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The Whole of Paul & the Whole in His Theology
Theological Interpretation in Relational Epistemic Process

Paul Study

Section II   Paul And Theology                                             printer friendly pdf version of entire study
 

Chapter 7       Paul's Theological Forest -- Part 1

 


Subsections:

Theological Forest Defined
Sine Qua Non for the Forest
The Forest Enacted
The Forest Embodied
Paul's Pleroma Christology
Pleroma Christology Completed

 

Ch.1-Intro
Chap.2
Chap.3
Chap.4
Chap.5
Chap.6
Chap.7
Chap.8
Chap.9
Chap.10
Chap.11
Chap.12

Table of Contents

Scripture Index


 

 

For in him the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily,

and you have been made whole in him.

 

                                                                                                                                                      Col 2: 9-10

 

 

           

            The inherent human relational need and problemóalso identified by modern means from neuroscienceówere the basic focus in Paulís theology, fully emerging in Paulís theological forest for their resolution and fulfillment. Perhaps that may seem like a simple enough theological statement to make about the human condition in terms of doctrine, yet doctrine is a conceptual oversimplification (if not reduction) of the theological dynamics involved in the process to resolve and fulfill the inherent human relational need and problem, dynamics both for God and for human persons. Epistemologically, this process involved a greater paradigm shift than, for example, the shift from the heliocentric model of the universe by Ptolemy prevailing during Paulís time to the geocentric model by Copernicus centuries later. Paulís cosmology went deeper than this quantitative understanding epistemologically to illuminate in his systemic framework the underlying relational dynamics involved between that which is merely anthropocentric and that which can only be theocentric. The implications of these relational dynamics for the inherent human relational need and problem are beyond measure.

            In Godís qualitative systemic framework the human person is neither at the periphery of Godís activity nor at the center, yet is always primary in Godís concern and desires. This is the relational dynamic that wholly emerges in Paulís theological forest, which overlaps with and interacts within his theological systemic framework. Discourse on his theological forest deepens the focus on the relational whole of God distinctly beyond Judaismís monotheism. Furthermore, within his theological forest is deeply embodied the relational involvement of the whole of God and Godís thematic relational response to the human conditionóproviding even further and deeper discourse than the Jesus traditionís theological knowledge and understanding for their wholeness (cf. 2 Pet 3:15b-16). Thus, Paulís theological forest is integral for the theological dynamics of wholeness, of belonging, and of ontological identity, in which they are fully integrated.

            How does this theology unfold and what constitutes it? And what is its relational outcome that brings resolution and fulfillment to the inherent human relational need and problem?

 

 

 

Theological Forest Defined

 

            Paulís theological forest is not a construct he imposed by which to conform all theological knowledge and understanding. Nor is his theological forest a mere static context with which to structure doctrines. Rather it is the dynamic relational context of God integrated with Godís relational process in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. With interaction within Godís systemic framework, Paulís theological forest is further defined: 

The relational context and process of the qualitative being and relational nature of Godís glory (cf. 2 Cor 4:6), that is, the relational context and process of the nothing-less-no-substitutes function of the whole of Godís heart from inner out in thematic response relationally specific to the human condition, thus in deepening vulnerable involvement relationally with human persons for their ontology and function to be whole (cf. 2 Cor 3:18).

 

The unfolding of this relational dynamic outlines the distinct relational flow of Paulís theological framework to wholeness:

 

1.  The relational context of the whole of God and Godís family, only from top down.

 

2.  The relational process of the whole of God and Godís family love (by grace), only from inner out.

 

3.  The relational progression to the whole of God as Godís whole family, only on Godís qualitative-relational terms.

 

            Paul clearly summarized his theological forest in two key texts, Ephesians 1:3-14 and Colossians 1:13-22. Both Ephesians and Colossians are commonly regarded as disputed letters of Paul mainly because they did not follow the form, language and thought in his undisputed letters. I contend, however, that they reflected the further development of his thought and theologyóthough they may have been penned by another hand. In view of this, Ephesians closely followed Colossians and Philemonómost likely also written from prison around the same time periodówith Philemon as a functional bridge to Ephesians (in the Pauline corpus), in which Paul makes definitive the theological basis for Philemonís relational function to be whole (discussed in chaps. 9 and 10). While the Colossian text included Paulís most detailed cosmology, it is a less detailed summary of Paulís theological forest compared to the Ephesian text. Ephesians reflects Paul's further development, suggesting his deeper theological reflection with the Spirit while in prison for conclusive synesis, the whole knowledge and understanding of God outlined above. Paulís unfolding relational function to pleroo the word of God (Col 1:25) for the church family to have synesis in its ontology and function (Col 2:2-3) is expressed in this development.

            Therefore, what emerges from Ephesians in general and his summary discourse (1:3-14) in particular is not the outcome of theological reflection engaged solitarily by an individual; though I add that Ephesians further develops the theological clarity of Romans to define the theological forest. What emerges is the relational outcome of ongoing vulnerable involvement in the whole of Godís relational context and process, which the Father initiated, the Son constitutes, and the Spirit concludes. This synesis of God constitutes the integrating theme, framework and process needed for the various theological trees in Paulís other letters (notably in Romans) to converge wholly in their theological forest and not be fragmented or reduced without their qualitative-relational significance. In this text, Paul gives a condensed summary of the complex theological dynamics constituting the whole of Godís thematic relational response to the human condition for the salvific purpose to be made whole in relationship together with the whole and holy God. Paul defines this quite simply as the qualitative inner-out ďspiritual blessing [eulogia, bounty which is conferred as a gift] in ChristĒ (1:3).

            The complex theological dynamics summarized in Ephesians 1 can include, but should never be limited to, doctrines that have come down to us as classical theological categories: Christology (1:3), election (1:4), predestination and adoption (v.5), grace (v.6), redemption, atonement and justification (v.7), mercy (v.8), revelation (v.9), eschatology (v.10), soteriology, faith, pneumatology and ecclesiology (vv.11-14). While for Paul these theological dynamics are all inseparably integrated in God's relational dynamic, they effectively have been reduced from their relational nature in order to formulate fundamental doctrines, whose theory has inadvertently diminished or fragmented the whole of God, namely, God's qualitative being and relational nature. These static doctrinal categories traditionally tend to be disparate conceptual oversimplifications of complex dynamics, thus signifying the influence of reductionism. Godís relational dynamic is crucial to grasp in its wholeness, which necessitates theological engagement unconstrained by any limits from what serve as the templates of doctrine, even if doctrine compels conformity by its truth-claim.

            This relational dynamic was set in motion by the initiation of Godís relational response of grace even ďbefore the foundation of the worldĒ (v.4). First, antecedent to creation, God planned (proorizo, vv.5,11)óin contrast to the limits of a doctrine of electionóto selectively engage (ďchose,Ē eklegomai, vv.4,11) those whom he knew (as foreknowledge, not the limits of predestination) would relationally respond in trust back to his relational response of grace. Then those persons are relationally engaged ďaccording to the purpose (prothesis, v.11) of him who accomplishes (energo, set in motion) all things in congruence with (kata) his good will (eudokia, i.e., desires) making definitive ("counsel," boule) his willful actionĒ (thelema, v.11). This distinct reciprocal relational process is not to suggest support in favor of the doctrine of free will over determinism (discussed shortly) but to get beyond the limits of such doctrine in order to perceive the whole of Godís relational dynamic. 

            The relational dynamic constituting Godís purpose to selectively engage their relational response of trust (v.13) wholly involved this vital relational outcome for them: ďto be holy [hagios, set apart from common usage, i.e., from reduced ontology and function] and to be whole [amomos, unblemished, cf. tamiym for Abraham, Gen 17:1] before him in love [agape, Eph 1:4, i.e., not the limits of mere sacrificial love but family love]Öfor adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.Ē This relational outcome emerged on the basis of Godís preplanning (proorizo) for the purpose (prothesis) of his deep desires (eudokia) to have the wholeness of reciprocal relationship together as family (vv.4-5). In other words, Godís preplanned purpose of the whole of Godís (Father, Son, and Spirit) relational response of grace was solely to redeem them (vv.7-8) from the common function of reductionism in the human condition in order to be reconciled in Godís uncommon (holy) relational context and to be made whole in the reciprocal relationship necessary for Godís family. This relational outcome necessitates the redemptive change in order for this relational process of redemptive reconciliation to have compatible relationship together which is whole in likeness of God, not fragmented and reduced to human terms negotiated by free will. That is, the issue of compatibility for Paul is not focused on persons having free will but on persons being able to function in reciprocal relationship together. The theological dynamics involved are complex yet should not be reduced by the limiting effects of doctrines which signify conformity to templates of human terms to diminish or minimalize Godís relational dynamic constituting Paulís theological forest.

            Paul certainly did not claim knowledge of God that removes all mystery about God (cf. Rom 11:33; Eccl 3:11; Ps 139:6). Paul did claim, however, whole knowledge and understanding, ďmy synesis of the mystery of ChristĒ (Eph 3:4), from which emerged his discourse on the theological forest, making known ďthe mystery of his willÖĒ (Eph 1:9ff, cf. Col 1:25-26; 2:2). Yet, the theological dynamics in his forest can and need to be clarified, specifically in their relational nature and significance in order to distinguish them from later interpretations that ignore relational dynamics. Since God's sole desire and purpose from the beginning have been for whole relationship together, what is the nature of this relationship and God's action to constitute it?

            First, determinism, traditionally construed from the text as predestination or election, functions in effect as unilaterally imposed relationship, which is incongruent with Godís relational nature and love (cf. Jn 15:9; 17:23,24,26), and thus is incompatible for the reciprocal relationship together in likeness of the relational ontology of the whole of God (cf. Jn 17:21-23). As the Creator of relationship, God alone determines its terms and function, which are neither reducible to human shaping nor negotiable to human terms. This creative action, however, should not be confused with any process of determinism. The desires of Godís heart are only for reciprocal relationship together in Godís likeness. If God had wanted to impose unilateral relationship together, the Creator could have determined that from the beginning without allowing the human condition to emerge; but then human ontology could not be in the qualitative image of God and human function could not act in the relational likeness of God. Moreover, such unilateral relational function would contradict the ontology of the holy God. Whole ontology is incompatible with reduced function, and reduced relational function cannot emerge from whole ontology, specifically for the whole and holy God. As the whole of God (Col 1:19; 2:9), Jesus demonstrated the depth of Godís desires (thelo, ďhow often I have longed,Ē Lk 13:34) to take persons into his family in family love (episynago, ďto gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wingsĒ) for reciprocal relationship together to be Godís whole family (ďbut you were not willing,Ē thelo). By Godís very relational nature, these relationships can only be the willful reciprocal involvement together in order to be whole in relational likeness to God and with God.

