Jesus into Paul
Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel
Chapter 14 Held Together in the Innermost:
Theological and Functional Implications
for the Church and Academy
Let the word of Christ dwell in you wholly….
Faust’s question “What holds the universe together in its innermost?” had a spiritual focus for Goethe. Yet, the spiritual realm is an insufficient context to know and understand the answer. A narrowed search for the answer in referential terms also is both inadequate and misleading that cannot go beyond self-referencing, as physicist Stephen Hawking correctly concluded. Referentialization and spiritualization are unable to account for the irreducible primacy of the qualitative and the relational that is integral for the whole knowledge and understanding both sufficient and necessary to answer this question within the context of the universe and in the depth of the innermost. And such an answer involves inevitably addressing the human condition.
With the development (both positive and negative) of globalization and media technology, and findings from neuroscience research, it is unlikely that humankind has ever had more awareness of its relational condition than today. Yet, to the extent that this awareness exists, it tends to lack sensitivity to the qualitative and thereby, in fact, lacks the significance of relational awareness. Qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness are requisite for the primacy of the qualitative and relational that is integral to what holds us together. To the extent that Jesus’ followers in both church and academy have this sensitivity and awareness, they will have the whole knowledge and understanding to address this question and respond with significance to the human relational condition, notably in the human shaping of relationships together. The ongoing issue, of course, is to what extent we currently have the qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness necessary for the integrated primacy of the qualitative and relational in our own life and practice. Though we can rightly critique, for example, the quantitative limits of neuroscience research, at the same time neuroscience indirectly critiques the limits often assumed for both the human person and persons in relationship by the church and theological communities.
Antecedent to our
response to Faust’s question, therefore, most importantly we need to
respond to God’s questions currently directed to us: “Where
are you?” “What are you
From the beginning, this study has assumed that “The unfolding of your relational words gives light” (Ps 119:130). I have affirmed that God’s communicative word has indeed given us Light, but only as long as it is not the referentialization of the Word. The embodied Word’s inseparable theological trajectory and relational path are not compatible with referentialization. More importantly than having only sent Light, his vulnerable presence and relational involvement transform our ontology and function to be light in likeness of the Light of God (Mt 5:14; Eph 5:8). This Light constitutes the innermost of God and permeates the innermost of the universe to the heart of human persons to illuminate clearly and distinguish unmistakably what, who and how holds us together in our innermost. In Paul’s cosmology, he introduced this relational dynamic of the pleroma of God with “in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17), which extends in Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology to be the integral relational basis for the church, “the pleroma of him who makes whole all in all” (Eph 1:23).
The words unfolding from God cannot be known as the object of mere observation no matter how diligent the study, as Jesus exposed (Jn 5:39); therefore, his relational words are not understood in referential terms no matter how wise and learned, as Jesus illuminated (Lk 10:21). What unfolded is a theological question involving hermeneutics, which explains why even prevailing theological teachers cannot assume to understand, as Jesus disclosed (Jn 3:10-13). That is, how it unfolded is a hermeneutical question involving theology. The integral interaction between theology and hermeneutics is critical to understanding who came and what has come. This is who and what Jesus embodied in whole and extended further into Paul.
From the beginning the Word emerged from the innermost of God and improbably intruded from outside the universe to illuminate what is innermost for human persons in response to the human condition (Jn 1:1-5). As the unfolding of God’s communicative word of definitive blessing (Num 6:24-26), the distinguished Face shined on us to bring change (siym) for new relationship together in wholeness (shalom) with his vulnerable presence and relational involvement. Nothing less than the whole of the Word, the pleroma of God, in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6) was embodied in the innermost to compose ‘relationship together involving the whole person’. This is “the word of Christ” that Paul made the relational imperative to “dwell in you” (enoikeo, Col 3:16), denoting to indwell us, inhabit by special presence (as in Rom 8:11; 2 Cor 6:16).
For the word of Christ to indwell us wholly and inhabit by special presence raises three critical issues that are integral for our knowledge and understanding of the unfolded Word in the innermost:
These issues overlap and interact for either the relational outcome with the unfolded Word that Paul made imperative, or something less and some substitute.
The hermeneutical question emerges as the initial issue but this matter will soon be indistinguishable from the other issues. Underlying the horizons of reader and author-text in hermeneutics is the lens from theological anthropology that either allows for the improbable Word to speak for himself, or that narrows down the Word to better explain it with more certainty in probable terms. The latter involves the referentialization of the Word.
In referential terms, the person becomes redefined (intentionally or inadvertently) from inner out to outer in to have a better grasp of what is happening—for example, as observed in neuroscience research. With this hermeneutical lens and its interpretive framework, God is on a different theological trajectory merely as the Object to be observed and of faith, and these referential words “of” God are unfolded to transmit information about God, which then can be aggregated for greater explanation and certainty theologically. In contrast and conflict with referential terms and its quantitative shift, a theological anthropology that has not shifted to outer in perceives the person in whole, and this opens the hermeneutic lens to perceive the qualitative and the relational. The qualitative relational terms of God’s face unfolds in the theological trajectory as Subject beyond a mere Object in order to enact the relational path to be involved in reciprocal relationship together Face to face. What we know and understand of the whole of God (not fragments about God) is distinguished only in the relational epistemic process emerging from our involvement in reciprocal relationship with Subject-Face. In this relational epistemic process, God does not unilaterally impose knowledge of himself on us, nor do we unilaterally self-determine that relational knowledge of God—though much referential knowledge about God has been self-determined (cf. Ecc 12:12). This reciprocal process illuminates how the hermeneutic used interacts with and already becomes indistinguishable from the qualitative and relational issues.
The distinguished Face’s theological trajectory and relational path emerged from the whole of God’s definitive blessing and converged irreducibly and nonnegotiably in the intimate communion of whole relationship together. Who came and what has come cannot be experienced in the innermost on referential terms. The unfolding of the Word from God illuminating the innermost is only the relational Word, solely in relational language just for ‘relationship together involving the whole person’, the referentialization of whom deconstructs the whole of the Word, redefines the language and reshapes the relationship—all narrowed down to human contextualization and renegotiated to human terms.
The idea of referentialization of the Word may come across as blatant and contrary when in fact its operation is most often subtle and the default prevailing interpretive lens of the Word. When the Father made it the relational imperative to “listen to my Son” (Mt 17:5) and Paul clearly distinguished “Nothing beyond what is written” (1 Cor 4:6, cf. Ecc 12:12), the words emphatically focused on were relational words in relational language that embodied the Word in whole for relationship together. However, the prevailing alternative in the church and academy to this compatible reciprocal relational response to the Word—while eluding the Father’s imperative and avoiding Paul’s injunction—is a narrowing down of their words and thus the referentialization of the Word. This alternative lens points back to repeating a critical acknowledgement (noted in the previous chap.) that is important for the church and academy to make in their approach to the Word because most often prevailing interpretations have not gone to the innermost of the Word unfolded, and have both veered off Jesus’ theological trajectory and steered away from his relational path. This involves addressing the implicit practice whereby the referentialization of the embodied Word provides a hermeneutical basis to narrow down, disembody and thereby blunt the intrusiveness of Jesus embodying ‘relationship together involving the whole person’. This practice thus conveniently establishes a rationale, intentionally or unintentionally, for retreating from both qualitative engagement of the Word and relational involvement with his church family in whole relationship together vulnerably equalized and intimate—face-to-face relationship without both the veil and the distinctions based on what we do (no matter how valued by the church) and have (no matter how esteemed by the academy).
Paul’s relational imperative for the relational word of Christ to indwell our innermost is inseparable from and contingent on his relational imperative to “let the wholeness of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col 3:15): brabeuo, preside, direct, govern, be predominant, that is, Christ’s wholeness be what is primary to define and determine us from inner out, our whole person and our relationships together involving the whole person. Without this primary determination, the word of Christ is known and understood without his qualitative and relational significance that are necessary to indwell qualitatively and inhabit relationally by special presence in our innermost. Paul’s relational imperatives, therefore, are neither inseparable nor negotiable, and to diminish or ignore them signifies not knowing how the Word unfolded and not understanding what unfolded, and thereby to distort the unfolded Word and to misrepresent his gospel of new relationship together in wholeness.
