Social trinitarianism is the view, regarding the Trinity, that the three persons of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), consist of three distinct consciousnesses in a unifying, loving relationship. Furthermore, many assert that this community of persons is the ideological foundation for our social and political constructions. Nevertheless, there are varieties of definitions with different theologians supporting (i.e., William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland) and denying them (Craig A Carter). Here are some definitions.
“Social trinitarianism is the doctrine that Father, Son, and Spirit are three independent centers of consciousness with their own distinct intellects, wills, and energies of operation. The three persons of the trinity are united as a perichoretic communion of distinct persons, in contrast to the traditional unity in terms of the one divine nature or substance.” (https://fireandrose.blogspot.com/2012/06/part-3-problem-of-social-trinitarianism.html)
“Social Trinitarians typically articulate the unity of God in terms of community, freely chosen, loving relationship, empathy, mutual belonging, perichoresis/interpenetration, etc.” (https://alastairadversaria.com/2015/05/31/the-eternal-subordination-of-the-son-social-trinitarianism-and-ectypal-theology)
“…the one divine Being eternally exists as three distinct centers of consciousness, wholly equal in nature, genuinely personal in relationships, and each mutually indwelling the other.” (https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/47/47-3/47-3-pp399-421_JETS.pdf)
A problem with social trinitarianism
I must point out that examining social trinitarianism is not as easy as it might appear. There are varieties of definitions and because different theologians focus on different aspects in both defending and attacking the doctrine, analyzing is difficult – especially in a short article like this one.
Nevertheless, I’ll focus on the view which seems to be dominant among advocates of the social trinity that there are three centers of consciousness that work together as a communion of persons.
The problem is that this risks the unity of God since it implies three separate consciousnesses in the one God, which implies three gods, as well as threatening divine simplicity.
Let me explain.
God is one being, not three and as such, has one consciousness and one will that is revealed as a Trinity of persons. These persons are of the same substance but are distinct in their personhood. God, therefore, has one will. The three persons exist in a perichoretic relationship of mutual indwelling.
This is paradoxical, but not illogical.
Perichoresis is the inter-dwelling of the three persons within one another. This further means there can be no separation of wills and agency in the one being of God. There is only one will in God, because He is one being, not three, not three centers of consciousness, and not a community.
“A term used in the theology of the Trinity to indicate the intimate union, mutual indwelling, or mutual interpenetration of the three members of the Trinity with one another.” (McKim, Donald K.. The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Second Edition: Revised and Expanded . Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)
“Perichoresis is used in the context of the Holy Trinity to denote an interpenetration of the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person remains distinct from the others, but participates fully in their Being and action as one.” (Faithlife, LLC. “Logos Bible Software Factbook.” Logos Bible Software, Computer software. Bellingham, WA: Faithlife, LLC, June 8, 2022.)
The doctrine of Divine simplicity teaches that God is one thing, not three, one mind, not three minds. The one being of God reveals himself as three distinct simultaneous persons.
“God’s simplicity entails that his essence and existence are identical, signifying that there is no composition or division within the divine nature.” (Faithlife, LLC. “Logos Bible Software Factbook.” Logos Bible Software, Computer software. Bellingham, WA: Faithlife, LLC, June 7, 2022.)
“In theology simplicity is one of the more mysterious of the properties attributed to God by the medieval Scholastics, since it seems to imply that no distinction can be drawn between God’s existence and his essence, between his will and his intellect, or indeed among any of his properties.” (Evans, C. Stephen. Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics Philosophy of Religion (The IVP Pocket Reference Series) (p. 107). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.)
God is not a collection or community of persons, which can lean towards polytheism and degrade God’s unity. Instead, He is one being, three persons, who exist in a perichoresis – an inter-indwelling – of three distinct persons.