            Secondly, this corporate dimension of familyóthe identity of those who belong to God by ďadoption as his children,Ē (Eph 1:5) and who are ďmarked with the seal of the SpiritÖas Godís own people,Ē (vv.13-14)óis no mere metaphor. Family clearly is the relational outcome of Godís deeply desired purpose in Christ (v.9) to fulfill the family responsibility (oikonomia, v.10) to bring together all as one Ďin Christí (anakephalaioo, v.10, cf. Col 1:19-22). The relational outcome of the whole of Godís relational dynamic constituted the whole of their qualitative-relational ontologyówhich God originally created whole in human persons in likeness of the relational ontology of God (cf. Gen 2:18). This ontological identity integrates the intimate relational involvement of Godís family relationships together, which is constituted conjointly both in nonnegotiable function in the reciprocal relational response (ďbelieved in him,Ē v.13) to Godís desires, and in irreducible function in the ontology of Godís likeness. Thus, the ontological identity of family is irreducible for church ontology and nonnegotiable for church function, which Paul makes definitive in his ecclesiology unfolding in Ephesians.

            Thirdly, the individual dimension of family identity ďas his childrenĒ (v.5), that is, as Godís very own sons and daughters are not mere titles which can be deterministically decreed without fully engaging the irreducible relational process of Godís relational nature. The theological dynamics involved here include ďadoption as his children.Ē Adoption may appear to be a mere metaphor used by Paul to parallel a practice of adoption that was familiar in Greco-Roman context; but the dynamic of adoption was already familiar in Judaismís history, as Paul sadly reviewed earlier (Rom 9:2-4; cf. Ex 4:22; 6:6-7; 2 Sam 7:23-24). Beyond human contextualization (even Israelís), adoption involves the necessary relational functions (viz. redemption, reconciliation, transformation) to constitute any person in the human condition to belong to Godís family. In other words, adoption is Paulís shorthand relational language in which the relational dynamic of the whole of God (Father, Son and Spirit) converges for relationship together.

            Adoption involves by its nature this relational process: (1) By necessity, adoption first redeems a person from enslavement or constraint by the payment of a ransom (ďin Christ we have redemption through his blood,Ē v.7) to be freed from any debt or obligation to a master, benefactor or parent; atonement and justification are also involved yet they should not limit the full depth of Godís relational dynamic (to be discussed in chap. 8). Then, (2) the person is not simply freed (redeemed, saved) from enslavement in a truncated soteriology, which is limited to deliverance from the struggles and evil of the world, or from oneís own sin. Full soteriology conjointly entails saved to adoption, made official with the seal of ownership, ďmarked with the seal of the Spirit,Ē (v.13, cf. Rom 8:16). Thus a person is reconciled into Godís family as his very own family member by ďthe forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us,Ē vv.7-8), now with all the rights and privileges of a full family member, ďour inheritanceÖas Godís ownĒ (v.14, cf. Gal 4:5-7; Rom 8:17)ónot restricted to merely as a family slave, servant or even guest. Therefore, completion of these necessary relational functions wholly constitutes, both forensically and relationally, any person in the human condition to belong ontologically to the whole of Godís family ďbrought together as one in ChristĒ (v.10). For Paul, adoption was never a theological construct but the experiential truth constituting his ontological identityónot as a mere citizen of Godís chosen nation or as a mere part of Godís elect people, but only as Godís very own son to be whole together.

            Paul makes definitive this deeply involved relational process of the whole of Godófrom the Father to the Son to the Spiritóand Godís thematic relational response to the inherent human relational need and problem. This was necessary to clearly illuminate for the human need and problem their complete fulfillment and resolution in the experiential truth and whole of the gospel: ďthe gospel of your salvationĒ both saved from and to (v.13), in order to be whole in ontology and function together in Godís family Ďalreadyí as the church (vv.14,23; 4:30). These are the complex theological dynamics of Godís relational desires integrated in the whole of Godís relational context and process which emerge in Paulís theological forest. Further constituting his theological forest is Godís relational dynamic deeply enacted and vulnerably embodied, discussed below. All these theological dynamics are always based on the primary dynamic putting them in motion and ongoingly keeping them in motion.

 

 

 

Sine Qua Non for the Forest

 

            Before this enactment and embodiment are discussed, it is vital to grasp the integral determinant of Godís relational dynamic in Paulís forest: grace (charis). The term charis means bestowing a benefit, favor or gift even though unearned and unmerited, which Paul confirmed simply as ďthe good news of Godís graceĒ (Acts 20:24) and described as ďhis glorious grace that he freely bestowed on usÖthe riches of his grace that he lavished on usĒ (Eph 1:6-8). In his final farewell to the elders of Ephesus, though deeply concerned, he simply entrusted them ďto God and to the message of his graceĒ essentially to take them through the theological dynamics in Paulís forest (Acts 20:32)ówhich apparently did not determine their churchís function later (cf. Rev 2:1-5). Paul was simple in his discourse because grace was the key in his shorthand relational language. As shorthand  language, grace needs further clarification, if not hermeneutical correction.

            For Paul, the grace of God and the gift from God were not the same thing (cf. Rom 5:15); and grace should not be perceived as some static gift God ďlavished on usĒ to claim in our possession. When Paul talks about Godís grace as a gift (Eph 2:8), it is helpful to understand his sociocultural context to distinguish the connotation of Ďgiftí from that of our times. In the modern West, we tend to detach a gift from the giver and the giverís relational act, such that a gift becomes more of a disembodied possession or even commodity. In Paulís ancient Mediterranean world, a gift was usually the act of a benefactor, thus always embodied in this relational act of a benefactorís graceósignifying more how the benefactor functioned than what the benefactor gave.

            How the benefactor functions rather than what the benefactor gives is a critical distinction for understanding the grace of God. Paul highlights grace as the unmerited and thus non-contingent relational function initiated by God that constitutes Godís relational dynamic in all the complex theological dynamics of Paulís forest. Therefore, as relational function initiated by no one other than God, Godís relational dynamic is determined only by Godís being and nature, that is, Godís glory of qualitative being and relational natureówhich is the who, what and how of God Paul entrusted the Ephesian elders to. Moreover, as Godís relational function of grace, throughout Paulís theological forest Godís relational dynamic unequivocally is defined by grace before creation, emerged by grace at creation, is constituted by grace from creation, and is ongoingly determined by grace since creation.

            The relational function of Godís grace is unprecedented relational action exercised in two ways:
 

1.  As unilateral action in which God acts for a certain effect or outcome without having any apparent contingency, thus without needing a response back to Godís act of grace. This was demonstrated in Godís creation action and most notably witnessed in human situations demonstrating Godís deeds (cf. Ps 66:5).

 

2.  As reciprocal relational action in which God acts to engage others for only a relational outcome, yet which action is still uninitiated and unwarranted by others. These relational acts of favor signifying Godís deepest desire are wholly for relationship together; and by the whole of Godís relational nature, they are not unilateral action. Thus they necessitate a relational response back in order to receive and reciprocally engage Godís initiated action for relationship together. This response back may appear to be a contingency but it is rooted in the reciprocal nature of relationship initiated by God, whose relational nature does not constitute relationship unilaterally.


The relational function of Godís grace is primarily exercised in reciprocal relational action, the purpose of which defines, constitutes and ongoingly determines Godís relational dynamic in thematic response to the human condition.

            This distinction of grace is critical to make in Paulís theological forest to grasp its complex theological dynamics. Paul is focused only on Godís reciprocal relational action of grace, which by its very nature necessarily involved compatible faith (i.e., the vulnerable involvement of relational trust, Eph 1:13) as reciprocal relational response (not as contingency) for relationship together (Eph 1:12, 17-19). Therefore, in Paulís theological forest, Godís reciprocal relational action of grace is the functional key to all the unfolding complex theological dynamics:

 

 

1.  Grace emerged before creation to plan Godís purpose for relationship together.

2.  Grace is enacted with creation in this design and purpose.

3.  Grace is extended to Abraham and Israel only for this relationship together.

4.  Grace is embodied by Jesus to be vulnerably involved wholly for relationship together.

5.  Grace is fulfilled Ďin Christí to make whole Godís family.

6.  Grace is concluded by the Spirit for the whole of Godís family to the eschatological conclusion.

7.  Grace is unending with the whole of God (Father, Son and Spirit) in life together.

 

And by the qualitative being and relational nature of God, Godís reciprocal relational action of grace functions only in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, thus for Paul grace is always irreducible for God, indispensable for relationship, and nonnegotiable in relationship together. By its very nature, grace can only be whole and is integral for Godís action and for relationship together to be whole.

            In Paulís discourse, grace is his shorthand relational language for how the Benefactor, the whole and holy God, functions for and in relationship, determined by who and what God is in qualitative being and relational nature. For Paul, therefore, nothing happens in his theological forest without Godís relational function of grace. Godís relational dynamic exists only on the basis of grace, apart from which none of these complex theological dynamics unfold in Paulís forest or have the qualitative meaning and relational significance for the gospel of Godís grace, the gospel of peace, the gospel of wholeness from the God of peace for the wholeness of God.

            Before proceeding to the further unfolding of these theological dynamics in his forest, it is vital to see how integral grace provides needed epistemological clarification and hermeneutical correction for a problematic dynamic in these complex dynamics for its whole integration with Godís relational dynamic. This involves the theological dynamic of election, which is inseparable from the predeterminism-dynamic. A traditional doctrine of election is problematic while the attendant issue of predestination is not resolved by free will, whose function itself is increasingly challenged by neuroscience. Our discussion will not attempt to resolve the matter but to understand the theological dynamic of election in the whole of Godís relational dynamic, namely Godís relational function of grace which determines electionís meaning and function in the whole of the theological dynamics in Paulís forest. Paul magnifies Godís grace in relational function, thus his focus is primarily on how God functions and less (though still important) on what favor or gift God gives. Moreover, Godís grace as unprecedented relational action is exercised in either unilateral or reciprocal relational action, sometimes both, which provides further epistemological clarification and hermeneutical correction for this wholeness.

            In Paulís theological discourse of his forest, God elected (eklegomai, to select, choose, Eph 1:4) and predetermined (proorizo, to determine beforehand, 1:5,13). This dynamic can be seen either as Godís preplanned choice or as Godís predetermined decision. Election can involve the expression of only Godís choice or further include the act of Godís decision. Godís decision involves Godís action, while Godís choice indicates Godís desire without necessarily acting on that desire (e.g., when Jesus lamented over Jerusalem and often ďdesired [thelo] to gather your children togetherÖĒ Lk 13:34). Election as decision always involves action because when God decides, God actsóaction which is irreducible, irreversible and nonnegotiable to human shaping, thus the notion of irresistible grace precluding the influence of free will or human terms. If election is perceived only as Godís predetermined decision, then the human person has no say in the matter or part in this relational process. If election as only Godís preplanned choice/desire is an option, then there is room to account for the human personís say and part, yet only in terms of the necessary reciprocal relational response of trust, not to determine the terms for relationship (e.g., as demonstrated by Jesusí desire for Jerusalem but ďyou were not willingĒ).

