Book Review – Delighting in the Trinity

Author Michael Reeves tackles what is perhaps at once the most familiar, most complex, and even the most puzzling Christian doctrine: the Trinity.

He begins by acknowledging that even the words “God is a Trinity” evoke stiffness, a dogma that seems irrelevant. In contrast, he points out, “God is love” brings out warm feelings, something most can relate to, and want to.

And then he says it: “God is love because God is a Trinity.”

Reeves states his overall theme early: “Christianity is not primarily about lifestyle change; it is about knowing God.” And this current flows through the book. What is this God like who invites us to know Him? And what difference does it make that He is a triune God rather than a single-person god?

Comparing the Lord God of Israel to single-person deities is one of the most interesting aspects of Reeves’s work. It is true that because we are used to fitting “God” into our own expectations, the idea of “Trinity” or a “triune” being is awkward at best. We prefer the single-person deity as an entity much easier to understand. Yet a comparison of other gods and the Lord God of Israel reveals some widely differing beings.

For example, according to the Qur’an, Allah “begets not, nor is he begotten”—a strikingly different being than one we know as Father. And God couldn’t be a Father without having offspring.

Marduk, in Babylon’s creation story, creates human beings so he and the other gods can have servants to rule over. Reeves invites readers to take this further. If a god is a solitary being, he has no one to love (in contrast to God the Father, who was loving the Son before creation); he can love himself, but that’s a selfish love. A single-person god must, by his essence, be all about self-gratification. How could a solitary deity be loving when love involves another? Remember that the Son in the Trinity came to serve others, to give up His live for many.

Reeves turns to Aristotle’s god. If being good involves being good to another, how can a solitary god be good when there is no one to show goodness to? Aristotle determines that the universe exists right alongside God, so he gives his goodness to it. But Reeves concludes that this reasoning means that for God to be himself, he needs the world. He’s dependent on it to be who he is; this god of Aristotle’s is good, but not necessarily loving.

If at this point you’re reminded of your freshman introduction to philosophy class, I encourage you to stay with it. Reeves is making the point that before creation, our triune God was neither lonely nor in need of gratification, for He was eternally loving His Son in the Spirit.

Since in a single-person god system, the god would have created beings in order to rule over and be served by them, sin would thus be about behaving and acting wrong. A single-person god might offer forgiveness, but not make us his children (because he wouldn’t be a father). This god’s beings might live under his protection, but he wouldn’t offer closeness.

The author returns to Allah, a single-person god. His only “companion” in heaven is a book, the Qur’an. This is a book, a word that is about him, just a thing. In contrast is our triune God—and this is a lovely truth beautifully expressed by Reeves—who gave us His Word, which is His very self: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He didn’t just drop a book from heaven, He came Himself. So the Father sends the Son, the Son makes the Father known, and the Spirit makes the Son known through Spirit-breathed Scriptures.

God invites us to know and love Him, not just live under His rule; if He did, then only outward behavior would matter. And because it is not outward behavior that is the problem, but what we desire—usually ourselves—the Spirit gives us new hearts.

Reeves continues on the theme of knowing this God who is bursting with fullness and sharing and fellowship, and asks who could prefer a leaner, stripped-down version, i.e., the single-person variety who offers a dull version of religion. And later in the book he reflects on the type of God he’d want to emulate. Would it be a self-contemplative one like Aristotle’s? a cruel deity? Or a triune God to whom love and relationship are central to His being?

The author comments on Jesus’ prayer in John 17 in which He requests that His followers “may be one as we are one.” What is oneness? To a single-person god such as Allah, oneness means sameness. He says, “the once diverse cultures of Nigeria, Persia, and Indonesia are made, deliberately and increasingly, the same.” But oneness for the triune God means unity. Jesus is praying that His followers be united, but not all the same.

I’m not sure I agree with this contention, but it’s an interesting point.

Reeves’s explanation of God’s wrath is one of the best I’ve read. He says that prior to creation, when the Father was loving the Son, He was never angry—there was nothing to be angry about until Adam and Eve sinned. Anger toward evil is how a God who is love responds to evil: because evil harms us, the created beings He loves, responding with anger is the only possible way He can respond. Most explanations of the wrath of God start and end with His holiness (which isn’t wrong), but this one looks at it from the aspect of God’s love.

The author touches upon the evergreen topic of those who just don’t believe in any god, but believes that the antitheists’ problem is not with the existence of a god, but with the character of the god they presume. He said that those who don’t believe often describe the deity they don’t believe in as cold, selfish, greedy. And, Reeves allows, “if God is not a Father, if he has no Son and will have no children, then he must be lonely, distant, and unapproachable; if he is not triune and so essentially unloving, then no God at all just looks better.”

