centered-in-god

The doctrine of the Trinity is one that is frequently neglected in churches. For some, it seems theologically murky, and anything we can’t fully understand is to be avoided. For others, the idea of the Trinity seems impractical and irrelevant to our daily lives. For others (perhaps especially those from a Restorationist heritage), the word “Trinity” is not used in Scripture and it is not the most clearly revealed of teachings, and there might be a level of discomfort with the entire idea. Regardless of the reason, I am confident in my opening assertion that it is a neglected area of Christian teaching and reflection.

In light of this, Mark Powell’s Centered in God: The Trinity and Christian Spirituality is a needed and important book. Dr. Powell, who teaches at Harding School of Theology, has done significant research on the Trinity and emphasizes it in his classes, and with Centered in God has offered a great gift to the church.

The book is written in a way that makes it accessible to the interested church member.[1] The first (shorter) section provides a framework for the rest of the book, discussing the doctrine of the Trinity itself and its historical development in the early church. The second section is where the real value of the book comes, as it moves from the theoretical to the practical, with essays on how a Trinitarian vision of God impacts the way we look at creation, worship, ministry, holiness, love, submission, suffering, and more.

Below I have included a sampling of quotations from that section to give you a taste of the flavor of the book:

This ambiguity toward creation explains two common religious responses. One is to confuse creator and creation, and view creation as divine. The other is to disparage creation, and seek to transcend and escape it. (58)

Like our bodies, creation itself will experience death and resurrection, the result being a glorified creation where God dwells with his people. (67)

Jesus is not a third party who stands between God and humanity, but it is rather the divine one who became human. (86)

Many contemporary critics of the cross, who see it as portraying a blood-thirsty God bent on vengeance, miss the point altogether because they fail to recognize that it is God himself who died on the cross for us. (86)

If we are constantly disappointed with the church, maybe the church is not the problem—maybe we are. (101)

While the study of Christian preaching rightly takes note of developments in rhetoric, and while preachers rightly give attention to matters of form, presentation, and cultural analysis, it is the Holy Spirit who makes Christian preaching effective. (111)

We cannot be holy apart from the gracious initiative and working of God, but God will not impart holiness without us. (150) 

If pride is viewing ourselves more highly than we ought and low self-esteem is viewing ourselves more lowly than we ought, humility is viewing ourselves rightly and placing our value and confidence in God. (170)

The leading of the Spirit is not confined to the words of scripture, but the Spirit of God will not lead us away from scripture’s witness to the way of Jesus. (193)

The people we are becoming, however, is more important to God than the things we decide or accomplish. God not only wants to accomplish great things through us, he wants to accomplish great things in us—God wants to transform us into the image of his Son. (196)

The Trinitarian God is not far away from us when we suffer, but is closer than we ever imagined. Jesus mourned with us in the sufferings he encountered during his earthly life. Jesus suffered rejection and death on the cross, and the Father suffered the death of the Son. Because we are united with Christ, our present sufferings are shared and carried by Jesus. Because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, our groans have become God’s groans. A Trinitarian vision of God changes our perspective on suffering. Suffering is no less real, but we can know that we are not alone. Our God has suffered for us and continues to suffer with us in our trials. (208)

I was blessed by my reading of Centered in God, and again, I see it as a great gift to the church in that it makes the foundational doctrine of the Trinity accessible to Christians in the pews, and enables them to see why it is foundational in the first place. I highly recommend it.


[1] By “interested church member” I mean to say that you don’t need to be a theologian or theology student to understand the book and appreciate its implications and conclusions. At the same time, it is not a work that will be appreciated by just anyone.