Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How The Trinity Changes Everything. Wheaton: Crossway, August 2010. 256 pp. Paperback, $18.99.
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Ever since my second semester here at DTS, I’ve been avidly interested in good reading on the Trinity. That was the semester I took Trinitarianism with Dr. Horrell and what would set the tone more or less for the rest of my time here. Last fall I took an advanced independent study in the Trinitarian thought of Jonathan Edwards and John Owen and I still only feel like I cracked the surface.
So needless to say, I was pretty excited to see this book come out. The Deep Things of God: How The Trinity Changes Everything is Fred Sanders contribution to the discussion, and it is a very readable, evangelical introduction to Trinitarian studies.
I was familiar with Sanders for his work in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology which we had to read in that Trinitarian course (and features a great essay by Dr. Horrell). In this book, I was a bit disappointed that Sanders doesn’t engage Owen or Edwards more than he does or other authors that have written well on the Trinity. However, the reason for that is that Sanders is writing to a broadly evangelical audience (which he wrestles a bit with defining, but basically includes anyone who would categorize themselves as Protestant) and is endeavoring to show the Trinitarian resources they have within their own recent tradition (recent meaning primarily since the Reformation).
With that end goal in mind, this book serves as a great introduction for someone who doesn’t necessarily read a lot of theological works, but is a committed evangelical Christian who wants to grow in their knowledge of God (which would make it a great Christmas present for such a person). As Sanders himself comments about how his own understanding of the Trinity came about:
I have honed, deepened, and enriched that theology [his understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity] quite a bit, through graduate studies and broader reading, but the thing itself did not come to me from academic study of theology. It was given to me at an early age by my evangelical church culture. (p. 23)
What Sanders then endeavors to prove is that thoughtful evangelical Christians are for the most part, already latently Trinitarian and do not realize the depth in their understanding. I think he excels at doing this mainly by his discussion of the logic of salvation. Starting with a basic understanding of the gospel, that Christ died for my sins and rose from the dead, he then shows how a progression of questions leads one right to the doctrine of the Trinity:
- What must I do to be saved? (soteriology)
- How did Jesus bring about this salvation? (atonement)
- Who must Jesus be if he is capable of saving in this way? (Incarnation)
- Who must God be if that is true of Jesus? (Trinity)
With a little bit of reflection then on what must have been accomplished for you to be saved, who would be able to do that kind of action, and then who could commission that action to take place, you’ve arrived in the “happy land of the Trinity” as Sanders calls it. This is just one of the many helpful discussions in this book. To give a broader overview, here’s the chapter breakdown (from p. 25-26):
- Chapter 1 deals with the methodology of doing Trinitarian theology
- Chapter 2 is a meditation on what triunity means for God before it makes any difference to us
- Chapter 3 shows how the Trinity expands our ideas about the sheer size of salvation
- Chapter 4 traces the Christian experience of salvation backward into the Trinity (see above)
- Chapter 5 shows how the emphasis of this Trinitarian view of salvation rightly falls on Jesus Christ
- Chapter 6 shows how evangelicals implicitly read the Scriptures in light of the Trinity
- Chapter 7 is a meditation on what is actually going on in Christian prayer and an encouragement to pray intentionally in a way that lines up with that underlying reality
Overall, this is a great introductory book into the doctrine of the Trinity from an evangelical perspective. It doesn’t shy away from theological issues like the ontological Trinity vs the economic Trinity, but engages them in a readable, non-academic way that I think most people will find helpful. This is definitely a book worth your time if you are interested in growing in your understanding of God and your salvation.