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The Gospel of Transformation
Distinguishing the Discipleship & Ecclesiology Integral to Salvation
Section I God’s Relational Context and Process to Transformation
Chapter 5 Called to Be, Live and Make Whole
Come, follow me and I will transform you to be fishers of anthropos.
Mark 1:17, NIV
When I became a Christian at age twenty, I had little idea what it meant to follow Jesus beyond merely believing him. I had even less understanding that to be a Christian involved a specific call from Jesus that is inherent to the gospel. By the time I graduated from seminary, I had gained neither a deeper understanding of his call nor a further concern for discipleship. These were not the main priorities of theological education. Even as I advanced in the Christian life with assumed clarity on these matters, I, along with Peter and other disciples, still needed epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction in my theology and practice.
Both a reduced and convergence model of the gospel do not understand the depth of Jesus and thus cannot know the extent of his call to his followers—a call not just to church leaders, gifted servants or special Christians but to all of us. The assumptions we make about Jesus shape our theology and practice, and also determine how we will be (our ontology, ginomai in Mk 1:17) and live (our function) both with him in relationship and in everyday life in the world.
In Jesus’ intrusive relational path, his interactions with potential disciples frequently redefined them from inner out (their innermost as a person), and also how they determined their persons and relationships. That is to say, without making assumptions about them in his intrusiveness, Jesus addressed their theological anthropology that was commonly composed by the prevailing influence of human contextualization and thereby embedded in a pervasive reduced ontology and function. Certainly, Jesus not only addressed their theology but also challenged and confronted their practice as persons and in relationships. The breadth of Jesus’ interactions are critical to pay attention to in order to understand the depth of his purpose and desires for his followers—the call to be whole persons, who then also pursue other persons to be whole. His interactions were not the exception but the rule of his intrusiveness because Jesus always called them to be whole—no longer reduced or fragmented—the rule of faith, as it were, integral to the relational outcome of the gospel of transformation to wholeness.
Of course, anything less and any substitutes maintain the status quo in our theology and practice, which Jesus’ intrusive relational path also jolts with epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction as he did with Nicodemus. What is this reduced ontology and function in our theology and practice that Jesus finds contrary to distinguish his followers beyond what is common to human contextualization?
If we continue to see Jesus’ followers in their primary identity as servants or in their primary function of serving, there are various ways this identity and function can be fulfilled. Theological education typically trains people for these various ways, with the more variety in its curriculum the better. This perception of and approach to discipleship, however, consistently overlooks or ignores what is primary to Jesus for his followers, and thus what is both intrinsic to and underlying who, what and how they are: the human person and the accompanying human condition.
This critical gap is apparent when the significance of current theological discourse is assessed. Along with the lack of clarity or elusiveness of theological-biblical studies’ Subject, the human condition prevailing in the human context has been noticeably lacking or absent in theological anthropology discourse. Either too much is assumed about this condition or too little discussion takes place about it. And not enough is said when discussion does focus on the human condition. This is curious because how significantly can we discuss, define, determine, know and understand the person in human context without factoring in the human condition? The consequence for theological anthropology and its ongoing implications reverberate throughout human life, notably converging on the development and survival of the whole person. This is why in Jesus’ interactions he frequently addressed, challenged and confronted his followers’ theological anthropology. He calls them (us) to pursue (“be fishers of”) personness.
If selfish genes have dominated human development from the beginning—for example, as biologist Richard Dawkins contends—there can be no other composition to the human narrative. I contend, however, this does not compose the human condition, nor can natural selection account for the whole in human development. Human development and progress in human achievement have to be differentiated, since the former is qualitatively oriented while the latter is quantitatively oriented. Consequently, what each lens pays attention to or ignores is different, with different and even conflicting results. For example, social media has greatly expanded the quantity of human connections and, in the “progress”, has reduced the quality of human communication and relationships, along with the persons so engaged. This modern reduction pervades further by hookup relationships dominating youth-young adult culture in the U.S.
What evolves here emerges from redefining the human person in quantitative terms from outer in (mainly preoccupied with the secondary over the primary). This reduces the person to one’s parts (notably in multi-tasking or insignificant connections) and results in fragmenting both the whole person in ontology and function as well as persons’ relationships together. Such results should not be confused with human development, although human achievement is often mistaken for it and such so-called progress becomes a pervasive substitute for it. Moreover, if such results occur from natural selection, physical determinism certainly has a dark forecast for human life that perhaps warrants fatalism.
From such a basis as natural selection emerges a quite simple object (not a complex subject) that quantifies human beings, or at least Homo sapiens, and shapes them as objects by human contextualization. This urgently prompts the question for anthropology, and specifically for theological anthropology: is it adequate to identify human beings as objects and sufficient to describe them only in quantitative terms? Is human life that simple, as Dawkins assumes? The same question urgently applies to the identity and function of Jesus’ followers. Yet, before we answer on the basis of our own assumptions and bias, we need further and deeper understanding of the existing condition of human beings to explain the full significance of the human person—most notably defining the identity and determining the function of Jesus’ followers. For theological anthropology to shed light on the human narrative, it must clearly illuminate the human condition from the beginning in order to spotlight who and what distinguishes the whole person—that person whose whole ontology and function are needed to emerge, develop and survive to expose, confront and make whole the human condition.
The fragmentation of the whole person from inner out to outer in emerged from the beginning—not in an evolutionary process of simple objects but in a qualitative relational process of complex subjects. In the creation narrative, a critical dynamic took place in the primordial garden that has been oversimplified (e.g. by spiritualizing it) or lacking in understanding (e.g. not understanding its repercussions on the whole person). Composed prior to what emerged, wholeness of persons is the irreducible and nonnegotiable created ontology and function constituted integrally by the qualitative and relational. Anything less and any substitutes for the human person and persons in relationship together are simply reductions of creation; this condition is what unfolds in the primordial garden (Gen 3:1-13). And we need to account for this condition in our own person and relationships.
This critical dynamic unfolding in the primordial garden underlies and ongoingly contends for the reduction of persons to compose the human condition. What we need to understand fully is less about what Satan does and involves more what the persons do. In the female person’s perceptual field (with her brain fully engaged), the fruit she saw evoked feelings of delight, feelings that cannot be reduced to mere sensory matter (as neuroscience does). She desired it as a means for gaining knowledge and wisdom in referential terms (a prevailing practice to this day, Gen 3:6), even though she already had whole knowledge and understanding in relational terms (an overlooked practice to this day, Gen 1:27-28; 2:25). Whether she thought about the fruit as an alternative means prior to this pivotal moment is unknown, but she appeared clearly satisfied with her created condition in whole ontology and function integrated in whole relationship together (implied in bosh, “without disappointment or dismay” about both persons being “embodied whole from inner out,” 2:25); and thus she also appeared satisfied with the Creator in relational terms. Additionally, along with the Creator’s creative action from inner out being satisfying, the Creator’s communicative action directly (not indirectly or implicitly) in relationship with them was not displeasing (“but God said,” 3:3). This all changed when a sweeping assumption was framed as a fact: “You will not surely be reduced” (3:4, NIV). We also have ongoingly made this assumption by not accounting for the human condition in our ontology and function.
In the reality of relational terms, the feelings evoked by the fruit should also have evoked—as neuroscience identifies in the social brain—feelings of insecurity, perhaps even pain, about losing whole relationship together with the Creator and with the other person. Why the feelings about the fruit had more influence than the feelings about whole relationship involved the above assumption; therefore this person’s perceptual-interpretive framework and lens made the following pivotal shift in function:
The shift from inner out to outer in (focused on bodily nakedness), from the qualitative to the quantitative (focused on fruit), from the relational to the referential (of knowledge and wisdom), therefore from what is primary to secondary things (“good for food…a delight to the eyes…desired to make one wise”) that has preoccupied human function accordingly ever since.
This pivotal shift involved a higher level human function, which reveals the absence of supervenience assumed by nonreductive physicalism. Rather, what is unfolding is the encompassing reality of the reductionist dynamic of the human condition. What emerged is ongoingly evidenced in the pervading human effort for self-determination—which in a limited way could also describe selfish genes—and the prominent human shaping of relationships on self-conscious terms (“clothed” and “hiding”). This shift makes evident when self-consciousness (“naked and fragmented”) emerged to displace person-consciousness (“naked and whole”). What fully accounts for this pivotal shift from wholeness and its resulting fragmentary actions is reductionism (insufficiently defined as disobedience) and its ongoing counter-relational presence and influence: that which counters the whole in creation and conflicts with the whole of the Creator, thereby elevating the quantitative as primary over the qualitative and substituting referential terms for relational terms to renegotiate the primacy of relationship together.
The shift from wholeness, simply stated, is the shift to anything less and any substitutes, all of which composes human condition. The importance of the knowledge and understanding of this pivotal shift cannot be overstated. Nor can it be understated that anything less and any substitutes will be reductions, since they render us by default to the human condition. We make sweeping assumptions that our knowledge and understanding are not reductions when they are framed as facts or sound theories. Anything less and any substitutes have prevailed in the human narrative and have even been presented as whole for human life—all counter to the reality that nothing less and no substitutes constitute the whole. The sum consequence, even by default, on human being and being human—and who and what can emerge or develop—is the human condition, emerging from the beginning by the seemingly reasonable assumption “we will not be reduced,” especially if our knowledge and understanding have some basis in the probability framework of fact.
It is truly ingenious how the influence of reductionism permeates the most reasonable areas of human life to compose the human condition. The human context, by the nature of its limited epistemic field, imposes limits that preclude conclusive knowledge and understanding of human life. When the prevailing human condition is factored into the human context—a condition that is inescapable, though commonly ignored or even denied—not only are there limits imposed but also constraints. The dynamic interaction between limits and constraints also unfolded in the primordial garden. When the question was raised “Did God really say that?” (Gen 3:1, NIV), not only was the epistemic field limited to only the human context but the epistemic field was further narrowed down and constrained in interpretation and meaning to a reductionist bias. In other words, the constraints of the human condition are always imposed to fulfill a reductionist purpose, and therefore quite naturally and very conveniently converge with the limits of the human context for this result. This is further demonstrated by the assumption “You will not surely be reduced.” Their convergence makes constraints less distinguishable and limits more reasonable, despite the pervasive existence of this defining interaction between them, and thereby renders us to a default human condition.
The constraints, now inseparable from the human context, explicitly or implicitly diminish, minimalize or distort our knowledge and understanding of human life, such that without epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction human life is rendered to epistemological illusions (e.g. “not be reduced”) and ontological simulations (e.g. “covered” and “hidden”). That is, not rendered necessarily to fictions—though many essentially live a lie or believe in lies about themselves—but to various facts of life that in actuality do not adequately or truly represent reality in human life, only the limits and constraints of the human context. Any anthropology is subjected to these same limits and constraints, but whether a discourse is subject to them depends directly on having epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction from a larger epistemic field.
This prompts questions about our knowledge and understanding, their level and their basis in fact or reality. There is no doubt that fact and reality certainly overlap at various points. A fact may reliably observe and represent what exists, but whether it observes the extent of reality and represents its depth involve the further issue of validity. Validity statements on the extent and depth of reality cannot be based on a limited epistemic field that is also narrowed down by the constraints of a biased interpretive framework. A reliable fact does not necessarily mean it has validity for reality, but is reliable only on the basis of its limits and constraints. Therefore, fact and reality should not be considered synonymous or confused as the other.
There is a critical distinction between fact and reality that needs to be maintained:
Facts are from the limited epistemic field of the human context, which are observed and interpreted from a framework and lens influenced by the constraints of the human context—and thereby raising issues of how validly the facts represent what truly exists (what is). Reality is subjected to these limits and constraints, and to some extent is shaped by them but not defined and determined by them as facts are; and reality also can go beyond these limits and constraints, and does so when constituted in an epistemic field beyond the human context. However, facts are unable to go beyond these limits and constraints by the nature of their probability framework that inescapably limits and constrains them to the human context and the reductionist bias of the human condition.
Unless we account for this distinction, we easily can reflect, reinforce or sustain by default the human condition in our theology and practice.
The parameters of anthropology are defined by the human context. Understandably, anthropology depends on the facts from this narrow and biased epistemic field to compose its discourse. Given the above limits and constraints under which anthropology works, theological anthropology must be clearly distinguished from its counterpart in order for its own discourse to go beyond the limits of the human context and rise above the constraints of the human condition—and thereby compose validity statements. In its primary function, theological anthropology must fully account for the human condition and unmistakably distinguish the reality of the whole person in ontology and function from any reductionism. Not distinguishing this uncommon reality renders the person by default to the human condition.
Our knowledge and understanding of reductionism need to advance to the depth level of its counter-relational work. The primary means for this heuristic epistemic process is contingent on ‘the presence of the whole’ for the integral function to expose reductionism and illuminate the whole. Indeed, the common reality of reductionism also needs the definitive presence of the whole, since reductionism’s sole purpose for existence is to counter the whole—the whole of creation, the whole person and the whole of God. The reality interacting here that we need to rigorously account for is the presence of the whole with its subsequent reduction. This involves the conjoint fight of Paul both for the whole gospel and against its reduction.
The qualitative relational presence of the whole emerged in the human context from the beginning prior to reductionism’s unfolding, which is why those persons knew what was “good and not good (apart from the whole)” before experiencing reductionism. Ever since, however, there has been an ongoing difficulty, struggle and even confusion distinguishing the uncommon reality of the whole and its distinction from reductionism. This reflects in part the genius of reductionism to confuse fact (and related assumptions) and reality and blur their distinction, hereby obscuring the primary focus on what is whole from inner out with a secondary focus on fragmentary parts from outer in.
This contrary and pivotal dynamic emerged from the beginning and continues its predominant influence today to confound our knowledge and understanding of human persons, including our own. Does this signify being embedded in the human context and the need still to be redeemed from the human condition? A default mode makes this a reality for us, whether we recognize it or not.
And as far as theological anthropology goes (or doesn’t go), has reductionism in fact composed its human narrative and its assumed “reality” of human being and being human? If in practice such theology reflects or reinforces reduced ontology and function, then this has become a common reality that continues to influence our persons and relationships—even to determine by default.
Anything less and any substitutes of the whole, particularly the whole ontology and function of the person, can be found along a wide spectrum of expression. We tend to look at human fragmentation and reduction at one end of this spectrum, located in more extreme forms of expression. The genius of reductionism even promotes this perception so that our interpretive lens either does not pay attention to or even tends to essentially deny the wider range of the spectrum, thus making it difficult to locate anything less and any substitutes of the whole. The consequence is that most of the spectrum engages the human condition by default.
To emphasize again, what the persons in the primordial garden paid attention to and ignored due to their shift to a perceptual-interpretive framework focused on the outer in are critical to understand. This reduced lens supposedly would have given them greater perception (“your eyes will be opened”) but in reality did the opposite instead—unmistakably fragmenting what was integral for the whole:
Countering God’s creative and communicative actions was the result of these persons transposing their perception from inner out to outer in and inverting their priorities from the primary to the secondary—common and prevailing practices engaged along a wide spectrum to this day, even by the theological academy and church. The loss of both the qualitative and the primacy of relationship together are distinctly evident throughout contemporary human context, not only prominently amplified by modern social media and hookup culture. This continuing condition is clearly witnessed increasingly in our lack of both qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness.
What we pay attention to and ignore about sin as reductionism are what we pay attention to and ignore about defining the person and engaging in relationships. They overlap inseparably and interact both unmistakably in the human context and undeniably in our theology and practice. Therefore, a weak or insufficient view of sin is consequential for reductionism of the person and relationships. Conversely, any reduction of the person and relationships results in not paying attention to, ignoring or simply not understanding reductionism operating in the entire spectrum of human life and in its dynamic process fragmenting God’s whole. And the consequence continuing for us even in our practice of following Christ is engagement in the human condition by default.
Thus, at the risk of understating it, it is indispensable to recognize and understand in our theology and practice:
For reductionism, the part(s) is primary over the whole, with any sense of the whole (if considered at all) determined only by parts (even their sum); therefore, reductionism always counters the whole by fragmenting it, operating under the false assumption “you will not be reduced” that legitimates preoccupation with the secondary—which then promotes epistemological illusions and ontological simulations of the whole.
It is imperative to address reductionism in our theology and practice—most urgently our theological anthropology—to receive the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction needed to be whole in reality, even notwithstanding the facts.
Reductionism’s contrary dynamic is ongoingly consequential most significantly for the person and relationships, and this immeasurable influence has shaped our theology and practice. The accumulation of knowledge (“desired to make one wise”), for example, emerged from the beginning to define many human identities and status today, which are clearly enhanced and embellished by reductionism’s referential knowledge (as demonstrated in the academy). How much has this shaped the identity and function of Jesus’ followers today? The redefinition of the person based on the parts of what they possess and can do in referential terms becomes the defining basis by which relationships with other persons so defined are engaged according to these reduced terms—evidencing the inescapable issues for ontology and function. Consequently, it is further indispensable to recognize and understand:
Basic to reductionism counteracting God’s whole is its ongoing counter-relational work, inverting the primacy of reciprocal relationships together—with the shaping of relationships with others (including God) on one’s own limited terms as its most subtle practice located on the full spectrum of anything less and any substitutes. The relational consequence is converting complex (vulnerable) relationships into simple associations with a minimum of involvement measured according to one’s own self-definition from outer in. One’s own terms are composed at the loss of both the qualitative of the whole person from inner out and the relational of persons together in wholeness in their innermost.
If we do not acknowledge and understand the loss of the qualitative and the primacy of relationship together that emerged from the beginning, we certainly have no significant basis to recognize their loss in our midst, including in our own person and relationships.
The emergence of reductionism is not a human construction, for example, by selfish genes in natural selection, though such thinking does emerge from reductionism. The initial appearance of reductionism is often insufficient to understand the scope of this contrary dynamic in both its breadth and depth, and thus its ongoing implications. We, therefore, also need to recognize unmistakably and to understand entirely:
Reductionism by its nature routinely imposes a narrowed perceptual-interpretive framework that reduces our lens with the following consequences:
Referentialization of our epistemic source—which includes the creation narrative and the Word—is the most significant, and least understood, consequence emerging from the dynamic of reductionism: “Did God really say that?...you will not surely be reduced.” Moreover, this dynamic has unfolded, been long established and continues to extend itself in human contexts, even as the norm for the common notion of ‘the common good’. Many of our notions of the common good may in fact seek for wholeness but in reality reflect, reinforce or even sustain reductionism by default. This addresses us both to the globalization of reductionism and the matter of globalization as a social phenomenon of growing fact today that is a mere illusion and simulation of the whole and what wholeness is in reality.
If it is not apparent in your daily life, the influence of modernism as a worldview and its primacy of rationalizing in search of knowledge and truth have prevailed in determining the quality of life in most human contexts. We are all ongoingly influenced and shaped by the outcome of the modern enterprise of progress—whether from the physical and natural sciences or from related applied technologies, and even from theology. A most far-reaching result of this human project impacting humanity in its innermost is the globalization of the economy; and, as noted earlier, we are only beginning to grasp the impact of media technology on persons and relationships. Positive or negative, further development of globalization can be expected—and needs to be anticipated by those in the theological context—since, as sociologist Anthony Giddens states, “Modernity is inherently globalizing.” Both how globalization is unfolding and why it has emerged are equally important to recognize and understand. And understanding this age we live in necessarily requires understanding the scope of reductionism.
Along with the economic impact globalization has on peoples of the world, there is a dual phenomenon somewhat paradoxically characterizing globalization. On the one hand, the process is distinctly reductionist, for example, reducing the whole of persons and people to cheap labor, disposable goods or market pawns. On the other hand, globalization is breaking down national boundaries and provincialism to give us a glimpse of the interrelated whole of humanity, albeit in a convoluted sense.
Systems theory (for example, in ecology and family process) has provided further understanding of a whole as a working system of interrelated parts. There is a general tendency to perceive the sum of these parts as determining the whole, without the need for further understanding; yet in a process of synergism the whole functioning together is greater than the sum effects from the function of its individual parts. Inherent to the whole, however, is not merely a quantitative effect greater than the sum of its parts but more importantly a qualitative effect. Systems theory is a quantitative framework the use of which tends not to account for qualitative aspects. Thus its value is limited though nonetheless useful to help us understand the whole.
While philosophical postmodernism insightfully has exposed the reductionism in modernity and perhaps points to a holistic direction, postmodernity is neither instrumental in fully grasping reductionism nor significant in understanding the whole. Since the main voices of postmodernism do not speak of a definitive whole—only the need for it—a part (e.g. a person) cannot truly know the importance of who one is and is a part of, nor understand the primacy of what one is apart from, therefore never really understanding the full significance of how being apart from the whole reduces that part(s) to something qualitatively less, or, as God said, “not good.” In other words, we need a definitive whole in order to fully understand reductionism—acknowledging the presence of the whole emerging from the beginning and affirming the whole’s trajectory in the human context. Without the ongoing presence and trajectory of the whole, we have no epistemological, hermeneutical, ontological and relational means to recognize, expose, confront and make whole the fragmentation of persons and relationships together to reduced ontology and function in our midst. Moreover, we need the presence and involvement of the Whole to provide the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction needed for our own theology and practice according to this human condition by default.
It is evident today that there is a critical gap in our understanding of the human condition, and perhaps a failure to take the human condition seriously. Directly interrelated, and most likely its determinant, a reduced theological anthropology not only fails to address the depth of the human condition but in reality obscures its depth, reinforces its breadth, or even conforms to this inescapable and unavoidable condition. The repercussions for us, of course, are that we do not account for our own practice of reductionism, and, interrelated, that we do not address our own function in the human condition. Our reduced function manifests in three notable areas, which are three interrelated issues of ongoing major importance for ontology and function (discussed earlier and addressed throughout this study):
These ongoing issues are the three inescapable issues for our ontology and function needing accountability. The pivotal shift from “embodied whole from inner out and not confused, disappointed in relationship together” to “embodied parts from outer in and reduced to relational distance” has ongoing consequences; and their implications directly challenge our theological anthropology and hold us accountable for its assumptions of ontology and function.
This shift to reductionism expressed in these inescapable issues for our ontology and function further expresses itself in interaction with three unavoidable issues (ongoingly discussed) for all practice that are necessary to account for in all moments:
Regardless of who we are and what our place is in the human context, we all must account ongoingly for the type of person presented, the nature of our communication and the level of involvement engaged in our relationships. These are unavoidable issues that interact with the three inescapable issues, which together influence and shape our lives and need accountability even in the commonest expressions along the full width of the spectrum locating anything less and any substitutes of the whole.
The qualitative and relational aspects in human life necessary for whole ontology and function are neither sufficiently addressed nor deeply accounted for in theological anthropology discourse—including with the prominence of dualism, the emergence of supervenience and the focus on relationality. In spite of recent focus on the latter, there appears to be a status quo in theology and function above which we rarely rise—perhaps evident of a lack of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness—and from which likely indicates our need for a critical and pivotal shift from reductionism back to the whole. This prompts a related question for theological anthropology: On what basis is the human condition defined and its resolution determined? The answer is either good news in relational terms or so-so news in referential terms, or perhaps disappointing news because it lacks qualitative and relational significance.
The persons in the primordial garden redefined their theological anthropology and reduced their whole persons (from inner out with the qualitative heart in the primacy of relationship) in order to substitute an identity from outer in based on the secondary of what they had and did and thereby reshaped relationships. The consequence was the loss of wholeness in both the qualitative and the relational. In further understanding these critical dynamics, since their action to give priority to the secondary was made apart from the primacy of relationship, by implication the person (self) acted autonomously in the relationship based on one’s own terms. Of further significance then, having assumed an identity apart from the primacy of relationship necessitated being involved in the effort of self-determination. If they had functioned inner out focused on the primary, they would have engaged the above situation by the primacy of relationship. This would have avoided the fragmentation of wholeness in relationship created by their self-autonomy and made unnecessary their attempt to construct an identity in the human context by self-determination, efforts which necessarily involve their shaping of relationships. Their loss of whole relationship together was demonstrated in the relational consequence: “the eyes of both were refocused to outer in and they knew that they were naked and they covered their person…. ‘I was afraid because I was naked and I hid myself’” (Gen 3:7,10). These dynamics were extended further with the overlap of self-determination into the need for self-justification: “The woman whom you gave to be with me in the primacy of relationship, she gave me fruit…I ate” (3:12). For the person to be defined from outer in and determined by what they have and do, always necessitates a comparative process with human distinctions of ‘better’ or ‘less’, which then inevitably will involve efforts of self-determination. This self-definition forms the basis for self-conscious engagement in relationships, which make evident the inescapable issues for ontology and function discussed above.
All these dynamics converge to define the human condition, by default or not, and its engagement in the sin of reductionism. We need to broaden and deepen our understanding of sin to fully account for the human condition in our midst, notably efforts of self-determination and the human shaping of relationships. If we think that the human condition is about sin but understand sin only in terms of conventional moral-ethical failure (e.g. disobedience in the garden), then we do not account for the loss of the qualitative and the relational in everyday human life (even in the church and academy) that God clearly distinguished in created ontology and function of human persons—that qualitative image and relational likeness distinguishing the whole of God (discussed shortly). The relational consequence “to be apart” unfolding from the primordial garden is the human condition of the loss of the primacy of whole relationship together and its prevailing relational distance, separation, brokenness, and thus loneliness—which even threatens the integrity of the human brain (as noted by neuroscientist Cacioppo) as further evidence that this condition “is not good, pleasant, beautiful, delightful, precious, correct, righteous for persons to be apart from whole relationship together.” How we tend to do relationship and what prevails in our relationships today are reductions of the primacy God created for whole relationships in his likeness; and the human shaping of relationships composes the human relational condition, which then is reflected, reinforced or sustained by any and all human shaping.
