1. Is it Biblical?
2. Does it make sense?
3. Does it matter?
Fred Sanders, in his book ” The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything decides to charge at these three questions in a different way. The book in no way offers an overview of the historic development of the doctrine. It does not delve into the philosophical mathematics of the Trinity. It doesn’t even offer “triadic prooftexts” to support the doctrine. Instead Sanders spends his entire time on the third question “Does it Matter?” I came away from just the first couple of chapters with the impression that the Trinity isn’t just one of many Christian doctrines, it is probably our most important and most defining doctrine. Everything we say and do as Christians is a testimony to the existence of the Trinity.
Many Evangelicals are Christ-centered, Father-forgetful and Spirit-ignoring. There is a general malaise toward the doctrine of the Trinity that causes Evangelicals to think “it’s kind of weird, it’s not something I want to think about, and I’ll go no further than to sheepishly agree because I don’t quite get it.” The book challenges those notions by fine-tuning our understanding of all our other doctrines so that we can see how the Trinity is at the center of action of all of them.
Many would prefer to prioritize “What does faith do for me?” over “Who is God?” It makes sense that people would do this because it’s practical and has an affect on their day-to-day lives. But Sanders responds “a better way of underlining what God has done on our behalf is to keep it securely anchored in his own inherent goodness.”
This diagram illustrates his point that the doctrine of the Trinity can be useful in understanding how and why God has acted in a particular way toward us.
A person may be satisfied and not ask any further questions after being given salvation, but typically when someone steps into faith they begin to seek understanding. The ripple effects of salvation leads the believer to question “How did Jesus bring about this salvation?” then on to “Who must Jesus be to save in this way?” and then on to “Who must God be, if that is true of Jesus?”
“If you notice. . . how much bigger the outer circle is, you can begin to see how Trinitarian theology can help us maintain a proper sense of proportion. The Trinity is bigger than you and your salvation and has other things going on in the parts of the circle that don’t overlap with your circle. Those other parts of the Trinity are the rest of the fullness of God’s own life, the happy land of the Trinity. It is not possible to draw it to scale, because it is infinite, boundless and finally inconceivable. There are parts of that happy land that you don’t go to, and you never will. I cannot describe to you what happens there and neither can anybody else, for God has remained silent about those regions.” (page 74)
My take away from the book is that by finely tuning our religious practice into the frequency of the Trinity we get a much greater sense of who God is, what he is doing and why we are allowed to participate. Instead of making the Trinity an item on a list that we affirm “our tacit Trinitarianism must be coaxed out, articulated and confessed. . . . it does us little good if we continue to be radically Trinitarian without knowing it. We are at risk of staying in the shallows when God calls us to the deep things.”
I think Sander’s real gem is found in the introduction. He cites two great problems facing Evangelicalism, shallowness and Trinity-forgetfulness. Not coincidentally they are related. Evangelicals would like to emphasize four things: the Bible, the cross, conversion and heaven. Those are probably the right things for us to emphasize. But being emphatic is different than being reductionist. If we emphasize those four things by isolating them out of the main body of Christian truth, we very quickly create an anemic faith. Shouting “the cross! the cross! the cross! the cross!” over and over again very quickly makes the cross meaningless. “The gospel reduced to four points ceases to make sense unless its broader context can be intuited.”
“Knowing what to emphasize in order to simplify the Christian message is a great skill. It is not the same thing as rejecting nuances or impatiently waving away all details in order to cut to the main point. There is a kind of anti-intellectualism that is only interested in the bottom line, and considers everything else disposable. Certainly that kind of ant-intellectualism can be found in evangelical history, but it is a deviation from the true ideal. Emphatics are not know-nothings. The emphatic approach to Christian witness has a different impulse. It knows that the only way to emphasize anything is precisely to keep everything in place, not to strip it away.” (page 17)
I’m frustrated by Evangelicals who wish to declare Mormonism to be Christian by reducing Christianity to its most simplistic confessions. This explanation of emphatic Evangelicalism vs. Reductionist Evangelicalism perfectly nails down my thoughts on why I’m bothered by it.
“A blade is not all cutting edge. In fact, the cutting edge is the smallest part of the knife. The rest of the knife is the heavy heft of the broad flat sides and the handle. Considered all by itself, the cutting edge is vanishingly small — a geometric concept instead of a usable object.” Christianity reduced to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved” is meaningless outside of the much larger context of who Jesus is, how Jesus saves and why we need salvation. The Reductionist successfully brings Mormonism into the camp of orthodoxy by effectively declaring “there is no camp.”