Written by Tom Smail Reviewed By Mike Reeves

Into a culture plagued by introspective self-definition Tom Smail has written a timely call for humanity to be defined theologically. Specifically, he seeks to unpack what it means to be made in God’s image if God is Triune. Lucid as ever, Smail has produced a widely accessible and relevant work that accurately employs and introduces the most technical trinitarian theology, theological anthropology and philosophy.

He starts by engaging with those he believes to be most responsible for our contemporary anthropological malaise: Feuerbach, Marx and Freud. Their shared belief that theology is merely anthropology writ into the heavens he answers with a robust defence of the actuality of God’s revelation. There we see that God is not the one made in our image, but vice versa.

This leads him on to an examination of Christ as the true imago dei, into whose likeness we are being transformed. A study of Christ’s relationship to his Father then, very naturally, moves into a study of the Trinity that is remarkably comprehensive for its brevity. He provides an introduction to the Augustinian model, before rounding off a short history of Western doctrines of the Trinity with a critical examination of Barth’s contribution. He then compares this to the view exemplified by the Cappadocian Fathers, noting with evident delight the way in which Moltmann, Zizioulas and Gunton have successfully managed to re-introduce a more Eastern approach to the West. For anyone new to this field, or perhaps intimidated by works such as Gunton’s classic Promise of Trinitarian Theology, this study provides an extremely reliable and readable introduction.

Smail then proceeds to show the very practical challenges that issue from a more resolutely trinitarian foundation. First he shows that Western anthropology has been in keeping with the fact that Western doctrines of the Trinity have not been prone to speak of divine persons in community. Boethius’ definition of are person (‘an individual substance of a rational nature’) and Descartes’ great aphorism, ‘I think, therefore I am’ both reveal a profound individualism. It is no wonder, then, that our contemporary culture holds each person to be almost entirely self-defining for everything but personal responsibility. Smail argues that all such individualism, and all promotion of self-sufficiency, is radically at odds with what it means to be in the image of the triune God.

Instead he maintains that the defining love that exists between the divine persons is to be imaged in love between human persons. Smail goes further than most, though, suggesting that true imitation of the triune God can be quite specific. The Father reveals what it is to initiate; the Son reveals what it is to respond to the claims of others; the Spirit reveals creative love. Those who remember The Forgotten Father will have a good idea of what to expect here, and will not be disappointed.

A particularly interesting chapter follows on the effect of the fall on the image. For this reader, however, what was most fascinating was a short section on the Augustine-Pelagius debate. Smail points out that at the heart of the debate was the question of individualism. Can each person be seen as self-defining individual, as Pelagius taught, or is each person part of a greater body (Adam’s or Christ’s), as Augustine taught? Smail could not have shown more effectively how high the stakes are in anthropology.

Next comes a chapter outlining the way in which the doctrine of the Trinity should affect male-female relations (including a trinitarian defence of male headship). A final chapter then examines the renewal of humanity in Christ, before concluding with an exhortation to image the triune God to the world.

In its content, pitch and challenge, this stimulating book is to be highly recommended.

Mike Reeves