I Wholeness Study I Essay on Wholeness I Spirituality Study I Essay on Spirituality I Discipleship Study I Uncommon Worship Study l Worship Study I Worship Language Study I Theology of Worship I Worship Perspectives I Worship Songs
of the Whole of Jesus
T. Dave Matsuo
©2008 TDM All rights reserved
No part of this manuscript may be reprinted without permission from the author
What is the portrait of Jesus that you have in your possession? Is it a still photo(s) or a motion picture? And how would you characterize the main descriptions, ideas, knowledge and understanding persons hold about Jesus of Nazareth? More often than not, the Jesus of our perceptions does not coincide with the whole of Jesus in the narratives of the Bible. A sanctified Christology hopefully will help eliminate this gap, or at least serve to better perceive his whole person in the incarnation.
In Jesus’ high priestly (formative family) prayer he revealed: “For them I sanctify [hagiazo, cause to be holy] myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (Jn 17:19). His statement is somewhat puzzling. Taken by itself this statement could suggest: that Jesus lacked deity and thus a holy nature (as the theology of Arianism assumed); or that Jesus was merely a man elevated to divine status (as defined in adoptionism or dynamic monarchianism); or that in emphasizing the distinction of Jesus’ divine and human nature (as the Antiochenes did) Jesus worked on sanctifying his human nature. None of these positions on Christology sufficiently explain the whole of Jesus (not defined by only one part[s] or aspect), nor do they account for the whole of the triune God’s self-disclosure in the incarnation. Why, then, did Jesus sanctify himself or even need to?
The implications of this question bring out Jesus’ whole purpose for his actions, which will be addressed in this study. I will attempt to define the significance of Jesus’ statement in his life and practice to formulate a complete Christology, as well as to formulate how this becomes functionally necessary for our life and practice in the primacy of our relational response to him as his followers—“that they too may be truly sanctified”—in what can be summarized as “Sanctified Christology.” This complete Christology will constitute a full soteriology of both what Jesus saves from and to; and it will define a discipleship distinct from what prevails in conventional Christian practice and provide the basis for identity formation as Jesus’ followers in relational progression to the Father and the whole of God as family. This will further result in an ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) rarely experienced in church practice today that is signified in the Trinity, whose relationships together constitute the whole of God, thus necessitating a pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit) in which the Spirit constitutes this relational progression to its eschatological conclusion.
Included in our discussion then is: what it means to be a person
(and the ontology of personhood); what it means to be whole and how
wholeness involves more than the individual person and must include
persons together in the relationships necessary to be whole in
likeness of the Trinity; and how those relationships function in the
relational context and relational process vulnerably revealed by
Jesus in his sanctified life and practice. All of these together
help us to grasp the coherence of the triune God’s desires and
actions from the first creation through the incarnation to the
eschatological consummation of the new creation.
In this modern period of history the person of Jesus has been shaped into different forms and images, thus making it difficult to have a clear christological picture, much less an understanding, of who and what this person Jesus is. Recent so-called critical scholarship and the current “quests” for the historical Jesus tend only to offer an elusive Jesus too ambiguous to grasp, or a person without much significance to take to heart, even distasteful to take seriously. With this study I am not attempting to answer the current “christological problem,” though certainly this conversation is unavoidably engaged by the following reflections on Jesus of Nazareth.
I undertake my reflections with the presupposition that the biblical narratives of Jesus are not only history but more significantly reflect communication from God—even with the presence of some human shaping, understood as responses of faith. Moreover, God’s communicative action is intended not merely to be informative but its purpose is only for relationship. Thus, this intentional communicative action is enacted in the relational context and process specifically of the whole of God, that is, the Trinity. It is this trinitarian relational context and process which provide the further and deeper understanding of Jesus’ sanctified life and practice for a complete Christology.
As communicative action the life and practices of Jesus become disclosures of his person, which certainly have been subject to various interpretations and perceptions, including stereotyping. Part of the difficultly we have with his disclosures involves how we functionally embody Jesus in the incarnation—not to mention how we disembody him. It is insufficient for the incarnation to only put flesh on Jesus to quantify his embodiment. This would be a reduction of the whole of the Word embodied; this reductionism also is used to disembody Jesus’ disclosures to quantify in propositions and doctrine. The incarnation, however, is the embodiment of Jesus’ whole person (both quantitative and qualitative), thus the whole of God, nothing less and no substitutes. Most significantly, this communicative action signified throughout the incarnation is not to dispense information about God but only to constitute relationship with God.
Jesus’ vulnerable self-disclosures (distinct from being mere exhibits), by which he extended communication from God, were not enacted in isolation nor merely in a general social context but engaged a relational process. Thus by the nature of this relational process his disclosures of Self (not the exhibit of an object) must be seen (or perceived) as well as received (in contrast to only observed) in this specific relational context. The nature of this specific relational context with this specific relational process involves who, what and how God is, by whose image human persons were created (Gen. 1:27; 2:18). And Jesus must be seen and received in this relational context in order for his disclosures to have significance beyond limited information. Moreover, apart from this relational process such information invariably is shaped only by an observer, perhaps along with a body of observers from tradition.
In other words, as Jesus communicates, we (who seek to know him) must “listen” in order to complete a functional relational connection. Listening, however, is never a simple process in any relationship—without falling into “speaking” for the other person, particularly God.
