On a few occasions I have posted some thoughts and things about the concept of Tri-Perspectivalism. Tri-Perspectivalism (or, as some call it, Tri-P) is a fancy word for the simple concept of looking at our spiritual lives, and the ministry of our churches, from three distinct perspectives. Introduced by John Frame and Vern Poythress’ monumental work on the nature of knowledge, known as perspectivalism, the concept of Tri-P simply reminds us that Jesus perfectly embodies God’s authority, compassion, and wisdom, and expresses these through his offices of prophet, priest, and king, respectively. Guys like Dick Kauffman, David Fairchild, and Drew Goodmanson, among others, have provided significant insight about how Tri-P can be – and should be – applied to build well-balanced and gospel-centered ministry teams and congregations
I like the way a guy named Will Little summarizes the perspectives reflected by each office:
- Prophets enjoy studying the Word of God, protecting sound doctrine, and preaching/teaching others about God with influential passion and enormous vision.
- Priests appreciate and understand the needs of people, counsel them toward the Gospel, and get intimately involved with caring for the church and those around it.
- Kings love to plan, organize, and implement systems in order to get things done on time (and within budget).
Will recently composed an article for The Resurgence, titled Triperspectival Repentance, where he warns about some dangers of misapplying this concept, particularly agianst the notion of using Tri-P as a personality or temperment label, like a DISC or Myers-Briggs; and where he explores how we can deepen (if that is the right word) our experience and expressions of repentance when we see ourselves – or rather when we see Jesus more fully – though the lenses of Tri-P.
Little points out how misuse of Tri-P can easily feed the commonly held counterfeit gospel of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that is plaguing the contemporary church:
- Morality: The Prophet’s Idol.
In their flesh, prophets preach graceless rule-following, or stale doctrine, for the purpose of good behavior and/or right belief. They will themselves be prone to derive identity and joy from success at (and control over) their personal legalisms rather than in those of God, our ultimate authority.
- Therapy: The Priest’s Idol.
Apart from the Spirit, priests will preach the value of emotional stability and felt needs being met over truth being proclaimed. They will miss Christ’s gospel and fall into liberalism as they derive identity and joy from counseling, serving, and caring for people, rather than the person and work of God, the Wonderful Counselor.
- Deism: The King’s Idol.
Kings are prone cast vision for numbers, systems, and goals. When detached from the gospel these things are often for the purpose of success rather than or more than for resting in the King of kings. King-types will succumb to deriving identity and joy from getting things done, as if God were a distant deity who isn’t involved in getting things done on our behalf. (See Psalm 127.1)
Martin Luther, in the first premise of his 95 Theses, observed:
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
With this in mind, Little points out that ultimately, repentance is God’s work of changing us to focus on God, rather than on our measly attempts at performing, whether theologizing, rule-following, serving people, or getting things done. As we focus on God, we can deepen our lives of repentance by perceiving him more completely than we do now.
- Prophets easily perceive God as the Word of God, fulfilled and embodied in Jesus as the perfect voice, vision, and revelation of God. Prophets can repent by meditating on God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, resting in the most powerful prophet, and by seeing Jesus as our perfect King and priest.
- Priests easily perceive God as the Wonderful Counselor, working intimately as the Holy Spirit as the perfect servant of God. Priests can repent by meditating on God the Father and God the Son, resting in the most compassionate priest, and by seeing Jesus as our perfect prophet and King.
- Kings easily perceive God as the King of kings, ruling and reigning with the authority of a perfect Father who plans, organizes, implements, and manages the universe. Kings can repent by meditating on God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, resting in the most organized King, and by seeing Jesus as our perfect prophet and priest.
Little concludes with wonderful application:
Too often, we reduce TriP into three buckets, give ourselves a 20-50-30 percentage breakdown (or whatever) and then work to improve our scores to try and be more like Jesus. But remember, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13) If we focus on ourselves, we miss the whole point. We can instead see our gaps in the three buckets as opportunities to repent and perceive Jesus’ whole gospel, loving in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18), resting in the God who saves us and shapes us to image him as he sees fit.