From ABC to PhD: Delighting in the Trinity
Delighting in the Trinity, IVP Academic, 2012. Paperback, 135 pages
Reviewed by John Hartley
At the risk of sounding cheeky, Michael Reeves’ book, Delighting in the Trinity (IVPress, 2012) is delightful. It is the kind of book that should be reviewed annually, as if it had just been published. It is that fresh; already carrying about it the air of a classic.
Reeve’s slender work falls upon the entry-level side of the difficulty scale. That does not mean, however, its readers will escape all difficulty. In fact, of the more difficult experiences one has reading this book are the regular jolting reminders of how impoverished your actual enjoyment of the Trinity has been. As Reeves states, because we often regard the Trinity “as an oddity and a problem,” we fail to see the Trinity “as a solution and a delight.”
Before considering the parts, let us consider the whole.
Delighting in the Trinity is not only an excellent resource for introducing someone to the Trinity, it is an excellent resource for introducing Christianity, period. Why? “Because Christianity is not primarily about lifestyle change; it is about knowing God” (Introduction).
With wit, joy and sanctifying prose Reeves carries readers into the beautiful, compelling and saving knowledge of the Triune God. He is quite skilled in leading us through the thought of major theologians, controversies and religions to settle us in the truth of the Triune God. And to his great credit he pulls out of our heads and puts on the page all the honest but honestly wrong, embarrassing but embarrassingly obstructive, unlearned but unlearnedly injurious, thoughts we have had about the Trinity. When he isn’t making us laugh at ourselves, he is giving us biblical courage to abandon soul-suffocating errors.
In one such early example Reeves addresses the eternal weight of the Trinity: “Exactly how important is the Trinity, though? Is it the sticky toffee pudding of faith—a nice way to round things off, but incidental—or is it the main course?” Reeves then explains the rightness of the Athanasian Creed (5th c.) in declaring to the whole world that “without doubt he shall perish everlastingly” who does not believe in the Trinity.
The parts of Delighting in the Trinity are but five. Each chapter follows a chronological arc from the reader’s perspective, beginning with chapter 1, “What Was God Doing Before Creation?” Here Reeves introduces the three persons of the godhead by pressing hard on the fatherhood of the Father: “The most foundational thing in God is not some abstract quality, but the fact that he is Father.”
In his second chapter (“The Father’s Love Overflows”), Reeves tackles the distinctively Christian solution to why there is something rather than nothing and why it is this something – humanity – and not another something. On the way to his answer Reeves deftly wades through the errors of Islam and other religions based on human reason then states: “Everything changes when it comes to the Father, Son and Spirit. Here is a God who is not essentially lonely, but who has been loving for all eternity as the Father has loved the Son in the Spirit. Loving others is not a strange or novel thing for this God at all; it is at the root of who he is.”
In chapter 3 (“Salvation”), Reeves presents the irreparable conflict between the false gospel of Pelagius and the biblical gospel of Augustine. Pelagius, in his alarm at the unethical life of church-goers, unwittingly taught that “the aim of the Christian life was not to enjoy God but to use him as the one who sells us heaven for the price of being moral.” Augustine countered that “our problem is not so much that we have behaved wrongly, but that we have been drawn to love wrongly.” From here Reeves goes to explain how being reconciled to the Triune God of love by the Triune God of grace is the essence of salvation.
In chapter 4 (“The Christian Life”) Reeves makes simple yet challenging applications of life in fellowship with the Trinity. He poignantly corrects our thinking about two commonly misunderstood doctrines. First, the Spirit: “…the Spirit is not like some divine milkman, leaving the gift of ‘life’ on our doorsteps only to move on. In giving us life he comes in to be with us and remain with us.” Secondly, grace: “When Christians talk of God giving us ‘grace,’ for example, we can quickly imagine that ‘grace’ is some kind of spiritual pocket money he doles out.…But the word grace is really just a shorthand way of speaking about the personal and loving kindness out of which, ultimately, God gives himself.”
In his final chapter (“Who Among the god’s Is Like You, O Lord?”), Reeves interacts with pastor/theologian Jonathan Edwards to show how the Trinity illuminates three keys phrases we often use but must learn to use more thoughtfully: God’s holiness, God’s wrath and God’s glory.
Delighting in the Trinity should not be the only book the Christian reads on the doctrine of God. There must always be a contemplation of the Trinity which goes beyond entry-level knowledge. But if more Christians started with books like this one, they would be more energized and hungry to go further up, go further in.
John Hartley has been pastor of Apple Valley Presbyterian Church since 2010, having previously been a pastor for 10 years in Vermont. He is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as Dallas Theological Seminary. John lives with his wife Jen and their five children.