Interview With Dr. Baxter Kruger
On the Origin and Mission of Perichoresis Ministries:
An Interview with C. Baxter Kruger, Ph. D.
Q. 1. Baxter, when was Perichoresis started and what is its main mission?
“Officially speaking, Perichoresis was started in 1994 in Jackson, Mississippi by Steve Horn, Clayton James, David Upshaw and me. Unofficially it is hard to date, because Perichoresis is more about a conversation and theological fellowship, and both the conversation and the theological fellowship involve more people and began long before 1994. But for the four of or us, the most stunning news in the universe was that the Father’s eternal Son became human. We wanted to know what it meant. So our focus was then and always has been on Jesus’ union with the human race and what it means for us, and for our relationships and lives today. This conversation took form through my writing and teaching and the personal and theological fellowship spread across the United States, Canada and abroad.
“We did not set out to start a ministry. We were simply awed by the incarnation of the Father’s Son. We could not stop thinking about the implications of Jesus’ very existence. Perichoresis is not so much an organization as it is an ongoing discussion stretching across years and oceans. We want to understand and experience our adoption in Christ and we want to share what we are learning and experiencing with others. Our “ministry” is to discover and articulate the trinitarian gospel of the early church and to share the truth with the widest possible audience. We do this through relationships, teaching and preaching, and through making our materials available.”
Q. Would you summarize the heart of Perichoresis’ beliefs?
“It may sound trite, but Jesus Christ is the heart of what we believe. I mean, the very identity of Jesus Christ as the Father’s eternal Son incarnate, and as the One anointed in the Spirit, and as the one in and through whom all things were created and sustained is the heart of what we believe. Our intention is to rethink everything we thought we knew in the light of this Jesus Christ. A few years ago I summarized the core of what we are doing in two paragraphs:
To speak the name of Jesus Christ, biblically and in the tradition of the early church, is to say “Trinity” and it is to say “humanity” and it is to say “creation,” and it is to say that the Triune God, the human race and all creation are not separated, but bound together in relationship. For Jesus Christ is the Father’s eternal Son incarnate, and he is the One anointed in the Holy Spirit, and He is the One in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are sustained. In His incarnation, the Father’s Son did not dissolve his relationships with his Father or the Spirit and he did not sever his relationship with all creation. His very existence, therefore, as the incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ascended Son is the gospel. In Him, the Father and the Spirit, the human race and all creation are bound together in relationship, in union.
In the person of Jesus Christ, the life of the triune God is united with the human race and with all creation. In Jesus the impossible has happened, humanity has been adopted, and creation has been lifted up into the trinitarian life of God. This vision of Jesus Christ is the gospel to be proclaimed, and it is the starting point of proper Christian thought–the non-negotiable truth of all truths.
Q. The “truth of all truths,” as you call it, is more than a doctrine, isn’t it?
“Way more, and on two different fronts. First, the truth is not a doctrine at all, but Jesus himself. We are so locked into thinking of “truth” as propositions or about scientific facts, that we cannot see the obvious. Jesus tells us outright that he is the truth. His identity involves the being of God, and our being, and the being of the cosmos itself. His existence carries immediate implications for all of us. So to speak of Jesus is to speak of God, of humanity and of creation, and of their relationship. The name of Jesus Christ truly speaks volumes. Second, Jesus is so central in the whole scheme of things that his identity is the light illuminating everything in the cosmos.”
Q. Would you elaborate on the centrality of Christ?
“Let me ask a few questions here. Is Jesus an accident? Is this union between the Triune God, the human race and creation in Jesus Christ plan “B,” quickly implemented after the failure of plan “A” in Adam? Or is Jesus Christ plan “A,” the eternal foreword to all divine activity? What does it mean to speak of Jesus Christ as the eternal Word of God, if not that Jesus is the eternal point? What does it mean to speak of him as the Alpha and the Omega if not that he is–in his union with his Father and Spirit, and with us, and with creation–the truth preceding creation itself? Why, and on what grounds would we look beyond Jesus Christ–in his three-fold union–to find another, higher, deeper or secret plan of God? Is this union a divine afterthought?”
