The Person in Complete Context
The Whole of Theological Anthropology Distinguished
Section II: The Person in God's Context
Whole Ontology & Function into the Human Context
Walk with me and be whole.
Up to the time I became a Christian (at age 20) I tried to be a white person and not feel self-conscious as less in my minority status. Even as a little kid, I was always self-conscious of having a small nose compared to the pronounced (“enormous”) size of my classmates’ noses (males and females), and of having colored skin—where “yellow” also meant being a coward and weak, a yellow-belly, “don’t be yellow!” as the saying goes. After I became a Christian, I tried to be a white Christian because that was the prevailing model of what a Christian was supposed to be. I eventually rejected defining myself by a distinctly deficit model—where being different from a dominant status/model always means being less—and shifted to become a minority Christian (notably Asian American).
The presence of the whole (not white), however, increasingly convicted my person-consciousness that I was still defining my person from outer in, engaged in a comparative process of self-consciousness that continued to reduce me to what I had (as a minority) and fragmented my person into the parts of what I did (even in serving God). Not only did I have to address the question of my person “Where are you?” but as a dedicated Christian I also had to confront the question “What are you doing here?” (as Elijah was, 1 Kg 19:9). My person-consciousness would not avoid the reality that I wasn’t distinguished (beyond self-conscious comparison) as the person God created (original and new) in whole ontology and function.
God’s ongoing (read pursuing) relational response of grace challenged the basic assumptions I was making about the person God created, what it means to be that person and what God expects from this person. Ironically, even most resources on Christian growth and spiritual formation made the same assumptions, yet not surprisingly due to an underlying theological anthropology inadequately, if not incorrectly, defining the person. God’s continued vulnerable presence and relational involvement urgently challenges the same assumptions of theological anthropology in order to distinguish its two vital issues further defined (introduced earlier in chap. 4):
The integral focus distinguishing theological anthropology involves knowing and understanding what it means for human persons to be whole, God’s qualitative and relational whole in the human context. Therefore, theological anthropology must provide this critical perceptual-interpretive framework and lens for the person and persons in relationship together to be whole, to live whole in the human context and to make whole the human condition; and conjointly, to provide the necessary epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction for these persons to expose any reduced ontology and function that renders them “to be apart”.
There is an integral identity emerging from the beginning that signifies the ontology and function of persons who are distinguished in the human context—which our theological anthropology must compose with nothing less and no substitutes. As discussed previously, righteousness (ṣĕdāqâh) needs to be understood as a relational term in relational language (notably in a juridical process about a covenant), which involves the relational dynamic of the whole of who, what and how a person is that others can count on to be this whole person in relationship together—a trust essential to significant relationships, without which render relationships tentative, shallow or broken. Righteousness in referential terms becomes an attribute merely describing information about someone, which is insufficient to account for the dynamic function of the whole person’s relational involvement. For God, the ancient poet declares, righteousness is the ongoing determinant that establishes God’s relational path—the whole of who, what and how God is that can be counted on in relationship (Ps 85:13). In relational terms, righteousness confirms that the person presented to others in relationship is truly the person one says one is.
In other words, righteousness is critical for the identity of persons (including God) to be distinguished from prevailing identities in the human context that do not identify the whole person; righteousness composes a true identity of the person. Yet, integral to this identity distinguishing persons in righteousness is the further relational dynamic to be tamiym (blameless), which also must be understood as a relational term in relational language. What is the relational function of tamiym?
Regarding what’s expected of the person God created and living as that person in the human context, we know the following: the qualitative innermost that constitutes the whole person from inner out is the function of the heart, which is the unmistakable function that God expects and seeks. The heart’s qualitative function is embodied in relational terms by righteousness to involve the true identity of the person from inner out, and not an identity of something less or some substitute from outer in (as shaped in human history from the beginning). This relational function is further embodied by tamiym.
The heart signifies the unmistakable function of what God seeks: the whole person, nothing less and no substitutes. When God made conclusive to Abraham the terms for covenant relationship together, the Lord appeared to him directly and said clearly in order to constitute Abraham’s relational response: “Walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). That is, “be involved with me in relationship together by being blameless (tamiym).” The tendency is to render “blameless” as moral purity and/or ethical perfection (cf. Gen 6:9), notably in Judaism by observance of the law (cf. 2 Sam 22:23-24). With this lens, even Paul perceived his righteousness as “blameless” (Phil 3:6). Yet tamiym denotes to be complete, whole, and is not about mere moral and ethical purity. Beyond this limited perception, tamiym involves the ontology of being whole, namely the whole person from inner out involved in the primacy of relationship together. Integrated with righteousness, tamiym completes the relational function to involve jointly the true and whole identity of the person—the integral identity embodied by Noah and Abraham that God expects of persons in reciprocal relationship together.
In God’s relational nature, the only way God engages in covenant relationship is by reciprocal relationship and never by unilateral relationship. The relational terms of reciprocal relationship together require the whole person’s involvement, which then requires the human agency of a person’s will to fulfill the terms for reciprocal relationship with righteousness and being whole. God holds human persons responsible for their human agency created for reciprocal relationship and holds accountable their choices of will in relationship together both in God’s context and the human context—“Where are you?” and “what are you doing here?”
From the beginning, however, this integral identity has been diminished or minimalized under various assumptions (most notably “You will not be reduced”), even with epistemological illusion (e.g. “your eyes will be opened”) and ontological simulation (ultimately, “you will be like God”). The focus on purity, for example, was problematic, and still is today in Christian ethics in terms of ethical perfection. In Israel’s history purity often was measured functionally by a code shaped by human contextualization, and thus focused more on what persons were responsible to do rather than on the primary function of being involved in relationship together (cf. 1 Sam 15:22; Jer 7:22-23; Hos 6:6; Mic 6:6-8; Mt 5:21-48). When such practice was operating, this demonstrated a redefinition of human ontology from inner out to outer in, thereby reducing persons to the measured indicators of what they did and had—and measured in a comparative process of self-consciousness to quantify a basis for human boasting (cf. Jer 9:23; Mk 7:5,14-19; Acts 10:13-14). Moreover, in this reductionist process Israel became more about land and nation-state rather than about a people and covenant relationship together, more about religious culture (e.g. ethnocentricism with quantitative identity markers) and politics (e.g. nationalism), rather than about the primacy of relationship together (both corporate and personal) in the image and likeness of God and having theological significance as God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms. In other words, Israel’s history became the frequent narrative of God’s people diminishing the covenant relationship and their identity by getting defined, determined, embedded, even enslaved, in the surrounding human context (cf. Jer 3:10; 12:2; Eze 33:31). This also applied to the tradition of certain Pharisees during Paul’s time (see Jesus’ penetrating analysis, Mt 15:1-20, cf. the Qumran Essenes’ critique); more importantly, this reductionism pointed to the integral basis for Jesus’ nonnegotiable terms for relationship together: that our righteousness be distinguished beyond these particular Pharisees (Mt 5:20).
These reductions all fragmented the integrated functional and relational significance of tamiym that God made conclusive to constitute Abraham in covenant relationship together. To be “blameless” by its nature must be fully integrated with what and who God seeks to be involved with, which cannot be measured by mere quantitative and referential terms. Therefore, “blameless” is both inseparable from the qualitative function of the heart and irreducible of the ontology of the whole person from inner out, whose true identity can only be embodied by the relational function of righteousness. As a Pharisee who rigorously observed the law, Paul had considered his righteousness to be “blameless” (Phil 3:6). Yet Jesus previously had exposed the reductionist practices of certain Pharisees in Paul’s day and their underlying ontology of the person from outer in without the significance of the heart (as noted above). The critical assessment of one’s faith must account for the ontology of the whole person. That is to say, to be blameless is nothing less and no substitutes for being whole as created in the image and likeness of the whole of God. For Abraham, this was the integrated functional and relational significance of his involvement with God signifying his faith, and therefore constituting the necessary relationship together of the covenant on God’s relational terms from inner out, which is embodied just by righteousness.
This integral relational function of righteousness and tamiym is beautifully embodied by the wisdom of the ancient poet when he uses shalom to express the wholeness of tamiym: “righteousness and wholeness will kiss each other” (Ps 85:10)—indeed, since they are functionally inseparable in the bond of the primacy of relationship. It is on the basis of this integrated functional and relational significance that those whose life and practice are tamiym in the primacy of their relational work are blessed along with Abraham (cf. Ps 119:1). Paul did not receive this blessing on the Damascus road for his rigorous faith as a Pharisee and intense service to God (albeit persecuting the church). On the contrary, tamiym signifies the epistemological clarification and hermeneutical correction he experienced instead. It is this definitive whole that redefined Paul’s person from inner out and newly determined his life, practice, thought and theology. What further defines this whole that God expects persons to be in relationship together?
First, we cannot think or describe in quantitative static terms that which is qualitatively dynamic, though not the same as being ‘in process’. In the whole’s functional significance, being whole or wholeness is understood as involving necessarily the following:
Being whole, wholeness, constitutes the ongoing life and function of the whole of God (the Trinity), who created human life and function with the ontology of the person in the qualitative image of God, and thus the person was created whole signified by the qualitative function of the heart; this function of the person is integrated inseparably to the created design and purpose for relationships and the relational involvement necessary together to be whole in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity—nothing less and no substitutes (cf. Gen 1:27; 2:18; Col 3:10-11). Therefore, the individual person alone is never sufficient to complete being whole; to be whole by its created nature in the image and likeness of the whole of God involves also the relationships together necessary to be whole, God’s relational whole. This also is signified by how each person in the Trinity is understood (as discussed in chap. 4). No trinitarian person alone is the whole of God. That is, each trinitarian person is whole-ly God but is not complete in being the whole of God apart from the other trinitarian persons; necessarily by its nature only the three trinitarian persons together constitute the relational ontology of the Trinity—in whose likeness human persons have been created and thus must function by its nature to be whole, God’s relational whole.
Anything less and any substitutes are reductions of the whole—that is, “to be apart” in ontology and function—thus can never reflect, experience or represent wholeness; at best they are only the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions from reductionism and its counter-relational work. These are critical ongoing issues that theological anthropology needs to better understand to distinguish the person God created and expects to live while in the human context.
Unfolding in tense juxtaposition with the integral identity emerging from the beginning is a diminished or minimalized identity of persons. To be whole in ontology and function is to live distinguished (pala) beyond the comparative process of human distinctions that define and determine persons in reduced ontology and function—as in human context’s prevailing models (e.g. determining Israel, 1 Sam 8:5,18-20), promoted ideals (e.g. defining the early disciples, Lk 9:46; 22:24), and pervading templates (e.g. the influence of social media today). Living according to the comparative process of human distinctions requires a perceptual-interpretive framework and lens that makes an underlying assumption of defining persons by what they do and have from outer in. This self-definition becomes primary also for how others are defined, and, on this basis, how relationships are engaged, which then determines how relationships together (e.g. as church) are practiced—the three inescapable issues for our ontology and function (discussed previously in chap. 3).
What we pay attention to or ignore in the created narrative due to our interpretive lens is critical to whether the whole identity of the person emerges or a diminished, minimalized identity unfolds. The qualitative innermost of the image of God in God’s relational likeness defines the whole ontology and function of human persons (Gen 1:26-27). In the first creation narrative immediately after this definition in the image and likeness of God, the work of human persons is described (1:26b) and the purpose human persons are to fulfill (1:28). Our perception of the person and person-consciousness become problematic if the above order is inverted (if only by emphasis) and the primary source of defining the human person becomes “the work”—that is, basing the person on what we do, no matter how God-related or directed. Such a focus is consequential for the whole person and the whole of God.
The human persons’ choice away from the relational terms of God precipitated conditions outside the primordial garden that would make work difficult (Gen 3:17-19) and human purpose a struggle (3:15-16). Life as God created is not being redefined here; God’s created design and purpose remain unaltered. Yet, what is subject to redefinition is the human person’s self-perception, making it now problematic how the person functions; work, for example, was never to be done in any manner. Nowhere is the susceptibility to redefining the person and person-consciousness greater than in relation to work (or what we do) outside the primordial garden. It is vital to reexamine this influence on our practice after this pivotal shift in the primordial garden and how it affects our perceptual-interpretive framework determining what we pay attention to or ignore, thus predisposing us even to inadvertent or unintentional practices. This is of critical importance for how we see the person today and what human activity determines person-consciousness distinguished from self-consciousness—the function of theological anthropology.
The significance of “work made difficult” is not about how hard it can be but about its controlling influence on the person such that work becomes what defines that person from outer in. This influence tends to be enslaving, if not in quantitative ways (for example, time and energy), certainly on more qualitative matters (like self-worth). “Who you are” becomes about “what you do.” And “what you are” becomes determined by how much you accomplish in “what you do”—notably measured in a comparative process with others. In this process a great deal is at stake here—and the drive for a payoff can be consuming. Consequently, the primary investments made in this lifestyle are bonded to work-related activity (vocational and avocational). Invariably, then, this process of defining ourselves by what we do or have becomes an unavoidable comparative process in relation to other persons, thus creating quantitative distinctions between persons, with relational consequences—notably stratified relationships, which, when formalized, become systems of inequality (the basis for Paul’s concern, Gal 3:26-28; 5:6; 6:15).
