How To Emulate Jesus in Our Disciple Making


*Making Disciples Jesus Way: A Few at a Time by Dr. Greg Ogden

Thesis: The church urgently needs to recapture its original mission of making disciples of Jesus by creating intimate, relational environments of multiplication and transformation.

“The crisis at the heart of the church is a crisis of product”, writes Bill Hull (Hull, Bill. The Disciple Making Pastor. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1988, 14.). Is there any more important question for a pastor to answer than, “what kind of people are we growing in our ministries”? According to pollsters such as George Barna and George Gallup, we are not producing people who are a whole lot different in conviction and lifestyle than the rest of society. This has been well documented so I will not bore you with a recitation of the bad news. I will get right to what I consider the solution.

Jesus made it crystal clear that there is to be a singular product which He equates with the mission of the church—“Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) Every church’s mission is the same. There is only one mission: making disciples of Jesus. We may prefer to express it in a fresh, contemporary way, such as “to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ” (Mission Statement of Willow Creek Community Church , South Barrington , IL), but it will still just be a restatement of the Great Commission.

When I have opportunities to speak to pastors on the subject of disciple-making, I have taken an informal poll, “Raise your hand if you have a few people in your weekly schedule with whom you meet for the purpose of helping them to become reproducing disciples of Jesus?” Sadly, I get minimal response. It would seem to be a natural expectation since Jesus modeled for us the way to grow disciples. He called twelve “to be with him” in order to shape their character and transfer his mission to them. I believe we have a crisis of product in major part because pastors are not following the model that Jesus gave us. And we are missing out on a most joyful and fruitful opportunity.

In this article I will describe an embarrassingly simple, yet reproducible way to grow disciples of Jesus that will leave your practice of ministry forever changed and your church populated with self initiating, reproducing disciples of Christ.

Here is the model: Disciples are made in small, reproducible groups of 3 or 4 (triads or quads) that cultivate an environment of transformation and multiplication.

In my experience, the following three elements form the necessary building blocks to grow disciples, which, in turn, addresses our “crisis of product”:

• The model for multiplication

• The priority of relationships

• The environment for accelerated growth

The Model for Multiplication

I call it my major “ah-ha” moment in ministry. It has shaped my approach to growing disciples more than anything else. Frankly, it was a discovery break-through I stumbled on.

I had been frustrated that I was not seeing a multiplication of disciples. The one-on-one model was the paradigm that I had assumed was the way to make reproducing disciples. After all, wasn’t the Paul-Timothy relationship the biblical pattern? Discipling meant to give myself to one other person for the purpose of seeing the life of Christ built in them, which would then lead them to do the same for another and so on. The only trouble was, I wasn’t seeing “them doing the same for another.” In other words, there was no multiplication.

What was I doing wrong? We have all heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results. Frustrated, I would redouble my efforts: make sure I had good content; ratchet up my prayer life; teach the skills of bible study, witness, etc; and yet I was not able to instill confidence, pass on the vision, nor empower the other person to disciple others. All my refinements only led to the same results.

Then the break-through came. I had written a disciple-making curriculum (Greg Ogden. Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), which became the basis for my final project for a Doctor of Ministry degree. My faculty mentor thought it would be a worthy experiment to test the dynamics of this material in a variety of settings. So in addition to the one-on-one, I invited two others to join me on this journey. There was no way I could have anticipated the potency to be unleashed. Just by adding a third person it was as if the Holy Spirit was present to us in a way that was life-giving and transforming and laid the foundation for multiplication.

I have never gone back to the one-on-one model for making disciples because of what I experienced. Now thirty years later, I have had considerable opportunity to reflect on the difference in dynamics between triad and quads, and the one-on-one approach.

What were the limitations of the one-on-one model?

1. In the one-on-one the discipler carries the full weight of responsibility for the spiritual welfare of another. The discipler is like the mother bird that goes out to scavenge for worms to feed to her babies. With their mouths wide open, the babes wait in their nest for the mother bird to return. The discipler is cast in the role of passing on their vast knowledge to the one with limited knowledge.

2. The one-on-one relationship sets up a hierarchy that tends to result in dependency. The one- on-one creates a father-son, teacher-student, mature-immature relationship. As appreciative as the Timothy might be, the one in the receiving position will more often than not, not be able to see themselves in the giving position. The gulf between the Paul and the Timothy is only accentuated when the relationship is between pastor and parishioner. The pastor is the trained professional, who has superior biblical knowledge which the non-professional, ordinary lay person will never see themselves achieving.

