Oliver Crisp and Fred Sanders, ed. Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. 208 pp. $22.99.
Advancing Trinitarian Theology is neither a primer on Trinitarian studies nor is it a light read. If you are looking for a primer on this study, I suggest either Zondervan’s recent Counterpoint book, Three Views of the Trinity or Crossway’s, The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders.
This book, Advancing Trinitarian Theology, is a rigorous series of research papers and lectures from the second annual 2014 Los Angeles Theology Conference. The Los Angeles Theology Conference is a regional systematic theology conference that is spearheaded by professors Oliver Crisp and Fred Sanders in order to create a space for an affordable scholarly dialogue reaching a spectrum of traditions to further conversations on significant areas of systematic theology.
Published in Advancing Trinitarian Theology are papers from contributors Fred Sanders, Thomas McAll, Stephen Holmes, Karen Kilby, Lewis Ayres, Kendall Soulen, Darren Sumner, Kyle Strobel, and Jason Sexton. Each of these papers look at a different angle on Trinitarianism, the study of the triune God who eternally exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. These papers cover a gamut of approaches: philosophical, historical, experiential, and more. For instance, one paper may dialogue with the Cappadocian Fathers and Thomas Aquinas as it retrieves the doctrine of divine simplicity and reconciles its apparent incompatibility with the trinity, whereas another paper will dialogue with a modern thinker like Miroslav Volf and interact with social/political implications of the trinity.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
So what worth does a scholastic work like Advancing Trinitarian Theology have for a pastor? Why should you make time between sermon prep, mentoring and discipling, counseling sessions, and building projects to read a book like this?
First, pastor, regardless of your educational background, your personal academic interests, or the context in which you minister, set your mind to reading one book that pushes you and challenges you every year. This will give you a greater appreciation for the Academy, while expanding your understanding of intricate doctrines and their immediate affect upon your ministry. Quite honestly, I treat these kind of books the same way I treat an academic journal, magazine, or newspaper. I don’t feel compelled to read them cover to cover. I read what catches my interest and what appears to be compelling. I even start a chapter and if I find the researcher to be too cumbersome or boring as a writer, I may quit reading or slog through it, knowing that the research makes up for a lack of sense of style.
Second, you’re not going to be able to go to every conference that you would like. Nor will you listen to the audio or watch the video of every conference. I can list off to you a number of conferences that I would have loved to attend or listen in to during the last year. But, with the partnership of the publishing industry, many of these conferences are now becoming available in print form. For instance, B&H books just published the plenary sessions of the first Cross Conference. Likewise, Crossway will release the TGC pre-conference on missions that took place in 2013, God’s Love Compels Us. You can add these kinds of books to your library and pilfer them for research and study. And instead of taking furious notes, as so many do at these conferences, you can just get a copy of the manuscripts, reread them, and highlight/underline them with marginal notes at your leisure.
Third, you need to be conversant. Your congregation needs you to be their local and public theologian. You need to stay fresh with what conversations are happening and abreast with what the many viewpoints are. People still initiate conversations with me about the Strange Fire Conference. Having lent my ear and eye to that conference for a few of the sessions as they took place, reading the live blogging, the responsive blog posts, and spending time with MacArthur’s book after the fact has proven extremely helpful for interacting with others when they initiate interaction.
I know I didn’t really interact with the book on this review. I apologize for that. I’m going to leave the opportunity for you to do so. You should devour books as a pastor. Pastors should be readers. In my first year of seminary Howard Hendricks told us: “Devour your books. Mark them up. Make notes everywhere. Leave a part of yourself in them. Argue with and praise the author.” I recommend doing this with Advancing Trinitarian Theology. Have a pen in hand when reading this book.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Advancing Trinitarian Theology is a rigorous collection of research papers that are worth a careful and interactive read.