            What has to be integrated with the election dynamic in Paulís forest is the dynamic of Godís will (thelema, Eph 1:5,9,11). Thelema (from thelo, demonstrated above by Jesus) means will, desire or choice, and gives prominence to will as desire and want, not demand, the choice of which results from the exercise of will, that is, Godís will determined by the relational function of grace. Grace is integral for Godís will exercising election. Yet, in Paulís theological forest, the relational function of Godís grace is exercised only in reciprocal relational action, not unilateral action. In Godís election of a people for himself (i.e., preplanned choice of his deepest desire), Godís relational response of grace is for the only purpose of having whole relationship together as family, not to unilaterally possess a people for himself (Eph 1:13b-14; cf. Rom 8:16-17). Based on Godís relational nature and the whole of Godís relational ontology together as Father, Son, Spirit, relationship together is never unilateral; and its preplanned purpose and created design necessitate the reciprocal involvement of relationship together in likeness of the relational ontology of the whole of God, nothing less and no substitutes. This is the wholeness of Godís relational dynamic of grace in which the dynamic of election must function to have whole meaning and relational significance, both to God and his family. In Paulís theological forest, persons in Godís family, including Paul, were not objects in the possession of Godís hands but whole persons of Godís love and delight (eudokeo, signifying the qualitative resolve of Godís heart, Eph 1:4-5, 9), who live in the whole ontology of his qualitative image and function whole in his relational nature in relational response to Godís relational function of grace for wholeness in relationship together only on Godís relational terms.

            Election apart from Godís dynamic of wholeness is an epistemological illusion, and wholeness without grace is an ontological simulation. Both of these indicate the influence of reductionism which Paul addresses with the needed epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction in his theological forest solely determined by Godís relational dynamic of grace. Grace is integral and sine qua non for Paulís theological forest.

 

 

 

The Forest Enacted

 

 

            Godís relational dynamic was first enacted by the creation of the kosmos, with its communicative dynamic pointing to and revealing its Creator only for Godís purpose of anticipated relationship together in wholeness with Godís offspring. When this wholeness was reduced by the actions of human persons, the dynamic of Godís thematic relational response to this reduced human relational condition further enacted self-revelation to reestablish the relationship of wholeness together (i.e., tamiym and Abraham). Godís presence and involvement in this covenant relationship together both converged in the quantitative context of the Temple, in which God dwelled (Dt 12:5; 1 Kgs 9:3). This focal point of the Temple was the nonnegotiable context (Dt 12:11,13-14) that God chose for the purpose of bringing his people intimately (qarab) into his presence, where they would be blessed and satisfied by his involvement with them (Ps 65:4).

            Yet this relational process included ongoing struggles with reductionism in their reciprocal relational responseóstruggles within which the ontology and function of relationship together were reduced to outer in and fragmented by human terms that functionally renegotiated the covenant (i.e., the covenant of love, Dt 7:7-13). This involved how God was perceived and thus how human persons were perceived, how Godís function was interpreted and thus how human function was interpreted. Despite knowledge of the qualitative and relational nature of God, they, in their perception and interpretation, reduced the qualitative function of Godís heart in relationship together in the covenant of love, and in their own function substituted their quantitative terms from human contextualization (Jer 11:1-4, 6-8, cf. 1 Kgs 8:23-24). This was a shift signified in two prominent ways. One was the redefining and shifting of the torah from its significance as Godís terms for relationship together to human terms without qualitative and relational significance to God (cf. 1 Sam 8:3-5; Isa 28:13; 55:8). Likewise, the Templeís significance was shifted away from being the context as the means of relational involvement with God, to become an end in itself to symbolize their national identity as the people from God, yet without its qualitative and relational significance together with God (contrast Ps 26:8 and Isa 29:13).

            These reductionist shifts signified the faith and practice of Paul before the Damascus road, along with many other Pharisees and practitioners of Judaism, but did not define or should not characterize the totality of Israel and Judaism (later clarified theologically by Paul, Rom 11:1-6). They all needed the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction of tamiymóthe theological, hermeneutical and functional keys to Godís thematic relational response of wholeness for the human relational condition. All during the struggles of this reciprocal relational process since Abraham, Godís relational dynamic was pointing to the strategic shift of Godís preplanned purpose to unfold (cf. Jer 31:31-33). And it is vital to understand the increasing conflict with reductionism that the whole of Godís thematic relational action encountered as it emerged, and to grasp the repercussions of reductionismís counter-relational work.

            The ontology of the holy God is the qualitative being of God from inner out. Thus the nature of this whole and holy God is the relational nature of the whole of God. The Creator made human persons in this qualitative image and relational likeness for whole ontology and function, which humans reduced even within Israel. The qualitative being and relational nature of the whole and holy God functions relationally-specific in response to this human condition of reduced ontology and function just for relationship together as family, not as nation-state embedded in human terms from outer in with the relational consequence of the common incompatible with the Uncommon (holy God). By its very nature, reductionism redefines Godís ontology to human terms and renegotiates Godís function to human interpretation, consequently reducing human ontology and function even in its faith and practice. Therefore, in the preplanned purpose and relational dynamic of the whole and holy God, reciprocal relationship together was always unequivocally the qualitative function of the heart made in the qualitative image and the relational likeness of God in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes (Ez 18:31; 36:26).

            The epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction of tamiym was to be revealed in its depths beyond Abraham. In further enactment of Godís relational response of grace, God did not leave them in their reductionism (Eph 1:10). Godís initiative of grace went to the depths of self-revelation to enact the deepest desires of Godís planned purpose only for reciprocal relationship together (Gal 4:4; Rom 5:6). This is the whole of Godís relational dynamic which unfolds conclusively in Paulís theological forest.

 

 

 

The Forest Embodied

 

            What is going to happen is much more than an event in quantitative time (chronos) in the sequence of human history. The mystery that unfolds is the qualitative opportunity (kairos) for Godís relational dynamic to enact the deepest level of Godís purpose for all life and function to be whole (Eph 1:9-11; Col 1:20). In the fullness of kairos, Godís relational dynamic went beyond human knowledge and understanding (cf. Eph 3:18-19) to enact a strategic shift in self-revelation for the relational purpose to be vulnerably embodied directly face to face to fulfill Godís only purpose and desire of relationship together in wholeness (2 Cor 4:6; Col 2:9-10; Eph 3:4-6, cf. Ex 33:11). This, then, also involved the tactical shift and functional shift of the embodied whole of God from the quantitative Temple to the ultimate desire of Godís purpose, that is, Godís ongoing intimate presence and involvement directly with his children together, thus signifying the qualitative temple in whom the whole of God dwells for reciprocal relationship as family (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21-22; cf. Jn 14:23).[1]

            How do these complex theological dynamics continue to unfold in Paulís forest? As they do, what is definitive Ďalreadyí that by its nature needs to define human persons and determine human function, both individually and collectively as church?

            Godís relational dynamic continues to unfold within the outline of the relational flow of Paulís theological framework to wholeness: (1) the relational context of the whole of God and Godís family, (2) the relational process of the whole of God and Godís family love, and (3) the relational progression to the whole of God as Godís family. If it has not been apparent in Godís enactment up to now, Godís relational dynamic is always constituted in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. In Paulís theological systemic framework and theological forest, all the thematic creative and communicative actions of Godís relational dynamic converge Ďin Christíójust as Paul repeatedly defines in his summary discourse (Eph 1:3-14; Col 1:13-22) and ongoingly determines as the basis for all life and function throughout his letters.

            ĎIn Christí is Paulís major use of shorthand relational language for the complex theological dynamics continuing to unfold in his forest. This is neither a motif for theological discourse merely about Christís death and its significance, nor a mere theological construct for the doctrine and events of Christóboth of which tend to perceive Ďin Christí with only a quantitative lens. For Paul, Ďin Christí is not a conceptual phrase with no functional significance. Moreover, it is insufficient to shift to a qualitative perception of Ďin Christí as Paulís mysticism devoid of his whole knowledge and understanding (synesis) of the mystery of Christ embodying Godís relational dynamic.[2] At the same time, this language should not be spiritualized for application only to the individual and thus reduce it from its relational function for relationship together in Godís family. In Paulís shorthand, Ďin Christí is the relational action and outcome from Godís relational dynamic embodying the deepest desire of Godís purpose planned with the relational context and process necessary for whole relationship together in Godís qualitative image and relational likeness.

            These theological dynamics which converge Ďin Christí emerge in Paulís forest, wholly constituted by Godís relational dynamic of grace, in order both to wholly constitute Godís thematic relational response and to wholly fulfill Godís relational purpose. That is, this is the whole and holy Godís purpose Ďin Christí to redeem human persons (Eph 1:7-8) from the common function of reductionism in the human condition, to be set apart (hagios) in Godís uncommon (holy) relational context to be made whole (amomos, blameless) in relationship together with God in love as Godís family (1:4, cf. Ps 68:5). This definitive relational context of the whole of Godís family and relational process of Godís family love is whom and what are vulnerably embodied Ďin Christí. Paulís discourse is not making a doctrinal statement but is illuminating the theological dynamics constituting the relational basis for the experiential truth of the whole gospel (1:13) emerging in Paulís forest. ĎIn Christí Godís relational response of grace is relationally embodied (ďhis glorious graceÖĒ 1:6, ďÖthe riches of his grace,Ē 1:7) to fulfill Godís whole desire (1:5,9,11) for only one planned purpose and relational outcome: to be the whole and holy Godís family in whole and uncommon relationship together (Col 1:20-22). Even with Godís planned purpose Ďin Christí, however, the process of embodiment does not emerge simply but is the relational enactment of theological dynamics both mysterious and problematic, which thereby witnesses to ďthe breadth and length and height and depthÖ[of] the love of Christ that surpasses [conventional] knowledgeĒ (Eph 3:18-19).

 

 

 

Paulís Pleroma Christology

 

 

            Paulís Christology initially emerged in his cosmology to establish Christ as the Creator (Col 1:16-17), defined as the immortal, invisible, mono God (1 Tim 1:17). From his transcendence, Christ enacted Godís complex relational dynamic from top down in the mysterious and difficult relational process of embodimentóthe outcome of which made Christ vulnerable for intimate relationship with reduced persons, and the consequence of which made Christ vulnerable for the effects of the sin of reductionismóthat Paul highlighted in a hymn most likely from the Jesus tradition (Phil 2:5-8).

            In Paulís Christology the incarnation set in motion the relational dynamic embodying the pleroma (fullness, complete, whole) of God (Col 1:19), the pleroma of the Godhead (Col 2:9), who is the image of God (Col 1:15) vulnerably revealing the whole of Godís glory (qualitative being and relational nature) in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6) only for relationship together as Godís family (Eph 1:5, 13-14; Col 1:20-22). Godís relational action Ďin Christí involves these complex theological dynamics, which often need the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction of tamiym for their wholeness. The image of God combined with the glory of God and integrated in the face of Christ has been interpreted, for example, in terms of epiphany in the OT and Jewish mysticism (Merkabah-vision in Ez 1).[3] This lens perceives something qualitative with a hermeneutic taken from within the quantitative limits of terms defined or shaped by human contextualization, albeit primarily religious. Paul's Christology, however, is rooted beyond human contextualization and deeper than mysticism; and Paul's readers must keep in focus that his Christology was first his experiential truth of the incarnation relationally extended to him by the whole of Jesus. In this relational contrast with both human contextualization and mysticism, the image, glory and face of God are deeply understood only in the relational context of Godís relational response of blessing of his people (i.e., Num 6:24-26)óthe face of God illuminated on his children for wholeness in relationship together (cf. Ps 67:1-2). This is the face that the face of Christ, as the image of God, wholly embodied in the incarnation to relationally disclose the glory of the whole of God only for vulnerable involvement in relationship. Paulís Christology signified the fulfillment of this definitive relational blessing in which the whole of Godís face intimately turned, shined and gave wholeness to all life and function, notably his own life and function.

