Choosing a Theology Textbook: Life in the Trinity – Part 3

This is my final look at Life in the Trinity by Donald Fairbairn. Here, I will briefly mention the remaining chapters in the volume and then pose some thought on the overall use of it in the classroom (or at least my general thoughts on its useability, etc.). Fairbairn continues with a helpful look at Patristic exegesis, focusing his attention on the use of the Old Testament. Next, he tackles the incarnation, focusing on Chalcedon and the emphasis on the identity of the Son of God as the same Lord Jesus who took on flesh. In his words, “The one who is consubstantial with the Father is the same one who is consubstantil with us” (145). Building upon these conclusions, he focuses his next chapter, “Redemption,”  on the idea that God the Son died for humanity. He advances his discussion with a look at natures and persons. Walking through sidebars of Athanasius, Cyril and Irenaeus, Fairbairn addresses the issues of Chalcedon, attempting to allow the “metaphyics” of natures and persons to guide the discussion.

Fairbairn shifts gears a bit in the last two chapters, tackling the issues involved in “becoming Christian” and “being Christian.” Becoming a Christian, for Fairbairn, is entering the Son’s relationship to the Father – in other words, becoming a child of God. In the former, he addresses election, justification and reconciliation, while in the latter he focuses on sanctification, issues of living in a fallen world and the eschatological orientation of the Christian life. Throughout each of these chapters, Fairbairn attempts to weave in theosis as the central thread which holds together the whole. There are several upshots to this, not the least of which is to push issues back to the triune God and the persons in the economy, rather than getting stuck on issues of our own appropriation. There is a downside to this as well which I found a bit confusing. Fairbairn suggests, as I noted in the first post, that this book be used in “introduction to theology” classes, and read alongside a single-volume systematic theology. He suggests specifically that it can be used alongside Erickson, Grudem or McGrath’s intro texts. It has been a while since I’ve looked at these, but I have a hard time believing that his emphases would make any sense alongside of theirs. Wouldn’t students reading Grudem just find theosis to be odd at best and heretical at worst? What I find interesting about this is that Fairbairn acknowledges the difficulty with the term “theosis” at the end of the volume, stating, “The Fathers expressed this scarlet thread using the Greek word theosis, a word that is so easy to misunderstand that we today should probably not use it…” That is a bold statement from someone who just built an entire intro text around it. I would have loved to see Fairbairn introduce an alternative term – say, communion  – and utilized some Reformed theology as a way to integrate it (say, through Owen’s Communion with God).

All in all, I really do like the volume, and I think it is written extremely well, is accessible and does a great job of introducing some Patristic writers to students. From a pedagogical point of view, it is clear that Fairbairn wants to lead students into their own study of the Patristics, which is great to see. He offers an appendix of how, in his mind, to do that. This is the feature I believe is most neglected in Christopher Hall’s introduction to the Church Fathers in his triology – which failed to offer a reading list or way into the primary sources. Fairbairn does a good job of this, and provides professors with a much needed resource. I imagine the volume will probably be best used in undergraduate classes, but could certainly be used in seminaries where students are picking up theology for the first time. I think it would be helpful to assign full-text, or at least large portions, of some of the texts he cites. Either way, I think students will have much more confidence digging around that material after reading his book, and will hopefully be able to integrate his insights with whatever single-volume systematic they are using (hopefully Bloesch’s!).

One thought on “Choosing a Theology Textbook: Life in the Trinity – Part 3

  1. Pingback: Theological Anthropology and Christian Formation « Theology Forum

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