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The Gospel of Transformation
Distinguishing the Discipleship & Ecclesiology Integral to Salvation
Chapter 12 Reclaiming the Gospel
If indeed you continue in your relational response of faith, maturing and steadfast,
not shifting from the relational outcome of the gospel that you received.
Colossians 1:23, ESV
The above faith, which Paul makes a contingency for experiencing the relational outcome of wholeness composed by the whole of Jesus (Col 1:19-22), has its own contingency that must be met for the experiential reality of the gospel of transformation’s relational outcome to unfold whole-ly. If anyone affirms or associates with the gospel, then whatever they claim has to include involvement in discipleship—the ongoing reciprocal relational response of faith to the relational work of Jesus, which continues and even extends beyond the relational work Jesus began (Jn 14:12). The gospel does not end with the resurrection of Jesus, nor does it conclude with proclaiming its truth.
Morna Hooker illuminated in biblical studies that the narrative endings in the Gospels and Acts return to their beginning in order to continue and complete Jesus’ story:
One might perhaps have expected that the way in which the evangelists brought their books to an end would be far removed from the way in which they began. In fact, as we have seen, this is not so….Taken together, we find that the beginning and end of each of our narratives form a neat inclusion, so that the final words of each book invite us to look back to the beginning of the story and to start reading it once more, with new insights into its meaning.
In none of these books, however, does the inclusion give us closure. On the contrary, our ‘endings’ all look forward to what comes next….For it may be that the ending which is in fact a new beginning is the inevitable way to express a gospel which is about death and resurrection. To the disciples, what seemed like an ending proved to be the beginning of a new life.
Yet, the discipleship that extends Jesus’ story can only be in relational terms on his intrusive relational path. That further makes the ending with discipleship an open question for us today, which needs to be distinguished in the wholeness that Jesus saved us to. Those claiming the gospel cannot avoid both discipleship and living in the relational outcome that the gospel transforms them to (as John clarified, 1 Jn 1:6-7; 2:6), and thus not act on their new family responsibility (as adopted daughters and sons) to live out this relational outcome in wholeness so that Jesus’ relational work is extended beyond what he began. In other words (relational not referential), those claiming the gospel are not only ‘justified by faith’, but they have to justify their response of faith in compatibility to God’s relational response to them and in congruence with the relational terms composing the outcome of God’s response and ongoing involvement (cf. Jam 2:14,14). Justifying our faith is not composed by being justified by faith but the latter frees us to have the opportunity for our response to be in reciprocal relational terms without the veil rather than with self-determination. The ending in discipleship is accountable for this response.
In a similar way to the Gospels and Acts, we are faced in this study with ending where it began. Thus, our reintroduction to the gospel now brings us to the urgent and compelling need to reclaim this whole gospel and be transformed to wholeness in our person, relationships and churches. The twelfth chapter of God’s people and Jesus’ followers is an open chapter, yet to be complete both in how we live ‘already’ in our discipleship and churches, and in what we will be ‘not yet’. To be complete in the relational outcome of wholeness today requires the integration of the Spirit’s direct relational involvement and our ongoing reciprocal involvement in relationship together (our relational response of faith). How we engage as persons in the relationships necessary to complete this relational work distinguishing our discipleship and churches is an open question that not only challenges us today but also confronts us Face to face (“What are you doing here?”) and demands our response now.
This study opened with a reintroduction to the gospel—holding us accountable for our model and assumptions of the gospel, making insufficient even its re-forms, in order that any reductionism is transformed to wholeness. This twelfth chapter involves God’s people and Jesus’ followers necessarily reclaiming the gospel. Our study remains open in this closing chapter for us to complete: that is, for our person and relationships to be ongoingly transformed to wholeness so that we will mature living whole in our discipleship and churches, such that we will clearly be distinguished in whole ontology and function with whole theology and practice, in order to complete our relational purpose to make whole both within churches and in the world—for the experiential truth of the gospel of transformation’s relational outcome to be the experiential reality for our and the human condition.
