Many books, sermons — or even individual Christians themselves — may be labeled as either precise in theology, or strong in their application, but it can be hard to find in any of these a balanced pairing of both. Bruce Ware’s book, Father, Son & Holy Spirit has just that elusive combination. Arising from five, one-hour teaching sessions on the Doctrine of the Trinity at a pastors conference, this is a brief book (only 163 pages) but it marries theology and practice in a concise and exemplary way.
The Vocabulary of Worship
I admire how Ware did not present the doctrine of the Trinity in this book merely in cold academic terms, but rather clothed it in verbal garments of worship. Throughout, the subject headings encourage the reader to contemplate and worship the Triune God: “Beholding the Wonder of the Triune God”, “Beholding the Wonder of the Father”, etc. Ware uses the words “wonder” and “marvel” repeatedly. We would all do well to keep that perspective whenever we treat the doctrine of God. It should always be approached in reverence, and should ultimately lead to worship. Ware models worshipful theology for us in Father, Son & Holy Spirit.
Succinct Doctrinal Review
As many today are sorely lacking in their understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, Ware’s chapter on “Beholding the Wonder of Our Triune God: Historical Overview” is very valuable. In it, he traces the historical, theological and Biblical underpinnings for the doctrine in a concise but sufficient manner. He first makes a strong case for monotheism from both the Old and New Testaments, then advances the argument for scriptural trinitarianism from passages such as Thomas’ confession of Jesus as “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28), and a nice section on “six separate and strong indications that Jesus is God” from Hebrews 1 (p. 33-35). Then follows a section which summarizes the church’s historical understanding of the doctrine. He concisely addresses the Arian controversy, and the Nicene assertion with Athanasius that God is “homoousios” (“same nature”) as God, not “homoiousios” (“similar nature”) as Arius had proposed. Ware also summarizes Augustine’s influential contribution to our understanding of the Trinity that “God is one in essence or nature, but God is three in Person.” (p. 41) He concludes the chapter with a helpful summary assertion that “The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that God’s whole and undivided essence belongs equally, eternally, simultaneously, and fully to each of the three distinct Persons of the Godhead … Equally, so as to avoid Ariansism; eternally so as to avoid God’s nature as created; simultaneously, so as to avoid modalism; and fully, so as to avoid any tri-partite understanding of the Trinity.” (p. 41) Father, Son & Holy Spirit is certainly profitable reading for anyone needing the rough edges rounded off of their understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity — which from personal observation is a goodly portion of the American Christian population!
Yes Ware Is a Calvinist
As admirable as the theology was overall, as a non-Calvinist I had to grit my teeth in a few places, such as on pp. 52-53, where the author makes much of God working “ALL things according to the counsel of His will” in Ephesians 1:11 (emphasis mine), commenting that God is “the Wise Designer of everything that happens.” But far be it for this reader to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water however; a handful of Calvinistic assertions in the book should not be surprising, coming from a professor at Southern Seminary, and they did not spoil what was for me an otherwise wonderfully profitable book.
Relationships and Roles
As one might expect, Ware thoroughly treats each Person of the Trinity with a chapter, in which readers are encouraged, again, to “wonder” at the Persons, relationships and actions of the Triune God. He treats the distinct role of each Person: God the Father as Initiator and Wise Designer; God the Son as eternally submissive to the Father; and God the Holy Spirit as fully God, yet working “behind the scenes” to carry out the work of the Father and to glorify the Son. Each chapter concludes with an application section, in which we are challenged to apply what we know about the Triune God in our own lives: “to learn from God, the Father, what true fatherhood is really like” (p. 60); to learn from God the Son “just what true submission looks like” (p. 99) — that it does not connote inferiority; and to “Be instructed by the Spirit’s deep and abiding willingness to serve unnoticed, without overt recognition, without singled-out honor” (p. 127) — among MANY other applications.
One area of application worth specific mention regards roles in marriage, which is addressed more than once. Ware is a complementarian, a member of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, so it is not surprising that he espouses that view in Father, Son & Holy Spirit. But he does so not with mere logic, or arguments from traditon, but as an application of solid Biblical exegesis and theology. Ware charts from scripture how Jesus is described as submissive to the Father in His earthly ministry, and both in eternity past and eternity future, although He is equal to, and fully, God. His loving, voluntary submission to the Father is a “marvel” (p. 99) and a model for wives, who are “joint heirs of the grace of life,” to lovingly and voluntarily accept the complementary role which God has assigned to them on earth.
One of the most valuable sections of the book is found in the last chapter, where ten lessons from the relationships and roles of the Triune God are presented. Although there are smatterings of application throughout the book, it is very straightforward and thoroughly presented in that concluding section. In it Ware challenges us to reflect what the Triune God is like, in our own personal relationships (p. 133). We then find applications regarding: the importance of community — if God is societal and communal in Himself, we should seek relationships of “interdependence and interconnection with one another” as well (p. 135); diversity; authority and submission (with plenty of application for marriage and family, church family, and workplace relationships); worship and prayer, and more.
Ware’s book should challenge those in pastoral ministry to exhibit both precise theology and piercing application in their messages. Our theology should indeed be precise. Puritan Richard Rogers is reputed to have said, “I serve a precise God.” But we must not be content to merely present precise theology in our messages. We must strive to balance and apply that theology in ways which challenge the hearers in their personal lives, marriages, families, and work relationships. To find an example of this kind of balance — as well as to be strengthened in your theology and challenged in your own personal life, read Bruce Ware’s Father, Son & Holy Spirit.