Q. So the identity of Christ is the revelation to us of who God is and who we are?
“Absolutely, and also the revelation to us of why we are here and where this universe is headed. Paul says that God the Father predestined us to adoption as sons (and daughters) through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5). I cannot think of a better word to sum up the heart of the Father and the plan behind creation than the word “adoption.” That truth in itself is stunning, but the real stunner in Paul’s comment is the phrase “through Jesus Christ.” Think about it. Before creation was called into being our adoption was set forward as the great goal of creation itself. And, our adoption was given into the hands of Jesus Christ to accomplish. The implications here are staggering.”
Q. Can you be more specific about these implications?
“That would take a long time. But let me make two general points. First, by implications I am speaking in terms of our general orientation of thought. For the most part we see the coming of Jesus as a reaction to the Fall of Adam. But if we take Paul seriously then before the foundation of the world, “the Word of God is on the road to becoming flesh” to lift a great phrase from Professor T. F. Torrance. The Father’s eternal purpose of our adoption in Christ is the reality that drives creation and the incarnation, not the disaster of human sin. That, of course, does not mean sin is not a problem. It just means that the Triune God is preoccupied with the eternal purpose of our adoption not driven by reaction to the Fall. That seems to me to be rather huge. There is a lot of work to be done here.”
Q. You mentioned two general points, what is the second?
“Since Jesus Christ, and the union between the triune God and the human race in him is not plan “B,” but the eternal plan of the Father, then in Jesus we are face to face with the truth about God and with the why and wherefores of our human existence. For me, everything we thought we knew, from our doctrine of God to our notions of salvation, from election to eschatology, from heaven and hell to repentance and faith have to be rethought in the light of Jesus’ identity. Jesus is the light of the world. It seems to me that the Christian community is called to believe in Jesus and that means to stop believing in ourselves and our own notions of God, life, and history. If we err, we are to err on the side of making too much of Christ and his place in the whole of creation–which, of course, is impossible. Given that the incarnation of the Father’s Son was predestined before creatioon, then a threefold scheme of history opens before us–the preparation, the fulfillment and the revelation. Those categories are not hard and fast, but they do help us see that from creation to Christ is the formation of ‘the womb of the incarnation’ to cite Torrance again. In the incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ we have the fulfillment of the Father’s eternal purpose for us and for creation. After the ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost we have the time of revelation, wherein the Spirit is at work educating the human race as to its real identity and destiny in Christ, until we come to know the truth and are set free by it.
Q. Would you say that this calling to ‘rethink everything we thought we knew’ in the light of Christ is central to the ministry of Perichoresis?
“Yes, and here you will have to indulge me for a moment or two to read a section from my essay, ‘Jesus Christ: The Truth of All Truths.’
As the fully divine Son incarnate, Jesus Christ is the One in whom the Triune God, the human race and creation are not separated, but bound together in relationship. And as this union is not an afterthought, but the eternal foreword, Jesus Christ stands before us as the truth of all truths. He is at once the gospel itself and the raison d’être of the cosmos, both the one constant in the universe and its integration point, and he is the divine hermeneutic, the true light shining from eternity. In him we are confronted with divine revelation, with the true law, the rule of faithful thinking about God, humanity and creation, beyond which there is only the sophisticated silence of human projection.
What happened in this Son, Jesus Christ, involves the being of God and the whole universe, for in him they meet and are together. Immanuel is not a theory. It is the truth, the light of life, the non-negotiable point of departure for the Christian community. The Christian Church is summoned to be the sphere within creation where this Son is known, embraced and taken with profound seriousness. The Church is called to be the community in which the light of Jesus Christ is allowed to shine, where the truth of all truths is allowed to question every assumption, and the fact that in him the Triune God, the human race and creation are not separated, but bound together is permitted to restructure the basic vision of the human mind and heart. The Christian Church is called to proceed in earnest faith and joy, obediently bringing every thought captive to Christ. It is the Church’s great privilege and calling to think through the implications of the stunning reality established in Jesus Christ for every sphere and discipline of human thought, from theology proper to ecology and international politics, from sin and human brokenness to economics, education and healing. No leaf is to be left unturned until the staggering implications of Jesus Christ’s existence are understood and received in all joy. In this calling the Christian Church is the witness to the human race and to the cosmos of Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, the Anointed One, the rhyme and reason and the Lord and life of all creation, until the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.
