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Jesus' Gospel of Essential Justice

 

 The Human Order from Creation through
Complete Salvation

 

   Justice  Study

 


 

T. Dave Matsuo

 

©2018 TDM All rights reserved

No part of this manuscript may be reprinted without permission from the author

Contact: tdavematsuo@4X12.org

 

 Chapter 1   

         The Sentinels of Human Life

 

Sections

 

Getting Right to the Core

The Alternatives for Getting to the Core

Human Theories of Human Order

The "Holy Debate"

Transposing the Heart of the Gospel

Getting Right the Heart of Our Theology and Practice

Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Ch 6

Ch 7

Printable pdf
of entire study

●  Table of Contents

●  Glossary of Key Terms

●  Scripture Index

●  Bibliography

 

 

So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house, people and kingdom of God;

whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.

Ezekiel 33:7[1]

 

 

 

            Today, we are witnessing—more visibly through global media than ever before in human history—the reality that we live in divisive, fragmented and broken contexts of everyday life. How we adapt to this pervasive experience is one issue we all face. More important is the challenging issue of what all Christians need to do about it beyond merely adapting.

            All of you have experiences (personal and/or family) with being wronged, treated unfairly, or simply relegated to less-than-just conditions. Or, at least, all of you have knowledge of others and such sociocultural contexts that experience these consequences, including all dimensions of human life at all its levels. Rather than my bringing up examples of these experiences, I encourage you to draw from your particular experience and knowledge in order to ongoingly relate the following discussion to your specific contexts of everyday life.

            This study encompasses dimensions and levels of human life, the nature of which necessitate changes in existing conditions and practices. To embrace such change requires action on our part—specific action first to the particular contexts of our experience and knowledge, and then, hopefully, further action embracing the general contexts of others in all of human life.

            As Christians, how we live in everyday life is challenged to act both congruent to God’s creation and compatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The heart of creation and the gospel may in reality be incongruent to how we live and may in fact be incompatible with the gospel we claim and proclaim. We are challenged to listen carefully to the communication of God’s words, which converge in the Word’s gospel, because all Christians have been established as the sentinels of human life. And if we don’t live in the world as distinguished sentinels, God holds us accountable for the wrongs in the human condition and the unjust actions by others (Eze 33:7-9). Therefore, as God’s words unfold in this crucial discussion, listen and act (cf. Isa 52:7-8; 56:10; 62:6).

 

 

Getting Right to the Core

 

            Your experiences and knowledge of others’ unjust action are not abstractions; nor do they represent concepts and ideas. They reflect the existing reality of human life in the facts of its inescapable condition. As our existing reality, we are responsible to address this human condition not with an idealism (biblical or otherwise) but to act in human life right to its core. That requires us to go beyond the material aspects of life, deeper than the intellectual, and necessitates us to encompass the breadth and depth of life further than merely the spiritual, in order to get right to the heart of the (our) human condition and to get right the heart of all life. Getting right to this heart is the purpose of this study and getting right—the correct design and order of life as created only by God—this heart is its only outcome of significance; and anything less and any substitutes are insufficient to serve its purpose and inadequate to fulfill its outcome.

            In the everyday reality of life, all human persons are faced with basic questions that we, consciously or subconsciously, have to take account of in one way or another. These basic questions define our identity and determine our everyday life, and they include: What is my background? Where did I come from? What am I doing here; and where am I going? Christians notably make assumptions about these questions, and thus we often allow surrounding influences to shape the answers defining our real (not ideal) identity and determining our actual (not virtual) practice. Yet, if we are to distinguish our everyday life from our above experiences and knowledge of others, then we need better answers to get us right to the core of these questions and the heart of their answers. Even philosophers, theologians and scientists must account for their everyday lives beyond the limits of their disciplines and further than the constraints of their thinking and practice.

            Yet, the limits and constraints to which all of us are subject in our human condition are not readily recognized or usually acknowledged. This makes it essential for us to make our persons vulnerable in how we think and what we practice. That is, we have to relinquish control of how we commonly think and what primarily determines our practice, in order to get right to the core of these questions and to the heart of their answers. Being vulnerable with our persons is not an option but the only door that opens to our whole person, and that unfolds the path to the wholeness of human life.

