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The Person in Complete Context

The Whole of Theological Anthropology Distinguished


Chapter 1        The Narrative of Human Being  




 A Conscious Narrative

Human Narrative from the Beginning

The Whole emerging from the Beginning

Qualifying the Complete Context

The Language of Theological Anthropology and Its Person

The Reality of Theological Anthropology



Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Ch 6

Ch 7

Printable pdf of entire study

Table of Contents

Scripture Index


What are human beings…?[1]

                                                                                                Psalm 8:4


            The ancient poet deliberated on the above question about human being. This deliberation is common to all of us, and whether in our awareness or subconsciousness it has engaged us at one time or another—evoking conclusions, promoting theories and explanations, or provoking ambiguity, confusion, even despair. Whatever optimism or pessimism emerges from such deliberation, whatever hopes or limitations and insufficiencies result, all depend on the context locating the human being in question. This context composes the narrative of human being that shapes who emerges and what results. In other words, the extent of this context(s) will define and determine the what and who of human being and, therefore, is critical to any discussion of human being and being human.

            In his deliberation, the ancient poet includes the Creator (“…that you are mindful of them”), but it is unclear whether the poet is merely enhancing his limited context or pointing beyond to a further and deeper context defining and determining human being (cf. 1 Chr 29:14; Ps 144:3). In further deliberations, many observe a physical context (without a creator) of millions of years to compose a material narrative of human being. Others, unable to incorporate such an expansive context having no differentiation of design, purpose or meaning to distinguish the what and who of human being, turn to a more specific and often limited context to differentiate a unique narrative for humans, likely with a primary spiritual element (e.g. with the soul of dualism). Some attempt to reconcile the two positions in a somewhat hybrid narrative that differentiates the how and perhaps what of being human but not necessarily the who of human being (e.g. as does nonreductive physicalism). Each of the contexts locating the human being in question in these further deliberations composes either an incomplete or a fragmentary narrative, thereby rendering the what and who of human being incomplete and/or fragmentary.

            This study extends our pervasive, if not consuming, deliberation by locating humans in complete context in order that who (defined as person) can be distinguished, so that what (determining being a person) is whole and not fragmentary, that is, in both ontology and function.


A Conscious Narrative

             I begin our deliberation with a personal reflection. When I was growing up in Chicago (USA), I managed to attain a measure of academic and athletic success—having ascribed to me a label as “star” in my American football career. This happened despite my physical stature; I was always the smallest guy of the team, even more noticeable in the locker room. I was not only physically small but being a racial minority (the only Asian American on the team and often the only one in classes) I was also physically different than the prevailing majority. So, I became self-conscious about my genes, yet I would be neither determined nor limited by those genes—at least in terms of being small.

            My experience illustrates and points to two vital matters (ongoing issues) for being human and human being. First, my being human was not limited to biology and determined by my body, though my physical action irrefutably played a major role on the football field (this wasn’t played out in my mind). From my physical context, limited strength and pain were a frequent source of feedback rendering me fearful and informing me not only that I can’t do this but shouldn’t—which my surrounding contexts (including my mom) reinforced in the constraining influence of culture. As my narrative illustrates, however, it is important to understand the influence of my will and the psychology of my mind (though not mind over matter), and how they interacted with my body to take me beyond any limitations of my genes, or to free me from self-imposed constraints and related cultural constraints shaped by my body (stereo)type. Some would interpret this interaction as the triumph of the soul/spirit over the body, espousing some form of dualism. Others opting out of dualism for a form of monism (as in nonreductive physicalism[2]) would advocate that this interaction demonstrates a higher level human function (notably the mind) having determining effect (if not cause) upon lower level human function (the body); this process is called supervenience, a quality (not a substance) in human being that is distinct from the body yet is inseparable from and interdependent with bodily function (namely the brain).[3]

            I find both positions either inadequate to define my human being or insufficient to determine my being human. In discussion below, I will identify the context of dualism and why this is inadequate, if not a distortion, of human being; likewise, I will identify the context of nonreductive physicality and its indispensable supervenience as insufficient, if not misleading, for being human.[4] Meanwhile, my narrative continued to unfold in search for resolve in being human and in quest of what I would later understand as wholeness in human being.

            This leads to the second vital matter or issue illustrated in my experience. No doubt my early experiences highlighted for me the benefits of prestige, along with related privilege and perhaps limited power or influence over others, which shaped my early life into adulthood. Yet, even though I wasn’t a Christian during most of this period (becoming a Christian at twenty), there was something stirring or even agitating within me that would expand the context composing my narrative. More important than the above, these experiences illuminated the reality of an increasing dissatisfaction I felt being treated on this basis. That is, rising within me was a distinct consciousness of this unsettled feeling: I never felt during this period that me (who and what I really am) was received and accepted apart from my successes. Indeed, even at an early age, I was suspicious of others’ positive attention and I distinctly wanted more in relationships. Unknowingly, I was exercising a naïve yet valid version of a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’, both to deconstruct images as well as to search deeper for what my consciousness was pointing to and wanting to fully emerge: the person, the unique human person underlying all that I did and had.

            For physicalists rendered by determinism, the thoughts and feelings going on in my mind were not from a consciousness that can affect the behavior of our bodies but were a physically-caused experience known as an epiphenomenon (a phenomenon of physical cause having no other basis or effectiveness). Epiphenomenalism does not allow for consciousness to cause any further action to happen, no matter how real it seems and how strong the thought and deep the feeling. I don’t doubt that my consciousness is inseparable from my brain and depends on biology, but I have no basis to discount the interdependent nature of this reflexive relationship or to deny the causal role my consciousness had in changing how I saw my body and the person signified together with it. Accordingly, I consider epiphenomenalism to be a narrowed-down explanation of human life that renders epiphenomenon a reduction of human function.

