After thoroughly enjoying reading “Total Church“, I decided to get another book from the same author, and the subject of the Trinity was one that I felt I needed a better grasp of. In it Tim Chester seeks to explain the doctrine of the Trinity and show why it is such good news.
He starts off by noting that this has been something of a neglected doctrine, perhaps in part because it can be difficult to explain. However, though it may be a mystery, it is not an absurdity – God is not three in the same sense in which he is one.
The book is broken up into three sections (nice!). The first section deals with the Biblical foundations for the doctrine of the Trinity. He starts with the unity of God, and the Shema, before moving on to consider some Scriptures that speak of the plurality of God, in particular demonstrating the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Finally, he shows how the oneness and plurality of God come together at the cross, and help us make sense of the atonement.
The next section deals with historical developments, starting with the early church, and moving right through to modern times. This is where things can get a little technical, but Chester does an admirable job of making it as straightforward as possible. There is a good explanation of the different emphases of the eastern and western churches, and Calvin is presented as providing a synthesis of these approaches. In more recent times, Chester highlights the contributions of Barth, Rahner, Moltmann, and Zizioulas, amongst others.
The final section applies the doctrine of the Trinity to the areas of revelation, salvation, humanity and mission. He draws on Barth to show that revelation is trinitarian – the Spirit enables us to see in the Son the revelation of the Father. In an excellent chapter on salvation, he explains a variety of theories of the atonement (substitution, moral influence, dramatic), and affirms that all have their place in a multi-faceted view of the atonement. However, he argues that the penal substitution model is primary because it is truly Trinitarian – because it presents salvation not as a transaction between God and humanity, or between God and Satan, but a transaction within God himself.)
The chapter on the Trinity and humanity is also helpful. He draws on a societal model of the Trinity, to show that it is in the Trinity that we see the diversity in unity that should characterise human society. This vision of humanity stands in stark contrast to modern day individualism, and the pressures towards homogeneity. Our identity as human persons, is found not in our independence, but in our relationships, just as the members of the Godhead are persons in relationship.
The final chapter on mission draws out some of the differences between the Christian understanding of the Triune God, and the Muslim understanding of God. The Christian community is called to be a demonstration of the nature of the Triune God.
I feel I have benefited hugely from reading this book, as it has clarified my understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, and also helped me to see how it relates to so many aspects of Christian doctrine and practice.