The hermeneutical question of how the Word unfolded antecedes the theological question of what unfolded. Yet, the integral interaction between hermeneutics and theology composes our understanding of who came and what has come. This leads us to the second critical issue, the qualitative level of engagement in the theological process.
The qualitative issue involves the whole person from inner out, signified by the primary function of the heart. This becomes a major issue when the level of engagement not only in the theological process but in life turns from the primacy of the heart. Any existing divide between theology and function is a gap created by the turn away from the heart more than by anything else. This turn from the heart was given major impetus by the Enlightenment and its modernist framework. But the modernist framework merely provided a rationalized basis for what predated in the shift from the primacy of the qualitative to the quantitative using a lens from theological anthropology that defined ontology from inner out to outer in and determined function accordingly based on what we do in secondary terms. Whether this shift can be localized in the hemispheres of the brain for left hemisphere dominance (as McGilchrist contends, discussed earlier), its reality is a prevailing function that predated Jesus (Isa 29:13; Jer 12:2; Eze 33:31).
Later, Jesus clearly distinguished for all the churches the primacy of the heart in their ontology and function (Rev 2:23). This primacy is what unfolded and what has come that distinguishes the innermost of God. The roots of this primacy go back to creation, in which the human heart was implanted with eternity (‘olam, Ecc 3:11)—not about a quantitative element or chronological sense but a qualitative depth from the innermost of God that is fulfilled, completed and made whole (pleroo) by the pleroma of God (Col 2:9-10) in eternal life (Jn 3:16). Eternal life is composed in the innermost only by the Word unfolded, but this notion has been narrowly shaped in referential terms such that, for example, classical theism has viewed God as everlasting in time, and philosophical theology has disputed God’s changeability implied in time and views God as timeless (cf. Jn 3:31-32). Time, however, can refer to either the quantity of chronos or the quality of kairos, and life as either quantitative bios or qualitative zoe. The eternal of eternal life in relational terms is not either-or but both-and—both chronos and kairos in the endless season of opportunity (timeless) to know God (Jn 17:3) by participating in the zoe of God through the bios of Jesus for intimate relationship together in God’s family (Jn 3:16; 6:68). The qualitative of kairos and zoe is primary over the quantitative of chronos and bios while also inseparable from its secondary counterpart, which as both-and, not either-or, constitute integrally the whole of God who came and the whole in God that has come, and hereby the wholeness from and with God in relationship together. This primacy, however, must not be displaced by the secondary or this wholeness will be fragmented.
If John 3:16 is basic to our belief system, then we need to understand who brought it and what he brought. Eternal life as either-or is neither eternal nor life signifying the whole ontology and function of God embodied by the Son for new relationship together in wholeness. As either-or, the truth of the gospel has been reduced and salvation has been truncated; and the consequence leaves both without the outcome of wholeness in human ontology and function that is innermost by necessity to the nature of the whole gospel and pleroma soteriology. Eternal life composed by the Word unfolded is whole knowledge and understanding of the Trinity in relationship together, as clearly illuminated in the Son’s prayer (Jn 17:3). This relational outcome ‘already’ is the whole ontology and function of the church family in likeness of the Trinity, who holds them together as one in their innermost (Jn 17:20-26). The turn from the heart is to turn away from both the innermost of God and the distinguished Face who brought change for new relationship together in wholeness.
The loss of the primacy of the heart and the absence of the heart’s engagement create an insurmountable gap with the innermost of God to know and understand the qualitative whole of who came and what has come. The primacy of the qualitative in the innermost of God unfolds to illuminate unmistakably that ‘relationship together involving the whole person’ is irreducible and nonnegotiable for God, and thus is irreplaceable for direct engagement with God even though perhaps temporarily evaded. The primacy of the qualitative’s engagement integrally interacts with the third critical issue, the relational level of involvement in the epistemic process. The ongoing interaction of the primacy of the qualitative with the primacy of the relational is integral to knowing and understanding who came and what has come.
The relational issue centers on ‘relationship together involving the whole person’ and therefore converges inseparably with the qualitative issue. While the qualitative issue involves the turn away from the heart, the relational issue involves a turning to the human shaping of relationships. The Word unfolded and how the Word unfolded cannot be reduced to only the Object revealed for mere observation in a conventional epistemic process, notably shaped by modernity. Such a hermeneutic and theological approach to the Word disembodies the Subject unfolded, whose distinguished presence is involved in relationship. How the Word unfolded was as Subject only in relationship, and this conjointly signifies the primacy of the relational and necessitates the relational epistemic process to know and understand the pleroma of God who came and the pleroma of Christ that has come. Without this relational level of involvement in the epistemic process, all that remains is the Object to be observed through a quantitative lens on referential terms; and such observation, as Jesus clarified, is unable to perceive the qualitative in the innermost of God and the relational in the whole of God. The referentialization of the Word engages a fragmentary process characterized by human shaping of relationships that reduces the relational level of involvement to a distant or detached condition, whether in the epistemic process or in life. Underlying this process is a theological anthropology of reduced ontology and function. This underlying issue was Paul’s deepest concern for the church family when he declared “Has Christ been divided?” (1 Cor 1:13), and was the focus of Jesus’ post-ascension critiques of churches turning away from the primacy of the qualitative and relational.
Certainly, the relational and qualitative issues place the church and academy in a likely awkward position of having to choose between understanding the Word unfolded from inner out and grasping the Word evidenced from outer in, that is, choosing the improbable over the probable. Accessibility is not the issue in this decision but vulnerability—being vulnerable to and in the innermost. Enlightenment theologians, and those who followed using a foundationalist theological method (namely, neo-evangelicals), turned to the secondary to construct a perceived certainty of basic beliefs (first principles) within the boundaries of quantitative reasoning (or the parameters of a scientific paradigm). This so-called objective engagement was expected to result in the unbiased truth, but it only engaged the Object of faith in narrowed down referential terms, consequently disembodying the Subject present and involved in relational terms. Postmodernity rightly challenges modernism’s assumptions and practices and contends that any notion of knowledge is not disembodied, therefore must be situated to understand its human shaping. However, while postmodernism’s contextualizing has a qualitative focus, it is limited. It lacks involvement in a clear relational process distinguishing its epistemology, thereby essentially reducing the source of knowledge to its relative human shaping—which has its own biases and limitations, however embodied, which then puts all knowledge in doubt and any claims of it under suspicion.
In contrast and
conflict, Jesus distinguishes his followers as those knowing the
truth (Jn 8:
Accordingly, the relational outcome from this Truth necessitates by its nature in the innermost the full soteriology. A relational outcome limited to saved from is a half-truth just in referential terms that by itself cannot be the experiential truth and reality in relational terms. The nature of the Truth in relational terms necessitates integrally being saved to whole relationship together. In the primacy of the qualitative and the relational, being saved from sin as reductionism involves the integral salvific action to be made whole (sozo) in the innermost. This alone is the relational outcome ‘already’ of who came and what has come, and who and what holds us together in our innermost (Eph 1:22-23).
When Paul clearly distinguished the pleroma of God who came as “in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17), this has significance in the innermost just within the primacy of the qualitative and relational; and this has significance for our ontology and function in the innermost only when who came and what has come emerge from the qualitative and relational’s primacy. Therefore, turning away from the heart and turning to the human shaping of relationships are consequential decisions that reflect, reinforce and sustain the human condition in its innermost. These are consequences that the church and academy must account for in their own practice. For related accounting, both critical issues of the qualitative and the relational directly involve three inescapable issues and three unavoidable issues.
Three inescapable issues for our ontology and function needing accountability:
These inescapable issues are present ongoingly, knowingly or unknowingly, and operate with or without qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness. They decisively address our theological anthropology and consistently challenge our assumptions of ontology and function. Furthermore, they are interrelated to and in interaction with the following.
