Book Review: Delighting in the Trinity

In his book Delighting in the Trinity, author Michael Reeves sets out to provide a different flavor of commentary than we are used to reading when it comes to literature on in-depth theological topics such as the Trinity. Unlike clinical, academic endeavors, this book is about growing in our enjoyment of God and seeing how a proper understanding of His triune nature has a tremendous impact on our view of the world, of reality, and most importantly of God. Despite the lighter and more personable approach, this book is packed full of profound insights, and its arguments are well-supported by both Scripture and the teachings of some of the great thinkers in church history. Reeves makes a compelling statement in his introduction which he then supports throughout the entire book: “If the Trinity was something we could shave off God, we would not be relieving Him of some irksome weight; we would be shearing Him of precisely what is so delightful about Him” (p. 10).

Chapter 1: What Was God Doing Before Creation?

The question Reeves first asks—What was God doing before creation?—is a doorway into the Trinity that works quite well as a starting point. The premise of this chapter is the foundation on which Reeves builds his arguments in the subsequent chapters. He contrasts what he calls the “single-person God” common to all sorts of worldviews from Islam to paganism to Judaism to nominal Christianity, with the unique three-person God of Christianity. Reeve’s thesis is that “Before He ever created, before He ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving His Son” (p. 21).1 He describes a Father as a person who gives life and demonstrates that God did not give life for the first time when He decided to create, but rather from eternity, God has been life-giving.

The author then takes a look at the shape of the relationship between the Father and the Son: “The Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved. The Father sends and directs the Son, but the Son never sends or directs the Father” (p. 27). He then describes how the Father-Son relationship begins a gracious cascade, “like a waterfall of love: as the Father is a lover and the head of the Son, so the Son goes out to be the lover in the head of the church” (p. 28). What a great application to marriage; husbands should then “complete the waterfall,” as it were, being the head of their wives and loving them as Christ loves His bride, the church.

Reeves next addresses some of the heretical ideas that tend to crop up during discussions about the Trinity, including docetism, Arianism, Pelagianism, Gnosticism, and modalism (which he calls moodalism). Yet he does so with an impressive avoidance of Gordian theological terms. When it comes to analogies for the Trinity, rather than eggs, or water, or three-leaf clovers, Reeves looks at Genesis 1, highlighting the relationship of Adam and Eve: “Eve is a person quite distinct from Adam, and yet she has all her life and being from Adam. She comes from his side, is bone of his bones and flesh is flesh, and is one with him in the flesh” (p. 37).

Chapter 2: Creation

In this chapter, the author points out the problem with a single-person God and creation. He asks, “If there is a God, why is there anything else?” (p. 39). His point is that “Single-person gods, having spent eternity alone, are inevitably self-centered beings, and so it becomes hard to see why they would ever cause anything else to exist” (p. 41). By contrast, creating and loving others would not be unusual or out of character for our triune God because outward love is at the foundation who He is. The essence of our triune God is in giving, not taking, which leads to an incredible truth: “Because the Father’s love for this Son has burst out to be shared with us, the Son’s inheritance is also (extraordinarily!) shared with us” (p. 50).

Reeves then goes on to explain how a triune God can call creation good, while “absolutely singular supreme beings do not like creation” (p. 54). Only a triune God, argues Reeves, could be the source of all that is good. Because “if God is absolutely solitary in His supremacy, then surely evil must originate in God Himself” (p. 57). Moving beyond good and evil, the author suggests that the logic or blueprint behind a world in which everything was created to exist in harmony is found in the eternal harmony of the Trinity. Therefore, he suggests, the creatures of the triune God are not mere extensions of Himself. Out of His love, God gives mankind life and personal being, which necessarily means He allows them the freedom to turn away from Himself, which is the origin of evil and disharmony (p. 58).  

Chapter 3: Salvation

In this chapter, the author takes a look at the different ways original sin looks based on the type of God we have in mind.  He compares and contrasts a single-person God, who would have created merely to rule and be served, with the triune God.  For example, with a triune God—where relationship is eternal and paramount—sin as something that goes deeper than mere behavior. Rather, sin can be understood as love being misdirected and perverted. “Eve takes and eats the forbidden fruit because love for herself—and gaining wisdom for herself—has overcome any love she might have had for God” (p. 65). In other words, Eve’s foundational sin was more about a turn in her heart. From this fact, Reeves makes a great observation regarding the original sin: “Astonishingly, it was this very rejection of God that then drew forth the extreme depths of His love . . . The God who is love definitively displays that love to the world by sending us His eternally beloved Son to atone for our sin” (p. 68).

The author goes on to explain that God sent His Son in order to make Himself known, rather than simply to download some information about Himself. And because of this, truly understanding and knowing God as our Father deepens our view of Him and brings us deep comfort and joy. By contrast, salvation under a single-person God looks entirely different. “If God was not a Father, He could never give us the right to be His children . . . [but] because Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers (Hebrews 2:11), His Father is not ashamed to be known as ours (Hebrews 11:16)” (p. 77). And because God is a Trinity we can know Him with an intimacy no other God would or could allow.

