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The Human Order of Creation and Its Political Theology for

the New Creation

 

Distinguishing God's Integral Way of Life

 

 

   Political Theology Study


 

T. Dave Matsuo

 

©2021 TDM All rights reserved

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

Contact: tdavematsuo@4X12.org

 

 

Chapter 1        The Journey Ahead

 

Sections

 

Private or Public

Political Theology or Politicized Theology

What is Our Citizenship?

Common Interests or Uncommon Concerns

The Whole-ly Way Constrained or Redeemed

Whole Political Theology and Practce

 

Chap. 1

Chap. 2

Chap. 3

Chap. 4

Chap. 5

Chap. 6

Chap. 7

Printable pdf 

(Entire study)

Table of Contents

Glossary of Key Terms

Scripture Index

Bibliography

 

 

 

Thus says the Word: “Stand at the crossroads,

and look, and ask….”

Jeremiah 6:16

 

 

            The 2020s will be a most historic decade in human history, given the converging interaction of health conditions, the sum of political, economic, social, cultural issues, and climate problems. For Christians, the decade ahead is perhaps the most pivotal period in church history, which inescapably puts us at a crossroads of faith that is more complex than the Reformation and seemingly more complicated than any previous time in the church. It is this crossroads that renders all Christians accountable for their faith, and thereby personally responsible for their everyday way of life.  

            Who expected to be where you are in 2021? Who would have thought Christians and churches could be so divided in their practice, even though those who are divided often subscribe to a similar theology?

            What Christians and churches profess as their theology represents only partially what they believe in everyday life. Underlying their theology and overriding it in their daily practice are beliefs supporting their specific way of life. This urgently brings us to an integral theological issue that encompasses all our practice: our political theology and its way of life for our practice. Political (or public) theology is not a formal belief that most Christians and churches confess in their belief system. Yet, knowingly or not, our political theology is visible in the daily practice of our way of life. In other words, our way of life reflects a political theology, whose theology encompasses daily life and is at the heart of our life’s human order. Therefore, the crossroads facing us today centers our attention and directs our decision-making on the basis of political theology; and what unfolds in the near future will be explicitly or implicitly determined by this political theology.

            What then is your political theology and its basis for determining your way of life? This study focuses on this integral theological issue and the unavoidable future of our way of life. The decade ahead may be unimaginable in current thinking, yet Christians and churches can have clarity about this future based on what they envision today. Thus, along with health care workers in a pandemic, essential needs to be ascribed to our political theology for the wholeness of our well-being, which then makes political theology neither optional nor its integrity negotiable. And the uncertainties of today make it imperative for us to have certainty in our theology and way of life in order to ensure our well-being tomorrow.

 

 

Private or Public

 

            Many Christians observe their faith as private, perhaps declaring their faith in public only in a minimal way or a limited context. This can be easily interpreted by the public as simply a nominal faith; is that what millennials see? What must be understood by practitioners of private faith is the reality that they give witness in public of their faith regardless of how privately it’s maintained. The responsibility of validating Christian witness does not fall on others who observe us. Rather the burden of responsibility rests on us to have a witness congruent with our faith, and thus to incur the consequences of any incongruities—which includes bearing the label of having nominal faith.

            Before his ascension, Jesus gathered his followers together to reinforce his Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20) by placing directly on each of them the essential responsibility that “you are my witnesses in your daily contexts extending to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). His witnesses cannot be private because their life is always lived in public, even if contained in a monastery. ‘No person is an island’, as the saying goes. Accordingly, in these days of hope faltering widely in public, Peter makes it essential for us to “Always be prepared to publicly give an answer to everyone who asks or needs you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet 3:15, NIV). Paul made it further imperative for the church: “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone” (Col 4:5-6). That is, as “the salt of the earth,” our identity and function are neither private nor merely public without “its saltiness,” which Jesus distinguished for all his followers (Mt 5:13).

            Contrary to private faith, all Christians and churches are faced with the responsibility of having a public faith that distinguishes the identity and function of not just being Christians but as Jesus’ essential witnesses. Facing this responsibility requires an understanding of how publicly our witness should be involved, which directs us to the political theology necessary for defining our identity and determining our function in our public way of life. Since political theology encompasses our everyday way of life in public, the distinction of political theology is also discussed in terms of public theology instead.[1] Whether the distinction is political or public, this theology is essential to distinguish God’s integral way of life, which is irreplaceable for our way of life to live in wholeness.