3. The one-on-one limits the interchange or dialogue. I liken the one-on-one discourse to playing ping-pong. It is back and forth, with the discipler under continuous pressure to advance the ball. The discipler must keep pressing the interchange on to a higher plane.

4. The one-on-one also creates a one-model approach. The primary influence on a new disciple becomes a single person. The parameters of the discipling experience are defined by the strengths and weaknesses of one individual.

5. Finally, the one-on-one model does not generally reproduce. If it does, it is rare. Only self- confident, inwardly motivated persons can break the dependency and become self-initiating and reproducing (These generalities are in no way meant to demean the positive and powerful experiences that a one-on-one relationship has meant to many. When it comes to the multiplication of disciples my experience teaches me that this generally does not lead to reproduction).

In my opinion we have inadvertently held up a hierarchical, positional model of discipling that is non-transferable. As long as there is the sense that one person is over another by virtue of superior spiritual authority, however that is measured, very few people are going to see themselves as qualified to disciple others. We may tout this is as a multiplication method, but in actuality it contains the seeds of its own destruction.

As a result of my experience, I commend a non-hierarchical model that views discipling as a mutual process of peer mentoring (“Discipling is an intentional relationship in which we walk alongside other disciples in order to encourage, equip and challenge one another in love to grow toward maturity in Christ. This includes equipping the disciple to teach others as well” – Ogden, Discipleship Essentials, 17). In order to avoid the dependency trap, the relationship needs to be seen as side-by-side, rather than one having authority or position over another.

An Alternative Practical Model of Disciple-Making (Triads/Quads)

Here is my best take on why triads/quads are energizing, joy-filled and reproductive:

1. There is a shift from unnatural pressure to the natural participation of the discipler. When a third or fourth person is added, the discipler is no longer the focal point, but they are a part of a group process. The discipler in this setting is a fellow participant. Though the discipler is the convener of the triad/quad, they quickly become one of the group on the journey together toward maturity in Christ.

2. There is a shift from hierarchy to peer relationship. The triad/quad naturally creates more of a come-alongside mutual journey. The focus is not so much upon the discipler as it is upon Christ as the one toward whom all are pointing their lives. Even as a pastor, I found that though the relationship may have started with a consciousness that I was the “Bible answer-man” because of my title and training, within the first few weeks the triad/quad allows me to be another disciple with fellow disciples who are attempting together to follow Jesus.

3. There is a shift from dialogue to dynamic interchange. In my initial experiment with triads, I often came away from those times saying to myself, “What made that interchange so alive and dynamic?” The presence of the Holy Spirit seemed palpable. Life and energy marked the exchange. As I have come to understand group dynamics, one-on-one is not a group. It is only as you add a third that you have the first makings of a group (Think Trinity).

4. There is shift from limited input to wisdom in numbers. The book of Proverbs speaks of the wisdom that comes from many counselors (Proverbs 15:22). It is often those who may be perceived as younger or less mature in the faith from which great wisdom comes, or a fresh spark of life or just great questions. In a current quad, one of the men at our initial gathering announced, “I have never opened the Bible.” I had observed an eagerness and hunger in Mick, so I was sure that I had misunderstood his comment. So I responded, “You mean you have never studied the Bible seriously”. “No, I have never opened a Bible.” Since that first session, Mick has demonstrated a veracious appetite for Scripture. Yet what has been particularly challenging is his perceptive questions that have led to engaging dialogue and deeper exploration.

5. There is a shift from addition to multiplication. For me there is no greater joy than to see a Christian reproduce. All the above adds up to empowerment. For over two decades, I have observed an approximate 75% reproduction rate through the triad/quad model of disciple- making.

In summary, a smaller unit encourages multiplication because it minimizes the hierarchical dimensions and maximizes a peer-mentoring model. By providing a discipleship curriculum specifically designed for this intimate relationship, it creates a simple, reproducible structure, which almost any growing believer can lead. Leadership in these groups can be rotated early on since the size makes for an informal interchange and the curriculum provides a guide to follow.

Anything worthy of the name of discipling must have a way of creating the dynamic of intergenerational multiplication. But this is only one aspect of growing self-intiating, reproducing disciples.

Disciples Are Made In Relationships, Not Programs

Making disciples places priority on an invitation to relationships, not an invitation to a program.

Disciple-making is not a six-week nor a ten-week, nor even a thirty-week program. We have tended to bank our efforts on making disciples through programs, while not keeping a priority on the relational process.

