Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

The Social Trinity, Ecclesiology and Church Leadership – Part 2

How a Social View of the Trinity Can Positively Inform Our Approach to Ecclesiology and Leadership in Today’s North American Church

The Ascent of the Social Trinity
While the Trinity is a reality revealed in scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity is the church’s attempt to give a greater understanding and explanation of the Father, Son, and Spirit.  Because it is second-order speech, the articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity has continued to evolve. Leonardo Boff in Trinity and Society makes the case that there are three primary developments of Trinitarian thought, each of which arose to address particular errors of a given culture and time.[1] First, in the Roman culture, where polytheism was prevalent, the Latin fathers emphasized the oneness of God.  When the Greek fathers were battling Arianism or modalism, they focused on the diversity in God, and came to unity through diversity.  Finally, in our context, where individualism often reigns, there is a need to focus on the social Trinity, looking at the rich, mutually encouraging, and mutual dependent relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit.

During the Enlightenment, there was virtual silence about the Trinity.  But as Stanley Grenz suggests in Rediscovering the Triune God, the rebirth of Trinitarian theology was one of the most significant theological developments of the century.[2] He traces this rebirth to Karl Barth and Karl Rahner, who took this doctrine that had become abstract through the centuries, and grounded the Trinity in revelation and salvation history.  Rahner’s rule  – the works of God in salvation history (economic Trinity) reveal the inner life of God (imminent Trinity), and the inner life of God corresponds to the work of God – added to the ascent of the social Trinity.

While Barth and Rahner “set the stage for this development, the triumph of relationality was more directly abetted by Moltmann, Pannenberg, and Jenson.”[3] These theologians left an indelible mark and raised the interest of many contemporary theologians to not only explore the inner life of the Triune God, but to consider how a social view of the Trinity ought to shape our life, society, and ecclesiology.  So how has Leonardo Boff and Miroslav Volf’s understanding of the social Trinity shaped their approach to ecclesiology and local church leadership?

[1] Boff, Leonardo, Trinity and Society (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988), p. 77-78.

[2] Grenz, Stanley, Rediscovering The Triune God: The Trinity in Contemporary Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2004), p. 1.

[3] Grenz, Rediscovering the Triune God, p. 118.

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