 

 

Political Theology or Politicized Theology

 

            Theology is at the heart of the Rule of Faith for God’s people. In our current way of life during these historic times, the question emerges and even is begged: Has our theology become politicized to render our political theology without the integral significance of God’s way of life? That is to say, does our current witness reflect a political theology that has (1) reduced God’s integral way of life, and (2) renegotiated God’s terms for life together as God’s people—both of which render our persons less than whole and our relationships without wholeness?

            Typically in public discourse, we hear statements about the separation between church and state. If you subscribe to the principle of the separation between church and state, you may wonder how theology gets politicized. This principle, however, is held widely more as a notion than a principle, which then is partially, selectively or not even applied in actual practice. That leaves Christians not only vulnerable but susceptible to the politicized influences in their everyday way of life, thus shaping their political theology accordingly. One may assume that if their theology is based on God’s Word (as evangelicals assume), then politicized influence would be clarified and corrected. This is a legitimate assumption, because that clarification and correction is certainly fulfilled by the Word. Yet, the Word’s clarification and correction of our theology must be qualified by the functional significance of conviction. “The Spirit of Truth” not only clarifies and corrects but also convicts in order to “guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13). Conviction, however, is not merely a function of reason that will convince our mind of function accordingly.

            The whole person created by God is constituted from inner out by the heart, which functions in the qualitative image of God. When Peter addressed our tense surrounding conditions, he implored us: “Do not fear what others fear, and do not be intimidated—rendering you an object to their influence” (1 Pet 3:14). Peter isn’t appealing to our mind to reason clearly but addresses our whole person from inner out; therefore, “in your hearts sanctify [i.e. set apart from common influence] Christ as Lord of your everyday way of life” (3:15). The Spirit convicts the heart of the whole person, so that any clarification and correction of our minds by the Word do not get obscured by surrounding influences. Yet, the Spirit doesn’t work unilaterally but in reciprocal relationship with us. This requires our hearts to be vulnerable and openly involved in relationship together beyond our mind, regardless of how rigorous our reasoning. Persons notably in the Christian academy need to take this to heart, into their heart.

            The influence politicizing our theology involves our hearts more than our minds. Political influence has commonly appealed to our emotions over our reason. This is demonstrated in the recent U.S. election, which Trump unrelentingly claims was a fraud that stole the election from him. In spite of the fact that no evidence of this claim has been found, still millions of Americans (including about 70% to 80% of Republicans) believe the election was stolen. Many among this crowd must be evangelicals, whose belief reflects politicized influence. How does this happen?

            Theology reflects reasoned thought on the one hand. If that theology also includes the whole person, then theology (notably political theology) must involve the heart. Underlying much of the polarized thinking in today’s climate is the emotional dimension of people’s fear, anxiety, stress, pain, depression, and loss of control in our way of life. Theological reasoning alone is simply inadequate to meet this human condition. In particular, our condition in this human drama of uncertainty has to be addressed at the heart level in order to provide some level of certainty in our way of life. Oddly but not surprisingly, the above fraud narrative provides a false sense of certainty to an otherwise uncertain political condition. Moreover, depicting the opposition as “the enemy” provides a more concrete instigator of bad news than being subject to more arbitrary, unpredictable forces as currently experienced in all the events of today. On the emotional level, these alternatives provide persons with more sense of control in their lives, in spite of the fact that they have no valid basis. Consequently, our way of life is reduced to ‘the certainty of uncertainty’, which merely reflects our politicized theology composing the way of life for a political theology that is contrary to and in conflict with God’s integral way of life.

            In whatever way our theology is politicized, our practice is reduced to a fragmentary level lacking the whole person and missing the wholeness of relationships together—both integral to the whole theology and practice distinguishing God’s people, Jesus’ followers, and his church family in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the Trinity (as the Word constituted, Jn 17:6-26). Until our theology and practice encompass the certainty of the Word’s uncommon peace (wholeness, Jn 14:27), our way of life will not be embodied whole and thus will always leave our hearts susceptible to be controlled by the emotions of uncertainty.

