Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, & Relevance
by Bruce A. Ware
It's not that I disbelieved the doctrine of the Trinity - it's more that I didn't think I could really understand it, so I just left it there. Besides, so many other doctrines seemed not only more understandable, more grabbable, but also more practiceable. Sanctification - now there's a doctrine we can sink our teeth into.
So often we speak of God being three-in-one and then bow our hearts reverently, realizing how great a mystery this is. And it really is a mystery - but that doesn't mean it's unknowable, just that it's unknowable to its totality. God as Trinity is not something to be taught, confessed, and then shelved next to infra- vs. supra-lapsarianism on the "historical and trivial, but mostly unknowable and unusable" shelf. Thus, it is for people like me that Dr. Bruce Ware (professor of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) wrote this excellent book.
The first chapter constitutes the argument for the existence of such a book; Ware doesn't have to go too far to get the reader convinced that the Trinity is an important, vital topic: "The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith and therefore is deserving of our careful study, passionate embrace, and thoughtful application." Amen. On to the second chapter. (Side note: I was challenged by Ted Donnelly at last May's Banner of Truth conference, who asked us, "Would your sermons be acceptable in a synagogue or Mormon tabernacle?" Application: Sermons that aren't distinctly Trinitarian aren't distinctly Christian.)
Chapter 2 combines a historical and scriptural survey of the development of Trinitarian doctrine. Ware does a great job taking a monumental church history lesson and paring it down to the essentials. In a similar fashion, he surveys Scripture concisely and convinces the reader that, according to Scripture, God is/must be Triune. The importance of this chapter is immediately apparent to anyone who's ever spoken at length with Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons - how well we can defend this doctrine from Scripture may well dictate how well we can evangelize to those groups.
Chapter 3-5 deal in turn with the wonder of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit in their distinct roles and relationships within the Trinity. Each chapter begins with a version of summarizing Trinitarian doctrine: "...there is one and only one God, eternally existing and fully expressed in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Godhead is equally God, each is eternally God, and each is fully God - not three gods, but three Persons of the one Godhead. Each Person is equal in essence as each possesses fully the identically same, eternal divine nature, yet each is also an eternal and distinct personal expression of the one undivided divine nature." While this is a mouthful, it is a great summary of what the church has believed and taught and clung to ever since the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.).
These three chapters reveal the distinctions Scripture gives to the Father, Son & Spirit. I.e., the Father as supreme, the Son's eternal submission to the Father, the Spirit's mission to glorify the Father by glorifying the Son, etc. It's hard to put into a review how powerful these simple chapters are. To have a teacher and a lover of Scripture clearly line out for us good teaching on the Trinity was to my heart the heartiest meal on the coldest day. Each chapter ended with some hints at applying these truths to our lives/families/churches.
The final chapter took some of those applications and teased them out even more. Earthly fathers modeling the loving authority of the Father in heaven, wives (and all under others' authority) modeling the loving submission of Jesus, finding delight in the varying roles and gifts and structures of the church, making sure our prayers are Trinitarian (as opposed to Unitarian). Each of these points of application was well-said, and each could be a wellspring from which to draw much more.
Father, Son, & Holy Spirit is an excellent survey and introduction to Trinitarian doctrine. I recommend it with great enthusiasm!
p.s. - because Ware is a Baptist, it doesn't surprise me that he left out mention of how the ideas of covenant and Trinity work together (the covenant of redemption being an activity of the Trinity before the creation of the world). Something for another day, I suppose.
The sermon on money from Sunday night (it takes a little while to get started because we had some mic troubles):
mp3 (sermon audio - smaller)
p.s. - I resisted the temptation to quote Pink Floyd's "money", mostly because it has some vulgarity in it...but it remains a pretty good critique of a money-hungry culture.