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The Diversity of the Integral Gospel

 Repurposing Diversity

to Re-image the Global Church

 

 

 

   Diversity Study


 

T. Dave Matsuo

 

©2022 TDM All rights reserved

No part of this manuscript may be reprinted without permission from the author

Contact: tdavematsuo@4X12.org

 

 

 

Chapter 1     Calling All of God’s People

 

Sections

 

Breaking down or Breaking through

Getting Beyond Our History

Going Down to Our Roots

Unavoidable Theological Issues Needing Resolve in Global Christianity

Contextualizing from Top-down or Bottom-up, by Outsiders or Insiders

Questions Facing Us Requiring Answers

Questions to Account for:

Questions to Be Responsible for:

The Relational Purpose and Outcome Unfold

Chap.1

Chap.2

Chap.3

Chap.4

Chap.5

Chap.6

Chap.7

 

Printable pdf 

(Entire study)

 

Table of Contents

 

Scripture Index

 

Bibliography

 

“Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me….

Hear, O my people, and I will speak.”

Psalm 50:5,7 [1]

 

            It’s been twenty years since 9/11 amplified the war between Christian nationalists and Muslim nationalists; this battle between Christians and Muslims originated in the first millennium of the church’s inception. What initially united the U.S, in the common cause rising from the destruction of 9/11 devolved into simplistic measures and actions used to resolve complex matters—for example, the war on Iraq and in Afghanistan, and the collateral damage still incurred today. Such oversimplification of what is due to the human condition has generated biases, which have exerted tension and conflict on the semblance of unity. The twenty years since 9/11 and the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic sadly evidence the disunity among us—including notably among Christians and churches, and between them even in the same church. This diverse approach to Christian faith in divisive times has to cause dissonance that, at some point, Christians and churches have to address and account for. However, as long as consonance is maintained in the context of “like-mindedness,” and as “confirmation bias” (selective used of information, including Scripture, to support one’s views) is the feedback process used, then any dissonance will not be sufficient to pay attention to, much less resolve.

            Recently, the U.N. Secretary General António Guterres issued a dire warning that the world is moving in the wrong direction and faces “a pivotal moment” that could lead to a breakdown of global order and a future of perpetual crisis. The current “enormous stress” he describes demonstrates the failure of nations to come together and make joint decisions to help all people in the face of global life-threatening emergency: beyond COVID-19, failure to solve the climate crisis, the inequality undermining the cohesion of societies, containing technology advances, rising poverty, hunger and gender inequality, “while conspiracy theories and lies fuel deep divisions within societies.” He proposes a “breakthrough scenario”—countering global decision making fixed on immediate gain, ignoring long-term consequences, and correcting “a major blind spot in how we measure progress and prosperity—which “calls for new metrics that value the life and well-being of the many over short-term profit for the few.”[2]  

            The words of Guterres could echo words from God that all Christians and churches need to hear, listen to and take to heart. The above scenarios and their historical roots come to bear on all of God’s people; and they render the diversity of Christians and churches to be responsible and account for our disunity, and then take responsibility and be accountable for the breakthrough. So, we need to examine where we are today, who and what we are, where we come from and why we are here, because God is gathering “to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me” in order for us to listen and respond as “I will speak.”

 

 

Breaking down or Breaking through

 

            Guterres is hopeful for a new chapter in the life of the U.N. He appears to have no illusions about how this narrative will unfold, because it is contingent on the global community changing its worldview and working mindset. Yet, he seems to think that such basic changes are, on the one hand, the same for everyone, and, on the other hand, that the thinking of global diversity will result in the same outcome for everyone. This is the wrong assumption to make for the global community and to base one’s hope for basic change to unfold this narrative in the existential lives composing the global diversity—notably in the midst of existential breakdowns both collectively and individually. Here is where God gathers his global family to listen to deeper words without assumptions.

            In Psalm 50, the psalmist reveals the pivotal narrative of God gathering his covenant family, not to celebrate but in order to communicate directly the essential feedback necessary to pay attention to the subtle breakdowns in their faith. Since God’s feedback could not be used to confirm their bias, God readily exposes the breakdown not necessarily in their theology but existing in their practice in everyday life. Most revealing in God’s feedback, which dispels confirmation bias, is the existential reality of their ongoing portrayal of God: “you thought I was altogether like you” (Ps 50:21). Portraying God in our diverse images is a subtle breakdown prevalent among Christians, which often precludes God’s feedback by the selective use of Scripture for confirmation bias. God is calling together the diverse global Christian community to listen to the feedback essential for the urgent change required to truly progress from breakdown to breakthrough.

            If we have paid any kind of attention beyond our like-minded contexts, there will be a stirring of dissonance. Given the diverse views and actions Christians have expressed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and continue to do so, non-Christian observers must wonder how contradictory the Christian God could be in leading Christians in such diverse and divisive ways. In other words (including those from God), Christians must always realize that our everyday practice is always an existential witness of God, our specific God, whether intentional or not; and our practice sends others a message of how our God leads us. Theology notwithstanding, this is where subtle breakdowns are evolving globally in the diverse Christian community.

            Therefore, all Christians and churches need to understand that the culture(s) embodied in our everyday life practice is inseparable from our religion, and thus reflects what our religion is along with its God. This integral view of culture and religion is the norm for religion in general globally and in specific diverse forms of religion locally/regionally.[3] Accordingly, any change necessary in our diverse Christian practice must also address the influence of our culture(s), that is, if we are to understand the change contingent for having the breakthrough that turns us around from our breakdowns in diverse practice even while subscribing to similar or identical theology.