            The underlying person being defined and determined on the basis of my abilities (what I have) and performance (what I do) unexpectedly emerged, but not surprisingly; this includes the realization that this was an inadequate and even unfair basis for who, what and how I am—the whole of my person that few recognized and affirmed, not even by my mother. How do I account for this emerging person? I say “unexpectedly emerged” since my social contexts and related cultural context did not advocate for this underlying person but, to the contrary, labored in and reinforced the prevailing human images shaped and constructed by what we do and have. Even had I been a Christian when my consciousness emerged, it would have been unexpected; my religious context most likely would have composed my narrative with the prevailing theological anthropology of reduced ontology and function—in other words, a religious context embedded in surrounding human contexts. Accordingly, the underlying person emerging despite the limits and constraints of these contexts can only be unexpected, yet the emerging reality of such person is not surprising.

            I say that this emerging person is “not surprising” when, and only when, we pay attention and give priority (not in terms of total determination) to further and deeper contexts that can compose the narrative of human being beyond and more fully than prevailing contexts have up to the present. While acknowledging the provisional nature that all contexts must operate with, there are some contexts that take us deeper into the human narrative if we pay attention to them—pay attention not merely by observing behavior or monitoring brain activity. Paying attention, however, is not a simple process and may require some kind of wake-up call (cf. Mk 4:24; Rev 3:1-2); in addition, we may need a change in our interpretive framework and lens in order not to ignore certain contexts integral for human being (cf. Lk 8:18; Rev 2:2-4). Therefore, whatever is needed in our response, it should be unmistakable that the contexts we pay attention to or ignore are consequential for defining and determining the what and who of human being.

            Human consciousness is one of those contextual areas of immediate interest that, on the one hand, has been widely interpreted while, on the other hand, has been given minimal attention to, that is, in terms of helping us understand our own person—if only by illuminating our unsettled condition or exposing our dissatisfaction. Yet, looking beyond the psychological context of the mind, the ambiguity of and the ambivalence about our own consciousness involves our need for whole understanding of human consciousness.

            There are two types of human consciousness that must be distinguished (and will be discussed more later): (1) consciousness of one’s person, and (2) consciousness of one’s self. The second type is self-consciousness focused on the outer in signified by reduced ontology and function, and thus is quantitatively oriented with any focus of ‘in’ not having much, if any, depth—demonstrated in my self-consciousness about my genes, which thankfully didn’t prevail in my narrative. The first type is person-consciousness focused on the inner out constituted by whole ontology and function, and thus is qualitatively-relationally oriented with the focus on ‘out’ fully embodied and inseparable from the ‘inner’—demonstrated in my growing awareness of how I wanted and needed to be seen and treated, an ongoing process unfolding not without issues and struggles yet more deeply distinguished in its outcome for my person and my lens of others as ‘person’, not as ‘self’.

            What type of consciousness we pay attention to will determine both what and how we pay attention, and thereby define who will be the outcome. Therefore, it is critical to distinguish human consciousness for the human narrative and vital to maintain it throughout our deliberation. The human consciousness we use will be the person we get, and the subsequent theological anthropology we get.


Human Narrative from the Beginning

             An ongoing defining issue about human consciousness that must be understood and addressed accordingly unfolds as follows: Person-consciousness and self-consciousness are in ongoing tension, the process of which engages continuous contention with veiled conflict. If not adequately addressed and redefined by person-consciousness, self-consciousness will prevail over person-consciousness (even by default from the latter’s lack) and render it indistinguishable—most notably accomplished by epistemological illusion and ontological simulation to construct human life in fragmentary function.

            The two types of human consciousness and their respective processes are evident in the primordial garden. This context is jointly critical and pivotal for composing the narrative of human being from the beginning. Converging in the primordial garden are the various contexts that interact to compose a complete narrative of human being: the creation context, the evolutionary biology context, the psychological context of the mind, the relational context between Creator and humans, and humans with each other, all of which are integral for the context of human consciousness, and which are all subjected to, if not subject to, the ongoing contentious context of reductionism. Whether seen as historical or interpreted as allegorical, the primordial garden presents the most indispensable context and inescapable process that any significant deliberation of ‘what is human being’ must pay attention to necessarily and cannot ignore by necessity.

            The narrative of human being emerges in the beginning distinctly in the context of human consciousness. This integral process is both critical and pivotal for defining and determining the what and who of human being along with the how of being human. I will highlight the human consciousness aspect of this narrative here, with further discussion below.

            In the creation narrative, the human male and female came before each other “naked and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:25). So, what’s so significant about this? From an evolutionary biology context animals have done this for millions of years; and such a natural outcome would be expected for Homo sapiens, so “what else is new,” that is, unique emerging? Well, nothing significant is if we remain within the limits of the physicalist’s composition of the human narrative that explains human changes from evolutionary adaptation. The reality, however, emerging along with and inseparable from the physical context cannot be ignored. Naked, yes, but not simply without any outer clothes, as the Hebrew term (‘arom)[5] denotes. A physicalist-materialist’s lens pays attention to human being from outer-in and likely limits this male and female coming together to natural sex without shame. What such a lens (including some non-materialists and dualists) overlooks or even ignores is human being from inner out and the presence, for example, of human masks worn both to shield the whole of human being and to prevent being human from the depth level of connection necessary to distinguish their wholeness in relationship together. The innermost of human being is indispensable and irreplaceable to distinguish the person and persons together whole-ly from inner out.

            For this male and female to be naked and without shame involved a composition of the human narrative beyond the fragmenting terms of the body and marital sex between husband and wife. The Hebrew term for shame (bosh) involves confusion, disappointment, embarrassment or even dismay when things do not turn out as expected. What did they expect and what was their experience? Think about this male and female meeting on these terms for the first time and examining each other from the outer in. Obviously, our lens for beauty, femininity as well as masculinity shaped by culture would occupy our thoughts; likewise, perhaps, the competitive and survival needs from evolution could have shaped their lens. On what basis would there be no shame, confusion, disappointment, embarrassment or dismay? If what they saw of themselves were all there was and all they would get, it would not be difficult to imagine such feelings emerging. In deeper yet interrelated function, however, the lens of this male and female was not constrained to the outer in, and thus was not even limited to gender. Their connection emerged from the deep consciousness of human being from the inner out, the innermost of which can neither be adequately explained in physical terms nor even be sufficiently distinguished on the spiritual level. What we need to pay close attention to is the emergence of this human consciousness to compose the integral narrative for the conjoint whole of human being and being human. Most notably, the process of person-consciousness emerged to present the whole of human being without any masks or barriers (e.g. even the distinction of gender) in order to be involved with each other at the depth level necessary to distinguish their being human. In other words, the context of person-consciousness composes the human narrative in ‘naked and without shame’—the whole ontology and function necessary to distinguish the human person.

