Category Archives: Books – Trinity

Book | The Social God and the Relational Self by Stanley Grenz

The Social God and the Relational SelfGrenz, Stanley J. The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

AuthorStanley Grenz

Grenz traces the historical backdrop of the concept of self in the West in order to warrant his proposal of the ecclesial self as the best response to the postmodern deconstruction of self.

The following sketch attempts to follow his logic.

William James to George Herbert Mead to Pannenberg.
William James to George Herbert Mead to Pannenberg.

In the final analysis, then, the imago dei is not merely relational; it is not simply the I-Thou relationship of two persons standing face-to-face. Instead, it is ultimately communal. It is the eschatological destiny of the new humanity as the representation of God within creation. The character of the triune God comes to expression through humans in community. Wherever community emerges, human sexuality understood in its foundational sense–the incompleteness endemic to embodied existence, together with the quest for completeness that draws humans out of isolation into bonded relationships–is at work. This sexuality gives rise to the primal male-female relationship–marriage. Yet more important is the role of sexuality in bringing humans into community with Christ and with his disciples in the fellowship of his church. This community forms the context for all humans, male and female, to come together in harmonious creative relationships of various types. But more important, it is this connection that will eternally draw humankind into participation in the very life of the triune God, as the Spirit molds humans into one great chorus of praise to the Father through the Son, which in turn will mark the Father’s eternal glorification of the new humanity in the son. (303)

The image of God does not lie in the individual person but in the relationality of persons in community. The relational life of the God who is triune comes to representation in the communal fellowship of the participants in the new humanity. This assertion calls for a relational ontology that can bring the divine prototype and the human antitype together. The conceptual context for such an engagement is the philosophical idea of the social self, which, in turn, can be understood theologically as the ecclesial self. (305)

Placher on the Unknowable God | A Chapter from The Triune God

I paused this morning to read. I have been writing for the past two days and I needed a change of mode. Finding myself not able to return to sleep at 4:00am I went downstairs and picked up William Placher’s book The Triune God and read first chapter, “The Unknowable God.”

My Reflections

Placher was admittedly a huge fan of Karl Barth, calling him “the greatest theologian of the twentieth century,” (23) and therefore is building a case for revelation through Jesus as the only possible starting point for any theological discourse. ((my professors at Luther would disagree. They would take a more phenomenological approach and acknowledge the reality that all knowledge must begin with our experience of the thing observed–in this case the revelation of God in Jesus–and must be bracketed before we can enter into communicative reason to understand the phenomenon of the Word became flesh.)) His Barthian adoration aside, I found this chapter to be helpful for me at two levels.

First, it was another systematic, historical rehearsal of the arguments that have shaped the Western conversation around the Trinity. I am not a philosopher, nor am I a systematic theologian (I’m still not quite sure what I am), so every time I hear/read someone who can provide digestible synopses of key thinkers, I am indebted to that person.

Placher steps through the thought of Descartes, Locke, and Kant to describe how they each, for different reasons, came to the unknowability of God. They arrived here because they were using the modern notion of rational thought as the means to “know” God. To know God rationally–meaning to be able to explain God with human language and symbols–is impossible. This is what gave rise to atheism and secularism. Placher then revisits Anselm, Aquinas, and Eckhart and demonstrates how these theologians were not trying to explain God, but began with the faith that God exists outside of our ability to explain. Their pursuit was to understand/know God.

Placher’s point is to demonstrate that the modern philosophers and the Medieval theologians were not pursuing the same ends. The modern philosophers began with a subjective skepticism and sought to prove the existence of God through reason. The Medieval theologians began in a culture where faith in God was the norm, and pursued the understanding of that faith, not the explanation or defense of that faith.

Placher recognizes that today, in our postmodern context, we do not have the luxury of returning to the Medieval theological premise. He then names three late modern/postmodern philosophers: Kierkegaard, Levinas, and Wittgenstein who demonstrate how we must create space within our own experience to acknowledge the existence of the unknowable. We must, he argues, navigate the space between idolatry–creating a false god with our words–and secularity–believing there is nothing unknowable outside our physical experience.

The Second way I found this chapter helpful was in regard to my own writing. It helped me put my dissertation writing into perspective. I have been processing so much information for the past three years, and yet I feel like I don’t know anything. There are so many voices and so many perspectives that are using words to explain/describe/encounter that which is impossible to explain or even describe…and some would even say impossible to encounter. My advisor cautioned me last night to make sure that I stay attentive to the data–meaning the reflections of the people in my research team, and my interaction with the process–and to make sure that my framing structure of the dissertation is necessary to the emerging argument. I interpret that to mean that I may be trying to say too much. (I get that a lot)

Placher’s chapter helped me to remember that it is not possible for me to explain the Trinity. All of the words regarding Trinity continually run the risk of constructing another idol. This is not my desire. I seek to understand. I seek to know as I am known, to quote Parker Palmer, not to explain. May it ever be so.