The whole of God’s relational response of grace to our human condition is the gospel. What composes the gospel as good news inseparably depends on the human condition that God responds to. That is to say, if the human condition is not inclusive of the reductionism that emerged from the primordial garden and has since unfolded enhanced in our midst, then this not only diminishes the whole of God who is present and involved but it also minimalizes the Trinity’s response to our condition. This gap qualifies the good news relative to the extent of what is perceived as the human condition—the condition clouded by a narrowed-down interpretive framework and lens, whereby our condition is re-formed using a reduced theological anthropology and weak view of sin. If our view of the human condition does not coincide with what emerged from the primordial garden, any gospel will be sufficient to meet this condition.
As we have discussed throughout this study (notably in chap. 5), the human condition involves the human shaping of relationships defined by an ontological deficit of the person and determined by the reduced function of persons. The lack of whole ontology and function is the heart of the human relational condition and need; and the absence of this wholeness prevents their fulfillment and what holds persons together in their innermost.
Consider the analysis of Sherry Turkle, the leading expert on how computers affect us as humans:
The narrative of Alone Together describes an arc: we expect more from technology and less from each other. This puts us at the still center of a perfect storm. Overwhelmed, we have been drawn to connections that seem low risk and always at hand: Facebook friends, avatars, IRC chat partners [a channel where you chat with others about a common interest]. If convenience and control continue to be our priorities, we shall be tempted by sociable robots…. At the robotic moment [when the performance of connection seems connection enough], we have to be concerned that the simplification and reduction of relationships is no longer something we complain about. It may become what we expect, even desire.
Turkle describes and forecasts the human shaping of the modern self that has been increasingly embedding the modern person in a condition of qualitative insensitivity and relational unawareness. This loss of both the qualitative and relational signifies neither just a modern condition nor a recent phenomenon of technology. Reduced ontology and function, of course, have embedded and enslaved human persons from the beginning. Yet, virtual relationships can be considered a modern condition and recent phenomenon that compounds our condition down to critical levels of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness, even in church and the academy. This modern shaping has enhanced its practice to the extent that our practice is increasingly rendered by default to reinforcing or sustaining the human relational condition.
Whether we also reinforce or
sustain the sweeping assumption that we have not been, are not now and
will not be reduced, or whether we simply question “Did
It is difficult to see things clearly in the midst of a fog, sometimes to see most anything. Fog creates a lack of clarity. Sometimes, however, a lack of clarity creates a fog—often intentionally yet even unintentionally or with good intentions—clouding the explanation of something with ambiguity or distortion, perhaps with falseness. For example, this apparently happened about U.S. involvement in Vietnam with ‘the fog of war’, and currently may also be happening in a lack of clarity creating a fog about globalization and its benefits for the human condition. We as well need to ask ourselves if we, Christians and the church, are either in a period of fog from the surrounding context making it difficult to see the gospel, salvation, discipleship and the church clearly distinguished. Or has a lack of clarity of these, along with the person and relationships, created a fog that makes explaining and living them ambiguous, distorted or even false, thereby rendering them to our simulations and illusions? Either fog emerges from and operates under the sweeping assumption “You will not be reduced,” which causes us to be in a critical condition needing urgent attention.
When Jesus warned his followers to “Pay careful attention to what you hear from me; the measure you use will be the measure you get” (Mk 4:24), this measure encompassed what gospel, salvation, discipleship, church, person and relationships we will get as a result. Jesus’ relational imperative for us is not just paradigmatic and axiomatic but the experiential truth and reality of our interpretive framework and lens, along with our theological anthropology and view of sin. Any measure using a narrowed-down framework and lens, a reduced theological anthropology of persons and relationships, and a weak view of sin lacking reductionism, then determines the following: either becoming subject to a fog of reductionism that creates our lack of clarity, or being undistinguished by our lack of clarity that leads to creating a fog, all while working under the assumption of not being reduced. The result of either is being in a fog, unknowingly or intentionally, that only reduces and renders us fragmentary, unable to be whole because of being limited down to the measure we use—the fog of the person, relationships, the gospel, discipleship or of the church, keeping us from clearly being distinguished in what we claim and proclaim.
