If you follow me on Facebook and Twitter you know I have a weekly segment called Thursday Theology. I like to introduce people to important Christian thinkers; thus, I post thoughtful quotes there (and here) from various scholars. A theologian I appreciate and quote often is Peter Toon. Dr. Toon’s book Our Triune God: A Biblical Portrayal of the Trinity is the best contemporary book on the doctrine of the Trinity I have ever read.1 This book motivated me to want to help other Christians appreciate the critical importance of the Trinity.
Here’s a biographical sketch of Toon along with four of his quotes on theology that I’ve used in my social media Thursday Theology segment. I also react to his points with the hope that you’ll find his insights helpful.
Who Is Peter Toon?
Peter Toon (1939–2009) was an evangelical Anglican priest and theologian. He earned his doctorate from Oxford University and was an expert in historical theology. Toon lectured at more than 50 Christian institutions worldwide. He was an able defender of historic Christianity and promoted a traditional or theologically conservative form of Anglicanism. Toon was especially well known for his promotion of the classic text, the Book of Common Prayer.
1. On the Incarnation
“First, the fact that Mary was a virgin points to the fact that the conception of Jesus was wholly the result of the divine initiative, the work of the Holy Spirit; he had no human father. Secondly, the fact that he had no earthly father means that his existence in space and time causes us to look into no time (eternity) and no space (infinity) for the truth concerning him; that is, to his eternal origin in the life of the Holy Trinity.”2
The identity of Jesus Christ transcends his human birth in Bethlehem. He was the eternal Father’s eternal Son. As the second person of the Trinity, the Son took a human nature through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary and became a man—thus the God-man. Jesus of Nazareth, as he was called, was ontologically a single person with both a divine and a human nature. The incarnation thus means that God has come in human flesh.
2. On Jesus’s Relationship to the Father
“Certainly there was no precedent in his religious and devotional heritage for calling the God of Jewish monotheism Abba. However, the wiser and better way is to see in Jesus’ adoption of this startling form of address indications of not only his true identity, but also the true identity of Yahweh-Elohim.”3
Here Toon comments on Jesus calling the Father “Abba.” Before his passion on the cross Jesus prayed: “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). The term Abba means “Father.” Some have thought it was a childlike term of endearment (“Daddy”), but it more likely conveys the privileged (equal) position of an adult son. No Jew had previously spoken of Israel’s Lord God (Yahweh-Elohim) as if he were an equal. In Hebrew culture the adult son would be the heir and would stand on equal ground with the father. So Toon notes that Jesus unabashedly speaks to the Father as if they are ontological equals.
3. On Jesus’s Crucifixion
“Jesus of Nazareth was put to death on a cross outside the city walls of ancient Jerusalem. Crucifixion was a Roman form of execution used chiefly for slaves. It was a degrading way to die and was never used for Roman citizens. Cicero, the great defender of classical culture and civilization, regarded this form of execution as barbaric.”4
Toon explains that the Son of God left his lofty divine quarters in heaven to not only don human flesh but also—in his atoning sacrifice—to take the most undesirable position in Roman society: that of a slave. Jesus’s death on the cross was personally degrading and was considered morally barbaric by the culturally refined Romans. In case there is any doubt, God had indeed come into the world to suffer for the sins of human beings.
4. On the Challenge of Liberal Theology
“To make matters worse the [liberal] theologians, to whom Christians look as ‘servants of Christ and his Church’ appear to lead the way in destroying Christianity instead of defending ‘the faith which once and for all God has given to his people’ (Jude 3).”5
As a conservative theologian-apologist, Toon battled the encroaching liberal theology found in quarters of the Anglican church. Liberal theology denies such cardinal Christian doctrines as the Trinity, Christ’s deity, and his substitutionary atonement. Toon notes the great irony that instead of building up and defending the faith, liberal priests in the church were working to destroy historic Christianity. Sound doctrine and its robust defense matter just as much today as in the past.
Peter Toon was an articulate spokesperson for orthodox Anglican theology and spiritual practice. Representing a Reformed version of Anglicanism, he was a prolific author of more than 30 books. We can all learn a great deal from his theological insights.
Reflections: Your Turn
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- For my introduction to Toon’s book, see “Take Up and Read: Our Triune God.”
- Peter Toon, The Anglican Way: Evangelical and Catholic (New York: Morehouse – Barlow, 1983), 6.
- Peter Toon, Our Triune God: A Biblical Portrayal of the Trinity (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 1996), 154.
- Toon, The Anglican Way, 6.
- Peter Toon, Jesus Christ Is Lord (London: Marshall, Morgan, and Scott, 1978), 4.