5 KEY Bible Passages & 1 KEY Analogy Help You Understand The Participatory Paradigm

I once had a conversation with a friend about a Christian book he was reading. He was excited that the author was explaining, by the use of prepositions, how God relates to us. God is with, around, on, among, about, beside, for, over, behind/before, and toward us. I thought it sad and misleading that the author overlooked the one preposition that, above all, described the Christian’s relationship with the Trinity – “in.” The Participatory Paradigm captures the reality of “God in us and us in God.” 

Among the dozens of scriptural passages that support the participatory paradigm, here are 5 KEY stepping stones to understand its significance for you. 

  1. 2 Peter 1.3-4 – His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the (participatory/experiential) knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…
  2. 1 Corinthians 1.9 – God is faithful, by Whom you were called into the [communion/participation] fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Note: our calling is “into” what the Son has, which is communion/participation/fellowship (koinonia) with the Father and Spirit. This is not communion “with” the Son but “into” the fellowship the Son enjoys already. 
  3. John 15.4-5 – Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. To abide is to be in a “dynamic relationship” with another; more akin to being in a marriage than being on a team. 
  4. Philippians 2.12-13 – work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. You are invited to participate in God’s work in you so that your salvation will come to fullness. 
  5. 1 John 5.20 – And we (experientially) know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may (experientially) know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 


Please forgive me for qualifying the word “know” or “knowledge.” I do so since “knowing” has entrenched itself as “intellectual knowing” in most evangelical writing. Biblical writers did not know “knowing” in that way.  

I am not proof-texting. I am showing consistency in scripture, whether Jesus, Paul, Peter, or John. They all point the way to life as participating (abiding, communing, knowing) “in” God. 

I am not promoting a “positional” theory either. These teachings by Jesus and the Apostles are realities – actual, real, life-giving, “energies” of God in which we participate. If these realities are missing in your life it’s probably due to your known or unknown commitment to some other way of living the Christian life. 

A Helpful Analogy 

Fr. Jon E. Braun provides an ancient analogy that helps us understand the participatory paradigm. A sword is placed in a fire…

You heat a sword in a fire until it’s white hot. Then you dip it in a tub of water. What happens? The hot sword makes the water sputter and hiss. Or, if the red-hot sword is pressed against a piece of wood, the wood will scorch – perhaps even burst into flames. 

Let us make two observations from this illustration. First, fire has one kind of nature and iron a nature quite distinct from it. It is the nature of a sharpened sword to cut; it is the nature of fire to burn. Yet, now the heated sword can both cut and burn. The heat of the fire penetrates the sword. The sword does not become fire by nature. But it does participate in the heat, the energy, of the fire. Through all this, though, both the fire and the sword maintain their distinct natures. 

Now, is it the fire or the sword that burns the wood which the sword touches? The answer is both. Once the sword participates in the heat of the fire, it can inflict a burn quite easily. The energy produced by the fire is passed on to the sword and heat becomes a characteristic of the sword as well as of the fire. It is accurate to say that the fire burns through the sword. And it is every bit as correct to say that the sword itself burns the wood with heat from the fire. (Divine Energy: The Orthodox Path to Christian Victory, pp. 114-115)

You can become by grace what God is by nature. For that to take place, you participate in God. That’s what the participatory paradigm invites you to do. Biblical writers support this reality. Nature illustrates this reality. 

The spiritual growth model, as modern evangelicals understand it, distracts from this reality. 

Meditate on those scripture passages and the analogy above. How is the Participatory Paradigm resonating with you? Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “5 KEY Bible Passages & 1 KEY Analogy Help You Understand The Participatory Paradigm

  1. In meditating on this, I’m reminded of something the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous says. They have a phrase that pertains to ones ability to recover: “without God, I can’t; without me, God won’t.”

    Not attempting to get into questions of human agency or God’s sovereignty, it does seem that the successful Alcoholics–the ones that actually recover–recognize a union between God who keeps them sober and themselves who consistently turn towards God and the program/liturgy.

    If what you want is a sliced and cauterized wound, neither fire nor sword can do it alone. It requires a heated scalpel. If the alcoholic wants recovery, neither Gods fire nor his own tools can do it alone. It requires the participation of both.

    Thanks for these. I look forward to further meditating on these scriptures.

    • Hey Josh. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You’ve shed some really good light on the matter. Another word comes to mind – synergism. If we are convinced of our inability to function any other way (“apart from me [Jesus] you can do nothing”), then the issue becomes, how can God and I be and do life together? Salvation is so much more than getting us to heaven. It’s about this kind of life now and for eternity. Really love your comments. Thanks for your companionship on the journey! Keith

      • You’ve mentioned before this deeper understanding of “salvation”. I don’t even know where to begin to meditate on that. I’m sure I’m still caught in my post-reformation understanding of salvation. I know THAT it means more than a transaction of a soul onto Heaven’s roles. But I don’t know WHAT it means beyond that, except that I imagine it has something to do with “sanctification.” We western Christians draw too stark a contrast between what is “salvation” and what is “sanctification.” I’d love to see future posts/conversations about the ongoing relationship between “salvation”and “sanctification.”

        Thanks again!

        • Oh, man! That’s like an invitation to open Pandora’s Box. You’ve started down the right road by recognizing salvation as being more than a transaction. That’s where the Reformers took it in their reaction against a “works righteousness” or “works salvation” which they believed was taught by the Roman Catholic Church (may or may not be accurate). I’m doing broad strokes here. Let me just say that “salvation” is a broad term that includes and encompasses all that western Christianity separates – justification, sanctification, glorification. Basically, the Triune God is salvation. We know that salvation is “of God” but usually fail to see that He is the sole source of salvation. Thus, salvation is not a thing, it is a work of God Himself in us that starts at our birth and continues to eternity. Post-reformation Christianity’s understanding of salvation is reductionistic – taking it down to something tangible it can manage or explain. True salvation is the mysterious life of God already operating into which one enters by faith and into which one continues in grace “synergistically.” OK. Enough. There’s some more “stuff” for you to meditate on regarding salvation. Please forgive me if I’ve muddied the waters even more for you. The study of the protestant understanding of sanctification has been where I’ve lived for a few decades. The journey continues. Thanks for “getting it” – for noticing what’s really going on here. Thanks be to God for all things! Keith

          • Yeah, I’ve spent some time under heavy legalistic forms of Evangelicalism: where my works determined my salvation. And I’ve reacted by moving to the other pole: my works all damned, God saves me because of grace alone…so why bother pursuing Him beyond purchasing my fire insurance?

            I wonder if there’s some space to “return to center” regarding works and salvation. Certainly it is God’s grace which extends to us to save us, but what of our role? What of our need to actively receive? The 12 Steps say that it is God who keeps the addict sober and God sets the pace. But the addict who wants to truly recover (and not just “dry out”) must “take actions of love” and “PRACTICE a positive sobriety”. Those acts of selflessness and self-denial are where God meets an addict with what he really craves: true Union and Wholeness and feelings of usefulness and belonging.

            I actually think this is why groups like AA and NA see better overall results that the explicitly Evangelical Christian version of the 12 Steps (called Celebrate Recovery). The more “secular” programs see the importance of total dependence on God while requiring action: those actions of love. We don’t earn it by participation, but our participation is ABSOLUTELY required.

            Thanks again!

          • Great thoughts, Josh. You’re connecting some significant dots! Just remember, its always of grace, even in our efforts. Grace is God’s saving work in us which is always active. The dichotomy of works vs. grace is not a biblical reality. It is always grace and works, works and grace. Thanks for engaging the journey. See you in 2017, as the Lord wills. Keith

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