            Human life encompasses all persons, whatever their immediate background and current distinction (e.g. based on culture, race, class, gender, abilities or resources), in the breadth and depth of the human order. In the scope of the human order (whether perceived vertically or horizontally), each person needs to have a purpose and desires to have a satisfying life. The purpose and satisfaction for persons, however, are elusive when the human order has an ambiguous breadth and vague depth—that is, an order not constructed at its heart. Without definitive answers of everyday significance to our questions, the common distinctions of human construction borne (voluntarily or imposed) by persons in a specific human order thereby define their identity and what place they have in that human order (from the biological family to the cultural community to society-at-large and then to all of humanity). Bearing these common distinctions—inevitably forged in the human comparative process—determines the extent of their everyday lives and the level of satisfaction available for their life. Regardless of the value-level of distinctions in any human order, everyday life for all persons strains when it doesn’t get right to the heart of its background and where it came from; and all human life suffers when its human order doesn’t get right what it’s doing here and where it’s going.
 

 

            Getting right to the heart of everyday life involves unavoidably getting right to the heart of our human condition—the condition initially witnessed in those experiences and knowledge of others. Yet, the extent of our exposure to our shared human condition will be determined by how vulnerable we become; otherwise how we see the human condition will be skewed and rendered by our biases. Without filtering, minimalizing or denying the consequences of this condition, our vulnerability leaves us open to clarification and correction about our human condition, namely from listening to God’s words, which may call for us to make necessary changes. We will neither be open to clarification and correction nor make changes without being vulnerable with our person. Moreover, getting right the heart of all life involves unmistakably getting right the source of all life and getting right the source’s order for all human life. When you examine your experiences and knowledge of others and consider what is wrong, unfair and unjust, we don’t get to the heart of this understanding unless we get right the true source of life and its essential whole human order. This is not an academic exercise but the basic process of life needed to live in wholeness and not in any reduced condition.

            Getting right to the heart of everyday life and getting right the heart of all life are vulnerable processes that challenge who, what and how we are in life, which by necessity also involves facing where we are in our thinking and everyday beliefs. These heuristic explorations point to two historical contexts in the background of all persons—contexts which are mainly understood in a general way, as common knowledge that not all persons accept. Lack of consensus has been consequential for the human order. Even in the presence of consensus, however, the human order has suffered from the lacks in those composing the consensus. Hence, the need to face where we are in our thinking and not our ideals but our everyday beliefs.

            This common knowledge tells us where we came from, what our make-up is, and how our human development has formed. These two historical realities are (1) the creation of life and (2) the formation of the human condition by the dynamics of reductionism—a condition commonly composed by the inadequate perceptions and misperceptions of sin. When understood only as common knowledge or perceived merely as doctrine, these historical realities are not accounted for in their full significance—often becoming only virtual realities in our everyday beliefs, perhaps becoming insignificant in our thinking. Their full significance, however, is essential to understand because they are irreplaceable to define our whole identity and to determine the wholeness for our everyday life. Getting right to the core issue: Without the essential understanding of creation and the human condition (to be discussed in the next chap.), human persons cannot adequately explain what we are doing in life and where our life is going.

            Right at the very heart, even most Christians do not sufficiently understand the breadth and depth of God’s creation and of our human condition of sin as reductionism.[2] Therefore, other than general statements of doctrine, Christians typically are unable to define their full identity and determine the wholeness of their everyday life. And if Christians are unable to account for this essential breadth and depth, how can we expect the rest of human life to know and understand what is basic to who they are and essential for how to live every day?

            As you reflect on your experiences and knowledge of others, does it become apparent why God established you to be the sentinels of human life? As you consider your action as a sentinel throughout this study, I pray for your conviction about why God holds you accountable to be the sentinel of his words for the breadth and depth of creation, the human condition, and the human order for all persons, peoples and nations. Nothing less and no substitutes can fulfill the function of God’s sentinels.