            While person-consciousness is clearly distinguished, we cannot ignore the reality that it is ongoingly subjected to the ceaseless contentious context of reductionism. If this context is ignored or not adequately paid attention to, this becomes consequential for person-consciousness being subject to reductionism. This consequential condition is critical for any deliberation on what is human being, and its influence has been prevalent, if not prevailing, even to today in theological anthropology discourse. This consequence on human consciousness is also exposed in the primordial garden, as we witness a shift to “the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized they were naked…and made coverings for themselves” (Gen 3:7, NIV); this extends to be covered not only with clothes but with titles, credentials, other personal resources, and covering up the person even with notions of gender. That is, “they put on a different interpretive lens that focused on the outer in of human being, which narrowed their attention to the outer-in parts that now defined them, which then became the basis for determining their fragmentary engagement of each other embodied in the outer in of being human.” In this reality of being subjected to reductionism, person-consciousness made the consequential shift to self-consciousness, which could only compose the human narrative from outer in on the basis of reduced ontology and function.

            “Naked,” consequently, has a different meaning with an interpretive framework and lens from outer in that fragments persons into parts and thereby reduces the significance of persons to their parts or the sum of those parts, which does not add up to be whole. Whereas “naked” from inner out is still seen as naked yet embodied in the wholeness of person, who and what is “not ashamed” (whatever the physical form) but affirmed and honored, and therefore not reduced in ontology and function as seen from outer in with self-consciousness. The latter involves shaping of humans subtly constructed by the epistemological illusion and ontological simulation of reductionism, whereby self is defined and determined by the primacy of one’s parts, that is, what one has (body, mind, soul) or does (namely in self-determination)—as evidenced above to compose the human narrative. In distinct contrast and even conflict, person-consciousness not only takes us to the depths of human being but also points beyond to that which distinguishes human uniqueness (discussed in chap. 4).

            The two types of human consciousness evidenced in the primordial garden is a critical distinction to understand in our deliberation of what is human. Moreover, this distinction is pivotal in theological anthropology discourse in terms of the following:

  1. What type of human consciousness is used in the theological task will determine what composes the human narrative and who emerges.
  2. Which then defines the nature and extent of the epistemic field we will engage for the source of our knowledge and as the basis for our understanding.
  3. Whereby our conclusions of human being and being human can neither exceed nor be significant beyond any limits and constraints of the epistemic field we engage and the type of human consciousness used in our theological task.  

Therefore, we cannot ignore or minimize the importance of our human consciousness in order for theological anthropology to distinguish persons in whole ontology and function and not to render them fragmentary in reduced ontology and function. Such rendering (even with good intentions) is the basis of any unnecessary or even false dualism, and for material reductionism and related causal determinism.

            A related note about human consciousness is helpful to account for. Paying attention to human consciousness should not stop when we go to sleep (literally, not figuratively). Human consciousness does not cease during our sleep (as witnessed in brain activity) but in fact may become less encumbered to illuminate the state of our human being. That’s why dreams should not be ignored but examined. For example, a dream may highlight our self-consciousness to inform us of how embedded we are in reduced ontology and function. Ignoring or responding to such a dream can be pivotal to our human narrative and critical to opening us to person-consciousness (cf. 1 Sam 3; Dan 2ff; Acts 10:9ff). This raises a related question of whether human consciousness exists apart from the body (e.g. pointing to the soul), or when body parts are in crisis or don’t function. Both questions engage the fragmentation of human being into separate parts (namely, body and soul) or a reduction into a part without the necessity or at the exclusion of the other part. This is a common engagement that ceases to assume the integrity of the whole person by failing to account for the various contexts integral for human consciousness, that is, distinctly person-consciousness.[6]

            Furthermore, what we pay attention to in this human narrative from the beginning has added significance consequential for what is human being in the process of being human. Understanding the difference between “naked and without shame” (person-consciousness) and “seeing nakedness and covering up” (self-consciousness) is indispensable not only for what constitutes the vital nature of human life but, equally important, also for clearly illuminating the interrelated and inescapable matter of the human condition resulting from reductionism and its counter-relational work (discussed in chap. 3). The pervasive context of reductionism is an ongoing composing influence of the human narrative that must be paid close attention to in our deliberation and carefully accounted for in our discourse both in anthropology and theological anthropology. We cannot discuss or theorize about humans and their nature in the lab or in a vacuum isolated from everyday life (including our own), as if to assume the human condition is not an instrumental (if not causal) factor in defining and determining who, what and how humans are. Clarifying the connections underlying, we cannot ignore the human condition without fragmenting humans to the limits and constraints of reduced ontology and function (a clear indicator of self-consciousness). In other words, the human condition—in its various forms and expressions throughout human history, both individually and collectively, and likely subtle rather than extreme—signifies the outworking of human shaping and construction that skews, misleads and distorts the narrative of human being. Its implications inescapably involve consequences needing to be accounted for, decisively addressed and reconstituted in our deliberations and theological task, in order that in our human narrative the nature of human being emerges whole in the ontology and function necessary by that nature to define and determine the whole of who, what and how we are—nothing less and no substitutes.


The Whole Emerging from the Beginning

            When the ancient poet deliberated on “what are human beings?” he specifically included the context of the Creator to compose the human narrative: “…that you are mindful of them…are relationally involved (paqad) with them.” How so?

            The question raised by the poet is focused more on the Creator than on human beings, though certainly he implies an interrelated structural condition and contextual process between them that he considers both definitive and conclusive. Accordingly, his question connects our deliberation back to the creation context—a context, of course, many don’t acknowledge but others don’t adequately utilize—composing the narrative focused on human being. In the creation context, the Creator declares about the human individual (even from inner out): “It is not good for this individual to be alone” (Gen 2:18, NIV), hereby enacting his mindful and relational involvement with human beings.

