Book Review: “God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits”

God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits

by

Malcolm B. Yarnell III

(B & H Academic)

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The Christian doctrine of the Trinity – that God is three distinct personalities with one divine identity – caused some disputes in the early church, and it continues to be the topic of controversy today. Muslims and skeptics often criticize the doctrine of the Trinity, and groups that break off from traditional, biblical Christianity, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, universally jettison the Trinity. There also appears to be a growing number of “oneness Pentecostals” who deny the Trinity. As biblical illiteracy grows, even among church-goers, and emotion is emphasized over proper study and understanding of God’s Word, many professing Christians have a weak understanding of the Trinity or simply ignore it.

I recently had an online interaction with a young woman who studied the Bible quite seriously but denied the Trinity. Her view was that God the Father and God the Son were the same person but at different times in history – an old, refuted heresy known as modalism. When Jesus, God the Son, is praying to God the Father in Scripture, she claimed, he was just modeling for us how believers should act, and the Holy Spirit was not God, but God’s power, similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ view.

Malcolm B. Yarnell III, the author of God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits, explains in the introduction that he set out to answer two questions in his book: Is the Trinity a biblical doctrine? Is it necessary to believe?

Yarnell doesn’t approach these questions as if he’s an apologist in a public debate. A relatively short academic book (240 pages) on a doctrine that requires looking at the Bible closely to comprehend it, Yarnell’s approach is creative and enjoyable. He speaks of the insight different books of the Bible give us into the Trinity as different portraits. His tone is not argumentative, but inviting and warm, like a friend sharing something he deeply loves. No, this isn’t a straight forward, dry apologetics book. I’m not sure I’d consider it an apologetics book at all.

In fact, though this book will certainly teach Trinitarian skeptics about why a proper understanding of the God of the Bible is Trinitarian, I would say this book is more for believers than nonbelievers. One of the primary strengths of this book and gifts to the reader is the communication of a sense of awe and wonder in the Trinitarian God of the Bible, something that moves one to worship.

The book is certainly academic and detailed, but readable. Again, Yarnell’s approach is far from making God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits a dry, academic read. But, admittedly, my seminary training did assist me in grasping a lot of what Yarnell covers. My classes in church history, systematic theology, ancient Greek, and even philosophy certainly helped. Yarnell spends time discussing various theologians and their understanding of the Trinity, presuppositions behind interpretations, as well as a lot of (insightful) talk about the “economic” and “immanent” Trinity.

But even if someone without seminary training reads God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits, even if they get a bit lost in the sections about, say, hermeneutics, the gold nuggets throughout will make this short read worth it. Even without the insight given into specific Trinitarian passages, the insight into the books of the Bible they appear in are worth the read alone, especially the Gospel of John and Revelation.

My only complaint is that I would’ve liked to see the question Is belief in the Trinity necessary? explored more directly. Specifically, must one accept the doctrine of the Trinity to be saved? Is the young woman I mentioned above saved by her faith in Christ despite her flawed understanding of who the God of the Bible is? Though one can draw conclusions to answer this question based on the examination of the biblical evidence in this book, I would have liked to hear Yarnell’s explicit insight into such questions.

Finally – and this may be superficial, but I am a bit of a bibliophile – the look of the book is extremely pleasing. The simple design and contrast of colors on all three sides (as well as there being something pleasing about thinner hardcovers books) makes it a beautiful book to sit on a book shelf.

That being said, God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits is both apologetic but not apologetic and academic but not academic.

(If this book interests you, I’d also recommend James White’s The Forgotten Trinity.)

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Book Review: “What is Biblical Theology?”

BOOK REVIEW:

What is Biblical Theology?

by James M. Hamilton Jr.

(Crossway Books)

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

This past summer I went out to Kentucky to take some summer classes at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a friend invited me to his church.  When I arrived, the first person I just happened to meet was James Hamilton, who I later learned is the head pastor.  (For the record, I had already received my free copy of What is Biblical Theology? from Crossway’s Beyond the Page program, but had not yet read it for this review.)

