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The Gospel of Transformation
Distinguishing the Discipleship & Ecclesiology
Integral to Salvation
T. Dave Matsuo
©2015 TDM All rights reserved
No part of this manuscript may be reprinted without permission from the author
A Necessary Reintroduction to God's Whole
“I am bringing you good news…”
Whether good news is indeed good is relative to the person receiving the news. The value of good news most often is determined by the recipient. In fact, what is good news to some may be the opposite for others; obviously, who won the World Cup in 2014 did not bring news “of great joy for all the people” (as Lk 2:10 defined above). Furthermore, what the outcome is that results from so-called good news raises other matters which cannot be merely assumed to be good. Victories, for example, can be celebrated in destructive ways, or can bring out hubris or lead to a false sense of security.
The value of good news and its resulting outcome likewise need application to the gospel. It seems as if for many Christians the gospel has become more about ‘no bad news’ than good. We need to examine the assumptions made about our gospel and that we assume about its results both in our theology and practice. Accordingly, this study is less about the gospel we proclaim to others and more about the gospel we claim for ourselves, including its ongoing and unfolding results in our lives both individually and corporately. This is a critical examination we must not ignore and cannot avoid, because God holds us accountable for the whole gospel—accountable not only in our theology and practice but also in our ontology and function both as a person and persons in relationship together, most notably as the church. Therefore, all Christians, not only church leaders and academics, need to account for the following:
• Has our gospel been indeed good, which by necessity includes its outcome—good based not on our terms but by God’s?
• More importantly then, how congruent is our gospel and its unfolding outcome with the inseparable theological trajectory and relational path of Jesus?
• And how relationally compatible is our gospel and its ongoing outcome with the whole of Jesus (not mere parts of him) who irreducibly embodies the whole gospel and distinguishes its outcome in whole theology and practice—nothing less and no substitutes?
These questions do not point to options for us to consider whether to incorporate in our understanding of the gospel. The whole gospel reveals the vulnerable presence and intimate involvement of the whole of God, solely for the outcome of transformed relationship together in wholeness. Without any optional sense, these questions penetrate to the heart of the gospel, “the gospel of peace as wholeness,” which Paul defined for the church (Eph 6:15); and by the nature of this gospel the questions illuminate the whole of God and God’s relational response of grace as the basis both constituting and distinguishing the Christian faith beyond what prevails in much of our theology and practice. Anything less and any substitutes are not good news and thus must be subject to God’s epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction for the transformation to wholeness.
address (and confront as needed) our assumptions about the gospel we
claim and practice, and then proclaim. Generally speaking, there are
three models of the gospel that, I suggest, will be helpful to examine
our gospel and its outcome. Our perception of the gospel and its
functional significance in our lives is received on the basis of one of
the following: (1) a reduced (or narrowed-down) model, (2) a
convergence model, or (3) a whole model. Though each model
may partially utilize another model in a secondary way, its primary
determination of the gospel and its outcome emerge from that model. We
need to understand the primary models we use and the assumptions made
with that model.
A reduced model of the gospel involves reductionism since certain assumptions (whether epistemic, philosophical, hermeneutical, theological or relational) are made that narrow down (either intentionally or unintentionally) the whole of who Jesus can be, was or is. On this selective basis Jesus’ whole person is reduced to parts of him (e.g. what he did or said) that thereby limit the gospel to those parts. In this fragmenting process, the truth of the whole gospel is imperceptible because our Christology is incomplete and its related soteriology becomes truncated. Our theology and practice lack clarity in this fragmentary condition and can only assume to have the significance truly distinguishing the gospel of Jesus Christ. The reality, however, even for the most well-intentioned Christians is that the good news and its outcome remain elusive as long as our biased assumptions reinforce this impasse to the whole of Jesus. The assumptions of a reduced model need to be challenged in order to get beyond this impasse.
Consider the following. When Philip brought the good news to Nathaniel, his response was noteworthy: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46) Nathaniel assumed a narrowed-down model of the gospel that reduced Jesus to a prevailing stereotype disparaging Nazareth. Good had little value based on this common knowledge of Jesus’ human context, the bias of which also influenced Nathaniel’s perceptions of Jesus. The shape given to Jesus’ person (e.g. fragmented or incomplete), and thus the gospel he embodied, is critical to understand in order to get beyond any impasse to the full significance of the gospel and its outcome. While Nathaniel honestly acknowledged his bias, he remained open to the epistemic challenge from Philip to “Come and see” (i.e. expand his epistemic field) and thereby engaged the relational epistemic process to the whole of Jesus (Jn 1:46-51).
The relational outcome of Nathaniel’s discipleship—that is, the discipleship based only on the relational terms Jesus revealed in the whole gospel—would not have emerged from a reduced model of the gospel. Likewise for us today, the significance of discipleship distinguished by the gospel embodied by the whole of Jesus is not the relational outcome that can emerge from anything less and any substitutes. We must understand in our theology and practice: whatever we assume about the gospel shapes its outcome in the discipleship we practice.
Nearly all of us start out with a reduced model of the gospel. Unfortunately, many Christians remain limited to narrowed-down knowledge and understanding based on epistemic, philosophical, hermeneutical, theological or relational assumptions; and, unlike for Nathaniel, these assumptions do not allow the depth of the gospel and its outcome to be distinguished in the full significance embodied by the whole of Jesus. These limits continue in our theology and practice, even in the academy, since by design a narrowed-down model operates as follows: (1) it is selective of the news it hears and sees, (2) compresses the significance of that news to only those selective parts, and (3) constrains the experience of the gospel’s whole effectiveness to only certain areas of life, consequently reducing the relational outcome of the gospel’s ongoing results in those who follow Jesus as his church. Within these limits the discipleship and ecclesiology of the whole of Jesus cannot be distinguished, though their epistemological illusion and ontological simulation may prevail in our theology and practice.