Furthermore, the whole person from inner out signified by the qualitative function of the heart needs renewed focus for understanding the human condition and needs to be restored in our theology and function—yet, merely discussing spirituality is inadequate. We cannot avoid addressing the human heart (our own to start) and the feelings associated with it because the whole of human identity is rooted in it—along with the consciousness of self, noted by neuroscientist Damasio—and the depths of the human condition is tied to it. If neuroscience can talk about feelings as integral to the human function, why doesn’t the theological academy discuss feelings as at the core of the human person? A major part of the answer relates to our theological anthropology having redefined the person without the primacy of the qualitative and relational; but interrelated, the main reason involves the human condition, that is, our intentional, unintentional or inadvertent engagement in the reductionism composing the human condition—notably in the self-determination preoccupied in the secondary (“good for...a delight to…desired to”) and in the shaping of relationships (“unexposed and distant,” cf. Gen 2:25). Consciousness as a person necessarily involves feelings—even for the whole of God (e.g. Gen 6:6; Jn 11:33,35; Eph 4:30)—which Damasio defines as essential for the self but locates feelings only in brain function to integrate mind and body. Theological anthropology, however, can and needs to go deeper to inner out to get to the qualitative function of heart to distinguish the whole person. Yet, as found in contemporary discourse, this is not about dualism, which goes ‘inner’ for an elusive soul but not ‘out’ adequately to embody the whole person without fragmenting into parts (soul and body); and nonreductive physicality has ‘outer’ but not sufficiently ‘in’ to constitute the depth of the whole person in ontology and function. The whole person is pointed to but is either fragmentary or not distinguished beyond these limits.
The qualitative inner out signified by heart function is more definitive to distinguish the whole person, with its integral function irreplaceable for both the body to be whole and relationships together to be whole. Therefore, a turn away from the heart in any context or function has the unavoidable consequence of the human condition. The qualitative loss signified in the human condition emerges when we become distant from our heart, constrained or detached from feelings, thereby insensitive or hardened—just as Jesus exposed (Mk 7:6; Jn 5:42) and Paul critiqued (Eph 4:17-19). This increasingly embeds human function in the outer in and reduces human ontology to ontological simulation. This is witnessed in the function of “hypocrites” (hypokrites, Mk 7:6). In referential terms, hypokrites and hypokrisis (hypocrisy, cf. Lk 12:1) are limited to pretension or falsehood, in acts to dissemble or deceive. In relational terms, the dynamic involves the person presented to others that is only from outer in and thus different from the whole person distinguished from inner out. Just as ancient Greek actors put on masks in a play, hypokrites engages in ontological simulation not necessarily with the intent to deceive but from what emerges by the nature of function from outer in. In other words, whatever the person presents to others, it is not whole and consequently cannot be counted on to be who and what the person is, which is not about the outer-in issue of deception but the inner-out issue of righteousness (who, what and how the person truly is). This dynamic engages the pivotal issue involving the ontology of the person and its effect on relationships. The consequence of such function in relational terms is always a qualitative relational consequence that may not be apparent at the quantitative level from outer in. The outer-in simulation masking its qualitative relational consequence is exposed by Jesus notably in the relational act of worship: “This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me” (Mk 7:6). Paul also later confronted Peter and exposed his outer-in simulation (hypokrisis) by the role-playing he engaged in focused on secondary matters, which even influenced Barnabas and others to function outer in (Gal 2:11-14). All this magnifies the three unavoidable issues for all practice that must be accounted for ongoingly.
The qualitative function of the heart is irreplaceable and inseparable from the primacy of whole relationship together. They are the irreducible and nonnegotiable outworking of the creation, for whose wholeness they are integral; therefore, their conjoint function are the keys for being whole that cannot be ignored or diminished. Anything less and any substitutes of the qualitative and the relational are reductions, which only signify the presence, influence and operation of the human condition. Any reductions or loss of the qualitative and relational render the person and persons together in relationship to fragmentary terms of human shaping; and this condition cannot be whole and consequently simply functions in the “not good to be apart” from God’s whole—in spite of any aggregate determination made in referential terms, for example, the members filling a church.
The reduction to human terms and shaping from outer in—signifying the human person assuming autonomy apart from the primacy of relationship—prevail in human life and pervade even in the church and the academy, notably in legitimated efforts of self-determination and self-justification (functionally, not theologically). The interrelated issues of self-autonomy, self-determination and self-justification are critical to understand in terms of the sin of reductionism—which Jesus integrally addressed in his major discourse for his followers (Mt 5-7)—indispensable to account for in our theology and practice if we are to pay attention to the human condition in our midst. Without being accountable based on this integral understanding, the only alternative available for us is to continue by default along the spectrum of reductionist function.
As discussed previously, reductionism tends not to be the blatant activity often associated with Satan but rather is usually an obscure process having the appearance of being reasonable, normative and even righteous (cf. 2 Cor 11:14-15). Any shift to reductionist substitutes for the whole may not be apparent because the overt forms may remain while the underlying or deeper significance is absent. For example, a shift may not involve a shift in basic doctrine and theology but what they are based on (e.g. a scientific paradigm and foundationalism), or it may not be a shift in basic types of Christian practice but how they function (e.g. without the significance of heart, as exposed in worship by Jesus, Mt 15:8), not a change in outward behavior but without the relational significance of intimacy (signified by “heart and vulnerableness,” Jn 4:23).
The process of reductionism therefore effectively formulates two influentially competing substitutes that are critical to recognize: one, an ontological simulation of the whole of God but without the qualitative significance of the heart, and, two, an epistemological illusion of the truth of God but without really knowing the triune God in intimate relationship. These substitutes counter God’s strategic shift and who and what the Father seeks in whole relationship together (as Jesus vulnerably disclosed, Jn 4:23-24). Without the qualitative significance of the heart and the intimacy of relationships together, there is no certainty (in spite of doctrinal certainty) of the whole of God constituted in the Trinity, only simulation and illusion. No created entity understands this more than Satan. Consequently, Satan initiated reductionism as an ontological simulation and epistemological illusion for life based on lies (false assumptions, inadequate methodologies, incomplete practices, cf. Rev 2:4; 3:2) he generates (as the author of lies, Jn 8:44) for his twofold purpose: (1) to distance or detach the whole of our person from our hearts and (2) to interfere with our relationship with God by reducing the primacy of intimacy necessary to be whole. His twofold purpose serves his ongoing goal for Christians to reduce our relational function—since he is unable to destroy our relationship with God—so as “to be apart” from the whole. Moreover, his counteracting influence and counter-relational work are evident in theological engagement today when our hearts are distant and our involvement is less than vulnerable in the theological task.
Consequently, and urgently, the scope of reductionism and its influence to perpetuate the human condition by default make it crucial for understanding our working theological anthropology, which underlies our theology and practice, notably in our discipleship. Any diminishing of the ontology of all persons and the minimalizing of any and all relationships, which directly emerges from reductionism, are inseparable from our theological anthropology unless they are specifically accounted for and contested. The theological anthropology issue will remain insurmountable in our theological engagement unless it conjointly includes the strong view of sin necessary to fight against the scope of reductionism as sin. Therefore, the interaction of these two issues necessitates neither assuming nor neglecting either one because it will be at the expense of the other.
There is a certain degree of validity in thinking that in our age it is much harder to deal with sin today than in the age, for example, of the early church. To the extent that this is true, two factors heavily contribute to this condition. One factor is contextual and the other is structural. They operate separately and in combination. The church today and those in theological engagement need to understand these operations if they expect to be distinguished in their practice from these increasingly prevailing factors.
The contextual factor is distinct in the increasing normative character of sin. As discussed earlier, it bears repeating that the growing frequency and extent of any questionable behavior or practice create conditions for redefining those more favorably. Our perceptions of what is unacceptable are indeed being challenged continuously and likely redefined. As the relativism of a postmodern context or a climate of indiscriminant tolerance continue, distinguishing sin becomes even more difficult. This process can also be seen as a reaction to forms of Christian legalism with its rigidity and dependence on constraints (e.g. templates for conformity)—particularly reactions from less conservative Christians. In this process Christian liberty is exercised, and somewhat abused, in a manner influenced more by its social context than its redeemed nature and purpose (cf. Paul’s polemic in 1 Cor 10:23-33).
The other factor that heavily contributes to a weak position on sin is less overt because it is a structural factor. Being a structural factor, its effects on our understanding of and subsequent dealing with sin is much less obvious than the typical moral and spiritual issues. In understanding that life is not merely operating under the total control or influence of the individual, there are broader operations that must be taken into account. These are found on the more systemic level of everyday life.
It is in this no-less-real area of human life that our understanding of sin must be further developed both in our theology and our practice. This is critical in the conjoint fight for the gospel to be good news indeed for the human condition to be made whole and the fight against the scope of reductionism. Sin or evil can no longer be seen merely as the outworking only of the individual(s). It can also be found in the operations of institutions, systems and structures of a society, or the global community. In its more developed stages evil is not only manifested at this structural level but rooted in those very institutions, systems or structures such that they can operate quite apart from the control of the individual, or even the latter’s moral character. This is especially true, for example, when the very infrastructure of a society obscures moral issues and legitimates such systemic operations.
Evidence of this process in U.S. society has been found historically, for example, in the development of racism from the level of individuals’ prejudice to the systemic level known as institutional racism or discrimination. Contrary to common understanding, at this systemic level you don’t need prejudice or racist intentions to have institutional discrimination. Such an operation, in fact, could be run by well-intentioned persons but still produce the outcome of racism. Complicity with discrimination could also be unintentional on the part of any person directly or indirectly involved. The unavoidable consequence is participating in the sin of reductionism.
Jacques Ellul commented back in the mid-20th century about such a systemic process: “A major fact of our present civilization is that more and more sin becomes collective, and the individual is forced to participate in collective sin.” This process continues today in increasing global conditions that broaden and compound our participation in sin and evil. Child labor and slave-like factory practices, for example, which would not be tolerated in the U.S. become tolerable overseas to serve U.S. consumer interests.
The net effect of this structural factor on Christians is the responsibility for directly or indirectly propagating sin by either knowingly or unknowingly being in complicity with the operation of such an institution, system or structure. Of course, it should be clearly understood also that this collective nature of sin does not take away the individual’s accountability for sin. But it does reveal the extensive reality of sin and the church’s need to address the full scope of sin as reductionism, both for the church’s own transformation and for its redemptive purpose in the world—and this applies to the academy as well.
The development of the church’s purpose in actual practice is directly related to the strength of its position against sin; and it is the function of theology to provide this basis for the church’s practice, which is the academy’s responsibility. In prevailing conditions, the normative character of sin and its collective nature interact to confuse us of the presence of sin as reductionism, to distort its operation in everyday life and to create illusions about the benefits of its results. All the harm that has been incurred for the sake of “progress” is a prime example of this consequence. Yet, despite these conditions it is really immaterial whether it is more difficult to deal with sin today than before. We are accountable to recognize, address and work for the redemption of the scope of reductionism as sin and its relational outcome of transformation to wholeness. And our theology must be whole to underlie this whole practice.
The breadth and depth of reductionism by its nature is anything less and any substitutes of the whole. This irrefutably composes a wide spectrum of shapes and expressions, even among Jesus’ disciples and within gatherings of church. All of these shapes and expressions of human ontology and function constitute the human condition—notably continuing by default, even due to fact—which prevail in the human context with the following consequence:
To define human being and determine being human, to construct human identity and shape human relationships, under the limits and constraints of the quantitative over the qualitative, the referential over the relational—all preoccupied with the secondary over the primary, even embedded in secondary information/details about the primary, under the long-standing assumption: “You will not surely be reduced.”
In the reality of life—distinct from what we may consider fact—from the beginning to the present, our theology and practice must be engaged whole-ly, or be subjected to the limits and constraints of the human context without being distinguished from it, and thereby subject to the human condition by default. Anything less and any substitutes in both our theological anthropology and its human ontology and function either ignore or reinforce the human condition in its depth, and therefore either sustains or even conforms to its breadth. This state of our theological anthropology and its ontology and function of the person in the human context counters the whole person constituted in God’s context, both in the beginning and continuing today in following Jesus—countering the person central to and composing Jesus’ call.
Reduced ontology and function is the condition prevailing in human context; and this common condition is what human contextualization composes unavoidably for those not distinguished from it. In other words, reduced ontology and function is our default mode—that is to say emphatically, our default mode for all of us without exception. Accordingly, the condition of reduced ontology and function is what Jesus finds, addresses, challenges and confronts in our theology and practice in order to be distinguished as those who “follow the whole of me whole-ly.”
Therefore, we must never assume that “you have not been or are not being reduced.” Nor can we claim to be whole and not fragmented until we understand Jesus’ call to his followers and respond reciprocally according to his whole relational terms for discipleship. “Come…!”
As Jesus started proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God had come (Mk 1:14-15), he extended his call to follow him: “Come” (deute, 1:17, cf. Jn 1:39). His exclamation to come “follow after” (opiso) him was the opposite of what he told Satan earlier: “Away with you” (Mt 4:10, opiso, get behind). Later, Peter also received this contrary message from Jesus to “get behind me” (opiso, Mt 16:23). Yet, before that Peter clearly received Jesus’ call to follow after him (opiso in positive response). The opposing messages Peter received help distinguish the nature of Jesus’ call.
When Jesus called “Come,” he initiated a relational dynamic that composed his calling in three interrelated processes:
Peter indeed received Jesus’ call but had difficulty responding to Jesus in these three interrelated processes—with the first process certainly the main impasse for him. Jesus exposed that impasse for Peter with the contrary message to “get behind me.” But, unlike with Satan, Jesus used this pivotal interaction to give the clarification and correction Peter needed for the nature of his call. In only this relational dynamic initiated by Jesus, Peter’s (and any of our) identity formation unfolds in Jesus’ calling.
Jesus always contended with reduced ontology and function because he called his followers to be whole, first and foremost. His call to his followers necessitates conjointly being redeemed from reductionism and transformed to wholeness. We can’t be saved to wholeness without being saved from reductionism, which is our default condition and mode as long as we live in reduced ontology and function. We can’t be forgiven for our sin in order to be redeemed without being forgiven also for our sin of reductionism. A truncated soteriology and an incomplete process of change create unresolvable identity problems for those related to God. That is what we witness in God’s people from the OT, in would-be disciples, and in even his closest followers, including in the early church (discussed in Section II). This should not be surprising or unexpected as long as reductionism in human contextualization is not dealt with.
The surrounding human context (namely culture) commonly establishes the priorities of importance for life and practice, hereby making relative what those primary priorities will be from culture to culture, subculture to subculture, community to community, even family to family. Reflecting again on our contemporary expanding surroundings, the global context is having a profound effect in reducing the priorities of local contexts by increasingly shifting, embedding and enslaving persons in secondary priorities and away from the primacy of qualitative and relational priorities. This is becoming, if it has not already become, another fact that misrepresents reality that composes the quality of life. And this so-called progress is taking its toll on the minds and bodies of those affected—which has been confirmed by nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups, and that neuroscience would also confirm. Being occupied, even preoccupied, with secondary matter is a pervasive condition also found in theological education—notably preoccupied with referential information—which shapes the academy by the prevailing influence from its surrounding context.
The shift to the primacy of the secondary must further be understood in the underlying quest for certainty and/or the search for identity. This process engages a narrowing of the epistemic field to better grasp, explain and have certainty, for example, about what holds the person and world together in their innermost. Functionally, the process also necessitates reducing the qualitative-relational field of expectations from inner out (too demanding, vulnerable with uncertain results) to outer in for quantitative- referential terms that are easier to measure, perform and quantify the results of, for example, in the search for identity and finding one’s place in human contexts (including church and academy). In other words, the shift to the primacy of the secondary and its preoccupation are not without specific purpose that motivates persons even in the theological task and the practice of faith. Yet whatever certainty and identity result in secondary terms can only be incomplete, ambiguous or shallow.
Identity formation in particular for Jesus’ followers is problematic when it is composed either apart from his call or not understanding his call—problematic most noticeably when not composed by the process of redemptive change (process 1 above). Peter’s identity (in the above interaction) was contrary to Jesus’ call because it was still determined primarily by human contextualization: “you are setting your mind not on God’s things but on human things” (Mt 16:23). The influence of human contextualization, of course, is a pivotal issue for all of us, which must be dealt with ongoingly for our primary identity composed by Jesus’ call to emerge and unfold.
Jesus taught a critical lesson (e.g. Rev 2-3, to be discussed in Section II) that delineates a simple reality of life about the human person and the surrounding social context—matters we either pay attention to or ignore depending on our assumptions of theological anthropology and the human condition. His lesson is integrated with his formative family prayer (Jn 17:9-19) and addresses the issue of contextualization defining us. Since we do not live in a vacuum, our ontology and function (both individual and collective) are either shaped by the surrounding context we are en (v.11, thus “of the world,” v.14) or constituted by what we enter eis (dynamic movement “into”) that context with. In the latter constituting process, for the dynamic of eis to define and determine our ontology and function in congruence with Jesus (v.18) necessitates the ek (“of” indicating source) relational involvement to negate any defining influence on us from a surrounding context (“not of the world”) in order to determine us by our primary source in the whole of God’s relational context and process, therefore constituting the whole ontology and function in the primacy of relationship together for the eis relational movement back to the world (vv.16-18). Human contextualization, though neither disregarded nor necessarily unimportant, is clearly secondary to God’s in this process that integrally distinguishes our primary identity of who we are and whose we are (v.9). This reciprocating relational process (ek-eis relational dynamic, cf. reciprocating contextualization noted previously) signifies the relational demands of grace for reciprocal relationship conjointly compatible with the theological trajectory of Jesus’ coming eis the world and congruent with his relational path of wholeness for all of life with which he engaged the world. Nothing less and no substitutes can distinguish the whole ontology and function of Jesus and of those in likeness who indeed follow him in the primacy of whole relationship together without the veil.
The wholeness of his followers’ identity is the relational outcome of embracing Jesus in his full identity—the outcome emerging from the process of transformation (process 2 above) composing his call. In this relational dynamic initiated by Jesus, the clarity and depth of his identity are vital and become a christological contingency. The key, and thus the contingency, is who Jesus is. If who Jesus is defines the basis for our identity as his followers, then Jesus by necessity is both the hermeneutical key and the functional key for identity formation. This, of course, makes our life and practice in discipleship contingent on our working Christology—specifically, whether or not it involves the embodied whole of Jesus to compose the discipleship of complete Christology.
When Jesus said in his formative family prayer “I sanctify myself” (Jn 17:19), this was not about sanctifying his ontology but about sanctifying his identity to function clearly in the human context to distinguish the whole of his ontology. Since Jesus’ ontology was always holy (hagios), this sanctifying process was mainly in order that his followers’ ontology and identity may be sanctified (hagiazo) in the experiential truth of his full identity (as Jesus prayed). Moreover, since Jesus’ embodied identity did not function in a social vacuum with relational separation, it is vital to understand his sanctified identity for the experiential truth of our identity to be in his likeness and our ontology to be in the image of the whole of God (as Jesus further prayed).
What is Jesus’ sanctified identity? As the embodiment of the holy God, Jesus’ identity functioned in congruence with the origin or source of his ontology. Earlier in his formative family prayer, he indicated the source of his ontology as “I myself am not of the world” (vv.14,16, NIV). “Of” (ek) means (here in the negative) out of which his identity is derived and to which he belongs. Yet, this only points to Jesus’ full identity. In his prayer he also defined his function as “in the world” (v.13, cf. Jn 13:1). “In” (en) means to remain in place, or in the surrounding context, while “out of” the context to which he belongs, thereby pointing to his minority identity in that surrounding context. It is the dynamic interaction of Jesus’ full identity with his minority identity that is necessary for the significance of his sanctified identity. They are conjoined, and if separated our understanding of who, what and how Jesus is as the whole person is diminished. This fragmentation signifies an incomplete Christology that is consequential for the clarity and depth of identity to emerge.
In relational terms and not referential, Christian identity must by its nature be qualitatively rooted in and ongoingly relationally based on Jesus’ identity. On this irreducible and nonnegotiable basis, Christology is basic to our identity; and any reduction of our Christology renders our identity to a lack of clarity (as “light”) and depth (as “salt”), consequently precipitating an identity crisis (“no longer good for anything,” Mt 5:13). Therefore, questions like those by the disciples (“Who is this?” Mk 4:41) and Paul on the Damascus road (“Who are you?” Acts 9:5: cf. Jn 8:25) need to be answered in complete (pleroo) theological determination for the answer to be definitive of the qualitative and relational significance of both the incarnation and the whole gospel. The disciples struggled with this relational epistemic process, while Paul received the epistemic clarification and hermeneutic correction to engage the whole of Jesus for relationship together without the veil—the relational outcome of whole ontology and function redefining who Paul was and transforming what he was and how he lived, signifying the new wine/creation.
Directly related to the above questions are questions such as “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) and “What are you doing here?” (1 Kg 19:9,13). These, of course, are the urgent questions from God involving our theological anthropology, and related theological assumptions of Christology, that are critical for identity formation. Both sets of questions need to be answered to define the depth of our theology (as signified in “Do you also wish to go away?” Jn 6:67), and to determine the depth of our reciprocal relational response (as signified in “do you love me?” Jn 21:16). Our response emerges from the primary identity of who we are, and the identity we form emerges from our theology, that is, the interaction between our theological anthropology and Christology. The ontology and function that result are contingent on this theological process. And this ontology and function identify the persons at the heart of Jesus’ call—both his person and our persons, apart from whom creates an identity crisis.
Our identity serves to inform us about who and what we are, and thus how to be. While identity is certainly not routinely singular, from this primary identity we can present that person to others. No moment in time, not one situation or association adequately defines an identity; identity formation is an ongoing process of trial and error, change, development and maturation. Just as the early disciples struggled with their identity—vacillating between what they were in the broader collective context and who they were as Jesus’ followers—the formation of our identity is critical for following Jesus in order both to establish qualitative distinction from common function and to distinguish who, what and how we are with others in a broader context.
Despite the identity crises that seem to be a routine part of identity formation in general, Jesus focused on two major issues making our identity as his followers problematic (Mt 5:13-16). These major issues directly interrelate to what has been discussed in this chapter, and are as follows:
Christian identity, namely as Jesus’ followers, must have both clarity and depth to establish qualitative distinction from common function (notably from reductionism) and to distinguish the qualitative significance of our whole person (what, who and how we are) in relationship with others. These two identity issues of ambiguity and shallowness, therefore, need our honest attention and have to be addressed in our ongoing practice, if our righteousness is going to function beyond reductionism (as in Mt 5:20).
Going beyond reductionism necessitates the shift in righteousness from merely displaying character traits (an issue of integrity) and practicing an ethic of right and wrong (an issue of being upright) distinctly deeper to the qualitative involvement of what, who and how to be in relationship—relationship both with God and with others. This is the significance of righteousness that is in qualitative distinction from common function, and thus is contrary to and goes beyond those who reduce righteousness, the law, the covenant, God and his communicative action to disembodied quantitative terms. Jesus clearly makes this distinction of righteousness the relational imperative for his followers to be distinguished beyond practice that reduces God’s whole (Mt 5:20).
In these metaphors of the light and the salt, Jesus was unequivocal about the identity of his followers: that “you are…” (eimi, the verb of existence), and thus all his followers are accountable to be (not merely to do) “the light of the world” and “the salt of the earth.” Other than as a preservative in the ancient world, it is not clear what specific function the salt metaphor serves—perhaps as peace (cf. Mk 9:50). But as a seasoning (“becomes tasteless,” moraine, v.13, cf. Col 4:6), this metaphor better suggests simply the distinct identity of Jesus’ followers that cannot be reduced and still be “salt,” and, in further distinction, that cannot be uninvolved with others and still qualitatively reflect the vulnerable Jesus (the Truth and Life) and illuminate the relational Way as “light.” This is not an optional identity, and perhaps not an identity of choice, but it is unmistakably the identity that comes with the relationship with Jesus and the function as his followers.
Yet, in function identity formation can either become ambiguous or have clarity, can remain shallow or have depth. The identity formation from following a popular Jesus, for example, becomes ambiguous because the Christology lacks the qualitative significance of the whole of God and also lacks the qualitative distinction from common function. Consequently, the Christian subculture this generates becomes shallow, without the depth of the whole person in the image of the whole of God nor the primacy of intimate relationships together in likeness of the Trinity; this is not only a functional issue but affects human ontology.
While the embodied Jesus was distinctly Jewish, and his predominant surrounding context was Jewish Galilee and Judea, the person Jesus presented (who and what) and how he interacted at the various levels of social discourse were a function of a minority identity, not the dominant Jewish identity. One advantage of his minority identity was to clearly distinguish his significance from the prevailing majority—including from the broader context pervaded with Greco-Roman influence. A major disadvantage, however, was to be marginalized (viz. considered less, or even ignored if not intrusive) by the majority or dominant sector. This disadvantage is problematic at best for his followers and can precipitate an identity crisis, that is, if his followers are not experiencing the truth of who, what and how they are.
The consequence of Jesus’ minority identity is one issue all his followers must address (cf. the consequential characteristic of the last beatitude, Mt 5:10). At the same time, Jesus’ full identity is an interrelated issue inseparable from the minority issue, not only conjoined to it but antecedent to it. Thus, both issues must be addressed for the functional clarity of his followers’ identity as well as for the experiential depth of this identity necessary to mitigate an identity crisis.
In a complete Christology, the person presented by Jesus is a function of his whole person—nothing less and no substitutes, thus irreducible in the nature of his incarnation involvement with the human context; and Jesus’ whole person is a function of relationship in the trinitarian relational context and process—also nothing less and no substitutes, thus nonnegotiable to the terms of any other context and process. In this complete Christology the whole gospel of God’s thematic relational action of grace emerges for the experiential truth of Jesus’ full soteriology (saved both from and to), the significance of which is only for relationship together.
An identity crisis begins to emerge when the truth (or identity) of Jesus we follow is incomplete of his whole person—for example, focused on his disembodied teachings or example. This crisis develops when the Jesus as Truth we embrace is not his whole person in relationship together; whatever we then experience is some substitute for his person in a context and process simulating the context and process of intimate relationship as family together. The consequential lack of depth leads to a lack of clarity, that is, not necessarily a lack of clarity of what the object of faith is but a lack of clarity of the significance of Jesus’ whole person. Any lack of clarity of who Jesus is also reflects a lack of understanding of what faith involves as our reciprocal relational response to Jesus’ whole person (cf. would-be disciples who believed). These lacks are a relational consequence of functioning in relationship with Jesus without relational significance. Therefore, identity crisis for his followers is a direct function of reductionist relationship, first with Jesus then together with each other—the relationship of persons in reduced ontology and function.
