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Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions [Paperback]

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Item Number 50912  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   108
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.6" Width: 5.43" Height: 0.3"
Weight:   0.36 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 1, 2000
Publisher   Baker Publishing Group
ISBN  080106287X  
EAN  9780801062872  

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Item Description...
Despite the common use of the phrase Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, many Christians and plenty of nonbelievers lack an understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. This often is a barrier to faith or growth, but one that can be overcome when explored openly and thoroughly. The Trinity has much to teach us about the essence of God and our relationships with one another. In Making Sense of the Trinity, Millard J. Erickson demonstrates the biblical foundation, logic, and importance of the Trinity as he answers these three questions: - Is the doctrine of the Trinity biblical? - Does the doctrine of the Trinity make sense? - Does the doctrine of the Trinity make any difference? The book is the latest in Baker's 3 Crucial Questions series, which seeks to examine the most challenging aspects of Christian theology. Erickson's down-to-earth language communicates to laity, seminary students, pastors, and scholars alike. All four groups will appreciate the reliable guidance of this respected scholar.

Publishers Description
Many Christians and plenty of nonbelievers lack an understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. This often is a barrier to faith or growth.
In Making Sense of the Trinity, Millard J. Erickson demonstrates the biblical foundation, logic, and importance of the Trinity as he answers these three questions:
- Is the doctrine of the Trinity biblical?
- Does the doctrine of the Trinity make sense?
- Does the doctrine of the Trinity make any difference?

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More About Millard J. Erickson

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Millard J. Erickson (PhD, Northwestern University) is distinguished professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is a leading evangelical spokesman and the author of numerous volumes, including the classic text Christian Theology.

Paul Kjoss Helseth (PhD, Marquette University) is professor of Christian thought at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the author of numerous scholarly articles.

Justin Taylor (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher at Crossway. He has edited and contributed to several books including A God-Entranced Vision of All Things and Reclaiming the Center, and he blogs at Between Two Worlds--hosted by the Gospel Coalition.

D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he has taught since 1978. He is a cofounder of the Gospel Coalition and has written or edited nearly 120 books. He and his wife, Joy, have two children and live in the north suburbs of Chicago.

J. P. Moreland (PhD, University of Southern California) is distinguished professor of philosophy at Biola University. He is an author of, contributor to, or editor of over ninety books, including The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why It Matters.

R. Scott Smith is Assistant Professor of Ethics and Christian Apologetics at Biola University in California. He is the author of Virtue Ethics and Moral Knowledge. Dr. Smith has lectured and presented numerous times on his specialty, postmodernism, and he is also the secretary-treasurer of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.

Stephen J. Wellum (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and editor of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Stephen lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife, Karen, and their five children.

Millard J. Erickson currently resides in Mounds View, in the state of Minnesota.

Millard J. Erickson has published or released items in the following series...
  1. 3 Crucial Questions

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
This book is directed to Christian believers   Mar 19, 2007
This book is directed to Christian believers who have some doubt in the doctrine of the Trinity. The introduction eloquently explains this doctrine. It goes like this: God arranged the salvation of the fallen humanity by taking, in "the second person of the Godhead" (the Son) and without giving up his deity, a human form by which he presented "the first person of the Godhead" (the Father) with the perfect sacrifice. This was done by the Son's willfully bearing the sins of humans as their substitute. When the time of the human form has ended "the third person of the Godhead"(the Holly Spirit) was sent to confer new life to the believers.

Three Crucial Questions is a good name for this book. The answer to the first question - is the Trinity doctrine biblical? - is directed to those who believe that scripture is inspired by God and consequently is completely true. The crisscross argument (solely from Scripture) goes like this:

SINCE - God is ONE and SINCE - God is DIVINE;
THEN IF - the Father is DIVINE, IF- the Son is DIVINE, and IF- the Holly Spirit is DIVINE;
THEFORE- The Father, The Son, and the Holly Spirit are ONE.

This line of reasoning is logically accepted. Mr. Erickson used a number of verses that fully proved his point, however I have three criticisms. First some verses where taken out of their context to prove unrevealed points. Second many verses were referenced instead of fully cited which made it difficult to follow without having the Bible nearby. Finally the verses used by those who do not believe in the Trinity were never explain to refute their arguments; No explanation was given to what Jesus said "my father is greater than I am"(John 14:28); how can "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son but only the Father" (Luke 24:36), and " You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor" (Psalms 8:5).

The answer to the second question - does the Trinity doctrine make sense? - is directed to those who believe in the scripture but find the doctrine - three equals one - a contradiction. He starts with describing the historical efforts at explaining the Trinity and the heresies attributed to them; then he moves to account for analogies of things that are three and yet also one to vindicate the doctrine. I agree with the author's confession that he has not totally resolved the logical problem but only reduced the tension somewhat.

