Moore: I know that this book is a slight rework of your dissertation. Initially, you were thinking about doing a dissertation on Barth, right? What changed your mind and moved you in a different direction?
Smith: The main reason I changed my mind is that I began to read Barth. (Only half-kidding!) In all seriousness, I had the idea of trying to compare/contrast a Barthian and evangelical view (e.g., Carl Henry) of the doctrine of revelation. Two things happened: (1) I was going to study this topic at Aberdeen and life circumstances made moving to Scotland untenable; (2) my first love was the Trinity in Scripture but I’d gotten sidetracked by an interest in 20th century Scripture debates. The door closing on Aberdeen opened another door for me to return to the topic I’d consistently enjoyed researching and writing on. From there, I connected with Michael Bird at Ridley College in Melbourne, and the Trinity in Revelation followed quickly thereafter.
Moore: If the triune God is the true God, something I know we both believe, are there books in the Bible that do an especially good job of showcasing that reality? If this is the case, what New Testament books most clearly teach about the trinity?
Smith: On the one hand, I would say that the Bible just is a trinitarian book, with the Old Testament already unveiling a triadic shape to the identity of YHWH, with the New Testament drawing on the Old Testament in light of the missions of the Son and Spirit. In that case, you need the whole canon to truly know and affirm that God is triune.
On the other hand, people do need a place to start. I tend to point to John 14-17 as a clear chunk of narrative that shows the unity and distinction of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you can grasp the main theological trajectory there—that the Father sent the Son and the Father and Son send the Spirit for us and our salvation—then you get a good glimpse of the basics of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Another passage I gravitate to is Ephesians 1:3-14. Paul’s argument is that the salvation offered by the one God is accomplished by the Father, Son, and Spirit both in unity (there is only one salvation) and distinction (the Father has the inheritance; the Son secures the inheritance; the Spirit seals the inheritance). As I often tell my students, Ephesians 1 shows you that the gospel just is trinitarian. You can’t talk about salvation, ultimately, without talking about the Father, Son, and Spirit.
Moore: There is a lot of speculation about what John is writing about in the book of Revelation. The just released Revelation for the Rest of Us by McKnight and Matchett does a terrific job of describing the folly of speculation. How does a theological reading of Revelation protect us from speculative readings?
Smith: The most obvious way is to read Revelation regarding its own argument. The book starts with, “The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place” (Rev 1:1) and some people assume that “what must soon take place” means that the thesis of the book is an unveiling of specific people, places, and events in history that act as signs for the end of the world. But as you read Revelation, you actually see that “the revelation of Jesus Christ” is the thesis. Yes, it points to the eschatological climax of human history, but it does so with God’s purposes in Christ and the Spirit as the main point.
Most ancient apocalypses like Revelation are primarily concerned with the hope and longing that God will bring justice to the world and finally put all things right. Revelation is no different—the end of the book is about the final expulsion of Satan, the eradication of sin, and God’s people dwelling with him fully and for eternity. All of Revelation, then, builds to that point, from the atonement, to the exaltation of the Lamb, to the vindication of the martyrs, to the new creation. If we keep our eyes on the triune God, then, we will not be distracted by secondary or even spurious speculations.
Moore: I regularly have conversations with Christians about how best to read the Bible. How can a theological reading of Scripture improve our ability to engage God’s Word?
Smith: My approach to theological interpretation is twofold. First, Scripture is from God, about God, and for God’s people. Therefore, we should always read the Bible as God’s address to his people (1 Tim 3:16-17) before we read it as a book about first-century history or a manual for moral living. Second, Scripture is a two-Testament witness to this God. Because Scripture regularly quotes itself, refers to past stories/events themes, and centers on Christ (Luke 24:44), any time we are reading, we should be aware that we are reading a verse/book/chapter that is part of a larger whole. So, just as one would read something like the Narnia series as a collection that self-interprets what the author (C. S. Lewis) intended, so we should all the more read Scripture this way.
Moore: Related to the former question, would you share a few things you have found helpful in your own personal study by utilizing a theological reading of the Bible?
Smith: Simply put, when I began to see Scripture as a two-Testament witness to the triune God, I was much more captivated and motivated by its claims on my life because I began to read it as God speaking to his people (including me) rather than something that is centered on me.
Moore: You refer to non-Nicene mistakes and how being pro-Nicene helps guard against various doctrinal errors. Would you describe that a bit, especially with reference to the trinity in the book of Revelation?
Smith: The pro-Nicenes were convinced that God is the author of Scripture and, therefore, Scripture is a unified witness to him. With this conviction in mind, they used certain categories to help explain the claims of Scripture. For example, the term homoousios—that the Father, Son, and Spirit have the same nature—is a helpful category to think about when reading Scripture. The Bible does not describe three different Gods, nor does it describe one divine person who takes on various forms (the two extreme errors that recur throughout history); rather Scripture read as a two-Testament witness reveals that there is one God (e.g., Deut 6:4) and yet three persons (e.g., John 14-17). Reading the pro-Nicenes, then, gives you a basic conviction about Scripture’s theology and unity, as well as categories to explain how this conviction is true.
Moore: What are two or three things you hope your readers take from your book?
Smith: I hope that my book contributes to the conversation about how to see the Trinity in Scripture, and that it encourages people to read Revelation primarily as a vision of the triune God.
David George Moore lives in Austin, Texas and ministers through Two Cities Ministries. His most recent book is Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians: https://www.amazon.com/Stuck-Present-History-Frees-Christians/dp/168426460X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr= His online interview show can be found at www.mooreengaging.com.