A Brief Summary of the Social Trinity Conversation

My use of social/relational draws most heavily on relational ontology as presented by Zizioulas.[1] To summarize, Zizioulas proposes that humanity, both as particulars and collectively, has the imago dei of the robust Trinity[2] imprinted on/in us ontologically. The image of the relational Trinity is this: God is three-in-one and one-in-three. God is transcendent, immanent, and relational. God’s transcendence is the immanent Trinity that is constituted by relationality. This relational union is wholly other from its creation. God is also immanent in the economic Trinity. The Father is arche, the Son incarnate is the demonstration of God’s love and the great victor over death.[3] The Spirit is the animator and mediator of life and relationality. God is also relationality that constitutes all being and out of which human particularity is formed. Humanity is created in the imago dei. We are homologues of the robust Trinity described above.[4] We are many-and-one and one-and-many. We are individual selves constituted by the relatedness to each other, to nature, and to God, the transcendent other.

Relational ontology connects to the theoretical lens of Robert Kegan’s fifth order of consciousness.[5] The social/relational Trinity is connected, not only to theological language, but to ideas about and formation of the human self-in-relation to the other.[6] Zizioulas proposes that it is not only our eschatological hope that is connected to the social Trinity, but it is our very essence, our ontological essence, that is constituted by the relationality of the persons of the Godhead.[7] The use of communicative action as the research methodology in this project assumes that the congregations might discover the reality of their interdependence with the other, both within the congregation and within the suburban and metropolitan community as a whole.


[1] Zizioulas and McPartlan, Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church.

[2] I have introduced the term robust into the conversation. This is Shults’ term to distinguish the relationality and futurity of God from the transcendent/Immanent Trinity.

[3] I will agree with Volf and not go so far as Zizioulas to warrant patriarchal authority in the church based upon the arche. Volf, bringing Moltmann into conversation with Zizioulas, calls for an egalitarian power structure based upon a flattened perichoretic power structure. Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity, Sacra Doctrina (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1998).

[4] I am intentionally hinting at the Augustinian use of “vestiges of God.” A fascinating sub-conversation within the larger Trinitarian conversation is that of Augustine’s culpability for the demise of the Economic Trinity in the modern West. LaCugna blames him for the problem. Barnes disagrees and notes that LaCugna’s argument is built upon a resurgence of de Regnon’s claim in the 19th century, which, Barnes argues, is unfounded. I agree with Barnes and follow Sheldrake’s assessment that Augustine understood relational ontology inherently, since he did not breath the air of Cartesian dualism. Michael R. Barnes, “Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology,” Theological Studies 56, no. 2 (1995); Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998), 75-83.

[5] See chapter two.

[6] Both Groome and Farley emphasize this as essential to the practice of formation in the congregation and in any theological inquiry. Groome names the individual as agent-subjects-in-relationship. Farley names it as being-together in the reciprocity sphere. Groome, Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry: The Way of Shared Praxis, 9; Edward Farley, Practicing Gospel: Unconventional Thoughts on the Church’s Ministry, 1st ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 68.

[7] Eschatological hope is central to the historicity/futurity grouping that Grenz noted: Moltmann, Pannenberg, and Jenson. Zizioulas does not deny this dimension, but simply emphasizes the ontological aspect of this Trinitarian conversation. Here, too, I argue that we must abandon substance dualism in light of relationality and entanglement.