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Sanctified Christology

A Theological & Functional Study of the Whole of Jesus

Christology Study                                                                                            printer-friendly pdf version


  Chapter 9

The Trinity in Christology with Pneumatology





The Trinitarian Shape of Christology

Trinitarian Uniqueness in Christology

Integral Pneumatology: the Forgotten Person

Functional Implications

Chap. 1
Chap. 2
Chap. 3
Chap. 4
Chap. 5

Chap. 6
Chap. 7
Chap. 8

Table of Contents

Scripture Index


             One of the main characteristics of a complete Christology is not being overly christocentric. That is to say, when Christology is only about Jesus, it is not about the whole of Jesus but focused on only part of his person, notably on what he did, on his teachings and example. The whole of Jesus vulnerably embodied Jesus’ whole person throughout the incarnation, as we have observed and examined throughout this study. Conjointly, the whole of Jesus’ whole person uniquely embodied the vulnerable presence and intimate involvement of the whole of God, the Trinity. Christology remains incomplete when it does not encompass both Jesus’ whole person throughout the incarnation and the whole of God whom his whole person embodied.

            Moreover, by involving us directly in the trinitarian relational context and process, the whole of Jesus involves us in God’s story, that is, the whole of God’s thematic relational action in response to the human condition. We cannot perceive the whole of Jesus apart from God’s story or we reduce the whole of who and what Jesus embodied as well as the whole of how he functioned. This reduction signifies a recontextualization of Jesus which relegates him to our situations and circumstances in history—just as many Jews did with their messianic hopes. We need to discuss further the trinitarian dimension of Jesus’ embodiment in God’s story.

            This chapter integrates the Trinity into Christology and attempts to make this complete Christology the critical antecedent for the primary formulation of trinitarian theology—which in turn necessarily provides the integrating basis for church function in likeness of the Trinity. For this theological process to have this functional outcome, we will also need to reestablish the relational and functional significance of the Holy Spirit
(pneumatology), who tends to be the forgotten person in Christian thought and church practice.

The Trinitarian Shape of Christology

            John the Baptist testified that “I saw the Spirit…remain [meno, dwell] on him” at Jesus’ baptism (Jn 1:32, cf. 3:34). From there, Luke’s Gospel records that Jesus was full of the Spirit and led by the Spirit (Lk 4:1,14). These early accounts made evident the presence and function of the Spirit in Jesus’ embodied life and practice, which Jesus himself confirmed (Lk 4:18, cf. Is 11:2; 42:1); and their function dynamically continued in Jesus’ post-resurrection interactions (Acts 1:2) and continues in his post-ascension involvement (Acts 9:17; 13:2; 16:7). In essence, the Spirit meno with Jesus together to constitute the trinitarian relational context and process. When Jesus told his disciples that he will send the Spirit to them as his relational replacement not leaving them as orphans (Jn 14:18), he pointed to the relational ontology between him, the Spirit and the Father (Jn 15:26; 16:13-15). This ontology that the trinitarian persons have in common as One is what Jesus vulnerably disclosed about his Father and him.

            As discussed previously about Jesus himself not being overly christocentric in his life and practice, he consistently disclosed that he was indeed all about the Father. He came to reveal the Father (Jn 17:6,26, cf. 1:18), everything he did was from the Father (Jn 5:19-20) and all he said was for the Father (Jn 12:49-50). Beyond merely his embodied purpose and function, however, is the implied nature of who they are and what they are in relationship together. There are two clear overlapping statements Jesus disclosed to define his relationship with the Father: (1) “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30; 17:11,22), and (2) “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10:38; 14:10-11,20; 17:21). We need to understand Jesus’ definitive declarations both ontologically and relationally, thus expanding on the Greek concept of perichoresis in trinitarian theology.[1]

            The doctrine of the Trinity emerged in the fourth century as a response to theological conflict and reductionism. Arius specifically taught that Jesus was subordinate to God in substance (ousia) and was created (begotten by the Father). The Council of Nicea (the Nicene Creed in 325) countered that Jesus was begotten (i.e., generated, not created) from the substance of the Father, of the same substance (homoousios) with God. In further response to another form of Arianism (from Eunomius: divine substance is unbegotten and only belongs to the Father), the Cappadocian fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus, between 358-380) formulated the distinction between the same substance of God and the different persons (hypostasis) of God, thus establishing the doctrine of the Trinity: one God existing in three persons.[2]

            Essentially, from the fourth century into the twenty-first, we observe one aspect of God emphasized over another (e.g. the oneness of God or the divine threeness), and some aspect of God reduced (e.g. God’s substance [ousia] or the persons/personhood [hypostasis] of God), as well as redefined or ignored (e.g. “begotten” or the relationality of the Trinity). If not in theology most certainly in function, these perceptions and interpretations profoundly affect how we define God—namely in the ontological and relational nature of the whole of God. I suggest that much of this theological difficulty can be resolved or prevented if trinitarian theology emerged first and foremost from complete Christology. This is the compelling antecedent Jesus’ vulnerable disclosures made evident about him and the Father, which involved the Spirit together.

            Jesus’ first declaration of “I and the Father are one” (eis eimi) essentially revealed the dynamic existence (eimi, verb of existence) of their persons dwelling in (eis in accusative form) each other together. Eis eimi signifies the ontological oneness of the trinitarian persons in qualitative substance (homoousios), the nature of which cannot be differentiated in any of their persons from the whole of the triune God and differentiated in this sense from each other. Each trinitarian person is wholly God and an integral part of the whole of God, implying that each is incomplete without the others (pointing to the depth of pain Jesus shouted on the cross, Mt 27:26). Yet what Jesus disclosed is not the totality of God but only the whole of God in who and what God is and how God does relationship.

            This raises two related theological issues to be aware of in this discussion. The first issue involves either reducing the persons of the Trinity (intentionally or inadvertently) into the whole of God’s being such that they lose their uniqueness or personhood (the loss of which becomes susceptible to modalism); or, on the other hand, overstating their uniqueness as persons opens the possibility of shifting into tritheism. The second issue involves reducing the whole of the Trinity (beyond our context in eternity called the immanent Trinity) into the so-called economic Trinity (directly involved with us in revelation for salvation) so that the eternal God loses mystery.[3] This is not to imply two different Trinities but to clarify that God’s self-revelation is only partial and thus provisional—not total yet whole. Reducing the whole of each trinitarian person or the whole of God’s being are consequential not only for our understanding of the triune God but also for understanding what is important about our persons and our relationships together in order to be whole in likeness of who, what and how God is.