Epistemological illusions and ontological simulations evolve from reductionism as the substitutes used to counter (by design or complicity) the whole of God and God’s whole. These substitutes re-form the whole on the basis of fragmentary terms and thereby re-present the whole by only fragmented parts as illusion and simulation of God’s whole—working under the assumption that the whole is defined by the sum of its parts. They are further understood by the following:
Epistemological illusion: overestimating what we know or think we know, and the assumptions we make about that knowledge which preclude what should necessitate further definition and deeper understanding.
the substitutes we engage, usually based on epistemological illusion,
that reduce wholeness in life to fragmentary practice while being (pre)occupied
by the secondary over the primary, thereby only simulating whole
ontology and function.
A convergence model of the gospel attempts to go further in its knowledge and understanding. Whether it goes beyond the above limits depends on its assumptions and what converges. Whereas in a reduced model the main determinant of the value and nature of the gospel is human shaping (i.e. the recipient’s terms), a convergence model opens this determination to the interaction between various sources, essentially human reason and God’s revelation. The convergence of reason and revelation, however, is a variable process that does not stipulate which is the primary determinant of the gospel and its outcome. This model’s design merely precludes an either-or understanding, therefore not only what converges but how they converge is critical.
Interpretation of the good news also involves the convergence of past and present, the past context of the gospel and the present context both chronologically and geographically. The contextualization of the gospel has become a major issue of convergence for contemporary understanding. Just exactly how much further a convergence model takes us in its knowledge and understanding than a reduced model pivots on its assumptions, notably about the function of human reason and God’s revelation.
Consider the following. When Jesus asked his disciples about the gospel and “who do you say that I am?” Peter’s confession of faith was notable, at least for the moment: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:15-16). More significant for the knowledge and understanding of the gospel was Jesus’ affirmation in response: “Blessed are you for human reason has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (v.17). Yet, Jesus’ affirmation of Peter was short-lived because Peter used a convergence model for his understanding of the gospel. He correctly identified who embodied the gospel based on God’s revelation; the revelations of God were the initial basis for Peter’s discipleship (cf. Lk 5:1-11). The assumptions of his reason, however, quickly emerged as the primary determinant for the gospel and its outcome. As Jesus continued to unfold the good news of God’s relational response of grace to the human condition—a response that would include the suffering of the cross—Peter reacted to correct Jesus by his convergence model of the gospel: “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you’” (Mt 16:21-22).
Based on Peter’s assumptions about what the good news of the Messiah would be and how it would unfold, what Jesus revealed was incongruent and in conflict with Peter’s gospel. Therefore, in Peter’s gospel Jesus could not go to the cross, and he attempted to prevent Jesus from fulfilling the full significance of the gospel, that is, on God’s terms. Can you imagine a gospel without the cross? Peter did, and Jesus exposed the assumptions behind his thinking: “setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (16:23).
Equally important for us today, while we couldn’t eliminate the cross, can you imagine a gospel with only the cross? That cross, in reality, is the extent of the gospel for many Christians, perhaps not in theology but in practice. The results of such a gospel in theology and/or practice become narrowed down to a truncated soteriology—that is, limited to only what Jesus saves us from without the experiential truth and relational reality of what he saves us to. Moreover, a gospel with only a cross perceives Jesus mainly by his sacrifice, and defines both what he did and what we do as his followers with only a servant model of sacrifice (even with sacrificial love). Such a gospel is overly Christocentric, whereby his whole person is actually reduced and not magnified by overemphasizing the above at the neglect of the whole of God (the Trinity) revealed by Jesus for whole relationship together (cf. Jn 1:18; 17:6-8,26). Consequently, rather than taking us beyond the limits of our knowledge and understanding, this imbalance of reason (human shaping) over revelation in a convergence model increasingly shifts it to a reduced model.
The imbalance of Peter’s assumptions over God’s revelation embodied by the whole of Jesus emerged further to distort both his perception of the gospel and his understanding of its unfolding results “of great joy for all the people.” Later at their pivotal table fellowship leading to the cross, Jesus vulnerably revealed his whole person to his disciples as never before, and intimately involved the depth of his Self in deeper relationship with them by washing their feet (Jn 13:1-9). The gospel Jesus reveals here and its outcome he unfolds are not about the primacy of serving but only about the primacy of relationship together that is transformed to be both equalized and intimate.
The good news of who Jesus was was vulnerably revealed to them without the stratified relations that come with the title of “Lord”; and what Jesus was was intimately involved with them without the relational distance that comes with the role of “Teacher” (13:13-14). Jesus revealed the good news of the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement in ongoing reciprocal relationship together. What does Peter do with this good news? Once again Peter’s assumptions overrule God’s revelation: “You will never wash my feet”—because for Peter “your title as Lord and role as Teacher don’t allow you to be vulnerable and intimate with me, especially since I don’t measure up to engage you in such a deep relationship.” In other words, Peter’s convergence model still distorted his perception of the gospel, even extending his effort to prevent Jesus from going to the cross (Jn 18:10-11). And based on his gospel, Peter’s discipleship struggled to be distinguished in the significance that only Jesus determined. Few would question Peter’s discipleship, but even up to his ascension Jesus has to emphatically make imperative to Peter: “you, follow me” (Jn 21:22).
Peter’s imbalanced convergence model also distorted his understanding of the gospel’s unfolding results for all the people specifically in the church. Despite his proclaiming the gospel to all the people, its outcome was not equally applied by Peter for “the great joy of all the people.” The outcome for Gentiles was different than for Jews because Peter’s bias against the Gentiles assumed their distinction as being less—a bias that Jesus had to correct (Acts 10:9-16,28, 34-36). The distinctions from Peter’s assumptions fragmented his ecclesiology. In spite of Jesus’ hermeneutic correction of Peter’s theology, his practice remained in conflict with his new theology of the gospel and its results. Therefore, Paul finally had to confront Peter in his incongruent practice (hypokrisis) to clarify the truth of the whole gospel and its transforming results for all people (Gal 2:11-14).
formed from Peter’s convergence model was an incomplete gospel that
remained fragmentary as long as Peter allowed his assumptions to be the
primary determinant over the whole of God’s revelation. Despite his
commitment to follow Jesus and his dedication to serve his Lord, Peter
struggled with a relative impasse in his reciprocal relationship with
the whole of Jesus. The relational consequence ongoingly required his
knowledge and understanding to have epistemological clarification and
hermeneutic correction, and his theology and practice to be
transformed—even at this advanced stage in his discipleship. The
transformation of his whole person only emerged from the whole gospel,
and its relational outcome unfolded in Peter with the discipleship and
ecclesiology distinguished only by the salvation of what Jesus saved him
both from and to. This clarity of the gospel and its results was
illuminated for Peter as he turned from a convergence model to a whole
model (cf. 1 Pet 1:3,13-16; 2:9-10), a turn certainly facilitated by
Jesus’ post-ascension correction and Paul’s loving confrontation (both
noted earlier) that had a pivotal impact on Peter’s understanding (Acts
15:7-11; 2 Pet 3:15-16).
