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The Mystery of the Trinity: A Trinitarian Approach to the Attributes of God (Poythress)

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Starting with the doctrine of the Trinity, Vern Poythress addresses six challenges concerning the compatibility of God’s independence with his activities in the world. The eternal activities among the persons of the Trinity offer a foundation for God’s activities in the world. Alternative metaphysical frameworks for explaining God’s transcendence and immanence run the danger of overriding the truths of biblical revelation.

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Table of Contents:

Foreword by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Introduction: God’s Attributes and the Trinity

Part 1: Beginning to Consider God

1. Resources

2. Knowing God

Part 2: Classical Christian Theism

3. Attributes of God: Absoluteness

4. Infinity

5. Immensity (Omnipresence)

6. Eternity

7. Immutability (Unchangeability)

8. God’s Knowledge (Omniscience)

9. The Simplicity of God

Part 3: The Trinity – Mysteries in Diversity

10. The Mystery of the Trinity

11. Coinherence

12. Trinitarian Action Revealing God

Part 4: The Trinity and Language

13. The Origin of Language

14. God and Anthropomorphism

15. An Example: Dealing with Regretting

16. God and Creaturely Language

17. God and Technical Language

18. The Value of Technical Terms

Part 5: Philosophical Conundrums

19. Abstract Terms from Philosophy

20. Substance in Philosophy

21. Aristole’s Categories

22. Form and Matter

23. Essence

24. Technical Terms for the Trinity

Part 6: Challenges in Classical Christian Theism

25. Aristole’s Unmoved Mover

26. Attributes of God in Thomas Aquinas

27. The Trinity in Aquinas

28. Aquinas’s Avoidance of Disaster

29. Attributes in the Reformers

30. Attributes in Francis Turretin

31. The Trinity and Attributes

32. The Trinitarian Structure of Predication

33. Attributes in Stephen Charnock

34. Charnock’s Answers to Objections

Part 7: Dealing with Challenges

35. Avoiding Dangers in Thinking

36. The Issue of New Relation

37. The Boundary between God and Man

38. The Central Challenge in Describing God

39. Making a Step

40. God’s Responding

41. Interpreting Passages about God’s Responses

42. Presuppositional Arguments

43. Identity and Distinction in God

Part 8: Some Attributes in the Light of the Trinity

44. The Love of God

45. The Mercy of God

46. The Will of God

47. The Knowledge of God

48. A Summary

What It May Take: A Personal Reflection

Appendix A: Issues in the Controversy

Appendix B: Suggestions for Classical Christian Theists

Appendix C: Suggestions for Christian Personalists

Appendix D: Can We Know the Essence of God?

Appendix E: The Meaning of Accommodation



Vern S. Poythress (MLitt, University of Cambridge; PhD, Harvard University; DTh, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa) is distinguished professor of New Testament, biblical interpretation, and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He has authored books on a wide range of topics



“This book is a valiant and thought-provoking attempt to approach the attributes of God through the doctrine of the Trinity. . . . While broadly endorsing the classical doctrine of God, [Poythress] is suspicious of our reliance on well-defined technical terms that are required to do our work for us. He wants us to abandon our implicit reliance on Aristotelian metaphysics in favor of the shaping power of the mystery of the Trinity. . . . In the hands of Poythress, this becomes an appeal to become more robustly biblical, not less. This book is truly transforming—a capstone to all that Vern Poythress has taught us over the last two or three decades. Read it slowly and carefully.” — D. A. Carson, Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“The Mystery of the Trinity is unique among treatments of the doctrine of God because of the way that Vern Poythress approaches God’s attributes through the Trinity, Christ’s resurrection, and philosophical analysis of other theological approaches. Poythress does not have all the answers to the controversy between classic Christian orthodoxy and modern modifications of the view of God (and does not claim to), but his book will certainly stir up edifying reflection and conversation, and he is a model of theological contemplation and gentleness.” — Joel R. Beeke, President, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

“Dr. Poythress applies his deep knowledge of Scripture, his well-informed knowledge of historical theology, and his brilliant mind to some of the most difficult controversies in the theology of the divine attributes.” — Philip Graham Ryken, President, Wheaton College

“A stimulating and fascinating book. . . . Poythress raises important questions that need addressing and offers many incisive and challenging insights.” — Robert Letham, Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Union School of Theology

“The challenge for our speaking about who God is . . . is to speak of the sublimely majestic mysteries involved in a biblically bounded way. . . . In this volume, Dr. Poythress meets this challenge in an exemplary and most helpful way. I commend it.” — Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary

“I enthusiastically recommend The Mystery of the Trinity as by far the best account of these issues.” — John M. Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary

“Thoughtful, pastoral, and meticulously exegetical. There is no topic more important than the doctrine of God. Those who want to know him better will be richly rewarded by reading this book.” — Chad Van Dixhoorn, Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary

“A monumental achievement. . . . [Vern Poythress] unites doctrine with praise, content with personal knowledge, theory with pastoral practicality. Above all, the reflections are thoroughly and richly scriptural. . . . If given the right kind of regard, this book will be life-changing.” — William Edgar, Professor of Apologetics, Westminster Theological Seminary