Three unavoidable issues for all practice, necessary to account for in all moments:
These unavoidable issues point to God’s relational righteousness, whose presence and involvement can be counted on to be who, what and how God is in relationship together, and who expects reciprocal relational response in compatible righteousness to be who, what and how we are (Eph 4:24; cf. 2 Tim 3:16). This is unavoidable in relationship together and is accountable for nothing less and no substitutes in whole relationship together, as Jesus clearly made his family accountable for in relational terms (Mt 5:20).
The whole of God who came and the whole of God’s whole relationship together that has come are at issue here in the innermost. Though this whole is clearly present and continuously active—as evidenced in Jesus’ family prayer and Paul’s echo of it—both Jesus and Paul never assumed the function of wholeness in the church family, given the ceaseless challenge from reductionism. These critical, inescapable and unavoidable issues address to what extent the Word unfolds for us in the innermost, and thus to what extent there is wholeness in our theology and practice.
As signified in the relational dynamic of Jesus into Paul, the Word unfolded whole in the innermost for Paul—the word of Christ indwelling him wholly. And thereby the kingdom’s whole of God’s whole relationship together unfolds into the church. Both Jesus and into Paul embodied the theology and hermeneutic of nothing less and no substitutes. They hold us accountable for compatible relational response and congruent ontology and function.
The turn from the primacy of the qualitative and the relational is the innermost alternative (i.e. to the innermost, not for the innermost) from reductionism and its counter-relational work; this defined Paul up to the Damascus road and currently finds expression in ontological simulation and epistemological illusion in the church and academy. Wholeness in theology and practice has eluded us, if not evaded by us, because reductionism has not been adequately countered. Paul’s integral fight for the gospel of wholeness illuminates the reductionism needing to be countered, negated, redeemed and made whole. The intensity of Paul’s fight against reductionism has not received the attention in Pauline scholarship that it warrants. Perhaps this neglect is due to a perception of Paul’s notion of reductionism itself. This raises a question that will help us further understand the integral basis for the relational dynamic of Jesus into Paul and his kingdom into the church.
Is reductionism a straw man in Paul’s polemic which becomes reified as his discourse unfolds?
Partly, the answer depends on understanding Paul’s relational language. Mostly, the answer will not be apparent if Paul is just seen within human contextualization, because there is no wholeness present in the historical Paul to illuminate God’s whole needed to identify this reductionism. Reductionism functions only to counter wholeness, thus the function of the whole is necessary to clearly expose the reality of reductionism. The unequivocal existence of reductionism has an ontological source but its primary presence appears in functions (individual and collective) as the alternative of anything less and any substitutes to God’s whole. The appearance of reductionism in human function is indistinguishable, particularly in the human shaping of relationships, without the presence of whole function. Even the contrast between reduced function and whole function is obscure when our interpretive lens does not pay attention to or ignores the difference. This lens becomes part of the issue in answering this question for Paul’s readers.
In a sense, this question would be like asking the historical Paul if he existed prior to the Damascus road since that’s when the reality of reductionism had specific existence in his ontology and function. That period of his life had less to do with Judaism and the law and was more about his practice of it. Paul could not and did not deny the reality of his faith-practice. After the Damascus road, reductionism was not a straw man for Paul to justify a new faith and practice. Rather reductionism signified the condition of his faith-practice—in contrast to the significance of Abraham’s faith—from which he necessarily was redeemed and was ongoingly transformed in order to be made whole in the ontology and function of God’s new creation family. If anything, reductionism was promoted by those who shaped and constructed alternative practices in the church to this wholeness, which was the nature and focus of Paul’s polemic.
Paul’s conjoint fight for the gospel of God’s thematic relational response signified the acutely real presence of reductionism and its influence to shape and construct alternatives to, or otherwise fragment, God’s relational whole—a condition pervading and prevailing even in churches then, and in church and the academy today. Reductionism was never its reification in Paul’s polemic but unmistakably the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions engendered by its ontological source, the author and propagator of metaschematizo and deception, as Paul made definitive and exposed (2 Cor 11:13-15; cf. Jn 8:44; Lk 12:1). The source and its reduced ontology and function must be accounted for—which Peter and Barnabas learned the hard way (Gal 2:13)—and its influence and alternatives must be exposed, refuted and redeemed by the reciprocal involvement of all of Paul’s readers. Otherwise the relational consequence is to be rendered to reductionist practice themselves, whether in the church or academy, individually or collectively, even unintentionally or unknowingly, as Barnabas appeared to function with Peter (noted above).
The question about reductionism then becomes for Paul’s readers: On what basis do we ignore or not pay attention to the reality of reductionism and its prevailing presence and pervasive influence on human life, evident even to observations in modern science noted previously? Part of this answer involves the strength and adequacy of our view of sin, notably in its normative character and collective nature.
In Paul’s pleroma theology, he is focused on a full view of sin, not limited to moral and ethical issues. This focus is necessary in order to engage not only the qualitative holy God but also the relational whole of God. Paul never assumes in theological discourse that illuminating the whole of God and the whole gospel are without struggle, the struggle due solely to the sin of reductionism and its source (cf. Col 1:28-2:8). Based on the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction from tamiym and Abraham’s faith, Paul understood the deeper significance of Satan’s seduction in the primordial garden to redefine human ontology and function from inner out to outer in. This redefinition was attempted unsuccessfully with Jesus in his temptation to reduce Jesus’ ontology and function. What Paul gained from the narratives of others’ lives and his own life was a full view of sin, the strength and adequacy of which is necessary to expose and establish the ongoing presence and influence of reductionism in counter-relational tension and conflict with the wholeness of the whole and holy God. Without this lens of sin, Paul’s readers have inadequate relational connection with the definitive basis for understanding the alternatives used for ontology and function, both for God and humans, which signify and constitute anything less and any substitutes of God’s whole and the gospel of wholeness. The relational consequence from this epistemic gap would be, functionally, a different gospel than Paul’s experiential truth, and, theologically, an incomplete Christology, a truncated soteriology, an immature pneumatology and a renegotiated ecclesiology—that is, reductionism of the pleroma of God, which reduces Paul’s function to pleroo the word of God and illuminate pleroma theology for the church’s whole ontology and function. That is the nature of reductionism, reified not by Paul but by its ontological source, for whom all of Paul’s readers must account.
Paul’s discourse is nonnegotiable in holding his readers accountable for God’s whole. He understood fully that the only alternative functionally and theologically is to be rendered to human terms, shaping, construction and fragmentation from reductionism. Perhaps this is the current state in which many church leaders have become embedded and Pauline scholarship has struggled.
The theology in question involves a specific hermeneutic. Whole (pleroma) theology is contingent on the pleroma of God relationally unfolded and thus is anteceded by the whole hermeneutic. This whole hermeneutic was the relational process Paul experienced in the innermost for the relational outcome of his pleroma theology. This relational process of transformation converged with Christ to take us beyond the limits (“set you free,” Rom 8:2, cf. Jn 8:32) of human thinking, shaping and construction. Paul clearly distinguished this transformation to the new creation from the old (former, prevailing, common) with the outcome of the phronema and phroneo in “life and peace” (Rom 8:5-6). As noted above, the primacy of life (zoe) is qualitative, not quantitative bios—which is not unimportant but still secondary to zoe. Emphases of bios apart from the primacy of zoe are narrowed down and become fragmentary. Wholeness (the innermost of peace) is intrinsic to zoe, and integrally together “life and peace” compose the new and whole phronema (interpretive framework) and phroneo (its interpretive lens). This is the interpretive framework and lens necessary to know the pleroma of God who came and to understand the pleroma of Christ that has come, the who and what holding us together in the innermost to embody into us this wholeness.