As we are faced with the measure we use, we need to further understand that our lack of clarity and subsequent fog also predispose us in what we pay attention to and ignore—notably in “what you hear from me.” This predisposition creates a bias influencing the way we think about something—e.g. our person, relationships, discipleship, church, gospel and salvation—called ‘confirmation bias’. Caryl Rivers explains confirmation bias in an op-ed on the current tension that divides races in the U.S.: “This bias is the tendency to interpret or remember information in a way that confirms what we already believe, and helps us to ignore new data.” When we think about what we believe and why we believe as such, we need to examine for any confirmation bias because that could be a major reason for how we believe what we do and why. The consequence of confirmation bias limits, if not eliminates, change in our thinking, theology and practice—specifically when the redemptive change for transformation is called for, which Jesus’ call to his followers to be whole necessitates. Any lack of clarity and fog over Jesus’ relational words and work are maintained in a process of confirmation bias mainly from information and explanations based on the referentialization of the Word, which disembodies his whole person and derelationalizes his person as the source for the whole of God’s involvement in relational response to the human condition. Urgently then, confirmation bias is a critical condition that we need to disclaim in our lack of clarity and fog in order to go beyond what we currently believe and practice, so that we then can reclaim the relational words and work of Jesus—who vulnerably disclosed the whole of God only for the integral purpose and outcome of new relationship together in wholeness to compose God’s family, whereby God’s definitive blessing is completed (Num 6:24-26).
“Wake up,” therefore, Jesus confronts intrusively, “for I have not found your works complete” (pleroo, Rev 3:2). You have diminished your involvement in the love you had at first in the primacy of relationship together” (2:4), and “you tolerate reductionism and its counter-relational work in your midst to shape your church” (3:16). All these critiques by Jesus in post-ascension continue to confront churches today for the lack of clarity in our fog. The measure we’ve used is neither acceptable for the existing lack of clarity we’ve gotten into, nor are our narrow interpretive framework and lens, reduced theological anthropology and weak view of sin adequate to clarify and correct our lack of clarity. Accordingly, the lack of clarity of our person, relationships, discipleship, churches, gospel and salvation should no longer be acceptable as the measure we use, because it is simply inadequate. At the same time with disclaiming these measures, it’s time to pay close attention, vulnerably and intimately, to the relational words Jesus communicates and reclaim the good news that he embodied to transform our person, relationships and churches to wholeness in likeness of the whole of God—the only relational outcome that distinguishes the Trinity’s relational response to our human condition. And out from the fog, we thereby can reclaim the relational outcome ‘already’ of transformed persons in transformed relationships together as the church family in the new relational order in likeness of the trinitarian persons’ ontological Oneness (not tri-theism) and their relational Whole—no one less and no human enhancements of their whole.
A major part of Paul’s joint fight for the whole gospel and against reductionism was directly dealing with variations of the gospel that influenced Christians and shaped their discipleship and churches (e.g. Gal 1:6-7; 1 Cor 1:12-17; Col 2:1-4). This included confronting Peter (along with Barnabas and others) for his shaping of discipleship and his inconsistent gospel, both of which shifted from the relational outcome of wholeness transformed by the gospel (Gal 2:11-16). The urgent issue facing us today continues to be this gospel of transformation and its relational outcome of wholeness. Is this the gospel we claim and proclaim, or have we shifted to its variation, which has shaped our discipleship and churches such that they do not distinguish what Jesus saved us to?
