THE DEEP THINGS OF GOD: HOW THE TRINITY CHANGES EVERYTHING Fred Sanders. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010; 256 pp., $17.99.
It could have turned out badly. Back in spring 2010 I decided sight unseen to assign Fred Sanders’s The Deep Things of God as a textbook in my fall Theology I class. The publisher said that the book should be available by mid-August. That’s about one week before the start of the semester. What if there were delays? And regardless of delays, what if the book showed up and was lousy? What would I tell my students?
Deep Things came through wonderfully, of course. (Anyone who knows Fred, who teaches at the Torrey Honors Institute here at Biola, would have high expectations of his book.) My classes—two sections, over 60 students—loved it. Students found that it resonated with their personal experience, either their own questions and confusions about the doctrine of the Trinity or what they’ve encountered in people in their congregations. One student was inspired to write his research paper on John Flavel (1627-91), an English Puritan who makes an appearance in the book. Another taught from it in a Sunday school class at church. Another found that his homework assignments in the book had become devotional reading for him. He actually contacted Sanders to ask about translating the book into Samoan! Everyone was amazed at how clearly Sanders explains the deep things of God.
Fred Sanders is passionate about the doctrine of the Trinity. The problem is, we evangelicals typically are not. We know that God is eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe it. But we don’t often know what to do with it. Ours is what Sanders calls a “tacit” or implicit trinitarianism. So one of Sanders’s basic tactics to get us passionate about the doctrine of the Trinity is to show us how it “changes everything”—everything that we are passionate about.
We are passionate, for example, about the forgiveness of sins, getting saved, being reconciled with God. We rejoice in the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It is “the main hinge on which religion turns” (Calvin). But what exactly is our justification for? We’re justified, and then what? It is no disparagement to the great doctrine of justification by faith alone to observe that justification is merely the means to an even greater end. That end, that goal, is our adoption by God (chapter 4). Indwelt by the Spirit, united to the Son, we are no longer enemies, but sons and daughters of the Father! You could call this the trajectory of the gospel—from the Spirit through the Son to the Father. We were once alienated from God, but are now brought by the Spirit, through the mediation of the Son, to participate as adopted children in the triune life of God.
We follow this same trajectory in something else we evangelicals are passionate about: prayer (chapter 7). Empowered by the Spirit, through the mediation of the Son, we call upon our heavenly Father (Romans 8). I don’t think I ever realized just how staggering a privilege prayer is until I read Sanders—that is, until I got more trinitarian in my understanding of prayer. Praying isn’t merely talking to God. To pray is to address the Father as only the Son may. To pray is to be lifted by the Spirit into the position of the Son. Nobody else gets to talk to the Father like that. Amazing. Amazing grace!
If you’ve never realized the trinitarian dimensions of the gospel, the life of Jesus, the reading of Scripture, or the practice of prayer, or if you want to be more evangelical, more biblical, in your walk with the Lord, I highly recommend Sanders’s book, at once learned and worshipful, systematic and practical, simple and profound. It will be part of my Theology I classes at Talbot for the foreseeable future.