I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a fan of Fred Sanders’ Deep Things of God.  I was honored, though, that Christianity Today let me give it the full treatment.  Naturally, I took the opportunity to precisely what I learned to do under his instruction:  ask questions and raise objections in hopes of coming to a better understanding.

Here’s the conclusion:

Pleas for subsequent books and clarifications aside, The Deep Things of God is a “public performance” of evangelicalism desperately in need of repetition and imitation. Sanders has provided a template of careful exegesis of the evangelical tradition that builds on its strengths while gently correcting its blemishes. As a generous appropriation of distinctly evangelical resources, The Deep Things of God moves evangelical theology and church life in the right direction without making it any less evangelical.

More importantly, Sanders helps us peer into the deep things of God without losing our balance and falling into either mysticism or rationalism. His vivid prose doesn’t make the topic any easier, but it does make it less intimidating. Sanders writes as he teaches—with a light touch and a joyful concern for his audience’s learning and growth, but also cognizant of the dangers that are at hand when we approach the mysteries of God. Sanders is a sober but lively guide to the deep things of God, and evangelicals will benefit enormously from his tour.

And here’s Dr. Sanders’ gracious reply:

Anderson ends the review with some substantive critiques, especially pointing out that “it’s not clear what Sanders wants evangelicals to do differently –other than read his book– to more deeply embed the Trinity into our movement.” He’s got me there, I want people to read the book. On the lack of action points, I have no defense to offer. I’m praying that the book falls into the hands of people with more ministry experience and know-how than I have, who can devise the action points and take the next steps. I’m just a perfesser who reads and thinks and talks all day; this is as practical as I get. Writing Deep Things is my way of passing the baton to pastors, worship leaders, and people like Matt Anderson, who can run the next lap.

There’s more to be said about this important book.  But enough commentary. Tolle lege! Then come back and let me know what you think.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

3 Comments

  1. I wrote Matt an e-mail when I read his CT review of The Deep Things of God. Here is what I wrote:

    It was well-written and clear, almost motivating me to read the book except that I have so many other books that I want and need to read first. My two take-aways: first, Evangelicals should hear Sanders’ reminder that “before God is the God of the gospel… he is God in himself”; second, Evangelicals should hear how Sanders’ emphasis on being adopted as children of the Triune God absorbs our occasionally myopic focus on justification.

    Your critique anticipates my question: Once we’re drawn into the inner life of God, then what? I’ve read very little Trinitarian theology, but if Sanders was inattentive to “the relationship between the Trinity and the church” you might want to check out Miroslav Volf’s After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of Trinity. I’ve heard good things about this book.

    Finally, Sanders’ claim that “evangelical Christians have been in reality the most thoroughly Trinitarian Christians in the history of the church” is more than just a “strong” claim, as you put it, but untenable when you consider that Evangelicalism, depending on which historian you ask, is a 20th century phenomenon. What of all the preceding centuries of Christians? How can Evangelicals, arriving late to a banquet that started a long, long time ago, be “the most thoroughly Trinitarian Christians in the history of the church”? I bet there are a lot of Catholic and Orthodox theologians who would vehemently disagree, and for good reasons. Hopefully some folks from Rome and Constantinople will review The Deep Things of God.

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  2. Thanks, Christopher. No reason to rehash our discussion here. I’ll simply point out that Sanders is as qualified as anyone to make the claim about evangelicalism being “thoroughly Trinitarian.” Maybe the MOST qualified. After all, to do that one would have to know not only the Cappadocians inside and out (for example), but the evangelicals. And I bet money most Catholic or Orthodox theologians have never read John Owen or J.I. Packer, while Sanders has definitely read all the major players in both the West and the East. So in that sense, he might be more qualified to make the claim than you grant. : )

    matt

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  3. I’m reading through the book at the moment, small chunks at a time (while commuting). I’m most of the way through the second chapter – so the following comments are only initial impressions.

    The thrust of the book is excellent. The Trinity is as important as he claims and evangelicals understand the Trinity better than they often know. When I woke up to the importance of the Trinity I suddenly started seeing the doctrine everywhere, particularly in Anglican liturgy.

    I have a couple of niggles though (that shouldn’t be enough to put anyone off reading it). In the introduction/preface, Sanders says that he wants everyone to get Trinitarian, and then the doctrine can slip into the background again. Personally, I think this is crazy…if the Trinity is so fundamental to God’s being (and it is), and that neglecting the doctrine has led us to trouble, why should it slip into the background again?

    This is related to the other niggle… so far, Sanders is treating the doctrine a little mysteriously; as if it’s a little hidden, confusing and really only revealed in the New Testament. That’s just an impression and the rest of the book may change my opinion on that. Nevertheless, it seems as if Sanders has found something amazing but is a little embarrassed about telling everyone just how good and important it is.

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