Malcolm Yarnell’s God the Trinity [Updated: Chs. 1 and 2 Reviewed]


This is an ongoing chapter-by-chapter review that will be periodically updated and moved to the top of the site as new chapter reviews are added.

Chapter 2 (reviewed on May 28, 2016)

Dr. Yarnell’s primary text in chapter 2 is 2 Corinthians 13:14.  In keeping with his art metaphor, Yarnell sees 2 Corinthians 13:14 as a Pauline miniature.  He does not mean by this, however, that it is of miniature significance.  Rather, this verse is a priceless miniature in the grand Trinitarian gallery of scripture and a crucial text for our understanding of the Trinity.

Here are a few different English translations of this text from

New International Version
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

New Living Translation
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

English Standard Version
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

New American Standard Bible
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

King James Bible
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.

Yarnell’s impressive exegesis of this verse fleshes out the many ways in which it contributes to biblical Trinitarianism.  He writes of the immanent and economic Trinity though gives a qualified nod to Karl Rahner’s contention that the former is the latter and vice versa (telling us that he will explain his qualification in a later chapter).  Yarnell also tantalizingly writes that “human salvation is from beginning to end purely a work of God’s grace” (“tantalizingly,” I say, because of some of Yarnell’s earlier interactions with Reformed folk within the SBC) but then moves on to quote Conzelmann approvingly to the effect that the Pauline conception of grace is rooted in the historical work of Christ and it is therefore there, and not to the divine decrees, that theologians should look for their theology of grace.  Yarnell further argues that grace, before it is manifested outwardly towards us, is an internal reality within the triune God.

He makes a persuasive argument regarding the significance of the conjunction kai (and) and how Paul’s use of this conjunction links it with Matthew 28:19 both structurally and theologically.  The use of kai in both cases undergirds the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and “is perhaps the strongest indication of equality among the three.  These three are treated as one God” (44-45).  Perhaps one might say that Matthew 28:19 alludes to the immanent Trinity and 2 Corinthians 13-14 to the economic, if one were to use the old categories?

Yarnell’s discussion of the final phrase, “and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” was fascinating.  He explains that there is controversy over whether or not this third genitive is a subjective genitive (in which case it should be interpreted to mean that fellowship comes from the Holy Spirit just as the grace of Jesus and love of God comes from them) or an objective genitive (“we enter fellowship with God through communion with the Holy Spirit” (50)).  Yarnell (if I understand him rightly) argues that both are, in a sense, true.  As a result, we are drawn by the Spirit into fellowship with the triune God.  In this sense, we participate in the Trinitarian community while maintaining our status as creatures.  I appreciated this section since it is one of the few Baptist interactions I’ve seen with the patristic (and primarily Eastern) concept of “deification,” the idea of our participation in the fellowship of the Trinity.

Yarnell concludes that the doctrine of the Trinity is no mere exercise in speculation but has instead very concrete implications for the whole of the Christian life, both individually and corporately.  His primary thrust in this chapter regarding its applicability relates to worship and how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit should alone be the objects of our worship.  But the Trinity has implications for every aspect of the Christian’s life, Yarnell writes, including “ethics, mission, and Christian unity, as on all of our thoughts, attitudes, and actions) (55).  This is true, and Yarnell’s work in this volume appears to be an invaluable contribution toward a greater understanding of that fact.

This is a very interesting and very helpful chapter.

Chapter 1 (reviewed on April 15, 2016)

The esteemed and justly revered Dr. James Leo Garrett, Jr. shared with me recently that he believes this new book by Dr. Malcolm Yarnell of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary may be the best book on the Trinity ever written by a Baptist theologian.  That, to put it mildly, does arrest one’s attention.  That is not to say that the appearance of this monograph was not significant on its own merits without such a telling endorsement.

Dr. Yarnell is a very smart guy with a keen, sharp mind and an evangelist’s heart. He is also a disciplined thinker, an adept observer and miner of various fields of study, an astute and wide reader, and a person with an undeniable sense of genuine passion for biblical truth, the gospel of Christ, and sound doctrine.  He occupies the chair once occupied by Dr. Garrett (if I’m not mistaken) and is proving to be worthy of that honor.  God the Trinity is the kind of serious and significant work that strengthens an institution’s reputation, that solidifies a theologian’s reputation, and that furthers Trinitarian conversations within Evangelicalism.

Not, I hasten to add, that Yarnell had any of those in mind as primary motivations when he wrote this book.  On the contrary, Yarnell appears to be driven by a sincere conviction that the idiom of scripture is itself Trinitarian, that post-enlightment propositional rationalism has been so elevated as to obscure the multiform flora of the Bible’s diverse means of communication, and that the assumption that the absence of meticulous propositional doctrinal formulae in the scriptures is synonymous with the absence of the realities to which such formulae point have all combined to prejudice modern readers against Trinitarian idiomatic dynamics in scripture that are present in both “micro and macro” ways and in both biblical testaments.  Yarnell is attempting to show in this book that the absence of such propositional formulae concerning the Trinity is neither surprising nor in any way deleterious to the assertion that the Bible teaches the Trinity.

In order to illustrate how the various New Testament writers approach truth through various idioms, Yarnell draws from the world of art and parallels the writers to various artists.  So, for instance, John is somewhat akin to Claude Monet, and just as Monet’s impressionistic experiments with light were mocked as so much artistic degeneracy by painters with more classical tastes, so some critics miss the point of the biblical writers’ intentions and, most tragically, of the ideational content of much of their writing by misunderstanding the idioms which constituted their art.