The answer to the third question - dose the doctrine of the Trinity make any difference - is the weakest of all. The author concludes that "the unselfish love of the members of the Trinity spills over into their love for their creatures and should be presented in the lives of their human creatures". Such a presentation makes a difference in the lives of believers and consequently Trinity is important!!!

If Trinity is a minor puzzle to you as a believer and you need an elementary book to refresh your biblical readings, this is a book for you. But if Trinity is a major problem threatening your belief, then you need a more advanced and technical treatment in a different book. I bought "The forgotten Trinity" by James R. White and "The Trinitarian Faith" by T. F. Torrance, after reading them I will edit this review to give you my humble feedback.
Okay, but not exactly what I was expecting  Jan 11, 2007
There are a host of books on the Trinity. This is easy to read and understand and a good resource. I am still looking for something better.
What Kind of Trinity?  Jun 3, 2006
The SIMPLE TRUTH is that there IS only ONE Christian God, ONE ORIGINAL PERSON of God, contrary to the WELL-FOUNDED criticism of Islam that Roman Catholicism, with its "Triune God," is indeed quite NON-biblically (this being my added emphasis, rather than that of Islam) albeit AMBIGUOUSLY and RHETORICALLY rather than "paradoxically" POLYTHEISTIC in form. What about the traditionally-argued claim that God had originally been referred to in the PLURAL, via the term "Elohim" (Genesis 1:26)? Actually, if the angels were present at the creation of the physical universe (Job 38:1-7), then it is hardly a far cry to assume that they were also present at the creation of man. But, then, what about John 1:1-15, in which Christ is referred to as "The Word," who, in the beginning, was WITH God, and WAS God? In the beginning was the CREATIVE POWER of God, and the CREATIVE POWER of God was WITH God, and the CREATIVE POWER of God WAS God. As for John 1:2? Before Christ's physical conception as a separate manifestation, He was WITH God, but in the same way any offspring is "with" his parents before conception, but NOT as a SEPARATE IDENTITY. Christ was, again, WITH God, and WAS God. Christ represents the CREATIVE POWER of God (Colossians 1:15-19), the DISTINCTIVE PERSON of God; which can have NO COHERENT MEANING apart from the concept of a BEGINNING, and His CREATION of that which is NOT GOD (Revelation 1:8). This CREATIVE POWER of God had eventually produced (or, more accurately, reproduced) a CREATED AND SEPARATE MANIFESTATION, or PERFECT REFLECTION, of this very CREATIVE POWER. Christ, AS a SEPARATE and MORTAL INDIVIDUAL, PER SE, with a DISTINCTIVE IDENTITY, did indeed have a BEGINNING. But, then, what about still other statements, from Christ Himself, which SEEM to indicate the "PRE-EXISTENCE" of a "Second Person" (John 17:5)? This is RATHER a reference to PREDESTINATION!!! Cross-reference it with, for instance, EPHESIANS 1:4!!! And, if one still insists upon more, then try REVELATION 13:8!!! Moreover, one can only PRAISE THE HEAVENS, the way Jesus did, in Matthew 11:25-27, upon MARVELING NO LESS at the, AT BOTTOM, no less MERELY POLITICAL IN MOTIVATION than CHILDISHLY, MUDDLE-HEADEDLY, AMATEURISHLY PSEUDO-PHILOSOPHICAL AND PSEUDO-RELIGIOUS WRANGLING (Colossians 2:1-10) (I Corinthians 1:10-29) of those who finally concluded the current "Trinity" Doctrine! While you're also glimpsing through I Corinthians, Chapters Two and Three, concerning EVEN the "WONDERS" of the CURRENT "NON-DENOMINATIONALISM," TOO, FOR THAT MATTER (1:12d), please try taking PARTICULARLY SPECIAL NOTE of 3:10-20!!!

