When teaching children to read, a basic rule of thumb is to have them read books on three levels—books they can breeze through with little exertion, books at their current aptitude, and one or two books that challenge them through vocabulary and content. For both laymen and seminary-trained individuals, Miller’s book The Triune God of Unity in Diversity falls into the last category. Suffice it to say, this book is not bedtime reading. Yet any person willing to put in focused time will reap tremendous theological reward.
In the introduction (ch. 1), Miller states that his book represents, in part, an attempt to fulfill Meredith Kline’s summons as “guardians of Reformed orthodoxy” to engage in “a scrutiny of multiperspectivalism” (p. 2). In this chapter, Miller also gives four justifications for the book, noting especially—and this cannot be overstated—the influence of Frame and Poythress (pp. 3–9). His thesis is “to confirm, as John Frame and Vern Poythress have argued, that perspectivalism is a distinctively Trinitarian, creatively Reformed, and therefore eminently useful theological paradigm” (p. 3). Readers should note, however, that the book devotes more attention to Frame than Poythress. In the final section of the introduction, Miller provides summaries of each chapter, outlining how he plans to substantiate his thesis. Given the density of the topic and the different components of his argument, the reader will find these summaries especially helpful.
One of Miller’s main objectives is to prove the Trinitarian backbone to what is commonly known as triperspectivalism (which I believe he largely succeeds in doing; see esp. chs. 4 and 6). He defines triperspectivalism “as a method where distinct elements cohere in perfect harmony.… Triperspectivalism is more specific than general perspectivalism in that it argues for three distinct focal points … the normative perspective … the situational perspective … the existential perspective” (p. 106). In other words, the method is concerned with three necessary and complementary perspectives that derive from who God is. Miller’s goal is lofty, given that it requires some working knowledge of each respective topic—the Trinity and the method itself. But the ambitious nature of Miller’s goal is precisely what makes the arduous task of perusing the book worthwhile—and relevant. That is, not dissimilar to a young student who feels comfortable with his or her initial exposure to the Pythagorean Theorem, a person might suppose that he or she has a basic grasp of the Trinity; however, the attempt to apply theory to actual “problems”—in this case, to the methodology under discussion—is where the “real” learning takes places. Whether readers agree with Miller’s conclusions, they will undoubtedly walk away with a clearer understanding of the Bible’s teaching on the Trinity through Miller’s exercise of seeking to substantiate the Trinitarian foundation for this method. In addition, through Miller’s analysis of Frame’s views on the Trinity, readers will see the important distinction between building an understanding of the Trinity based on biblical revelation versus theoretical speculation, as particularly seen in Miller’s comparison of Cornelius Van Til’s theology with that of Thomas Aquinas.
As Miller notes in the introduction, this book seeks not only to show the Trinitarian foundation of triperspectivalism but also to show how the method itself “is not yet sufficiently Trinitarian” (p. 264). Miller asserts:
A model that reflects the Trinitarian persons into creation should reflect not only the interrelation of the three persons but also their priority and order.… In the original triad, the Father begets the Son, and the Son submits to the Father. The procession is not reversible. These facts indicate that the perichoretic relationship includes both order and priority. (pp. 264–65)
After addressing the possible concern over this nuance (of order and priority), Miller proceeds to apply this more fully refined Trinitarian methodology to the subjects of knowledge (pp. 271–83) and apologetics (pp. 283–312). In doing so, he provides the basis both for prioritizing Scripture as the normative aspect in Christian epistemology and “for maintaining the unique elements of Van Til’s apologetic” (p. 313). This contribution serves as a helpful challenge for proponents of Poythress and Frame’s unique method to distinguish “triadic thinking” and a “sufficiently Trinitarian” process. As Miller observes, this approach, which he dubs as “processional triperspectivalism,” can be applied to other areas, including those of practical theology. For example, many pastors, consciously or not, have adopted the methodology using the normative, situational, and existential categories—commonly under headings akin to Worship, Mercy-Missions, and Ministry (internal discipleship, etc.), respectively. To be sure, pastors should commit to all three aspects, but often, as more than a few can attest, pastors and churches will be less than successful when trying to accomplish all three at once. In this most practical situation, the question of which they should prioritize—and in what order—could be helpfully answered through the lenses of Miller’s “processional triperspectivalism.”
The book concludes in a way expected of dissertations, suggesting areas for further exploration. Specifically, Miller indicates that “more work needs to be done on the origins of perspectivalism” (pp. 314–15). Fitting with the topic, he suggests a series of questions for such an exploration from the normative, situational, and existential perspectives. These further studies would be interesting but, in my opinion, highly speculative. For instance, I’m not sure how one would begin to address the question, “Situationally, how do Frame’s semi-liberal youthful inclinations, his time at Princeton with the fundamentalist Evangelical Fellowship, his time under Murray and Van Til, and his time with the Yale School of Postliberal Theology factor into the development of perspectivalism?” (pp. 315–16). In addition to Miller’s second suggested exploration—the “developmental role perspectivalism has played in the theology of Frame and Poythress” (p. 317)—I believe it might be more fruitful to explore in further detail two related matters: 1) the Biblical-theological-exegetical underpinnings of the triperspectival methodology; and 2) the practical applications of the refined model that Miller offers—“processional triperspectivalism”—for church life, especially pastoral ministry and Biblical counseling.