Greater Than the Gospel?
Is it possible that there is something more glorious than the gospel of grace?
Biola professor, Fred Sanders, thinks that there is one thing greater than the gospel itself, and that is the Triune God of the gospel. In his book, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Sanders argues that gospel-centered Christians should embrace and cherish the doctrine of the Trinity because the biblical gospel is thoroughly Trinitarian.
Biblical counselors will readily agree with that idea in principle, but do we still sometimes relegate the doctrine of the Trinity to a systematic theology category to be affirmed and then ignored? The Trinity is sometimes seen as a complicated teaching that is difficult to understand (and defend?) and not incredibly useful.
Re-introducing the Trinity
Sanders wants to change our perception of the doctrine of the Trinity. His book is not an introduction to the biblical teaching, but a re-introduction of the Triune nature of God and an exposition of its implications for all of theology and life.
In many ways, this book is making a historical point. Sanders argues that evangelicalism has always been implicitly Trinitarian (and often robustly Trinitarian!) by copiously quoting a vast selection of historic evangelicals (from B.B. Warfield to Nicky Cruz to Susanna Wesley to John Piper and many in between!) and then unpacking their thoughts about Trinitarianism.
In making his historical argument, Sanders does not neglect the biblical data. He demonstrates clear exegesis of the most important Trinitarian Bible passages in their contexts without making them proof texts. He shows that often the “Trinity is latent, but not blatant, in the Bible” yet it also deeply woven throughout the entire redemptive storyline (232).
Moreover, Sanders shows how practical this doctrine is by demonstrating in successive chapters how it makes up the very fabric of our doctrines of salvation, Scripture, and prayer (which, as we know, are the very fabric of biblical counseling). He says, “The Trinity and the gospel have the same shape! This is because the good news of salvation is ultimately that God opens His Trinitarian life to us” (98).
Sanders is really, really smart, and sometimes, that makes his writing cumbersome to read. He is a master of the turn-of-the-phrase which makes the book delightful if you can access his complex prose. It is also very repetitive—which is intentional, because, ultimately, Sanders has just one point to make—the Trinity makes all the difference to everything. Once you are convinced of his thesis, however, the repetition can be annoying.
The subtitle can also be a bit misleading. Sanders really argues that the Trinity doesn’t change everything—it is everything (everything that truly matters, at least).
Other weaknesses could be identified: perhaps he could have said more about the Trinity and evangelism or the Trinity and the world or the Trinity and (fill in the blank with your favorite hot-topic). But even a great book can’t do everything, and Sanders accomplishes what he sets out to do. His arguments are persuasive and call for deep meditation.
Implications for Biblical Counseling
Here is what reading The Deep Things of God did for me: I began to think about how Trinitarian my counseling is (implicitly) and should be (explicitly). Biblical counseling is all about the doctrine of progressive sanctification (a sub-category of soteriology) co-mingled with a biblical anthropology and ecclesiology, accessed through an orthodox bibliology.
What is the foundation of all of these doctrines, and what connects them altogether? Sanders argues (agreeing with C.S. Lewis) that the Trinity is “the explanatory key to Christian life. . . . The set of ideas that might otherwise look like an odd assortment of articles of belief turns out to be an organic whole with the Trinity as its unifying center. . . . Lewis doesn’t need to devise a strategy for making the Trinity relevant; the way he presents the doctrine, it is always already relevant” (235). As I read the book, this principle clicked for me, and it readjusted how I now see everything.
How is the Trinity relevant for my ministry of pastoral counseling? It’s everything! Counseling is all about connecting counselees to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14). Or at least, it should be.
I highly recommend that thinking Christians get this book, work through its ideas, and then extrapolate its Trinitarian truth to their own lives and ministries.