But, then, what about statements to the effect that "Before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:58)? Actually, the SPIRIT is INDIVISIBLY ONE, and it is ONLY in THIS SENSE, along with the fact that Christ is an EXACT DUPLICATE of the One who THEREBY BECAME His Father, that Christ, as a SEPARATELY MORTAL INDIVIDUAL, had been "PRE-EXISTENT" as such. Even scriptures such as Matthew 19:17 quite SYMBOLICALLY serve to REINFORCE this point, as Christ therein attributes His Own Goodness, DISTINCTIVELY enough (from Himself), to God. As a SEPARATELY MORTAL INDIVIDUAL, Christ did indeed have a BEGINNING, when He was MIRACULOUSLY CONCEIVED (quite DISTINCTIVELY, in THIS sense, next only to the FIRST ADAM) minus a HUMAN father. The ONLY real PARADOX, here, is that of HOW such a thing could have occurred per se, of HOW Christ could have BEEN God, and yet also NOT GOD; rather than in the form of how God could have been "One," and yet "Three Separate Persons," before the advent of Christ's conception in Mary's womb. Christ, as DISTINCT from God, rather sits at the RIGHT HAND of God (Romans 8:34). He IS God, in the SENSE, also, that ALL AUTHORITY has been HANDED OVER UNTO HIM (Hebrews 1:1-6). Similarly, those who shall RULE WITH HIM (Revelation 3:9), in their Immortally Transfigured States, likewise share in this very DISTINCTION, albeit to various DEGREES, from BENEATH Him (Matthew 25:14-23) (Luke 19:11-19). The SIMPLE, RHETORICALLY UNCLUTTERED TRUTH, IS THAT GOD THE FATHER HAD A SON, WITH A BEGINNING, AND YET NO END (Isaiah 9:6-7) (Hebrews 1:8-12). ALL the REST of the ULTIMATELY REDEEMED, with their MORTALLY HUMAN FATHERS, shall YET be, each in their own order (I Corinthians 15:20-25), IMPERISHABLY TRANSFIGURED, but as Spiritually ADOPTED Sons (Romans 8:14-15). Unlike ONLY Jesus Himself, EVEN the "Natural Branches" (Romans 11) share MERELY in His MATERNALLY biologocal lineage; which ULTIMATELY, INDIVIDUALLY PROFITS NOTHING, IN AND OF ITSELF (Luke 3:8).

The actual Trinity (Matthew 28:19) is a reference, NOT to the "Three Persons" of God, but to the Three Functions or Manifestations of God. The Holy Spirit is, NOT an "It," contrary to what Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong contends (just as he uniquely errs in saying there were, not three, but rather TWO persons in Eternity Past), but rather the very Spirit of the Father. Consider an ordinary human being, consisting of a SOUL (an ANIMATED body) and an INDIVIDUAL SPIRIT; however, NOT, again, as TWO persons, but rather as ONE. God the Father was the separately CREATIVE manifestation of God, in the Beginning; and, thus, the Symbolic Image of the Word, or the Son; until, that is, He BECAME the Father. But, while the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father, Jesus had an individual human spirit, which united with the Father's, so that the TWO had become ONE; and BLENDED, in the most UNIQUELY, virtually INDISTINGUISHABLE kind of way. However, that very process had been unavailable to Fallen man, in the most Judicially open sense, until Jesus had become a TOTALLY PERFECTED and GLORIFIED participant in the Holy Spirit, so that this Spirit was actually THEIR Spirit, in the most COMPLETELY finished sense. That's why Pentecost could not occur before then (John 16:5-11). The most which can be said for the concept of the "Three Person Trinity" is that, paradoxically, the very language being employed, here, in defense of the Real Trinity, COULD also be quite logically, consistently applied to the concept of "Three Persons," too; however, in a manner to where the very question of whether "Three Persons" are actually involved becomes, at best, something hopelessly, paradoxically insoluble. Moreover, at least some of the reasons the "Three Person Trinity" is no less structurally disjointed than strictly superfluous per se, should be explicitly clear enough by now. I'm not trying to disparage the quality of this book's defense of the "Three Person Trinity," but only contending that EVEN the VERY BEST POSSIBLE MANNER of defending it is NECESSARILY as INADEQUATE as the very thing being defended in the process.

When carefully examined, the ONLY REAL DIFFERENCE (aside from Roman Catholicism's UNIQUELY HISTORICAL PREDOMINANCE, as the MOTHER OF ALL CULTS), by way of Mainstream Protestant Fundamentalist definition, between a "sect" and a "cult," is that the former embrace the doctrine of the Trinity, while the latter do not. Indeed, aside from this ONE ESSENTIAL DIFFERENCE, Roman Catholicism fits virtually EVERY Mainstream Protestant Fundamentalist definition of a "cult." Just to cite but one "minor bit" of such PREDOMINANTLY ASTONISHING BLINDNESS in this respect, particularly among professing Christians of ALL "sectarian" denominations; where does, for instance, Romans 14:5-6, appear to condone the teaching that EVERLASTING TORMENT is the INEVITABLE RESULT of "unrepentantly" MISSING A MASS ON SUNDAY, or a 'HOLY DAY OF OBLIGATION," or EATING A PIECE OF MEAT ON FRIDAY? Such REGRESSIONS INTO SPIRITUAL BONDAGE are quite elaborately exposed for what they really are in Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. Grace, in general, as opposed to Law, is also VERY POETICALLY SYMBOLIZED in the OUTLINE of Daniel's Seventieth Week (Daniel 9:20-27), which BEGINS with a BAPTISM (Matthew 3:13-17) and ENDS with a BAPTISM (Acts 10). Just as John the Baptist, who symbolized LAW, had said he must "decrease" (John 3:30); so, also, did the ORDER itself SYMBOLICALLY "EVOLVE," from that of the Holy Spirit FOLLOWING the BAPTISM ITSELF, to that of this same "Baptism of Fire" PRECEDING the BAPTISM ITSELF. More accurately, Peter, at the end of Acts 10, is COMMANDING, as such, NOT that BAPTISM be MANDATORY, but rather that it NOT be FORBIDDEN. There's an INFINITY of DIFFERENCE, in SPIRIT, between HAVING to be BAPTIZED, and having NO REASON whatsoever NOT to be, as beautifully USHERING IN as well as SYMBOLIZING the overall SPIRIT of New Covenant OBEDIENCE. A REAL Christian is FREE rather than BOUND to be BAPTIZED--AFTER THE FACT.

