Trinity

What are the different models of the Trinity in the Christian tradition?

The Psychological and Social Models of the Trinity
The Bible teaches that there is only one God. At the same time, it teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully God. For this reason the church has always affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity, which teaches that God has one substance (ousia) but eternally and fully exists as three distinct Persons (hypostases in Greek, personae in Latin).

The question left unanswered is how we are to understand the relationship between the substantial unity and personal plurality within the Godhead. Throughout church history, two distinct models have been proposed.

The first model goes back to the second-century apologists and was made famous by Augustine. It is usually called the psychological model of the Trinity, for it likens the unity and diversity of the Godhead to the unity and diversity of the human self. According to Augustine, the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is like the unity of the mind (thoughts), heart (emotions), and volition (will) of a person. A different version was put forth by Jonathan Edwards in the eighteenth century. He argued that as the human psyche consists of a self, a self-image, and a relationship between the self and the self-image, so the Godhead consists of a self (Father), a perfect self-image (Son), and a perfect loving relationship (Spirit) between the self and the self-image.

While many have found the psychological model helpful, others have objected to it on the grounds that it is not faithful to the biblical data. The Bible depicts the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three distinct Persons, they argue, not three distinct aspects of one Person. Hence, they have proposed that we should think of the unity of the Trinity more like the unity of the mind, heart, and will of three people. This has been labeled the social model of the Trinity.

To some defenders of the psychological model, the social model borders on tri-theism (the belief in three separate gods). To some defenders of the social model, the psychological model borders on modalism (reducing the three Persons to three modes of one person). Still others argue that since models are only models, not exact replicas of reality, we may affirm both models as valid in capturing distinct perspectives on a God whose full reality defies exhaustive description.

Category:
Tags: , ,
Topics: ,

Related Reading

The Cruciform Center Part 1: How Matthew, Mark and Luke Reveal a Cruciform God

In the previous series of posts I’ve argued that a merely “Christocentric” approach to God is too general, as can be shown by the widely different conceptions of God people arrive at, despite their claim to be “Christocentric.”  The confession that Jesus reveals what God is like is simply too abstract, for it leaves too…

Why Did God Require Animal Sacrifice in the Old Testament?

Question: I have a question about the atonement. Why did YHWH in the OT demand that people sacrifice animals? And if these sacrifices anticipated the ultimate sacrifice of the Messiah, as the author of Hebrews says, doesn’t this imply that Jesus’ death was necessary for God to forgive us? But why would God need his…

The Cruciform Center Part 3: How Paul’s Epistles Reveal a Cruciform God

As we’ve discussed, the four Gospels point to a cruciform revelation of God (click here and here for a review), but what about the most widely read writer of the New Testament? What did the Apostle Paul have to say about how the cross reveals who God is? Before turning to Paul’s writings, I’d like…

The Revelation of God in the Cross

The cross cannot be understood apart from the resurrection, just as the resurrection can never be understood apart from the cross. They are two sides of the same coin. If you consider the cross apart from the resurrection, then the crucified Christ becomes nothing more than one of the many thousands of people who were…

Do you believe God is pure actuality?

The basis of the classical view of God as pure actuality (actus purus) is the Aristotelian notion that potentiality is always potential for change and that something changes only because is lacks something else. So, a perfect being who lacks nothing must be devoid of potentiality, which means it must be pure actuality. I think…

The Incarnation: Paradox or Contradiction?

We’re in the process of flushing out the theology of the ReKnew Manifesto, and we’ve come to the point where we should address the Incarnation. This is the classical Christian doctrine that Jesus was fully God and fully human. Today I’ll simply argue for the logical coherence of this doctrine, viz. it does not involve…

Topics: