More resources on the Trinity? Haven’t we (collectively) said all there is to say about Trinitarianism?
We’ll let Dr. Fred Sanders answer that. Sanders is the author of several books and teaches theology at Biola University. He recently recorded a brand-new Mobile Ed course on the Trinity called, History of the Doctrine of the Trinity.
Here’s what Dr. Sanders has to say about studying the Trinity, and why he doesn’t find his recent labors all for naught given the vast writings and teaching that already exist.
I’ve created a course that surveys the history of the doctrine of the Trinity from just after the New Testament period down to, well, pretty much today. I can imagine readers taking that news two different ways.
On the one hand, you might think of that as something that doesn’t need to be done at all. After all, if you believe, as I do, that the Trinity is in the Bible because the one God revealed himself as Father, Son, and Spirit when the Father sent the Son and the Spirit, then why would we need to devote attention to what the Church has said about that for the last two thousand years? Hasn’t the Church pretty much maintained that biblical doctrine all along?
Yes, the confession of the triunity of God has been a wonderfully steady and constant feature of the whole history of Christian theology. And I do not tell that history as some kind of quest to construct, or develop, or somehow succeed at achieving the doctrine of the Trinity. I don’t use the word “development” at all when I can avoid it. But I tell the story of the doctrine of the Trinity with attention to both continuity (we continue to be Trinitarian) and change (we have said it differently in different times and places). You can think of Trinitarian continuity as the through-line that this course follows as it explores the richness and variety of Christian theology’s historical journey across various phases, cultures, and conceptual frameworks.
On the other hand, when I say I’ve recorded a set of lectures on that whole history, you might think that sounds impossibly ambitious: How could I possibly cover all that material? Aren’t there actual experts in the historical theology of each one of those major periods? (Yes.) Are you somehow all of those experts rolled into one? (No.) How could one course cover all those periods, and how could one professor be prepared to lecture across the whole territory?
The trick is that I cover the material an introductory way, at an overview level. I’m not an amateur at this, but I will confess to being a passionate generalist. I count it an honor to be the one who gets to introduce students in this course to one great historical figure after another, reporting on each one’s approach to the doctrine and commenting on their major contributions. Moving along at an enjoyable pace, I get to survey the greatest hits and most interesting figures in the whole field of historical theology.
Choosing which figures to introduce was hard, and I regret some of the omissions, but I can’t complain about the ones I was able to include. From all the early Church fathers (before the council of Nicaea), I chose only Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen. These four, plus a few creeds and liturgical texts, give a pretty good introduction to the way the early Church taught about the Trinity. For Nicene Trinitarianism proper, I start with Athanasius and work through the Cappadocians and Augustine. The course explores a variety of figures through the medieval period, from Boethius and Anselm to some Carolingians (Western) and Byzantines (East). The High Middle Ages covers Aquinas and Bonaventure, but also Gregory Palamas and some representative mystics. I give considerable attention to the Reformation contribution to Trinitarianism, and extend that study to include some significant figures of Protestant scholasticism. Finally, I start my survey of the modern period as far back as Petavius, and trace it down through the much-acclaimed Trinitarian revival of the late twentieth century, and end with John Webster.
As a professor whose job is to teach the great books of Christian history, I often tell my students that my goal is to make a few friends in every century. In this course, I do my best to make Trinitarian friends in every century of the history of theology. The result is a survey introduction to the entire history of the doctrine of the Trinity that I think fills a gap for the contemporary Church. The subject matter is impossibly rich, and this course is designed to open up the whole field for students.
You can save nearly 40% if you pre-order History of the Doctrine of the Trinity before it ships, so get it now.
Dr. Fred Sanders is associate professor of theology at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute. A popular blogger and speaker, Sanders has authored numerous journal articles and written or contributed to several books, including The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything.
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