Biblically, though, disciples are made in relationships. When I am forming a new triad/quad, I approach someone personally, eyeball to eyeball in the following way: First, I ask the Lord to put on my heart those to whom He is drawing me. I am looking for those who are hungry and teachable. When there is a settled conviction as to who the Lord would have me approach, here is generally what I say to them, “Will you join me, walk with me as we grow together to become better disciples of Christ? I would like to invite you to meet with me and one or two others weekly for the purpose of becoming all that the Lord intends us to be. As I was praying about this relationship, I sensed the Lord drawing me to you.”

How does this relational approach differ from a program?

(1) Discipling relationships are marked by intimacy, whereas programs tend to be focused on information.

Programs operate with the assumption that if someone has more information that it will automatically lead to transformation. In other words, right doctrine will produce right living. Filling people’s heads with Scripture verses and biblical principles will lead to change in character, values and a heart for God.

Alicia Britt Cole captures this difference between program and relationship, “Program was safer, more controllable, and reproducible—less risky, less messy, less intrusive. It seemed easier to give someone an outline than an hour, a well-worn book than a window into our humanity. How easy it is to substitute informing people for investing in people, to confuse organizing people with actually discipling people. Life is not the offspring of program or paper. Life is the offspring of life. Jesus prioritized shoulder-to-shoulder mentoring because His prize was much larger than information; it was integration” (Alicia Britt Cole, “Purposeful Proximity—Jesus’ Model of Mentoring”, Online Enrichment, A Journal for Pentecostal Ministry).

(2) Discipling relationships involve full, mutual responsibility of the participants, whereas programs have one or a few who do on behalf of the many.

Most programs are built around an individual or a few core people who do the hard work of preparation and the rest come as passive recipients of their work. Of course, this is less true of a more egalitarian small group than it is of a class where one-way communication dominates. Though this may provide tremendous benefit to one who has done the preparation, the result is usually enormous amounts of unprocessed information. As much as I believe in the power of preaching for conviction and decision, I would be naïve to believe that preaching alone produces disciples. If preaching could produce disciples, the job would have been done.

In a discipling relationship the partners share equal responsibility for preparation, self-disclosure, and an agenda of life-change. This is not about one person being the insightful teacher, whereas the others are the learners who are taking in the insights of one whose wisdom far exceeds the others. Certainly maturity levels in Christ will vary, but the basic assumption is that in the give and take of relationships, the one who is the teacher and the one who is taught can vary from moment to moment.

(3) Discipling relationships are customized to the unique growth process of the individuals, whereas programs emphasize synchronization and regimentation.

The very nature of most of our programs is that they cannot take into account the uniqueness of the individual, which is essential to growing disciples. A program usually has a defined length. You commit to ten weeks and you are done. Often churches follow the academic calendar. Start a program in September when school starts and complete it in June in time for summer vacation. Once the cycle is completed, disciples are supposed to pop out the other end of the system. Completing the program is equated with making disciples.

Discipling relationships must necessarily vary in length of time, because no two people grow at the same speed. It is not just a matter of a forced march through the curriculum, but an individualized approach that takes into account the unique growth issues of those involved.

(4) Discipling relationships focus accountability around life-change, where as programs focus accountability around content.

Programs of discipleship give the illusion of accountability. But upon closer look the accountability is more focused on completing the assigned study curriculum than follow through on the changes or transformation into Christlikeness that is expected of a disciple of Jesus.

Growth into Christ-likeness is the ultimate goal. The gauge of accountability in programs tend to be easily measurable, observable behaviors such as Scripture memory, completing the required weekly reading, and practicing spiritual disciplines. In a discipling relationship the accountability focuses on learning to “observe or obey all that [Jesus] has commanded” (Matt. 28:19). For example, there is a huge difference between knowing that Jesus taught that we are to love our enemies, and actually loving our enemies. Discipling relationships are centered on incorporating the life of Jesus in all we are in the context of all that we do.

The Environment of Transformation: The Three Necessary Ingredients

Without question the setting where I have experienced the most accelerated transformation in the lives of believers has been in these triads/quads or small reproducible discipleship groups. I call them the “hot-house” of Christian growth. Hot houses maximize the environmental conditions so that living things can grow at a rate greater than would exist under normal circumstances. The conditions are ripe for accelerated growth. This is what happens in a triad/quad.

Why is this? What are the climatic conditions in a discipleship group of three or four that create the hothouse effect? There are four ingredients when exercised in a balanced way that release the Holy Spirit to bring about a rapid growth toward Christlikeness: This can be summarized in the following Biblical principle: When we (1) open our hearts in transparent trust to each other (2) around the truth of God’s word (3) in the spirit of mutual accountability ,(4) while engaged in our God-designed mission, we are in the Holy Spirit’s hothouse of transformation.

