Note: This is a little different than what I typically write because its a book review. I’d like to dip into this every once in a while as a record of what I’ve read and what I’ve found helpful. I find writing is perhaps most useful as a way for me to “write into understanding.” So there it is.
The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything is a book I had hoped to read for quite a while. Its a down to earth outline of why the Trinity is important. Its a book written from an evangelical to evangelicals and I immediately understand and appreciate why it’s needed. The heart of book is more or less the claim that the Trinity is actually presupposed by evangelical spirituality and making that explicit deepens our appreciation for the beauty and wonder of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
If you have spent any time in churches, you’ll often notice a “Statement of Faith” or “Statement of Belief.” The first or maybe second article of faith is almost always Trinitarian. Yet for me and many of the churches that I’ve attended, it always seemed that the statement seemed to operate as a primarily negative symbol, rather than a living and operating conviction. That is, it was a critical emblem of a church that wants to be considered an “orthodox” Protestant Church and not a cult. It’s a badge that offers primarily a negative statement, “This is what the church is not….,” rather than a conviction that shapes the life of the Church community.
As a contrast, one could easily imagine an ecclesial community which had the conviction that “Christians are to be nice.” This does not mean that Christians within the community are not sometimes cruel, but “niceness” is a defining characteristic of what it means to live within the community. Those who aren’t nice won’t be removed, because that wouldn’t be “nice,” but no one would defend them on the grounds that “niceness” isn’t important or crucial to being a Christian. It might not be written down, but it is a belief that shapes the lives and actions of the community members.
Sanders book attempts to connect the dots between the Trinity being a “negative symbol” and a conviction. It outlines how evangelical spirituality implicitly assumes Trinitarian thinking and has a long tradition of nourishing Trinitarian thinking, but it has often been forgotten.
Why has it been forgotten? Sanders doesn’t point to a failure of teaching or perhaps impressions that the Trinity is irrelevant, which are surely part of the problem, but roots the failure to engage the Trinity in the fear of damnation! If the Trinity is primarily grasped as a negative symbol, there are two routes for engaging that negativity. The first is engagement, we want to understand the symbol so we are not in the “out” group. The second is to ignore the symbol, because of the fear that if we engage in a mystery like the Trinity we might be in the “out” group. And so the thinking around the Trinity withers away and no longer serves the church as a vital conviction.
Without ruining the surprise of reading the book, I’d just like to make a quick note. This book is worth reading, if you’re interested in understanding how the Trinity fundamentally shapes the wonder and mystery of the God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is revealed in the Scriptures. This is a pivotal point. The Trinity isa concept that is mysterious but it protects the most fundamental Christian truth, Jesus has a Father, His Father has a Son and they have a Spirit.