The Person in Complete Context
The Whole of Theological Anthropology Distinguished
Section II: The Person in God's Context
Chapter 6 The Pivotal Position & Vital Function
of Theological Anthropology
He gave whole persons to equip the persons of God’s family
…to maturity according to the measure of the whole of Christ.
The whole of theological anthropology is distinguished when the person is integrally constituted in complete context: (1) to be whole together in the primacy of God’s relational context, and (2) to live whole ontology and function into the human context based ongoingly in the primacy of God’s relational process. As introduced in chapter three, theological anthropology occupies the pivotal position and provides the vital function for this relational outcome, which by necessity contrasts and even conflicts with a mere referential outcome. Theological anthropology is also pivotal for providing the underlying basis for the relational progression of this whole-ly distinguished outcome. This is further magnified as we integrate the whole of Jesus into Paul.
This light intensifies as it illuminates the implications of Paul’s (and our) initial anthropology and subsequent theological anthropology. This subsequent theological anthropology becomes the initial and/or ongoing basis for our interpretive framework and lens, which then either shapes and constructs, or whole-ly composes the following:
1. How we see God, or don’t pay attention, and thereby shape God accordingly.
2. The mirror for the human person in the image and likeness of God.
3. The nature of the human condition and the strength of our view of sin.
4. The content of the gospel and the face of the incarnation.
Including the theology and practice of the following:
5. What salvation is and what the new creation means.
6. The significance of discipleship, the church’s ontology and function, and the purpose
7. The integrating function of pneumatology and the integrating direction of eschatology.
As noted toward the end of the last chapter, it bears repeating that the clearest indicator of not having shifted from Jesus’ theological trajectory and veered from his relational path is our theological anthropology. Clearly, our ontology and function reveal if we have reduced and renegotiated the primacy of relationship and, or have kept the veil—both of which have the same relational consequence. The whole ontology and function that emerge only in the primacy of relationship are what confirm that we are compatible with Jesus’ theological trajectory and congruent with his relational path. Tamiym, as noted, was critical for Paul’s life. Since he was on a different theological trajectory when he entered the Damascus road, the whole of Jesus intruded on his ontology and function and deconstructed his theological anthropology. As Paul might have expected just from God’s blessing, the relational outcome was that the distinguished Face shined on him to bring change for new relationship together in wholeness—without the veil.
When the Face that shone on Paul said to his face “why do you persecute me?” the Face was distinguished in deeper significance than a Christophany. The integral person and distinguished presence of Jesus further emerges on the Damascus road in the significance of his presentation as an extension of the incarnation. Yet, the integrity of his presentation is not limited to the embodied Face distinguished further in post-ascension but is integrally the distinguished Face both from the beginning who antedates Paul’s religious roots and in the beginning who antecedes the created image intrinsic to and thus innermost of Paul’s person.
Paul’s persecution of the Way was focused on and “against the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:4-5,9). This was problematic for Paul in two critical ways directly associated with his faith-tradition: (1) to ignore the name of the Christ from his own Scripture (Isa 9:6), and (2) to not pay attention to the significance of the person who constitutes the name. Though in many human contexts a name is commonly just an identity marker, for Jews the name is the person, notably for God who disclosed his name to Moses as the distinguished “I AM WHO I AM” (Yhwh, Ex 3:13-15; 6:2-3; cf. Isa 42:8). Yet, even Yhwh, the LORD, easily is diminished of the whole significance of his person when used in referential language.
The relational dynamics converging and unfolding in this interaction are insufficient to understand as a mere Christophanic event or as merely a traditional call and even conversion of Paul. Consider what integrally converges with Jesus and Paul in the following: epistemologically, “who are you-I am Jesus”; ontologically, “me-I am”; relationally, “you persecute me-whom you are persecuting.” These are critical relational dynamics to understand for the whole of Jesus presented and for the whole of Paul both entering and emerging from the Damascus road. The whole of Paul entering the Damascus road was not a whole but reduced person, thus signifying the underlying convergence of wholeness and reductionism. What happens in this convergence is a more dramatic extension of Jesus’ person presented to Levi (discussed previously). The circumstances are different but the relational dynamic is the same: the distinguished Face engaged them Face to face with the good news to be redefined back to ‘inner out’, transformed from their reductionism, and made whole in the primacy of relationship together.
