God in Three Persons. By Millard J. Erickson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995. 356 pp. Cloth, $29.99.
The doctrine of the Trinity separates Christianity from all other religions. It is also one of the most difficult doctrines to understand. Millard Erickson writes not only a contemporary interpretation of the Trinity but also interacts with liberal and philosophical thought on the subject. His book has three parts: In the first three chapters he deals with the teaching of the church fathers through the fourth century. The next part summarizes liberal and philosophical objections to the Trinity. The last section presents an evangelical defense of the Trinity.
Erickson defends the “perichoresis” view of the Trinity. Perichoresis means interpenetration and emphasizes the intimate link of the members of the Godhead. The ancient Greek view placed the emphasis on the monarchy of the Father and His being the source of the Godhead, whose essence is differentiated in three Persons.
In the perichoresis view the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are intimately interlinked so they are unable to exist apart from one another. God can only exist as Trinity. Each Person supplies life to the others. The three Persons not only interpenetrate one another but are all involved in the works of God. Each of the three shares the life of the others and each lives in the others. The emphasis of the interdependence on the others, Erickson contends, better guards against tritheism. The verses in John where the Father is said to be in Christ and He in the Father are emphasized.
The author has a very helpful section on prayer to the Triune God, maintaining that the majority of our prayer should be so addressed. However, since Christ was prayed to in the Bible and the Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity, it is perfectly acceptable to pray and thank Them for Their particular ministries in our lives.
Challenges have been made to the “practical” value of the Trinity. Erickson answers by saying that the Trinity is a unity in which the members love one another and do everything for the other Members’ best good. We are made in the Triune God’s image and one of the things we should try to imitate in our relations with other Christians is the perfect unity and love within the Trinity. This should encourage us to humble ourselves before others and live in unity with them.
Erickson’s interactions with liberals and philosophers on this subject is not easy reading. His criticism of the traditional view’s emphasis on the substance of God and the distinction of the Persons seems slightly artificial. It is certainly good to keep in mind that we should worship and think of God practically the way we believe Him to be intellectually. However, the concept of mutual love, interdependence, and cooperation in the Godhead is held by those who believe in the traditional view as well.
R. Michael Duffy