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Jesus into Paul

Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel

Chapter  11

The Primacy of Relationship (Part 2)

in the Trinity and in Likeness in the Church

Sections

 

The Primacy Fulfilled in Whole

Whole Monotheism

The Trinity Distinguished in Relationship

The Church in Likeness

Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Ch 6

Ch 7

Ch 8

Ch 9

Ch 10

Ch 11

Ch 12

Ch 13

Ch 14

Printable pdf of entire study

Table of contents

Scripture Index

Bibliography

 

Have put on the new self, which is being renewed specifically

in the image of its Creator.

 

Colossians 3:10, NIV

 

 

The human condition involves the human shaping of relationships defined by an ontological deficit of the person and determined by the reduced function of persons. The lack of whole ontology and function is the heart of the human relational condition and need; and the absence of this wholeness prevents their fulfillment and what holds persons together in their innermost.

Consider the analysis of Sherry Turkle, the leading expert on how computers affect us as humans:

The narrative of Alone Together describes an arc: we expect more from technology and less from each other. This puts us at the still center of a perfect storm. Overwhelmed, we have been drawn to connections that seem low risk and always at hand: Facebook friends, avatars, IRC chat partners [a channel where you chat with others about a common interest]. If convenience and control continue to be our priorities, we shall be tempted by sociable robots…. At the robotic moment [when the performance of connection seems connection enough], we have to be concerned that the simplification and reduction of relationships is no longer something we complain about. It may become what we expect, even desire.[1]

 

Turkle describes and forecasts the human shaping of the modern self that has been increasingly embedding the modern person in a condition of qualitative insensitivity and relational unawareness. This loss of both the qualitative and relational signifies neither just a modern condition nor a recent phenomenon of technology. Reduced ontology and function, of course, have embedded and enslaved human persons from the beginning. Yet, virtual relationships can be considered a modern condition and recent phenomenon that compounds our condition down to critical levels of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness, even in church and the academy.

This magnifies the ontological lie underlying the human condition and its related human identity based on a deficit model as the pervasive alternative (identity deficit), both of which signify reductionism and its counter-relational work. In contrast and conflict with deficit thinking is the good news illuminated by Jesus (e.g. Lk 16:15; 10:21) and Paul (e.g. 1 Cor 4:6-7; 8:1) that directs us back to the inescapable issue in the above of the irreducible primacy and nonnegotiable priority of whole relationship together. The gospel must by its very nature be the good news that redeems the above condition, in all its variations, and makes it whole. This good news solely for relationship is the relational response Jesus embodied in whole and that Paul experienced in whole relationship together, thereby constituting Paul’s ongoing relational witness of the pleroma of God to fight conjointly for the experiential truth of the whole gospel and against any and all reductionism—notably in the theology and function of the church to pleroo the Word from God for the church’s whole ontology and function in likeness of the whole of God.

To be the good news for whole relationship, it is essential to understand integrally not only who came (Jn 1:11; 4:25-26) but what has come (Lk 11:20; 17:20-21); and understanding what has come directly involves our perceptual-interpretive framework and lens (as implied in “careful observation,” Lk 17:20, NIV, and “search the scriptures,” Jn 5:39). The Who is inseparable from the what (the kingdom and what we are saved to); and the what of salvation’s good news for relationship is contingent on our understanding the whole of the Who to have the experiential truth of who came and what has come. Paul’s experiential truth of the whole gospel for relationship is the who and what of Paul’s theological and functional focus—signifying the relational dynamic of Jesus into Paul. Therefore, in his corpus Paul’s focus was on neither the quantitative aspects of the kingdom (why he didn’t discuss the kingdom much) nor the disembodied parts of Jesus’ teaching (why he refers little to Jesus’ sayings). Rather the whole of Paul’s witness and the whole in his theology focused on the primacy of the whole of Who came and what has come in the pleroma of God’s relational context of family and relational process of family love.

This chapter unfolds the integral relational outcome of the theological trajectory and relational path that Jesus vulnerably embodied of the whole of God and extends into Paul.

 

The Primacy Fulfilled in Whole

Good news for whole relationship is a claim that cannot be made significantly by a mere proclamation, even of the truth. The gospel has significance only as the experiential truth of whole relationship (not fragmentary or virtual) which then cannot be assumed but by its nature be the ongoing primary reality defining persons’ lives and determining their function in the innermost. This is the integral relational outcome of the gospel that Jesus wholly embodied throughout the incarnation and enacted on the cross for its experiential truth in whole relationship together, neither assumed nor only for the future.

The theological trajectory fulfilled by Jesus with the cross is inseparable from the relational path that he embodied unmistakably on the cross. Jesus did not become an object merely to be observed on the cross. His whole person as Subject continued to be vulnerably present and relationally involved to constitute the experiential truth of the good news for whole relationship together, as he completed the atonement sacrifice behind the temple curtain to pay the cost for redemption necessary for us to relationally belong to God’s family without the veil.

Initially noted previously, the whole of soteriology’s relational context and process cohered in Jesus’ ultimate discourse on the cross, which intimately communicated and vulnerably consummated God’s thematic relational action of grace. Yet his discourse is less about what he did in sacrifice, and more about his relational involvement in the relational consequence necessary for the relational outcome of the gospel. This discourse is understood as his seven statements conjoined with his actions on the cross, though each of the Gospel narratives provides a different part of the discourse, with Mark and Matthew including only the most important fourth statement to formulate a structure somewhat analogous to an OT chiasm (two halves framing the key point placed between them). Taken together they evidence the thematic relational message of God, and this composite message’s theological interpretation constitutes it as the ultimate salvific discourse consummating the whole of God’s thematic action for the new covenant relationship together as family. Therefore, no aspect of this discourse can be fully understood separated from the context of the whole, nor can any aspect be reduced and still constitute its relational significance in the whole of God’s thematic action.

This was Jesus’ discourse on the cross, in which the language of his words and actions communicated with the ultimate relational clarity and significance.

 

First Statement: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk
23:34).[2]

In his initial relational words, Jesus clearly established his full relational context with the Father, thus illuminating the source of salvation. His initial action also disclosed the full relational process of grace necessary for salvation: forgiveness (aphiemi, to remit sin, dismiss indebtedness toward God, cf. Mt 26:28, also its function in Lk’s emphasis on salvation, Lk 5:20-26; 7:47-50; 24:46-47). How Jesus engaged aphiemi was less about the situation and full of relational significance, which was constituted only by God’s relational response of grace. What was underlying their actions involved their qualitative insensitivity and relational unawareness of their human shaping of covenant relationship, for which they needed forgiveness and redemption.

As they killed Jesus, this destruction was the paradoxical relational process necessary for new relationship with the whole of God (cf. Lk 22:20). That is, it is ironic that aphiemi denotes, on the one hand, the forgiveness for their sin and broken relationship with the triune God, which in this moment led to the necessary cost for redemption fulfilled by his atonement sacrifice on the cross (cf. Mk 10:45). On the other hand, aphiemi signifies the transformation to the new covenant relationship together constituted by the Spirit, who is Jesus’ relational replacement so he would “not leave [aphiemi] you orphaned” (Jn 14:18). In other words, Jesus enacted aphiemi for relationship together and completely fulfilled the whole of its relational significance by his relational work of grace.

 

Jesus’ discourse was interjected with challenges to his salvific claim (Mt 27:40, Mk 15:29-30), as well as with mocking of his salvific authority and power as the Messiah King (Mt 27:42, Mk 15:31-32, Lk 23:35). Another detractor was one of the criminals executed with Jesus, who demonstrated a prevailing messianic expectation of salvation in existing quantitative situations and circumstances that reshaped covenant relationship (Lk 23:39). His derision was about deliverance from his circumstances, not about relationship together; accordingly, he represented a majority position of those with a reductionist reaction to Jesus based on their shaping of relationship together.

The other criminal looked beyond their own circumstances and made a qualitative shift to see Jesus’ person (though also as King) and to pursue him in his relational context, despite Jesus’ situation (Lk 23:40-42). Thereby, he represented those with the qualitative relational response necessary to receive the vulnerable self-disclosure of the whole of God in Jesus for complete salvation, not a truncated soteriology. He received the following relational response from Jesus.

 

Second Statement: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).

 

In the relational clarity of his family love, Jesus clearly made definitive the relational outcome and conclusion for anyone and all who relationally respond to his vulnerable relational work of grace for new covenant relationship together. This relational response necessitates reciprocal vulnerability in engaging Jesus in his relational context and by intimate involvement with him in his relational process, as signified by the second criminal’s relational response of trust in Jesus.

The relational conclusion of being “with me in Paradise” should not be reduced. Paradise, despite images and notions, is not about a place, that is, about aspects of bios; Jesus’ statement here should be compared to his statements with the churches in Ephesus and Laodicea (Rev 2:7; 3:21). Rather, paradise is about sharing together intimately in the ultimate relational context of God, and thus complete involvement in the ultimate relational process of participating in the zoe of the Trinity. “With me” is only about relationship together in ultimate communion (“paradise,” cf. Rev 21:1-3,22)—to which Jesus could have added “nothing less and no substitutes,” yet was unequivocally definitive in prefacing his relational statement with “Truly.”

 

In the next part of his discourse, Jesus points to what he saves us to, which the first criminal was predisposed to ignore by reducing salvation merely to being saved from bad situations and circumstances. Completing the atonement sacrifice will remove the veil for the redemption into the whole of God’s family.

 

 

Third Statement: To his mother, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple,
“Here is your mother”
(Jn 19:26-27).

With the relational significance of his family love communicated in this relational statement, Jesus gives us a partial entrance into what he saved us to by opening the functional door to salvific life and practice ‘already’.

There are many aspects for us to reflect on here: circumstances, culture, family, Jesus’ promise to his disciples (i.e. Mk 10:29-30). All of these factor into this extraordinary interaction, the relational outcome of which cultivates the experiential roots of what he saved us to and the functional roots for the development of his church as family. Building with the persons who truly constituted his family in the primacy of relationship (see Mt 12:47-50), Jesus illuminated the functional significance of being his family and distinguished the experiential truth of the gospel of whole relationship together in what should be understood as a defining interaction, yet is often underemphasized or overlooked.

Apparently, Mary had been a widow for a while. In the Mediterranean world of biblical times, a widow was in a precarious position (like orphans), and so it was for Mary, particularly when her eldest and thus primary son (culturally speaking) was about to die. Their culture called for the eldest son to make provision for parents when they could no longer provide for themselves. The kinship family (by blood and law) had this responsibility. Though a widow, in Mary’s case she still had other sons and daughters to care for her (Mk 6:3). Why, then, did Jesus delegate this responsibility to someone outside their immediate family?