The Paul who emerged from the Damascus road did not engage on what may appear as a reshaped variable theological trajectory parallel to Jesus’—though his congruence with Jesus has been questioned in Pauline studies. Rather his theological trajectory was now integrally compatible and whole-ly congruent with Jesus’ theological trajectory and relational path. Paul was vulnerably involved in ongoing reciprocal relationship with the whole of God (the Son and the Spirit, together with the Father), who composed the whole of Paul and his witness, as well as the whole in Paul and his theology. The relational dynamics that unfold are the relational work of Jesus’ theological trajectory extended into Paul and exceeded by him with the Spirit—just as Jesus promised for those relationally involved with him (Jn 14:12-13) and defined for Paul (Acts 26:16). And the experiential truth of this relational outcome unfolds in Paul’s theological anthropology and its related implications.
What Paul saw in the face of Jesus was the glory of the whole of God (2 Cor 4:6; Col 1:19; 2:9). What the face of Christ magnified was God’s glory jointly in qualitative being, revealing the heart of God from inner out, which included also the nature of God’s glory, revealing the relational nature of the whole of God in vulnerable involvement. God’s glory in the face of Christ was not a static condition or attribute by which God is referenced. Jesus vulnerably embodied the relational nature of the pleroma (complete, whole) of God, whose relational involvement vulnerably constituted the function of God’s heart. Thus, knowing the glory of God in qualitative being and relational nature is to receive the relational function of God’s heart vulnerably presented Face to face. The functional significance of God’s qualitative being and relational nature were what Paul experienced in the face of Christ—from inner out, initially on the Damascus road and ongoingly in vulnerable relationship together without the veil to be transformed into the image and likeness of God’s glory embodied by Christ (as Paul made definitive, 2 Cor 3:18). This experiential truth was the conclusive basis for the irreducible, inseparable and integrated connection between ontology and function in Paul’s theological anthropology.
Perception of the human person is contingent epistemologically on the extent and depth of knowledge of the whole of God, not on the quantity of information about parts of God. Interpretation of human function involves a hermeneutic dependence on how God is perceived and God’s function is interpreted. These epistemic and hermeneutic interactions need to be integrally accounted for in the perception and interpretation of human life, whether on the macro level (e.g. in physics) or on the micro level (e.g. in neuroscience), and most notably in theological anthropology. This all converges in the systemic framework of Paul’s whole theology, thus his theological systemic framework is critically necessary for whole knowledge and understanding of anthropology.
Paul made the above connections to provide the basic perception of the human person and the hermeneutic key to human function: In Creator-God “we have our being” (human ontology) and “we live and move” (human function, Acts 17:28). Yet, human ontology and function more than originate from God; they are also “in God,” that is, in God’s image and likeness as “God’s offspring” (genos, kind, family, 17:29). Paul used a metaphor in this text likely taken from the Athenians' ancient mythology (“your own poets,” 17:28), but not merely to illustrate a point. Being and function as God’s offspring are the integral roots conjointly defining who/what the human person is and determining how the person functions, which are contingent on how God and God’s function are perceived. This emerges from the whole of God’s systemic framework, within which the cosmos and the human person are integrated with God’s whole (cf. Rom 8:19; Col 1:16-17).
Human roots were the creative work of the whole of the Creator, the unknown face of whom is constituted by Christ as Creator (Col 1:16), by Christ as God (Col 1:19; 2 Cor 4:6) and by Christ as Son (Rom 1:4, cf. Jn 1:18). The whole of the Creator is vital to human roots on the following basis: (1) the human person was created in the qualitative image of the whole Creator, that is, whole from inner out, neither fragmenting the quantitative from the qualitative nor minimalizing the quantitative; and (2) human function was created in the likeness signified by the relational ontology of the whole of God (defined in the creation narrative, Gen 1:26-27); that is, in the relationships together necessary to be God’s whole—as Jesus vulnerably revealed of his relationship with the Father (Jn 5:19-20; 14:9-11), and for which he intimately prayed to the Father (Jn 17:21-23). Therefore, imago Dei was at the heart of Paul’s theological anthropology, which he illuminated in its original condition, its renegotiated condition to human terms, and its restored condition in Christ. Yet, for Paul, imago Dei was not a theological concept or construction but, by its nature, only the experiential truth of the whole of God’s ontology and function in its full relational significance, without renegotiation and reduction.
