By Mike Urton
In Part 1 of this series we looked at how the doctrine of the Trinity addresses issues related to the collective and social identities of BMBs, as described by Don Little in his book Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities. Part 2 will take a look at what Little terms core identity issues for BMBs. I will attempt to show how a biblical understanding of the Trinity can address these challenges raised by core identity issues. It is also in this section where I will offer some ways to help BMBs grasp the mystery of the oneness and three-ness of the Godhead.
Little uses Tim Green’s definition of core identity as “the inner heart of a person’s self-awareness and worldview, first formed as young children subconsciously internalize their parents’ values and outlook.” This is the largest of Little’s identity classifications, which include topics such as spiritual nature of the Christian faith, Muslim ideology, and God feeling distant.
As anyone working among Muslims can tell you, the religion of Islam largely concerns itself with a set of rules and practices to be followed. In most of its expressions, there is very little about being in a relationship with God. A first step in correcting this belief for the BMB is teaching them how the Holy Spirit is God’s continual presence among his people (Hag. 2:4-5). An emphasis on Jesus, the Son, sending the Spirit to indwell his followers (John 16:7; Acts 1:8) and guide them (John 16:13) is essential. The presence of the indwelling Spirit demonstrates that God will never leave his children and is always with them (John 14:18).
This truth about the indwelling Holy Spirit can also be used to address the Islamic belief that God is distant and unknowable. John Gilchrist in his book Facing the Muslim Challenge offers a helpful model for explaining “the threefold revelation of God’s love for us.” He emphasizes how the persons of the Trinity relate to the believer in salvation. He highlights that God the Father is God for us, God the Son is God with us, and that God the Holy Spirit is God in us (Luke 12:32; Rom. 5:8; 8:15-16). In a BMB Bible study where I was teaching on the Trinity, this explanation really helped a Moroccan believer with his grasp of how the persons of the Trinity are active in his life.
Another helpful explanation starting with the attribute of God’s love (1 John 4:16) demonstrates how the Triune God is self-sufficient. It begins by asking the question, “How do you know if someone is loving?” The answers here can range from how someone treats their family to how they treat others; the point is that love has to be demonstrated for it to be called love. As we have seen, the Bible tells us that God himself is loving, thus he must be sharing this love with others. He can share this love with people, angels, or other parts of his creation.
However, God does not need us for anything (Ps. 50:9-12; Acts 17:24-25), so he does not need people or angels to demonstrate that he is loving. As a matter of fact, if he needed us to show his love then he would be dependent upon us for something. Yet God must share his love with someone; here the eternal persons of the Trinity can show love to one another. The Father can show his love to the Son, the Son can show his love to the Father. Both can show love to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit can show his love to the Father and the Son without needing anyone else. Thus the persons of the Trinity are not dependent on anyone else to display love.
In Part 1 I pointed out that Muslims fundamentally misunderstand the Trinity due to the misrepresentations of this doctrine in the Qur’an. Not only is there a mental disconnect, but also there is often an emotional reaction for Muslims because the Trinity is connected in Islam with the unpardonable sin of shirk, or associating partners with God.
One way to help BMBs see the centrality of the Trinity is to teach it narratively, beginning with the OT and demonstrating its greater fulfillment in the NT. Given the fact that most BMBs have grown up being inculcated with at least basic Islamic doctrine, which distorts the biblical narrative, they really have no background for understanding how the Trinity unfolds in Scripture. Thus, studying biblical monotheism in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 45:4-6, and Mark 12:29-30, alongside Scriptures which emphasize the three persons of the Trinity in the OT and the NT (see Gen. 1:26; Ex. 31:2-3; Judg. 13:13-24; Isa. 9:6-7; 63:16; Matt. 3:16-17; 28:18-20; John 3:34-36) can be helpful in anchoring the doctrine in the BMB’s understanding.
Another important step in helping BMBs to grasp the mystery of the Trinity is clarifying the distinction between beingand person. This needs to be unpacked due to the confusion from their Muslim past that the Trinity is three gods, or is associating partners with God. Here is how I explained this distinction in the BMB Bible study: “Everything in the universe has being just because it exists. Being just means that something exists, so people have being, animals have being, tables and chairs have being. But what if I walked over to the table and started talking to it? You would think I’m crazy! Why? Because while the table has being, it has no person. It can’t relate to me or carry on a conversation. But if I turn to my brother Abraham and start talking with him, he can respond because he has person.” I concluded that people are one being and one person, but God is one in being and yet three in person. This is still hard to grasp because God is the only One in the universe who is completely and totally like himself, but it is not illogical, nor is it adding partners to the one being of God.
Jeremiah 9:24 declares, “let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD.” In order to grow in their new Christian life, it is essential for BMBs to know and understand the Triune God who loves them so deeply. I recall a BMB Christmas Celebration where a Lebanese man shared, “In Islam you are God’s slave, and he can do whatever he wants with his slave. If God wants to bless his slave, he blesses him; if God wants to curse his slave, he curses him.” He went on to say that now in his Christian life he realizes that he is God’s child, and that his loving heavenly Father is out to do him good. Testimonies like this one demonstrate how delving into the mystery of the Godhead can help BMBs resolve issues surrounding their collective, social, and core identities from their Muslim past, thus establishing their new identity as children of the living God. By God’s grace, may those who disciple BMBs be equal to this task.
 Malik Ibrahim, “How Does the Trinity Impact BMB Discipleship? – Part 1” (October 2016) https://commanetwork.com/dig_deeper/trinity-impact-bmb-discipleship-part-1/ (accessed April 5, 2017)
 Don Little, Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities: Scripture, History and Seasoned Practices. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic 2015), 184.
 Ibid., 186.
 John Gilchrist, Facing the Muslim Challenge: A Handbook of Christian-Muslim Apologetics (Rep of South Africa: Life Challenge Africa) http://www.answering-islam.org/Gilchrist/Challenge/chap2.html (accessed October 7, 2016)
 Michael Reeves in Delighting in the Trinity also focuses on the love in the Godhead. He begins by highlighting that God is eternally Father who is “inherently outgoing, life-giving.” The Father is an eternal Father to the eternal Son on whom he is “loving and giving out his life and being” eternally. In this eternal relationship “the Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved.” The person of the Holy Spirit is the one who “stirs up the delight of the Father in the Son and the delight of the Son in the Father, inflaming their love and so binding them together in ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’” (2 Cor. 13:14). As Reeves points out, the very reason that God creates is because the love that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have enjoyed from eternity past overflows into the joy of creation. It is also because of this love that the Father sends the Son and the Son pours out his life for our sins. This teaching not only demonstrates God’s self-sufficiency in that he did not need to create to love, but also the extravagant love that he pours out on his children through the Spirit (John 14:21; Gal. 4:4-7). Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic) 20, 22, 23, 26.
 Augustine, the fifth century bishop of Hippo, used the “I am” statements of Yahweh in Exodus 3:14 to develop his definition of substance or essence. Here he described a substance as “what that individual thing really is, its intrinsic nature.” Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004), 191.
 Athanasius the bishop of Alexandria (328) proposed that God is one being (ousia) and three persons (hypostasis). Thus he clarified that God has the same divine essence or being and is yet three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.