            Perhaps Christians and churches have assumed God’s affirmation of the diversity of their practice because “These things you have done and I have been silent” (50:21). That silence now reverberates as God’s call to his family increasingly resounds: “Hear, O my people, and I will. I will testify against you” (v.7); “I will accuse you to your face” (v.21, NIV, cf. Isa 57:16). Our assumptions are on trial now!

 

 

 

Getting Beyond Our History

 

            Depending on one’s history, most people form the basis of their identity in that history. That’s why it’s important to know where we came from, and to understand who and what we are today unfolding from our existential heritage—not always synonymous with narratives from recorded history.  

            My personal Christian journey began many years ago. I grew up in Chicago, IL, in what would be considered a Christian environment. Yet, I didn’t become a Christian until I was almost twenty. Why not ‘til then? Because I had concluded up to that time that my life was more satisfying than what my Christian friends experienced. My life revolved around sports, and as I developed into a star athlete I embraced its benefits—though I didn’t get absorbed into its subculture since academics mattered to me. In spite of my success—for example, I played American football for an all-male high school of almost 7,000 students, purposely attending there to play at the highest level—I was always aware that my reputation was based on my success on the field and not related to my person. As a person of color, I always knew I was “other” in the midst of my white friends and culture; and that my popularity was unrelated to my person but based on identifying with white culture. Though I didn’t recognize it at the time, this caused dissonance that eventually was the key to recognizing my dissatisfaction in life. This, then, led to a breakthrough to approach Jesus one pivotal day to form an intimate relationship that exceeded what I witnessed in other Christians.

 

            Nevertheless, after my initial journey in intimate relationship together with Jesus, I was exposed to prevailing traditions in Christian practice that I assumed would advance my Christian life. This included undertaking formal theological study, all of which stimulated my mind as never before in the worldview from the Enlightenment and a Western mindset. In spite of the success of succeeding years, the heart of my person reemerged from being constrained by my modern Western mind. The dissonance I was feeling pointed me to the pervading bias of my theological and church contexts, which shaped Christianity and its God in a culture of whiteness. In the midst of subtle breakdowns in my Christian practice, once again the lingering dissonance in my person challenged the other of my identity evolving from where I came from and where I was going. By going beyond the above biased history, I was led to embrace my identity of color. After absorbing my minority identity for all of its worth and significance, however, there reemerged a dissonance in my heart. Why this time? My identity was no longer shaped by whiteness; I no longer considered myself other. Yet, in promoting the diversity of the Christian community, the dissonance in my heart was now communicating that my whole person still had not discovered the roots of where I came from, the depths of who and what I am, and why fully I am here for. By remaining where I was in the basic changes I made breaking through white Christianity, I was reinforcing diverse breakdowns in my practice—breakdowns which further prevented the deepest breakthrough still eluding me. The dissonance from my breakdowns and my complicity (perhaps even enabling) of the diverse breakdowns of others eventually was convicting:

I needed to go beyond my history and break through to the radical depths where the true roots of God’s family emerge to reveal the diverse branches integral for Christians and churches to be in the image and likeness of the Trinity.

 

 

Going Down to Our Roots

 

            Since all of us live in a sociocultural setting, it is essential to understand the influence our surrounding context has on our everyday life. This influence does not merely contribute to our daily lifestyle but readily becomes determinative in our identity formation; and it can be controlling if we do not assert significant alternatives to its determination.

            Breakdowns in Christian practice range from overt moral failure to less obvious contradictions of faith and to subtle redefining of sin and discipleship. The narrative history of Jesus’ early disciples illustrates this spectrum of breakdowns, which is vital for us to understand and learn from in order to experience breakthroughs in the status quo of Christian diversity.[4] The breakdowns in the early disciples’ discipleship frustrated Jesus and pained him relationally (e.g. Mk 8:14-21; Mt 16:21-23; Jn 14:8-9). Jesus ongoingly clarified, countered and corrected the disciples’ bias and misinformation, so that their discipleship would be based on his irreducible and nonnegotiable terms rather than their divergent tendencies. In other words, he planted their persons in the roots of the embodied Word in order for their branches of discipleship to germinate in the wholeness of intimate relationship together as God’s family (see Jn 15). When Christian branches are not intimately connected to his intimately distinguished roots, whatever emerges (even in his name) in practice is not and cannot be directly determined by Jesus, along with the Father and the Spirit (see Mt 7:22-23, cf. Lk 13:26-27).

            The lack or absence of intimate relational connection with the embodied Word (not just the literary Word) has always been the primary cause of dissonance in my existential journey. Some breakdowns in my discipleship always reflected this relational disconnection, in spite of the intensity with which I served Christ in my daily ministry. When I paid attention to my dissonance, I was directed back to my roots: the depth of my roots not just as a follower of Jesus but integrally as a whole person created from inner out in the image and likeness of God.

            When our heritage, individually and collectively, is limited to our sociocultural history, we do not account for broader influences in our surrounding context. This then fails to understand deeper workings that fragment persons and relationships, which underlies the fragmentation of peoples, tribes and nations. When we make the conscious choice to dig deeper into our roots, we can have a breakthrough to discover who we are totally and where we came from fully. For Christians and churches, this directly connects back to the gospel embodied by Jesus, not merely authored by the Word. Then, we arrive at the defining base for why we are here: the irreducible and nonnegotiable relational purpose that Jesus embodied for his church family in the primary identity and function integrally in likeness of the Trinity (as Jesus prayed in Jn 17).

            Warning: Any breakthrough to these defining roots is a humbling process that requires our persons to be vulnerable from inner out; to proceed may cause anxiety and shame!

