About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Slamming Social Trinitarianism’s Slammers – and Barth’s Bottom-line

Gijsbert van den Brink’s defence of social trinitarianism in the latest IJST is worth a read. Although he makes many interesting points, this one in particular stood out to me:

As long as social trinitarianism subscribes to the orthodox ‘three hypostaseis in one ousia’ formula, it is not at all clear why it should be at odds with Nicene Christianity.

Gijsbert van den Brink, ‘Social Trinitarianism: A Discussion of Some Recent Theological Criticisms’, International Journal of Systematic Theology 16:3 (2014), pp. 331–350; quotation from p. 341

I think this is a fair point!

(Van den Brink also summarises what he describes as ‘Barth’s Bottom-line’, that ‘[w]hen we have to do with God’s revelation . . . , we have to do with God Godself’ (p. 349). I really hope that the phrase ‘Barth’s Bottom-line’ doesn’t catch on. It conjures up unpleasant images.)


  1. Some versions of social trinitarianism, especially those influenced by Hegel or Hartshorne, reject the idea that God's ousia is simple, indivisible and non-composite. So lot depends on what "in one ousia" means in Gjisbert's formulation. (I haven't read his article yet.) Without the idea divine simplicity, God's being gets implicated (constitutively) in created tie and space. This makes it heterodox at best relative to Nicene Christianity. Barth's "bottom line" has do do with the radical otherness of the divine being in its self-revelation.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Professor. Gijsbert does have a section in his essay on divine unity, in which he merely mentions divine simplicity; his focus here is on whether or not social trinitarianism implies tritheism or an understanding of God as a community of persons (he denies these).

  3. Well, I'll have to read the article. But some actually existing social trinitarian views do tend toward tritheism. Perichoresis is not enough to avoid tritheism. Divine simplicity in indispensable not incidental to doing so.

    Part of the problem is to think that we need to choose between the "psychological model" and the "social model." Neither is sufficient in itself. We need elements of each and beyond them. As Barth always argued, ultimately there are no analogies. Most actually existing social trinitarian proposals do not maintain the mystery of the three and the one in God, which we need to keep in dialectical tension in our minds.