In the first chapter, Yarnell considers the Trinitarianism inherent in the Great Commission:  “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”  He pronounces this the locus classicus of biblical Trinitarianism and then offers a helpful exegesis of the passage.  He points to the singular form of “name” and argues that this form “appears to indicate a singularly identity for the three” (20).  Furthermore, he argues that “and” “most often indicates ‘a marker of coordinate relations'” (20).  Thus, the text suggests unity and coordinate relations.  This is not a creedal propositional Trinitarian formula, but it is blatantly Trinitarian.  We simply need to appreciate the theological assertions of scripture in the ways in which they are presented to us.

The Trinity, Yarnell tells us, is present “in word and deed.”  This was helpful to me recently when I preached on Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus.  I mentioned Yarnell’s point and noted that the baptism of Jesus is an example of Trinitarianism “in deed.”

This chapter represents a strong start to the book.  I do get what Yarnell is trying to do with paralleling the biblical writers with artists, though I will say the artistic sections in the first chapter felt a bit clunky and disruptive to the flow of Yarnell’s prose.  For some reason it struck me the way that Steve Harmon’s Ecumenism Means You Too did, structurally speaking, that is.  That is to say, both authors have a unique artistic parallel, an illustrative hook we might say, but it really can be difficult to integrate such seamlessly into works of theology.  As one who appreciates art, however, I do so applaud the effort and appreciate it.  The problem may be with my having to adjust to a unique approach to theological writing.  I’m sure I’ll get in sync with Yarnell’s stylistic approach as I continue through this.

This is an exciting and significant work of theology and one that I am very much looking forward to continuing to read and from which I know I will continue to benefit.

I’ll be blogging this review one chapter at a time.

Some Calvin Miller Videos

A recent comment on this site as well as the fact that a friend of mine is now reading The Singer has led me to think again about Calvin Miller.  What a wonderful and unique voice Calvin had!  He is sorely missed by so many of us who have benefited from his ministry.  He was an amazing writer.  He was also a fascinating preacher.  I’ve found a few videos of Calvin that I’d like to post here.

Calvin Miller does not need to be forgotten…not that there is any danger of that happening.

“Heaven” – Dr Calvin Miller from Westside Church on Vimeo.

Dr. Calvin Miller from CrossPoint Community Church on Vimeo.

Calvin Miller Evening Sermon – November 8, 2010 from CrossPoint Community Church on Vimeo.

B.H. Carroll’s Ecclesia

I intentionally read B.H. Carroll’s Ecclesia immediately after finishing Pope Benedict’s Called to Communion in order to maintain some balance and perspective.  I must say, if you ever wanted to read two books on ecclesiology that are at polar extremes on the spectrum, these would be the two books!

B.H. Carroll is the founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.  He was a fascinating figure who was wounded in the Civil War, founded a seminary, pastored a number of churches (most notably First Baptist Waco), and played an important role in the Southern Baptist Convention of his day.

This work has been reprinted by the fine folks at The Baptist Standard Bearer.  It’s vol.38 of their “The Baptist Distinctives Series.”  I’ve spoken well of these guys before, and I’d like to do so again.  They’re doing yeoman’s work, to be sure.  It would be virtually impossible to study Baptist history in the U.S. without looking to their publications.

That being said, it grieves me to start this review with a word of criticism.  I initially thought it would just be an “observation,” and not a full-fledged “criticism,” but no such luck.  I must say, after having finished this book last Friday (while sitting, oddly enough, in “The Holy Land Experience” in Orlando, FL) that I have never read such a poorly edited work in my life.  I do so very much appreciate this ministry, and I realize it is not a large and wealthy organization, but I would suspect that some first year seminary student would love to give just a single read-through of these manuscripts for $20 before they go to print.  I do not mean to be too harsh, but these works are too important to have the numerous spelling, grammatical, and typesetting issues that this book has.

The work itself is worthy of consideration and is as clear a presentation of the traditional Baptist concept of “church” as Called to Communion is for the Roman Catholic concept.  Carroll’s work is essentially a collection of class lectures and sermons.

Carroll provides an interesting and helpful word study of “ecclesia,” arguing that in the vast majority of New Testament usages it retains the meaning of “local assembly.”  He argues against the idea of an already existing catholic church, noting that such a church could not truly exist until the end of all things when all of God’s people are gathered into His presence.  He does not, however, deny the validity of speaking about the “general assembly” of all the believers on earth at any given time.

BHCarrollThe catholic-minded Baptist may feel that Carroll overplays this point (I found myself saying, “Yes, but…” to Carroll’s argument at points), but it is an undeniable fact that the New Testament speaks of local gatherings of the church in the vast majority of its usages.  Regardless, Baptist ecclesiology may serve as a necessary corrective against those who would perhaps undermine this New Testament emphasis.

Carroll moves on to discuss the Baptist approach to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  I will not belabor either point.  I will only point out that I remain unconvinced of the traditional Baptist notion of “closed communion.”  I have never adhered to this.  I believe it is a mistake.  That being said, it does flow logically from the Baptist (over?)emphasis on the local assembly.

Finally, Carroll ends with a helpful discourse on distinctive Baptist principles.  I appreciated this presentation and am in general agreement with these emphases.  I do note, as a matter of interest, the lack of biblical references for Carroll’s point that “the church is a pure democracy” (159).  Furthermore, I will admit to cringing at this sentence:  “It [the church] is of the people, for the people, by the people” (159).  The coopting of American political language for the church by Baptists certainly will not help to quell the accusation that congregational polity as practiced by Baptists derives more from Enlightenment individualism than from New Testament exegesis.  (I do not concede the point, by the way, just the fact that such language does not help.)

I appreciate the life and ministry of B.H. Carroll and am glad I read this interesting and insightful work.  Anybody wanting to understand that strange tribe called “Baptists” could do much worse than this book for an introduction.