Chapter 4: The Christian Life

It this chapter, Reeves takes a look at the various ways that the triune nature of God impacts the lives of Christians. He suggests that if we think of the Spirit as some sort of force and not a person, the Spirit becomes a power that we tend to use to get ahead in life. Rather we need to know and accept the Holy Spirit as a real person, pointing out that “If God was in heaven and His Spirit a mere force, He would be more distant than the moon” (p. 90). The Spirit enlightens us to know the love of God by opening our eyes to see the glory of Christ. “Knowing Christ – and through Him, the Father – is the life the Spirit gives.” (p. 92). And therefore, because the Christian life “is one of being brought to share the delight the Father, Son and Spirit have for each other, desires matter . . . What we love and enjoy is foundational. It is far more significant than our outward behavior, for it is our desire is that drive our behavior.” (p. 99).

Referring to Jesus’ high Priestly prayer where He says “that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:22), Reeves suggests that under a single-person God this oneness would mean sameness. For example, under the influence of Allah, “the once-diverse cultures of Nigeria, Persia, and Indonesia are made, deliberately and increasingly, the same” (p. 104). By contrast, our triune God values unity and harmony, rather than uniformity, and “the God of harmony is the hope for world peace; that He can and will unite enemies, rivals, and strangers into one loving family under His Fatherly care” (p. 104).

Because He existed as the Trinity for eternity, God is not an inward-focused being. He radiates life and love out of Himself, and this is the sort of outward-facing life that His children are given in order to, in turn, share it with others. This idea greatly impacts what mission looks like by revealing that God does not sit back in Heaven issuing cosmic decrees about evangelism. He is already on mission and when we go out and share the gospel we are reflecting who God is. He allows us to “share the missional, generous, outgoing shape of God’s own life” (p. 105).

Chapter 5: Who Among the Gods Is Like You, O Lord?

Here Reeves raises a pointed question. “Is it too much of a coincidence that the advance of atheism parallels the retreat of the church on the Trinity?” (p. 110). The author points out that during the 19th century, theologians like Schleiermacher and van Harnack began to marginalize the Trinity. Perhaps they were “disarming the church so that the atheist could storm on without meeting much serious opposition” (p. 111).

Reeves then examines how God’s triunity is revealed in three of His attributes; holiness, wrath, and glory. Holiness (which means “set apart”) in a triune God “is not set apart from us in priggishness, but by the fact that there are no such ugly traits in Him as there are in us.” (p. 115). This truth is manifest in what we view as godly behavior. If God is single and solitary, then godliness is being a hermit. But Reeves points out that, with a triune God, it makes perfect sense that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love people. Because of the Trinity, that’s what godliness looks like to a Christian.

The author ties God’s attribute of wrath to the true nature of who God was before creation. There was no one for Him to be angry at until Adam sinned. However wrath, Reeves points out, is “how the God who is love responds to evil . . . God is angry at evil because He loves” (p. 118). On the other hand, the wrath of a single-person God, because it would not arise out of love for others, would be nothing more than a cosmic bully having a tantrum. Indeed, the triune God’s wrath is “the proof of the sincerity of His love.” (p. 120).

Lastly, Reeves considers God’s glory, indicating that glorifying God is not about inflating or improving Him, but rather ascribing to Him what is already His. The author points out that God’s glory looks different to different people, based on their relationship to Him whether or not they are believers. “The very glory that is the fragrance of life to some is the smell of death to others.” (p. 125). Reeves then contrasts how the glory of a triune God differs from that of a single-person God.

“Through Jesus, the Father shows us His innermost being—in the form of a servant, dying to give us life. And it is as Jesus comes to us from heaven, making Himself nothing, that He displays His glory . . . Through Jesus, we do not see a proud divine glory, but the glory of inexpressible humility and kindness . . . Astonishingly, the moment when Jesus finally reaches the deepest point of His humiliation, at the cross, is the moment when he is glorified and most clearly seen for who He is . . . Here is a glory no other God would want. Other gods need worship and service and sustenance. But this God needs nothing. He has life in Himself—and so much so that He is brimming over.”

pp. 126-127

Conclusion

Reeve’s book was a gamechanger for me in terms of content, though a bit redundant in terms of execution. He focused on tracing the logical paths that flow from the Trinity into our theology, and our daily lives, which forced me to confront and reassess some preconceive notions about God that I didn’t even realize I held. Reeves did a great job of examining various doctrines, tying them to one another, and to the Trinity. For example, he demonstrated that the reason Jesus taught that the meek shall inherit the earth is that the Son shares His inheritance with us, which flows from His desire to reflect the love that has been flowing from the Father for eternity (p. 50).

In terms of execution, Reeves repeats his ideas a bit, expressing the same thoughts using different words and from different angles. Several times I found myself wondering, “Didn’t he already mention this?”  For example, the idea of rule-following versus relationship-breaking, or God being outgoing rather than internally focused, or how God’s love overflowed to the Son, which then overflows to us. These are all beautiful ideas, and perhaps the repetition was an intentional heuristic device. But I found it distracting.

Delighting in the Trinity reminds us of the dangers of thinking of God in a singular sense, rather than as the Father of the Son. Because “from there it really doesn’t take long before you find that you are just a whole lot more interesting than this ‘God.’ And could you but see yourself, you would notice that you are fast becoming like this ‘God’: all inward-looking and fruitless.” (p. 130). In the end, Reeves delivers on what he promised in the introduction; a book about growing in our enjoyment of God and seeing how His triune being makes all His ways beautiful. I highly recommend this book, and will likely read it again.


1 Throughout the book Reeves uses the phrase that God to refer to the single-person God, and this God to refer to the triune God of the Bible. It’s an effective literary device for underscoring the distinction.

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