Though circumstances, culture and family converge on this scene, they do not each exert the same amount of influence. We cannot let contextual considerations limit our understanding of this defining point in the relational progression of his followers. In relational terms, Jesus was neither fulfilling his duty as the eldest son nor bound by the circumstances. As he had consistently demonstrated throughout the incarnation, Jesus was taking his followers beyond culture and circumstances, even beyond family as we commonly view it, to the primacy of whole relationship together. As the embodied whole of God, his whole life and practice constituted function beyond reductionism, which he expected also of his followers in order to participate in his new covenant family (Mt 5:20).

Jesus’ full trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love was made evident in his painful condition yet sensitive relational involvement with Mary and John, which should not be reduced by the drama of the moment or the obligation of the situation. The good news of whole relationship together was being composed here in its primacy being fulfilled in whole. Though Jesus was in anguish and those closest to him were deeply distressed, this improbable interaction took place because Jesus vulnerably and integrally embodied the family love of the whole of God. In the most touching moment on the cross, Jesus teaches us what being his family means: how to see each other, how to be involved with each other and how the whole person is affirmed in submitting to him for it.

For Jesus, family involvement was based on agape involvement, so being his family cannot be understood from our conventional perceptions of family involvement or by our conditioned feelings of obligation. Despite his circumstances, Jesus focused on Mary and John with the deepest agape involvement and affection (phileo, cf. Jn 5:20, Dt 7:7): “Here is your son,” “Here is your mother.” How was he telling them to see each other? How was he saying to be involved with each other? How was the person affirmed in submitting to him?

Jesus gave his followers new eyes with which to see other—beyond circumstances, culture, blood and legal ties, social status. He redefined his family to be relationship-specific to his Father (Mt 12:47-50). This is how he wants us to see each other, and how he saw Mary. It seems certain that Mary was not merely Jesus’ earthly mother but increasingly his follower. She was not at odds with Jesus (though she certainly must have had mixed feelings) during his earthly ministry, as were his brothers. She was always there for him in her role as mother but more importantly she was now there with him as one who did the Father’s will—thus, as follower, daughter, sister. This was the Mary at the crucifixion.

Just as Jesus didn’t merely see Mary as his earthly mother, a widow, a female, he didn’t merely see John as a disciple, a special friend. They were his Father’s daughter and son, his sister and brother (cf. Heb 2:11), his family together in the relational progression. And that is how he wants us to be involved with each other, not stopping short at any point on this progression—no matter how well we have been servants together, nor how much we have shared as friends. This deeply touching interaction was Jesus’ agape relational involvement (not about sacrifice) with and response to his family. It was the beautiful outworking of family love in the reciprocal relational process together of being family and building it. Nothing less and no substitutes, just as Jesus lived and went to the cross. This is the function of salvific life and practice in the present.

For this definite reason and unequivocal purpose, Jesus’ action was just as much for John’s benefit as it was for Mary’s—both in provision and opportunity. In response to Jesus, John acted beyond being merely a disciple, even a friend, and took Mary into “his own” (idios, one’s own, denotes special relationship, Jn 19:27). He didn’t just take her “into his own home” (NRSV); he embraced Mary as his own mother (or kinship sister). She must have embraced him also as her son (or kinship brother). In response to what each of them let go of in order to follow Jesus, he promised them an even greater family (Mk 10:29-30). True to his words as ever, he partially fulfilled his promise to them. This is the relational outcome ‘already’ for each person (of whatever distinction or difference) who submits to him to participate in his family. No greater satisfaction of being accepted, no fulfillment of the person’s self-worth, no certainty of one’s place and belonging can be experienced by the whole person without the relational significance of the whole of his new covenant family.

As the functional key, Jesus’ relational action here illuminated the relational involvement of love necessary to be the whole of God’s new covenant family distinguished by family love (both agape and phileo), and this initial experience constituted the roots of his church as family. Moreover, this experiential reality signified the ongoing fulfillment of his covenant promise to his followers (i.e. Mk 10:29-30, which becomes functional ‘already’ as his church family), and thereby established the experiential truth of the gospel of whole relationship together for all to experience (cf. Jn 17:21-23).

And as the hermeneutical key, Jesus not only used relational language but also his family language to compose his words as the whole of the Word of God embodied vulnerably for this new covenant relationship together, which deepens the understanding of his kingdom from quantitative to qualitative (discussed further in chap. 12). This scenario statement, therefore, must be understood in the whole of his salvific discourse and made definitive for the ontology and function of his church in its ongoing life and practice in likeness.

 

Keep in mind that his first three relational statements happened while he was dying a physically painful death. Thus, having clearly and vulnerably communicated God’s thematic relational action of grace in the first half of his discourse, Jesus continued in the second half to intimately consummate his salvific work for the new covenant relationship together of God’s family. The cost for redemption to complete this relational outcome of salvation to the new creation was immeasurable, involving an unfathomable relational consequence. In unsettling contrast to his previous statement as the most touching moment on the cross, his next relational statement is the most heartbreaking—while also the most important statement disclosing the relational significance on which the whole of God’s salvific action hinged.

 

 

Fourth Statement: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34).

 

Familiarity with these words must not predispose us to minimalize Jesus’ relational language, and consequently to diminish the depth of relational significance involved here. Such reductionism can only have a further relational consequence of promoting relational distance (however unintentional) from God or of reinforcing the human relational condition “to be apart” (however inadvertent) from the whole of God. Moreover, I suggest, nothing will help us more deeply understand the distinction between the qualitative (e.g. element of zoe) and the quantitative (e.g. aspects of bios) than this pivotal relational statement by Jesus.

Beyond the prolonged physical pain (nearly in its sixth hour), Jesus’ words vulnerably exposed his relational pain—which was initially experienced in the garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:37-38) in anticipation of this ultimate relational pain. The Son’s relationally painful scream not only further expressed his honesty and vulnerableness with his Father, but now even more significantly illuminated the relational wholeness by which their life together is constituted (Jn 10:38; 14:10,11,20; 17:21). Therefore, we are exposed intimately to what is innermost to the zoe of God: the whole of the relationship of God.

The whole of the triune God is constitutive of the Trinity’s relationships (the relational Whole), while the Trinity’s relationships together constitute the whole of God (the ontological One)—apart from which the zoe of God does not function. It was the zoe of the Trinity, the whole of the relationship of God, which was the issue in Jesus’ statement (relational scream).

While Jesus’ physical death was necessary for salvation, that quantitative death of bios was not his ultimate sacrifice. The ultimate consequence was his “loss” of the qualitative relationship of the whole of God. As a consequence of absorbing our sin, in that inexplicable moment the Son was no longer in the Father nor the Father in him. In this nothing-less-and-no-substitutes action of grace by the whole and holy God, the mystery of the “brokenness” of the relational ontology of the Trinity in effect happened. We can have only some sense of understanding this condition by focusing on the relational reality in distress, not the ontological. With this qualitative focus on Jesus’ pain, we become vulnerable participants both (1) in the painful relational consequence involving any degree of the relational condition “to be apart” from the whole of God, and (2) in the fullness of God’s ultimate response to redeem us from this condition as well as to reconcile us to the whole of the relationship of God, the zoe of the Trinity.

For this wholeness with God to be experienced, however, the relational barriers “to be apart” have to be removed. When the Son screamed out in relational pain, all those barriers had converged on him in his sacrifice behind the curtain to evoke the Father’s separation. Speaking relationally, I consider that this was also the moment the Father cried, and the Spirit grieved. This was their relational work of grace; and nothing less and no substitutes could have consummated this relational consequence, which was necessary by its nature to overcome the relational consequence of sin. Furthermore, nothing less and no substitutes can constitute the family love involved in the relational process and relational outcome to the complete salvation of saved to God’s whole family. Therefore, though in a figurative sense the whole of God was broken, nevertheless the relational significance of this paradoxical moment was functionally specific to wholeness, that is, in order that we (necessarily both individually and corporately) will be whole in new relationship together.

Without this depth of God’s relational action—composing the depth of the gospel—the veil would not be removed in relationship together, and then the breadth of the human relational condition could not be made whole in its innermost. This inseparable theological trajectory and relational path is how the whole of God indeed “so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Nicodemus apparently would understand this more deeply from this ultimate salvific discourse than he understood from Jesus’ first discourse with him about salvation (see him after Jesus’ death, Jn 19:38-39).

If we understand in depth the relational significance of the Son’s relational pain from being forsaken by the Father, this goes beyond relational rejection to the deeper relational condition of being apart from the whole of God. In this sense, what is taken away from the wholeness of the Trinity affects the wholeness of each trinitarian person. Not only are they no longer in each other but they are not the ontological One and the relational Whole. To be forsaken or to forsake is to be separated from this essential whole. Certainly the mystery of this pivotal moment has no ontological understanding; God never stopped being God. And there is also the paradoxical aspect of the Son declaring he will not forsake us as orphans apart from the whole of God’s family (Jn 14:18), who is now himself separated from this whole. Yet, the relational significance of this both signifies the fundamental whole of the Trinity as well as establishes the means for relationship necessary to be whole in likeness of the Trinity. This is the whole of the relationship of God that Jesus not only prayed for his followers to have (Jn 17:20-23), but also paid the cost for the redemptive change necessary for its experiential truth, and further provided his Spirit to help complete the whole ontology and ongoing function in it together as the new creation church family.

 

As the whole of God’s salvific action nears fulfillment, Jesus’ qualitative relational involvement remained fully embodied in the historical context of the cross. What transpired necessarily involved his whole person, just as indicated in Hebrew Scripture (Jn 19:24,28,36,37). After the heartbreaking interaction, Jesus made this evident in his next statement.

 

 

Fifth Statement: “I am thirsty” (Jn 19:28).

John’s Gospel began with the eternal existence of Jesus the Christ as the Word who was always God (Jn 1:1-2, contrary to Arianism). When the whole of the Word became flesh also, Jesus the Christ became fully human while still fully divine to constitute his whole person (Jn 1:14, contrary to Apollinarianism). In this expanded Christology (beyond the Synoptic Gospels) the evangelist’s narrative included this part of Jesus’ salvific discourse. With the words in this statement, we are reminded that Jesus’ person was also human. Yet, this brings us face to face with his full humanity and the human toll involved in his action necessary for salvation. This “I am” is the counterpart to the other “I am” statements the evangelist developed in this Gospel for a more complete Christology (see Jn 6:35,51; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7,11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1). In integral function, these “I am” statements distinguish the whole of Jesus’ relational work of grace fulfilling God’s thematic action for new relationship together.