Any aspect of identity crisis as followers of Jesus is correlated to their function in relationship with Jesus and its relational significance. In his full identity Jesus is the hermeneutical and functional keys to the whole of God (notably the Father) and for constituting the relationships necessary to be whole together as family. In this relational process, on the one hand, the full identity of who Jesus is constitutes the experiential truth of his followers’ identity as belonging to God’s family, which is the basis to mitigate an identity crisis. On the other, embracing Jesus in his full identity will always involve not only being associated with a minority identity but also being composed in it, which will unavoidably involve being different from the surrounding context. The incarnation principle of nothing less and no substitutes does not give his followers latitude to be selective of who, what and how they will be, even with good intentions (as various followers learned the hard way).
Wholeness of identity as Jesus’ followers is a relationship-specific process engaged in the practice of the contrary culture clearly distinguished from prevailing cultures (including popular Christian subcultures), which Jesus made definitive in his sanctified life and practice and outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. Clarity and depth of his followers’ identity is rooted in the following: what we are in the relational progression of reciprocal relationship with Jesus, and thus who we become intimately with the Father in his family together, as we also reciprocally work with the Spirit in how we ongoingly function.
The clarity of the light and the depth of the salt are the relational outcome of this ongoing intimate relationship with the Trinity. Any identity formed while distant from this relationship (which happens even in church) or in competition with this relationship (which happens even in Christian subcultures) diminishes the basic identity of being the whole of God’s very own (“the light”) as well as deteriorates its qualitative substance (“the salt”). Certainly, then, the whole presentation of self to others is crucial to the identity of Jesus’ followers. This is the importance of Jesus interrelating identity with righteousness in conjoint function. While identity informs us of who, what and how we are, righteousness is the functional process that practices the whole of what, who and how we are. Identity and righteousness are conjoined to present a whole person in congruence (ontologically and functionally) to what, who and how that person is—not only in Christ but in the whole of God, the Trinity. Righteousness is necessary so that his followers can be counted on to be those whole persons—nothing less and no substitutes, and thereby distinguished from reductionist practice (Mt 5:20).
Christian identity without righteousness is problematic, rendered by Jesus as insignificant and useless (5:13). Yet, righteousness without wholeness of identity is equally problematic, which Jesus made a necessity in order to go beyond reductionism (6:1). The latter often is an issue unknowingly or inadvertently by how “the light” and “the salt” are interpreted. “You are the salt…the light” tend to be perceived merely as missional statements from Jesus of what to do. While this has certainly challenged many Christians historically to serve in missions, it has promoted practices and an identity that do not go beyond reductionism. By taking Jesus’ words out of the context of the vital whole of his major discourse, they fail to grasp the significance of Jesus’ call to his followers—the extent and depth of which Jesus summarized in this major discourse and increasingly made evident in his sanctified life and practice.
The seriousness of the issues of clarity and depth in our life and practice cannot be overstated. The alternative common in Christian practices of essentially obscuring our identity as “the light” is a crucial issue directly related to Jesus’ warning to be acutely aware of functioning with the perceptual-interpretive framework of the reductionists (Lk 12:1, cf. Mt 16:6). This approach (alternative didache, Mt 16:12) involved presenting a performance of a role (viz. hypokrisis), that is, essentially the process of taking on an identity lacking clarity of who, what and how one truly is—which in his discourse Jesus addressed, for example, in the practice of the law and relationships with others (5:21-48; 7:1-5). Yet, as noted earlier of hypokrisis, this practice does not preclude the subtlety of a process that could be engaged with good intentions, even inadvertently. Dual identities (e.g. one each for different contexts at church and work) and composite identities (subordinating “the light”) are commonly accepted Christian practices that demonstrate the mindset of reductionism—a framework (phronema) and lens (phroneo) incompatible for those in Christ (as Paul clarified theologically, Rom 8:5-6).
Moreover, any identity rooted only in the practice of propositional truth and the content of the law, without being relationally connected with the Truth (cf. “the vine and the branches”) and without ongoing intimate involvement with his whole person (“remain in me,” Jn 15), also is not the whole identity of Jesus’ followers. Such disembodied identity lacks depth, despite correct appearances. Any identity of “the salt” without its substantive quality is directly interrelated to another critical issue of persons basically undergoing only limited change in the practice of their faith (viz. metaschematizo, outward change), which was addressed by Jesus (e.g. in 6:1-18) and continues to be a current problem for conversion-sanctification issues. No amount of effort in this outer-in approach to what and who we are will compose the qualitative change of the innermost (i.e. metamorphoo, transformation from inner out) of the whole person because that is the nature of metaschematizo and a shallow identity. This distinction of metamorphoo from metaschematizo is vital for identity formation (cf. Rom 12:2), which involves the integral processes of redemptive change and transformation composing Jesus’ call. Where reductionism prevails, there is no depth of identity and relationship with God, despite even considerable identification and involvement with his truth, law and gospel, all of which have been disembodied, detached and disconnected for the relational outcome of wholeness.
This reductionism further involves functionally substituting for the whole person, which has crucial consequences for the ontology of the person. Whenever the perceived ontology of the human person (created in the image of God) is qualitatively different in function from the whole of God (whose image the person supposedly bears), there is reductionism of the human ontology. This reduced ontology is demonstrated when the person functions relationally apart (or at some distance) from others (even when serving them), without the primacy of intimate relationships necessary to be whole, thus reflecting a person detached or disconnected from the relational nature of God and from God’s whole as distinguished in the Trinity. In other words, who, what and how this person is never goes beyond reductionism, even if by default—remaining within the limits of its ontological simulation and epistemological illusion.
When Jesus demonstrated to his disciples the depth of his agape involvement by washing their feet, he made this the experiential-relational truth for his followers in order to be congruent with his full identity without constructing a different identity (Jn 13:16). Conjointly, this is not private or separatist congruence with Jesus but further and deeper congruence with Jesus’ minority identity in the surrounding context (both local and global). That is, this is the definitive congruence for a called follower who is experiencing in his/her identity being redefined (redeemed), transformed and made whole by Jesus in the three processes composing his call. This experience with Jesus is the process of discipleship he defined by the term katartizo (Lk 6:40). Katartizo denotes to prepare to completion or to repair for completion, both of which are involved in the process of following Jesus: to repair (redeem) any brokenness or fragmentation (e.g. from sin of reductionism), to restore and transform (reconcile) the person to wholeness and to the relationships necessary to be whole in congruence with the whole of Jesus and his sanctified life and practice in the world (cf. katartizo in Eph 4:12-13).
The functional truth for us is simply stated: to be just as (kathos and hos) Jesus was necessitates discipleship in the process of katartizo. The functional reality for our accountability is typically that the prevailing practice of discipleship does not involve katartizo—and this pervades churches, seminaries and the Christian academy. Without katartizo Christians cannot grow together in the depth of Jesus’ full identity to be clearly distinguished in his minority identity as his whole disciples, both in the church and the world. Without katartizo, our identity gets shallow or ambiguous, particularly with the influence of the surrounding context. The alternative identity we tend to practice in place of his sanctified identity (intentionally or unintentionally, often by default) is what I call bifocal identity.
Bifocal identity is a process of identity construction in a context in which one is considered (real or perceived) as a minority or part of a subordinate group (even if not a numerical minority). For example, in the United States persons of color have always been minorities; even though they are collectively now the numerical majority, they are still the subordinate group. Minorities are always marginalized. For minority persons to be acceptable in the dominant surrounding context (not accepted into the dominant group) invariably requires assimilation: the practice of dominant values, usually at the cost of relinquishing minority practices. Unless persons of color have essentially denied their minority associations, or become separatists, they negotiate identity construction in a dominant surrounding context with a bifocal process.
Similar to the function of bifocal eyeglasses, a minority person perceives the more provincial, private and intimate aspects of one’s life through the “lower reading lens” of one’s racial-ethnic identity. All other aspects are seen through the “upper general lens” of the dominant identity. While this appears to be a rather simple either-or operation, the actual perceptions often vacillate between lenses, frequently overlap, and at times even seem confused. Using the “correct” lens for the “right” purpose requires ongoing adjustment since neither remains constant for a fixed prescription, similar to being fitted for the proper bifocal eyeglasses. This dynamic process of identity construction and presentation is a familiar phenomenon for minority persons, yet not without its identity conflicts and frustrations—not only specifically about being fragmented and thus not whole, but also embedded in an identity not only of being different but considered as less. What is not apparent, however, to most Christians is how the bifocal process is a common phenomenon for Christian identity in the surrounding context.
When Jesus sanctified himself in life and practice, he established the identity necessary for his followers to be constituted fully submitted to the Father and set apart for the whole and holy God in the world. As his followers function in this sanctified identity, they declare their minority identity in the surrounding context. Whatever prevails in that surrounding context is neither who they are (and what defines them) nor whose they are (and what they belong to); and whatever the pressures and influence of that context, Jesus prayed for his followers not to be separated from it (Jn 17:15). The only context of their calling to make whole is in the surrounding context (local and global). Yet Jesus understood in his formative prayer that the integrity of their minority identity necessitates congruence with his sanctified identity (17:17-19). Just as the Father sent him into the world is how Jesus sends his followers into the surrounding context. This congruence involves both context and function. And Jesus’ function was always demonstrated distinctly by his relational involvement, thus necessitating interrelated congruence of his minority identity (involved in human context) conjoined with his full identity (in the primacy of God’s context)—the relational dynamic constituting his sanctified identity.
Identity formation and maintenance as his followers can only be functionally realized as a minority. Nevertheless, the function of this minority identity is incomplete as a bifocal identity. His followers cannot negotiate their identity in a dominant context by a bifocal process and still have the distinction as his called followers. Unless Christians in effect have functionally ceased following Jesus, they have no negotiable option to construct a composite, hybrid or parallel identity with some partial aspect of Jesus’ identity. Just as Jesus addressed his disciples earlier, while a disciple is certainly not “above” Jesus to construct his/her own identity, called followers who are growing in discipleship wholeness (katartizo) also are not apart from any aspect of Jesus’ identity to function on their own terms (which would effectively construct their own identity, Lk 6:40).
It is the temptation or tendency of every minority person in a dominant context to fall into the following: (1) defer to the dominant group and be rendered passive; (2) compromise with the dominant values and be reduced in one’s own significance; (3) be co-opted by the dominant context and lose one’s sense of purpose, and thus value to that context. A bifocal process of identity construction involves any or all of these practices. This is the function of bifocal identity. For the Christian minority in the world, this is what’s at stake.
For Christians to relegate their identity with Jesus to the “lower reading lens” for function in the provincial, private and intimate aspects of their life and practice is to defer to, compromise with and/or be co-opted by the surrounding context. To render the influence of the surrounding context to the “upper general lens” for their function in all other aspects of life and practice is to lose the qualitative distinction unique to Jesus’ followers—and thus, contrary to how Jesus prayed, to preclude both their joy shared intimately with the whole of God (Jn 17:13) and their value to the surrounding context (17:21,23). On the other hand, bifocal Christian identity exposes the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of our identity constructions incongruent with Jesus’ sanctified identity; any such identity is what emerges from reductionism.
If the whole of Jesus’ person is our hermeneutical and functional keys, this perceptual-interpretive framework will “listen to my Son” and result in congruence with the relational nature and functional significance of his sanctified identity. If we listen to the Son, this will change our perceptual-interpretive framework to understand that the Father meant “listening” not only to the words the Son told us but also to his whole person, and thus to how he functioned. His whole followers walk together conjointly in the relational posture of his full identity and in the functional posture of his minority identity. The only alternative to this qualitative interaction necessary for congruence is some form of reductionism.
Jesus’ sanctified life and practice discloses two vital issues about this identity interaction necessary for his followers, as he prayed: (1) without the relational function of his full identity, there is no truth and function of his minority identity (cf. some ministers with an incomplete Christology, missionaries with a truncated soteriology, or activist Christians with disembodied ethics or morality; also those who experience primarily outward change [metaschematizo] and function merely in role behaviors [hypokrisis]); and (2) without the function of the truth of his minority identity, there is no experiential truth of his full identity (e.g. as those with bifocal identity). This qualitative interaction between identities is an ongoing relational dynamic: the relational outcome of which constitutes the sanctified identity of his followers fully submitted to the Father and set apart for the whole and holy God in the world; and the function of which signifies the ontology of his followers together in the relationships necessary to be whole as his family in likeness of the Trinity—the wholeness that will make whole the human context, as Jesus prayed (Jn 17:21-23).
There is a variation of Christian bifocal identity that needs to be discussed. This involves Christians who present a distinct Christian identity in general public or the dominant surrounding context, while functioning with a different identity in private. Basically, this reverses the bifocal process with a reductionist form of Jesus’ minority identity or full identity used as the “upper general lens,” while an alternative identity is used for the “lower reading lens” in private. This is characteristic notably of these followers: of ministers serving in the name of Jesus who construct their own identity in effect as if “above” or even apart from Jesus, thus lacking depth of their identity; of missionaries and evangelists who seek to save the lost in the world, while practicing a personal identity incongruent with what Jesus saved us to, thus lacking depth in their function; of Christian activists who promote the so-called ethics and morality of Jesus in the surrounding context while having no sense of relational involvement with the person of Jesus in their own life and practice, thus lacking clarity of their identity; and also included are Christian scholars whose theology have little, if any, connection to their practice. This reverse bifocal identity is also characteristic generally of those who present a serious Christian identity in public (albeit sincerely or with good intentions) but have no depth to their identity to signify the ontology of their whole person.
All these persons characterize Christians who lack the clarity and depth of identity to go beyond reductionism, and who are not being redefined (redeemed), transformed from inner out (metamorphoo) and made whole in congruence with Jesus’ sanctified identity. Thus, these bifocal identities are of persons who function in the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of the wide spectrum of reductionism, and thus who must account for hypokrisis—the leaven of reductionism, which Jesus made imperative for all his followers “to pay attention to” (prosecho, Lk 12:1).
Jesus’ declarative statements about the clarity of the light and the depth of the salt are definitive for our identity. Yet, they are not a challenge about what to do; such a challenge would not help us go beyond reductionism but further embed us in it. His definitive statements of our identity are an ontological call about what and who to be; that is, the call to be redefined, transformed and made whole in the ontology of the person created in the image of the whole of God, thus also as whose we are. Conjointly, his definitive statements are a functional call about how to be, that is, called as whole persons to function together in the relationships necessary to be whole in likeness of the Trinity.
How we receive Jesus’ statements depends on what we pay attention to and what we ignore—that is, the direct function of our perceptual-interpretive framework (cf. the various disciples discussed previously). Our framework functions as the lens (our “eyes”) through which we perceive Jesus, read the biblical text, see ourselves and others, and view the world. In this perceptual-interpretive process reductionism presents a formidable challenge to the relational context and process of Jesus’ followers, primarily because we don’t pay focused attention to it, or we ignore its presence and influence. What we perceive of God’s self-revelation and what we interpret about the whole of God are skewed by the influence of reductionism in human contextualization. The validity of our perceptions and interpretations emerge only from the framework that Jesus definitively disclosed upon thanking the Father for his revelations to “little children” (Lk 10:21), which is not apparent that we pay attention to or even take him seriously.
This clearly makes evident the need for our perceptual-interpretive framework to be changed—the redemptive change constituted by listening to the Son, submitting to the Father and reciprocally working relationally with the Spirit. This includes the necessary redemptive change of our whole person and the relationships necessary to be whole signifying the ongoing relational involvement of our whole identity distinguished in who, what and how we are with the whole of God. Without this change our identity is rendered fragmentary by the prevailing influence of reductionism in our surrounding contexts. The person distinguished in Jesus’ call can only be composed by a new identity, which by its nature cannot be shaped by human contextualization.
For the wholeness of his followers, Jesus made definitive the process of identity composition necessary for the clarity and depth of our identity to emerge, grow and mature. The identity of the new creation or new wine (signifying whole ontology and function)—of persons redefined in who they are and transformed in what they are and how they function—involves a process of identity formation that distinguishes this identity from common incomplete and fragmentary identities in human context, even shaped by the human brain. The outline of this process was clearly distinguished in the beginning of Jesus’ major discourse for his followers: the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7). It is vital to keep in mind that the context for his major discourse always remains in his call and thus must be maintained within his call for whole understanding (synesis).
We need to see this outline, therefore, distinguished further and deeper than how we commonly interpret the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12). Paul helps us go beyond our knowledge and understanding in order for God’s whole to unfold.
When our identity adequately informs us of who, what and how we are, there is opportunity to experience wholeness and the satisfaction to be whole—which Jesus points to in the beatitudes with “blessed” (makarios, fully satisfied). The problem, however, with most identities in general and Christian identities in particular is that these identities only inform us of who and what we should be, and thus how we should act. This merely defines what we need to do in order to be associated with that identity without defining our integral ontology. The process then becomes trying to measure up to that identity so that we can achieve definition for our self—an ongoing effort to erase any identity deficit (i.e. from a comparative process). The theological and functional implications of such a process for Christian identity are twofold: First, it counters and hereby nullifies God’s relational work of grace, and then in its place, it substitutes constructing human ontology from self-determination, even with good intentions of serving Christ.
As we discuss identity formation, it seems necessary to distinguish identity formation of the new creation/wine (signifying whole ontology and function) from identity construction. Identity construction describes the human process of quantifying an identity for a measure of uniformity or conformity to some standard or template in the surrounding context (cf. Gen 11:1-4). New wine identity formation involves a qualitative growth and maturation in a reciprocal relational process with God for wholeness (cf. Gen 17:1-2), which Jesus made vulnerably distinct from the surrounding context (Lk 5:33-39). It is problematic if any identity constructions substitute for or are imposed on this identity formation. Therefore, since the ontology of the whole person is a vital necessity for the identity of Jesus’ followers as the new wine, it may require identity deconstruction of many Christian identities to get to this ontology—a necessary process of redemptive change composing Jesus’ call. While any identity deconstruction would not be on the basis of postmodernist assumptions, it has a similar purpose to discredit ontological simulation and epistemological illusion. Yet, this would not be merely to expose reductionism but to go beyond it for the relational whole of God distinguishing new ontology and function—the necessary process of transformation composing Jesus’ call. The interrelated process describes Jesus’ major relational discourse with his disciples and the whole context of the Sermon on the Mount.
New and whole identity formation involves the necessary functional convergence of identity with righteousness and human ontology in a dynamic process based on God’s grace in order to go beyond the reductionism exposed (deconstructed) by Jesus to be whole. This integral process, summarized in the Sermon on the Mount, is composed by the following:
To go beyond reductionism (Mt 5:20), our righteousness necessitates an identity of clarity and depth (5:13-16), which requires the ontology of the whole person; and, in reflexive action, the significance of this process necessitates righteousness to make it functional, which further needs wholeness of identity for our righteousness ongoingly to go beyond reductionism; therefore, this must by nature involve the human ontology created in the image and likeness of the whole of God—all of which are constituted by the whole of God’s relational work of grace, functionally signifying the relational basis of whose we are.
This process of integrally interrelated function is crucial for our understanding and practice, which Jesus illuminated in the beatitudes to establish his followers in his call to be redefined, transformed and made whole.
The beatitudes taken together establish the whole identity of his followers. I affirm, that rather than each beatitude understood independently they constitute interdependent functional characteristics of the basic new identity for what, who and how his followers are. Joined together in dynamic function, the beatitudes form the outline of the integral process composing the whole identity formation distinguishing those he called out (ek) of human contextualization. Not surprisingly, Jesus began the process by focusing immediately on the ontology of the person and giving us no basis to define our self by what we do or have.
Though Jesus was not explicit in the beginning of his discourse about the irreducible importance of the heart, the function of the heart underlies everything he said and all that we do (e.g. Mt 5:28; 6:21). The innermost person, signified by the heart, constitutes the qualitative distinguishing the person, such that we cannot assess what and who a person is based merely on aspects from the outer-in person—notably what we do and have (cf. Mt 15:10-20). Yet, since the latter perception is a prevailing perceptual-interpretive framework for human ontology, whole Christian identity is composed essentially by beginning with the process of redefinition of the person from the inner out. When we functionally address redefining our own person from the inner out, however, we encounter a major difficulty. Once we get past any resistance to a vulnerable look at ourselves from inner out, what is it that we honestly see of our person as we look inside? This can become an issue we may rather dance around.
In the first three beatitudes (Mt 5:3-5) Jesus provides us with the irreplaceable steps in the process composing our identity as the new wine, that is, to functionally establish his followers in his call to be redefined, transformed and made whole, and therefore be clearly distinguished from reductionism. Anything less and any substitutes for these steps will result in a contrary identity (e.g. bifocal) and likely lead to an identity crisis.
First Beatitude: When we honestly look inside at our person, Jesus said the natural effect would be realization of the condition signified by “poor in spirit” (v.3). This condition is deeper than an identity deficit from a comparative process—for example, feeling bad or less about our self. “Poor” (ptochos) denotes abject poverty and utter helplessness; therefore this person’s only recourse is to beg. Just to be poor (penes) is a different condition from ptochos because this person can still, for example, go out to work for food. Penes may have little but ptochos has nothing at all. Ptochos, Jesus immediately identifies, is the true condition of our humanity, which precludes self-determination and justification generated from a false optimism about our self (Gen 3:4-6). This is human ontology after the primal garden, yet not the full ontology of the whole person that still includes the viable image of God. Without the latter, ptochos would be a worthless person, and this is not Jesus’ focus on the ontology of the person. Nevertheless, ptochos does prevail in human ontology, which is inescapable with false optimism and clearly makes evident the need for God’s relational work of grace. This juxtaposition is what we need to accept both about our person and from God—not only theologically but functionally because anything less than ptochos counters God’s grace, for example, by efforts to measure up, succeed or advance on the basis of self-determination shaped by what we do and/or have. By necessity, however, the ptochos person ongoingly appropriates God’s relational work of grace to relationally belong to the whole of God’s family, as Jesus said, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Yet, ptochos only begins the process of forming this new identity.
This irreplaceable beatitude forms the basis for answering God’s question “Where are you as a person?”—a response from our innermost, without deflection to or enhancement by secondary identity markers. Those markers keep our innermost unexposed in relational distance, just as the persons in the primordial garden—“I hid and kept relational distance from you; the situation and she made me do it” (Gen 3:10,12). Most of us are resistant to operate with the self-definition of ptochos, especially if we define ourselves by what we do or have and depend on these secondary markers for our primary identity. We may be able to accept this “spiritually” in an isolated identity but for practical everyday function in the real world, to live with this self-definition is problematic. While any alternatives and substitutes masking our true condition may make us feel less vulnerable, we will never be able to dance completely around the truth of our condition and this reality of human ontology—despite any facts we can present to reinforce these illusions and simulations.
In this first critical step in the formation of the new identity distinguishing his followers, Jesus provided no place or option for self-determination. Who and what we are as his followers is determined only by the function of reciprocal relationship with him as whose we are; and how we are in relationship together is only on his whole relational terms, which constitutes the relationship and thus our identity in God’s grace. By this, Jesus discloses unmistakably that God’s grace demands the vulnerability of ptochos existing in our person (the honesty of heart) for ongoing relationship together to be whole—the same honesty of heart he strategically disclosed to the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:23-24). Without this innermost vulnerability our person does not open and extend our heart to make intimate relational connection with the heart of God to belong to God’s family (“kingdom of God is theirs”), which reflects the self-definition and relational error by the rich young ruler (Mk 10:17-22).
Second Beatitude: Since the ontology of the person (from inner out) is never static, Jesus extends its dynamic function in this next irreplaceable step. When we are indeed ptochos, our honest response to our true condition is to “mourn” (pentheo, lament, grieve, deep sadness, v.4). If we accept our condition as ptochos—and not merely perceive it as penes, that is, a deficit needing to be overcome—then mourning would be the natural response of our heart. Yet, too often we insulate ourselves from such experience, though unknowingly we may get depressed. The tension involves issues of self-worth, which revolve around ptochos in terms of how we see and feel about ourselves. We tend not to recognize this matter because our heart is unaware of experiencing pentheo, likely only feeling insecure of how others perceive us. Of course, we can ignore or reject others’ perceptions by our overestimated self-assessment, which renders these beatitudes inapplicable to our identity.
In this second critical step in the process of identity formation, the person is taken further and deeper toward being redefined, transformed and made whole. This necessitates the functional ontology of the whole person, contrary to a reductionist practice that insulates the heart or keeps it at a distance of diminished involvement. The dynamic necessary is to open our heart and expose the pentheo by fully acknowledging, admitting and confessing our ptochos—which may not only be about one’s own condition but also the condition of humanity in general. The extent of this vulnerability can not only depress but also create despair, that is, if left in this condition.
The ironic influence of reductionism on human ontology is the simulation and illusion to be strong, self-determined, self-sufficient, and accordingly not in need of redefinition and transformation. In contrast and conflict, persons who pentheo address reality without reducing the person, yet not in self-pity but by vulnerably opening their whole person to God and not just a fragmented spirit. In this vulnerable relational process, their whole person is presented to God for comfort, healing, cleansing, forgiveness, and deeper involvement, so they can experience God’s intimate response—as Jesus assured “they will be comforted” (parakaleo, term used for every kind of call to a person that is intended to produce a particular effect). As Jesus further relationally disclosed ongoingly in his sanctified identity, the whole of God is relationally vulnerable to our humanity, and we must (dei) relationally reciprocate in likeness with what and who we are in our innermost. Functional intimacy in relationship involves hearts open to each other and coming together. Intimacy with God, therefore, necessitates by nature that our heart functions in its true humanity (as “in spirit and truth”)—nothing less and no substitutes. The process from the first beatitude to the second engages this qualitative relational involvement that Jesus calls us to experience parakaleo in intimate relationship together. And these two irreplaceable steps involve the relational moments we extend our person to God the most openly and hereby give him the best opportunity to be with us—parakaleo not from outer in but for our ontology inner out.