            While only introducing this discussion now (with more in chap. 4), we need to consider what is being composed here. “Good” (tob) can be situational, a moral condition, about happiness or being righteous; compare how good is perceived from human observation (Gen 3:6). When attached to “to be alone,” “not good” can easily be interpreted with all of the above, perhaps with difficulty about being righteous. Yet, in this creation context the Creator constituted the created order, whose design, meaning and purpose are both definitive and conclusive for the narrative of human being and being human. Though the creation narrative is usually rendered “to be alone,” the Hebrew term (bad) can also be rendered “to be apart.” The latter rendering composes a deeper sense of relationship and not being connected to someone else, that is, not merely an individual having someone to associate with. This nuance is significant to pay attention to because it takes the human narrative beyond situations and deeper than the heterosexual relations of marriage. “To be apart” is not just a situational condition but most definitively a relational condition distinguished only by the primacy of the created order. In the human narrative, a person may be alone in a situation but indeed also feel lonely (pointing to person-consciousness) in the company of others, at church, even in a family or marriage because of relational distance, that is, “being apart,” which the Creator defines as “not good.”

            In the design, meaning and purpose of the created order the human narrative is composed conjointly (1) for human being “to be part” of the interrelated structural condition and contextual process with the Creator, and (2) for the function of being human “to be part” of the relationship together necessary to be whole as constituted by and thus in the whole ontology and function of their Creator. “Good” (tob), then, in the creation context is only about being righteous (not about a moral condition but the function of an ontological condition); that is, good signifies the Creator’s whole ontology and function constituting the righteousness of God (the whole of who, what and how God is). In whole terms, only creator God is good—the difficult lesson Jesus illuminated for the rich young ruler about the primacy distinguishing human being and being human as his followers (Mk 10:18). And human beings are constituted in this “good,” in whole ontology and function in likeness of the righteous whole of who, what and how God is. Nothing less and no substitutes can constitute human beings as good, and any diminishment can only be “not good.” Therefore, anything less and any substitute is “to be apart” from this distinguished whole, rendering human being reduced and being human fragmentary.

            This summary context from the beginning composes the narrative with the ontology and function of human being and being human: For human beings, who are distinguished as persons, “to be apart is not ‘being who, what and how they are in their whole ontology and function that is constituted in the very likeness of the Creator’.”


Qualifying the Complete Context

            “To be apart” signifies the human condition that prevails in the human narrative—a condition that must be accounted for in our deliberation of human being as well as accounted for in the human consciousness we use, in the methodology we employ and in the epistemic field we engage during the course of our function of being human.

            In human consciousness (both self-consciousness and person-consciousness) no human (and few animals) wants “to be apart”, that is, assuming we don’t ignore it and pay attention. Yet, the matter of “to be apart” includes anything less and any substitutes of the whole. This raises the question of how definitive and conclusive is this whole for human being and being human; and how can this whole be distinguished from any human shaping or construction? These are urgent questions needing to be addressed for qualifying the complete context from the beginning that is requisite to compose the narrative of human beings in wholeness. If nothing less and no substitutes but this whole has no basis of significance, then anything less and any substitutes will be sufficient in our deliberation, even in the absence of mutual agreement (any level of consensus) or personal satisfaction.

            Both the creation context introduced above and the well-established context of evolutionary biology point to a cosmological context. The cosmological question about ‘in the beginning’ revolves around whether the human narrative is composed merely by physics or also beyond physicality, even beyond common notions of metaphysics. The idea of truth and what can be accepted as true have been formed by the knowledge of what exists in the universe in general and in human life in particular, though this epistemological engagement and related conclusions historically have been also shaped by a limited worldview (interpretive framework), cultural constraints (interpretive lens) and even by individual agenda (e.g. a growing problem in the scientific community demonstrated by those seeking stature).[7]  Supposedly, then, a valid definition of truth is determined only by what is. Yet, given the contextual issues that influence the formation and shape of what is true, the rhetorical question that Pilate raised to Jesus warrants further attention in our cosmological context and demands qualifying response for theological anthropology: “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38)

            Our level of confidence in the knowledge we possess and use—interrelated knowledge for the universe and human life—is by its nature and must be in its practice contingent on two irreplaceable issues:

  1. The source of our knowledge that both defines its significance and determines its scope beyond the limits and constraints of a narrowed-down epistemic field shaped by what is only self-referencing.[8]
  2. A complete epistemic process—provisional in its knowledge and heuristic in its development—engaged by a non-fragmented interpretive framework and non-fragmenting interpretive lens that can address any fragmentation in order that any pieces/parts can be put together (syniemi, cf. Mk 8:17-21), not in sum total but in integral relationship together, whereby this epistemic process illuminates the whole necessary for our knowledge and understanding to have integrated significance to distinguish it beyond mere self-referencing, that is, that context of reductionism constrained to human shaping and construction.

            All affirmations, assertions and definitive statements of knowledge must give account of their source and, equally important, must account for how they relate to this source in the epistemic process. Clearly, we cannot and should not expect to experience resulting knowledge and to form conclusions of what is true beyond what our source, interpretive framework and lens allow. This necessarily applies to any theological engagement and any aspect of the theological task in anthropology, not as an obligatory methodology (e.g. for certainty or to be spiritually correct) but due to the pervasive and prevailing context of the epistemological, hermeneutical, ontological and relational influences of reductionism. In this context of reductionism, the reality of what is that determines the definition of truth becomes composed by epistemological illusion and ontological simulation for what ought to “be” in human life and function—as in the primordial garden, “you will not be reduced…you will be like God” (Gen 3:4-5).

            This composition is commonly seen in the ‘naturalistic fallacy’, which consists in identifying what is with what ought to “be”. This not only misleads the epistemic process but distorts it, thereby imposing limits and constraints on both the extent and validity of knowledge resulting. Moreover, such limited or constrained knowledge consistently confuses what is with self-referential notions of what ought to “be”, all emerging from a fragmentary interpretive framework and lens that unfolded from the primordial garden (“…your eyes will be opened,” Gen 3:5). This epistemic dynamic exists today in theological anthropology discourse, evident in dualism and even nonreductive physicalism.