            The roots of the gospel embodied by Jesus go back to the pivotal juncture when God established covenant relationship with those who would compose his kingdom family (Gen 17:1-5; Rom 4:16-17). Why was this gospel needed, and why is God’s grace necessary for it to unfold? To understand this fully, we have to dig deeper into the roots at creation; and this is where our vulnerability is challenged or threatened. It is only at creation that the human person emerges whole from inner out in the ontological image of God—that is, as persons whose image and function are just like the trinitarian persons (Gen 1:26), and whose whole persons live in ongoing equalized intimate relationships together in relational likeness of the Trinity (Gen 1:27; 2:18,25; cf. Jn 17:21-23). These creation roots go beyond history that merely informs us. Getting to their full significance, these deeper roots bring forth the existential reality of the human person and persons together in the primacy of relationship to define the integral identity and function of all humanity in all of its diversity—the wholeness of which is defined from inner out in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the Trinity. This existential reality is both challenging and threatening, because the competing reality after creation became the normative reality for the person and relationship together, and revolves around a quantitative basis from outer in (from Gen 2:25 to 3:7). In contrast and conflict to the latter, the existential reality at creation forms the juncture of persons and relationships that the diversity of the global community converges in for their mutual identity engaged in its shared function; this composes the encompassing created reality of all human diversity, the divergence from which constitutes the human condition, our normative (or new normal) condition.

            This normative reality continues to compete, explicitly or implicitly, among the diversity of Christians and churches. As I came face to face with this hard reality, the dissonance in my life reverberated over my working theological anthropology (TA), my reduced TA that defined persons from outer in to function accordingly in relationships. Moreover, most Christians and churches utilize a TA that defines and determines persons and relationships on such a quantitative outer-in basis; this pervasive rendering counters the inner out of creation and fragments God’s creative wholeness for all persons and relationships. This, consequently, implements the most basic breakdown in Christian theology and practice.

            This reconstituted reduction of the human person and relationships also is rooted in the primordial garden, with the emergence of sin (Gen 3:1-10). All humanity pivoted at this juncture to form the inescapable human condition, from which has evolved diverse breakdowns in persons and relationships from all peoples, tribes and nations to render them in fragmentary identity and function—with no recourse for their reductionism. From the roots of this inescapable reality humanity has evolved in variable breakdowns of diverse formation, with its branches needing to be redeemed in order to be reconciled and restored to their creation roots. For this outcome to unfold existentially and not merely theologically, however, required the breakthrough of the gospel to turn around the human condition, our human condition, in all its diversity.

            The variable branches of the human condition, notably including the human condition of Christians, are rooted in sin. This is where Christians are challenged and threatened in their working theology and existential practice. Just acknowledging the reality of sin is insufficient, and affirming the gospel of being forgiven and saved from sin is inadequate. That is, our view of sin determines whether our practice is based on the roots of sin from the primordial garden, or a variation that evolved from there because of the subtle workings of sin. The emergence of sin’s subtle workings in the primordial garden turned around the human persons of creation and set into motion their reduction from inner out to outer in.[5]

            This breakdown of persons and relationships goes deeper than simply disobedience of God’s directives and moral failure in observing the divine Rule of Law. Human persons were/are reduced from their created wholeness, which determines the reduced function of their relationships to variable fragmentation of wholeness together: “Then the outer-in lens of both were opened to the world of reductionism, and they knew that they were naked; and they acted to no longer be vulnerable with their whole persons in redefined relationship together” (Gen 3:7).

            The reduction of persons and relationships is the determinative root of sin entrenching the human condition in all its variableness, thus entrenching the diversity of humanity in this inescapable condition. Therefore, this existential reality for the global community in general and the Christian community in particular prevails until the breakthrough is made by its persons and relationships. For the Christian community, this breakthrough has been problematic, primarily because of critical underlying theological issues. Failure to recognize, account for and resolve these issues have rendered the Christian community ongoingly to variable practice—even in the name of Christ, for the gospel and its mission.

 

 

Unavoidable Theological Issues Needing Resolve in Global Christianity

 

            When the Christian church first emerged, its Jewish majority constituency imposed their religious culture on Gentile converts. Aside from fighting theological heresy among Christians, subsequent dominant groups in the church have imposed their particular Christian practice on the others in the church throughout its history. Christendom evolved, with colonial Christianity notably imposing its culture on the expansion of Christianity in different parts of the world. The recent expansion of Christianity has reconfigured the Christian majority from its Western roots in the global North (or Minority World) to now be occupied by those rooted in the global South (or Majority World). Increasingly, a diverse segment of global Christianity is evolving in post-colonial Christianity, which then is asserting its will to impose the diversity of cultures on their practice.[6]

            When the details of these historical developments are examined, a common thread can be located that has been a recurring theme through church history. Besides the gospel and its mission, what consistently has characterized Christians and churches in their practice is directly contingent on two underlying theological issues:

1.     Their defining view of sin.

2.     Their working (not ideal) theological anthropology (TA) that is the basis for defining the identity and determining the function of persons and relationships in everyday life.

