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4 Stars Out Of 5
Trinitarian Thinking Is Essential to the Gospel
July 16, 2011
In today's evangelical culture where phrases like "Christ-Centered" are in vogue and topics of the Gospel and Christ finished work are common place, I found reading "The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything," by Fred Sanders quite refreshing. Many of the books that I've read lately have been more on the topic of practical application, parenting and other assorted topics. This was my first time reading a theology book in ages, and being a parent of a toddler my brain has limited bandwidth and I definitely noticed this book stretching my brain in ways that it hasn't in a while. With all of that said, I would not recommend this book if you are looking for a light read.
Starting the book, the first chapter was definitely intimidating. Sanders lays out a philosophical argument for why the trinity should be important for Christians today. To be honest, this chapter was hard to read and my fear was that if the rest of the book was like that then it would be hard to finish. I did finish the book and after the first chapter, the information became easier to process. Sanders uses the first chapter to lay a foundation for the rest of the book, from there he spends the bulk of book talking about how the gospel finds its root in the trinity. The book concludes with reflections on how the trinity relates to Bible reading and prayer.
Theology for theology sake is useless. What Sanders excels in with this book is taking the reader past a knowledge of God and to the worship of God. In chapter two I found myself worshipping God for who He is, particularly His self-sufficiency within the trinity and how He doesn't need anyone or anything else to complete or satisfy Himself. In chapter three I found myself worshipping God for all of His acts, particularly that of saving me. In chapter four I found myself worshipping God for the access He has provided by adopting me through the work of the trinity. In chapter five I found myself worshipping God for the specific roles He fulfills in the trinity and how He welcomes me to commune with each specific role. In chapter six I found myself worshipping God for allowing me to encounter Him through His Word which is the breath of His Spirit. In chapter seven I found myself worshipping God for how as His adopted child I get to each experience person of the trinity in prayer.
If you are wondering why you should buy this book, I will let the author tell you why from a chapter called, "Into The Saving Life Christ,"
"When evangelical Christians come to understand the trinitarian soteriology we have been describing in this book, they tend to describe it as a moment of insight that changes everything about their life and faith. At the very least, they see it as a breakthrough to a new level of depth in the things they had known before."
There is nothing wrong with being Christ-centered, problems arise when this causes us to becomes Father-forgetting and/or Spirit-ignoring. When we are Spirit-ignoring and Father-forgetting we shrink the size of the gospel. The trinity is important because it expands our size the gospel.
"A gospel which is only about the moment of conversion but does not extend to every moment of life in Christ is too small. A gospel that gets your sins forgiven but offers no power for transformation is too small. A gospel that isolates one of the benefits of union with Christ and ignores all the others is too small. A gospel that must be measured by your own moral conduct, social conscience, or religious experience is too small. A gospel that rearranges the components of your life but not put you personally in the presence of God is too small."
The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything is written by Fred Sanders an associate professor of theology at Biola University Torrey Honors Institute. On page 23 the author using Billy Graham as an example says, "Graham is a perfect example of an evangelical who is focused so much on being Trinitarian in practice that he somewhat under-explains the theological presuppositions of what he is doing." About ten years ago I wrote a treatise on the Trinity explaining what it was and why Christians need to understand it. Since that time I have not given much thought about the Trinity until recently teaching through the Gospel of Luke.
To be honest there are so many things that stand out about this book that to get into all of them would take up pages and pages. Dr. Sanders is very through in his treatment on the Trinity and how it applies to the life of the believer. Dr. Sanders is especially concerned to show throughout this work how the Gospel is tied to the work of the Trinity.
Unlike many books that are theologically driven, Dr. Sanders work does more than just consider the Scriptures but rather explains the Scriptures and then applies the Scriptures. This book is a first rate work. As one who has studied (formally and informally) and read a number of systematic theologies over the years there is simply nothing that I've read that even comes close to the work of Dr. Sanders in this book.
It is clear that Dr. Sanders has given a great deal of thought to the topic of the Gospel and the Trinity. Before I read Dr. Sanders work I had never read anything by him before. His writing style is very engaging which makes it easy to read and understand. This is why I am recommending that this book be read by any believer who is interested in learning how the Gospel connects to the Trinity.