Since identity is rooted in whose we are (e.g. culturally or socially), its formation is contingent on the ongoing function of this relationship. Belonging to God involves an irreducible and nonnegotiable relationship for our identity’s further and deeper growth. While pentheo defines only a degree of experience relative to each person—no set quantity of sackcloth and ashes—God does not let us remain in a state of gloom and perhaps fall into depression or despair. God’s thematic relational action never unilaterally allows for human ontology to remain in reductionism but only functions to make us whole. As Jesus did with tax collectors, a prostitute and others lacking wholeness, he extends God’s relational work of grace to us in our helplessness, pursues us vulnerably in the poverty of our humanity, redeems us (the parakaleo mainly from the common’s enslavement of reductionism) back to his family (on the relational terms of the Uncommon), therefore transforms our whole person for intimate relationship with the Father, and formally by covenant (through adoption) constitutes us as his very own children permanently belonging to the whole of God’s family (“theirs is the kingdom of heaven”). This relational process defines God’s thematic relational response only as family love—the vulnerable process involvement based on the whole of God’s relational work of grace, which continues as the basis for God’s new creation family to experience now even further and deeper in whole relationship together as the church until eschatological completion of God’s whole. This operationalizes the relational progression constituted by Jesus in his tactical shift, the ongoing function of which he summarized in this major discourse to compose the new identity of the persons in his call.
Third Beatitude: The experiential truth of this relational reality is not usually functional in a linear process as it is reflexive (back and forth). God’s thematic relational response and ongoing vulnerable involvement with our humanity, most vulnerably disclosed in the incarnation, demonstrate the faithfulness and righteousness of the whole of God whom we can count on to trust intimately in reciprocal relational process. As we go up and down, in and out in our ptochos and pentheo, the initial relational experiences of God’s family love rightfully conclude with only one understanding of our person. This understanding forms the core function of the redefined self, the new identity of those transformed in Christ.
In the interrelated critical steps involved in this process of self-understanding, Jesus defined the core function forming the identity of his followers: “the meek” (praus, v.5). While the sense of meekness should not be separated from ptochos, praus (prautes, noun) denotes to be gentle—that is, not hard or resistant to live as one truly is. Praus involves heart function conjoined with overt behavior to demonstrate what and who one is from inner out. Contrary to most perceptions of “meek,” this function is not timid weakness but humble strength and truth of character based on one’s true condition. How this specifically would be demonstrated or expressed can be defined best by the various behaviors of Jesus with others. Whatever its form in a particular situation, the most significant issue is that there is no lie or illusion about one’s person in being meek (including being humble).
Yet, meekness is not a characteristic of the Christian person by which to be defined and thus to behave, for example, as an identity marker. Though commonly seen and practiced in this way, this only simulates humility from outer in. Rather, most importantly for the whole person, it is a function of relationship both with God and with others. Being meek is a core function in relationship with God for two reasons: (1) with no illusions about self-determination and justification (ptochos) and with response to one’s pentheo, the only basis and ongoing functional base for the person’s life and practice is the whole of God’s relational work of grace; and (2) on this basis, relationship together is only on God’s terms, hence irreducible and nonnegotiable by human persons. God does not work by any human agenda, notably for self-determination and justification. Being meek is this core function involving the relational process of turning away from the falsehood in self-autonomy and entrusting one’s whole person to the grace of God; this is basic not only for conversion but for ongoing sanctification, yet not on the basis of unilateral relationship controlled by God but only for reciprocal relationship.
Furthermore, who and what this meek-humble person is and how this person functions also must by nature be involved in relationship with others in two qualitatively distinguished ways: (1) with God’s grace as the basis for the person, there is no basis for comparison with others, for climbing any human ladder or one-upmanship, and accordingly no basis for stratified relationships that reduce the whole person to fragmentary distinctions, but rather a qualitative loving involvement with others (without employing reductionist distinctions) in the relationships necessary for wholeness; and (2) therefore this relational involvement allows no basis for the function of individualism, which gives priority to the individual agenda and reduces the primacy of the intimate relationships necessary to be God’s whole. Praus then is a clear function only of ontological humility, relational humility as well as epistemic humility (cf. Paul’s critique of the church, 1 Cor 4:7; 8:1-2).
Meekness is a direct relational outcome of the first two irreplaceable steps (beatitudes) signifying the above functions of relationships. There is no theological or functional basis for any other self-assessment, regardless of how much one does, has or accomplishes. Yet, we encounter difficulty when lies or illusions keep us from facing our ptochos or experiencing our pentheo. In strong contrast, being meek also signifies a functional admission of one’s enslavement—that is, not being free from some form of self-sufficiency (even in a collective context), self-determination (even with a theology of grace), or self-centeredness (even in acts of service)—and one’s need for redemption.
Jesus said the meek “will inherit the earth.” This is not a result of what they do but only a relational outcome constituted in relationship with Jesus and by his relational work of grace with the relational outcome of belonging to God’s family. These beatitudes have roots in the promise from the OT covenant, yet Jesus was not taking us back into that context but extending and fulfilling God’s thematic relational action. The meek's inheritance is not the earth per se (or land, cf. Ps 37:11), with a sense of redistribution for the poor and dispossessed. This inheritance is not about a place, situations or circumstances. This is about the distinguished context of God’s whole and dwelling, the relational context in which their inheritance is the whole of God for relationship—just as it was for the OT priests and Levites (Nu 18:20, Dt 10:9). The meek (as the poor in spirit, and so forth) are “blessed” (makarioi), that is, fully satisfied, because God is vulnerably present and intimately involved in their life—the relational outcome of God’s definitive blessing (Num 6:24-26). Therefore, this is about well-being and wholeness experienced as the relational outcome of God’s covenant love and faithfulness, of Jesus’ vulnerable grace and truth (Jn 1:14), that is, as with the Trinity who is intimately involved together in their “spirit and truth”—nothing less and no substitutes. This blessed relational condition cannot be reduced merely to happiness about one’s situation and circumstances; everyday life is not reduced to our situations and circumstances. In this redefinition of self, the irreducible importance of our whole person (from inner out) and the nonnegotiable priority of intimate relationship together become the perceptual-interpretive framework for what we pay attention to. And the full relational significance of being makarioi is the ongoing relational outcome of these and the rest of the beatitudes in the integral process of new wine identity formation.
Reductionism is an ongoing challenge to this process, from which we cannot underestimate our need for redemption (process 1 composing Jesus’ call). The issue of inheritance makes this evident, raising the question of inheriting eternal life. Inheritance was not possible in the ancient world from a position of enslavement. Redemption (payment made for one’s release) was necessary to change this relational condition, which was the critical error of relationship made by the rich ruler who pursued Jesus (Mk 10:17). Merely being freed, however, was insufficient to establish a relational position necessary for inheritance, which was the critical error of relationship likely made by the lawyer who queried Jesus (Lk 10:25). The redemptive history of the whole of God’s thematic action has had a singular trajectory, which Jesus’ vulnerable redemptive work constitutes and the Spirit brings to completion. This purpose is the trinitarian relational process of family love composing the new covenant by fulfilling both the charter of the original covenant and its relational significance: relationship together as the whole of God’s family, in which we permanently belong as God’s very own children through adoption (Jn 1:12-13; 8:31-36, Gal 4:4-5, Eph 1:3-5). This new creation family is the relational outcome of the relational progression fulfilling Jesus’ formative family prayer (Jn 17:20-26), and the complete soteriology of what he saved us to. Without the process of adoption constituted in Jesus’ functional shift—however this process is interpreted that composes the relational reality of becoming the sons and daughters of God (cf. 2 Cor 6:18)—we would be in a relational position of enslavement, or merely redeemed for no relational purpose and outcome, consequently leaving unresolved the human relational condition “to be apart” from God’s whole, and moreover, leaving unanswered what we are saved to.
While reductionism may not discount the theology of adoption, it either separates the purpose of redemption from it, consequently using the concept of redemption merely to promote the freedom and autonomy of individualism, which becomes functionally enslaving, or reductionism creates an illusion of being free, masking any enslavement. Meekness (in process with ptochos and pentheo), then, by signifying a vulnerable admission of one’s enslavement and need for redemption, becomes the functional clarity of the relational posture necessary for submission to the God who can redeem us from our enslavement and make us whole. The alternative is a false sense of strength or freedom, or the lack of humility, exhibited by those who avoid acknowledging their enslavement, and thus think they are free (e.g. Jn 8:33). Without meekness there is no relational involvement with God’s relational work of grace on God’s terms, only renegotiated terms; without God’s relational work of grace there is no adoption; without adoption there is no relational position of belonging in the whole of God’s family, much less an inheritance. In relational terms, the seeds of the new wine have not sprouted for the emergence of the new wine identity, whole ontology and function.
For Paul, the relational dynamic of adoption involves the integrated outcome of belonging as possession, relationship and ontology. Those adopted ‘in Christ’ now belong to God, who “put his seal on us” (2 Cor 1:22) as the identification of ownership as God’s possession (peripoiesis, Eph 1:14). More importantly for Paul, in distinguishing God’s relational whole from the human shaping of reductionism, those adopted into God’s family also relationally “belong to Christ,” the pleroma of God, thus relationally belonging to the whole of God (“belong” rendered in the genitive case, 1 Cor 3:23; Gal 3:29; 4:4-7). Equally important in this relational dynamic, since “Christ belongs to God” both relationally and ontologically, by relationally belonging (not ontologically) to Christ those adopted also relationally belong to each other as well as belong ontologically to each other in wholeness together (1 Cor 3:22; 12:15-16; Rom 7:4; 12:5, belong also rendered by ginomai, verb of becoming, and eimi, verb to be).
What unfolds in this theological dynamic ‘in Christ’ is the integrated outcome of belonging. The emphasis of the theology of belonging for Paul in his theological forest is on relational belonging and ontological belonging to signify the new covenant relationship and the new creation. Relational belonging dynamically interacts with ontological belonging in the new creation, and their interaction is the relational outcome of the full soteriology in being saved to wholeness in God’s family together (2 Cor 3:18; 5:16-17; Col 3:10-11). Furthermore, conjoined with the integrated outcome of belonging, the relational outcome of adoption in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes (the theological dynamic of wholeness) is the relational ontology and identity of the new creation of God’s family as the church (Eph 1:22-23).
Adoption is not a mere doctrinal truth in which to secure our faith. The whole of God’s theological trajectory was made vulnerable in Jesus’ relational path for the functional shift to adopt us into his family. Therefore, adoption must by its nature be an experiential truth, which is an ongoing function of reciprocal relationship together with relational responsibilities that the Spirit cooperatively brings to wholeness (cf. Rom 8:6,15-16). And any functional enslavement practiced by Jesus’ followers (notably Peter) counters this experience of intimate relationship together as family. Therefore, the function of adoption is the very heart of the relational significance for our ontology, and accordingly our identity—who and what we are, and whose we are—which makes definitive the relational posture of meekness as the core function. Together with ptochos and pentheo, praus is irreplaceable for composing the new identity distinguishing Jesus’ followers in his call.
Fourth Beatitude: Identity formation is an ongoing process of growth and maturation, which is implied in this beatitude. The relational progression for Jesus’ followers implicit in the beatitudes leads us to the next identity function for growing the new wine: “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (v.6). The experience of the first three beatitudes, establishing vulnerable involvement with Jesus who takes us to the Father to become a part of his very own family, provides the relational process and the context of family to understand the fourth beatitude.
In contrast and conflict with reductionism, righteousness is not a mere conformity of actions to a given set of legal and ethical standards (or a template) but about the relational responsibility that is in keeping with reciprocal relationship between God and his people (his family). Going beyond reductionism necessitates the shift in righteousness from merely exhibiting character traits and practicing an ethic of right and wrong—our common notions about integrity and being upright—to the distinctly deeper qualitative involvement of what, who and how to be in relationships—both with God and with others. New identity formation of Jesus’ followers necessitates this same shift and becomes inexorably integrated with the process to righteousness for the clarity and depth of their identity. Therefore, this fourth identity function is not a pursuit about ourselves, though it certainly further and more deeply constitutes our ontology and identity as his family in an essential process of transformation (the 2nd process composing his call).
Our definitive and functional understanding of righteousness comes from the righteous God’s action in the context and process of relationship. Righteousness is no static attribute or quality of God but always a dynamic relational function. Righteousness is the immanent relational function of God that all other persons can invariably count on from and with God. By the nature of being righteous, this distinguished involvement is the only way God acts in relationship; moreover, by the nature of being righteous, this ongoing relational involvement is the only way God functions. That is, righteousness is intrinsic to the ontology of what, who and how God is.
“Hunger and thirst” represent the primary acts to sustain life and to help it grow, which is a metaphor for this basic pursuit. To pursue righteousness is to pursue how God is, and accordingly to pursue what and who God is—that is, the ontology of God. In other words, this ongoing pursuit of righteousness is the basic relational process of pursuing God and of becoming like God in relational function, not in ontology (e.g. by some deification). This involves the process of transformation (cf. Eph 4:24) of our whole person (from inner out) to the image of the Son (metamorphoo, 2 Cor 3:18, cf. Rom 8:29; 12:2), who is the image of the whole of God (cf. 2 Co 4:4); the relational outcome of this process further constitutes our ontology in God’s qualitative image in relational likeness of the Trinity, the function of which in relationship together with no veil makes us whole. The functional purpose of this process of ongoing transformation is only relational: first, for deeper reciprocal relationship together with the whole of God as family, and further, for more deeply representing the Father to extend and to build his family with family love (the immediate relational responsibilities of those adopted). This defines the relational significance of the new wine identity and clearly distinguishes that identity formation must include this process of transformation in order to be whole.
As these beatitudes interrelate, therefore, pursuing the righteousness that goes beyond reductionism involves not seeking character traits or ethical behavior but vulnerably pursuing the very qualitative and relational innermost of God and compatibly reciprocating to participate further and deeper in the whole of God’s life (cf. Mt 6:33). Without this qualitative relational significance of righteousness, our identity will merely exhibit shallowness or ambiguity in who, what and how we are in relationships. For those who “hunger and thirst” for the relational righteousness of God, Jesus asserted “they will be filled” (chortazo, to be filled to satisfaction) because their whole persons will experience deeper intimate relationship with the whole of God as family together with no veil. This is the growth function of identity formation denoted by the fourth beatitude. The other beatitudes will converge in this process shortly.
It is important for us to see this new identity as it unfolds in the church and the surrounding context. We further turn to Paul at this point to help us gain this understanding. As the formation of the new wine identity develops in clarity and depth, God’s new creation family increasingly is challenged both in its life together and in the surrounding context of the human condition. Therefore, in congruence with the relational dynamic resulting in adoption, the ontology and function of the new church family must always be in the dynamic of ‘nothing less and no substitutes’ for whole relationship together, which Paul integrally made unequivocal (Eph 4:1-6, 13-16, 22-24). Both the person and persons together are accountable without exception. As these theological dynamics of wholeness, belonging, and ontological identity converge in Paul’s theological forest, at the same time the dynamic of reductionism and its counter-relational work are always seeking to redefine the qualitative-relational process constituting their theological interaction and to reshape, reconstruct or otherwise fragment the relational outcome emerging from their theological integration. In other words, we are all unavoidably subjected to reductionism; whether we become subject to its influence is an ongoing issue. In relational terms, the consequence of this contrary influence is that the new creation family is rendered to an ambiguous ontology and shallow function; and its new wine identity is reduced of its clarity and depth that by necessity distinguished it in human contexts.
This conflict for Paul necessitates distinguishing the truth of the whole gospel clearly from “a different gospel” (Gal 1:6-12). In his polemic for this conflict, Paul made definitive two critical and necessary conditions to constitute the only gospel, both of which he implies in Gal 3:28:
The reciprocal relational means for experiencing this definitive whole relationship together as God’s family was also at the center of this conflict for Paul. He understood that this issue is unavoidable and ongoing unless understood in its proper context. In Galatians, the conflict of relational means appears to be between “the law” and “faith” (Gal 3:1-26). Yet, this would not only be an oversimplification of Paul’s polemic but also a reduction of the law as God’s desires and terms for covenant relationship, as well as a reduction of faith as the necessary reciprocal relational response to God’s promise of covenant relationship together. Paul put the issue into its full perspective.
Galatians represents Paul sharing the functional clarity for the whole gospel to address their current issue, situation and related matters in order to take them beyond the human contextualization of reductionism (not only of Judaism) to the further and deeper contextualization of God—the whole of God’s relational context of family and relational process of family love embodied in the whole of Jesus. Within God’s relational context and process, the law (as God’s whole relational terms) neither reduces nor renegotiates the covenant relationship. In reality, as God’s terms for relationship together, the law is whole-ly compatible with the covenant and even is a vital key for the emergence of whole relationship together. That is, not as a functional key to fulfill the promise (3:21), the law serves rather as a heuristic framework (paidegogos) for both learning our human condition and discovering the source of its whole solution (3:10, 22-24; Rom 3:19-20). This heuristic process returns us to the identity formation of the first beatitudes.
Paul’s focus on the law addressed the condition of human ontology in two vital ways, both of which perceived the law as God’s desires and terms for covenant relationship:
When Paul refers to “the law of Christ,” this is God’s law/desires constituted by Jesus’ whole ontology and function in the incarnation (cf. 1 Cor 9:21b), who takes the law of Moses further and deeper into the whole of God’s relational context and process. By vulnerably embodying God’s relational ontology and function, the whole Subject of the Word is the hermeneutical key to interpreting God’s law/desires and the functional key for its practice in relationship together (as Jesus defined in the Sermon on the Mount, Mt 5:21ff), which by necessity requires whole ontology and function (as Jesus implied about practice of the law in likeness of the Father, Mt 5:48).
This became the critical issue for Paul because—as implied in the first three beatitudes—human ontology is inexorably embedded in the sin of reductionism; and this enslavement needs to be redeemed for human ontology and function to be freed to become whole. Yet, whole human ontology is constituted only by the redemptive relational dynamic of adoption for relationship together in God’s family. Reduced human ontology is incapable of a response that would be compatible to Jesus for this relationship together. In Paul’s whole perspective, the issue underlying the law is nothing less than the issue of human ontology. Therefore, his discourse on the law challenges existing assumptions on human ontology to expose reduced human ontology (those subject to reductionism), while his discourse on faith assumes the definitive ontology that illuminates the whole human ontology and function needed for relationship together in God’s family—and which also fulfills the law of Christ (Gal 5:6; 6:2).
The reciprocal relational means both necessary to receive and compatible to respond to Jesus for whole relationship together is the issue for Paul, which then necessarily involves human ontology. When human effort is relinquished—namely, ceases in self-determination and desists in shaping relationship together, as the first beatitude composes—and replaced by the relational response of faith (as unfolds from the 3rd beatitude), Paul adds for functional clarity that we are no longer under the paidagogos of the law (Gal 3:25). Paul is only referring to the law’s paidagogos function. This does not mean that the law (as God’s desires and terms for covenant relationship) is finished and no longer functional for the practice of faith (5:14; 6:2; cf. Rom 3:31; 1 Cor 9:21). Paul in truth wants the law to be fulfilled by human persons, and he may confuse us by stating that the law cannot be fulfilled by human effort (Gal 3:10; 5:3). By focusing on the relational involvement of agape (5:14), however, he makes definitive how the law is or is not fulfilled. By necessity, this engages the two conditions of human ontology (whole or reduced), and Paul differentiates their respective involvement with the law (5:6; 6:15). Whole human ontology functions from inner out in the relational response of trust to be vulnerably involved with God and others in family love—just as Christ functioned (cf. Jn 15:9-12)—thereby reciprocally responding to God’s desires and terms for relationship together. Reduced human ontology, in contrast and conflict, functions from outer in to try to fulfill the quantitative aspects of the law, consequently renegotiating God’s terms for relationship by human terms shaped from human contextualization. This reductionism essentially redefined relationship with God to mere relationship with the law (e.g. conforming to a template), which then disembodies the law from the whole of God and God’s desires for relationship together.
For Paul, the underlying issue between function by law and function by faith is clearly between reduced ontology and function and whole ontology and function. The relational consequence of the former is not only the inability to fulfill the law but enslavement to the reductionist futility of human effort (Gal 5:3-4). The relational outcome of the latter is to receive and respond to Christ for whole relationship together with nothing less and no substitutes. The first two beatitudes admit the limits and constraints of the former, and the third beatitude affirms the connection of the latter.
The new wine identity emerging from these dynamics is irreducible in ontology and nonnegotiable in function. This integral process of identity formation necessitates the ongoing integration of identity and righteousness. For Paul, righteousness is the relational function of the heart that lives not according to reduced notions of ‘by faith’ but in whole ontology and function in the image and likeness of the whole of God (Col 3:10; Eph 4:24). This inner-out function of the heart signifies ontological identity, the primary identity necessary to have wholeness despite the presence of reductionism (Col 3:15). Therefore, ontological identity is definitive of who the person is and the determinant of what and how the person is, regardless of the surrounding context. And the integrity of identity is rooted in a person’s ontology, which needs to be whole or its integrity will be fragmented (cf. Paul’s discourse about the church at Corinth). As Paul summarized in Galatians 6:15, any function of reductionism is without any ontological significance of existence (eimi); only the new creation exists in ontological wholeness. Also, the credibility of identity is rooted in a person’s righteousness, which must not be fragmentary (cf. Peter’s hypokrisis, Gal 2:14) or it will lose both its credibility and the integrity of wholeness in identity (cf. Jesus’ expectation of righteousness as whole ontology and function, Mt 5:20). The whole of Jesus’ identity in the incarnation was based on the integrity of his ontology and the credibility of his righteousness, which persons could count on and trust in relationship together. The image and likeness of his whole ontology and function is what we are transformed to (2 Cor 3:18) and who we become (Col 2:10; 3:10), and only on this basis how we function (Eph 4:24; Col 3:15; cf. Ps 71:15). Therefore, anything less and any substitutes defining our ontology and determining our function are a reduction of our wholeness together, a fragmentation of the ontological and relational whole of who we are and whose we are in Christ. Vulnerably and humbly submitting to this wholeness of persons and relationships together are what ongoingly emerge and unfold from the beatitudes to compose the ontology and function of the church as God’s family.
Moreover, as our identity reveals the underlying roots or heart of how we define our ontology and determine our function, our primary identity also signifies the composition of our gospel—if it is whole or reduced. Paul’s gospel and thus his own identity were not defined and determined by what he had and/or did (both past and present, cf. Phil 3:7-9) or even by his current weaknesses (2 Cor 12:7-9). In his polemic for the gospel and against reductionism, Paul made definitive both the ontological and relational changes that must by nature (dei) compose the truth of the whole gospel and its whole relational outcome, that is, by the nature of who and what Jesus embodied as “the image of God” and relationally involved of the whole of God’s ontology and function “in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4,6). Paul clearly made distinct that anything less or any substitute is not the gospel of the glory of Christ, the gospel of wholeness, but a different gospel of reductionism.
The new wine constituted by Jesus flowed into Paul, who further composed its relational outcome as the new creation (Eph 4:23-24; 2 Cor 5:17; Col 3:10). The new wine identity emerges, develops and matures entirely from whole ontology and function. As the new wine grows from redefined and transformed persons, its relational outcome is distinguished unmistakably in the primacy of family relationships together with no veil—signified in the table fellowship of the new creation (2 Cor 3:16-18; Eph 2:14-22; Gal 6:15-16). As Paul theologically and functionally clarifies the new creation, there is a realistic sense interjected in his message: “As for those who will follow this…wholeness be upon them, and mercy” (Gal 6:16). The term for follow (stoicheo) involves progressing within a certain framework. This engages the perceptual-interpretive framework by which Paul defined ontology and determined function. For Paul, he follows Jesus’ whole ontology and function in the relational progression of Jesus’ theological trajectory and relational path for the relational outcome of the new creation family. Stoicheo requires the qualitative and relational framework of the whole of Jesus to progress to this relational outcome.
At the first new wine table fellowship, the disciples present did not taste the new wine yet but could only be associated with it. Their perceptual-interpretive framework still reflected the old in their transition to be redefined and transformed. The practices of the early disciples and early church raise further questions about the relational outcome of the new wine, questions that still need to be raised today. What is this relational outcome? Where do we see it? Why don’t we see more evidence of it? What are the issues involved here?
When Paul interjected that “mercy” (compassion, eleos) be upon those who follow in this framework, he is building on Jesus’ framework of discipleship that involves Jesus’ distinguished relational process and progression disclosed at the new wine table fellowship (Mt 9:10-13; cf. Mt 12:7)). This relational dynamic also interacts with the integral process of identity formation in the remaining beatitudes for the further development of his followers—“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy…” (Mt 5:6-12, discussed below). God’s relational response of grace underlying this relational dynamic constitutes Jesus’ theological trajectory and relational path, which involves the relational outcome of mercy, compassion. Yet mercy must be experienced first before it can be extended to others. This necessitates whole understanding and experience of God’s relational response of grace in Face-to-face relationship.
Once Jesus’ sacrifice for atonement was completed, the torn curtain was no minor detail in the events of the cross; nor is it merely symbolic but in rather improbable relational terms it opened up the Holy Place of God’s intimate presence to be vulnerably involved in direct relationship together Face to face. Jesus’ sacrifice unmistakably constituted “the new covenant in my blood,” as he disclosed in communion together (Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25). This composed the improbable of Jesus’ theological trajectory and the intrusion of his relational path that composed this gospel of transformation and its relational outcome of relationship together without the veil. The removal of the veil, a necessary condition for the new covenant relationship Face to face, was contingent on the nature of the sacrifice. Prior sacrifices behind the curtain were insufficient to open direct access to the whole and holy God. Nothing less and no substitutes of God in whole can constitute this sacrifice to bring about this relational outcome. Likewise, nothing less and no substitutes of our whole person, with all our sin (notably as reductionism) signifying “poor in spirit,” can receive and respond back to the whole of God in the depth of Jesus’ relational process and progression for the wholeness of reciprocal relationship together in the innermost of God’s holy presence, with God’s holy involvement and by God’s holy relational work of grace. Without our vulnerable function “poor in spirit” there is a relational impasse. Anything less and any substitute of God or of our persons will be insufficient to enact or engage the depth of Jesus’ relational work of grace, consequently cannot reconcile life together in the innermost of relationship without the veil with God (Eph 3:12) and in relationship together with no veil in God’s family (Eph 2:13-16; 2 Cor 3:16-18). Paul claims to be sufficient (hilkanos) only in the new covenant (2 Cor 3:5-6).