Some variations of the gospel can in fact incorporate the basic elements of God’s revelation and the basic teachings of Christ (the arche in Heb 5:12-6:1), thus giving the appearance of the gospel; but they remain diminished (immature) in a truncated soteriology that focuses with a minimalized hermeneutic means (aistheterion, 5:14) only on what Jesus saved us from, yet without including reductionism in a weak view of “good and evil.” Not going deeper into what Jesus saves us to, then essentially shifts from the relational outcome of the gospel of transformation to a variation of it. This shift and immaturity compelled the writer of Hebrews to critique such theology and practice with the clarification and correction needed to develop our hermeneutic means (aistheterion, related to aisthanomai lacking in the disciples, Lk 9:44-45) in order to remove the veil for the new relationship together in wholeness that Jesus saved us to (Heb 10:19-25). To extend this writer’s (perhaps it was Paul) concern, I think it is accurate to say that our default gospel is to shift to a less demanding truncated soteriology, whereby we can shape our discipleship and churches without being accountable for wholeness of our person, relationships and churches. A default gospel allows feeding off the milk of the gospel without becoming mature, rather than the whole gospel’s solid food to grow in maturity in order “to distinguish good from evil” (5:14) as those distinguished in whole ontology and function, in contrast and conflict with “knowing good and evil” from reduced ontology and function as emerged from self-determination in the primordial garden (Gen 3:4-5). In God’s family, however, the writer reminds us that the sin of reductionism is never overlooked or unattended to because the whole of God is present and involved to respond accordingly (Heb 12:4-6).
In Paul’s completeness theology composed in his Colossians letter, the faith he made contingent for the gospel’s outcome of wholeness is ongoingly “maturing and steadfast,” that is, consistent in vulnerably responding and being intimately involved in the reciprocal relationship together distinguishing following the whole of Jesus as his church family. Paul cultivates and nurtures this faith in wholeness, “so that who and what we are may be presented mature in Christ” (Col 1:28). Any shift from this vulnerable response of faith in inner-out involvement in the primacy of relationship claims a different gospel, whereby our faith becomes engaged in secondary matters—even in referential forms of the basic elements of God’s revelation and the basic teachings of Christ (their arche). Such a shift of our faith creates ambiguity or distortion in our discipleship and creates a lack of clarity for our gospel, in which our gospel, our discipleship and churches are rendered to a fog. This condition is susceptible to confirmation bias and thus continues unchanged unless the whole gospel is reclaimed.
Variations of the gospel use a reduced model or convergence model of the gospel (as discussed in the Reintroduction) that many claim by an aspect of faith (even unknowingly). But they are not claiming the whole gospel by the relational response of faith that involves the whole person—only claiming a fragmented gospel by a fragmentary faith, which likely have been narrowed down and shaped by referential terms. Any critical shift is challenged by “Where are you in faith?” and “What are you doing in your discipleship and churches?” in order to turn us around to reclaim the gospel of transformation to wholeness, without reductions and variations. These challenges, therefore, by the whole of God are not merely about the arche of the Trinity’s revelations and teachings; rather they illuminate: who is present and involved with us, and on what basis they have revealed themselves to us, for what purpose, and thus what response they expect, indeed require and demand, from us—not conforming as objects but in reciprocal response as subjects—in order to distinguish the difference of who we are in likeness of whose we are—that is, the difference and likeness transforming our person, relationships and churches to the wholeness that makes the difference for our human relational condition both within the church and in the world.
So, Paul would have us reclaim this whole gospel—reclaim, that is, “if indeed you continue in your reciprocal relational response of faith that is based on only relational terms [‘the foundation’, themelioo] and remain vulnerably involved [‘steadfast’, hedraios], and not shifting from the only relational outcome of the gospel that you intimately received in face-to-face relationship without the veil.” For Paul, furthermore, reclaiming the gospel is not a singular response but the ongoing reclaiming in our discipleship, which he personally continued reclaiming: “I want to relationally know Christ even deeper and the transforming power of his resurrection, and sharing more intimately in the fellowship of his whole person by becoming like him in the depth of relational involvement distinguishing his death, so that I may attain ongoingly the transformation to wholeness rising from reductionism” (Phil 3:10-11). Accordingly, by ongoingly reclaiming the gospel of transformation to wholeness we become distinguished intrusively in the discipleship and the ecclesiology (church theology and practice, ontology and function) of what Jesus saved us to, so that our proclaiming this gospel will make the difference to make whole the human condition, first still existing in our churches and then for others to experience in the world—thereby embodying Jesus’ prayer into his church family in their likeness of the ontological One and the relational Whole, hereby distinguished with the Spirit as the Trinity.