            In the cosmological context, all knowledge is rendered provisional, though not necessarily relative or evolving. This has been an ongoing practice in physical science, for example, leading to new discoveries about the universe (now also considered a multi-verse). Yet, such practice has often not realized the underlying engagement exercised in this heuristic process; nor has it likely understood the direct correlation in the heuristic process between the knowledge available for discovery and the extent of its epistemic field. Here again, cosmology evidenced a major breakthrough in the heuristic process when its epistemic field shifted from a geocentric model to a heliocentric model of the universe. The cosmological context, however, continues to be the critical issue ‘in the beginning’ and indeed pivotal ‘from the beginning’, involving the epistemic field composing the human narrative and any related limits or constraints on the heuristic process defining human being and determining being human.

            Some of these limits or constraints perhaps could be found in the world of neuroscience. Iain McGilchrist locates these heuristic and epistemic processes in the brain activity apparently of the right and left hemispheres. He concludes that each brain hemisphere represents different views of the world. The left hemisphere, for example, looks at parts or fragments and then makes generalized abstraction, aggregated from the parts. It is the special capacity of the left hemisphere to derive generalities—the dominant function characteristic of scientists—but these generalities have nothing to do with wholes because, as McGilchrist rightly notes, they are in fact necessarily built from parts, aspects, fragments of existing things within the universe; these things in themselves could never have been generalized. This knowledge gained from putting things together from bits—the knowledge called facts—is the only kind of knowledge permitted by science (at least in theory if not always in practice). Yet, this resultant sought-after “certainty,” on which the left hemisphere concentrates in its need to be right, is also related to narrowness, with the effect that the more certain we become of something the less we see (perhaps like narrow-minded). Consequently, this knowledge, with its left hemisphere function, does not provide a good idea of the whole, but, at best, just a partial reconstruction of aspects of the whole.[9] And how we use this knowledge, and its underlying assumptions, may not only indicate perhaps the dominance of the left hemisphere but also will critically determine the breadth and depth of our perspective of the world and all who live in it.

            With the provisional nature of knowledge, there is a certain degree of humility needed to openly engage the epistemic process without predetermining what can or cannot result. Epistemic humility minimizes being so predisposed. For engagement in the epistemic process to be unrestricted in its heuristic purpose and function, thus leading to any further knowledge and deeper understanding, there are distinct assumptions that need to be made. To hold to assumptions, to employ any assumptions, is to exercise a level of faith—which even scientists do, often without direct acknowledgement or clear realization. This does not involve a shift from rationalized thinking (as in science) to faith as faith is often perceived without any valid basis other than a believer’s own supposition (even presupposition). To exercise faith is the function of trust extended necessarily to our epistemic field and the epistemic process in order to establish our level of confidence in any resulting knowledge; the practice of faith/trust varies but nevertheless is required and operative to engage a heuristic epistemic process. In no other area of knowledge is this more necessary than anthropology and understanding the nature of human being and the function of being human, the whole of the human person.

            For the epistemic process in our deliberation of human beings to develop, the process must by its nature be heuristic. Yet, this heuristic epistemic process does not and is unable to go beyond its epistemic field; that is, it is distinctly limited and constrained to the extent of its epistemic field, no matter how much faith is exercised. Therefore, both science and theology are unable to explain, define and determine human beings any further than the knowledge available to them in their epistemology. This discussion consistently challenges our epistemic field and the interpretive framework and lens used for what we pay attention to and/or ignore in the epistemic process.

            This brings us back to the cosmological question of how the human narrative is composed. Science and its knowledge are engaged in a heuristic process that, arguably, both exposes their limits and also inadvertently points to the source (cf. Rom 1:20) that takes them beyond those limits to the whole knowledge and understanding of reality and life—what is and not just what ought to “be”. The provisional nature of knowledge also reveals the fragmentary condition of what can be observed, whether in the universe or in human life, with only parts to work with and attempt to piece together for an elusive whole. This fact reveals the basic reality of life: the whole cannot be achieved from mere parts (whatever their quantity or sum total); wholeness can neither be understood nor experienced from things which/who are only fragmentary.

            The heuristic process of science, when engaged honestly and openly (a mistake to merely assume), acts just as Paul said the law in Judaism works to expose our limits and point us to the source of whole life (Gal 3:19,24). Likewise, Paul clearly distinguished that this law should not be the primary determinant of human function, which speaks to related parts in theology used misguidedly to construct the whole. Given their limits—and yet their rightful place and role in human life that should not be disregarded but affirmed for their heuristic purpose—science and adherence to the law (both of nature and of God) cannot be the primary source of self-understanding to determine human beings and construct human identity. Emerging from provisional knowledge within a limited epistemic field, such self-determination is merely self-referencing and cannot go beyond the limitations of human resources, even weakness and imperfection; nor can it adequately account for these limits in its knowledge and understanding of life, thus rendering human ontology and function to illusion and simulation (“and you will be like God,” Gen 3:5).

            Epistemic as well as ontological humility are necessary in order for science and the law to engage the heuristic function of their nature, namely pointing to the source beyond human contextualization. To remain within the limits of human contextualization is to be susceptibly subjected to, and likely become subject to, the ongoing defining and determining influences of reductionism.

            Theology by definition should “take us” beyond human contextualization, that is, not merely point us or lead us beyond in heuristic function but to distinguish indeed that source beyond—which/who is clearly the Subject of theology, theological engagement and the theological task. Yet, the theological task often has been rendered to mere human contextualization, either by design (e.g. natural theology, liberalism) or by default (e.g. much of evangelicalism). This is most evident in theological anthropology.