            As the pleroma of God embodying the whole of Godís desires and purpose, the incarnation is constituted only by the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes (i.e., wholeness) and, conjointly, the incarnation constitutes the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes for all life and function (Col 2:9-10). That is to say, the qualitative whole of Godís heart functions only from top down and from inner out with nothing less and no substitutes in order to be embodied face to face with human persons for relationship together in wholeness. Human persons and function can thus function only by this same dynamic in order to be whole (cf. Rom 8:29; Col 3:10). Anything less or any substitutes of Godís ontology and function could neither constitute the incarnation from inner out, nor constitute Godís relational dynamic embodied Ďin Christí from top down. This was part of the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction that Paul experienced in his encounter with the whole of Jesus on the Damascus road.

            This experiential truth was the basis for Paulís gospel, and its development in relationship together with Christ and the Spirit constituted his theology of the gospel and of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11-12; 1 Cor 2:10,13). Paulís gospel never reduced Godís relational dynamic embodied in the whole of Jesus throughout the incarnation, and simultaneously always fought against all human shaping of the gospel of Christ (Gal 1:6-13). In Paulís theology, the complex theological dynamics of Godís relational response converge in the gospel of Christ; and in the reflexive dynamic of Paulís theology, the whole gospel converges in the incarnation, the whole of Jesus embodying the whole of God. Without converging and being contextualized in the incarnation, the gospel can only have a human shape. That is, any gospel contextualized apart from Ďin Christí has reduced the relational significance of the whole of Godís thematic relational dynamic embodied by Jesus in response to the human condition, and thus has diminished, minimalized or precluded the wholeness of ďthe gospel of ChristĒ and substituted a gospel shaped or renegotiated by human terms (Gal 1:6-7; Col 2:4,8).

            Thus, a theology of Jesus has to be both compatible with the whole gospel and sufficient against any human shaping or construction from reductionism. These were accounted for in Paulís Christology of the whole of Jesus, who was neither reduced by bottom-up shaping nor renegotiated by human terms. His Christology then went further than the limits of the Jesus tradition and even deeper than the early perceptions of the other apostles (cf. Gal 2:6-9; 2 Pet 3:15-16). The developing depth of experiential truth with Christ and the Spirit illuminated the whole knowledge and understanding (synesis) to constitute Paulís Christology (cf. Eph 3:4; Col 1:25-27). This dynamic flow to his theology is signified in the following framework:

 

 

1.  Experiencing Christ: the embodied presence and experiential truth of Jesus, who is the qualitative Word and relational Truth from God.

 

2.  Following Christ in relationship: discipleship of his person in relationship, not his disembodied teachings or example.

 

3.  Witnessing Ďin Christí and thus for the whole of God: the experiential truth in function.

 

4.  Theologizing Ďin Christí and thus with the Spirit to illuminate the whole of God.

 

This is not only a linear flow but a reflexive dynamic, which signifies the involvement in relationship together necessary for the relational epistemic process both to know God and to make God known (cf. Col 2:2; Eph 1:17-19; 3:16-19). The whole of Paulís witness was substantive only because of experiencing Christ and following Christ in relationship, without which the whole in his theology has no basis and significance.

            Paulís pleroma Christology does not elaborate on the incarnation as event (cf. Gal 4:4-5), but assumes that knowledge with the Jesus tradition. His theological discourse on Christ did not follow the footsteps of Jesusí deeds and example; nor did it follow the footprints about Jesusí teachings for a christocentric doctrine. Paul concentrates instead on the complex theological dynamics of Godís relational dynamic embodied Ďin Christí. His discourse on Christ was the experiential truth of following the whole of Jesusí person embodying the relational context and process of Godís relational dynamic. This, I suggest, explains why Paul made little reference to Jesusí sayings/teachings in his letters. Paul neither reduced Jesus to nor disembodied Jesusí person from his teachings or example. Moreover, even though Paul gives major attention to Christís death and resurrection, he was not focused on this as event (the Christ-event), a focus which ironically reduces and disembodies the whole of Jesus from the cross. Paulís focus was illuminating the qualitative function of Jesusí whole person embodying from inner out Godís relational dynamic in whole response to the human conditionójust as Jesus called Paul to illuminate and confirm (martys) ďthe qualitative things in which you have seen me from inner out and to those relational dynamics in which I will appear to youĒ (Acts 26:16, italics inserted). By the clear nature of the incarnation constituted in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, Paulís discourse on Christ did not define Jesus by the reductionist terms of what he did (death), even in reality, and of what he had (teachings), even in truth. Therefore, the emergence of Paulís theological discourse on Jesus Christ was nothing less and no substitutes indeed of pleroma Christology.

            What distinguishes pleroma Christology from an incomplete Christology of anything less or any substitutes? Wholenessóthat is, the whole of Godís relational dynamic embodying the whole of Godís relational context and process in whole response to the human condition to fulfill Godís whole desire and purpose to be whole in relationship together as Godís whole family, nothing less and no substitutes. Incomplete Christologies may point to or address some aspect(s) of Godís relational dynamic, notably grace and love; yet they remain fragmentary and thus incomplete because Godís relational process or even relational context is not perceived with the qualitative lens necessary for the whole knowledge and understanding (synesis) to grasp the irreducible and nonnegotiable experiential truth of this embodied wholeness of Godís whole. Paulís pleroma Christology is inseparable from the experiential truth of the whole gospel, for which Paul relationally fought so lovingly in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes while conjointly fighting passionately against anything less and any substitutes from reductionism. It is within Paulís functional purpose for the gospel that much of his theology in general and Christology in particular converge; thus they are expressed in functional language, not in what has since become conventional theological discourse. ĎIn Christí is the summary functional expression of Paulís relational language which signifies definitive discourse of the pleroma Christology unfolding in his theological forest.

            Read from a quantitative interpretive framework, Paulís Christology appears to be both fragmentary in its lack of direct reference to Jesusí sayings/teachings, as well as incomplete or skewed due to his dominant focus on Jesusí death and resurrection. Yet, such a reduced framework using a quantitative lens (in contrast to phronema and phroneo by the Spirit, Rom 8:5-6) does not account for the whole of Paulís witness to which Jesus called him; nor can it account for the whole in his theology for which he was given relational responsibility (oikonomia) to pleroo the word of God (Col 1:25). Not to grasp this whole of and in Paul is not to grasp the whole of God in the incarnation and thus Ďin Christí, leaving in fact only an incomplete Christology which is fragmentary or distorted.

            Paulís theology of wholeness is the underlying dynamic of his pleroma Christology. The irreducible and nonnegotiable dynamic of wholeness is what Jesus constituted in the incarnation of his own person and, likewise, constituted for human persons (both individually and collectively) by his incarnation in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes for all life and function (both for his person and human persons, Col 2:9-10). Thus, Paulís pleroma Christology further emerges to make definitive Ďin Christí the functions for epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction necessary for wholeness in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the pleroma of God. These functions Ďin Christí are the following:

 

1.  Christ is the epistemological-theological key to whole knowledge and understanding of the whole of God, the glory of Godís qualitative being and relational nature (2 Cor 4:6; Col 1:15,19; 2:9).

 

2.  Christ is the hermeneutical key to whole knowledge and understanding of the whole of Godís function in relational context and process (Col 1:20-22; 2:2-3; Eph 1:4-11; 3:4-6, 18-19).

 

3.  Christ is the functional key to the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God for human ontology and function, both individually and collectively as Godís family (Col 1:15; 3:10-11; 2 Cor 3:18; Eph 2:21-22).

 

These qualitative and relational functions Ďin Christí, both for his person and human persons in relationship together, function always by the nature of wholeness in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. This is the pleroma Christology unfolding in Paulís theological forest.

            How did Christ fulfill these functions to be the definitive keys for wholeness in Paulís Christology? After establishing epistemological clarification of the incarnation as the whole of God Ďin Christí, Paul appears to jump directly from the manger to the cross in his theological forest, since he does not provide any narrative account of Jesus throughout the incarnation to the cross (e.g., Gal 4:4-6). Quite the contrary, however. In the presence of the Jesus tradition, a narrative account was unnecessary for Paul's Christology. Rather, his purpose, pleroma Christology, magnified the epistemological clarification of ďthe knowledge of the glory of the whole of God vulnerably revealed by the face of Christ as the image of GodĒ (2 Cor 4:6), which is revealed in the whole of the incarnation. And, most importantly, Paul makes definitive these aspects' relational and functional significance Ďin Christí.

            On the Damascus road, Paul was contextualized by Jesus essentially in the experiential truth of the incarnation, not contextualized in Jewish mysticism (cf. merkibah-vision in Ez 1). The incarnation was the embodiment of the whole of Godís relational context and process, the extension in which Paul was contextualized both by Jesus and with Jesus to be made whole Ďin Christí. What Jesus embodied was vulnerably disclosed throughout the course of the incarnation; and this extension to Paul was the experiential truth for the basis of his Christology, which was integrated with further whole knowledge and understanding (synesis) from ongoing involvement with Christ and the Spirit in the relational epistemic process together to make conclusive Paulís pleroma Christology.

            The glory and image of God in the face of Christ disclosed in the incarnation are primary to the complex theological dynamics constituting Paulís complete Christology. These dynamics illuminate the glory and image of God beyond their understanding in Judaism and further and deeper than in the Jesus tradition. In the OT, the image of Godís glory is mainly characterized as strength and power (e.g., Ps 24:6-8; 29:1-3; 59:9,17). The incarnation, however, deepens this image and glory of God to illuminate the qualitative heart, relational nature and vulnerable presence of God relationally disclosed by the whole of Jesus only for involvement in relationship together. This strategic shift did not exclude Godís strength and power (as demonstrated by the resurrection) but presupposes Godís reign (notably over darkness and now over death); thus it fully focuses on Godís relational response of grace wholly extended in the human conditionóthat is, not merely in its situations and circumstances but more importantly to the persons who are apart from the whole of God in order to reconcile them to the relationship necessary to be whole together. This relational outcome can only emerge from the function of relationship, and the incarnation constitutes only this function. As the function of relationship, nothing happens without the experiential truth from the incarnation of the relational dynamic of the image and glory of God, not the conceptual image or doctrinal glory of God. The Jesus tradition rightly understood this relational outcome as only from Godís grace yet did not fully grasp the theological dynamics involved or the theological anthropology necessarily engaged. This gap was demonstrated at a church summit in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29) and by Peterís interpretive framework and lens prior (10:9-16, 34-36), for which Paul later still had to give hermeneutic correction to Peterís practice for the experiential truth of the whole gospel embodied by Jesus (Gal 2:14).

