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What is the Trinity?: Thinking about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Paperback – June 11, 2017
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About the Author
Dale Tuggy (PhD, Brown University) is Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia. He has authored about two dozen peer-reviewed articles and book chapters relating to the Trinity and other topics in analytic theology and philosophy of religion. He has blogged since 2006, and since 2013 has hosted and produced the trinities podcast.
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Tuggy continually asks questions that require self thinking and examination, questions like "When it comes to the Trinity, who's to say? Do you go with your church's official creeds? Or must you choose the Bible over that? Or are you convinced that those two don't conflict?" [p.132]
To conclude, I found this book helpful. If the Trinity is a subject that interests you at all, whether you are a adherent to it, or not, you should purchase this book. Go ahead and even purchase the ones by the same title by R.C. Sproul and David F. Wells and compare what each book has to say. I look forward to Dr. Dale Tuggy's subsequent work that he hints at throughout this book, a bigger, more philosophical and theological work on the same subject.
For many this has seemed an undesirable task—even an impossible one. Most Christians have been conditioned to not think too hard about who or what the God of the Bible is; there has long been a sense of danger cast over the whole business of investigating the Trinity. However, as Tuggy assures us, there’s no reason to be afraid of thinking about God. Neither is there any spiritual danger in confronting just what the old catholic creeds are offering you. In fact, as Tuggy argues, it may even be incumbent upon us as Bible-believing Christians.
Thankfully, Dr. Tuggy tilts the entry-ramp onto this difficult topic to just the right incline. His irenic tone and genuinely helpful spirit transform even a high-stakes conversation like this into a smooth and enjoyable experience. As intended, the book is able to be handed to just about anyone interested in Christian theology, and Tuggy’s digestible translation of the various complexities invoked by studies of the Trinity make that possible. Make no mistake, Dr. Tuggy is an analytic philosopher of the highest caliber, but he gracefully brings the Trinitarian problem down out of the realm of the philosopher and into the realm of everyman, and it is there that he deals with it.
Indeed, one of the book’s chief assets is its relatability. The book begins by briefly introducing us to Tuggy’s journey as a studious evangelical highschooler: while searching for meaning in the echo-chamber of popular apologetics, Tuggy eventually came face to face with the daunting question which would later serve as the title of his book: “What is the Trinity?”--a question just as important as it is elusive. His story will doubtless resonate with many in the evangelical world: he had been led to believe that the only Christians who had problems with the doctrine of the Trinity were "cultists." But soon, he discovered very good reasons to reconsider the “official story” about the Christian God.
Dr. Tuggy would like you to discover these reasons, too, and to discover them for yourself. But in chapter two, he reveals that the first step is getting over our fear. We should, Tuggy believes, celebrate God’s great gift of reason, and be bold enough to exercise it. You won’t “lose your soul” for questioning the Trinity, and neither should such a gilded dogma’s supremely varnished status be enough to keep good “Bereans” at bay.
The next step towards engaging the Trinity problem is defining terms. “Trinity”?, “Persons”?, “Ousia”? Do we even know what we mean when we repeat the formula in church each week, “one God in three Persons”? Dale reveals the importance of actually understanding the propositions we claim to assent to; we can’t simply repeat empty faith statements—we must truly believe, and belief arrives once we understand the evidence.
Dr. Tuggy’s methods throughout the book prove both engaging and effective: Tuggy expertly dismantles the popular message of “Jesus is God” apologists by employing such vital tools as the Indiscernability of Identicals and the Law of Non-Contradiction. He dips in and out of ancient Church history with grace, visiting the Alexandrian schools and the Church council chambers to gather the evidence he needs before returning to our world with practical advice. He ultimately demonstrates that quick trips to Church history will take us just as far as lengthy philosophical deliberation in the quest for the Christian God.
“Substance Abuse” is the standout chapter—the climax of Tuggy’s clarion call to define terms. The important philosophical word “Ousia,” a term so important in discussions of Trinitarian doctrine, is presented here with at least nine different interpretations, and the reader is allowed to choose for himself not only which he thinks the ancient catholics intended, but also which he personally means. This exercise alone is worth much more than the generous cover price!
In another important chapter, “Mystery Mountain,” Tuggy politely offers us scissors to cut up our trusty "Mystery" card. He reveals that the popular escape-hatch into the realm of “mystery” is only an effective but unfortunate way of stopping the conversation. Nevertheless, the conversation (gently) marches on with Dr. Tuggy, and the Christian world should embrace it.
Tuggy ultimately goes out of his way to provide the reader with the tools he needs to begin his own investigation. In this sense, the book truly is the perfect introduction to the issues surrounding the Trinity. Tuggy reveals what he thinks, of course, but his endgame is to guide you towards asking the right questions in order to come to your own conclusions. This is indeed the right and expectation of every Christian: that we should decide for ourselves what the Bible, and what the God of the Bible, wants us know about who and what God is.
For Christians just beginning their quest for Christian theology, I can hardly imagine a better book than this one. I will doubtless be ordering several more copies for friends and family. Five stars.
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