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Embracing the Trinity – Life with God in the gospel

July 2011 | by Mostyn Roberts

Embracing the Trinity — Life with God in the gospel

Fred Sanders
IVP; 239 pages, £9.99; ISBN: 978-1-84474-483-1

Fred Sanders’ concern is that, though evangelicals (for whom he is particularly writing) are implicitly Trinitarian, they do not appreciate this doctrine as they should.
    His purpose is to make them realise that they are the ‘best’ Trinitarians, because, after all, they embrace the gospel and the gospel is essentially Trinitarian; and it is the most fruitful perspective from which to appreciate the Trinity. ‘The central claim of this book is that the Trinity is the gospel’.
    After an introductory chapter lamenting the fact that ‘so many evangelicals are cold towards the doctrine of the Trinity, confused about its meaning, or noncommittal about its importance’, Sanders shows that if we are gospel people we are ‘compassed about’ by the Trinity.
    Evangelicals need to become explicitly aware of what we truly believe. We are then introduced in the book to the intra-Trinitarian life (the ‘happy land of the Trinity’) to show us that who and what God is in himself is more important than what he does for us.
    The longest chapter sets out the gospel in Trinitarian terms and a further chapter deals with entering into relationship with God through the gospel. Finally, there are chapters showing us what the Trinity may mean for Bible reading and prayer.
    Woven into the book are numerous extracts, with discussion, from evangelicals to show how deeply-rooted in evangelicalism is belief in and experience of the triune God. Authors quoted include Nicky Cruz, Isaac Watts, Tom Torrance, Jonathan Edwards, Billy Graham, Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis.
    Some parts of this are genuinely helpful, such as the discussion of the relative roles played by the Son and Spirit in redemption. The variety of authors cited and their extracts are refreshing.
    Yet there is also a certain carelessness of language on a subject that requires great care. Although what Sanders asserts about the Trinity is orthodox, he also talks about the Father being the ‘origin’ of the Son and the Spirit, which is, at least, inviting misunderstanding.
    He speaks of the Son ‘proceeding’, but, although he states that he means ‘generation’, why use the term ‘procession’ — a term which is universally used of the Spirit? He also speaks of the Spirit proceeding from the Father, but never ‘also’ from the Son.
    In one section he overplays the illustration of Son and Spirit being the ‘two hands’ of the Father. So despite orthodox affirmations, there seems to be a tendency to emphasise the Father to the detriment of the deity of the Son and Spirit.
    For some, this may be a helpful book to read and a spur to appreciate the Trinitarian scope of our salvation. But it may not be the first choice to teach anyone about this foundational truth of the Christian faith.
Mostyn Roberts

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