Poythress’ Magnum Opus on the “Theological Mt. Everest”

Published on October 9, 2020 by Benjamin J. Montoya

P & R Publishing, 2020 | 728 pages

“Truly transforming…”


About the Book:

Starting with the doctrine of the Trinity, Vern Poythress addresses six challenges concerning the compatibility of God’s independence with his activities in the world. The eternal activities among the persons of the Trinity offer a foundation for God’s activities in the world. Alternative metaphysical frameworks for explaining God’s transcendence and immanence run the danger of overriding the truths of biblical revelation.


About the Author:

Vern S Poythress is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in PA, where he has taught for nearly four decades. Vern has earned six academic degrees and is the author of numerous books and articles on biblical interpretation, language, and science. He has an MLitt from University of Cambridge, a ThD from University of Stellenbosch and a PhD from Harvard.



“Dr. Poythress’s books get longer and longer! This one is no exception. It is indeed a magnum opus. But then, it is written about the greatest subject of all. And if it is true that, if all Jesus did were to be written down, the whole world could not contain the books (John 21:25), then even the longest work of theology will still leave room for further growth in the knowledge of God. So The Mystery of the Trinity does not pretend to be the last word, but it does contain many words that will encourage all fellow climbers of theology’s Everest to continue toward the summit.”

Sinclair B. Ferguson

From the Foreword

“The Mystery of the Trinity is unique among treatments of the doctrine of God because of the way that Vern Poythress approaches God’s attributes through the Trinity, Christ’s resurrection, and philosophical analysis of other theological approaches. Poythress does not have all the answers to the controversy between classic Christian orthodoxy and modern modifications of the view of God (and does not claim to), but his book will certainly stir up edifying reflection and conversation, and he is a model of theological contemplation and gentleness.”

Joel R. Beeke

President, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

“The divine attributes are an understudied and confused area of modern systematic theology. Dr. Poythress guides us through them and helps us to see how they relate to one another and to us as believers. He takes the Trinity as his point of departure and demonstrates how our relationship with, and experience of, the three persons in God deepens our understanding of his nature and of its relevance to us. A great achievement.”

Gerald Bray

Research Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

“At one level, this book is a valiant and thought-provoking attempt to approach the attributes of God through the doctrine of the Trinity. Other theologians have placed the Trinity at the center of their thought; this work is epistemologically braver and more comprehensive than that. But at another level, Poythress is calling for a revolutionary change in how we engage in theological reflection. While broadly endorsing the classical doctrine of God, he is suspicious of our reliance on well-defined technical terms that are required to do our work for us. He wants us to abandon our implicit reliance on Aristotelian metaphysics in favor of the shaping power of the mystery of the Trinity. Above all, he wants us to turn aside from our unquestioning reliance on ‘tight, abstract logic’ as our primary resource for ‘affirming and maintaining’ the orthodox doctrine of God. In the hands of a lesser thinker, this appeal could pave the way toward subjectivism and uncontrolled, speculative dialectics; in the hands of Poythress, this becomes an appeal to become more robustly biblical, not less. Readers may preserve their quibbles here and there, but this book is truly transforming—a capstone to all that Vern Poythress has taught us over the last two or three decades. Read it slowly and carefully.”

D. A. Carson

Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“The study of God should be the central preoccupation of our lives. Thus, how it is conducted is all-important. The present work is a monumental achievement. It is not certain that anyone else could have put together such marvelous material in quite the same way as Vern Poythress. He unites doctrine with praise, content with personal knowledge, theory with pastoral practicality. Above all, the reflections are thoroughly and richly scriptural. Even when examining language and meaning, Poythress’s wheelhouse, we are steeped in divine revelation and drawn into worship. While pride of place rightly goes to the consideration of God’s nature, the author is not afraid to explore the contributions and pitfalls found in some of the established theologians. When he is critical, he is nevertheless charitable. Nor does he shy away from tackling some of the besetting issues facing the church, such as God’s immutability and his covenant relation to the creature. I believe that if given the right kind of regard, this book will be life-changing.”

William Edgar

Professor of Apologetics, Westminster Theological Seminary

“The history of theology has been full of controversy over some of the most important teachings of the faith, such as the person of Christ, his atonement, our justification, and the Lord’s return. But for most of this history, at least since the Nicene Creed, the doctrine of God has been an area of agreement among Christians of all traditions. Different schools of thought have differed in detail, but there has been a consensus. On this matter, polemics have been muted. Recently, however, that unanimity has been shattered, first by the ‘open theist’ movement, and then by various philosophical attempts to deal with problems in the traditional consensus: Why does Scripture speak of God’s ‘repenting’? How can God act in history when he is unchangeable? How can God be ‘simple’ when the church confesses him in three persons? The intellectual and spiritual quality of these debates has been largely disappointing, and the exegetical proposals unpersuasive. Theological factions have developed around various ideas, challenging the orthodoxy of one another. But now Vern Poythress has written a book that could be a big step forward for us, even a way back to unity. The Mystery of the Trinity presents the content and spirit of the authentic biblical teaching. The author presents what the Bible says: no more and no less, with caution and reverence. Here we learn what the Bible says about God. We learn also the method and attitudes in which we should ask our questions. I enthusiastically recommend The Mystery of the Trinity as by far the best account of these issues. And it is a book that will turn your heart from questioning to adoration.”