            In the incarnation of Godís relational dynamic determined only by the relational function of grace, Jesus fulfills the whole of Godís thematic relational response to the inherent human relational need and problem (as neuroscience rightly identifies). Jesus fulfills Godís relational response only in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, that is, embodying the wholeness of the image of God (eikon). Eikon implies not merely a resemblance to but the total correspondence and likeness of its archetype, here the invisible God (Col 1:15)ójust as Jesus claimed to his first disciples (Jn 14:9). The eikon of God is made definitive by the illumination (photismos) of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, whose vulnerable embodiment made Godís qualitative being and relational nature functionally involved with persons for experiential truth in relationship together (2 Cor 4:4b,6). Beginning with his face-to-face encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road, Paul experienced directly this relational dynamic of Christ's illumination now extended also to him. In this relational process with Jesus, God's relational function of grace and its outcome of intimate relational connection together (not mysticism) provided Paul with his ongoing experiential truth of the glory of God 'in Christ', the image of God. All this was to definitively establish for the church at Corinth "by the open statement of truth" (phanerosis from phaneroo, 4:2) that the relational dynamic is from God and not from human shaping (4:1). For Paul, the image of God was unmistakable in the relational dynamic of Christís illumination of Godís glory, which Paul simply integrates in ďthe gospel of the glory of ChristĒ (4:4b). This relational dynamic of the image and glory of God is essential for Paulís pleroma Christology because it signifies the whole of Jesus' person vulnerably embodied, illuminated and involved for relationship together:

 

 

1.  Whole knowledge and understanding of the whole of God and nothing less and no substitutes of Godís qualitative being and relational nature (Christ the epistemological-theological key).

 

2.  Whole knowledge and understanding of the whole of Godís function in the relational context and process only on Godís relational terms of grace (Christ the hermeneutical key).

 

 

            This ďlight of the gospel of the glory of ChristĒ can be seen only directly ďin the face of Christ,Ē which is made problematic, however, if key epistemological, hermeneutic and functional distinctions and issues are not understood. Just as Paul did in his theological systemic framework, he continues in his theological forest to challenge assumptions of the kosmos, theological cognition and anthropology, and of the perceptual-interpretive framework (phronema) and lens (phroneo) used for this knowledge and understanding. Critical to Paulís pleroma Christology is the ongoing relational dynamic of wholeness from top down and inner out unique to the whole of God. By its nature from bottom up and outer in, reductionism is always positioned against Godís whole to qualify it, redefine it, or shape it by human terms. ďThe face of Christ,Ē not merely the concept of Christ, is crucial to which one of these dynamics is engaged, and thus who and what are illuminated and how they are received and responded to. Paul renounced reductionismís relational dynamic from outer in (ďthe shameful things that one hidesĒ), which would reduce his whole person, and he did not engage in bottom-up practice which would compromise the whole of Godís word (ďfalsify, distort,Ē doloo, to dilute, water down, cheapen, as merchants did with wine to deceive consumers, 2 Cor 4:2). Paulís relational responsibility from God (oikonomia) functioned to present Godís word in its fullness, complete, thus whole (pleroo, as Paul identified later, Col 1:25). The whole of Godís word cannot be compromised without reducing what and who were embodied in the face of Christ, ďthe light of the gospel of the glory of ChristĒ (2 Cor 4:4), ďthe hope of gloryĒ (Col 1:27).

            In Paulís pleroma Christology, the face of Christ is the exact eikon of God which illuminates the glory of Godís qualitative being and relational nature in Christís whole person and function, with the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. This dynamic of wholeness is critical for how the face of Christ is perceived and his function interpreted. In his whole-reductionism discourse, Paul pointed to the relational outcome or consequence of this issue of perceptual-interpretive framework as fundamental to the relational epistemic process necessary to ďsee [augazo, be illuminated by] the lightĒ from top down (ďGod whoÖhas shoneĒ) and from inner out (ďin our heartsĒ) ďin the face of ChristĒ (2 Cor 4:4,6). The term ďfaceĒ (prosopon) can be understood in two contrary dynamics: (1) like a mask worn in early Greek theatre to take on a different identity in a role or as in a masquerade (metaschematizo, cf. 2 Cor 11:13-15); or (2) ďfaceĒ can signify the whole person, whose identity of who, what and how the person is is not hidden but made fully vulnerable to be wholly perceived and involved with. The first dynamic functions from outer in (e.g., ďthat one hides,Ē 4:2) while the second dynamic only functions from inner out (e.g., ďby the open statement of the truthĒ). The interpretive framework of the first dynamic perceives only the outer face of Christ and thus interprets Christís function in reductionist human terms. This outward approach is an incompatible interface with Christís face of inner out, which creates distance and maintains barriers in relationship. The relational consequence is not seeing the light and thus unable to make relational connection with the qualitative being and relational nature of God.

            Contrary to the first dynamic, in the second dynamic the face of Christ is nothing less and no substitute of the whole of who, what and how God isójust as Jesus conclusively revealed to his disciples (Jn 14:9) and fulfilled for the Father (Jn 17:4,6,26). This is the face embodying, illuminating and involving the whole of Godís gloryónothing less and no substitutes of Godís qualitative being and relational natureófor relationship together. It is the only face and function which constitute pleroma Christologyóďthe glory of Christ, who is the image of GodĒ (2 Cor 4:4). Moreover, then, this relational dynamic of the image and glory of God in Christ functions also to illuminate the whole knowledge and understanding of the face of Christís function from inner out in Godís relational context and process, thus to function congruent to only Godís relational terms of grace from top down. Christís face and function together are irreducible and therefore indispensable for Christology to be complete. In Paul's pleroma Christology, Christ's face and function constitute the whole person vulnerably involved in relationship. The relational outcome, in contrast to the relational consequence above, is the whole of God now accessible for intimate relationship face to face. The relational implication is that the function of this face is compatible only with the human face in qualitative image and relational likeness of his for the qualitative-relational connection and involvement necessary to be wholly face to face.

            This relational outcome is the purpose and function of the unequivocal image and glory of God vulnerably embodied by the whole of Jesus only for relationship together. Indispensably throughout the incarnation, Christís function illuminated the whole knowledge and understanding of the qualitative image and relational likeness of God in which the human person and function were created; and by his qualitative-relational function between the manger and the cross, Christ also vulnerably demonstrates the ontological image and functional likeness to which human persons need to be restored for whole relationship together face to face. Therefore, the relational dynamic of the image and glory of God is essential in Paulís pleroma Christology for a third function fulfilled in the face of Christ necessary for relationship together:

 

 

3.  The qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God necessary for human ontology and function, individually and collectively as Godís family, in the same dynamic as Christ of nothing less and no substitutes (Christ the functional key).

 

Without Jesusí whole person and function throughout the incarnation, whole knowledge and understanding of the image and glory of God would neither be illuminated for vulnerable self-disclosure in experiential truth, nor be definitive for vulnerable human reciprocal response in the image and likeness necessary for whole relationship together (2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:10).

            In Paulís pleroma Christology, the above three qualitative-relational functions are vital for the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction necessary to be whole. Jesus constituted this dynamic of wholeness in the incarnation of his own person, and thereby constituted this dynamic for wholeness by his incarnation for all human life and function (Col 2:9-10). Thus, this dynamic in the face of Christ was irreducible and nonnegotiable by the very nature of the pleroma of God. Anything less and any substitutes are reductionism of the pleroma of God, the image of God, the glory of God in the face of Christ, thus reductionism of the human person and functionóshifting from the whole from top down to reductionism from bottom up, from the whole from inner out to reductionism from outer in. Paulís oikonomia to pleroo the word of God always fought jointly against this reductionism distorting, diluting it (doloo, 2 Cor 4:2) and for the whole gospel embodied by pleroma Christology.

            The relational dynamic of the image and glory of God constitutes the heart of Paulís pleroma Christology, which emerges only as the function of relationship. From this integral function in the face of Christ unfold the remaining theological dynamics in Paulís forest, dynamics which always continue to be determined by Godís relational function of grace. For Paul, this relational dynamic in ďthe gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of GodĒ (2 Cor 4:4) also constituted what is at the heart of the gospel: Christís whole face and function. This is the indispensable gospel for the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction necessary in order for the whole of God to fully emerge, whole human persons and function to reciprocally emerge, and for wholeness to emerge in relationship together. When Christ embodied this top-down gospel, Christís face and function from inner out constituted this good news in Godís relational context and process. By the nature of the whole and holy God, Godís relational context and process cannot be confused with, and thus must be distinguished from, any and all human context and process. The good news of the whole of Godís qualitative being and relational nature, both vulnerably present and involved for relationship together, functions only in the relational context and process of Godís terms.

            To contextualize this gospel of the glory of Christ, the image of God, in anything less or any substitutes is to construct ďa different gospelĒ shaped by human terms (Gal 1:6ff), not by Christís face and functionówhich for Paul was simply not good news, ďnot that there is another gospel.Ē Christís face and function were certainly embodied in human context to illuminate the good news for human contextualization in relational response to the human problem. The gospel of the glory of Christ, however, was neither defined nor determined by human contextualization. This is a critical distinction for the gospel, a distinction not clearly distinguished by the term itself, or even when qualified as the gospel of God, gospel of Christ, and gospel of peace (Rom 15:16, 1 Cor 9:12, Eph 6:15, respectively). This clear distinction of Christís face and function provides the necessary epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction for any gospel shaped by human terms from human contextualization. The need is critical because all human shaping contextualizes the gospel in the limits and nature of human contexts and the difference can be quite nuanced, whether from culture, political or economic conditions, social situations and circumstances, and related worldviews, mindsets and perceptual-interpretive frameworks.

            The gospel of the glory of Christ unequivocally illuminates the whole of Godís qualitative being and relational nature in the full disclosure of Christís face and function, the whole person in relationship. Christís irreducible face (whole person) and nonnegotiable function (in relationship) constitute Godís relational dynamic only in the whole of Godís relational context and process, by which Godís thematic relational response of grace to the human condition is fulfilled (cf. Ps 68:5). This is the gospel clearly distinguished from human context and process, and thus indispensable for the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction necessary to wholly illuminate the whole of God and Godís response in the top-down relational context and inner-out relational process constituted conclusively by Christís face and function. This ďlight of the gospel of the glory of ChristĒ is by its nature both irreducible and indispensable. Though clearly undimmed, it is not always seen by Paulís readers (past and present), yet is at the heart of his pleroma Christology. It is not seen, understood, received or responded to because by its very nature these outcomes can take place only in Godís relational context and process. The relational context and process of God were the means by which Godís relational dynamic of grace was embodied by Christís face and function. Paul himself was first contextualized beyond human contexts when Godís face from top down turned and shined on him, even beyond the context of Judaismís definitive blessing (Num 6:24-26). On the Damascus road Paul was contextualized in the incarnation of Christís face and function, the whole person in relationship, to constitute Paul from inner out into the whole of Godís relational context and process. Only in Godís relational context and process did Paul see in Christís face and function the light of the gospel of the image and glory of Christ and thus relationally respond back (Acts 22:16) for the relationship together necessary to be whole.

