For many Christians today, the Trinity is a doctrine to which we give almost no thought. While we certainly affirm it as being true, we don’t really know how it makes a difference in our lives.
So it gets easier for us to start thinking that maybe it doesn’t matter. The seeming paradox of God being one, yet three is a huge stumbling block to many people looking at the Christian faith… and maybe it wouldn’t change anything if we just let it go.
Fred Sanders, associate professor of theology at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute, disagrees.
“Deep down it is evangelical Christians who most clearly witness to the fact that the personal salvation we experience is reconciliation with God the Father, carried out through God the Son, in the power of God the Holy Spirit,” he writes (p. 9).
But we’ve lost something as a movement; we’ve settled for a theological and spiritual shallowness, especially in regards to the Trinity. “Our beliefs and practices all presuppose the Trinity, but that presupposition has for too long been left unexpressed . . . and taken for granted rather than celebrated and taught” (p. 11).
That’s why he wrote The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. In this book, Sanders hopes to reawaken an understanding of, and desire to celebrate, the deeply Trinitarian nature of Christianity.
Because the Trinity is so overwhelming in it’s otherness, it’s tempting for us to avoid even attempting to speak to it. But as Sanders writes, “We . . . should not let ourselves be trapped into thinking that everything depends on our ability to articulate the mystery of the triune God” (p. 36).
The reality is we are tacitly (implicitly) Trinitarian in innumerable ways. The Trinity serves as the encompassing framework for our thinking and confession. “It is the deep grammar of all the central Christian affirmations” (p. 48).
This implicit knowledge leads to explicit expression in salvation, spirituality, church life, prayer and Bible study. These are the realms to which Sanders focuses the majority of the book.
First, Sanders examines the purpose of the Trinity, and what it means for God to be triune in nature. “The Trinity isn’t for anything beyond itself, because the Trinity is God. . . . God’s way of being God is to be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit simultaneously from all eternity, perfectly complete in a triune fellowship of love.”
This is extremely important for us to understand; knowing that God has eternally been in perfect, loving community frees us up from being “needed”. Because God is three in one, we know He is lonely, bored, selfish or any other such notion. The doctrine of the Trinity, then, allows us to rejoice in our creation because it was not due to a deficiency in God.
Next, Sanders looks at how the Trinity affects our salvation. The question with so many doctrines like the Trinity is, “Is it necessary for salvation?”
Sanders reveals that yes, the Trinity matters very much. Indeed, the “Trinity and gospel have the same shape! This is because the good news of salvation is ultimately that God opens his Trinitarian life to us” (p. 98). We are aided in seeing this, first, when we examine the metaphorical size of our gospel.
Our gospel should be “God-sized,” as Sanders puts it, but we too often we settle for something that is too small. “A gospel that gets your sins forgiven but offers no power for transformation” (p. 106). This is a gospel that is too small. A gospel that includes God’s blessings, but not God himself—this is a gospel that is too small. “God is the gospel,” as John Piper has famously said. And this causes us to look at the shape of our gospel.
“This God who is the gospel is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit,” writes Sanders (p. 125). As he examines the economy of salvation, Sanders points out that it is necessarily Trinitarian. God the Father sends God the Son who is empowered by God the Holy Spirit. All three work together as the Father ordains, the Son accomplishes and the Holy Spirit applies salvation to those who would believe. To look at it—and I mean really look at it—it’s breathtaking, especially as you see the Trinity in what we are saved into (the life of Christ).
Sanders suggests that as we become more explicitly Trinitarian in our understanding of the gospel, we should simultaneously become more Christ-centered. Many of us can fall prey to the temptation to “grasp Christ in abstraction from the Father and the Spirit,” (p. 168), but the doctrine of the Trinity prevents us from doing so in “a Father-forgetting or Spirit-ignoring manner” (p. 171).
When we focus on the Son at the expense of the Father, we get to a really weird place where “Jesus becomes my heavenly Father, Jesus lives in my heart, Jesus died to save me from the wrath of Jesus, so I could be with Jesus forever” (p. 171). And when we do this, we not only get goofy ideas about God, we just end up confused. We (as strange as it sounds) turn the Son into an idol, worshipping Him at the expense of the rest of the Trinity.
Thirdly, he looks at how the Trinity affects how we approach Scripture. In the same way that the gospel is implicitly Trinitarian, so too is the whole of Scripture. “[I]t is just good tacit Trinitarian theology to realize that the Spirit makes Jesus Christ present to us as the Word of the Father and that hearing the voice of God in Scripture is a single, concerted Trinitarian effort” (p. 208).
The Bible is the book in which “the words of the Father are delivered by the Son, through the power of the Spirit” (p. 194). It is either truly the Word of God or it is not. The doctrine of the Trinity bolsters the doctrine of Scripture, giving us assurance of the truth of Scripture.
Finally, he identifies how the Trinity impacts prayer. Sanders calls this praying with the grain. “The grain is Trinitarian, running from the Spirit through the Son to the Father” (p. 212). Our prayers are structurally Trinitarian, whether we realize it or not. We’re invited to speak to the Father “by a Spirit of sonship that cries out ‘Abba, Father,’ just as the eternal Son does” (p. 215). As we are adopted as God’s children—as we pray like His children—we are shaped into the image of the Son by the Spirit of adoption.
Seeing the Trinity at work in our prayers frees us to rejoice in God; to rejoice in the members of the Trinity as they rejoice in each other. It’s a wonderful, freeing gift that God gives us.
“The great tradition of evangelical Trinitarianism has not dabbled or splashed but has gone deep into the things of the gospel, the deep things of God,” writes Sanders (p. 239). In The Deep Things of God, Sanders gives us the opportunity to plumb the depths of the nature of God and see how the Trinity truly does change everything.
I’m not sure if there’s been a time when Christians have needed this reminder more than now. We’re often charged with having exchanged the richness of God for something hollow. But it doesn’t have to be that way for any of us. We don’t have to settle for a shallow picture of God when He wants us to experience all of Him—Father, Son and Spirit. Read The Deep Things of God and be challenged to do exactly that.
Title: The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything
Author: Fred Sanders
Publisher: Crossway (2010)