            What do you think your current way of life communicates to others in public? How salty and illuminated do you think your witness is—that is, on the basis of the public identity and function the Word constitutes for any and all of his followers (Mt 5:13-16)?

 

 

What is Our Citizenship?

 

            Since our witness is always on display in public, central to our everyday way of life is the specific identity and function that comes with citizenship. This status and responsibility are governed formally and informally for all those who are part of a group, tribe or nation. The explicit or implicit citizenry of such a collective has distinct identity markers, the function of which is expected to be performed by its members and associates. Those who reside in the U.S. are distinctly identified as being part of a democracy. Our democracy is formally governed politically, which is designed in theory to represent all citizens and residents. This governing function becomes and has been problematic when it is politicized by partisan politics—as we currently experience, which is making democracy incredulous to those observing our global witness and even reinforcing totalitarianism in the world. Yet, further problematic, and perhaps even more so, our democracy has historically been and is increasingly governed informally by certain segments of its citizenry, who have assumed the freedom and right to justify, assert and impose their biased identity and function on a democratic way of life; this also supports the case for authoritarian control over its people.

            Whatever the surrounding context, how do Christians engage the formative dynamic of citizenship and, if applicable, of democracy? In everyday life, what does our identity and function bear witness to, intentionally or inadvertently?

            As a Jew, Jesus’ identity and function were expected to align with the nation of Israel. However, on the one hand, Israel reduced its founding identity and original function to dilute God’s Rule of Law in what amounted to a different religion as God’s people. On the other hand, Israel’s governing way of life had become politicized, so that it distinctly operated in contrast to and in conflict with the Roman Empire. Accordingly, Jesus’ citizenship was expected to serve the means of Israel’s diluted religion and was further held responsible to fulfill Israel’s political end. The Jewish Jesus, however, was atypical in his citizenship because he refused to dilute God’s Rule of Law (unequivocally declared in Mt 5:17-19). Furthermore, his citizenship was unapologetically non-conforming because (1) his primary identity is not defined by the limits “of this world” (Jn 18:36), and (2) his function is not determined by the constraints of the norms in the surrounding context (e.g. Lk 5:33-39; 12:51-53).

            Obviously, Jesus’ atypical and nonconforming citizenship was a source of ongoing contention with Jewish citizenry. In his limited and constrained citizenship, even Peter disputed the identity of his messiah (Mt 16:21-23) and rejected his Lord and Teacher’s vulnerable relational function intimately involved with Peter face to face (Jn 13:1-8). Given the politicized way of life these people practiced, this wasn’t surprising but to be expected. In the midst of such a climate, there is another dynamic emerging along with the formative dynamic of citizenship: The essential dynamic that clearly distinguishes God’s kingdom from all others, whereby the primary identity of God’s people is defined and their primary function is determined as integrated citizens, and thus unmistakably distinguished from surrounding identity and function. Without this essential dynamic directly engaging and chastening the formative dynamic of citizenship, the latter will always prevail to define Christian identity and determine their function, as well as limit and constrain their churches to the norms of a politicized way of life.

            In spite of being a Roman citizen, Paul understood that even as a Jew, the primary composition of his citizenship was not limited or constrained by either (Phil 3:20; Eph 2:19). Peter, however, struggled in his formative identity and function, while he tried to navigate a course of dual-citizenship or hybrid citizenship (e.g. Gal 2:11-14). What becomes critical in both the formative dynamic and the essential dynamic of citizenship is the influence of culture on our everyday way of life.

            The culture composing our way of life is the key determinant shaping our everyday identity and function. In a multi-cultural context, such as a democracy, it may appear that these cultures co-exist for a diversity of identities and functions. Underlying such theory, however, is the human condition fragmenting the human order. The human condition operates by reductionist workings, which measures people in a comparative process with the use of a vertical scale of more-less, better-worse. In other words, the human condition doesn’t function of the basis of human equality; rather its actual practice operates on a hierarchical basis with a stratified structure. Those at the top obviously have control in this human condition, and the extent of their status and power allows them to dominate those below on this human scale—with the ongoing lack of human equity. This domination can be direct or indirect, overt or subtle. Either way, the dominant way of life initially composes and then is ongoingly composed by a dominant culture, which operates as the key determinant for shaping all other identities and functions to have any significance in that context. That is, for other peoples lower on the human scale to have any significance, they must assimilate if not conform to the dominant culture—even at the expense of their identity and function of origin, a loss widely experienced.