A whole model of the gospel may appear to flow naturally from a convergence model when in reality it may require an extended struggle. The struggle is not primarily with God’s revelation—though secondary issues about the Word need to be addressed—but with human reason being the primary determinant for our knowledge and understanding, and with human shaping having the primary determination of our theology and practice. Any shift to a whole model actually involves a turn-around, thus precipitating ongoing struggle over what we give primacy to.
This primacy of reason over revelation is not always apparent and is easily obscured even by any main focus given to the Word. The issue critical to realize here is that what is paid attention to and ignored in this focus on the Word depends on our perceptual-interpretive lens. A lens operating primarily from human reason and its assumptions can only have a limited view and thus a narrower focus, as evidenced by Nathaniel and Peter. Further evident is the perceptual-interpretive lens of science that has a view limited to the universe, which is unlikely to pay attention to anything from beyond the universe or even allows for its existence; its field of vision is constrained to a narrowed-down epistemic field. Moreover, physicist Marcelo Gleiser stresses that even the scientific view of the universe itself is limited:
The combination of having a Universe with a finite age—the time elapsed since the Big Bang—and the finite speed of light creates an insurmountable barrier to how much we can know of the cosmos.
The Universe we measure tells only a finite story, based on how much information can get to us (the cosmic horizon placing a limitation here) and on how much of this information we manage to gather (our technological prowess placing a limitation here)…. The lesson here is distressing: not only are there causal and technological limits to how much we can know of the cosmos, but what information we do manage to gather may be tricking us into constructing an entirely false worldview. What we measure doesn’t tell us the whole story; in fact, it may be telling us an irrelevantly small part of it.
At best the perception from this type of lens can only be incomplete and its knowledge and understanding only fragmentary; at worst they are misleading, distorted or incorrect, all while being self-referencing. Gleiser further illuminates human limits:
The crack in the dam of mathematical perfection exposes the innards of human frailty, ennobling our attempts to construct an ever-growing Island of Knowledge…. We can’t always answer our questions by following a closed set of rules, since some questions are undecidable. In the language we have developed here, the truth or falsity of certain propositions is unknowable. As a consequence—at least within our current logical framework—we can’t conceive a system of knowledge constructed with the human brain that is formally complete.
And what this lens does clearly make evident is the need for epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction. God’s revelation challenges our primary lens and prescribes for a lens change when our view is limited and our focus is narrowed by primacy given to human reason and related assumptions (cf. Rom 8:5-6).
A whole model neither dispenses with reason nor prescribes fideism (faith without reason). This model only and always makes reason secondary and revelation primary, with the former never the determinant for the latter. For this reason, this is a model we may readily resist or dispute, opting for a convergence model giving more significance to human reason. Certainly, giving primacy to revelation raises issues for the interpretation of the Word, and what or who assumes that determining position. Yet, this is not problematic for a whole model as long as it operates with the new interpretive framework (phronema)  and interpretive lens (phroneo) emerging in relationship with the Spirit that focuses on the qualitative and whole over the quantitative and fragmentary—just as Paul made definitive (Rom 8:5-6). By the nature of this new lens, this perceptual-interpretive process involves engagement in the relational epistemic process with the Spirit over merely a conventional epistemic process narrowed to the limits of self-referencing explanations and conclusions.
Therefore, a whole model is not really the positive extension of a convergence model but rather the necessary turn-around change of it required to engage the whole (not narrowed-down) epistemic field in order for the whole knowledge and understanding of the gospel and for its results to unfold in whole theology and practice—namely, the gospel of transformation distinguishing the discipleship and ecclesiology integral to complete soteriology.
To engage the relational epistemic process for this whole outcome (over fragmentary results), a whole model necessitates its participant to be vulnerable, that is, open as a person (beyond one’s role or purpose) and honest particularly about one’s assumptions (as witnessed in Nathaniel)—hence the common resistance to this model. Essential to vulnerableness is also an exercise of humility that leaves our person open to the unknown, the improbable and the discomfort of having clarification and correction to our knowledge and understanding. God’s whole takes us beyond our limited knowledge and understanding to a qualitative and relational depth that simply may be more than we want to face—therefore the common avoidance of this whole model by substituting a convergence or reduced model. This vulnerable humility certainly challenges more than our primary lens and gets to the heart of our person, most notably in how we define our person and, on this basis, how we see other persons and engage them in relationships (as witnessed in Peter with Jesus). Without our openness there is a relational barrier to engagement in the relational epistemic process with the Spirit that keeps us at relational distance or at an impasse with God’s communication with us in relational terms. The content of God’s communication reveals what God wants us to know and understand of the whole of God’s relational response to the human condition, and to directly experience God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement with us in reciprocal relationship together. Anything less and any substitutes for this relational connection diminish, minimalize or preclude this relational outcome. The unavoidable relational consequence is having neither the relational connection needed to receive the whole gospel embodied by God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement, nor the relational connection needed to respond in likeness to the whole of God.