 

 

The Alternatives for Getting to the Core

 

            In the spectrum of human life, who is good and who is bad? Who is considered better and who is considered less? Who is deemed right and who is deemed wrong? A survey of the human population would certainly yield a diverse definition of who they are. This would be expected in the global community; but a similar diversity of definitions also could be found in the Christian community. In the scope of the human order, who is easily replaced by what, since persons are objectified and thereby de-personed from their nature as subjects—rendered no longer in their created integrity. In the function of everyday life, alternatives have emerged and unfolded that have distorted, blocked or replaced what it means to be a person, what is primary for persons together, and how those persons and relationships need to be ordered. This includes alternatives promoted to serve optimal human function and the common good.

            Most persons rarely get to the core of where they came from, and this includes Christians. Their background usually encompasses no more than a family tree. Yet, consciously or not, they make assumptions about their core—assuming answers to those basic questions with alternatives influenced by other sources (such as culture, philosophy, science and other worldviews). The competition to have this influence has been strong—notably emerging from ancient Greek philosophy and the Enlightenment of modernity—gaining a widespread influence with rationalized and objectified measures that are appealing if not seductive. Christians have not been immune from this influence and have become relegated essentially to a theological fog enveloping these basic questions of human life. We, first and foremost in our everyday life, need clarification and correction for our thinking and practice, which again requires our person to be vulnerable and open to feedback, if not pushback.

            From no other source is the heart of human life and its order distinguished than from the Creator of life. Creation is the definitive context where all persons get their essential anthropology defining the identity of who and what they are in general, and where all Christians need to get our essential theological anthropology defining and determining who, what and how we are in particular.[3] Furthermore, when not diminished, distorted or discounted, the historical formation of the human condition is the inescapable context where we get to the core of human disorder in general and where we need to get our complete view of sin in particular.[4]

            Without fully understanding these pivotal contexts, we shape our anthropology and view of sin in reduced and fragmented human terms. The resulting interrelated shape then only reflects, reinforces or sustains the human condition. This subtle consequence is common to human life and is prevailing in human life, because underlying the human condition is a competing source, Satan. This is another source even more disputed, including by Christians, which this source promotes by design to divert attention with more appealing, compelling and seductive alternatives disguised in “positive terms” that mislead us from the existing realities of everyday life.[5] In a not-too-apparent real sense in today’s world, we can say that Satan promotes virtual reality and augmented reality for everyday life, and also perpetuates artificial intelligence to embed us in illusion, delusions, and anything less and any substitutes of the wholeness of creation. Yet, in logical thinking, if not always appearing reasonable, this is what to expect from the Creator’s competition.

            As we initially focus on the pervasive alternative for getting to the core, let me further get right to the penetrating point in this study and thus to the heart of my concern and purpose: A lack of justice pervades the earth and prevails in human life. I say “lack of justice” rather than “injustice” because what is perceived as injustice neither encompasses the breadth nor gets to the depth of justice as defined and determined by Creator God in the beginning. This lack of justice prevails even among Christians and not just other persons and peoples in human life, and it exists even in the church and not just other nations.

            Stated simply without apology: We (individually and collectively) have yet to get right the heart of all life, and therefore still strain to get right to the heart of our human condition. Consequently, the virtual reality is that many Christians live a life of injustice under the assumption that they are ‘just in Christ’, when in unaugmented reality they have claimed an incomplete, revised or fake gospel in subtle contrast or contradiction to the whole gospel embodied, enacted and fulfilled by Jesus, the whole person in one wholeness as the Trinity. Herein is the gospel of essential justice that constitutes the human order from creation through complete salvation.

 

 

Human Theories of Human Order

 

            The narrative of human life has been composed with variations of fact and/or fiction, ongoingly revised with optimism or pessimism, rendering plausible or implausible our prospects in life. Whatever narrative is embraced has far-reaching implications for all human life and immediate consequences for everyday life. Human life, in every narrative, comes with a human order, which inescapably defines the identity of those persons in that order and inevitably determines their function by that order. The outcome can be good news or bad news, but the outcome is unavoidable for those occupying that human order of life. This raises the critical issue and vital question:

What is the specific (not ideal) human order under which you live life; and are you aware of the reality of this order defining your identity and understanding of the reality of how it determines your function?

            If your experiences and knowledge of others haven’t already informed you, whether we as Christians face it or not, the realities of the world shape the reality of our everyday life. How and when we react to or act on this reality will depend on the underlying basis that defines who and what we are and that determines how we are. Therefore, recognized or not, realities of the world challenge the reality of our life, and without an integral basis these realities will shape that reality and control the outcome of our everyday life.

