Who Ordered the Trinity? a book review

Theologians often distinguish between the Economic Trinity: the God revealed to us in the economy of salvation, and the Immanent Trinity: the Godhead’s relations between the Divine persons. The Economic Trinity is described as Father, Son and Spirit—reflecting the order of God’s self-revelation in enacting our redemption: Creator, Redeemer and Advocate. But this oversimplifies the picture of God and doesn’t do full justice to the New Testament witness of the Trinity.

4378 trinity cover CC.inddRodrick K Durst, professor of historical theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary observes that the triadic ordering of Father-Son-Spirit, makes up just 24% of the seventy-five New Testament references to the Triune God (70). Any list of three items can be combined six different ways; Durst observes all six combinations of Divine Persons in the pages of Scripture. In Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament he examines the various Trinitarian references and the significance for each ordering.

Durst has a three purposes in this book. First, he wants to challenge the notion that the Trinity is not explicit in the pages of the New Testament. While the word “Trinity” doesn’t appear there, Durst presents enough examples  of triadic patterning in the New Testament to demonstrate the obvious presence of the Trinity. Secondly, he explores the meaning and purposes behind each order in their Biblical context. Third, Durst makes  the case that:

whenever and wherever Christian life and ministry have been God-glorifying, or personally satisfying or ethically prophetic or socially effective, it is precisely because a Trinitarian processional value has been consciously or unconsciously applied. Far from extinction, the Trinity flourishes everywhere and in every way as the agent of causation in which we live, minister and have our being. (60-61).

The book divides into three parts. Part one sets the table. Chapter one examines significant contributions to Trinitarian thought in contemporary theology, including the thinkers that Durst draws on in making his own case for his New Testaement Trinitarian Matrix. Chapter two lays out Durst’s raw data of New Testament triadic references. Durst catalogs each reference that includes all three members of the Trinity and evaluates each example based on intentionality. Chapter three looks at Trinitarian antecedents within the Old Testament, arguing that the Septuagint obscured the plurality of Divine persons in the One God more evident in the Hebrew text. Chapter four examines the Trinity and doctrinal development in Church History.

Part two is an in depth exploration of each of the triadic orders for the Trinity:

  • Chapter 5, Father-Son-Spirit—The missional triad emphasizing that God is sending (117).
  • Chapter 6, Son-Spirit-Father—The saving triad, describing our experience of being saved, forgiven and adopted in God’s household(194-195).
  • Chapter 7, Son-Father Spirit—The indwelling triad.
  • Chapter 8, Spirit-Father-Son—the sanctifying triad, showcasing a liturgical pattern of “Spirit-inspired reverence for the Father [which] leads to dedicated walk and service with Christ” (236).
  • Chapter, 9, Father-Spirit-Son-the Spiritual-Formation triad, God forming believers for witness for Christ (257).
  • Chapter 10, Spirit-Son-Father the ecclesial triad examining God at work in the church (276).

Part three contains a single chapter focused on how a functional Trinitarianism affects everyday worship, life and ministry.

Chapters three through eleven each close with a brief ‘sermon starter’ on the chapter’s Trinitarian theme.  Durst also includes five appendixes. Appendix A provides exhaustive tables on all the New Testament’s triadic occurrences. Appendix B is a glossary of Trinitarian terms. The other three appendixes are more practical:  a suggested exercise for praying to each part of the Trinity through the lens of the triad of your choice, a six week program of mediating on all six triads, and suggestions for explaining the trinity to children and adolescents.

Durst makes a compelling case for the diversity of Trinitarian images in the New Testament. By examining the various orders describing the Godhead, he enlarges our picture of the economic Trinity:

Theological conversations describe in previous chapters spoke of the economic Trinity exclusively as the missional procession of Father-Son-Spirit. However we must not ignore the significant textual evidence studied in this book that either we should be speaking of the “diversity of the economic Trinity” or the “Diverse Triune Economies”(288).

Durst does a good job of spelling out the significance of each triad and its implication for our ecclesiastical and devotional life. He is systematic in his handling of the textual evidence and  I appreciate his comprehensive approach. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Text Critical Extravaganza: A Book Review of Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament

Revisiting

In his scholarly tome, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, and his more popular treatment, Misquoting Jesus Bart Ehrman has argued that the Biblical text that we have is deeply mired by tampering of scholars for theological reasons. In Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic and Apocryphal Evidence, the inaugural volume of the Text and Canon of the New Testament Series (from Kregel Publications), Dan Wallace has edited a volume which takes Ehrman to task. Wallace’s introductory chapter, is an expansion of a paper he delivered in 2008 as part a dialogue with Ehrman over the Corruption of the New Testament. The subsequent chapters are each written by former academic interns and ThM students of his at Dallas Theological Seminary. Individually, each essay presents a strong case; cumulatively they systematically demolish Ehrman’s arguments. For the most part, the author’s are judicious in their analysis (I only can think of one or two places which felt like over reaching to me) and each chapter evidences copious research. While the authors are all theologically conservative and take issue with many of Ehrman’s claims, this book is not a smear-campaign either. They respect Ehrman’s scholarship and confirm his findings where they feel it’s warranted, but it is clear that they find his premise wanting.

In Chapter 1, Dan Wallace presents a brief, accessible apologetic for the reliability of the New Testament, taking specific aim at Ehrman’s arguments. Next Philip Miller examines Ehrman’s methodology and reveals that Ehrman is committed to the premise that the least orthodox readings are closer to the original text, regardless of whether the textual evidence and scholarly consensus supports him. These two chapters provide a more general overview of the issue. Matthew Morgan and Adam Messer provide a more detailed account by each examining a specific text which are asserted to be ‘corrupt’ by Ehrman and others (John 1.1c and Matthew 24:36, respectively). They each demonstrate the spurious nature of Ehrman’s claims Tim Ricchuiti examines the text-critical transmission of Thomas showcasing where theological interests effected the transmission of that text in line with the theology of the Nag Hammadi writings. In the final chapter, Brian Wright examines the textual evidence for the equation of Jesus as God in the New Testament. Wright demonstrates that such claims are not a result of corruption, but are original to the first century Christian community.

This book is written for a scholarly rather than popular level (and is endorsed by an impressive stream of theological conservative scholars). Certainly students engaged in Biblical studies or textual criticism would benefit from reading this book. Yet, this book is also of value beyond the walls of academia. Giving the ubiquity of Bart Ehrman on college campuses, the New York Times best sellers list, and numerous television appearances, serious engagement with ideas is a necessary apologetic task. A book I read by Sam Harris, one of the so-called New Atheists, recommended Misquoting Jesus because of the way it undermines Christian truth claims and casts doubt on the reliability of the Bible. This book reveals the places where Ehrman’s assertions do not stand up to examination. Some of this book, will be too technical for popular consumption, but the book would make a good addition to a pastoral library and Dan Wallace’s and Philip Miller’s essays certainly are accessible to an educated layperson. I think the arguments in this book will remain significant for the Evangelical community at large.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.