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

Keith KettenringAncient Paths, Christian Living, The Uncommon Journey

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.” 

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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