Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

The Social Trinity, Ecclesiology and Church Leadership – Part 4

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

Emphasize the One or the Three?
Should the emphasis within the Godhead be on the one or the three?  Boff considers it essential not only to start with the three distinct persons of the Trinity and then move to the one, but to make the three primary for at least three reasons.  First, the Father, Son, and Spirit are specific to the Christian faith that puts Trinity first.[1] Second, there are dangerous social implications.  Boff believes that the dangers of emphasizing God is one, apart from God as Tri-unity, have led to totalitarianism in politics, authoritarianism in religion, paternalism in society, and machismo in the family.[2]

In addition, emphasizing the three critiques our current capitalist society “which is based on individual performance, private accumulation of goods, and the predominance of the individual over the social,”[3] while at the same time stirring our imagination for community that is participatory, relational, egalitarian, respecting of diversity, self-surrendering, and self- giving. Boff believes that one of the best ways to help overcome clericalism and authoritarianism in the church is through a radical Trinitarian understanding of God.[4] While Boff recognizes that leadership is necessary and helpful, especially for internal cohesion and unity, services and offices (leadership) come after community, not before.[5]

Volf understands that our emphasis on the one or the three has significant consequences to the philosophical question of the relation between the one and the many. He believes that emphasizing the one leads to universalizing philosophies, while emphasizing the three leads to pluralizing philosophies. While conceding that varied accents are possible, he believes we must escape this dichotomy between universalization (traditional Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians) and pluralism (political, liberation, feminist, theologians, along with theologians of religion).[6]

With John Scotus, he considers the triune God unum multiplex in se ipso, for “if unity and multiplicity are equiprimal in him, then God is the ground of both unity and multiplicity.”[7] For Volf, what matters even more is how we live this out socially, believing that we must be theologically consistent and that the correspondence between Trinitarian and ecclesial communion is grounded in Christian baptism, where we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and “the Spirit of God leads believers simultaneously into both Trinitarian and ecclesial communion.”[8]

For Volf, the dialectical tension between the emphasis of the three and the one speaks to both the participatory, symmetrical, and communal nature of the church, while recognizing the need for leadership to help define love’s obligations and rights.[9] In this way, spirit-gifted, congregational-received leadership helps bring cohesion and unity as the church moves forward in her mission. So what does the inner life of Triune God look like, and how should that shape our approach to ecclesiology and leadership in the church?


[1] Boff, Trinity and Society, p. 83.

[2] Boff, Holy Trinity, Perfect Community, p. 7-8.

[3] Ibid., p. xi.

[4] Ibid., p. xii.

[5] Boff, Church: Charism and Power, p. 133

[6] Volf, After Our Likeness, p. 192-193.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p. 194-195.

[9] Ibid., p. 237.


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