The Global Church Engaging the Nature of Sin
and the Human Condition
Reflecting, Reinforcing, Sustaining, or Transforming
Section I The Fragmentary Human Context Shaping the Church
Chapter 3 Listening to the Person
The Lord God called to the person…“Where are you?”
…came to the person, saying in relational terms, “What are you doing here?”
1 Kings 19:9
The human person was central to what emerged in all of creation. From this primary beginning the person has assumed center stage in the human drama, using a revised script contrary to the central purpose of the creation narrative. The person has been composed on this basis, evolving with each revision shaped by the human context. Individualism, for example, is an obvious contrary script reducing and fragmenting the whole person in the global North, which the global South is correct not to follow. Yet, subordinating, ignoring or even losing the person in collectivist cultures of the South also reduce and fragment the whole person central to God’s creation. Which person we listen to will determine “Where are you?” Depending on which person we ignore could also determine if God asks us “What are you doing here?” Therefore, the global church cannot continue making the assumption from reductionism’s subtle challenge of the person that “our person will not be reduced or fragmented.” To make this assumption, from the beginning, has had far-reaching consequences that cannot be avoided by the persons and relationships composing the global church.
The human person who emerged from creation had the knowledge of good, with the understanding of “not good to be apart” (Gen 2:18)—that is, to be apart from God’s whole. God’s whole is the integral qualitative and relational whole by which the human person was created whole from inner out in the qualitative image of God, for the primary purpose of relationships together in wholeness distinguished in the relational likeness of the whole and uncommon God. Nothing less than and no substitutes for God and God’s whole constitute the integrity and identity of the human person.
The human person who emerged from the primordial garden had the knowledge of good and evil, with the mindset of ‘good to be apart’ from wholeness and sin (evil) without reductionism influencing ‘to be apart’ from God’s whole. That is to say, reductionism influences ‘to be apart’ from God’s whole by transposing the person from the qualitative of inner out to the quantitative of outer in, and reshaping relationships by reduced referential terms to substitute for God’s whole relational terms, and thus also to subtly simulate the likeness of God’s wholeness.
The distinction between the person emerging from creation and from the primordial garden is indispensable for our understanding of the human person, regardless of historical period, geographical location or culture. The former person(s) emerged in distinguished consciousness of who and what they were and how to be: whole persons “naked” from inner out and “not ashamed” in intimate involvement in the primacy of relationship together in wholeness (Gen 2:25). The latter person(s) emerged in a distinct consciousness of what they were and thus how to be: fragmented persons “naked” from outer in, who became conscious of their quantitative parts and thus “made coverings” for their identity to reshape relationships together in relational distance, “naked so I hid.” The former composes ‘person-consciousness’ and the latter ‘self-consciousness’, both to be discussed later in this chapter.
“Where are you?” Discovering (or uncovering) where the human person is in general, and our person in particular, is simply problematic if we don’t pay close attention to the person and listen to who, what and how they (we) are. The person in individualistic cultures may appear easier to discover, whereas in collectivist cultures the person could be so covered (even lost, e.g. in cultural obligation or family duty) as to appear difficult to discover. Yet, the realities of the globalizing world and the digital age interact to further embed persons in illusions and simulations (such as virtual realities) both in the global North as well as South to make it difficult to uncover the depth of who, what and how the person is.
Illusions and simulations emerge from reduced human ontology and function to mask the existing reality of fragmented persons and relationships—disguised to virtually represent ideal persons and relationships. This would certainly be more appealing than to pay attention to what really exists. Global South Christians may ignore ontology as a Western philosophical concept without significance. There is a valid basis to ignore ontology if it is composed in referential terms, as philosophy tends to narrow down the human person without relational significance. Yet, all Christians need to pay attention to who and what the person is in the depth of the being created by God. The existence of this being is not unique to Western Christianity, or even Eastern Orthodoxy, and who, what and how this person is involves all Christians concerned for the person God both created and expects us to be. To say this simply yet in only relational terms: ‘who, what and how’ define the ontology and determine the function of all persons and relationships created by God. ‘Ontology and function’ becomes shorthand for all this, and will be used in this study accordingly.
The basic recurring issue has always revolved around what specifically has defined persons and has determined their function: whole ontology and function or some reduced ontology and function. Reductionism always distinctly signifies anything less and any substitutes of wholeness, yet often in subtle workings. And the recurring issue clearly indicates neither understanding reductionism as the nature of sin, nor paying attention to the consequential influence of reductionism’s trajectory and path on human ontology and function, all our persons and relationships. Unless we (both individually and corporately) can distinguish “Where are you?” as ‘the person in the beginning’ (as distinguished ‘from creation’), we will only reflect, reinforce and sustain ‘the person from the beginning’ (made distinct ‘from the primordial garden’)—in the theology and practice of our ontology and function that defines persons and determines their relationships and churches.
The person was always the key to God’s creation constituted by God’s whole relational terms. Distinguished in no other terms (even philosophical ontology), the person will always be the primary key in God’s creation, even over the importance of any urgent creation-care concerns and environmental issues. The person is the irreducible and nonnegotiable reality composing the key in and to God’s creation in the beginning. How so?
First of all, to reemphasize a recurring issue, we cannot look at creation in referential terms and hope to distinguish the person created by God’s whole relational terms. By narrowing down creation from its primary qualitative and relational composition, referential terms limit the ontology of the person and constrain the function of the person and relationships, which then strains our understanding of who, what and how the person is whom God created and expects us to be. With such a lens, our understanding strains to get to the primary depth of the person and relationships, when the only basis we use is secondary referential information. Certainly some secondary referential information is useful, such as findings from neuroscience. We have, however, become preoccupied with the secondary from a referentialized creation in search for the primary depth of understanding. Has this not been an elusive understanding occupying theology and practice from the beginning, and thus does this not intensify the concern for our ontology and function to whole-ly define and determine who, what and how we are, both as an individual person and as persons in relationships together (most importantly composing the church)?
Science, most notably neuroscience, has been helpful in uncovering the complexity of human function. This knowledge has helped provide more understanding from how a person functions. Their limited observations, however, have not discovered the integral basis underlying human function: human ontology. Up to now, their summary explanation for the nature of human being and being human is assumed from evolutionary biology—an explanation which doesn’t have apparent compatibility or seem to be consistent with the complexity of human function being uncovered.