Further, listening involves more than being quiet to let the other person speak. How we “listen” is equally important; that is, what predispositions and biases we bring to the relational process influence not only what we “hear” but how we interpret those messages. This issue is about our perceptual-interpretive framework, which defines the lens we “see” through that determines what we pay attention to and what we ignore.
What we pay attention to in relation to Jesus’ person and what we ignore become crucial both for our christological conclusions and our practice as his followers. Problems of Christology emerge when we pay attention primarily to the information and details of Jesus’ life—the quantitative elements denoted by the Greek word bios. Think about this for a moment. At what point would you say that you know someone? What do you specifically base that knowledge on? And how deep is that knowledge? Theological and biblical studies need to answer these about Jesus.
In modernity, speculation and observation based in rationality (with a scientific paradigm) are the primary sources of knowledge. Evangelical Christians (namely neo- evangelicals) in the twentieth century applied this methodology to the theological task. Postmodernity challenges modernism’s assumptions and practices and contends that knowledge is not disembodied (reduced), therefore must be situated to understand its human shaping. This contextualizing is limited, however, and tends not to engage a relational process, thus in effect reducing the source of knowledge to its relative human shaping (which has its own biases and limitations, however embodied). While this approach certainly dispels the illusions of a modern quantitative method, it is inadequate for biblical knowledge of God.
Underlying modernist thinking from the Enlightenment, as well as much theology in earlier church tradition, is an interpretive framework acquired from ancient Greek philosophy. The early Greek development of personal freedom or agency (the sense that they were in charge of their own lives and free to act as they chose), accompanied by a strong sense of individual identity (arguably originating individualism), and their practice of objective thought and inquiry for the pursuit of knowledge based on rationality and logic were basic to their framework. This interpretive framework, for example, analyzed the person in isolation separate from others (thus without relational context) and reduced the person to properties by which to categorize the person on the basis of its abstracted attributes—e.g., Plato’s dualistic embodied-immaterial view of the person. Using this approach to God in the theological task or biblical exegesis has constrained God in a quantitative box, limiting the what and who we can know of God. Furthermore, in Western thinking this framework assumes that what underlies the individual are the common notions of freedom and independence in self-autonomy and self-determination; this removes the person from the relational process which gives primacy to relationship. What does this interpretive framework do to our understanding of God, as well as the person and the church?
The issue remains in the significant difference between truly knowing someone or only knowing something about someone. The source of any so-called knowledge of God will be either from human reason or God’s revelation, though not to exclude some interaction between them. God’s self-revelation is knowledge embodied in the incarnation of the Son (Jn 12:45,46; 14:9, 2 Cor 4:6), which is extended by the Spirit (Jn 15:26; 16:14,15). That is, it is given in a distinct relational context with a specific relational process; and by the nature of this, it has to be received in the specific way compatible to that relational context and process. This necessary condition makes mere “observation” of God’s revelation insufficient for knowledge of God—yielding conclusions either lacking or distorted. This condition also applies to the inadequacy of reader-response theory (readers actualize textual meaning “in front of the text” in contrast to going “within the text” or “behind the text”), though some moderate reader-response focus does have value, particularly regarding our perceptual-interpretive framework; I will approach the text integrating all three (within, in front of, behind) positions to further engage this relational context and process. Yet, engaging the whole of the biblical text necessarily involves epistemic humility signifying that knowing God is contingent on the relational initiative of God’s grace. Any knowledge of God disconnected from this relational context and process becomes disembodied, thus reduced to information which at best is only knowing something about God and which most likely serves as epistemological illusion for faith.
To know Jesus beyond information about him, to truly know the who, what and how of his person, requires involvement in the relational epistemic process which Jesus vulnerably initiated with us by his self-disclosures. This is the qualitative aspects of God’s self-revelation contained in the other Greek word for life, zoe (cf. Jn 10:10; 14:6). Yet, this relational process of understanding is to be distinguished from Schleiermacher’s “art of understanding” which tends to be overly subjective with its reliance on human consciousness.
“Sanctified Christology” will not ignore the qualitative life and practice of Jesus and will pay attention to the primacy of the relational context and process communicated in and by his person. Yet, how well we “listen” in this relational epistemic process will depend on a shift (notably redemptive change) from a quantitative interpretive framework (focused on secondary matter, e.g., on the outer-in attributes, examples, even teachings of Jesus, plus other issues “behind the text”) to a qualitative interpretive framework (which does not ignore the quantitative but gives primary focus to the inner-out aspects of the whole person and relationships). This does not reduce the process to focusing primarily on the listener/interpreter “in front of the text,” nor to the limited issue of the meaning and role of language—though communication is fundamental to the relational process.
This shift to a qualitative perceptual-interpretive framework is not without difficulty (both intellectually and emotionally) since the prevailing lenses operating in the world (the West especially) are focused on secondary matter and occupy us (even to our enslavement) with elements of bios (such as duration, manner, means and situation, in which we make investment). Reducing life from zoe to bios, reducing the whole person from the inner out (signified by the importance of the heart) to the outer in (e.g., focusing only on Jesus’ teachings or behavioral examples), reducing the primacy of relationships and intimate involvement (both with God and others) to secondary activity and occupying space together are the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of reductionism. Unless we contend with reductionism—individually in our lives and corporately in church practice and the Christian academy—we will have ongoing difficulty shifting to a qualitative perceptual-interpretive framework. Consequently, I want to emphasize clearly at the beginning of this study: reductionism presents a formidable challenge to a relational epistemic process in general and to a complete Christology of Jesus’ life and practice in particular. Thus reductionism will be addressed ongoingly throughout this study, in particular its epistemological illusions and ontological simulations as well as the reductionist substitutes in our life and practice.
