A review of Fred Sanders’ “The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything”

Sanders, Fred. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

Fred Sanders received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology at Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, and he is currently Associate Professor at the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He specializes in the Trinity and has written extensively on the topic since 1998. His prolific work includes contributions to numerous seminary level theological textbooks and scholarly journals, and he has authored three books of his own, two of which are on the topic of the Trinity. Sanders is also a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and speaks regularly at their annual and regional meetings across the United States.[1]

Sanders’ book, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, is an endeavor to show “that the doctrine of the Trinity inherently belongs to the gospel itself” (9). To accomplish this task, Sanders labors to remind his readers of evangelicalism’s deeply Trinitarian past, and he exhorts the church to recover it’s vitality though a reorientation with what the church has really known to be true all along, namely that the Trinity/gospel relationship is at the absolute core of the Christian faith (13, 26).

Sanders’ acquaintance with historical theology is evident from the outset of The Deep Things of God. He draws extensively from the abundance of Trinitarian works produced by the church throughout the centuries, from the patristic to the modern periods. His focus, however, remains on the Bible and its overwhelming Trinity/gospel-centeredness. In the introductory pages, Sanders utilizes a mix of both historical theology and what one could only describe as type of dry British whimsy, which is unfortunately isolated to the introduction (8).

The Trinity as tacit Christian reality is a theme that permeates the book, and Sanders uses the testimony of notorious gangster turned evangelist, Nicky Cruz, to illustrate this point (28-33). Cruz was converted from a life of crime and was instrumental in reaching countless criminals and addicts with the gospel (29), but he did not come to realize the depths of the Trinity in his own life until after he had been a Christian for quite some time. His eventual realization of the triune work of God in his life changed “everything about his Christian life” (32). Sanders calls it, getting “on the inside of the doctrine” or “understanding it from within” (32). He interjects this tacit reality of the Trinity with an overly technical excursus on “liturgy, tradition, and sacraments” (51) calling for a resurgence of Trinitarian worship in evangelical churches.

The Trinity as it relates to the church can be understood only when the primacy of the intra-Trinitarian happiness of God is realized (62). The gospel is rooted in the perfect happiness of the preexistent Trinity and extends to sinners “out of an astonishing abundance of generosity” (65). Sanders uses a combination of somewhat helpful diagrams to illustrate, in admittedly imperfect ways (75), the dimensions of how a right understanding of the Trinity impacts the Christian life. Again, Sanders’ goal is to get the reader focused simultaneously on the Trinity and the gospel cohesively and inseparably.

After discussing the details of the inherent happiness of God, Sanders ventures to display the immensity of the gospel, that God is “taking us into the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be our salvation” (98). By briefly and brilliantly working out Ephesians 1:3-14 by utilizing the work of Thomas Goodwin, Henry Scougal, and others, Sanders concludes that the gospel “is the work of the untamable holy Trinity” (101) and “is God-sized, because God puts himself into it” (117). Lamenting the current state of Trinity-evasion in the church, Sanders invites his readers to see how the gospel unfolds in the economic Trinity, to embrace the order in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit employ themselves for the redemption of sinners (136-142).

The importance of practical application of tacit Trinitarianism cannot be overstated, and Sanders addresses this issue in three stages: experiential spirituality, Scripture, and prayer. He deals adequately with Trinitarian spirituality and considers Francis Schaeffer’s work on the subject in depth. Sanders uses some very helpful illustrations of how the “Trinity, economy of salvation, and evangelical experience” are related (187), and he rightly points out that Trinitarians do not ascend to knowledge of the trinity; they go deeper into what they already have (184). However, Sanders’ description of the relationship between Scripture and the Trinitarian life needs some refining. His comparison of Adolph Saphir, The Fundamentals, and Philip Mauro is slightly confusing (195-199) as is his section, “Love Songs the Bible’ (202).

The book concludes with one of the most important Trinitarian topics: prayer. His conclusion begins well as he explains how to pray as Scripture exhibits, “to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit” (214). Unfortunately, however, Sanders spends so much time discussing C.S. Lewis’ views on the Trinity that the book abruptly ends almost as though the last chapter should have been expanded into two and then rearranged.

Overall, Fred Sanders has produced a wonderful book to entice the modern Christian to reorient himself to his Trinitarian roots. The Trinity is the gospel, and Christians should indeed revisit and explore all that God is and all that he has done in the gospel. Apart from some stylistic incongruities, The Deep Things of God is a fantastic book that should be in the hands of every thinking Christian.

[1] http://bds.biola.edu/faculty/cvs/fred_sanders.pdf

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