The Triune GodPlacher, William C. The Triune God: An Essay in Postliberal Theology. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

My Highlights

“When philosophy textbooks gather under the same heading a range of texts from the Middle Ages to today, from Anselm and Aquinas through Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, and Kant to contemporary writers, as if all these folks were doing the same thing–offering ‘proofs for the existence of God’–they mislead the students who read them. In fact, the medieval texts so cited were usually doing something like the opposite–giving an account of God that would render anything like ‘proof’ altogether inappropriate. Those who seek to reduce Christian faith to the arena of rational proof–whether liberal Deists trying to eliminate Christianity’s ‘irrational’ elements or conservative advocates of ‘intelligent design’ trying to make religion fit their own version of the ‘scientific’–are not preserving traditional Christianity but engaging in a particular and characteristically modern project that has diverged from the Christian tradition.

“Medieval authors lived in a biblically shaped word, and the God made known in the Bible is not the subject of rational proofs. Indeed, this God cannot be represented by any image; the divine name cannot even be pronounced. When the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem, he horrified the Jews by pushing into the Holy of Holies, the sacred space only the high priest could enter once a year. The story goes that Pompey was puzzled when, at the center of the Holy of Holies, where he expected to see the most valuable and sacred religious artifact, there was only empty space. As Jacques Derrida wrote:

This place and this figure have a singular structure: the structure encloses its void within itself, shelters only its own proper interiorized desert, opens onto nothing, confines nothing, contains as its treasure only nothingness: a hole, an empty spacing….Nothing behind the curtains. Hence the ingenious surprise of a non-Jew when he opens, is allowed to open or violates the tabernacle, when he enters the dwelling or the temple, and after so many ritual detours to gain access to the secret center, he discovers nothing–only nothingness.

No center, no heart, an empty space, nothing. (Jacques Derrida, Glas. 1986)

The closer you get to seeing God, Gregory of Nyssa said, the more you realize that God is invisible. (The Life of Moses)” (11)

“So the theological task becomes more difficult. If we try to talk about God in a way that fits God into human categories and systems, we end up not with God but with an idol (and our arguments for the existence of the idol do not work very well anyway). Idols are things we can control. In Isaiah the prophet appropriately ridicules those who take some wood, use part of it to roast meat and warm themselves, and make the rest into a god (Isa. 44:16-17)–as if we could make gods for ourselves as and when we needed them. But if we too quickly simply acknowledge the meaninglessness of all talk about God, we run the risk that our secular contemporaries will rest content in their unqualified secularity, have a beer, and go bowling–whether alone or not.

“A theology appropriate to our postmodern time, therefore, might ask whether there are permanently unanswerable questions that point beyond the realm of our experience and to which Christian revelation could provide a totally unexpected answer. A line of philosophers has been exploring such possibilities at least since Kant, but the task is tricky. On the one side lies the risk of falling back into the modern project and coming up with  some answer we can understand to ‘ultimate questions’–an answer that inevitably describes an idol. On the other side is the danger of pointing toward an answer so amorphous that it collapses into a vaguely poetic way of talking about what turns out in the end to be just ordinary experience.” (22)

Kierkegaard – “let his pseudonyms show from the inside the unsatisfactory character of various forms of life, without then claiming to offer any argument for a kind a religiousness that could come only by revelation. He left us, one might say, with an empty space into which God’s revelation might enter.” (40)

Levinas – “found in the face of another human being an infinite demand that deconstructed all totalities, though he could not quite decide whether that infinite demand pointed beyond the other human being.” (39)

Wittgenstein – “found himself haunted by questions that by his own rules it made no sense to ask. Answering the questions in clear language would give us idols; abandoning them would leave us with flat secularity.” He kept running against the boundaries of language, which indicated that there was something to run up against. (39)

“One of the great insights behind the doctrine of the Trinity was that such mediation does not work [the Plotinian emanations]. No matter how many rungs are in the ladder, the topmost rung is still on the ladder, and therefore not an utterly transcendent mystery. The only way we can be connected with the utterly transcendent is if it/he/she reaches out to us in love, overcoming all the intervening levels in one act of condescension. That is what happens in Jesus Christ, and explaining the logic of how that can be led Christian theologians to the Trinity.
“The issues discussed in this chapter invite in our time an analogous move in an epistemological mode. The world of our experience keeps pushing uncomfortably against its borders, but any effort on our part to see beyond those borders gets us into epistemological trouble–either the questions melt away or we answer them in ways that leave us holding idols within our control. In the face of certain kinds of questions we do not know how to answer and indeed scarcely know how to pose, we can come to knowledge only if it is revealed to us. And the logic of such revelation leads us, likewise, to the Trinity–that will be the argument of the rest of this book.

