Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith

dit.pngReeves, Michael. 

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith

Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012. Pp. 135. Paper. $15.00.

Amazon | CBD

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With thanks to IVP Academic for this review copy!

In Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith Michael Reeves (theological adviser for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship) has produced what might be the finest introductory work on the Trinity that I’ve read to date. The same volume is published in the UK (by Paternoster) as The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Spirit. Each title highlights an important aspect of Reeves’ project.

Introductions to the Christian faith abound, as do introductions to the doctrine of the Trinity; but how many introductions to the Christian faith are specifically about the Trinity? Not many. Why is this? Some might like to lay the blame at the feet of Friedrich Schleiermacher who treated the Trinity in an appendix of his The Christian Faith; I’m not so sure. We need to ask a more fundamental question—one that precedes the placement of the doctrine of the Trinity in published books on the Christian faith—we need to ask what exactly the Christian faith is.

Reeves says that it’s delighting in the Trinity; enjoying Father, Son, and Spirit. The Christian faith is all about sharing in the love that the Father has had for the Son in the Spirit for all eternity. And this is what Reeves spends the entire book talking about. He neatly arranges his chapters to speak of Father, Son, and Spirit respectively, but he can never speak of any one Person without reference to the other two. And he can’t speak about their love for each other without speaking about how that love overflows resulting in creation and salvation.

A friend asked on Twitter whether or not this was an apologetic book and my initial response was to say that it wasn’t. After thinking for a moment I tweeted back that it was—and it is—a brilliant one at that! Building on key insights from Richard of St. Victor, this is one of the finest expositions on 1 John 4:8 (“God is love”) that has ever appeared in print, and Reeves uses this in the service of showing just why this is only possible with the Trinity, and in doing so he ably dismantles Unitarian and polytheistic conceptions of God.

But this isn’t a unique example; equally impressive is how he manages to take some of the most significant theological insights from Christian thinkers such as Athanasius, Augustine, and Jonathan Edwards, to name but a few, and present them in language that even the most uninitiated person can understand. Aside from incorporating their ideas into the main text, there are 16 sidebars that break up the reading but help to strengthen the point of the section. One can imagine these sidebars serving as a devotional to be enjoyed every couple of weeks.

I could go on and on about how Reeves brilliantly makes a case for the importance of the Father’s monarchē by pointing out how starting with the Father, who loves the Son in the Spirit, helps us to avoid thinking of some nebulous “God stuff” standing behind the Trinity like an impersonal fourth member; or mention how he rightly points out that God’s holiness is not inconsistent with his love but rather the outworking of his love; or even how the Trinity was the key to solving the issues that were at stake in Augustine’s debates with Pelagius; but you really need to read this all for yourself.

What I love so much about this book is that Reeves manages to teach the reader about the immanent Trinity, the economic Trinity, perichorēsis, essential attributes, personal properties, the eternal trinitarian taxis, and so much more, and yet he never once has to resort to using any of these technical terms and he manages to keep Scripture at the foundation without resorting to proof-texting. The reader gets all of the key info in language that’s easy to understand. Reeves’ tone is conversational; his wit and humor apparent; but most importantly, his love for the Trinity is written all over every page; he’s an evangelist and an apologist in the best senses of each word.

I’ve been asked countless times to recommend introductory texts on the Trinity and I’ve always suggested Gerald O’Collins’ The Tripersonal God because it’s short, covers the biblical foundation, the historical development, and delves into some contemporary discussions; and I still think it’s a great book; but it has just moved to #2 on my list of recommendations. Delighting in the Trinity/The Good God is my new #1 pick. I’m convinced that Christians, new or old, should take a few moments and spend some time enjoying Father, Son, and Spirit with Reeves.

B”H

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22 thoughts on “Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith

  1. I was hoping to buy a Kindle version of it, but it’s not available. I just now expect all new books to be available as a ebook. But I order the print copy because I think this will be a great recommendation for my class I teach on the Trinity.

  2. Dee: Theological. :-)

    Bryan: Apparently they do have it for Kindle! See Dave’s comment below.

    Robert; Well if you got another 8 bucks then you can get it for Kindle! I can guarantee that it will be helpful for your class.

    Dave; Thanks so much for pointing that out! I know it will be helpful to a lot of people. Thank you for the link to the Reeves material as well.

  3. Well, gee, you have me sold. Thank you for this, because here lately I’ve been experiencing unexplainable moments of the love of Father, Son, Spirit, and was wondering if there were something available I could read on this. Provocative review, but I’m still looking forward to that Pentecostal Manifesto and the Trinity.

  4. Troy: Glad I could sell you! And I’m still looking forward to that book too. It should be coming out shortly.

    Ivan; Unitarian god is all alone with no one to love. Unitarian god has to create in order to be love. Unitarian god becomes dependent on its creation. Such a lonely dependent god isn’t worthy of worship; that’s for sure.

  5. Got my book in the mail yesterday, nice to see the snippet in the back of the book by Fred Sanders, I’m having him speak at our seminar on Christology next month. This is the second time I’ve had him, the guy is really cool.