Let’s look at what is contained in each of these three environmental elements that makes for accelerated growth and reproduction.

Climatic Condition #1 – Transparent Trust

We return to the fundamental truth that has been repeated the theme throughout this article: Intimate, accountable relationships with other believers is the foundation for growing in discipleship. Why is transparency a necessary condition for change? The extent to which we are willing to reveal to others those areas of our life that need God’s transforming touch is the extent to which we are inviting the Holy Spirit to make us new. Our willingness to enter into horizontal or relational intimacy is a statement of our true desire before God of our willingness to invite the Lord to do His makeover in our life.

The small size of a triad/quad says that this is going to be close. There is little place to hide. The environment in which self-revelation is drawn out is increasing trust. Certainly trust does not happen instantaneously. Trust is an earned and developed quality. To get to the deep end of the pool we must go through the shallower waters of the affirmation of encouragement, support through life’s difficulties, and prayerful listening in order to help our partners hear God’s voice in life’s decisions. Only then are we likely to venture in over our heads by confessing our patterns of besetting sin to one another.

My experience tells me that few believers either have the regular habit or the safe context in which we can reveal to another human being what lurks inside the recesses of our hearts. Until we get to point where we can articulate to another those things that have a hold on us, then we will live under the tyranny of our own darkness. James admonished his readers, “Confess your sins to another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5:16 ). James makes a direct connection between confession and healing. In this context healing appears to be of a physical nature. Yet James believed that the health of one’s spirit directly affected the health of one’s body.

What is the connection between confession and freedom? Bringing the shame of our guilt into the light before trusted members of the body of Christ can in itself have a liberating effect. Once something is admitted before others, it begins to lose it power to control. Sin loves the darkness, but its power weakens in the light.

To learn to swim in the deep waters of transparent trust is a necessary element for accelerated growth in the Christian. Learning to swim can be a scary experience, especially when you in over your head. But once you learn to trust the water to hold you up, you can relax and experience its refreshment.

Climatic Condition #2 – Truth in Community

The second of four environmental elements that creates the conditions for the hothouse of accelerated growth is the truth of God’s word in community. I started with relationships because I believe that the context in which God’s word should be studied is in community. A great failing today is that we have separated the study of God’s word from transparent relationships. We have been more concerned about getting our doctrine right than our lives right. It is not that knowledge is not important, it is. It is not that right doctrine is not important, it is. It is just not enough. Because the goal is to incorporate truth into our being which happens as we process it with others.

It is particularly important in our day that a disciple has the opportunity to cover the essential teachings of the Christian life in a systematic and sequential fashion. We are living at a time when the average person has minimal foundation for their Christian faith. A generation ago Francis Schaeffer and Elton Trueblood warned us in prophetic voice that we were one generation away from losing the memory of Christian faith in our culture. We are the next generation of which they spoke!

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is an unlikely place to find evidence for this loss memory. One night Leno took to the streets with microphone in hand asking people questions about their biblical knowledge. He approached two college age women with the question, “Can you name one of the Ten Commandments?” Quizzical and blanks looks led to this reply, “Freedom of speech?” Then Leno turned to a young man, “Who according to the Bible was eaten by a whale?” With confidence and excitement, he blurted out, “I know, I know, Pinnochio!” The memory of Christianity has been lost.

One of the participants in a discipling triad that I led was woman about ten years my senior who had been raised in the home of a congregational pastor. After we had completed our time together, she said to me, “Greg, I have something to confess. When you asked me to join this group, I didn’t think I had a whole lot to learn. After all I had been studying the Scriptures all of my life having been raised in a home where the Bible was central. But I discovered as we covered the faith in a systematic and sequential order, that my understanding was much like a mosaic. I had clusters of tiles with a lot of empty spaces in between. This approach has allowed me to fill in all those places where tiles belong. I now see in a comprehensive fashion how the Christian faith makes sense of it all.”

Climatic Condition #3 – Life-Change Accountability

Life-change accountability is rooted in a covenant. What is a covenant? A covenant is written, mutual agreement between 2 or more parties that clearly states the expectations and commitments in the relationship (Greg Ogden’s Discipleship Essentials, page 14 provides an illustration of what a mutual covenant might look like). Implied in this definition is that the covenantal partners are giving each other authority to hold them to the covenant to which they have all agreed.