At the very least, defining the person by what one does conflicts with how God created us and thus defines us; and it inverts the created order by designating (even inadvertently) secondary matter (like work to be done, even if assigned by God) to the primary position, thus reducing (even unintentionally) the primary matter of God’s qualitative relational design and purpose for the person and relationships to a lower priority in actual practice. This consequence can happen despite having a theology in place affirming the primacy of God’s design and purpose—a consequence often seen among Christian workers while doing Christian service. This not only reduces the whole of God’s qualitative innermost transplanted into us but also conflicts with it, and thus counters God’s expectations of the person as one lives in the human context—no matter how sacrificial and dedicated to God.
The often subtle shift to redefining the person away from the qualitative significance of the heart increasingly becomes quantitative (things measured in quantified terms for more certainty, or identified primarily by rationality for more control), increasingly transposes the secondary over the primary, and shapes substitutes for the qualitative significance of persons distinguished in the image and likeness of God. This shift amplifies human consciousness of the parts that compose human distinctions—that is, heightens self-consciousness of what we do and have in order to define (or measure up) ourselves in a comparative process. As this self-consciousness increases, there is a correlated decrease in person-consciousness. Accordingly, as person-consciousness fades, there is a proportional decrease in a person’s qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness. The lack of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness is a critical condition for the person in the human context, resulting in a self increasingly distant from the heart and in relationships, that is, increasingly “to be apart” and unable to live in ontology and function by the qualitative image and relational likeness of God.
Critically, this pivotal shift has immediate, though often not apparent, relational consequences: This reductionism not only conflicts with how God created us and thereby defines us, it conflicts with how God vulnerably is involved with us, therefore confounding relationship with God. Theological anthropology needs to understand this relationship in its reciprocal nature and the whole person in compatible relational terms in order to whole-ly distinguish God’s design, purpose and desires that are indeed distinguished from “to be apart”.
From the beginning Adam was not created for what he could do and the activity simply of doing something, whether work related or not, though a part of his function was to work. We can essentially define this aspect of work as what we connote by the function of making a living. In creation, however, work was not designed for this end in itself; accordingly, work could not be done in any manner but was engaged on two distinct terms. When God “put the man in the primordial garden to work” (Gen 2:8,15), it was clear the Creator established (“put” siym, establish, appoint) this creature in the work. Thus, the first term for work was that it was to be undertaken within the functional context as creature in relationship to Creator—that is, the relational context. Secondly, God was clear about the terms (command, desires, 2:16) for engaging work in this context and that involvement in this necessary relational context was only on God’s terms—thus, the relational process defined by God, the whole and holy God beyond the universe. These two distinct terms for work are significant only as relational terms; referential terms may reference the information of these terms but they do not compose their qualitative function in the primacy of relationship.
This relational context and process of creation are fundamental for a valid function of work and most importantly are intrinsic to the primary function of the whole person as created in the likeness of the triune God. This integral dynamic constitutes the basis that distinguishes persons and relationships. How a person functions is determined by how the person is defined and perceived in this relational context and process. This definition of the person determines not only how we do work but even more significant to God also determines how we do relationships together. How we do relationship with God is determined by our relational involvement and reciprocal response as whole persons to the whole being of God, yet not by our referential terms but only on God’s relational terms. The relational context and process of how we engage in relationship with God is signified by the reciprocal relational involvement of worship and not defined by how we do work for God, even though serving is part of our response of worship—part of a complete relational response.
It is not a coincidence that the term for “work” (‘abad, 2:15) is the same term used for worship in the OT denoting service. The authentic worship of God must also involve the relational response of service distinctly based on relational submission, adoration and praise, always defined in relational terms to distinguish the primacy of relationship together. These responses together (forming the acronym PASS) constitute worship and signify how to engage in relationship with God; worship is the functional pass to the intimate presence of God. Therefore, how work (or service) is to be done must function by engaging in this primary relational purpose as designed by the Creator in relationship with the created person. Without involvement in this relational context and process, work (or service) has no relational significance to God and thus has either little meaning or no qualitative fulfillment for the person created in God’s image. Reductionism of any dimension of creation has far-reaching repercussions on our person today, on our relationships and consequently on how relationships together as church is practiced.
We need to more deeply understand in function that the person was created with a qualitative function intrinsic to God, the quality of which work (or doing something, even service) by itself did not have (a condition God defined as “not good,” Gen 2:18); and, therefore, the function of work (or what we do, even for God) could not fulfill this qualitative function—no matter the nature of the work nor the extent of experience from it. This qualitative function for the human person that God implanted in creation was whole-ly relational. God “breathed” in us the primacy of relationship in likeness to the whole of the triune God, by which the Trinity is intimately involved with each other and now intimately involved with us.
In the creation narrative (Gen 2:18) God may appear focused on the work as the purpose for which Eve was created. That emphasis would be inconsistent with how God defines the person and, once again, would invert the primary priority of God’s created design and purpose. Further, this emphasis on what we do becomes problematic because it predisposes us in a reductionist interpretive framework affecting not only how we define ourselves but also how we do relationships and thus how we practice church. This includes how spiritual gifts are perceived and the emphasis on giftedness to define the person and to appoint church leadership. We need to return to God’s created order so that we can more deeply understand both our person and also understand God, including the nature of both as well as our relationship together.
“To be alone” (bad) is necessarily rendered “to be apart” in God’s created order, because it illuminates the whole in creation from which “is not good to be apart.” The difference between “to be alone” and “to be apart” is immeasurable since for Adam it was not just the secondary matter of having no one to share space with, no one to keep him company or to do things with (particularly the work). “To be apart” is not just a situational condition but most importantly a relational condition. A person can be alone in a situation but also feel lonely in the company of others, at church, even in a family or marriage because of relational distance—“to be apart.” This rendering is more reflective of the dynamic process of relationship in God’s created design and purpose—and needs to replace the conventional “to be alone” not only in our reading but in our theology and practice.
What the person Adam (thus all persons) needed in the above context had little to do with help for work but everything concerned with his primary function, the quality of which work cannot provide or fulfill. This concern was God’s focus and provision for the first human person. This only involves relationship fundamental to human make-up constituted in the image and relational likeness of the triune God, involving reciprocal relationship basic to the function of the whole person (from inner out), involving intimate reciprocal relationship primary (above all else) to the created order of life. This is the primacy of the created context and process of inter-person relationships: the relational context and process of the whole of God.
God created Adam initially without this human relational context, though the relational context and process existed between him and God. Yet, created life in the human context could not remain solitary because of the image and likeness of this relational triune God. The human person was never meant “to be apart.” Eve completed the inter-person relational nature of human life, which was predicated on the intimate relational nature of the triune God, constituted first in the intimate relational communion between the persons of the Trinity and then by that same communion between God and human persons. Into this deeper qualitative context of inter-person relationships we all were created and for this distinguished relational purpose our lives are designed. It is from this trinitarian relational context and by this trinitarian relational process that God is glorified in the reciprocal relational response of worship—not by the focus of what we do, even in worship, which renders us to self-consciousness increasingly distant from our hearts and in relationships.
Therefore, the primary work God created us for and expects from us is whole-ly relational work. All other work is not only secondary and subordinate to relational work but to be undertaken and engaged according to this primary work of relationship. And relational work in our reciprocal involvement with God is the foremost priority, which by God’s relational nature also includes relational involvement with others that no other work has priority or more importance over—the relational significance of God’s two summary terms for relationship together in the relational involvement of love (Mt 22:37-40). This relational work is what God expects from the whole person, and what constitutes the person to live whole in the human context.
As discussed earlier about the three inescapable issues for our ontology and function, this relational work is contingent on their outworking: (1) defining our person from the inner out, and (2) on this qualitative basis, relational work emerges from compatible involvement in relationships that (3) determine whole relationships together, not fragmentary, distant or secondary relations. This integral identity is both true and whole because it is constituted by the conjoint relational function of righteousness and the whole of tamiym. It is critical for theological anthropology to understand and thus vital to make definitive: How God defines the whole person is how God expects persons to be and thereby to live whole in the human context.
The integral identity of these persons further involves addressing the ongoing interdependence between the three inescapable issues for ontology and function and the three unavoidable issues for all practice (also discussed previously in chap. 3): (1) the integrity of the whole person presented to others, which by the nature of this person’s created image and likeness must be presented in relational terms, not presented in referential terms; (2) the qualitative significance of communication in relational language that ‘the whole person presented to others’ expresses to these others; and (3) the deep level of relational involvement this whole person engages with those others for relationship together to be whole—all of which are constituted by the conjoint relational function of righteousness and being whole. As these three inescapable issues and three unavoidable issues converge in ongoing interaction, what emerges to distinguish persons is this integral identity of persons true and whole from inner out; and what continues is for these persons to be distinguished (pala) in the human context and not “to be apart”.
To continue to be whole is a qualitative function of person-consciousness that focuses on the person from inner out, that is, on the whole person. Yet, the whole person is not a simple object operating within the parameters of a predetermined condition or behavioral pattern. Rather, contrary to some theories of the person, the whole person is a complex subject whose function includes human agency composed by the will that further distinguishes the person’s uniqueness created by God.
Yet, a complex subject cannot be oversimplified in its human agency. A qualifier is raised by genetic limitations of brain function (e.g. mentally challenged), those suffering brain dysfunction (e.g. Alzheimer’s) and mind disorders that appear to lack human agency or lose human will—seemingly rendering them simple objects. This observation can only be made of a person from outer in; and any of its conclusions can neither account for variable ontology and function nor explain reduced ontology and function. While certain qualitative and relational functions may demonstrate a lack, if not appear lost, this involves the complexity of the human subject. The qualitative innermost constituting the uniqueness and human agency of the person functions integrally in the person as a whole, thus never separated from the body (whatever its condition), for example, in the spiritual substance of the soul, nor determined solely by the physical workings of the body. Regardless of any lack in the physical workings of the body, the qualitative innermost of the whole person still functions without being determined by the body and without being apart from the body in a separate function of the soul. How do we account for these persons then?
The complex human subject is manifested in different outward forms, all of which cannot be explained. For example, any lack of physical capacity does not relegate a person to reduced ontology and function, though variable ontology and function is still possible for such a person. Each of these different forms, however, should not be perceived in the comparative process of prevailing human distinctions that compose a deficit model identifying those differences as less. What is definitive of the complex human subject in any form is this reality: “It is not good to be apart” from the whole that God created for all human ontology and function in the qualitative image and relational likeness of God, and therefore any human subject can be affirmed and needs to be lived in whole ontology and function—even if conditions, situations and circumstances appear to the contrary, as it does for the persons discussed above. This challenges both our assumptions about persons who are different and how we define them and engage them in relationship. Any differences from our perceptual-interpretive lens that we impose on them reflect our reduced ontology and function, not theirs.
As a complex subject in the human context, the human will is responsible for the perceptual-interpretive lens used to focus either inner out or outer in on the person, albeit with the influence of the surrounding context. Person-consciousness is intrinsic to being created whole but ongoing person-consciousness involves the person’s will. The person’s choice also can include using a lens focused on the person from outer in, which then shifts from person-consciousness to self-consciousness (as witnessed in the primordial garden). The vacillation between person-consciousness and self-consciousness is a reality of human agency that all persons assume by the function of their will, and that all persons are responsible for in living with whole ontology and function or reduced ontology and function—necessitating the examination of “Where are you?” and “what are you doing here?” And the further reality from the beginning needing to be understood is that self-consciousness and its lens of outer in have become the default choice. Unless this reality is addressed with the reality of human agency, the default mode will prevail in human consciousness and the perceptual-interpretive lens used.
Along with the lens used for the person and the human consciousness engaged, the human will is also responsible for the type of work engaged in. Given the reciprocal nature of whole relationships together, relational work is primary. How this work is perceived and the extent in which it is engaged—if it is perceived or engaged at all—unfold from the person’s will. For example, if the deliberate choice is not made to engage the primacy of relational work, secondary work becomes the primary focus either by intention or by default. In other words, the will is central to what ontology and function emerges from the person. Theological anthropology must be able to account for variable ontology and function. The soul of dualism and supervenience of nonreductive physicalism are insufficient to explain human agency and to define whole ontology and function. For example, the qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness of person-consciousness are not defined merely by a soul, nor is their lack explained by supervenience.
Person-consciousness and the primacy of relational work are integral and thus inseparable for the whole ontology and function created by God. We cannot integrate person-consciousness with mere simple association with others, nor can we engage the primacy of relational work with self-consciousness. Person-consciousness is relational work, the primacy of which distinguishes the relational involvement of the whole person defined from inner out. The integral interaction between person-consciousness and relational work is both irreducible and nonnegotiable.