“Great religious texts from many traditions keep the questions alive while rejecting all our answers, in a dialectic that never comes to closure….Biblical texts claim to tell us more. It is God’s self-revelation, and that alone, that can get us beyond fumbling, unanswered questions, beyond, ‘not this, not this.’ ‘Every phenomenon of revelation,’ Marion has written, ‘would imply the radical anonymity of that which appeals.’ The one with whom Jacob wrestles never gives a name. We take the first step to controlling someone if we know their name, and a ‘revelation’ we can control comes from an idol of our own making. As Marion puts it, ‘Strictly speaking, an appeal which would say its name would no longer appeal, but instead presents the one who appeals, delivering it back to the simple visibility of an occupant of the world, stifling the world with the evidence of a spectacle.’ If God appeared as a man six yards tall, or as ‘a very rare and tremendously large green bird, with a red beak,…perhaps even whistling in an unheard of manner,’ Kierkegaard wrote, this would render faith impossible. We would simply have to account for one more object in the world.

“It is different when God comes among us as an ordinary human being, in the form of a servant. Nothing tempts us to say that we now understand God, yet God has been present among us. So, at the transfiguration, the apostles see a dazzling spectacle, but the voice form heaven calls them not to attend to the vision but to listen to the Son. Then all distinctive spectacle vanishes. ‘suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus’ (Mark 9:8).” (40-41)

Book | The Practice of Communicative Theology by Scharer and Hilberath

communicative theologyScharer, Matthias Hilberath Bernd Jochen. The Practice Of Communicative Theology: Introduction To A New Theological Culture. New York: Crossroad Pub. CO. 2008.


The Authors — Matthias Scharer and Bernd Jochen Hilberath

My Reflections

Sharer and Hilberath are two German, Roman Catholic theologians who have adopted Ruth Cohn’s Theme-Centered Interaction (TCI) model as the means of doing theology. This pedagogy comes from a long history of Catholic theology and is rooted, most apparently, in Habermas’ communicative rationality. The combination of TCI and Habermas leads to their label: Communicative Theology.

This book is important for my research on two levels. First, it describes the process I used to facilitate the Research Team meetings during phase one of the project. The interesting fact is that I was not aware of this book when I led those meetings. The process I used was based Peter Block’s Community Building methodologies and my own experience in adult learning forums. Communicative Theology and TCI help give credence to my methodology and help me to articulate better its theological underpinnings.

The second reason this book is important to my research is that it connects the pedagogical methodology to the Trinity. My research question asks how an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity might impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations. Communicative Theology and TCI demonstrate that a communicative methodology is constituted by the relationality of God. It is the image of the communicative God as revealed/demonstrated in the three persons of the Trinity. By using a communicative methodology I am organically and implicitly raising the research team’s awareness and understanding of the social/relational/entangled/communicative Trinity.

My Key Notes from the Book

Communicative Orientations in North American Catholic Theology


tradition of personalism. Dialogical Personalism.
Martin Buber and Gabriel Marcel = the significance of dialogue.
Neo-Orthodoxy of Karl Barth
Catholic rsourcement theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar
Joseph Ratzinger – traced dialogue to Plato and Artistotle
Avery Cardinal Dulles – combined these personalisms with symbolic and sacramental modes of communication in Catholic practice.


20th century interpreters of Thomas Aquinas–Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Bernard Lonergan.

“Lonergan identified communication as one of eight functional specialities that constitute the theological enterprise within the church: ‘Through communication there is constituted community and, conversely, community constitutes and perfects itself through communication.’ (Lonergan. Method in Theology (New York, 1972), 363)


Robert Schreiter–reflecting on liberation theologians in Latin America and inculturation theologians in Africa and Asia–analysis of concrete practices of communication in the development of local theologies.

semiotic approach to culture:

  • syntactics–the grammar-like rules that function in the relation of signs
  • semantics–the content or meaningn of the message
  • pragmatics–rules that govern communication in the range of meanings

Stephen Bevans.

“For dialogical personalism, the problem of misunderstanding is about overcoming obstacles and limits in knowing another individual and oneself. For the hermeneutical approach, individuals and groups must face recurring misunderstandings of texts and traditions. For these particular forms of contextual theology–Black, Hispanic, Asian, among others–misunderstanding is a question of prejudice against linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions, which contributes to economic and social hardship, and all too frequently results in conflict and violence.” (6)

Thomas H. Groome–drawing on Habermas’ work on theory and practice and Paulo Freire’s praxis-based pedagogy–advanced a “shared Christian praxis” approach to religious education and pastoral ministry.


