The “Social Trinity” vs. Nicene Christianity
The social Trinity explains how some theologians–both liberal and evangelical–can say that God punishing His Son for our sins amounts to cosmic “child abuse.” They do not grasp the implications of the Incarnation, that the Father and the Son are one substance, so that in Jesus, God is taking the sins of the world into Himself and atoning for them with His own death for our salvation.
What God do you worship? For Christians, the object of their faith is the one God in Three Persons, the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
After being downplayed or denied in mainline liberal theology, the Trinity is back in vogue in those circles. But not in the sense of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, which teach, for instance, that the Son is “of one substance with the Father.”
The Church Fathers explained the Trinity in terms of “being,” with the related concepts of “essence” and “natures.” But modernist philosophy, particularly the existentialism that has greatly influenced modernist theology, has gotten away from those concepts, which has led to the relativism and subjectivism of postmodern thought.
So contemporary theologians have redefined the Trinity in terms of “community.” In the “social Trinity,” the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are separate persons who come together to form a community. And we are to do the same. And since the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–conceived mainly in a tritheistic manner–are equal to each other, we should have the same equality in our families, churches, and nations. This provides a theological basis for the current focus in Mainline Protestantism on feminism, race, LGBTQ issues, etc.
Now it isn’t surprising that liberal theologians would take a traditional Christian doctrine, turn it inside out, and make it support some contemporary preoccupation. That’s what liberal theologians do. That’s what liberal theology is.
But now some evangelical, ostensibly conservative theologians are also replacing the doctrine of the Trinity as formulated by the early church in the creeds with the social Trinity.
Matthew Barrett, professor at Midwest Baptist Seminary, writes about this whole phenomenon in an article for Christianity Today entitled Evangelicals Have Made The Trinity a Means to an End. It’s Time to Change That, with the deck “For 2,000 years, church leaders held to the same Trinitarian doctrine. How did we lose our way?” (The article is behind a paywall, though you might get a limited number of free articles.)