            Consequential to such a system and structure—as prevails in the human condition of all contexts—is the fact that equality is not a reality; nor does such a so-called democracy eliminate inequality or even minimize inequity in its way of life. As long as person are measured by comparative distinctions—which is the inherent nature of the human condition—persons will be reduced and relationships fragmented from their innate equality of wholeness created by God.

            The consequence of a surrounding culture on our way of life can be immeasurable for Christians. Allowing that culture to be the primary determinant for our everyday identity and function renders our citizenship to either (1) living as dual citizens under the assumption of a separate church-state citizenship, which simply gives allegiance to the latter at the expense of the former, and serves the latter by reducing the former. Or (2) operating as hybrid citizens under the assumption that the church and state are compatible, with mutual goals and means, perhaps with the latter being an extension of the former. Consequently, Christians in either citizenship become complicit with the inequities in that culture’s way of life for the human order.

            Jesus would not affirm his followers as dual citizens, nor would he allow them to operate as hybrid citizens. From his own embodied experience, Jesus understood the explicit and subtle workings of a dominant culture shaping identity and function contrary to his whole person being beyond a Jew. Therefore, he made imperative for any and all of his followers the essential dynamic countering and neutralizing the normative dynamic formative of citizenship: “My followers do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world” (Jn 17:14); at the same time, he prayed to the Father, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them for the workings of reductionism…as you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (17:15,18)—still in the world yet sent to be distinguished unmistakably from the world.

            This discipleship necessitates by his uncommon nature for his followers to be “sanctified in truth” (Jn 17:16,18), that is, set apart not merely in propositional truth but in relational involvement with the embodied Truth (Jn 14:6). In likeness of the whole Truth, his followers are made uncommon in order to be distinguished from the common of the world, “so that they may all be one, as we are One” (17:21-23). This essential dynamic constitutes his followers to live “in the world” in their primary identity and function as integrated (whole) citizens, whose everyday way of life is distinguished by integrated (whole) culture. This integrated whole only unfolds from the uncommon peace (wholeness) that Jesus gives in contrast to and even in conflict with the common peace “as the world gives” (Jn 14:27).

            The political theology from the Word sends us forth on the path together as nothing less than integrated citizens and with no substitutes for integrated culture—integrating our identity and function in the way of life composed by whole theology and practice. As Paul also made imperative, “Let the uncommon peace of Christ rule in your hearts—that is, as the only determinant for your identity and function—since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Col 3:15). Transformed from his formative citizenship, Paul no longer separated peace from wholeness, as evident in the common-ized peace of his heritage (see Lk 19:41-42). Past or present, this integrated path of wholeness is the only alternative way of life to the fragmentary path inherent in the human condition, on which God’s people often found themselves. Christians and churches today face this crossroads and are confronted head to head with the determinant culture that distinguishes their primary identity and function as Jesus’ followers, not as citizens primarily of their surrounding contexts.

 

 

Common Interests or Uncommon Concerns

 

            Any political theology must explicitly address the interests and concerns of its specific way of life. Accordingly, it has to include an unequivocal distinction process, by which these interests and concerns are clearly distinguished and thereby prioritized in its daily life. Problems arise when this distinction process becomes equivocal, subject to negotiation, or simply ignored. These common problems all compromise the integrity of its specific way of life, which is consequential in no longer distinguishing both its uniqueness in the human condition and its significance for the human order.

            Creator God, the triune God’s way of life, and the Lord God’s Rule of Law governing God’s people, all have an irreducible and nonnegotiable distinction that distinguishes them incomparably in the human context. On the one hand, this distinction sets them apart from all other gods, ways of life, rules of law, and peoples. Yet, on the other hand, their uniqueness directly involved in the drama of human life provides the hope for change and the alternative for new life in the human condition. What distinction has such significance?

            First of all, what are your interests and concerns specific for today? And how do you prioritize those interests and concerns in your everyday way of life?