            Each trinitarian person is the who, what and how of God without distinctions that would reduce their persons from that whole, thus they are inseparable. In their essence, on the one hand, if you see one trinitarian person you have seen them all; while on the other, to see the whole of the triune God is to see the trinitarian persons because each person is distinct in the whole but not distinguished from the whole. This constitutes the main basis for Jesus’ startling claim to his disciples: “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9, cf. 12:45). He did not merely resemble (homoioma, cf. Ro 8:3) the Father but is the exact copy (charakter, cf. Heb 1:3) of the Father.

            In his formative family prayer, Jesus asked the Father that all his followers together may “be one as we are one” (Jn 17:11,21-22). To “be one” (eis eimi) is the same ontological oneness among his followers “just as” (kathos, in accordance with, have congruity with) their ontological oneness (eis eimi); yet his followers' oneness does not include having ontological oneness with the triune God such that either they would be deified or God’s being would become all of them (pantheism).

            What Jesus prayed for that is included, however, involves his second declaration about his relationship with the Father which overlaps with their ontological oneness (eis eimi). “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (en eimi, Jn 14:10-11) further reveals the ongoing existence (eimi) of their persons in the presence of and accompanied by (en) the other, thus signifying their relational oneness constituted by their intimate involvement with each other in full communion—just as their relationship demonstrated at his baptism, in his transfiguration, in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, along with the presence and function (meno) of the Spirit. This deep intimacy in relationship together (en eimi) is conjoined in the ontic qualitative substance of their ontological oneness (eis eimi) to constitute the trinitarian persons in the interdependent relationships together to be the whole of God, the Trinity qua family. The conjoint interaction of the ontological One and the relational Whole provided further functional understanding of perichoresis.

            Their ontological and relational oneness uniquely constituted the embodied Word the only one (monogenes) to fully exegete (exegeomai) the Father (Jn 1:18)—not to merely inform us of the transcendent and holy God but to vulnerably make known the Father for intimate relationship together as his family, as Jesus prayed (Jn 17:6,26). These relational aspects and functions provide the remaining basis for Jesus’ claim that if we truly see him we see the Father.

            It is important to grasp that in Jesus’ claim of seeing him was seeing the Father, he disclosed in this twofold ontological and relational reality (ontological One and relational Whole) the importance of both what constitutes God’s triune being as well as what matters most to God. God’s self-disclosure embodied in Jesus was the who and what of the whole of God, and about how God only does relationships to be Whole. It is in this trinitarian relational context by this trinitarian relational process that the whole of God’s thematic action is extended in response to the human condition for relationship together as family in family love. While those who respond back cannot experience ontological oneness (eis eimi) with the whole of God, they can have in reciprocal relationship the experiential truth of relational oneness (en eimi) together with the Trinity. The experiential truth of en eimi with the Trinity is the definitive basis for Jesus’ followers to have eis eimi with each other together as his church for the ontological oneness to be whole in likeness of the Trinity (kathos, in congruence with the Trinity, Jn 17:21-22). The whole of Jesus embodied who, what and how the whole of God is in his relational work of grace only for relationship together and to make relationships together whole, God’s whole on God’s terms. His formative family prayer constitutes his followers together in this qualitative relational significance that matters most to God. Therefore, his church lives “ontologically one,” eis eimi together, en eimi the relationships with each other necessary to function to be “relationally whole” in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity.

Trinitarian Uniqueness in Christology

            In the big picture of John’s Gospel, the embodied Word is constituted in the whole of God and the whole Word is given full context even before creation and human history (Jn 1:1-3). This set into motion the whole of God’s desires and subsequent action in self-revelation, ultimately in the embodied Word (Jn 1:10,18, cf. Heb 1:1-2, 1 Cor 8:6). God’s self-revelation (which is not total) is about the whole and holy God and about how this God does relationship. Yet the relational context and process of God’s self-disclosure are always related to us, directly or indirectly. Though revelation is about God, God is focused on us. In other words, revelation in both the embodied Word of God and the canonical Word of God is about how God does relationship for us and with us. This is true about God’s desires even before creation (for us) as well as God’s action since (with us).

            Whether before or after creation, God’s action in relation to us is how God does relationship. This suggests how the triune God is throughout eternity because the righteous God cannot be inconsistent with the revelation of how God does relationship. This does not, however, define or describe the totality of the immanent Trinity, which cannot be reduced to only the economic Trinity—a differentiation which is helpful to maintain to counter reductionism. Definitively, we can only talk about God in terms of how the Trinity is with us—both before creation in anticipation of us and after.

            Yet, we also need to distinguish that the triune God does relationship in two distinct relational contexts. One context is totally within the Trinity and their relationships together. The other context is the Trinity’s relational involvement with us. Both contexts still involve the trinitarian relational context of family, and how God does relationship is consistent for both contexts. Moreover, both contexts still function by the trinitarian relational process of family love. The enactment of family love, however, in the latter context requires a different relational process. Understanding the different relational processes is critical for our understanding of the Trinity and trinitarian uniqueness, conjointly for grasping how we need to do relationship with the whole of God and with each other together to be whole.

            For the whole and holy God to do relationship with us involves a very distinct relational process appearing both paradoxical and incompatible, which informs us of what matters most to God and thus how God does relationships. In ultimate relational response to the human condition “to be apart,” the Father extended his family love to us in the embodied trinitarian person of the Son (Jn 3:16-17). Yet, unlike how the trinitarian persons love each other in the Whole by a horizontal relational process between equals, the natural inequality between Creator and creature necessitates a vertical relational process; this vertical process seems to preclude intimate involvement en eimi as family together to be whole. Conjointly, the incompatibility between the holy God and sinful humanity compounds the difference of inequality between us. The perception of God’s ultimate response from a quantitative framework would be that God reached down from the highest stratum of life to the lowest stratum of life to bridge the inequality, which certainly has some descriptive truth to it yet is notably insufficient for an outcome beyond this—namely for what Jesus saves us to.

            More importantly and significantly, God pursues us from a qualitatively different context (holy or uncommon) in a qualitatively different process (eternal and relational) to engage us for relationship together in his relational context of family and process of family love. That is to say, unlike the Trinity’s horizontal involvement of family love, God had to initiate family-love action vertically downward to us in response to our condition “to be apart” in order to reconcile us to come together in relationships en eimi the whole of God. The mystery of this response of God’s grace can only be understood in a vertical process; this must be distinguished not only from the horizontal relational process of how the Trinity loves among themselves, but also from the horizontal process implied in the reductions of the vertical process which signify renegotiating our relationship with God on our terms. This subtle renegotiation of terms, functionally not necessarily theologically, pervades Christian and church practice (cf. the early disciples and the churches in Jesus’ post-ascension discourse). Yet, without God’s family-love initiative downward, there would be no compatible relational basis for God to connect with us or for us to connect with God, both initially and ongoingly.

