The Trinity Frame

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The Trinity lies at the heart of the DITB project. The research question asks: How might an increased awareness of the social Trinity impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations? It was my experience with the social Trinity that sparked the creation of this project. It is necessary, then, to define the term social Trinity in light of the larger theological conversation of the Triune God.

It might be easy to imagine the social Trinity as a doctrinal statement—a chunk of knowledge—that could be presented to the RT for objective evaluation and ultimate acceptance or rejection. This idea, however, is (a) not congruent with my pedagogy,[1] and (b) contrary to the nature of the Triune God. The research was conducted in the understanding that God is not an object that can be studied or a concept to be considered, but that God is the ground of being itself from which all life springs forth.[2] All human speech about God is, at best, an analogy, metaphor, or simile. All theology is a human construction of symbols—models—that point to the unknowable God, but can never define or explain God.[3]

God is not an object to be studied, therefore, the DITB project raised a question that wonders (a) whether the models of the Triune God that we have inherited from our Western Theological predecessors are adequate and helpful for the current context in which the church finds itself[4], and (b) if an alternate model of the Trinity might provide more space for a missional imagination of spiritual formation in the local congregation. It was my assumption that the RT would have a traditional, Western model of the Trinity as their frame for understanding God as we began this project.

Reframing the Model

A Brief Summary of the Social Trinity Conversation

The following playlist of four short animations will walk you through the basic introduction to the Social Trinity.

Use this Prezi to navigate through a visual bibliography of Trinitarian resources. Happy zooming!

Trinity Bibliography


[1] See chapter two.

[2] David Kelsey posits that all knowledge of God is secondary knowledge, and that, to understand God truly, the researcher must observe the activities of the local congregation in its specific context. Thus, the participatory action research methodology used in this research is, in itself, a theological inquiry into the mystery of the Triune God.

[3] William C. Placher, The Triune God: An Essay in Postliberal Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 40-41. See Peters on the use of the term symbol. Ted Peters, God–the World’s Future: Systematic Theology for a New Era, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000) and Grenz on the use of the term model. Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, Who Needs Theology?: An Invitation to the Study of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996).

[4] Here I am referring to the much-rehearsed history of Athanasius’ victory over Arius at the Council of Nicea in which he demonstrated that God is three in person, but one in essence. His Immanent model of God as three-in-one within Godself has been reduced, over time, to monarchial modalism, at best, in Western, modern theology. The Immanent trinity, then, is the transcendent God of divine substance that is separated from the material world in the tradition of Platonic dualism.


One thought on “The Trinity Frame”

  1. St Paul seems to model some of this trinitarian understanding in his letter to Philemon as he undertakes a message of reconciliation. Let the one that was formerly your slave now be seen by you as your brother in Christ. And if he owes anything to you at all, then apply it to me. I have gained a son. To St Paul, much of the work of Spiritual Formation was to be found in this ministry of Reconciliation. Perhaps the challenge of Spiritual Formation for us in modern suburbia is closely related to identifying where brokenness is most evident among us and picking up again this ministry of reconciliation in the suburbs.

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