How does one approach the Christian doctrine of the Triune God? “Trinity” or any word like it doesn’t appear in the Bible, so how can we call such a doctrine “Biblical”?
Fred Sanders, in this volume of the New Studies in Dogmatics series, has taken up the reigns to lead us through this massively enigmatic topic. And he does it well, with years of his personal experience in the subject coupled with an abundance of experts cited. Both work together to establish authenticity.
Being a study in “dogmatics,” the content tempts us to exclusively focus on exercising our intellectual faculties. This should go without saying, but I mention it because Sanders, clearly anticipating the heart-killing that inevitably comes from an exclusive exercise of the mind, opens this work with a call to praise (doxology). Surely the foundation of studying the Trinity ought to be one of worship and reverence, for we worship God as he is, not as our minds imagine him to be. So when working through informational content like this, we must to the Greatest Commandment: love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength and mind. The mind is the chief beneficiary in ascertaining doctrines of the one true God, but it’s up to the readers to recognize that and apply it to their heart and strength as well.
And seeking “God as he is” is precisely the way I would describe Sanders’ goal. He labors in giving students and caretakers of Scripture the exegetical equipment needed to approach the doctrine. He presents the case for the Trinity in Scripture, implied by the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament.
He prunes away the misguided attempts at understanding this doctrine (such as attributing it to a product of Church history or overvaluing Biblical-critical methods that tend to fracture Scripture’s unity) and lets the truest method–letting the historical act of the Trinity revealed in the Incarnation and Pentecost–come to fruition.
God has revealed his Triune nature in the missions of the Son and Spirit, so we must, Sanders insists, let our interpretation be housed by the “overarching conception of a single divine economy of redemption and revelation structured by the missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit that manifest their eternal oneness with the sending Father.”
The divine missions are the central point, bounded on one side by the prophetic preparation for them and on the other side by the apostolic outworking of their consequences.
These historical acts are described in Scripture, so the authors of Scripture must be allowed to speak in their own voice before we perform eisegesis (or even allowing the voices of the enlightenment to sway our interpretations) on such a foundational doctrine. And the voice of Scripture says the Trinity has been revealed to us in the act of saving us (i.e., Jesus did not come to proclaim propositional truths about the Trinity). The truth that the Triune God has entered our world is the place to begin.
Yet the Biblical voices on this saving act of the Trinity are not as modernistic or propositional as we would like. This is because, Sanders argues, that the Trinity is presupposed by New Testament authors. Citing B. B. Warfield, he reminds us that “the Old Testament was written before [the Trinity’s] revelation, and the New Testament was written after it.”
Sanders articulates this well:
The authors of the New Testament seem to be already in possession of a Trinitarian understanding of God, one they serenely decline to bring to full articulation. The clearest Trinitarian statements in the New Testament do not occur in the context of teachings about God or Christ, but as almost casual allusions or brief digressions in the middle or discourse about other things.
The content is suitable for a theologically advanced readership, with knowledge of Greek and Latin being useful. The volume is rich with exegetical insight, and Pastors, students and teachers will find much to gain from owning a copy. Knowledge of what Scripture says about the God we fear, love and serve is critical for every thinking Christian, and using our faculties to study what it says about the Trinity is the most responsible act of worship we can offer. Otherwise, misguided theologies can deceive us into bowing to false images.
Because of this, Sanders defends Biblical unity, which is desperately needed to safeguard against critical attempts to nitpick the Trinity into nonexistence. For instance, the liberal criticisms inherited from the enlightenment that leads us to overemphasize the theological and lexical distances between Biblical authors and the Testaments is to court error. Doing so pokes holes in our intellectual faculties, like turning a bucket into a net, so when we’re asked to scoop the truth of the Trinity out of the Bible’s pages we’re left with the incriminating empty space of disconnected texts. But if one can imagine the reality of humanity’s redemption and can trust the modes of its revelation, the Three-in-One glues the Testaments together by making himself the point of it all. That’s why we must always return to doxology: praise to the One who creates many reasons for praise.
**I received this book from the publisher for free in exchange for a review on this site**