The primary focus of the new wine is not on being redeemed from the old, as Paul clarified for the gospel (Gal 4:4-6; Rom 6:4). Though being saved from sin is a necessary condition for the new wine, it is insufficient for the relational outcome of the new wine flowing as the new creation. The relational outcome of God’s relational response of grace cannot be experienced in just the atonement for sin but necessarily also what Jesus’ sacrifice saves to that emerges solely without the veil: the primacy of whole relationship together as God’s family that is reciprocal both Face to face and face to face. It is a critical reduction of God’s grace, therefore, to make the primary focus merely being saved from sin because there is no relational outcome beyond this truncated soteriology; moreover, there is no accounting of the sin of reductionism because such an accounting necessitates being saved to wholeness—the integral relational outcome of God’s relational response of grace.
It is immeasurable for our whole understanding and experience of the relational outcome of the new wine as the new creation family, that God’s grace is not reduced to our terms. The irreducible experiential truth and nonnegotiable relational reality are that grace is not a gift given, a resource shared and an action enacted by God in the context and for the purpose of unilateral relationship. Grace only creates the opportunity for reciprocal relationship together, for which the recipients of God’s relational response of grace are responsible and therefore accountable. As Jesus made clear to various churches (Rev 2-3), God is not unaffected by the sin in reciprocal relationship; and as Israel’s relational history evidenced, God has reciprocated with his own relational distance (“hide my face from them,” Dt 31:17; 32:20; Isa 1:15; 45:15; 54:8). In other words, God’s grace comes with relational demands. Compatible with God’s relational response, the demands of grace are irreducible and nonnegotiable that God wants the whole person from inner out for the relationships together necessary to be whole as the new creation family in likeness of the whole of God. Congruent with God’s relational response, grace ongoingly does not allow for anything less and any substitutes.
Whole understanding and experience of God’s grace emerge in Face-to-face-to Face relationship, with the relational outcome constituted by mercy (compassion) from God and on this relational basis constituted with mercy for others. This ongoing reciprocal relational process, distinguishing the relational outcome of the new wine, further engages the integral process of the new wine identity formation in the remaining beatitudes.
Fifth Beatitude: Jesus’ call to his followers to be redefined, transformed and made whole is increasingly realized by ongoing vulnerable involvement in the whole of God’s relational context of family and the experience of his distinguished relational process of family love. This vulnerable involvement and experience reconstitute how his followers function, not just reform them. The whole outcome of being the relational recipient of the Trinity’s loving involvement and of experiencing further intimate relationship together cannot remain a private (even within a group) or solely individual matter. If this relational outcome is confined to a private context (personal or collective), it will become ingrown, self-serving, and ambiguous or even shallow, and thus fragmentary. If this outcome is reduced to an individual focus, it will become enslaving, not redeeming and transforming, and consequently incomplete. Therefore, as the relational outcome of life together in wholeness, Jesus necessarily extends the process of identity formation to relationships with others.
With the relational outcome emerging from the previous beatitudes, this next function of identity formation (Mt 5:7) is more than a restatement regarding Levi and Hosea 6:6 (Mt 9:9-13), and of the lawyer and the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). This function is not merely about mission or fulfilling what is rightfully expected of us. It is integrally focused on the ontology of what persons (his followers) have become (in the relational progression) and on the emerging identity of who they are and whose they are, and thus how they function in relationship—not only with God, not only among themselves, but now also with others.
Mercy (eleos, compassion) denotes action out of compassion for others that responds to their distress, suffering or misery. Yet, such acts can be performed merely out of missional service or Christian duty (opheilo)—perhaps with paternalism, intentional or inadvertent—without the relational involvement of a person who essentially has been in their position (the reflexive reality of the first three beatitudes). With the mercy experienced from God’s relational response of grace, Jesus’ whole followers from inner out become more than good servants but first and foremost become intimate personal recipients (as adopted children) of compassion (Gal 4:4-5; Eph 2:4-5). Accordingly, in reciprocity from this redeemed and transformed ontology, this person functions to extend that compassion in likeness of relational involvement with others—notably with those lacking wholeness (or value) and suffering the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole.
Reductionism would define this beatitude to subtly promote the act and benefits of mercy, not the relational involvement of persons with other persons; consequently, its practice of mercy would signify either paternalism, even with sacrifice, or a quid pro quo in human relations. Jesus, however, leads the process of identity formation deeper in contrast and conflict to go beyond such reductionism. The relational outcome of vulnerably following Jesus in the relational progression constitutes the ontology of the whole person and the relationships necessary to be whole. It naturally follows then: being compassionate (eleemon) is a given function in identity formation, not an option; and those persons are blessed (makarios, fully satisfied) because they are relationally functioning with others in qualitative involvement for wholeness and fulfilling God’s relational desires in the innermost for his creation. In the process these persons ongoingly experience deeper compassion themselves, not suggesting their own future problems but the further relational outcome indicated in the next beatitude.
Sixth Beatitude: The deeper compassion the compassionate also experience always involves the relational work of God’s grace. These persons, who are being further redeemed and transformed, are engaged in the process of becoming whole by vulnerable involvement necessarily both from their whole person and in the relationships together constituting the whole. These next two beatitudes outline what is involved in this process to wholeness, and therefore the maturation of our identity (Mt 5:8-9).
The tendency in a context pervaded by reductionism, even though not enslaved by it, is to pay more attention inadvertently to the behavioral/activity aspects of our life and practice. We readily make assumptions about the qualitative presence and involvement of our person in that behavior or activity. A relational context and process make deeper demands on our person; the whole of God’s relational context and process hold us accountable for nothing less and no substitutes than our whole person—the demands of grace. Accordingly, we should never assume the ongoing condition of our heart nor the state of our relationship with the whole of God. Wholeness is contingent on their qualitative function in vulnerable relational terms, which referential terms cannot account for with relational distance.
A shallow identity lacks depth. A shallow person lacks the presence and involvement of heart (cf. Mt 15:8). Persons lacking heart in function (even inadvertently) lack wholeness. Intimate involvement with the whole of God (i.e. who is unreduced) necessitates an ongoing process of our hearts open and coming together—God’s nonnegotiable terms. As discussed previously about the significance of holy, the Uncommon and the common are incompatible for relationship, further necessitating our ongoing transformation to “the pure in heart” (katharos, clean, clear, Mt 5:8) to be compatible. This katharos is not a static condition we can merely assume from God’s redemption and forgiveness. God’s relational acts of grace are always for reciprocal relationship, thus “pure in heart” is a dynamic function for deeper relationship to be whole together. This involves a heart functioning clear of any relational barriers or distance, functioning clean of Satan’s reductionist lies, substitutes and illusions—signifying the catharsis of the old to be constituted in the whole of the new. Yet, any subsequent turn from the heart interjects gray matter, making our function ambiguous.
An ambiguous identity lacks clarity. An ambiguous person lacks clarity of one’s ontology. Christians lacking ontological clarity lack the qualitative distinguishing them from the common’s function in the surrounding context, notably from reductionism. Being distinguished includes from the mindset, cultural practices and other established ways prevailing in our contexts, which we assume are compatible with God but effectively shift relationship with the holy God to our common terms (cf. Rom 8:5-6). When the identity and ontology of the Uncommon cannot be clearly distinguished from this common function (even in a Christian subculture), this generates ambiguity in our identity and counteracts wholeness for our ontology—which increasingly becomes life and practice without the whole person and without the primacy of intimate relationships necessary to be whole (cf. Col 3:15). The theological implication is that the Uncommon and common can neither coexist in functional harmony nor can their functions be combined in a hybrid. The functional implication is that the tension between them must by nature always be of conflict, the nature of which is ongoing and, contrary to some thinking, irremediable. Therefore, “pure in heart” also signifies catharsis of the common to be constituted in the whole of the Uncommon.
The function of the depth of this person’s heart will have the relational outcome to more deeply “see God.” The significance of “see” (horao) implies more than the mere act of seeing but involves more intensively to experience, partake of, or share in something, be in the presence of something and be affected by it. This depth of significance in “seeing” God in the substance of relationship is the intimate process of hearts functionally vulnerable to each other and further coming together in deeper involvement to be whole—the purpose of Jesus’ sanctified life and practice and formative family prayer (Jn 17:19-26). When our ongoing experience (not necessarily continuous) with God is not horao, we need to examine honestly where our heart is and address any assumptions. If, for example, we don’t dance around our ptochos and pentheo, our heart will respond with greater functional trust and vulnerable intimacy—the relational posture of submission to God’s whole relational terms signified by meekness. It is only when we assume or ignore this inner-out aspect of our person that we essentially keep relational distance from God, hereby impeding the process to be whole and the relational outcome of the new wine signifying the whole ontology and function of the new creation.
The early disciples’ struggles were essentially with heart issues, and consequently they had difficulty seeing (horao) God even in Jesus’ vulnerable presence (Jn 14:7-9). Without a clean and clear heart there will be shallowness in our identity formation and ambiguity in the ontology and function of our person (both individually and together) in ongoing relationship with the whole of God. The catharsis of both the old and common make the sixth beatitude pivotal as the contingency function in the process to be whole and for the maturation of our identity as the new persons composed in Jesus’ call.
Yet, wholeness is never about only the individual person, nor about just the person with God. The next beatitude extends the process.
Seventh Beatitude: While this beatitude (Mt 5:9) integrated with the sixth outlines the process to wholeness, it is also conjoined with the fifth beatitude for the person made whole to function in the relationships necessary to be whole. As the process of the new wine identity formation engages others in relationship, there emerges a distinguished presence and involvement that is neither ambiguous nor shallow. Yet this beatitude is often not fully understood or integrally enacted.
Peace is generally perceived without its qualitative significance and with a limited understanding of the relational involvement constituting it. As discussed previously about Jesus approaching Jerusalem in his triumphant entry, he agonized over its condition: “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace” (Lk 19:41-42). “The things that make for peace” is a critical issue focused on what belongs to peace, and thus by necessity involves the persons who bring this peace, not just the work of peace.
Reviewing previous notes on peace, in the classical Greek sense peace is perceived as the opposite of war. The NT, however, does not take its meaning of peace from this source; its concept of peace is an extension from the OT and of the Hebrew shalom. The opposite of shalom is any disturbance to the well-being of the community. That is, biblical peace is not defined in negative referential terms by the absence of any conflict but in positive relational terms by the presence of a specific condition of ontology and function. Throughout the Bible the primary concept of peace is well-being and wholeness. Peace is a general well-being that has both an individual dimension and a corporate/collective dimension. This wholeness extends to all aspects of human life and by necessity included salvation and the end times but it certainly is insufficient to limit it to the latter. Going beyond the mere absence of negative activity, all of this involves what must be present for peace; this is what belongs to peace—and is more than commonly understood or even wanted.
The gospel is clearly affirmed by this peace (cf. Acts 10:36; Eph 6:15). This is the peace in which Jesus constituted his followers, and distinguished from conventional peace (Jn 14:27). It is thus insufficient to signify the gospel of peace with a truncated soteriology (only what Jesus saved us from) without the relational outcome of what he saved us to. The whole gospel’s salvation necessitates the relationships together of the whole of God’s family in which Jesus constituted his followers to be whole as the new creation. Wholeness is intrinsic to this peace, and to be whole is a necessary relational condition for those who bring this peace. Who then are the peacemakers?
Their identity is clearly defined by Jesus as the sons and daughters of God (v.9), not God’s servants but the Father’s very own children (cf. v.44-45). This tells us not only who and what they are but whose they are and how they are as peacemakers.
The adopted children of God have been made whole in God’s family and partake of the new wine communion together with the whole of God without the veil. As whole persons receiving the whole of God’s relational work of grace, it is insufficient for God’s children merely to share mercy (compassion) with others. It is also insufficient for them merely to engage in the mission (however dedicated) to reduce violence, stop war or create the absence of conflict. On the basis of the ontology of who they are and whose they are, how they function to clearly reflect the depth of their wholeness—thus the relational responsibility to represent the Father and to continue to extend his family—involves a deeper level of relational involvement. “Peacemakers” (eirenopoios) denotes reconcilers, those who seek the well-being and wholeness of others, just as they experience (cf. 2 Cor 5:17-18). The reciprocal nature of the process of peacemaking is both a necessary and sufficient condition for peacemakers. This means not only to address conflict but to restore relationships in the human condition to wholeness, just as God’s thematic relational action and the relational work of the Trinity engage. Such involvement can only be vulnerable by the whole person from inner out, and thereby renders any participation in peacemaking with relational distance insufficient, inadequate and even contrary to peace.
In these seven beatitudes Jesus defined the natural relational flow from repentance to redemption to reconciliation to wholeness. Jesus functioned vulnerably in this relational flow and ongoingly engaged the relational work necessary to be whole. While peace describes interpersonal relationships only in a corollary sense, the condition of wholeness and well-being is the new relational order of the new creation as the whole of God’s family (as Paul made definitive, Eph 2:14-22; Col 3:15). Peace, therefore, is a necessary condition for the relational outcome of the new wine. Moreover, each emerging act of reconciliation and peacemaking must function in the same natural relational flow to become whole. This will further the relational process to wholeness for others and will deepen the wholeness of those so engaged, and therefore the maturation of the distinguished clarity and depth of their identity.
Yet, the experiential truth and reality of this wholeness is intrusive to others, which is unavoidable for those following Jesus’ relational path. And though it may seem counterintuitive, this peacemaking will evoke negative reactions, thus the eighth beatitude.
Eighth Beatitude: The reality for human life and practice is that reductionism prevails; and not everyone is seeking resolution to the human relational condition “to be apart” from the whole. Consequently, in this last function of their whole identity Jesus made clear to his followers the repercussions of being composed in his call to be redefined, transformed and made whole: the function of this new ontology in relational involvement with others will encounter strong negative reaction “for righteousness’ sake…on my account” (vv.10,11). Identity formation of his followers remains incomplete until they experience this consequence of their ontology and function in the world, which may include some Christian subcultures. That is to say, the relational outcome of the new wine includes this repercussion in human contexts because by its nature it is intrusive to the human shaping of persons and relationships together.
Along with the benefits and responsibilities of belonging to his family as one of the Father’s very own, this consequence is another given unavoidable function in their identity. These repercussions are not the result of being doctrinaire, condescending or otherwise relationally uninvolved, though Christians certainly have experienced reactions for these reasons, justifiably or not. Nor are these reactions against only certain servants of God—for example, a frequent reduced perception of prophets (v.12). These are the relational reactions from others to God’s children who are functioning whole in their reciprocal relational responsibility (“for righteousness’ sake”) as the Father’s very own to extend the whole of God’s family (“theirs is the kingdom”) to others in the relational righteousness of family love vulnerably constituted by Jesus (“on my account”). This reaction comes with the intrusive significance of being the new wine, which will emerge in his call to be whole, live whole, and to make whole.
This last beatitude is the consequence of both the qualitative distinguishing the ontology of God’s people and the relational involvement of their function, both of which intrude in the human context. Just as the prophets and Jesus experienced, this is the relational outworking of the identity of being in God’s family and intimately involved with the whole and holy God (the Uncommon). This may be a difficult identity function to embrace, and so in our thinking we may tend to limit it to unique situations for only a minority of Christians. Yet, the relational reality is inescapable that not only is the qualitative distinguishing the Uncommon incompatible with the common function but in conflict with it also; anything less reduces the ontology of the Uncommon and those who have become uncommon. And relational reactions from the common function will come in all forms and varying degrees (even from within Christian contexts) as long as the uncommon relationally extend themselves to the common with a critique of hope for change.
To avoid those reactions is to reduce our ontology and function to a level more ambiguous and shallow. To function as a peacemaker, for example, merely by being irenic, consensus building and unity forming is insufficient, and tends to become the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of reductionism shaped in a hybrid theology. This beatitude’s last function integral in identity formation completes the process of being whole, both individually and together as family, in the human context suffering the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole. The repercussions are an integral part of the new wine fellowship, which Paul was blessed to participate in with Jesus and desired to grow in further and deeper (Col 1:24; Rom 8:17; 2 Cor 1:5; 4:10; Phil 3:10). Nothing less and no substitutes for this whole define the new wine identity and determine its relational outcome as the whole of God’s family. Anything less and any substitutes for wholeness of our identity lack the clarity and depth for our righteousness to go beyond the reductionism that Jesus made imperative for his followers in this major discourse (Mt 5:20). The resulting ambiguity and shallowness will neither be fully satisfying (makarios, “blessed”), nor be taken seriously in the world.
As the consequential function of the new wine identity, this beatitude must not be taken lightly or be lost in our identity formation; to do so is consequential for the relational outcome of the new wine.
The above eight beatitudes are the interdependent functions that together formulate our whole identity in who, what and how we are as Jesus’ followers and whose we become in the relational progression as his family—therefore distinguishing the ontology of the person and the whole. The beatitudes taken separately are problematic for makarios (fully satisfied, beyond being merely happy), since some beatitudes seen individually strain to be defined as blessedness; moreover, any beatitude by itself does not yield the relational outcome connected to it. Blessedness is synonymous with wholeness, and to be fully satisfied emerges only from vulnerable involvement in the whole of God’s life who has removed the veil for intimate relationship together.
The beatitudes together, however, are only the outline of the integral process of identity formation. Functionally, this process immediately addresses the whole person by opening our heart to be redefined. In the relational process, Jesus (in conjoint function with the Spirit) redeems us from the old (and the common) and transforms us to the new (and the uncommon) to be made whole in relationship together with the whole of God, whereby to function whole in likeness of the Trinity, including making whole in human contexts. The beatitudes’ integral process, therefore, is ongoing and its outline is not just linear but reflexive in our identity’s growth and maturation. As identity issues of ambiguity and shallowness become resolved, our identity as Jesus’ followers takes on a distinguished qualitative presence with others in the world. This is the basis for Jesus’ definitive declaration immediately following the beatitudes that we are the light and the salt, in which the ontology of we is the whole understanding of the light and the salt that integrally distinguishes the relational outcome of the new wine flowing integrally in the new creation church family.
Implicit in this identity formation and integral to the relational outcome of Jesus’ new wine fellowship is the relational process of discipleship. Along with identity, however, discipleship easily becomes ambiguous or shallow, lacking the clarity and depth of this relational process. For this reason Paul interjected “As for those who will follow” to his message of the new creation (Gal 6:16), therewith challenging those to follow in progression within Jesus’ qualitative and relational framework for discipleship. Otherwise, the whole process becomes fragmentary and subject to our shaping from the variable influence of surrounding contexts—contexts that also have been shaped by the fragmenting influence of reductionism.
The early disciples demonstrated an ambiguous, if not shallow, discipleship that focused mainly on what they did in serving with minimal relational involvement with Jesus. This reflected the prevailing focus on the secondary that emerges from reduced ontology and function. While discussing what is primary in life, Jesus disclosed the defining paradigm for serving him: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also” (Jn 12:26). Jesus’ relational imperative has some parallel to Copernicus’ presentation of a new model of the world. That is, embracing Jesus’ new model for discipleship (in contrast to a prevailing rabbinic model) required a paradigm shift: a radical reordering of one’s beliefs, way of living and perceptual-interpretive framework—a shift from the quantitative work to be done (the focus of diakoneo, serving) to the qualitative function and primacy of relationship (the focus of akoloutheo, following), and accordingly a shift from a view and function of the person from outer in to a view and function of the person from inner out. In Jesus’ framework for discipleship, his paradigm for serving implies both the primacy of relationship (making the work secondary) and defining the person and determining their discipleship in qualitative terms from inner out. That is to say, to distinguish his followers, Jesus assumes a change to whole ontology and function in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God (“where I am, there will my servant be,” eimi, verb of existence). Anything less or any substitutes of this whole ontology and function—no matter how well-intentioned and dedicated to serve Jesus—is a reduced ontology and function based on shaping and constructing discipleship by human terms, which may be the prevailing model even in churches (cf. Rev 2:2-4; 3:1-2); such terms no longer follow Jesus only on his whole relational terms.
This is a common reduction of discipleship that prevailed in Peter’s life and signified the gap in relationship the early disciples had with Jesus (Jn 14:9). His followers’ primary identity cannot be reduced to serving, which is the prevailing identity practiced or, at least, perceived by Christians and churches today. Therefore, in Jesus’ discipleship framework distinguished in his call, his paradigm for serving requires both redemptive change and transformation (process 1 and 2 composing his call), the redemptive reconciliation that restores persons and relationship together to the wholeness of the gospel of transformation distinguishing the new creation/wine. This was Paul’s experiential truth of relationship together intimately following the whole of Jesus from the Damascus road (2 Cor 3:16-18), and Jesus’ relational framework that composed the whole of Paul and his witness as well as the whole in Paul and his theology. What we need to learn from their theology and practice is that the integral relational flow of this new wine signifying the whole identity of Jesus’ followers is irreducible and nonnegotiable to our terms shaped by human contextualization—regardless of how sincere and committed our practice, and doctrinally correct our theology.
Understanding the various parts of Paul’s synesis (whole understanding, Eph 3:4, cf. Col 1:9; 2:2) makes clear that the whole of his witness and the whole in his theology were deeply rooted in pleroma (complete) Christology. Following Jesus’ whole ontology and function in the relational progression of Jesus’ theological trajectory and relational path is how the relational Paul emerged from the historical Paul to compose the theological Paul. The experiential truth of the fullness of Christ’s whole ontology and function by necessity involved pleroma soteriology making functional ‘already’ the relational outcome of being saved to God’s new creation family. The whole of this family was developed as the church’s ontology and function by Paul, signifying the pleroma of Christ (Eph 1:22-23). In the complex theological dynamics of Paul’s theological forest, God’s whole family in transformed relationships together without the veil is the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor 3:16-18; 4:3-6), the gospel of wholeness in the face of Christ’s whole ontology and function (Eph 2:14-16; 3:6; 6:15), the pleroma of God (Col 1:19-20; 2:9-10; 3:10-11)—all emerging for Paul in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. Therefore, in his theological forest the theology of ontological identity emerges only from the theological dynamic of belonging, both of which are inseparably integrated and rooted in the theology of wholeness—all of which are integrally composed in Jesus’ call.
This wholeness is the primary identity that defined Paul’s ontology and determined his function (the historical Paul notwithstanding), and the identity by which all who relationally belong to Christ need to be contextualized to be whole, both as persons individually and collectively. The relational outcome of God’s whole family together is the ontological identity of conjointly who we are and whose we are. Whose we are is always the determinant of who we are, never the converse or there is reductionism by human shaping. And the what that whose we are determines for who we are is always about family, not about the individual. Western Christians in particular need to embrace this theology and practice. Whole persons have been set free by Christ not for self-autonomy but are freed to be whole in whose we are, that is, in likeness of the whole of God (2 Cor 3:17-18; Gal 5:1, 13-14; Eph 4:24-25; Col 3:15; cf. 1 Cor 8:1). Wholeness for the person is contingent on wholeness in relationship together, therefore the whole person is inseparable from and indispensable for God’s new creation family—which in Paul’s theological forest is the church, “the pleroma of Christ who makes all whole in the whole” (Eph 1:23; cf. Rom 12:4-5). For the whole of Paul and the whole in his theology, there is no other relational outcome from the gospel of wholeness—the “new creation is everything” for those who follow the whole of Jesus in the new wine fellowship with the veil removed. Any other identity is neither new nor composed in Jesus’ call.
Jesus’ call composes nothing less and no substitutes for the new and whole identity of his followers. And the intrusive relational process distinguishing his followers involves living whole in reciprocal relationship together both with God and God’s family, and making whole in reciprocating contextualization within the world both to be distinguished from human contextualization and to make whole the human context (process 3 composing his call).
Central to Jesus’ call is anthropos (human being and person, anthropon, pl. Mk 1:17), around whom his call revolves. This human person must not be reduced either to the object of discipleship or to an object as a disciple in referential terms (“fishers of anthropos”), but rather completely the person as subject whose ontology and function are whole or need to be made whole. The ontology and function of those persons are contingent on the ontology and function of Jesus’ person, whose person-to-person call composes persons to be and live in congruence with his whole person. Thus, his call revolves around the human person involved intimately with his person; and without the centrality of both human persons and his person, his call has no significance.
As Jesus intruded on his followers and their theological anthropology, he clarified and corrected the significance of the person and relationships distinguished in God’s context. In the innermost of his call, Jesus distinguishes the whole person in the theological anthropology that includes whole understanding of the image and likeness of God—which is congruent with Christ as the image of God (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15) and thereby in likeness with the whole of God (Jn 17:21-22, cf. Col 3:10; Eph 4:24). How the person is perceived and how that person functions, particularly in relationships, are directly composed in this image and likeness intrinsic to Jesus’ call.
There have been three basic theological formulations or approaches to what constitutes the image of God (imago Dei) for all persons: (1) it is substantial or structural, that is, consisting of certain attributes or capabilities (notably reason) built into the person; (2) it is relational, indicating a fundamental relationship between human creature and Creator; and (3) it is a goal or destiny for humanity that lies in the eschatological conclusion toward which humans are directed. Each approach is insufficient understanding of God’s image that merely composes a fragmented or incomplete person, not the whole person; and by itself each lacks the significance distinguishing the whole of God—namely as vulnerably embodied by the Subject of the Word, whose unmistakable Face as the image of God calls us to “”Come, follow after me in ongoing reciprocal relationship together.”
Jesus’ call to “Come, follow after my whole person” includes the relational message “and I will make you fish for people.” The call was not for those fishermen to make a vocational change in refocusing their efforts—a common misconception of “called” frequently found among seminarians. The three relational messages (discussed previously) implicit in Jesus’ call include: (1) the primary importance of his whole person, and (2) the related importance of his followers as persons also, plus (3) the primacy of their reciprocal relationship together only as persons, without secondary distinctions (such as title, role, race-ethnicity, class, gender or age). These three relational messages converge in the relational dynamic of Jesus’ call in which the following unfolds:
“My whole person will transform your person to be whole in my image and likeness”—that is, not as clones conforming to a template imposed by Jesus (perhaps as a postmodernist’s lens may perceive) but rather “transform your person and relationships to be whole in the qualitative image and to live whole in the relational likeness of the whole of God, whose vulnerable presence and intimate involvement I embody for you to come follow after in reciprocal relationship together, face to face without a template or a mask for a veil” (as Paul made conclusive, 2 Cor 3:18).