            When Peter finally turned from engaging the formative dynamic of citizenship in his initial determinant culture, he was able to declare the unequivocal distinction of his Lord and Teacher, and the way of life distinguishing Jesus’ followers: “Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (1 Pet 1:15). Holy is a distinction that few Christians would claim to have, that is, if holy is perceived as mere purity or merely in terms of moral perfection. Who rightly can make such a valid claim? Yet, Paul affirms this unequivocal distinction for those reconciled by Christ (Col 1:22, cf. Heb 10:10). So, is this distinction just theological theory to establish an ideal for practice, or does holy really have unequivocal significance for our everyday way of life?

            In the daily reality of life, the significance of holy (Heb. qadash, Gk. hagios) involves being set apart from ordinary usage or common function, which then distinguishes being holy only in its uncommon nature. God is uncommon to the human context and to all humanity. In the incarnation, Jesus was present and involved only as holy, whose unequivocal distinction had significance solely when distinguished from the common by the uncommon. Thus, any common-ness ascribed to Jesus renders his person and way of life without their full significance—as evidenced in historical Jesus studies—which of course, Peter tried to do in his fragmentary discipleship. Peter’s way of life eventually turned from what was common in his surrounding context and culture, whereby he was transformed from the common distinction of his identity and function to being holy in distinctly uncommon terms. Peter then understood that since “he who called you is holy,” any and all of Jesus’ followers need to be uncommon in his likeness. In contrast to an ideal of discipleship, this necessitates that Christ’s followers “do not be conformed to the desires, interests and concerns that you formerly had in ignorance” (1 Pet 1:14). Again, Paul affirms this unequivocal distinction with the ongoing imperative for all of us (Rom 12:2).

            The Word’s call to discipleship is encompassed by the essential dynamic of “not belonging to the common just as I do not belong to the common,” yet while “still in the common” and not “out of the common” because “I sent them into the common” (Jn 17:11,14-15,18). This is a nonnegotiable requirement for his followers to be set apart (“sanctified”) from the common, in order for uncommon discipleship’s primary identity and function to be distinguished with unequivocal distinction in their everyday way of life. This essential dynamic as the unequivocal distinction process encompasses all their desires, interests, and concerns, which ongoingly requires separating out common ones from uncommon ones and then prioritizing them accordingly. For clarity, the essential dynamic is not an either-or process of simplicity; rather in complexity, this involves an integrating process that establishes his followers unequivocally as integrated citizens with an integrated culture “in the world”—distinguished neither worldly nor otherworldly.

            At the center of the Word’s political theology is the discipleship way of life; and at its heart is the significance of being holy and thus uncommon—unlike other political theologies. Therefore, based on the Word, political theology is responsible for composing our public way of life with the unequivocal distinction between common interests and uncommon concerns. By this distinction our public witness will be established in the primary priority of the latter over the secondary priority for all the former (regardless of importance). Yet, the weighted task of implementing this distinction unequivocally rests on the adherents of the political theology responsible for composing their way of life. Integrating practice into that theology has been a variable challenge for God’s people historically. As Peter learned the hard way, this integration is more challenging and even confronting for Christ’s followers. So, on the basis of his experience and not on theological theory, Peter urges us (1) to publicly witness to the integrated citizenship revolving on the integrated culture distinguished by Christ, and thereby (2) to set ourselves apart from the common’s conflicting desires and interests that reduce the wholeness of our identity and function in everyday life (1 Pet 2:9-12).

            In a polarized context such as the U.S., interests commonly become politicized, which then common-ize concerns accordingly. If our identity and function are shaped in a partisan manner, this biases our ability to separate common interests from uncommon concerns. With common-ized concerns, Christians and churches increasingly have declared and acted on common interests, typically under the assumption of having concerns expected, demanded or ordained by God. Whether their practice reflects their political theology, is contrary to it, or simply disregards it, the failure to implement this unequivocal distinction compromises the integrity of their whole identity and function “in the world.” This compromise fragments their way of life by reducing who, what and how they are “just as I am.” This reduced condition then renders their persons and relationships to “belong to the world”—a condition conforming to the common without being set apart, thus no longer distinguished in the wholeness of the uncommon.

