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It just about does what it says on the tin, but its speculative and goes without ingredients you may think were necessary
on 15 September 2014
I hardly ever write book reviews, and I am aware that this is extremely lengthy but after experiencing some of the hype this book has got and looking at some of the reviews and ratings here, I felt I was maybe missing something. This review is a fair length, however, and I don't expect anyone to read it fully, so I have attempted to summarize most of this into the final 4 small paragraphs (and they are small!).
I hate to put a downer on all the good reviews this book is getting, because I honestly really wanted to like this book. It had been highly recommended to my by pastors whose advice I value and by reviews of customers on the internet and I felt it would be a really good purchase and extremely useful in coming to a deeper understanding of the Trinity. This book isn't awful and there are some genuinely helpful ideas which I have found beneficial, but this book is also lined with assumptions and speculations which is incredibly frustrating when some of Reeves' arguments are quite powerful. I don't want to sound petty in this review and I do want to praise the helpful elements in this book, so to try and avoid finishing it off on a bad point, I'm going to flag up the issues I had with it first, followed by the positive things The Good God offered up.
- If you have no idea of what the 'Trinity' is, then read something else which attempts to explain its outline to you.
Incredibly, Reeves' spends hardly any time explaining in basic terms just what the 'Trinity' actually is. He seems so fixated on trying to explain the inner-workings of the Trinity that he pays mere lip-service to the idea that God is three distinct persons, all unique and distinct yet all fully divine and equal. Strangely, no scriptural attempt is made at demonstrating this. Scripture is used to demonstrate the roles each member plays in the salvation of God's people and in the relationship between members, but there is no attempt to, for example, demonstrate Christ's own divine nature and distinct personality within the Godhead. Of course, the separate roles of the members is an element of their distinct personalities, but Reeves spends no time explaining that the separate roles point to this idea of distinct person-hood within the Trinity. It is almost entirely assumed that you aware that this idea is biblical.
The only attempt made at anything like this is Reeves' incredibly brief discussion of the unity of the Godhead. He appeals to any Muslim readers he has, who may use Deuteronomy 6:4 to show that the Lord is One and not triune. Reeves responds by explaining how the word for 'one' in this verse is the same as that used for Adam and Eve becoming 'one' through their marriage. But that is all you get to this end. There is no further explanation or discussion, from Scripture, of the idea of God being three Persons in one being and none at all demonstrating Biblically how the three members are all unique and divine. There is just this one allusion to God being 'one' in a mysterious way and this points to the Unity and 'One-ness' of the Trinity, not the personalities and 'Three-ness' in the Trinity.
What makes this even more frustrating is that one of the very first things Reeves does is highlight the fact that there is a lack of desire amongst Christians at present to read books on the Trinity. He establishes the lack of emphasis people place on the Trinity, but then he goes straight into explaining why certain illustrations of the Trinity (such as an egg or the different states of H2O) are erroneous. So, if you are a new Christian reading this or are unaware of what the doctrine of the Trinity is, the first thing you get in The Good God isn't a good Scriptural grounding of the doctrine's key features.
The only sentence I can find which explicitly asserts the distinct nature of the three members (and not just the separate roles they play) is on p. ix of the introduction and that is Reeves relaying what Christians often assert: 'We (Christians) explain that the Father is not the Son, the Spirit is not the Father, there are not three gods and so on. All of which is true...'. That is almost all you get of Reeves actually stating the actual idea of what the Trinity actually 'is'. Don't get me wrong, there is lots on the separate roles of each member and how they are in complete unison in their will, but in order to see these roles in the way Reeves presents them, an assumption is made that you are aware of the three distinct personalities in the Godhead. Indeed, one of the only explicit allusions Reeves makes to this idea is in this quoted sentence, which is in fact him relaying what Christians often assert as knowing to be true! Reeves does denounce modalism and explains well how certain illustrations can lead to this misstep, but he doesn't actually use any Scriptural references to back up his claims!