Prevailing in the scientific community, development of human function has been vested in the evolutionary explanation of natural selection. According to biologist Richard Dawkins, natural selection is a simple idea that he simply defines: “That the bodies that survive are the ones that are good at surviving, and they pass on the genes that made them good at surviving”—a distinctly slow and characteristically selfish process that determines changes in the frequency of genes in the gene pool as generations go by—“and that is evolution.” From such a basis emerges a quite simple object quantifying human beings, or at least Homo sapiens. This basis then prompts the question whether it is adequate to identify human beings as objects and sufficient to describe them only in quantitative terms. Is human life that simple? It is evident that the complexity of human function uncovered by science needs to discover a deeper basis in order to uncover the depth of who and what the person is that would be integral with their findings of how persons function. ‘Selfish genes’ is simple enough but simply not enough basis for the whole person.
What we discover from the creation narrative is that God created the human person with a primary dimension and a secondary dimension, both integral to God’s created design of the person yet distinct in priority and significance. This distinction is critical for what defines the person and how the person is determined. Unless we uncover what is primary for the person, the secondary will determine human being and being human. The latter is where the person is for most scientists and even many Christians.
What is further discovered about the person unfolds distinctly less from human observation in referential terms and directly more from God’s revelation in relational terms, though the heuristic process also integrates observations. God’s creative action cannot be narrowed down to a limited epistemic field and still be expected to uncover the human person in the primary depth of who, what and how the person is. A limited epistemic field—for example, used by scientists and many Christians even with the Bible—does not and cannot distinguish the person beyond the secondary. So, what has God revealed about the primary, and also about the secondary that must be integrated into the primary, so that the human person is distinguished whole? It is this whole person we need to listen to, that is, pay attention to beyond the limits and constraints of human contextualization, whether in the global North or South.
When God completed the creation of human persons, two important matters are revealed to us: (1) “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (tob, Gen 1:31), then (2) “God finished the work that he had done, and he rested (shabat, ceased)…and made it holy” (i.e. uncommon, Gen 2:2-3, NIV). In referential terms, the Sabbath emerged and was observed. In relational terms, theology and practice was distinguished from the common and constituted in wholeness. The outcome of God’s creative work was “good,” yet, most significantly, ‘good with wholeness’ as opposed to good “to be apart” from wholeness (i.e. ‘good without wholeness’ in contrast to Gen 2:18). God stopped the work while still in this uncommon process that highlights the primary—contrary to the common approach to work highlighting its primacy—to signify work as secondary (certainly not unimportant) in order to distinguish the primary and integrate the secondary into the primary of what’s good only with wholeness. This qualifies the Sabbath beyond a day of rest from work (the secondary) to the ongoing highlighting of the primary—a day uncommon distinguished from the common—so that the secondary can be integrated clearly into the primary distinguished. Merely observing the Sabbath has no primary significance, even as an identity marker; its significance emerges only as it engages us in the primary of what’s good with wholeness—just as Jesus clarified and corrected (Mt 12:1-8; Lk 13:14-16).
What is this good constituting the primary for the human person? When God completed the work of creation, God highlighted human persons, blessed them and transferred the creative work to them to extend creation and be responsible for creation care: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28) and “to work it and take care of it” (2:15, NIV). In the beginning, work was integral to God’s created design for human persons. Yet, work in referential terms has a different function than work in relational terms. Referential work is narrowed down to define the person (even God) primarily by the parts of what they do and achieve—which then forms the defining identity of who and what the person is and thereby determines how the person functions. It is vital to understand that all this referential work composes human ontology and function based on fragmentary parts that have become primary for our identity in a comparative process, likely under the false assumption that ‘the sum of the parts equals the whole person’.
What God revealed in the creation narrative, however, can only be received and understood in the whole relational terms by which God communicated. In contrast to the referentialization of God’s revelation providing only fragmentary information at best, this relational lens is necessary for our whole understanding of the person central to God’s creation. While work in creation is necessary and important, in God’s created design it is only secondary and thus must by its created nature be integrated into the primary—that is, the primacy of relational work distinguishing the whole function of who and what the person is in whole ontology. Contrary to the common perception of “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” God constituted this responsibility in relational terms by the relational work of whole ontology and function. Therefore, anything less and any substitutes for human persons are no longer distinguished as good by God but only “not good to be apart” from wholeness—in spite of successful good works (e.g. the incompleteness of the church in Sardis) and highly dedicated church work (e.g. the church in Ephesus without primary love). The so-called good works only reflect, reinforce and sustain the common rather that the uncommon’s relational work distinguished by God in creation (signified in “made it holy”).
The primary of whole ontology and function for the human person can now be distinguished, when the priority and significance of the secondary are clarified and corrected. As a reminder, this primary of the person in God’s created design is not uncovered by human observation; and what God reveals should be expected to have some unexplained mystery, since this is not about narrowed-down referential knowledge and information but rather of whole relational knowledge and understanding of the whole and uncommon God.
The person in God’s context is distinguished (pala) just in the epistemic field of the whole of God’s relational context, and 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, to distinguish, that is, beyond what exists in the human context and that 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, for example, was beyond Job’s knowledge and understanding (Job 42:3, noted earlier). 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).
The term ‘The image of God’ has been widely spoken in referential terms, perhaps even worn out in usage such that its meaning is just assumed or ignored, without primary understanding or significance. Global South Christians may strain under the common thinking of God’s image composed by a capacity of reasoning—that is, feel inferior to the developed intellect of global North Christians, who haven’t been shy commonly demonstrating their knowledge (referential) of God. Yet, stripped of the secondary, the inner of whole ontology and function distinguishes all persons in the uncommon, whereby we need to stop deferring to the common and what’s good without wholeness—in both our theology and practice.
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 integrally constituted from inner out (the inseparably integrated qualitative and quantitative) to be distinguished irrevocably and 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 (Gen 1:30) is reduced when primacy is given to the quantitative and thus the outer in. All animals have nephesh but without the qualitative inner that distinguishes only the person (Gen 1:30). 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 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 or merely referenced in some uniqueness.
While global North Christians are susceptible to a skewed outer-in focus on the person, global South Christians could be encouraged by an inner focus (e.g. including the spirit realm) yet must be aware of not fragmenting the person also. 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). It is irreplaceable in our theology and practice to identify “Where are you?” on the one hand, to make the distinction between inner out and outer in, and, on the other hand, to distinguish the whole person by the integral function of both inner and outer.
Making this distinction and distinguishing the function of the whole person bring us to the significance of the person God created and open us to what God expects of this person. Nephesh may be rendered “soul” but its functional significance is the heart (Dt 30:6; Rom 2:28-29). 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. 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).
