A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Ryan Speck
“In part two of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Prudence asks Christiana’s young child three questions: How does the Father save us? How does the Son save us? and How does the Holy Spirit save us?… Are we accustomed to answering such questions today?” (37).
McGraw’s purpose in this short book is “to teach believers how to love the Triune God better by bringing the Trinitarian background of Scripture to the foreground” (13). McGraw believes a recovery of “rich Trinitarian theology” is necessary for the church today and will cause renewed and deeper “devotion to the Triune God.”
McGraw divides this book into the following sections: Introduction (Chapters 1-3), Knowing the Father (Chapter 4), Knowing the Son (Chapters 5-10), Knowing the Spirit (Chapters 11-19), and Conclusion (Chapter 20). Each chapter is but a few pages. At the beginning of each chapter, McGraw quotes a Scripture passage to prove his point (except chapter two), and at the end, he includes questions designed to test your comprehension of that chapter. These chapters are followed by an Appendix (pp. 115-137) of “Triadic Passages in Scripture,” citing samples of Scripture passages “that mention or allude to all three divine persons.” It is an impressive list.
Chapter 1: What Is Trinitarian Piety? (Ephesians 2:18)
How can a better understanding of the Trinity lead to true piety of heart? The Congregational Savoy Declaration of Faith (1658) declared that the “doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation for all our communion with God” (21), and communion with God is the fountain out of which piety flows. “We need a Trinitarian piety because we have a Trinitarian faith” (20). To put it bluntly, how can you have piety without knowing God, and God is Triune! Thus, to have true piety, you must know the Triune God.
Chapter 2: The Trinity in the New Testament
While no one “can prove the Trinity from a single passage of Scripture,” the Gospel cannot be explained apart from the basis of the Trinity (23). After providing a short survey of Scripture passages and defining the Trinity, McGraw notes the incomprehensibility of this doctrine because it surpasses our understanding. According to Thomas Watson, “‘The Trinity is purely an object of faith; the plumb-line of reason is too short to fathom this mystery, but where reason cannot wade, there faith must swim” (27-28). Yet, wade we must. For, unless we learn the language of Trinity, we cannot read our Bibles well. We must understand, therefore, that “redemption is from the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit (Eph. 1:3-14). As a result, we come to the Father, by one Spirit, through Christ (Eph. 2:18). This divine order and pattern applies to every divine work from creation, to Christ’s incarnation, to the resurrection from the dead” (27).
Chapter 3: The Trinity and the Plan of Salvation (1 Peter 1:1-2)
Salvation is grounded in Triune activity. It was the Father’s plan to elect us and to predestinate us (McGraw distinguishes between election and predestination)—so that we should love and praise His glorious grace. It is the work of the Spirit to sanctify us (both in terms of definitive and progressive sanctification)—which should lead to confident perseverance. It was the work of the Son to purchase us with His blood—so that we should obey Him as our Lord.
Chapter 4: The Trinity and How the Father Saves Us (Ephesians 1:3-6)
McGraw calls us to consider how God the Father blesses us in Christ. Especially, God the Father chooses and adopts us, becoming our Father, as He is the Father of Christ.
Chapter 5: The Trinity and How the Son Saves Us (Ephesians 1:7-12)
In this chapter, McGraw provides us a view through a “telescope” of Christ in relation to the Trinity (before using a microscope in chapters 6-10), McGraw declares: “the Trinitarian theology in the New Testament is a Christ-centered Trinitarianism” (44). For, we come to God only through Christ, and “the cross is the core of the Gospel message (1 Cor. 2:1-5)” (45). It is only by keeping Christ central that we will avoid moralistic preaching: “While we should look for clear direction to change our practices, is our chief aim to behold the glory of Christ and to know Him better? This alone is what will bring lasting change to our lives, making practical directions in sermons more than moralistic instruction” (45). McGraw poses this challenge, accordingly: “Does our conception of the Gospel end with our salvation and with ourselves, or with praising the Father for His glorious grace in Christ?” (46).
