Knowing and the Trinity, Vern Poythress. Phillipsburg, NJ: Puritan and Reformed, 2018.
Summary: How various triads of perspectives on both God and the world reflect the Triune God.
John Frame and Vern Poythress are Reformed theologians who have worked together in developing a multi-perspectival, more accurately, tri-perspectival approach to knowledge. This work by Poythress represents, perhaps, the most complete working out of these ideas.
Fundamentally, humans beings are limited to a particular perspective but divine revelation makes it possible to see truth from multiple perspectives. Both Frame and Poythress speak in terms of triads of perspectives which they believe are grounded in the Trinity. One triad on God’s Lordship, for example considers the perspectives of authority, control, and presence, relating to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Therefore the first part of this work considers what perspectives are and the types of perspectives that might be identified. Then Poythress moves on to a discussion of the Trinity. A couple of key truths in this discussion that will recur in the book is the coinherence of the Trinity, and the idea of analogy, and that analogies can reveal something both of God and the world because the world reflects or is an ectype of the character or archetype of God. Part three then turns to perspectives on reflections, Trinitarian analogies, ethics, Lordship, and office. In each of these a triad of perspectives are related that coinhere and relate to the persons of the Trinity.
After proposing a classification system for perspectives, Poythress then applies tri-perspectivalism to a variety of theological questions from transcendence and immanence to human responsibility. Each is grounded both in biblical texts and triads of perspectives relating to the Trinity. Part six then applies the nature of perspectives to our reasoning about God. Part seven shows how a few starting perspectives serve as the basis for deriving further perspectives in a grid-like structure of perspectives on perspectives. Appendices deal with a variety of other short subjects and applications pertaining to perspectives.
I find the basic idea of tri-perspectivalism intriguing, particularly in thinking about how the world and even our knowing may reflect the triune nature of God. I must confess however that the logical working out by Poythress can get confusing at times when he writes about perspectives on perspectives or triads within triads. The diagrams in the text are critical if one is to have any hope of keeping it all straight (alas, my e-galley version did not have these–a major barrier to understanding the architecture of tri-perspectival thought Poythress is erecting and very logically delineating). Throughout, he both derives triads of perspectives from prior triads, and recurs to earlier triads in applicative discussions.
Perhaps the best part of the work is that Poythress is devoting himself to the classic work of the theologian of thinking great thoughts about God rooted in God’s revelation of God’s self. While one encounters a good deal of close reasoning, it is quite apparent that for Poythress, God never remains an abstraction, with many chapters ending in a paean of praise for God in all of God’s glory.
This is a work to be studied slowly and carefully, pen and notebook in hand. Each chapter ends with a series of questions as well as key terms that may be found in a glossary at the end of the book. The questions force one to review chapter content and formulate one’s understanding of the material. This rigor of theological thinking may not be something all are given to, and not all will appreciate Poythress’s approach. But for those who give this the time it properly demands, they will be ushered into thinking deeply and long about the Triune God. One might well ask, particularly for those who lead and teach God’s people to know and follow the living God, whether or not this is essential work that cannot be neglected.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
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