John 13-17: The Indwelling
All of the theoretical and theological frames for this research are based in the idea that personhood is based in a relational ontology. It is only in the intrapersonal relationality of the persons of the Godhead, the Son with humanity, and humans with each other, that unity and wholeness can be found. This framework is built from the core teaching of John’s Gospel found in John 13-17, also known as the Upper Room Discourse. A brief survey of this discourse will demonstrate a biblical image helpful for envisioning spiritual formation in the missional church based upon a balanced Trinitarian perspective.
It begins with Praxis
Jesus begins by washing the disciples’ feet. This act of service demonstrated to them, through action, the message he wished to present in the rest of the discourse. He showed them that the heart of leadership in God’s kingdom is that the leader is servant of the other. The focus is not self, but other, not preserving position, but putting others first.
It is About Dwelling
The Greek father, John of Damascus, first used the term perichoresis to describe the Trinity. The word denotes the interweaving patterns of particulars to form a whole. Jesus uses the word meno—to remain or to dwell—as a central theme in the discourse. He goes to prepare a place in his Father’s house were there are many dwelling places. The Father dwells in the Son and the Son dwells in the Father. The Father and the Son send the Spirit to dwell in the disciples. Jesus invites the disciples to dwell in him so that he may dwell in them.
This dwelling has multiple facets that demonstrate a relational ontology. First, the Father, Son, and Spirit share a mutual indwelling. This is the immanent Trinity. Second, the three persons of the Trinity, in their relationality, create and sustain life. The Father is the vine grower. The Son is the Vine. The Spirit is the life energy that flows like sap through the vine and the branch to produce fruit. Apart from a mutual indwelling with the vine the branch ceases to be and is discarded into the fire. Third, the church dwells in the world. ((I am extrapolating the church here in that Jesus cites all the disciples that would follow him on account of his original disciples’ witness.)) Jesus prayed that the Father would not take the church out of the world, but that he would protect the church from the evil one. The church is sent into the world to dwell with the other, to demonstrate the mutual indwelling and unity of God and the church, so that the world will also know the love of God.