            Christianity rises from its view of sin. Christianity grows and develops from its TA at work. We cannot underestimate how contingent these two theological issues are for Christianity; nor can we overestimate the repercussions and consequences from not recognizing, accounting for and resolving these issues, which will be incurred on the well-being of Christians and churches. For example, if our view of sin doesn’t encompass the scope of reductionism, there will be created aspects of persons and relationships that will be transposed to outer in; this oft-subtle process always results in breakdown for such persons and relationships in their function by reduced variations—that is, by sin.[7] The subtle fragmentation of persons and relationships from their created wholeness generates a human bias, which when neither understood nor corrected then becomes the interpretive lens that composes the working TA of any diversity of Christians and churches. Such a TA both redefines the primary identity of persons and relegates their function and relationships to variable reductions of the wholeness from creation.[8]

            It was, is and will be for this clarifying-&-correcting purpose that God summonses his family together for reducing God in their theology and practice down to the size and shape “just like yourself” (Ps 50:21). Without exception, the diverse cultural biases in Christian practice witness to the size and shape of their God. Furthermore, any skewed witness of God also distorts the gospel, which inevitably imposes this bias on its significance and its mission. I, myself, have not been circumcised physically; how do you think the first church would have seen me and with this bias expected from me?

            When our view of sin is narrowed down and thus doesn’t encompass the workings of reductionism, then this incomplete lens is a weak view of sin that distorts both what sin is and what we are forgiven for. When our TA is transposed from creation, it redefines the identity of the human person and thereby reduces our created significance and function in relationships—the consequence from the genius of Satan’s reductionist workings (as in Gen 3:4-5). This, then, is a reduced theological anthropology that composes persons and relationships in a fragmentary condition lacking wholeness. A weak view of sin and reduced TA have evolved together to mirror the human condition in narratives that have been complicit with aspects of the human condition, reinforcing and enabling it, and thus even sustaining it to make the human condition undeniably our human condition as Christians and churches. So, at this stage in your variation of Christian practice, how would you assess your view of sin and TA?

 

 

Contextualizing from Top-down or Bottom-up, by Outsiders or Insiders

 

            Here we are in the third millennium of the church, and God needs to summons his family together more than ever before—that is, if Jesus’ formative prayer for his family is going to become the existential reality for the church (see Jn 17). Perhaps the current COVID-19 pandemic provides a good barometer of where Christians and churches are today. The diverse approaches to the pandemic make evident not the diversity of the Christian community but its divergence. What our divergent practices speak to is the influence of context to shape, define and determine our existing reality of everyday practice. Whether the contextual influence is sociocultural or religious—likely the interaction of both, including political and economic—understanding this influence is contingent on understanding the context, the surrounding context in which we all participate directly or indirectly, actively or passively, consciously or subconsciously.

            In promoting the gospel and advancing its mission, contextualizing the gospel has become important in its mission to others in different contexts.[9] A major assumption has dominated this process: the contextualization is determined more by those extending the gospel rather than by those receiving it. This imposes (intentionally or inadvertently) the biased lens of workers on the recipients to skew their context. One major consequence of contextualization by so-called “outsiders” is to shape the others (or “insiders”) according to the former’s context at the expense of the latter’s. This skewed contextualization, fortunately, has been shifting to give more determination to the receiving context, such that increasingly on its own terms the global South (Majority World) has promoted the gospel and advanced its mission according to its own context. Though this contextualizing shift has moved away from outsiders to insiders, a lingering question remains whether contextualizing is enacted from top-down or bottom-up—that is, from leaders and those with the most influence, or from the average constituent representing the majority in that local context. Whether by outsiders or insiders, from top-down or bottom-up, the overriding issue revolves on the essential significance of the context in question, as well as centers on the issue raised by God whether or not that context “thinks that I was one just like yourself.”

            On the one hand, the diversity of global Christianity affirms the gospel for all peoples, tribes and nations that are constituted in God’s family. On the other hand, the contextualizing of Christian faith for the diversity of Christian practice must be both responsible for who does the contextualizing and accountable for what unfolds from that contextualizing. Before God summonses his family, it is critical to understand that contextualizing by insiders from bottom-up is insufficient to guarantee or warrant God’s confirmation of our diversity; furthermore, it is inadequate to assume God’s affirmation of our diverse Christian practice. At this point, it is essential to redefine outsider and to reconstitute top-down in the contextualizing process.

            When God initiated by his unmerited grace the covenant relationship to constitute God’s family, this definitive essential relationship was unmistakable and thus, without negotiation, (1) unequivocally distinguished from top-down, and (2) irreversibly established only on God’s irreducible and nonnegotiable relational terms as the Outsider. As the Outsider from top-down, however, God does not function as human outsiders from top-down have—that is, as if to imply “that I was one just like yourself.” Still, as the Outsider, God established reciprocal relationship with insiders and not unilateral relationship, which typically would be imposed on others from top-down. At the same time, God is the only basis for defining the terms for reciprocal relationship, which others have a choice to accept or not from the Ruler of this kingdom family. In other words, insiders alone decide to enter into covenant relationship with God in order to belong to God’s family solely on the basis of the Outsider’s top-down relational terms. Moreover, the relational outcome of covenant relationship together is distinguished from top-down for those belonging as also being outsiders while living in the context of insiders.

            In his formative family prayer, Jesus made unequivocal that “my followers do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world” (Jn 17:16). Critically defining for his family is the context that determines where they belong. That is to say, where Christians belong and whom they belong to are distinguished by their existential context. Belonging is contextually problematic because of the diversity of global contexts in which Christians live. Jesus qualified his top-down contextualizing as the Outsider when he prayed to the Father: “I am not asking you to take them out of their human contexts, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one’s counter-workings of reductionism” (v.15). In other words, rather than assuming otherworldly lifestyles his followers need to be contextualized as outsiders while participating as insiders in their surrounding context, which requires them to clearly distinguish where they belong and whom they belong to. Peter further distinguished the contextualization of the church family as outsiders from top-down: “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your practice” (1 Pet 1:15); “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the gospel as outsiders distinguished from top-down to all insiders from bottom-up” (2:9).

