The book is an extended essay on the Trinity, which she explores from a number of perspectives. She begins with Paul, moves through various patristic sources and follows with an intriguing examination of the way the Trinity is portrayed in Christian art. Her investigation of the Trinity includes sociological fieldwork in a contemporary Pentecostal church.
Evagrius Ponticus wrote, "If you are a theologian, you pray truly; if you pray truly, you are a theologian." and this is the basis of Sarah Coakley's Trinitarianism. In Romans 8 she identifies a surrender to the Spirit which, in the early church, was practiced in either "charismatic" or "contemplative" forms of worship. Either of these involved a forsaking of self which, as it became more ordered, the church found uncontrollable and therefore profoundly threatening. She sees in the Trinitarian debates of the early church an attempt to frame the Trinity rationally, and therefore safely. The nature of reality (and I am paraphrasing and simplifying Sarah Coakley here) is Trinitarian. There is God, the ground of all things. There is the expression of God. There is the relationship between God and the expression of God. These three are one and they are three. It is impossible to have one and not simultaneously have the other two in all fullness. The relationship between God the Father, so named, and God the son is one of desire and love. These passions characterise the creation which arises from the Triune God so that the desire and love present in human relationships is a participation in and a sign of the desire and love which exist in the originating relationship which is God.
Sarah Coakley builds a convincing case that all expressions of the Trinity have been informed by the political and social preconceptions of those who framed them, but in the end she arrives at a surprisingly conventional Trinitarian theology. She provides a broad, and for me helpful perspective on the gender and sexuality debates which threaten to divide the church. Most importantly she gave me a fresh understanding of God the Holy Trinity and a means to earth my new understanding in my contemplative practice. I am eagerly awaiting volume 2 of her Theologie Totale, due sometime this year.