Jesus’ thirst was not merely the dehydration from physical exertion and trauma, but more importantly points to the depletion of his full humanity completely engaged in intense vulnerable involvement. This thirst signified that his relational work of grace was both the divine action of his deity disclosing the whole of God and also the relational involvement of his full humanity; and this conjoint function cannot be diminished in either function without reducing Jesus’ whole person for an incomplete Christology. Any reduction of Jesus’ whole person has theological and functional implications for soteriology, resulting in reductionism of what Jesus saved us from or saved us to, or both, thus a truncated soteriology. Such reductionism is always consequential for the primacy of whole relationships, whether it is relationship together with God or within Christ’s church as family, or both.

 

In these fourth and fifth statements of his discourse, we are openly exposed to (even confronted by) this functional picture of Jesus’ whole divine-human person: He who was vulnerably present, intimately involved in relationship and completely fulfilling the whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human relational condition for new relationship together in wholeness, without the constraints of the veil.

Thus, “when Jesus had received the wine, he said….”

 

Sixth Statement: “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).

 

“Finished” (teleo, complete, not merely ending it but fulfilling it to its intended conclusion), that is, his relational work for redemption to free us from the old and its relational significance “to be apart” from the whole of God (ultimate death). With these words, his ultimate salvation discourse was being brought to a close. Essentially all had been said and done, except for the concluding chapter in the history of salvation by the whole of God’s thematic relational action responding to the human relation condition.

As Jesus completed his redemptive work for the original covenant (cf. Ex 24:8 and Mk 14:24), the transition to the new integrally begins. In Luke’s Gospel, the evangelist is concerned about a gospel accessible to all, thus he narrated the temple being redefined for the new covenant (Lk 23:44-45). Mark and Matthew’s Gospels also included the temple curtain event (Mk 15:38, Mt 27:51), yet they appeared to include this only as part of the narrative detail of events during the crucifixion without pointing to its relational significance (cf. Ex 26:31-33, Heb 10:19-20). Luke apparently changed the order of this event to precede and thereby directly connect with this closing statement in Jesus’ salvific discourse—no doubt in further emphasis of Luke’s concern for an accessible gospel of whole relationship together for all, which the relational significance of the torn temple curtain constitutes and Jesus’ next and last words both point to and will consummate.

 

Seventh Statement: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).

 

With his final relational words in this ultimate salvific discourse, Jesus engaged the furthest and deepest in the trinitarian relational context and process, the innermost of the whole of God. This relational cry to his Father contrasted with his earlier scream from relational pain (fourth statement), yet these cries for relationship were also conjoined in the mystery of the relational dynamic enacting the Trinity’s salvific work of grace.

Jesus communicated, “I commend” (paratithemi, to entrust, i.e. to relationally entrust) “my spirit” (pneuma, signifying the very core of his person), yet his relational language did not constitute a dualism here implying he did not entrust his body; rather, he entrusted his whole person. His last relational words illuminated the submission of his whole person for whole relationship together in the transitional journey to complete the redemptive work of the old and to raise up the new. By his intimate involvement in this vulnerably present and ongoingly involved relational context and process of the Trinity, Jesus was fully constituted in the final salvific action necessary for this ultimate relational conclusion: the resurrection and the birth of the new creation in the new covenant relationship together as family constituted in and by the Trinity, which the Spirit ongoingly transforms from the old to the new ‘already’ and brings to eschatological completion ‘not yet’. With this relational dynamic of the whole of God, the primacy of relationship was fulfilled in whole.

 

These relational messages also illuminated the whole of God vulnerably present and relationally involved ongoingly both in and for whole relationship together and its relational outcome ‘already’ in the church to be in likeness. This likeness is problematic whenever the whole of God is not distinguished and therefore is lacking.

 

 

Whole Monotheism

 

When Jesus said “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30), this understandably created major conflict for the Jews who were rooted theologically in the monotheism of the Shema (Dt 6:4). Paul certainly was among those whose monotheism would not allow for any variance from the theological basis of their faith: ‘God is one’. Yet Paul was sufficiently open to listen to the response to his query “Who are you?” (Acts 9:5), thereby gaining epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction to receive the experiential truth of the pleroma of God. Jesus’ response did not convert the object of Paul’s faith to the new God beyond monotheism but rather engaged Paul in the relational epistemic process to open the ontological and relational doors to the Subject of the Shema, who was vulnerably present and relationally involved for reciprocal relationship. In referential terms this revelation appears to be incongruent with monotheism and thus incompatible with the Shema, nevertheless in relational terms Paul remained irreducibly congruent with monotheism and nonnegotiably compatible with the Shema—as improbable as it rightly appears.

Thomas McCall concludes about Second Temple Judaism that it was reliably monotheistic: there is only one God, and this God is the Creator and Ruler. Yet “this account of monotheism is not centered on numerical oneness, nor does it obviously dictate that there is at most one divine person.”[3] He quotes contemporary Jewish theologian Pinchas Lapide in support:

The Oneness of God, which could be called Israel’s only ‘dogma,’ is neither a mathematical nor a quantitative oneness…the difference between gods and the One God is indeed not some kind of difference in number—a more miserable understanding there could hardly be—but rather a difference in essence. It concerns a definition not of reckoning but of inner content; we are concerned not with arithmetic but rather with the heart of religion, for ‘one’ is not so much a quantitative concept as a qualitative one.[4]

Lapide’s distinction between a quantitative concept and a qualitative one is necessary to make yet insufficient to understand Paul’s monotheism.

The issue of the Shema involves what distinguishes its God and thus how this God is distinguished. God is distinguished as ‘the only One’ entirely from outside the universe, who therefore has no other qualitative kind in the world by which to be compared. ‘God is one’ means unequivocally ‘God is incomparable’. Yet this qualitative distinction of God is insufficient to resolve the issue of the Shema. This exclusive identity is not a concept, quantitative or qualitative—though philosophical theology historically has rendered it as such—but rather the relational outcome of this qualitative God’s vulnerable self-disclosure as Subject illuminating the whole of God’s direct relational involvement in communicative action to clearly distinguish the relational nature of God. Without God’s relational response from outside the universe, the whole of God is not distinguished to us and no one knows of the One who is incomparable. Therefore, the Shema is fragmentary unless both what distinguishes its God and how this God is distinguished are clearly defined qualitatively and determined relationally. Accordingly, the qualitative and relational whole of this One can neither be reduced to referential terms (even as the Shema) nor negotiated down to human shaping (a numerical One), both of which are contingent on and comparative to what is probable within the universe, and consequently is unable to go beyond self-referencing.

For Paul, “Who are you?” emerged only as the experiential truth of the Subject of the Shema, the One from outside the universe who is incomparable (Col 1:16-17). This was his unmistakable relational experience with the whole of God and his whole understanding of the qualitative triune God in relationship (Col 1:19-20), whose whole ontology and function became known and understood as the Trinity. Though Paul never became a trinitarian, his theology deepened into whole monotheism that distinguished the Father, the Son and the Spirit together indivisibly as the whole of God. For the whole of Paul and the whole in his theology, it was evident that monotheism and trinitarianism were compatible since the monotheism of the Shema was not about the quantity of one but the quality of the whole in relationship.[5]

In contrast and even conflict with any referential terms ascribed to the Shema, and hereby imposed on monotheism, this distinguishing process of what and how illuminates the language that is both qualitative and thus relational. That is, this is the relational language that the whole of God necessarily used in ongoing communicative action for self-disclosure only by the One’s relational context and process—not by human contextualization in the universe, though disclosed in human contexts—to vulnerably distinguish God’s whole presence and involvement. Accordingly, this integrated relational language cannot be reduced to mere quantitative terms in the referential limits of human contextualization—for example, to construct tritheism or to shape modalism, on the one hand, or, on the other, to combat them with propositional truths and doctrinal certainty (including the dogma of the Shema). This relational language is the hermeneutical key Jesus embodied to reveal and know the whole of God, and the functional key for this experiential truth only in relationship together, the qualitative relational nature of which is the theological key for the access of “little children” and not “ the wise and learned” (Lk 10:21; cf. Mt 21:15-16).

Whole monotheism is illuminated solely in the qualitative from outside the universe and is distinguished only in the relational by involvement directly with us Face to face in the primacy of whole relationship together. The incomparable God’s definitive blessing (Num 6:24-26) is inseparable from the Face in the Shema and indistinguishable from “the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). In Paul’s whole monotheism, the improbable is indeed illuminated and distinguished by the experiential truth of “the Father and I are one,” indivisibly together with the Spirit who completes the whole of God’s thematic relational response and relational progression (1 Cor 2:9-10; Rom 15:13; Eph 3:20-21). Without whole monotheism the gospel is reduced to a truncated soteriology of deliverance—just saved from, notably from this situation or that circumstance—without the good news for whole relationship together. This good news defines the monotheistic shift that transformed (not converted) Paul by his relational involvement with the pleroma of God to epistemologically clarify, hermeneutically correct and deepen his monotheism to be whole.

 

The Trinity Distinguished in Relationship

Understanding the what of salvation’s good news for whole relationship together is contingent on understanding the whole of the Who constituting the gospel. If salvation does indeed go further and deeper than just saved from, this necessitates an integral relational basis (not referential) for the whole relationship together of what salvation saves to—which includes by necessity an ongoing relational base to function in whole relationship together. The whole of God—the ontological One and relational Whole from outside the universe—composes the meaning, significance, purpose and means of whole relationship together, apart from whom relationship together lacks the meaning, significance, purpose and means to be whole, the human relational condition. Understanding the whole of God, the whole of the Who constituting the gospel, provides the integral relational basis and ongoing relational base for whole relationship together. That is, only the Trinity illuminated and distinguished the experiential truth of who came and what has come. Therefore, understanding what distinguished the Trinity and how the Trinity is distinguished are indispensable for those claiming the gospel and irreplaceable for proclaiming the good news of whole relationship together. This understanding is distinguished in the whole of God’s thematic relational action embodied.

