, solid steel behind the cutting edge. We do not need to use the T-word in evangelism or proclaim everything about the threeness and oneness of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in every sermon. But the Trinity belongs to the necessary presuppositions of the gospel. In this book, we will emphasize the doctrine of the Trinity constantly. It will be the continual focus and the explicit subject of our study as we examine how the Trinity changes everything. We will triple underline it. The reason for doing this lies in our current plight of Trinity forgetfulness. Because current evangelicals have ceased to be aware of the deep Trinitarian background that previous generations of evangelicals presupposed, an extended exercise in calling the Trinity back to remembrance is necessary. But if the exercise is successful, the doctrine of the Trinity can and should subsequently recede from the foreground of our attention, back into the background.