            We have to examine our background more deeply in order to understand how it has formed life as we experience today. Hopefully then, we will also understand how human life has been deformed, fragmenting who, what and how persons are. Throughout human history the defining order of human life has been perceived in various ways. In simple summary:  

In the past and the present, or for the future, human order has been conceived by human theories, the practice of which at their core have not proven either to have deep significance for human life or to fulfill an order that meets the needs (not necessarily the desires) essential for human life.

What must be learned from what amounts to human experiments cannot elude our understanding:

What is essential for human life does not emerge from a theory, whatever its human source, but can be understood only from a full knowledge of human life. Any theories based on a limited knowledge (its epistemic field) cannot and do not grasp what is essential. Without this whole understanding, human theories can only make assumptions (plausible or not) about human order; and, where applied, such theories can only construct incomplete, insignificant or false human orders, the formation of which reduce human life to a fragmentary human condition needing at its heart to be made whole.

            This theoretical process, experimentation and outcome are not a modern phenomenon and development. So-called human progress was proposed from the beginning (as in Gen 3:4-5) and has evolved ongoingly since ancient history—conceiving human order by prevailing human theories. One of our initial glimpses of this history emerged in Shinar (Babylonia), wherein the people wanted to build a city with a central tower of immense proportion never before seen by human eyes. This tower was constructed with the theory that this would establish a world order to unify all human life. The intention would appear good, but their theory was unfounded and thus their efforts ill-conceived. To clarify and correct human life, God intervened to expose their false assumptions and the hubris of their self-determination to construct the human order without a full knowledge of human life, and thus without understanding what is essential for its wholeness (the heart of human unity, Gen 11:1-9). God’s intervention is crucial for us to understand in this human experiment, demonstrating the integral purpose and concern of God’s ongoing presence and involvement in human life for its essential human order; and God’s communication clarifying and correcting this human theory is vital for us to take God’s words to heart.

            The construction of the tower of Babel reflects two critical errors, which continue to be reinforced and sustained to the present day: (1) they underestimated the depth of the human condition, and then, logically following, (2) they overestimated the value of human effort.

            Comparable human effort has been repeated through human history—failing to learn from human experiments—with refined variations of theories for human order still based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of human life. One example in church history was the construction of Christendom by Constantine in the fourth century, the remnants of which continue to shape various Christians efforts today for U.S. nationalism. This lack is consistently unrecognized, if not denied. This cycle has recurred within modern science and also among Christians with good intentions for the common good. And the cycle will continue as long as this lack of knowledge and understanding of human life is the basis for human theory, which in fact is the nature of human theory. Accordingly, the change essential for the basic order of human life will remain elusive, and thus all our effort will continue to be determined without deep significance for the human condition.

            Hope for pivotal change, however, is not lost, although it requires a change first in our approach to the needs of human life into their full context, as well as how we perceive the human condition in its full context. Entering their full contexts requires our vulnerability to have our thinking corrected from our assumptions and our perceptual lens clarified from our biases. Then, without the dominant influence from the assumptions of our theories and our biases, as we openly examine the full knowledge of human life and increasingly gain its whole understanding, we can start to conceive right the change necessary for the order essential to all human life. An integral dimension emerges in this conclusion: Any and all existing orders of human life will not be changed (i.e. transformed) until what exists in its full context is redeemed from the human condition. As the full knowledge of human life reveals conclusively, redemption is the indispensable process for this pivotal change and is the irreplaceable means for the order essential to all human life.

            To reemphasize, this pivotal change requires first a change in our approach to human life and the human condition—a paradigm shift at the core. Perhaps this change in our approach is analogous to a change occurring in modern science. The norm for scientists has been to formulate a hypothesis and then gather data to see if they can prove it wrong—the conventional scientific method. Today, however, a change in approach has emerged. Applied mathematician and statistician Emmanuel Jean Candes—who just won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant—informs us of this change. Researchers now typically reverse the above two steps. They first gather large data sets and then try to pinpoint their truly meaningful relationships. He concludes: “The way we conduct science has changed a lot…we need to rewrite statistical theory so that it is adapted to this big data world, where we collect data first and then we ask questions later.”[6]

            The same must be said for theological theory, the task of which needs to be based on biblical data (i.e. God’s words) collected first and then pinpointing their truly meaningful relationships.[7] This must be our approach to knowing and understanding human life, its essential order, and the change necessary to fulfill this irreducible and nonnegotiable human order for all of life.