Yet, from the beginning relational work has been further problematic for persons whenever a reductionist interpretive framework misperceives God’s purpose for creating Eve and the significance of her relationship with Adam. These are vital issues necessary to include in theological anthropology discourse to understand what adds or subtracts in the relational equation of God’s created (original and new) design and purpose, particularly for relationships together constituting the church. Critical to our deeper understanding of the purpose for Eve’s creation is the focus on the kind of work emphasized in the creation narrative. If you translate the Hebrew expression ‘ezer kenegdo as “a helper suitable for him” (Gen 2:18 NIV), thus interpreting the woman as an assistant or helpmate to the man (as gender complementarians do), then the focus is on the work in the primordial garden with the emphasis on “what they did.” Or if you translate it “a power [or strength] corresponding to man” with the interpretation of Eve corresponding to Adam in every way, even “be his equal” (as gender egalitarians do), the focus can be on any type of work with the emphasis still on “what they do.” Both of these interpretations and perceptions minimize or even preclude the primacy of relational work, the nonnegotiable relational work in God’s design and purpose for relationships between persons distinguished by God’s qualitative image and relational likeness. This is the consequence because an emphasis on “what we do” reduces the qualitative focus of how we function in relationships in order to be whole merely to performing a role.
It is also not sufficient to say that Adam was lonely and needed a proper counterpart because he was living without community. While these conditions existed, community and its formation connote different perceptions to persons, the very least of which may not even involve intimate relationships as understood in the community (communion) of the Trinity. Yet, God did not create Eve for Adam in order to have simply a collective dimension to life called community or a social context within which to do their living. This has implications notably for relationships together composing the church and the basis for constituting this gathering in distinguished terms from other gatherings in the human context.
As signified by also being created in God’s image, Eve was created for the primacy of relationship, thus for the completion of the human relational context by which their persons (from inner out) could now involve themselves in the relational process constituted in the triune God and signified by both the qualitative image and relational likeness of God. Without the completion of this relational context and process, a person(s) would “be apart”—a condition God defines as “not good” but which has been normative for the human condition and has become the norm for gatherings in the human context, even among Christians.
Eve’s purpose was neither about working the primordial garden nor filling the earth, especially as we have come to define those purposes with the emphasis on “what we do.” These would be quantitative reductionist substitutes that redefine the person from the outer in—for example, according to roles and our performance. Even though Eve was created as a person in God’s image to complete the relational context and process, she was not immune from reductionism because she was free to redefine her person—the human agency of the will. While making this choice does not change the created qualitative ontology of personness, it shifts that ontology to outer in and thereby reduces how the person functions and constrains what the person experiences, thus effectively constructing a personhood in human perception—an unfortunate consequence often seen in theological anthropology discourse.
It would be a further reduction of Eve’s purpose, and thus an inaccurate interpretation, to perceive that women (gender and sexuality) were created primarily for specific relationships with men. That is to say, underlying Eve’s function to work is the purpose God gave her and Adam to “fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). Obviously, this then involved the created function of marriage (2:24) and procreation (3:20). Yet our deeper understanding of marriage and procreation for God’s purpose is also contingent on the kind of work emphasized in the creation narrative. If the work focused on is merely about making a living and extending it in raising a family (a dominant view), then our perceptions of marriage and family become reductionist (as previously noted about what we do) and our practice increasingly quantitative (as discussed about how we do relationships). This was not the purpose for Eve’s creation.
In God’s purpose to “fill the earth” the term for “fill” (Heb. male) denotes completion of something that was unfinished. With this in mind we need to understand what God started in creation that Eve and Adam were to work for its completion. Did God just create a man and a woman, male and female, with work to do? Did God merely create the human species to be the dominant conclusion to all of creation? Or did God create whole persons in the very image of God’s being (constituted as the qualitative significance of heart) for the purpose of these persons having and building intimate relationships together in the likeness of the relational nature of God as constituted in the communion of the Trinity? The former emphasizes any secondary work engaged by persons in referential terms that fragment persons and relationships. The latter is focused only on persons engaged in the primacy of relational work that embodies the whole of these persons and their relationships together.
Reductionism turns God’s purpose to “fill the earth” quite simply into making children and the quantitative work of populating the earth. Likewise, perceptions of “be fruitful and multiply” become based on quantitative notions. If this were God’s purpose, the results such work had initially produced would have been partially acceptable, and God would not have started over with Noah and his family (Gen 6:1ff). But God’s purpose is qualitative; filling the earth is not about the numbers. What God started in creation was an extension of the triune God’s being and nature—not to be confused with pantheism. The person was created with the qualitative significance of God to have intimate reciprocal relationships with other persons, both of whom are undifferentiated (not reduced) by quantitative distinctions (such as gender or sexuality). Gender or sexuality does not distinguish the qualitative significance of human persons and relationships, though the whole person is certainly embodied in them irreducibly. This aspect of creation serves to illuminate in general the intimate relationships for which all persons are created, not to determine the ultimate context in which these intimate relationships can be experienced, that is, male-female relationships and marriage.
When relational work is functionally established as God’s primary purpose for all persons, then the ontology and function of person-consciousness will not only emerge to be whole but also unfold to live whole in the human context. Person-consciousness and the primacy of relational work, as theological anthropology must account for, are ongoingly subjected to the prevailing influence of reductionism and its counter-relational work. Emerging from the beginning in the primordial garden, reductionism directed the shift away from person-consciousness and compromised the primacy of relational work. The integral relationship with God that constitutes the relational context and process of human life was fragmented by human will and the choice for self-determination, with the relational consequence “to be apart.” Certainly, not only in relation to work but also in our relationships (especially with God) this condition “to be apart” underlies our reductionist tendencies, the substitutes we make in life and why we settle for less. In the human narrative, essentially every human activity since Adam and Eve’s human agency in self-determination has been to diminish, distort or deny the primacy of relationships in the created order. In the divine narrative, everything the Trinity has done is relational and is done to restore relationships to God’s original design and purpose. This created design and purpose is what Jesus came to restore us to—both with God and with others. Our theological anthropology and related doctrines need to reflect this coherence (discussed further in chap. 6).
As we reflect on creation and the relational context and process, we have to examine how we also “see” God and thus relate to this God. If we only see God as Creator, there can be a tendency to define God only by what God did—not only in the past but also the present, prompting “what have you done for me lately” (cf. Israel in the wilderness)—and, based on this lens, ignore God’s whole being. This is the result when our perceptual-interpretive framework is reductionist, primarily focused on the parts of what God does. To focus on and relate to God’s being is not only to engage the sovereign God (who commands) but also to be involved with the triune God (who is intimately relational). On the basis of this whole God, not parts of God, the relational process is constituted. Any other God is a reduction of the God of creation and the God of revelation vulnerably shared with us. Whichever God is perceived and engaged certainly has determining influence for theological anthropology; and this implication intensifies the need for theological anthropology to address reductionism and its counter-relational work.
The counter-relational work of reductionism can be very covert and easy to overlook, ignore or simply dismiss. This is witnessed in the primordial garden, throughout Israel’s history (including the history of Paul) and even found in the closest of Jesus’ followers, the first disciples (as Jesus exposed, Jn 14:9). This variable ontology and function is demonstrated most notably by Peter.
When Jesus qualified “whoever serves me” by making antecedent the priority “follow me” (Jn 12:26), he established a problematic condition for all of us. This paradigm for serving and imperative for discipleship make our life and practice more difficult. Serving is more difficult now both without the option of reductionist substitutes and with the nonnegotiable priority focused on the function of relationship in the primacy of relational work. Following Jesus is now made more difficult because the terms of discipleship are not only relationship specific with his whole person but also relationally specific only to God’s terms.
Once we understand that the ongoing function in relationship together must precede and be the priority over serving, then we have to come to face the face of Jesus. That is, we have to deal directly with God’s relational response of grace embodied in Jesus and relationship with him on God’s terms. Jesus made his whole person accessible to persons in their human context. This never meant, however, that Jesus functioned in relationship with them in their relational context and by their relational process—in other words, that relationship with Jesus could be on our terms.
“Follow me” is about both relationship and relationship with him on God’s terms. “Face to face” with Jesus involves a specific relational process involving specific persons. This means the “me” Jesus makes imperative to follow has to be the whole person Jesus vulnerably presented in the incarnation. The face of Jesus cannot be our image of him shaped by our own predispositions and biases—especially from a reductionist perceptual-interpretive framework—which certainly involve our interests, desires and needs.
This is the problem Peter had in coming face to face with Jesus. As we revisit some of his interactions with Jesus, we can understand the difficulty he had with the “me” of Jesus’ whole person as well as presenting the significance of his own person in face-to-face relationship. Moreover, Peter illustrates what is problematic to the theological task and a common tendency to formulate a hybrid theology. Like many engaged in the theological task, Peter operated within the limits of the human context (notably his tradition, culture and human roots) and thus remained within the limits of what he knew (the probable), which engaged a process of reductionism either intentionally or by default. Epistemologically, hermeneutically, theologically, ontologically and/or relationally, this necessitated dividing the improbable theological trajectory of the Christ embodied in whole ontology into fragments that can be shaped and aggregated down to the limited understanding of his knowledge (cf. Job). In other words, if those of us engaged in the theological task do not receive “face to face” the improbable Subject vulnerably present and relationally involved, we have to turn to a default alternative: an interpretive framework from outer in that is the basis for human shaping and construction in referential terms, which are limited to self-referencing theories and conclusions. This default alternative also provides us with a basis for not being relationally vulnerable to the improbable whole of Jesus and his intrusive relational path defined and determined on his relational terms. The lack of vulnerableness signifies a self-consciousness that includes a decrease in qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness.
Peter clearly illustrates the theological problems we face when we try to reconcile the Jesus embodied in whole to a narrowed epistemic field, that is, within the limits of what we know or can rationalize. Of all the original disciples, Peter had the most opportunity to experience the more dramatic of Jesus’ self-disclosures, which should have formed the integral basis for his knowledge and understanding of God, his theology (Lk 5:4-11; Jn 6:67-69; Mt 14:22-33; 16:16-23; 17:1-9; Jn 13:1-17; 21:15-22; Acts 10:9-20, 34-35, 44-48; 11:17). Yet, ironically, relational distance and its consequence for theology are clearly witnessed foremost in Peter among Jesus’ first disciples. Peter’s theological anthropology consistently interfered with his involvement with Jesus and in his discipleship. Besides jumping into the water with Jesus, his bold confessions of faith and his three-fold denial in the moments leading up to the cross, Peter’s actions need to be understood in the prevailing interpretive lens they reflect.
His first experience of Jesus happened when he became a disciple. After working all night without catching any fish, Jesus instructed Peter to fish again, resulting in more fish than they could handle (Lk 5:4-11). Peter’s response to Jesus rightly went beyond the situation to recognize the distinguished presence of the qualitative: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (v.8). By falling down at Jesus’ knees, Peter demonstrated his humble submission to Jesus’ self-disclosure. His response, however, did not necessarily define his functional position in relation to the improbable and determine his relational involvement with the improbable Jesus embodied in whole. While Peter clearly chose to respond to Jesus’ call to “Follow me” with his entire life (cf. Lk 5:10-11; Mk 10:28), the function of his whole person had difficulty responding to the face of Jesus. The default mode of an outer-in interpretive lens and lack of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness kept Peter at a distance from his heart and in their relationship together—in spite of his bold and relatively honest interactions with Jesus from outer in. Variable ontology and function was an ongoing issue for Peter.
Peter’s relational condition with Jesus, and his related theological problem, seemed to first emerge with his response to Jesus’ person and their relationship together during their interaction walking on water (Mt 14:22-33). Seeing Jesus in this context challenged Peter to expand his epistemic field to test the improbable. Various dynamics converge in this experiential (and perhaps experimental) moment. Peter initially engages Jesus’ whole person (“if it is you…”) in Jesus’ relational context (“…command me to come to you”). The situation is only the secondary matter to pay attention to here whereas the relational process of their involvement together is primary. Peter is making his whole person vulnerable to Jesus on Jesus’ relational terms—though there is some element of “prove it” contingency to Peter’s faith, yet not in a passive sense without Peter’s full relational involvement. Unfortunately, Peter only pays attention to Jesus’ person and the relationship for a brief significant moment. His focus soon shifts to self-consciousness in the situation, which then produces the fear causing a plea to Jesus only in the role to save him from his circumstances. The significance of this shift, in contrast to the beginning of this interaction, involves a critical dynamic: Jesus’ person is reduced to what he can do and the primacy of relationship is replaced by the secondary matter of the situation and circumstances. That is, as Peter’s focus shifted to the secondary, his epistemic field quickly narrowed back to the probable of his perceptual lens that defined the limits of his theology. Obviously, then, ‘certainty’ became an urgent matter for Peter, yet walking on water was not an issue until the secondary became primary. While the matter of Jesus’ self-disclosure on the water becomes obscured here, Peter’s theology—shaped by his function and not his earlier confession—can no longer account for the improbable. Based on a theology of the probable, Peter had no business walking on water; and his theology could only include being saved from trying to do so, in spite of the reality of Jesus’ self-disclosure on the water to signify what Peter is saved to: “to come to you”… “Come” in the primacy of relationship together. This reduced their relationship together and attempted to renegotiate it to Peter’s terms. And the fragmenting process that Peter engages becomes the basis for his emerging hybrid theology.