All human endeavor, even for scientists, includes a common assumption otherwise known as faith: the perceptual-interpretive practice that fills in the gaps (including uncertainty) in our knowledge and understanding in order for our explanations and conclusions to be useful, to have meaning and function. Without the assumption of faith common to all humans, we are rendered to a passive or inactive posture, unable to receive and respond to our surrounding contexts and the interactions unfolding before us. In other words, without some degree of faith human life does not progress. Physicist Gleiser clarifies the issue between the science and faith dichotomy:
Much of the tension stems from assuming that there are two mutually inconsistent realities, one within this world (and thus “knowable” through the diligent application of the scientific method) and one without (and thus “unknowable” or intangible, traditionally related to religious belief).
And he confirms the scientific interpretive lens:
...Both the scientist and the faithful believe in unexplained causation, that is, in things happening for unknown reasons, even if the nature of the cause is completely different for each. In the sciences, this belief is most obvious when there is an attempt to extrapolate a theory or model beyond its tested limits, as in “gravity works the same way across the entire Universe,” or “the theory of evolution by natural selection applies to all forms of life, including extraterrestrial ones.” These extrapolations are crucial to advance knowledge into unexplored territory. The scientist feels justified in doing so, given the accumulated power of her theories to explain so much of the world. We can even say, with slight impropriety, that her faith is empirically validated.
For some that faith is somewhat blind (as in fideism); for others that faith is so measured that it limits the quality of life from unfolding, even in the midst of increasing quantity, thereby being predisposed (even biased) to the sight of the quantitative over the significance of the qualitative. The faith assumed in a whole model involves a relational action in the epistemic process that signifies a person’s vulnerableness to God’s revelation of the unknown and the improbable, and to the discomfort of going beyond our present knowledge and understanding.
To go beyond our existing knowledge and understanding requires having our current epistemic field expanded. The whole gospel cannot emerge from a limited epistemic field that either does not allow for the gospel to be distinguished or is unable to account for its distinguished nature. That is, the whole gospel is distinguished beyond the common and ordinary since by its nature it is beyond comparison to anything existing in the human context, and indeed the universe. The gospel of Jesus Christ is incomparable news distinguished from beyond the known and probable—that is, beyond the universe and its limited epistemic field—and that distinguishes the whole of God, whose presence and involvement are incomparable and thus irreducible and nonnegotiable to human terms, shaping and construction. Therefore, the whole gospel and its whole outcome cannot be distinguished by anything less and any substitutes, or they will not be distinguished as whole but rendered fragmentary, narrowed-down, reduced—news that Paul declared as “really no gospel at all” (Gal 1:7, NIV). Accordingly, for a model of the gospel to be whole it must by its nature vulnerably engage the relational epistemic process of this complete epistemic field that distinguishes the whole of God and the whole outcome of God’s relational response to our human condition.
Consider the following. The whole of God’s theological trajectory and relational path were clearly distinguished in what I call ‘the strategic shift’ of God’s thematic relational action. What would you do if you came face to face with the improbable (both religious and sociocultural) and were faced with the unknown (both epistemological and relational) that takes you beyond your knowledge and understanding? This was what and who a Samaritan woman faced when she encountered Jesus at Jacob’s well (Jn 4:4-30).
Their noon encounter was not accidental, though the woman perhaps went to the well to draw water at the least occupied time because of her diminished social standing among the other women—due to an apparent contrary lifestyle (4:16-18). Jesus purposefully initiated this interaction and by design he broke through religious, sociocultural and relational barriers to be involved with her face to face (4:7-9)—that is, the face of the improbable vulnerably present to engage her (as in 4:27). She could have ignored Jesus at this point, resisted him or continued to face what would be the unknown for her. To respond and pay attention to the unknown would require her to break through the same barriers Jesus did, which she vulnerably chose to do to engage what and who was about to take her beyond her knowledge and understanding. By acting in vulnerable humility to engage Jesus, she demonstrated participating in a whole model of the gospel and its outcome that needs to distinguish all of our theology and practice, not merely for the future but for the immediate present.
The dynamics that unfold in this interaction are not referential to transmit information about God but are relational dynamics communicating knowledge and understanding of God—that which distinguish the whole of God in compatible reciprocal relationship together. Jesus not only embodies the gospel to her (“the gift of God,” v.10) but also illuminates the relational context and process necessary—not suggested or optional terms that are reducible or negotiable—to experience this good news of intimate relationship together (“who asks you…you ask him…he gives you,” v.10). The woman responds from her limited epistemic field (“you have nothing…where can you get this”), but she also opens her lens to engage the relational epistemic process so that her assumptions don’t maintain a barrier to discover the face of Jesus (“Are you greater,” vv.11-12). Her initial openness allows Jesus to continue to reveal the relational significance of what distinguishes his gospel and its outcome both ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ (vv.13-14, cf. Jn 17:3). From the limits of her interpretive lens, she embraces this good news (“Sir, give me this water…never be thirsty or have to keep coming here,” v. 15), yet Jesus is taking her beyond her limits. In order to have this relational outcome she needed to be vulnerable as a person so as to be involved with Jesus face to face—that is, for the relational connection necessary for the whole of God’s relational action to be received and responded to (vv.16-18). Any disconnect by her would have created an impasse to the relational process constituting the whole of God’s revelation.
She doesn’t retreat from Jesus’ vulnerable presence or withdraw from his intimate involvement; and in his relational context and process her lens is expanded (or transformed) to see more of Jesus’ person (“I see that you are,” v. 19). This is the relational outcome that only emerges from face-to-face connection (cf. Num 12:6-8). As she acknowledges her assumptions from human shaping and further engages this relational epistemic process that expands her epistemic field (vv.20,25), she is taken beyond her limits and comes face to face with the whole of God (“I am he,” v.26): the improbable who is vulnerably revealed from inner out only in relational terms (not referential) for the whole purpose of compatible (i.e. vulnerable and intimate) reciprocal relationship together (vv. 21-24).