            In the diversity of their contexts, Christians and churches have had pervasive breakdowns in being clearly distinguished as Jesus prayed and Peter contextualized. The ongoing issue we all face involves a two-fold dynamic: (1) how our view of sin perceives the existential condition of holy, and (2) how our theological anthropology understands and embodies the relational process of belonging for persons. When these are contextualized in our surrounding contexts as insiders, whether top-down or bottom-up, the result will only be diverse renderings that neither understand nor embody the primary identity of where God’s family truly belongs and whom God’s people truly belong to. In Christian diversity today, however, many Christians and churches claim to be innocent of sin, because they have claimed the gospel and been forgiven—not because they view sin as reductionism.

            All Christians and churches, in all contexts, need to account for what it means to be existentially holy and live holy in everyday life. Then we need to be responsible for being distinguished ongoingly as outsiders in every context we exist in as insiders. The Word embodied the relational context and process of God’s summons for his family to be accountable and responsible for solely on his terms—the Outsider from top-down.

 

 

Questions Facing Us Requiring Answers

 

            In God’s summons of his family, God raised questions now to our face (Ps 50:13,16,21). These questions appear rhetorical or not applicable specifically to us. But, the reality is that God holds all of his people accountable to answer what these questions imply or relate to; and God demands all of us to take responsibility for our answers.

            In the diversity of global Christianity, our specific Christian practice invariably raises questions both from and regarding other Christians. Who belongs and who is merely “other” have been ongoing issues, whether explicitly or implicitly expressed, directly or indirectly applied, or simply just implied. As a further face-to-face extension of God’s gathering together his covenant family, the embodied Word intrudes on the diversity of his followers to respond definitively to such issues. On the one hand, the line between who belongs and the other could appear ambiguous, so the Word clarified this for his followers (Mk 9:38-41). Christian perception of who is “for us” or “against us” is often clouded with bias—especially in partisan contexts like the U.S. On the other hand, such bias also distorts the integrity of our own practice as those who belong. Therefore, the Word unequivocally corrects the error in those followers’ thinking (Mt 7:21-23). The contrast in these two statements by the Word delineate a contradistinction among his followers, the narratives of which play out in what amount to antithetical Christian practice by those claiming to belong.

 

            The playbooks composing diversity tend to blur what the Word delineates with the subtle workings of confirmation bias, which exposes assumptions based more on the surrounding culture than the Word. Here again, the interaction between culture and religion emerges in an undeniable symbiotic relation, with culture typically becoming the key determinant in the diversity of Christian practice. The resulting fragmentation from such symbiosis was counteracted by Paul for the church, who definitively made imperative the Word embodying the essential purpose of the church’s wholeness together (Col 3:15). Paul’s imperative by necessity was exclusive, because this symbiosis is often unrecognized or ignored, with many Christians and churches reinforcing its effects. This certainly was one of my breakdowns in my early Christian journey, the effects of which didn’t turn around easily for the breakthrough in my practice made imperative with the Word to embody.

            The workings of reductionism complicate the critical process facing all Christians and churches; and our TA compounds the critical parameters at stake here, which will determine the breadth and depth of how we address what’s facing us. Basically, the following reality is unavoidable:

What and how we learn is culturally conditioned (1) to determine who our God is (as in shape) and (2) to be the key to forming the existential significance of our faith.

Culture provides the organizing principle for Christian religion to render relative significance to its practice, while Christianity provides the organizing framework for culture to ascribe its legitimacy to the agency of culture—thereby legitimating culture as a primary basis for Christian practice. In this symbiotic interaction, the educational process reconfigures, for example, outcomes to “teach me your paths” (Ps 25:4), and it even can displace the Spirit to speak for the Word (Jn 16:13), both of which are evident in theological education. This symbiosis is not unique to Christian education and learning. How most religions are practiced is inseparable from culture, because the existential significance of diverse faith is dependent less on what is believed and more on how that faith impacts their everyday life (both individually and collectively).

            What I experienced both before and after I became a Christian was rooted in the influence of Westernized white culture. Centered in and on this culture made me feel less as a person of color (the diminished other), and thus I ongoingly embraced white culture in order to be more (the enhanced self). Subsequently, I pivoted to embrace my culture of color, which only enhanced my self with more having little further significance to satisfy my person. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the questions facing me that God raised to turn me around. This realization didn’t happen until I started to make myself vulnerable with my whole person to face my breakdowns and then risk the outcomes of breakthroughs.

            For this to unfold in the global Christian community, the following questions are brought to the forefront in order to illuminate what’s facing us, so that we can vulnerably both address what we are accountable for and enact what we are responsible for.

 

 

Questions to Account for:

 

These questions overlap and are interrelated, and any response to one question is inseparable from responses to the others.

 

1.    What is the source of the gospel you claim? And what does that gospel presume about who and how your God is?

 

            The gospel that many Christians proclaim often does not coincide with the gospel they’ve claimed. The lack of congruence either emerges from their theology or unfolds in their practice, or due to both their theology and practice. The typical proclamation of the gospel focuses on salvation and the forgiveness of sin. What salvation means and forgiveness involves, however, are composed directly from the source of that gospel claimed and proclaimed. No doubt, Jesus is central to the gospel for Christians in any diversity. Yet, the centrality of Jesus can be limited to the events and/or subject matter of Jesus, without actually embracing his whole person as the source. Jesus not only brought the gospel but most significantly his whole person embodied the gospel. This distinction is critical, because there are essential differences in the reality of the gospel claimed and proclaimed from each distinction as the source.

