Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Delighting in the Trinity

That's the title of Michael Reeves' wonderful little book on the Trinity.

As an aside, I had read an excerpt from the book in CT, put it in a folder, and bought the book. Kurt and I decided that we wanted to add something from Reeves in the next edition of Thoroughly Equipped: Developing Co-Laborers/Co-Leaders (DC). I contacted Reeves and he pointed me to his CT article. Having forgotten it, I went looking for it-- and realized it was perfect as an article for DC.

For those who have experience with Timothy Paul Jones' Christian History Made Easy (through DC or otherwise), it's a good way to compare/summarize its style and its approach to the substance. In a word, Reeves takes a relatively friendly, breezy angle on a usually thick subject. Beyond that, he makes clear why the Trinity is so key to Christian theology and practice. "Yes, the Trinity can be presented as a fusty and irrelevant dogma, but the truth is that God is love because God is a Trinity." (p. 9) Further, "the Trinity is not seen as a solution and a delight, but as an oddity and a problem." (10)

What does God's Trinitarian nature imply about his character? “The very nature of the Triune God is to be effusive, ebullient, and bountiful; the Father rejoices to have another beside Him, and He finds His very self in pouring out His love.  Creation is about the spreading, the diffusion, the outward explosion of that love. This God is the very opposite of the greedy, hungry, selfish emptiness; in his self-giving, he naturally pours out life and goodness. He is, then, the source of all that is good, and that means he is not the sort of God who would call people to himself away from happiness in good things. Goodness and ultimate happiness are to be found with him, not apart from him." (56)

On Jn 17:22's "that they may be one as we are one": ""That is not the sort of request one could put to a single-person God." (103b-104). Reeves also takes us back before "Creation" (24): "Perhaps the way to appreciate this best is to ask what God was doing before creation...Jesus tells us explicitly in John 17:24: 'Father, you loved me before the creation of the world.'...God could not be love if there were nobody to love...And yet it is not as if God created so that he could love someone...If there were once a time when the Son didn't exist, then there was once a time when the Father was not yet a Father." (21,26,27) If God is a single person...why should he speak?...who would he have spoken to?" (80)

Reeves spends a lot of time on the implications of this for Islam. In a word, "Allah exists and functions in a completely different way from the Father, Son and Spirit." (18) As for how we see God's revelation: "Allah's word is a book, not a true companion. And it is a book that is only about him...a deposit of information about himself and how he likes things. However, when the triune God give us his Word, he gives us his very self, for the Son is the Word of God." (80)

Likewise, how could Allah have the name "The Loving" and be loving from eternity? (40) As with the gods of the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish (39), "the single-person God...created merely to be rule and be served...'right' means nothing more than right behavior." (63) "Other gods might offer forgiveness, but this God welcomes and embraces us as children." (76) "Now imagine a God who is not Father, Son and Spirit: never in its wildest dreams could it muster us such a salvation. If God was not a Father, he could never give us a right to be his children. If he did not enjoy fellowship with his Son, one has to wonder if he would have any fellowship to share with us, or if he would even know what fellowship looks like." (77) "What kind of salvation can a [single-person God] offer me (even if he is prepared to offer such a thing)...the only salvation he can offer is to forgive me and treat me as if I had kept the rules [mercy]...I might feel grateful...but that is not the same thing as love." (20)

Likewise, Reeves notes that Martin Luther and his contemporaries would often pray to Mary instead of God for the same reason: "Not knowing God as a kind and willing Father, a God who brings us close, Luther found that he could not love Him. He and his fellow monks transferred their affections to Mary and various other saints; it was them they would love and to them they would pray." (78)

For those who are literalists/fundamentalists moreso (including atheists who are bothered by this doctrine), it's tempting to reduce all of this to simple arithmetic: 3 is not equal to 2 is not equal to 1. Reeves (13), citing Deuteronomy 6:4's "The Lord is one" says this "is not to teach that the Lord our God, the Lord is a mathematical singularity...[it] is about God's people having the Lord as the one object of their affections. He then notes that Genesis 2:24 uses the same word to say that the two (Adam and Eve) are one. Again, if you need a literal, wooden reading, you're going to get yourself in a lot of trouble.

A few other topics:

Beyond prayer (96, 98), it also affects Bible study and all of the spiritual disciplines (82-83)-- as well as evangelism (105). It impacts the way we see and interpret God's holiness, wrath and glory (114ff).

Why three persons (in the Trinity) vs. two? "If there were two persons, God might be loving, but in an excluding, ungenerous way...when the love between two persons is happy, healthy and secure, they rejoice to share it." (31)

Reeves also argues that the Trinity gives far more space for the existence of evil: "If God is not triune, it becomes very difficult, not only to account for the goodness of creation (as we have seen), but also to account for the existence of evil within it. If God is the supreme being, then evil cannot be some rival force, eternally existing beside God. Yet if God is absolutely solitary in his supremacy, then surely evil must originate in God himself...The triune God, however, is the sort of God who will make room for another to have real existence." 

Reeves wonders whether the Church's retreat on the Trinity parallels the advance of the popular/rabblerouser atheists. I'd guess this is at best a secondary cause, but it is an interesting question.


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