            This was the only gospel Paul knew and called his own. This was also his experiential truth of pleroma Christology, in which the whole of Godís (from Father to Son to Spirit) relational dynamic emerges in fullness within only Godís relational context and processóthe irreducible relational context and nonnegotiable relational process made vulnerable by Christís face and function for whole relationship together. Therefore, this gospel is contextualized by nothing less and no substitutes of Christís relational context and process. It therefore cannot be shaped by any other context and process and still embody Christís whole face and function, and still illuminate the whole of Godís qualitative being and relational nature, and still fulfill Godís thematic response to the human condition. Within the pleroma of Godís relational context and process, the relational dynamic of the integral face and function of Christ (as the image and glory of God) continues to deeply engage and to be vulnerably involved in fulfilling the other theological dynamics of Paulís forest. Apart from Godís relational context and process, Christís embodiment does not have the abiding relational framework to complete these complex theological dynamics for the fulfillment of Godís thematic relational response of grace. This is how Christology becomes fragmentary and thus incomplete, and when soteriology is truncated without the qualitative and functional significance of whole relationship togetheróresulting in a gospel different from the image and glory of Christ.

            Paul's relational responsibility (oikonomia) to pleroo the word of God has been an elusive function for Paul's readers because not grasping the whole in Paul is compounded when to what Paul is speaking and from where he speaks are not clearly understood. As noted earlier, Paul was always fighting conjointly for the gospel of Christ and against reductionism, and this either-or tension pervades Paul's thought and theology and often becomes blurred as to what Paul is saying. In Paulís thought and theology throughout his letters, issues of continuity and discontinuity (real or perceived) directly involve the following (discussed further in chap. 11): Godís context and process or human context and process, thus top down or bottom up; the whole gospel or a human-shaped gospel, thus nothing less and no substitutes or anything less and any substitutes; wholeness of ontology and function or reductionism of ontology and function, thus inner out or outer in. Though Paulís letters address specific human contexts with various situations and circumstances (except for Eph), he is always contextualizing them in the further and deeper relational context and process of Christís face and function. Paul always speaks to them from this relational dynamic to illuminate not any gospel but only the gospel of the image and glory of Christ. For Paul, the issue of continuity (or perceived discontinuity, e.g., regarding torah) is related solely to Godís deep desire and thematic relational action for relationship together. When theology and the gospel, and their practice, are compatible and congruent with the outworking of Godís relational dynamic in Christís face and function, there is continuity in the thought and theology of Paulís letters. When these, along with human ontology and function, have been reduced from Godís purpose for relationship in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God, then this incompatibility/incongruence involves the discontinuity rightly seen in Paul. In these instances, Paul exposes and confronts substituting human terms and shaping, even as ontological simulation and epistemological illusion from reductionism in order to make them whole (e.g., 1 Cor 1:12; 3:4,22; 4:6-7; 2 Cor 10:12; 11:12-15).

            In the discontinuity parts of his letters, Paul responds with the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction of the old life and function (e.g. Rom 2:28-29) necessary for the new to emerge (e.g., Gal 6:15; Rom 6:5-10; Col 3:9-11). In these examples noted, as a Jew who is also a follower of Christ, Paul clarifies the continuity of the original covenant and the new covenant (the OT and the NT). To the extent that the incarnation of Christís face and function is an extension of OT theology, Paul has continuity with the OT and Judaism faithfully practiced. Anything less or otherwise, there is discontinuity, the influence of which did not determine or give primary shape to Paul's gospel even as a Jew. Moreover, continuity should not be confused with conformity or determinism, or discontinuity mistaken with nonconformity or freedom. Discontinuity signifies anything less and any substitute of the whole according to reductionism. As computer scientist Jaron Lanier demonstrated about internet technology (noted at the beginning of Theology of Wholeness in chap. 6), reductionism indeed is the origination of templates for human persons and practice to conform to. Human terms, shaping or construction from a reductionist perceptual-interpretive framework and lens are in fact the determining templates for human ontology and function which unmistakably constrain and enslave human life in the human condition (which even neuroscience identifies). For Paul, this process is not nonconformity and freedom but discontinuity with wholeness and thus conformity and enslavement to reductionism (cf. Gal 4:8-10). Conversely, continuity reflects the relational dynamic of the whole of Godís relational response to this human condition for Godís purpose, not to conform human persons to function according to predetermined templates but to redeem them from such enslavement for the only purpose of being restored to wholeness of human ontology and function in whole relationship together (cf. Gal 4:3-7). Therefore, continuity in Paul unequivocally connotes fulfillment of the inherent human need and resolution for the human problem which neuroscience can only identify and describe in quantitative terms but has no qualitative solution and fulfillment for.

            Critically, then, Paulís discontinuity-responses to some practice of a theology or a gospel, along with his challenges to the assumptions of human ontology and function, were necessary for the whole of God to fully emerge, for whole human persons and function to reciprocally emerge, and for wholeness to emerge in relationship together. Yet this discontinuity issue is not understood in Paul if his readers donít go further and deeper than human contextualization to vulnerably engage Godís relational context and process necessary for the continuity of Christís face and function, his whole person vulnerably involved in relationship. For Paul, discontinuity at best results only in an incomplete Christology, not pleroma Christology.

 

 

 

Pleroma Christology Completed

 

 

            The relational dynamic of the integral face and function of Christ continues to be enacted in Godís relational context and process to fulfill Godís thematic relational response of grace to the human condition, and thus to complete the theological dynamics of Paulís forest. This relational dynamic does not unfold in a narrative account by Paul but in the experiential truth of the whole of Paulís witness and with the development of the whole in his theology. The theological development of God's relational dynamic flows from the gospel of the image and glory of Christís face and function in

2 Corinthians to pleroma Christology in Colossians and the emergence of the ecclesiology of the whole in Ephesians. In this flow, Paulís theological forest makes definitive Godís relational dynamic to its whole relational outcome Ďalreadyí and its eschatological relational conclusion Ďnot yetí. The process unfolds for Paul only within Godís relational context and process in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, which Paul engaged by the nature of Christís face and function for ongoing qualitative involvement in relationship with Christ and the Spirit.

            In an integrated flow of Paulís letters, following groundbreaking discourse in his Corinthian letters, Galatians establishes the functional clarity of the truth of the whole gospel to clearly distinguish it from any alternative gospels. Romans follows to make definitive the theological basis for the truth of the whole gospel, thus providing the theological clarity necessary to be integrated with the above functional clarity to constitute the whole gospel of the image and glory of Christ in the whole of Godís relational context and process responding in grace to the human condition. These theological relational dynamics are unfolded by Paul in his forest, in ongoing contrast and conflict with reductionism.

            Colossians, on the one hand, is perhaps a test-case application of both the functional clarity from Galatians and the theological clarity from Romans to an apparent context of philosophical notions (Col 2:8). On the other hand, Colossians reflects the further development of Paulís theology from Galatians and Romans. In Colossians, Paulís theology represents the further development which, in reflection with the Spirit, demonstrates his synesis (whole knowledge and understanding, cf. 1:9; 2:2) of Godís relational revelation to make definitive the pleroma of God and to pleroo (make complete, whole) the word of God (Col 1:19,25), most significantly, in pleroma Christology. In the theological dynamics unfolding in Paulís forest, Godís communicative action (the word of God) is made complete, whole, and thus fulfilled, by the embodied word from God constituting the whole of Christís face and functionóthat is, by the pleroma of God whom God delighted (eudokeo) in vulnerably disclosing for relationship together. Paulís synesis involved the continuity of Godís relational dynamic in thematic response to the human condition, initiated even before creation (1:12-20). Continuing Godís relational dynamic in Christ as the image of God, Christís face and function (his whole person in relationship) as the pleroma of God completes the complex theological dynamics necessary to make whole the human condition (Col 1:21-22; 2:9-10; 3:9-11). Yet, pleroma Christology in Colossians only identifies the relational outcome Ďin Christí.

           The whole of Godís relational purpose and dynamic are certainly salvific (cf. Ps 68:19-20). Christís whole person in relationship, however, redeemed persons from enslavement to not only save them from the human condition; conjointly and inseparably, persons were redeemed to be saved to reconciliation in Godís family in whole relationships together (cf. Rom 5:9-11; Col
1:13). Godís theological dynamic of saved from-to is inseparable from Godís relational dynamic for the integrated outcome of redemptive reconciliation (to be discussed later). Ephesians takes over for Colossians to fully summarize Godís complex theological relational dynamics unfolding in Paulís forest and highlights the relational outcome of what persons Ďin Christí are saved to.

            In Ephesians, Paul also further develops the theological clarity from Romans, thus providing the theological forest for all the theological trees. Moreover, Paul added further theological discourse not included in Romans, most notably illuminating the relational outcome of Ďsaved toí by making definitive the ecclesiology necessary to be whole, Godís whole family in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of Godójust as Christís face and function constituted (Eph 1:22-23; 2:13-22), and Jesus prayed for his familyís formation (Jn 17:20-26) that Paulís own prayer knowingly or unknowingly echoed (Eph 3:14-19).

            Jesusí formative family prayer and Paulís prayer for the church signify the qualitative depth Ďalreadyí of the relational outcome of pleroma Christology. As a function of relationship, pleroma Christology defines the course of the continuing theological dynamics unfolding in Paulís forest and the coherence in his letters of Godís relational dynamic, which Christís whole person in relationship completes in whole relational outcome and the Spirit brings to eschatological conclusion. How is this relational process completed?

            The thematic answer is simply ďthe Lord made his face to shine on us and be gracious to us and gave us peace.Ē This, of course, involved complex theological dynamics which pleroma Christology completes in Paulís forest on only Godís relational terms. Vulnerably disclosed throughout the incarnation was the embodied face of the pleroma of Godís qualitative being and relational nature illuminated in the face of Christ. With this clearly embodied in human context and witnessing to human context, yet from only Godís relational context and process, Christís face and function turn and head to the cross to complete the whole of the gospel of the glory of Christóthe gospel of peace that Godís face of grace shined on us and gave. The cross becomes the relational means to this relational outcome that is now the major focus of Paulís pleroma Christology.

            Why the cross? For Jews, the cross would appear as an unnecessary priestly sacrifice and was certainly incongruent for Messiah; for Greeks, it seemed only foolishness, as Paul noted for both (1 Cor 1:23). Yet for Paul, the cross was unequivocal good news for the convergence of the whole of Godís relational dynamic and the experiential truth of these theological dynamics (1 Cor 2:2; Gal 6:14). Thus, in Paulís thought and theology the cross is no mere event that is vested with major significance he received from the Jesus tradition (1 Cor 15:3-4). The cross is only the relational extension of the incarnation and the relational outcome of the whole of Godís vulnerable involvement with human personsówhich also signified the further relational extension of the incarnation Paul personally received from Jesus on the Damascus road for the experiential truth of the good news in the cross. Paul then never focused on the cross at the expense of discourse on the incarnation but only as the relational extension of it. Just as the incarnation was a function of relationship and not event, the cross signifies the same function of relationship that was embodied by Jesus' whole person vulnerably involved in relationship.