The transcendent God’s theological trajectory might be given consideration in referential terms (e.g. as in deism and some forms of theism) but this could only result in fragmentary information about God and not truly knowing and understanding the whole of God. Those having merely referential information about God are commonly considered to be wise and learned, which God does not consider of any significance to boast about (Jer 9:23-24, cf. Lk 10:21). Truly knowing and understanding God cannot emerge referentially but only in the relational epistemic process with God face to face; this was how God’s revelation to Moses was distinguished (Num 12:6-8). Without the face of God’s self-disclosure our epistemic field is limited, and our perceptual-interpretive framework and lens are narrowed down to explanations and conclusions that can only be the self-referencing work of human reason. These limits make us susceptible to “speak of things I did not understand, things too distinguished [pala] for me to know”—as Job learned when he tried to speak for God until he received epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction from face to face with God (Job 42:3-6).
It is crucial and pivotal for all of us to acknowledge and accept that God’s theological trajectory is inseparable from God’s relational path, and thus for us to be fully accountable for God’s revelation and its relational outcome. To know and understand the whole of God, we have to vulnerably engage the improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement that the whole of Jesus (not parts of him) embodied only in relational terms, not referential (Lk 10:21). And information about God or Jesus, whatever its quantity and scholarship, cannot substitute for face-to-face involvement in this intrusive relational path; nor, like Job, can it speak and understand what and who are distinguished beyond human comparison.
The whole gospel is not for information but only for relationship. On this basis, its relational outcome takes us beyond, by means of epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction, to the transformation that integrally distinguishes Jesus’ followers as whole persons in the qualitative image of God and his church family in whole relationship together in the relational likeness of the whole of God, the Trinity. This was the whole gospel vulnerably revealed to Paul in relational dynamics similarly experienced by the Samaritan woman: “Saul, Saul… Who are you? ...I am,” (Acts 9:1-5). And this gospel’s whole relational outcome unfolded from the Damascus road (Acts 9:6-18), and its depth illuminated as Paul distinguished its qualitative and relational significance for whole theology and practice—all while fighting against anything less and any substitutes from reductionism and its epistemological illusions, ontological simulations and counter-relational work (Acts 26:15-18; Gal 1:6-7,11-12).
This study unfolds with what and who unfolded with Jesus and with Jesus into Paul, which constituted both the truth of the whole gospel of transformation and the conjoint fight against anything less and any substitutes of the transformation to wholeness. Our discussion then is not a basic introduction to the gospel but a needed reintroduction to the whole gospel and the relational significance that needs to distinguish its outcome ‘already’ in our theology and practice.
When God initiated the covenant relationship with Abraham to constitute God’s people, the terms God revealed were relational imperatives for all who come together as God’s family: “Walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). This formed the good news—which the incarnation embodied—of relationship together that unfolded in God’s definitive blessing face to face (Num 6:24-26). In God’s relational words, “be involved with me in reciprocal relationship, and be whole (tāmiym),” that is to say, not reduced in ontology and function—notably fragmenting the person to what one does from outer in, and, on this basis, reducing relationship together to such secondary matter at the expense of the primacy of relationship defined by God’s terms. How have God’s people responded to God’s terms for reciprocal relationship together, in conjoint function with God and with each other as family together?
As God’s formative people, Israel soon revised God’s terms by essentially replacing God’s relational language with referential language, thereby reducing the terms for relationship (e.g. torah) to a code of what to do from outer in—that is, as a means for identity markers as a people (primarily as nation-state) and for their self-determination (cf. Jesus’ critique, Mt 5:21-48). This re-formed the covenant from the covenant of love to a quid pro quo contract, and thus revised the book of Deuteronomy from a love story to a template of conformity (Dt 4:37; 7:7-9; 10:15; 23:5; 33:3). God was also reduced mainly to a figurehead or reference point for their theology and practice (cf. 1 Sam 15:22-23; Ps 147:10-11; Jer 7:21-26). The relational consequence was to reshape the covenant relationship of love with God (Dt 7:7-9) to a covenant increasingly detached from the primacy of relationship and distant from God, such that the covenant became engaged in secondary matter merely in referential terms (e.g. Isa 29:13; 58:1-6). As a Jew, Paul later understood these reductions to the covenant and thus made definitive distinctions of who constituted God’s people (Rom 2:28-29).
When Jesus embodied the gospel further with the strategic shift of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement, the terms for relationship together were more deeply distinguished in ‘the tactical and functional shifts’ (to be discussed later) of God’s thematic relational action to make whole God’s family. The relational outcome of embodying the gospel was transformed relationships both equalized and intimate. These are the relationships that Jesus distinguished for following him and being his church (as Peter learned with difficulty). In subsequent history God’s relational terms to be whole in the primacy of transformed relationship together were subjected to human shaping, the theology and practice of which require epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction. Such accountability of the church family is significantly revealed in Jesus’ post-ascension discourse for ecclesiology to be whole (Rev 2-3, to be discussed later for our accountability today).
Not surprisingly, these nonnegotiable relational terms for God’s family have undergone various re-forms throughout church history. One of the most pivotal re-forming of God’s family came when God’s relational terms were transposed to referential terms, with the relational consequence of the formation of Christendom by Constantine in the fourth century. The church-state (cf. Israel’s nation-state) gained primacy over the church as family and set in motion the institutionalization of the church in reduced ontology and function, and its interrelated reduced ontology and function of human persons. Christian identity formation was a product of human shaping and construction, and Christian faith resulted from self-determination—not unlike Israel’s history. And the gospel became fragmentary and the whole gospel was obscured, without the relational significance to make whole God’s family. This process is an oversimplified account of the dynamic of turning away from transformation to re-formation.
Re-formation of Christian faith has been a prominent, if not prevailing, practice in church history that has determined the shape of church ontology and function. The Roman Catholic Church was embedded in a reduced ontology and function that resulted in fragmentary theology and practice—or fragmentary theology and practice resulted in reduced ontology and function—whereby the qualitative and relational significance of the gospel was obscured or lost. This distorted condition eventually precipitated what we know as the Reformation in the sixteenth century. The magisterial Reformers essentially addressed distorted aspects of faith in terms of salvation and formulated theology and practice to restore the primacy of faith in biblical terms. However, generally speaking, while the Reformers correctly distinguished faith from works as the compatible response to God’s grace for salvation, this opened the door for faith also to be re-formed. On the one hand, faith became more qualitative than quantitative, more inner than outer. This also opened the door, on the other hand, for the person to be subtly exposed to reduced ontology and function—that is, as an individual in nature who could define faith more on individual terms and who could shape one’s own identity and function without the whole.