Since God’s self-disclosures in Jesus are communicated to us specifically for relationship, Jesus’ whole life and practice is about how God does relationship. We can understand how God does relationship by following the face of Jesus in his face-to-face interactions. It is the significance of this function of relationship in the trinitarian relational context and process that brings coherence to God’s thematic action throughout human history in relational response to the human condition: planned by God before creation and started at creation before the Fall, formalized in the covenant and fulfilled by Jesus the Christ, while currently being brought to eschatological completion by the Spirit. In this complete Christology the whole gospel clearly emerges for the experiential truth of Jesus’ full soteriology, the complete significance of which is the relational outcome of whole relationship together with the veil removed.

The most significant relational function in the incarnation of how God does relationship is Jesus vulnerably disclosing his relationship with his Father. Ontologically, they are one and their persons are equally the same (consubstantial, 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 trinitarian persons (not modes of being) in the qualitative significance of the whole of God (not tritheism), they are intimately bonded 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 which Jesus functionally distinguishes of the whole of God, the Trinity.

To review 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.” As previously noted, 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. “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.

Moreover, 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, and thereby 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. 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 are critical for our whole knowledge and understanding of God. What is vulnerably disclosed distinguishes the relationship of God without anything less and any substitutes of who, what and how God is. The particular interaction at Gethsemane demonstrates the relational process of family love involved in the Trinity’s relationship with each other. Consider again: what had been planned together even before creation and was now being fulfilled by the incarnation, the Son astonishingly did not want to continue; and imagine what the Father feels upon hearing the Son’s request. This is a strong contrast to an earlier interaction (see Jn 12:27-28). Despite the unique circumstances, what we need to understand about the Trinity, and thereby function in likeness in our relationships, is why this interaction even happened at all.

Certainly human weakness is involved in this situation but this is not the significance of this interaction. The incarnation was integrally based on the principle of nothing less and no substitutes, and accordingly always functioned in relationship on the basis of nothing less and no substitutes. Why this interaction even happened at all is because by the nature of their relationship in the whole of God such an interaction could happen, was “designed” to happen, therefore was expected to happen—an outworking of God’s relational righteousness. That is, 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. By being completely vulnerable here, Jesus clearly illuminates how they do relationship together to distinguish the relationship of the Trinity. In other words, the trinitarian persons can and need to be their whole person before each other and intimately share with each other anything, so to speak—without the caution, restrictions or limits practiced in human relationships since the primordial garden (cf. before the fall “they were both naked and were not ashamed,” Gen 2:25). Anything less than and any substitutes of 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 becomes a reduction of God.

In addition, the incarnation principle of nothing less and no substitutes not only functionally defined who Jesus is in relationship but also functionally determined whose he is in relationship. The Son did not reduce his person with the Father by becoming overly christocentric. Not only did he openly express his desire to avoid the cross but he clearly expressed his deeper desire “yet not what I want but what you want” (Mt 26:39). The Son’s prayer was not about himself, though he openly expressed his person. This was not a matter of the priority of the individual over the whole, which then also includes not merely the individual desires of the Father in his role and function. This only involved the whole of God, the Trinity qua family in the primacy of whole relationship together. There is no aspect or function of individualism in the nature of the Trinity; though each is distinct in their person and unique in their function, they are distinguished entirely in whole relationship as One. As a trinitarian person, the Son illuminated the interdependent (functionally in conflict with independent) relational nature of the Trinity as the whole of God’s family. Furthermore, in another interaction the Son also defined how the Spirit never functions independently but only interdependently in the whole of God (Jn 16:13-15); this points to the Spirit’s relational work as not for the individual’s agenda but always for the whole of God’s family, the church (as illuminated by Paul, 1 Cor 12:7).

The relationship of God necessitates the function of the whole person, yet never centered on oneself and therefore always as a function of relationship in the trinitarian relational context of family and the trinitarian relational process of family love. What emerges from the relational dynamics disclosed between the Father and the Son is that the most significant function of relationship is signified by God’s love. Their family love ongoingly constitutes the Trinity’s relational oneness (intimate communion) illuminating the ontological triunity of God and distinguishing God’s whole ontology and function from outside the universe. As the Father made evident at the Son’s baptism and transfiguration, the Trinity’s love engages only how they are involved with each other’s person. The synergistic (and perichoretic) mystery of this qualitative involvement 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—without relational horizontal distance or vertical stratification (the relational Whole). And this relationship of God is disclosed not for our mere information but made accessible for us to experience in whole relationship together in likeness. This reciprocal relational experience is the integral purpose of Jesus’ formative family prayer (Jn 17:20-26).

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 further examining 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.[6]

Jesus’ first declaration of “The Father and I are one” (eis eimi) essentially revealed the dynamic existence (eimi, verb of existence) of their persons dwelling in each other together as one (eis). Eis 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 wholly 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 what Jesus disclosed is not the totality of God but only the whole of who and what God is and how God does relationship.

This raises two related theological issues to be aware of in this discussion. The first issue involves either reducing the persons of the Trinity (intentionally or inadvertently) into the whole of God’s being such that they lose their uniqueness or personhood, the loss of which becomes susceptible to modalism; or, on the other hand, overstating their uniqueness as persons opens the possibility of shifting into tritheism. The second issue involves reducing the whole of the Trinity (beyond our context in eternity called the immanent Trinity) into the so-called economic Trinity (directly involved with us in revelation for salvation) so that the transcendent God loses mystery.[7] This is not to imply two different Trinities but to clarify that God’s self-revelation is only partial and thus provisional—not total yet whole. 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” (eis eimi) is the same ontological oneness among his followers “just as” (kathos, in accordance with, have congruity with) God’s ontological oneness (eis 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 which overlaps with their ontological oneness (eis 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) is conjoined in the ontic qualitative substance of their ontological oneness (eis eimi) to constitute the trinitarian persons in the indivisible and interdependent relationships together to be the whole of God, the Trinity qua family. The conjoint interaction of the ontological One and the relational Whole provided further functional understanding of perichoresis.

Their ontological and relational oneness uniquely constituted the embodied Word, the only one (monogenes) from outside the universe to fully exegete (exegeomai) the Father (Jn 1:18)—not to merely inform us of the transcendent and holy God but to vulnerably make known the Father for intimate relationship together as his family, as Jesus prayed (Jn 17:6,26). These relational aspects and functions provide the remaining basis for Jesus’ claim that if we see the whole of his person we see the Father.

Whether before or after creation, God’s action in relation to us is how God does relationship. This suggests how the triune God is throughout eternity because the righteous God cannot be inconsistent with the revelation of how God does relationship. This does not, however, define or describe the totality of the immanent Trinity, which cannot be reduced to only the economic Trinity—a differentiation which is helpful to maintain to counter reductionism. Definitively, we can only talk of God in relational terms of how the Trinity is with us—both before creation in anticipation of us and after.

Yet, we also need to distinguish that the triune God does relationship in two distinct relational contexts. One context is totally within the Trinity and their relationships together. The other context is the Trinity’s relational involvement with us. Both contexts 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 apart 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 importantly and 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 relationships en eimi the whole of God. 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 the horizontal process implied in the reductions of the vertical process signified by renegotiating relationship with God on our terms. 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). 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 (eis 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). 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 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 their different functions only have significance 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 says more about ourselves than God. 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). 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). 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 which 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.

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. 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. In this qualitative approach, the primary significance shifts from authority (or leadership) and roles to love and relationships. When churches assess their practice in 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, to be further discussed in chap. 12). And, as Jesus made evident 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.

Understanding the relational significance of trinitarian differences requires more than the descriptive accounts of authority and roles. 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). These qualitative relationships help us understand what is necessary to be whole as constituted in the Trinity, and whereby the church is to live whole in likeness of the Trinity—which requires a compatible theological anthropology.

When 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 which 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, the assumed or perceived functional imbalance reduces the ontological oneness (eis 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 which 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 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 church practice is. 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.

As noted earlier, Jesus clearly disclosed that his purpose and function were for the Father. Their functional differences indicated a definite subordination enacted by Jesus. Even going to the cross was his submission to serve the Father—not us, though we benefit from it—as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s family love and the redemptive means for adoption as the Father’s very own in his family together. The critical question about Jesus’ functional position that we need to answer is what this subordination signifies. Directly related to this is why the Son is designated as “the only One” (monogenes, Jn 1:14,18) of God. Does this define fixed roles in a hierarchy or does it signify the relational process of the whole of God loving downward necessitating subordination among the trinitarian persons, in order to make a compatible relational connection with us, and thereby us with God with the relational outcome of belonging to God’s family?

A hierarchy is about structure and is static. But authority (arche) is not merely what someone possesses, rather it is always exercised over another in relationship, thus it involves a dynamic relational process. Hierarchy and authority conjoined together need to be understood as the dynamics of stratified relationships which involve more than order and includes how relationships are done. Stratified relationships can range from the oppression of power relations at one extreme to degrees of defined separation in relations, or merely to distance in relationships caused by such distinctions and differences, intentionally made or not. How can Paul deconstruct distinctions and differences for those ‘in Christ’ if the Son himself is permanently defined and determined by them (Gal 3:28), or erase them from the image of God if the ontology of the Trinity is defined by them (Col 3:10-11)? At whatever point in this range of stratified relationships, the relationships together would be less intimate than what is accessible in horizontal relations; this is the significance of Jesus’ teaching on leadership in his church family, not reversing a stratified order (Mk 10:42-45), as demonstrated also with his involvement in footwashing. Does a stratified relationship represent the sum of Jesus’ relationship with his Father, or do his two earlier declarations about him and his Father define the whole of their relationship?

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. 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 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. 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. 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.

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 made the primacy 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. 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. 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 (eis 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. This is the depth of what “the only One” foremost wants 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 eis eimi with each other for the ontological oneness of his church 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 substance, 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 terms.

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 substance 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.

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 substance 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).

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 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.[8] 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.[9] 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 for 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 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 further 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 affects 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. 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. 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 informed about God, which perichoresis merely 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 this 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. 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 ever since the creation of the first human person. 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 cooperative relational work to bring their new creation family to its ultimate relational conclusion. Trinitarian uniqueness emerges and coheres in complete Christology, which establishes the relational significance of the Spirit and his reciprocal relational work to constitute the whole of Paul and the whole in his theology for the whole ontology and function of the church in likeness of the Trinity.

