The Holy Trinity, In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship Paperback – 6 Dec 2012
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Lays the biblical foundation, surveys historical development and modern discussion, and concludes wi....
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Top Customer Reviews
In particular i enjoyed the T.F Torrance parts and the appendix dealing directly with some of the criticism the author has personally received.
I believe that the issue of the Trinity is now beginning to rise again as a major topic not just in Theological circles but that it is beginning to rise again as a day to day topic, lets hope that discussion is as wide and balanced as this
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Letham's main concern, and crowning section, has to do with the importance of the Trinity. What are its implications for our worship and for our lives in general? As Christians we are saved from sin and death by all means, but we are not only saved "from": we are also saved TO union with God. Letham argues that this attribute of God in particular we should understand better: what is the union within God himself that we are adopted into? How do we relate to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit?
Letham charges that too often the church (in particular the Western church) is ignorant of, or negligent of, the Trinity. We refer to God as "LORD" without thinking about who God is or who Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are. We have our analogies handy -- but unfortunately these usually introduce heresy themselves. Even in the best use these are limited to "illustrating" how God is simulataneously One and Three; and we remain ignorant about the relationship among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and about how God in each of his persons relates to us (what is the same of the One God, what is unique among each of the three Holy Persons).
As a sneak preview, let me share a few salient points of this doctrine:
* God is knowable to us because he revealed himself to us. And he revealed himself as he truly is, not as a false façade; so while we finite mortals can not know everything about Him, we can trust that what He revealed is true of his nature.
* God is One: one essence, one being.
* God is three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are each fully God. They are inseparable; each is fully God and fully indwells each other, as compared to being a collection of "1/3 of god's" that add up to a whole.
* God relates to us consistently in a pattern "from the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit". E.g., Compare a common perception of salvation "God the Father is angry at us as sinners, but Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin and all that anger and we're saved when we make a decision for Christ" to its Trinitarian expression in Titus 3:4 - 6: where we are saved because of the love of God [the Father], through the atoning death of Jesus Christ, by the washing and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Too often we misrepresent the Father's role, and ignore the Holy Spirit's role while overplaying our own.
The book is structured around the chronological development of the doctrine: with sections considering:
* Old Testament foundations (where the Trinity is never made explicit, but is strongly alluded to -- from a Christian interpretation; many of my Jewish friends will disagree)
* New Testament foundations, where several authors develop the components of the doctrine of the Trinity
* The early Fathers, who systematized the doctrine and created the term "Trinity" to describe it
* The history of the doctrine within the Church and the many related heresies that arose, and were resolved
* Overview of major current contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity
* Implications of the doctrine of the Trinity for world view, worship, prayer, and missions
Letham generally sticks to serious Christianity rather than it's more mindless offshoots: e.g., he addresses Arianism deeply at the time when the Church dealt with it, but doesn't deal with "Jehovah's Witnesses" who ignore the outcome and preach a doctrine that has long been demonstrated to be false and rejected by the Church.
In a sense this book is written as part of a wider dialog. Rather than being a completely independent work, it is obvious that at times Letham is answering writings by other authors. The result is very readable, and includes a wide range of interlocutors from the breadth of serious Christianity: from the fathers to modern theologians from Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches. This was rather refreshing in ways: when I run into Rowan Williams' name, usually it has to do with the politics of keeping the Anglican communion together; here here he is dealing with doctrinal issues that the church is about. As a reader, you will be caught up in the dialog developing this theology, rather than watching it passively from your armchair. As befits a complex topic, this is no light reading material. This is written at an academic level, so don't expect to read this casually or quickly; but in reading it, as a Christian, do expect: to be engaged; perhaps to be baffled with how, at times, we fight over things we needn't; but mostly to be rewarded with a deeper knowledge and awe of the God who is there.
The book, though technical is articulate, readable and accessible. I gained a lot of understanding of the Trinity and the issues involved in the historical development. One thing in particular is the fact that I also became aware of the mysteries that we can't penetrate. That is excellent scholarship. The scholar and the layman will profit from this book. They will be introduced to the major players in two thousand years of history and what they had to say. I especially liked his interaction with Eastern scholarship (Lossky, Bulgakov, Staniloae, and Bobrinskoy). He may have left some people out, but I would be hard-pressed to know who they might be.
He also has some excellent chapters on application of the Trinity to life, worship and mission. This is not a metaphysical excursion only. It is there to excite us into the riches of relationship that are ours in Jesus Christ and His finished work. I had to put the book down a lot to absorb what he had just said and grapple with the implications.
Time spent with this book is time well-spent. I highly recommend it.
If you are struggling with these questions, this is an excellent place to find answers.
In a day and age where evangelicals are increasingly soft on biblical and theological consideration, it is a breath of fresh air to read a book like this. Of particular interest to me is the relationship between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christianity, particularly in how they understand the Trinity. Letham's exploration of this by means of an historical analysis was particularly helpful to me. Much of the debate between the two camps relate to semantic difference between Greek and Latin, but also through the geographical and political distance (first with the two empires and then the West and Islam).
I thoroughly enjoyed the Trinitarian analysis of Ephesians. Frankly, I've never thought about that epistle in terms of its Trinitarian elements.
Finally, as Islam is growing worldwide, even western cultures which were physically isolated from Muslims must now engage them and their worldview. Central to a Christian rebuttal of Islam is a thorough-going defense of a Trinitarian understanding of God. Our sloppy, lazy thinking in this regard will not help us engage them or to respond to our critics.