Paul A. Soukop – six aspects of the communicative process:

  • language (a structured system of conveying meaning);
  • aesthetic experience;
  • creation of culture
  • interpersonal dialogue;
  • sender-receiver or rhetorical communication (the broadcast model);
  • theological analogue, that is, modeling human communication on the divine. (7)

Soukop is concerned that there has not been adequate investigation into the use of new communication technologies.

Outline of Book

  1. Theology as Process
  2. Preliminary Observations about the Communicative Characterr of Human Beings
  3. The “Battle of the Gods” as a Dilemma in a Communication-Conscious Society
  4. The Communicative God of Christian Revelation and God’s Communication in History
  5. The Church as a Community of Communication: The “We” as Gift.
  6. Communication as a Practice of Theological Awareness: The Perspective of TCI
  7. Keeping the Faith Tradition and Implicit “God-Talk” in Balance
  8. A Theme Takes Shape: Drama on the Eve of the Council of Nicea and Drama in the Church Today.

The Theological Question

“The theological question is: what do people associate with God and how do they do it? This way of stating the question calls attention to a pivotal theological insight: There is an inextricable connection between God (or better, what we know of God on the basis of revelation and the Christian tradition) and the actual lives of people. In theological knowing it is not only the what of the faith that counts. The what is inseparably linked to the way in which knowledge coming from God is received and transmitted. In short, it is linked with the how of God’s communication through past Christian tradition and in contemporary life histories.” (34)

Theology is communicative

“Theology is not ‘some thing’ that then is to be communicated; rather, communication is the central content of theology. So communication is neither a thing added or applied to theology nor a substitute for what theology should really be. Theology is itself a communicative event, and when it no longer is this it stops being theology. This thesis, certainly unusual and perhaps jarring to many, presupposs a particular understanding of communication on the one hand and of theology on the other.” (13)

The little gods and the Great God

“The image of the global village with its boundless communication takes on particularly religious connotations when the new media and the global market invade those areas of human life where faith and religion traditionally held sway. These are the areas of meaning and orientation, of history and the future, of right action and enduring happiness. Stopping to think about modern communication and its religious and ideological implications makes one aware of the degree to which the ‘little gods’ of boundless knowledge, global-communicative ability, and never-ending consumption are replacing the hope for the coming of the ‘great God.’ It is a battle between ‘gods’ who satisfy immediate needs and a God who ‘dries all tears’ (Revelation 21:4; cf. Isaiah 65:19). It is a confrontation between the boundless freedom promised to these globally connected in the communication network and the God who communicates God’s self to all people, especially to those excluded from the communication process, who calls all humankind to become one community in the freedom of the children of God. In this new world of global communication, the arguable monopoly of salvation formerly ascribed to the church appears to have been transferred to the media, so that the old adage ‘extra ecclesia nulla salus’ (there is not salvation outside the church) becomes ‘extra media nulla salus’ (there is no salvation outside the media). Such a world obviously needs to reflect on communication from the perspective of the biblical God and God’s communication with people. It is from this theological perspective that communicate theology enters critically into the (post) modern debate about communication, a debate that is growing in importance on the scientific, social, and religious levels.” (42-43)

God as communicative being

“If we look once again toward the God of whom theology speaks, we can further clarify the definition of God as a communicative being.” For the believer, God is a relational being. This is no human invention; rather, it is something made possible by God’s own revelation of God’s self. That is to say, God enters into a relationship with the world as creation and with people as created beings, as sinner and redeemed, and as beings on the way to perfection. Only in this way can we speak about God as relational. Even in Christian theology, we can make no statements about God in and for God’s self. This God in and for God’s self we can meet only as God for us. But we cannot draw the conclusion that God in and for God’s self does not exist. It is really a question of drawing a line to mark the limits of theological reflection and expression. With regard to the concept of communicative theology we can say: it is only because God enters into a relationship with us, because he wishes to be in communion with us and makes contact with us, that we can speak about and with God. We can also add further precision to our description by saying that God is the communicative being par excellence. It is first and foremost God who makes possible communication and community, which keeps us alive. This is our faith in God the creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. It is not, in the first place, God’s self-revelation in history that shows God to be the communicative being; this is already manifested by God’s self-revelation as creator.” (65)

My Reflection on this quote: I understand what they are saying, but I want to make one critique. They say that God is “a communicative being,” even further that God is “the communicative being par excellence.” If God is a being–even the being–then isn’t God just one being among many? Might it be more accurate to say that God is being itself and being is communicative, and this communicative being is the ground from which all being emerges. It is the relationality of the divine persons that is the constitutive, communicative being from which all life is created. This is similar to their statement “this is already manifested by God’s self-revelation as creator,” however, in the way that they speak of God as a being, it denotes the image of God as a being creating another being out of the nothing that is outside of God. Then this relational God chooses to relate to the creation.