            If the practice of our public way of life is not to be reduced by the common, then it must be integrally based on the wholeness distinguished unequivocally by the uncommon. If our persons and relationships are not to reflect, reinforce or sustain the fragmentation of the human condition, then our identity and function must be integrally constituted by being set apart from the common and thereby publically lived whole in the uncommon. For our practice to be integral, it must be anteceded by and integrated into the Word’s political theology—that is, into the whole-ly God and God’s whole-ly way of life. Whole-ly is the integration of whole and holy; and only whole-ly is the essential basis necessary for our everyday way of life to have unequivocal distinction in likeness “just as the Trinity is.”

 

 

The Whole-ly Way Constrained or Redeemed

 

            In this historic period of the pivotal 2020s, Christians and churches are faced with the critical crossroads of what’s next in their way of life. Their typical status-quo condition is demonstrating its diluting effect on the significance of their faith, which makes this crossroads both challenging of their theology and confronting of their practice. The reality today is that all Christians and churches are challenged in our theology and confronted in our practice, given how our everyday way of life defines our identity and determines our function. Publicly or privately, the critical crossroads looms ahead for what’s next in all our lives.

            A major issue for Christians, which is often overlooked, is their citizenship of origin. What’s overlooked is not the citizens of their everyday way of life, but overlooking or even disregarding the integral citizens of God’s way of life. The issue involves what Christians embrace as their heritage. This heritage has political roots, which readily become politicized, notably in a democracy. Yet, while this heritage is certainly instrumental in all Christians’ way of life, it cannot be definitive for Christian citizenship. Our roots go deeper to the heart of God’s way of life for the human order, the depth of which is the definitive source for all the branches of God’s people who belong as integrated citizens in the kingdom of God.

            When Christians explicitly subscribe to or implicitly embrace the political heritage of a particular country, then the country they really belong to is rooted in that heritage—in conflicting contrast to belonging to God’s kingdom and family. This limits and/or constrains their way of life to that country’s norms, which then prevents their roots from deepening and precludes the growth of a deeper rooted way of life sown in the depths of its whole (not partial) significance. The far-reaching consequence for Christians is (1) to dilute the quality (not necessarily quantity) of their faith, and (2) to reduce their witness’ level of significance to nothing more or no deeper than others witnessed “in the world.”

            Furthermore, this consequence extends into churches, whose branches also don’t have the depth of roots planted by the Word as the body of Christ. Many churches appear to flourish and mega-churches are rising in these branches. Yet, their level of qualitative significance is dubious, and the quantity of their fruit is critiqued by the Vine (Jn 15:1-8). Such a church was critiqued by the Word and found to be incomplete (not integrated and whole), in spite of its ministry seemingly resounding alive (Rev 3:1-2). In this prominent process today, the church is being re-envisioned by distinctions rooted “in the world” and by practices attuned to “belonging to the world.” The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, has illuminated the prominence of the church as central for social gatherings and connections; yet, this sense of community amplifies the reduced distinctions of the re-envisioned church, which only simulates the relationships integrating the body of Christ with similar socially distant relationships as experienced in the pandemic.

            In the Word’s assessment, churches like this do not have the significance of life that is constituted whole, the wholeness of which cannot be replicated by anything less and any substitutes. Moreover, there are no alternatives “in the world” for Christians and churches to be whole; nothing less and no substitutes for wholeness have their source rooted in only “not of the world.” In other words, wholeness is constituted by roots only in the uncommon, which cannot be found in alternatives “belonging to the common, just as I do not belong to the common.”

            Whole and uncommon is the only life the Word constitutes; and whole and uncommon is the only way of life that unequivocally distinguishes the Word’s way of life integrally in his kingdom and as his church family. Again, the integration of whole and uncommon is signified by whole-ly (the integration of whole and holy): the whole-ly Trinity, in whose likeness the Word’s followers are constituted in relationship together as family in the whole-ly way of life (as Jesus prayed, Jn 17:20-23).

            At the confronting juncture of this pivotal crossroads, all Christians and churches have this inescapable question looming over us: Do we constrain the whole-ly way in our everyday identity and function, or do we redeem it in who, what and how we are, both individually and together as church? And Christians and churches all along the theological and political spectrum, including all conservatives and progressives, stand accountable at this juncture and directly responsible for the way undertaken.

