Fred Sanders. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. 256 pp. $18.99.
Evangelicalism is inherently Trinitarian and has robustly Trinitarian roots and history; yet the contemporary expression is marked by a tacit unawareness of God as Trinity and the Trinitarian nature of our great salvation. There’s both a conscious aversion (rooted in thinking that the doctrine is too complicated to understand and that the finer details are irrelevant) and a subconscious neglect (in the rightful evangelical focus on the saving work of Christ, we wrongly forget about the Father who elects believers and sends Christ, and the Spirit who applies redemption to the believer and unites him to Christ).
In The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Dr. Fred Sanders convincingly demonstrates that “the doctrine of the Trinity inherently belongs to the gospel itself” (9), and that the Trinity changes everything because the Trinity and the gospel are connected. A systematic theologian specializing in Trinitarian theology, Sanders brings his scholarly expertise to the masses in this accessible, popular-level book.
Because the gospel is Trinitarian, evangelicals as gospel people are by definition Trinity people, whether or not they think so. It only makes sense that if the gospel is inherently Trinitarian, the most consistently and self-consciously Trinitarian movement of Christians would be the movement that has named itself after the gospel, the evangel: evangelicalism.
Before diving into the thesis, Sanders devotes two chapters to preliminary matters. Chapter 1 concerns methodology and reminds us that we are not starting from scratch when we begin doing Trinitarian theology; that as evangelicals, whether we realize it or not, we are immersed in the reality of the Trinity. Accordingly, Sanders argues that our approach to doing Trinitarian theology should take its stand on the experienced reality of the Trinity, and then move on to the task of verbal and conceptual clarification (35). In chapter 2 Sanders lays an important foundation by reminding us that God is first and foremost Trinity for Himself and not as a means to an end. Sanders helps the reader see the glory and blessedness of the eternal life of the Trinity by making us think through some hypothetical scenarios, such as if there was no heaven or no earth. The point is that without creation and redemption, God would still be God; but without being Trinity, He wouldn’t be God.
When it comes to the difference that the doctrine of the Trinity can make in our lives, it is crucially important that we begin with a recognition of God in himself before moving on to God for us. What we need to begin with is a profoundly impractical doctrine of the Trinity.
The next three chapters explore the central thesis of this book – that the Trinity is the gospel. “[T]he good news of salvation is ultimately that God opens his Trinitarian life to us. Every other blessing is either a preparation for that or a result of it, but the thing itself is God’s graciously taking us into the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be our salvation” (97). In chapter 3 Sanders looks at the size of the gospel through an exposition of Ephesians 1:3-14 (with special attention on the Trinitarian contours), and then calls on evangelical witnesses to the God-sized gospel such as A. B. Simpson and Charles Spurgeon. Chapter 4 focuses on the Trinitarian shape of the gospel and spends a bit of time focusing on the economy of salvation. And in Chapter 5, Sanders shows how Christ-centeredness and Trinity-centeredness go hand-in-hand, even though many evangelicals in our age are prone to a Christ-centeredness that is forgetful of the Father and the Spirit. The final two chapters address how Bible reading and prayer are profoundly Trinitarian and demonstrate how historical evangelicals have known this to be true.
The Deep Things of God is a great introduction to Trinitarian theology from three angles that aren’t always found together in one treatment of a doctrinal topic: systematic, historical, and practical. The practical angle is the one least employed in treatments on the Trinity, which adds to the strength of this volume. This is a book that needs to be read by every evangelical who hasn’t thought deeply about the Trinity, doesn’t see the Trinitarian shape of the gospel, or does not see how the Trinity impacts their Christian life. We cannot neglect the Trinity because God is Trinity and the gospel is Trinitarian. First and foremost we must pursue Trinitarian theology because we cannot claim to love God and cannot rightly worship Him and give Him the glory He is due if we ignore one of His defining attributes. And secondarily, we must pursue Trinitarian theology because it changes everything. Contrary to popular belief in our day, this doctrine is eminently practical.
I received a digital copy of this book for review from Crossway’s Beyond the Page.