I realize this is beyond the scope of the intention of this book, but I think it is an important distinction to hone our language to not limit God to a being. The relationality, thus the communicative nature of God is the being, the very fabric of existence from which all that we perceive as the created universe comes. God’s otherness is in the person of the creator, in that the creature is not the divine, thus allowing space for Buber’s I-Thou relationship. Yet, the relationality of the second and third person allows for the interdependency and communicative, on-going creative-redemptive-sustaining process to proceed. This is modeled in the TCI process.

The Paradigm



imageThe “I” as the individual person. This factor is aware of itself and truns to others and to the themed in a given group situation.

The “WE” as the group. This factor represents the relationship of individuals to one another and to the theme of their interaction.

The “IT” as a task or as a theme. This factor singles out the topical concerns to be worked out in the interaction.

The “GLOBE” as environment. This factor influences the group in their relationships and in their working together in both a narrower and in a broader sense.

Buber and Levinas

Martin Buber
describes the human person as a dialogical being. “Buber distinguishes between the ‘basic word’ “I-Thou” and “I-It” with regard to human encounters.” (30)

Levinas – The Importance of Other

The face of the other.

“in opposition to Buber, radicalizes the intersubjective perspective. For Levinas, the ‘face’ of tanother person is the key metaphor for the other. Radically trunign toward the face of the other makes the experience of transcendence ultimately possible. meeting the other is not donfined to an ‘I-Thou” relationship. When the ‘otherness’ of the other is seen, one’s own freedom is questioned. Qyestions of compassion, justice, and mercy also arise.” (31)

These two philosophies come together to demonstrate the communicative nature of human interaction. We do not choose to relate, we are constituted by relationship, yet, the separation of the other causes us to serve the other.

TCI described by the Universtät Innsbruck

The following section is copied from (accessed July 5, 2014)

From the Universität Innsbruck website:

Theme-Centered Interaction (TCI)

Created by Ruth Cohn, TCI is a strictly relational concept of human communication in groups and focuses on the balance between theme, group and individual work in order to work both on relationships and factual problems. This holistic tool of communication aims at stimulating the constructive and healing potential in a person, while being firmly rooted in a community-related conflict formation.

Cohn adopts a strictly relational approach to group communication and represents the balance between the factual and the relational elements in the form of a triangle:

the I as person, facing the theme and the others;

the we of the group members who become a group by facing the theme and by interacting with one another;

the it as a theme to be worked on by the group.

The triangle is surrounded by an area referred to as the Globe, which influences the work directly or indirectly.

Cohn (2004) developed three axioms, twopostulates, and nine auxiliary guidelines, which we explain shortly as follows:


Autonomy: Of an anthropological grain, the first axiom concerns both the independence and dependence (connectedness) as an existential component of being. For Cohn, the individual’s autonomy increases with his/her awareness of his/her connectedness to everyone and everything.

Appreciation: Of an ethical and social grain, the second axiom refers to the value that Cohn places on the human, whereas she finds the inhuman worthless. Cohn tried to call upon a balance between sensitivity and spirituality, feelings and knowledge, rationality and spirituality.

Expanding one’s limits: Of a pragmatic and political nature, the third axiom indicates that decisions can be made freely insofar as they are conditioned by internal and external limits. Conceived in a systemic way, this points to the awareness of universal interdependency as the foundation of human responsibility: “I am not omnipotent, I am not impotent, I am partially potent” (Cohn 2004, 205).

These three axioms give raise to two postulatesin relation to human paradox and conditional freedom:

Be your own chairperson: If you are aware of your internal disposition (I) and the external conditions (Globe) in a relational (We) or factual (Theme) conflict, you can take every situation as an invitation to decide on your own and act responsibly for yourself and others.

Disturbances have priority: In a system, nothing happens by pure chance. There is no division between inside and outside. Therefore, disturbances have to be dealt with priority, whether they come from the I, the We, the Theme or the Globe. Without the prior transformation of the disturbing energy, the flow of the system as a whole will be blocked, distracted or irritated.

Auxiliary guidelines

Authentic self-representation: express statements of fact with ‘I’, not ‘we’ or ‘one’, in order to avoid projecting and obscuring.

Meaningful questions: authentic requests for information can be identified by their personal and clear rationale.

Selective authenticity: it is important to determine if statements genuinely result from a personal value system, or whether they spring from an internalized sense of obligation created by social conventions.

Timely interpretation: interpretations have a content dimension and a temporal dimension. Interpretations that are incorrect or untimely have great potential for disruption and should only be admitted when dismissing them would create an even larger disruption.

No factual generalizations: they interrupt the flow of communication and distract from the specific subject at hand.

No personal evaluations: Only opinions of the other are possible, which have no claim to general validity. Cohn recommends refraining as much as possible from statements of evaluation.

