Book Review: The Deep Things of God

The Deep Things of God: how the Trinity Changes Everything is by Fred Sanders, an associate professor at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute. The book is published by Crossway*.

The simple thesis of the book is that Gospel is the Trinity and thus Evangelicals are deeply Trinitarian, whether they realize it or not. While simply stated, the substance of the arguments are far from simplistic. At times, this book can be a little heady. I found myself re-reading certain paragraphs in order for me to understand exactly what Sanders was saying. However, for the most part, I found the book to be readable and enjoyable.

I’ve been struggling with how to classify this book. It’s not a systematic treatment of the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s not a complete survey of evangelical engagement of with the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s kind of a mish-mash of both. Sanders seeks reintroduce evangelicals to the doctrine of the Trinity, by showing them that evangelicals in the past have thought well about the doctrine and thought it important. As he does this, the doctrine itself is discussed and unpacked. For me personally, the book has really heightened my awareness of the Trinity, but in a way that allows the doctrine to remain tacit, rather than explicit (you’ll want to read the book to see what I’m talking about!).

There where two sections I think are worth the price of the book alone. In the Introduction, Sanders presents a problem to us. If evangelicals are so deeply Trinitarian, why do so many seem to be confused by or intimidated by the doctrine? How is that the modern evangelical is so detached from his Trinitarian roots? Sanders believes, and I agree with his analysis, that the emphatic nature of evangelicalism has led to this problem. What he means is the evangelicals have always been concerned with highlighting certain aspects of the Christian doctrines. Bible, Cross, Conversion, Heaven have been the major emphases of evangelicalism. Sanders affirms this pattern of emphasis. However, when you are emphasizing something, you’re assuming a larger body of truth out which a certain truth is then emphasized. The Cross of Christ is certainly worthy of emphasizing. However, the Cross draws it’s power and meaning, so long as it’s flanked by Jesus’ pre-existence, incarnation and earthly ministry on the one side and his resurrection and ascension on the other side.Without those other truths flanking the Cross, Jesus death upon it would have done nothing for us in regards to our salvation. The same could be said of emphasizing the Bible, Conversion and Heaven. They are the right things to emphasize, so long as there is that larger body of Christian truth from which they stand out. What has, sadly, happened in within evangelicalism is that the points of emphasis have been severed from their roots and are presented as the whole story, rather than just the highlights. And when this happened, evangelicalism moved from being emphatic to reductionistic. Evangelicals became “anemic” as they lost connection with all the other important truths. And since the doctrine of the Trinity is one of those truths that falls outside of the emphasis (as it should, Sanders points out), evangelicals have lost touch with it’s power and importance. For me, this nailed my growing up. I grew up in a stream of evangelicalism that had become reductionistic. It wasn’t until after college where I was introduced to the rest of the story. So I really enjoyed this section, mainly because I connected with it so personally. I’m sure many other young evangelicals will connect with it as well. The second section I thought was amazing, was the chapter on prayer. Sanders lays out a way to pray “with the grain.” What he means is that there is a way to pray that lines you up with the way the Trinity works. My favorite section of the chapter deals with how its possible for our prayers to influence God. I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. What God wills, happens. How do I get off believing my prayers have any impact on God? Sanders gives a plausible explanation for how our prayers can and do influence God when we look at prayer through the lens of the doctrine of the Trinity (you need to read the book to get the answer…I couldn’t do it justice here).

The rest of the book is good as well. As I mentioned before, there a few sections that are kinda heady, but Sanders himself says at certain points that readers can skip ahead if the topics feels too deep. One thing I did notice about the book is that Sanders repeats himself, a lot. However, I didn’t really mind the repetition. It helped me remember where I was and what he was talking about. Other people may find it distracting or unnecessary, but I was fine with it. I had two beefs with the book. The first is that it had end notes rather than foot notes. I hate end notes. Petty, I know. Second, I would have like to see this book in hardback. It’s a solid book, one that I will be referencing again and again. A hardback binding would have been nice.

I highly recommend this book.

~sdg

*Disclosure: I was provided a copy by Crossway in exchange for reading and reviewing the book.

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