Later, when Jesus asked his main disciples if they also wish to stop following him, Peter makes this summary statement: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:67-69). Peter’s confession of faith certainly distinguished him from the would-be followers of Jesus in this context. His theology at this stage appears to have doctrinal certainty, which suggests it is more referential than relational and hence based in the probable terms of what Peter knew from his previous experience with Jesus and of what he could rationalize. This becomes evident as Peter’s theology is about to redefine the improbable Jesus embodied in whole by the probable—in contrast and conflict even with his above confession. Along with the first, there is a second confession of faith that characterizes Peter’s discipleship. Yet, confession alone in referential terms is insufficient to follow Jesus’ whole person in relational terms, who is vulnerably disclosed only for relationship—the relationship together with which Peter clearly starts to struggle and negotiate on his own terms. This demonstrates a default choice that emerges with a biased interpretive lens to the primacy of relational work.
When Jesus further queried his disciples about their personal opinion of his identity, Peter made this summary confession affirming Jesus’ deity: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” a revelation that Jesus acknowledged Peter had received from “my Father in heaven” (Mt 16:16-17). Yet, though Peter’s second (along with the first) confession was theologically correct about Jesus, his theology could not translate into function with Jesus in relationship together, because this would require going beyond his limits based on the probable in order to engage the improbable Jesus face to Face on Jesus’ relational terms—a relational position of vulnerability that Peter still avoided. This was clearly evident soon after his confession when Jesus vulnerably disclosed the painful course “he must” (dei, necessary, unavoidable) take to the cross and the resurrection (16:21). Rather than receive the face of Jesus (and God’s relational response of grace), however, Peter takes Jesus aside as if to counsel him (maybe partly from the confidence gained due to his confession; recall Job, Job 38:2), not to console Jesus. Peter acts boldly “to rebuke him” (v.22). The word “rebuke” (epitimao) means to censure, blame, berate; it is an abrupt and biting charge sharply expressing disapproval, harshly taking someone to task for a fault (cf. Mk 1:25). The word implies that Peter expressed a warning as he confronted Jesus on this absurd disclosure. “God forbid it, Lord!”—the term (hileos) functions in such phrases as an invocation for overturning evil (cf. in our vernacular, “Heaven forbid!” or “Absolutely no way!”). We have to appreciate Peter’s honesty in sharing his feelings with Jesus. In this sense, Peter made himself vulnerable to Jesus. Yet, despite his honesty, was he really opening his whole person to Jesus? The answer involves why Peter had these feelings.
Jesus’ response to him helps us understand. He responds back even more strongly by identifying Peter as the enemy (v.23)—in contrast and conflict with moment’s earlier (v.17). Why? Because he was a “stumbling block” to Jesus; the term (skandalon) always denotes enticing or trapping its victim in a course of behavior that could ruin the person. Compared to earlier (v.17) when Peter was influenced by the Father’s revelation over human rationalizing, Peter shifted from God’s whole terms to his reduced function on the basis of the probable terms of his hybrid theology limited to “human things” and “not on divine things.” His focus “in mind” (phroneo) means to think, have a mindset—that which underlies one’s predisposition or bias. This is the activity of one’s perceptual-interpretive framework, which also involves the will, affections, conscience, therefore to be mindful and devoted to that perspective—the lens of Peter’s predisposition that emerged from his hybrid theology. In other words, his theological framework and lens defines what he pays attention to and what he ignores, thereby determining how he will function as a person and in relationships, most notably with Jesus. These theological and relational consequences are inseparable from Peter’s lens defining the person and engaging relationships, that which must be accounted for in any and all theological engagement.
The issue that has fully emerged for Peter in this interaction is not focused on being made whole and having a whole theology but on defining relationship with God and shaping it by his reduced terms on the basis of his hybrid theology. Peter had strong feelings against Jesus’ self-disclosure because that was incongruent with his perceived image of God and what God should do; for Peter, the improbable was incompatible with the probable. This is not merely about his messianic hopes and expectations but exposes a deeper issue. That is, Peter’s perceptual-interpretive framework reduced Jesus’ whole person and determined the terms of their relationship; this then redefined Jesus to function in Peter’s reduced context, not Jesus’ whole relational context, consequently to be something less than and some substitute for the One whom Peter professed Jesus to be earlier. In contrast and conflict with the whole of Jesus and Jesus’ vulnerable self-disclosure here of his relational work to constitute whole relationship together, Peter remains within the limits of the probable in which he can feel more certain and less vulnerable. By its nature, a hybrid theology invariably becomes a wide-gate-and-road theology. This exposes the relational dynamics engaged in a hybrid theology and its predisposition for a dismissive functional position to and a distant relational involvement with the improbable embodied in whole who intrudes his innermost.
These constraints on Peter’s function shaping his hybrid theology keep emerging, as further evident in the next extraordinary self-disclosure of the whole of God. Six days after the above interaction, the face of Jesus is presented the most vulnerably of any other moment during the incarnation. This happens when Jesus is “transfigured” (metamorphoo, to transform, to alter fundamentally) before Peter, James and John (Mt 17:1-9)—a privileged experience for them that should be integral in taking Peter beyond his limits.
The transfiguration marks a pivotal point of Jesus’ disclosure of God’s glory, which these disciples have the unique opportunity to experience further and deeper: the “visible” heart of God’s being, as Jesus is transformed to exalted form and substance (cf. Moses’ face, Ex 34:29); the intimate relational nature of the whole of God, as the Father, along with his Son, communicates directly with them in relationship (cf. with Moses, Ex 24:15-16; with Elijah, 1 Kg 19:8-18); and the vulnerable presence and involvement of God, as illuminated clearly in this amazing experiential moment. At this reunion of key persons in God’s family, the whole of God’s thematic relational action coheres from the past (represented by Moses and Elijah) with the present (presented by the Messiah in God’s glory embodying God’s grace) to the future (by the present constituting reality of God’s kingdom/family). In the Father’s relational communication (an extension from Jesus’ baptism, Mk 1:11) specifically directed to these disciples to build relationship together, two vital messages summarize all that God relationally has disclosed, promised and experienced with his people: (1) the full affirmation of his Son in the trinitarian relational context of family and by the trinitarian relational process of family love, and (2) the clear relational imperative (“Listen to him!”) for all his followers to pay attention and respond to him in his relational context and process—imperative because Jesus’ relational language communicates the whole of God, not only with his words but from his whole person, for the whole understanding (synesis) necessary to have wholeness in theology and practice (cf. Mk 8:17-18).
The whole of God’s glory is vulnerably disclosed in the face of Jesus, as Paul later made definitive (2 Cor 4:6). Moses and Elijah responded to God’s glory “face to face” on God’s terms to build the covenant relationship together. What does Peter do with God’s glory; how does he respond to the face of Jesus?
God’s glory is not disclosed to observe for information, even to use to construct theology, or merely to behold in awe, but only for relationship—by the necessity of God’s qualitative being, relational nature and vulnerable presence. When Peter wanted to erect three tents (for Jesus, Moses and Elijah) as the opportune purpose for him to be present (Mk 9:5), consider what this does to the whole of God’s heart and intimate relational presence vulnerably presented to him. In the tension of this vulnerably improbable moment, Peter resorts to the past, both immediate and distant, which is still present in function for him. His old mindset (perceptual-interpretive framework and lens) exposed by Jesus six days ago, quickly expressed itself further when he tries to constrain God’s glory to a place—just like the OT ways of relating to God indirectly in the tabernacle (tent). Once again, Peter reduces Jesus’ whole person and relates to the face of Jesus on his reductionist terms, not Jesus’ relational context and process as the Father makes imperative for him. Peter’s shift to the tents further exposes the relational dynamics in his hybrid theology: the reductionist substitute he uses for the face of Jesus; how reductionism diminished his direct relational involvement with God’s glory embodied by Jesus’ whole person; and as a result the relational distance he maintains from intimate relationship together with Jesus and the whole of God as family. The relational consequence is that how Peter functions directly prevents their relationship from functioning together in the relational significance of “Follow me.”
Peter’s function in these relational dynamics is inseparable from his theology, most notably his theological anthropology; and the unavoidable interaction between function and theology was consequential for both his function and theology. By shifting away from the inner out to narrow down his epistemic field to more quantitative terms from outer in, Peter’s theology cannot account for the qualitative and relational in God’s ontology and function, and consequently cannot account for Peter’s whole person created in the qualitative image and relational likeness of God. Once again, Peter’s theological anthropology interferes with going further and deeper. Ontology and function have been reduced to fragmentary terms, which become barriers to vulnerable involvement in the primacy of whole relationship together. Peter’s person struggled in this relational condition, as he was constrained within the limits of his reduced theological anthropology, the most notable indicator of a hybrid theology.
All of these relational dynamics converged at Jesus’ footwashing (Jn 13:1-17), during which Peter’s hybrid theology continues to emerge. In this key interaction, it is vital to see Jesus’ engagement beyond referential terms of what to do in serving to its depth in relational terms of how to be involved in relationship (“he loved them”).—the primacy of relational work over the secondary of serving. The intimate depth of Jesus’ relational involvement in footwashing was the most vulnerable self-disclosure of his whole person that emerged in the unique relational context of his table fellowship as family together. This depth of relational involvement unfolds in his relational process of family love to constitute his family in Communion together—that intimate table fellowship of worship indivisible from his footwashing. When Peter refused Jesus’ footwashing, he fragmented both Jesus’ person and his person to their roles and status, reducing the person to outer in by what one does—or in reference to Jesus, what he should not do. The function of Peter’s theology merely extends from his earlier attempt to prevent Jesus from going to the cross (Mt 16:22). Consequently, in the limits of his hybrid theology the probable and secondary continue to prevail, and Peter simply rejected the most vulnerable presence and intimate relational involvement of the whole of God.
Seemingly incongruent with these relational dynamics at this pivotal table fellowship, moments later Peter declared without hesitation “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (13:37). Such a statement, however, along with his earlier confessions of faith, are not incongruent when made in referential terms from a hybrid theology that has reduced Peter’s person to what he does—or doesn’t do in the matter of footwashing. As the evening progresses and the weekend unfolds, even a lack of performance in what he does did not turn Peter from his reductionism and away from his secondary focus. This is indicated in the qualitative and relational significance of Jesus’ final words to Peter before his ascension (Jn 21:15-22).
This post-resurrection interaction takes place obviously after Peter’s denials of Jesus prior to the crucifixion. Since neither of them addresses the pain of these moments, Peter apparently has been forgiven. Assuming this happened, it would be helpful to connect Jesus’ questions about Peter’s love less to his denials and more to the ex-prostitute’s relational act of love (Lk 7:36-50). The implication of connecting these would shift the focus from Peter’s future ministry—demonstrating his love (or even proving it) by fully caring for Jesus’ followers—to how he needs to engage serving (cf. the issue for Martha, Lk 10:38-42).
The experience of forgiveness (and God’s grace) directly correlates to the exercise of love—an experiential truth Jesus established when defining the ex-prostitute’s action. Love is never reduced to the quantitative deeds of ministry or even doing things for others but is only a qualitative function of relationship. Like the ex-prostitute, since this love needs to be embodied in a person who has first experienced God’s grace, then by its nature any act of love by this person functions from the same relational context and process by which God’s grace is experienced. The significance, therefore, of this woman’s (and Mary’s in contrast to Martha) relational involvement with Jesus is definitive: the relational involvement of intimately engaging Jesus in his relational context of family and by his relational process of family love—that is, to follow Jesus’ whole person in face-to-face relationship together. This magnifies the primacy of relational work involved in the response of love.