We need to be unmistakable about creation that God never acted simply for the purpose of unilateral relationship—either God to us or us to God. God’s creative design, purpose and action always involved reciprocal relationship, which God directly participates in for the primacy of relationship together in wholeness. What God reveals is not referential information about God but rather the qualitative very heart of God in vulnerable relational terms. God created the human person in the qualitative image of the very heart of God—the innermost of God not in totality (hence the mystery) yet in wholeness—with nothing less and no substitutes of the whole and uncommon God. Therefore, God seeks the person compatible to the heart of God (as in Jn 4:23-24), who could only be compatible with nothing less and no substitutes of God’s qualitative image. This is who and what God expects the human person to be. And this reciprocal relationship together, which God seeks directly Face to face and vulnerably heart to heart, must by the nature of God’s creation also be congruent with the relational likeness of God. Here is where the relational likeness of this whole and uncommon God becomes foggy for many Christians; and what many Christians consider good for relationships becomes subtly ambiguous with ‘good without wholeness’. Having qualitative sensitivity of the image of God could be questionable for Christians, yet relational awareness of the likeness of God, well that’s problematic for many Christians to understand much less have awareness of.
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 and uncommon God (namely God’s relational ontology and function).
The likeness of God is not an add-on to the image of God, nor should it be considered simply the same as image (Gen 1:26). The distinction may appear technical or even unnecessary, yet God is helping us more deeply understand the wholeness of ontology and function that constitutes God and also human ontology and function in likeness. When God said “It is not good for the first human person to be alone,” he was not giving us a referential account of creation for referential information about its order and details. It was not the case that God realized that his creation of the first person was incomplete, so he added another person—notably as a companion, helpmate, partner, wife and mother. Rather, since the first person was already created in God’s image and likeness, God expands in relational terms the meaning and significance of whole ontology and function in the image and likeness of God’s. “To be apart” from relationship does not reflect the relational nature of God. “To be apart” from relationship together in wholeness is not congruent with the whole of God’s relational ontology and function—that is, not in likeness of the whole of who, what and how the triune God is in whole relationship together as the Trinity. In other words, God reveals what’s ‘good likeness’ to the whole of God and what’s ‘not good likeness’ apart from God’s whole. If we do not distinguish the depth of God’s relational likeness in our theology and practice, then we can only expect to be rendered to reduced ontology and function in our persons, relationships and churches—thus being indistinguishable in the human context.
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 not with a detailed (much less scientific) account of humans but with the integrated perspective (framework and lens) necessary to define and determine the whole person, as well as the underlying reductionism composing 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. Unless we can distinguish this whole person in the beginning to be the person in our theology and practice, we become subject to the reductionism of our persons and relationships in reduced ontology and function. Accordingly and urgently, the ontology and function of the global church’s theological anthropology is indispensable to understand in order for the global church to address the issue of being shaped by the fragmentary human context.
Human ontology and function are created not in the referential likeness of God, even if referenced as the triune God or the Trinity. As in the qualitative image of the very heart of God, the person is conjointly created in the relational likeness of the very relational ontology of the whole of God (the Father, the Son and the Spirit in whole relationship together), which is relationally revealed by God’s word unfolding in relational terms and vulnerably embodied by the Word and relationally extended by the Spirit. In the mystery of the Trinity’s ontology, we have experiential relational connection with the whole relational function of the Trinity’s whole relational ontology—in the experiential truth of the whole gospel’s trinitarian relational context of family and trinitarian relational process of family love—to understand the very relational likeness constituting our ontology and function to be whole. This relational outcome cannot be composed by referential terms, nor can it emerge from the referential likeness of God. On the unequivocal contrary, this whole understanding is the relational outcome of experiencing the relational reality of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement with us. This experiential truth is crucial for our theology and practice: If God is not vulnerably present and relationally involved with us, then our epistemic field of knowing who, what and how God is is narrowed down to referential terms that, at best, can only boast of having fragmentary information about God—without experiencing the truth of the whole of God in the reality of intimate relationship together. This relational outcome was the experiential truth and reality for the monotheist Paul, whose theology and practice were made complete and thus whole by directly experiencing the relational reality of the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement with him in Face-to-face relationship together—not in tri-theistic relationships but in the trinitarian wholeness of family (2 Cor 4:4-6; Col 1:15,19).
In contrast to Paul’s experience in relational terms, the early disciples lacked the experiential truth of knowing the whole of God because they didn’t experience vulnerably the relational reality of the embodied whole of God’s presence and involvement with them; thus, they participated in a narrowed-down engagement of serving that left them with only fragmented referential information about God in the reality of “don’t you know me yet” (Jn 14:9). Christians today must account for the determining difference between relational terms and referential terms in our theology and practice, which composes the ontology and function of our persons and relationships in likeness. Congruence with the very relational likeness of God is the only relationship that God seeks with us together in wholeness, which must by God’s nature be involved compatibly heart to heart (as in Jn 4:23-24). As Jesus prayed in whole relational terms for the persons and relationships in his family, this reciprocal relationship with the whole and uncommon God is the only relationship that whole-ly constitutes and distinguishes his church family, the global church family in the qualitative image and relational likeness of God (Jn 17:14-26).
If or when we listen to the whole person, we have to pay attention to the qualitative inner-out heart of the person over the quantitative outer-in parts of the person. If or when we listen to the function of the whole person, we have to pay attention to the person’s involvement in the primacy of relationship together over their engagement in the secondary, for example, even with other persons in church activities or ministries. In other words (relational not referential), to listen to the whole person is to pay attention to the qualitative image and relational likeness of God unfolding whole and uncommon in that person’s very ontology and function—the whole of who, what and how the person is and that God expects to be compatibly and congruently in relationship together as family. These are the only persons God created in the beginning whom God saw as good (tob, also meaning beautiful, excellent, lovely, delightful, fruitful, precious, correct, righteous)—only good with wholeness. And the inescapable reality is that anything less and any substitutes reducing or fragmenting these persons’ ontology and function—even by the distinction of gender, which defines only the secondary integral to the primary—is “not good to be apart” from the whole ontology and function in the very image and likeness of the Trinity.
Persons in the beginning had qualitative sensitivity of their whole persons (“naked from inner out” without the distinction of gender) and relational awareness of their relationship together in wholeness (“not ashamed to be vulnerable”). Integrally distinguished qualitatively and relationally, these are the persons whom God continues to seek, even long for, to be whole in relationship together, to live whole together as his church family, and to make whole the human condition “to be apart” both in the global church and in the globalizing world.
