Recently a subscriber to Reasons for God wrote and asked me, “Can you recommend any in-depth books on the Trinity?” This question spurred me to research, and ended with me encountering one of the most enjoyable, practical, and insightful theological texts I’ve ever read: Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves.
From the first few pages, Reeves puts his reader at ease. Delighting in the Trinity is not going to be “fusty and irrelevant dogma” but rather,
This book, then, will simply be about growing in our enjoyment of God and seeing how God’s triune being makes all his ways beautiful. It is a chance to taste and see that the Lord is good, to have your heart won and yourself refreshed. For it is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God…For God is triune, and it is as triune that he is so good and desirable (KL, 47-52)
His introduction is a meaty one, and it immediately begins to clarify the beauty, practicality, and importance of knowing our triune God. In it, Reeves pokes fun at the “desperate-sounding illustrations” of how to explain “The Trinity,” resolves the “isn’t God just mysterious” doubt, speaks to the ‘why isn’t the word ‘Trinity’ in the Bible’ question, reviews the historical importance of the Trinity in church history, and compares the Trinity to Allah. Along the way, you start to realize that while Reeves’ tone is friendly, conversational, and engaging, the content remains well-researched, insightful, and intriguing.
Most insightfully, he points out that “we try to stuff Father, Son and Spirit into how we have always thought of God. Now, usually in the West, “God” is already a subtly defined idea: it refers to one person, not three. So when we come to the Trinity, we feel like we’re trying to squeeze two extra persons into our understanding of God—and that is, to say the least, rather hard” (174-176).
One of the ‘bonus’ features of Delighting in the Trinity are the regular sidebars on relevant pieces of church history. These brisk accounts bring relevance and depth to his discussion, deepen our understanding of the Christian tradition, and demonstrate the depth of research Reeves brings to the topic. For those wondering, the Biblical content is in the main flow of the text, and Reeves eagerly returns to the Scriptures time and time again.
Reeves is also intentional to make the book not only God-centered, but precisely because it is a theological text, it is also written to be useful and practical. Throughout, he skillfully draws the connections between the rich theological veins of Trinitarian study and the daily experience of life. Whether it is the nature of our relationships, the inspiration for creativity, the beauty of marriage, or our need for salvation, a knowledge of the Triune God deepens our understanding of the world He made, loves, and continues to love.
Another invaluable thread of the book is its frequent comparisons to other religions and worldviews. As Os Guinness so helpfully says, “Contrast is the mother of clarity.” For instance, as Reeves compares the Trinity to the Islamic conception of Allah, he notes that, due to Allah’s unitary oneness:
if Allah needs his creation to be who he is in himself (“loving”), then Allah is dependent on his own creation, and one of the cardinal beliefs of Islam is that Allah is dependent on nothing (550-551).
Reeves goes further, pointing out the problem with all “single-person gods”:
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…And if such gods do create, they always seem to do so out of an essential neediness or desire to use what they create merely for their own self-gratification (563-567).
Everything changes when it comes to the Father, Son and Spirit. Here is a God who is not essentially lonely, but who has been loving for all eternity as the Father has loved the Son in the Spirit. Loving others is not a strange or novel thing for this God at all; it is at the root of who he is (568-570).
It is this point, more than any other, that has remained with me. We all have our own reasons, perhaps, to distrust the love of God for us. This book further convinced my heart that the Father, Son, and Spirit, because they are a triune unity, have always loved, love now, and will always love. A triune God cannot be anything but loving in his identity, and so I can be assured and confidently rejoice that the triune God will always love me too. For this reason alone I urge you to find and read a copy of Reeves’ excellent book. Whether this point or another, there are many God-glorifying, heart-warming, mind-bending, soul-inspiring truths sprinkled throughout the pages of Delighting in the Trinity.
Finally, Reeves has structured the book in a Trinitarian way, covering first the Father, then the Son, then the Spirit, and finally, the uniquely Trinitarian glory of God. Unlike other gods, the glory of a Trinitarian God is found not in self-exaltation, but in continually loving others:
That all means that “glorifying” God cannot be about inflating, improving or expanding him. That is quite impossible with the God who is already superabundant and overflowing with life…
For his glory is not about taking but giving. “Love is the light and glory which are about the throne on which God sits.” John Owen wrote that God “glorifies himself in the communication of all good things.” Indeed—and particularly in the communication, the sharing, of himself (1858-1859, 1907-1910).
What good news, that God’s own glory is always displayed in his energetic love for others, even to the point of giving Himself to us!
All this lavish praise is meant sincerely, but I do want to gently quarrel with Reeves on a few points.
First, Reeves makes some very suggestive and intriguing points about how a triune God has relevance for fields as diverse as music and mathematics. But these points were underdeveloped, and given their novelty, deserved a more substantive treatment. A few paragraphs is insufficient to persuade the objective reader that, apart from a Triune God, arithmetic would not make sense (as mathematical operations require both ‘unity’ and ‘plurality’ together).
Second, in his joyful exuberance regarding the Trinity, he is at times prone to unhelpful exaggeration. For instance, he asks, “Is it too much of a coincidence that the advance of atheism parallels the retreat of the church on the Trinity?” (1681-1682). Yes, I do think that might be a bit of a coincidence. The advance of atheism is often built on the failures of the church, but I don’t think our neglect of Trinitarian doctrine is the primary or only concern here.
Third, I was rather disappointed by his opening assertion that, if we provide arguments which show that this creation must have a Creator, “I will find every inch of my Christianity covered and wasted by the nastiest toxic fallout” (211-212). But this is too harsh. Admittedly, if we do all of their theological work on the basis of apologetic arguments, we are unduly and painfully limiting ourselves. But Reeves easily could have found a more positive and charitable note here, as apologetics remains a valuable enterprise in the Christian’s service of honoring the Triune God with her mind.
So, as with any book, I recommend a careful probing and testing of what is claimed. Yet at the same time, I gladly recommend Delighting in the Trinity – it covers a topic that many Christians would like to shy away from. It does so in a clarifying, persuasive, joy-giving, and Biblical manner. Put it on the top of your reading list – it will grow you in your knowledge and love of the Triune God!