            The psalmist took decisive action that demonstrated how we need to address the critical juncture before us: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any reductionist way in me, and lead me in the whole-ly way” (Ps 139:23-24). We will not act with significance for what’s next in our way of life, until we make our whole person vulnerable to God for the Word’s vital feedback that will clarify and correct any of our reductionist ways, and then convict us of the whole-ly way.

            Constrained or redeemed?

 

 

Whole Political Theology and Practice

 

            ‘To be or not to be’ may merely be a philosophical question. To be or not to be whole, however, cannot be merely theological. The purpose of political theology is to integrate our way of life into practice publicly, in order to establish the human order as God created (originally and new). How integral political theology is for practice to be whole depends on if its composition is in the primacy of uncommon terms and not fragmented by common terms. When political theology is whole, it can integrate our everyday way of life into whole practice. When our way of life deviates from or even counters whole practice, then our way of life has been co-opted by surrounding common influences. The prominence of co-opted practice today increasingly prevails among Christians and churches. In such a condition, political theology must be able to assert its theological will over co-opted practice; and only whole political theology has the basis for the valid theological will to assert over co-opted practice, so that our way of life is restored to wholeness and its uncommon roots.

            The wholeness constituted by the Word, of course, is nothing less than uncommon; and any substitutes from the common may appear to duplicate this wholeness but, at best, can only mimic it (Jn 14:27). On this whole-ly basis, theological will is asserted foremost over any practice when that theology converges with the Word in the primacy of relationships. Relationships, however, exist in the most variable condition today, which simply defines how fragmentary they are. In contrast, the wholeness of relationships are found rooted in the uncommon, and thus contrary to the common practice of relationships as prevails in the human condition—including our condition commonly existing among Christians and churches. If political theology doesn’t converge with the Word in the primacy of whole relationships, its way of life lacks the significance to assert its will over contrary practice. Whether or not recognized and admitted, prevailing relationships in our Christian fellowship have become contrary practice because of being co-opted by surrounding common influence. The fact that this co-opted practice continues to define their identity and determine their function speaks directly to the significance lacking in their political theology.

            This theological convergence in relationships has its primacy first and foremost in the life of the Trinity. The relationships in the Trinity are rooted in their uncommon ontology and function that constitutes their persons in wholeness together as One being. The uncommon roots of the Trinity in whole relationship together constitute created persons, persons of faith, and the family of Jesus’ followers in the very likeness of the Trinity (Gen 1:26-27; Jn 17:20-23). This relational likeness, however, doesn’t become the experiential truth and relational reality until this theology asserts its will to transform our practice (as Paul made definitive, 2 Cor 3:16-18).

            The primacy of whole relationships together, first with God and then with each other, renders all else in our practice secondary—secondary, that is, to relationships together in wholeness just like the Trinity. Merely participating together and mere association, however extensive, do not, will not and cannot constitute our relationships in the whole-ly likeness of the whole-ly Trinity. We should not have illusions about such relationships existing among us, because they are merely fragmentary and, at best, can only simulate relationships like the Trinity. Moreover, the simulation of relationships among those gathered in the same space has the illusion of being the body of Christ. This widespread assumption is made with reference merely to a fragmentary theology that fails to be well integrated with its practice, because such theology is not whole to integrate its practice integrally.

            At this point, it would be helpful to ask ourselves if we think theology and practice are mutually exclusive, not in theory but in reality. Deeper examination will reveal that much Christian practice in daily life functions as if it were mutually exclusive from their theology. This assumption will always be implied whenever theology and practice are not integrated integrally and are merely referentially associated at best. Whole-ly political theology will clarify and correct such practice, so that our practice can be whole-ly.

            Therefore, political theology is essential only when whole-ly. When our political theology is essential, it will ongoingly challenge and confront our way of life to be whole-ly in likeness. Whole-ly theology integrates practice to make integral our way of life, its human order, and the rule of law necessary to govern the well-being of whole-ly life together. This is the journey ahead for this study, whose essential way is rooted in covenant relationship together (Gen 17:1) that grows into its irreducible branch distinguishing the integral body of Christ (Col 3:15).

            As the Word resounds: “Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the roots where the whole-ly way lies, and walk in it” (Jer 6:16)!

 

 


 

[1] For example, see the discussion by James K.A. Smith in Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017).

 

 

©2021 T. Dave Matsuo

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