Yet there is a rub. To willingly give others authority to hold us accountable to what we said we would do is for most Westerners a violation of what we hold most dear. Robert Bellah’s ground breaking research, Habits of the Heart, is a sociologist’s search for the core of the American character. He found that freedom from obligation defined the center of what it is be to an American. Here it is in a nutshell: We want to do, what we want do to, when we want to do it, and no one better tell us otherwise. We want to be in control of our own choices, life direction, character formation, schedules, etc. Everything in us grates against accountability.

Yet accountability brings us back to the very core of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. A disciple is one under authority. Disciples of Jesus are who leave no doubt that it is Jesus who is exerting the formative influence over our lives. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) The way to get serious about this truth is to practice by coming under authority in our covenantal relationships in Christ.

Climatic Condition #4: Engaged in our God-Designed Mission

Micro groups are not designed to be holy huddles. Though we all seek safe environments where our true self can be nurtured, micro groups also need to be springboards from we are sent to serve Christ in all dimensions of our life. In many ways, this fourth dimension, though last in order, is most critical. Without mission, there will be little transformation. It is as we apply our faith in the work place, in our roles in the home, are stewards of our financial resources, exercise or spiritual gifts in ministry the church or addressing an area of brokenness in the world, that we have to come to terms with our fears and limitations.

As we are engaged is mission we are stretched beyond our limited resources. When we are thrown back in reliance on Jesus, waiting for Him to show up because we are beyond our comfort zone, we are just where we need to be. This is where the importance of our micro group takes on even deeper significance. In this group we are refreshed, patched up, encouraged and sent back out to be ambassadors of Jesus.

Conclusion: “The crisis at the heart of the church is a crisis of product.” I would challenge every pastor in America to schedule into his week a 90-minute time slot to meet with two or three others for the express purpose of discipling for multiplication. Can you imagine the impact on the quality and quantity of the product, if we began to see an organic multiplication of these reproducible groups over the next ten years?

*This article is presented here with the written permission of the author – Dr. Greg Ogden. The original article may be found along with many excellent disciple making resources at the website: which stands for the Global Discipleship Initiative of which Greg Ogden is the Chairman of the Board. The Global Discipleship Initiative trains, coaches, and inspires pastors and Christian leaders to establish indigenous, multiplying disciple making movements, both nationally and internationally.

About the Author: Greg Ogden (D.Min, Fuller Theological Seminary) recently retired from professional church leadership and now lives out his passion of speaking, teaching and writing about the disciple-making mission of the church. Most recently Greg served as executive pastor of discipleship at Christ Church of Oak Brook in the Chicago western suburbs. He previously held the positions of director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Fuller Theological Seminary and associate professor of lay equipping and discipleship. His seminal book Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ has sold over 250,000 copies and has been a major influence on discipleship in the contemporary church. He is also the author of several other excellent resources that will help you in effectively making disciples who make disciples: Transforming Discipleship; Making Disciples a Few at a Time; The Essential Commandment: A Disciple’s Guide to Loving God and Others;  Leadership Essentials: Shaping Vision, Multiplying Influence, Defining Character (co-authored with Dan Meyer); Essential Guide to Becoming a Disciple: Eight Sessions for Mentoring and Discipleship; and Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God.

A Fascinating Look At 112 Triads Illuminating the Trinity by John M. Frame

Adapted from Appendix 1 in the phenomenal book: The Doctrine of God by *John M. Frame, Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 2002

I will present here a list of triads that have sometimes been thought to reflect or illumine the Trinity in some way. I will offer a few comments, but normally will present them without comment.

I have tried to weed out those that seem to me to be obviously arbitrary, contrived, or uninteresting, but readers should not assume my evaluation of any of these. I do not place any theological weight on these examples—nor do I urge readers to do so. All I would claim is that these triads are of some interest and that they may in some measure reflect, illumine, or provide for the evidence of the Trinity on any of these triads (except for the first one).

Some are taken from other sources, but I will not be able to provide adequate documentation in many cases. I have been building this list for many years, and I have lost track of many sources, for which I apologize to the authors (Nathan Wood, The Trinity in the Universe, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1984 has an even longer list of vestigia). The chapter numbers refer to the chapters in The Doctrine of God.

Scripture and Christian Theology Triads

 (1) Texts anticipating, reflecting, or explicitly teaching the Trinity (chaps. 27-29).

(2) Divine act, covenant making, and period of application.

(3) History, law, and sanctions, as elements of the suzerainty treaty.

(4) God’s word as powerful, meaningful, and self-expressive (See John Frame, Perspectives on the Word of God, Eugene, OR.: Wipf and Stock, 1999, 9-16).