A book titled Delighting in the Trinity must by its essence be a little ethereal; after all, no one can physically see these beings. And is such a discussion useful, or is it just something Christians talk about over coffee or in conjunction with that intro to philosophy class? Does it matter? Let’s consider the book’s subtitle: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Interesting. Different. Intriguing. Not a book about doctrine per se, but a true introduction to what makes Christianity different from any other belief system: its triune God.

For the very bones of the Christian faith are the greatest commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. These suit a triune God and His outreach to us, His sharing of Himself. It makes becoming like such a God a “warm, attractive, delightful thing.”

I recommend this book without qualification. I didn’t agree with all of the author’s conclusions, nor was I easily able to follow everything he wrote, but his contentions are well expressed, and his treatment fresh.

Reviewed by Pam Pugh, General Project Editor, Moody Publishers

* Thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy.

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Book Review – The Wonder of the Universe

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books (February 2012)
  • Amazon
  • Christianbook.com
  • Google Preview
  • Imagine reading a book about science . . . and liking it.

    The Wonder of the Universe (Karl W. Giberson, IVP Books, 2012) offers a clear exploration of scientific discovery from the understanding the ancients had to the knowledge we have today to discoveries yet to be made.

    And yet as I read the words just penned—or computered—I realize they certainly do not reflect the wonder and joy I knew as I read this book.

    The book is about how science explores.

    The subtitle, Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World, might evoke from a Christian an expectation of a book about weird bugs, the eyesight of owls, whale song, how our bodies work just right. But instead, readers of this book are treated to a real discussion of how scientists learn, how they go “where the evidence leads,” how scientists want to get it right, that they are looking for truth.

    A Christian expecting validation of certain responses to some of the “I think I’m supposed to believe . . .” hot-button issues won’t find them here. Age of the universe? More than a cool billion, Giberson declares. Evolution? He states, “I argue that the history of life on this planet is neither random nor purposeless. In doing so, I start by accepting that the biological theory of evolution is basically true.” Climate change? Just a “handful of climate scientists . . . deny global warming.”

    Surprised? Read the book anyway. The Wonder of the Universe was not written to discuss the particulars of any given issue. It’s broader, and more inviting, than that.

    This book instead discusses how science works. At once interesting to a nonscientifically minded person like me and challenging enough for those who are of this bent, Giberson assures us that science does not constantly change, as some religious skeptics accuse. Rather, the “typical scientific advance is one that extends, encompasses, and absorbs rather than refutes old understandings.”

    The author is a scientist who is solidly Christian. What I gained from this book—besides the pleasure of reading something I usually wouldn’t and liking it—is that science is not to be feared, nor must it be either defended or denigrated. And thanks to this book, I’ve decided to stretch. I’ve got on reserve at the public library the author’s The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions.

    Imagine reading a book about science, liking it, and trying to review it. I wouldn’t know what angle to take, other than to absolutely recommend this one.

    Reviewed by Pam Pugh, General Project Editor, Moody Publishers

    * Thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy.

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Book Review – On the Way to the Cross: 40 Days with the Church Fathers

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On the Way to the Cross: 40 Days with the Church Fathers is a worthy resource for Lenten devotions.

Each selection starts off with a brief introductory verse(s) and continues to a prayer of confession—since Lent is a season of repentance—Scripture from John, reflections from church fathers, closing prayer (from early church writings), and suggested Bible passages for further reading . . . a structure, or rhythm, as the authors explain. By going through all forty days, the reader will cover the gospel of John.

Some of the individuals cited will be familiar to most: Augustine, Bede (the venerable himself), while other names and sources will be new to many.

Christians of virtually all stripes observe Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas. For Christians whose tradition does not especially follow a liturgical church calendar, On the Way introduces the discipline of Lenten readings and reflection.

Some say that putting a new initiative into practice for six weeks is enough to develop it as a habit. Six weeks of readings from On the Way to the Cross would be an excellent way for Christians who have lapsed in their daily reading of Scripture to recapture the pleasure. And for those who have been continually doing so, On the Way contains interesting and insightful offerings for further maturing.

On the Way to the Cross by Thomas C. Oden and Joel C. Elowsky with Cindy Crosby helps us connect with those who have come before, reflect with them, and allow their prayers to flow over us: “O Lord, bless all your people and all your flock.

Give . . . your love unto us . . . the sheep of your fold, that we may be united in the bond of peace and love . . . for the sake of Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep.” Amen.

Reviewed by Pam Pugh, General Project Editor, Moody Publishers

* Thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy.

Book Review – Clouds of Witnesses

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Perhaps forty or seventy or a hundred years from now, someone will pen a valuable book about Christians who are living in places such as Iran or Syria or Tunisia today.

Like the seventeen men and women profiled in Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s Clouds of Witnesses, many of the subjects of this future work will be individuals who will have held fast to the faith despite being at odds with their national culture; a culture that seems inhospitable to Christianity and where one might assume the church will never thrive.