 

The Church in Likeness

 

To claim the gospel and the experiential truth of its whole relationship together, and to proclaim the gospel and live its whole relationship together in the world, necessitate integral understanding of who came and what has come that embody the gospel. The whole ontology and function of the who is inseparable from the what (saved to); and the experiential truth of salvation’s good news for relationship is contingent on the integral relational basis constituted in the whole ontology and function of God and on the ongoing relational base constituted by the presence and involvement of the whole of God in order for our ontology and function to be in likeness to embody the relational outcome of the gospel. This integral relational basis and ongoing relational base are illuminated in Jesus’ defining prayer that clearly distinguished the whole ontology and function of his family in whole relationship together with and in likeness of the whole of God, the Trinity (Jn 17).

In his formative family prayer, Jesus summarized his relational purpose to disclose (phaneroo, not merely apokalypto) his Father to us to fulfill the whole of God’s thematic relational response for intimate relationship together in the very likeness of their relationship in the ontological One and relational Whole (17:6,21-23,26). His prayer defines for his family this integral relational basis that both (1) distinguishes the experiential truth of the embodied whole of God (for Paul, the pleroma of God), “as you have sent me into the world” (v.18, “as,” kathos, in accordance with, like), disclosing the congruence between the Father and the Son, and, conjointly, that (2) illuminates their whole ontology (“as we are one,” v.11,22) and function (“as you, Father, are in me and I am in you,” v.21, “as you have loved me,” v.23). The who and what of God disclosed is nothing less than the whole of God; and on this integral relational basis, the ontology and function of his family are defined and determined in likeness (“be one as we,” “as you…in me and I am in you, may they also be,” “as you have sent me…I have sent them”). This is more than a mere analogy that Jesus is praying for, but rather the dynamic outworking of the vulnerable presence of the relationship of God that distinguishes the innermost whole (“the glory,” v.5, “my glory,” v.24) of the triune God.

The church’s ontology and function are distinguished on the relational basis and ongoing relational base of only the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God, the Trinity. As Jesus continued to pray to the Father, this whole relationship together (defined as eternal life, 17:3), theirs and ours together, cannot function while under the influence of the surrounding context “of the world” (ek, preposition signifying out of which one is derived or belongs, 17:14,16); that is to say, relationship determined by our terms (even with good intentions) or by reductionist substitutes from the surrounding context, including alternative shaping of relationship together. Jesus made evident the ongoing conflict with reductionism this relationship encounters and pointed to the relational dynamic necessary to live in the whole of relationship together, which Jesus vulnerably embodied in wholly distinguished life and practice to be intimately involved with his followers for their integrally distinguished life and practice—to be “sanctified”(17:19).

In his prayer, Jesus commissioned (apostello) his followers for the specific mission “just as” (kathos) his Father commissioned him: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (17:18, cf. 20:21). In Jesus’ paradigm for serving (Jn 12:26, discussed previously), the first priority of the primacy of intimate involvement with him in relationship together is necessary over the work of serving, ministry and mission. For conventional paradigms for mission, sending workers out to the harvest fields becomes the urgent priority dominating our focus, thereby shifting away from the primacy of relationship to disembody the commission (however well meaning). Yet, as Jesus made definitive, the call to discipleship is the call to be whole, which, in order not be reduced, involves the need to be sanctified (holy) to distinguish the whole from the common’s function in the surrounding contexts of the world, including those notable harvest fields. This call clearly qualifies “Christ’s commission” for mission and challenges prevailing perceptions of it by defining the following from the relational basis in Jesus’ prayer: what to send out, whom to send out, why and thus how to send out.

For the Son’s purpose and function from his Father to be transferred to his followers, the enactment of the commission has to be both sanctified and whole to be compatible (“just as,” kathos) with the Father-Son relationship and then the Father-Son-disciples relationship. Jesus’ prayer integrates the call to be whole and his commission in the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love (17:21-23). This clearly established the context of his commission in sanctified life and practice with the whole of God, not the context of “into the world.” When there is congruence in intimate relationship together and compatibility of function in the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love, his followers together (the church as God’s new creation family) are not statically “still in the world” (en, remaining in it, 17:11) but now dynamically sent “into the world” (eis, motion into) to function whole in likeness of the Father and the Son with the Spirit in further response to make whole the human condition—that is, embodying the good news of whole relationship together, which is integrated by the ongoing relational base of the Trinity’s ontology and function. Therefore, his followers’ call to be whole is conjointly his followers sent to be whole. This composes the significance of what to send out and signifies the importance of whom to send out and defines more deeply why to send out (with the full soteriology), while providing the relational basis for how to function in his commission.

This relational dynamic for involvement in mission (as well as in culture and Christian ethics) is made further definitive in his formative family prayer. While the whole of life together in his relational context and process is uniquely intimate and sanctified, its practice cannot remain private or individual. As he directly related the world (and life and practice in its surrounding contexts) to himself and then to his followers (in relationship together), Jesus prayed using the prepositions “in” (en, 17:11,13), “of” (ek, vv.14,16), “out of” (ek,v.15) and “into” (eis, v,18). Each preposition has its own significance that needs to be distinguished in any discussion on the church and its mission.

For Jesus to be “in the world” only described a general surrounding context in which he remained (en) temporarily. While en also signifies his followers remaining in the world, this functional (not ontological) position is governed by the preposition ek. How Jesus functioned while remaining in the surrounding context was determined by the ontological nature of his context of origin (relationship together in the Trinity), not by what prevailed in the surrounding context “of the world” (ek, out of which one is derived, belongs to). Likewise, for his whole followers, those also “not of the world” (v.14, “do not belong to this world”), ek involves a dynamic movement from being embedded to motion out from within the surrounding context, yet only in terms of the common’s function and practice, not going out of the common’s context. This dynamic of ek signifies going from being defined and determined, for example, by the prevailing culture (or situations and circumstances) in a surrounding context to movement out from within its influence (hence “not of the world”)—which certainly necessitates engaging culture.

Yet, the dynamic of ek is not a statement or resolve of self-determination “not to be of the world.” Rather this dynamic more deeply involves a relational dynamic. Implied in the phrase “not of the world” is the relational process which involves movement not only away from the common’s influence but integral movement to the holy (Uncommon) and whole of God. This primary relational movement and involvement signifies both what his followers together are and whose they are, which necessitates triangulation and reciprocating contextualization to constitute them in this wholeness while remaining “in the world”—just as Jesus was “not of the world” and sanctified himself for his followers to practice “in the world” (17:19).

The ongoing practice of this primary relational involvement is always while “in the world,” which the above ek phrase does not include since it is limited to a shift only in purpose and function. In the same breath Jesus also prayed for his followers not to be removed “out of the world” (17:15). “Out of” is the same preposition ek, which is used differently in this second phrase not for being embedded but for the matter of spatial location. The dynamic of this second ek phrase signified the direction of their purpose and function to be relationally involved not away from but directly in the midst of the surrounding context and in the lives of persons in that context. Eliminating this sense of separation (spatially and relationally) also applies to not being removed from relational involvement even while practicing service, ministry and mission by maintaining subtle relational distance; this certainly includes righteous involvement with others beyond merely Christian ethics so that those persons can count on his followers to be of qualitative significance and their actions to have relational depth in likeness of the Trinity (“so that the world…,” 17:21,23).

Clearly then, Jesus gave his followers no option but to remain (en) and to be relationally involved—not the spatial and relational separation of ek, “out of the world”—in direct life and practice in the surrounding contexts of the world in likeness (“as,” kathos) of his whole ontology and function. Therefore, he distinctly qualified what (who) is to define them and determine how they function in those contexts—en is governed by the first ek, out from within its influence—with the ongoing relational base for their ontology and function to be in his likeness to embody the relational outcome of the gospel. While this relational dynamic is irreducible and nonnegotiable, there is always the functional alternative to remain “in the world” on ambiguous terms—for example, on the referential level in an ambiguous or shallow identity (cf. Mt 5: 13-16)—which essentially become defined and determined by reductionist substitutes, notably in ontological simulation and epistemological illusion that are indistinguishable from the shaping of relationships in those contexts. In this relational dynamic, understanding the juxtaposition of en and ek (out of) conjoined with the first use of ek (of, belong) is a crucial distinction, the subtle difference of which is commonly blurred by reductionism. Being “not of the world” (first ek, “not belong to the world”) goes beyond having a static identity or self-determination status and deeply involves an inseparable functional-theological framework imperative for the ongoing relational base of the trinitarian relational process to define the life and determine the practice of those who remain (en) in the surrounding context but emerge beyond (second ek, “out of”) the common’s function—indeed, beyond the reductionists, as Jesus made imperative for his whole followers (Mt 5:20).

This interrelated dynamic is the integral relational basis in his prayer for Jesus making imperative his call and his commission in conjoint function. The call to be whole (thus holy, sanctified) emerges in life and practice in the surrounding contexts of the world as sent to be whole in likeness (kathos) of Jesus sent whole by and in the Father. For this emergence to be unambiguously distinguished and thus clearly distinct from the common’s function in a surrounding context, it is necessary in function for the call to precede the commission because the commission alone is insufficient to fulfill the transfer of the Son’s purpose and function in likeness, without embodying the qualitative relational significance to be whole in the primacy of relationship together constituted by his call.

The sanctified life and practice to be whole, the whole of God’s family in sanctified identity distinguishing “not of the world” (first ek), constitutes his commission and signifies the integral relational basis for the whole undertaking of their mission in salvific life and practice to make whole in the surrounding context. To be whole kathos the Trinity is the relational basis for his followers to be sent “into the world” (eis, 17:18). As ek governs en with the “motion out from” the world’s influence necessary to constitute their qualitative relational significance to be whole, eis now governs “motion (back) into” the surrounding context for embodying the gospel in likeness for their function to make whole to fulfill the transfer of the Son’s purpose and function from his Father to his family. Ek and eis are not in dialectical tension but operate ongoingly together in a reflexive interrelated process (with triangulation and reciprocating contextualization) for his followers to grow further and deeper in their integrated call and commission. Therefore, Jesus made definitive: salvific life and practice to make whole emerges from sanctified life and practice to be whole in order to join together in likeness with God’s thematic relational response to the human condition “in the world”—the experiential truth of the gospel of whole relationship together.

How his followers live and practice in the surrounding context emerges from who and what they are; that is, what (or who) defines them determines how they function. This defining and determining process necessitates their theological anthropology of who and what they are to be composed on the integral relational basis of the whole of God’s ontology and function. The truth of this functional paradigm was embodied by Jesus throughout the incarnation: his full identity integrated with his minority identity in sanctified life and practice, the integral function of which constituted his salvific relational work of grace for the good news of relationship together in God’s whole. Jesus prayed to deeply establish his followers in this interrelated process: to be “in the world” and “not of the world,” salvific life and practice must by its nature (dei) function distinguishably in the minority identity he embodied “in the world,” thereby qualitatively distinguishing “not of it”; this minority identity necessarily by its nature is functionally integrated in sanctified life and practice with the full identity of who, what, and how his followers are in relationship together kathos the Trinity—therefore relationally congruent and compatible with the whole of God and God’s relational action (17:16-19).