            In this qualitative relational process, the whole and holy God can only love us by a vertical relational process because of the inherent inequality between us. God can only do relationships as God, which Jesus embodied, and never on any other terms, specifically ours which points to not having ontological oneness (eis eimi) with God. Nevertheless, in spite of God’s obvious distinguished ontology and superior position and authority, in loving us downward the Son came neither to perpetuate nor to expand the quantitative and qualitative differences between us, though his working assumptions never denied the extent of those differences. Nor did he come to condemn us to or bury us in those differences (Jn 3:17). In the qualitative difference of God’s family love, the whole of Jesus vulnerably disclosed how God does relationship for relationship together to be whole, which the Spirit’s relational work extends for us to experience further and deeper to completion. It is vital for us to understand the implications of this qualitative relational process engaged by the whole of God (cf. Jesus’ footwashing)—both in our relationship with the Trinity and in our relationships together as church, then in our relations with others.

            For the eternal and holy God to be extended to us in family-love action downward required the mystery of some sense of “reduction” of God (cf. Jn 17:4-5), suggesting a quantitative-like reduction (not qualitative) of God. The action of God’s family love downward underlies the basis for the functional differences in the Trinity revealed to us in the Scriptures—functional differences present in the Trinity even prior to creation yet only about God in relation to us (Jn 3:16, cf. Rom 8:29, Eph 1:4-5, 1 Pet 1:2, 1 Jn 4:9-10). These differences among the trinitarian persons appear to suggest a stratified order of their relationships together. Jesus indicated that “the Father is greater than I” (meizon, greater, larger, more, Jn 14:28) only in terms of quantitative distinctions for role and function but not for qualitative distinction of their ontology. There is indeed a stratification of function in the Trinity, yet their different functions only have significance in the relational process of enacting family love downward to us. Their functional differences correspond to the economic Trinity, and Scripture provides no basis for a stratified order of relationships in the immanent Trinity in eternity. In other words, their functional differences are provisional and cannot be used to define the relational ontology of the totality of God. To make that application to the eternal triune God can only be an assumption. What the embodied whole of the Word of God vulnerably disclosed helps us understand the Trinity sufficiently to preclude such an assumption.

            As the Word of God who created all things, the Son embodied the most significant function of subordinating himself to extend family love downward (cf. Phil 2:6-8). This subordinate action of family love is further extended downward by the Spirit as the Son’s relational replacement to complete what the Son established (Jn 14:16,18,26). God’s initiative downward in the Son, however, must be distinguished from a view that the transcendent God needed an intermediary (i.e. Jesus) to do this for God—a form of Arianism which claims Jesus is less than God in deity, being or substance (ousia). Despite any apparent sense of quantitative reduction of God to enact family love downward, the incarnation was the nothing-less-and-no-substitute God revealing how the whole of God does relationship.

            The relational context and process of God’s focus on human persons (even before creation) and involvement with us (during and after creation) constitute the functional differences in the Trinity necessary for God to love us downward. Each of the trinitarian persons has a distinct role in function together as the whole of God to extend family love in response to the human relational condition “to be apart” from God’s whole. Thus it is in this relational context and process that the Trinity’s functional differences need to be examined to understand the significance of trinitarian uniqueness. There are two approaches to the Trinity’s differences that we can take. One approach is a static and more quantitative descriptive account of their different functions and roles in somewhat fixed relationships. For example, gender complementarians use this approach to establish the primacy of an authority structure within the Trinity that extends to marriage and usually to church. Meanwhile, many gender egalitarians use the same approach but come to different conclusions about the meaning of the Trinity’s functional differences—sometimes even to deny them; yet the primary focus on leadership and roles remains in human contexts, though who occupies them is open to both genders.

            The other approach to the Trinity’s differences is more dynamic and qualitative, focusing on the relational process in which their differences occur. While this approach fully accounts for the different functions and roles in the Trinity, the relational significance of those functions involves how each of the trinitarian persons fulfilled a part of the total vertical relational process to love us downward as the whole of God, not as different parts of God. In this qualitative approach, the primary significance shifts from authority (or leadership) and roles to love and relationships. When churches assess their practice in likeness of the Trinity, they need to understand which approach to the Trinity they use. For example, the successful and highly regarded churches in Ephesus and Sardis certainly must have had an abundance of leadership and role performance to generate the quantitative extent of their church practices, yet Jesus’ post-ascension discourse exposed their major deficiency in the whole of God’s primary function of love and relationships. And, as Jesus made evident in this discourse, central to a church’s assessment is the awareness of the influence of reductionism.

            Understanding the relational significance of trinitarian differences requires more than the descriptive accounts of authority and roles. The more dynamic and qualitative approach by necessity goes beyond this to the qualitative aspects of persons and relationships and the dynamic process in which they are involved. This requires redefining persons not based on what they do (notably in roles) or have (namely authority) but on who and what they are in qualitative significance together, thus understanding relationships as a functional process of the relational involvement in family love between such whole persons (unreduced by what they do or have) and not as relationships based merely on authority and roles (essentially reductionist distinctions). These qualitative relationships help us understand what is necessary to be whole as constituted in the Trinity, and thus for the church to live whole in likeness of the Trinity.

            When relationships are defined and examined merely on the basis of roles, the focus is reduced to the quantitative definition of the person (at the very least by what one does in a role) and a quantitative description of relationships (e.g. a set of roles in a family) according to the performance of those roles; this is usually in a set order for different roles (as in a traditional family) or even mutually coexisting for undifferentiated roles (as in some non-traditional families). Yet this focus does not account for the variations which naturally occur in how a person sees a role, performs that role and engages it differently from one situation to another; for example, compare Jesus’ initial prayer at Gethsemane of not wanting to go to the cross (Mt 26:39) with what he had clearly asserted in various situations earlier. Nor does this focus account for the dynamic relational process in which all of this is taking place—the process necessary for roles to have relational significance; for example, examine Jesus’ intimacy with the Father at Gethsemane and assess its significance for his role to die on the cross.

