Trinitarian Relational Dynamics & Social Media Friendships

In her book, Alone Together, Sherry Turkle discusses the changes to friendships brought about by social media.

She argues that internet social networks offer the hope of intimate friendship along with control over the dynamics of that friendship.  That is, we can simultaneously hold friends close and keep them at bay.

I was thinking the other day about this dynamic in terms of Trinitarian-oriented friendships.  Theologians speak of the relationships between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perichoretic terms.  That is, the Father is always welcoming and enfolding the Son and the Spirit, providing divine hospitality.  And the Father is always going out and entering the Son and the Spirit in order to know and delight in them.

Human relationships are meant to imitate intra-Trinitarian relational dynamics so that to some extent flourishing friendships are those characterized by entering and welcoming, increasing authenticity, and mutual delight.

These dynamics are at odds with those fostered by social networking technologies.

Like Turkle, I would not say that the solution is abandonment or rejection of these technologies.  But there seems to be good ground to at least use them with a critical awareness of the dynamics inherent in their use.

13 thoughts on “Trinitarian Relational Dynamics & Social Media Friendships

  1. Jaime Hancock

    I think that there are some healthy principles to using social media sites like Facebook or Google+, which are:
    – If you are using them to keep in touch with people that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to keep in close contact with (because of distance or some other obstacle) then it is beneficial for that relationship and probably healthy.
    – If you are using them to supplement a close relationship with people that you are in regular (face-to-face) contact with, this is probably beneficial to the relationship and healthy.
    – If you are using them to avoid face-to-face contact, or to control face-to-face contact, this is most likely not beneficial to the relationship and is most likely not healthy.
    I think some questions users should ask themselves are:
    – Am I using this to give people a better opinion of me? (probably unhealthy)
    – Am I using this because I don’t want to actually interact with this person, but I don’t want them to know that I don’t really like them? (probably unhealthy)
    – Am I using this to encourage people to live out the image of God in this world, to build them up and to express the love of God? (probably healthy)

    1. timgombis

      Yeah, that’s a good start, Jaime. I think I’d also want to reflect upon the dynamics of the medium and reflect a bit on what sort of idolatries it calls upon in my own heart and how the technology fosters those and perhaps creates new ones. But I’d also be open just to recognizing it as likely very superficial and engaging it at an explicitly superficial level.

  2. mshedden

    Dr. Gombis,
    This line got me thinking:
    Human relationships are meant to imitate intra-Trinitarian relational dynamics so that to some extent flourishing friendships are those characterized by entering and welcoming, increasing authenticity, and mutual delight.
    Are we actually suppose to imitate intra-Trinitarian relations or are we suppose to imitate Jesus as he brings us into intra-Trinitarian relations? I have been spending quite a bit of time thinking about the Trinity lately and isn’t the second option more our call to live out in the world, as he represents the image of the invisible God that we are being molded into? I guess it depends on how you play out the ‘imago dei’ as I lean more towards a christological emphasis there than a Trinitarian one. I don’t know if this is thin line but it seems like the Trinity isn’t necessarily meant to function the way you are describing it.
    I could be wrong (in fact I might actually want to be wrong about this) but I am really open to hearing you thoughts on why you choose the former instead of the latter.

    1. timgombis

      Good questions. I don’t think those alternatives need to be set over-against each other. So, first, I’ll just affirm several of the things you said as true, and then get to the question of imitating God’s perichoretic relational dynamics.

      First, we do indeed imitate Jesus. Second, we are indeed drawn into the intra-Trinitarian love of God by the Spirit and by virtue of our being baptized into Christ. Third, we as individuals bear the image of God, and Jesus is the image of the invisible God par excellence.

      Beyond all this, however, the image of God is also something true of the communal aspect of humanity. So, we as humans are the image of God — “in the image of God he created them” (Gen 1:17). The manner in which this corporate dimension of humanity in the image of God is supposed to work out is to imitate the sorts of self-giving loving relationships that exist between Father, Son, and Spirit.

      So, because we’re in the image of God as individuals, we imitate Jesus. And because we as corporate bodies of people are in God’s image, we imitate the intra-Trinitarian relational dynamics–though only by analogy, since our corporate communities don’t have the same potentialities that exist within the God-head.

      Does that make sense?

      1. mshedden

        Thanks for the response.
        I think I may be hesitant here because intra-Trinitarian dynamics seem to neglect the nature of the Christ in the flesh. It seems, according to this view of the Trinity, we look at Christ on earth to find out full humanity but Christ in the trinity for our corporate humanity. Whereas it seems to Paul isn’t calling the community to look at the Trinity but Christ in the flesh in Philippians 2. (Granted you are the Paul scholar so I am sure you’ve already considered this). In looking at Christ in Phil 2 has God raising him but I guess the question there is whether this is Christological looking or trinitarian looking. Obviously, Christ is never not in the Trinity but I think of the Trinity more as doctrine about God and God’s relation to humanity rather than our relationships to one another. That would seem to be work of the Spirit following the cruciform pattern of Christ to the Father but I am not sold it is modeled after that. I am guess its not an either/or or simple tack on but it seems difficult to parse.
        Any other examples in Scripture that have helped you think through this?
        Re: Analogy: That seems to mess with my Barth-ian streak. 🙂

      2. timgombis

        Thanks for this. A few thoughts:

        I don’t want to set imitating Christ over-against imitating the relational dynamics of the Trinity. They should be kept together or seen to be harmony.