When Jesus emphatically asks Peter “Do you love me more than any and all love?” (Jn 21:15-17) Jesus was not asking for love in comparative terms that exceeds all others. The distinguished Face distinguished love in relationship together only on God’s relational terms, which the Face communicated with his vulnerable presence and relational involvement both while on the cross (i.e. by his relational words, not referential words) and during his footwashing. In both moments Peter’s own face made a turn from the Face and maintained his relational distance—relationally turned from the Face equally as much in his denials at the cross as in his refusal to let Jesus wash his feet, in spite of his earlier referential confessions and declarations of faith (e.g. Jn 6:68-69; Mt 16:16; Mk 14:29,31). Now the distinguished Face challenged Peter’s interpretive framework and theological assumptions both of his own anthropology and of Jesus himself, which signified Peter’s attempt to determine their relationship together on Peter’s terms, not God’s. This is the whole relational context and process of Jesus’ question. And Jesus reveals by his relational language: The reciprocal nature of God’s terms for relationship is the ongoing depth of relational involvement constituted by distinguished love; nothing less and no substitutes distinguished the reciprocal relational involvement in whole relationship Face to face—made definitive from the beginning in the covenant of love, with the summary commandments of love and ultimately by the distinguished Face embodied in human context.
When Jesus redirects Peter to the relationship and the need for deeper involvement together, Peter demonstrates his relational distance by paying attention to John (“what about him?” v.21), and thus in effect ignoring Jesus’ person vulnerably pursuing him. This apparently strains Jesus’ loving patience. His response to Peter—“what is that to you?” (v.22)—expresses rebuke from Jesus which Peter needed. This is why Jesus, then, emphatically makes it imperative to Peter: “You must follow me”—the only imperative Peter needed to hear and focus on. As the last words (and the first words to begin their relationship, Mk 1:17) Jesus says to Peter, he once again calls Peter to be redefined, transformed and made whole.
Even up to the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus is calling Peter to his whole person for intimate relationship together. The functional implication of this is that the influence of reductionism is still preventing Peter from functioning deeper in the relational involvement of following Jesus’ whole person. This is a functional barrier for Peter to go further in the relational progression, in which Jesus takes his followers to relationship with the Father as his very own in God’s family together. While Peter often represents the early disciples as a group, his difficulties are of his own choosing and doing. He has had various opportunities to be redeemed, yet his reductionist perceptual-interpretive framework always emerged to resist God’s grace. Jesus’ question persists for the theological anthropology of all his followers: “Do you love me?” then “don’t focus on the secondary of your service but ‘follow me’ in the primacy of whole relationship together—in the only significance of relational work.”
Peter’s variable ontology and function continued. Peter’s ministry was still problematic as long as he engaged in a fragmenting process with his hybrid theology. Despite the successful beginning of his ministry, Peter still functioned from a reduced theological anthropology that fragmented persons with outer-in distinctions. In contrast and conflict, Jesus, in post ascension, corrected Peter’s hybrid theology (Acts 10:9-20, 34-35, 44-48; 11:17), which Peter should have processed into his theology earlier if he had listened to Jesus’ relational language of the primacy of the qualitative and relational signifying Jesus’ theology from inner out (Mt 15:15-20). Yet, even a redefined theology from inner out did not make Peter’s function whole from inner out—that is, the redemptive change of metamorphoo, not the outer-in change of metaschematizo. Peter remained engaged in a fragmenting process and ignored Jesus’ warning about functioning in reductionism, which Jesus clearly indicated signifies hypokrisis (Lk 12:1). Consequently, he still divided his theology from practice and thereby engaged in the outer-in function of role-playing (hypokrisis), that Paul exposed to Peter’s face for the sake of the whole gospel (Gal 2:11-14). In contrast and conflict, Peter continued to ‘divide Christ’ and practiced a gospel that was consequentially in both a dismissive functional position to and a distant relational involvement with the improbable Jesus embodied in whole. His early ministry was characterized by proclaiming the gospel of salvation from sin. Yet, his message of repentance did not adequately include the sin of reductionism; therefore his gospel lacked the qualitative and relational depth of what Jesus saved to. This lack was initially indicated by a disparity in the early church (Acts 6:1), which Jesus later corrected in Peter’s theology and that Paul confronted in Peter’s practice. Despite his early boldness to proclaim the good news (e.g. Acts 4:18-20), his soteriology was fragmented and lacked the wholeness of being saved to. In this sense, Peter’s ministry can also be characterized by—what the writer of Hebrews exposed and boldly challenged (Heb 5:11-6:2)—a focus on milk (“the basic teaching about Christ”) without the substance of meat (“for the mature,” cf. 1 Cor 3:1-2).
This lack and disparity in Peter’s own theology and function reflect the fragmentation of his person, the extent of which had a reductionist influence on a segment of the early church—including Barnabas, as Paul exposed to Peter’s face at Antioch (Gal 2:13-14). Even though Peter advocated for equality at the church council in Jerusalem, his advocacy likely still focused on an incomplete soteriology, with no indication of being saved to the primacy of whole relationship together as family (Acts 15:6-11). It is critical to understand, that in Peter’s hybrid process (in anyone’s hybrid process) there were limits to what could emerge both theologically and functionally.
What we see unfolding in Peter is a pattern of his reshaping God’s self-disclosures on God’s whole terms, fragmenting the whole of Jesus and redefining his person in a narrowed-down epistemic field for a hybrid theology based on the limits of Peter’s reduced terms. Hybrid theology not only divides theology but also separates theology from function, such that its practice can be neither congruent nor even compatible with its theology, thus reducing both to a fragmented condition. (This makes evident that theological anthropology must be lived and not just discoursed.) This fragmented condition goes unrecognized as long as one remains within the limits of understanding from one’s knowledge or rationalizing. As Peter demonstrated, this fragmentation of theology may have doctrinal certainty and appear to be united, yet it is not whole. These are the results of epistemological illusion and ontological simulation from reductionism and its counter-relational work, which inevitably can only be in contrast and conflict with the whole of God and the whole ontology and function improbably embodied in Jesus.
Peter’s variable ontology and function demonstrated two important issues for theological anthropology to integrate in its discourse:
Whole ontology and function is always subjected to reductionism and its counter-relational work. To continue to live whole becomes a struggle when qualitative sensitivity to reductionism and relational awareness of its counter-relational work are lacking in the person to expose its influence. Variable ontology and function results when any person’s integral identity is diminished and their person-consciousness and relational work are minimalized. Therefore, in the human context what is clearly evident from the beginning for any theological discourse on human persons is to establish a strong view of sin: that is, a definitive view of sin as reductionism—not merely as moral and ethical failure—which provides the understanding needed to expose the reductionism of sin prevailing in the human context that composes the human relational condition “to be apart” from the whole, God’s qualitative relational whole and the whole of God. A critical part of distinguishing the person in complete context is to address the influence of reductionism in the person’s surrounding context. To ignore the presence of reductionism and to not pay attention to its influence in the surrounding context are indicators that theological discourse about persons has already been shaped by this influence. Anything less than a strong view of sin and any substitutes for sin as reductionism render persons to reduced ontology and function, unable to consistently live whole ontology and function into the human context.
There is an irony, and perhaps paradox, to theological anthropology’s view of sin. On the one hand, a weak view of sin (not composed as reductionism) signifies for soteriology that a human person is only saved from sin in what, at best, is a truncated soteriology. This incomplete salvation does not result in whole ontology and function for the person no matter how much sin the person is saved from. On the other hand, the strong view of sin as reductionism requires of soteriology that a human person is not only saved from the sin of reductionism, but by the nature of being redeemed from reduced ontology and function the person is conjointly saved to whole ontology and function in a complete soteriology (discussed further in chap. 6). A truncated soteriology is fragmentary, which cannot make a person whole but only saves them from sin. A complete soteriology by definition includes to be made whole; in other words, a person is never saved from being reduced (or “to be apart”) until the person is saved to being whole. This is the gospel that unfolded with the embodied whole of Jesus and also emerged with the relational Word from the beginning—the gospel that constitutes the person in theological anthropology to be and live whole ontology and function into the human context.
Theological interpretation correctly focuses on Scripture as communication, which helps put a face on those words in Scripture to hear as distinguished words from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3; Isa 40:5; 55:11; Mt 4:4). Yet it is insufficient to stop at communication because this communication is always in relationship—the relational function that should never be assumed, taken for granted or ignored. Relational messages (discussed previously), for example, are critical to understand since they provide deeper meaning to the content of the words communicated. This deeper meaning helps us interpret God’s relational intention for the words communicated, which is necessary to establish their full context for whole understanding. God’s communication always declares God’s relational nature, and this is enacted only in God’s relational context and process. Relationship, therefore, is not merely supplemental or supportive to the communication but primary for the communication. And what ‘face’ is put on the words of God determines what priority the relationship has. In terms of what ‘face’, it is critical to distinguish between anthropomorphisms in language about God (which result in allegorical interpretation) and the relational language of God. What appears as anthropomorphism in ‘the face of God’ is the relational language of God’s relational nature vulnerably present, who created human persons with ‘face’ in God’s likeness only for relationship together face to face (intrinsic to Gen 2:18,25).
The Face in and from the beginning makes definitive both the distinguished relational context and relational process of God’s whole ontology and function. The Face is inseparable from God’s relational context and process, in which the Face functions integrally to establish the primacy of relationship. Without the vulnerable functional reality of the Face, any relational context of God is ambiguous and thus any relational process with God is elusive. What makes God’s blessing definitive from the beginning is the Face (paneh, signifying God’s whole presence) “turning and shining on you” in this distinguished relational context and relational process (Num 6:24-26). The lack or absence of this vulnerable functional reality renders this blessing merely to the transmission of information without the relational significance either from God or to those receiving the blessing, for example, as a perfunctory benediction.
Furthermore, what ‘face’ is put on the words of God determines whether we are listening to referential language transmitting information merely about God or to relational language for us to deeply know God. The former, for example, only hears (sees) the Word as Object to be observed with measured engagement, that is, from a relational distance, perhaps with a certain ‘method’. The latter is the relational outcome of listening to the Word as Subject with immeasurable relational involvement ‘Face to face’ in the relational epistemic process. Face to face (of whole persons from inner out) is the distinguished involvement required to listen to the words from God’s mouth within God’s relational context and process. This involvement was distinguished with Moses, with whom “I speak face to face” (idiomatic use of peh, lit. “mouth to mouth,” Num 12:8, cf. paneh in Ex 33:11). This was also the deeper relational outcome of Job’s epistemic humility in the relational epistemic process when he listened to God communicate in relationship (Job 42:4).
Therefore, the Face is the primary half completing the relational equation (our face the other half) and is critical to the words of God from the beginning, notably in God’s definitive blessing. The Face makes this blessing definitive and composes it in communicative action for relationship together, not in referential language for information. Importantly, the Face is irreducible for the whole of God embodied by the Word unfolding now in the incarnation, yet necessarily even before the cross for the complete Christology. The Face is not only irreducible for embodiment but also embodiment is nonnegotiable for the Face. That is, not only is the Face’s embodied ontology irreducible to human shaping and construction, the Face’s embodied function is nonnegotiable to human terms, most notably in relationship. What ‘face’ is put on the Word is the critical challenge of face, which defines and determines what unfolds with the Word. Moreover, when the Face is allowed to embody the Word to speak for himself without human shaping or terms, the Face presents the critical challenge for face, our face in Face-to-face relationship.
As discussed above, the transfiguration marks a pivotal point of Jesus’ disclosure of God’s glory. To repeat, God’s glory is not disclosed to observe for information, even to use to construct theology, or merely to behold in awe; the only purpose is for relationship, as should be expected by the necessity of God’s qualitative being, relational nature and vulnerable presence. Referential terms cannot account for God’s glory. Yet, that is exactly what Peter tried to do at the transfiguration when he wanted to erect three tents (Mk 9:5). More importantly, what does Peter do with the whole of God’s heart (qualitative being) and intimate relational presence vulnerably presented to him for Face-to-face connection?
It would be understandable if Peter became self-conscious in such a unique experience, not knowing what to do (Mk 9:6). God’s glory, however, does not provoke self-consciousness unless self-consciousness is already operating, in which case a response in referential terms would be expected. To the contrary, the glory of God’s heart, relational involvement and vulnerable presence touches the innermost of the person and evokes a compatible reciprocal response from person-consciousness. These dynamics are critical to sort out because what emerges with the face of Jesus is necessary to understand for what needs to emerge from the human person for the gospel’s relational outcome of face-to-face relationship together.
Jesus’ intrusive relational path is intrusive simply because the heart of God is relationally involved and vulnerably present as never before. The face of God is vulnerably intruding both qualitatively from inner out and relationally face to face. And the Face’s only purpose for vulnerably intruding to the innermost of the person is to “bring the change [siym] for new relationship together in wholeness [šhālȏm]” (Num 6:24-26). What Jesus brings to change prevailing relationships (“to be apart”) to new relationships together in wholeness is the key for the gospel that opens the door to distinguish theological anthropology in whole ontology and function. This was Paul’s relational experience with the Face on the Damascus road, and the relational outcome transformed from inner out the whole of Paul’s person (metamorphoō, not metaschēmatizō, 2 Cor 3:18, cf. Rom 12:1-2) and constituted the whole in his theology and the gospel of wholeness (Eph 6:15, all discussed in chap. 6).