Immediately address side discussions:they occur for a reason and they disrupt the process. Side discussions are indicative of a disruption in the group context. According to the second postulate, addressing disruptions must be prioritized in order to ensure smooth communication flow henceforth.

Only one person speaks at a time: It is necessary in order to ensure that everyone has a complete view of the group.

Clear rules for speaking: the group leader should ensure that there is a clear view of all conversation threads that exist in the group. In particular in cases of conflict it will be necessary to sort through them and to ensure that the most important ones are processed.

Drawing from Cohn, we could find in the guidelines orientation for the elicitive conflict worker to move to the fore the element of the I, We, It or Globe that is receiving less attention. In this manner, homeostasis can be re-established in the corresponding setting.

Book | The Entangled Trinity by Ernest Simmons

The Entangled TrinitySimmons, Ernest L. The Entangled Trinity: Quantum Physics and Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2014.

I need to give a special thanks to my friend, Pastor Kevin Doely, for recommending this book.

simmons-ernie_0990The Author: Ernest Simmons

My Summary

Ernest Simmons proposes that Entangled Trinitarian Panentheism is the most helpful model for discussing God and the God-World relationship in the context of the twenty-first century Modern/late modern West. He pursues this proposal in three movements. First, he frames his argument in terms of faith, knowledge, and theology. Second, he traces a brief history of the Trinitarian theological conversation in the West. Finally, he borrows from quantum physics to draw an analogy that provides a plausible framework for a Trinitarian model that is both palatable to the natural physicist and congruent with the biblical Christian Tradition.

The first movement connects faith, knowledge, and theology, in that order. Faith, Simmons says, is primary to all knowledge and theoretical construction of any kind, including natural sciences. If the observer doesn’t believe that something can be observed, then observation cannot happen. Simmons builds on faith and frames his epistemology within the hermeneutical turn of the mid-twentieth century. He understands that all knowledge is interpreted, bracketed knowledge, impacted as much by the observing subject as by the object being observed. Finally, his theological method draws upon Tillich’s correlationism. Theology, he says, is a human endeavor that seeks, through faith and the humble acknowledgement of finite knowledge, to construct of model of the infinite God that rings true to revelation, scripture, Tradition, reason, and lived experience.

Simmons’ historical section provides a helpful overview of the Trinitarian conversation in the West. He draws heavily upon the classic argument of LaCugna, et alia, that the economic Trinity was lost in light of the Platonic/dualistic image of the immanent Trinity. The hermeneutical turn in the twentieth-century has opened up new air to discuss the interconnection of the Immanent and Economic Trinity.

Finally, having established the above framework, Simmons delves into quantum physics to find a model that connects the ancient concept of perichoresis to quantum entanglement. Simons does an excellent of explaining incredibly complex quantum physics theory in a way that the theologian-but-not-necessarily-scientist can comprehend. Key concepts are Robert John Russell’s Noninterventionist Objective Divine Action (NIODA) theory, Bohr’s wave-particle duality, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle, indeterminacy, and superposition.

Simmons proposal is:

Perichoresis entanglement can be understood as the energy of the divine Trinity through which the creation is expressed. The immanent Trinity exists in superposition with the economic Trinity and evolves within the entangled life of God with the creation, thus supporting a panentheistic model of God.1 (144)

He claims that his proposal of Entangled Trinitarian Panentheism may:

  1. Through phase entanglement and non-local relational holism provide metaphors for the perichoretic activity of the Trinity immanently and economically in sustaining and sanctifying the creation from within a scientifically consistent panentheism;
  2. Through quantum indeterminacy, affirm the freedom and openness of the creation in relation to divine self-limitation and the problem of suffering;
  3. Provide a conceptual bridge between creation and the Trinitarian character of the divine life;
  4. Contribute to the mutual understanding and interaction of theology and science;
  5. Assist interested persons in deepening their understanding and appreciation for the divine mystery of the Trinity; and
  6. Help provide a basis for interfaith dialog and cooperation as we collectively address the global issues of our time.”(187-188)

I found this book to be incredibly helpful for my research. It may actually change some of my core language. My research question asks, “How might an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations?” I have received mixed feedback on the term social Trinity. Many people automatically associate it with the terms social Gospel or social justice. Some have suggested that the term relational Trinity might be more descriptive. This makes sense, sense relational ontology is at the heart of the conversation ((equally true for Simmons.)) Now, after reading Simmons book, as well as Polkinghorne, et alia, I think I may look to use the term Entangled Trinity as the most accurate moniker for the ideas I am trying to convey in this research.


This is, in my opinion, one of the most important passages in the book. Here Simmons describes the Trinity in a way that demonstrates the necessity of the cross and the centrality of the Theology of the Cross. This is good Lutheran theology for a Missional imagination.