So I see the ministry of Perichoresis as part of the Church’s calling.”
Q. That is a rather huge calling isn’t it?
“Yes, we are in over our heads. The calling of the Church and ours within it are altogether impossible, but anything less is an insult, isn’t it? How can we not attempt to paint something so beautiful. And if we aren’t willing to follow the truth, how will we escape our own darkness and stop imposing our own marred vision upon God?
“Jesus said, “Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me (John 15:5). We have a choice before us. Either we abide in Jesus and in his vision of God, others and creation, or we abide in ourselves and our own vision and continue to impose that vision, marred as it is, upon God and the world around us, and suffer the consequences. We live in the crucible of response.”
Q. As the years have gone by, what are the main themes that have emerged in your teaching and why?
“Several issues are quite clear. The first is the whole question of God. The default settings of the fallen mind simply cannot believe that Jesus’ Father is for real. We can’t seem to get beyond our own notions of god, which amount to projections of our own fear. We tar the Father’s face with the brush of our own angst and find scripture verses to prove what we see, and that is our doctrine of God. The ‘natural mind,’ as Paul called it is a terrible thing to live with. So I find again and again that the beautiful vision of the Trinity and of the relationship between the Father and Son in the Spirit must be proclaimed and that the faceless, nameless, heartless Judge/God of the fallen mind must be exposed for the lie that it is. The gospel of the Triune God, the news of our adoption and the universal, indeed cosmic significance of Christ are all constant themes in our work. In addition there are the themes of healing and wholeness and dealing with the question, ‘if we are so loved by the Father and so reconciled by the Son, why is life such a mess? It is here that the theme of human blindness finds its necessary emphasis. In the last few years the global, political and social implications of Jesus Christ’s existence have become more prominent. Of course, from the beginning relationships have been a constant theme and is the practical heart of all that we do. Finally, the devastating dualisms built into the Western tradition have to be addressed constantly.”
Q. I heard you say once; I believe in your lectures on John’s Gospel, that we don’t receive an absent Jesus into our lives. What did you mean by that statement?
“We are accustomed to hearing preachers talk about praying to receive Jesus into our lives. For me that is a singular disaster. I think I know what they intend, but there is something very wrong in the vision of Jesus Christ that lies behind the wording. How can we receive someone into our lives in whom we live and move and have our being? That would be like me asking my daughter to receive me into her life. We’ve got it exactly backward. The gospel is not the news that we can receive an absent Jesus into our lives, as if we have life at all without him. The gospel is the news that Jesus Christ has received us into his life. We don’t make Jesus part of our world; he has made us part of his, part of his life and relationship with his Father, part of his anointing in the Spirit, part of his relationship with his creation. It is this reality that summons us to faith and repentance.”
Q. Speaking of faith and repentance, can you give us a brief definition of each?
“The gospel confronts us with the news that in Jesus Christ we belong to the Father, Son and Spirit and in so doing it challenges the way we see God, ourselves and others. The news creates a crisis in our lives, a crisis of faith. Which vision are we going to believe in, our own or Jesus’? Sin is our insistence that Jesus repent and believe in us. Sin is saying to Jesus Christ, ‘your vision of God and of salvation and of life make no sense to me, therefore you are wrong and you must change your vision and join me in mine.’ Christian faith is simply saying to Jesus, ‘I believe in you and in your vision and I want you to convert my thinking, my vision, my way of seeing. I do not want to live in my own world any longer. I want to live in yours. Help me.’ So proper faith is a discovery of the real world in Jesus Christ. A discovery that challenges us to the core of our thinking and believing, and thus, one that summons a personal acknowledgement from us, and then summons us to walk in the light of Christ. The fight of faith is the fight between believing in ourselves and our own vision, or in Jesus Christ and his. Repentance is a radical change of mind, a change in the way we see God, ourselves, life and others. It is the transformation of our minds out of which comes freedom to accept ourselves and others, freedom to know and be known, to love and be loved, and deliverance from personal hurt and religious bondage. My friend Bruce Wauchope speaks of faith as letting the Father love us. Christian faith is saying yes to Jesus’ vision of his Father and His love. Repentance is responding to the question of the Father, ‘why won’t you let me love you?’ Both faith and repentance are, as Calvin insisted, a life long process.”