Shi Meiyu was raised by parents who were early Chinese Christian converts. She studied medicine at the University of Michigan, one of the first women to enter a coeducational medical program. She returned to China and was instrumental in developing a hospital and training nurses—nurses who had far more responsibility than their counterparts in the United States.

Shi Meiyu required that her nursing students be trained as Christian evangelists as well as medical professionals.

This is a not uncommon theme in the book—many of the individuals profiled expected that Bible teaching and training of Christian workers would be paired with their efforts in social areas—and vice versa.

The account of Pandita Ramabai (1858–1922) is virtually un-put-downable. The journey of this woman of India to faith in Christ did not happen easily, nor all at once. But her conversion and commitment were solid.

Ramabai had a life of incredible experiences and achievements, among which was the publication of The High-Caste Hindu Woman. This work helped educate Americans about the plight of Hindu women, many of whom faced a bleak life. Using proceeds from her book, she aimed to reenter their world in order to bring them hope. She began a school in Bombay, using some ingenious and bold methods to act within a Hindu social system to read aloud and introduce Christian Scriptures to students.

These few words can’t do her story justice, nor can they tell of the culture of the Hindu world she had been born into and knew so well. When you pick up Clouds of Witnesses, turn to her story first!

In addition, you won’t want to miss:

• Byang Kato, who noted that Christianity is deeply rooted in African history, and who outlined four workable, long-term goals for the church on this continent

• Sun Chu Kil, whose conversion and life during times of great national change in Korea greatly influenced the church there today

• Yao-Tsung Wu, who was so impressed with the Sermon on the Mount that it became the basis of the view of social justice he developed for China so all could have enough.

Readers may find some of these richly detailed narratives, with their abundance of unfamiliar proper names, places, and events a bit difficult to follow. But nevertheless, they’re interesting and worth pursuing.

Countless Christians are laboring within their own cultures today—some in hostile climates where we wonder how the church can ever grow—bringing hope, reform, the Word. Their stories, too, should be told one day this side of heaven.

Reviewed by Pam Pugh, General Project Editor, Moody Publishers

* Thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy.

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Book Review – Uncommon Decency

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  • Paperback: 187 pages
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press (August 2010)
  • Amazon
  • Richard Mouw’s blog
  • At the heels of the January 2011 shootings in Tucson that left six dead and many wounded has come the suggestion that our manner of discussing the issues of the day has become acrimonious.

    Comments citing the “vitriol that comes out of certain mouths” and “level of angry rhetoric,” and pleas to “bring down the rhetoric [that] . . . has become pervasive in our discussion of political issues” have abounded in the days after the tragic event.

    Is our age more caustic in our treatment of political and cultural disagreements than previous ones? Probably not. But the question of how to address differences has recurred.

    Richard J. Mouw’s newly revised Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (InterVarsity 2010) is a welcome discussion on . . . discussion. How should anyone, specifically Christians, present opinions about the issues of the day? We need to start with our own sinfulness and others’ humanness, and recognize that many issues are not easily resolved. Accept that we can learn from someone we disagree with. Even pray for the welfare of Babylon, Mouw advises, citing Jeremiah’s injunction to the exiled Israelites: “Seek the welfare of the city . . . and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:4–7).

    Mouw tackles some of the familiar topics we tend to be uncivil about, but avoids clichéd responses. For example, he raises the concept of pluralism—a topic conservative Christians sometimes view with dismay, as though such a reality is detrimental to our practice of the faith. He lays out a reasoned and interesting conclusion, though, as to why Christians actually ought to embrace a pluralistic society.

    A strength of the book is his inclusion of issues within and without the church, discussions among believers, and between Christians and those who aren’t. He says Christians often become polarized—and may embrace polarization—even concerning different approaches to sharing the faith. We can obey the call to spread the gospel even while we listen to others, sincerely aim to understand them better, and even to get their perspective on us. Sadly, much incivility occurs within churches, whether in a local church setting or in a public denominational split.

    He recognizes the difficulties of engaging with culture without compromising convictions and offers examples of those whose road can be bumpy while doing so. His chapter on “When There Is No ‘On the Other Hand’ ” expands on this theme. Mouw’s approach to issues is nuanced, and he recognizes that “there will come times when civility alone is not adequate for dealing with our differences.”

    The chapter on whether or not hell is uncivil is fascinating.

    Mouw supports his reasoning with historic persons and contemporary examples, remaining thoughtful and fresh throughout. He concludes that “without grace, civility cannot endure.”

    Uncommon Decency is a welcome addition on how to discuss issues, get involved with others, address matters and persons with civility; a sensible, pleasing, and challenging read, highly recommended.

    —Reviewed by Pam Pugh, General Project Editor, Moody Publishers

    * Thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy.

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