We run our website the way we wished the whole internet worked: we provide high quality original content with no ads. We are funded by your direct support for ReKnew and our vision. Please consider supporting this project.
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.
The Cross and The Trinity
Out of love for humankind, Scripture tells us, Jesus emptied himself of his divine prerogatives, set aside the glory he had with the Father from before the foundation of the world, became a human being and bore our sin as he died a God-forsaken death on Calvary (Phil 2:5-7). Though Jesus remained fully God, he…
The Case for Women in Ministry
Kathy’s Struggle with Temptation Kathy was one of the brightest students I ever had when I taught Theology at Bethel University. She asked insightful questions and often contributed to lively class discussions. The time and energy she put into her theology classes was motivated by more than just a desire to get a good grade.…
Creating God in Our Own Image
How have we created God in our own image? In this short video produced by The Work of the People, Greg reflects on various ways that humans typically think about God in terms of power, and how Jesus reframes the nature of power. The Christian revelation of God is the opposite of what we most often imagine…
When God Abandoned God
On the cross, Jesus’ cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mt. 27:46). These are arguably the most shocking, beautiful, and profoundly revelatory words found in Scripture. The cry reveals that on Calvary, the all-holy Son of God experienced God-forsakenness as he bore the…
The Phinehas vs. Jesus Conundrum
I’ll be frank. This is not a blog that will be easy for some people to read. But it’s a blog I believe every follower of Jesus should read – even if you have to force yourself to press on. It’s about something we all wish was not true. It’s about the way the Bible…
The Cruciform Center Part 4: How Revelation Reveals a Cruciform God
I’ve been arguing that, while everything Jesus did and taught revealed God, the character of the God he reveals is most perfectly expressed by his loving sacrifice on the cross. Our theology and our reading of Scripture should therefore not merely be “Christocentric”: it should be “crucicentric.” My claim, which I will attempt to demonstrate…