Paul expands his discourse to make more definitive these integral roots for the human person, function and relationships necessary to be God’s whole. In later theological reflection on the redemptive dynamics of the human person from reductionism (Col 3:1-10), Paul defined the ongoing functional tension between the outer-in person in reduced ontology of “the old self” (3:9), and the inner-out person in whole ontology of “the new self” (3:10). This new person is being restored to one’s original condition (anakainoo) of ontology and function—defined into (eis) the specific knowledge (epignosis) of and determined by (kata) the image of one’s Creator (3:10). The human person’s ontology and function in the image of the Creator interacts directly with Paul’s cosmology revealing that Christ the Creator “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). This connection within Paul’s theological systemic framework makes definitive two vital matters:
1. It sets in motion Paul’s complete Christology of the embodied “pleroma of God” (Col 1:19) “who is the image of God” vulnerably revealing the whole of God “in the face of Jesus Christ” for relationship together (2 Cor 4:4b-6; Col 1:20).
2. The face of Christ embodying the image of God also vulnerably demonstrates in his whole person throughout the incarnation the qualitative and relational significance of human ontology and function necessary to be God’s whole family—which Paul clarified theologically (Rom 8:29) and also prayed for (Eph 3:14-19), both congruent with Jesus’ prayer (Jn 17:16-26).
Paul learned from his earlier life in Judaism that when a person(s) shifts to being defined by outer in, then the practice of faith also shifts to outer in. This outer-in definition is also imposed on God by a quantitative interpretive lens that perceives God and God’s function from outer in. This dynamic from reductionism invariably is set in motion by a deficient theological anthropology, as demonstrated in the primordial garden. In his functional fight for wholeness and against reductionism, Paul illuminates for his readers the theological anthropology necessary to make definitive the heart of human ontology and its function in relational significance.
There is a direct correlation from human ontology to human function in what Paul considered a causal connection (cf. 2 Cor 5:5a; Rom 1:28). Yet there is also a reflexive dynamic between them that is influential, which Paul also noted (cf. Col 3:9-10; Rom 1:21)—and which also neuroscience research indicates in its association between relational connection, brain activity and inherent human need (noted previously). What defines the human person unmistakably determines human function, though how a person functions can have some secondary influence or further reinforcement on defining the person. In whichever direction human ontology and human function are seen, Paul addressed their irreducible and inseparable relationship, notably challenging assumptions that renegotiate human function.
In Paul’s theological anthropology there is the ongoing juxtaposition of the whole person’s ontology and function with the reduced person’s ontology and function. This is not a dualistic construct for his anthropology but simply the only two experiential alternatives available for human life; and these alternatives can vacillate in variable ontology and function. Moreover, while whole ontology is irreducible and whole function is nonnegotiable, neither of them is interchangeable with reduced ontology or function. That is, whole ontology is incompatible with reduced function, and whole function cannot emerge from reduced ontology—distinctions which Paul made definitive (Col 3:9-11; 2 Cor 5:16-17). Reduced ontology may give the appearance of whole function but only from the outer in (“disguises,” metaschematizo) to construct just ontological simulation or epistemological illusion of wholeness (as Paul exposed, 2 Cor 11:13-15). The reality for the human person is either the experiential truth of wholeness or some form of reductionism.
Experiencing the functional significance of God’s glory in the face of Christ involved only relationship between the hearts of persons in qualitative involvement together to be whole (Col 1:20; 2:9-10). This is the function of God’s heart in relationship together with the function of the human heart. Whole function for God and for human persons, therefore, is both qualitative and relational, which can be constituted only from inner out by whole ontology. Reduced function in the human person, then, is anything less than qualitative and relational—the function of which always signifies the shift to outer in by reduced ontology, as witnessed in the primordial garden and in Paul’s life prior to the Damascus road. The consequence of this shift in function is a lack (or even loss) of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness (cf. 2 Cor 3:14; Eph 4:18-19).
