Taking a momentary break from the Hermes & John audio series, here’s a brisk review of a brand new book that will benefit anyone interested in Christian theology: What is the Trinity? by Dr. Dale Tuggy.
Clocking in at around 150 pages, “What is the Trinity?” exhibits a pace as quick as its author’s wit. Written for the interested public, it’s candid, surprisingly funny, and above all, profoundly challenging. Indeed, an important Christian task rests at the heart of this little book: Dr. Tuggy wants us to think critically about the “official” Christian doctrine of God.
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.
The book is available in paperback or on Kindle and can be purchased here.
Don’t forget to also support Dr. Tuggy’s matchless podcast at trinities.org.