The qualitative composing the image of God has more appeal to persons (e.g. in the pursuit of spirituality)—even though quantitative reasoning has been its common composition—than the relational primacy composing the likeness of God. This would likely be true for global South Christians; even though collectivist cultures emphasize relational duty or obligation, this practice is defined more by performance in referential terms rather than by involvement in God’s whole relational terms. The reality is that the relational primacy of the likeness of God is threatening to persons, who would need to become vulnerable for its practice. “Naked from inner out” constitutes being vulnerable in likeness of God. Moreover, the relational likeness of God is counter to the common prevailing in surrounding contexts (North or South), and thus a threat to what’s considered good in the status quo. Of course, this would also be true for the qualitative in a quantitatively focused and consumerist world.
The lack of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness has been reaching critical levels in persons throughout the globalizing world and is in need of urgent care in the global church. The need for the qualitative and relational in human being and being human, which was apparent from the beginning, has become optional, or unnecessary for survival and success in today’s world, or is simply ignored in daily life. Yet, the need for both the qualitative and relational will not go away and cannot be filled by substitutes. Even science is uncovering in the human brain the basic function and need pointing to the primacy of the qualitative and relational. Where is the global church’s theology in this vital discussion, and what is its practice doing about it?
Regardless of the more-or-less favorableness of the qualitative and relational, we don’t have available the option to choose between, or even not choose, the qualitative image and relational likeness of God to define human ontology and determine human function. Both are inseparable and necessarily integral to whole human ontology and function by the very nature of the whole and uncommon God. Yet, the persons God created were not objects merely conforming to the templates of God’s image and likeness. Just as the nature of God is the relational Subject, thereby also persons in the Subject’s image and likeness are relational subjects. Therefore, persons from the beginning were and are given the freedom of will, by which to make ongoing choices between whole ontology and function in God’s image and likeness or reduced ontology and function in the common’s image and likeness (the subtle face of reductionism.).
As subjects having freedom of will, persons from the beginning made choices to pay attention to good without wholeness and to ignore sin as reductionism. Listen to their persons carefully. Though persons in the primordial garden already knew what’s good in whole relational terms, and were initially satisfied without disappointment and vulnerably unashamed in intimate relationship together, the appeal “to make one wise” opened the door to self-determination subtly engaged in a comparative process. This pivotal choice composed the ‘self’ not as the individual but as the alternative to the person, thus a self that is evident also in collectivist contexts. This self-determination made the choice “to know good and evil” and “be like God” into an irresistible challenge to establish one’s self-worth, identity and position on the comparative scale of human life. Underlying their choice were two critical assumptions, which continue to recur today with increasing subtlety: (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 fragmentary condition is a pivotal qualitative and relational consequence for persons, which should be expected from the choice of self-determination and its related assumptions. Again, this choice by ‘self’ is not unique to the global North but exists also in the global South, perhaps with more subtlety.
Engaging in self-determination is quite simple, yet the process should not be oversimplified (or spiritualized) because it gets ambiguous and complex. Self-determination requires the person to narrow down one’s self-identity in order for self-understanding to minimize speculation and to have more certainty; this narrowing not only reduces the whole person but fragments the person into mere quantified and explanatory parts. And the person’s innermost signified by the qualitative function of the heart is the most elusive to understand and explain, and thus the least certain basis for self-identity. Consequently, the person in self-determination necessarily ignores, avoids or merely pays lip-service to the heart—which again should be expected given the two assumptions made.
Yet, 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:
The heart is 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), the heart gives 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).
When the person is narrowed down without the primary function of the heart, there are limits and constraints on the person who can emerge. We need to understand the person who can emerge from us and in our churches, given these limits and constraints. Carefully listening to this person should be clarifying, confronting and correcting of the choice for self-determination.
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 that emerges from a comparative process (bosh, Gen 2:25, cf. Eph 4:18). Only the conjoint function of the qualitative inner (signified by the heart) and the relational from the innermost (signified by hearts coming together in intimacy) distinguish whole persons beyond comparison. Nothing less and no substitutes can claim to pala (distinguish beyond the common) 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 “is not good to be apart” (Gen 2:18).
Whatever our sociocultural context, persons are accountable for their ongoing choice between whole ontology and function in God’s image and likeness, or reduced ontology and function in the common’s image and likeness—including deferring to such reduction by a dominant person or group. The latter choice is always enacted when choosing self-determination—whether intentionally or unintentionally determining ‘self’ by human alternatives to the person God created whole. This is when the process gets ambiguous and complex, yet the alternative is clearly distinct. When persons in the primordial garden made their own choice for self-determination, the self that emerged was undeniably the defining alternative to their whole persons. This defining alternative is crucial to understand if we are to be able to make its distinction from the whole person. By the necessity of their choice, their focus of the person was narrowed down—the truth of “the eyes of both were opened” (Gen 3:7)—not only to the outer in of “naked” but more importantly to their reduced ontology. In addition, the reduced ontology of their self conjointly imposed constraints on their function that required covering up their innermost person (the qualitative function of their heart) and not being vulnerable in relationship together. In other words, their choice for self-determination embedded their self in reduced ontology and function, counter to their person in whole ontology and function. Consequently, their self emerged not as ‘good with wholeness’ but only as “not good to be apart from God’s created whole.” Unfortunately but still without excuse, this includes the self that emerges from oppression, discrimination or abuse by deferring to the alternative of their person imposed on them.
The reality confronting the global church in its theology and practice is this undeniable reality: from the beginning the human self distinctly emerged with the perception of ‘good without wholeness’, and has been sustained and justified by sin without reductionism. The subtle choice defined by good without wholeness has unfolded to increasingly become the norm for human ontology and function—the default mode for Christians who don’t enact ongoingly the choice for whole ontology and function. Unfortunately, we haven’t been listening well to the self who emerged from the beginning and continues to emerge today with increasing subtle silence. This is to be expected for persons with the defining alternative to whole ontology and function. 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—which can be both appealing and convincing in referential terms.
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. This person created whole, therefore, by nature must always be distinguished from the defining alternative of self, and the clear distinction between them is imperative to maintain ongoingly in our theology and practice. Certainly, this distinction is more subtle today making it problematic to be distinguished in a globalizing world and digital age; and this reality makes it even more urgent for the global church to confront human shaping and unfold transformed whole—starting with its own persons and relationships.
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 in order to distinguish the person without shallowness or ambiguity. For example, when discussing the social nature and character of human persons, it is insufficient for our theological anthropology to talk about merely social relatedness and community to define and distinguish the human person. For nonnegotiated theological anthropology (not composed in referential or other human terms), the person is created in the qualitative image of the very heart of God to function in relational likeness to the whole of God. Without renegotiation, therefore, human persons are created in whole ontology and function for the primacy of relationship together solely in whole 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—without the primacy of the qualitative (with the function of the heart) and the relational (in intimate relationships of wholeness). This qualitative and relational consequence no longer distinguishes persons in God’s context, but only shapes them in the limits of the human context by the constraints of the human condition (“to be apart…naked and relationally distant”). The difference between this relational consequence and the above relational outcome is distinct yet immeasurable.
