Are you looking for an excellent devotional that speaks intelligently on theology and apologetics while remaining accessible to and engaging for the lay reader? Yes, of course you are. Given that fact, I heartily commend Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Beyond Doubt: Faith-Building Devotions on Questions Christians Ask. (Buy it here!)
But while the book is very fine, it isn’t perfect. Consider this excerpt on God:
“What is God like? God is fatherly and motherly, as Isaiah 42:14 and other passages tell us. God is great and holy. God is like Jesus Christ, his Son. God is, finally and everlastingly, triune.” (24)
Here we see an example of confusion when talking about God. Plantinga begins with two statements — God is fatherly and motherly, God is great and holy — which leave the referent ambiguous. However, the third statement fixes the referent to God the Father, the first person of the Trinity: “God is like Jesus Christ, his Son.” (emphasis added) Based on that, it would appear that Plantinga is referring throughout to God the Father. However, after saying that God is like his Son, Plantinga concludes by noting that this God who is like his Son is “finally and everlastingly, triune.”
But wait, we were talking about the Father and the Father isn’t triune. What’s going on here?
Could Plantinga appeal to the dynamic tension between the one and three as famously described by Gregory Nazianzen?
“No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One.”
The short answer is, no. Gregory describes the dynamic tension between envisioning God as one being and three distinct persons. That’s very different from shifting without warning from referring to God as the Father to referring to God as triune.
It would seem that we have two options.
Option 1: Plantinga espouses a very obscure heresy which attributes triunity to God the Father.
Option 2: Plantinga confusedly uses the word “God” to refer both to God the Father and the Trinity.
Clearly, confusion is the more charitable and likely interpretation. It is disheartening, however, that this kind of confusion should appear in an academic theologian. But alas, confusion is not uncommon when theologians write on the Trinity. Consider, for example, Fred Sanders’ book The Deep Things of God. As I point out in my review, he frequently confuses the doctrine of the Trinity with the Trinity.
To sum up, even if we fail, as yet, to have a theory of the Trinity sorted, we should definitely be diligent in our grammar of the Trinity.