In the Spirit of Elijah,
Richard O'Donnell
Good, but there are Better.  Dec 23, 2005
I purchased this book because of the three previous reviews. While I have gained a little from my reading of this book, I thought it would be beneficial for me to give a brief review. I am not, as the other three reviewers, very pleased with this book. I have three issues of which I feel need to be addressed.

First, I believe that Millard Erickson confused this topic more than he explained it. He constantly talked about how people perceive it as strange and illogical and he discussed the fact that it is a total paradox and doesn't seem to conform to logic. Instead of talking about how confusing and how illogical this subject appears to be, he should have simply explained it (as was his goal for the book). Even if it is a complicated subject (which I do not feel it is though I will admit it isn't overly simplistic), a basic look at the trinity should not create more fear and confusion but less. Erickson's continual hammering of the confusing complicated nature of this doctrine served only to take away from instead of add to the overall goal of his book, to make sense of the trinity.

Second, I believe that Erickson does a poor job at discussing the origin of the trinity. In his own words, "the church formulated the strange doctrine of the Trinity" (notice the unnecessary adjective "strange" only serving to complicate the doctrine - pg.17). The doctrine of the trinity was not formulated by the church because it is progressively revealed in scripture. A group of Christians during the Nicene period (of which he is referring) did develop a theological position on the trinity, but we must not suggest that this doctrine did not exist before Nicea. This IS the eternal nature of God, not some formulated description of his nature. His language throughout the book (more often found in the earlier section) focuses on the trinity being a man made doctrine than a biblical one (even though he does argue that this doctrine is biblical). This I felt was a major obstacle in reading his book. He even once argued that to support one aspect of this doctrine, we must look "beyond the New Testament" to when history understood the doctrine (pg. 81).

Finally, I had great reservations accepting his ultimate description of the doctrine of the trinity. The terms he used and the description I did not find very biblical. This did not necessarily make the book bad, but the reader should be aware that he might have a conflict with Erickson's ultimate conclusion as to what the trinity is. One struggle I had was his proposition that the Word "became" the Son. While he had one good argument which challenged my eternal Sonship view, the rest of his arguments were irrelevant and obviously lacking in logical support. They only made me want to reject his interpretation even more.

The reader should be aware that while there are good aspects of this book, it is not the best that I have read. A good beginner's book or introductory book which is both simple yet thorough is Bruce A. Ware's book, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit; Relationships, Roles, & Relevance. This book did not try to confuse the topic but began explaining it from the very beginning and used scripture (instead of history) throughout the book to formulate a very good position on the doctrine of the trinity.
Surprisingly comprehensive in its relative briefness  Feb 22, 2003
I picked up this book by Millard Erickson expecting a rather basic look at trinitarianism that might prove helpful in discussing the doctrine of the Trinity on a basic level with folks who have introductory level questions about it. And while it's true that the book is predominately a beginner level book, I nonetheless found it to be quite thorough in a number of places that I found very rewarding.

The book is less than 100 pages, and in it, Erickson seeks to tackle three main questions - is the Trinity biblical, is it rationally coherent, and is it at all relevant to anything. While there have certainly been more exhaustive treatises written which address the first two questions, I thought that Erickson did a good job of analyzing them at a top level while still being pretty thorough. His analysis of deviations from the orthodox view of the Trinity was especially good for purposes of making it clear to the reader that the Trinity is an exacting doctrine that requires both exacting language and exacting thought in order to be true to the Bible.

Erickson's attempt at sorting through the rationality of the 'Three in One' aspect of the Trinity was also very interesting, as was his analysis of Trinitarian prayer. In particular, I appreciated his analysis of the functional subordination aspect of the Trinity that is too often neglected in other studies of the Trinity, as well as his proper focus on the Holy Spirit which is likewise treated almost as an afterthought in many studies of the Trinity.

Overall, I think this is an outstanding beginner level book that not only takes on basic questions with easy to follow answers, but also digs a bit to take on more difficult questions both Biblically and philosophically. An outstanding resource for one who wants to become firmly rooted in the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.


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