Lewis Ayres’s Foreword to “The Trinity in the Book of Revelation”

In honor of the release day for The Trinity in the Book of Revelation: Seeing Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in John’s Apocalypse, I’m posting Lewis Ayres’s foreword to the book. Aside from the kind words about my book at the end, I was encouraged by his comments about the current rise of retrieval among evangelicals. Ad fontes!

It is a commonplace that theologians today—especially younger theologians—work in a more ecumenical mode than did previous generations. theologians who are deeply embedded in their tradition—as Brandon Smith is in his, and I am in mine!—nevertheless find dialogue partners far beyond what might seem their natural community. Those who manage to keep this balance over great hope for the future. That future is, of course, in God’s providential, benevolent, and mysterious hands—not in ours. All that those of us who attempt to argue faithfully can do is to seek to enter the truth more deeply and attempt to share it respectfully and lovingly with others.

Perhaps the most significant feature of this new ecumenical outlook is that, despite our significant and currently unresolvable doctrinal differences, many from widely divergent traditions have come to recognize that the deep Christian tradition offers us the resources needed to think through the mighty theological mysteries that confront and dazzle the student of Christian theology. By “the deep Christian tradition” I mean the history of responses of men and women to God’s call over the long centuries since the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, and since the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. We will necessarily view this tradition from a variety of perspectives and with different understandings of its authority in view. But for many now, it is in turning to that tradition that we best find resources for describing God’s action among us and resources for reading the Scriptures. And from this long tradition, it is the early, vibrant centuries of the Christian church that have drawn the attention of perhaps the widest group of theologians.

Further, perhaps nowhere is this new interest more apparent than in work on trinitarian theology and scriptural exegesis. It should surprise no one that Orthodox and Catholic theologians turn to this deep tradition as they seek to articulate classical trinitarian theology, but it is noteworthy that a host of theologians in (for example) the Baptist and Presbyterian traditions have also begun to turn toward early Christian theology as a key resource for explaining and exploring God’s revelation to us of the triune life. In some ways this is no new development—there is a number of Baptist church historians who have made important contributions over the past few decades to our understanding of early Christian theology. What does seem to be new is the rise of a new generation of younger Baptist theologians who wish to use the resources of the early church to present a fully scriptural account of the divine being and economy.

Many of these figures have been caught by the sheer power and beauty of the expositions of Scripture that they have found from this period. Many have come to recognize that older narratives—in which this period sees the overcoming of true Christian faith by “Greek philosophy”—hold little water, and that early Christian theology is both deeply exegetical and philosophically engaged (rather as is Paul’s own engagement with the Jewish Scripture!). As we seek to avoid the perennial danger of reinventing the wheel in every generation, it is only right that we turn again to the figures who played such an elemental and foundational part in drawing from Scripture one of its most central themes—the inseparable unity and yet irreducibility of Father, Son, and Spirit.

It is within these contexts that Smith writes. In the first place his theology is deeply informed by attention to the heritage of early Christian thought. In the second place his goal is to read Scripture, in this case the book of Revelation, in aid of a compelling presentation of God’s self-revelation. The book unfolds as a dialogue between careful engagement with modern scholarship on Revelation and the manner in which pro-Nicene trinitarian patterns of scriptural reading may lead us to understand the possibilities of this complex and mysterious text more fully. As the book proceeds, Smith draws us deep into the text of Revelation by careful study of key passages. At the end we are left with an important challenge: to read this text anew as an integral part of Scripture’s revelation of the simple and undivided life of Father, Son, and Spirit. His work should be welcomed by all interested in the constant renewal of Christian thought.

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