In this blog I interview Wesley Hill about his soon to be released book Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters. Wesley is best known for his great book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. If you haven’t read Washed and Waiting sell your shirt and go and buy it. He also blogs and has just written a great piece for Christianity Today entitled “Why Can’t Men Be Friends? Wesley is the Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry. Wesley is coming to Sydney next year to speak at two conferences (more details to come soon) and visit the Bible colleges in Sydney. Enough with the introduction and let’s get to the interview…
1. Most books have a back story behind the author writing the book, what is the story behind you writing this book?
I was initially wanting to work on Romans 9-11, which is where Paul is discussing the destiny of the Jewish people. Is there a future in God’s salvation plan for Paul’s fellow Jews? But as I was doing research on those chapters, I realized that I needed to grapple with a larger, deeper question: Is the Christian God the same as the God of Israel? This is the question the early Christian heretic Marcion was asking, and he answered with a “No!” What I wanted to explore was what a “Yes” answer means. What does it mean that the God Paul meets in Jesus Christ and the Spirit of Christ is the same as the God who spoke with Abraham and Moses in the Old Testament?
2. What is the main idea you are trying to capture in this book?
The main idea of the book is that in order to talk about who God really is, you have to at once talk about Jesus and the Spirit. And vice versa. To put it in more academic jargon, God’s identity is relational. There is no way to talk about “God,” according to Paul, without immediately mentioning the cross and the resurrection and the Spirit who cries “Abba, Father!”
3. Can you succinctly state the argument of the book?
Here’s the basic gist: God the Father hands over his unique divine Name—“Lord” (which stands for his proper name “YHWH,” or “Yahweh”)—to Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-11). And that same Name is shared by the Spirit too (2 Corinthians 3:17). And yet, God the Father is not simply reducible to Jesus, and Jesus is not the Spirit. There is both unity and distinction. There is unity at the level of the shared Name: There is only one Lord. But there is distinction at the level of “persons”: God the Father is distinct from Jesus Christ, who is in turn distinct from the Spirit. So, we have to say two things: The Father, Christ, and the Spirit are not three gods but one and the same “Lord”; and, second, the Father, Christ, and the Spirit are three persons. Saying both of these things is essential.
4. Are there any theological issues regarding the trinity that you are trying to address in this book?
One of the things I’m trying to argue is that Paul rethought everything he knew about the God of Israel after his conversion on the Damascus Road. Paul realized that the risen Jesus whom he saw in glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 4) had been present as far back as Abraham’s day. That’s a radical thing! Jesus and the Spirit aren’t simply “johnny-come-lately’s” who showed up at the eleventh hour in history. Rather, the God of Israel has always been Father, Son, and Spirit, even though that wasn’t always clear in the history of Israel and in the Scriptures.
5. Why does the doctrine of the Trinity matter for every day life?
One of the reasons the doctrine of the Trinity matters so much is that it enables us to say with full confidence to people that the attractive, compelling, radiant person of Jesus Christ whom we meet in the pages of the Gospels simply is the God of the universe. Lots of people like Jesus, but they’re afraid that the “real” God lurking up in heaven somewhere behind Jesus’ back is really different from Jesus. But that’s not the case. Jesus is the human face of God. He is God for us. According to Paul, God shows God’s own love for us by sending Jesus Christ to die on our behalf (Romans 5:8-9; 8:32; Galatians 4:4-6).
6. If you were going to preach a 4-6 week series on the Trinity in Paul what passages would select to preach on and what would you want to get out of each passage?
I might start with Philippians 2:5-11, which shows the mutual relationship of Jesus the Son who humbles himself at God the Father’s bidding and that same Father who exalts Jesus and bestows on him God’s very own name. That passage richly illustrates how Jesus’ humiliation and exaltation is the definitive revelation of who God is. From there, you might go to Galatians 4:4-6, a kind of Pauline Trinitarian theology in miniature. Romans 8 is the place to see the Spirit’s role in salvation, with verses 9-11 at the heart of it: The Spirit is the one by whom the Father raised Jesus from the dead and by whom God will also raise us with Christ. The goal in preaching on “Paul and the Trinity” is to show believers that the “doctrine of the Trinity” is simply the same thing as the “doctrine of salvation”: our very Christian lives have a Trinitarian shape, insofar as we are adopted as the Father’s own sons and daughters through Jesus the Son, and we address our adopted Father in the power of the Spirit who cries out within us. It’s all there in Galatians and Romans!
7. What do you hope that readers get out of reading this book?
This book is written mainly for other scholars, trying to persuade them that studying classic Christian doctrine is a good way to go about reading the Bible. This is not always a very welcome perspective in academic departments, where “systematic theology” and “Biblical studies” are often held apart. What I hope readers will take away is the sense that doctrines like the doctrine of the Trinity aren’t roadblocks to understanding the Bible but are, instead, pathways into a deeper reading of Scripture. For other readers who want a more basic introduction to the issues I’m writing about, I would recommend reading Fred Sanders’ book The Deep Things of God or Gilles Emery’s The Trinity.
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