            Knowledge and understanding of God depend foremost on their primary source, whose context by nature is beyond human contextualization. Furthermore, our interpretation of this source beyond must emerge from the interpretive framework compatible with this source in order for our knowledge and understanding of God to be congruent with the source distinguished from beyond. Certainly, if this source beyond is inaccessible, compatibility and congruence are irrelevant. Of course, if such an improbable source can have no valid basis for existing, then the burden is upon, for example, the scientific community to explain how and why its narrow epistemic field of probability can eliminate, discount or ignore the improbable in the heuristic process. Anthropology can be sustained in the limited epistemic field of physicality, yet what survives of human being in this context cannot be of significance for the human person. Conversely, theological anthropology cannot survive with only a limited epistemic field, yet even from such limits conventional theological anthropology, historically, has often sustained notions of human being that have little or no significance to the human person and the Creator. Knowledge and understanding of human beings are rooted in knowledge and understanding of their Creator; and the context composing the former is contingent on the context constituting the latter (cf. Jer 9:23-24; Jn 14:9; 17:3).

            We cannot underestimate the importance vested ‘in the beginning’ for our understanding the whole as well as our need to be whole. And we can neither allow this to be diminished by science nor minimalized by philosophy as well as theology. Essentially, its importance involves no less than the search for identity, human identity, not in social terms but in primary terms of creation. Accordingly, this identity is inseparable from the identity of the Creator outside the universe, whose intrusive action set in motion the relational dynamic that holds the cosmos together in its innermost in the beginning, ongoingly from the beginning, to and through the end. The whole—in which human identity is defined and by which it is determined—constitutes the identity of God, the whole of whose creative action composes the universe and all in it. This created whole, however, was sadly fragmented by reductionism—the contrary of wholeness—making necessary the whole of God’s salvific action to transform human being and thus all creation to be whole. Nothing less than this identity can be whole, and any substitute for this whole identity is only reductionism. This reductionism and its counter-relational work are consequential for the fragmentation of life constituting the human condition, not in the beginning but from the beginning—as demonstrated in the primordial garden (Gen 3:1-7). Therefore, the search for identity has had a long history of human shaping and construction; underlying this history is the shift of ontology from inner out to outer in, and thereby the shift in function from qualitative to quantitative (cf. Gen 2:25 and 3:7). And, most certainly, this shift has restricted the epistemic process to limited (narrowed-down and fragmentary) knowledge and loads of information; moreover, it has prevented the involvement necessary to go further and deeper in the epistemic process for whole knowledge and understanding.[10]

            Theological anthropology can only survive when the context of its source unmistakably distinguishes the Creator as Subject to compose the human narrative beyond the limits of physicality and conventional metaphysics. Theological anthropology becomes significant for the human person when the improbable theological trajectory of the Creator relationally intrudes the human context in order to clearly distinguish what is the nature of human being and the function of being human. When the epistemic field for theological anthropology incorporates this relational context and process, it also shifts the specific direction of our hermeneutical methodology: “to interpret nature in the light of grace and not the other way round,” as Alan Torrance observes for theological anthropology. Its direction, he continues, “must think from God to humanity and not from our prevailing conception of humanity (and those facets of it deemed to be significant either by science or culture) to the transcendent.” We can add in this respect that the theological task must be able to distinguish theological anthropology from anthropological theology (as sustained above). Torrance draws this conclusion:

If theology is not to offer crude divine ratification of our prevailing scientific hypotheses and cultural affiliations, then God’s self-disclosure at the heart of the Christian faith must be given a foundational and not a derivative role in the business of determining what it is to be human. The decision not to begin there inevitably amounts to a decision not to arrive there! What I am suggesting, therefore, is that the knowledge intrinsic to faith supplies the fundamental ontological categories with which to approach theological anthropology and cannot leave it to science, psychology, or philosophy to provide these. To refuse to operate in this manner amounts to a de facto denial either that God has given himself to be known in revelation or that God’s self-revelation has any fundamental bearing on the interpretation of the shape and function of human existence.[11]

            This brings us face to Face with the creation context and the cosmological question “Did God really say that?” (Gen 3:1, NIV). My basic assumption of faith about ‘what are human beings’ is that this living entity is a creature with a creator—without discounting the context of evolutionary biology but also not being limited to it or constrained by its pervasive thinking. My functional trust, extended in the epistemic process, arrives at the heuristic outcome that this creator is God based on direct relational self-disclosure; and this Creator-God has also revealed the knowledge and understanding necessary of the human person in order to be definitive for theological anthropology to be complete, that is, whole in ontology and function and thus conclusive of its relational design, purpose and outcome.

            When the context composing the narrative of human being and being human is complete, both the human person is illuminated to emerge whole and the human condition is exposed in its fragmentation “to be apart” from the whole. This can be summarized as follows:

The human person (conjointly inseparable individually and corporately) is constituted in the relational context of the whole of God (or the trinitarian relational context of family) in which the human person emerges whole-ly by the relational process of the whole of God (i.e. the trinitarian relational process of family love). Apart from God’s relational context and process, the epistemic field for human existence is narrowed down to quantitative terms, observing human life from outer in that can only be self-referencing—given the scope of its epistemic field and process—thereby fragmenting human existence into parts and rendering the human person incomplete, that is, reduced in ontology and function, and thus signifying the human condition “not good to be apart from the whole.” The whole of God—who has also been theologically fragmented into parts, consequently obscuring the whole ontology and function distinguishing God—and God’s relational context and process are irreplaceable for distinguishing the nature of human being, and therefore are irreducible and nonnegotiable for constituting being human only as persons in the image and likeness of God’s whole ontology and function. Nothing less and no substitutes.

            This critical relational context and process were established in the primordial garden, which the context of reductionism then renegotiated and reduced to fragment human persons to the outer in of reduced ontology and function. That was pivotal for what composed the human narrative—partial context or complete context. And these contexts remain critical and pivotal for the epistemic process of theological anthropology. Yet, there is another vital matter that cannot be ignored and must be addressed with our full attention. This involves the underlying language used in theological engagement and its task, and that composes its discourse and conclusions notably about human beings.