  6. Nick:

    I would agree that the sort of “god” that is dependent on another’s existence in order to be love is not worthy of worship. However, this is not at all what Unitarian Christians believe about the God of the Bible. It is not correct to assume that the bible’s Unitarian God must create subjects or be polypersonal in order for him to be love, as in 1 John 4:8.

    According to Mark 12:31, we must demonstrate and display the same sort of love towards our neighbor that we demonstrate to ourselves. Thus, we are to demonstrate love to ourselves and then display this to others. So it can and should be argued that God can be love in a similar manner without suggesting that he is “lonely” or much less polypersonal.

    From another perspective, “God is love” could be viewed ideally. That is to say, God’s intent and desire to share himself with humankind even before he made us is another example of his love, which love could be viewed as eternally existing.

    So it would be untrue to argue that God must have a ‘companion’ or a created subject for him to love.

  7. Robert: I’d love to meet Fred and spend some time picking his brain on theology.

    Bryan: That is weird, isn’t it?

    Ivan: Laying aside that I think phrases like “Unitarian Christians” and “the Unitarian God of the Bible” are oxymornic, I’ll stick to the love issue.

    The appeal to Mark 12:31 falls short for a few reasons. To start, the love for self and love for neighbor is already rooted in love for another, namely God. And we can love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). But how was the love that God is (1 John 4:8) made manifest to us? By his sending his Son (whom he already loved) into the world so that we might live through him (1 John 4:9). The point is that we know love because God is love and God is love because he always has loved (actually; not ideally; that would only make him potentially loving).

    Second, if we were to completely deny that the love for self and others is rooted in our love for God who has first loved us (although why we’d deny that I can’t imagine); why start with human self-love and reason that back to God? Why assume that God must be like us in that respect? Where is God ever said to love himself in such a unitary manner? (Coincidentally, I find that pretty much all non-Trinitarian conceptions of God begin with the creature and then fashion God to match it in some way). There’s plenty about the Father loving the Son and vice versa. We’re said to love one another because God abides in us and we abide in him because he’s given us the Spirit (1 John 4:12-13, 16).

    And let’s be honest, if you and you alone existed and had only yourself to love, could you honestly imagine not being lonely? Think about it, seriously. No mother, father, wife, children, friends, etc. Just you. What does that self-love even look like? How is it manifested? Can you even conceive of it? I can’t. How would such self-love avoid becoming narcissism? Now the Father’s eternal love for the Son in the Spirit is easily conceived because it’s the basis for all we know about love. And we know if because that love has spilled over into creation and redemption. God created us to love us because he was already loving. God saves us because he loves us because he’s already loving.

    Finally, as I noted above, ideal love is not love at all. It’s the potential for love, but then love would not be who God is, it would be something that God may become. Eternal potential is not eternal actuality. But God is actually love; always has been. When you say “companion” it makes me think you have polytheism in mind; but you know that Trinitarians are monotheists so I’ll give you the benefit f the doubt. If you simply mean “another person” then it would not be untrue to say that “another person” is necessary for God to be loving. The difference between our respective positions is that I believe those “other persons” to be eternal and thus God; you believe them to be potential, and eventually created, and thus we’re right back to where we started. God depending on something/someone extrinsic to himself in order to be actually be love.

  8. Nick:

    You are correct that Christian love for our neighbor is ultimately rooted in God inasmuch as that person is a believer. But nowhere does Mark 12 or even 1 John 4 state that self-love is rooted in God, and thus, in another person other than ourselves. Instead, what is dependent on God is love for others. This is seen by the fact that 1 John 4 defines God’s manifestation of love for us in terms of him sending his Son. (1 John 4:9) Just as God showed love to us by sending his Son so too must we demonstrate love to our neighbors and each other.

    Moreover, your second objection was that I was bringing God down to a human level, and consequently reading human reasoning back to God. But I can’t help to think this is in fact what you have done explicitly in your third paragraph. You ask me if I can conceive of existing alone, what self-love looks like, and so on. But if this isn’t reading or using human reasoning and then retroactively attributing it to God, then I’m not quite sure what is.

    As for God being love ideally, you object that this isn’t love at all and only potential for love. But this view seems to go against what is said in Ephesians 1:4-5 where God predestined in love—which is to say that he loved us before we even existed. Consequently, it is possible for God to love something/someone without that thing existing in reality. So God can be love without any actual entities living with him or besides him. He can self-love— and demonstrate love for humankind/Christians ideally as in Ephesians 1.

  9. Ivan: We have different ideas of what the word “nowhere” means. I’ve laid out my case. You’ve basically just said no. Okay, fine. Let’s move on.

    Again, I laid out my case long before I asked you to even try and imagine what self-love looks like, which, by the way, I noticed you haven’t even attempted to do. You contend that the love for self isn’t rooted in love for God (I clearly disagree), but you haven’t said what it’s rooted in or what it looks like (with either God or man).

    When I read Ephesians 1:4-5 I see God predestining us in a love that already existed; the very love that is shared between Father, Son, and Spirit; the love that God is. I don’t see an ideal love; but an actual love; a love that God was generous enough to share with his creation; a love that his church is fortunate enough to have been elected in.

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