From the beginning, these two competing, contrary and conflicting dynamics have either whole-ly constituted the person in the primary of God’s relational context and process, or shaped only parts of the person in the secondary of the limits and prevailing constraints in the human context. When the choice for self is enacted (including by default), its ontology and function can never go beyond these limits and constraints of human contextualization, since by the necessity of this choice the focus of the person is narrowed down to those limits and constraints. This is the experiential reality even if our referential theology promises more, due to the fact that such theology cannot translate into relational terms for its practice to be our relational reality. That’s why God ongoingly wants to know “Where is your person in the human context?” and “What are you doing letting this context determine your person?”
Human contexts have been perceived along a spectrum from positive to negative. The measure used is the determining issue. For example, a deficit model has been used by colonialist and dominant group lenses to make negative judgments on differing cultures and persons. Moreover, ‘the common good’ uses a different lens yet assumes a similar basis for what’s good for a human context. Generally speaking, however, both look at human contexts with the underlying assumptions of ‘good without wholeness’ and ‘sin without reductionism’—which emerged from the beginning with the defining alternative for the person God created whole. As a postmodern lens unfolds, this spectrum widens to open the door to many more variations of the measure used in human contextualization. Contrary to human context, in God’s context just any good is not good enough to be whole, and only sin as reductionism defines sin in God’s whole relational terms. Therefore, along with the second critical assumption made from the beginning—that the person’s function is negotiable to human terms—we need to examine further our assumptions about the significance and value we give to contextualization of the gospel and missions for our theology and practice—most notably that shape our theological anthropology and our ontology and function. The subtle influence of reductionism, challenging persons to make their own choice for the defining alternative to the person centered on establishing self, is more intense today than witnessed from the beginning. Yet, the issues and consequences remain the same for persons—whether at the level of the individual person or persons together in the global church—who try to negotiate (explicitly or by implication) the qualitative condition of their ontology and/or the relational terms of their function.
The human person was designed and created to be whole in the qualitative image of the whole and common God, and to function in the primacy of whole relationship together in the relational likeness of the Trinity. Jesus summarized for his followers the whole ontology and function composing their whole identity in the human context as “salt” and “the light” (Mt 5:13-16). In full awareness and understanding of the ongoing influence of reductionism, Jesus made definitive the irreducible ontological nature of the salt and the nonnegotiable functional nature of the light, and that anything less and any substitutes would reduce their ontology and function no longer as salt and light. The reality of reductionism that Jesus illuminated is that any shallowness or lack of vulnerable depth, and any ambiguity or lack of relational clarity of who, what and how we are as persons in the human context renders us to reduced ontology and function, no longer being whole and functioning whole—“no longer good for anything.” On this whole basis, Jesus made nonnegotiable that “our righteousness exceeds unmistakably beyond the reductionists” in order to constitute God’s whole family (Mt 5:20).
Does the global church need to listen more carefully to the person unfolding today from the beginning? Does it also need to pay closer attention to the persons (or alternative self) composing its churches both in the global North and South?
Human identity has had a prolonged history since the beginning. That is, distinguishing the human person with the significance of the person’s created ontology and function has been elusive, with periods of fog and darkness further leaving the person “to be apart” in a fragmentary identity. This is the expected consequence from reductionism and its counter-relational work from the beginning, which ongoingly prevails when not exposed in sin as reductionism.
The history of the church’s theology and practice makes evident an ongoing difficulty with illuminating the theological anthropology necessary to distinguish the person not in terms of from the beginning but in the beginning. The former is about the defining alternative of the self in reduced ontology and function, which has assumed an increasingly subtle distinction (nevertheless distinct) from the latter person distinguished only in whole ontology and function. The consciousness of these two human identities, in and from the beginning, is vital to understand in order to make the clear distinction of who and what unfolds in our midst today and, most importantly, who and what unfolds in each of us, in me.
‘In the beginning’ is the created whole ontology and function of person-consciousness, whose identity is composed vulnerably by inner-out heart function in the primacy of intimate relationship together. This identity is consciously enacted as subject-person with the ongoing decision to involve one’s whole person. Therefore, the person consciously functions with nothing less and no substitutes and thereby distinguishes only the whole person—that is, in ongoing consciousness of the person in whole ontology and function necessary to compose human identity as created in the beginning. Person-consciousness is this subject living with ongoing resolve as the person God created only in ‘good with wholeness’ and thus conscious of ‘sin as reductionism’ with anything less and any substitutes. While this involvement doesn’t make the person perfect, it makes person-consciousness uncommon from the common prevailing in human contexts since the beginning.
‘From the beginning’ is the defining alternative of self-consciousness that shapes an identity from the self’s various parts from outer in, which are measured by a comparative process in the human context. The self that emerges is determined by how well it conforms to the human system, which then necessitates ongoing consciousness of how well self is perceived, received and evaluated or judged. While the process to establish self is centered on self, it is in reality conforming to the measure of others. Self-consciousness is the ongoing self-concern and self-interest to have distinction, even in relation to God. When human subjects first made the decision to determine their identity (“be like God”), they narrowed down the person to center consciously on a self (“naked and covered up”) that they could only determine by ‘good without wholeness’ and ‘sin without reductionism’ (“knowing good and evil”). Therefore, the self emerged in self-consciousness for the self-determination of human identity that could only be limited to and constrained by reduced ontology and function. On this unyielding basis, since no experiential reality is possible beyond the limits and constraints composing the self, this self has consciously become the common’s standard of measurement for human identity—prevailing from the beginning, even as an experiential reality in the global church.
Human identity in a globalizing world has been subject to the variations of the multicultural human context, some ‘good with wholeness’ but mainly shaped by ‘good without wholeness’. However subtle the difference in these cultural variations has been, the clear distinction between these two ‘goods’ has become blurred; and thus even cultural variations based on good without wholeness have been assumed in what’s good for the church, which have resulted in churches becoming self-conscious. Ethnic-based churches, for example, reflect this self-consciousness and promote this good, even though their practice may be inadvertent due to surrounding circumstances imposed on them. The relational consequence often unrecognized is the not-so-subtle fragmentation of the global church and its relationships integral to its identity; these now become embodied by subtly fragmentary persons in reduced ontology and function—all likely operating under the assumption “we will not be reduced or fragmented.” The global church urgently needs to understand what consciousness composes its identity and the underlying ontology and function of its theology and practice.