 

The “Holy Debate”

 

            We cannot be the sentinels of God’s words for human life if we have not carefully listened to God’s words and remain in ongoing communication with the Spirit in relationship together (as in 1 Cor 2:9-13; Jn 16:13-15). The alternative, of course, is to speak for God, which we often subtly engage in with our assumptions and bias rather than rightfully letting God speak for himself. This signifies the human voice of “holy debate,” which is heard in the narrative of Job—and commonly heard among Christians, notably in the academy—about human perception of God and the theories that emerge about human order. Such views are expressed and the one with the most convincing voice tends to be elevated with the most influence in this competition, whether its basis has significance or not. Job, for example, admitted his lack of knowledge about God (see Job 23:1-9), yet he still continued in this “holy debate” with his friends also speaking for God; his speaking was based clearly on what was Job’s theory, though many may call it using the euphemism ‘faith’. Fortunately for Job, God also entered this common debate to speak for himself, whereby Job was clarified, corrected and convicted about God’s uncommon relational context and process that communicates the full knowledge and whole understanding of God’s words (Job 38:1ff; 42:1-5).

            How often do you, or do you hear others, engage this alternative to speak for God? The “holy debate” pervades all Christian contexts today, notably among evangelicals, conservatives and fundamentalists. It prevails when our theories displace God’s voice and thus lack the full knowledge and whole understanding from God’s words. The theological task has been populated by those (pre)occupied with getting a voice in the church and/or academy, and having their voice heard, recognized and even followed as “one who speaks for God.” Consequently, the significance of the theological task has consistently been obscured in a theological fog of its own making.[8]

            Yet, at whatever level of Christian practice, our theology (explicit or implied) and its assumptions and bias are challenged, if not confronted even though God may not have intervened as above. If our theology and practice don’t emerge and flow from the breadth and depth of the biblical data (again, the primacy of God’s words and not secondary details) and their relationships—moreover, not selective data to support our theology (i.e. theories)—then our practice will not have the significance to change the human condition and make whole the essential order of human life. In other words—words contrary to God’s—we will not claim and proclaim Jesus’ gospel of justice essential for our creation and salvation; therefore, until we do, we will not and cannot get them right.

 

 

Transposing the Heart of the Gospel

 

            The heart of the gospel is God’s relational response of grace to the human condition. The whole gospel is not merely a gift consumed for human life but the heart of God’s vulnerable presence in the human context and relational involvement in the depth of human life. The relational outcome of God’s vulnerable relational response is salvation, whose good news is composed not only by redemption from our human condition but inseparably includes the new creation of human life and its essential order. This outcome, however, is only a relational outcome emerging directly just from the relational response of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate relational involvement with those claiming this gospel.

            In the heart of the gospel the heart of God engages the heart of the human condition and makes connection with the heart of human life—that is, relational connection in the depth of the primacy of relationship together, vulnerably heart to heart and thereby intimately face to face (as Paul made definitive, 2 Cor 4:4,6, and conclusive, 3:18; 5:17). Remember Moses’ request to YHWH, “Show me your glory” (Ex 33:18). He never could have imagined how deep the heart of the gospel would unfold to reveal the heart of God, even though his reciprocal involvement with YHWH was face to face (Num 12:8).

            When the heart of the gospel is transposed, the good news is revised and its outcome is incomplete, fragmentary or simply lost in insignificance, perhaps consigned to fake news. Consider what happens when God’s grace is idealized by doctrine, rendered a concept by theological theory, or commodified by our prevailing assumptions and consumed by our common bias—the ultimate gift of grace with no strings attached:

First, the heart of God becomes elusive because the relational context of God’s presence and the relational process of God’s involvement have been transposed from their relational primacy by secondary matters such as above (cf. Job 23:8-9 and 42:4-5). Next, with the heart of God’s presence no longer defining and God’s involvement no longer determining for the gospel, its whole relational outcome is deconstructed and salvation is reconfigured, typically by merely being saved from sin (with a limited view of sin) without its essential outcome of being saved to the new creation of human life and its essential order. Then, with the heart of the gospel transposed by secondary assumptions and biases, the “holy debate” amplifies the voices of anything-less-and-any-substitutes in order to formulate theories for a gospel plausible for salvation, and to construct theories plausible for the church and its mission.

