The Trinity: An Introduction | Book Review


The Trinity: An Introduction by Scott R. Swain is the second book in Crossway’s Short Studies in Systematic Theology series. The first was Graham A. Cole’s Faithful Theology: an Introduction. According to series editors, Cole himself and Oren R. Martin, “each volume (1) introduces the doctrine, (2) sets it in context, (3) develops it from Scripture, (4) draws the various threads together, and (5) brings it to bear on the Christian life.”

Unfortunately, The Trinity does not accomplish the first two items in the editors’ list. In my opinion, one cannot understand Trinitarianism, the Christian doctrine of God, without understanding its historical development and creedal/confessional definition. Swain justifies this in terms of space limitations: “The book’s limitations in space and focus mean that it will not give extensive attention to the doctrine’s historical development, polemical uses, or more sophisticated dogmatic elaborations.” Given that this text is explicitly introductory, Swain’s choice to skip those topics—not to mention his editors’ decision to allow it—is difficult to understand.

Fortunately, what The Trinity focuses on is very helpful. Swain focuses on “the basic grammar of scriptural Trinitarianism.” He writes: “If Scripture provides the primary discourse of Trinitarian doctrine, theology is that discipline concerned with understanding and communicating Scripture’s basic grammar so that Christians may become fluent, well-formed readers and speakers of scriptural teaching.” This approach is helpful because the doctrinal definition of Trinitarianism employs terms that are not found in Scripture, terms that clarify what Scripture means and demonstrate is internal coherence. One must understand the interplay of these texts—along with the worship patterns of the early church—in order to understand why Christian theologians employed philosophical terms to define the doctrine. Only by doing so could they show the meaning and coherence of those biblical texts.

Here is the book’s table of contents:

  1. The Bible and the Trinity: The Basic Grammar
  2. The Bible and the Trinity: Three Types of Texts
  3. The Simplicity of God
  4. God the Father
  5. God the Son
  6. God the Holy Spirit
  7. The Shape of God’s Triune Work
  8. The End of God’s Triune Work

Although The Trinity describes itself as an introduction, readers need to have at least a passing familiarity with the doctrine and its basic terms before they read the book, or they might feel a bit lost in it. My guess is that the Short Studies in Systematic Theology is directed at Bible college students and seminarians, who are the most likely to consume introductory books on systematic theology. I believe pastors and theologically proficient church leaders and members can also benefit from the book. It will enrich their understanding of why sound biblical theology results in Trinitarianism, and it will help them connect what sometimes seems like an abstract doctrine to the Bible’s core concern, namely, God’s salvation of lost humanity.

Book Reviewed
Scott R. Swain, The Trinity: An Introduction (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020).

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What Christ Redeems Us From and To | Luke 1:67-80


Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 1:67–80.

 

Whether the songs are sacred or secular, Christmas is a singing season. In the Gospel of Luke, we read the original four Christmas songs: Mary’s “Magnficat” (1:46–56), Zechariah’s “Benedictus” (1:67–80), the angels’ “Gloria” (2:8–14), and Simeon’s “Nunc Dimittis” (2:25–33). We have already looked at Mary’s “Magnficat”; today and tomorrow, I want to look at Zechariah’s “Benedictus.” It tells us something important about Christ and something important about ourselves.

Here’s the first half of the song:

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us —
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days (verses 68–75).

Notice the past tense of the verbs in the second line: “has come” and “redeemed.” When Zechariah offers this prayer, Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection lie 30 years in the future. Yet so certain is the victory God will accomplish through Christ that Zechariah can speak of it as an already accomplished action.

What redemption does Jesus’ coming into the world purchase? Zechariah uses two prepositions: from and to. Through Christ, Zechariah says, God has redeemed us “from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” Zechariah is no doubt thinking in national and religious terms. As a good Jew living in the hill country of Judea, he interprets the birth of Jesus as deliverance of Israel from the oppressive power of the Romans. And in a sense, he’s right. The work of Jesus Christ ultimately undoes the oppressive power of any government that disobeys God’s law and violates the human rights of its citizens. Jesus does this as His Church earnestly follows Him and applies truly Christlike principles to the society in which it lives. But more immediately, the work of Jesus Christ delivers people from the original Axis of Evil: sin, death and the devil. Compared to that Axis, human governments are mere pikers.

So, deliverance is deliverance from. But it is also deliverance to. Pay attention to verses 74–75: Through Christ, God redeemed his people “to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Zechariah says “without fear” because “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4.18). When we receive God’s love and return it to Him, our fear of divine judgment gives way to joy in divine grace. And out of that grace, our spiritual and moral character changes. God replaces our sin with his “holiness and righteousness.”

What has Christ redeemed you from? What has Christ redeemed you to? Let your life in Christ become your personal Christmas song today!

 

P.S. This article is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com. For earlier posts in the Songs of Christmas devotional, see here:

Every Spiritual Blessing (Ephesians 1.3–14)


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SCRIPTURE READING

Ephesians 1.3–14

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT

In Ephesians 1.3–14, Paul praises God because he has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” What are those spiritual blessings? Paul gives several examples.

First, election: “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (verse 4). When we give our testimonies, we speak of what led us to choose to follow Christ. But in reality, long before we had made a choice for God, God made a choice for us. Our salvation is the result of God’s initiative, not our own. As 1 John 4.10 puts it: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Second, adoption: “he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ” (verse 5). In the biblical portrait of human existence, we are spiritual orphans. As orphans, we have no spiritual safety net, and are thus find ourselves victim to the depredations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Through Christ, God adopts us into his heavenly family, gives us a spiritual home, and provides us an inheritance of eternal life. What a joy to know that our loving heavenly Father refuses to leave us alone!

Third, redemption and forgiveness: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (verse 7). Redemption and forgiveness are economic metaphors of salvation. Redemption is the price paid in order to emancipate a slave. Forgiveness is what a creditor does for his debtor when he releases him from the obligation of repaying a loan. In the biblical portrait of human existence, we are slaves and debtors to sin. But God is the Great Liberator and Debt Cancelor!

Fourth, enlightenment: “in all wisdom and insight  [God is] making known to us the mystery of his will…to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (verses 9–10). Dante Alighieri begins his Divine Comedy with these words: “Midway upon the journey of our life / I found myself within a forest dark, / For the straightforward pathway had been lost.” Having reached middle age, I can testify to the fact that I have sometimes felt a bit lost about what my future holds. But even if I—or you—do not know all the details of what the future holds, we know its ultimate end: the union of “all things in him.” That is God’s “plan for the fullness of time” (verse 10).

Fifth, inheritance: “In him we have obtained an inheritance” (verse 11). That inheritance is eternal life in God’s presence. In eternity, “[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21.4).

Finally, the Holy Spirit: “[you] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (verses 13–14). First-century authors stamped a seal on their letters as a symbol of its authenticity. The Holy Spirit is God’s stamp on our lives, signifying that we are truly his. And first-century homebuyers offered a down payment as the guarantee of future payments. So also, the Holy Spirit is God’s down payment on our life. As Paul writes in Philippians 1.6: “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

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