“In addition to God’s paradoxical disclosure on the cross, there is a twofold hiddenness. First is the form of the opposite: power comes in weakness, victory in defeat, and life in death. Second is the totality of divine reality, God within God’s self, the mysterium tremendous et fascinans (Otto), which is beyond the disclosure of God in Christ. God is more than God’s self-disclosure in Christ. To draw on the panentheistic analogy again, one is more than one’s body, and while the body can be analyzed, it can never fully disclose the mind. Human thought remains hidden in the interstices of our subjectivity. This distinction, then, gives us both a material and a formal principle for theological reflection. Formally, it tells us that the work of God on Calvary must be related to all Christian thought. The cross alone is our theology (crux sola nastra theologia) and also functions as a ritual principle for the assessment of theological formulation. The material principle is the character of divine love as agape, or self-giving love, which I believe can be understood as the intimate entanglement of the love of God in particular superposition in the incarnation. The nature of human need through sin, suffering, and death become the lenses through which we view the functioning of the divine. Metaphorically, if you will, human suffering becomes the measurement through which the divine field potential of agapaic love ‘collapses’ the wave function of agapaic love into the forms most particular to our need. This is the divine kenosis of the incarnation. God does not have to be made present, for God is always present, but the functional relationship within the immanent Trinity moves to economic expression in the incarnation. The Logos of creation becomes one with the creation that it has made possible, entering ever more deeply into the biology and physical reality of human and creational life. This occurs not because of some flaw in God’s plan or some external compulsion imposing itself on the divine will. No, this flows out of the omnipresent love of God within God’s body itself as it seeks to heal and restore a part of itself. The Resurrection may then be understood as the proleptic disclosure of the future of the creation within the healing body of God. It is a glimpse of the power of the immanent Trinity within the realm of the economic.

“How then does God remain distinct and yet become so intimately connected to the creation? This is where I believe the concept of kenosis is most effective. Indeed, I contend that with regard to the economic Trinity, the incarnation occurs as a kenotic perichoresis. When Philippians 2 says that Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, coming in the form of a servant, it does not say that Christ emptied himself of all divinity, only that Christ gave up the equal relationship with God. One could say that the Son kenotically gave up the Trinitarian perichoresis precisely in order to enter into the creation. Christ kenotically emptied himself of the immanent perichoresis of the Trinity in order to enter into the economic perichoresis of the creation. If the metaphors of non-local relational holism and entanglement are applied here, it might help clarify the ancient doctrine that ‘what can be said about the Father can be said about the Son except that the Father is not the Son.’ I would also add, ‘What can be said about the Son can be said about the Father except that the Son in not the Father.’ The theological reciprocity implied here affirms the divine affectability in both directions. The wholeness or holy otherness of God remains entangled with the particular embodiment even though it cannot be subsumed by that embodiment. God in God’s self is more than Christ even though Christ is the human face of God. Christ is the full mirror of the imago Dei within the creation. This is why Paul refers to Christ as the “Last Adam’ (1 Cor. 14;45). I believe perichoresis as entanglement can provide a useful metaphor for conceptualizing this, though certainly not explanations or proofs. Because of the ontological character of the finite human knower, metaphor and analogy may be all that we are ultimately capable of achieving.” (176-77)


“[panentheism] allows for both the intimate presence of God in the world while at the same time acknowledging that God is more than the world in the ultimate unknowable mystery of the divine referred to earlier. Because it holds the most significant promise for understanding the presence and transcendence of the divine in relation to the Trinity as well as to the natural sciences, it is this position that will be argued for in the present text. Such a position allows for divine presence without supernatural intervention in the natural world. God works in, with, and under the material forms of nature in a sacramental presence that providentially guides but does not intervene in natural processes. This position, [is] known as noninterventionist objective divine action (NIODA)” (49)


“the scholarly discussion of the relationship between religion and science has been pursuing a scientifically informed theological expression for more than fifty years. The present work is intended as a further contribution to that endeavor, as it attempts to address one of the most central, if often misunderstood, doctrines of the Christian tradition, the Trinity. The Trinity attempts to affirm the mystery of God on the one hand while simultaneously affirming the accessibility and relatedness of God to humanity and the creation on the other. These dual affirmations can be more cogently maintained in light of the understanding of the physical world and its entangled nature coming out of contemporary quantum physics. In other words, this book is an attempt to allow contemporary scientific thinking to inform theological reflection in such a way that a more accessible global society might become possible. We all have a responsible role to play in addressing our contemporary global crises, and hopefully the present reflection will contribute something to that endeavor.” (51)


Entanglement and perichoresis (divine energies) are parallel metaphors. (144)