Moreover, the Reformers addressed a salvation limited mainly to what Jesus saved from (and not equally saved to), and thus formulated theology and practice for faith that did not have the same focus on ecclesiology (namely, the church as God’s family). This skewed focus and imbalanced emphasis opened the Wittenberg door to the construction of multiple denominational re-forms, which further led to the prominence of the individual in theology and practice (e.g. even in spiritual formation)—with the modern shaping of individualism.
re-formation set in motion the exercise of Christian freedom that
The theological anthropology underlying the Reformation, both its ontology and function for the person and for the church, needs to be understood in its reduced ontology and function. The above dynamics evolving with reduced ontology and function made conditions ripe to be further rationalized (as never before) by the Enlightenment (from the 18th century). Consequently, all the re-forms were unable to address and answer the interpretive framework and influence of the Enlightenment, thereby entrenching the human person in reduced ontology and function and further embedding faith to referential terms, while essentially relegating God to an Object position with only referential information about God as the basis for theology and practice.
The Reformation did not adequately distinguish the relational context and process of the whole of God, in order to distinguish God’s relational language and terms for relationship together clearly from just referential language and terms for faith. The latter led merely to referential doctrines without the relational significance of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement for the irreducible and nonnegotiable ontology and function, and theology and practice, of reciprocal relationship together in wholeness. The relational outcome from God’s relational context and process became elusive in spite of overemphasizing the place of faith and overestimating its function. If we affirm God’s revelation in Scripture, then we are accountable not just for our faith but for all of God’s words in his relational language and terms—accountable not referentially and partially but relationally and whole-ly. The Reformation rightly shifted us back to the primacy of Scripture; its focus, however, was insufficient, even selective (e.g. biased or skewed), therefore not accounting for the depth of God’s relational language communicated in the wholeness distinguished by God’s relational terms.
Whether by design or an inadvertent by-product of the Reformers, there is a distinct fragmentation and underlying reductionism that emerged from the Reformation. And its major influence persists today, which we have not understood or simply ignore by our interpretive lens. Certainly, re-formation of faulty theology and practice is hard to resist, even when it has its own faults; and, of course, even re-form of the status quo has its appeal. Yet, it is important for us to come face to face with critical issues: What have the results of the Reformation done with God’s terms for reciprocal relationship together as family? And how do these results compare with what and who distinguished the whole gospel and its relational outcome of wholeness ‘already’?
The shift from transformation to re-formation is not commonly apparent because their respective theologies may not have clear distinction and thus appear similar, compatible and not contrary—especially if they have biblical labels. Yet, when what is distinguished (or not distinguished) in their practice is assessed, transformation is clearly distinguished over re-formation reductions and has the qualitative and relational significance beyond re-formation limits. Therefore, all re-formations and re-forms, notably from the Reformation, need to be accounted for and subject to the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction of the whole of God’s revelation (not as mere biblical referential terms), and to its primacy as the determinant for all theology and practice (as Paul made imperative, Col 3:15-16). In addition, we need to address any assumptions we have taken on from such re-formations that shape our theology and practice, and then openly be subject to this clarification and correction. Anything less and any substitutes can only be fragmentary and only have epistemological illusion and ontological simulation of what and who are whole—that is, whole on the basis of God’s relational terms and not merely referential terms.
Only the gospel of transformation emerges whole. Only the whole of Jesus distinguishes the gospel that transforms to make us whole in the qualitative image of the whole of God and the relational likeness of the Trinity. Nothing less and no substitutes can be whole theologically and ontologically or live whole relationally and functionally. We, as persons and church, are accountable accordingly in our ontology and function, in our theology and practice, and hereby distinguishing our discipleship and ecclesiology integrally to what Jesus saves us conjointly from and to.
The Reformation arguably unfolded with distinction in church history. Yet, any distinction should not be confused with being distinguished (as defined by pala in Scripture, discussed further in chap. 2). Since the Reformers did not adequately distinguish the whole gospel and its relational outcome of transformation to wholeness, the results of many re-forms have labored under epistemological illusion and ontological simulation; and they have struggled with their engagement in what constitutes counter-relational work. That is to say, they (and we thereafter) have labored under and struggled with the ongoing influence and effects of reductionism. This condition emerged and continues to evolve distinctly due to an inadequate view of sin that neither perceives reductionism as sin nor understands the sin of reductionism. Consequently, the sin Jesus saves us from and its redemptive outcome do not encompass reductionism. Not surprisingly, this is a common condition in our theology and practice because of the genius of reductionism to keep a low profile in its efforts against God’s whole, even to take on the appearance of being whole (as Paul exposed, 2 Cor 11:13-15).
Reductionism emerged from the beginning in the primordial garden (a context seen as history or allegory) to challenge the words of God’s revelation: “Did God say that?” (Gen 3:1) We cannot discuss God’s revelation without addressing reductionism. As the embodied Word, Jesus ongoingly addressed reductionism’s challenge. Thus, we cannot understand the whole of God’s revelation without understanding what Jesus addressed and why he countered it; for example, the good news he brought with a sword to be divisive (Mt 10:34-36), and his forceful cleansing of the temple (Mk 11:15-17). Moreover, as Jesus extended into Paul, Paul extended God’s revelation for the church with his fight both for the whole gospel and against its reduction (Col 1:24-29; 2 Cor 2:17; 4:2-6), which Paul made definitive as “the gospel of peace as wholeness” using the same sword (Eph 6:15-17).
In other words, reductionism cannot be ignored, taken lightly or assumed to no longer have determining influence, or else the whole of God’s revelation, the whole gospel and its outcome of transformation to wholeness will be reduced, fragmented and rendered without significance—perhaps still with distinction but not distinguished. The challenge of “Did God say that?” set in motion this result, the consequence of which continues until reductionism is addressed and countered in our theology and practice.