What happens from here, I pray, will be the intervention of the Spirit’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement for our clarification, correction and conviction.

            The whole gospel at its heart is constituted by who, what and how the Word reveals, speaking for himself (as Paul clarified and contrasted, 2 Cor 4:2,5). In contrast and conflict, the truth of the gospel is not composed by sources of anything less and any substitutes speaking for the Word. Contrary to common assumption, sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) doesn’t automatically encompass the Word’s self-disclosures and related revelations, because the authority ascribed to sola Scriptura is not based completely on the Word but our selective bias and interpretation of Scripture. Therefore, as Jesus clarified about listening carefully to the Word (Mk 4:24, cf. Lk 8:18), we need to take his words as paradigmatic for our theology and practice: The Scripture we use is the gospel we get; and this gospel we use will be the outcome we get for the human condition and thus for human life.

            What gospel do you use or do you see used by the church? Does that gospel go beyond yourself as an individual; does it embrace the church in the primacy of relationship together for new human life and encompass the church’s mission in the breadth and depth of the human condition? That is to say unequivocally, does that gospel embrace the vulnerable presence and intimate relational involvement of the whole of God, the Trinity, and encompass the heart of the Trinity’s relational response to make whole our human condition with the new creation of human life and its essential order? A gospel of anything less and any substitutes transposes the heart of the gospel that Jesus embodied and enacted whole-ly. ‘Whole-ly’ integrates whole and holy (set apart from the common and distinguished by the uncommon), whose integral integrity we commonly have revised, fragmented and conflated with our common terms speaking for the Word and shaping his gospel to fit into our assumptions and biases.

            To keep this issue of transposing in perspective, the issue about Scripture is not about knowing all the content of the Bible, though that content is necessary and irreplaceable. Contrary to common practice, the issue is this:

If we carefully listen to the Word and truly understand the words of Scripture, at whatever level of content we know, then this understanding only has significance as integrally living the life and relationship of that content in our everyday life, in the church, and in the world—that is, living in relationship together with God the vulnerable life and intimate relationship that Jesus embodied and enacted to make whole our human condition in the image and likeness of the Trinity, whereby human life emerges and its essential order unfolds in the new creation (as Paul made definitive and conclusive above, and adds in Col 3:10-11).

Lacking this whole understanding was the key issue that Jesus experienced in his earthly encounters with those who knew extensively the content of the Scriptures (see Jn 5:39-40, cf. Jn 3:10; Mt 22:23,29). And this condition remains the key issue among contemporary church leaders and academics, just as Jesus’ first disciples lacked the understanding of integrating the parts of the Word to see the whole picture (syniemi, Mk 8:17-18). For this reason, Paul made having whole understanding (synesis)[9] essential for all Christians, especially in order to be distinguished in our theology and practice from the influence of subtle and seductive alternatives pervading our surrounding contexts (Col 2:2-4).

            The salvation of the gospel is indeed good news but only for the whole relational outcome constituted by the relational response of Jesus’ whole person, not merely his teachings and acts. The person of Jesus encompassed the Trinity, who is vulnerably present and relationally involved for this new life and its right order of relationship together in wholeness according to the Trinity’s likeness.[10] The truth of the gospel is experiential truth of this Truth (as embodied in Jn 14:6), who cannot be constrained to the limits of propositional truth in referential terms. Thus this gospel is composed integrally only by the improbable trajectory of the Trinity’s relational context and the intrusive relational path of the Trinity’s relational process. This integral trinitarian relational context and process, underlying the heart of the incarnation, means definitively that the whole gospel is composed by the Trinity’s relational language (not our common referential language). Relational language requires that the gospel and its outcome can only be interpreted correctly in relational terms, in order to fully understand the Word and thereby to receive the relational reality of the gospel.[11] Without this relational hermeneutical key, the language of the gospel is transposed to a diversity of dialects. And even critical studies or perhaps a modern interpretive algorithm will not uncover the heart of the gospel.