Paul made theologically conclusive and functionally definitive that the irreducible and nonnegotiable outcome for those baptized with Christ is whole zoe (Rom 6:4; Gal 3:27-28). This transformation process illuminates whole zoe as that which is “born from above” and not by human determination and shaping within the referential limits of human contextualization. Nicodemus lacked the interpretive framework and lens to understand both theologically and functionally the relational process to the new creation in eternal life (Jn 3:3-10)—the eternal life Jesus clearly disclosed as definitive of the primacy of the qualitative and distinguished by the primacy of the relational in “knowing, understanding and experiencing the whole of God” in relationship together (Jn 17:3). The lack that Nicodemus demonstrated exists today, creating an epistemological, theological and functional gap in our cognition, knowledge, understanding and experience of the innermost of who came and what has come, and thereby a gap in the experiential reality of who and what holding us together in our innermost. In contrast and conflict with referential terms and language, Jesus’ and Paul’s relational terms and language integrally embody the primacy of the qualitative and the relational necessary to compose the whole theology and hermeneutic of the gospel. While relational terms and language are irreplaceable for this composition, antecedent to this whole theology and hermeneutic is the whole phronema and phroneo.
Nicodemus’ lack in his interpretive framework and lens and the gap it created in the innermost are further illustrated in the key narrative of the transfiguration. This experience was discussed previously from Matthew’s Gospel but we need to look at Luke’s account for its further theological and functional significance—a detail that Luke included perhaps in concern for a gospel for all nations. In this key experience, Luke includes the detail of “the two men who stood with him” (synistemi, Lk 9:32). This synistemi connection illuminates in function what Paul illuminated theologically in his cosmology that “in him all things synistemi” (“hold together,” Col 1:17). When we look beyond the spatial proximity of Luke’s account and go deeper into the relational dynamic unfolded in this key experience, we are made vulnerable to an initial knowledge and understanding of who and what holds us together in our innermost. Here again, accessibility is not the issue but vulnerability to the qualitative relational whole of God’s self-disclosure unfolding. Peter lacked the interpretive framework and lens to see the whole of who unfolded and what was unfolding. In the gap of referential terms, he narrowed down his experience of synistemi to three separate tents to fragment God’s whole held together in the innermost and to construct his own shaping of relationships together (“one for you, one for…,” 9:33). Does this speak to our fragmentary approach to church practice and theological education, and to how we shape relationships in those contexts? The Father’s response illuminated the qualitative whole interpretive framework and lens necessary for the reciprocal relational response when he made it imperative: “Listen to him who unfolds my relational words for what is unfolding in response to your relational condition” (9:35).
Peter’s lack in response to the qualitative relational synistemi of the Word is mirrored today in the church and academy in the gap of our qualitative insensitivity and relational unawareness to being held together in our innermost, despite the quantity of referential information and knowledge about who came and what has come. What this demonstrated of Peter and demonstrates for us involves the crucial hermeneutic issue that integrally converges with the other two crucial issues of our qualitative level of engagement and relational level of involvement (all discussed earlier). How significantly these three crucial issues are attended to directly emerge from the experiential truth and reality of our baptism with Christ, that is, the “life and peace” of our phronema and phroneo. It is critical to distinguish our working interpretive framework and lens. In a referential framework, God is on a different theological trajectory that just transmits referential information about the Object of faith. With a referential lens, God’s relational path is not given primary attention or is ignored. In the qualitative whole phronema and phroneo, God’s face is present in the theological trajectory as Subject, with vulnerable involvement in his relational path, therefore necessitating our reciprocal relational response to know and understand God Face to face. As Subject, accessibility is never the issue for knowing and understanding the Word unfolded in the innermost, just vulnerability to the pleroma of God’s intrusive ‘relationship together involving the whole person’.
Luke’s fuller account of the transfiguration signifies the whole of God in whole relationship together that holds us together in the innermost. This initial synistemi connection in function was illuminated further by Paul in pleroma ecclesiology to embody the whole theology and hermeneutic of the pleroma of Christ (Eph 1:23; 4:15-16, cf. Col 2:19). Peter’s response to this synistemi connection further extended to Jesus’ footwashing and into his early theology, hermeneutic and practice for the developing church (Acts 11:8,17; Gal 2:11-14)—all of which exposed the interaction of his hermeneutic, qualitative level of engagement and relational level of involvement. We either continue to respond as Peter—for example, from outer in, in referential terms or on the basis of tradition—or we respond reciprocally in the qualitative relational significance compatible to and congruent with the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement.
Along with Paul and the Spirit, Jesus continues in post-ascension discourse to challenge our theological anthropology and its ontology and function to define persons and determine relationships and practice in the church. The Father’s imperative for us to listen carefully and pay attention to what you hear from the Son (cf. Lk 8:18; Mk 4:24) has further significance for Jesus’ post-ascension relational messages to his churches for their whole ontology and function. As Jesus countered reduced ontology and function, his messages are clearly to be paid attention to without option: “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”; and for those who are reciprocally involved with him to fight against reductionism (“whoever conquers”), the relational outcome is wholeness in the innermost together (Rev 2:7,11,17,26-29; 3:5-6, 12-13, 21-22). His vital relational messages for wholeness imply questions for us today:
· Have we made secondary our relational involvement of love (not about doing things for people), notably with the whole of God?
· Do we, as church, think we’re functioning well based on a reputation built by the amount of what we do and have?
· Does the underlying influence on the nature of our dedication and service emerge more from human contextualization to reduce our ontology and function in the innermost, and to shape a hybrid theology and church?
· In spite of, perhaps, the higher status of our resources, is our condition as church in reality no more than the status quo, and thus lacking wholeness?
· Do we have any sense of the qualitative knocking by Jesus at the heart of our whole person for the primacy of new wine communion together? That is, do we hear the relational words unfolding of the who came and what has come that holds us together in whole relationship in the innermost?
What we hear from the relational Word unfolding obviously depends on how well we listen—just as evidenced in the relational process of all communication. Listener-reader response has been an ongoing issue with the relational Word ever since the challenge was raised in the primordial garden “Did God really say that?”—or its more recent variation “Is that what God intended or meant?” The initial challenge, and subsequent challenges, to the relational Word from God established the basis for a different interpretive framework and lens (“saw that the tree was good…a delight to the eyes”) that narrowed down the epistemic field to pursue the human effort of self-determination (“to be desired to make one wise,” Gen 3:6), and thereby to shape the relational Word and relationship together on one’s own terms (“You shall not…nor shall you,” 3:3). This shift in interpretive framework and lens into conjoint function with self-determination and human shaping of relationship together has been on a parallel course with the relational Word unfolding and has prevailed in listener-reader response, even in the church and academy.
The ancient poet addressed these issues by communicating the relational message of the Word: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). The significance of “be still” (rapah) in this relational message is “cease and desist”—not merely to be quiet and beyond just to stop striving—that is, to cease the human effort of self-determination and desist from the human shaping of relationship together, in order to change our interpretive framework and lens to the primacy of the qualitative and relational necessary to know the whole of God vulnerably unfolded in relationship together. The pursuit of self-determination certainly engages various things “to be desired to make one wise.” For example, to be wise and learned has occupied our efforts with developing our minds and establishing its comparative status but most likely at the expense of the primacy of the heart and relationships, and thereby a loss of wholeness in theology and practice. Any preoccupation in the secondary always has consequences for the primary (cf. Lk 10:41-42; Jn 21:20-22). This leads us back to the question raised in chapter seven: To what extent does Christian theology reflect and is thus shaped by the relational Word unfolded in Scripture in the innermost of the primary—not the referential words in Scripture shaped in the secondary by reader-response—and, therefore, can truly be definitive in the relational terms of theology and not the self-referencing of egology? The latter does not and cannot embody the whole theology and hermeneutic of the relational Word unfolded in the innermost; it only reshapes the Word without desisting, in ceaseless discourse in contrast and even conflict with the Light and Truth unfolded from the Word (cf. Eccl 12:11-12; Ps 43:3).