It is necessary to put Jesus’ call into its full context, the relational context of the whole of God from the beginning. The person in God’s context is distinguished (pala) only in the epistemic field of the whole of God’s relational context, only while integrally engaged in the relational epistemic process of God’s communicative action (the relational Word from God, not referential). Pala signifies to separate, to be wonderful, that is to say, to distinguish beyond what exists in the human context and thus which cannot be defined by its comparative terms, or the person is no longer distinguished. Thus, this person can be distinguished only by whole ontology and function uniquely constituted by God, the Creator, the distinguishing nature (no less than pala) of which was beyond, for example, Job’s knowledge and understanding (Job 42:3). God pointed Job back to the unique constitution of the person from inner out, who has whole knowledge (hokmah) in the ‘inner’ (tuhot) person and whole understanding (biynah) also in the ‘inner’ (sekwiy, Job 38:36). The ‘inner’ (meanings of Heb tuhot and sekwiy are uncertain) has no certainty in referential language because it signifies a relational term that cannot be known and understood in referential terms. The ‘inner’ that God points Job back to is in the beginning: the whole ontology and function uniquely constituted by God that distinguishes human persons beyond comparison in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God (Gen 1:26-27).
Evolutionary biology highlights the development of the physical body, including the brain, for Homo sapiens—that is, the bodily development of human antecedents in physical form. While I affirm this physical development, science cannot assume that this physical body developed into the human person. Even with the development of the brain for higher level function unique to humans, the evolution process can only account at best for humans from the outer in. There is a limited quality within the quantitative structure of outer in that neuroscientist Damasio identified in the evolutionary development of the organism’s interior (noted previously). This does not distinguish the whole person but only defines a fragmentary person without the significance of being whole from inner out. So, then, what is the ‘inner’ of the person and how do we account for it with the human body to integrally constitute the whole person from inner out?
We cannot limit the dynamic process of creation, either by the limits of our epistemic field or by the constraints of a biased hermeneutic lens, which applies to both science and theology. In the creation narrative, the person is distinguished by the direct creative action of the Creator and not indirectly through an evolutionary process that strains for continuity and lacks significant purpose and meaning. At a specified, yet unknown, point in the creation process, the Creator explicitly acted on the developed physical body (the quantitative outer) to constitute the innermost (“breath of life,” neshamah hay) with the qualitative inner (“living being,” nephesh, Gen 2:7); the relational outcome was the whole person from inner out (the inseparably integrated qualitative and quantitative) distinguished irreducibly in the image and likeness of the Creator (Gen 1:26-27).
The qualitative inner of nephesh is problematic for the person in either of two ways. Either nephesh is reduced when primacy is given to the quantitative and thus the outer in; this appears to be the nephesh signified by supervenience in nonreductive physicality that is linked to large brain development and function. All animals have nephesh (Gen 1:30) but without the qualitative inner that distinguishes only the person. Or, nephesh is problematic when it is fragmented from the body, for example, as the soul, the substance of which does not distinguish the whole person even though at times in Scripture it identifies the qualitative uniqueness of humans. The referential language composing the soul does not get to the depth of the qualitative inner of the person in God’s context (cf. Job in Job 10:1; 27:2), because the inner was constituted by God in relational terms for whole ontology and function. The ancient poet even refers to nephesh as soul but further illuminates qereb as “all that is within me” (Ps 103:1), as “all my innermost being” (NIV) to signify the center, interior, the heart of a person’s whole being (cf. human ruah and qereb in Zec 12:1). This distinction gets us to the depth of the qualitative inner that rendering nephesh as soul does not. The reduction or fragmentation of nephesh is critical to whether the person in God’s context is whole-ly distinguished (beyond a comparative process) or merely referenced in some uniqueness (within a comparative process).
The qualitative inner of the person can be considered as the inner person. This identity implies an outer person, which certainly would employ a dualism if inner and outer are perceived as separate substances as in some frameworks of Greek philosophy (material and immaterial, physical and spiritual). In Hebrew thinking, the inner (center) and outer (peripheral) aspects of the person function together dynamically to define the whole person and to constitute the integral person’s whole ontology and function (cf. Rom 2:28-29). One functional aspect would not be seen apart from the other; nor would either be neglected, at least in theory, but which was problematic throughout Israel’s history as the people in God’s context (e.g. Dt 10:16; Isa 29:13).
In Hebrew terminology of the OT, the nephesh that God implanted of the whole of God into the human person is signified in ongoing function by the heart (leb). The function of the qualitative heart is critical for the whole person and holding together the person in the innermost. The biblical proverbs speak of the heart in the following terms:
identified as “the wellspring” (starting point, tosa’ot) of the ongoing function of the human person (Prov 4:23); using the analogy to a mirror, the heart also functions as what gives definition to the person (Prov 27:19); and, when not reduced or fragmented (“at peace,” i.e. wholeness), as giving life to “the body” (basar, referring to the outer aspect of the person, Prov 14:30, NIV), which describes the heart’s integrating function for the whole person (inner and outer together).
Without the function of the heart, the whole person from inner out created by God is reduced to function from outer in, distant or separated from the heart. This functional condition was ongoingly critiqued by God and responded to for the inner-out change necessary to be whole (e.g. Gen 6:5-6; Dt 10:16; 30:6; 1 Sam 16:7; Isa 29:13; Jer 12:2; Eze 11:19; 18:31; 33:31; Joel 2:12-13). Later in God’s strategic shift, Jesus made unmistakable that the openness of the heart (“in spirit and truth”) is what the Father requires and seeks in reciprocal relationship together (Jn 4:23-24).
In Judaism, Paul had already been introduced to the importance of the heart (leb, e.g. Deut 6:4; 10:16; 11:13). Yet, Paul had not understood this importance for the ontology either of Israel as God’s people or of his own person. He had not grasped the integrating function of the heart for the person (cf. Prov 4:23; 14:30; 27:19) until his own heart was exposed on the Damascus road, now vulnerable in relationship with the whole of God. I have assumed that this involved the retrospective journey of his person back to the human roots beyond his Jewish roots in Abraham. The original human roots, both for the individual-person and for the collective-persons together, define the heart as the center of human ontology, not the brain of neuroscience or the sub-atomic dynamics of physics. What is the difference of the heart and how is it significant?
The integrating function of the heart is irreplaceable. The mind may be able to provide quantitative unity (e.g. by identifying the association of parts) for the human person, as quantified in the brain by neuroscience. However, while this may be necessary and useful at times, it is never sufficient by itself to distinguish the whole person, nor adequate to experience the relationships necessary to be whole. Not even the higher level function of supervenience, as used by nonreductive physicalism, is sufficient to account for the qualitative whole needed to constitute persons in God’s context.
The qualitative significance of the heart is not composed in referential language and terms but only distinguishes the person in relational terms that God “breathed” into human persons. Nephesh may be rendered “soul” but its functional significance is the heart (Dt 30:6; Rom 2:28-29). From the beginning, the heart defined and determined the qualitative innermost of the person in God’s context and not the soul; the soul’s prominence unfolded much later from the influence of philosophical thought, shaped by referential terms. The heart’s significance only begins to define the image of God, yet the heart’s function identifies why the heart is so vital to the person integrally in the image and likeness of God. God’s creative action, design and purpose emerge only in relational language, the relational terms of which are not for unilateral relationship but reciprocal relationship together. Therefore, God’s desires are to be vulnerably involved with the whole person in the primacy of relationship—intimate relationship together. Since the function of the heart integrally constitutes the whole person, God does not have the whole person for relationship until it involves the heart (Dt 10:14-16; Ps 95:7-11).
This may bring up a question that would be helpful to address. If God constituted the physical body with the qualitative inner to distinguish the human person from all other animals, how does relatedness further distinguish human persons since most animal life subsists in relatedness also? Not only does the qualitative distinguish the human person from inner out with the quantitative according to the image of God, but at this intersection of God’s creative action relationship was now also constituted as never before (as in “not good to be apart”)—conjointly and inseparably with the qualitative—to fully distinguish the human person as whole according to both the qualitative image of God and the relational likeness of the whole of God (namely God’s relational ontology and function, discussed below). One without the other identifies an incomplete, fragmentary person. The primordial garden illuminates the integral dynamic of the qualitative and relational in its wholeness as well as its reduction—the convergence of the physical, psychological, the relational, the social and the cultural, which together go into defining and determining both the human person and subsequent human condition. Paying attention to only one (or some) of the above gives us a fragmentary or incomplete understanding of what it is to be human. The creation narrative provides us with not a detailed (much less scientific) account of humans but the integrated perspective (framework and lens) necessary to define and determine the whole person, as well as the underlying reductionism of the human condition. Therefore, these contexts, expanding parameters, limits and constraints are crucial for theological anthropology to distinguish what and who only can be the whole person in God’s context. The original human roots with Adam and Eve constituted each of them in their individual self, both with themselves in relationship together and with their Creator. Yet, Adam and Eve made two critical assumptions in the primordial garden: (1) that their ontology was reducible to human shaping, and (2) that their function was negotiable to human terms (Gen 3:6-10). Their reductionism reflects a shift from the qualitative inner out (“whole-ly naked and vulnerable,” Gen 2:25) to the quantitative outer in (“naked parts and covered up,” Gen 3:7) without the integrating significance of the heart, thereby fragmenting the whole of human ontology down to one’s parts. This is a pivotal qualitative and relational consequence for persons. Once the person becomes distant from, unaware of or detached from the heart, there is no qualitative means in function to integrate the whole person—leaving only fragmentary parts (however valuable or esteemed) that are unable to distinguish the person in God’s context. Conjointly in creative function, there is no basis for deep involvement and intimate connection in relationships together without the qualitative function of the heart (Isa 29:13; Jer 12:2, cf. Eze 33:31); intimacy is based on hearts vulnerably open and coming together. The qualitative and relational consequence, as witnessed in the primordial garden, is an outer-in association together accompanied with shame, disappointment, confusion or dissatisfaction (bosh, Gen 2:25, cf. Eph 4:18). Only the conjoint function of the qualitative inner (signified by the heart) and the relational from innermost (signified by hearts coming together in intimacy) distinguish whole persons beyond comparison. Nothing less and no substitutes can claim to pala the person in God’s context simply because these persons are constituted integrally in the image and likeness of the whole of God’s ontology and function. This is the created whole of the person and of persons in relationship together from which “it is not good to be apart” (Gen 2:18).
God acts only in relational terms and communicates only in relational language. Any person focused outer in does not make relational connection with God (as Job struggled, Job 23:3,8-9), and thus is unable to know and understand God merely by referential language, no matter the quantity of referential information about God (as the theological academy labors today). In reality, any such knowledge and understanding about God is simply self-referencing, whereby theological discourse becomes speaking for God from the cognitive level of the mind rather than receiving God’s relational communication and expressing this relational knowledge and understanding of God from the depth level of the heart.
Without the qualitative function of the heart to integrate the whole person, the only alternatives for persons are ontological simulations and epistemological illusions shaped by reductionism. The heart’s significance unfolds in relational terms for the relational outcome that we need to understand more deeply in the divine narrative composing the narrative of human being and being human: The whole of God ongoingly pursues, solely in relational terms, the heart and wants our heart (as in 1 Sam 16:7; Prov 21:2; Jer 17:10; Lk 16:15; Rom 8:27; Rev 2:23)—that is, pursues only the whole person for vulnerable involvement in integral reciprocal relationship together. The innermost person signified by heart function has the most significance to God and, though never separated from or at the neglect of the outer, always needs to have greater priority of importance for the person’s definition and function to be distinguished in God’s context.
Persons in God’s context cannot negotiate either the qualitative condition of their ontology or the relational terms of their function. Theological anthropology discourse must be engaged accordingly. For example, when discussing the social nature and character of human persons, it is insufficient for theological anthropology to talk about merely social relatedness and community to define and distinguish the human person. For nonnegotiated theological anthropology, the person is created in the qualitative image of God to function in relational likeness to the whole of God (discussed shortly). Without renegotiation, therefore, human persons are created in whole ontology and function for the primacy of relationship together solely in relational terms as follows:
The qualitative ontology of the person’s heart vulnerably opens to the hearts of other persons (including God) in order for the relational outcome of the primacy of relationship together to be nonnegotiably and irreducibly distinguished by the wholeness of intimate relationships—defined as hearts open and vulnerably connected together to be whole, that is, whole solely in the image and likeness of the whole of God (“not to be apart…but naked and relationally connected without disappointment”).
When God’s relational terms from inner out are shifted to referential terms from outer in (even unintentionally or perhaps inadvertently), something less or some substitute replaces the above and renders the person and relationships to fragmentary-reduced ontology and function. This qualitative and relational consequence no longer distinguishes persons in God’s context, only shapes them in the limits of the human context by the constraints of the human condition (“to be apart…naked and relationally distant”).
From the beginning, these two competing, contrary and conflicting dynamics have either constituted the person in the primary of God’s relational context and process, or shaped (even embedded) the person in the secondary of the limits and prevailing constraints in the human context. In Jesus’ call, however, the image and likeness of God are the indelible relational outcome constituting persons by his relational response for the gospel of transformation to wholeness.
Spirituality has consistently pointed our focus to the qualitative, though its disciplines have often been less qualitative and less than relational. Moreover, common notions of spirituality tend to be dualistic (e.g. the soul as primary) and are insufficient to get to the heart of the person from inner out. Such a limited focus of spirituality fragments the person into parts, however spiritual, and is inadequate to integrate and transform the whole person. As discussed above, the heart is the innermost of the whole person, integrating the person who by nature is also deeply involved in relationships. At the same time, anything qualitative today is under constant pressure to be revised by the quantitative, and even under continuous assault to be narrowed down and quantified. Aside from the obvious, the subtle consequence is a preoccupation with the secondary—evident by a focus on fragmentary parts (e.g. of a person) from outer in over the whole from inner out—and a significant lack of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness. This has been amplified by the Enlightenment with its modernist perceptual-interpretive framework in quantitative referential terms. As much as this paradigm shift has been engaged since the Enlightenment, the shift to the quantitative emerged from the beginning in the primordial garden, with its immeasurable impact on how the human person is defined and relationships are determined. The consequence has thrust anthropology on a narrowed-down trajectory charted on a fragmentary path. Its influence continues to today, either not paid attention to or not understood.
As the image and likeness of God are further illuminated, there likely will occur an uncovering of theological anthropology—or making “naked” if you wish—that reveals a person in a reshaped image or unlikeness of God. This will challenge our assumptions and be critical for the person (including our own) who emerges and develops.
There are two main and vital issues any theological anthropology must answer:
To expand on our discussion above, understanding the first issue is interrelated to the second. This mutual understanding thus unfolds in relationship together by the inseparable function of righteousness: defined as being the whole of who, what and how the person is that can be counted on by others to be that person in relationship together. Accordingly, any theological anthropology that adequately answers these two issues must by nature be integrated with righteousness, both God’s and ours. Anything less and any substitutes in theological anthropology or for righteousness fragments the person into certain parts over other parts, with the relational consequence of being and living less than whole.
Ecclesiastes illuminates a simple reality of God’s creative action that is easy to ignore not only to distinguish the human person but also God: “God has also implanted eternity in the hearts of persons” (Ecc 3:11, NIV). What is illuminated is the reality of being connected in ontology and function to something beyond our persons, which can be defined in whole knowledge and be satisfied in whole understanding solely by the whole of God, because that something is transcendent. Eternity (‘olam) should not be seen as a referential term and thus here understood in cognitive terms (e.g. “a sense of past and future into their minds,” NRSV), as part of human rationality and reasoning that traditionally is considered to compose the image of God. In this sense, ‘olam and any other connections thought to be made beyond the human person can also be considered mere epiphenomenon (appearing to be related but not really), without clearly accounting for a distinction between them. The reality of eternity consists in relational language and helps constitute the qualitative innermost of the person in the image of God only in relational terms (cf. Jn 17:3). In other words, having eternity in their hearts connects persons to the transcendent God—not just to some cognitive part of God but to the whole of God. Yet, there is a critical distinction that must be made between referential terms and relational terms in order to further know and understand the God behind the image distinguishing the human person. To know and understand God is the relational process to know and understand the person in the image of God.
What necessarily separates theism from deism is the clarity of God’s qualitative presence and relational involvement. Theism assumes God’s vulnerability, yet more likely has been described traditionally in referential terms not compatible to make connection with God’s presence and involvement. Such a theism is certainly problematic to know and understand God other than with referential information merely about God, which in function is not significantly different from deism. This has obvious implications for the image of God and for persons dependent on that image to be distinguished. The vulnerable presence and relational involvement of God, however, is a relational reality that integrally distinguishes the whole ontology and function of God, who, on the basis of this qualitative relational reality, created the human person and relationships together in that image and likeness of God’s incomparable ontology and function. To use Ecclesiastes’ relational language: “God transplanted into the innermost of human persons not the breadth of linear time in chronological terms composed by a traditional lens of eternity but the depth of the image of the whole of God’s ontology and function.” What God transplanted did not deify the person ontologically (also not to be confused with panentheism) but constituted the person relationally to be whole together, whereby to relationally know and understand the God who is vulnerably present and relationally involved is to have whole knowledge and understanding of God’s image and, on this qualitative relational basis, to know and understand the whole person distinguished by that image in God’s relational context and process.
This irreversible connection of the person with the whole of God is the simple reality ‘olam signifies that theological anthropology is ongoingly accountable to compose the person in the image of God: to constitute from inner out as a complex subject of person-consciousness involved in complex relationship both vulnerable and reciprocal, not to compose the person from outer in as a simple object of self-consciousness engaged in simple association. Yet, the reality of this connection is continuously subjected to reductionism and its counter-relational work that must also be addressed definitively with the whole, or fall into being subject to its obscuring influence. ‘The presence of the whole’ constitutes the image of God and makes functional this image for persons to live distinguished in its significance. How is ‘the presence of the whole’ vulnerable to be relationally involved for this vital relational outcome?
The qualitative image of God is known and understood conclusively only in the involved God in the beginning, the vulnerable God of the beginning, and indeed the transcendent God beyond—composed only in relational language according to relational terms by just the relational Word. On this basis, the presence and involvement of the relational Word from the beginning is the key for the ongoing presence of the whole to make functional the image of God.
Our understanding of the message unfolding with the Word from the beginning does not emerge from the textual words in referential language. This is not merely having referential knowledge and information about God but critically involves the distinguished process of whole-ly knowing God, which is only the relational outcome of deep involvement in relationship together as Jesus’ family prayer makes definitive (notably of eternal life, Jn 17:3, cf. the disciples, Jn 14:9). Therefore, communication from the Word is composed by the primacy of relational language and only in relational terms that get quite intrusive because the relational Word speaks to our innermost. The significance of relational language defines, on the one hand, the qualitative ontology, relational nature and vulnerable function of the Word (signifying his glory, Jn 1:14) and, on the other, defines what was created and why. To define these secondarily by only referential language immediately diminishes what was created and minimalizes why, along with fragmenting the Word who created in the image and likeness of the whole of God.
Definitively what was created and why are contingent on the whole ontology and function of God, and therefore contingent on the Word in the beginning, in whose image human being is created to be whole and in whose likeness all human ontology and function are created to live whole—to be and live whole together in relationship with the whole of God and God’s creation (Gen 2:18,25, cf. Rom 8:17,19). The whole was not a product of some dialectic or abstract process; it was the relational outcome in the beginning of the whole of God’s communicative-creative action. The whole emerged only with the Whole from outside the universe to constitute the whole of the universe and all in it in the innermost (Col 1:17). Moreover, the Whole does not become the universe (pantheism), nor is the universe all there is of the Whole (as in panentheism). The whole of God (the triune God) remains distinguished outside the universe and this Whole’s likeness distinguishes the universe in the innermost to be whole. Though this wholeness was the reality in the beginning, reductionism fragmented the whole of human ontology and function, and also creation (Gen 3:7,10,17; cf. Rom 8:19-21). The good news, however, is the deeper unfolding of the Word to give the light to the innermost necessary to be whole, “who has shone in our hearts…” (2 Cor 4:6).
For Paul, to emphasize our earlier discussion, there is definitive epistemological clarification in “the knowledge of the glory of the whole of God vulnerably revealed by the face of Christ as the image of God” (2 Cor 4:6). ‘Glory’ illuminates the being, nature and presence of God (as Moses requested, Ex 33:18), which reveals the qualitative heart of God’s being, God’s intimate relational nature and vulnerable presence (cf. Jn 17:22,24). The whole of Jesus magnified the heart of God’s being, relational nature and vulnerable presence in the human context by embodying an improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path (Jn 1:14,18). The whole gospel illuminates this glory magnified in Christ as the image of God (2 Cor 4:4). The relational significance of this theology cannot be overemphasized.
In the incarnation of God’s relational dynamic determined only by the relational function of grace, Jesus fulfills the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the inherent human relational need and problem (which neuroscience rightly identifies). By fulfilling God’s relational response only in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, Jesus embodied the wholeness of the image of God (eikon, Col 1:15). Eikon implies not merely a resemblance to but the total correspondence to and likeness of its archetype, here the invisible God—just as Jesus claimed to his first disciples (Jn 14:9). The eikon of God is made definitive by the illumination (photismos) of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, whose vulnerable embodiment made God’s qualitative being and relational nature functionally involved with persons for experiential truth in relationship together (2 Cor 4:4b,6).
To revisit Paul’s face-to-Face encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road, he experienced directly this relational dynamic of Christ's illumination now extended also to him. On this relational basis (not mysticism), God's relational function of grace and its outcome of intimate relational connection together provided Paul with his ongoing experiential truth of the glory of God ‘in Christ’, the image of God. For Paul, then, the image of God was unmistakable in the relational dynamic of Christ’s magnification of God’s glory, integrally composing “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (4:4b). This relational dynamic of the image and glory of God is essential for Paul’s pleroma Christology (completeness, fullness, whole, Col 1:19; 2:9) because it signifies the whole of Jesus’ person vulnerably embodied, magnified and involved for relationship together, fulfilling the following three functions unique to the face of Christ, as discussed in Chapter three:
In Paul’s pleroma Christology, the face of Christ is the exact eikon of God that magnifies the glory of God’s qualitative being and relational nature in Christ’s whole person and function, with the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. This dynamic of wholeness is indispensable for how the face of Christ is perceived and his function interpreted. In his whole-reductionism discourse, Paul pointed to the relational outcome or consequence of this issue of perceptual-interpretive framework as fundamental to the relational epistemic process necessary to “see [augazo, be illuminated by] the light” from top down (“God who…has shone”) and from inner out (“in our hearts”) “in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4,6). The term “face” (prosopon) can be understood in two contrary dynamics: (1) like a mask worn in early Greek theatre to take on a different identity in a role or as in a masquerade (metaschematizo, cf. 2 Cor 11:13-15); or (2) “face” can signify the whole person, whose identity of who, what and how the person is is not hidden but made fully vulnerable to be whole-ly perceived and involved with (cf. what the Father seeks, Jn 4:23-24; note Num 12:6-8). The first dynamic functions from outer in (e.g. “that one hides,” 2 Cor 4:2) while the second dynamic only functions from inner out (e.g. “by the open statement of the truth”). The interpretive framework of the first dynamic perceives only the outer face of Christ and thereby interprets Christ’s function in mere referential terms or reductionist human terms. This outward approach is an incompatible interface with Christ’s face of inner out, and creates distance and maintains barriers in relationship. The relational consequence is not seeing the light and consequently unable to make relational connection with the qualitative being and relational nature of God.
Contrary to the first dynamic, in the second dynamic the face of Christ is without reductionism of the whole of who, what and how God is—just as Jesus conclusively revealed to his disciples (Jn 14:9) and fulfilled for the Father (Jn 17:4,6,26). This is the face vulnerably embodying, magnifying and involving the whole of God’s glory—nothing less and no substitutes of God’s qualitative being and relational nature—for relationship together. It is the only face and function that constitute pleroma Christology—“the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). Moreover, then, this relational dynamic of the image and glory of God in Christ functions also to illuminate the whole knowledge and understanding of the face of Christ’s function from inner out in God’s relational context and process, whereby to function congruent to only God’s relational terms of grace from top down. Christ’s face and function together are irreducible and therefore indispensable for Christology to be complete. In the complete Christology of Paul, Christ's face and function constitute the whole person vulnerably involved in relationship. The relational outcome, in contrast to the relational consequence above, is that the whole of God is now accessible for intimate relationship Face to face. The relational implication is that the function of this distinguished Face is compatible only with the human face in qualitative image and relational likeness of his for the qualitative-relational connection and involvement necessary to be whole-ly Face to face to Face. Accordingly, this qualitative-relational connection can only be without the relational barrier of the veil, as Paul made conclusive (2 Cor 3:18).
This relational outcome is the purpose and function of the unequivocal image and glory of God vulnerably embodied by the whole of Jesus only for relationship together. Indispensably throughout the incarnation, Christ’s function illuminated the whole knowledge and understanding of the qualitative image and relational likeness of God in which the human person and function were created; and by his qualitative-relational function between the manger and the cross, Christ also vulnerably demonstrates the ontological image and functional likeness to which human persons need to be restored for whole relationship together face to Face. Therefore, the relational dynamic of the image and glory of God is essential in Paul’s pleroma Christology for a third function fulfilled in the distinguished face of Christ necessary for relationship together:
Without Jesus’ whole person and function throughout the incarnation, whole knowledge and understanding of the image and glory of God would neither be illuminated for vulnerable self-disclosure in experiential truth, nor be definitive for vulnerable human reciprocal response in the image and likeness necessary for whole relationship together (2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:10). Theological anthropology becomes definitive only in the face of Christ and distinguishes the human person only in Face-to-face-to-Face relationship together.