Wholeness and reductionism are by their nature mutually exclusive, yet in function the tension and conflict between them are ongoing. This process will continue unabated in human function to the extent that the false assumption is in practice that human function is negotiable to human terms (as in “you will not be reduced”). Paul confronted this issue notably in Galatians, in which he made definitive the functional clarity for the truth of the whole gospel. In this letter, he quickly distinguished the whole gospel from reductionist substitutes based on human terms (Gal 1:6-12). Then he recounted his confrontation of the latitude Peter exercised to renegotiate the functional significance of the gospel to biased human terms (2:11-14). He continued in Galatians to clarify qualitative whole function and the relationships necessary together to be whole and live whole. In the process he also confronts the Galatians for reducing their ontology by shifting to outer in and renegotiating their function to human terms (1:6; 3:1-5; 4:8-11). Two summary statements by Paul make definitive the qualitative and relational significance of human function that emerges from the whole of the gospel:
Since whole function is both qualitative and relational in Paul’s theological anthropology, he defines it neither as a doctrinal truth nor as a propositional truth but only as experiential truth. This experiential truth is the relational outcome of the whole gospel relationally embodied by the whole of Jesus for qualitative involvement in relationship together to be God’s whole family. By confronting the critical assumptions that reduce human persons to outer in and negotiate human function only by quantitative outer-in terms, Paul also exposed the relational consequences from the counter-relational work intrinsic to reductionism and implicit in its workings: less significant persons in less significant relationships, fragmented persons in fragmented relationships, stereotyped persons in stratified relationships, constrained/enslaved persons in broken/oppressed relationships. His functional exposition of reductionism is put face to face with the functional clarity of the whole of the gospel. The good news for this human relational condition is the relational function of God’s heart in qualitative involvement to restore the human heart in the image and likeness of God for relational function together as family (Gal 4:4-7). The relational outcome of God’s whole function is not a doctrine or a proposition, but only the experiential truth of qualitative and relational function: “For in the relational function of the qualitative whole of Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith—that is, your response from the qualitative and relational function of your heart. As many of you as were relationally involved deeply into Christ have defined yourselves from inner out with Christ, the wholeness of God. There is no longer Jew or Greek to separate you, there is no longer slave or free to stratify you, there is no longer male and female to fragment you; for all of you from inner out are whole together in Christ Jesus” (3:26-29, cf. Col 3:10-11).
The implications of theological anthropology continue to be illuminated. Paul gave theological clarity to the basis of human ontology and function for the qualitative image and relational likeness necessary for wholeness in theological anthropology and its practice with God, within the church and into the world. By the nature of his conjoint fight for the whole gospel and against reductionism, Paul’s theological discourse characteristically illuminates the whole in tension or conflict with reductionism. He put into juxtaposition “the earthly tent we live in” with “a building from God” (2 Cor 5:1-4). Paul used this imagery and metaphor to describe the human person and function in whole or reductionist terms; and this has direct implications for the prevailing human condition and the good news to meet this human need. The interrelated dynamics are important to understand for human roots.
“The tent” (skenon, or shelter, dwelling) the human person “lives in” is just the outer structure built from bottom up (oikia, a house without its contents, 5:1); this signifies a quantitative definition of the person reduced to outer in (without one’s innermost significance), who functions essentially self-determined in the quantitative course of life (bios, quantitative duration, means and manner of life subject to observation). In contrast is “a building from God, not a house made with hands” (i.e. human hands from bottom up, acheiropoietos, 5:1), for a full qualitative dwelling from top down (“eternal in the heavens,” 5:1). While Paul’s imagery has an eschatological sense of ‘not yet’, this ‘already’ signifies the qualitative definition of the person from inner out, that is, “from God” constituting the whole person “from out of” (ek) the image and likeness of God, and thus who functions immersed (katapino, “swallowed up”) in the qualitative significance of life (zoe, the qualitative innermost constituting living beings, 5:4). The tension between quantitative bios and qualitative zoe frames the conflict of the reduced human person of outer in versus the whole person of inner out. When Paul applied his theological anthropology to the present context of his own life, he was unmistakably clear that this conflict is between the quantity of human ontology from outer in (“those who boast in outward appearance,” 5:12) and the quality of human ontology from inner out (“in the heart”). Whole human ontology and function cannot be limited to bios but are integrally composed in the primacy of zoe—the primary for which “we groan” (5:4).
The distinction in dynamics is crucial to understand. The relational consequence, on the one hand, of outer-in bios is the human relational condition “to be apart”, and thus to be further reduced, fragmented—“to be found naked…to be unclothed” (5:3,4, cf. Gen 3:7) as persons without qualitative meaning and relational significance. On the other hand, the relational outcome of inner-out zoe is the relational connection together to be whole (“clothed with our heavenly dwelling,” 5:4) in human ontology “from out of” the qualitative image of the whole Creator and in human function “from out of” the relational likeness of the whole of God (cf. 2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:10). For Paul’s life ‘already’ in the present, this involved the ongoing function in the qualitative significance of relationship (“we walk by faith,” 5:7) as opposed to a reductionist function with a quantitative lens (“not by sight”). Moreover, the transition from bios to zoe is conclusive after physical death in the not yet (5:4). The human body (soma, not sarx) is not separated from the person’s innermost (pneuma, not soul) to cease to exist, thereby fragmenting the whole person, whom the Spirit constitutes integrating soma and pneuma (5:5). Rather, at the end of bios the whole person (including soma) totally transitions into zoe, and soma is distinguished in the qualitative difference (heteros soma) of zoe to fulfill the relational conclusion to wholeness (1 Cor 15:35-40). There is no separation between soma and pneuma after bios, and thus there is no gap in the person’s existence that needs to be filled namely by a soul. This makes the fragmentation of dualism not only unnecessary but contrary to the whole of God’s image and likeness.