(5) Events, words, and persons as media of God’s word (See Perspectives, 17-35).

(6) Prophet, priest, king.

(7) Revelation, inspiration, and illumination (See Perspectives, 31-32).

(8) Revelation: general, special, and existential.

(9) Control, authority, and presence, as God’s lordship attributes (as discussed throughout The Doctrine of God).

(10) God’s oneness as unity, equality, and concord (Augustine).

(11) Goodness, knowledge, and power, as classifications of divine attributes (as in this volume). Omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, as exemplifications of these.

(12) The theological account of God’s holiness as mysterium temendum et fascinans (mystery arousing fear and fascination – Rudolph Otto).

(13) The threefold repetition of “holy” in Isaiah 6:3.

(14) God as life (John 14:6), light (1 John 1:5), and love (1 John 4:8, 16).

(15) God’s righteousness as standards, actions, and moral excellence (chap. 21).

(16) God’s will as decree, precept, and wisdom (chap. 23).

(17) God’s spirituality as control, authority, and presence (chap. 25).

(18) God’s acts, attributes, and persons.

(19) Miracles as signs, wonders, and powers (chap. 13).

(20) Creation of heaven, earth, and sea (the three-layered universe).

(21) The sun, moon, and stars.

(22) Providence as government, revelation, and concurrence.

(23) God’s decrees, creation-providence, and redemption.

(24) Law, redemption accomplished, and redemption applied (chap. 13).

(25) Jesus as the Word, his acts in history, and his nature as God and man (chap. 13).

(26) Election, effectual calling, and individual soteriology (chap. 13).

(27) Biblical history: the old covenant period, from the incarnation to the Resurrection, Pentecost to the consummation.

(28) The three parts of the Old Testament in the Hebrew Bible: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.

(29) Many triads in Bible stories and laws: three stories in Noah’s ark, three sendings of birds after the Flood, three sons of Noah, three visitors to Abraham, three patriarchs, three divisions of the tabernacle, three feast periods, three offerings. The cleansing of a leper by blood, water, and oil on the ear, thumb, and toe (Leviticus 14:1-20). Three years in Jesus’ ministry, three temptations, and three crosses.

(30) Grain, wine, and oil as chief staples, elements of offerings, sacraments, and rites.

(31) Creation, redemption accomplished, and redemption applied.

(32) Man as image of God: in Meredith Kline’s view, the image consists of physical, judicial, and moral qualities (in my terms, situational, normative, and existential qualities (Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980).

(33) Human responsibility as accountability, liability, and integrity (chap. 8).

(34) Justification, adoption, and regeneration-sanctification as the major benefits of redemption (chap. 13).

(35) The grounds of assurance of salvation: the promises of God, the fruit of salvation in one’s life, and the internal witness of the Spirit (normative, situational, and existential).

(36) Sanctification: definitive, progressive, and final (at the consummation).

Non-Christian Religion Triads

 (37) A.A. Hodge says that the doctrine of the Trinity captures and balances the truth of deism, pantheism, and mythology, by its teaching about the Father, Spirit, and Son respectively (See his interesting discussion in A.A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976, 107-10).

(38) Triadic polytheisms: (a) Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva in Hinduism; (b) Osiris, Isis, and Horus in Egyptian religion; (c) Sin, Shamash, and Ishtar (Babylon); (d) Anu, Elish, and Ea (Sumer); (e) Uranos, Kronos, and Zeus (Greece); Odin, Thor, and Loki (Norse).

(39) Raimundo Panikkar: everyone has three aspects: divine, anthropic, and cosmic (normative, existential, and situational).

(40) In mysticism: cogitation, meditation, and contemplation.

(41) In mysticism: purification, illumination, and ecstasy.


(42) Predicables, cases, and exemplifications, like wisdom, Socrates’ wisdom, and Socrates. I see these as normative, situational, and existential (See Nicholas Wolterstorff, On Universals, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970, 133).

(43) Thales is said to have believed that every object has three dimensions: physical, living, and divine.

(44) Hegel’s being, nothing, and becoming, and other triads on patterns of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

(45) Many twofold distinctions can be construed as triads, for the two terms are related in an important way, producing a unity that brings them together similar to Hegel’s dialectic. Thus: subject/object, naïve/theoretical, free/determined, one/many, form/matter, and so forth (Thanks to my correspondent Daniel Davis – henceforth DCD for this observation).

(46) Instantiation, association, and classification (Vern Poythress, described in chap. 29; other threefold distinctions in his writings: particle, wave, field; expressive, informational, productive).