As long as we do not fully understand what emerged in the primordial garden, our view of sin will not be sufficient to deal with reductionism as sin. The initial response to the challenge of God’s revelation was essentially affirmative: “Yes, God did say that” (Gen 3:2-3). But reductionism persisted to extend the challenge effectively by promoting human rationalizing to re-interpret God’s revelation: “OK, but this is what God really meant by those words” (3:4-5). This opened the door for human shaping of God’s revelation and creation, and for human reason to be the primary determinant for our knowledge and understanding: the human interpretive lens “saw…was good…a delight…desired to make one wise,” and on this basis these persons acted for self-determination (3:6). The consequence prevailing to today was the fragmentation of God’s whole and the emergence of reduced human ontology and function.
God created human persons whole in two integral ways: (1) the person was created whole from inner out to be whole in ontology and live whole in function in the qualitative image of God (Gen 1:27); and interrelated, (2) these whole persons were also created not “to be apart” but in relationship together distinguished to be and live whole in the relational likeness of the whole of God, the Trinity (2:18,25). Whole human ontology and function, therefore, constitutes by the nature of God’s creative action, both inseparable and integral, the whole person involved with other whole persons in relationships together of wholeness—“the two persons were both vulnerable as persons from inner out and on this qualitative basis were involved with each other and were not ashamed, disappointed, confounded or unfulfilled” (bosh, 2:25). Reduced human ontology and function, however, re-forms the person from inner out to outer in, and on this more quantitative basis determines persons by the parts of what they have and do, consequently fragmenting the person from being whole and limiting persons engagement in relationships such that they cannot come together in wholeness—“the lens of both were narrowed-down to outer in and they saw that they were naked in outer-in terms; so they made masks for their real person in order not be vulnerable, and thereby maintained relational distance between them” (3:7-10).
The current re-forms of the person and relationships together in contemporary life are only minor variations of who and what emerged from the primordial garden. Epistemological illusions and ontological simulations of the person and relationships today—for example, as re-formed by modern social media—have further embedded us in reductionism and make it more difficult to recognize reduced ontology and function, not only in our theology and practice for humans but also as imposed on God. Any salvation that does not save us from reduced ontology and function neither has significance to God and the whole gospel, nor does it distinguish the whole of God’s relational response of grace to our human condition and its outcome of whole ontology and function. The ‘not good news’ facing us is this underreported reality: Anything less and any substitutes both of God and from God can never be whole and should not be expected to be anything more.
Therefore, the whole of God is still asking all of us today, whether in the church or theological academy, “Where are you?” (3:9)—not to locate us for referential information but to give us needed feedback on our person and relationships. Have our own re-forms transposed our human, and even God’s, ontology and function from wholeness to reductionism?
As evidenced in the primordial garden, while reductionism challenges the words of God’s revelation, God also challenges the assumptions made by those claiming God’s revelation and thus responsible for these relational words. God’s question demonstrated the vulnerable presence and intimate involvement of God and that God holds us accountable in ongoing relationship. So, what have we come to assume about God, the gospel and resulting faith that reflect having become more defined by our terms or, at the least, determined more by the human shaping of Christian movements, scholars and church leaders?
We have to start recognizing, acknowledging and addressing the assumptions we make (intentionally or unintentionally) that define our theology and determine our practice. Whether we accept this vital responsibility or not, we are accountable to God to openly answer where our person and relationships are, and to vulnerably receive any needed epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction to our faith. This accountability also intensifies when God further directly engages us, just as God pursued Elijah, with the question “What are you doing here?” (1 Kgs 19:9,13) And the most influencing assumption that we are accountable for involves the theological anthropology (notably defining the person and relationships) underlying our ontology and function, our theology and practice.
In the primordial garden reductionism re-formed theological anthropology from the qualitative whole of inner out to the quantitative parts of outer in; and on this fragmentary basis persons and relationship have been shaped and their identity and function constructed. As I implied earlier, this reduced theological anthropology pervaded God’s people and even prevailed through much of church history. Where are we today and what are we doing here?
Whole theological anthropology was distinguished from the beginning in the primordial garden. Unless we understand what and who unfolded in this relational context, we become narrowed down to referential information and its limits. This referential lens narrows our view also of sin, consequently limiting our understanding of sin to the exclusion of reductionism and making us susceptible to reductionism and its counter-relational work—an omission of immeasurable consequences. This has become the prevailing presence designed to reduce, fragment, diminish, minimalize and otherwise obscure God’s whole by rendering it undistinguished and thus without qualitative relational significance. Without integral understanding of whole theological anthropology from the beginning and sin as reductionism, we are narrowed down to the limits of reduced theological anthropology—that critical re-form constituting much ontology and function and constructing much theology and practice from the past to the present. Nothing whole emerges from reduced theological anthropology; and only fragmentary theology and practice can and should be expected from it. This urgently prompts the question, how long must we be diminished by and labor under the constraint of reduced theological anthropology?
There is more to consider in this Reintroduction chapter that will help in the process facing us, the implications of which will emerge throughout this study. Have you ever wondered where and how Christianity would be if the Reformation never happened? How would the church be today? Faith and the nature of salvation have certainly been redefined by the Reformation. Yet, in spite of theological changes the question remains, has our practice been distinguished sufficiently to be of any significant difference had the Reformation never occurred?
To extend our earlier discussion I state further: though not always apparent, the Reformation simplified our view of faith and narrowed our practice (e.g. without the burden of ‘works’), with the unintended result of fragmenting both the person (as redefined by the faith one has apart from how one functions) and church further than arguably existed pre-Reformation. Such inadequate results, for example, precipitated more re-forms—notably Puritanism for the church and Pietism for the individual. These fragmentary efforts lacked wholeness, making evident an underlying reduced theological anthropology. Relatedly, yet not surprisingly, these practices also evidenced epistemological illusion and ontological simulation that reinforced reduced ontology and function and have embedded us deeper into the human condition—all of which can only be redeemed by the gospel of transformation to wholeness.