As Paul composed to complete Christology, the above three qualitative-relational functions are vital for the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction necessary to be whole. Paul was unequivocal that Jesus constituted this dynamic of wholeness in the incarnation of his own person, and thereby constituted this dynamic for wholeness by his incarnation for all human life and function (Col 2:9-10). In Paul’s theology and practice, therefore, this dynamic in the face of Christ was irreducible and nonnegotiable by the very nature of the pleroma of God. And anything less and any substitutes are reductionism of the pleroma of God, the image of God, the glory of God in the face of Christ, consequently reductionism of the human person and function—shifting from the whole from top down to reductionism from bottom up, from the whole from inner out to reductionism from outer in.
It is conclusive for theological anthropology that the person essential to God and distinguished in the Trinity is embodied by Jesus. Jesus’ whole person, as Paul made definitive theologically, is the exact and whole “image of God…in the vulnerably present and relationally involved face of Christ.” Jesus as person is not a referential concept or anthropomorphism imposed on him but his vulnerable function as “the image of the transcendent God…in his person all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:15,19). His person as the image of God—along with the person of the Spirit, Jesus’ relational replacement (Jn 14:16-18; 16:13-15; 2 Cor 3:17-18)—is essential for the human person both to know the qualitative significance and to have whole understanding of what it means to be and function as the person created in the image of God. There are certainly irreducible differences between God as Creator and creatures. As Jesus vulnerably disclosed (e.g. in his formative family prayer, Jn 17:21-23), however, there is also an irreducible likeness between the persons of the Trinity and the human person created in the image of the whole of God (cf. Col 3:10; Eph 4:24).
“Following after the whole of my person” is irreplaceable for his followers’ “person to be transformed to the whole person,” whose ontology and function are congruent with Jesus’ and therefore distinguished only in the qualitative image of God. This whole ontology and function composes the only person(s) whom Jesus called both to follow after and to transform to be and live. The person defined by anything less or any substitutes—mainly from outer in, even with distinctions widely prevailing that obscure the whole person and keep relational distance (cf. Col 3:9-11)—is not congruent with Jesus’ call and composes persons (both his and ours) with reduced ontology and function on a different relational path. Such a person cannot be and live whole, much less make whole in human contexts. The primacy of his person in wholeness is the only determinant to constitute our persons in wholeness, and thereby function in the primacy of reciprocal relationship together as whole persons (as Paul declared, Col 3:15).
Our theological anthropology is responsible to compose these persons and to distinguish their ontology and function in Jesus’ whole relational terms:
Theological anthropology is the most accountable of the theological tasks for the whole knowledge and understanding of God and thereby of the human person, an interrelated qualitative condition and relational function that is irreducible and nonnegotiable. The glory of God beyond the universe has been vulnerably disclosed in relationship as whole person-Subject to be known (Jn 17:3,6,26, cf. Jn 14:9), in order to distinguish—beyond comparison indeed (pala)—human persons and relationships in the image and likeness of the whole of God (Jn 17:22-23).
Until our theological anthropology fulfills this responsibility, Jesus continues in his intrusive relational path to address, challenge and confront our person reflecting our theological anthropology.
So, from the beginning to the present, when God asks the person in theological anthropology, and our person in practice, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9), God is not asking a referential question for information locating the person. The whole of God asks a relational question to distinguish the whole ontology and function of persons created in God’s very own image and likeness, or perhaps to expose a reshaped image or unlikeness.
Any uncovering of theological anthropology that reveals a person in the unlikeness of God may not be surprising, since it will no doubt involve issues about relationship that are not accounted for in relational terms. For example, what is the significance of John 4:23-24 and how is this interrelated to the person in Matthew 15:8? The answers should be at the core of theological anthropology to distinguish the person. Here again, the nature and extent of our Christology is the key, which is why we need to pay close attention to the whole of Jesus as the Father said (Mt 17:5, cf. Mk 4:24).
Integral to the relational likeness of God is the qualitative image of God, and conversely. Since God implanted the heart of his being to the innermost of the human person to connect with the whole of God (Ecc 3:11), the whole person can only be distinguished from inner out and only in relational terms (as in Jn 4:23-24). However, any shift of focus to outer in also shifts to referential terms, as in “these people draw near with their mouths...while their hearts are far from me” (Isa 29:13, cf. Mt 15:8); and this is when relationship becomes a critical issue reflecting the unlikeness of God. The person (both Jesus’ and ours) in his call must be accounted for in whole relational terms or else reflect the unlikeness of God.
The embodied Word relationally communicated the whole knowledge and understanding of God to make definitive the functional reality of God’s image and likeness (as Paul illuminated, 2 Cor 4:4,6), while also conclusively providing the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction of God’s unlikeness (as Paul reflected, 2 Cor 3:14-18). Jesus distinguished the relational likeness of God in two relational contexts: (1) within the whole of God, the Trinity, together with the persons of the Father and the Spirit, and (2) with other persons in human context, whether together or not.
One of the main distinctions of whole Christology is that it is not overly christocentric, which may be problematic depending on how Jesus is defined. The traditional lens defining Jesus focuses on only parts of his person—namely on what he did, on his teachings and example—and not on the whole of Jesus. The whole of Jesus vulnerably embodied his whole person throughout the incarnation in the human context; and this involvement is indispensable to understand in his relationships with others that composed his intrusive relational path (to be discussed in the second relational context). Conjointly, the whole of Jesus’ whole person uniquely embodied the vulnerable presence and intimate involvement of the whole of God, the Trinity. Christology remains incomplete when it does not encompass both Jesus’ whole person throughout the incarnation and the whole of God whom his whole person embodied.
Moreover, by involving us directly in the trinitarian relational context and process, the whole of Jesus involves us in God’s story, that is, the whole of God’s thematic relational action in response to the human condition. We cannot perceive the whole of Jesus apart from God’s story or we reduce the whole of who and what Jesus embodied as well as the whole of how he functioned. This reduction signifies a recontextualization of Jesus that relegates him to our situations and circumstances in history—just as many Jews (including some of his disciples) did with their messianic hopes. Accordingly, when the person Jesus distinguished (both divine and human) is fragmented to various parts of him (however notable), this puts Jesus on a different theological trajectory and relational path. For theological anthropology based on such a fragmentary Christology, Jesus’ person is obscured from the relational ontology of the Trinity and their relational function together as the Whole, and consequently our persons struggle in the relational unlikeness of God.
What is this relational likeness of the Trinity that Jesus vulnerably embodied to distinguish human persons? Some have attempted to define a relational idea of personhood in more recent development of trinitarian theology. Niels Gregersen offers cautionary balance to emphasize that the interrelations between the divine persons are still thought to be unique to God and not related to human beings: “The question remains, however, whether it is possible to deduce a comprehensive ontology for the Trinity, and whether theologians of today should argue for such a direct derivation of the human concept of personhood from the trinitarian concept of the personhood of God.” Noting differences between the trinitarian and the anthropological concepts of personhood, he points to Orthodox theologians’ rejection of recent attempts to use the trinitarian concept as a general ontological model, and he continues: “Positive resemblances and suggestive proposals should not make us blind to remaining differences.”
As discussed previously, the doctrine of the Trinity emerged in the fourth century as a response to theological conflict and reductionism. Arius specifically taught that Jesus was subordinate to God in substance (ousia) and was created (begotten by the Father). The Council of Nicea (the Nicene Creed in 325) countered that Jesus was begotten (i.e. generated, not created) from the substance of the Father, of the same substance (homoousios) with God. In further response to another form of Arianism (from Eunomius: divine substance is unbegotten and only belongs to the Father), the Cappadocian fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus, between 358-380) formulated the distinction between the same substance of God and the different persons (hypostasis) of God, thus establishing the doctrine of the Trinity: one God existing in three persons.
Essentially, from the fourth century into the twenty-first, we observe one aspect of God emphasized over another (e.g. the oneness of God or the divine threeness), and some aspect of God reduced (e.g. God’s substance [ousia] or the persons/personhood [hypostasis] of God), as well as redefined or ignored (e.g. “begotten” or the relationality of the Trinity). If not in theology most certainly in function, these perceptions and interpretations profoundly affect how we define God—namely in the ontological and relational nature of the whole of God. I suggest that much of this theological difficulty can be resolved or prevented if trinitarian theology emerged first and foremost from complete Christology. This is the compelling antecedent Jesus’ vulnerable disclosures made evident about him and the Father, which involved the Spirit together—and the only antecedent Paul made imperative for persons and relationships together in the church (Col 3:15).
John the Baptist testified that “I saw the Spirit…remain [meno, dwell] on him” at Jesus’ baptism (Jn 1:32, cf. 3:34). From there, Luke’s Gospel records that Jesus was full of the Spirit and led by the Spirit (Lk 4:1,14). These early accounts made evident the presence and function of the Spirit in Jesus’ embodied life and practice, which Jesus himself confirmed (Lk 4:18, cf. Isa 11:2; 42:1); and their function dynamically continued in Jesus’ post-resurrection interactions (Acts 1:2) and continues in his post-ascension involvement (Acts 9:17; 13:2; 16:7) and discourse (Rev 2-3). In essence, the Spirit meno with Jesus together to constitute the trinitarian relational context and process. When Jesus told his disciples that he will send the Spirit to them as his relational replacement not leaving them as orphans (Jn 14:18), he pointed to the relational ontology between him, the Spirit and the Father (Jn 15:26; 16:13-15). This ontology that the trinitarian persons have in common as One is what Jesus vulnerably disclosed about his Father and himself.
Our attention then necessarily focuses again on the primacy of ‘the relationship of God’ discussed in Chapter four, in order for both the theology of our person and the practice of our relationships to be in likeness. Consider further what was noted earlier: the most significant relational function in the incarnation of how God participates in relationship is Jesus vulnerably disclosing his relationship with his Father. In ontological terms, they are one and their persons are equally the same (Jn 10:30,38; 14:11,20; 16:15; 17:21), and thus inseparable (never “to be apart” except for one unfathomable experience on the cross, Mt 27:46). As distinct trinitarian persons (not modes of being) in the qualitative significance of the whole of God (not tritheism), they are intimately conjoined together in relationship (understood conceptually as perichoresis) and intimately involved with each other in love (Jn 5:20; 14:31; 15:9; 17:24). This is the relationship of God that Jesus functionally distinguishes of the whole of God, the Trinity.
To reexamine Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration (transformation), the Father openly said: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17; 17:5). The term for “to be well pleased” (eudokeo) can also be rendered “to delight.” To be pleased with a son expresses a common bias about parental approval of what a child has done; on the other hand, to delight in a son deepens the focus on the whole person from inner out, with a deeper expression of what a parent feels in the primacy of relationship together—which compose the three relational messages qualifying the content of the Father’s communication above. “Delight” better expresses the qualitative heart of the Father in intimate relationship with the Son focused on his qualitative whole person, and consequently should not be interpreted as the Father’s approval of the Son’s performance. This distinguishes that the Father delights in the Son and loves him for his whole person, not for what he does even in obedience to the Father. If we are predisposed to parental approval, we will ignore the deeper significance of their relational involvement, and also be predisposed in seeking God’s approval of our practice.
Furthermore, it is important to pay attention to their language as they interact. In the Father’s expression above, his words to the Son are simple—signifying the relational language of the heart—and therefore intimate. Jesus’ language with the Father in the garden called Gethsemane (Mt 26:39,42) and on the cross (Mt 27:46) is painfully simple and disarmingly direct language—words also straight from his heart. There are no platitudes, formal phrases or “sacred terminology” in their interaction—simply communication from the heart in ongoing communion together in intimacy. Their intimate communion forms the basis for communion at the Lord’s table to be in likeness, as the relational outcome of Jesus removing the veil for whole relationship together (2 Cor 3:16-18, cf. Heb 10:19-22). Yet, their intimacy can easily be ignored by our relational distance or even be reduced to referential language by a non-relational quantitative perceptual-interpretive framework.
The theological and functional implications of their intimate relationship, as discussed in the previous chapter, are indispensable for our whole knowledge and understanding of God. Thus, what is vulnerably disclosed distinguishes the relationship of God without anything less and any substitutes of who, what and how God is. Their interaction at Gethsemane demonstrates the relational process of family love constituting the Trinity’s relationship with each other. This interaction happened because by the nature of their relationship in the whole of God such an interaction was “designed” to happen, therefore was expected to happen—an outworking of God’s relational righteousness. Again, what this interaction signifies is the complete openness (implying honesty) and vulnerableness of their whole person (not reduced to roles and performance in the Godhead) with each other in the intimate relational involvement of love as family constituted by their whole relationship together as One—which the Father also seeks from us (Jn 4:23-24). In his complete vulnerability, Jesus clearly discloses how they are involved in relationship together to distinguish the relationship of the Trinity, which Jesus also prays for us to experience (Jn 17:21-26). In whole relational terms, the trinitarian persons can and need to be their whole person before each other and intimately share with each other anything. Their involvement functions without the caution, restrictions or limits practiced in human relationships since the primordial garden to contrast “naked from inner out and without need for embellishment,” with “naked from outer in and keeping relational distance”. In other words, anything less than and any substitutes for their whole person and these relationships necessary to be the whole of God no longer would constitute the Trinity (as qualitatively distinguished in whole relationship) and therefore become a reduction of God’s ontology and function.
The relationship of God necessitates the function of the whole person, which is never centered on one person (as in many families) and therefore always as a function of relationship in the trinitarian relational context of family and the trinitarian relational process of family love. The most significant function of relationship between the Father and the Son is distinguished by God’s love. Their family love ongoingly constitutes the Trinity’s relational oneness (intimate communion) illuminating the incomparable uniqueness of God and distinguishing God’s whole ontology and function from outside the universe. As the Father vulnerably disclosed at the Son’s baptism and transfiguration, the Trinity’s love is the function only of how they are involved with each other’s person. The immeasurable depth of their qualitative involvement together is so intimate that though three disclosed persons yet they are one Being (the ontological One), though distinct in function yet they are indistinguishably and indivisibly one together (the relational Whole)—without relational horizontal distance or vertical stratification that characterize human relationships. Most important, this relationship of God is disclosed not for our mere information but made accessible for us to experience in whole relationship together in likeness. The integral purpose of Jesus’ formative family prayer (Jn 17:20-26) is composed only for this reciprocal relational experience.
For relationship together in likeness, it is essential to understand the implied nature of who the Son and Father are and what they are in relationship together. This necessitates whole understanding of two clear overlapping statements Jesus disclosed to define his relationship with the Father: (1) “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30; 17:11,22), and (2) “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10:38; 14:10-11,20; 17:21). We need to understand Jesus’ definitive declarations both ontologically and relationally, thus expanding on the Greek concept of perichoresis in trinitarian theology.
Jesus’ first declaration of “The Father and I are one” (heis eimi) essentially revealed the dynamic existence (eimi, verb of existence) of their persons dwelling in each other together as one (heis). Heis eimi signifies the ontological oneness of the trinitarian persons in qualitative substance (consubstantial, homoousios), the nature of which cannot be differentiated in any of their persons from the whole of the triune God and differentiated in this sense from each other. Each trinitarian person is whole-ly God and an integral part of the whole of God, implying that each is incomplete without the others (pointing to the depth of pain Jesus shouted on the cross, Mt 27:46). Yet, on the one hand, what Jesus disclosed is not the totality of God but only the whole of who and what God is and how God does relationship. On the other hand, what Jesus vulnerably disclosed is irreducible for distinguishing God’s whole ontology and function. Reducing the whole of each trinitarian person or the whole of God’s being are consequential not only for our understanding of the triune God but also for understanding what is important about our persons and our relationships together in order to be whole in likeness of who, what and how God is.
In his formative family prayer, Jesus asked the Father that all his followers together may “be one as we are one” (Jn 17:11,21-22). To “be one” (heis eimi) is the same ontological oneness among his followers “just as” (kathos, in accordance with, have congruity with) God’s ontological oneness (heis eimi); yet his followers’ oneness does not include having ontological oneness with the triune God such that either they would be deified or God’s being would become all of them (pantheism).
What Jesus prayed for that is included, however, involves his second declaration about his relationship with the Father that overlaps with their ontological oneness (heis eimi). “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (en eimi, Jn 14:10-11) further reveals the ongoing existence (eimi) of their persons in the presence of and accompanied by (en) the other, thereby also signifying their relational oneness constituted by their intimate involvement with each other in full communion—just as their relationship demonstrated at his baptism, in his transfiguration, in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, along with the presence and function (meno) of the Spirit. This deep intimacy in relationship together (en eimi, their relational wholeness) is conjoined in the ontic qualitative substance of their ontological oneness (heis eimi) to constitute the trinitarian persons in the indivisible and interdependent relationships together to be the whole of God, the Trinity as whole family. The conjoint interaction of the ontological One and the relational Whole provides further functional understanding of perichoresis.
If human persons are not or cannot be distinguished by the relational likeness of the Trinity, then human persons in relationships have no distinction from the social relatedness of all animals. Certainly, human history has strained for this clear distinction in human relations between persons, yet this reflects the human condition and not the nonexistence of the relational ontology of God constituting human likeness. The person in theological anthropology must have clear distinction by its created nature of “not good to be apart from the whole”; otherwise persons are not and cannot be distinguished (pala) in the human context and will merely reflect, reinforce or sustain the human condition.
We also need to keep in clear distinction that the triune God does relationship in two distinct relational contexts, which certainly overlap yet must remain distinct in determining the terms for relationship. The improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path of the embodied whole of Jesus vulnerably addressed human persons in his relational language and not the prevailing referential language of the human context. The basis on which the terms for relationship are defined will determine what human ontology and function emerge, and thereby what persons emerge and how relationships unfold. This determining process is irreversible for both the human person and the human condition. Whole human ontology and function emerge from the relational terms in likeness of the Trinity, while reduced human ontology and function emerge from referential terms in unlikeness of the Trinity. For the relational outcome that distinguishes the person in God’s relational likeness, it is vital to understand the relational language of the Word.
Previously we discussed what is basic to this relational language, implied in all communication, that directly expresses three relational messages implicit to what is communicated by the sound of the voice, gestures on the face or choice of words. These relational messages are vital to help us understand the significance of the content in the message communicated—most importantly what Jesus communicated to his followers in the short narratives available to us, particularly in his call “Come, follow after me….” To review, these messages communicate:
The content alone of the words “follow me” easily become redefined by our terms, as demonstrated by prevailing inadequate interpretations for discipleship. Yet, even though the first disciples initially did not understand Jesus’ relational language sufficiently, they had to have experienced some level of his relational messages to make such a radical change (not necessarily redemptive change) in their lives to simply leave everything and follow Jesus. The Gospels’ narratives did not detail this but it is implicit in Jesus’ relational language and messages. If we do not directly receive his relational messages, we become detached from the person distinguishing his call, and consequently relationally disconnect from the qualitative innermost of persons (his, ours, others) in relational likeness.
Besides within the surrounding context, the deeper significance of the Word’s words emerges within the relational context constituted by what the Word says of himself, or about other(s) or the relationship together, implied in his communication. The relational nature of the language and the messages from the whole Subject of the Word are irreducible and nonnegotiable for the relational outcome constituted by the Word, in and from the beginning, of the relationships together necessary to be whole, God’s relational whole only on God’s relational terms. This relational dynamic from outside the universe is vulnerably present and relationally involved with the unfolding of the Word to define and determine the whole nature of his message conjointly in the gospel and in his call.
The Trinity’s relational involvement in the two relational contexts (within God and with others) still involve
the trinitarian relational context of family, and how God does relationship is consistent for both contexts. Moreover, in both contexts God still functions by the trinitarian relational process of family love. The enactment of family love, however, in the latter context requires a different relational process. Understanding the different relational processes is critical for our whole knowledge and understanding of the Trinity and trinitarian uniqueness, and inseparable for whole understanding of how we need to do relationship with the whole of God and with each other together to be whole.
For the whole and holy God to engage in relationship with us involves a very distinct relational process appearing both paradoxical and incompatible, which illuminates what matters most to God and therefore how God does relationships. In ultimate relational response to the human condition “to be apart,” the Father extended his family love to us in the embodied trinitarian person of the Son (Jn 3:16-17). Yet, unlike how the trinitarian persons love each other in the Whole by a “horizontal” relational process between equals, the inherent inequality between Creator and creature necessitates a vertical relational process. This vertical process would appear to preclude the Trinity’s intimate involvement in relational oneness (en eimi) as family together to be whole; that is a logical conclusion from interpreting this process separated from the whole relational context and process of God. Additionally critical to this vertical equation, the incompatibility between the holy God and sinful humanity compounds the difference of inequality between us. The perception of God’s ultimate response from a quantitative lens might be that God reached down from the highest stratum of life to the lowest stratum of life to bridge the inequality, which certainly has some descriptive truth to it yet is notably insufficient both for understanding the Trinity and for an outcome beyond this intervention—for what Jesus saves us to.
More significantly, God pursues us from a qualitatively different context (holy, uncommon) in a qualitatively different process (eternal and relational) to engage us for relationship together only on God’s terms in the trinitarian relational context of family and process of family love. That is to say, unlike the Trinity’s “horizontal” involvement of family love, God had to initiate family-love action vertically downward to us in response to our condition “to be apart” in order to reconcile us to come together in compatible relationships en eimi the whole of God, relational wholeness together. The mystery of this response of God’s relational grace can only be understood in a vertical process, which must be distinguished not only from the “horizontal” relational process of how the Trinity loves among themselves, but also from any horizontal process implied (and imposed on God) in the reductions of this vertical process. These reductions are signified by renegotiating relationship with God on our terms, for example, as human shaped friendship with Jesus (contrary to Jesus’ intimately involved friends, Jn 15:15), or by illusions and simulations of closeness. This subtle renegotiation of terms—functionally, not necessarily theologically—pervades Christian and church practice (cf. the early disciples and the churches in Jesus’ post-ascension discourse, Rev 2-3). Yet, without God’s family-love initiative downward, there would be no compatible relational basis for God to connect with us or for us to connect with God, both initially and ongoingly.
In this qualitative relational process, the whole and holy God can only love us by a vertical relational process because of the inherent inequality between us. God can only do relationships as God, which Jesus embodied, and never on any other terms, specifically ours, which points to our not having ontological oneness (heis eimi) with God. Nevertheless, in spite of God’s obvious distinguished ontology and superior position and authority, in loving us downward the Son came neither to perpetuate nor to expand the quantitative and qualitative differences between us, though his working assumptions never denied the extent of those differences. Nor did he come to condemn us to or bury us in those differences (Jn 3:17), which Paul clarified theologically (Rom 8:1). In the qualitative difference of God’s family love, the whole of Jesus vulnerably disclosed how God does relationship for relationship together to be whole, which the Spirit’s relational work extends for us to experience this primacy of reciprocal relationship further and deeper to completion. It is vital for us to understand the implications of this qualitative relational process engaged by the whole of God (cf. Jesus’ footwashing)—both in our relationship with the Trinity and in our relationships together as church, then in our relations with others to embody the good news of whole relationship together.
For the eternal and holy God to be extended to us in family-love action downward required the mystery of some paradoxical sense of “reduction” of God (cf. Jn 17:4-5), suggesting a quantitative-like reduction (not qualitative) of God that appears incompatible to the whole of God. The action of God’s family love downward underlies the basis for the functional differences in the Trinity revealed to us in the Scriptures—functional differences present in the Trinity even prior to creation yet differences only about God in relation to us (Jn 3:16, cf. Rom 8:29, Eph 1:4-5, 1 Pet 1:2, 1 Jn 4:9-10). These differences among the trinitarian persons appear to suggest a stratified order of their relationships together. Jesus indicated that “the Father is greater than I” (meizon, greater, larger, more, Jn 14:28) only in terms of quantitative distinctions for role and function but not for qualitative distinction of their ontology. There is indeed a stratification of function in the Trinity, yet any differences in their functions have significance only in the relational process of enacting family love downward to us. Their functional differences correspond to the economic Trinity, and Scripture provides no basis for a stratified order of relationships in the immanent Trinity in eternity. In other words, their functional differences are provisional and cannot be used to define the relational ontology of the totality of God. To make that application to the transcendent triune God can only be an assumption, the theory of which reflects the limits of our biased lens. What the embodied whole of the Word of God vulnerably disclosed helps us understand the Trinity sufficiently to preclude such an assumption.
As the Word of God who created all things, the Son embodied the most significant function of subordinating himself to extend family love downward (as Paul highlighted, Phil 2:6-8). God’s initiative downward in the Son, however, must be distinguished from a view that the transcendent God needed an intermediary (i.e. Jesus) to do this for God—a form of Arianism that claims Jesus is less than God in deity, being or substance (ousia). Despite any apparent sense of quantitative reduction of God to enact family love downward, the incarnation was the nothing-less-and-no-substitute God revealing how the whole of God does relationship. This subordinate action of family love is further extended downward by the Spirit as the Son’s relational replacement to complete what the Son established (Jn 14:16,18,26).
The relational context and process of God’s focus on human persons (even before creation) and involvement with us (during and after creation) compose the functional differences in the Trinity necessary for God to love us downward. Each of the trinitarian persons has a distinct role in function together as the whole of God to extend family love in response to the human relational condition. Thus it is in this relational context and process that the Trinity’s functional differences need to be examined to understand the significance of trinitarian uniqueness. There are two approaches to the Trinity’s differences that we can take. One approach is a static and more quantitative descriptive account of their different functions and roles in somewhat fixed relationships, all composed in referential terms. For example, gender complementarians use this approach to establish the primacy of an authority structure within the Trinity that extends to marriage and usually to church. Meanwhile, many gender egalitarians use the same approach but come to different conclusions about the meaning of the Trinity’s functional differences—sometimes even to deny them; the primary focus remains on human leadership and roles also, though who occupies them is open to both genders.
The other approach to the Trinity’s differences is more dynamic and qualitative, focusing on the relational process in which their differences occur. While this approach fully accounts for the different functions and roles in the Trinity, the relational significance of those functions involves how each of the trinitarian persons fulfilled a part of the total vertical relational process to love us downward as the whole of God, not as different parts of God. This is a pivotal distinction distinguishing God’s relational work of love being vulnerably involved with us, from merely God’s referential work of redemption to save us from sin. In this qualitative approach, the primary significance shifts from authority (or leadership) and roles to love and relationships. When churches assess their practice in terms of likeness of the Trinity, they need to understand which approach to the Trinity they use. For example, the successful and highly regarded churches in Ephesus and Sardis certainly must have had an abundance of leadership and role performance to generate the quantitative extent of their church practices, yet Jesus’ post-ascension discourse exposed their major deficiency in the whole of God’s primary function of love and primacy of whole relationship together (Rev 2-3). And, as Jesus clarified and corrected in this discourse, central to a church’s assessment is the awareness of the influence of reductionism—the influence that narrows down qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness, notably to the limits of the quantitative and the secondary.