(47) Beginning, middle, end.

(48) Good, true, and beautiful, seen as convertible in scholastic philosophy. But being, unity, and particularity are also among the convertible “transcendentals.”


(49) Object, subject, and law (DKG).

(50) The situational, normative, and existential perspectives.

(51) In logic: major premise, minor premise, and conclusion.

(52) Dooyeweerd: the Archimedean point, by which we see the world rightly, must not be separated from our selfhood, divine law, or the totality of the meaning of the cosmos (I see these as existential, normative, and situational, respectively).

(53) Rationalist, empiricist, and subjectivist approaches of secular philosophy (DKG).

(54) Knowledge as justified, true belief (see chaps. 11 and 22).


(55) Faith, hope, and love, as virtues that abide (1 Cor. 13:13)

(56) Three lusts (1 John 2:16).

(57) Teleological, deontological, and existential schools of secular ethics (DCD).

(58) Great commandments: love God, love yourself, and love your neighbor.

(59) The world, the flesh, and the devil.

(60) Goal (glory of God), motive (love, faith), and standard (Word of God).

(61) Good works seek the goal of God’s glory, on the basis of the cross of Christ, in the power of the Spirit.


(62) Contrast, variation, and distribution (Poythress: see chap. 29).

(63) Expressive, informational, and productive (Poythress: see chap. 29).

(64) Locution, illocution, and perlocution: locution in a piece of language; illocution is what is done in the language (command, question, statement, etc.); perlocution is what is done through the languages (educate, mislead, annoy, amuse, etc.- See J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975).

(65) Three grammatical persons: I, you, and he.

(66) Theories of meaning, locating meaning in the author’s intention, the hearer’s understanding, and the text itself.


(67) Grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic—the classic trivium.


(68) Theories of mathematics: formalism (determined by inner consistency), constructivism (based on the structure of the human mind), and Platonism (mathematical objects and relations belong to the ontology of the world).

The Physical World

(69) Field, wave, and particle (see chap. 29).

(70) Red, green, and blue (the primary painters’ colors), from which other colors can be made. I have said (rather tongue-in-cheek) of the first triad that blue is the sky (normative), green is the earth (situational), and red is the interior of the body (existential).

(71) Yolk, white, and shell.

(72) Liquid, solid, and gas.

(73) Height, width, and length (Each constitutes all of space, yet they are distinct).

(74) Outside, inside, and above. (Also used as three viewpoints: “from outside,” etc.)

(75) Number, space, and time (yielding arithmetic, geometry, and calculus).

(76) Past. Present, and future.

(77) Matter, energy, and meaning. David Bohm, a disciple of Einstein, believed that each of these replicates the other two. Each is a basic manifestation of reality.

(78) The nine dimensions of some recent theories: a trinity of trinities.

(79) Root, trunk, and branches.

(80) The sun brings light, heat, and life.

The Human Body

(81) Circulation, respiration, and nervous system.

The Human Mind, Personality

(82) Mind, knowledge, and love.

(83) Memory, understanding, and will (Numbers 82-85 are important to Augustine’s discussion of the Trinity).

(84) Being, knowing, and willing.

(85) In self-knowledge: the self as subject, object, and knowledge.

(86) In self-love: the self as lover, beloved, and love.

(87) Thought, word, and deed.

(88) Intention, action, and response (especially within the same person).

(89) We form our selfhood in our relations to others.

(90) Unity and plurality in the human mind and in the human race (chap. 29).

(91) Some people are normativists, always seeking justice. Others are situationalists, wanting to be committed to a cause or activity beyond themselves. And some are existentialists, focused on their own feelings. In families, the oldest child is often normativist, and the other children sort out the other two roles. These are aspects of all or us, but we differ in focus.

Human Society, Culture

(92) Husband, wife, and child.

(93) Physician, pharmacist, and patient (Normative, situational, and existential, respectively, if you take this triad from the patient’s point of view – Taken from an ad for Women’s International Pharmacy, placing each term at one point on a triangle. Anything is fair game for theology!).

(94) Think, work, and serve (the motto of Tennessee State University – DCD).

(95)  Godel, Escher, and Bach (relatively normative, situational, and existential – See Douglas R. Hofstadter, Godel, Escher, Bach, New York: Random House Basic Books, 1980).

(96) Piety, doctrine, and social action, seen as varying emphases among (especially Reformed) Christians. In truth, each requires the others.

Art, Music, And Literature

(97) I, IV, and V, the three primary chords, defined by triads of tones.