            God’s presence is not discovered and God’s involvement is not experienced in anything less than and in any substitutes for relational terms. God’s presence, for example, eluded Job because he looked for God’s involvement in circumstances and not in relationship (as in Job 23:8-9). This circumstantial perception of God has been the pervasive, if not prevailing, practice among God’s people throughout history, starting with the OT. Such reduced perception then necessitates relying on their assumptions and biases to maintain their faith in God—transposing faith into a virtual reality more often than not. The outcome of God’s presence was transformed to a relational reality for Job when he vulnerably engaged God in relational terms (as in Job 42:3-6).

            At the heart of the gospel is the vulnerable presence of the Trinity extended in relational response directly to us face to face, for only this whole relational outcome. To interpret, claim and proclaim the relational reality of this gospel with anything less and any substitutes hereby reduce knowing relationally the whole of God (not the content of Scripture). This relational outcome is precluded in spite of our boasts of theological knowledge and resources (see Jer 9:23-24). The subtle distinction of this lack reduces understanding the whole depth of the Trinity’s relational response constituting the gospel, and consequently reduces experiencing its whole relational outcome for human life and its order to be whole.

            Therefore, this good news emerges whole-ly only when the Word of God speaks for himself. Our theological theories, lacking whole understanding to determine our practice with significance, then intentionally or inadvertently speak for God to transpose the heart of the gospel. Like Job, “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful [distinguished uncommon from the common] for me to know” (Job 42:3). Rather than deferring to God speaking in relational language and vulnerably responding to the Trinity on those relational terms, we typically prioritize our theological theories (as Job did, Job 38:2) over God’s relational communication. In this often subtle shift, our priority imposes our referential terms on God and redefines our relationship together to our shaping and determination. In this distinct yet shrouded process, the human order of justice and peace are also redefined by our reduced or fragmentary terms, with the relational consequence of not truly having significance in reality to bring the change necessary for our relational condition in the church and in the human relational condition of the world to be made whole—whole and uncommon (whole-ly) in likeness of the Trinity.

 

 

Getting Right the Heart of Our Theology and Practice

 

            The lack of justice certainly has been the defining condition of the human order of life, past and present—and future if redemptive change doesn’t unfold in our efforts for justice. Not surprisingly, though arguably, current efforts for justice haven’t gotten it right to be of significance for the heart of the human condition. However well-meaning, the work of justice and peace—currently referred to as “kingdom work”—has lacked the significance to impact the human condition with redemptive change, in which the old order is not only deconstructed but the new order is constructed—not theoretically or ideally but at the heart of the human condition in everyday life.

            For example, for over the past fifty years the movement to end racism in the U.S. has had to face the existing reality that racism is alive and well in the U.S. This effort demonstrates its lack of justice to get right what is essential to the human order, since it has failed to bring change to the heart of the human condition. Consider further the more basic issue of gender inequality. I say more basic than racism because gender inequality existed implicitly even among African Americans in the civil rights movement. The reality is that gender discrimination exists not only between races but also within a race and a culture. Since the women’s suffrage movement in the nineteenth century, how far has gender equality progressed in the U.S.? With increasing revelation about the explicit disparity in wages between genders and the implicit bias against women in the working world, with further documentation about the assumed roles designated in families and child rearing responsibility, not to mention the growing exposure about the ambivalent attitudes ignoring, reinforcing or sustaining sexual misconduct and abuse, all demonstrate the lack of justice in the human order and our pervasive tolerance of such disorder in everyday life—with Christians often at the center of such practice. So, what then can be said about the impact made by most of these efforts for justice and peace?

            Ironically, if we account for the existing order beyond our hopeful assumptions and biases, likely the reality will emerge that our practices may simply reflect our own human condition, and thereby unknowingly reinforce the existing human condition, and even inadvertently sustain the human condition for all life. The undeniable reality is that getting right the human condition has been a formidable problem at the very least. Inexcusably, to put it mildly, this problem is compounded for God’s sentinels of human life, when we don’t have right the heart of our theology and practice.[12]    

            To proceed in this study it is unavoidable for us to be vulnerable about what defines our theology and thus vulnerable about what determines our practice. We need to be vulnerable because the following discussion will likely clarify and correct our theology and practice, and inevitably challenge who, what and how we are—all at the heart in order to be right integrally according to both God’s creation and salvation to the new creation of human life and its essential order. Perhaps this warning should be issued:

Caution!!! What follows will be hazardous to your common life and the status (quo) of your everyday living, whether at church or in the world.

