You may be wondering how or where the triperspectival paradigm fits in what I have explained so far. In yesterday’s post, I explained the three tiers: physical, relational, and spiritual. When people normally talk about triperspectivalism, they are referring to the three offices of Christ: prophet, priest, and king. But there is an additional way of describing these three perspectives, namely normative (prophet), existential (priest), and situational (king).
“Normative” refers to the way things should be (“normal” Christian life). The prophetic perspective brings God’s Word to bear upon people so that they understand (beginning with their minds comprehending truth) the way God intends for us to live. We rightly understand God and ourselves through the revelation God has given us in His Word. The responsibility of the prophet is simply to say what God has said and call people to have their lives ordered and oriented around what God has revealed about Himself, in particular the person and work of Jesus Christ.
“Existential” refers to the experience of people. The priestly perspective brings people to God’s truth. Whereas normative begins with the mind, existential begins with the heart and one’s personal experiences. The responsibility of the priest is to rightly understand the people so that they can take them where they are and bring them to where God is. The emphasis is a living, vibrant, personal encounter with God where affections are directly impacted and hearts are stirred. It is not enough to know God rightly. He must be rejoiced in so that our inner man is enthralled by beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
“Situational” refers to the action and orientation of people. The kingly perspective brings God’s reign and rule to bear upon so that the situation and circumstances of their lives reflect that Christ is king over their lives. The responsibility of the king is to assist people in applying daily what they know (normative) and experience (existential) in the situations they find themselves in ways that indicate God has indeed established his kingdom in their heart.
So here is how this triperspectival paradigm works itself out in cultural engagement (click image to enlarge)
As I said earlier, the physical dimension is the most effective entry point of cultural engagement. When you begin with the physical and practical needs of the community, you begin by doing cultural exegesis and research to unearth the situations and context of the people you are seeking to reach. This is situational, kingly work. You are entering the domain of people who are under the reign and rule of someone or something else. As someone under the reign of Christ, you are seeking to find ways to love your neighbor and serve them as Christ served others. This requires implementation of a vision through strategy, initiative, and follow through. If not, the situation or context of the culture will not be effectively engaged.
The relational dimension corresponds to the priestly/existential role as your cultural engagement moves from a person’s situation to a person’s story. You move from surface encounters to experiencing life together in relational networks and meaningful community. You are given permission to enter into their lives and experience more of their life, their struggle, their ambitions, their hopes, etc. As you learn, understand, and relate to them where they are, they come to appreciate not what you do but who you are, and with that comes trust and respect. As stated earlier, the goal of the priest is to take people where they are and bring them to where God is. You want them to encounter God in the gospel, and the channel through which they do that is encountering you as you dwell among them and they see and hear of Jesus Christ in and through your life.
The spiritual dimension obviously then is connected to the prophetic/normative role as you seek to communicate the gospel repeatedly through the relationship you have built with them. As a prophet, you are seeking to bring God’s Word to bear upon them–the law exposing their sin and inability to merit God’s acceptance, and grace to show them God’s amazing provision in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You call them to repent of sin, idols, and self-righteousness and to believe Jesus Christ alone for rescue, redemption, and reconciliation.
I diagram the triperspectival paradigm for cultural engagement this way:
(Dimension) (Perspective) (Action) (Focus)
PHYSICAL: Situational –> Kingly –> Justice/Mercy –> deed (body)
RELATIONAL: Existential –> Priestly –> Grace/Compassion –> word & deed (heart)
SPIRITUAL: Normative –> Prophetic –> Truth/Love –> word (mind)
Physically, we give ourselves to others (Word became flesh)
Relationally, we dwell and invest ourselves in others (and dwelt among us)
Spriritually, we call others to believe in Jesus (and we beheld his glory)
In my next post, I will explain the triperspectival paradigm in relation to the gospel story, in particular the incarnational descent and transformational ascent through the three dimensions.