            Moreover, when the primacy of the Father’s authority and role is emphasized as defining his person and also as constituting the relationships within the Trinity, this tends to imply two conclusions about the Trinity—if not as theological assumptions, certainly in how we functionally perceive God. The first implication for the Trinity is that everything is about and for primarily the Father (an assumption congruent with patriarchy); the Son and the Spirit are necessary but secondary in function to serve only the Father’s desires. While there is some truth to this in terms of role description, the assumed or perceived functional imbalance reduces the ontological oneness (eis eimi) of the triune God, the ontological One. Conjointly, this imbalance created a further assumption or inadvertent perception of the Son’s and Spirit’s roles being “different thus less” than the Father’s, thus operating in stratified relationships preventing the relational oneness (en eimi) necessary for the whole of God, the relational Whole. This points to the second implication for the Trinity, that such primacy of the Father also tends to imply a person who exists in relationships together essentially self-sufficient from the other trinitarian persons—similar to the function of individualism in Western families. This unintentional assumption or perception counters the ontological One and relational Whole by reducing the relational nature of God as constituted in the Trinity, the relational nature which is at the heart of who, what and how the whole of God is.

            These two implied conclusions (or variations of them) about the Trinity are problematic for trinitarian theology, notably when integrated with Christology. They also have deeper implications for our practice of how we define persons, how we engage in relationships together and how these become primary for functionally determining the practice of church, and in whose specific likeness our church practice is. While the priority of the Father’s authority and role must be accounted for in the revelation available to us, our understanding of trinitarian functional differences deepens when examined in the relational context and process of the whole of God and God’s thematic response to the human condition. God’s self-revelation is about how the whole of God does relationship as the persons of the Trinity in response to us for relationship together in God’s whole—the ultimate disclosure and response of which were embodied by the whole of Jesus.

            As noted earlier, Jesus clearly disclosed that his purpose and function were for the Father. Their functional differences indicated a definite subordination enacted by Jesus. Even going to the cross was his submission to serve the Father—not us, though we benefit from it—as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s family love and the redemptive means for adoption as the Father’s very own in his family together. The critical question about Jesus’ functional position that we need to answer is what this subordination signifies. Directly related to this is why the Son is designated as “the One and Only” (monogenes) of God. Does this define fixed roles in a hierarchy or does it signify the relational process of the whole of God loving downward necessitating subordination among the trinitarian persons, in order to make a compatible relational connection with us, and thus us with God with the relational outcome of belonging to God’s family?

            A hierarchy is about structure and is static. But authority (arche) is not merely what someone possesses, rather it is always exercised over another in relationship, thus it involves a dynamic relational process. Hierarchy and authority conjoined together need to be understood as the dynamics of stratified relationships which involve more than order and includes how relationships are done. Stratified relationships can range from  the oppression of power relations at one extreme to degrees of defined separation in relations, or merely to distance in relationships caused by such distinctions and differences, intentionally made or not. At whatever point in this range, the relationships together would be less intimate than what is accessible in horizontal relations; this is the significance of Jesus’ teaching on leadership in his church family, not reversing a stratified order (Mk 10:42-45). Does a stratified relationship represent the sum of Jesus’ relationship with his Father, or do his two earlier declarations about him and his Father define the whole of their relationship?

            The ontological One and the relational Whole, which is the Trinity, is what the whole of Jesus embodied in his life and practice throughout the incarnation. Though unique in function by their different roles in the whole of God’s thematic response to the human condition, what primarily defines their trinitarian persons are not these role distinctions. To define them by their roles is to define the trinitarian persons by what they do, which would be a qualitative reduction of God. This reduction makes role distinctions primary over the only purpose for their functional differences to love us downward, thereby reducing not only the qualitative substance of the Trinity but also the qualitative significance of what matters most to God, both as Creator and Savior.

            Conjointly, role distinctions neither define the trinitarian persons nor determine their relationships together and how they do relationships with each other. God’s self-disclosure is about God’s relational nature and function only for relationship together. As disclosed of the persons of the Trinity, namely in the narratives of Jesus, the following relational summary can be made: The Father is how God does relationship as family—not about authority and influence; the Son is how God does relationship vulnerably—not about being the obedient subordinate; the Spirit is how God does relationship in the whole—not about the helper or mediator. In their functional differences, God is always loving us downward for relationship together—to be whole, God’s relational Whole.

            Yet, we cannot utilize how each trinitarian person discloses an aspect of how God does relationship in loving downward in order to make reductionist distinctions between them by which to define their persons and determine their relationships. Just as we reduce defining persons (most notably to what we do) and relationships together (e.g. to role functions and behavior), this becomes reductionism of God. Likewise, reducing the whole of each trinitarian person to the particular function each one enacts in loving downward for relationship together to be whole becomes a reduction of how God does relationship as family; this thus reduces the primacy of the whole of God’s desires, purpose and actions for redemptive reconciliation from our condition as well as ongoing tendency “to be apart.” Furthermore, this reduction removes trinitarian uniqueness from the relational context of the eschatological big picture and from its relational process constituted by the primacy of how God does relationship within the Trinity and thus in relationship to us. What constitutes this primacy in the Trinity’s relationships is how they function in their relationships in the whole of God as the whole of God and for the whole of God. This functional-relational oneness of the whole of God is not signified by their authority and roles. Primary function in the distinctions of authority and roles would not be sufficient to enable Jesus to say seeing him was seeing the Father.

            The emphasis on authority and roles, however well-meaning, does not give us this primacy for relationships together to be whole as family, nor is it sufficient to reconcile us from being apart—even if our condition “to be apart” only involves relational distance minimizing intimacy in our relationships. The relational consequence of this emphasis strongly suggests relational and emotional orphans functioning in church as orphanage—no matter how successful and well-respected church practice is, as clearly exposed in the churches in Ephesus and Sardis by Jesus’ discourse. Jesus disclosed definitively that this is not the likeness of the Trinity by which his church functions to be whole.

            As the embodiment of the whole of God and God’s thematic relational action, Jesus is the relational and functional keys to the likeness of the Trinity necessary for the functional significance of his gospel and the experiential truth for his church. His declaration to be in the Father and the Father in him (en eimi) was not simply to inform us of the whole of God (eis eimi) but to provide the primary means to truly know and experience the whole of God and relationally belong in God’s family. As we grasp this complete Christology, we more fully understand the deeper significance of his designation as “the One and Only.” This primacy of relationship within the Trinity is signified only by their intimate communion and family love (Jn 3:35; Mk 1:11, Jn 5:20, Mt 17:5, Jn 14:31). Relationships of intimate communion and family love are both sufficient and necessary to constitute the whole of the triune God (homoousios) as well as to define the significance of the trinitarian persons (hypostasis) and to determine their relationships together (perichoresis). This intimate communion of family love is what matters most to God because it reflects what’s most important in God and represents what’s most significant of God—not authority, different roles, unique functions. And this is the depth of what “the One and Only” foremost wants us to experience in relationship together en eimi with the Trinity, the relational Whole, and thus as his authentic followers live eis eimi each other for the ontological oneness of his church in likeness of the Trinity, the ontological One—in fulfillment of his formative family prayer (Jn 17).

