BOOK REVIEW: THE DEEP THINGS OF GOD
As kids, learning to swim, most of us were intimidated, even scared, by the “deep end” of the pool. I can remember vacationing with my family in the Wisconsin Dells, and it taking me hours on end, beside the hotel pool, to muster the courage to jump into water I knew would be over my head. Though my dad was right there to catch me, and provide instruction as to how to accomplish the seemingly insurmountable task successfully, something in me just couldn’t do it. But then, after pacing back and forth, assuming a pseudo-confident jump position (holding my nose, of course), and then backing out for a couple of hours…I finally did it! Then, after awhile, I didn’t even need my dad there to catch me. And something that once seemed so intimidating, proved to increase my enjoyment of swimming all the more.
That’s a bit like what diving in to the doctrine of the Trinity can be like for many Christians. They know it’s there. They’ve heard about it. However, something in them just can’t muster the courage to really go after it, even though it would provide an increasing depth to their understanding, enjoyment, and appreciation of all that God has done for us in the gospel of Christ.
Fred Sanders, associate professor of theology at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute, in his recent book, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, aims to help Christians learn to “embrace the doctrine of the Trinity wholeheartedly and without reserve, as a central concern of Evangelical Christianity”. “Why?”, you may ask. Sanders says, that we must embrace a robust Trinitarianism because, “the doctrine of the Trinity inherently belongs to the gospel itself”.
Sanders begins his book with an “Introduction” briefly touching upon how evangelicalism (Sanders equates w/ Protestantism), though coming from a deeply Trinitarian past, has become “shallow and weakly Trinitarian”. The author notes that evangelicals, on the whole, while rightly emphasizing “Bible, cross, conversion, heaven”, have reduced their faith to those four elements. In doing so, they have ceased to allow the emphases to stand out from a larger body of foundational truth. Sanders says, “When emphatic evangelicalism degenerates into reductionist evangelicalism, it is always because it has lost touch with the all-encompassing truth of its Trinitarian theology. What is needed is not a change of emphasis but a restoration of the background, of the big picture from which the emphasized elements have been selected”. With a particular, and much appreciated, focus on the gospel, and attention to historic and present evangelical voices, Sanders proceeds to argue how a robust Trinitarianism is not only accessible to Christians, but really does add a profound depth to gospel apprehension and living.
In the book’s 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 who may be intimidated by the well-known phrase, “The Trinity: Try to understand it and you’ll lose your mind; try to deny it and you’ll 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 says, “In order to start doing good Trinitarian theology, we need only to reflect on the present reality and unpack it”. He argues that productive and practical instruction to ourselves and others can begin by focusing on the fact that, in the gospel, we’re already immersed in Trinitarian reality. Agreeably, when one sees how intimately connected the gospel and Trinity are, it will lead to a desire to know, appreciate, and embrace Trinitarian reality rather than reduce it to an act of mental assertion/obedience.
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 news as Sanders notes that, “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 the thinking in Trinitarian, Father-Son-and-Spirit terms, gives a deeper and more profound understanding to the reality of our salvation, the Trinitarian work within the eternal plan of God in the gospel (i.e., the “economy of salvation”), 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, Scripturally based, vivid apprehensions of how the Trinity relates to our lives every day in light of the gospel.
Several notable strengths of Sanders’ work include:
- A gospel-centered, readable, concise, thorough, and practical Trinitarian theology.
- Chapter 2, “Within the Happy Land of the Trinity”, is worth the purchase of the book itself…explaining the glory, benefit, and depth of rightly understanding who God is, before considering what God does.
- A wide variety of historic and present evangelical voices, with citations, to help Christians grow an appreciation for those who have gone before (or are still with us) and have thought in richly Trinitarian categories.
- Readable and clear charts/diagrams that provide simple summaries of various Trinitarian realites.
- The book serves as a roadmap that will help both theologically seasoned and younger believers grow in their ability to worship, think, study Scripture, and pray in Trinitarian terms.
- Sanders offers a considerate and compassionate call to evangelicals to return to and embrace their Trinitarian roots for their deeper joy in the gospel.
Overall, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything is an excellent study on the doctrine of the Trinity. And, with a sharp and intentional focus on the gospel, and a reverent and worshipful spirit, Sanders takes the reader on an excellent and edifying study of this magnificent doctrine and its practicality for the daily walk of every Christian. I wholeheartedly recommend it!