Understanding the relational significance of trinitarian differences requires more than the descriptive accounts of authority and roles; this is an observation made in referential terms. The more dynamic and qualitative approach by necessity goes beyond this to the qualitative whole of persons and relationships and the dynamic process in which they are involved to be whole and not fragmentary. This requires the theological framework that redefines persons not based on what they do (notably in roles) or have (namely authority) but on who and what they are in qualitative significance together, thus understanding relationships as a vulnerable process of the relational involvement in family love (as at Gethsemane) between such whole persons (unreduced by what they do or have) and not as relationships based merely on authority and roles (essentially reductionist distinctions, erased by Jesus’ claims with the Father). Jesus’ call composes only these persons and relationships. These qualitative relationships help us understand what is necessary to be whole as constituted in the Trinity, and whereby persons and the church are to live whole in likeness of the Trinity—which requires a compatible theological anthropology congruent with this theological trajectory and relational path, and the persons and relationships together composing them.
When our relationships are defined and examined merely on the basis of roles, the focus is reduced to the quantitative definition of the person (at the very least by what one does in a role) and a quantitative description of relationships (e.g. a set of roles in a family) according to the performance of those roles. This is usually in a set order for different roles (as in a traditional family) or even mutually coexisting for undifferentiated roles (as in some non-traditional families). Yet this limited focus does not account for the variations that naturally occur in how a person sees a role, performs that role and engages it differently from one situation to another; for example, compare Jesus’ initial prayer at Gethsemane of not wanting to go to the cross (Mt 26:39) with what he had clearly asserted in various situations earlier. Nor does this narrowed focus account for the dynamic relational process in which all of this is taking place—the process necessary for roles to have relational significance; for example, examine Jesus’ intimacy with the Father at Gethsemane and assess its significance for his role to die on the cross.
Moreover, when primacy is given to the Father’s authority and role to define his person and also to constitute the relationships within the Trinity, this tends to imply two conclusions about the Trinity—if not as theological assumptions, certainly in how we functionally perceive God. The first implication for the Trinity is that everything is about and for primarily the Father (an assumption congruent with patriarchy); the Son and the Spirit are necessary but secondary in function to serve only the Father’s desires. While there is some truth to this in terms of role description to extend love downward, the assumed or perceived functional imbalance reduces the ontological oneness (heis eimi) of the triune God, the ontological One. Interrelated, this imbalance created a further assumption or inadvertent perception of the Son’s and Spirit’s roles being “different thus less” (as in identity deficit) than the Father’s, thereby operating in stratified relationships preventing the relational oneness (en eimi) necessary for the whole of God, the relational Whole. This points to the second implication for the Trinity, that such primacy of the Father also tends to imply a person who exists in relationships together without interdependence and essentially self-sufficient from the other trinitarian persons—similar to the function of individualism in Western families. This unintentional assumption or perception counters the ontological One and relational Whole by reducing the relational ontology of God as constituted in the Trinity, the innermost relational nature that is at the heart of who, what and how the whole of God is.
These two implied conclusions (or variations of them) about the Trinity are problematic for trinitarian theology, notably when integrated with the whole of Christology. They also have deeper implications for our practice of how we define persons, how we engage in relationships together, and how these become primary for determining the practice of church, and in whose specific likeness our persons function and our church practice is—the three inescapable issues for ontology and function. While the priority of the Father’s authority and role must be accounted for in the revelation available to us, our understanding of trinitarian functional differences deepens when examined in the relational context and process of the whole of God and God’s thematic response to the human condition in the vertical process of love. God’s self-revelation is about how the whole of God does relationship as the persons of the Trinity in response to us for relationship together in God’s whole—the ultimate disclosure and response of which were embodied by the whole of Jesus. The keys for whole theology and practice emerge within this complete Christology.
In his vulnerable involvement of family love, Jesus confronted the relational human condition and restored persons (e.g. from reductionist human distinctions) to qualitative wholeness from inner out in relational terms in the relational likeness of the Trinity as God’s own family. This was demonstrated in his relational interactions, for example, with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:7-26), Levi (Mk 2:13-17), Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10), the prostitute (Lk 7:36-50), Martha’s sister Mary (Lk 10:38-42), including his mother Mary and beloved disciple John while on the cross (Jn 19:26-27)—vulnerably evidencing the qualitative innermost of the whole person in the qualitative image of God.
The ontological One and the relational Whole, which is the Trinity, is what the whole of Jesus embodied in his life and practice throughout the incarnation. Though unique in function by their different roles in the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition, what primarily defines their trinitarian persons are not these role distinctions. To define them by their roles is to define the trinitarian persons by what they do, which would be a qualitative reduction of God to quantitative parts or aspects. This reduction makes role distinctions primary over the only purpose for their functional differences to love us downward, consequently reducing not only the qualitative substance of the Trinity but also the qualitative relational nature distinguishing God and its significance of what matters most to God, both as Creator and Savior.
For whole knowledge and understanding of God, role distinctions neither define the trinitarian persons nor determine their relationships together and how they do relationships with each other. God’s self-disclosure is about God’s relational nature and function only for relationship together. As disclosed of the persons of the Trinity, namely in the narratives of Jesus, the following relational summary can be made:
The Father is how God does relationship as family—not about authority and influence; the Son is how God does relationship vulnerably—not about being the obedient subordinate; the Spirit is how God does relationship in the whole—not about the helper or mediator.
In their functional differences, God is always loving us downward for relationship together—to be whole, God’s relational Whole.
The primacy of whole relationship together distinguishes the ontology and function of the Trinity. Anything less and any substitutes of the Trinity give primacy to secondary aspects, however important that aspect may be to the gospel. Therefore, we cannot utilize how each trinitarian person discloses an aspect of how God does relationship in loving downward in order to make reductionist distinctions between them, by which to eternally define their persons and determine their relationships, and by which we determine God’s likeness in our persons and relationships. The consequence of such a reductionism of God alters the embodied whole of God’s theological trajectory and relational path, with repercussions reverberating to the innermost. This reduces the primacy of the whole of God’s desires, purpose and actions for redemptive reconciliation from our relational condition as well as ongoing tendency “to be apart.” Furthermore, this reduction removes trinitarian uniqueness from the relational context of the eschatological big picture and from its relational process constituted by the primacy of how God does relationship within the Trinity and thereby in relationship to us. The shift from this primacy of the relationship of the Trinity reduces who, what and how God is and thereby can be counted on to be in relationship, that is, reduces the righteousness of God. The gospel then shifts away from this primacy and the experiential truth of whole relationship together to a referential truth of a truncated soteriology (only saved from sin without saved to God’s whole). What irreducibly constitutes this nonnegotiable primacy in the Trinity’s ontological One and relational Whole is how they function in their relationships in the whole of God as the whole of God and for the whole of God. This functional-relational oneness of the whole of God is not signified and cannot be constituted by their authority and roles. Primary function in the distinctions of authority and roles would not be sufficient to enable Jesus to say seeing him was seeing the Father, therefore would be inadequate for God’s whole ontology and function and our ontology and function in likeness.
This primacy of whole relationship together in the Trinity is irreducible to human contextualization and nonnegotiable to human shaping of relationships. The integral relationship of the Trinity is the righteousness of God that Jesus clearly defined as primary for his whole followers to seek first in God’s kingdom-family to distinguish them from reductionism (Mt 6:33, cf. 5:20). The emphasis on authority and roles, however well-meaning, does not give us this primacy for relationships together to be whole as family in our innermost, nor is it sufficient to reconcile us from being apart—even if our relational condition “to be apart” only involves relational distance minimizing intimacy in our relationships. The further relational consequence of this emphasis strongly suggests relational and emotional orphans functioning in church as orphanage—no matter how successful and well-respected church practice is, as clearly exposed in the churches in Ephesus and Sardis by Jesus’ post-ascension discourse for ecclesiology to be whole (discussed in Section II). Jesus disclosed definitively that this is not the likeness of the Trinity by which his church functions to be whole—at best only an ontological simulation and an epistemological illusion.
As the embodying of the whole of God and God’s thematic relational action, Jesus is the relational and functional keys to the likeness of the Trinity necessary for the experiential truth of his gospel and its relational outcome in the relational significance of his church family. His declaration to be in the Father and the Father in him (en eimi) was not simply to inform us of the whole of God (heis eimi) but to provide the primary means to relationally know and experience the whole of God and relationally belong in God’s family. As we understand this complete Christology, we more fully understand the deeper significance of his designation as “the only One.” This primacy of whole relationship within the Trinity is distinguished only by their intimate communion and family love (Jn 3:35; Mk 1:11, Jn 5:20, Mt 17:5, Jn 14:31). Relationships of intimate communion and family love are both sufficient and necessary to constitute the whole of the triune God (homoousios) as well as to define the significance of the trinitarian persons (hypostasis) and to determine their integral relationships together (perichoresis). This intimate communion of family love is what matters most to God because it illuminates what’s innermost in God and distinguishes what’s most significant of God—not authority, different roles, unique functions—and what the whole of God saves to. This is the depth of what “the only One” foremost calls us to experience in relationship together en eimi with the Trinity, the relational Whole, and on this irreducible and nonnegotiable basis expects his distinguished followers to live heis eimi with each other for the ontological oneness of his church family in likeness of the Trinity, the ontological One—in fulfillment of his formative family prayer (Jn 17).
Therefore, our intimate relational involvement of family love signifies both the relational oneness with the Trinity in ongoing communion in the life of the triune God, and the relational and ontological oneness of God’s family as church living to be whole in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity. This relational oneness is not about a structure of authority and roles, or a context determined by such distinctions, but oneness only from the function of relationships in the intimate relational process of family love. These ongoing dynamic relationships of family love, however, necessitate by its nature the qualitative innermost of God (Mt 5:8) and thus relationships only on God’s terms (Jn 14:21; 15:9-10; 17:17-19). Intimate communion with the whole of the triune God cannot be based only on love, because God is holy. This relationship requires compatibility of qualitative innermost, and therefore the need for our transformation in order to have intimate relationship with the holy God. God’s love downward does not supersede this necessity, only provides for it. Further interrelated, the whole of God’s relational work of grace constitutes the redemptive reconciliation for our relationships in his family to be transformed to equalized and intimate relationships together necessary to be God’s whole on God’s whole relational terms, that is, in relational likeness of the whole of God
In creation, God constituted the human person in the image of the qualitative innermost of the whole of God signified by the function of the heart, not in dualism but in wholeness (Gen 2:7). The trinitarian persons and human persons in likeness cannot be separated or reduced from this qualitative innermost and still be defined as whole persons. This wholeness signified by the heart is what the Father seeks in worshippers (Jn 4:23-24) to be in his presence to experience him (horao, Mt 5:8), and what the Son searches in church practice to be whole (Rev 2:23). This primacy of the heart challenges the level of our qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness and our assumptions of theological anthropology. The qualitative significance of the heart is an integral necessity for the primary definition of the person from inner out, both trinitarian and human, not the secondary definition of what they do (roles) or what they have (authority) from outer in, and therefore is vital for both human ontology and the ontology of the Trinity.
Complete Christology provides the keys necessary for trinitarian theology and thereby for theological anthropology to be whole. The Cappadocian fathers (between 358-380) formulated the initial doctrine of the Trinity by distinguishing the trinitarian persons (hypostasis) from substance (ousia) to clarify relationality; but they advanced the person as ontologically more important than substance in order to give priority to the relationality of the triune God—establishing a social trinitarianism—though for the Cappadocians their persons were based on begottenness and spiration. While this significantly countered the prevailing idea of God’s essence as unrelated (or nonrelational), complete Christology does not allow reducing the importance of the qualitative substance of God—that is, the innermost of God who functions from inner out in the primacy of the heart. Jesus vulnerably disclosed his person and the innermost of his heart interacting together in relationship with the Father to make definitive both as necessary to define the whole of God (the ontological One) and the relationships (threeness) necessary to be whole (the relational Whole). In other words, God’s whole relational terms compose only the primacy of both intimate and equalized reciprocal relationship together.
This lack of understanding the ontological One and relational Whole in trinitarian theology creates a gap in understanding the Trinity and as a result a gap in human function and church practice based on likeness of the Trinity. Complete Christology provides whole understanding of the qualitative significance of God to more deeply understand the relationality of the Trinity. In trinitarian theology, the predominant explanatory basis for relationality has been the Greek idea of perichoresis: the interpenetration of the trinitarian persons in dynamic interrelations with each other. The importance of perichoresis is certainly critical for our perceptual-interpretive framework (notably of Western influence) and it may be a conceptually more complete term to define the ontology of the Trinity. But this idea of relationality needs further and deeper understanding because it lacks the functional clarity to be of relational significance both to more deeply know the whole of God and to intimately experience who, what and how God is in relationship together. The Eastern church, rooted in trinitarian theology from the Cappadocians, appears to lack this functional clarity in their ecclesial practice based on the Trinity. If this is accurate, I would explain this as primarily due to the functional absence of the whole person in their relationships together as church—given the reduction of ousia inadvertently diminishing the function of the heart and as a result unintentionally minimizing intimacy together. This shape of relationship together would not be the likeness of the Trinity. The whole of Jesus provides this clarity in how he vulnerably functions with his person in relationships throughout the incarnation—signifying his intrusive relational path—for which he holds his church accountable by family love as demonstrated in his post-ascension discourse on ecclesiology to be whole (summarized in Rev 3:19).
Without this clarity to establish relational significance, our Christian life and practice function less relationally specific in involvement with the whole of God—though the intention may be there—and as a result we function as persons and practice church apart from (lacking involvement in) the relationships necessary to be whole as God’s family constituted in the Trinity, even though the idea may be understood. The lack of functional clarity has immeasurable ramifications for how the human person is perceived in the image of God and how our persons together were created in likeness of the Trinity, both of which are necessary for imago Dei. And the absence of clarity diminishes how those persons in God’s image function in relationship together necessary to reflect the Trinity’s likeness, as well as to represent God’s whole and build God’s family—all counter to Jesus’ prayer distinguishing persons (both ours and God’s) in the human context (Jn 17:20-23). This lack of the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God opens the door to and tends to result in ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of the whole with reductionist substitutes from the human shaping of relationships together—the prevailing condition even in our churches and academy today. This is not the door that Jesus’ relational and functional keys open, as he told the church in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7), which is why Jesus still knocks on many church doors for relationships together to be made whole—just as he did with the church in Laodicea (Rev 3:19-20).
The need for our fuller and deeper understanding of the Trinity goes beyond to be merely informed about God, which perichoresis tends to do. We need this whole understanding (synesis) to experience the whole of God for relationship, as the early disciples’ lack with Jesus demonstrated (Jn 14:9). This is the only purpose of God’s self-disclosure vulnerably embodied in the whole of Jesus, making complete Christology the necessary antecedent for trinitarian theology. In the incarnation, the whole of God ultimately emerges and converges for this relationship together, which Jesus intimately disclosed in functional clarity and experiential truth: to be relationally involved with God as whole persons together in the whole of God’s family constituted in and by the Trinity. Jesus’ call is composed by this relational language and terms. The whole experience of this relational reality of God’s whole without reduction of its relational truth (e.g. to referential truth) has been the integrating theme of the Trinity’s relational response to our human condition “to be apart” from the whole from the beginning in the primordial garden. Indeed, the whole of God’s desires were formulated even before creation to restore us to the whole in the new creation, to be completed by the Spirit in God’s eschatological plan concluding with the Son partaking of the last Passover cup at the ultimate table fellowship (cf. Mk 14:25).
As the Son fulfilled his earthly function to vulnerably embody God’s family love downward to constitute his whole followers in the whole of God’s family, his relational replacement, the Spirit, extends this family love by his reciprocal relational work to bring their new creation family to its ultimate relational conclusion. Trinitarian uniqueness emerges and integrally unfolds in complete Christology, which establishes the relational significance of the Spirit and his reciprocal relational work: as ‘the presence of the ontological One and relational Whole’ who continues to be vulnerably involved in relationship to distinguish and raise up to completion whole persons in whole relationships together in the qualitative image and relational likeness of God (2 Cor 3:17-18). Our theological anthropology cannot ignore the third person of the Trinity (to be fully discussed in the next chapter) but must also engage this person ongoingly in the relational epistemic process for the knowledge and understanding necessary integrally for the whole of God and for the whole human person (Jn 15:26; 16:13-15; 1 Cor 2:9-16) and for persons together in wholeness (Eph 2:19-22).
Jesus calls persons to be distinguished from human contextualization, which means that without exception, option or negotiation his followers “do not belong to the world” even as they both live and intrude in the world (Jn 17:14-19). His deep desire for our persons is to experience the innermost of his joy as the relational outcome of deeper and deeper intimate relationship together belonging as his family—congruent with his prayer (Jn 17:13) and as he shared about intimacy together (Jn 15:11, cf. 3:29). Yet, this intimacy together cannot be experienced if the innermost of our person (signified by our heart function) is fragmented by human contextualization, and therefore is divided between him and the world. The ek-eis relational dynamic—our primary identity composed “out of” any human contextualization and lived “into” human contexts—which distinguishes the persons in Jesus’ call, requires a strong view of sin that must include sin as reductionism. Without being forgiven for our sin of reductionism and redeemed from its effects, our person and relationships are rendered by default to reduced ontology and function; and even with our good intentions and efforts as Jesus’ followers, this condition becomes our default mode in our practice. The relational consequence for these persons called to be whole is not to be distinguished in our innermost from our surrounding human contexts—the human contexts in which we are called to live in whole ontology and function and thereby to make whole.
Being undistinguished from human contextualization today has become an unspoken identity crisis for our person and relationships. If this commonly unnoticed or ignored crisis remains unaddressed, it renders us unavoidably to reflecting, reinforcing or even sustaining the human condition by default. We cannot continue to depend on our assumptions in our theology and practice but must have them clarified and corrected in order to distinguish our person and relationships central to Jesus’ call.
The person in whole ontology and function cannot be distinguished without knowing, understanding and experiencing the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God. As Job learned and theological anthropology needs to learn in relational terms, this knowledge and understanding are only accessed and received in the relational context and process of God’s communicative action (the relational language of God’s revelation, Job 42:3-6). God’s self-disclosure is whole-ly distinguished solely in whole relational terms by the embodied Word as Subject person, who engaged the improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path (Jn 1:14,18) that constituted the vulnerable presence and relational involvement of the whole of God for our experience in relationship. That is to say, the relationship of God is distinguished and thus experienced only by relationship together from inner out signified by heart level involvement, therefore by intimate reciprocal relationship equalized in wholeness (as Jesus prayed, Jn 17:3, 6-8, 20-26). It is solely within the relational context and process of God’s communicative action disclosed by the whole of Jesus that the image and likeness of God is understood and experienced in whole relational terms, not as mere knowledge in fragmentary referential terms. Anything less and any substitute of this person in our theological anthropology will be insufficient, and even distorted, to define and determine our person created in God’s image and likeness—unable to distinguish the whole person in God’s context (“not of the world”) who is distinct from the human context while in it. Moreover, to understand and experience this whole ontology and function in relational terms requires—without reduction or negotiation—reciprocal relational involvement with Jesus’ person in “Follow after the whole of me,” therefore also with the Father’s person in family together, and with the Spirit’s person for the relational conclusion.
In other words, theological anthropology cannot be discussed in whole terms unless the person is first experiencing the relational outcome of whole ontology and function with the Trinity. This is neither optional nor reducible to an overly christocentric theology and practice. Accordingly, this relational outcome does not emerge from a theory, nor is there integral significance in our theological anthropology apart from this vulnerable involvement of our whole person (signified by primary function of the heart not mind) in the primacy of relationship with the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement—that is, not mere association with God (e.g. engaged on the referential level of the mind) but the compatible response to God’s that is congruent with God’s relational context and process for reciprocal relationship together. This is the only person distinguishing theological anthropology in whole ontology and function, and whom our theological anthropology can distinguish in God’s context composing Jesus’ call.
Job’s discourse on the person in God’s context was composed with speculation, educated guesses if you wish. There were limits to his knowledge to understand what was indeed distinguished (pala) beyond the human context (Job 42:3), which required his epistemic humility to engage the relational epistemic process with God for necessary epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction. This is the responsibility of theological anthropology that, by its theological nature, it must fully assume in order to pala the person in God’s context.
Distinguishing the person in our theological anthropology depends on ‘the presence of the Whole’ in relational terms to jointly constitute theological anthropology’s whole ontology and function as well as to expose any of its reduced ontology and function in our theology and practice. From the beginning, therefore, theological anthropology is the relational outcome of the integral dynamic of God’s creative action and relational response of grace constituting the whole of God’s presence and involvement to define and determine human ontology and function in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the Trinity. Based on the ongoing presence of the ontological One and relational Whole, it should be unmistakable also from the beginning to the present that anything less and any substitute of this whole is not theological anthropology but a distinctly different ‘humanistic anthropology’: namely, anthropology shaped and constructed by the epistemic limits of the human context and by the hermeneutical, relational and ontological constraints of the human condition. These limits and constraints are interrelated but the influence of the latter is notably the relational consequence of human self-determination explicitly or implicitly apart from God’s context (cf. “to be desired to make one wise”), which results in anthropomorphic and anthropocentric human ontology and function lacking wholeness.
Theoretical models of the human person (e.g. generated by physical and social sciences) are at best constructed by incomplete knowledge—without even accounting for a biased hermeneutic lens—and thereby are insufficient to understand the human person and cannot be the basis for our theological anthropology (as Job learned). According to its nature, theological anthropology clarifies and integrates the knowledge of the human person illuminated by the Creator and magnified by the embodied Word for the integral significance necessary to understand the whole of human ontology and function. The heuristic epistemic process of theological anthropology, therefore, inevitably involves deconstruction of other models of the human person in order for the epistemic clarification and hermeneutic correction needed to distinguish the whole person—which includes our models of the person and relationships that reflect more the influence from human contextualization. Also, within theological anthropology discourse past and present, I include dualism (body and soul), nonreductive physicalism (with the primacy of supervenience), and their emergent variations, in the category of models of reduced ontology and function needing deconstruction, epistemological clarification and/or hermeneutic correction.
Whether humanistic anthropology (e.g. from science) has validity in any aspect of human ontology and function is contingent on its compatibility and/or congruence with theological anthropology. Moreover, regardless of some aspect of humanistic anthropology having validity, it can only serve to support theological anthropology and by itself cannot be definitive of human ontology and function. Due to the nature of humanistic anthropology’s limits in its epistemic process, its results are merely based on fragmentary knowledge and thus understanding that can never be complete and therefore whole (as physicist Hawking learned about the universe, noted previously). Humanistic anthropology, however, can be useful in the heuristic process—for example, to help integrate the physical outer with the qualitative inner yet without determinism—which God uses in the relational epistemic process to help us understand the theological anthropology of whole ontology and function.
This epistemic and methodological distinction is critical for the unmistakable nature of the person in our theological anthropology to be distinguished from humanistic anthropology. The latter at best can only be secondary to the primary emerging from and constituted by God’s relational context and process. On this relational basis alone can our theological anthropology be distinguished and, thereby, whole-ly distinguish our person’s ontology and function in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God—nothing less and no substitutes.
If we are to integrally understand Jesus’ call and respond reciprocally to him, we cannot accept anything less and any substitutes of the persons (his, ours, others) distinguished in his call. Nor, with such reductions, can we expect to be whole persons, live as whole persons in intimate and equalized reciprocal relationships together, and to make whole persons and relationships in the human context. Persons in reduced ontology and function are witnessed in would-be disciples, who reduced Jesus’ person, theirs or others even with good intentions. Thus, the assumptions of their theological anthropology were always clarified and corrected by Jesus in order for the redemptive change necessary that transforms persons and relationships from inner out. Such redemptive change, with its interrelated processes of transformation and reciprocity composing Jesus’ call, necessarily involve a complete Christology with a full soteriology and a functional pneumatology, in coherence with an ecclesiology of the whole and a congruent missiology, all of which together cohere in an eschatology progressing to the relational conclusion (not mere event) of the whole of God’s thematic action since creation. The whole relational outcome with its conclusion completes the Trinity’s relational work of grace with the whole of the new creation.
In his whole relational terms, Jesus calls us to “Come” to nothing less and no substitutes in order to be distinguished whole in God’s image and likeness—without being optional for our person and relationships or negotiable to our terms.
 See Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).
 The effects of technology on the quality of human life are discussed by Sherry Turkle in Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011).
 See Antonio Damasio, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010).
 See John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick, loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008), 15.
 Anthony Giddens, The Consequence of Modernity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990), 63.
1. Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom (New York: Seabury Press, 1967), 13.
 The third view focuses only on the fulfillment of the new humanity/creation at the eschaton. For a discussion of this project see Stanley J. Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 141-264.
 Consider further neurosurgeon Eben Alexander’s recent experience while his brain was not functioning, in Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2012).
 Niels Henrik Gregersen, “Varieties of Personhood: Mapping the Issues” in Niels Gregersen, William B. Drees and Ulf Gorman, eds., The Human Person in Science and Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 11-12.
 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2004), 252-69. Catherine Mowry LaCugna, ed. Freeing Theology: the Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective (San Francisco: Harper, 1993), 85-87. Stanley J Grenz, Rediscovering the Triune God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 7-8.
 For an overview of perichoresis in trinitarian theology, see Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, The Trinity: Global Perspectives (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007).
 For a broader development of this trinitarian theology, see my overlapping studies The Person, the Trinity, the Church: the Call to be Whole and the Lure of Reductionism (2006), and Sanctified Christology: A Theological and Functional Study of the Whole of Jesus (2008), online at http://www.4X12.org.
 For a modern Eastern view conceptualizing personal being as a communal ontology of the Trinity and the church, see Eastern theologian John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985).
©2015 T. Dave Matsuo