The Language of Theological Anthropology and Its Person

            It is crucial for theological anthropology in particular and theology in general to understand a distinction that is not interchangeable. Despite the indispensable place of the creation context to complete the context composing the narrative for human beings, it is insufficient, inadequate and incorrect for theological anthropology simply to reference the context of the Creator. As Subject, the Creator’s context is not a referential context; and Creator-Subject’s creative and communicative actions (as well as salvific) are only enacted in relational terms, never referential terms that diminish, minimalize or make secondary the primacy of God’s relational design, purpose and function. In other words, God acts simply in relational terms, which we quite simply often overlook or ignore. There is a basis for this.

            The relational terms composing these relational actions can only be distinguished in Creator-Subject’s relational context, and not a referential context in which this relational significance becomes elusive, gets obscured or is lost. This points to the underlying use of language. The use of relational terms and its language function for the purpose of communication in relationship. In contrast, and often in conflict, the use of referential terms and its language function for the purpose of transmitting information, which is only secondary at best to the primary function and purpose of relationship. Essentially, it can be said that referential language was not “designed” for the further development of qualitative communication in relationship but in reality went in the opposite direction that takes us away from qualitative relational connection. Historically, the referential language of prose evolved after poetry, and early poetry was sung, the qualitative significance of which was basic to communication in relationship and not the mere transmission of information.[12] McGilchrist locates this qualitative process in the function of the right brain hemisphere. This qualitative function of the right hemisphere, and its related view of the world, is in contrast to the quantitative reduction of words to the referential language of prose by the left hemisphere for its function not of communication in relationship but to merely make discourse about something.[13]

            This further makes explicit the non-interchangeable terms composing the distinction between relational language and referential language. We need to understand this distinction to identify the language used by God and theological discourse because the two languages have distinctly different levels of significance, if not meaning. That is to say, language matters, and our working language will mean the difference between whole-ly knowing and understanding God and the human person, or merely having fragmentary knowledge and referential information about them. And we cannot boast of the former on the basis of having the latter, no matter the quantity we possess (cf. Jer 9:23-24).

            Moreover, language matters because language both forms thought and makes functional any thought (notably human consciousness) antecedent to language. It has become increasingly apparent to modern scientific research that the language we speak shapes the way we see the world and even the way we think (not necessarily producing thought).[14] This points to the function of language not merely as a means of expression but also as a template imposing a constraint limiting what we see and the way we think. In his study of neuroscience, Iain McGilchrist states about language:

It does not itself bring the landscape of the world in which we live into being. What it does, rather, is shape that landscape by fixing the ‘counties’ into which we divide it, defining which categories or types of entities we see there—how we carve it up.

     In the process, language helps some things stand forward but by the same token makes others recede…. What language contributes is to firm up certain particular ways of seeing the world and give fixity to them. This has its good side, and its bad. It aids consistency of reference over time and space. But it can also exert a restrictive force on what and how we think. It represents a more fixed version of the world: it shapes, rather than grounds, our thinking.[15]

            This modern awareness provides us with some understanding of the dynamic of referential language—how it works and what effect it has—that was set in motion from the primordial garden. The origination of referential language unfolded as God’s relational language is narrowed down and God’s command (sawah, Gen 2:16) is redefined from communication in God’s relational terms to the transmission of information in referential terms. Detaching the command from Subject-God (or de-relationalizing it) removes God’s words from their primary purpose only for relationship together. The command was clearly God’s communication for the wholeness of their relationship together, not the mere transmission of information (the purpose of referential language) for humans to know merely what to do (the focus of referential terms). This inaugural referentialization of God’s words (command) was extended later by the people of Israel whenever they transposed the commandments from God’s relational language to referential language, and consequently shaped the covenant in narrow referential terms—essentially de-relationalizing the covenant from ongoing relationship with Subject-God.

            The shift to referential language opened the door to shape, redefine or reconstruct the information transmitted by God to narrowed-down interpretation (what God really meant by that, “your eyes will be opened”), that is, to reduced referential terms that implies speaking for God on our own terms (signified in “to make one wise”). When referential language is the prevailing interpretive framework for our perceptual-interpretive lens, then this shapes the way we see God’s revelation and the way we think about God’s words—as modern science is rediscovering about language. Conjointly and inseparably, referential language also puts a constraint on our lens, thereby restricting what we see of God’s revelation and limiting how we think about God’s words (“you will not…”). This dynamic from referential language obviously redefines the subject matter in the theological task, and certainly continues to constrain its theological engagement, most notably and consequentially for theological anthropology. Any explanations and conclusions that emerge from the theological task in referential terms merely reflect the theological reflections of referential language. Any such theological statements have no theological significance; they only attempt to speak for God—most prominently with the illusion or simulations from reductionism (“you will be like God”).

            This pursuit of theological significance that was put into motion in the primordial garden needs to be accounted for in theological anthropology discourse. In referential language, theology’s subject matter is narrowed down to terms that are disembodied (de-relationalized), fragmentary or elusive, without distinguishing the whole Subject, and therefore the whole human person. This is the designed purpose of referential language, and its use in the theological task has unavoidable consequences epistemologically, hermeneutically, ontologically and relationally.

            It is important to understand in theological anthropology, and give account for theological anthropology discourse, that language and thought are interrelated in a reflexive dynamic, whereby one leads to the other and the converse of the other leading to the one. For example, the language of personhood leads to the thought of person-consciousness—assuming that it is relational language, whereas referential language leads to self-consciousness—while the thought of person-consciousness leads to the language of personhood made functional in personness. That is, the thought or thinking we have before language formation involves human consciousness; and that consciousness (person-consciousness or self-consciousness) emerges in function through language (relational or referential). This reflexive dynamic illuminates how crucial it is for theological anthropology to understand the non-interchangeable distinction of language and to account for the language it uses to distinguish God, define God’s revelation and determine the language that composes the human narrative.