“Entanglement gives metaphorical identity to the manner in which panentheism models God’s relationship to the creation. The foundational interconnectivity between God and creation is such that not only does one influence the other but they also exist in a communitarian relationship that mirrors the divine communion of the internal Trinity. The creation is the economic extension of the immanent Trinity into panentheistic otherness, allowing for communion that includes origination, redemption, and sanctification. It is pluralistic monotheism.” (160)


“Entangled field potential as a description of panentheism explicates divine presence while still allowing for freedom within the created order. This freedom then allows for emergent complexity, which increases the freedom of response as well as diversity within the divine embodiment. God dances with the creation by being spiritually immanent within it, guiding it to increased levels of complexity through the natural processes of existence. The dancing God is the God of evolution. Within the panentheistic model, as Denis Edwards points out, ‘evolution takes place within God.'” (162)


“The Spirit is the ongoing entanglement of the Father and the Son with the creation the sanctifying embodiment of the agapaic love of God, the blue grace of hope and peace. The Spirit is the living force of the love of God within the creation, empowering it towards eschatological fulfillment.” (180)


“If ‘to be’ means ‘to be in relation’ at the most fundamental levels of physical existence, then we have an interrelational and communitarian understanding of existence, upon which all other emergent structures of complexity are built. Existence is community in relation. The very nature of physical existence at the micro level points to a dynamic interrrelationality that human community at the macro level can also embody. Humans are not single, isolated beings that exist in self-sustaining independence from everything else. Rather, we are becomings that exist in dynamic interrelationship to others in the wider ecology of existence. In other words, identity is a process, not a possession, and environment forms identity. We are constituted by the world around us as we also help to constitute it. Since all existence is interrelated, there is a sense in which dynamic, communal relations are at the core of all existence. For human becoming, community resides in trust and in the willingness to transcend self-interest for the sake of the other. It is empowered by that around which the community gathers; indeed, what it has in ‘common’ to form the communio, the community.” (184-185)


“The thesis of this study has been that perichoresis evolves within the Trinitarian life of God as entangled superposition, relating Creator and creation in mutual interaction, supporting a panentheistic model of God. The immanent Trinity exists in simultaneous superposition with the economic Trinity and evolves within the entangled life of God with the creation. Entanglement gives metaphorical clarity to the manner in which panentheism models God’s relationship to the creation, including incarnation and sanctification. Superposition and non-local relational holism provide physical metaphors for the whole within the parts in such a way as to illuminate God’s being both in the world and beyond it at the same time. In this communitarian model of the God-world relationship, we all exist in mutual simultaneous relationships with one another. To exist at all is to exist in relationship, and we are bound together by the interrelationality of God.” (187)


“Ian Barbour observes, ‘Waves are continuous and extended, and they interact in terms of momentum. There seems to be no way to combine them into one united model….This same wave-particle duality is found throughout atomic physics.’ ((Ian Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997), 166-67)) He goes on to observe, however, ‘The paradoxical element int he wave-particle duality should not be overemphasized. We do not say that an electron is both a wave and a particle, but only that it exhibits wavelike and particle like behavior; moreover we do have a unified mathematical formalism, which provides for at least probabilistic predictions.’ ((Ibid., 170)) The wave function involves superposition such that when a particular measurement is made, the wave function collapses into a particle. Superposition, then, has to do with the nature of the wave function. Particles are quanta of the field described by the wave function. There is, however, an interplay here where distinct models must be simultaneously affirmed. Niels Bohr, the great philosophical father of quantum theory, termed this duality and other paris of sharply contrasting sets of concepts the complementarity principle. Within complementarity, Bohr affirmed several additional themes. Barbour summarizes,

Bohr emphasized that we must always talk about an atomic system in relation to an experimental arrangement; we can never talk about it in isolation, in itself. We must consider the interaction between subject and object in every experiment. No sharp line can be drawn between the process of observation and what is observed….Bohr held that it is the interactive process of observation, not the mind or consciousness of the observer, that must be taken into account. ((Ibid., 166-67))

And also,

Another theme in Bohr’s writing is the conceptual limitation of human understanding….Bohr shares Kant’s skepticism about the possibility of knowing the world in itself. If we try, as it were, to force nature into certain conceptual molds, we preclude the use of other molds. Thus we must choose between complete causal or spatiotemporal descriptions, between wave or particle models, between accurate knowledge of position or momentum. The more one set of concepts is used, the less the complementary set can be applied simultaneously. ((Ibid., 167-68))

Bohr’s complementarity has been debated since it was first articulated, and while different philosophical conclusions can be drawn, the need for complementary models and theories has not gone away. This need was heightened by Bohr’s friend and colleague Werner Heisenberg and his discovery of the principle of uncertainty.” (134-35)



Important Links gleaned from this book:

Robert John Russell

Philip Clayton