Understanding Scripture

No Bigger Than This

A review of Fountain of Salvation: Trinity and Soteriology by Fred Sanders.

“The Trinity is big.”  

So runs a refrain throughout Fred Sanders’ excellent collection of essays, Fountain of Salvation: Trinity and Soteriology. Of course it’s true that the triune God is big, infinitely so. But Sanders means the doctrine. The more you study it, the more expansive and comprehensive it proves to be.

“It is not just another doctrine,” he explains, “but the one that sums up the economy of salvation, the whole counsel of God, and the identity of the God of the gospel,” (p 136). You could say it’s a pretty big deal. 

Most Christians understand that the Trinity ranks high among the so-called “gospel essentials.” But we’re often not exactly sure why, or how. With its strange arithmetic and mysterious processions, it's frankly a confusing doctrine. Pastors are all too familiar with well-intended-analogies-turned-heretical-theologies among the flock: ice cubes melt into modalism, three-leaf clovers sprout tripartite godheads and obedient sons are subject to an Arian supremacy of the Father.

But if we’re honest, we leaders are sometimes confused too.

We may vaguely recall Barth’s formula of “Revealer, Revelation and Revealedness,” or C.S. Lewis’ summary of Augustine on the Trinity in terms of “Lover,” “Beloved” and “the Love between them.” These descriptors sort of make sense to us. But just how biblical are they?

How shall we rightly understand the relations between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to us, as the One God of creation and redemption?

We need a trusted guide of all things Trinity, to walk us down the ancient corridors of Scripture and through the maze of historical theology, to map out doctrinal developments, give us a sense of scope and then show us how all roads lead back to the triune self-revelation.

The point is, the Trinity is everywhere, impacting and shaping all other “ologies” of the church.

Fred Sanders is such a guide – surefooted, and charming to boot.

Though relatively slim (200 pages), the book is a feast for hungry students of theology. Sanders masterfully showcases the riches of trinitarian doctrine, inviting the reader to revel with him in its immense beauty and savor its robust, organic connections to soteriology—and, by extension, all of Christian theology.

Citing John Calvin’s famous chicken (knowledge of God) and egg (knowledge of self) conundrum, he frames the book with the question of where to place the doctrine of the Trinity in our systematics: Do we put it at the front, starting with theology proper, or at the back, once we’ve got all our chicks in a row, or somewhere in between?

The point is, the Trinity is everywhere, impacting and shaping all other “ologies” of the church. It is the deep structure beneath our systematic superstructure and finds expression throughout the edifice. Hint: it’s so much bigger than triangles.

The Trinity is big. Reading Fountain of Salvation, I better understand why and how. As the fons divinitas of dogma, if you will, there is within its matrix a perichoresis of sorts, involving every other doctrine. It finds its final form not in a static table of contents, but in worship. Theology proper ends in proper doxology. For in the history of salvation, both corporately and personally experienced, we have come to know not only the divine counsel, but more stunningly, God as He is in Himself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Does it get any bigger than this?

Alleluia! Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son, and praise the Spirit, three in one!

James Walden

James Walden graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando) in 2001; married his seminary sweetheart, Stacy Walden; and, three boys later, planted Riverside Community Church (EFCA) in Columbia, South Carolina. 

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