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.

The Freedom of the Triune God and Our Own: a book review

Paul Molnar, professor of systematic theology at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, previously published a major work on the Immanent Trinity, the inner-relations of the Triune God in eternity–Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity: In Dialogue with Karl Barth and Contemporary Theology (T & T Clark, 2005). In Faith, Freedom and the Spirit (IVP Academic 2015), he returns to the topic of Trinity, this time exploring the economic Trinity–God’s revelation to us in time, especially as it relates to theeconomy of salvation.  He wrote this book “as a discussion of just how a properly conceived pneumatology would assist such theologians speaking of the economic Trinity to think more accurately about divine and human interaction in the sphere of faith and knowledge within history” His aim is to “explore God’s relations with us and our relations with God within the economy by focusing on the activity of the Spirit who enables faith and freedom” (7). He affirms human freedom and the Triune God’s actions within history; however he refuses to reduce Trinitarian theology and Christology to a historicized versions of it, and reflects thoughtful on the role of Spirit in mediating the gospel of grace to us.

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Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology by Paul D. Molnar.

Throughout this book, Molnar is in dialogue with Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance and several contemporary theologians. Molnar has published monographs on both Barth and Torrance. In general, Molnar defends Barth against the neo-Barthian revisionists and uses Torrance to critique Barth in the places where Barth is inconsistent. Barth remains the genius of twentieth century theology, but where Molnar disagrees with him, he tends to follow Torrance. This is especially true when it comes to Torrance’s careful distinction between Christ’s vicarious activity for us and his ‘inner being as the Word’ (341-44).  Barth certainly affirms both, but his writings are inconsistent and allow for confusion regarding Christ’s mission and processions, and the error of subordinationism (339-340).

Faith, Freedom and the Spirit is made up of eight chapters.  The first two chapters explore the role of the Holy Spirit in imparting faith and bringing true knowledge of God through the incarnate Word. Chapters three through six critiques the missteps by contemporary theologians in understanding the relationship between the economic Trinity and the immanent Trinity, as well as contemporary misreadings of Barth. Chapter seven explores the obedience of the Son in the economic Trinity (and why this doesn’t necessitate subordinationism, especially according to Torrance’s reading). Chapter eight unfolds the theology of grace and how it enables true human freedom (freedom to live by the Grace of God through surrender to Christ)–God’s work in human history. A brief conclusion reviews the terrain and declares the necessity of the Spirit’s work for living the Christian life.

Continue reading The Freedom of the Triune God and Our Own: a book review