Extending Cornelius Plantinga’s Defense of the Social Trinity:
By Extending the Concept of Perichoresis
John Jefferson Davis
Senior Professor of Systematic Theology
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
The purpose of this paper is to defend Cornelius Plantinga’s case for the social Trinity, especially against the suspicion of tritheism, by 1) extending the concept of perichoresis from states of nature to include the states of consciousness of the divine persons; and 2) by providing a more robust defense of the unity of the divine persons with the concept of the reciprocal, congruent and necessary nested relationships of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In first section of the paper I will argue, on the basis of New Testament texts, that the concept of perichoresis can justifiably be extended from that of natures – as in the two natures of Christ – to states of personal consciousness – as in the self-awareness of Father, Son, and Spirit. I illustrate such a perichoresis of personal consciousnesses with a modern, interactive version of Gregory of Nyssa’s “Three Man” analogy of the Trinity – a “Jazz Trio” of pianist, drummer, and bass player. I will argue that these texts, together with the “Jazz Trio” illustration, make Plantinga’s social model of the Trinity, which posits Father, Son, and Spirit as distinct (but not separated) centers of self awareness, more plausible and logically coherent.
The second section will present a more robust ontological framework for the unity of will and action among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Plantinga’s social model. The argument will propose an updated version of Gregory of Nazianzus’ “Three Suns” illustration, together with an argument for the concept nested relations in which the three divine Persons are viewed as reciprocally, congruently, and necessarily contained in one another, together subsisting in the one undivided divine essence shared equally by the three.
These arguments are believed to be consistent with the foundational New Testament texts, and with historic Trinitarian orthodoxy as expressed in the patristic and creedal traditions of both the Western and Eastern churches.
This paper will build upon and extend my previous published journal articles on the doctrine of the Trinity: John Jefferson Davis, “Lessons from the Proton for Trinitarian Theology?” Science and Christian Belief 34:2 (2022): 130-141; and John Jefferson Davis, “Updating Cappadocian Answers to the One and Threeness Problem of the Trinity,” Doon Theological Journal 19:1-2 (2022): 5-25; and also my paper “Is the One God of the Old Testament and Judaism Exactly the Same God as the Trinitarian God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – of the New Testament and Christian Creeds?” accepted for presentation at the ETS Eastern Section meeting in Washington, D.C., April 21-22, 2023.