Finally, this is one of the best books I've read this year. It is so because it is well-written, and well argued. It is grounded in the Scriptures. I believe this book touches on many topics many Christians have never thought about or definitely as deeply as Dr. Sanders has in our modern times. Lastly, I believe every Christian should read this book even if it takes them awhile, and even if they have to ask for help to understand everything. This book in its totality is full of Gospel-gold. I will be recommending it to everyone I know who is interested in learning how the Gospel connects to the Trinity.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
In his new book The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything Fred Sanders tackles the deep issue of the Trinity as the title makes clear.
To even begin talking about the God, the Trinity, is a massive undertaking. We are talking about our infinite and glorious God here; it is no small task!
Thankfully, God in His gracious wisdom has chosen to reveal Himself to sinful humans through His Son Jesus Christ and through His word, the Bible.
And not only that, but He has also graciously given us teachers and men who can help us think more rightly about Him. For that reason I am thankful for Fred Sanders.
I've heard the doctrine of the Trinity talked about in a few different ways. The first is when the Trinity is talked about in terms of how the different persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) relate to one another. This is generally a very deep topic given the fact that you are talking about the inner workings of the Trinity. It's even more difficult because much of the talk must turn into speculation since God hasn't revealed everything there is to know about how the Trinity have related to one another since all of eternity. That is not to say that He hasn't revealed some things about this, it just isn't as clear as many of the other things in the New Testament.
The second way the Trinity is talked about is in terms of the distinct roles each of them actually play in God's work in history: creation, redemption, sanctification, etc. This is often much more practical and immediately evident from Scripture.
And of course many people will include both of these trains of thought in their treatment of the doctrine.
So Where Does This Book Come In?
It's important to clarify early on what exactly this book is. Is it just a book on the doctrine of the Trinity? Is it only on the practical? This book takes a surprisingly different angle than I was expecting. This book is not just an attempt to spell out the doctrine of the Trinity and their glorious workings (though it is that) it is also an attempt to speak directly to the Evangelical Christian movement and remind it of it's deeply Trinitarian roots. Therefore, every chapter is speaking with an aim to show Evangelicals where they have been richly Trinitarian and to hopefully incite a deeper Trinitarianism within Evangelical culture.
The First Two Chapters: A Short Introduction Into Trinitarian Theology Within the Evangelical Movement
The title of the introduction says it all: "Evangelicals, the Gospel, and the Trinity. (Or, How the Trinity Changed Everything for Evangelicalism and Can Do It Again.)" This is Sander's desire throughout the book: that the Evangelical movement would remember where it came from and embrace afresh a deeply rooted Trinitarian understanding of God, life, and the gospel.
The title of the first chapter clues us in as well: "Compassed About By Father, Son, And Holy Spirit. (Or, How Evangelicals Are Profoundly Trinitarian Whether They Know It or Not.)"
While these chapters have so many great things to say, it could be important to know before launching out into this book what exactly you are getting into. These first two chapters are mainly about giving a defense of the fact that Evangelicalism is indeed deeply rooted in Trinitarian theology. Sanders gives many examples from the history of the movement that many men have been motivated from their solid footing in this area.
One helpful quote from these chapters was this:
"Christians are also not in the position of pulling together a few passages of Scripture, here a verse and there a verse, and cobbling them together into a brilliant doctrine that improves on Scripture's messiness. Instead, Christians should recognize that when we start thinking about the Trinity, we do so because we find ourselves already deeply involved in the reality of God's triune life as he has opened it up to us for our salvation and revealed it in the Bible."
The Middle Three Chapters: All About the Trinity - In Itself and In the World
The next four chapters begin to delve into a very helpful study of what is more generally talked about in a study of the Trinity.
The first chapter in this section is titled: "In the Happy Land of the Trinity. (Or, God in Himself.)" In it Sanders begins to look into the distinction between who God is and what He does.
"God is eternally Trinity, because triunity belongs to his very nature. Things like creation and redemption are things God does and he would still be God if he had not done them. But Trinity is who God is, and without being the Trinity, he would not be God."
And in making this distinction he also shows how before humankind existed God has eternally existed and has been perfectly happy within Himself with no need of His creation.
He shows how that the goal of our salvation is to bring us into a relationship with God forever. And this is what the great news of the gospel is. It is that we get let in on this:
"The boundless life that God lives in himself, at home, within the happy land of the Trinity above all worlds, is perfect. It is complete, inexhaustibly full, and infinitely blessed."