The experiential reality of human being from the beginning is variable ontology and function; and this experiential truth of being human emerges clearly and is understood fully with sin as reductionism. Human ontology and function is not a static condition, yet must be realized as created whole in a definitive qualitative and relational condition that is not subject to a relative process of determination or emergence. Human ontology and function was created whole ‘in the beginning’. The issue from the beginning, however, is whether this ontology and function will continue to be whole by living whole. This outcome certainly was not predetermined, nor can we consider it our default condition and mode. This recurring issue and ongoing dilemma are confronted by “Where are you?” and “What are you doing here?”
To continue to be whole is a qualitative function of person-consciousness that focuses on the person from inner out, that is, on the whole person. Yet, the whole person is not a simple object operating within the parameters of a predetermined condition or behavioral pattern. Rather, contrary to some theories of the person, the whole person is a complex subject whose function includes human agency composed by the will that further distinguishes the person’s uniqueness created by God. At the same time, as emerged from the beginning, human agency could get ambiguous and become fragmentary in making the choice for self-determination.
Yet, a complex subject cannot be oversimplified in its human agency. A qualifier is raised by genetic limitations of brain function (e.g. mentally challenged), those suffering brain dysfunction (e.g. Alzheimer’s) and mind disorders that appear to lack human agency or lose human will—seemingly rendering them simple objects. This observation can only be made of a person from outer in; and any of its conclusions can neither account for variable ontology and function nor explain reduced ontology and function. While certain qualitative and relational functions may demonstrate a lack, if not appear lost, this involves the complexity of the human subject. The qualitative innermost constituting the uniqueness and human agency of the person functions integrally in the person as a whole, thus never separated from the body (whatever its condition), for example, in the spiritual substance of the soul, nor determined solely by the physical workings of the body. Regardless of any lack in the physical workings of the body, the qualitative innermost of the whole person still functions without being determined by the body and without being apart from the body in a separate function of the soul. How do we account for these persons then?
The complex human subject is manifested in different outward forms, all of which cannot be explained. For example, any lack of physical capacity does not relegate a person to reduced ontology and function, though variable ontology and function is still possible for such a person. Each of these different forms, however, should not be perceived in the comparative process of prevailing human distinctions that compose a deficit model identifying those differences as less. This has obvious relational implications for those cultures and traditions that have favored certain persons (e.g. by race) and discriminated against others (e.g. by class, gender, age). Such practice is not only ethically and morally unacceptable for the global church, but most important it exposes the sin as reductionism of persons embodying the church in reduced ontology and function. What is definitive of the complex human subject in any form is this reality: “It is not good to be apart” from the whole that God created for all human ontology and function in the qualitative image and relational likeness of God, and therefore any human subject can be affirmed and needs to be lived out fully in whole ontology and function—even if conditions, situations and circumstances appear to the contrary, as it does for the persons discussed above. This challenges both our assumptions about persons who are different and how we define them and engage them in relationship. Any differences from our perceptual-interpretive lens that we impose on them reflect our reduced ontology and function, not theirs.
As a complex subject in the human context, the human will is responsible for the perceptual-interpretive lens used to focus either inner out or outer in on the person, albeit with the influence of the surrounding context. Person-consciousness is intrinsic to being created whole but ongoing person-consciousness involves the person’s will. The person’s choice also can include using a lens focused on the person from outer in, which then shifts from person-consciousness to self-consciousness (as witnessed in the primordial garden). The vacillation between person-consciousness and self-consciousness is a reality of human agency that all persons assume by the function of their will, and that all persons are responsible for in living with whole ontology and function or reduced ontology and function—necessitating the careful and vulnerable examination of “Where are you?” and “what are you doing here?” And the further reality from the beginning needing to be understood is that self-consciousness and its lens of outer in have become the default choice. Unless this reality is addressed with the reality of human agency, the default mode will prevail in human consciousness and the perceptual-interpretive lens used. Moreover, this process of reality is nonnegotiable and thus is not amendable by a hybrid consciousness.
Along with the lens used for the person and the human consciousness engaged, the human will is also responsible for the type of work engaged in. Given the reciprocal nature of whole relationships together, relational work is primary. How this work is perceived and the extent to which it is engaged—if it is perceived or engaged at all—unfold from the person’s will. For example, if the deliberate choice is not made to engage the primacy of relational work, secondary work becomes the primary focus either by intention or by default. In other words, the will is central to what ontology and function emerges from the person; yet, the central function of the will should not be confused with the means required for any needed transformation to whole ontology and function. Our theology and practice—notably the ontology and function of our theological anthropology—must be able to account for variable ontology and function. Otherwise the unavoidable reality is that we are rendered to our default condition and mode in self-consciousness.
Person-consciousness and the primacy of relational work are integral and thus inseparable for the whole ontology and function created by God. We cannot integrate person-consciousness with engaging merely in simple association with others, nor can we engage the primacy of relational work with self-consciousness. Person-consciousness is relational work, the primacy of which distinguishes the relational involvement of the whole person defined from inner out. The integral interaction between person-consciousness and relational work is both irreducible and nonnegotiable.
Yet, from the beginning relational work has been further problematic for persons whenever a reductionist interpretive framework misperceives God’s purpose for creating Eve and the significance of her relationship with Adam. These are vital issues necessary to include in theological anthropology discourse to understand what adds or subtracts in the relational equation of God’s created (original and new) design and purpose, particularly for relationships together constituting the church. Critical to our deeper understanding of the purpose for the person with Eve’s creation is the focus on the kind of work emphasized in the creation narrative. If you translate the Hebrew expression ‘ezer kenegdo as “a helper suitable for him” (Gen 2:18, NIV), thus interpreting the woman as an assistant or helpmate to the man (as gender complementarians do), then the focus is on the work in the primordial garden with the emphasis on ‘what they did’. Or if you translate it “a power [or strength] corresponding to man” with the interpretation of Eve corresponding to Adam in every way, even “be his equal” (as gender egalitarians do), the focus can be on any type of work with the emphasis still on ‘what they do’. Both of these interpretations and perceptions minimize or even preclude the primacy of relational work, the nonnegotiable relational work in God’s design and purpose for relationships between persons distinguished by God’s qualitative image and relational likeness. This is the consequence because an emphasis on ‘what we do’ reduces the qualitative focus of how we function in relationships in order to be whole down to merely performing a role.
