Here’s yet another part of the response that I gave to a paper by Dr. Margaret Barker, which she presented in the Varsity Theater on the campus of Brigham Young University on 9 November 2016:
I like Dr. Barker’s emphasis on John 17, on the oneness there in the high priestly prayer. Let me just say something very briefly about that, because it is a powerful, powerful passage.
There is a trend now, in certain areas of Christian thought, to apply John 17 to the doctrine of the Trinity. Some people, not only in Catholic and Protestant circles but in Orthodox circles, are now formulating a doctrine of the Trinity called Social Trinitarianism. It is intended to replace what you might call the older Nicene Substance Trinitarianism. In Social Trinitarianism, the idea that there is a perfect oneness between Father, Son and the Holy Ghost does not make them one substance. Substance Trinitarianism rest on a Middle Platonic or Aristotelian conception that’s quite foreign to the scriptures. Instead, Social Trinitarianism makes the three members of the Trinity or Godhead absolutely one in purpose, in mind. An old Greek term that’s used for this kind of unity is perichoresis, which refers to a sort of perfect mutual in-dwelling, where each one is perfectly aware of what the other is thinking and feeling. There is, in this view, not a hair’s breadth of difference between them, and the idea here is that that kind of social fellowship, that perfect fellowship that exists between the members of the Trinity or the Godhead, is the kind of fellowship into which, to some degree or another, based on John 17, human beings might have the potential of gaining admission. For, if we are to be one as the Father and the Son are one (John 17:11), then it’s possible that, if we learn to align our wills perfectly with theirs and to be thoroughly indwelt by their spirit, we might be one with them, too. And then we could be one with them in that divine fellowship, and that, surely, would be a form of deification.
A video recording of Dr. Barker’s presentation that also includes Dr. David Larsen’s response as well as mine is accessible at no charge on the Interpreter Foundation’s website:
I subsequently published an extended discussion on Social Trinitarianism in my “Notes on Mormonism and the Trinity,” in Paul Y. Hoskisson and Daniel C. Peterson, eds., “To Seek the Law of the Lord”: Essays in Honor of John W. Welch (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation, 2017.