The second chapter in this section is titled: "So Great Salvation. (Or, the Depth of the Gospel.)" Sanders continues further on helping us to see how the Father, Son, and the Spirit are at work in the gospel. He also helps us to think in a healthier way about the gospel:
"The only thing as immense as God himself is God himself, we must look to him to get our bearings about the magnitude of the gospel."
What I felt like Sanders did so well in these chapters is to help us see the amazing way God, each person of the Trinity, works to save us and at the same time keeping our focus on Jesus as the Savior:
"We have already seen the divine scope and the Trinitarian shape of the economy of salvation. Now we need to see, as clearly as possible, that the gospel of the Trinity is not an alternative gospel to the experience of personal salvation through Christ. There are not two different messages here but a single proclamation of good news that is simultaneously Christ-centered and Trinity-centered. There is never any need to play the doctrine of the Trinity off against salvation in Christ, because they are centered on the same reality. The more Trinity-centered we become, the more Christ-centered we become, and vice versa."
The Last Two Chapters: Examples of How the Trinity is Involved in Bible Reading and Prayer
The first chapter here about Bible reading is helpful and interesting. Sanders approaches this by working through three evangelicals and showing how they all had a strong Trinitarian theology at work in their understanding of Scripture and Bible reading.
Finally, the chapter on prayer is very helpful with Sanders starting off by saying:
"God the Father knows what we need before we ask (Matt. 6:8); God the Son is a high priest who can sympathize with our weakness, giving us confidence to draw near the throne of grace (Heb. 4:15-16); and God the Spirit knows how to pray even when we do not, interceding for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26)."
I really enjoyed the last chapter!
Ultimately, I felt like this book was very helpful in what it had to say about God the Trinity. Helping to clarify what is clear from Scripture and defend against faulty views. While I understand the reasoning of making the case for the Trinity through the lens of evangelicals to evangelicals, I was at times distracted by it. But it is nonetheless helpful for it's intended purpose and hopefully will be used to show present day evangelicals that a deep Trinitarian theology is indeed part of their roots and that they wouldn't be where they are without it and that they are losing much if they neglect it.
In The Deep Things Of God Fred Sanders seeks to show the modern evangelical that their faith is in fact a Trinitarian faith. He uses many voices from within the evangelical and even the Reformed camps to make this case. He does so quite effectively as well.
One of the things that I particularly like is that he continually refers to the Trinitarian aspect as something that is in the background of all we do and all we believe as evangelicals. He shows that even if we do not realize it, we are a strongly Trinitarian people.
I have to admit that throughout the Introduction and first part of the book I was unsure as to what I would think about it. However the more I read the more impressed I was. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more fully why we believe and act as we do as modern evangelicals.
Sanders book aims to help Christians learn to embrace the doctrine of the Trinity wholeheartedly and without reserve, as a central concern of Evangelical Christianity. He says this is necessary because, the doctrine of the Trinity inherently belongs to the gospel itself. In 7 chapters, Sanders starts by helping evangelicals see that they belong to a tradition that is profoundly Trinitarian whether they know it or not. For those intimidated by the well-known phrase, The Trinity: Try to understand it and youll lose your mind; try to deny it and youll lose your soul, Sanders sheds light on the reality that a deeper understanding of the Trinity can be fostered by simply taking a more intentional look at the theological realities of which one is already aware. More simply stated, many Christians have a better understanding of the Trinity than they may realize. Sanders moves forward to show how God is Triune in himself, and is infinitely and eternally happy to be Father, Son, and Spirit without reference to or need of the created order. This is glorious because, The good news of the gospel is that God has opened up the dynamics of the triune life and given us a share in that fellowship. The successive chapters successfully show how Trinitarian thinking gives a more profound understanding to the reality of our salvation, the work within the eternal plan of God in the gospel, our personal relationship with Christ, reading of Scripture, and prayer. Sanders does a remarkable job helping Christians move from mere analogous understandings of Trinitarian reality to experientially, Bible-based, vivid apprehensions of how the Trinity relates to our lives every day in light of the gospel. Overall, "The Deep Things of God" is an excellent study on the depth and practicality of the doctrine of the Trinity. I wholeheartedly recommend it! *This is an edited version of my full review which is available on my blog: http://bit.ly/b9BipP