When Paul made imperative for “the word of Christ” to indwell us and inhabit by his distinguished presence (Col 3:16), Paul’s only focus of this word was on the Subject who unfolded as the pleroma of God, and whose theological trajectory from the beginning has held all things together and whose relational path has vulnerably involved holding us all together in whole relationship in the innermost (Col 1:17-20). This alone for Paul was the Word who unfolded and what had come. Paul understood well, however, the human shaping of the Word and relationships together in secondary terms (Col 2:8,16-19; cf. 1 Cor 4:6-7), which could not indwell us in the qualitative level of the innermost or inhabit us at the relational level by the special presence of Subject-Word. Our phronema and phroneo will determine the Word that Paul makes imperative. For this reason, Paul conjoined integrally this imperative with the previous imperative for the wholeness of Christ to be the sole determinant in our innermost (Col 3:15). In a reduced interpretive framework and lens, the word of Christ is narrowed down to referential terms and language that, at best, can dwell only in our minds because it lacks the innermost of God to indwell in our hearts. With the qualitative whole phronema and phroneo, the word of Christ unfolds in relational terms with relational language to communicate, intrude, transform and hold us together in the innermost. This primacy of the qualitative and relational that is unfolded in whole by the relational Word from God is fragmented, submerged or lost with an interpretive framework and lens focused on referential words, disembodied texts and even an inerrant Word—all of which emerge in epistemological illusions of theological explanation and certainty and ontological simulations for function and practice.
When we cease the
effort of self-determination and desist from shaping relationships
together, we can go further and deeper than the referential limits
of suggestion to the experiential truth and reality of
knowing God in Face-to-face relationship. A referential interpretive
framework and lens cannot digest, or even perceive, the ‘Black Swan’
of whole theology. When the epistemic field of the Word is narrowed
down, all we can say about the words in the Bible is that they
suggest this, suggest God said that, suggesting God meant this or
intended that, I suggest. To ‘suggest’ does not involve and thus
should not be confused with the natural epistemic humility that is
the relational outcome of involvement with God in the relational
epistemic process. The discourse of suggest, on the one hand, is
necessary when we indeed cannot and hereby should not say
more—though many, if not most, ‘suggests’ do imply and mean to say
more. On the other hand, as a rule, to suggest about the Word is to
imply and mean to say that the words of God in the innermost have
not unfolded in the relational process of communication in the
context of relationship—whereby implying that God does not speak for
himself and must be spoken for, thus rendering the Spirit’s presence
and relational work as without significance. God illuminated through
the ancient poet that his Word unfolded embodies Light and Truth for
knowing and understanding the whole of God to those vulnerable in
relationship together (Ps 119:130, cf.
Until we cease our self-determination and desist from shaping relationships together, we cannot significantly address the human condition but in fact will reflect, reinforce or sustain it, both within the church and in the academy. Then there is no basis to refute the modernist’s claim for the improbable that doesn’t happen and the post-modernist’s charge for the impossible that can’t happen.
Luke’s transfiguration scenario illuminates our perceptual-interpretive framework and its underlying theological anthropology engaged in the three inescapable issues of (1) defining the person (2) determining relationships on this basis and thereby (3) practicing church. In the definitive blessing of God’s family love unfolding the face of Light and Truth, the involvement of God’s relational righteousness exposes our sin of reductionism (“unrighteousness,” Rom 3:5) to clearly distinguish the whole of God’s whole, innermost to ontology and function. This intrusion is either blocked by reprioritizing qualitative engagement with self-determination and by redefining relational involvement with human shaping, or it is responded to by vulnerable engagement of its primacy of the qualitative and involvement of its primacy of the relational. The vulnerable response to this intrusion composed the relational outcome ‘already’ of Jesus into Paul, which Paul embodied in the theology and hermeneutic of the gospel of wholeness in relationship together for the church in likeness of the whole of God—the integral relational basis and ongoing relational base holding the church together in its innermost. Yet, there was no vulnerable response for Jesus into Paul without tamiym’s epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction of Paul’s faith and his reduced phronema and phroneo.
Likewise, Jesus into Paul into the kingdom into the church and then into us—that is, those embodying the whole theology and hermeneutic of the gospel—by its nature necessitates our epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction. Our vulnerable response to the Word unfolded intrusively in ‘relationship together involving the whole person’ is the issue, not accessibility (Eph 3:12). For us to embody this whole theology and hermeneutic qualitatively engages the integral theological and functional relational involvement with the whole of God in the innermost in order to vulnerably experience the truth of the gospel of wholeness and the reality of its whole relationship together, and thereby be able to distinguish clearly its qualitative and relational significance against any and all reductionism and its counter-relational work—most urgently the self-determination and shaping of relationships in the church and academy. Jesus continues to be involved in the relational dynamic to extend the pleroma of God into his whole followers to embody together integrally the experiential truth of his good news and the experiential reality of his whole relationship together in order to be whole, live whole and make whole in likeness of the Trinity (cf. Mt 12:30)—just as (kathos) the Father into the Son and Jesus into Paul illuminated and distinguished the whole of God’s whole only on God’s qualitative relational terms for the world to believe and know (as he prayed, Jn 17:21-23).
Embodying includes the secondary of quantitative bios but most significantly involves the primary of qualitative zoe in the innermost. The former by itself does not embody the whole theology and hermeneutic of the Word and thus can only transmit referential information about it, which is not the qualitative relational significance the world needs to fulfill the human relational condition. With the primacy of qualitative zoe, the whole theology and hermeneutic of the relational Word unfolded is integrally embodied in the innermost and only on this basis communicates relationally the whole of God who came in response to the human condition and the whole of God’s whole relationship together that has come to hold us together in our innermost. Nothing less and no substitutes can embody and communicate the Word of God unfolded in the primacy of the qualitative and the relational.
In his Colossians communication, Paul integrated participles with his summary relational imperatives—be determined from inner out by Christ’s wholeness and be indwelled wholly by Christ’s word—in support of (complementary and instrumental uses of the participles) these imperatives to distinguish the purpose of their relational outcome ‘already’ for function together in the primacy of the qualitative and relational: teaching, admonishing and singing (Col 3:16). Based on the experiential truth of the word of Christ and the experiential reality of Christ’s wholeness in our innermost together in one body, Paul integrates support functions: teaching nothing less and no substitutes of the Word unfolded in whole and his new relationship together in wholeness; admonishing (noutheteo), to warn and alert each other of any and all reductionism and its counter-relational work fragmenting this wholeness; and, equally important, integrally practicing from inner out the primacy of qualitative engagement and relational involvement signified by qualitative relational singing-communicating ongoingly in whole relationship with God, including with each other (cf. Eph 5:19). This wholeness in life and practice, including in theology, is the defining purpose and the determining dynamic for God’s family that the Word integrally embodied and communicated.
In a relational message of deconstruction, Jesus critically distinguished this purpose and dynamic of wholeness for his kingdom-family: “whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Mt 12:30). To gather (synago) is not merely to gather (as in most of the churches in Jesus’ post-ascension critique) but to lead together and bring together with him in the whole of God’s whole relationship. To scatter (skorpizo) should not be buffered by the view of scattering and dispersing in a positive way into the world, or simply going home after having gathered, but denotes here to dissipate, waste what is whole or the opportunity and means to be whole. The either-or of Jesus’ words must not be reduced to suggest hyperbole but the relational words clearly communicating the whole of who came and what has come (12:28), while necessarily deconstructing the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of the who and what holding together his kingdom-family in the innermost: “Whoever does not gather with me in new relationship together in wholeness, then scatters by reshaping relationship together and thereby dissipating, wasting and fragmenting God’s whole.”
This either-or tension and conflict between wholeness and reductionism emerge in the communication of who came and what has come, as Jesus further illuminated with “good” being whole ontology and function, and “evil” being reduced ontology and function (Mt 12:33-37). Underlying the communication of the Word is this ongoing either-or dynamic between wholeness and reductionism. Communicating the Word unfolded in relational terms was Paul’s defining family responsibility for the church, his oikonomia to pleroo the word of God (Col 1:25). Our communication of the Word does not have the same canonical significance that Paul had to complete the words unfolding from God. Nevertheless, the nature of our communication (as in the second unavoidable issue for practice discussed earlier in this chap.) does have the same responsibility of canonical integrity to be complete and function whole in the communication of God’s Word in the innermost. Anything less is fragmentary and does not gather together with Christ in wholeness but scatters—the critical either-or issue between wholeness and reductionism that is not only unavoidable for our practice (as in the three issues to account for ongoingly) but also inescapable for our ontology and function (as in the three inescapable issues needing accountability).