Q. In one of your lectures you talk about the five key words to the Trinitarian gospel–Trinity, adoption, Jesus, secret, and education. Are those 5 words structurally important or was that just a way of framing things for that particular lecture?
“I think I would have to say both. As a teacher, you have to find ways to communicate and to give people a way of holding together a lot of ideas. So the five words function as pegs, so to speak, that people can hang thoughts on. On another level, we use different orders in our thinking. There is the order of discovery, then there is the logical order of the material once discovered, and then the order of teaching. Sometimes in teaching we can begin at the end or with more practical questions and work back. For me, all our learning begins with Christ. We discover who God is in Jesus, and in him we understand who we are and why we are here, as well as why our lives can go so wrong. That is the order of discovery. If we presented the material along these lines the five words would be Jesus, Trinity, Adoption, Secret and Education. Typically I present the ideas in the logical order as you set them out.
“As to the significance of five words as opposed to, say, ten I don’t know. Perhaps that is a vestige of my old Calvinism coming through. What is significant is the way they help us get a picture of the purpose of the Triune God in history and of our place within it. God is Father, Son and Spirit. The trinitarian life is not about three self-centered persons battling for dominance. It is about other-centered love, about passionate acceptance and shared life. This God is not, strictly speaking, alone. Within the being of God there are three persons bound together in communion. It is not accidental that, as Paul tells us, the purpose of this other-centered God is to share the trinitarian life with others (adoption). Jesus was appointed before the foundation of the world to accomplish our adoption, and that is what he has done. In the light of our adoption in Christ we now are called to rethink what we think about ourselves; for being included in the trinitarian life of God means there is far more going on in our lives than we ever dared to dream (secret). It is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us through our own marred vision to see the truth in Jesus and then learn to walk in it personally and relationally (education).”
Q. I wanted to ask you about the word ‘perichoresis’ earlier, but the conversation went in another direction. What does the word mean and why did the early group choose this word for the name of your ministry?
“The word means ‘mutual indwelling’ and I would add ‘without loss of personal identity.’ In each of our books there is a statement at the back about the meaning of ‘perichoresis.’ Let me read it:
Genuine acceptance removes fear and hiding, and creates freedom to know and to be known. In this freedom arises a fellowship and sharing so honest and open and real that the persons involved dwell in one another. There is union without loss of individual identity. When one weeps, the other tastes salt. It is only in the Triune relationship of Father, Son and Spirit that personal relationship of this order exists, and the early Church used the word ‘perichoresis’ to describe it. The good news is that Jesus Christ has drawn us within this relationship, and its fullness and life are to be played out in each of us and in all creation.
“If you know the story of my son and his buddy in the den (The Secret, Home) then you have a wonderful picture of how this works. We chose the word because it says in one word what we believe to be the truth of all truths; in Jesus Christ the Triune God, the human race and the cosmos are not separated, but bound together in relationship, without loss of personal identity.
“We were aware of the “marketing problem” of using such a strange word for the name of our ministry, but we were more aware of the fact that we were not called to market Jesus. It is critical that we recover the early church’s vision of Jesus Christ. Bringing the word ‘perichoresis’ back into the discussion is one way to do it. On another level we had an eye toward the future. Given that Jesus Christ is the center of all things, we believed it was only a matter of time before the larger scientific community would begin groping for a concept that could speak to the obvious unity and diversity of the cosmos. Perichoresis is that concept. To me it is just plan sad that Christians don’t even know the word.”
Q. You speak often of the early church. What have been the main theological influences on your thinking and that of the fellowship of Perichoresis at large?