The closest statement I can find to a definition of the Trinity in this book, or what Reeves actually means by the Trinity is found one page 20: 'he is the Father, loving and giving life to his Son in the fellowship of the Spirit'. That might seem adequate, but if it is not laid out properly beforehand that God is Three Separate and Distinct Persons in One Being then that sentence can be extremely confusing. Reeves simply assumes that readers are aware of this aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity.
- All Reeves' arguments as to the importance of the Trinity are based on assumptions of what he thinks is best and although this is sometimes powerful, he doesn't actually give solid reasons as to why a single-person god is inferior to a Triune God. The argument that a single-person god, without creation, would have no need of love and therefore this quality would not be part of his nature is perfectly reasonable, but Reeves goes a step too far into thinking that because such a god would not have love as part of his nature, then such a god could never love his creation, (if he did even create!). To a certain extent this is valid, in that a god who has been alone in eternity past would not be able to love a creation in a way that a God who has love as part of his nature in eternity past would be able to. However, this does not mean that the god who created the universe is not a single-person!
Just because the idea of a triune God provides us with better reasons for thinking he would love and care for us doesn't mean that the god who created the universe must be like that! The root of this problem is rampant in many books that evangelical Christians are eating up today: people base their ideas of who God is and what he is like on personal preference and what they think sounds nicer. For example, how many times do Christians make the case that Christianity is 'better' or more reasonable than, say, Islam, because it is based on a grace-based system of love rather than a works-based system of reward. The idea may sound nicer, but that doesn't mean that Christianity is true and Islam is false! In the same way, just because the idea of a Triune God provides us with a better grounding for receiving the love of such a God does not mean that it is a more viable option that a single-person god or creator. Many Christians today argue for believing a certain idea simply on the basis that it is preferable and has seemingly 'nicer' or 'more loving' consequences. If Reeves had devoted time to explaining the importance of Scripture and how we can trust it and the words of Christ, then he could have argued that not only is the idea of a Triune God 'nicer', but it is also more viable!
The problem is that, eventually, Reeves gets himself into a right mess of seemingly convincing himself that a single-person god is incapable of creating the world! This is particularly dangerous when we consider the reason so many Christians are actually reading Christian books on the Trinity at the moment; because Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are knocking their doors. The more frequent encounters Christians are having with such people are prompting Christians to go and look more into the Trinity, and that is perfectly good and will benefit believers! But if we take Reeves view of facing a Triune God off against a single-person god then the Jehovah's witness (who would side with the latter) could quite easily reply that they think that God is in fact a single-person and will even argue that that is what Scripture teaches! So, for all Reeves' arguments and claims that single-persons create 'only for their own self-gratification' he never actually explains that this cannot actually be the case only that it isn't what he sees as the best option for us.
This book is lined with assumptions which are framed in such a way as to say that, if single-person gods do create, they are 'far less likely' to care about their creation etc. There is nothing actually solid there. By page 79, it seems that Reeves has totally failed to realise how far he has let this argument run. On the topic of prayer and the importance of God's Trinitarian nature for prayer, Reeves asks: 'Could...a single-person God even hear us from all the way up there in his self-involved transcendence? Wouldn't our bleatings just be interruptions on his precious me-time? Yes, if God were not triune, it would probably be better to keep quiet and hope to avoid being heard. After all, he may not want the existence of anything else'. Even without that contradictory final sentence, all he says here is assumption; 'Wouldn't our...', 'it would probably be...'. A Jehovah's Witness may just turn around and say, 'well, I think God created because he wanted people to worship him and, therefore, enjoys people coming to him for help and loves the attention'. That would be just as reasonable an assumption. As Reeves said earlier, single-person gods want 'self-gratification'. He could just have easily argued that single-person gods listen to people's 'interruptions' because they enjoy the fact that someone wants their help, and it panders to their ego.
But lets take that final sentence back into consideration. If a single-person god 'may not want the existence of anything else', then why would there be a creation to cry out to him and 'interrupt' him? I understand that the point Reeves is making is that, being on his own, such a god would not feel the need to love a creation, but that doesn't mean that, if such a god did create for his own 'self-gratification' that he wouldn't want the existence of anything else. If he didn't want the existence of anything else, why would he create it!?! He has no need of it, sure, but if a single-person god created it for egotistical reasons, he would still want it in existence! Unfortunately, Reeves' assumptions on this point are given no real foundation and, as a result, fall flat.