It is also not sufficient to say that Adam was lonely and needed a proper counterpart because he was living without community. While these conditions existed, community and its formation connote different perceptions to persons, the very least of which may not even involve intimate relationships as understood in the community (communion) of the Trinity. God did not create Eve for Adam in order to have simply a collective dimension to life called community or a social context within which to do their living. This has deep implications notably for relationships together composing the church and the basis for constituting this gathering in terms distinguished from other gatherings in the human context. By necessity this is true for churches in both the global South and North, though the emphasis would be different in each sector.
As signified by also being created in God’s image, Eve was created for the primacy of relationship, thus for the completion of the human relational context by which their persons (from inner out) could now involve themselves in the relational process constituted in the triune God and signified conjointly by the qualitative image and relational likeness of God. Without making complete (i.e. whole) this relational context and process, a person(s) would “be apart”—a fragmentary condition God defines as “not good” but which has been normative for the human condition and has become the norm for gatherings in the human context, even among Christians.
Eve’s primary purpose was neither about working the primordial garden nor filling the earth, especially as we have come to define those purposes with the narrowed-down emphasis on “what we do.” These secondary parts would be quantitative reductionist substitutes that redefine the person from the outer in—for example, according to roles and our performance—which transpose the primary with the secondary. Even though Eve was created as a person in God’s image to complete the relational context and process, she was not immune from reductionism because she was free to redefine her person—the human agency of the will. While making this choice does not change the created qualitative ontology of personness, it shifts that ontology to outer in and thereby reduces how the person functions and constrains what the person experiences, thus effectively constructing a personhood in human perception—an unfortunate consequence often seen in theological anthropology discourse.
It would be a further reduction of Eve’s purpose, and thus an inaccurate interpretation, to perceive that women (in their gender and sexuality) were created primarily for specific relationships with men. That is to say, underlying Eve’s function to work is the purpose God gave her and Adam to “fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). Obviously, this then involved the created function of marriage (2:24) and procreation (3:20). Yet our deeper understanding of marriage and procreation for God’s purpose is also contingent on the kind of work emphasized in the creation narrative. If the work focused on is merely about making a living and extending it in raising a family (a dominant view), then our perceptions of marriage and family become reduced to secondary terms (as previously noted about what we do) and our practice increasingly quantitative and fragmentary (as discussed about how we do relationships)—engaged with a lack of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness. This was not the purpose for Eve’s creation.
In God’s purpose to “fill the earth” the term for “fill” (Heb. male) denotes completion of something that was unfinished. With this in mind we need to understand what God started in creation that Eve and Adam were to work to make it complete. Did God just create a man and a woman, male and female, with work to do? Did God merely create the human species to be the dominant conclusion to all of creation? Or did God create whole persons in the very image of God’s being (constituted as the qualitative significance of heart) for the purpose of these persons having and building intimate relationships together in the likeness of the relational nature of God as constituted in the communion of the Trinity? The former emphasizes any secondary work engaged by persons in referential terms that fragment persons and relationships. The latter is focused only on persons engaged in the primacy of relational work that embodies the whole of these persons and their relationships together in wholeness.
Reductionism turns God’s purpose to “fill the earth” quite simply into making children and the quantitative work of populating the earth. Likewise, perceptions of “be fruitful and multiply” become based on quantitative notions lacking qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness, perhaps with their illusion and simulation. Some in theology and arts have perceptions that include filling the earth with culture and creative expressions, which may have qualitative sensitivity but lack relational awareness. If this were God’s purpose, the results that such work had initially produced would have been partially acceptable, and God would not have started over with Noah and his family (Gen 6:1ff). But God’s purpose is qualitative; filling the earth is not about the numbers. Yet even filling the earth with culture and creative expressions do not complete God’s created design and purpose for human persons. What God started in creation was an extension of the whole and uncommon God’s being and nature—not to be confused with pantheism. The person was created with the qualitative significance of God for the primary purpose to have intimate reciprocal relationships with other persons, both of whom are undifferentiated (not reduced) by quantitative distinctions (such as gender or sexuality). Gender or sexuality does not distinguish the qualitative significance of human persons and the primacy of their relationships, though the whole person is certainly embodied in them irreducibly. This aspect of creation serves to illuminate in general the intimate relationships for which all persons are created, not to determine the ultimate context in which these intimate relationships can be experienced, that is, male-female relationships and marriage.
When relational work is functionally established as God’s primary purpose for all persons, then the ontology and function of person-consciousness will not only emerge to be whole but also unfold to live whole in the human context. This happens not from a singular moment or decision-point, but from an ongoing pivotal process. Person-consciousness and the primacy of relational work, as theological anthropology must account for, are ongoingly subjected to the prevailing influence of reductionism and its counter-relational work; and its persistence will pervade unless addressed with resolve. As witnessed emerging from the beginning in the primordial garden, reductionism directed the shift away from person-consciousness and compromised the primacy of relational work. The integral relationship with God that constitutes the relational context and process of human life was fragmented by human will and the choice for self-determination, with the relational consequence “to be apart.” Certainly, not only in relation to work but also directly redefining our relationships (especially with God) this condition “to be apart” underlies our reductionist tendencies, the substitutes we make in life and why we settle for less. In the human narrative, essentially every human activity since Adam and Eve’s human agency in self-determination has been to diminish, distort or deny the primacy of relationships in the created order. In the divine narrative, everything the Trinity has enacted is relational and is involved to restore relationships to God’s complete design and purpose. This whole design and purpose is what Jesus came to restore us to—both with God and with others. Our theological anthropology and related doctrines need to reflect this coherence.
As we reflect on creation and the relational context and process, we have to examine how we also “see” God and thus relate to this God. Referentialization and selectivity are key issues to pay attention to. If we only see God as Creator in referential terms, there can be a tendency to define God only by what God did—not only in the past but also the present, prompting “what have you done for me lately” (cf. Israel in the wilderness)—and, based on this lens, ignore God’s whole being. This is the result when our perceptual-interpretive framework is reductionist, primarily focused on the fragmentary parts of what God does. To focus on and relate to God’s being is not only to engage the sovereign God (who commands) but also to be involved with the triune God (who is intimately relational). On the basis of this whole God, not selective parts of God, the relational process is constituted—composed only by whole relational terms and not referential terms. Any other God is a reduction of the God of creation and the God of revelation vulnerably shared with us. Whichever God is perceived and engaged certainly has determining influence for theological anthropology; and this implication intensifies the need for theological anthropology to address reductionism and its counter-relational work in order for the global church to embody persons and relationships in the image and likeness of God’s whole ontology and function.
The counter-relational work of reductionism can be very covert and easy to overlook, ignore or simply dismiss. This is witnessed in the primordial garden, throughout Israel’s history (including the history of Paul) and even found in the closest of Jesus’ followers, the first disciples (as Jesus exposed, Jn 14:9). This variable ontology and function is demonstrated most notably by Peter.
