The debate over the doctrine of the Trinity and its relevance for today’s believers has been a long debated issue within the field of theology, and within the rank and file of the religious. This debate has generated a number of questions concerning the specific relationship between the three entities of the Trinity, as well as their application to everyday faith and life. Is the doctrine of the Trinity still relevant, and does God need to be reconceived as relational (Metzler, 2003)?
The best place to start with this inquiry is to look at how the doctrine of the Trinity came to be. The doctrine of the Trinity came about in order to address the question of the content of the faith (Franke, 2001). Early believers, and more specifically the church, saw the need to define the divineness of both Son and Spirit. As Gregory Nazianzus points out, the church needed to first establish the divinity of Jesus Christ. They then needed to establish the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and then finally offer a definitive definition of the Trinity and the relationship of the entities it contains (McGrath, 2011).
It is interesting to point out that Nazianzus also points out that the specific dogma of the Trinity was not easily arrived at. Rather this is something that was the result of a long, cautious process of reflection and analysis (McGrath, 2011). While some have argued that theologians and church elite are trying to segregate the Trinity into three separate entities or beings, Moltmann is quick to point out that this is not the case. He states that it is the Bible that reveals three separate persons at work (Metzler, 2003). This, Moltmann argues, necessitates that we recognize a plurality of persons involved with the Trinity. The doctrine should then be an example of community and fellowship of three distinct “persons” (Metzler, 2003).
This is along the same line of argument that Epiphanius holds. He states that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in the same being. They are simply three names that are attached to on substance or being (McGrath, 2011). Epiphanius goes one step farther though. He relates the Trinity to the actual human body. He states that the Father is like the overall body of the man. The Son is the soul, and the Holy Spirit is our spirit (McGrath, 2011).
Augustine feels that in order to see the image of God, we simply need to look at the human mind. He argues that God has left His own personal imprint on the whole of creation. Through this imprint we can find and see “traces of the Trinity” (McGrath, 2011). The human mind, he argues is where God has deposited the image of Himself (McGrath, 2011).
This plays right into the theory held by Gregory of Nyssa. He believes that everything in creation and nature, including the Trinity finds its origin in the Father. This then proceeds through the Son, and is finally perfected and applied by the Holy Spirit (McGrath, 2011). This then shows how the Father, Son, and Spirit all act as one unit fulfilling the purpose of the creator. They each have their own distinct roles to play, but these roles are complimentary in nature, one to the other (McGrath, 2011). God is seen as the Savior of all, the Son works salvation for all through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit (McGrath, 2011).
It is through the social venue and understanding the relationship of the three entities of the Trinity that we can also acquire a better understanding of creation (or nature) (Bracken, 1998). A new, more specific ontology will allow us to grasp the Trinity in a deeper, more meaningful manner. This will, in turn, allow us greater margins within which to apply and internalize the Trinity to our own lives, experiences, faith and religious worship (Bracken, 1998). Metzler argues that God is deity and is therefore linked to us through His rule of this world.
This brings into view the social Trinity. This is a more pluralistic view that is based in the nature of man, creation and God. Is this the best way for believers today to come to understand God (Metzler, 2003)? This social Trinity is one in which there exists a fellowship between the Father, Son, and the Spirit. Richard of St Victor also argues that this is the purest expression of love possible (McGrath, 2011).
This belief in the social aspects of the Trinity is also reinforced by the Council of Toledo. While the council reinforces the fact that the Trinity is 3 persons, they also cite the fact that these three are joined as the one God through their relationship, nature and/or substance (McGrath, 2011). Grenz states that the Father, Son and Spirit are not separate entities, but rather “modes” through which one divine God expresses Himself. Although, these entities do share the same will, nature and essence, they each have separate properties or activities (Grenz, 1994).
Staying along this line of reasoning, Grenz also states that these three entities are involved with every area of God’s working in the world, making this social relationship also intertwined with the economic Trinity. If we look at Rahner’s rule, he states that the economic Trinity is the immanent (or essential) Trinity, and the immanent (or essential) Trinity is the economic Trinity (Franke, 2001). James 1:17 reminds us that every good and perfect gift is from God. The Trinity shows the believer that God made creation for us in order to have a relationship with us. Once we fell from grace, God continued to show His love through the sacrifice of His Son through salvation that we can experience with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. We can be assured of this through the validation of Jesus’ divinity in Romans 9:5, and the validation of the divinity of the Holy Spirit found in Romans 8:9, and I Corinthians 3:16.
Bracken, Joseph A. Trinity: Economic and Immanent. Horizons 25.1. Spring 1998.
Franke, John R. & Grenz, Stanley J. 2001. Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context. Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville, Kentucky.
Grenz, Stanley J. 1994. Theology For The Community Of God. William B Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Holy Bible. 1972. Thomas Nelson Inc. Camden, New Jersey.
McGrath, Alister E. 2011. The Christian Theology Reader, Fourth Edition. Wiley-Blackwell. Malden, Massachusetts.
Metzler, Norman. The Trinity in Contemporary Theology: Questioning The Social Trinity. Concordia Theology Quarterly 67.3. Jl-O 2003.