Like I said, however, this book isn't awful and there are things here which were beneficial and useful.
- Some of the arguments Reeves makes are good arguments, he just places too much weight upon them.
As mentioned, the argument that a triune God has always been in a loving relationship with the other members of the Trinity is perfectly valid in and of itself. It does make more sense for a triune God to pour love on his creation as love is part of his nature. It is also valid that a single-person god, being alone, would not share the same reason to love any creation he initiates. Reeves pushes this point too far, making out that because a Triune God can show genuine love to his creation, this makes him a more likely candidate to have created the universe, when, in reality, a single-person god could still have created the universe for selfish reasons. There are two options here, and the one of the Triune God does provide a better grounding for a God who can love genuinely with love as part of his nature. This provides more benefits for the believers in such a God, but it does not mean that such a God is more likely to have created it than a single-person god (such a god may, for example, have created us with a joy and admiration of creation only for us to puff him up further). We can experience real love and joy by being welcomed into the relationship the members of the Trinity share with each other and Reeves does make this point well, even if he pushes it by claiming this experience makes the God behind it the best option as creator.
- Reeves does do a good job of explaining the roles of the members of the Trinity, even if he doesn't spend time explicitly stating that they are all different persons in one being. Strangely, this does prompt the reader into assuming that God is tri-personal, so the lack of explicit reference to the distinct personalities isn't as bad as it could be and does at least prevent the reader from drifting into a strain of thinking similar to modalism. Indeed, the inner workings of how the Son honors the Father through the Spirit is exciting to read and helpful in contemplating how we should act and try to act as adopted sons of the Almighty.
- Even though it is frustrating how an idea of what the Trinity is is largely assumed, Reeves does well to explain that many of the illustrations used by Christians to try explain the Trinity to others fall short. His explanation of modalism (or moodalism as he titles it) is very useful and helpful in trying to steer away from illustrations that do more harm than good.
I really do hope this doesn't sound too petty or irritating.
This book isn't the worst book I have ever read, but it is not as good as I was lead to believe it was. If you have read other books on the Trinity or have been blessed by learning about the Trinity in church then this book will be a good buy for the price. It will help you appreciate God's loving nature more and how we can be welcomed into the love of God.
However, if you are looking for something to give you a Scriptural basis of what the Trinity actually is, I would look elsewhere. Its incredibly frustrating that Reeves doesn't spend time at the beginning explaining that each member is fully divine yet fully distinct yet fully equal with the other members of the Trinity and if you would like a Scriptural basis for some of the things Reeves assumes you are aware of look elsewhere. William Lane Craig's podcasts on the ReasonableFaith.org website on the 'Doctrine of the Trinity' from his 'Defenders' class are extremely helpful to this end (and free! Seriously, there is so much good stuff on that website!). Stuart Ollyott's 'The Three are One' is also pretty helpful although make sure you check up all the bible passages he quotes when backing up his points as some are better and are more explicit as references than others!
If you do happen to be looking for a book to read through in order to better understand and relay the Trinity to those who are skeptical (such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons) then you may not get what you are looking for here. If, however, your aim is to find out more about God's loving nature and how the members of the Trinity enable you to enjoy that love then reading this won't do you any harm. It is helpful in that regard, and I do wonder whether my disappointment in this book is more a case of hearing such good things from others. I may have appreciated it more if I had just stumbled across it!
Overall, Reeves makes some good arguments that lead you to understand and appreciate the love that is an essential part of God's nature and how we can come to enjoy that love more. I guess that would be what he set out to do, looking at the book's subtitle, although a biblical introduction into the doctrine of the Trinity would have helped and the equating of the reasoning for a genuine loving God with the idea that this must therefore be the only God who could possibly create is not only incredibly frustrating but it also leads to some seeming contradictions in what is printed. Unfortunately, these two things are what stuck in my mind most after I finished reading and, as a result, The Good God seems more like a disappointing waste of potential then the revolutionary view of God's nature that I was led to believe it was.