Face to face is not a concept, idea or ideal, though it becomes those in referential terms. What distinguishes the qualitative face of God embodied by Jesus is the Face’s vulnerable presence and intimate relational involvement, which definitively constitutes the primacy of relational work. ‘Vulnerable and intimate’ not only illuminate the Face’s presence and involvement but magnify the Face in the integral dynamic necessary: (1) for face-to-face relationship together, (2) to be whole in face-to-face relationship, and (3) to live whole in face-to-face relationship together. Only the integral dynamic of ‘vulnerable and intimate’ constitute the Face’s presence and involvement. Without being vulnerable and intimate the Face would not be distinguished as the Subject necessary for Face-to-face relationship but just be observable as Object for referential information.
By the nature of God’s glory, the whole of God’s relational work is integrally vulnerable and intimate. Likely the most vulnerable and intimate of Jesus’ involvement is witnessed when he washed the disciples’ feet. Title and role did not define the person he presented to them, nor did those secondary distinctions determine how he engaged them in relationship—clearly demonstrating how Jesus addressed the inescapable and unavoidable issues for ontology, function and practice discussed previously. In the vulnerable act of his whole person from inner out and by his intimate relational involvement, Jesus loved these persons he called his friends, not his servants (Jn 15:15). Jesus’ function in the integral dynamic of vulnerable and intimate was the underlying threat that provoked Peter’s refusal to make a compatible vulnerable and intimate connection with Jesus. As discussed earlier for theological anthropology to distinguish, the following are important to understand for the theological anthropology underlying this interaction for both Jesus and Peter, and what ontology and function unfolds from each of them: the inescapable issues for ontology and function of how persons are defined and on that basis how relationships are engaged in this interaction, plus the unavoidable issues for all practice of the integrity of the persons presented in this interaction and the level of involvement they have in relationship together.
What distinguishes the Face as Subject for relationship must compatibly distinguish the human person as subject in order for reciprocal relationship together face to Face to face. Vulnerable and intimate is the integral dynamic by which the glory of God in the face of Jesus touches the innermost of the person and evokes a compatible vulnerable and intimate reciprocal response from person-consciousness—not provokes an incompatible reaction from self-consciousness. Self-consciousness would not engage the integral dynamic of vulnerable and intimate but rather would move in the opposite relational direction. Like Peter, self-consciousness promotes an outer-in focus and maintains relational distance—focused on secondary matters like building tents or maintaining relational distance behind titles and roles at Jesus’ footwashing. “Follow me” requires being vulnerable; “Do you love me?” necessitates being vulnerable and intimate—as an ongoing integral dynamic. There is no other way to make face-to-Face connection with the heart of God’s presence and involvement except through this integral dynamic of vulnerable and intimate. This relational equation exposes various practices of spiritual formation not adding up to deep relationship and why connection with God remains elusive for many, even those engaged in theological anthropology discourse.
Those who function as complex subjects (not simple objects) are the only persons whom the Father seeks in relationship together for their most significant reciprocal response to the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement: the relational response in compatible vulnerable and intimate depth together experienced in worship. The strategic shift of God’s theological trajectory intruded relationally on the person of the Samaritan woman—without the cultural-religious constraints of human distinctions that institute relational distance—to disclose in relational terms the vulnerable presence and intimate involvement of the whole and holy God (Jn 4:7-26). “God is spirit” signifies the qualitative innermost of God, which is distinguished in the human context by the qualitative function of God’s heart—the face of God engaged in vulnerable and intimate relational work now embodied by Jesus directly to her. That is to say, the qualitative innermost of “God is heart”; and this God of heart seeks those persons in relationship together whose reciprocal response must (dei)—by the qualitative nature of the whole and holy God’s intimate relational involvement and not by obligation (opheilo)—be compatible according to the qualitative function of their heart (“in spirit”) in the whole of who, what and how they are as persons from inner out (“in truth” as constituted by righteousness). The person “in spirit and in truth” reciprocally responds to the vulnerable and intimate heart of God with the intimate involvement of their whole person made vulnerable from inner out by the function of their heart for the primacy of relational work necessary to be whole and live whole in relationship together. This reciprocal response is what God expects from persons and ongoingly seeks.
As Jesus disclosed definitively, only the integral dynamic of vulnerable and intimate constitutes reciprocal relationship together in wholeness, which is the only compatible reciprocal response that has significance to the whole and holy God. Nothing less and no substitutes can compose this primacy of relational work.
Relational language and terms compose the primacy of relationship created in the relational likeness of God. Yet these relationships started in creation were not simply any type of positive relationship, rather only intimate relationships as vulnerably revealed to us in the triunity of God (not tritheism). These intimate relationships then are further distinguished as intimate interdependent relationships signified by the relational work of the Trinity. It was God’s purpose from even before creation (Eph 1:4, 5) that these intimate interdependent relationships function to grow together persons after the whole of God’s likeness—that is, the family of God. This original purpose—started again with Noah (Gen 9:1)—was formalized in the first relational covenant God made with Abram (Gen 17:6), extended through Jacob (Gen 33:5), confirmed as the covenant of love (Dt 7:9) and of wholeness (Isa 54:10), and is fulfilled in the church through the redemptive reconciliation of Christ, and is being completed functionally and experientially by the ongoing relational work of the Spirit (Rom 8:14-16; Eph 1:13,14). God’s revelation and our theology cohere in this relational progression of God’s created (original and new in Christ) design and purpose, which are functionally whole and whole-ly relational.
Jesus came to restore us to God’s design and purpose started in creation. Yet, we often appear not to have this functionally whole understanding of God’s vulnerable revelation in the incarnation and the relational work signified by the gospel. When we separate or subordinate the primacy of the relational work in God’s purpose to build not just family (in all its forms) but the whole family of God, then, accordingly, marriage and procreation (thus the purpose of Eve’s creation ) take on a different purpose than God intended. Instead, they become a function of our purpose to make a living, to have a life and to build one’s life (characteristics of bios, not zoe, cf. Jn 10:10). Consequently, what is only secondary to and a means for God’s purpose becomes primary for and a means to one’s own purpose. The relational consequence is the reshaping of whole relationship together to some form of “to be apart”. This reductionist framework for marriage and family certainly has had its consequences on how we build the family of God today. Despite the emphasis on marriage and family (and related values) that has “filled” many churches, we seem to have difficulty growing the intimate interdependent relationships started in God’s created design and purpose. Certainly, if we don’t have whole understanding what God started, it will remain difficult for us to complete (“fill”) this purpose as God designed in the Trinity’s likeness, regardless of our best intentions.
Human agency is involved in this process that determines the human consciousness in function and the interpretive lens used. Relational language and terms, in contrast and conflict to referential, have to compose the primacy of relational work in order for relational work not to be redefined or replaced by secondary matter. This also requires paying attention to reductionism and addressing any influence of its counter-relational work. Persons cannot be distinguished in whole ontology and function unless they are free and distinguished from its influence, the pervasive and prevailing influence of which renders persons and relationships “to be apart”; that is, influenced by common function that is easily overlooked under the seemingly reasonable assumption “you will not be reduced.”
In referential language, personhood is the term most commonly referenced in discourse on the human person. This language and term historically has occupied the central focus of theological anthropology. Personhood, however, does not sufficiently compose the meaning of human being and the nature of the person. ‘Hood’ denotes the state, quality or condition of something. While the person (created or evolved) certainly involves a distinct state, quality or condition, being a person is not distinguished by this basically static nature of personhood. Being a person can only be distinguished in its unique function integrated inseparable from its whole ontology—the ontology and function that can only involve the created person and not an evolved human. Personness (not ‘hood) is the relational term that composes the being of the person in the image and likeness of God, not merely providing referential information about the person. In composing the person’s being, personness is the qualitative and functional dynamic to be integrally vulnerable and intimate for the person’s ontology and function in person-consciousness.
Moreover, as a referential term personhood has varied in meaning and has been composed in fragmentary terms based on the various parts defining and determining the person. This variable or elusive person may be sufficient for humanistic anthropology but it is inadequate for theological anthropology. Central to theological anthropology is not a concept, idea or ideal of personhood but the dynamic qualitative and relational function of personness that integrally distinguishes the person to be whole and to live whole ontology and function into the human context. Interrelated for theological anthropology is the vital matter of being righteous. Being righteous is the relational function of righteousness necessary to compose the integral identity of the person. Most discussion of being righteous takes place in referential language revolved around an ideal and attribute of a referential term more accurately called righteoushood, which is insufficient to distinguish the true identity of the whole person (cf. Eph 4:24).
In his righteousness, Jesus’ whole person did not engage other persons in and for personhood, either in his language (relational not referential) or for the outcome (relational not referential). His relational purpose is focused on person-consciousness for the relational outcome of personness, which emerges from his call to be whole. Once again, we need the complete Christology to be the key for theological anthropology to distinguish this person in person-consciousness (not self-consciousness) and whole ontology and function (not variable ontology and function) into (not of or merely in) the human context. And this complete Christology is composed just by Jesus’ relational language.
When Jesus asked his disciples in relational language “Don’t you know me, even after I have been vulnerably present and relationally involved with you such a long time?” (Jn 14:9, NIV), Jesus exposed the inadequacy of conventional epistemology focused on referential terms from outer in, and he reveals the necessity of the deeper epistemology in relational terms from inner out to expand the epistemic field. “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” The Father is distinguished only in the qualitative interpretive framework of the whole of God’s relational context and process. Any disciple or scholar must by nature have both compatibility with this relational context and congruence in this relational process for the heuristic outcome to know the whole of God in relationship Face to face. Any other epistemic context and process is referential merely for the transmission of information, of which these disciples had a large quantity about Jesus without knowing him. The primary issue here is relationship, and epistemology is only second to it since the deeper epistemology (and expanded epistemic field) can emerge only from the depth of relationship engaged.
The early disciples demonstrated variable ontology and function due to the influence of reductionism and its counter-relational work. Such reductionism of the whole person and reductionism’s counter-relational work on whole relationships together are consequential in function, which at best can signify only ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of the whole of God’s glory in the face of Jesus (as Paul made clear, 2 Cor 4:4,6). This reductionism was demonstrated by Jesus’ first disciples in the above interaction prior to the cross. Their statements, “How can we know the way” and “show us the Father” (Jn 14:5,8), would rarely be interpreted as moral failure or ethical shortcoming. It was their reductionist perception, focused outer in both on Jesus and themselves, that prevented wholeness of ontology and function from being seen and known in Jesus as well as being lived in themselves; as a result, their lack of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness kept them from experiencing relational connection together with Jesus face to face, even after “all this time” (expressing Jesus’ frustration, Jn 14:9). This was consequential of reductionism as the essential function of sin, the sin of reductionism, from which they needed redemptive change to be whole. Any and all reductions, whatever their variation, of God’s whole on God’s qualitative relational terms down to human shaping on human terms engage the dynamic process of sin, all of which is consequential, accountable and in need of redemptive change (cf. Col 2:8-23; Eph 4:20-24).
Engaging in the primacy of relationships and relational work is a critical dynamic for persons in order to know and understanding each other—an elusive outcome in many relationships beyond mere information about each other. This certainly applies to knowing and understanding God, as Jesus clearly identified in the above interaction, which is the definitive basis for all theology, that is, in relational terms and not referential (Jer 9:24). Yet, this critical dynamic is diminished when the focus shifts to secondary distinctions about persons (as witnessed in Peter) that displace the primacy with the secondary (as contrasted in Jer 9:23). Jesus fully understands this reductionist shift and builds on the primacy of relationship and relational work by redefining his followers from the role/title of servants to the personness of friends—those persons who can know and understand him face to face (Jn 15:15). Human distinctions shift person-consciousness to self-consciousness focused on a comparative process (as further demonstrated by the disciples, Lk 22:24) and thereby diminish, minimalize, fragment or prevent the primacy of relationships and relational work to know and understand each other (as witnessed in the disciples)—whereby ontology and function are not only variable but become reduced. Jesus’ relational work transforms persons from inner out to the intimate relational likeness of the whole of God, without the veil of human distinctions (2 Cor 3:16-18; Col 3:10-11; Gal 3:26-28).
In unmistakable relational language but often overlooked relational terms, Jesus calls the persons following him to personness (not to service, Jn 12:26) to be whole and to live whole ontology and function into the human context. His call in relational language was first embodied in new wine fellowship together (Lk 5:33-39) and then composed in his formative family prayer, the terms of which traditionally are seen referentially as his high priestly prayer (Jn 17). What Jesus saves persons to was tasted at that new wine fellowship together and is summarized in his relational prayer, which includes making definitive the relational work necessarily involved to live whole ontology and function into the human context. This relational work necessarily includes integral identity formation that is distinguished, on the one hand, in God’s relational context and, on the other hand, from the human context. Identity distinguished from the human context is critical for whole ontology and function because it is not shaped by the limits and constraints of the human context, notably by secondary or false human distinctions. Accordingly, this relational work requires being able to live in the human context by the primacy of God’s context—that is, by an indispensable process of reciprocating contextualization, wherein ongoing interaction between the primacy of God’s context determines function in the person’s primary identity while in the human context.