            Our intimate relational involvement of family love signifies both the relational oneness with the Trinity while participating in the life of the triune God, and the relational and ontological oneness of his church living to be whole in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity. This relational oneness is not about a structure of authority and roles, or a context determined by such distinctions, but oneness only from the function of relationships in the intimate relational process of family love. These ongoing dynamic relationships of family love, however, necessitate by its nature the qualitative substance of God (Mt 5:8) and thus relationships only on God’s terms (Jn 14:21; 15:9-10; 17:17-19). Intimate communion with the whole of the triune God cannot be based only on love, because God is holy. This relationship requires compatibility of qualitative substance, and therefore the need for our transformation in order to have intimate relationship with the holy God. God’s love downward does not supersede this necessity, only provides for it. Conjointly, the whole of God’s relational work of grace constitutes the redemptive reconciliation for our relationships in his family to be transformed to equalized and intimate relationships together necessary to be God’s whole on God’s terms.

            In creation, God constituted the human person in the image of the qualitative substance of the whole of God signified by the function of the heart, not in dualism but in wholeness (Gen 2:7). The trinitarian persons and human persons in likeness cannot be separated or reduced from this qualitative substance and still be defined as whole persons. This wholeness signified by the heart is what the Father seeks in worshippers (Jn 4:23-24) to be in his presence to experience him (horao, Mt 5:8), and what the Son searches in church practice for authenticity (Rev 2:23). This qualitative substance is necessary for the primary definition of the person, both trinitarian and human, not the secondary definition of what they do (roles) or what they have (authority), and thus is vital for both human ontology and the ontology of the Trinity.

            The Cappadocian fathers (between 358-380) formulated the initial doctrine of the Trinity by distinguishing the persons (hypostasis) from substance (ousia); but they advanced the person as ontologically more important than substance in order to give priority to the relationality of the triune God—establishing a social trinitarianism—though for the Cappadocians their persons were based on begottenness and spiration. While this significantly countered the prevailing idea of God’s essence as unrelated (or nonrelational), complete Christology does not allow reducing the importance of the qualitative substance of God—that is, the heart of God who functions as the God of heart. Jesus vulnerably disclosed his person and the substance of his heart interacting together in relationship with the Father to make definitive both as necessary to define the whole of God (the ontological One) and the relationships (threeness) necessary to be whole (the relational Whole).

            This lack in trinitarian theology creates a gap in understanding the Trinity and thus a gap in church practice based on likeness of the Trinity. Complete sanctified Christology helps us better grasp the qualitative significance of God to more deeply understand the relationality of the Trinity.[4] In trinitarian theology, the predominant explanatory basis for relationality has been the Greek idea of perichoresis: the interpenetration of the trinitarian persons in dynamic interrelations with each other. The importance of perichoresis is certainly critical for our perceptual-interpretive framework (notably of Western influence) and it may be a conceptually more complete term to define the ontology of the Trinity. But this idea of relationality needs further and deeper understanding because it lacks the functional clarity to be of relational significance both to more deeply grasp the whole of God and to intimately experience who, what and how God is in relationship together. The Eastern church, rooted in trinitarian theology from the Cappadocians, appears to lack this functional clarity in their ecclesial practice based on the Trinity.[5] If this is accurate, I suggest that this is primarily due to the functional absence of the whole person in their relationships together as church—given the reduction of ousia inadvertently diminishing the function of the heart and thus unintentionally minimizing intimacy together. This would not be the likeness of the Trinity. The whole of Jesus provides this clarity in how he vulnerably functions with his person in relationships throughout the incarnation, for which he holds his church accountable by family love as demonstrated in his post-ascension discourse on ecclesiology to be whole (summarized in Rev 3:19).

            Without this clarity to establish relational significance, our Christian life and practice functions less relationally specific in involvement with the whole of God—though the intention may be there—and thus we practice church apart from (lacking involvement in) the relationships necessary to be whole as God’s family constituted in the Trinity—even though the idea may be understood. The lack of functional clarity has further ramifications for how the human person is perceived in the image of God and how our persons together were created in likeness of the Trinity, both of which are necessary for imago Dei. And the absence of clarity affects how those persons in God’s image function in relationship together necessary to reflect the Trinity’s likeness, as well as to represent God’s whole and build God’s family. This lack opens the door to and tends to result in ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of the whole with reductionist substitutes. This is not the door that Jesus’ relational and functional keys open (as he told the church in Philadelphia, Rev 3:7); which is why Jesus still knocks on many church doors for relationships together to be made whole—just as he did with the church in Laodicea (Rev 3:19-20).

            The need for our fuller and deeper understanding of the Trinity goes beyond to be informed of God, which perichoresis merely tends to do. We need this understanding to experience the whole of God for relationship. This is the only purpose of God’s self-disclosure vulnerably embodied in the whole of Jesus, making Christology the necessary antecedent for trinitarian theology. In the incarnation, the whole of God ultimately coheres for this relationship together, which Jesus intimately disclosed in functional clarity and experiential truth: to be relationally involved with God as whole persons together in the whole of God’s family constituted in and by the Trinity. The authentic experience of this relational reality of God’s whole without reduction of its truth has been the integrating theme of the Trinity’s response to our human condition “to be apart” from the whole ever since the creation of the first human person. Indeed, the whole of God’s desires were formulated even before creation to restore us to the whole in the new creation, to be completed by the Spirit in God’s eschatological plan concluding with the Son partaking of the last Passover cup (cf. Mk 14:25).

            As the Son fulfilled his earthly function to vulnerably embody God’s family love downward to constitute his authentic followers in the whole of God’s family, his relational replacement, the Spirit, extends this family love by his cooperative relational work to bring their new creation family to its ultimate relational conclusion. Trinitarian uniqueness emerges and coheres in sanctified Christology, which establishes the relational significance of the Spirit and provides the framework for pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit).

Integral Pneumatology: the Forgotten Person

            As noted earlier in this chapter, the Spirit’s presence and function dwelled (meno) with the embodied whole of Jesus together to constitute the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love in ongoing reciprocal relational involvement with the Father—an irreducible relational dynamic ongoingly integrated through post-resurrection and into post-ascension. While the Spirit is certainly an integral member of this triangulated context and process, his person and function in the Trinity tends to be minimalized and often functionally ignored. When given attention, what tends to be paid attention to are various functions related to the Spirit without the person. This reduces both the Spirit as an integral person in the Trinity and thus the Spirit’s involvement as person in relationship together with the Father and the Son. The functional repercussion, if not theological conclusion, from this is a binitarian view of God focused on the Son alone with the Father. When the Spirit is reduced from personhood, the Spirit’s person is lost in the whole of God, thus relegating the Spirit at most to some dynamic between the Father and the Son—for example, an impersonal dynamic of “love.”