            Shortly before Jesus went to the cross, he disclosed to his disciples for their assurance that he was ďthe way and the truth and the life,Ē the relational means to the Father for whole relationship together as family (Jn 14:1-6). His declaration was also in response to Thomasí claim made from a quantitative epistemic process using a reductionist interpretive lens: ďLord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?Ē In their distress over his pending death and departure, Jesus necessarily shifted their reductionist focus from the quantitative outer in to the qualitative whole of inner out. Jesus focused them on the relational way to the experiential truth of the whole life (zoe not bios) together with the whole of God illuminated in the face of Christóthat is, the pleroma of Godóthus ďknow me, know my FatherÖseen me, seen the FatherĒ (Jn 14:7,9). Whether or not Paul knew of Jesusí disclosure to those disciples, Paul knew Jesus in the relational way to the experiential truth of whole zoe together to constitute his pleroma Christology, whose theological dynamics converge at the cross.

            The major part of the complex dynamics converging at the cross involves the issue of election and determinism along with free will and freedom in the critical matter of sin. If Godís election was the decision to predetermine outcomes, then God had no basis to hold human persons accountable for their actions or even reason to do so. This view renders sin essentially as irrelevant. Yet, regarding free will and freedom, in the primordial garden God allowed for only functional self-autonomy (not total) that did not include functional self-determination as the creature apart from the Creator. Nevertheless, human persons exercised their self-autonomy for self-determination, which then became their only functional means for self-justification (Gen 3:6-13; cf. Rom 1:21-25). This critical dynamic of self, with all its variations (both individually and collectively), is not predetermined by God but solely the consequence of human action extending beyond the allowed relational terms from the Creator for reciprocal relationship together, and thus is action rightly to be held accountable for. This dynamic of self-autonomy, -determination, -justification enacts the human condition embedded in and enslaved to the sin of reductionism, that in Paulís theological discourse clearly means to ďfall short of the glory of God,Ēófor which all persons are accountable (Rom 3:23).

            For Paul, sin is more than a static condition, and it goes beyond the burden of moral failure and the debt of ethical shortcomings. Sin fully involves a dynamic relational process directly engaging the specific relational context of God. Engagement by individuals and collectives in the dynamic of sin is to ďfall short of the glory of GodĒ (hystereo), that is, to come short of the defining created ontology in the qualitative image of God and the determining created function in the relational likeness of Godóthe glory of God revealed in creation (Rom 1:23) and vulnerably disclosed in Christís face and function (2 Cor 4:6). Thus, the functional dynamic of sinówhich includes on the contextual, structural and systemic levelsóis to reduce human persons from their created qualitative-whole ontology and relational function constituted by the whole of God. This reduction of the human person and persons in relationship together engaged by Adam and Eve critically separated them from the definitive significance of the whole of Godís relational context and process to then be defined and determined entirely by human terms from human context (cf. Rom 5:12). This human contextualization and agency, by its redefined nature, can only be reductionism of human ontology and function, thus to come short of the glory of Godís qualitative image and relational likeness by which human persons were created (cf. 2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:10). Yet this hystereo should not be confused with not measuring up to some standard (moral, ethical, social, cultural, familial, etc) based on persons defined by what they do.

            Such reductionism of the whole person and reductionismís counter-relational work on whole relationships together are consequential in function, which at best can signify only ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of the whole of Godís glory. This reductionism was demonstrated by Jesusí first disciples discussed above prior to the cross. Their statements, ďHow can we know the wayĒ and ďshow us the Father,Ē would rarely be interpreted as moral failure or ethical shortcoming. It was their reductionist perception, both of Jesus and themselves, that prevented wholeness of ontology and function from being seen and known in Jesus as well as being lived in themselves, and thus from experiencing together with Jesus, even after ďall this timeĒ (expressing Jesusí frustration, Jn 14:9). This was consequential of reductionism as the essential function of sin, the sin of reductionism, from which they needed redemptive change to be whole. Any and all reductions, whatever its variation, of Godís whole on Godís relational terms to human shaping on human terms engage the dynamic process of sin, all of which is consequential, accountable and in need of redemptive change (cf. Col 2:8-23).

            In Paulís theological discourse, sin is a theological tree that can be fully understood only in its theological forest. Therefore, sin, by its functional nature, must always be perceived and interpreted in the breadth of the relational context and depth of the relational process constituted by the whole of Godís relational dynamic. Anything less and any substitutes are sin itself, the sin of reductionism, which, in all its variations is critically converging at the cross. This is the cross illuminated by the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4), the pleroma of God (Col 1:19-20), whose light Paul would not diminish by any reductionism of his own (1 Cor 1:10-17). Reductionismís presence and influence is pervasive and its practice is prevailing, often even in the church as Paul addressed at Corinth. This makes unequivocal the defining issue for the human condition converging at the cross:

 

All human life and function in self-autonomy, created with limits by God, are left with only two means to self-determination and thus self-justification: either the functional means of human terms, shaping and construction, or the relational means in the face and function of Christ (cf. Paulís personal either-or, Phil 3:4-9, and the functional constraints of the person, Rom 7:15-25).

 

The former remains the incorrigible means to reductionist ontology and function, and the latter is the redemptive means to whole ontology and function. The issue at the cross is whether the former means is relinquished and submitted to the latter means, so that it can be complete in relational response.

            Beyond the event and its drama, the cross signifies the function of relationship embodied by the whole face and function of Christ, who constitutes this relational dynamic even beyond merely sacrificial death for atonement and justification. The theological dynamics converging at the cross cannot be grasped by the limits of these doctrines (theological trees), the theological discourse of which traditionally has been fragmentary without wholeness, if not reductionist (apart from their theological forest). The cross was fully embodied by the whole of Christ to be paradigmatic of the dynamic flow of interaction as follows:

 

The convergence of first, Godís thematic relational response of grace to the human condition fulfilled (ďIt is finished,Ē Jn 19:30) by the qualitative being and relational nature of Godís glory embodied in Christís whole face and function (ďI am thirsty,Ē Jn 19:28), and second, the human responses of self-autonomy at efforts of self-determination and self-justification now submitted to Godís response (ďJesus, remember me,Ē Lk 23:42) in order to fully share in (ďyou will be with me,Ē 23:43) the redemptive means to wholeness (ďFather, forgive them,Ē 23:34) embodied by Christ only in Godís relational context and process (ďFather into your hands,Ē 23:46) for whole relationship together (ďhere is your sonÖhere is your mother,Ē Jn 19:26-27).

     The submission of human reductionism to Christís face and function is more than figurative because it entails the dynamic convergence and engagement by human persons in their sin of reductionism to participate in Christís relational responseósignifying the reciprocal, not unilateral, nature of relationship. This reciprocal dynamic is the necessary convergence in which Christ functionally assumes their reductionism to fulfill Godís response to the human condition (2 Cor 5:21). The order of this interaction is not clearly linear and is distinctly not unilateral. The interaction of Christís relational response of taking on human sin of reductionism is a theological dynamic that can be sufficiently explained only in the whole of Godís relational dynamic; this vulnerably emerged in the incarnation, whose face and function now paradoxically integrates his whole life with reductionist death, not in dialectic tension but in Godís relational response of grace for whole human life to emerge together. Though this certainly involved sacrificing the whole of his life, it is not paradigmatic of sacrifice but more deeply paradigmatic of the whole of his relational involvement with persons in the death of their reductionism. The pleroma of Christís assuming of sin, however, is paradoxical beyond physical death: resulting, on the one hand, necessarily in the relational consequence of the mystery of fragmenting the whole of God (ďwhy have you forsaken me,Ē Mt 27:46) for Godís preplanned purpose, and, on the other hand, of the relational outcome of human redemption and reconciliation (Rom 5:6-11; Eph 1:4-10; Col 1:21-22). This is the dynamic paradigm of whole life relationally involved with reductionist life for the death of its reductionism so that whole life can emerge together in relationship.

     Moreover, this reciprocal relational process is paradigmatic for the ongoing relational involvementóof reductionist life with whole life for reductionismís death for whole life togetherónecessary for the redemptive reconciliation as Godís whole family (Col 2:8-14; 3:9-11; Gal 6:14-15; Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 3:18; 5:16-17; Eph 2:14-18). This ongoing relational dynamic by necessity converges at the cross for the old in human life and function to be redeemed in order for the new of wholeness to emerge. Therefore, the cross is the conclusive dynamic paradigm to wholeness, the relational means of which in Christís face and function exposes, critiques, receives, redeems and makes whole all reductionism at the cross.

           

            For Paul, though the cross is foolishness in human contextualization, it is irreducible and nonnegotiable, the unequivocal good news of the whole of Godís continued relational involvement for wholeness. In pleroma Christology the cross is the only dynamic paradigm for the old sin of reductionism to die so that the new ontology and function can be raised whole, that is, in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God for reciprocal relationship together in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. In Paulís theological forest the cross is inseparable from the resurrection and their conjoint function is indispensable for Godís relational dynamic to wholenessóthe relational way to the experiential truth of the whole life in Godís family together.

            Thus, from the interpretive lens based on his synesis received from Christ and the Spirit (Gal 1:12; 1 Cor 2:13; Eph 3:3-4), Paul perceived the cross in the flow and relational dynamic of the incarnation. Christís death was never reduced or separated from the qualitative being of Christís face and the relational nature of his function, which jointly illuminated the glory of the pleroma of God. The cross signified the same function of relationship as the incarnation. This distinction is critical in Paulís pleroma Christology. Despite the major attention in his letters given to the cross, his theological focus is on the incarnation embodying the whole of Godís relational dynamic in thematic response to the human condition. An imbalanced view of the cross becomes overly christocentric based on an incomplete Christology, whereas for Paul, the cross extends from nothing less and no substitutes of the incarnation of the pleroma of God and thus is centered on the whole of God (from the Father to the Son by the Spirit) constituting pleroma Christology. This is who ďthe light of the glory of God in the face of ChristĒ illuminated and who was wholly embodied on the cross to illuminate further. This also is the face of the pleroma of God on the cross with whose function in death Paul resolved wholeheartedly to know face to face (1 Cor 2:2), to share intimately together in relationship (Phil 3:10) and to witness to nothing less and no substitutes (Gal 6:14).

            Still missing from this discussion on Paulís view of the cross through the whole of the incarnation is the principal dynamic of Godís thematic action, which I have purposely left out until now. What is the principal dynamic of God's thematic action, inseparable from the primary dynamic? In Paulís theological forest, integral with the primary relational dynamic of Godís grace is the principal relational dynamic of Godís love, agape (Eph 1:4-10). Agape is the principal dynamic of Godís thematic action which ultimately is enacted in the incarnation and extended to the cross (Rom 5:6-8; Eph 2:4-5, cf. Jn 3:16). The cross, however, is perceived by many to be the ultimate expression of agape, thus eclipsing the incarnation in the whole of Godís relational dynamic. This is a distortion because it skews both our view of the cross as well as our understanding of agape.

            When we think of love in terms of agape, the main thought to emerge is about sacrifice, sacrificial love (e.g., taking Paul out of context in Phil 2:1-2, 6-8; cf. 2 Cor 8:9). Then, of course, the ultimate example of agape and sacrifice is seen in Jesus on the cross. The doctrine of atonement reinforces this perception, which points to the limits this doctrine, apart from the whole, imposes on the qualitative depth and relational breadth of Christís involvement in fulfilling Godís relational purpose and thematic relational response for the inseparable dynamic of redemption from sin and reconciliation to Godís family (Eph 1:4-10; Rom 3:24-25; Col 1:13,22). Christís face and function certainly included sacrifice, yet sacrifice neither fully embodied his whole person on the cross nor wholly constituted his relational function at the cross. That is, fulfilling Godís relational purpose and response necessitated the whole of Christís relational involvement with human persons to jointly save them from the sin of reductionism and save them to be whole together in Godís family. This necessary qualitative depth and relational breadth of Christís involvement was not constituted by sacrifice but by only the principal dynamic of agape. How are they distinguished?

