CHANGE IS INEVITABLE. I would prefer this not to be true. I would prefer to capture the moments in life when I am happy. When I am watching my boys wrestle and pretend to be superheroes, I wish I could just stop time. But alas, Elon Musk has not made this possible, yet. We will all change. All who are in Christ will be transformed into his likeness (2 Cor 3:18). Being time-bound creatures, change is impossible to fight. Like salmon fighting upstream to reach a place of life, we fight against the current of time, straining and striving to keep things the same. But we know this battle will be lost. Even as we choose to fight time, we are changed by the fight itself, formed into a type of person who resists being changed.
God wants you to change. In fact, Christianity is inherently future-oriented, meaning that the inevitability of change is something that should inform our present efforts to develop. Ultimately, God wants to see you changed into the image of his Son (Rom 8:29). He wants you to grow. There are various resources we could use to grow: different methods and strategies to foster the kind of growth God wants. Think of going to Home Depot to search for fertilizer for that house plant you cannot seem to keep alive. There are a variety of options. You could opt for something organic. You could buy something modified with chemicals to help the plant grow. You could entirely replace the house plant every few months and live under the illusion that growth is happening. But there are other considerations.
The context of the plant matters. The oxygen in the air, the heat afforded to the house plant, and the amount of sunlight provided all affect the growth of the houseplant. Not only does context matter, but so does the DNA of the plant itself. Each plant has a different proclivity and propensity to thrive (or not) in different environments. Some plants just do not want to grow.
For many of us who want to know God more and be more like Jesus, we’ve been told that fertilizer is all we need. Throw some more resources at the problem (prayer, Bible reading, books) and we will grow. And yet we still experience the nagging sense that we are not as healthy as we want to be. We experience the longing for more or what some have called “the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable.”1 We have the sins that haunt us and the wounds that won’t seem to heal. What if there was a better way? At least, this is what I have been wondering. What if the landscape of modern Christianity has been applying solutions that are not working because they are incorrectly diagnosing the problem?
I kept seeing Christians who seemed to have it all together growing up. They didn’t seem to struggle with sin. They didn’t seem to have doubts. They didn’t seem to be bothered by the inconsistencies between what the church practiced and what the Bible taught. And I wanted to know how to live that way; more at peace, not so concerned. But that’s not me. That context sent me on a journey to discover what it looks like to be at peace with God, with others, and with myself. To be content with the stage of growth in which I reside. To be at home with myself with God.
The outcome thus-far of that journey is my new book, Trinitarian Formation. I spent years trying to understand what it meant to grow up into Christ our head (Eph 4:15). I have not arrived by any stretch of the imagination. But, I think I might have discovered an oasis in the desert. The wasteland of discipleship and formation resources is marked by the lives of people who have imploded or flamed out. People who made it part of the way but got tuckered out from the peculiar rat race of American discipleship that pushes us to events, books, and spiritual expectations that we willingly throw on our shoulders. This is partly to be expected (Mark 4:1–20). We burden ourselves with a yoke we were not meant to bear (Matt 11:29). All the while, God has been beckoning us to a path that few will choose because it seems counter-intuitive; a path that is hard, but the grade is more life-giving (Matt 7:13–14). Because ultimately, it is God who carries us. If there is nothing else that you take from this book, know this: it is God alone who saves. Your efforts to change, your desire to change, your Bible reading, prayer, good works, etc., do not add one drop in the ocean of God’s love for you. We are justified entirely by the work of Jesus Christ. If our path of change does not begin with God changing us, then our path is doomed. We will be found apart from God because we relied not on him alone but on our efforts to save. This book will be about how to change, but before any of that happens God must change us. He does this by saving us. Then our journey with him will begin from a place of spiritual safety because nothing can separate us from his love (Rom 8:31–29).
My hope in all this spilled ink is that you will know God more and have a vision for what growth could look like for you, your church, your family, and our world. If you feel anything after reading this work, my hope is that it is a sense of relief: relief from the high stakes game many people are playing with Christianity, formation, and discipleship. Relief from self-condemnation towards self and self-righteousness towards others. Relief from the feeling of not measuring up. And maybe enough relief to experience some biblical conviction (not shame) for ways we’ve missed the mark in what God has for us.
Praise for Trinitarian Formation
“In Trinitarian Formation, Chase Davis has made a substantial contribution to the church’s work in ‘spiritual formation,’ which helps believers to grow toward Christian maturity, sanctification in Christ. I’m delighted that he has made use of my ‘tri-perspectivalism’ and that he has gone so deeply into it, comparing it to the work of others I deeply respect, like James K. A. Smith. This leads him into some fairly difficult conceptual areas. But he has analyzed these well and has formulated them with clear, appropriate, and fetching illustrations. So this volume speaks both to professional scholars and to church workers. I hope this book gets a very wide distribution, and I pray that God will use it to the edification of his people.”
—John M. Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary
“I have been told that great understanding can be found at the crossroads of two seemingly unrelated fields. Chase’s book affirms this, for he demonstrates the power of applying Frame’s epistemological triad to James K. A. Smith’s work on discipleship. I recommend this book both as a way of seeing how Frame’s triad can be usefully applied, and also a means of comprehensively recognizing where Smith’s discipleship model is helpful and where it can be improved.”
—Tim Miller, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary
“The ever-fertile, provocative ‘Framean Triad’ is standing the test of time. Wonderful to see theologian John Frame’s motif tapped yet again, in this book for normative guidance in designing Christian spiritual formation, especially for thoughtful, devoted youth ministers. An important endeavor all round.”
—Esther Lightcap Meek, author of Loving to Know: Introducing Covenant Epistemology
“A discipleship plan is crucial for pastoral success. After an analytical critique of prevailing discipleship models, in his book Trinitarian Formation, Chase Davis draws up the blueprints for just such a plan. Chase clearly demonstrates how Dr. John Frame’s model of tri-perspectivalism is an effective model for every Christian’s spiritual growth. Davis’s analysis is a gift to every pastor, an invitation to think through and implement an effective model for making disciples ready to live out the Great Commission.”
—Doug Logan Jr., President, Grimke Seminary, and Associate Director, Acts 29 Global Network
“In this insightful work, Davis helps us think more deeply about the formation of Christian disciples. Not content to accept ready-made formulas for spiritual formation, he engages us in thoughtful reflection, drawing upon contemporary Christian thinkers and calling us to give greater thought to the task of making fully devoted followers of Jesus.”
—David M. Gustafson, author of Missional Disciple-Making: Disciple-Making for the Purpose of Mission
About the Author