            For example, as discussed earlier about our view of sin, what we are forgiven for in the gospel we’ve claimed may not include the breadth and depth of sin that Jesus both defined theologically (as in Mt 5:21ff) and ongoingly exposed throughout his embodied life. A gospel of limited source not only distorts forgiveness but it also skews salvation. That is, while that gospel may partially define our salvation from sin (with qualification), it does not include what we are saved to other than life after death. The failure to encompass what we are saved to, which is integral to what we are saved from, fragments the gospel and truncates its salvation (a truncated soteriology). Jesus’ whole person embodied the integral gospel for the complete salvation of persons, peoples, tribes and nations.

            We are accountable for his integral gospel, his terms of which are irreducible and nonnegotiable. When we account for this as the source of our gospel, then this unavoidably leads to our responsibility for what he saves us to (discussed below).

            If not apparent yet, the source of your gospel correlates directly to our perceptions of who and how your God is. This could be a perplexing connection to make, and the correlation being mutually directed may complicate it. Yet, we all have to account for our witness because it always communicates to others who and how our God is. And our most basic witness revolves around our gospel either claimed or proclaimed. Modern biblical criticism notwithstanding, “the Word was God…became flesh and lived among us” (Jn1:1,14). Unequivocally, Jesus embodied God! Now the question facing us is: Is our God merely referenced in the historical narratives of Jesus, or is our God embodied by Jesus’ whole person? The Word unfolding in our theology either is composed by that reference, or by the whole person who embodied the Word. The that or the who have direct implications for the working TA underlying our practice. What unfolds or evolves has essential outcomes or consequences for what we are saved to.

 

2.    How would you assess the lens you use to interpret the Word (your hermeneutic lens)? And what assumptions do you make in your practice that you can attribute to your interpretations? To what extent can you recognize the assumptions in your practice that emerge from your bias formed from either your interpretations or your culture?

 

            We are always interpreting in our everyday life because our lens doesn’t shut down with our mind on pause; even when we go to sleep, our lens stays awake wired in our brains. That doesn’t mean our interpretive lens stays focused with clarity since our bias constantly imposes its limits on what we see, how we see it, and thus invariably influences our interpretations accordingly. We all have bias(es) that form from the influence our surrounding contexts exert on us, notably from culture. For Christians, this bias can be very subtle and operate implicitly to define and determine our explicit thinking and overt practice; and no prominent source for this bias functions more than culture.

            The dominant influence from our surrounding contexts comes from culture. And most cultures operate under the subtle workings of reductionism, which then is consequential for Christian interpretation that easily could be in contrast to or conflict with the Word. For example, the palpable Word intruded on Peter to clarify and correct his interpretation (Acts 10:9-16). What was the reason that Peter wouldn’t eat? In his condition, can you locate the source of his biased lens?

            Likewise, the Word has embodied the theology and practice for us to embody in our discipleship. Yet, in the hermeneutic history of the church, diverse interpretative lenses have either disembodied his theology and practice, or rendered them with variations in contrast to or conflict with the Word—just as Peter did in declaring his version of the gospel to lead the early church.[10] Therefore, this question is crucial for all of us to account for, no matter how confident we feel about our theology and practice.

 

3.    Do you know the difference between the truth and a lie, recognize what’s true from what’s false, and then understand what your existential beliefs are based on for your everyday life?

 

            One of the earliest beliefs that I embraced in my life was “I was not good enough in who I was and what I did.” This life-lie was formative for how I lived, and it lingered even after I became a Christian. As a Christian, I believed in God’s grace for my very salvation, but my practice still functioned with this lingering life-lie. How do you think, for example, this affected my interpretation of the Word (as in Ps 62:12; Rom 2:6; 2 Cor 3:8)? While my theology composed the truth of justification by faith, my practice believed the life of justification by works.

            The distinction between the truth and a lie is readily blurred by an interpretive lens based on a weak view of sin. The diverse interpretations from this lens—which is significantly biased by surrounding culture—renders the basic perception of persons and relationships in a TA reduced. With the subtle workings of reductionism, can you be unequivocal that the gospel you claim is based totally on the truth without any presence of a lie, and that the gospel you proclaim is indeed the Good News and not shaped by some fake news? Peter struggled in his blurred interpretive lens, which reduced his practice to function in conflict with “the truth of the gospel” (as Paul exposed in Gal 2:11-14). In the current divisive climate of partisanship, evangelical Christians notably have engaged in fake news over the truth, conspiracy theories over the facts. How do you explain this?

            The Word embodied the experiential truth and relational reality of the gospel, which distinguishes the wholeness of God (the Trinity) from the variable-relative truths and virtual realities that widely exist in theology and practice. Who and how our God is continues to be on display in the beliefs we demonstrate in our everyday life. Therefore, it is critical for all Christians and churches to acknowledge how theology and practice have evolved since the embodied Word, not unfolded from him.

            Inherent in all evolution is adaptation, the constituting dynamic by which the evolutionary process advances. Accordingly, it is vital for us to understand how our theology and practice have adapted or been adapted to form our existential belief system. Such adaptations have to be accounted for, because the embodied Word holds his church family accountable for nothing less and no substitutes for his experiential truth and relational reality—the integral gospel constituted by the relational context, relational terms and relational process of the wholeness of God.

 

4.    Christians throughout history have adapted in their specific situations and circumstances, and in the surrounding contexts. The focus of these adaptations center on what is either primary or secondary to God and for the Christian life. Can you identify what is indeed primary to God and otherwise only secondary, and thus recognize where your life is centered, what it revolves on, and how it has adapted?