“The early church is critical for us. And by that I mean specifically the apostles and then Irenaeus, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzus and Hilary, among others. In many ways we have nothing new to say at all. I hope we are faithful to this tradition, and I certainly hope we are saying what they said for our own time. As a rule we have a problem with Augustine and his Greek philosophical split between the “essence of God” and the Trinity, and with the way the Western tradition has been so bound in a legal framework. Luther and Calvin, of course, and then T. F. and J. B. Torrance (my professor) and with them Karl Barth, George MacDonald, Thomas Erskine, John MacLeod Campbell and C. S. Lewis are constant sources of guidance. There are many others but that is the general family tree of influence.”
Q. Of your books and essays and lectures, do you have any favorites?
“That is not a fair question. So much depends on the context and my mood at the moment. Today I think I would have to break the question into personal or practical favorites and theological favorites. Under “personal favorites” I would say the first and last chapters of God Is For Us and chapter 4 of The Great Dance are at the top of the list. Under “theological favorites” I would say the central chapters on Christ and reconciliation in my new book, Across All Worlds, the essays, ‘A Discourse on Method” and ‘The Truth of All Truths,’ and the book Jesus and the Undoing of Adam.”
Q. What about lectures or lecture series?
“Using the same breakdown, I would say, ‘Your Are the Child the Father Always Wanted,’ ‘Home Revisited,’ and ‘Why The Trinity Matters.’ Theologically I would have to say ‘The Big Picture: From the Trinity to Our Adoption in Christ’ first, then both parts of ‘The Light of the Cosmos,’ and of course, ‘The Gospel of John.’”
Q. Have there been any surprises over the years with respect to the outreach of Perichoresis?
“Yes indeed. The greatest surprise has been the Australian people and their hunger for the gospel. We had dreams, but the Ozzies have taken the ball and run beyond anything we imagined. Personally speaking, I think their hunger has saved my life. It has called me and summoned my best.
“As a rule, the response of the Church has been surprising. Not the individual people in the pews, but the leadership. On the whole it seems that we are not wanted. Of course, that is not surprising on one level, but it is disappointing. But it is early yet, as the Scotts say.
“And I have to say that success of The Parable of the Dancing God was shocking to me. There are now well over 60 thousand copies of the book in print world-wide. It is used widely in counseling and as a gift for visitors in various churches, even as a gift at the Cursillo and Walk to Emmaus events, and there are plans in place to have it translated into 50 languages. I had no idea that it would touch such a nerve. As my friend Ken Blue has taught me to say, ‘Thank you Holy Spirit, we will have more please.’”
Q. Do you have any final comments you would like to make?
“Never ask a theologian if he or she has anything else to say. Of course I do. Several things in fact. First, I want to say that the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives rocks our illusions and demands a serious repentant rethinking of everything we thought we knew about God, ourselves, others and creation. History is the space and time given to the human race to come to grips with the relationship Jesus Christ has with us and the cosmos. He is the center. We are all united to him and he is not going away. Being blind as bats, we are in for a wild ride. He promises freedom and life to those who follow him, and warns us all that continuing to live in our own worlds spells greater and greater pain. Second, I want to say that Jesus is right about the Father and we are dead wrong. Jesus’ Father loves us forever. It has never crossed His mind to abandon us. Why won’t we let Him love us? And I would regret it sorely if I did not say something about the redeeming genius of the Trinity. I love that about the Father, Son and Spirit. They are in it for our blessings and they are constantly at work turning our darkness and our blunders into life and good. Jesus suffered our universal rejection. We condemned him, mocked him and crucified him. He did not retaliate. He did not meet our rejection with rejection. He embraced us in our darkness through his suffering, and thereby established a real and personal relationship with us at our very worst. He brought his communion with his Father and Spirit into our hell, and he knows how to meet us and share his life with us in every form of our brokenness.”
Dr. C. Baxter Kruger is a native of Prentiss, Mississippi. He and his wife Beth have been married for 25 years and have 4 children. Baxter has degrees in political science, psychology and earned his Doctor of Philosophy from Kings College, Aberdeen University in Aberdeen, Scotland under Professor James B. Torrance. Baxter is the Director of the ministry of Perichoresis and the author of 7 books, including The Great Dance, Jesus and the Undoing of Adam and Across All Worlds. He has lectured across Scotland, the United States, Canada and Australia. He is an avid outdoorsman and holds two United States patents for his fishing lure designs. He is the founder and President of Mediator Lures.