What Job learned illustrates these competing processes to understanding and knowing God (see Job 42:1-6; cf. also Samuel’s experience, 1 Sam 16:1-13). In trying to explain his frustrating circumstances, Job misspoke about his understanding of God (Job 34:35; 35:16). God responded: “Who is this that darkens [hasak, obscures] my counsel [esah, plan, purpose] with words without knowledge [da’at, understanding]?” (Job 38:2). (Speaking for the other person without really understanding that person could describe much of biblical studies.) In realizing that, Job confessed “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful [pala, denoting beyond] for me to know” (42:3); and he learned how his speculations reduced the transcendent God and obscured God’s involvement with him as well as God’s purpose for the big picture.
When God engaged Job further “Listen now, and I will speak” (42:4), God challenged him to deeper relationship for this epistemic process. Job had to turn from his reductionist interpretative framework in order to enter this relational epistemic process with God, and then to “listen” to God with a qualitative framework. In doing so, Job opened his person to God to receive God’s self-revelation. Moving beyond the limits of the quantitative (see Job 26:14) and of “my ears had heard of you” (42:5), Job made relational connection with God resulting in the qualitative conclusion to truly understand God more intimately—“but now my eyes have seen you” (42:5). This is the relational outcome of epistemic humility.
What Job learned also teaches us how perspectives about God become reductionist when: (1) they are not based on God’s self-revelation, and/or (2) our perceptual-interpretive framework limits (or reduces) God’s revelation—for example, not letting Jesus be his whole person and speak for himself. This further demonstrates that there is a direct correlation between how well we will know God (“face to face”) and the perceptual-interpretive framework we function with in our life and practice (cf. 2 Cor 4:4,6). Our study of Jesus’ sanctified life and practice increasingly will make this matter imperative as an issue for change—redemptive change (where the old dies and the new is raised in its place).
Luke recounts, along with Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 11:25), that in a moment of leaping or dancing for joy Jesus exalted “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (Lk 10:21). Jesus was not suggesting God’s revelation was selectively given to only certain persons, and thus not available to all. He was referring to knowing and understanding God’s self-revelation, which is grasped not as observers (however astute) but in the relational context and process. And he reminded his disciples how blessed they were to be receiving God’s disclosures in this vulnerable relationship (Lk 10:22,23).
The “little children” (nepios), about whom Jesus was so excited, is a metaphor for a whole person: an unassuming person merely being whom God created—with a heart open and involved, a mind free and adaptable to the improbable (i.e., able to go outside of the box). More specifically, this “child-person” functions by using the mind simply in the likeness of the triune God, compatible with the holy God’s qualitative distinction from the function of the common. Thus, this child-person’s mind does not function apart from the heart in order to be vulnerably present with one’s whole person and intimately involved in God’s relational context and process for the relational epistemic process necessary to know the whole of God. Moreover, while the mind of a child is considered immature and undeveloped according to common terms, this is a metaphor for the function of a perceptual-interpretive framework which is unrestricted by predispositions and biases. As our mind grows in development, we also put on different lenses which tend to become more and more restricting, in effect reductionist (e.g., imagination, creativity, spontaneity decrease). This ironic development describes “the wise and learned,” who, as Jesus directly implied, depend on their rationality (sophos and synetos) without epistemic humility; and thus they fail to function as a whole person necessary by nature to engage the relational epistemic process to receive God’s self-disclosures and know the whole of God in relationship together as experiential truth (to be discussed shortly).
This functional distinction between the whole “child-person” and the reduced “wise and learned” is crucial to grasp in the function of the Christian academy and the practice of the church. What are the implications of this for biblical and theological studies, for seminary education, or even for conventional church Bible study? What is the significance of this in the epistemic process to know the transcendent and holy God and, most importantly, its significance for ongoing relationship with the whole of God embodied in Jesus?
Our discussion must take seriously Jesus’ declaration because, as we
will discover, this is more about the life and practice of his
followers in relationship than about the “wise and learned”—notably
those who speculate about theology (“from below”) and/or formulate
practice only on their terms (which in effect is “bottom-up
This course will not lead us to fideism (the claim that Christian
belief is contrary to reason) but rather submits in epistemic
humility the whole person to engage compatibly in the relational
context and process by which Jesus’ vulnerable disclosures of God
are revealed. The relational outcome of involvement in this
relational process is knowing and understanding the triune God made
accessible in the incarnation. And Jesus’ sanctified life and
practice is the basis for involving us further and deeper in this
In Jesus’ summary prayer interceding on behalf of all his followers, he tells his Father: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do….I have revealed you to those whom you gave me” (Jn 17:4,6). “Revealed” can have either of two senses depending on the Greek word used: to merely exhibit the object revealed (apokalypto), or to extend this further to address those to whom the revelation is made (phaneroo). This is an important difference we need to grasp because this has functional implications.