The taste of new wine relationship together in wholeness was experienced at a pivotal relational connection in new wine fellowship. In God’s relational action there are complex theological dynamics that converge in Jesus’ theological trajectory and relational path to constitute the whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition. The roots, growth, outcome and maturing of the new creation were integrally signified in a metaphor used by Jesus about the new wine (Lk 5:33-39). The focus of new wine provides us with a whole understanding of the priority of person-consciousness from inner out and its primacy of relationships together.
The parable of new wine tends to be used incorrectly to emphasize new forms and practices, innovations focused more on the secondary and shaped more from outer in, all of which signify a lens of referential language and terms. Part of misinterpreting or inadequately understanding the new wine involves again Jesus’ relational language. Jesus was not focused on situations and circumstances in life and, for example, being innovative in what we do in those situations and circumstances to maximize them. The seeds of the new wine are planted in the innermost of human life, not in secondary matter. Jesus’ primary concern is not about what we do but for who we are and how we live. Therefore, in relational terms Jesus engages the ontology and function of those present (even his critics) and unfolds the whole ontology and function of the new creation—in contrast and conflict with reduced ontology and function. This contrast in ontology and function was demonstrated in this context by Levi’s transformation for the relational outcome of the new wine table fellowship together as family (Lk 5:27-32), further constituted later with Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10). The new wine emerges only from the inner out of ontology and function made whole in the innermost. When the new wine emerges from redefined and transformed persons, then its relational outcome is unmistakable in the family relationships together with no veil.
In this new wine table fellowship, Jesus addresses the juxtaposition of “eat and drink” (the new) and “fast and pray” (the old). The shift from the old to the new is more than a paradigm shift but the transformation that emerges from Jesus’ anticipated sacrifice behind the curtain for the relational outcome of new relationship together in wholeness with the veil removed. Their new wine table fellowship anticipated their new covenant relationship without the veil such that they could enjoy the vulnerable presence and intimate involvement of Jesus without the constraints of the old. The veil can be understood as follows: the gap between the universe and that which is beyond, the barrier between human limits and the transcendent God, the qualitative distance between the human heart and the heart of God, and the relational distance between the human person and the whole of God. The absence of the veil, therefore, is critical for new covenant relationship together; and the new wine table fellowship is solely a function of this new creation.
The taste of new wine, however, turns sour, or new wine escapes, within the context of old wineskin. Old wineskins are implied in the alternatives of anything less and any substitutes discussed above. Certainly then, old wineskins both constrain the flow of the new wine and reduce it of its qualitative and relational significance. The nature of old wineskins emerges with any reduction of our ontology and function, thus from an ambiguous or shallow personal-collective identity with relationships still having the veil—for example, who we are without what and/or whose we are in the primacy of God’s context—in contrasting and conflicting function with Jesus’ new wine table fellowship.
Jesus disclosed the new wine when the issue of fasting was raised to him. His response is inseparable from his major discourse for his followers in the Sermon on the Mount. Focused on efforts of self-determination, Jesus exposed trying to get closer to God through fasting from outer in (Mt 6:16-18). This effort to establish one’s own righteousness (dikaiosyne, 6:1) assumes a reduced ontology and function that constrains the person in an outer-in discipline having no qualitative significance from inner out, and consequently has no relational significance to God. For Jesus, this fasting is an old wineskin that cannot contain the new wine. In Jesus’ relational language, reduced ontology and function are both incompatible and incongruent with whole ontology and function; and the nature of old wineskins is reduced ontology and function, defining the person from outer in and determining relationships still with the veil—unable to be vulnerably involved heart to heart with God face to Face in the nature of the new wine, the new covenant, and with persons together in the new creation family.
Old wineskins are the relational consequence of becoming embedded in an ontological lie from reductionism that imposes an identity deficit, in which a person (or together as church) struggles to erase any deficit by efforts of self-determination in what one can do (e.g. fasting). The more control one can exercise over this process, the more certain the results of one’s efforts can be expected. The pursuit of certainty, however, requires a reduction epistemologically, ontologically and relationally in order for the control needed to succeed in self-determination—notably narrowing the epistemic field to the probable and minimizing vulnerability in relationships. This is how God’s terms for covenant relationship outlined in the torah have been reduced to a behavioral code, how persons seek to become justified by what they do, how Jesus’ teachings become disembodied to mere principles to follow, how the new wine gets put into an old wineskin. The nature of old wineskins, therefore, is the nature of the human condition in its reduced ontology and function, seeking self-determination and self-justification by its reduced ontology and function in order to overcome the deficit for its reduced ontology and function—a vicious cycle enslaving human persons. And, accordingly, old wineskins emerge from an ambiguous or shallow identity necessitating the veil in relationships, because it fails to engage the integral identity formation outlined by Jesus in the beatitudes (Mt 5:3-10) and pursues a reduced righteousness from outer in rather than whole righteousness from inner out (contrary to Mt 5:20 in Jesus’ major discourse for his followers).
Old wineskins first emerged in the primordial garden in the form of the fruit for self-determination and then with their loincloths for self-justification, and most significantly in their relational distance (Gen 3:6-10). The ontological lie from reductionism imposed an identity deficit to create an illusion of climbing the ontological ladder to a higher status: “you will not be reduced…you will become like God” (3:4-5). Constructing the tower of Babel was another old wineskin of reduced ontology and function seeking to climb the human contextual ladder for self-determination and justification (Gen 11:1-4). These examples demonstrate that old wineskins can have the appearance of something new (the fruit), innovative (loincloths) and a new venture (the tower); yet their reality is merely an illusion for reduced ontology and function.
The influence from human contextualization for innovation and new ventures has accelerated in the modern world of science and technology. At the same time, these efforts have also required a reduction epistemologically, ontologically and relationally in order to produce results. For example, the illusions of new skins developed by the recent changes in media technology are consequential for diminished involvement in relationships and minimalizing the quality of life, even though they have greatly increased our information, productivity and other quantities in life. As noted previously, such innovation stemming from modern technology has only reduced the primacy of the qualitative and the relational. These results, however, witness to the limits of what can emerge from reduced ontology and function. The new wine does not emerge and flow from the changes of innovation but only with transformation from inner out of whole ontology and function.
Shifting from innovation and its ambiguity of function and usefulness, we turn to a more practical approach. Pragmatism is another old wineskin constraining the new wine that needs more attention if the concern is for the flow of new wine. While a pragmatist may have significance by not separating theology from its practical function—in this sense Paul can be considered a pragmatist—pragmatism has a purpose and concern of less depth. Contextually, pragmatism should not be confused with pragmatics in linguistics that concerns understanding the meaning of messages in the relational context of the speaker—an ongoing necessity for Jesus’ relational language and messages. In a more limited concern, even with good intentions, pragmatism involves the effort in discipleship that focuses primarily on situations and circumstances, and concerns what is most practical in those contexts. With this narrowed-down focus and concern, pragmatism essentially reduces the relational involvement of the whole person with God by shifting this primacy to the situations and circumstances. Often unknowingly, this limits the relational process of discipleship to outer-in engagement by redefining one’s person from inner out to outer in, thereby renegotiating relationship with God on our terms (cf. Mk 14:3-9). By reordering the primacy of relationship, pragmatism unintentionally promotes the counter-relational work of reductionism and reduces the whole ontology and function constituting both the new wine and its discipleship, therefore disregarding Jesus’ relational imperative for his followers.
In my opinion, the most significant contribution from postmodernism is its critique of underlying assumptions (mainly of modernism) that challenges any templates (most notably a grand blueprint or metanarrative) imposing a narrowed view of the world to which human life necessarily conforms. The postmodern hermeneutic of suspicion helped expose such templates that were based on bad or false assumptions. We need to learn from this process and initiate our own hermeneutic of suspicion, yet for a different outcome than postmodernism. It is not the presence of a metanarrative—that is, the metanarrative from beyond the universe distinguished from a grand blueprint from within the universe—that is the issue but rather the notion of a template imposing a narrow view epistemologically, hermeneutically and theologically, and on this basis constraining what and how we are ontologically and functionally. Such a template can exist in the Christian religious community in the form of its tradition or in a less formal pattern of its status quo. The presence and promotion of either need our hermeneutic of suspicion.
As the hermeneutical key to the ‘new’, Jesus initiated this needed hermeneutic of suspicion to expose a template of tradition while introducing the new wine table fellowship (Lk 5:33-39, cf. Mt 15:1-20), and also to jolt the religious community from its status quo in a pivotal interaction with Nicodemus (Jn 3:1-16, cf. 5:39-40). In each interaction, the ‘old’ was maintained at the expense of the ‘new’, therefore tradition and the status quo needed redemptive change for the ‘new’ to be born, raised up in the new and lived whole in relationship together without any template signified by the veil.
The ongoing tension and conflict between the new and the old clearly rises when the new’s presence is constrained, shaped or conformed to the limits of the old. Of course, this increased level assumes the presence of the new, which is distinguished by the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes in our person and relationships, that is, from inner out in the primacy of relationships together. The seeds of new wine that Jesus planted at his defining table fellowship are cultivated in the innermost of human life, not in secondary matter prevailing in human contexts. With relational language serving as a hermeneutic of suspicion, Jesus addressed their religious tradition by engaging the ontology and function of those present (both his critics and disciples), thereby challenging the assumptions of their theological anthropology. In his concern for who they were and how they lived, Jesus addressed their identity. Since Jesus did not separate theology from function, he defined the inseparable interaction between their theological assumptions and identity formation. That is, who we are emerges from our theology, and the identity formed determines how we will live. This underscores the three inescapable issues emphasized earlier: (1) how we define ourselves, which then determines (2) how we function in relationships, both of which further determine (3) how relationships together notably as church are practiced. By interposing the new wine into the process, Jesus discloses the theological dynamic that redefines who we are and transforms what we are and how we live. Therefore, both our identity and its relational outcome are contingent on the theological dynamic we assume with Jesus.
Theological anthropology and Christology converge at table fellowship with Jesus, as Peter experienced in Jesus’ footwashing. The clarity and depth of the identity emerging from this theological interaction is contingent on the completeness of Christology and its integral influence on theological anthropology. This completeness and integral influence are inseparable from Jesus’ own identity—signified as “the bridegroom” at the new wine table fellowship (Lk 5:34). Yet, Jesus’ own ontology and function are identified further and deeper than this.
While the embodied Jesus was distinctly Jewish, and his predominant surrounding context was Jewish Galilee and Judea, the person Jesus presented (who and what) and how he interacted at the various levels of social discourse were a function of a minority identity, not the dominant Jewish identity. That is to say, Jesus functioned in a qualitatively different way than prevailing Judaism, yet he was fully compatible with OT faith and the teaching of Scripture—not as a religious code but as a relational process with God. What emerged from Jesus was the presence of the new clearly distinguished from their tradition and from the prevailing assumptions defining their ontology and determining their function.
One advantage of his minority identity was to clearly distinguish his significance from the prevailing majority—including from the broader context pervaded with Greco-Roman influence. A major disadvantage, however, was to be marginalized (i.e. considered less, or even ignored when not intrusive) by the majority or dominant sector. This disadvantage is problematic at best for his followers and can precipitate an identity crisis, that is, if his followers are not experiencing the whole and true identity of who, what and how they are. Yet, the experiential truth of his followers’ identity is a relational outcome of embracing Jesus in his identity, the clarity and depth of which become a christological contingency. In other words, the specific identity of who Jesus is (or perceived to be), determines the nature of their involvement together, and will be definitive for who his followers are or become. This further challenges our assumptions of discipleship in a conventional servant model and even our view of the cross with a conventional lens of sacrifice.
The key, and thus the contingency, is who Jesus is. If who Jesus is defines the basis for our identity as his followers, then Jesus by necessity is both the hermeneutical key and the functional key for identity formation. This, of course, makes our life and practice in discipleship contingent on our working Christology—specifically, whether or not it involves the embodied whole of Jesus.
When Jesus said in his formative family prayer “I sanctify myself” (Jn 17:19), this was not about sanctifying his ontology but about sanctifying his identity to function clearly in the human context to distinguish the whole of his ontology. Since Jesus’ ontology was always holy (hagios), this sanctifying process was mainly in order that his followers’ ontology and identity may be sanctified (hagiazo) in the experiential truth of his full identity (as Jesus prayed). Moreover, since Jesus’ embodied identity did not function in a social vacuum with relational separation, it is vital to understand his sanctified identity for the experiential truth of our identity to be in his likeness and our ontology to be in the image of the whole of God (as Jesus further prayed).