Yet, what defines his followers in the surrounding context and determines how they function is constantly being influenced, challenged, even coerced by that context, for example, to be assimilated into its culture, for us today including on the Internet. To the extent that its culture is incompatible with the whole of God and God’s relational action, this is the ongoing tension and conflict with reductionism—the common’s function and practice contrary to sanctified life and practice. It is essential, then, for his followers to engage culture and to ongoingly practice triangulation and reciprocating contextualization. Reductionism’s subtle influence shifts human ontology from inner out to the outer in, thereby redefining the person and how persons function—notably in relationships “to be apart” from the qualitative significance of the whole, God’s whole. Under such influence how his followers practice relationships together is compromised, and how they engage in mission is fragmented—namely without the qualitative relational significance to be whole and to make whole. Any lack of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness has this consequence.

As Jesus prayed, it is imperative for his family’s public life and practice that eis (“into” as the dynamic integrated with the first ek, “not of”) is not to be confused with only being en, that is, merely to be in the same context, remain in the same space, even merely occupy ministries in surrounding situations and circumstances. En only statically describes where we remain, not what, who, why and how we are in that context. Eis, however, is not simply dynamic “movement into” a surrounding context, which is the reason “into the world” is not the context for his commission. The eis dynamic further signifies active engagement of other persons in deep relational involvement the depths of which is “just as” (kathos, indicating congruence) the Father sent his Son in the incarnation (17:18)—that is, in complete likeness of the Trinity. Kathos is nonnegotiable. This relational process of embodying invokes God’s self-disclosure principle of nothing less and no substitutes. Accordingly, in the embodying of his followers to live whole, anything less and any substitutes of this depth of direct relational involvement to make whole are reductions of his family’s inseparable call and commission and no longer is kathos the Trinity. While the commission takes place “in the world,” it can only be enacted and fulfilled “into the world”—and not detached “out of the world,” (second ek)—as salvific life and practice (to make whole) emerging from sanctified life and practice (to be whole) distinguished by “not of the world” (first ek) and not from the influence “of the world.” Anything other than relational involvement in this integrated ek-eis process is less than whole, a substitute of reductionism no longer defined and determined by the integral relational basis and ongoing relational base of the Trinity. Without this basis and base, his family is subject to variable shaping from surrounding contexts, which is why and how Jesus’ formative family prayer is defining for his church in likeness.

The Father sent only the whole of God into the world. This good news is not merely the truth of a doctrine of salvation but definitive only as the experiential truth embodied by Jesus in whole for relationship together in the whole of God’s family. Salvific life and practice is the relational outcome of what Jesus saved us both from and to (the full soteriology), the experience of which is only in whole relationship together with the embodied whole of God. It is the qualitative relational significance of this whole embodied in Jesus by which he constitutes his followers together to be whole kathos the Trinity—as clearly illuminated and distinguished in his prayer. On this irreducible and nonnegotiable basis, the Son sends only the whole of his family to be whole, live whole and make whole—along with his Spirit to complete God’s whole. Therefore, his family is not, and cannot be, sent on any mission in the surrounding context without function in their call to be whole; nor can their salvific life and practice make whole into (not merely in) that context without being holy in life and practice sanctified from the common’s influence and function. The integral relational basis and ongoing relational base of the Trinity is incompatible with anything less and any substitutes.

If what and who we “send out” for mission is anything less than the whole, then how we function essentially misre-presents the gospel. Most importantly, to send out any substitute for God’s whole vitally fragments and reduces these realities: the whole of God, the ontological One, what and whom he sent, and why he sent the relational Whole to be embodied “into the world.” For Jesus’ mission, and thus ours, any separation of his commission from his call fails to understand (and thereby fully receive) the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition “to be apart” from the whole of God; this lack and gap result from substituting the human shaping of God’s relational process. This only fragments his church’s purpose and function as the whole of God’s family in likeness of the Trinity, and therefore reduces the qualitative relational significance of the gospel—fragmenting it namely with an incomplete Christology and reducing it notably by a truncated soteriology. With a reduced ontology and function by the church, what can “the world believe” about “the God who sent” and what does this “let the world know” about “the God who loves for relationship together to be whole”? Whole relationship together is the defining relational outcome for which Jesus asks his Father to embody his followers together as the distinguished family in their likeness (Jn 17:20-23). Their likeness is the righteousness of the whole of God in relationship that Jesus earlier made the primacy for his whole followers in God’s kingdom-family to distinguish them from any and all reductionism (Mt 6:33). Anything less and any substitutes for the church do not distinguish it from the human shaping of relationships together, and consequently cannot be counted on to be of significance both as God’s family and for the human relational condition.

Embodying this relational outcome of the gospel was integral to the relational dynamic of Jesus into Paul. The image of the whole of God in the face of Christ was innermost for the whole of Paul (Col 3:10) and integrated the whole in his theology (2 Cor 3:18). To be transformed to the qualitative image of the ontological One and to live in the relational likeness of the relational Whole defined the ontology and determined the function of the church for Paul. Therefore, churches must make the critical decision how their practice is to be: either shaped by a framework with the temple curtain still between them and God, or distinguished by the relational context and process in likeness of the Trinity with the veil removed.

The ontology and function of the church in likeness of the Trinity is neither a paradigm (though the trinitarian example does serve as that) nor a limited analogy, that is, if Jesus’ defining family prayer is taken seriously, not to mention Paul in whole. But more significantly this reality-in-likeness is the relational outcome of directly experiencing the Trinity (for Paul, the whole of God) in relationship only on God’s qualitative relational terms. This ongoing relational process is integral to the ongoing relational base of the Trinity’s vulnerable presence and involvement in the function of church as family, particularly as revealed vulnerably by Jesus in the relational progression of following him to the Father and in the reciprocal relational work of the Spirit illuminated by Paul (e.g. Eph 2:22).

We cannot adequately “observe” the Trinity without being relationally addressed by the Trinity at the same time. Keep in focus that God’s self-revelation is how God does relationship. How the Trinity is revealed, therefore, is how the Trinity relates to us, which is how the trinitarian persons do relationship with each other (though in horizontal relational process discussed earlier). This involvement in the primacy of relationship together may appear limited to the God of revelation, yet we cannot limit the righteousness of God only to revelation without righteousness being the whole of who, what and how God is.

We cannot epistemologically know and ontologically understand the Trinity without engaging the Trinity in how the trinitarian persons do relationship in their context and are doing relationship with us specifically in our context, yet still by their context. It is within their relational context and process that God’s self-disclosure is vulnerably given in relational terms and needs to be received in likeness—and not narrowed down to referential terms—thereby directly experienced as an outcome of this relational connection. This consistency with the trinitarian relational context and compatibility with the trinitarian relational process cannot be engaged from the detached observation, for example, of a scientific paradigm, or with the measured involvement and relational distance of a quantitative-analytic framework (even exegetically rigorous) but can only be engaged from the qualitative function of relationship—in the relational epistemic process with the Spirit as demonstrated by Paul (e.g. 1 Cor 2:10-13). Similarly, J. I. Packer defined the process of knowing God as a relationship with emotional involvement, and he challenged as invalid the assumption that the theological task can be engaged meaningfully with relational detachment.[10] Earlier, Helmut Thielicke made the critical distinction of no longer reading Scripture as a relational “word to me but only as the object of exegetical endeavors.”[11]

This is the relational significance of the deeper epistemology that Jesus made a necessity for Philip and Thomas in order to truly know him and whereby also know the Father (Jn 14:1-9, as discussed earlier)—that is, relationally knowing the Trinity, which is definitive of eternal life (Jn 17:3). This is the relationally-specific process that does not merely see (or observe) but rather is deeply focused on the Subject (as in theaomai, Jn 1:14), that does not reduce the person merely to attributes and categories but rather puts the parts of revelation together to comprehend the whole of God (as in syniemi, Mk 8:17, that the early disciples lacked, and synesis, Col 2:2, that Paul gained).

This relational epistemic process is the outworking of the Trinity’s relational involvement with us. Therefore, to come to know the triune God is neither possible by individual effort nor is the individual’s relationship with God alone sufficient. This process involves the practice of relationship as signified by the Trinity that, when experienced, results in the relational outcome of whole relationship together as the family of God constituted in the Trinity. Thus this integral relational process involves the integration of both the primacy of the qualitative (heart function in intimate relationship with the Trinity) and the primacy of the relational (involvement together in the family relationships of the Trinity). Whole knowledge and understanding of the Trinity as revealed—present and involved with us—is never merely for us to be informed about God but always directly intrudes on our whole person and relationships in the innermost, thereby transforming how we define our person, how we engage relationships and practice church to be whole in likeness.

Consequently the ontology and function of the Trinity cannot be understood in referential formulations of trinitarian theology nor experienced in church doctrine. Along with reducing the whole of God to attributes and the trinitarian persons to categories or roles, these reflect how our understanding (“a reputation of being alive,” Rev 3:1, NIV) and our practice (“have abandoned the love you had at first,” Rev 2:4) become decontextualized. That is, they are relationally detached or distant from the relational context and process of the Trinity and need to be recontextualized in the relational nature of the Trinity.

The church is the ultimate practice that must (dei by its nature, not from obligation or compulsion) be contextualized in the Trinity’s relational presence and involvement, which Jesus’ defining family prayer and salvific discourse on the cross illuminate as who and what distinguishing the church. Otherwise, the church is susceptible to redefinition. For example, an overemphasis on the metaphor “the body of Christ” for the church—that is, focused on organizational structure, not relational function—can inadvertently decontextualize the church as the family of God constituted in and by the Trinity. Moreover, in another sense, with an incomplete Christology and truncated soteriology a church can unknowingly become too Christocentric, and subsequently not practice the relational progression to the Father vulnerably enacted by the Son and continued by the Spirit in the function of the Trinity constituting the whole of God as family. These are consequences of the church becoming shaped by human contextualization, the variable shapes of which Jesus challenged in his post-ascension discourse.