            At this stage, we are faced with the pivotal point and definitive issue in our own faith, which will test our assumptions and confront our biases:

Without equivocation of Jesus’ words in Mark 4:24 and recourse to the limits of our awareness, it is axiomatic in our theology and practice that

 

1.     the measure of the Word we use is the measure of the gospel we get,

2.     the gospel we use is the measure of salvation we get,

3.     the salvation we use is the measure of human life and order we get,

4.     and the life and order we use are the measure of justice we get and the peace we experience.

Nothing more emerges from these outcomes, regardless of our ideals, values and desires, our expectations and hopes. What Jesus made paradigmatic is both definitive for our theology and determinative for our practice; and we cannot appeal to our ignorance of the truth.
 

 

            For this reason and purpose, the basic questions raised at the beginning of this chapter are critical for us to provide core answers to, in order for our identity integrally to define the whole of who and what we are as well as to determine the wholeness of how we are in everyday life. In whole-ly words, this is essential (1) for our identity to be distinguished whole and uncommon from the common of human life and (2) for our function to be distinguished whole and uncommon in our everyday life from the fragmentary existence of the human condition. Nothing less and no substitutes can distinguish us, or else the heart of our identity and everyday life will not be right. Moreover, anything less and any substitutes cannot fulfill the whole-ly function of God’s sentinels for human life.

            Directly implied in these basic questions are questions of accountability that are inescapable for all God’s people:

“What are you doing and have done with my words?” (as in Gen 3:9)

“Why haven’t you acted to change the human order for the sake of wholeness of human life?” (as in
1 Kg 19:9-13)

            Listen to the Word and act, you sentinels of human life—live distinguished as those who know and understand God at the heart, and therefore are distinguished uncommon from the common human order subtly defining the identity and determining the everyday practice of even many Christians (based on the contrast in Jer 9:23-24).

 

 


[1] Unless indicated differently, all Scripture quoted are from the NRSV; any italics in the Scripture quoted throughout this study signify emphasis or further rendering of terms.

[2] Jonathan R. Wilson presents a critical discussion on the consequences of neglecting creation in God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013).

[3] I discuss theological anthropology more fully in The Person in Complete Context: The Whole of Theological Anthropology Distinguished (Theological Anthropology Study, 2014). Online at http://www.4X12.org.

[4] I discuss the human condition in greater detail in my various studies listed in the bibliography.

[5] Richard Beck rightfully restores the attention of Christians to Satan in Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016).

[6] Quoted in “Science File” by Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times, October 11, 2017, B2.

[7] Nicholas P. Wolterstorff adjusted his theory of justice after further experience and knowledge of others in unjust contexts, yet with his assumptions of Scripture still in place, in Journey toward Justice: Personal Encounters in the Global South (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013).

[8] I discuss the theological task in-depth in “Did God Really Say That?” Theology in the Age of Reductionism (Theology Study, 2013). Online at http://www.4X12.org.

[9] Hebrew and Greek word studies used in this study are taken from the following sources: Horst Balz, Gerhard Schreider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975); R. Laid Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce Waitke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980); Ernst Jenni, Claus Westermann, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. Mark E. Biddle, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997); Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974); Harold K. Moulton, ed., The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978); W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New

Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1981); Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publ., 1996).

[10] The Trinity and the wholeness for human life are integrally discussed in my study The Face of the Trinity: The Trinitarian Essential for the Whole of God and Life (Trinity Study, 2016). Online at http://www.4X12.org.

[11] There is broader discussion of this gospel found in my related study The Gospel of Transformation: Distinguishing the Discipleship and Ecclesiology Integral to Salvation (Transformation Study, 2015). Online at http://www.4X12.org.

[12] Scot McKnight raises these issues for those engaged in so-called kingdom work and those in church mission in Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2014).

 

 

©2018 T. Dave Matsuo

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