Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

The Social Trinity, Ecclesiology and Church Leadership – Part I

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

We live in a society where “faith lived ecclesially is being replaced by faith lived individualistically.”[1] People want spirituality but have little desire to participate in “organized religion.”  The landmark ARIS study[2] conducted by the Program of Public Affairs at Trinity College and the widest religious survey in the United States, indicates that, in the past 18 years, the number of people who call themselves “Christian” has dropped more than 11 percent; the “non-religious” are the only group that has grown in every state.

Today, it’s common to hear, “I like Jesus, but I hate the church.”  Many are skeptical of power and truth, partly because they have seen the corrupting power when one person wears “the ring.”  Also, “People in modern societies have little sympathy for top-down organizations, including for churches structured top-down.”[3] The purpose of this study is to bring Leonardo Boff and Miroslav Volf into dialogue, in order to demonstrate how a social view of the Trinity can positively inform our ecclesiology and approach to leadership in the North American church in a contextual and faithful way.

The thesis of this essay is that through dialoging with these two contemporary theologians in regard to their understanding of the Social Trinity, ecclesiology, and church leadership, we can more concretely imagine why and how local church leadership in North America ought to be more interdependent, communal, relational, polycentric, participatory, self-surrendering, and self-giving.

Here is my approach. First, I will briefly show how the doctrine of the Trinity has evolved throughout church history, often in response to prevailing issues of the day and how the rise of the Social Trinity among contemporary theologians, including Boff and Volf, is, in part, a response to a climate of individualism, as well as a desire for a more egalitarian approach to life, especially the life of the church. Second, I will bring Boff and Volf into mutual dialogue with one another to develop a richer understanding of the Social Trinity and to consider how this understanding shapes their approach to ecclesiology and church leadership.  I will then compare, analyze, and contrast their ideas, by bringing my voice into the conversation to find helpful ways to re-imagine leadership in today’s church. Finally, I will conclude the essay by giving practical applications to consider regarding how the Social Trinity can positively inform our approach to leadership in the local church as well as suggest some areas for further study.  Now let’s look at Part 2, the ascent of the Social Trinity.

[1] Volf, Miroslav, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), p. 11.

[2] Couch, William, Thomassie, Juan & Allender, Thad. “Shifting religious identities: Change in percentage of “No Religion” by state between 1990 and 2008.” USAToday. Available from <http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-03-09-ARIS-faith-survey_N.htm> accessed Dec. 7, 2010.

[3] Volf, After Our Likeness, p. 17.

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