            Moreover, reduced from personhood, the Spirit only functions apart from the primacy of relationships and what the Spirit does no longer has the qualitative significance of relational work, thus only involves the quantitative aspects such as guiding in cognitive truth, providing spiritual gifts and empowering to do things. Whatever reduction or variation takes place, the relational consequence for the Spirit is to be “the forgotten Person,” or even the lost Person in the whole of God.

            When the Spirit is reduced from personhood, however, and the Spirit’s function is without relational significance, this condition implies a condition about Jesus. This is a condition in which the Spirit serves a Jesus who has been reduced to his teachings, principles and example in an incomplete Christology for a truncated soteriology with an ecclesiology that is not whole. Essentially, the Spirit can be no less in substance and no more in significance than what, who and how Jesus is. Pneumatology is conjoined to Christology and is contingent on it. In other words, as Jesus goes so goes the Spirit. When the whole of Jesus embodies the whole of God and vulnerably discloses the whole and holy God only for relationship together to be God’s whole, then the Spirit’s person, presence and function extends the relational Whole as the ontological One with the same qualitative substance and relational significance as the Son to complete our relationship together of God’s whole. This was the what, who and how of the Spirit that the whole of Jesus definitively disclosed.

            In Jesus’ vulnerable interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well in which he intimately disclosed God’s strategic shift, he offered her living water (Jn 4:10,14). While he continued on to disclose the Father’s intimate desires for communion in relationship together, we must not overlook the relational significance of the living water. Later, John’s Gospel informs us that the living water is the Spirit (Jn 7:38-39, cf. Rev 22:17)). Jesus did not reduce the Spirit from personhood with the metaphor of living water; that would have reduced his own person since the Spirit dwelled with him in relationship together. Rather, Jesus disclosed to the Samaritan woman the strategic shift of God’s thematic action, in which the living water pointed to the Spirit’s person who together with Jesus constituted the trinitarian relational context of family and trinitarian relational process of family love. In conjoint involvement, they functionally and relationally embodied God’s strategic shift for intimate relationship together. Therefore, Jesus opened to her access to the whole of God for relationship together with all the trinitarian persons. Though the Father was highlighted in this interaction, all three trinitarian persons were extended to her. And in Jesus’ definitive disclosure, we must not overlook or reduce: (1) the emerging person of the Spirit integral to the whole of God for relationship together, and (2) the emerging relational significance of the Spirit’s person in Jesus’ salvific work, whose relational significance further increased namely for what Jesus saves us to.

            The increased relational significance of the Spirit’s person emerged as Jesus’ salvific work approached the critical steps to its climax. Jesus disclosed to his disciples in his so-called farewell discourse that his whole person embodied the Truth for relationship with the Father—relationship together as the whole of God’s family (Jn 14:6). After startling them with the intimate disclosure of the Father (14:9-11), he further disclosed that the Spirit’s person will soon replace his person as this truth (14:17, later 15:26; 16:13). It is crucial to grasp both what is replaced and who replaces.

            Jesus as the Truth was always for the purpose of relationship and functioned only for relationship together to be the whole of God’s family (see Jn 8:32,35-36). His well-known discourse on the truth is usually taken out of its relational context of God’s family by reducing the truth to the cognitive aspects of propositional truths and orthodox doctrine. Additionally, Jesus’ person tends to be reduced to his teachings, thus reducing the qualitative whole of his person to quantitative parts of him that disciples follow in a reductionist discipleship without relational significance to his person (contrary to what 8:31 makes definitive, cf. Jn 12:26). Jesus’ whole person embodied the Truth only for relationship together in God’s family; and this is what is replaced.

            This is what Jesus focused on when he disclosed “I will ask the Father and he will give you another” (Jn 14:16). The term “another” (allos) means another of equal quality, not another of different quality (heteros). The Spirit then is defined by the Son as of the same qualitative substance and as equal to himself, that is, as whole person in full personhood; this is who replaces. The Spirit’s person as truth needs to be understood in function as the Son’s relational replacement whom the Father gave as “another” in lieu of the Son; Paul later described them in a relational sense as interchangeable (2 Co 3:17-18).

            Yet, “who replaces” needs to be in conjoint function with what is replaced to maintain compatibility and congruence. The Spirit’s whole person functioned in the trinitarian relational context and process as the Son’s relational replacement and as the relational extension of the Father only for relationship together as God’s family (Jn 14:26; 15:26: 16:13-15). Therefore, as who replaces, the Spirit of truth must not be reduced from personhood to no longer be allos of the whole of Jesus. As who replaces what is replaced, the Spirit’s person as truth cannot reduce truth from the relational significance of Jesus as the Truth. Just as the Truth cannot be reduced to his teachings and cognitive knowledge, the Spirit’s function must not be reduced merely to a guide in cognitive truth, a helper, counselor, empowerer for the individual. These become reductionist functions when the Spirit is utilized only for these ends, and a misuse of the Spirit’s person. Jesus defined the Spirit as who replaces what is replaced: “the Holy Spirit…will remind you of everything I have said to you” (14:26), “the Spirit of truth …will testify about me” (15:26), “He will not speak on his own…only what he hears…taking from what is mine…all that belongs to the Father is mine…and make it know to you” (16:13-15). Thus, he definitively disclosed the whole of the Spirit’s person with the same functional and relational significance as his person: the truth and self-revelation of the whole and holy God only for our relationship together to be whole as God’s new creation family in likeness of the Trinity.

            The whole of the Spirit’s functional and relational significance emerges and converges in Jesus’ definitive enactment of family love: “I will not leave you as orphans” (14:18). The Spirit’s person with full personhood in the relational ontology of the Trinity completes this family love to make functional our relationships together in likeness of the Trinity and thus to consummate Jesus’ formative family prayer. The whole functional and relational significance of the Spirit’s relational work conjointly involves convicting of sin, redeeming and sanctifying for what Jesus saves us from; in the same process, by the nature of what is replaced, the Spirit’s work is further conjoined with reconciling, transforming and perfecting what Jesus saves us to for our relationships together to be the whole of God’s family, and for us together to live God’s whole and to make God’s whole in the human condition throughout God’s eschatological plan. For church function to be in likeness of the Trinity, it must (dei) by its nature ongoingly practice in relational cooperation with the Spirit. Therefore, as allos for the Son, the Spirit of truth is: (1) the functional truth only for this relationship together, (2) only the experiential truth for this relationship together to be whole, (3) the relational truth for this relationship together to be only God’s whole on only God’s terms, and thus (4) the only definitive truth for our relationships together to be Jesus’ church and not relationships in a mere gathering of relational and emotional orphans signifying a virtual orphanage.

