Deep Things of God, a cursory review
A short review of Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Crossway, 2010).
Modern theology has been marked by a recovery of the doctrine of the Trinity. The recovery is obvious, the cause of the problem less so, though perhaps it stems from the reductive language of the “God of the philosophers” (to steal a phrase from Pascal). In any event, the waves of influence have begun lapping at evangelical shores. One result is the recent book by Fred Sanders under the title The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything.
Unlike Barth and company, Sander’s mission is not to recover the doctrine of the Trinity as something that constitutes the structure of dogmatics itself. Rather, Sanders wants to show that evangelicals experience the Christian faith in Trinitarian fashion. He argues that salvation, prayer and reading Scripture are experiences of the triune character of God. And this is where Sanders is at his best, showing very nicely how oft-used terminology and standard-issue assumptions of evangelical piety are undergirded by Trinitarian logic. This feature of the book is very effective in deepening what readers already experience. We might think of it as a good example of ‘theology from below.’
Of course the book isn’t perfect, and readers may be frustrated by three things. First, Sanders seem to know little economy of phrase. Though I’m probably less concerned by this than my students are, there are key parts of The Deep Things of God that would be more poignant if shortened. Second, the end of the book feels rushed. By the time readers reach the final chapters, the synthetic arguments of the book’s opening are gone, replaced by a series of hurdles comprised of one block quote after another. These chapters read as one runs in these situations, halting and clumsy. The form here is probably dictated by the working assumption that the older evangelical tradition has bequeathed a rich Trinitarian heritage. However, if readers are unconvinced, as I am, that something like an ‘evangelical tradition’ actually exists then the disparate references in this part of the book will only confirm this view. A third and final point of limitation is that the book has surprisingly little to say about the Trinitarian relations themselves. Sanders’ excellent set-up could have opened up a deeper exploration of God’s triune being then it seems to. A related point is that it is not always clear whether Sanders believes that it is the triune God or the doctrine of the Trinity that “changes everything.”
In the final analysis, though, there is much to be gained from the basic approach Sanders takes in this book. His methodological assumptions related to tacit knowledge invite readers to a deeper consideration of their experience of faith and gently prompts further reflection on the nature of God.