Ep52 - Social Trinitarianism - Of God and Gods Ch 7

Topics Discussed:
• Richard Swinburne’s Theory of Social Trinitarianism
• Trinity Monotheism
• Perichoretic Monotheism
• Reveling in Mystery

Show Notes:


“The notion of a “social Trinity” (ST) characterizes any view that starts with the threeness of the Trinity as basic and constitutive and then attempts to explain how three distinct centers of will and cognitive and conative faculties can yet be but one God.”

“I am sympathetic with ST because it seems to me that the scriptures teach that there is more than one divine individual, yet there is only one governing power manifesting the will of the one God. Yet it seems at the outset that all versions of the ST are doomed to failure because, if God is a single divine individual—a single person or personal being—then the “persons” having such distinct wills and faculties will not constitute such a single individual however else the three persons may be united as one. The burden of ST is to explain how three truly distinct centers of will and consciousness can nevertheless be but one God.

“What all of these theories have in common is the commitment that “the one God” is identical to the three-person Godhead as a community or collective of divine individuals. These individuals are joined as one because they share a common knowledge of all things, a common omni-power that is manifest as a unified, single act for any act performed by any of them and by their common presence or spiritual influence at all places.”

First presidency metaphor

Richard Swinburne’s Theory of Social Trinitarianism

“Because love is an essential property of God, Swinburne argues, it follows that the Father cannot exist as such without creating both a second and a third divine person. It is crucial to see that, in Swinburne’s view, the Father does not create the Son or Spirit as an act of will but by what Swinburne calls an “act of essence.”

“I believe that Swinburne has captured the sense of the Nicene Creed that, in “begetting” the Son, there is an asymmetric ontological contingency relationship: The Son depends on the Father.”

Discuss problems with this view

“I have another concern about the notion that the Father has no option but to bring about the Son. The motive for bringing about the Son’s existence is supposedly divine love. However, when the Father brings about the Son’s existence, he must also thereby bring about the Son’s love for him in return inevitably. For if the Son did not love the Father in return, the divine love would be incomplete. Yet it seems to me that an act which is inevitable because it is an essential property of the Father’s individual identity cannot be an act of love.”

“...even God cannot create uncreated gods. That is the central problem with Swinburne’s view as I see it.”

Trinity Monotheism

“The version of the social Trinity promulgated by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland seems to me to be a good example of a view that ought to be avoided for numerous reasons. They maintain that the relation of the three divine persons to the Trinity as a whole is the relation of persons to a single, shared substance.”

“The most obvious problem is with the assertion that there are three persons but only one substance; this position seems to be either unintelligible or contradictory.”

“The problem with the number of substances also highlights an additional problem with their view. It appears that there are four divine entities and not three. There are the three divine persons and then there is also the “Trinity as a whole.”

Explain the “problem of the Quaternity”

Problems with their christology.

Perichoretic Monotheism

“The “perichoretic” view of ST promulgated by Stephen Davis denotes a view of the social Trinity where the divine persons “indwell” in each other. “Perichoresis” means to dance in harmony and love in oneness. They share their life’s energy, glory, and spirit in such a way that they literally live their lives in each other.”

“Davis’s claim that the divine persons are essentially omnipotent and omniscient appears to conflict with his earlier rejection of the doctrine of essential predication. It is also difficult to reconcile with his view, which I believe is correct, that the Son undergoes a kenosis or “emptying of himself” of the actuality of the divine attributes as a mortal. If the Son undergoes a kenosis and becomes flesh as Jesus, and if the Son is omnipotent and omniscient, then so is Jesus as a mortal.”

“It is important to see how Davis’s perichoretic monotheism responds to objections to ST that have been asserted primarily by Brian Leftow. First, Leftow claims that the divine persons in ST suffer from a “diminished deity,” such that only the Trinity as a whole can claim to be fully divine.”

Leftow states: “Either the Trinity is a fourth case of the nature, in addition to the Persons, or it is not. If it is, we have too many cases of deity for orthodoxy. If it is not, and yet is divine, there are two ways to be divine—by being a case of deity, and by being a Trinity of such cases.”44 However, Davis counters that, in his view, the perichoretic unity of the divine persons guarantees that there is only one individual who is properly considered to be God.”

“Davis affirms that “an essential aspect of the Trinity is to deny that the Father is God in any stronger sense than the Son or the Holy Spirit is God.” He also asserts that “a robust notion of ontological oneness among the Persons is mandatory for Christians.”

Is god like voltron?

“Leftow argues that positing co-mingled minds which have full access to the knowledge of each other does not allow for distinct minds. Davis answers that mental states of the divine persons are distinct because only the Father knows ”I begot the Son” and only the Son knows “I was begotten by the Father.” While the divine persons know in common all general and public truths such as “2+2 = 4,” and “gold is heavier than helium,” they do not share first-person, reflexive knowledge of the type, “I physically suffered in atoning for sins,” which is true only of the Son, and not of the Father and Spirit.”

“the decisive problem with Davis’s view is that the divine persons cannot choose not to love each other and therefore cannot really choose to love each other with the highest kind of love at all. As I argued in The Problems of Theism and the Love of God, Vol. 2 in Exploring Mormon Thought, there is a kind of love that entails that the beloved is free to say “no” to the lover. We value this kind of love over necessitated love.”

“Davis responds: “Who says that love that is freely chosen is superior to love that isn’t chosen? I can make at least some sense of this claim as concerns human love, but who says it equally applies to divine love?”55 So we are back to the notion that, when we say God loves us, we must mean something quite different than when we speak about human love. However, we have been commanded to love others in the very same sense that God loves others: “As the Father has loved me, so I also love you” (John 15:9). “As I have loved you, love one another” (John 13:34). The Gospel of John assumes that divine love is the model of human love. The love command suggests that the divine love is not a different kind of love than the love humans are commanded to have for one another. That is why Jesus bids us to love one another as he has loved us. It is divine love that makes us one with each other so that we are conformed to the image of God.”

Reveling in Mystery

“So what is left for traditional Christians? In light of the contradictions entailed by the doctrine of the Trinity, the most common response is that in dealing with the Trinity we are attempting to understand the inner life of God which is so far beyond us that we should expect it to be a mystery—one that appears contradictory to us.”

“The problem with the view that the contradiction of the Trinity arises because God is a mystery entails that any notion that we have of God is beyond us and so we have license to utter as many contradictory assertions as we wish. What is the warrant for a true belief as opposed to a false belief in such a view?”

Accepting the contradiction and problems with that view.


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