            This critical and pivotal issue is the interrelated reflexive dynamic unfolding in the primordial garden of the creation narrative. What composition unfolds in this narrative is contingent of the language used, which will be in either relational terms or referential terms leading only to a relational or referential outcome respectively. While language and thought are inseparably interrelated, the distinction of language and its terms is non-interchangeable. For theological anthropology, therefore, what type of human consciousness becomes functional for human beings depends on the language used to express it. Person-consciousness emerged clearly from inner out and unfolded in relational language (“naked and without shame”). Reductionism influenced the shift to outer in and to the referential language that focused on information and its transmission. Information, for example, about someone is a fragmentary account of someone who has been disembodied (or “dismembered” into parts, not de-physicalized) as a subject and de-relationalized down to those bits of information about them as some object. These referential terms of information about someone, no matter its quantity, render such human beings without the significance to be whole and thus unable to be known and understood in the wholeness of relationship together. Again in contrast and even conflict, relational language involves the communication of someone not as an object but distinguished only as subject in order that relational engagement takes place for the relational outcome of knowing and understanding the subject; and this relational process further involves reciprocal relationship together for mutually knowing and understanding each other in primary relational terms, not secondary referential terms.

            God’s revelation is distinguished solely in relational language, whose relational terms distinguish the Subject (as whole, not fragmented) who communicates the relational knowledge and understanding to compose the definitive human narrative in complete context, so that human beings are constituted conclusively in whole ontology and function. Anything less or any substitute shifts to referential language, even as it may highlight the creation narrative and information about the Creator.

            On the basis of relational language, the humans of person-consciousness in the primordial garden unmistakably knew and understood “good” (Gen 2:18). However, and this is critical for those engaged in theological anthropology discourse and its task, by shifting to referential language—which then made functional a self-consciousness—these humans (and any who make this shift) were fragmented and de-relationalized by reductionism, and thus also would know “evil” (ra’, signifying of inferior quality that is unable to measure up to being whole, Gen 3:5). “Knowing good and evil (i.e. not whole)” is a variable reality in the human narrative that is unavoidable in any significant deliberation of what are human beings. Correspondingly, and perhaps inescapably, claiming any level of such knowledge and understanding holds us accountable not only in our deliberations but most importantly how we live in our own narrative. Language, therefore, matters not only for theological anthropology and its person but for our person also.

            The interaction between human consciousness and language—person-consciousness and relational language, self-consciousness and referential language—is either definitive or a shallow defining for the narrative of human being and who and what emerges to further either constitute (in person-consciousness) or shape and construct (in self-consciousness) being human. Language indeed matters for theological anthropology and for the person who emerges. For this outcome to be whole, it must by its nature be the relational outcome, not a referential outcome. Likewise by its nature, any theological anthropology discourse is inseparable from the person, that is, the person both distinguished in this discourse and the person making that discourse.

            In other words, for theological anthropology to have integrity it must be embodied and lived, whether qualitatively in the primacy of relationship or quantitatively in referential (pre)occupation in secondary matter (an occupational hazard for those in the academy). For theological anthropology to be of significance, it must be embodied whole and live in person-consciousness with relational language only on relational terms.


The Reality of Theological Anthropology

            Accordingly from the beginning, as we expand on the above deliberations, we are challenged by and accountable for this simple yet vulnerable reality:

Theological anthropology is not a topic but a life,

theological anthropology is not about subject matter but involves embodied subjects,

therefore, theological anthropology must be lived and not just discoursed.

And any discussion on theological anthropology must be lived first by those presenting it; indeed, theological anthropology requires being lived experientially by its proponents, such that theological anthropology is not conceptual or theoretical but being the person God created in ontology and function, who is distinguished whole-ly by the image and likeness of Subject-Creator.

            Consequently, it is inadequate for theological anthropology to inform our minds, particularly with referential information about human beings and on the nature of the person in referential terms. Nor is theological anthropology sufficient merely to reform our thinking on human being and being human, and thereby only signify who and what form the person in likely referential language. By its intrinsic nature, theological anthropology must transform our persons from inner out, without fragmenting the person into parts, for the sole outcome of whole ontology and function necessary ongoingly to constitute the person and persons in relationship together. Nothing less and no substitutes from theological anthropology can transform, though it may reform and likely inform.




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

[2] Various aspects of nonreductive physicalism are discussed in Malcolm Jeeves, ed., From Cells to Souls—and Beyond: Changing Portraits of Human Nature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004).

[3] Further discussion on supervenience is found in Dennis Bielfeldt, “The Peril and Promise of Supervenience for Scientific-Theological Discussion,” and Niels Hendrik Gregersen, “God’s Public Traffic: Holist versus Physicalist Supervenience,” in Niels Henrik Gregersen, Willem B. Drees and Ulf Gorman, eds., The Human Person in Science and Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 117-188.

[4] Summary discussion of these views is found in Joel B. Green and Stuart L. Palmer, eds., In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005).

[5] 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); Ernst Jenni, Claus Westermann, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. Mark E. Biddle, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997); Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974); Harold K. Moulton, ed., The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978); W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1981); Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publ., 1996).

[6] For further deliberation, consider the recent experience of neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2012).

[7] See Thomas Kuhn’s discussion on the non-scientific influences shaping scientific theories, models and conclusions in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).

[8] During his attempt to develop a “grand unified theory” (GUT), noted physicist Stephen Hawking gave up his quest for such a complete comprehensive theory for knowing the world in its innermost parts, because he concluded that this wasn’t possible with the limited framework of science—that a physical theory can only be self-referencing and therefore can only be either inconsistent or incomplete. Discussed in Hans Küng, The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 15-24.

[9] Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Modern World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

[10] McGilchrist locates this shift in the prevailing activity of the left brain hemisphere and its dominance in shaping the modern world. The Master and His Emissary.

[11] Alan J. Torrance, “What is a Person?” in Malcolm Jeeves, ed., From Cells to Souls—and Beyond: Changing Portraits of Human Nature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 209, 211.

[12] See Oliver Sacks for a discussion on perfect pitch, tonal communication and protolanguage, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brian (New York: Vintage Books, 2008); see also Edward Foley, From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated the Eucharist (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1991), 9.

[13] McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary, 105.

[14] Reported by Sharon Begley in “What’s in a Word?” Newsweek, July 20, 2009, 31.

[15] Iain McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary, 110.






©2014 T. Dave Matsuo

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