        I’m mainly drawing upon the statements in Gen. 1-2 that speak of Adam being in the image of God and then Adam and Eve being in the image of God. Their imaging God is a dynamic reality, having to do with their ruling over creation, but also their relating to one another. I’m just making the point that the pattern for how human relationships are supposed to look from the very beginning is found in God’s relationships within his own being.

        This shouldn’t at all be set over-against the incarnation. In fact, when Jesus comes in the flesh he behaves as a human according to that original ideal–that mutuality that was supposed to be embodied by humanity in imitation of the Tri-une God. So, he delights to be welcomed and receives the good gifts of others. And he offers invitations to others, does good, etc.

        Just to say that the self-giving, cruciform love of Jesus and his behavior as God-in-the-flesh is in no way incompatible or inconsistent with the character of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. It just seems to me that it’s appropriate to call upon the cruciform pattern of Christ and also to reflect upon the nature of God as Persons in Communion and to think about how that ought to shape our relating as humans, since we’re in God’s image. Reflecting on one doesn’t rule out the other. It’s just that in this blog post, I called upon one (trying to write shorter posts these days) and not the other. That wasn’t to neglect the other, but just to make a strategic point.

        A number of theologians have drawn upon Trinitarian dynamics of perichoresis to think through human relationships. You can see Miroslav Volf’s, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity, although making that move does have its critics. I think Scot McKnight does the same in one of his books, too.

      3. mshedden

        Thanks for putting Volf out there. I wasn’t really sold with After Our Likeness but it helps me grasp where you are coming from.
        I don’t mean to hold the Trinity and following Jesus against each other but that is kind of what I see happening when the Trinity is appealed to in this way because it pulls out of Jesus’ earthly life as a full picture of being fully human and fully divine. But I get how what I am saying also seems like that. Just not sold that’s the best way to read the Trinity or the “image of God.”
        If you are interested in a book that is way too long but really helped me come to grips with the Trinity’s implications for anthropology is Eccentric Existence by David Kesley.

      4. timgombis

        Thanks for that! I’m a bib studies guy who dabbles in theology, so I haven’t considered at length criticisms of reflecting on the Trinity along this line.

  3. trinitariantheodicy


    For the past while I have done a lot of thinking about the doctrine of the Trinity and its potential for helping us make some headway in resolving issues related to theodicy (my master’s thesis).

    More than perichoresis, perhaps kenosis would impact relations/social media decisions? Kenosis combined with the agape that God is – love that seeks the best of and for the other, that is willing to serve with no thought of self – would seem to be consistent with the self-denying, servanthood we are called to, wherein we love God first and neighbor second.

    So perhaps the kenosis of God rather than the perichoresis can guide us?

    1. timgombis

      I’d like to hear you draw that out a bit more. That may indeed be the case. I’m all for utilizing a range of tools in Christian theology to reflect on contemporary life and culture. I just thought that perichoresis really gets at mutuality in a uniquely Christian way, and in a way that is seriously altered (to whatever extent) by the dynamics of social media. I’m sure that kenotic dynamics might come into play, too, but I just haven’t reflected on things from that angle.

      Your thoughts?

      1. trinitariantheodicy

        Perichoresis involves an intimacy I do not think of when thinking of engaging via social media. It is an intimacy I can only share with others knowers, followers and lovers of Christ.

        From my blog’s post on perichoresus: “As used currently, perichoresis “highlights the unity of purpose, fellowship, communion…self-deference, or just simply the love among Father, Son, and Spirit,” the “unity of will, purpose, action, and love.” “Indivisibility can be understood perichoretically, in the sense that the divine persons are volitionally undivided in purpose, life, and love.””

        But kenosis denotes self-giving for the sake of the other. Again, from my blog – post on kenosis: “In both the eternal Trinitarian relations and the kenosis of Christ, God reveals his nature to be kenotic. Christ’s kenosis reveals that acts of self-emptying are key to understanding God’s nature. Out of love, Christ deliberately chose to limit some of his divine prerogatives. Kenosis speaks of self-giving, self-surrender, self-sacrificing, self-emptying; of giving all one has, holding nothing back; of self-limitation or better yet, of self-restraint. Bulgakov calls kenosis a voluntary “self-diminuation with respect to [God’s] absoluteness.””

        It just seems to me the kenosis of God is what we are called to live in the world, imho.

        But good to think about these things! Thanks.

  4. Pingback: Off-Topic: The Trinity and Social Media | Church Sports Outreach | Sports Ministry | Recreation Ministry

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