            Furthermore, as Jesus disclosed, “the Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth…and will tell you what is yet to come” (Jn 16:13). “Guide” (hodegeo, lead, explain, instruct) us in all the above truth for relationship together to be whole, and conjointly “tell” (anangello, declare freely, openly, eminently) us the big picture “to come.” The verb erchomai (to go, to come) implies motion from the Spirit’s person to the person of the Son who is to come (cf. v.14), the relational process in which the Spirit is directly involved (as indicated by erchomai in Gk middle voice). Yet this is not merely about informing us, because God’s truth and self-revelation are only for relationship. As the “who replaces,” the Spirit’s person is only involved in what is replaced. The Spirit’s disclosure is only about the unfolding, completing and concluding of the whole of God’s family in God’s eschatological plan and final thematic action in response to the human condition to be whole. Eschatology (doctrine of last things) functionally emerges with the Spirit and involves the relational process of the Spirit’s reciprocating movement (erchomai) to the Son for only this eschatological relational conclusion, not a mere eschatological event. Thus, the Spirit of truth additionally functions as (5) the eschatological truth for church function within the big picture to be in likeness of the Trinity in movement to our ultimate communion as family together with the whole of God consummated by the Son’s return. For church function to be in likeness of the Trinity both in its immediate life and practice and conjointly within God’s eschatological big picture, it must ongoingly engage the whole of the Spirit of truth.

            If we reduce soteriology only to what Jesus saves us from, or we don’t grasp what Jesus saves us to, then we will not take seriously the relational significance of never being left as orphans. This would mean that we have not adequately understood the truth of the Spirit nor have authentically experienced redemptive reconciliation with the embodied Truth in relational progression to the Father (as Jesus made imperative earlier, Jn 8:31-31,35-36). Complete sanctified Christology involves Jesus’ full salvific work for adoption to relationally belong to the whole of God’s family as the Father’s very own daughters and sons in transformed relationships together. Adoption (however the term is perceived) is the trinitarian relational process of family love to be constituted together in the trinitarian relational context of family. The Father replaced the Son with the Spirit’s person to consummate his family so that we would not have to live in the relational condition as orphans. Jesus also disclosed that the Spirit’s definitive feedback (elencho, to expose, rebuke, refute, show fault, convince, convict, Jn 16:8-11) directly addresses the barriers to relationship together—namely our sin of reductionism, our difficulties in counting on God (for relational righteousness) in Jesus’ embodied absence, and our unawareness and susceptibility to reductionism’s counter-relational work promoted by Satan. Without the functional and relational significance of the Spirit’s person in our church life and practice, we have no other basis and means to be God’s whole on God’s terms. Moreover, without embracing the eschatological truth, a church struggles to find its place, purpose and function beyond itself locally to the whole of God’s family in the eschatological big picture.

            The personhood of the Spirit signifies that the Spirit’s presence engages us in interpersonal relationship, and that the Spirit’s function is involvement with us in reciprocal interpersonal relationship. The relational work of the Spirit’s person is not unilateral but only in cooperative reciprocal involvement with Jesus’ followers as family together. Despite his embodied departure, Jesus definitively asserted the ongoing truth of his church family not having to experience the relational condition of orphans only because the Spirit would replace him to extend and complete the relationships together necessary to be the whole of God’s new creation family. Yet, the mere presence of the Spirit’s person engaging us in interpersonal relationship is not sufficient for this relational outcome and conclusion; it is necessary for this but not sufficient for this. This is a crucial distinction to grasp about the Spirit’s involvement, both for its necessity and the nature of its sufficiency.

            That is to say, the Spirit’s person is present to be involved in relationship which by nature involves reciprocal relationship together—not unilateral relationship, not optional or arbitrary relationship, nor negotiable relationship selective to our terms. Thus, Jesus’ intended relational outcome of the Spirit’s involvement in relational work is somewhat contingent on our compatible reciprocal involvement in the relationship; in this limited sense, whether the Spirit’s relational work is sufficient can be in part measured by the extent of our relational reciprocity. This is not to say that we are the significant cause of the outcome of the Spirit’s relational work, but only to indicate that the Spirit does not work unilaterally and impose any outcome or conclusion on us as in power relations. This cooperative-bilateral relational approach is evident in the metaphor of the Son knocking on church doors, not breaking through them to impose himself, for relationship together to be whole (just as he knocked on the church door in Laodicea, Rev 3:20)—which also needs to inform how church leadership is approached (cf. Mk 10:42-44). Consequently, though the Spirit’s person is always present and ongoingly relationally involved intimately with us, the Spirit’s person can be ignored or even forgotten, namely in functional and relational significance.

            To ignore the whole of the Spirit’s functional and relational significance, or even not to consistently pay attention to the Spirit’s person—including misusing the Spirit’s person with selective reductionist functions—must be realized as consequential for church life and practice. When our focus ignores or pays attention to the Spirit in this way, we are using the very lens from which orphans are the relational consequence, however unintentional and despite good intentions, which nevertheless is contrary to the Son’s definitive enactment of family love not to leave us in that relational condition.

            Christology is not complete without this integral pneumatology, nor can soteriology be full, ecclesiology be whole and eschatology be functionally clear without the Spirit of truth, the allos who is never forgotten by the Father and the Son. This is the ontology of the whole of who, what and how God is—ongoingly vulnerably present and intimately involved with us only for relationship together. Ongoingly involved with us intimately in family love, by which the Trinity holds us ongoingly accountable to be in likeness, just as the Son clearly made evident for church practice to be whole
(Rev 3:19).

Functional Implications

            We are challenged in the most basic aspects of Christian belief—perhaps challenged uniquely today in a modern surrounding context more complex than in any period of history. Yet, any fog of modernity should not obscure our perception of the human condition shared by all of us, a condition whose essential nature as a relational condition has not changed since creation. The whole of God created the human person to be in the image of the qualitative substance of God and created the relational design of human persons together to be whole in likeness of the Trinity; both are necessary to constitute imago Dei. The embodied Word as Creator fulfilled the function of this human ontology by redemptively reconciling us back to the whole of God’s creation as constituted in the Trinity qua family.