Jesus did not merely exhibit the Father but disclosed him in the relational process with his followers (phaneroo, as Jesus prayed here). Certainly Jesus apokalypto the triune God and fully exegetes the Father (exegeomai in Jn 1:18). Yet more importantly, phaneroo completes the purpose for God’s self-disclosure in the incarnation of the Son, mediated by the Spirit, as the relational process only for intimately participating in and knowing the life (zoe) of God: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3); “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (17:26). Simply stated, God’s revelation communicates relational messages to us from the whole of God as Trinity for the sole purpose of intimate relationship together as family, God’s family.
All communication has not only a content aspect but also a relationship aspect which helps us understand the significance of the content of communication. In these relational messages, which are usually implied, a person conveys something about one’s self, about one’s view of the other person and/or about their relationship together. These relational messages qualify the content aspect. As these relational messages are received and understood, there is a deeper basis for knowing that person and a better grasp of how to respond back. The application of this process to the dynamics of Jesus’ vulnerable life and practice will take us further and deeper into the purpose of God’s disclosures.
In the biblical narratives, the story of Jesus takes us further than history and mere information about God. While being historical event, the incarnation (beyond merely the manger) takes us deeper as God’s being, nature and presence—the functional sum of God’s glory (Jn1:14)—are made vulnerable to us in who and what God is. This is not for information to categorize in propositional truths and to fragment in systematic theologies but for intimate relationship together (Jn 17:22). As communicative act in and for this relational context, God also engages this relational process such that this makes the total of who, what and how God is accountable to us—all for, within and by relationship.
Accountability is a popular buzzword in current church practices, particularly for small groups, yet with mixed motivations and outcomes. A main reason for this is that accountability often is not practiced in a reciprocal relational process involving necessarily being vulnerable to each other. Yet, God in self-revelation is accountable to us based on the life and practice of Jesus who initiated vulnerable self-disclosures only for relationship, intimate relationship together. In this specific relational context, the manner in which Jesus came was “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
In the OT the psalmist asks God for “your light and your truth” in order to lead him to where God is—not just to a holy place where God dwells but to God himself (Ps 43:3). The Hebrew term for truth (emet) denotes God’s faithfulness, that is, one you can count on to be who and what he is (cf. with righteousness). This provides us with the relational function of truth.
In the NT there is a strategic shift of God’s presence from a place (e.g., his dwelling in the tabernacle in the OT) to the vulnerable incarnation of God’s glory (the functional being, nature and presence of God) directly in Jesus (“who is the image of God…the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ,” 2 Cor 4:4,6). God not only sent light but came in person as the Light (Jn 1:4; 3:19; 12:46), “full of grace and truth” (the OT often renders these terms in combination as “covenant/steadfast love and faithfulness,” cf. Ps 25:10; 40:10, Prov 16:6). The Light emits who and what God is particularly in qualitative difference in contrast to darkness. Truth functions in the Light because it reflects who and what God is; that is, truth always points and leads to God, just as the psalmist asked (Jn 3:21).
“Full of grace and truth” (covenant love and faithfulness) are not mere static attributes of Jesus’ substance. This is the Christ. As the Messiah he is the covenant extension and fulfillment of God’s promise and thematic action to restore his creation to the wholeness of the whole of God. Thus “grace and truth” functionally are relational expressions of God’s righteousness—the who, what and how of God—and functionally serve to relationally extend what God began at the first creation and fulfills in the new creation, along with the Spirit, for eschatological relational conclusion. When not reduced, the whole Truth illuminates this relational context and process. Truth, as incarnated by Jesus, serves this relational purpose and functions for this specific relational process by being the embodiment of “the One and Only” we can count on to truly be who and what he is (Jn1:14,18). Jesus tried to explain his purpose of truth to Pilate, but he only responded back from a Greek philosophical framework reducing the issue to an abstract “What is truth?” (Jn 18:37,38).
Jesus’ self-disclosure as the Truth (Jn 14:6; cf. the relational significance of Jn 8:31,32, to be discussed in Chapter 3) reveals that the only significance for the truth is for relationship—specifically relationship to the Father (Jn 12:45), who can be known only in redeemed relationship (cf. Jn 8:33-36). God’s revelation and truth, therefore, are only for this relationship, not for information to formalize and thus “dwell” in propositions and doctrine, effectively as if in a place (temple or shrine). The latter project is static and tends to become an end for ourselves; though the intention contains God, its function constrains God.
The influence of modernity has skewed the focus dominantly on formulating propositional truths as foundational knowledge and beliefs. Postmodernity rejects any foundational scheme (or metanarrative) and looks more to experience in each human situation—not formulating propositions—as the basis for knowing and forming beliefs. I suggest what is needed to respond to the deficiencies of both is engagement in what can be called experiential truth. While propositional truth may have rational and objective basis, it is functionally static and primarily quantitative information, that is, reductionist knowledge, and thus has no qualitative significance for the whole person and the relationships necessary to be whole. For experiential truth to have validity and be reliable, it has to be more than the subjective—that is, be embodied only in oneself or in one’s community—as practiced in postmodernity. Thus, experiential truth must also have an objective basis; yet this objective basis cannot be functionally static (like that from modernity) but must be dynamic functionally for this knowledge to be beyond reductionism. What takes us beyond both reductionism and oneself?
