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Friday, December 4, 2015

"Reordering the Trinity" (Rodrick K. Durst)

TITLE: Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament
AUTHOR: Rodrick K. Durst
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (pages).

The Trinity is one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented, and misinterpreted doctrines in Christianity. Some say that it is about three Gods. Others claim one God but errs on the side of reducing God into one mode at a time. That is why Durst begins this book with Dorothy Sayers's observation to describe the general confusion among many people:

"The Father is incomprehensible, the Son is incomprehensible, and the whole thing is incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult." (Dorothy Sayers)

Spurred by one of his students' paper on the Trinity with an Asian perspective, Kurst begins an active interest in studying the Trinity in the New Testament's "triadic occurrences." He nuances the multi-dimensional order of Father-Son-Spirit and then expands with a variety of combinations of how the Trinity is presented in the New Testament. In doing so, he attempts to fill in the biblical sources and theological framework which he feels was lacking in his student's paper. He makes three observations about Scripture reading by people. Firstly, Christians typically "affirms the plain sense of the Scripture." Secondly, Christians tend to interpret according to what they "expect to see" rather than to see the Word for what it is saying. Thirdly, people tend to see the Trinity is one order: Father-Son-Holy Spirit, and in the process thinks of the Trinity mainly in this hierarchical order.

Durst asserts that according to the New Testament, we need to go beyond all of these conventional ways of thinking. The more than seventy New Testament references to the Trinity describes more than just one or two orders of the Triune Godhead. The theological method he uses is the one proposed by Millard Erickson to review the order of the Triune Godhead; to develop historical theology followed by applications toward pastoral theology and mission.

"Keep the main thing the main thing," says the mentor to the author of this book. With that in mind, whether it is controversy or not, in his teaching or preaching, Rodrick Durst of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary plunges into the doctrine and theology of the Trinity, coming up not just with one explanation but with six descriptions of seeing the Trinity based on "six movements of God in the New Testament." That is to him, the main thing that deserves writing a book about. He comes up with the six movements as follows:
  1. Father - Son - Holy Spirit
  2. Father - Holy Spirit - Son
  3. Son - Father - Holy Spirit
  4. Son - Holy Spirit - Father (*note that the ARC I received had on p6 printed "Spirit" instead of Son)
  5. Holy Spirit - Son, Father
  6. Holy Spirit - Father - Son
The coverage of the Trinity is extensive. He highlights the importance and significance of the Trinity. he examines the many ways the New Testament describes the order of the members of the Triune Godhead and yet holding the unity of One God. He goes back into history to remind readers of the challenges of how the early Church defenders had to overcome. They had to address the threats of Sabellian unitarianism, Arianism, and other heresies. With the Trinity as the "main thing," Durst focuses on a particular "economic model" for each of the movements identified.

First, he calls the "Father-Son-Spirit" order as the "Missional Triad." This "Sending Triad" occurs 18 times and has a specific intentionality toward revealing God for the masses. There is a mission given to the called; mission trips to the Gentiles; and salvation themes. We are reminded that this commission flows from the initial acts of confession and cleansing. The Triune God calls us and then sends us forth.

Second, he calls the "Son-Spirit-Father" order as the "Evangelistic Triad." This occurs 16 times in the NT, indicating how the intent of the order is about acceptance and the message of forgiveness for believers. Also called the "Saving Triad," readers learn about how the bridge for salvation also implies people who insist of going the other direction toward condemnation. The evangelistic message is to persuade as many people as possible to go the right way.

Third, he calls the "Son-Father-Spirit" order as the "Christological Triad." This occurs 14 times and moves believers toward sacrificial service. Also called the "Indwelling Triad," this order is the third most prevalent and is heavy on the witness of Christ. The included sermon starter based on 2 Corinthians 13:14 brings to focus the image of a "wounded healer."

Four, he calls the "Spirit-Father-Son" order as the "Sanctifying Triad." This occurs 9 times and is called the "Liturgical Triad" which moves from inspiration of the Spirit toward God the Father. The theme is reverence and worship. Adoption is huge as well.

Five, he calls the "Father-Spirit-Son" order as the "Formational Triad." This occurs 11 times in the NT and is used in the greetings of Peter, implies an incarnational mission and conveys the value of consecration. Those interested in Spiritual Formation matters would find this movement particularly interesting.

Six, he calls the "Spirit-Son-Father" order as the "Ecclesial Triad." Occurring only 7 times in the NT, this is the "least represented triadic order" but not necessarily the least important. The themes expanded here include oneness, giftedness, participation, and service. The unity of the Body of Christ is paramount.

He closes the book on the "Functional Triad" to help us see the relevance of these six movements that Durst proposes. With sermon starters for preachers and appendices to list the various resources to study the Trinity, readers will find this book appealing for many reasons. For pastors, preachers, and worship leaders, there are interesting snippets to kickstart any entry into the discussion of the Trinity. For that, the book contains eight sermons, six fresh approaches to worship, and ten sermon themes. For students, this book is a useful companion to the study of Trinitarian theology. For individuals, there are prayers to learn, insights to receive with regards to who God is through the Trinity. There are also tips on how to meditate. For those who just want the "best pages," Durst recommends the heart of research in the "New Testament Census of Triadic Occurrences in the New Testament." Surprisingly, this is placed at the Appendix A instead of being embedded in the main book. Here is a list of the Appendix for your reference:
  • New Testament Census of Triadic Occurrences
  • Glossary of Trinitarian Terms
  • Spiritual Formation Exercise #1 - Trinitarian Prayers
  • Spiritual Formation Exercise #2 - 40 Days of Trinitarian Devotion
  • Explaining the Trinity to Children and to Adolescents

So What?

Durst uses lots of data and numerical occurrences in the NT to anchor his thesis of the six movements of God. While it is useful to note the significance of repetition and repeated use, there is always a risk of reducing the other movements to a category of lesser importance. That is why the very use of statistics in the first place need to be noted but not made into some kind of dogma. While Durst has not done that specifically, the frequency of him highlighting the numbers do make readers wonder if one movement tend to be more important to another. Frankly, this is unavoidable as the world we live in often treats numbers as an important justification. Be careful of using statistics to interpret biblical truth. We do not want to turn faith that is based on some kind of a numerology.

I was also thinking about the historical controversy, namely the Filioque Controversy which split the 10th Century Church into the East and the West over the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, again based on the order of how the Holy Spirit proceeds from. If Durst's thesis is allowed to stand, I cannot imagine a three to six-way splitting of how we understand God. That would be unthinkable. Durst does not go into the details of this controversy, choosing instead to make brief references to it throughout the book. Nevertheless, his first four chapters of the book covers a lot of the contemporary, the data, the historical, and the Old Testament coverage on the Trinity which gives us the necessary background for understanding the Trinity. Apart from the model that Durst has proposed, I am particularly happy to see the well-used appendices which by themselves are worth the price of the book. The Appendix E is particularly helpful as it gives us ways on how to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to children and adolescents. Honestly, adults have lots to learn too!

Like it or not, a book that comes up with lots of practical tips and examples will always risk being accused of modalism, or seeing God based on what He does rather than who He is. This is clearly the case when Durst describes each order of the Trinity according to some kind of a modal being. Perhaps, this is mostly unavoidable as the culture around us tends to inculcate a sense of determinism or purposefulness in everything. Trying to understand God in existential terms would need time. This book may not have gotten us out of the woods of modalism but it sure is a commendable effort to show us that the Trinity is more unknowable than we think and also more comprehensible when we are open to the Scriptures showing us the way.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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