            The embodied Word didn’t leave us in the dark about the Trinity’s likeness. As the Light, he embodied the full significance of both the created human ontology as the whole person and the created relational ontology of persons together. As the Truth of God’s vulnerable self-disclosure, he constituted his followers in relationship together as his new creation family. The whole of God’s new family is signified by his church in likeness of the Trinity. Extended conjointly by the Spirit of truth, his church in likeness of the Trinity is the only church Jesus constituted, and thus the only church that has functional and relational compatibility to and congruence with the Son, the Spirit, the Trinity. Anything less and any substitutes have no functional and relational significance to God and for the human condition.

            We need more vulnerably to engage this whole Truth, not merely the propositional truths and doctrines of our beliefs, and start responding to the truth that his church in likeness of the Trinity is neither optional nor negotiable to our variations. If we hold to the truth and authority of the Word, necessarily both embodied and written, then we have to embrace the whole of Jesus in sanctified life and practice, which includes his truth about his family (implied in his discourse on his kingdom-family, Lk 11:23): Any practice less than whole conjointly of the human person and persons together as church is only an ontological simulation and epistemological illusion from reductionism.

            This points to a similarity in the condition of Western churches and Eastern orthodox churches despite their different emphases and practices. Whereas Western churches tend to focus on Christ and the cross for an individual faith in church practice, Eastern churches look to the Trinity and the church as community, thus a communion with God, for example, through icons and the corporate context of church liturgy. Their focus and practice essentially represent two ends of a spectrum, yet both similarly suffer from an incomplete Christology and an ecclesiology needing to be made whole. Generally speaking, the West focuses on the work and teachings of Christ apart from the whole of Jesus’ person, thus using this reductionist ontology for person and church and tending toward epistemological illusion embedded in individualism. The East sees Christ in the Trinity and thus in the church, yet their working ontology lacks the involvement of the whole person necessary for their relationships together to be whole, consequently tending toward ontological simulation embedded in their traditions of church practice. Beyond these examples, the influence of reductionism common in many church practices ongoingly challenges the integrity of the whole of God’s family and the authenticity of his church in likeness of the Trinity.

            In this twenty-first-century world, his church is further challenged today, and the issue is who and what will significantly meet this challenge and how. All the global changes and instability experienced since the latter third of the twentieth century have created much more uncertainty in our lives, collectively and even individually, with 9/11 and the so-called war on terrorism in this century only adding to this. With the extent of the changes taking place around us—including repercussions from climate changes—relational changes are the most critical. Globalization has been forcing us to think more about the interrelationships beyond our provincial boundaries and comfort zones; for example, the West is faced with the increasing shift of global economic power emerging in this century to Asia (namely China and India) and needing humbly not only to acknowledge this shift but also to change for harmony with it. Additionally, emigration (voluntary and involuntary) has affected all our lives in one way or another, even in our neighborhoods and perhaps our churches. At no other time in history have groupings of persons “faced” so many other persons different from themselves than exists today; and the global projections indicate only this further trend. This has created a relational ambiguity between, on the one hand, the spreading phenomenon of globalization and, on the other, the increasing fragmentation of relationships in the midst of this diversity—the relational ambiguity of which is compounded by the virtual simulation and illusion of communication generated by electronic technology.

            The church lives within this world today whether it chooses to function in it or not. Apart from physical attributes (viz. skin color, sex), human diversity is the product of human constructions (including race, ethnicity) making distinctions between persons/peoples, which, intentionally or unintentionally, effectively cause some degree of separation in relationships. What a church does with all these human differences depends on how it lives. Churches are influenced by and participate in the human construction of distinction making. When roles, functions and spiritual gifts in church operation do not serve for relationship together to be whole but rather serve to define persons in a church, they become practices inadvertently reinforcing the counter-relational work of reductionism. Essentially, reductionist distinctions within church life and practice only amplify human differences making relationship together difficult and stratified.

            Though the trinitarian persons fulfill different roles and functions to love us downward for relationship together to be whole, they cannot fulfill their relational purpose and have this joint relational outcome unless they function whole (eis eimi) in the primacy of their relationships together (en eimi) for the relational Whole as the ontological One—not by giving primacy to their different roles and functions. Likewise, though there are different roles, functions and spiritual gifts in the church body, we cannot use these to draw distinctions between us to define who and what we are, just as we cannot for the trinitarian persons. To define human or trinitarian persons based on distinctions of role and function would reduce their persons and create barriers to the intimacy in their relationships together necessary to be whole. For us as church, we cannot function whole (eis eimi) in our relationships together (en eimi) unless we are redemptively reconciled to transformed relationships both equalized and intimate, just as constituted in the Trinity. Having a different role, function or spiritual gift only provides us in a church family with a uniqueness (primarily quantitative) in what we do and have but they do not define the specialness (qualitative) in who, what and how we are. Christian function in his church body is unique to individual persons but not special to those persons. Full Christian identity, on the other hand, which defines us as the whole of his church is special but cannot be unique to individual persons.

            This is his church in equalized relationships necessary for the intimacy together to be whole as his new creation family in likeness of the Trinity. Whether in the first century or the twenty-first, his church is called to come together in the transformed relationships to be whole, and conjointly is sent to live whole so that the globalizing world may know the relational truth of God’s whole (Jn 17:23), and further sent to make whole so that this world will respond back for the experiential truth of belonging in God’s whole (Jn 17:21). Therefore, his church is about the whole of Jesus in sanctified Christology. His church’s function is only about the ongoing fulfillment of Jesus’ formative family prayer, in which the Trinity and ecclesiology converge, cohere and relationally progress to the eschatological relational conclusion.

            Jesus has definitively defined and determined who and what will be significant in meeting the challenge of his church to fulfill his prayer, and how. As clearly as churches today are challenged both within its life and practice and in the world, we must make no assumptions for churches, and thus must openly consider how much churches may likely be threatened by the whole of Jesus in sanctified Christology and Jesus’ prayer, and subtly be resistant to redemptive change, while relationally uninvolved with the Spirit.

Jesus keeps knocking.



[1]  For an overview of perichoresis in trinitarian theology, see Veli-Matti Karkkainen, The Trinity: Global Perspectives (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007).

[2]  J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2004), 252-69. Catherine Mowry LaCugna, ed. Freeing Theology: the Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective (San Francisco: Harper, 1993) 85-87. Stanley J Grenz, Rediscovering the Triune God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 7-8.

[3]  For a discussion on these distinctions of the Trinity, see Veli-Matti Karkkainen, The Trinity: Global Perspectives.

[4]  For a broader development of this trinitarian theology, see my overlapping study The Person, the Trinity, the Church: the Call to be Whole and the Lure of Reductionism (2006), online at http://www.4X12.org.

[5]  For a modern Eastern view conceptualizing personal being as a communal ontology of the Trinity and the church, see Eastern theologian John D Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985).




©2008 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.


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