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Covenant, Community, and the Spirit (Robert Sherman)

Posted On March 6, 2016

The Trinity is an essential doctrine that Christians should continue to explore, because whether we know it or not, the Trinity serves as a sort of model for many of the aspects of how we were designed to live our lives. For example, the Trinity has much to say about how we were created, how we are saved, how we live on mission, etc. In Covenant, Community, and the Spirit, Robert Sherman uncovers a “Trinitarian theology of Church.” In the book, Sherman focuses much of his attention on the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, and specifically how He is a help to the Church. This is a book on ecclesiology, a book on the doctrine of the Trinity, but more than these, a book about who we have been made to be for God in Christ through the Spirit.

The book is divided into six chapters, yet that doesn’t mean this book is short, nor shallow. Sherman treats each chapter almost like an essay, diving headlong into these topics and proving just how much he has thought through these ideas. The first two chapters are introductory in nature, helping us understand the narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, and spending much time talking about our beginnings. In chapter 1, “The Story Begins,” Sherman provides a helpful survey of the book of Genesis with the themes of soteriology in mind. For those who want help in seeing types, shadows, and allusions to Jesus in the Old Testament, this is a very helpful chapter, with Sherman providing details on figures like Noah, Abram, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. All of these patriarchs and others played a huge role in helping unfold the redemptive purposes of God for his people. In all this, he reminds us of why we should place importance on keeping the Trinity in mind:

“Without a sense of this trinitarian framework and its practical necessity, Christians almost inevitably fall into idiosyncratic spiritual individualism or insipid, perhaps dangerous, moralism. In any case, they deprive themselves of most of the true riches offered by life in Christ through the power of the Spirit dedicated to the Father’s eternal purposes…This ancient theological axiom simply means that when you get one, you get them all; every act of God in the world involves all three persons of the Trinity, and we shortchange our sense of God and involvement with God if we close ourselves off to this reality.” (40).

Chapter 2 explores how the work of the Trinity is exemplified through a covenant relationship. Sherman writes, “The notion of covenant is a very helpful and relevant theme running through the Bible, but to give it some concrete particularity…these images will be unpacked in the following three chapters” (63).

Then, in chapters 3-5, Sherman chooses three biblical images that he feels best explains what the Church is, which are “the body of Christ,” “the people of God,” and “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” These three chapters, totaling 140 pages of material, are some of the most comprehensive and deep explorations of these Scriptural images that I know of. Finally, a short chapter 6, which has some reflections on the coming communion, our eschatological reunion with Christ, in which he will marry his Church once and for all.

Chapter 3, for example, discusses the body of Christ. One of the most helpful sections of this chapter was Sherman’s focus on the essence of the Word and sacraments. He talks about the meaning of baptism, why baptism is supposed to precede the Lord’s Supper, and how Jesus models what baptism should be. Then, speaking on the Lord’s Supper, Sherman explains where Christ is “located” in sacramentalism, and how our communion practice points to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sherman reminds us of an important truth in the sacraments here. “Sacraments do not need to have their meaning supplied by the participants, because their meaning is already supplied by the biblical story” (102).

Hopefully, this is enough of a preview to convince you of the kind of worth this book carries. These are important theological observations we should make to build our understanding of the why the church exists. The Trinity is critical to get right, yet its mysterious reality often deters us from exploring. Thankfully, Sherman has written a clear, accessible, weighty, detailed, and informative work on how we can think through this doctrine, and in turn, the ekklesia we belong to.

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