            The functional significance of agape is not sacrifice, though it may involve sacrifice; much more important, it is about relationship. Sacrifice tends to have the underlying focus on that individual and what that person does (e.g., even in common discourse about Christís death), albeit explicitly intended for the sake of others. Agape, however, functions in the relational significance of how to be involved with others in relationship, not about what to do, even for others. The distinction between Ďhow to be involved with othersí and Ďwhat to do for othersí may appear negligible to you, yet it is critical for understanding our actions in two vital issues: one, how we define our person and thus, secondly, how we do relationships.

 

 

1.  ĎWhat to doí is a quantitative focus on my behavior or action which may be needed for others but is even more important for defining my person from outer in by what I do/have. ĎHow to be involvedí is a qualitative focus not primarily on what I do but rather on my person defined from inner out and functioning as nothing less and no substitutes of that person. The former is a reduced person and the latter is whole.

 

2.  Persons defined by what they do/have give to others what they do/have; that is, they do relationships also from the outer in, which is not the deeper level of involvement of their person, only what they do/have. This implies only seeing those others also from outer in, which indicates the focus of concern is not really those others as persons but, for example, only as ďneedsĒ to act on to better define oneself by Ďwhat I doí. In contrast, persons defined from inner out function with their whole person to be involved with others as persons, not just their needs for example. This determines the level of involvement they have in relationship with others and also defines the primacy of relationship they give to all interactions. The dynamics distinguished between these two approaches is the significance of Paulís polemic in ďKnowledge puffs up, but agape builds upĒ (1 Cor 8:1, discussed previously).

 

 

           The nature of Godís agape is relationship. By its nature, then, the focus in agape must (dei not opheilo, out of duty, obligation) be involvement with others in relationship togetherónot on me and what I do, even intended for the sake of others. Thus agape qualifies the whole matter of serving, challenges our assumptions about service, and makes problematic servant models focused on sacrifice. So much of this is concentrated on Ďwhat to doí, which Jesusí paradigm for serving critiques, chastens and makes whole (Jn 12:26).

            When agape is grasped as not about Ďwhat to doí (even notably with sacrifice and service) but Ďhow to be involved in relationshipí, then the incarnation is the ultimate enactment of agape constituting the breadth and depth of the whole of Godís vulnerable involvement with human persons. As Christís whole face and function embodied throughout the incarnation, agape relationships are signified by the extent of involvement in the relationship. Depth of involvement necessitates increasing vulnerability from inner out by the person enacting agape, of which John 3:16 is the ultimate enactment. Thus, the incarnationóand all other examples of ďincarnationalĒ popular todayómust by its agape nature be both embodiment and engagement in the depth of relational involvement necessary to be whole; otherwise the incarnation is fragmentary. This depth of relational involvement continued to the cross as an extension of Godís agape relationally embodied and engaged in the incarnation. Without the whole of Godís relational dynamic of agape to constitute who is embodied and relationally involved on the cross, the cross becomes fragmented.

            What the cross constitutes theologically in terms of atonement, as well as justification, needs to be understood in the whole of Godís thematic response in the principal dynamic of agape. It is the relational significance of agape which constitutes the depth of Christís relational involvement beyond the limits of doctrines to the experiential truth of the whole gospel. In this relational dynamic, Jesusí whole person from inner out vulnerably involved himself with the whole human person(s), thus he involved his person with the personís sin as well as the person in the image of God. His agape involvement with the personís sin was fully vulnerable, to such depth that he took on and incurred the consequences of that sin, which also deeply involved the relational consequence of separation/rejection from the Father. In other words, Jesus went beyond merely doing what was needed for atonement and justification (Col 1:19-22). Therefore, what the cross illuminates is the breadth and depth of agapeís relational involvement Jesus engaged wholly both with human persons and the whole of God (the Father along with the Spirit), not about the fragments of what Jesus did even though it involved sacrifice albeit for human atonement and justification. Indeed, the cross is only the relational extension of the incarnation and the relational outcome of Godís agape involvement with human persons, nothing less and no substitutes.

            Jesus' whole person is whom Paul saw on the crossóthe whole of Jesus in qualitative being and relational nature in relationship, not what Jesus did. This whole Jesus in agape relational involvement had extended even to the contrarian Saul for the relational way to the experiential truth of whole life in Godís family together. Thus, Jesus' whole person is who, not what, Paul increasingly knew face to face, shared intimately in whole relationship together, and witnessed for with the whole of his own person in pleroma Christology. This is the relational outcome of the principal dynamic of Godís agape for which Paul prayed to the Father for his church family to experience from inner out (ďin your inner beingÖin your heartsĒ) the pleroma of Godís qualitative face and relational function (ďhis gloryĒ) in the qualitative depth and relational breadth of Christís agape involvement for the wholeness of reciprocal relationship together (Eph 3:14-19). Paulís prayer does not close in doxology to end his letter (to which was added a second letter) but as a transition in affirmation of the relational means (way) to the experiential truth of whole life together as church family in Godís agape relational involvement and relational likeness (3:20-21)ówhich continues in Ephesians not as ethical exhortation (paraenesis) of Ďwhat to doí but as the principal dynamic of agape of Ďhow to be involvedí in relationship both in the church and in the world. Paul's emphasis on how to be relationally involved echoes Jesusí formative family prayer for his church familyónot to function in fragmentary sacrifice and service, but to live whole in agape involvement together in relational likeness to the experiential truth of the relational ontology of the whole of God, also ďso that the world may believeÖso that the world may know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved meĒ (Jn 17:20-26).

            All the theological dynamics embodied in the incarnation of Godís thematic relational response to the human condition and which converge at the cross are indeed the relational outcome of the principal dynamic of Godís agape relational involvement. Paul thus gives his readers a new view of the cross and the Jesus on it. Anything less, even with doctrinal certainty, is fragmentary and does not grasp the pleroma of God relationally present and vulnerably involved for only the experiential truth of whole relationship together. The lens based on the relational significance of agape enacted by Jesus shifts the focus from Jesus (at the center of sacrifice and service) to his relational involvement with others, both humans and Godójust as demonstrated in Jesusí ultimate salvific discourse on the cross, noted earlier. To only see Jesus on the cross in a christocentric focus is to reduce the Jesus, the pleroma of God, embodied on it, thereby assuming a view of the cross and of Jesusí agape as about only sacrifice, not relationship together. Such a diminished view reduces the salvific function of the cross and distorts Jesusí relational purpose. If the cross is not seen in its whole, and if who is seen on the cross is not wholly embodied by the pleroma of God, then the salvific outcome cannot be whole. At best, the outcome would be fragmented and diminished to a truncated soteriology of only what Jesus saved from, though often this outcome becomes merely an ontological simulation or epistemological illusion from reductionism substituting for the whole salvific outcome. The whole salvific outcome is constituted by the pleroma of God only in full soteriology of what Jesus irreducibly and inseparably saves from and saves to.

            Jesus himself did not in fact provide such a reductionist view of his person on the cross. His salvific discourse on the cross clearly illuminates the qualitative depth and relational breadth of his agape involvement in relationship with other humans and God. By his unequivocal face and function, the whole of Jesus allowed for little reflection on his self, but rather challenged the perceptual-interpretive framework of his viewers to go further and deeper to the relational dynamic of the pleroma of God vulnerably responding to them. This view of Jesus and the cross cannot be seen through a reductionist lens, however, regardless of the depth and breadth of his agape involvement. This was the lens used by the mocking criminal crucified with Jesus. With his quantitative focus, he only saw Jesus from outer in, embedded in their common circumstance, which was incongruent for the Messiah. Yet, in desperation he still said ďSave yourself and usĒ (Lk 23:39); that is, he sought salvation (deliverance) only from his negative circumstance, disregarding what Jesus had just said about forgiveness. As Jesus enacted further relational involvement with his mother and John, he illuminated deeply what he also saves to, which this criminal still could not see and thus could not pay attention to because he was predisposed by his reductionist lens.

            Reductionism may allow for a truncated soteriology, as demonstrated in the church situation at Corinth (1 Cor 1:12-17). In reality, the sin of reductionism is often seeking deliverance from only this or that without desiring any further involvement, specifically qualitative relationship together. Reductionism, however, will never allow for the full soteriology of pleroma Christology because what the pleroma of God saves to makes whole the human condition in relationship together as Godís family (cf. the contrasts in Corinth, 1 Cor 3:4-9, 21-22). This wholeness in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes is incompatible with reductionism, and thus reductionismís counter-relational work is always seeking to diminish, minimalize, fragment or deny the primacy of relationships together necessary to be whole in relational likeness to the relational ontology of the whole of God (cf. its basis, 1 Cor 4:6-7, and its implication, 8:1)óthat is, countering the relational outcome of the full soteriology (11:25; 12:12-31).

            Regardless of the extent of the sin of reductionism, the gospel of the glory of Christís face and function fulfilled Godís thematic relational response to make whole any persons in the human condition (Col 1:19-22; 2:9-10). Anything less functionally and any substitutes theologically of the pleroma of God could neither fulfill the whole of Godís relational dynamic, nor would such reductions even have all the complex theological dynamics converge at the cross to be completed. By its irreducible nature, the full soteriology can only emerge from and be constituted by pleroma Christology. Moreover, pleroma Christology cannot be reduced to or confused with mysticism and esoteric knowledge as developed in Gnosticism and its Pleroma, which Valentinus misinterpreted from Paul in the second century.

 

            While the whole of Christís qualitative face and relational function has fulfilled Godís thematic relational response of grace to the human condition to complete pleroma Christology, the pleroma of Godís agape relational involvement continues further in qualitative depth and relational breadth. Just as the cross and death of Christ is inseparable in dynamic function from his resurrection, the irreducible theological dynamic of pleroma Christology coheres further in the nonnegotiable theological dynamic of the full soteriology. These are the complex theological dynamics which continue to unfold in Paulís theological forest. Their convergence and thus coherence in his forest are understood in the theological dynamic of wholeness from his theological systemic framework, which now further interacts with the emerging theological dynamics of belonging and ontological identity. By their nature, these dynamics unfold always in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes, with the principal dynamic of agape relational involvement, and by the primary dynamic of Godís relational grace.

 


 

[1] For a full discussion of Godís strategic, tactical and functional shifts, see Sanctified Christology: A Theological and Functional Study of the Whole of Jesus (Christology Study, 2008), online at www.4X12.org, ch. 3 ďThe Person in Relational Progression.Ē

[2] For such a perspective of his position on mysticism Ďin Christí, see James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 390-412.

[3] For an example of this interpretation, see Seyoon Kim, Paul and the New Perspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paulís Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 165-213.

 

 

 

©2010 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.

 

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