(98) Root position and two inversions of triadic chords.

(99) Tonic, tierce, and quiet.

(100) Melody, harmony, and rhythm (the music as composed).

(101) Timbre, volume, and harmony (the music as presented).

(102) The threefold structure of the twelve-bar blues.

(103) The threefold structure of many classical forms: theme, development, and recapitulation; fast, slow, and fast movements in sonatas and concerti; the da capo aria.

(104) Themes with variations, in which the variations correspond one-to-one with the theme, but are widely different from each other.

(105) Composer’s conception, the score, and the performance (any of these can be called “the piece” – Thanks to Steve Hays for this suggestion).

(106) beauty as integrity, proportion, and splendor.

(107) Aesthetic theories: formal (locating beauty in qualities inherent in objects), emotional (locating it in the response of the perceiver), and relational (finding beauty in the capacity of objects to arouse responses). I see these as normative, existential, and situational, repectively (DCD).

(108) “Unity within monotony” as aesthetic criterion (DCD).

(109) Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) describes three stewards: one increased the Lord’s investment, then a second did, but the third did not. As in many jokes, two people would seem to be too few, and four too many (I recall watching on TV a discussion among several comedians about “three guys” jokes [as, “An atheist, a priest, and a rabbi were going past a bar…”]. They agreed that there was something unique about the number three that was crucial to that form of humor).

The first sets up a pattern, the second establishes it as a continuing pattern, and the third consummates the pattern, driving home its significance. This is not essentially different from the work of the persons of the Trinity: initiation, accomplishment, and application (We should, of course, not see a rigid or unvarying pattern here. There are also important twofold distinctions in Scripture [e.g., Old and New Covenants, Creator and creature, double restitution for theft in the Mosaic law, law and gospel], as well as fourfold, sevenfold, tenfold, etc. But the threefold distinctions are strangely pervasive, and they hold special interest for our present discussion).

(110) The chiasm is a frequent literary device in Scripture, especially in the Pslams, but also in prophecy, prose narratives, etc. It is essentially an A-B-A form in which one idea, theme, image, or motif gives rise to another, then returns to the first with some level of enrichment. The chiasm can become more complicated, when the text includes chiasms within chiasms: so, A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C creates the total structure as A-B-C-DC-B-A. Often the central item (D in our example) receives the emphasis. But the overall structure can be understood as triadic: theme, additional theme, return.

(111) The chiasm exists implicitly in all literature. A story begins in a situation and encounters a problem that brings the situation to a different state: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis-consummation (as in the “quest” genre: a journey from comfort to ordeal to enlightement; stasis, katabasis, anabasis). In Scripture: Jesus’ preincarnate glory, his state of humiliation, and his resurrection and ascension to an even greater acknowledgement of his lordship; or creation, fall, redemption.


(112) Confrontation, consolidation, and continuation: stages of major cultural movements (reformation in the church and political change).

*John M. Frame is an American philosopher and a Calvinist theologian especially noted for his work in epistemology and presuppositional apologetics, systematic theology, and ethics. He is one of the foremost interpreters and critics of the thought of Cornelius Van Til (who he studied under while working on his B.D. at Westminster Theological Seminary). An outstanding theologian, John Frame distinguished himself during 31 years on the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, and was a founding faculty member of WTS California. He is best known for his prolific writings including: Apologetics to the Glory of God; No Other God; The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God; Salvation is of the Lord; The Doctrine of the Christian Life; The Doctrine of the Word of God, and several others. He is a regular contributor to many books and reference volumes, as well as scholarly articles and magazines.

Frame was born (1939) and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. He came to know Christ at around 13 or 14 years of age, through the ministry of Beverly Heights UP Church (in particular the youth and music ministries) and some Christian friends.

For his education, Frame received degrees from Princeton University (A.B.), Westminster Theological Seminary (B.D.), Yale University (A.M. and M.Phil., though he was working on a doctorate and admits his own failure to complete his dissertation), and Belhaven College (D.D.). He has served on the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary and was a founding faculty member of their California campus. He currently (as of 2005) teaches Apologetics and The History of Philosophy and Christian thought at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL. He is appreciated, by many of his students, for his charitable spirit and fairness to opposing arguments (although, he fairly demolishes them nonetheless).

Frame is also a classically trained musician (he plays the piano and organ) and a critic of film, music, and other media. He has been involved in the music/worship ministry of the church since he was a teenager, upon coming to faith in Christ. He is deeply committed to the work of ministry  and training pastors.

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