For experiential truth to have a dynamic objective basis means that experiential truth must involve a relational epistemic process, where truth is beyond oneself as “subject” and is found in the Other as “object,” yet who is also known (experienced) as Subject in relationship. The only process that makes this a rational reality without reductionism, yet experiential beyond oneself, is a relational process in the specific relational context initiated by the Other; a context initiated by oneself for the Other remains subjective without objective basis. Truth becomes dynamic functionally when truth is for relationship. And the experience of this truth has objective basis when the object of truth, the Other, engaged in relationship is the historical person (of the biblical narratives), Jesus the Truth, who as Subject vulnerably disclosed himself to us.
Experiential truth is based in relationship with this person Jesus the Truth vulnerably revealed, who as the Way also reveals the relational epistemic process for knowing the whole of God in intimate relationship, and who also as the Life (zoe, not bios) redeems us for this qualitative difference of life together as his very own family in communion with and in likeness of the Trinity. Thus, we need to grasp this deeper epistemology Jesus revealed in his sanctified life and practice because his disclosures are the basis to experience in our life and practice the deeper ontology of the new creation “in Christ” (individually as persons, corporately as church, and both together as God’s whole). As we will discuss, anything less becomes the epistemological illusions and ontological simulations of reductionism.
Since Jesus’ self-disclosures are for relationship, given in the relational context and process he initiated, these God revelations must by their nature be received in that specific relational context and process. This then precludes our independent (“wise and learned,” Lk 10:21) speculations and formulations of what in effect are our terms (not the approach of a vulnerable child). Yet, while Jesus initiated this relational context and process, the relationship is not unilateral or one-sided. This is a reciprocal relationship which involves relational responsibilities, notably being vulnerable and accountable to each other. Part of our relational responsibility is to fully receive and thus be accountable for all of God’s self-revelations. This is not the observations of Jesus’ life and practice by “the wise and learned” in measured (distant or detached) relationship. Rather this is receiving the person Jesus with the openness of the whole person (in childlike significance discussed earlier) and involvement in a vulnerable relationship—a reception and response, including by the church as a whole together.
Receiving Jesus with the openness of the whole person needs to include the exercise of the mind and the use of human reason, yet not as the prime determinant of understanding. Since Jesus’ self-disclosures do not come in a gift package of a fully assembled understanding of God, the whole person is relationally responsible to vulnerably engage Jesus in all his disclosures and to fully connect them together in order to grasp the whole of who, what and how God is. This aspect of the relational epistemic process is described by the Greek word syniemi (to understand) denoting putting together the various disclosures by Jesus into its whole, like putting together pieces of a puzzle for a view of the whole picture. We need syniemi to understand the whole of Jesus in the various pieces of his life and practice. Yet, syniemi is a function of the whole person, not merely the mind. The importance of the heart signifying the involvement of the whole person is defined by Jesus as fundamental for syniemi; the failure of heart function in those who lacked syniemi described those to whom Jesus spoke in parables (Mt 13:15).
Despite the opportunities Jesus’ disciples had to receive his self-disclosures (noted in the preceding context, Mt 13:11,16-17), syniemi did not come easily for them. After his disciples had observed him perform various miracles and had direct experiences with him, Jesus confronted them about their lack of understanding of him by failing to put these pieces together (syniemi, Mk 8:17, cf. Mk 6:51,52). Later, he shared his frustration with the disciples—“Don’t you know me…even after I have been among you such a long time” (Jn 14:9)—because they were not engaging him in the relational epistemic process very well. They certainly knew loads of information about Jesus yet they did not truly know the person.
A related word synesis (understanding, comprehension) denotes the ability to understand concepts and see the relationships between them for a grasp of the whole. This stated Pauline purpose (in Col 2:2,3, cf. 1:9) was defined for us to have this understanding of the whole (synesis, v.2) in order that we would specifically know (epignosis, not just be informed about) the full significance of the various pieces of the mystery of God revealed in the face of Christ. Apparently even as a boy at twelve Jesus demonstrated this synesis, which amazed those who heard him engage the teachers at the temple (Lk 2:47). Paul claimed to have this synesis (Eph 3:4) but only as an outcome of engaging the relational epistemic process from Jesus with the Spirit (Gal 1:12, Eph 3:3,5), not by mere human reason. Yet, not all synesis activity is meaningful. While defending the significance of the cross of Jesus the Christ, Paul reminds us that some synesis is fruitless—notably the insight of the rationalists (1 Cor 1:19-21). This suggests that synesis from a reductionist interpretive framework determined merely by human reason results in only epistemological illusions of the whole. While this may have some usefulness in particulate matters (e.g., in science), it is insufficient for understanding the whole.
Synesis is not the practice of “the wise and the learned.” It is the necessary option of all who vulnerably seek to know and understand God, and thus the relational responsibility for which all Jesus’ followers are accountable. Yet, since this relational responsibility is our reciprocal relational response, it is not to be undertaken apart from the relationship. That is, synesis, syniemi, or any other interpretive response, must be engaged in ongoing dialogue with God. Functionally this means the reading, interpretation (exegesis) and involvement with Scripture must always be engaged with the Holy Spirit who mediates the relationship (Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15). Our relational responsibility only defines the reciprocal relational work ongoingly engaged together with the Spirit, and thus the Spirit’s presence and function are certainly not to be forgotten, diminished or minimalized in this relational process. Such involvement also means that the Spirit needs to be pursued as the ultimate determiner for knowing and understanding God, which includes transforming our response for the new creation, as our study will discuss.