Chapter 6: The Trinity and Christ’s Incarnation (Luke 1:35)
“In every aspect of Christ’s person and work, there is a parallel in the experience of believers. In this chapter we will see that Christ was born of the Spirit so that we might be born of the Spirit” (49). “Just as Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, so you must be born of the Spirit if you would see the kingdom of God (John 3:4-5). Christ’s supernatural birth must be the grounds of your supernatural birth” (51).
Chapter 7: The Trinity and Christ’s Life and Ministry (Matthew 3:13-17)
“Christ’s birth by the Spirit inaugurated a life of dependent communion with God. The Spirit’s presence at Christ’s baptism commenced a public ministry lived out of communion with God. Christ’s life in communion with God is the ground and pattern of the Christian’s life in communion with God” (53). Likewise, “Christ here gives us a pattern for service. He used the gifts of the Spirit from the Father for the good of the Church” (55). Do you follow Christ’s pattern?
Chapter 8: The Trinity and Christ’s Death (Hebrews 9:13-14)
“Christ’s death was an act of the entire Trinity” (58). In this chapter, McGraw explains the necessity and importance of the crucifixion as a Triune act. Further, he answers questions, such as, “to whom did Christ offer Himself?” and “who crucified Christ?” (59).
Chapter 9: The Trinity and Christ’s Resurrection (Romans 8:9-11)
“By His resurrection, Christ lives to His Father by the power of the Spirit. Through His resurrection, believers also live to the Father by the power of the Spirit. This sets the pattern for Christian life and experience, both in this life and in the life to come” (62). To consciously acknowledge and meditate upon the Triune act of resurrection should lead us to hate sin, to live in holiness, and to have assurance of salvation.
Chapter 10: The Trinity and Christ’s Ascension (Acts 2:33)
The ascended and seated Lord Jesus sent the Spirit to lead “people into communion with God” and equip them “to lead others into communion with God” (67). Proceeding from Christ, the Spirit is “a Christ-centered Spirit,” which means that “glorifying Christ should be the aim of every preacher and ever sermon”; in fact, it should be the aim every time you read God’s Word: “Do you pray that the Spirit would glorify Christ in your heart as you read the Bible and hear it preached?” (68).
Chapter 11: The Trinity and How the Spirit Saves Us (Ephesians 1:13-14)
“The Father’s election and the Son’s redemption would be like Ezekiel’s reassembled and lifeless bones unless the Holy Spirit breathed life into them (Ezek. 37:1-14). . . . The Spirit is the breath of life to the Christian soul” (73). In fact, the work of the Spirit is necessary for all Christian life: “Without him, we may as well write ‘Ichabod’ over our sermons and worship services. Through Him, public worship on earth should become a foretaste of heavenly worship” (75).
Chapter 12: The Trinity and Adoption (Galatians 4:4-6)
“Adoption summarizes all of the rights and privileges that belong to us as God’s children” (77). Therefore, we must cultivate the Spirit of adoption in order more and more to value and profit from these rights and privileges.
Chapter 13: The Trinity and Prayer Meetings (John 14:12-14)
Is today the day of small things? Not according to the Lord Jesus Who poured out His Spirit upon His Church and declared that the Church would do “greater works” than even He did! Citing John 14:12-14, McGraw explains: “The text reveals the astonishing truth that preaching is better than miracles, prayer precedes preaching, and corporate prayer is better than private prayer” (81). The early Church recognized the need for corporate prayer: “Virtually every crisis in the Church was answered with a prayer meeting” (82). Yet, prayer meetings are the worst attended meeting of the Church, which “is tantamount to telling the Holy Spirit that His services are not required” (83). Perhaps “the widespread neglect of prayer meetings may be the one factor in why we see so few conversions in many western churches today” (83).