Dr. Hamilton opened his sermon with an illustration from a Shakespeare play — and not one of Shakespeare’s more popular ones.  Later in the sermon, he quoted John Gardener, a writer’s writer, author of books like Grendel and The Art of Fiction.  Having a B.A. in English myself, I concluded Dr. Hamilton must have an English/literature background.  Later, I found out I was correct.

Maybe I’m a bit biased, but I do believe having a background in literature gives a biblical scholar a unique advantage.  The Bible, after all, is a work of literature.  Not only is it a collection of various genres of literature, many of the more poetic parts is abound with figurative language.  Further, even the histories use literary devices to tell history as narrative.  James Hamilton is the right man for writing a book like this.

Biblical theology is the study of the story of the Bible as a whole.  Many of us grew up hearing stories from the Bible, thinking that the Bible is just a collection of random, unconnected stories.  Yet there is one overarching story-line that continues throughout the whole Bible.  In order to better understand this metanarrative, one must see the connection between the themes, symbols, and patterns (typology) of the Bible.  Again, call me biased, but I believe someone with a literature background is best qualified to do this.

We need more books like this: books written by quality scholars who can break down big ideas into readable books for everyday readers.  Biblical theology is an important subject for all Christians to be familiar with because it leads to a huge jump in understanding and confidence in their faith.  This short, readable book would be ideal for pastors to use to lead a group of laypeople through lessons on the unity of the Bible and the harder-to-grasp concepts like symbolism, theme, and typology (patterns that repeat throughout biblical history and even foreshadow future events).

As Dr. Hamilton states, if we don’t understand the symbolism used by the authors, we’ll miss the meanings of the authors’ messages.  As an English teacher, I find symbolism is one of the harder concepts for people to grasp, yet the Bible is filled with symbols.  If you pick up What is Biblical Theology? for nothing else, it’s a great explanation of the predominate symbols seen throughout the Bible.

Sometimes, Dr. Hamilton’s short, terse sentences reminded me of Hemingway’s style, and sometimes I found myself wishing he’d expound of an idea more.  There’s a lot packed into this short book, but obviously a book this length can only serve as an introduction — but an extremely useful and important one.  (And at the end of the book, Dr. Hamilton suggests books for deeper study on biblical theology.)

As Dr. Hamilton writes, “[T]he Bible’s story and symbolism teach us as the church to understand who we are, what we face, and how we should live as we wait for the coming of our King and Lord… Biblical theology is not just an interesting topic.  It informs who we are and how we live.”

(To read my blog article titled “2-Minute Lesson on Biblical Theology — the Progressive Revelation of God in Human History” click here.)

 

Book Review: “Date Your Wife”

BOOK REVIEW:  Date Your Wife: A Husband’s Guide by Justin Buzzard (Crossway Books)

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“The most rebellious, countercultural thing you can do in our culture is to be happily married until death do you part,” states Justin Buzzard in his book Date Your Wife.  Now, this might be a bit of hyperbole, but I don’t think he’s too far off.

Date Your Wife is a quick read that reminds us, as husbands, to (you guessed it) date your wife.  Buzzard explores the biblical definition of manhood, and quite bluntly tells us husbands: You’re the man.  If your marriage stinks, it’s your own fault.

Men, being goal-oriented, often work hard to court their wives, but once married, men sometimes check that goal off as accomplished and move on to other goals, forgetting that marriage is a life-long endeavor.

With this, Buzzard focuses on how all marriages must be Christ-centered.  As anyone who has been married for any amount of time can tell you, without a strong understanding of grace, no marriage can survive.

Date Your Wife is a quick, light read.  The tone is humorous but blunt.  Just what a man needs.  Each short chapter ends with “Take Action” tips, and at the end of the book are 100 recommendations on how to date your wife.

Being steeped in books on theology for seminary, I chose this complimentary ebook from Crossway’s Beyond the Page program as something lighter to read.  I have also just passed my six-year wedding anniversary.  And though after six years (and no kids), my wife and I still date plenty, Date Your Wife is a helpful reminder to never forget to treat my wife like the special woman God gave me.

Also, even if none of the “tips” catch you, the book gets your brain working, thinking of ways to treat your special woman in special ways.