As Jesus is received and responded to with this involvement in relationship, what will emerge increasingly in this study is the following. Jesus is the most significant basis for knowing and understanding God, both theologically and functionally. This basis is most significant in two ways, which have a sequential sense as well as a reflexive sense:
These two keys Jesus provides need to be understood as both theological and functional since these aspects should always remain together—though being functional has often not been part of the theological task.
We will need to grasp in this study how the person is seen, related to and involved in the relationships of the whole of God throughout God’s self-disclosures in Jesus’ sanctified life and practice. This will help piece together the who and what of the whole of God, which will then engage by what and how the whole of God does relationships. To reduce, diminish, or minimalize any of this has relational consequences, which this study will examine.
The biblical interpretations for this study then necessarily must be theological. This could be problematic if one’s interpretation is dominated by an existing theology one brings to the Bible, particularly to the Word embodied. While no one is without theological presuppositions, how we use them is crucial. We can be chastened in this engagement with the following perspective: theology should not be the task of systematically informing us about God but about establishing the coherence of God’s self-revelation vulnerably extended to us for relationship, so that we can intimately know the triune God and experience life together as the whole of God’s family in likeness of the Trinity.
As the hermeneutical and functional keys, Jesus’ self-disclosures open up and take us to the Father (Jn 1:18; 14:6; 17:6), and thus to the whole of God, the Trinity. This is not static information but dynamically functional to “dwell with” us for relationship with the Trinity (Jn 14:23, cf. Rom 8:15), and to “dwell in” us as God’s family together (Jn 17:21-23,26, cf. Eph 2:22). Jesus engages us in this distinct trinitarian relational context and process which intimately involves us in this relational progression to the whole of God—a relational progression which involves us further and deeper into relational communion with the Trinity. To stop in this relational progression to focus mainly on Jesus is to become non-biblically christocentric, thus not “dwelling with and in” the Trinity.
Basing this theological and functional whole in Jesus’ self-disclosures is both a necessary and sufficient process to formulate a complete Christology (without reduction) functional for the whole of our life and practice. This Christology does not function simply to inform our life and practice but to transform us to “the image of his Son” as family together (Rom 8:29). Therefore, the vulnerable life and practice of the person Jesus are the necessary keys to this study; and this Christology (without being overly christocentric) becomes the primary theological starting point, while vitally integrated with a relationally functional pneumatology (discussed in chapter nine), from which emerges: a full soteriology (including not only saved from but more so saved to, discussed in chapter six), an ecclesiology of the whole (without reductionist substitutes, discussed in chapter eight), a missiology predicated on the whole (thus deepening missions, discussed in chapter seven), an eschatology of relational conclusion of this relational progression (not events about the Kingdom, discussed in chapter ten), and the related aspects of each of these. All the above theological areas converge to serve as functions of the whole of God’s thematic action, which integrates our discussion, thus providing the necessary theological coherence for our life and practice to function with, in and for the whole of God.
Theology, then, and all interpretations of Scripture related to it need to converge and to be dynamically functional. For theology, and its interpretations, to function dynamically and not be reduced, it must engage the trinitarian relational context of family and needs to involve the trinitarian relational process of family love—just as Jesus incarnated vulnerably in his sanctified life and practice, full of grace and truth (covenant love and faithfulness).
For a functional theology to give coherence to all the theological aspects of Jesus’ self-disclosures in our discussion to follow, I suggest this working definition:
Christian theology is the biblically informed study of God providing the context and process for practice to intimately know the whole of God constituted in the Trinity, thus functionally reflecting the vulnerable disclosure of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life—the relational Way for the deeper epistemological Truth to experience the ontological Life of the whole of the triune God.
As the basis for this study, this is the door Jesus opens to the
whole of God through which we (individually and corporately as the
church) must enter together with the Spirit in order to be Jesus’
followers (in relational progression) as the new creation in the
eschatological plan of the whole of God. For this purpose Jesus
sanctified himself in vulnerable life and practice in order that we
too may be truly sanctified in our life and practice.
We must be aware of not reducing the theology of sanctification to a static attribute by which to categorize a person in a condition or identity as “holy.” This is not the purpose of this study, nor its direction. The process of a person or some aspect of that person being sanctified implies undergoing a significant change. What this change involves directs us to the purpose of Jesus’ sanctified life and practice; and the significance of his purpose always directs us to relationship—first and foremost with the whole of God, then with the whole of each other together as the church and the new creation, and then with the whole of all creation.
When the Word became flesh, the glory of the One and Only, who was made vulnerable to us, is his divine-human person. His disclosures as both Divine as well as human are for relationship, yet involve different aspects of the dynamics of relationship. On the one hand, this second Person of the Trinity communicated directly to us “in the face of Christ,” and the triune God is disclosed vulnerably by “Christ who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4,6)—relationally disclosing who, what and how God is, all for the purpose of relationship together. While the humanity of Jesus is certainly involved in this relational action from God, there is another aspect of this relational dynamic necessary to understand to complete the whole function of his divine-human person, and thus the purpose for Jesus’ sanctified life and practice.