When Jesus qualified “whoever serves me” by making antecedent the priority to “follow me” (Jn 12:26), he established a problematic condition for all persons, including us. This paradigm for serving and imperative for discipleship make our life and practice more difficult, if not unappealing, notably for the self-consciousness in self-determination. Serving is more difficult now both without the option of reductionist substitutes and with the nonnegotiable priority focused on the function of relationship in the primacy of relational work, thus easily discomforting our self-consciousness. Following Jesus is now made more difficult because the terms of discipleship are not only relationship specific to his whole person but also relationally specific only to God’s terms, thus leaving us struggling to perform in our self-determination. Does this sound familiar to what we witnessed in Peter’s person?
Once we understand that the ongoing function in relationship together must precede and be the priority over serving, then we have to come to face the face of Jesus. That is, we have to deal directly with God’s relational response of grace embodied in Jesus and relationship with him on God’s terms. Jesus made his whole person accessible to persons in their human context. This never meant, however, that Jesus functioned in relationship with them in their relational context and by their relational process—in other words, that relationship with Jesus could be on our terms. On Jesus’ relational path, he intruded in the human context without being shaped by and thus becoming of the human context.
“Follow me” is about both the primacy of relationship and relationship with him on God’s whole relational terms. “Face to face” with Jesus involves a specific relational process involving specific persons. This means the “me” Jesus makes imperative to follow has to be the whole person Jesus vulnerably presented in the incarnation. The face of Jesus cannot be our image of him shaped by our own predispositions and biases—especially from a reductionist perceptual-interpretive framework—which certainly involve our interests, desires and needs, particularly for subtle engagement in self-determination. The experiential truth is that we cannot truly follow Jesus’ person from self-consciousness, because such engagement fragments the persons (both Jesus’ and ours) necessary for this relationship together to be whole—and not “to be apart in only the association of our parts.”
Whole ontology and function is always subjected to reductionism and its counter-relational work. To continue to live whole becomes a struggle when qualitative sensitivity to reductionism and relational awareness of its counter-relational work are lacking in the person to expose its influence. Variable ontology and function results when any person’s integral identity is diminished and their person-consciousness and relational work are minimalized; and we can neither assume nor expect anything more to result. Therefore, in the human context what is clearly evident from the beginning for any theological discourse on human persons is to establish a strong view of sin, which is a glaring need today:
That is, the definitive view of sin as reductionism that accounts for persons and relationship in reduced ontology and function—not merely as moral and ethical failure, even qualified by shame—which provides the understanding needed to expose the reductionism of sin prevailing in the human context that composes the human relational condition “to be apart” from the whole, God’s qualitative relational whole and the whole of God.
As much as Christians don’t like to talk about sin and churches tend to minimize its discussion, except in fundamentalist terms, this definitive view of sin must be embraced as a nonnegotiable, or else we have no other basis for distinguishing persons from whatever variable ontology and function exist in human contexts.
A critical part of distinguishing the person in the complete context of wholeness is to confront the influence of reductionism in the person’s surrounding context. To ignore the presence of reductionism and to not pay attention to its influence in the surrounding context are indicators that theological discourse about persons has already been shaped by this influence and its practice is complicit, if not reinforcing and sustaining, of this fragmentation. For example, in contexts where honor-shame is more determining for practice than ethical and moral views (with focus on innocence-guilt), honor-shame would expand our view of sin with a more collective-relational emphasis. Yet, such a collective-relational concern would most likely be engaged merely in referential terms (notably with duty and obligation) and not be involved more deeply by God’s whole relational terms (as in the beginning, Gen 2:25). On this limited basis, honor-shame becomes a self-concern centered on self-consciousness that still continues in reduced ontology and function, however variable. Honor-shame, then, subtly extends sin without reductionism. This is of utmost importance for global South Christians in particular to understand and not to be influenced to shape their view of sin.
Christians both South and North need to awaken to the pervasive reality of reductionism surrounding us and its subtle influence shaping us. Anything less than this strong view of sin definitive for any human context and any substitutes for sin as reductionism render persons to reduced ontology and function, unable to consistently live whole ontology and function into the human context. The resulting variable ontology and function is consequential immeasurably for Christian persons, relationships and churches. Without understanding sin as reductionism, the distinction between self-consciousness and person-consciousness is erased from human consciousness, whereby persons and relationships are always limited to and constrained by an inescapable default condition and mode: the prevailing alternative to the person composing human identity in the reduced ontology and function of self-consciousness, which, if continues to pervade the global church, will make insignificant its gospel, its shared life, its witness, and therefore its worship of the God claimed to be the one and true God who saves them and makes the significant difference in their life.
What would be your honest evaluation of the predominant consciousness that composes the identity of the global church, as well as the underlying ontology and function of its theology and practice? Perhaps you wouldn’t want to generalize, in which case how would you honestly evaluate your own church? Yet, as the global church we need to be accountable to each other, which includes also holding others accountable—even in interaction between global South Christians-churches and global North Christians-churches; the latter have not been sufficiently accountable, and the former have not adequately held them accountable. Does this reflect persons and relationships determined from the beginning rather than in the beginning?
Therefore, as we listen to the person in the beginning and pay attention to the person from the beginning, “Where are you?” And in the accountability of God’s family love, “What are you doing here?” It is indispensable for us conjointly to listen carefully to who is emerging in our churches and to pay attention closely to what is defining in our theology and practice. Furthermore, have we been, are we, and will we be honest enough to discover the extent to which we have made the assumption about our church(s), person(s) and relationships that “we are not and will not be reduced and fragmented”? The experiential reality is the following experiential truth: Whatever our source, our intentions and our efforts, good without wholeness is “not good to be apart”—which God has been telling us since in the beginning; and anything less and any substitutes for God’s created whole of persons and relationships integral for God’s family subtly reinforces and sustains sin without reductionism—even by default.
This is the unavoidable consequence of “knowing good and evil” from the beginning, which composes the human condition that has often been reflected in the church even to the present.
 Quoted from an interview in The Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2013. See also Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).
 Two particular studies in neuroscience define in the brain the function and need for the qualitative and relational. Antonio Damasio, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010), and John T Cacioppo and William Patrick, lonliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008).
 My discussion of theological anthropology originated in a previous study, The Person in Complete Context: The Whole of Theological Anthropology Distinguished (Theological Anthropology Study, 2014). Online at http://www.4X12.org.
 Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce and Manfred T. Brauch, eds., Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 93-94.
©2016 T. Dave Matsuo