Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Quest for the Trinity - Stephen R. Holmes




A rich survey of the doctrine of the Trinity

The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History and Modernity
Author: Stephen R. Holmes
Publisher: IVP Academic (www.ivpacademic.com)
Pages: 231

In The Quest for the Trinity Stephen R. Holmes argues that recent scholarship on the Trinity departs from traditional understandings. After a brief analysis of current thought, he starts with how the Bible has been read, how it should be read, and how patristic exegesis is different than our own. This period is analyzed in detail because it is crucial to the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity. From there Holmes moves to fourth century debates on the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit.

Holmes looks at Augustine and the West before reviewing anti-Trinitarianism around 1700. The nineteenth-century roots of the twentieth-century revival of the doctrine are examined, before the book closes with another glance at recent writers viewed in light of all that has been considered.

Technical terms and doctrinal fine points make for challenging reading of a book intended for upper-level undergraduates. It is most readily absorbed by sustained concentration; it’s not bedtime reading.

It would be an excellent textbook on the history of the doctrine of the Trinity. Christ spoke with authority, and on this subject, the author does the same. His breadth of understanding is evident, enabling him to guide readers through the labyrinth of history and debate.

What this lacks in readability is made up for in content. Christ bid his disciples to cast into the deep for a catch. What I like about this is that I can return to it knowing that I will be fishing in the depths for those treasures of knowledge and wisdom which ultimately come from Christ.

Holmes does not resort to attacks in critiquing those championing a revival of the doctrine. It’s more like laying a straight stick next to a crooked one so that you can see the difference.

In the process, one begins to see this lofty teaching more clearly. In speaking of the challenge faced by Gregory of Nyssa, the author writes, “Gregory’s great need, then, was to defend simultaneously three things: the core conception of deity as one, simple and undivided: the basic binary metaphysical distinction between Creator and creation which therefore does not admit any degrees of deity; and the exegetical and liturgical imperative to confess that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each real and distinguishable, and each properly named God” (106-107).

In particular, I appreciated the often-repeated emphasis on the simplicity of the divine nature, even if paradoxically, our ability to articulate it and comprehend it will always fall short. Even so, in a summary statement at the end, Holmes does an admirable job of defining the indefinable:

The divine nature is simple, incomposite, and ineffable. It is also unrepeatable, and so, in crude and inexact terms ‘one’ (199).

Even in these brief quotations, one can see the complex language. It is a banquet for scholars but a challenge to digest for the average Christian. However, those hearing the call to come up higher will find the means here. God rewards the smallest of steps.
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