Since God’s revelation and truth are for relationship, what God communicates and discloses is never for unilateral relationship and to be merely received by us. For this specific relational process to be fully engaged and for its relational dynamic to be complete, there must (dei by its nature, not from obligation or compulsion) be compatible response back from us. On the other hand, then, the humanity of Jesus also enacts this response back to God in order to both fulfill this response to replace our past failure as well as help us understand who, what and how we now need to be; this was imperative so that we can complete the relational dynamic necessary for ongoing relationship together. In other words, the humanity of Jesus also functions to become that necessary response back to God to complete the relationship (“sanctify myself”) in order that we can respond back to God in the same way. Yet, merely following Jesus’ example/model is not sufficient response back to God because the Father wants us “to conform [symmorphos, be together with in form] to the image [eikon] of his Son” (Rom 8:29), “who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). The Father does not divide the divine-human person Jesus; he is wholly Son. And how the Son responded to and involved himself with the Father in the Trinity is also the response the Father expects us to conform to in relationship together as family in the whole of God. Therefore, the Father's relational imperative to us: "Listen to my Son" (Mt 17:5).
“Sanctified Christology” is specialized in its focus on Jesus’ function in fulfilling this relational purpose for us. By his sanctified life and practice declared in his formative family prayer (Jn 17:19), Jesus does the relational work necessary to constitute his followers (and their relational response back) in the specific relational context and process of the whole of God. The whole of God disclosed is both triune and holy, thus Jesus is constituting us both in the relationship together necessary to be whole (in communion with the life of the Trinity and in likeness of the practice of the Trinity) as well as in the function of this relationship together only on God’s terms (holy and Uncommon, thus nonnegotiable and irreducible).
To be constituted in this specific relational context and process of the whole of God, then, is for all Jesus’ followers (both individually and together as church) to function in the trinitarian relational context of family and the trinitarian relational process of family love. This is life and practice on God’s terms, sanctified “from above”; and this must be clearly distinguished from life and practice of relationship with God on our terms, reduced “from below,” however unintentional or inadvertent. This involves the need for change—redemptive change.
In the vulnerable incarnation of the Son, Jesus’ sanctified life and practice provides us with the irreducible trinitarian relational context in which this relationship needs to take place; and by engaging God in it Jesus also constitutes us in the nonnegotiable trinitarian relational process by which this relationship needs to function. Therefore, Jesus’ sanctified life and practice is sufficient for us to understand how God does relationship and what our response in relationship with God needs to be; and, further and deeper, grasping Jesus’ sanctified life and practice and embracing him in it is necessary to experience this relationship as a functional reality and experiential truth. “Sanctified Christology” integrates Jesus’ sanctified life and practice to be functional dynamically for practice—not to do something as his mere disciples but to be the Father’s very own in relationship together in the whole of God’s family.
In constituting his followers in relationship only on God’s terms, Jesus is not so much focused on defining a position vis-à-vis human culture, though functioning on God’s terms will certainly result in such a position(s), which will be discussed in chapter seven. More importantly, rather than his followers being primarily defined by human contextualization, Jesus establishes the ontology of their primary identity (who, what and how they are) in the holy and triune God. Sanctified life and practice emerges from Jesus’ divine context, not our human context—though it certainly is involved into the human context and for the human condition. The whole of this process involves Jesus’ “call to be whole,” which then defines and is conjoined with his commission to be sent not merely to the world but into (eis, as Jesus prayed, Jn 17:18) the world—that is, “sent to be whole” to be relationally involved into the world for the world to know and to experience the whole of God (as Jesus further prayed, Jn 17:21-23), to be discussed in later chapters.
In response to the Father’s desires (Rom 8:29), by conforming to the likeness of his Son, and thus the image of God, we start to function in the who, what and how of the image of God in which we were created. As our discussion will unfold, we need Jesus’ sanctified life and practice to define, direct and enable our response back to God to complete the relational dynamic for the intimate relational outcome Jesus continues on to ask of the Father in his formative family prayer (hear Jn 17:20-26). The fulfillment of this prayer is the functional purpose of this study.
This will necessarily involve: redefining how we tend to see the person and how we define ourselves; reprioritizing relationships and refocusing the prevailing way we do relationships; which then makes imperative reforming our conventional practices of discipleship, reworking our ecclesiology and transforming how we do church; consequently, deepening our missiology and making our mission whole. These are issues requiring redemptive change which we can expect to confront us in Jesus’ sanctified life and practice, and therefore can anticipate our need to address in the discussion ahead. And the Spirit is present to relationally work with us through each step to its completion.
There is also an auxiliary yet secondary purpose this study may
possibly serve. The relational epistemic process used in this study
to engage Jesus’ sanctified life and practice might also be
considered a “theological interpretation of Scripture.” In his
introduction to theological interpretation, Kevin Vanhoozer defines
such reading of Scripture simply as coming to hear God’s word and to
know God better.
If the reading in this study truly engages this process, then God
will be heard and responded to. Vanhoozer goes on to say: “The
strongest claim to be made for theological interpretation is that
only such reading ultimately does justice to the subject matter of
the text itself. …To read the biblical texts theologically is to
read the texts as they wish to be read, and as they should be read
in order to do them justice.”
