Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, Philipsburg: P & R, 2004. 551 pgs. Paper. $24.99.
Letham begins with the biblical data and surveys various texts beginning with the Old Testament confirming the doctrine of the trinity from Scripture. In the section on historical development Letham traces the doctrine from the early church, through both the western and eastern churches, culminating with a chapter on John Calvin’s (1509-64) understanding. In the section on the modern discussion, Letham explores the trinitarian thought of several important contemporary theologians, such as Karl Barth (1886-1968), Karl Rahner (1904-84), Jürgen Moltmann (1926-), and Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-). In the last section, Letham treats the implications of a trinitarian understanding of the incarnation, worship, prayer, creation, missions, and persons.
Letham proficiently explores the relevant biblical texts, but where his work truly excels are in his sections on the historical development and interaction with the eastern church. Letham dissects the development of the doctrine of the trinity treating each stage in an even-handed approach. Letham also explores the eastern church’s understanding of the trinity. This is one aspect that especially makes the book worthy of careful study, as few in the evangelical church, let alone the reformed church, are conversant with eastern orthodox theology. There are, however, two weaknesses.
Given Letham’s OPC context, one wonders why there is not greater engagement with the OPC minister Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987), there are a scant two references to his writings. Van Til wrote much on the subject of the trinity, evidenced by Lane Tipton’s recent doctoral dissertation on Van Til’s trinitarian thought. There is also absence of any reference to Richard Muller’s volume four, The Triunity of God, in his important Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics series. Given the glacier speed with which the publishing world moves, perhaps Letham’s work had already been submitted by the time Muller’s work was released.
These drawbacks aside, Letham’s work is to be commended and should be read by all OPC ministers and elders. Interested laymen will also find it beneficial, though perhaps laborious reading at times given the necessary terminology-laden text, though there is a helpful glossary of terms in the back of the book. People in the church should read this book, especially in the current context where Islam is on the rise; this book will equip the reader to be able to articulate his trinitarian faith. Additionally, this book is a needed reminder that we worship a triune God, not merely the Father, nor the Son. Our worship, Letham rightly argues, should reflect our trinitarian Lord. Letham is to be applauded for his excellent work on the doctrine of the trinity.