The proclamation (preaching and teaching) of the gospel is contingent on both the experiential truth of who is claimed and the experiential reality of what is claimed in the innermost. Otherwise, the who and what have been narrowed down to referential information, which then is transmitted about a gospel without the qualitative relational significance of who came and what has come. Paul would not consider this so-called gospel a gospel at all (Gal 1:6-7). In other words, any form of reductionism is not an option in the communication of the Word.
Communication is the innermost means of relational connection between persons, whether divine or human. This communication takes place on different levels ranging from explicitly physical to implicitly spiritual and is expressed in various forms of verbal and nonverbal messages. What is common to all communication—indeed the key—is a shared language by which relational connection takes place on the basis of the different levels and various forms of expression. Obviously, different languages in the world make communication difficult, for example, between regions and cultures, but do not necessarily preclude relational connection. Even with a shared language, however, relational connection is commonly evident to be problematic.
A major part of the problem in relational connection is that the prevailing concept of language is referential, which only composes the content aspect of messages communicated between persons. The clarity-opaqueness and integrity-deception of the message-word content are critical for relational connection. This content is basic to communication yet insufficient by itself as the innermost means of relational connection between persons. Conjoined with the content aspect is the relational aspect of messages integral to communication. These relational messages qualify the message-word content to provide deeper meaning to the words by a speaker or author. As discussed previously with Jesus’ relational connection with persons, these three specific relational messages (usually implied) express (1) what the speaker is saying or feeling about one’s own person, (2) what the speaker is saying or feeling about the other person(s), and (3) what the speaker is saying or feeling about their relationship together. The deeper meaning from these relational messages is indispensable for establishing the full context of the word-content by the speaker in order to have whole understanding for significant relational connection. While relational messages neither make unnecessary the clarity and integrity of the word-content nor guarantee the relational connection, they provide the innermost means necessary for communication to make relational connection between persons. Is this not the purpose and function for communicating the Word?
When the shared language in communication is referential language, only the word-content aspect of messages is the focus of attention and hereby what is primary. This has been problematic for language theory, and more importantly problematic both for listening to the innermost means of communication by the Word unfolded in relational language, and for communicating this relational Word in his relational language. The Father’s relational imperative to “Listen to my Son” is not and cannot be reduced to referential language because this only transmits narrowed-down information about word-content without paying attention to the primacy of relational connection. The lack of clarity and integrity of referential language both prevent relational connection and turn the hermeneutical circle into a vicious cycle of listener-reader response shaping of both the content and any relationship between speaker-listener. The Father illuminated only the relational language of the Son that communicates the innermost means of relational connection to compose the whole of who and what holds us in relationship together in the innermost. This is the only language that the Father made imperative to listen to, and the only messages of Christ that Paul made imperative to indwell us and inhabit by his vulnerable presence and intimate involvement. When we share in this relational language with its primacy of qualitative engagement and relational involvement, then we can claim to have received the communication of the whole Word unfolded in the innermost (notably his three relational messages) for relational connection together, and on this qualitative relational basis can proclaim the innermost means to communicate the Word in whole for the relational connection with others to be whole, live whole and make whole in likeness of the Trinity—within the church, in the academy and even in the world.
Integral also to the clarity and integrity of communication for relational connection is the depth of communication. In his illumination of the integral framework for church leaders and his unfolding of the relational dynamic for the growth of the church, Paul adds the qualifier: “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). The referential truth does not require the qualitative relational significance of agape but only the explanatory certainty of the information (or doctrine) transmitted. Communicating the experiential truth necessitates the deeper means for the experiential reality of relational connection in whole relationship together as family (4:16). This deeper means integral to communication is love. Communicating in love involves agape-relational involvement; this depth level is not expressed without the primacy of qualitative engagement. This vulnerability has no substitute and can indeed be threatening and intrusive, yet signifies for communication the innermost means to relational connection. A shared language, even communicated with clarity and integrity, cannot ensure significant relational connection without the relational depth of love. Even when language is not shared, significant relational connection is made with the vulnerable relational involvement of love. Therefore, our language, on the one hand, as referential language is insufficient and thus unimportant for the communication of the Word for relational connection. On the other hand, our language as relational language composing the depth of our involvement is necessary and irreplaceable for communicating the relational Word unfolded in the innermost for the connection to new relationship together in wholeness without the fragmenting presence of the veil.
Based on the experiential truth and reality of the new wine ‘already’ (discussed in chap. 8), a valid question is raised about theological education today: Has it become an old wineskin that constrains the flow of the new wine and reduces the new wine of its qualitative and relational significance?
It is unlikely that Jesus and Paul would survive in the prevailing framework of education today in churches and the academy. Though both of them taught in the temple-synagogue contexts, they were in ongoing conflict in those contexts. Their conflict was not with the faith they had in common, but with the prevailing phronema and phroneo and with a reduced ontology and function. In the primacy of “zoe and wholeness” (Rom 8:5-6), therefore, Jesus and Paul intruded on those engaged in self-determination and shaping of relationships, and they would also intrude on and likely threaten theological education today. For Jesus and Paul, even well-meaning intentions in those contexts are insufficient to compose theological education, and inadequate to clearly distinguish its function and ongoingly sustain its practice—as evidenced in the churches Jesus critiqued in post-ascension (Rev 2-3).
The divide between theology and function and the increasing fragmentation of theological education into multiple theological disciplines are normative for the academy today, lacking a sense of the whole even when stated intentions seek coherence. Theology and function were inseparable for Paul, with function the priority from which his theology emerged. Function without theology does not determine whole function. Theology without function cannot constitute whole ontology. For Paul, wholeness in theology, ontology and function are determined only by the primacy of the relational Word both indwelling and inhabiting us from inner out with his qualitative presence and relational involvement (Col 2:9-10; 3:16). Anything less than the innermost and any substitute for it in theological education would no longer have the wholeness of Christ as its primary determinant (Col 3:15), nor would it have the whole of God holding it, the church and the universe together in the innermost (Col 1:17; Eph 1:23; cf. Lk 9:32). Any loss of synistemi and lack of wholeness raise the basic question of what is at the core of theological education, which the academy can no longer assume to be valid.
The core of what holds together the human person, the church and theological education depends on one’s interpretive framework and lens. That is, ‘core’ may either be merely the center (what is central to) of a person’s, church’s, theological education’s perspective/position, or be the innermost of what holds all else together in the whole. The latter necessitates the primacy of the qualitative and the relational. Therefore, to go from what is merely at the center of theological education to its innermost exposes the need for decontextualization and deconstruction of two primary issues facing theological education in the church and academy today:
When the core of theological education makes this shift from merely what is its center to the innermost of what holds theological education together to be whole, it can address the innermost composition of its core. This exposes a further relational issue facing theological education, particularly in the academy and accordingly in churches. Most problematic in the academy has been a growing (even established) lack of “paying attention to how you listen to the Word” (Lk 8:18) and an increasing (even self-sustaining) inability to “pay attention to what you hear from the Word” (Mk 4:24)—each disregarding the Father’s relational imperative. In any discussion of the Word it is important to distinguish between ‘what is heard’ and ‘what is seen’. Modern perspective (or worldview) gives priority to sight over sound. Yet sound is more basic than sight. In anthropological study, most traditional societies regarded sound as more important than sight, and those societies tended to be more personal and relational. The Father’s imperative to “Listen…” gives priority to sound over sight because sound is more qualitative than sight and can account for that which is not seen and for mystery. The significance of the Word is both qualitative and relational, therefore the written Word needs to point to the sound of the communicated words from God’s mouth. But if the sight of the Word has primacy over the words from God’s mouth, then the Word becomes disembodied and thereby disconnected from the qualitative relational significance of the whole of God’s self-disclosure for the sole purpose of whole relationship together and knowing God intimately, not merely having referential information about God.