 

            After constituting the primacy of relationship together for his creation, God composed the Rule of Law to guide them in the primary. The primary distinguished in God’s commandments goes further and deeper than a mere code of ethics. Contrary to a code and in contrast to what is only secondary for God, the Rule of Law revealed to Moses made definitive God’s whole relational terms for covenant relationship together. The primacy of God’s relational terms are irreducible and nonnegotiable, even by turning to secondary aspects and matters of the Law. Nevertheless, God’s people adapted in their covenant responsibility, whereby they shifted the focus from God’s primary relational terms to the secondary. This evolved into the outward performance of the Law at the expense of the primary relational involvement of the covenant. Belonging to God’s people revolved on having the outward identity markers evolved from adherence to the secondary aspects of the Law, which became the basis for their religious culture—as witnessed to by Peter.

            Most of the early disciples labored under the influence of this religious culture. As Peter consistently embodied in his discipleship (including at his footwashing, Jn 13:6-8), the embodied Word ongoingly clarified and corrected his disciples about what’s primary. Their embedded practice in the secondary had deep relational consequences in their discipleship, which culminated in Jesus’ pain “Don’t you know my person, even after I have been involved with you such a long time” (Jn 14:9, NIV). With our lens, we wouldn’t consider Jesus’ ministry of three years “such a long time”; but the Word embodied the qualitative as primary over the secondary nature of the quantitative—as in the inner out over the outer in (cf. Mk 7:6-8).

            The evolution of the quantitative over the qualitative was amplified by the Enlightenment. Notably with the Industrial Revolution, modern humanity adapted to become irreversibly entrenched in secondary matters at the expense of what’s primary not only to God but also to all of creation. The repercussions on persons and relationships continue to prevail in the evolving human condition. The use of technology has compounded this human condition, and the sum of its qualitative relational consequences prevail in all human contexts. Christians and churches have not been immune to these evolving consequences, far from it. Indeed, this defining and determining surrounding influence has duplicated and reinforced such adaptation in their practice. Perhaps ‘devolve’ may be more descriptive than ‘evolve’, and thus more exposing of its consequences. Now the question facing all of us in the global Christian community focuses on each diverse segment needing to account for the specific adaptations that have evolved/devolved in their own context and culture.

            The Word embodied without equivocation “the qualitative-relational Way, the experiential Truth and the whole Life” (Jn 14:6) to constitute what’s primary for his church family. The unspoken feeling among many Christians is the interpretation that renders the Word to an inconvenient truth, a threatening way, and an unrealistic life. Regardless, any type of variation among his followers, even with the best of intentions, is only secondary at the most, variations which are not open to negotiations by the Word. At the least, such adaptations can only be fragmentary and thus always lack the wholeness of the integral gospel embodied by the Word.

 

5.    The next question, the pivotal question, becomes the integrating theme for all that Christians and churches have to both account and be responsible for: How do you define discipleship? On this basis, how has this defined your faith and determined your practice in daily life? And what is the discipleship you see reflected and experienced in your church?

 

            Did you know that the only imperative stated in the Great Commission from the embodied Word is “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19)? The overriding issue facing us is all about discipleship. If the early disciples adapted their discipleship, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for Christian diversity to adapt also. Well, yes and no. How we define discipleship will determine the discipleship we practice, which may or may not be congruent with the embodied Word—even though it may have compatibility with the Word disembodied.

            Yes, to the extent that diverse discipleship is not contrary to or in conflict with what’s primary to the embodied Word. That is to say, diverse adaptations in the practice of discipleship that are simply secondary—for example, choice of worship music, communication mode—and do not compromise, distort or reconstitute the primary, these secondary expressions are integrated into the whole significance of discipleship constituted by, in and for the primary. Yet, “yes” is always qualified by contingencies that are required by the embodied Word to “follow me” (e.g. Jn 6:52-60). Since these contingencies are also irreducible and nonnegotiable to wider variations (as in Mt 7:13-14), our adaptations are critical to examine because “no” is more pervasive than realized in the diversity of global Christianity.

            Throughout his earthly life, Jesus unmistakably vetted all who followed him. Some were shocked with his assessments because of their Christian involvement and service (e.g. Mt 7:21-23; Lk 13:26-27). The assessed value of followers typically varies among Christians, yet that value is consequential whenever vetting is absent or inadequate. The inescapable reality embodied by the Word is that the Christian life rises or fall on the basis of its discipleship.

            It is unavoidable, therefore, for Christian diversity to account for its discipleship, because each constituent of diversity is held equally responsible by the embodied Word’s vetting as the Outsider from top-down. And, thus, exemptions cannot be claimed, for example, due to hardships or other extenuating circumstances. Certainly, in the global community different contexts pose variable frameworks, and surrounding cultures exert variable influence, both of which challenge or even threaten those following the embodied Word. Nevertheless, from its inception the Christian community rose under and despite the Greco-Roman limits and constraints on its discipleship.[11] In principle, any existing Christian community cannot claim to be under limits and constraints negating their will to make primary their discipleship.

            Along with each Christian’s accountability and responsibility for their ongoing discipleship, the rise of the early church in their surrounding limits and constraints directs our attention pointedly at existing churches today for their accountability and responsibility in discipleship: their primary involvement in the reciprocating process of growing qualitative disciples (not the quantity of members), nurturing disciples and making disciples of all persons, peoples, tribes and nations. If the discipleship of each church is vetted by the embodied Word, what would be its assessed value?

 

 

Questions to Be Responsible for:

 

With question 5 above as the pivotal question, it also serves as question 1 here, again with all the questions above and below overlapping and interrelated, with response to any question inseparable from responses to the others.

 

2.    How do you define the church? How does your ecclesiology compose your functional reality of the church for the existential lives of those gathered together? Can you identify the influence that the surrounding culture(s) has on your church?

