For too many Christians, the Trinity is more of a liability than an asset. For one, it seems to pose an acute logical problem: how can 1 + 1 + 1 = 1? It seems to create practical difficulties, too, as in, “Whom should we pray to? Do we have to address all three members of the Trinity an equal amount?”
Enter Michael Reeves’s new book Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith, first released in the U.K. as The Good God. Not to be confused with Tim Chester’s Delighting in the Trinity: Why Father, Son, and Spirit Are Good News (see Fred Sanders’s review here), Reeves’s latest work is a vivid, witty, practical, and utterly accessible introduction to the Trinity.
Bottom line first: this is a tremendous book. I’d encourage just about any Christian I know to read it, and I’d encourage pastors to buy large stacks to give away.
Vital Oxygen of Christian Life and Joy
In the introduction, Reeves, theological adviser for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) in the United Kingdom, explains that the aim of his book is to “stop the madness” of widespread disdain for the doctrine of the Trinity. “Yes, the Trinity can be presented as a fusty and irrelevant dogma, but the truth is that God is love because God is a Trinity” (9). After surveying various reasons for our discomfort with Trinity, Reeves concludes, “The irony could not be thicker: what we assume would be a dull or peculiar irrelevance turns out to be the source of all that is good in Christianity. Neither a problem nor a technicality, the triune being of God is the vital oxygen of Christian life and joy” (18).
Chapter 1 unpacks the biblical teaching concerning God’s eternal existence as Father, Son, and Spirit. Along the way Reeves critiques Arianism (21–22), modalism, or, as he prefers, moodalism (32–33), and misleading illustrations of the Trinity (35–37). Chapter 2 grounds creation in God the Father’s eternal love for the Son. Reeves explains that the Father is “essentially outgoing” (43). Therefore, “The God who loves to have an outgoing Image of himself in his Son loves to have many images of his love (who are themselves outgoing)” (43). In chapter 3, Reeves argues that God’s very aim in saving us is “that the love the Father eternally had for the Son might be in those who believe in him, and that we might enjoy the Son as the Father always has” (69, emphasis removed). Thus salvation itself is God’s “almighty love for his Son” overflowing to his rebellious creatures (70).
Chapter 4 explores the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, namely, that he gives us spiritual life by giving us himself (see esp. 87-90). In other words, “The Spirit shares the triune life of God by bringing God’s children into the mutual delight of the Father and the Son—and there we become like our God: fruitful and life-giving” (107). Chapter 5 opens with the challenge to God’s character posed by “New Atheists” like Christopher Hitchens and seeks to answer that challenge by demonstrating how the trinue being of God informs our understanding of God’s character. For example, Reeves argues that because the Father loves the Son from all eternity, “The wrath of the triune God is exactly the opposite of a character blip or a nasty side of him. It is the proof of the sincerity of his love, that he truly cares. His love is not mild-mannered and limp; it is livid, potent, and committed” (120).
Why is God love? Because God is a Trinity. Why can we be saved? Because God is a Trinity. How are we able to live the Christian life? Through the Trinity. In this lively book, we find an introduction to Christianity and the Christian life that is from start to finish rooted in our triune God―Father, Son and Spirit. Not only do we understand the person and work of Christ through the Trinity, but also prayer, the church and every aspect of our faith. With wit and clarity, Reeves draws from church history down to the present referencing a wide range of notable teachers and preachers. Here is a rich and enjoyable portrayal of the basic beliefs of Christianity that opens up the profound and life-changing truths of our faith.
The book concludes by reasserting that the Trinity makes all the difference in whether we can find a God who in fact loves us, welcomes us as beloved children, and brings us to enjoy him (129–130).
Little to Fault
I find very little to fault in the book, and even less that’s worth mentioning, though a couple of Reeves’s arguments left me wanting more. For instance, Reeves’s use of the Trinity to shed light on the problem of evil didn’t seem to help things all that much. It may be God’s very nature to “make room for another to have real existence,” but that doesn’t seem to ease the difficulty of God “making room” for an evil other as opposed to a good other (56-57).
And Reeves’s account of the eternal love of the Father for the Son as the necessary ground of God’s mercy didn’t seem to prove his point entirely, since there is no need for mercy per se within the immanent Trinity (112). Certainly the Trinity proves that love is essential to God’s being, but it seems we need to go further in order to establish God’s love for the unlovely.
Deeper into the Love of God
However, I don’t want a few minor concerns like these to dampen my wholehearted endorsement of the book. Reeves’s writing is crisp, compelling, and frequently funny. He steers clear of unnecessarily technical terms, draws deeply from Scripture, and handily introduces key theologians and concepts. Reeves is a master popularizer: this book takes what seems irrelevant and forbiddingly complex and renders it not just understandable but even delightful.
Above all, Delighting in the Trinity throbs with love: love for God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and love for God’s people. And in this delightful book, Reeves guides the reader into a deeper experience of that love. How? By helping us understand more fully and delight more deeply in the glorious triune God who has created us and redeemed us so that we might share in his eternal fellowship of love.