This relational problem in the academy has been consequential in the decrease of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness—in both theology and function for persons, while in the academy, the church or in the world—that has rendered interpreting the Word to a hermeneutical vicious cycle of human contextualization and shaping, consequently reducing the composition of theological education in its core and at its edges to self-referencing. Its edges include attributing the human shaping of ministry and mission to what God is doing in the world. The self-determining efforts and shaping engaged in self-referencing is further evident in the identity of the academy’s various institutions, whose primary identity highlights its self-referencing—centered on the primacy of what it does and has (cf. 1 Cor 4:7)—and not the qualitative relational significance of the Word unfolded from and by the whole of God (1 Cor 2:9-10; 4:6).
Jesus keeps knocking at the door of the academy to intrude on its self-determination and its shaping of relationships with ‘relationship together involving the whole person’ to get to the innermost to hold the academy in whole relationship together. For this innermost core to emerge in theological education, there is needed not a mere central truth centered on doctrine but rather solely the primacy of the qualitative embodying the primacy of new relationship together in wholeness—the relational outcome ‘already’ of the whole of God’s definitive blessing. From the beginning of his theological trajectory to the current relational progression of his relational path, we need to listen to the pleroma of God whose wholeness composes the core of theological education with nothing less and no substitutes. Theological education is unable to address the functional and tactical issues (challenges, needs, opportunities), much less strategic ones, facing it within the academy, the church and in the world, until it has whole understanding of the strategic, tactical and functional shifts of the whole of God’s theological trajectory and relational path. Without this understanding, it is inevitable to become preoccupied with the secondary over the primacy embodied by the Word in whole.
When the core of theological education returns to the Word unfolded in whole (cf. Rev 2:4-5), it is face to Face with the relational Word who, by the nature of the Word, must be taught in his relational language with relational words by his relational process. Teaching in only his relational terms and not referential terms challenges the prevailing pedagogy in higher education. Therefore, theological education also needs to turn to Jesus for how to teach its innermost core.
The most consequential non-issue issue in theological education involves its Christology, which routinely separates Jesus’ teachings from his whole person, leaving only disembodied teachings. By its nature, the incarnation cannot be reduced to redefine Jesus merely by what he taught or only by what he did, although a theological anthropology of reduced ontology and function assumes it can and consequently does that. The incarnation embodied the whole of Jesus’ person, as the whole of God, for the relationships together necessary to be God’s whole as family. Contrary to prevailing views of discipleship, both in the ancient Mediterranean world and the modern world, Jesus did not merely embody teachings to follow, examples to emulate, even principles to embody, and subsequently for followers to teach. Accordingly, current theological students must be in contrast to rabbinic students in the past, which also necessitates a qualitative relational difference in theological teachers. The whole of Jesus, composing in complete Christology and full soteriology at the heart of theological education, vulnerably embodied only the whole of God and God’s relational response for whole relationship together with the veil removed, the embodying of which was qualitatively distinguished in the trinitarian relational context of family by the trinitarian relational process of family love. Anything less and any substitutes for the whole of Jesus disembodies him and fragments his purpose and his function, and thereby always engages reductionism of the whole he embodied—God’s relational whole on God’s qualitative relational terms.
The whole embodied by Jesus was clearly distinguished both in what he taught and how he taught. Jesus’ approach to teaching the whole was not about revealing (apokalypto) key knowledge and critical information in referential terms because the relational content (qualifying word-content) distinguishing God’s whole involved only the whole person in relationship. What this involved for Jesus is vital for us to understand both to more deeply experience his embodied whole and to further extend God’s whole to others within the church and in the world, the antecedent of which emerges from the quality of theological education and not its quantity. Jesus’ pedagogical approach to teaching and learning, integrated into the relational progression of discipleship in his theological trajectory and relational path, not only needs to inform and reform theological education in the academy and Christian education in the church but also to transform them.
When Jesus told the Father that he disclosed him to the disciples (Jn 17:6), he used phaneroo, which refers to those to whom the revelation is made, and not apokalypto, which refers only to the object revealed. This is not an artificial distinction to make but a critical one to distinguish God’s revelation as Subject engaged in relationship in contrast to only the Object to be observed. Phaneroo signifies the necessary context and process of his disclosure of the whole of God and God’s whole, whose relational content would not be sufficient to understand merely as apokalypto of the Object observed in referential terms. How did Jesus constitute this key context and process to fully disclose this wholeness?
John’s Gospel provides the initial overview of Jesus’ pedagogy, which is the functionally integral framework for the qualitative significance of his disclosures. In the narrative of a wedding at Cana attended by Jesus and his disciples (discussed earlier), Jesus used this situation to teach his disciples about himself (Jn 2:1-11). This initially evidenced the three dynamic dimensions basic to his approach to pedagogy.
As a guest, Jesus participated in the sociocultural context of the wedding (an event lasting days). In response to his mother’s request, Jesus appeared reluctant yet involved himself even further than as guest. In what seems like an uneventful account of Jesus’ first miracle unrelated to his function and purpose, John’s Gospel also provides us with the bigger picture illuminated in his introduction (Jn 1:14). John’s is the only Gospel to record this interaction, and the evangelist uses it to establish a pattern for Jesus’ ministry. The miracle was ostensibly about the wine but its significance was to teach his disciples. Both what and how he taught is vital for the wholeness of theological education.
When Jesus responded to his mother and got further involved, he made the whole of his person accessible to his disciples. Jesus was not just approachable but vulnerably accessible. This involved more than the quantitative notions of accessible language or words in teaching, or of making accessible one’s resources. This deeply involved making directly accessible the whole of his person and the qualitative significance of who, what and how he was. In this social context Jesus did not merely reveal (apokalypto) his resources but most important vulnerably disclosed (phaneroo) his functional glory to his disciples, not a mere theological glory lacking functional significance (2:11, cf. 2 Cor 4:6). The first aspect of his glory that Jesus made accessible to them was God’s being, the innermost of God signified by the primacy of the heart. It was Jesus’ heart, composing his whole person, whom he made accessible to them. The whole person, composed by the function of the heart, distinguishes clearly the depth level of significance necessary to be accessible in Jesus’ pedagogy. Anything less and any substitutes are inadequate for this accessible-level to teach the whole further and deeper than referential terms. A turn from the heart is consequential for the qualitative engagement needed to be accessible. It is incongruent to be helping others understand wholeness while one is not functioning to be whole in the process. Therefore, Accessible (A) is the first dynamic dimension in Jesus’ pedagogy necessary by its nature to be whole in order to teach the whole.
Phaneroo illuminates the irreplaceable context and process for making his whole person accessible. The miracle, self-disclosure, being accessible, all are not ends in themselves but in Jesus’ purpose and function (even in this apparent secondary situation) are always and only for relationship. More specifically then, phaneroo distinguishes the integral relational context and process involved in his teaching. When Jesus disclosed his glory, he did not end with making accessible God’s being, the heart of God. The second aspect of his glory involved God’s nature, God’s intimate relational nature, witnessed initially between the trinitarian persons during his baptism and later at the transfiguration. In this teaching moment, Jesus disclosed his whole person to his disciples for relationship together, thereby disclosing the intimate relational nature of God—that is, his functional glory, in his heart and relational nature, communicating in the innermost to make relational connection with their human ontology as whole persons created in the image of the heart of God for relationships together in likeness of the relational nature of the Trinity (as in Jn 1:14). This also provides further understanding of the relational context and process of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition and what is involved in that connection, which integrally composes the innermost core of theological education.
In this seemingly insignificant social context, Jesus qualitatively engaged and relationally involved his whole person with his disciples in the most significant human function: the primacy of whole relationship together. As he made his whole person accessible in this relational context and process, his disciples responded back to his glory by relationally “putting their trust in him” (2:11). Their response was not merely to a miracle, or placing their belief in his teaching, example or resources—in other words, a mere response to the Object observed. The context of his teaching was relational in the process of making accessible his person to their person, thus deeply connecting with the heart of their person and evoking a compatible relational response to be whole in relationship together Subject to subject, Face to face, heart to heart. This relational process also illuminates the intrusive relational path of Jesus’ ‘relationship together involving the whole person’, which anticipates his improbable theological trajectory to remove the veil for intimate relationship with God. If his teaching content were only cognitive, this qualitative relational connection would not have been made. Anything less and any substitute from Jesus would not have composed the relational context and process necessary to qualitatively engage and relationally involve his whole person for relationship together to be whole, consequently not fulfilling God’s thematic action in relational response to the human relational condition. Therefore, Relational (R) is the second dynamic dimension in Jesus’ pedagogy necessary by its nature to live whole in relationships in order to teach the whole, only God’s relational whole.