 

 

            The bottom line issue facing all of us in global Christianity is pointed directly at the church. What the church is has been and continues to be problematic. Recorded church history and the church’s existential narrative-history are not the same, though the former has qualified the latter accurately in some respects. Yet, assumptions are made by church historians about what the church is and is supposed to be, which make it difficult to understand (1) what is essential for the church, (2) how the church has adapted in and from that, and (3) what is critical for the church not to repeat its past dysfunctions. The church’s existential history provides that understanding, and our first accounts of this history recount the palpable Word’s critique (together with the Spirit) of early churches (Rev 2-3, discussed further in coming chapters). What emerged from those diverse churches continues to be duplicated today, which reveals not having learned from past church adaptations.

            The church serves as the bottom line in Christian practice by integrally forming the primary identity for Christians (prevailing amidst secondary identities), as well as establishing their belonging in the primacy of family together embodied by the whole Word for the whole gospel. The church, therefore, is foundational for the existential life of Christians to enact their discipleship. Accordingly, the underlying basis for our ecclesiology is essential for determining without ambiguity: the church’s foundation to function as the church family embodied by the Word, rather than a foundation adapted from Christian practice; the church’s theology and practice need to be integrated integrally. This foundational process of Christian theology and practice is summarized by the embodied Word in his manifesto for his followers’ discipleship (embodied in the Sermon on the Mount, Mt 7:24-27).

            Contrary to diverse Christian adaptions, our responsibility is focused less on being responsible for the church but more so centers on being the church. To be his church family is constituted by the embodied Word on the basis of the nothing-less-and-no- substitutes being in the image and likeness of the Trinity (as Jesus prayed, Jn 17:20-23).

 

 

3.     How do you define the image of God? And what does that image determine in your Christian practice as well as in your church?

 

 

            In Christian diversity, likely the most overlooked or misrepresented dimension in theology and practice involves the image and likeness of God. This dimension constitutes humanity in all its diversity and, likely most overlooked, also the image and likeness definitively revealed in the embodied Word and by his existential practice on earth (Col 1:15,19). Where and whenever acknowledged, that image and likeness typically have quantitative limits and constraints. When practiced, that image and likeness is often only a reference point rather than the constituting basis for Christian identity and function.

            What, then, is the image and likeness of God that all Christians and churches are —without reduction or negotiation—responsible integrally to embody as the Word’s church family and to enact in their discipleship? This image and likeness are essential for constituting our identity and function with nothing less and no substitutes, in order to have claim and rightly proclaim the integral gospel of the embodied Word. Thus, this all underscores inseparably, first, the distinguishing depth that all churches in global Christianity must account for, and, secondly, the embodying wholeness that they must also be responsible for to constitute the global church s “one as we [the Trinity] are one” (Jn17:22).

 

 

 

The Relational Purpose and Outcome Unfold

 

 

            The above seven interrelated questions and their integrally interacting issues form the outline of what unfolds in the following pages of this study. Yet, what follows will truly unfold only in the irreducible and nonnegotiable relational purpose of following the embodied Word. Furthermore, this study will only experience the reality of its relational outcome just in Christians and churches embodying this integral relational purpose in their existential practice. Whether or not we witness this relational purpose and outcome unfold at the study’s conclusion will be the ongoing question that only each Christian and church can answer. If those answers are to directly involve the embodied Word, then the relational purpose cannot be relative—especially to their diversity; nor can the relational outcome be arbitrary, as unique as it may appear in their diversity.

            “The Lord make his face to shine upon you to illuminate your whole person; the Lord turn face to face with you for the relational purpose that gives you the breakthrough change for the relational outcome distinguished only by the primacy of relationship together in wholeness” (Nu 6:25-26)—the wholeness that the embodied Word enacted and vulnerably fulfilled to “give his followers,” contrary to any peace the global community gives (Jn 14:27).

 

 


 

[1] All Bible references are from the NRSV, unless different versions are indicated; any italics in the Scripture quoted throughout this study signify emphasis or expanded meaning of the original terms.

[2] Reported by Edith M. Lederer, Los Angeles Times, 9/12/21, A3.

[3] For further discussion of this view, see William A. Dyrness, Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016).

[4] Some of my other studies can helpful for this learning-growth process. See The Disciples of Whole Theology and Practice: Following the Diversity of Reformation or the Wholeness of Transformation (Discipleship Study: 2017), The Person in Complete Context: The Whole of Theological Anthropology Distinguished (Theological Anthropology Study, 2014), The Global Church Engaging the Nature of Sin and the Human Condition: Reflecting, Reinforcing, Sustaining or Transforming (Global Church Study, 2016), all online at http://www.4X12.org.

[5] To further grasp what unfolded in the primordial garden narrative and better understand what emerged as sin, see my studies noted earlier.

[6] For more information about these developments, see a number of studies listed in the bibliography.

[7] For a fuller understanding of sin in global Christianity, see my study The Global Church Engaging the Nature of Sin and the Human Condition, noted previously.

[8] See my study on TA for an expanded discussion to understand the breadth and depth of this issue.

[9] For a major discussion of contextualization in missions, see A. Scott Moreau, Contextualizing the Faith: A Holistic Approach (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018).

[10] An expanded discussion for understanding hermeneutics is found in my study, Interpretation Integrated in ‘the Whole-ly Way’: The Integral Education and Learning of Knowing and Understanding God (Bible Hermeneutics Study: 2019). Online at http://www.4X12.org.

[11] For an overview of the early church’s developmental history, see Donald Fairbairn, The Global Church—The First Eight Centuries: From Pentecost through the Rise of Islam (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2021).

 

 

© 2022 T. Dave Matsuo

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