Chapter 14: The Trinity and the Church (Ephesians 4:1-10)
While some profess to be Christians without having gone to church in years, “‘the Church is the primary work of the Trinity,’” (85) and the “Triune God calls the Church to reflect God’s [Trinitarian] diversity” (87). “This made the disunity of the Corinthians tantamount to blasphemy” (86). For, “Paul teaches us that if we must be narrow in our convictions, then we must be broad in our affections as well” (86).
Chapter 15: The Trinity and Spiritual Gifts (Ephesians 4:11-16)
We must exercise our God-given gifts for the brethren, for the Church—not simply for ourselves. Primary amongst spiritual gifts is the Word ministry: “one of the primary concerns of the ascended Christ is to secure sound teaching in the Church through the ministry of the Word through faithful teaching officers. . . . Do we value the ministry of the Word as Christ does?” (91). It is through the ministry of the Word that we grow in maturity and unity and withstand error.
Chapter 16: The Trinity and Worship (John 4:21-24)
The Father is seeking those who would worship Him in the power of the Spirit according to the truth of Jesus Christ. “Ministers must preach a Trinitarian Gospel, and they must preach a Gospel that presents worshipping the Triune God as its primary goal” (93). Do you value public worship? “Public worship is where the Triune God is present most frequently and most powerfully with His people” (96).
Chapter 17: The Trinity and the Gospel Ministry (2 Corinthians 1:3-7, 19-22)
Every Christian will suffer. Yet, suffering is not intrinsically profitable. Sufferings are only useful when believers “experience the comforts of communion with the Triune God and when God enables them to administer these comforts to others” (100).
Chapter 18: The Trinity and Baptism (Matthew 28:19)
We are baptized into the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Baptism is an implicit confession that we cannot be saved without the work of all three divine persons” (104). We are baptized into the Father as belonging to Him from eternity past, into the Son as the Savior Who shed His blood for us, and into the Spirit Who works new life in us to bind us into communion with the Triune God.
Chapter 19: The Trinity and the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 12-13)
Since the sacraments visibly represent the work of God, “in the Lord’s Supper, the Triune God represents what He does in redemption through visible signs and seals of the covenant of grace” (105). “Though the sacrament is for individual believers, believers cannot observe it individually” (1-7). Rather, each one partakes with the church body in order to be strengthened together to honor the Triune God and serve one another.
Chapter 20: The Blessing of the Triune God (2 Corinthians 13:13-14)
McGraw differentiates a benediction from a doxology, writing: “A benediction is a proclamation of blessing from the Triune God to His people” (112). The benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:13-14 begins with Jesus because “Christ is the door through which God enters into fellowship with us,” proceeds to the Father because “Behind the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is the love of God for His people,” and concludes with the Spirit because “The Spirit is the bond of fellowship between God and our souls” (112-113). McGraw concludes: “We need to cultivate Trinitarian faith and a Trinity-dependent Christian life. . . . Let us develop a Trinitarian piety” (113).
McGraw writes in short, pithy statements. These statements are often jewels to treasure. However, at times, he is somewhat repetitive, and it is not always immediately clear how these statements connect to one another or tie together. His book requires a thoughtful and careful read.
Also, the book could have better balance. For example, McGraw wrote only one chapter on “Knowing the Father,” whereas “Knowing the Son” has six chapters and “Knowing the Spirit” has nine chapters.
This book is particularly suited for Bible Studies, Sunday School Classes, or, perhaps, for daily devotionals (taking one chapter a day, for example). This is not a light, superficial book. It requires meditation, will provoke much discussion, and demands application.
I especially appreciate how McGraw, throughout this book, challenges believers to pray for their ministers in various ways.
McGraw has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging the reader to examine whether your doctrine of the Trinity is rich and produces warm piety to God. In short, it is an extremely valuable work to convince the reader of the vital necessity of understanding the Trinity and to help the reader consciously and carefully to develop and foster a Trinitarian piety.