Yet, there is more to embrace in reclaiming the gospel. To become distinguished intrusively in our discipleship as a clear indicator of reclaiming the gospel, then further involves us unavoidably in a vital matter that we’ve likely ignored. To reclaim the gospel by necessity includes reclaiming Mary (Martha’s sister), reclaiming her whole person vulnerably and intimately involved with Jesus to distinguish her discipleship deeply and whole-ly in reciprocal relationship together. Her integral relational response of faith claimed the whole gospel and embodied its relational outcome of wholeness in her distinguished discipleship, which she enacted in distinct difference from her surrounding context and even from those immediately surrounding her and thereby transformed those relationships to be both equalized and intimate in the new relational order. On this qualitative relational basis, Jesus declared that Mary is unequivocally integrated in “wherever my gospel is claimed and proclaimed” (Mk 14:9). Claiming a variation of the gospel may ignore Mary but reclaiming his gospel of transformation to wholeness also reclaims Mary. Thus, Mary cannot continue to be ignored in our discipleship and churches without exposing our confirmation bias. And our discipleship and churches will not be distinguished in what Jesus saves us to unless they also reclaim Mary.
Who, what and how Jesus embodied in relational terms in both his whole person and his relationships of wholeness extended into Mary, thereby embodying the gospel of transformation to wholeness that is the only gospel Jesus proclaimed. This gospel and its holy communion “in remembrance of me and of her” is the gospel that needs to be reclaimed in its wholeness today in order to distinguish the discipleship and church family necessary to proclaim the gospel having the integral significance of Jesus into Mary, and then into Paul. Now the gospel in their remembrance embodied into ‘who, what and how’ of today remains an open question.
Persons, relationships and churches in default mode with a default gospel do not, will not and cannot distinguish the discipleship and relationships together of God’s whole new family. These distinguished persons, relationships and churches only emerge, grow and mature in the relational outcome ‘already’ of what Jesus saves us to—transforming us from any default practice of discipleship and church to our new identity of relational belonging to his whole family with the new relational order in likeness of the Trinity. Yet, even our default practice will not be deconstructed, transformed and reconstructed to wholeness as long as two defining assumptions continue to be the underlying measures we use for our theology and practice: (1) a theological anthropology of reduced ontology and function for persons, relationships and thereby church, and (2) a weak view of sin that does not address, confront and redeem sin as reductionism. Without this whole theological anthropology and complete view of sin, default practice and the status quo are unaccounted for in a lack of clarity and fog. Jesus continues to knock on our doors for his family prayer to become the experiential reality of his followers together.
Nothing less and no substitutes can complete this chapter. Anything less and any substitutes in our midst remain to be transformed in order to complete it. How will we respond to the relational intrusion of the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement? The face of God shines through any fog to pursue us Face to face. Compatibility to the Trinity’s improbable theological trajectory requires us to go beyond the epistemological, theological, ontological and relational limits that define and determine us. Congruence with the trinitarian persons’ intrusive relational path demands for us to be vulnerable in our person and relationships. In other words, if our response will complete this chapter in our discipleship and churches, we need to go beyond (disclaim) our current assumptions and expose from inner out both our person and relationships (cf. the first beatitudes) to clarification and correction in order for our churches to be transformed and not merely re-formed. There is neither negotiation nor compromise available to complete our discipleship and churches, and such attempts will only keep this chapter suspended with incomplete theology and practice.
Again, “Where are you in your discipleship?” “What are you doing in your church?” “I have brought you good news!” “Pay vulnerable and intimate attention to the relational words you hear from me.” Does this good news truly make the difference in your person, relationships and churches that distinguishes them on his intrusive relational path in his-their likeness? We are accountable to the whole of God’s presence and involvement to answer these questions in face-to-face relationship without the veil.
Yes, God indeed did say and do all that—and the whole of God dwells vulnerably and intimately with us to say and do more in relational terms! Therefore, rise above the influence of modern technology, go beyond the limits of social media, and pay vulnerable and intimate attention. Then reclaim to be whole, and continue to reclaim to live whole, and further reclaim to make whole our human relational condition.
 Morna D. Hooker, Endings: Invitations to Discipleship (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), 82,84.
 Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 295.
 Caryl Rivers, “The real bias that divides us,” OP-ED, Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2014, A27.
©2015T. Dave Matsuo