The magisterial Reformers were bold enough to challenge some prevailing assumptions in order to return to the Word of God’s revelation as the definitive source for faith. They initiated this movement despite the long tradition of human shaping and construction that determined theology and practice contrary to this source. And they thereby were compelled by the Bible to oppose such theology and practice by human terms. Their return, however, to the primary source was limited by their own assumptions (epistemological, hermeneutical and theological, notably for theological anthropology), which were not held accountable. This soon led to further fragmentation and theological fog obscuring God’s whole.
For example, if the Reformers’ interpretive lens of the Bible did not perceive reductionism as sin—and thus include sin in the Bible as reductionism—there was neither salvation from the sin of reductionism nor redemption for reductionism and its counter-relational work. This limited interpretation means that atonement (as highlighted in Christ’s sacrifice by the Reformers) did not include the functional removal of the veil that is necessary for face-to-face involvement in reciprocal relationship together with God, and that also removes the relational barriers to be whole as God’s family (2 Cor 3:16-18; Heb 10:19-20; Eph 2:14-22). In these limited (narrowed, reduced) conditions, even with the best of intentions, the gospel is fragmented by an incomplete Christology and salvation is truncated, with faith rendered to referential condition and terms and not the relational terms and process of reciprocal relationship together to be God’s whole. In other words, specifically the relational words of God’s revelation, it is inadequate for the Bible to be only a referential source (even as the primary determinant) for theology and practice and expect their outcome to be whole. In referential terms salvation by faith alone is incomplete and misleading, which not only is unable to distinguish God’s relational terms necessary for reciprocal relationship but in actual function conflicts with God’s terms for relationship. The effects of not having the veil removed in our practice may not be apparent if our theology is considered biblically based or doctrinally sound, yet not inseparable from and thus integrated with our practice (as evident in Peter).
consequence, ‘prevenient grace’ in Reformed theology makes grace
irresistible for human response. But this re-formed position distorts
the relational process of God’s relational response of grace to
unilateral action; this then further misunderstands God’s relational
terms for reciprocal relationship together, with major consequence for
the practice of faith. Even though God’s grace is prominent in theology
referentially, relationally grace is not only easily taken for granted
(an assumption not accountable) but commonly ignored as the ongoing
relational basis and base for the practice of Christian faith in
everyday life. The major assumption operating here—along with the
critical assumption of theological anthropology—is about how God does
relationships: mainly unilaterally without any human determination
(implied in predeterminism), or perhaps bilaterally with the terms for
relationship negotiable (implied in free
In contrast and in conflict, the whole of God and the whole gospel and its whole relational outcome are distinguished only by whole relationship together; and its qualitative nature and relational significance are only constituted by God’s relational terms for reciprocal (not unilateral or bilateral) relationship together both with God and with each other as God’s family. Nothing less and no substitutes can be assumed to be whole—not even assumed with ‘grace’ and by ‘faith’. God’s relational response of grace is sufficient for reduced ontology and function to be made whole. Nevertheless, this relational outcome does not happen in unilateral terms but only as the outcome of our faith, that is, faith as the compatible relational response in reciprocal relationship. In other words, God’s relational response of grace is sufficient only for ongoing reciprocal relationship together—just as Paul experienced in a key period of his life (2 Cor 12:7-9).
Fragmentary (incomplete or inconsistent) explanations and conclusions are what we should expect from a limited perceptual-interpretive framework, just as made evident even in modern science. An aspect of the Reformation that remained essentially unchanged from before this movement emerged was the re-formed interpretive framework and lens set in motion from the primordial garden. While the Reformation expanded the epistemic field to include the prominence of the Bible and the Reformers brought further hermeneutical perspective, this movement also basically gave (or at least allowed) prominence to human rationalizing and did not address the assumptions of the primacy of human reason. Accordingly, the Reformation was insufficient to address and prepare us to deal with the Enlightenment from the eighteenth century and the modernist interpretive framework and lens. Moreover, the Reformation’s fragmentary results were also inadequate to distinguish the whole—in spite of any re-forming of God’s theological trajectory for its grand narrative—and thus made it easier for postmodern lenses to shape and construct substitutes for God’s whole. Such evolving results are neither surprising nor unexpected but need to be addressed with the significance of wholeness. Since postmodernism rightly challenged the assumptions of modernism, the issue is less about a metanarrative and more about further assumptions that continue fragmentation and prevent wholeness—including the epistemological illusions and ontological simulations of the whole from reductionism, which have existed in premodern, modern and postmodern theology and practice.
The challenge and accountability of all our assumptions remains a defining task facing us today—unavoidably face to face with the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and ongoing relational involvement. If we are unwilling to receive epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction from the relational Word facing us, we cannot go beyond our current knowledge and understanding and be taken to the whole of God for the whole gospel and its whole relational outcome.
So, where are we today and what are we doing here? Has our theology and practice shifted from transformation to reformation? Has our ontology and function turned from wholeness to reductionism?
 Unless indicated differently, all Scripture is taken from the NRSV; any italics in Scripture throughout this study signify emphasis or further rendering of terms.
 Marcelo Gleiser, The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 79.
 Gleiser, 92.
 Gleiser, 257.
 Greek and Hebrew word studies used in this study are taken from the following sources: Horst Balz, Gerhard Schreider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975); R. Laid Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce Waitke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980); Ernst Jenni, Claus Westermann, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. Mark E. Biddle, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997); Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974); Harold K. Moulton, ed., The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978); W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1981); Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publ., 1996).
 Gleiser, 3.
 Gleiser, 4.
 For an expanded examination of the whole of Jesus, see my study Sanctified Christology: A Theological and Functional Study of the Whole of Jesus (Christology Study, 2008). Online: http://4X12.org. And for the integration of Jesus and Paul, see my study Jesus into Paul: Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel (Integration Study, 2012). Online: http://4X12.org.
 An expanded discussion of theological anthropology and its implications are developed in my study The Person in Complete Context: The Whole of Theological Anthropology Distinguished (Theological Anthropology Study, 2014. Online: http://4X12.org.
©2015 T. Dave Matsuo