If the reading which follows fulfills this relational epistemic
process, then this study will serve to help close the modern gap
between biblical studies and theology—the fragmentation both between
and within these disciplines. Such fragmentation is reflective of
reductionism and the relational condition “to be apart” from the
whole of God (cf. Gen 2:18), to which God’s thematic action since
creation has responded, acting ultimately in the vulnerable
incarnation of Jesus’ sanctified life and practice.
While God’s thematic action since creation and throughout the incarnation have a distinct flow and common direction, this study of Jesus will not have a linear direction (e.g., from the manger to the Cross) to give it a sequential format; nor will it have a systematic organization (e.g., of different aspects of Jesus’ life or teachings). Yet this study does have a necessary relational progression in which Jesus’ sanctified life and practice takes his followers. This relational progression will provide the implicit structure of what follows.
Nevertheless, as in the nature of relationships, relationship is reflexive (going back and forth between the subjects in give and take, even up and down or in and out) but never merely linear; and a systematic relationship would not have the qualitative significance to be whole much less be a satisfying experience, though such a relationship is easier to control and maintain a comfort level of vulnerability. Linear and systematic relationships are reductions of God’s design and purpose for relationships. And we cannot impose these frameworks on the main issues of his practice to be discussed: (1) the who, what and how Jesus presented of his Self, (2) the quality of his communication, and (3) the depth level of relationship Jesus engaged. These issues do not emerge in linear or systematic fashion.
The reflexive nature of relationships will reflect the course of our discussion in this study: not linear or systematic, going back and forth, with certain matters being repeated not only for emphasis but due to their recurring involvement in the relational context and process to help us understand in particular what is important to God. I hope this reflexive interaction will become evident in the progression of this study, and that any lack of linear and systematic structure will not be a source of distraction or confusion. In addition, when I discuss a narrative, I will often use the present tense instead of the past tense—and at times both in the same context. This is intentional to help us be more involved in an action, not merely historical observers. As we all work cooperatively with the Spirit in this relational process, I anticipate Jesus and the Spirit will take us further and deeper in our life and practice, individually and together as his church—maybe even more so than we would desire.
While the existing gap between biblical studies and theology needs to be closed, more urgently the connection lacking between theology and/or biblical studies and church practice needs to be fully reestablished. Church leaders are often left “on hold” with little (or no) understanding of these disciplines’ application, or even relevance, for real life and practice. This disconnection happens routinely when theological engagement distances itself from church practice by not insuring that theology/biblical interpretation is functional—dynamically functional in the relational context and process of the church, which then by its nature must be trinitarian as the Trinity functions in the whole of God. Any reductions of this relational context and process, which are necessary for connection both with God and with each other, render theology to epistemological illusions and church practice to ontological simulations—both overlapping in the sum of the substitutes from reductionism.
The wholeness of function in likeness of the Trinity must (dei, again, by its nature, not out of obligation or compulsion) find its outworking in the life and practice of the church. This is who, what and how we are together when our life and practice functions in the relationships necessary to be whole, the whole of God’s family.
To serve this purpose and help us function in actual church practice both within the church itself and in its surrounding context, as well as into the world, the discussion in each chapter of this study will include a section specifically toward meeting this functional purpose. This involves directly integrating our theology to function dynamically in church life and practice. How we do church and who does it and what we do church for are basic to who, what and how we are as Jesus’ followers, and thus are crucial to what follows in this study.
Moreover, every aspect that has been touched on or referred to in this Introduction will be included in this conversation on the theological and functional implications of the whole of the Word—with the hopeful conclusion for wholeness in theology and practice.
 Unless indicated, all Scripture references are taken from the NIV.
 Greek and Hebrew word studies used in this study are taken from the following sources: Horst Balz, Gerhard Schreider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975); R. Laid Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce Waitke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980); Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1981); Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publ., 1996).
 For an expanded discussion on the origins of Western thinking and its differences with Easterners, see Richard E. Nisbet, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why (New York: Free Press, 2003).
 For a summary discussion of “Reader-Response Criticism,” see Robin Perry in Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 658-661.
 For a brief description of Schleiermacher’s position in modern hermeneutics, see Anthony C. Thiselton, “Biblical studies and theoretical hermeneutics” in John Barton, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 1998), 95-113; Thiselton, A Concise Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 129-130, 277-278.
 Reductionism tries to make the whole of something more simple than it really is by reducing its complexity to only its smaller components (or secondary aspects) and, in turn, uses those aspects to determine/define the whole of something, thus diminishing or minimalizing its integrity.
 For a philosophical discussion of how modern practices have influenced theology, see Nancey Murphy, The Nordenhang Lectures 2003, Theology in a Postmodern Age, 2nd revised edition (Czech Republic: International Baptist Theological Seminary, 2003).
 For the conceptual dynamics of human communication, see Paul Watzlawick, Janet Helmick Beavin, Don D. Jackson, Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967).
 For a more extensive discussion on this wholeness of God, see my overlapping study, The Person, the Trinity, the Church: the Call to Be Whole and the Lure of Reductionism (Wholeness Study, 2006), online at http://www.4X12.org.
 For a similar examination of this relationship but from a conceptual perspective of dialogic process, see Alistair MacFadyen The Call to Personhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) 45-47.
 For a discussion on various positions in relation to human culture, see H. Richard Niebuhr Christ and Culture (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001).
 Vanhoozer, ed. Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 19-25.
 Ibid., 22.
©2008 T. Dave Matsuo