Ryan M. McGraw’s Review of THE DIVINE MISSIONS: AN INTRODUCTION, by Adonis Vidu

Published on March 11, 2024 by Eugene Ho

Cascade, 2021 | 138 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

by Ryan M. McGraw


Today, “missions” carries connotations either of what the church does to spread the gospel, or what God is doing in the world to bring people to himself. Yet in classic Christian theology, missions referred primarily to the sending of the Son and the Spirit to accomplish and apply redemption and to indwell believers. As Adonis Vidu shows in his third chapter, this relates to the church’s mission as the Triune God continues to work through the church. However, missions refer primarily to who God is and what he does as a result. Here he introduces serious readers to a vital component of Trinitarian theology that, until recently, was often bypassed in post-Enlightenment Protestant thought. Though some readers will find his treatment challenging at points, his arguments direct us to better grasp who God is in light of what he does to aid us in looking to the blessed sight of him in glory (beatific vision). 

The book’s organization into four chapters is fairly straightforward, though the content is sometimes complex. Opening with divine missions generally, he takes readers through the visible and invisible missions of the Son and Spirit, concluding with the end of their missions in the beatific vision. External missions refer to the sending of the Son and Spirit involving “the manifestation of a divine person in our world through union with a created thing, or effect” (1), primarily through Incarnation and Pentecost. Invisible missions then refer to created effects of the Son and Spirit’s missions by indwelling believers and making God present to them savingly. While many Trinitarian authors hasten to the missions of the Son and the Spirit, Vidu rightly begins with broader “manifestations” of God’s presence throughout redemptive history (xv). Toward the end of chapter three, Vidu helpfully connects his teaching on divine missions to modern missiological theologies (67-79), stressing that such discussions strangely often bypass missions in relation to the Trinity. He maintains the Christ as the exclusive path to the Father, rightly wedding the Spirit’s mission through the church to Christ’s mission to procure redemption. In his final chapter (“the end of the missions”), Vidu states, “The missions of the Son and Spirit do not end upon the commencement of the beatific vision” (106). What he means is that the external missions of the Son and Spirit ceasing, their internal missions continue in believers in the full enjoyment of the entire Godhead forever. This final material synthesizes well the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, John Owen, and Jonathan Edwards, all of whom represent the best of Western Christian thought on the blessed sight of God in glory. In the end, the book takes us from defining mission generally, through the Son and Spirit’s visible and invisible missions, to seeing God and knowing him as fully as we can as the goal of all things.

The book includes some great gems of wisdom. For example, asking whether the cross constituted a breach in the Trinity, Vidu notes that a break in relations is “unimaginable” because the persons are constituted by their relations (41). Likewise, his succinct and judicious comments on various theories of eternal subordination in the Trinity are worth noting: “Within the Trinity there can be no subordination of any kind, since there are not diverse substances but one substance, which has one will, one power, and one intellect. Everything except for the relations of origin is shared within the Trinity” (39). Moreover, it has become common in modern theology, especially in relation to the church’s mission, to refer to the Father’s mission. However, Vidu reminds us rightly that “the Father has no mission” (51) because he proceeds from none and mission means “sent.” In other words, people often conflate the Father seeking worshipers “in Spirit and in Truth” (Jn. 4:21-24) with divine missions. Vidu illustrates why this is a misstep in Trinitarian theology. The Father seeks worshipers precisely through the missions of the Son and the Spirit, without having a distinct “mission” of his own. Also, bearing God’s wrath on the cross must refer to Christ’s human nature because a “break” in relations in the Godhead would destroy the Trinity, since relations of origin are precisely what constitutes the divine persons (41). Additionally, his interaction with Roman Catholic views on faith being formed by love is intriguing (62-63). Traditional Roman Catholic theology has argued that love constitutes the form, or constituting force and reality, of saving faith, resulting in justification by faith effectively meaning justification by works through love. Yet Vidu suggests that Protestants can retain the idea that love forms faith, so long as we recognize that the love perfecting our faith is the Son’s own love, namely to the Father in a by the Spirit. Though Vidu does not cite him, such ideas sound like Peter Lombard’s assertion that the Holy Spirit himself is the love within the saints. Though most later authors rejected Lombard’s view at this point in favor of love as created grace in the soul instead, Vidu’s proposal is at least worth serious consideration. Even if Protestants must remain inflexible over things like justification through faith alone in Christ alone, endeavors like this one to agree as far as possible with Roman Catholics in as many things as possible has a long pedigree, including William Perkins’ Reformed Catholic and other similar works.

One point of the book will likely strike many readers as unnecessarily speculative. While defending the idea that God is always beyond our comprehension, Vidu states surprisingly that “our knowledge of God will become a true comprehension,” in the beatific vision, “because it will be predicated on a true union with him” (5). Similarly, though following strands of the Western theological tradition, he appears to reach too far when writing, “The Logos extends his eternal Sonship to include us” (30). If this means that our adoption rests on Christ’s natural sonship, then this is true. Yet if it means that our sonship becomes like Christ’s, then it overreaches. Perhaps most striking of all is his dependence on Aquinas in chapter four to the effect that “God’s essence becomes the form of our intellect” (94). In other words, we see the divine essence by the divine essence itself within us. Seeking to explain how we see the divine essence in glory, in relation to our knowledge of the divine persons, such reasoning appears to this reviewer to skirt the edge of what we can know. We should retain divine incomprehensibility (even in heaven; see pg. 99) without digging too deep into “things too great and too marvelous for me” (Ps. 131:1). Why risk blurring the Creator/creature distinction to conjecture about realities that will likely embarrass every conception we had of them in this life once we come to enjoy them? Nonetheless, his explanation of Eastern and Western views of the beatific vision in chapter four is one of the clearest treatments I have read on the topic

Some minor notes invite alternative possibilities beyond Vidu’s conclusions. For instance, he rejects Herman Witsius’ notion that Christ received the Spirit from the Father and poured him out at Pentecost (Acts 2:33) as a reward for completing his own mission (44-45). Vidu believes that the better option is to see the Father granting the Son the Spirit here in response to the completion of his human love to God. Yet these ideas are not competitive in reality. The Spirit was active throughout Christ’s earthly ministry, but his external mission begins only and properly as a reward for loving the Father in his obedience to death by virtue of the eternal covenant of redemption. Witsius’ account appears in this light to be more complete and fuller in describing the relationship between the missions of the Son and Spirit in the salvation of the elect.

One last surprising feature of the book is that many citations are missing (e.g., 36, 40, 59, 64, 90, 97, 103 conflating two of John Owen’s books, and more) throughout, hindering the reader’s ability to trace some of Vidu’s sources.

Deepening our Trinitarian theology and devotion, this is a fine introduction to the missions of the Son and the Spirit. Stressing the beatific vision is the right tone, even if his treatment gets a bit speculative and dense at points. The church continues to need to re-learn her Trinitarian vocabulary and to use Trinitarian theology more fruitfully, and this work moves readers well along this path.


Ryan M. McGraw
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

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Cascade, 2021 | 138 pages

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