book report: The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders (2010)
Even the full title of this book jazzes me, The Deep Things of God: how the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders. This book was one of my favorite Christmas presents. I like it so much I want to share it with everybody who wants a little more philosophical depth to their understanding of the gospel. I've been reading Sanders for years now at the blog, The Scriptorium. He writes well and loves God.
I love that this book is a celebration of evangelicals and their trinitarian theology, but he does not need the filoque clause to distinguish the Holy Spirit, so even an Orthodox Christian can enjoy this book. Sanders is not ashamed of his evangelicalism, and he wants evangelicals to not be ashamed. He wants us to know our trinitarian credibility is real, so he limits himself to (almost) only reference Protestants, from Tyndale to Calvin to Wesley to Edwards to Watts and Warfield and a bunch of people I never heard of. I'm really glad to meet some of these people in my religious heritage, like F.B. Meyer.
One of the typical ways evangelicals introduce the gospel is with the statement "Jesus loves you." But when the time comes to take the full measure of that love, we have to look further than mere human sympathies. F.B. Meyer, preaching on John 15:9 ... said:Do you want to know how much Jesus loves you? Ah! soul, before thou canst master that arithmetic thou must learn another mode of computation. Tell me first the love of God the Father to His Son, and I will tell thee the love of the Son to thee. p.122
Although Sanders quotes the Bible too, this is not the book for your debates with Jehovah Witnesses and Unitarians. He refers us to works oriented that way, such as R.A. Torrey's book, What the Bible Teaches, especially about the deity of the Holy Spirit. This is more of a philosophical defense. But the church needs more than the three states of water analogy to help us understand the concept of the Trinity and it's implications. A correct understanding of the Trinity keeps our gospel from being too small.
A gospel which is only about the moment of conversion but does not extend to every moment of live in Christ is too small. A gospel that gets your sins forgiven but offers no power for transformation is too small. A gospel that isolates one of the benefits of union with Christ and ignores all the others is too small. A gospel that must be measured by your own moral conduct, social conscience, or religious experience is too small. A gospel that rearranges the components of your life but does not put you personally in the presence of God is too small. p. 106To that, I say, Amen.
Sanders does not care which side of the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate one falls on when he quotes them. He cares that his sources get the Trinity. From John Owen, Sanders tells us we learn, The Father gives the Son "for us," that is, as a sacrifice for propitiation. But the same Father gives the Spirit "to us," that is, as an indwelling presence. p.147
Sanders wants us to know, that the Trinity is the gospel. More expansively said:
the good news of salvation is that God, who in himself is eternally the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, has become for us the adoptive Father, the incarnate Son, and the outpoured Holy Spirit. God the Father sent the Son to do something for us and the Spirit to be something in us, to bring us into the family life of God. God, who is eternally triune in himself in the happy land of the Trinity, gives himself to us to be our salvation, giving the economy of salvation a triune shape that reveals who he is, and making the Father, Son, and Spirit present in our own lives. p.165
Sanders also does not mind those voices who have an experience with God.
Oswald Chambers ... warned, "As Christians workers we must never forget that salvation is God's thought, not man's; therefore it is an unfathomable abyss. Salvation is not an experience; experience is only a gateway by which salvation comes into our conscious lives. We have to preach the great thought of God behind the experience." p.186And this is where this book is so useful. After we encounter God, we need to learn about Him, and grow in maturity of our knowledge of Him. Towards the end of the book Sanders writes,
Many evangelical Christians, assured by their pastors and teachers that the Trinity is a biblical doctrine, expect to find it explicitly formulated on the pages of Scripture. They are often disappointed and sometimes scandalized to learn that the Trinity is latent, but not blatant, in the Bible. p. 232Sanders had to end the book someplace. There is so much more to be said. It doesn't feel finished, just stopped. Sanders tells us in a recent blog post, that he knows there is more to understand and apply and he is writing on those things. I'd be more than happy if he only wrote books on the Trinity from here on out. Get the book and think on these things.