Sadly, most of the people currently writing on the Trinity are seeking to undermine the historic belief and those who are reading about it are not grounded in original doctrine. The blind leading the ignorant and they will both fall into a pit.
For what it is worth, if you have never done serious thinking or reading on the doctrine of the Trinity, this is the second book you should read. The first is Donald MacLeod's "Shared Life." It is much shorter and very accessible. If you start with Letham, you'll probably get swamped in terminology and historical debate before understanding the full scope of what is at stake. MacLeod first, then Letham.
The blurb found beside this book everywhere I've seen it succinctly describes Letham's purpose: "When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, Evangelicals have underachieved. In The Holy Trinity, Robert Letham attempts to redress this shortcoming." Suffice it to say, Letham succeeds. He describes the problem of the Evangelical church being almost silent on the issue, the tendencies of the East toward tritheism and the tendencies of the West toward modalism, then spends the next 500 pages going from Genesis 1:1 to today.
Letham leaves no stone unturned. From the threefold nature of Creation, to the theophanies in the Old Testament, to the Son in the Gospels and the Spirit in the church, and the Trinitarian character of the New Testament epistles, Letham shows the centrality of the Trinity to the entire story of Scripture. As a student of Early Christianity, I expected to find the beginning of the history section to be nothing more than a rehashing of key terms and players in the Trinitarian debates. Not so. Letham goes into great detail of the arguments of Tertullian, Origen, the Cappadocians, Athanasius and others, evaluating the good and the bad. He discusses the key terms, explaining their linguistic evolution, evaluating their helpfulness. The history goes back and forth from East to West, through the Middle Ages, all the way to Barth, Moltmann, Pannenberg, and Torrance in the West, and Bulgakov, Lossky and Staniloae in the East. Letham closes with discussions of four critical issues: the Incarnation, Worship and Prayer, Creation and Missions, and Persons.
The one drawback of the book, the only negative, is that by the fourth section, there is little surprise as to what Letham would say. It is still helpful to have these thoughts brought together in the end, but there is a certain element of redundancy to be found.
That being said, the rest of the book was magnificent. Letham goes into great detail over the filioque controversy, discussing the pros and cons of the positions of the East and the West. Interestingly enough, Letham seems to have an Eastern leaning in his conclusions, commending theologians such as John Calvin for taking a more Eastern stance in their teaching of the Trinity. He goes so far as to offer solutions for the debate, showing where attention paid to the Patristic Fathers from the East and the West would have cut the problem off from the beginning. Letham's discussion of the linguistic developments of terms such as homoousios, hypostasis, prosopon and taxis give great insight into the continuing problems seen after the Council of Nicaea. His considerations of the genesis of the different creeds is curious and insightful at the same time.
Letham critiques evangelicalism, modernism, postmodernism, Islam, old theologians and new theologians. The only sources spoken of in a fully positive light are the Bible and John Calvin. However, his critiques are never condescending, but cautious and caring. He offers solutions to the problems within each school of thought and explains why corrections are needed. He contends for more Trinitarian hymns, prayers and liturgy, much of which could be modeled after the East. His interaction with Eastern theologians may prove to be new and insightful for many Western readers.
I could ramble for quite some time about this book. I would caution any future readers (and I hope there will be some) to be prepared when picking this book up. This is no simple bedtime reading. The 22-page bibliography is put to full use. I'm sure there are texts related to the Trinity Letham did not use, but one would likely be hard pressed to point them out. The constant interaction with other scholars and terms and ideas foreign to many modern readers makes the book a bit on the heavy side. Letham's thoroughness is almost overwhelming at times also. But it is these things that makes this book such a valuable resource.
I will conclude with a high recommendation to purchase this text and read it, and two quotes given several times throughout the book.
"I've often reflected on the rather obvious thought that when his disciples were about to have their world collapse in on them, our Lord spent so much time in the Upper Room speaking to them about the mystery of the Trinity. If anything could underline the necessity of Trinitarianism for practical Christianity, that must surely be it!"-Sinclair Ferguson.
"No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendour of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of any one of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light."-Gregory Nazianzen
However, due to this lack of understanding and grappling with the ramifications of this doctrine most Christians view God in the abstract and as a result have a detached and almost deistic relationship with the God of the Bible who is actually transcendent and immanent in our world. In this book the author seeks to bring about a new revitalization to the church and its witness to the world by having a deeper understanding of the Triune God as revealed in the Scriptures.
In this very cogent book Dr. Letham seeks to give a broad overview of the Triune doctrine by canvassing the Scriptures, church history, modern discussions with contemporary theologians of the past few centuries (their orthodox and unorthodox views), and Critical Issues - including the incarnation, worship, prayer, missions, and union with Christ.
This book is a challenging read, but I think Dr. Letham maintains a good balance between the scholarly aspects of the discussion and its practical applications - which ultimately lead us to worship. Many of the chapters end in prayer and focus on actually worshipping God, not just discussing Him. Two excellent articles reviewing books by Gilbert Bilezikian and Kevin Giles on the Trinity conclude the work as appendixes. A helpful glossary and bibliography conclude the work.
I am grateful to the Triune God of Scripture for Dr. Letham's excellent contribution to theological reflection in this book. It is a readable and comprehensive study of the doctrine of the Trinity in the unfolding revelation of the Bible, in its breadth of reflection from church history, amid the loci of influential systematic theologians, and in the life and application of the evangelical community. I think anyone will benefit from reading this book. It will definitely sharpen your understanding of the Triune God we worship and inform and influence the way you relate to Him in your daily life.