What is Jesus’ sanctified identity? As the embodiment of the holy God, Jesus’ identity functioned in congruence with the origin or source of his ontology. Earlier in his formative family prayer, he indicated the source of his ontology as “I myself am not of the world” (vv.14,16, NIV). “Of” (ek) means (here in the negative) out of which his identity is derived and to which he belongs. Yet, this only points to Jesus’ full identity. In his prayer he also defined his function as “in the world” (v.13, cf. Jn 13:1). “In” (en) means to remain in place, or in the surrounding context, while “out of” the context to which he belongs, thereby pointing to his minority identity. It is the dynamic interaction of Jesus’ full identity with his minority identity that is necessary for the significance of his sanctified identity. They are integrated, and if separated our understanding of who, what and how Jesus is is diminished. This fragmentation signifies an incomplete Christology that is consequential for the clarity and depth of identity to emerge.
We need to understand further the sanctified identity Jesus embodied in sanctified life and practice. The functional posture “in the world” of his minority identity is beyond mere ethics and is more than merely mission. This functional posture emerges from the relational posture “not of the world” of his full identity enacted “as you sent me into the world” (v.18). “Into” (eis) denotes motion into the common’s context as a conjoint function of the ek-eis dynamic (“out of”-“into” motion), which both signifies the primary relational context of Jesus’ identity with the Father and constitutes the primacy of the relational process between him and his Father. This integrated function composes Jesus’ call to persons: to be whole and true in their identity, which only emerges from the primacy of God’s context (ek) to live whole ontology and function into (eis) the human context.
This relational posture of Jesus defined what, who and how he was. Just as his followers in the common human context would, Jesus experienced the ongoing tension to conform to a religious and sociocultural identity, which then would define and shape him. For example, he encountered strong pressure to meet messianic expectations, to practice a reduced variation of Judaism (since the rebuilding of the temple, Second Temple Judaism), to adhere to the existing social structures and norms, all of which would have limited or reduced what, who, and how he was. While part of Jesus’ full identity involved being Messiah, Savior and King, he was not defined by a title, a role or by what he did. What constituted his identity was the function of relationship as the whole of God—in the Gospel narratives, notably with the Father. The ongoing relational function of reciprocating contextualization (the integral function of the ek-eis dynamic) is the only means to live distinguished while in the human context without becoming the shape of its influence.
In relational terms and not referential, Christian identity must by its nature be qualitatively rooted in and ongoingly relationally based on Jesus’ identity. On this irreducible and nonnegotiable basis, complete Christology is basic to our identity; and any reduction of our Christology renders our identity to a lack of clarity (as “light”) and depth (as “salt”), consequently precipitating an identity crisis (“no longer good for anything,” Mt 5:13). Therefore, questions like those by the disciples (“Who is this?” Mk 4:41) and Paul on the Damascus road (“Who are you?” Acts 9:5: cf. Jn 8:25) need to be answered in complete (pleroo) theological determination for the answer to be definitive of the qualitative and relational significance of both the incarnation and the gospel. The disciples struggled with this relational epistemic process, while Paul received the epistemic clarification and hermeneutic correction to engage the whole of Jesus for relationship together without the veil—the relational outcome of the new wine redefining who Paul was and transforming what he was and how he lived.
Directly related to the above questions are questions such as “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) and “What are you doing here?” (1 Kg 19:9,13). These are questions from God involving our theological anthropology, and related theological assumptions of Christology, that are critical for identity formation. Both sets of questions need to be answered to define the depth of our theology (as signified in “Do you also wish to go away?” Jn 6:67), and to determine the depth of our reciprocal relational response (as signified in “do you love me?” Jn 21:15-16). Our response emerges from the primary identity of who we are, and the identity we form emerges from our theology, that is, the interaction between our theological anthropology and Christology. The ontology and function that result are contingent on this theological process.
The issue about being whole is that it always involves reductionism, whether it is reductionism of our theology or our function. What Jesus made definitive in his formative family prayer (Jn 17:13-23) is crucial for our whole understanding (synesis) of this issue. What prevails in (en) any context of the world is reductionism. Jesus calls his followers relationally out of (ek) these contexts in order to be whole together as his family, then also relationally sends them back into (eis) those surrounding contexts to live whole together as his family and to make whole the human condition. Without the reciprocating dynamic of this ek-eis relational involvement, church ontology and function become defined and shaped based on the narrowed-down terms en (in) the surrounding context. This relational condition is problematic because of the relational barriers or distance it creates for the ongoing relational involvement necessary with the whole of God on God’s relational terms to constitute the whole of who we are in relationships together as church and whose we are as God’s family—whole persons in whole relationship together in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the Trinity, just as Jesus composed in his formative family prayer. Without this reciprocating contextualization, our identity in the world becomes fragmentary and, therefore, is rendered ambiguous (as the light) and/or shallow (as the salt, Mt 5:13-16). This is not the embodied whole of his family and the gospel that Jesus prayed for the world to see, receive and respond to, and therefore also be made whole and no longer “to be apart”.
The wholeness Jesus gives in relationship together as family in likeness of the Trinity is the experiential truth ‘already’ that “I will not leave you orphaned” (Jn 14:18), and that determines our whole ontology and function both as church family and in the world: “so that they may be one, as we are one…that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn 17:22-23). This is the integral basis for the theological anthropology of whole ontology and function in critical contrast and conflict to reduced ontology and function. The roots of this ontology and function go back to creation, and its theological trajectory and relational path emerged in covenant relationship with Abraham when God directly communicated the clear relational imperative to him: “walk with me and be tamiym, not merely blameless but be whole” (Gen 17:1). If our theological anthropology does not have this theological trajectory and follow this relational path, then the ontology and function of the person and persons together as church family will not be tamiym. The relational consequence is that persons essentially become relational orphans and their gatherings become more like orphanages, in contrast and even conflict to the wholeness Jesus gives them in relationship together (cf. Jn 16:33).
During their pivotal table fellowship together—integrally involving his footwashing and Lord’s Supper—Jesus made conclusive the whole theology that his theological trajectory and relational path vulnerably embodied and relationally disclosed (Jn 13-17):
Grace and peace—that is, the whole of God’s relational response of grace and the relational outcome of wholeness—are relational dynamics integrated in Jesus’ theological trajectory that are integrally enacted and fulfilled along his relational path in the primacy of whole relationship together in God’s family. Wholeness in relationship together involves the primacy of whole persons (from inner out, cf. “in spirit and truth”) in intimate involvement to know the whole of the other person, as signified by Jesus’ footwashing and as constituted by participating in Jesus’ sacrifice (his body and blood) behind the curtain in the temple in the intimate presence of God to have the veil removed (Heb 10:19-22). In Jesus’ theological trajectory and relational path, grace and peace emerge without the veil in the primacy of intimate relationship together with the whole of God and the whole of each person as family—the primacy of wholeness with the veil removed that Paul clarified theologically and functionally (Eph 2:14-22; 2 Cor 3:16-18). Therefore, whole theology—whether of God, the person or the gospel—involves the vulnerable involvement and relational intimacy in the primacy of whole relationship together with no veil. Both this integral identity and integral dynamic of vulnerable and intimate unfolding in the primacy of relationship are irreducible and nonnegotiable in Jesus’ theological trajectory and relational path.
The reduction or renegotiation of this primacy was the critical issue for two notable churches that Jesus exposed in his post-ascension relational discourse. The church in Ephesus was exemplary in maintaining its church identity and doctrinal purity in the surrounding context (Rev 2:1-3,6). Their church ontology and function, however, had become a substitute for the primacy of relationship together: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first in the primacy of relationship and renegotiated what’s primary” (v.4). The church in Sardis was a successful church with a prominent reputation in the surrounding context (Rev 3:1). Yet, their ontology and function was a mere simulation of the primacy of wholeness, so Jesus jolted them in their illusion because “I have not found your works pleroo” (v.2), that is, complete, whole “in the sight of my God’s perceptual-interpretive lens” (enopion, before, in the presence of, cf. Abraham before God, Gen 17:1). In spite of their high level of church performance, both churches were on a different theological trajectory and relational path than Jesus.
In his relational messages to the churches in Ephesus and Sardis, Jesus teaches us a critical lesson that delineates a simple reality of life about the human person and the surrounding social context—matters we either pay attention to or ignore depending on our assumptions of theological anthropology and the human condition (e.g. the church in Thyatira also critiqued, Rev 2:18-23). His lesson is integrated with his formative family prayer (Jn 17:9-19) and addresses the issue of contextualization defining us. Since we do not live in a vacuum, our ontology and function (both individual and corporate) are either shaped by the surrounding context we are en (v.11, thus “of the world,” v.14) or constituted by what we enter eis (dynamic movement “into”) that context with. In the latter constituting process, for the dynamic of eis to define and determine our ontology and function in congruence with Jesus (v.18) necessitates the ek (“of” indicating source) relational involvement to negate any defining influence on us from a surrounding context (“not of the world”) in order to determine us by our primary source in the whole of God’s relational context and process, therefore constituting the whole ontology and function in the primacy of relationship together for the eis relational movement back into the human context (vv.16-18). Human contextualization, though neither disregarded nor necessarily unimportant, is clearly secondary to God’s in this process that integrally distinguishes our primary identity of who we are and whose we are (v.9). This reciprocating relational process (ek-eis relational dynamic, as in reciprocating contextualization discussed above) signifies the relational demands of grace for reciprocal relationship conjointly compatible with the theological trajectory of Jesus’ coming eis the world and congruent with his relational path of wholeness for all of life with which he engaged the world. Nothing less and no substitutes can distinguish the whole ontology and function of Jesus and of those in likeness who indeed follow him in the primacy of whole relationship together without the veil.
The clearest indicator of whether or not we have shifted from Jesus’ theological trajectory and veered from his relational path is our theological anthropology. Our ontology and function reveal if we have, on the one hand, reduced and renegotiated the primacy of relationship and, on the other, kept the veil—both of which have the same relational consequence “to be apart”. The ontology and function in shalom and tamiym emerge only in the primacy of relationship and confirm that we are compatible with Jesus’ theological trajectory and congruent with his relational path, as the ancient poet anticipated (Ps 37:37) and Paul’s life illuminates for us. Tamiym was critical for Paul’s life. Paul was on a different theological trajectory when he entered the Damascus road. Then the whole of Jesus intruded on his ontology and function and jolted his theological anthropology, causing a retrospective for Paul in which he received tamiym’s epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction. The relational outcome was that the distinguished Face shined on him to bring change for new relationship together in wholeness—without the veil of human distinctions prevailing in the human context that engages a comparative process composing a deficit model to keep persons and relationships “to be apart” from the whole. On this relational basis, Paul was transformed to whole ontology and function in the qualitative image and relational likeness of God, without human distinctions. Therefore, based on living this theological anthropology, he made imperative for “the wholeness of Christ to be the only determinant of persons from inner out,” and imperative according to “the relational language and terms of Christ to live whole ontology and function in relationship together as God’s family” (Col 3:10-16, cf. Gal 5:6; 6:15).
This is the wholeness that Jesus vulnerably and intimately embodied (Jn 14:27), extended from God’s definitive blessing (Num 6:24-26, cf. Isa 60:1) and calls his family to be and live in relationship together into the human context, as well as to make whole the human relational condition “to be apart”. This is the relational basis for the Father to make it a relational imperative for persons: “Listen to the relational language of my Son” (Mt 17:5), which Peter eventually did in relational terms. And for Jesus to make imperative: “Pay attention to how you listen” (Lk 8:18)—in relational terms or referential terms? Contrary to referential parts, whole Christology is composed conclusively in relational language and its relational terms are the only definitive basis for theological anthropology to be distinguished in this whole ontology and function, as vulnerably embodied by the whole of God’s improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path in face-to-face relationship. Nothing less and no substitutes will be sufficient for theological anthropology, which means that for theological anthropology to be distinguished (pala) it must by its distinguished nature also be distinguished clearly from reductionism and its counter-relational work—in other words, from the beginning be distinguished beyond “to be apart”.
As Jesus communicated decisively for human consciousness and its interpretive lens, “the measure you use will be the person you get” (Mk 4:24). Therefore, “walk vulnerable and intimate with the whole of God and be whole in reciprocal relationship together as family.”
 See 4QNah 1:2,7; 2:2-3; 3:3,8.
 Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce and Manfred T. Brauch, eds., Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 93-94.
 Fully discussed in my study The Whole of Paul and the Whole in His Theology: Theological Interpretation in Relational Epistemic Process (2010). Online at http://4X12.org.
 The narratives of Jesus’ relationship with the Father give us predominately a binitarian view of God. This is understandable in the context of the whole of God’s thematic action because the Spirit’s presence and function have yet to be fully identified. Yet, the Spirit was never absent nor rendered temporarily “out of service” (see Lk 4:1,14,18). The ontology of the whole of God is irreducibly trinitarian. And though his main involvement appeared notably with the Father, Jesus’ ontology and identity are always trinitarian and functioned in the trinitarian relational context and process.
©2014 T. Dave Matsuo