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Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers Paperback – October 28, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


"The author has successfully presented a doctrine that has become identified with Eastern Orthodox theology. The author offers an important complement to most contemporary introductions to theology." (Lucien J. Richard, Catholic Library World, June 2010)

"Donald Fairbairn's mastery of early Christian theology shines out of this wonderful introduction to the world of patristic theology for evangelical readers. It is more than a wise and trustworthy guide taking the reader along what are unfamiliar paths for many Western readers. It is also a work that wears its learning lightly, but amounts to nothing less than a sustained exposition of the majestic coherence of the early Christian doctrine of union with God. I recommend it most highly." (John Anthony McGuckin, Ane Marie and Bent Emil Nielsen Professor in Late Antique and Byzantine Christian History, Union Theological Seminary, and Professor of Byzantine Christian Studies, Columbia University)

"Donald Fairbairn offers an engaging introduction to evangelical theology, as enriched and challenged by key patristic emphases. Given the recent expansion of interest in the church fathers in evangelical circles, this winsomely written, stimulating invitation to listen to and learn from the church fathers is both timely and welcome." (James R. Payton Jr., professor of history, Redeemer University College, and author of Light from the Christian East: An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition)

"This is the first book that teachers should assign to every beginning student of theology. It gives them not an explanation of individual doctrines, but a theological goal that is faithful to the very heart of the gospel, namely, that the Father sent the Son so that humans may participate in the Son's relationship to the Father. Our sharing in Christ's life (theosis) is, therefore, the north star that guides the whole of theology and integrates its individual parts. This is a penetrating and coherent reading of the biblical and patristic vision of the way theology should be done." (Bradley Nassif, professor of biblical and theological studies, North Park University)

About the Author

Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a part-time professor at Evangelische Theologische Faculteit in Leuven, Belgium. He received his Ph.D in patristics from University of Cambridge in England and his books include Grace and Christology in the Early Church (Oxford University Press) and Eastern Orthodoxy Through Western Eyes (Westminster John Knox Press).

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (October 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830838732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830838738
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Michael Dalton VINE VOICE on January 26, 2010
Format: Paperback
Has the Church made too much of the Trinity? Reading Life in the Trinity by Donald Fairbairn makes me realize that this doctrine is crucial and practical.

What is the heart of Christian life? Fairbairn suggests "part of the answer is that a life reflecting the love Jesus has shown for us lies close to the heart." He sees "first and foremost, then, Christian life is a process of abiding in Christ, of relying on him, of recognizing and maintaining one's connection to him in all aspects of life."

To take it further, and where the real beauty of this book lies, is seeing our relationship with Christ in terms of his relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Fairbairn writes, "He (Christ) is offering himself to us as a person, that we might share in his most deeply personal relationship, the relationship he has with God the Father." Seen in this context, the Christian life is a sharing in the life of the Trinity. This is the scarlet thread that runs through every chapter.

Fairbairn expertly walks readers through Trinitarian theology, which is fascinating, but his most important work is sharing relational and practical implications. He makes it clear that the worth of everyone lies in our being made in the image of God. "Christianity teaches us that our significance does not ultimately lie in what we accomplish or what we do: it lies in the one to whom we belong," he writes. "Our significance is not something that can be earned; it is something given to us by God."

He is also a wise guide into the thought of the Church fathers. He makes judicious use of their writings, to inform modern perspectives that can be lacking. He draws most from four Patristic writers: Irenaeus of Lyons, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo and Cyril of Alexandria.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Richard on July 9, 2012
Format: Paperback
I usually read books that are a few centuries older than this book, but I wanted to read a modern treatment and so "stumbled" on to Life in the Trinity. The book started rather slowly from my view at the time, but rather quickly new avenues of thought were coming through. When I went back and started over, I could see that the real problem was my expectations. I was the one that started slowly and not the book. Quite quickly it became obvious that this book is very suggestive of new avenues of thought and how they tie in with the basic doctrines of Scripture. The author (Donald Fairbairn) does not seem as concerned with the same things as so many modern writers. This is one of the great strengths of the book.

Another great strength of the book is how it exposes the reader to the Fathers. I was so taken with Cyril of Alexandria that I purchased his commentary on the Gospel of John (expensive) and read a fair amount in it. However, this review is of Dr. Fairbairn's book, but the issue with Cyril is that Dr. Fairbairn's book drove me to want to read the Fathers themselves and gave insight into how to do that. It is so easy for historians to simply set out what the Fathers believed as a group instead of giving people a taste of what they say as individuals. While I have read the Fathers before, I have not read them as I read them now. This book was very helpful in that regard.

The title of this book, Life in the Trinity, is perhaps not as descriptive a title as it could be. However, there is no way that a title could really explain what this book is about. What the author means by life in the Trinity is how the Persons of the Trinty relate to each other and how that is the basis for understanding doctrine at a deeper level.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By booklegger on January 5, 2010
Format: Paperback
This was not the book that I was expecting. I anticipated a study of the doctrine of the Trinity and its development in the early church. What I found was not nearly as academic as that, though this was published by the Academic imprint of IVP. Donald Fairbairn doesn't seem to do theology in the modern sense, so much as offer his personal reflections on scripture within the context of the Church Fathers who have shaped his views. In fact, the quantity of scriptural references far exceeds those from the Fathers. Fairbairn references forty-five books of the Bible, but less than a dozen of the Fathers. Fortunately, he provides paragraph-length quotes from the Fathers which help to give a broader context than the single- sentence snippets we sometimes see in similar works.

Fairbairn attempts to follow what he considers the most helpful theological theme through the Bible and the early church: theosis or deification, which he defines as sharing in the relationship of the Trinity by participating with God the Father as adopted sons through the person and work of Jesus Christ who is the natural son, or Son according to his nature. He then ties theosis into other theological topics such as Creation, Fall, Incarnation, Resurrection, soteriology, justification, sanctification, and ecclesiology.

The overall tone of the book is almost devotional. Due to lack of in-text citations from the Fathers it is difficult to assess where they end and Fairbairn begins. It seems that he has immersed himself in dialogue with the Fathers and even undertakes to use their hermeneutic. Fairbairn articulates the most important difference between the patristic and modern methods of hermeneutics as one of direction.
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