In Simply Trinity, Matthew Barrett mixes an inviting writing style with theological depth. In this rare combination, he has produced a theological book for regular Christians without dumbing down the content.
Granted, he uses theological jargon; but then he explains the jargon. He cites sources and detailed arguments but summarizes and clarifies them. He uses handy block summaries for key arguments throughout. In short, despite the sometimes daunting task of understanding trinitarian theology, Barrett writes for the church.
I wish I wrote this book not just for the above reason but because of how well Barrett receives, interprets, and rebuffs recent evangelical approaches to the Trinity. While the book itself only dedicates one chapter to eternal functional subordination (EFS) or eternal relations of authority and submission (ERAS), the whole work itself shows the insufficiency of such an approach by its positive argument for a biblical and Nicene view of the Trinity.
Some will find the tone too strident, although he avoids personal attacks and harsh language. What he does is simply say: this position is wrong. That forthrightness is refreshing. Depending on the topic, we might say that writing a full-length book on a topic or a chapter to refute another view is overkill. Not here. God is the Gospel. The Trinity is the mark of orthodoxy.
As Barrett will note, affirming eternal generation—that the Son eternally relates to the Father by generation (begetting)—marked orthodoxy from heresy during the Nicene era (26). The Bible reveals the names Father and Son, which of themselves, explain how the Father relates to the Son and Son to the Father. The Father is unbegotten; and the Son is begotten. Yet since both Persons are divine and so eternal, the relations above are too. So the Son is eternally begotten.
The alternatives breach biblical language and often lead to heresy since saying that the Son is not eternally begotten denies the biblical sense of the name Son itself and leads to uneven relations between the Father and Son as the one God.
But the Trinity is the one God of Israel and of the Gentiles. We remain monotheists even while confessing the three. There are no parts to God (he is simple). He is three and one—one God, three Persons.
If you want to know how that works out biblically and theologically, do purchase Simply Trinity.
My criticisms are minor. One, Barrett has a narrative frame that involves characters and time travel in the book. It may add to the inviting character. And so could help to make the book more readable, but I did not particularly find that it contributed to his argument and could have been removed. Some may love it; and I may be a minority here—but that is why I call this minor.
Second, I wish he emphasized more clearly how the unique power of God explains why the triune operations of creation verify the divine power and so nature of the one God. He seems to hint at it, but I did not see a fulsome emphasis here along the lines of Gregory of Nyssa, Michel Barnes, and Adonis Vidu. Alas, I admit that this is yet another minor critique.
So I move to my concluding comment. Buy this book now. The church needs it. The academy could benefit from it. You will learn from it.
Podcast: to see my podcast discussion with Matthew Barrett, see Apple or Spotify. Purchase: you can use this link to purchase the book. Disclaimer: the publisher sent me a review copy. I used the book image from Baker’s website.
Mark Matthias says
Right, Wyatt — I see theology as a close fit for the Bible because it is based literally and conceptually on its words. I see the disconnect between mankind and God as unavoidable due to our finite condition. Philosophy more so and theology come to an end eventually, and then there exists a gap, and God’s mind begins. That gap is filled with some very useful thoughts that carry us through many ministries and spiritual awakenings — but the Bible can do the same with the Holy Spirit through the believing student with discernment — 1 Corinthians 12:10.
This sort of discipline where words are not being connected to Scripture may rob the Word of its power and is not designed to save souls, although it does, hopefully, bolster the serious student’s comprehension of the core of God’s intent. However, as a makeshift witness at, say, an airport, we wouldn’t try to incorporate this methodology in those circumstances.
But the gap between God and man’s intellect can be filled only by the Spirit, I have found repeatedly — I wondered whence I received that great witness!
Nevertheless, all that’s in God’s mind can be found in Scripture that is suitable for mankind such that he is lacking nothing. I became more submissive years ago when I realized that I will never figure out all of this…but will gladly leave room for God to lead me and work in my heart (John 16…) as He changes me to a more acceptable son.
Having said that I enjoyed the read.
Joe Haynes says
Thanks Wyatt. I am just about finished Simply Trinity and have found it refreshing and very helpful, if a little long.
I’m curious what you think of Andrew Moody (TGC Australia’s) review of Barrett, where Moody writes (with a quote from Barrett),
“Does he really think things begin with the Father, or is the Father simply the first appearance of a logically prior essence. I’m afraid it’s the latter. As he writes:
‘The Trinity performs a single operation because the persons subsist from a single essence and will … Yet, a particular work may be appropriated by a person of the Trinity in a way by a person of the Trinity in a way that corresponds to that person’s eternal relations of origin.’ (288)”