The life of the Trinity transforms the church’s life and function. It is this whole life as the family of God that defines the church’s existence and composes its practice. Miroslav Volf also contends in apparent referential terms that “the church must speak of the Trinity as its determining reality,” and thereby acknowledges the limits of this church-Trinity analogy.[12] Perceived and understood only in referential terms render both the Trinity and the church to reduced ontology and function, without the integral qualitative and relational significance to be whole. Additionally, the church’s witness is rendered to a gospel without the depth to respond to the breadth of the human relational condition.

As discussed in the previous section, the different roles and functions expressed in the Trinity do not define their persons, though these reflect the unique (but secondary) distinctions each person exercises to extend family love to us. Each of the trinitarian persons is defined by the same qualitative substance (homoousios) which not only defines the equality of their persons (hypostases) but is also fundamental to their relationships (perichoresis). Thus these unique distinctions also do not determine the primacy of their relationships and how they are involved with each other. They are not involved with each other primarily on the basis of role differences but rather with the essential qualitative significance of their whole persons expressed in the relational involvement of love (both agape, Jn 14:31, and phileo, Jn 5:20).

This qualitative substance and these intimate relationships of love distinguishing the Trinity are what the churches in Sardis and Ephesus got away from. This issue is not merely a matter of priorities but about the primacy of whole relationship together, without which all other effort (even with good intentions) is insignificant to God and qualitatively meaningless. Given the high activity level of these churches, they likely had well-organized roles to operate so efficiently. This implies how they substituted for what is primary and matters most to God.

The corporate life of a church can be undertaken in either of two contrasting approaches. One approach is from an institutional framework or organizational paradigm. Institutions and most organizations are a function of structure and systemic processes. While the church has organizational properties of structure (namely interdependence) and systems (specifically covariation), the church in wholeness cannot be a function of organizational aspects. Such a framework and mindset tend to predispose or bias us to see and practice church in a limited way—with the substitutes of reductionism. This limitation is particularly critical in the information age and the broad influences of information technology, which Quentin Schultze contends shift our perceptions of the world increasingly through the lenses of measurable norms, means, causes, and effects—that is, a systemic concept (closed systems) of human culture, our image of ourselves and society that persons can objectively observe, measure, manipulate, and eventually control.[13] This leaves us susceptible to practice what Schultze calls “informational promiscuity: impersonal relationships based on feigned intimacies and lacking moral integrity.”[14] Does this pervade Western church practice today?

The apostolic church was not based on an organizational paradigm even though it reflected organization. At the innermost of the church is relationship: a covenant relationship (from the OT) in relational progression to new covenant relationship together (in the NT) constituted in and by the Trinity as the family of God. The church is a function only of these relationships in likeness of the Trinity that hold it together in its innermost, and any structure, system or roles serve only as support functions of the primacy of these transformed relationships. This contrasting and conflicting approach to the corporate life of the church is from the relational dynamic emerging from the relational outcome of direct experience with the Trinity—which referential terms fragment or prevent.

The church’s ontology and function in likeness of the Trinity is the outworking of the family relationships distinguished between the Son and the Father and illuminated by the Spirit. The function of these relationships only becomes relationally significant to God and to each other when it involves the qualitative substance of the whole person (signified by the heart) opened to one another and coming together in the primacy of relationships (constituted by intimacy). The relational significance in likeness to the Trinity emerges when our whole persons function together in the intimate interdependent relationships as God’s family in the relational process of God’s family love. In practice this is the integration of primacy given to the heart and relationship together without the veil, which are defined and determined by God on the relational terms (not referential) self-disclosed in the Trinity for the church’s integral relational basis and ongoing relational base.

Reductionism has been the critical issue for the relational condition “to be apart” since Adam and Eve “knew that they were naked…and made loincloths” to hide their whole persons in the primordial garden (Gen 3:7-8). In likeness, variations of this relational dynamic have shaped the church since its beginning to reinforce or sustain the human relational condition, not to make it whole. Reductionism of and in the church is not a phenomenon unique to modernity, as demonstrated by the early churches in Corinth and likely Galatia (exposed by Paul), and in Ephesus, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea (exposed by Jesus in post-ascension). Moreover, reductionism in the epistemic process of understanding and truly knowing God has been most problematic—even a crisis today—that Thomas, Philip and the other disciples experienced (Jn 14:1-10), as discussed earlier. Yet directly in contention with the ongoing issue of reductionism, Jesus vulnerably declared in relational terms that he would not leave his followers as relational or emotional orphans, ontological or epistemological orphans apart experientially from the whole of the Trinity but as whole-intimate members together relationally belonging to God’s family. Given Jesus’ undeniable declaration and defining prayer for his family ‘already’, we need to ongoingly account for this in our practice of church. The integral relational basis and ongoing relational base for the whole ontology and function of the church are unavoidable.

As Christ’s followers gather (ekklesia), it is the gathering of those who have been called out and together (ekkletoi). How the church is to come together cannot be shaped in the likeness of individualism, fragmentary relationships of any shape, and thus not even in the likeness of a voluntary association. It must (by its nature, not obligation or compulsion) be in the relational context and process with and in likeness of the Trinity. This relational dynamic is the critical basis by which we need to construct a functionally whole ecclesiology—the ecclesiology that Paul clearly distinguished of the whole and that Jesus illuminated clearly in post-ascension to be whole (both discussed in chap.12), which is contrary to the substitutes of reductionism and thus in conflict with their practice.

The trinitarian relational context and process never allow the relationships in the church to be reduced and became fragmentary by remaining distant, shallow, independent, or selectively involved. The integrity of the Trinity’s righteousness is at issue here. The Trinity never does relationships on these terms—terms that reflect and thus reinforce the human relational condition—nor does God accept such relationships from us. In contrast and conflict indeed, the whole of the relationship of God is both relationship specific and relationally significant to the Trinity’s interdependent relationships intimately involved in family love; and the gathering of Christ’s followers when whole is in this likeness, beyond a paradigm or analogy. The church’s ontology and practice must have this relational clarity or the veil has not been removed to illuminate its primacy in whole relationship together, and thereby its depth of the gospel for the breadth of the human relational condition.

The church functions as God’s family because of the relational outcome of directly experiencing the Trinity in relationship. The relational work of the whole of the Trinity in each trinitarian person’s function to extend family love to us brings us together in the church as the new creation family of God. The Father is able to build transformed relationships with his adopted children as family together because of the Son’s vulnerable relational work of redemptive reconciliation. While his relational replacement, the Spirit, lives within each individual daughter or son, the Spirit does not work for the individual’s self-autonomy or self-determination but for the whole of God functioning as family in the likeness of the Trinity (cf. 1 Cor 12:7). This is the only relational outcome covenanted by the Father and embodied in whole by the Son in the relational progression of God’s family love, which the Spirit brings to complete wholeness in God’s eschatological plan for all creation (Col 1:19-20; Rom 8:19-21; Rev 21:1-5)—the integral relational basis and ongoing relational base for the church.

The sum of the Trinity’s relational work in family love constitutes the church and its function as God’s family. The body of Christ comes together with him and is integrated only for these relationships—to be the whole of God’s family (1 Cor 12:12-13; Eph 2:17-22). The church in wholeness cannot be a function of anything less than the primacy of relationships, family relationships, living together by his family love in likeness of the Trinity. Though the Son and Father define and demonstrate what it means to be God’s family, the Spirit’s relational work is the critical relational means to experiencing this relational reality and whose ongoing reciprocal relational work is indispensable to be whole, live whole and make whole the human condition.

It is these family relationships and family process in which our response both as individuals and together as church needs to be rooted and functionally involved. Yet, any association of the church to the function of the Trinity—most notably beyond a paradigm and an analogy—likely will challenge most ecclesiologies formulated today. The whole of God’s theological trajectory is improbable and relational path is intrusive.

Moreover, this perception of the church raises various related issues involving theological anthropology and eschatology, in addition to the pneumatology discussed above, while addressing an incomplete Christology (without the complete self-disclosure of God in the face of Christ) and truncated soteriology (without the whole gospel of what Christ also saved us to). For these to come together in the church as Trinity, we must consider that this conversation is engaged further within a context in which the influences of modernity are challenged and the challenges of postmodernity provide opportunity for Christ’s followers, as Jesus prayed, to live together just as the Trinity lives “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21) and “so that the world may know” (17:23). Specifically then for our immediate concern, the compatibility of our response involves two issues of church practice (among others) needing resolve: the place of the individual and the voluntary association of church membership.

Is the individual a secondary part of the church and does the church function in priority over its individuals? Or is the church a voluntary association of individuals and is the collective of individuals the church? Generally, an Eastern interpretive framework would answer the first set of questions affirmatively while a Western interpretive framework would be in the affirmative to the second set. The Western framework assumes that what underlies the individual are the common notions of freedom and independence. Assuming the position of self-autonomy and self-determination is not an option in an Eastern framework, but is the only viable one in most Western perceptions. These positions coincide with the differences in human thought between the ancient Chinese philosophers and ancient Greek philosophers.[15]

Yet when either perceptual framework of the individual is applied to the biological family (extended or nuclear), there are consequences for the individual and the family whole in both Eastern and Western families. Since the individual is commonly sacrificed in the East, the person tends to be lost in the family without a sense of the deeper identity of who one is as a person within the whole. With the aggrandized (idolized) individual in the West, the person also tends to become lost, that is, lost in oneself without a sense of the deeper identity of what one is as a person in the primacy of the whole. As a result of the ambiguity or shallowness of who and what the person is, both families experience a less significant family and less complete persons.

Returning to the church as family, we can expect the same results from church practice unless the whole person becomes defined and engages the relationships to be whole, both of which are signified in the Trinity. This requires a new person who is not sacrificed for the economy of the whole (as in Eastern families) nor who is given primacy at the expense of the whole (seen in Western families). The whole person is distinguished in a theological anthropology that includes a deeper understanding of the image and likeness of God (imago Dei) that coheres with Christ as the image of God (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15).

This is directly consequential for determining the compatibility of our response to the whole of God—on God’s relational terms and not on our referential terms—and thus the nature of our involvement as we practice church.

How the human person is perceived and how that person functions, particularly in relationships, are directly associated with the imago Dei. There have been three basic theological formulations or approaches to what constitutes the image of God for all humans. One, it is substantial or structural, that is, consisting of certain attributes or capabilities (like reason) built into the person. Two, it is relational indicating a fundamental relationship between human creature and Creator. Three, it is a goal or destiny for humanity which lies in the eschatological conclusion toward which humans are directed. Each approach by itself lacks the significance of the whole of God. I affirm the imago Dei necessarily involves all three aspects (with qualification) within the function of what it means to be whole, which is only constituted by whole persons intimately involved together in the interdependent relationships of the whole of God as family signified in the Trinity and is to be completed at the eschaton.