John M. Frame

Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

“It has been said, rightly, that every theological assertion is surrounded with mystery. That holds true especially for the attributes of God— both for what Scripture itself teaches infallibly and, all the more, for our own fallible and limited understanding of that teaching. The challenge for our speaking about who God is—as here decidedly ‘we see in a mirror dimly’—is to speak of the sublimely majestic mysteries involved in a biblically bounded way—a way that does not go beyond yet is also intent on honoring fully what Scripture enables and entitles us to say. In this volume, Dr. Poythress meets this challenge in an exemplary and most helpful way. I commend it for its sound in-depth instruction but also, importantly, for its tone—edifying throughout and with a view to current controversies, appropriately and constructively balanced and irenic.”

Richard B. Gaffin Jr.

Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary

“I confess that I am fairly new to the Poythress household (expansive as it is), and I find The Mystery of the Trinity quite outstanding. The work is premised on (and argues throughout) the idea that the Holy Trinity is the ontological center and absolute to which all revelation testifies. What God does in creation reflects what Father, Son, and Spirit are in eternity. Poythress charts a course between two fatal whirlpools in Christian theology—the first that of philosophically defined transcendence, the second that of overly literalistic immanence. The author’s particular concern is that classical Christian theism has too often pushed beyond biblical testimony to reinterpret the divine attributes in Aristotelian or other alien categories. Rather, Poythress humbly and incisively invites us to reappreciate the mystery of the triune God and how this mystery infuses every aspect of Christian thought and life. What an engaging, supremely edifying read.”

J. Scott Horrell

Professor of Theological Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

“This is a stimulating and fascinating book. While I have some reservations about his discussion of Aquinas and its resulting implications, nevertheless Poythress raises important questions that need addressing and offers many incisive and challenging insights.”

Robert Letham

Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Union School of Theology

“This is a work of formidable scholarship, allied to a remarkable simplicity of language and humble submission to the guidance of Scripture. It never allows us to forget that we can know God only ‘in part,’ that the discussion of his attributes must always stay close to the doctrine of the Trinity, and that the supreme revelation of God in action is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While offering new light on the traditional concepts of classical theism, it also offers sure-footed guidance through the mazes of innovation, good and bad. Unfailingly reverent, it is a fine example of the principle that a solid work of theology can often be the best sort of devotional literature. Who should read it? Any Christian who can read, whether novice or genius.”

Donald Macleod

Edinburgh Theological Seminary

“My experience in Vern Poythress’s hermeneutics course at the start of my time in seminary was life-shaping—I have never read or taught the Bible quite the same way since. With the publication of his new book The Mystery of the Trinity, Dr. Poythress applies his deep knowledge of Scripture, his well-informed knowledge of historical theology, and his brilliant mind to some of the most difficult controversies in the theology of the divine attributes. By grounding his approach in what the Bible tells us about intra-Trinitarian relationships within the Godhead, he brings fresh understanding to ancient mysteries and contemporary issues in our knowledge of God.”

Philip Graham Ryken

President, Wheaton College

“We need a fresh vision of God as he has revealed himself—perfect in his transcendent love and intimate relationality. Theological terms are needed to shape our vision of God aright. All too often, books about these important concepts—simplicity in particular—are overly complex or fail to take due account of God’s Trinitarian nature. This volume is of great value because of its accessibility and sensitivity to God’s revelation of himself as Trinity. I encourage you to read it and expand your vision of God.”

Peter Sanlon

Rector, Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells, UK

“In this unique study, Vern Poythress considers the person and attributes of the triune God—who he is, how he communicates, and how we might communicate about God more clearly. Professor Poythress offers a book that is at once thoughtful, pastoral, and meticulously exegetical. There is no topic more important than the doctrine of God. Those who want to know him better will be richly rewarded by reading this book.”

Chad Van Dixhoorn

Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary; Director, Craig Center for the Study of the Westminster Standards

“Christian theologians must speak in personal terms of the God who created us in his image. Christian theologians must not speak in worldly terms of the God who created and is over the world. Beginning with this oldest of all theological tensions, Poythress sets forth a middle, more biblical way between classical theism and views that introduce change or temporality into God. The emphasis on Jesus Christ as the mediation of divine transcendence and immanence is particularly welcome.”

Kevin J. Vanhoozer

Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“The doctrine of the attributes of God constitutes one of the most important, albeit difficult, topics of Christian theology. In contemporary theology, considerable debate has focused on the compatibility between classical theism’s view of God’s attributes and the biblical revelation of the triune God who reveals himself in creation and redemption. Poythress’s study aims to address this contemporary debate by offering what he calls an ‘enhancement,’ not a mere ‘reiteration,’ of classical theism. On the one hand, he offers a defense of several features of classical theism in the face of unbiblical alternatives such as open theism. On the other hand, he expresses a willingness to modify features of classical theism that fail to account for the significance of God’s Trinitarian being and life, especially as these are revealed in God’s actions toward his creatures. Throughout his study, Poythress emphasizes the importance of the Trinity for our formulation of God’s attributes, including the way in which these attributes are reflected in the respective works of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For readers looking for a treatment of God’s attributes that is remarkably clear, biblically grounded, and historically informed—this is the book for you.”

Cornelis P. Venema

President, Professor of Doctrinal Studies, Mid-America Reformed Seminary

“It is a delight to see Vern Poythress tackle the central doctrine of the divine attributes. He expertly and clearly leads the reader through the perplexities of the doctrine, deftly identifying the underlying principles and rules of speech, biblical foundations, and philosophical difficulties. Poythress balances a classical approach, which anchors the attributes in the divine essence, with a personalist framing of the attributes in the light of the Trinity.”

Adonis Vidu

Professor of Theology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

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P & R Publishing, 2020 | 728 pages

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