Trinitarian Reading: Paradox and Truth by Ralph Smith

Ralph Smith, Paradox and Truth: Rethinking Van Til on the Trinity by Comparing Van Til, Plantinga, and Kuyper. 2nd ed. (Canon Press, 2002).

In this short book, Ralph Smith argues for Christians to build their worship and worldview upon robust Trinitarian thinking. Smith’s aim is to, “help bring Van Til’s profound exposition of the Trinity back into the discussion of this doctrine, and in that connection, to help stimulate further consideration of the worldview implications of the doctrine of the Trinity” (14). In order to accomplish this, Smith compares and contrasts Van Til with Cornelius Plantinga Jr.’s writings on the doctrine of the Trinity. Smith deals in depth with Plantinga’s article, “The Threeness/Oneness Problem of the Trinity.” After this thoughtful consideration, Smith moves the conversation forward by introducing Abraham Kuyper’s views on the covenant.

Smith is dealing with things that are highly technical (e.g., Augustinian views of the doctrine of the Trinity, social theory views of the doctrine of the Trinity, Barthian/modalistic views of the doctrine of the Trinity, etc.). Smith does not, however, lose his bearings. He is pastoral and stalwart in his Orthodoxy. His overarching goals are practical, not vaporous and ideological. Smith has written a short yet very important book.

Smith concludes his book with a sobering benediction:

For too many evangelicals, the doctrine of the Trinity has been tamed, locked up in the cage of a confession of faith that is rarely reflected upon. Kant’s words are not altogether inapplicable to this trinitarianism. [Kant said, “The doctrine of the Trinity, taken literally, has no practical relevance at all, even if we think we understand it; and it is even more clearly irrelevant if we realize that it transcends all our concepts.”] Van Til’s doctrine, by contrast, is more relevant than Kant or his followers can handle. Released from the cage of mere tradition, Van Til’s approach is dangerous for the world of unbelief, which is happy when Christian worship of God is confided to pretty buildings. Covenantal trinitarianism implies the kind of “biblicism” that offends the world because it proclaim salvation in Christ alone and offends the Church because it demands reformation. The alternative to a real reformation of evangelicalism in the direction of a fully trinitarian worldview can, I fear, only be apostasy, for the Trinity is the Christian doctrine of God, without which Christianity itself cannot be. But our doctrine of God must be both expressible in a comprehensive worldview system, and also able to inspire worship and obedience in everyday life (112-113).