The whole person is signified by the functional primacy of the heart (not the priority of reason), which is the dynamic qualitative significance God planted into the human person in likeness to the qualitative significance of the whole of God. It is this qualitative significance of heart which God consistently makes most important for the person and pursues in the person throughout the Scriptures. God does not pursue a rationality, intelligence or some attribute or capability ascribed to the imago Dei. While such substance certainly correlates to part of the character of God, it is insufficient to be compatible with God for relationship. God wants heart, the innermost of our person—the qualitative significance of the innermost of God’s own likeness which is necessary in order to have intimate relationship with God and involvement together in love. Yet this is not merely an individual relationship God desires but also a corporate relationship in the likeness of the Trinity constituting the primacy of whole relationship together.

In the creation narrative, the imago Dei is not just ascribed to an individual but to both human persons, that is, to them together (Gen 1:26, 27). This is an important functional distinction because what God said is “not good” clearly focuses on “to be apart” from the whole of God and the likeness of God’s whole created in human persons as their design and purpose together. This defines the imago Dei as directly involving the whole person in the relationships necessary to be whole, which is life together as God’s new creation family. This is the whole in which God created human persons in the Trinity’s image and likeness, and which God has ultimately responded to in Christ for a new creation so we can be whole—God’s desires even before creation that the Spirit is bringing to completion. Therefore, the whole of the imago Dei is God’s family as the new creation (humanity) which will be completed in the eschatological conclusion of God’s thematic relational action. Yet God’s desires are not goal oriented but ultimately seek only intimate life together as the whole of family constituted in the Trinity, both ‘already’ and ‘not yet’.

These three aspects of the imago Dei converge to compose this image for the human person in coherence with the whole of God understood in the Trinity. This understanding is gained from God’s self-disclosure in Christ as the image of God, who constitutes the imago Dei and the person in the whole, as discussed previously. For Paul, the image of God in the face of Christ was not a theological construct but the experiential truth of the gospel who illuminated the whole of God in direct relationship Face to face (2 Cor 4:4,6)—whom Paul experienced in whole relationship together. The vulnerable presence and relational involvement Paul experienced was nothing less and no substitutes of the pleroma of God. Therefore, complete Christology was not optional for Paul but the necessary key to the whole of God, the whole of whom constituted the church’s ontology and function in likeness (Col 2:9-10; 3:10).

Just as Paul experienced the whole of God, the principle of nothing less and no substitutes also defines by what God does relationship and how God does relationships. Since the incarnation is the fulfillment of God’s thematic relational response to our relational condition, the nothing-less-and-no-substitutes relational response of the life of Jesus communicates two vital relational messages directly to us. First, the whole of God vulnerably extends the innermost of God to us and is wholly involved with us relationally (the meaning of agape love) because of the importance to God of our whole person created in the image of the Trinity. Secondly, the whole of God responds to us intimately with family love not only so we would no longer function relationally “to be apart” and remain as relational orphans, but so that we can integrally understand and experience the relationships necessary to be whole together in the family of God as signified by the whole of the Trinity (not solely Christ). For these family relationships and family process of family love, we were created and are re-created in the image and likeness of the Trinity, just as Jesus distinguished for his family (Jn 17:23) and Paul illuminated for the church (Col 3:10-11; Eph 3:16-19).

Some theologians are now formulating theological anthropology by narrowly focusing on the image of God for humans only as the fulfillment of the new humanity/creation at the eschaton.[16] While this may extend the practice of the church, it lacks functional clarity to be of relational significance to the whole of God, thus is susceptible to reductionism. From the textual convergence of God’s self-disclosures, I emphasize that “Christ as the image of God” is what we need to wholly conform to (cf. Rom 8:29) to be the image of God. Complete Christology is irreplaceable for theological anthropology and ecclesiology to be whole. And Christ clearly defined and vulnerably demonstrated to us: (1) how to define the person, and on this basis (2) how to be involved in relationships, and thereby (3) how to function in relationships together as the church, the new creation, the family of God. The image of God involves all three to be whole with the whole of God—whole persons in the relationships necessary to be whole as constituted in the Trinity. The function of the direct revelation of the image of God in the face of Christ is only for relationship—not for the transmission of referential information about God—the relational reality of which we are accountable now to practice and experience.

In God’s nothing-less-and-no-substitutes relational response, God communicates directly with us both by what God engages relationships and how God is involved in relationships. Furthermore, as Jesus consistently demonstrated in his interactions with others, this is the only way God does relationships, indicating the righteousness of God that can be expected in relationship, and which cannot be negotiated. Our response, therefore, needs to be compatible with God’s way of doing relationships, which is the primacy of God’s righteousness made imperative by Jesus for his followers to pursue (Mt 6:33). This necessitates also functioning compatibly with nothing less and no substitutes. Anything other or anything less would not engage the qualitative image and relational likeness of God, the whole of whom Christ reveals fully to us when his image is not reduced by a substitute.[17]

When our Christology is complete, the whole of Christ as the image of the whole of God emerges. When our soteriology is not truncated, Christ as the image of God functions to create the new persons with the veil removed for intimate relationship together as God’s family in the likeness of the Trinity—as God planned even before creation (Rom 8:29), prayed for its relational outcome ‘already’ (Jn17:20-23), and brings to completion at the eschatological conclusion (1 Cor 15:49) through the ongoing process of transformation ‘already’ by the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). This new person is made whole by being transformed (metamorphoo) qualitatively from the inner out which is a substantive change ontologically distinguished from mere outer changes (metaschematizo) having perceptually similar form (for example, “apostles of Christ,” “angel of light” and “servants of righteousness” in 2 Cor 11:13-15). And the place of the individual in the process of completing this new creation is a person neither sacrificed nor aggrandized, neither reduced nor lost.

On the basis, therefore, of by what and how God engages all relationships, the compatible reciprocal response of our whole person functions in the primacy of the intimate relationships of the whole of God as family—for the purpose not “to be alone,” not “to be apart,” not to be relational orphans, and even more significantly to function in the new creation image and likeness of God. Moreover, the response of these whole persons as the image of God in the new creation determines the relational involvement of whole church ontology and function beyond the limits of church as a voluntary association. We need to understand this more deeply.

Some may perceive ‘the church as Trinity’ as a metaphor by which to envision the church. For others, ‘the church as Trinity’ may serve as an organizational paradigm to structure the church and its operation. Either would be an error of reductionism which would result in a reductionist substitute of twofold consequence. The first part of the consequence diminishes the reality of relational involvement by the Trinity who experientially constitutes the church in the trinitarian persons’ ongoing relational work (the church’s ongoing relational base). The second part of the relational consequence from a reductionist substitute also separates (or distances) the church from functioning in its reciprocal relational work cooperatively with the Trinity to fulfill its purpose of embodying the relational extension of the whole of God’s family (the church’s integral relational basis).

Just as the whole of God vulnerably responded to our relational condition “to be apart” from the whole and the relationships necessary to be whole, our compatible response back to God can only be the whole of our persons in relationship together in the church as family both signified and ongoingly constituted by the Trinity. In the trinitarian relational context of family and the trinitarian relational process of family love, the persons together as the church become whole in the image and likeness of the whole of God. Without this relational context and process for defining who and what persons are and determining how persons together function in the innermost, there are only individuals in voluntary association—individually and collectively incomplete. Theological anthropology and ecclesiology without the Trinity are incomplete; both of these apart from the qualitative relational significance of the whole of the new creation in likeness ‘already’ of the Trinity lack coherence with God’s desires, design, purpose and thematic relational action. All these theological dynamics converge in the whole of God’s thematic relational response to our condition in order for us to be whole in the primacy of relationship together, which is composed entirely by the Trinity.

The wholeness that holds together human persons and the church in their innermost has qualitative meaning and substance solely in relational significance to the whole of God, and therefore to be whole is the experiential reality only in relationship-specific involvement with the Trinity. The theological anthropology and ecclesiology necessary to be whole emerge from this integral trinitarian theology, whose antecedent is the complete Christology. The substitutes of reductionism are the only alternative for both the person and the church—the alternative from which the “successful” churches at Ephesus and Sardis still needed to be redeemed, as do many churches and persons since.

The pleroma of God embodied his-their theological trajectory and relational path with the primacy of the qualitative and the relational in order to integrally distinguish the pleroma of Christ in the primacy of whole relationship together in their likeness. His church only emerges in their irreducible theological trajectory and nonnegotiable relational path, however improbable and intrusive.

 


 

[1] Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 295.

[2] While some early manuscripts do not include this statement, it is important to include this to establish the relational flow of the discourse.

[3] Thomas H. McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 60.

[4] McCall, 60-61.

[5] For Jews, Muslims and other monotheists, who cannot embrace Jesus as divine because that would compromise their monotheism, unfortunately are constrained by a quantitative monotheism which cannot receive the relational revelation of the qualitative whole of God. The consequence is to reduce God from whole monotheism to their referential terms and practice.

[6] For an overview of perichoresis in trinitarian theology, see Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, The Trinity: Global Perspectives (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007).

[7] For a discussion on these distinctions of the Trinity, see Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, The Trinity: Global Perspectives.

[8] For a broader development of this trinitarian theology, see my overlapping study The Person, the Trinity, the Church: the Call to be Whole and the Lure of Reductionism (2006), online at http://www.4X12.org.

[9] 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).

[10] As noted by Alister E. McGrath, “Evangelical Theological Method” in Evangelical Futures, ed. John G. Stackhouse (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 23.

[11] Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1963), 33.

[12] Miroslav Volf, “Community Formation as an Image of the Triune God: A Congregational Model of Church Order and Life,” in Richard N. Longenecker, ed. Community Formation in the Early Church and in the Church Today (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 223-225.

[13] Quentin J. Schultze, Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 37-42.

[14] Schultze, 35.

[15] For an expanded discussion on the origins of cultural differences in human thought see Richard E. Nisbet, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently
. . . and Why
(New York: Free Press, 2003).

[16] 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.

[17] Consider Peter’s image of Christ when he in effect would not let Jesus go to the cross (Mt 16:21, 22) and when he refused to let Jesus wash his feet (Jn 13:6-8). His reductionist images of Christ both prevented him from embracing the whole of God’s response and also allowed his whole person to remain in a comfort zone of relational distance.

 

 

©2012 T. Dave Matsuo

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