For men who have been married for much longer than me, who have children, who have high-pressure jobs and many other distractions, Date Your Wife may be the kick in the butt you need.  Marriage is a beautiful gift from God, and if we neglect it, it’s nobody’s fault but our own.

Book Review: “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist

by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek

(Crossway books)

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I fluctuated between atheism and agnosticism most of my life.  Then, at age 31, I became a Christian.  During my most ardent years of skepticism, I took the position that there was no possible way to put together an intelligent argument for the existence of God, the divinity of Christ, or the divine authority of the Bible.  Trying to logically argue for any of these things was the equivalent to arguing for the existence of Bilbo Baggins or flying spaghetti monsters.

After having an experience that opened my mind to the possibility of the existence of God, I wondered if anyone had ever tried to put together a logical, intelligent argument for the existence of the Christian God.  I caught wind of a book called The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, and this was my introduction to Christian apologetics — the logical defense of the Christian faith.  From there, I read other books by Strobel and books by the scholars he interviewed in his book.

Like many — both Christians and non-Christians — I had no clue how much information was out there using philosophy, science, and history to explain the reliability of the Christian faith — and reading apologetic books has been a regular thing for me ever since.

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (IDHEFTBAA, for short!) by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek is an excellent introduction to Christian apologetics.  Like Strobel’s books, I would recommend IDHEFTBAA to those who want a readable and accessible grasp of Christian apologetics.

In a post-modernist culture, where the gap between the secular and the religious is growing, open hostility towards Christians is increasing, and internet misinformation is spreading more rapidly than ever before, Christians need to know how to explain and defend their faith; IDHEFTBAA is a thorough overview of philosophical, scientific, and historical arguments for the validity of the Christian faith.

IDHEFTBAA literally builds an argument, starting from the ground with exploring the question of whether there is such a thing as objective truth (instead of subjective truth) and moves on to philosophical and scientific arguments that point towards a divine creator – an intelligent mind behind all of creation, the Uncaused First Cause – and then narrows down the possibilities to the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Islam, or Christianity.  From there, the authors narrow their argument even more to the Christian God, Jesus Christ as the incarnate God, and the trustworthiness of the New Testament.  Quite an accomplishment done in a relatively quick read!

IDHEFTBAA was written primarily for college-aged students who face challenges to their faith at secular universities and colleges.  It’s readable and easy-to-follow, with plenty of written illustrations to help communicate ideas.  Charts, lists, and subject headings make it easy to refer back to, so it’s a great, easy-to-use resource.  Most of the chapters could be expanded into books of their own, so what they accomplish in a relatively small book for such a massive task is impressive.

Thus, IDHEFTBAA is an excellent overview and introduction, which will give a reader a good understanding of the major arguments for the Christian faith.  I found the sections about the historical and biblical texts particularly thorough.  Perhaps because Geisler and Turek don’t have backgrounds in science, the chapters on the scientific arguments left me wanting more.  Where IDHEFTBAA is a great introduction to the big arguments for an intelligent creator behind the universe, and Geisler and Turek present some interesting arguments using science, I definitely would want to do much deeper reading on the subject (especially since I don’t have a background in science either) before engaging anyone with these arguments.

To be honest, I had read and owned a copy of IDHEFTBAA months before receiving my complementary ebook copy from Crossway Book’s Beyond the Page program for this review, but I chose the book so I could have an electronic copy on my kindle.  Feeling passionate about the need for Christians to have a better grasp of their faith when it comes to defending it, I have been using IDHEFTBAA as a guide to teach an apologetics class at my church.  (There is also a self-study curriculum guide for IDHEFTBAA available that I have found useful for this class too.)

I’ve found apologetics are particularly useful in responding to internet and Facebook misinformation about Christianity or in everyday conversations with friends and family.  Furthermore, having a basic understanding of the information presented in IDHEFTBAA builds considerable confidence in believers who face regular attacks on their faith.

There is a difference between blind faith and the sort of faith that is better defined as trust.  The longer one walks with Christ, the more trust one has in Christ – similar to any other healthy relationship.  Books like IDHEFTBAA do a nice job of strengthening that trust even more and showing that accusations that all Christians are led by blind faith are unwarranted, and, in fact, many of those of other worldviews should be the ones accused of blind faith.

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