When Jesus turned water into wine in this secondary social situation, he did not diminish the significance of his miracle or his glory. His disclosure was made not merely to impart knowledge and information about him for the disciples to assimilate. His disclosure was made in this experiential situation (albeit secondary) for his disciples to experience him living whole in this and any life context, not in social isolation or a conceptual vacuum that a theology divided from function signifies. For Jesus, for example, merely giving a lecture/sermon would not constitute teaching—nor would listening to such constitute learning. That is to say, his teaching was experiential for their whole person (signified by heart function) to experience in relationship. For this experience to be a reality in relationship, the whole person must be vulnerably involved. When Jesus made his heart accessible to be relational with his disciples, he also disclosed the third aspect of his glory involving God’s presence, God’s vulnerable presence. In the strategic shift of God’s thematic relational action, the whole of Jesus embodied God’s vulnerable presence for intimate involvement in relationship together, therefore disclosing God’s glory for his followers to experience and relationally respond back to “put their trust in him.” The embodied Truth is experiential truth vulnerably present and involved for the experiential reality of this relationship together. If this is not the qualitative relational significance of the gospel at the heart of theological education, its core is not in the innermost.
Human experience is variable and relative. For experience to be whole, however, it needs to involve whole persons accessible to each other in relationship by vulnerable involvement together. For this relational dynamic to be a functional reality, it must be the relational outcome of Jesus’ theological trajectory that removed the veil in relationship together. This was Jesus’ purpose in his teaching and his pedagogical approach, which also was intrusive with ‘relationship together involving the whole person’. This was who, what, and how Jesus was ongoingly in his glory: who, as his whole person signified by the qualitative function of his heart; what, only by his intimate relational nature; and thus how, with vulnerable involvement only for relationship together to be God’s whole. The reality of relationally knowing (not referential knowledge about) the whole of God and relationally participating in God’s whole only emerges as experiential truth. Jesus’ teaching remains incomplete, and our learning is also not complete, unless it is experiential. Therefore, to complete the three-dimensional approach, Experiential (E) is the third dynamic dimension in Jesus’ pedagogy necessary by its nature to integrate the other two dimensions of Accessible and Relational for the qualitative depth of the whole in order to teach the experiential truth of the whole for its experiential reality in new relationship together in wholeness.
The three AREs of Jesus’ pedagogy form a definitive three-dimensional paradigm to be whole and to live whole in order to teach the experiential truth of the whole. That is, this three-dimensional paradigm is to teach the whole as God’s relational whole on God’s qualitative relational terms, just as Jesus vulnerably embodied, relationally disclosed and intimately involved his whole person with other persons. From this overview, Jesus ongoingly demonstrated his three-dimensional pedagogical approach. This was evidenced notably in three examples which went against the norm in religious, cultural and social practice.
When Jesus was approached unceremoniously by a prostitute, he made his person accessible to her person even in the context of her perceived overtures (Lk 7:36-50). In the process he vulnerably involved his whole person with hers for relationship in intimate love. Jesus used these intimate moments to teach her the experiential truth of God’s grace, to affirm to her the experiential reality of her forgiveness, and to have her experience being made whole (sozo), God’s whole. In another situation, Jesus took the initiative to make his whole person accessible to a Samaritan woman (Jn 4:1-42). He increasingly involved his person vulnerably with hers for relationship with the whole of God. By this experiential relational process, he made God’s heart accessible to her and taught her what God desires most: the whole person in intimate communion together. This provided her both the relational basis to be made whole in God’s family and the experiential truth that God’s whole is for all nations and persons without distinctions. The third example overlaps two situations. The first involved Jesus’ calling of Levi (Mt 9:9-13) and the second was his call to Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10). Jesus initiated making his person accessible to both tax collectors for relationship. Moreover he involved his person vulnerably with them by participating in table fellowship together (a gathering of great significance in their time). In this experiential process, Jesus taught them what it means to be made whole, and constituted them in the experiential truth that they have been redemptively reconciled to belong to the whole of God’s family, without any veil between them.
Jesus’ pedagogy contrasted with the prevailing teaching practices in the ancient Mediterranean world and conflicts with any reductionist teaching approaches, notably in the modern Western world with its primary focus on referential knowledge and rationalized understanding through the narrowed-down quantitative lens from reductionism—further exposing a theological anthropology of reduced ontology and function. The learning process of Jesus’ pedagogy necessarily involves whole knowledge and understanding (synesis), which engages the primacy of the qualitative and the relational for the outcome of whole ontology and function. Therefore, Jesus’ teaching of God’s whole involves redemptive change and transformation to the new—not only for the whole person to experience as an individual but most importantly to experience in relationship together to be the whole of God’s family. God’s relational whole on only God’s qualitative relational terms is this new creation family—the new wine communion with no veil—relationally progressing to its ultimate relational communion together, which Jesus made imperative to be taught after he discussed a series of parables about the kingdom of God and the last things (Mt 13:52). Anything less and any substitutes of this new in whole constrain the flow of the new wine and reduce the planting, cultivating, growth and taste of the new wine in its full qualitative relational significance.
John’s Gospel gives us this big picture from the beginning, in which Jesus ongoingly functioned in his theological trajectory yet remaining vulnerably involved in his relational path for intimate relationship together. The whole of Jesus’ teaching only had significance in this definitive relational progression for this relational outcome ‘already’ and relational conclusion ‘not yet’. And this is how any teaching of the whole of God’s family needs to be theologically and functionally contextualized—and all the “trees” of life put into the “forest” of God’s thematic relational action for the eschatological big picture and the ultimate relational communion together, just as Paul composed in his theological forest and systemic framework. For Jesus, and Jesus into Paul, the only embodying of theology that has qualitative relational significance is nothing less and no substitutes for the whole. To embody God’s whole, therefore, any theological enterprise by necessity functions in the pleroma of God’s improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path; and this trajectory and path involve irreplaceably the primacy of the qualitative and relational needed to be God’s new family together in wholeness with no veil—the fulfillment of God’s definitive blessing that embodies siym for shalom.
Both Jesus and Paul intrude on theological education today to challenge integrally what composes its core and how it teaches this core. In teaching God’s relational whole, its engagement must involve the three AREs of Jesus’ pedagogy to be compatible with the trinitarian relational context of family and to be congruent with the trinitarian relational process of family love that compose the new creation family. At the heart of this relational context and process is ‘relationship together involving the whole persons’, and this clearly involves being accountable for our whole ontology and function with the veil removed. The new wine is composed by and is contained in only this whole ontology and function.
Wholeness is not optional for the academy and the church. Anything less and any substitutes will be insufficient to be whole and to live whole in order to teach the whole of God’s whole. These alternatives impede the relational dynamic of the kingdom into church and preclude our theology and function from being in likeness of the whole of God, whereby our practice reflects, reinforces or sustains the human condition. Addressing the likes of Faust’s question requires inevitably to address the breadth of the human condition—even as it exists in the academy and the church—and to respond intrusively with the depth of the gospel of wholeness. This is what Jesus in post-ascension holds his church and the academy accountable for—God’s relational whole on God’s qualitative relational terms, the who came and the what has come that holds us together in our innermost.
“Where are you?” “What are you doing here?” “Don’t you know me yet?” “Why are you…?”
Jesus into Paul into…!
 For a limited discussion on the issues of language and reading Scripture, see Gregory J. Laughery, “Language at the Frontiers of Language,” in Craig Bartholomew, Colin Greene and Karl Möller, eds., After Pentecost: Language and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 171-94.
©2012 T. Dave Matsuo