Longing for wholeness and fulfillment of the prevailing human relational need are ontological-functional givens for Paul and intuitive for human persons in his theological anthropology. His basis was that the whole of Creator-God has made (katergazomai, to bring about) human persons for this very wholeness in zoe together, which includes the Spirit’s involvement (2 Cor 5:5). This points to the good news for all human persons and for restoration of human ontology and function to their created condition in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God, as Paul made definitive earlier (2 Cor 3:15-18). This whole gospel was the experiential truth ‘already’ for Paul, whose person and function were no longer defined in quantitative terms from outer in nor determined by what he did and had: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view according to the flesh, reduced to outer in; even though we once perceived Christ from a human point of view in quantitative terms only from outer in, we know him no longer in that way” (5:16, cf. 10:7, 10). Why, how? Because ‘in Christ’, who is the image of the whole Creator (2 Cor 4:4b; Col 1:15) and the pleroma of God (Col 1:19), the original condition of human ontology and function has been recreated from reductionism and restored to wholeness (Col 2:9-10). Thus “in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old in reductionism has been redemptively changed and made whole; see, everything has become new” (2 Cor 5:17, cf. Col 3:10).
This qualitative new person from inner out, however, still has functional issues in the relational process to wholeness ‘in Christ’, as Paul clarified in his theological anthropology (Col 3:1-11, cf. Eph 4:20-24). While the redemptive change to whole ontology and function has begun unequivocally, the ongoing presence of reductionism and its counter-relational work also remain a competing substitute for the human person and function. What Paul clarifies for human ontology and function ‘in Christ’ is that this is not a static condition but rather a dynamic relational condition necessitating reciprocal relational involvement together in the relational context and process of the whole of God: “seek from inner out, not outer in, the things that are above—the qualitative of God’s relational context and process, where Christ is present for relational involvement together…. Set your minds, the lens of your new mindset [phroneo], on things qualitative from inner out…for your reduced person has died, and the zoe of you as a whole person is hidden [krypto, i.e., intimately involved] with Christ in relationship together participating in the zoe of the whole of God” (3:1-3).
These functions of wholeness necessitate further relational actions to confront the substitutes from reductionism that diminish and minimalize the whole person and function necessary in the relationships together to be whole, God’s whole family. Moreover, the functions to be whole cannot be reduced to the mere practice of Christian ethics, as Paul’s readers tend to do with his interpretation of human function. In clarifying these human roots, Paul was not advocating a dualistic ontology to function either in a moral spirituality and otherworldliness, or in the worldliness of the flesh (a misreading of Rom 8:1-15). Paul was only focused on the reciprocal process of redemptive change for human persons (both old and even new needing further change) to be restored to whole ontology and function—nothing less and no substitutes from reductionism (cf. Rom 12:1-2). The tension and conflict with reductionism are ongoing; and reductionism’s influence and counter-relational work prevail in the human roots unfolded in the cosmos—continuing its influence on defining human ontology and determining human function in one way or another (cf. 2 Cor 11:13-15), unless counteracted by God’s whole, “so that what is reduced (mortal, thnetos) may be swallowed up by zoe” (2 Cor 5:4). Without qualitative relational action on these functional issues, which Paul made unmistakable in his theological anthropology, restoring human persons and function to God’s whole is frustrated and an ongoing struggle with reductionism. This ongoing issue made theological anthropology critical in Paul’s theology, the basis of which Paul never assumed for his readers and thus always addressed with them. Furthermore, Paul ongoingly challenged their assumptions on theological anthropology in order for human ontology and function to be whole.
Paul made this further definitive for the church to be whole in its own ontology and function as God’s family—composing ecclesiology of the whole (Eph 4:11-16). As he described various functions in the church, Paul clearly defined them as a relational outcome from Christ (“he gave,” 4:11). These functions, then, by their whole nature ‘in Christ’ must not be used to define those persons by what they have (“gifts”) and do (perform in roles as “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers,” etc.). If they defined themselves in those ways, they would enact two critical reductionist practices: (1) reduce their person to outer in, and (2) renegotiate to their terms the relational function and the whole purpose Christ gave them. These reductionist practices essentially render these persons less than whole—to the parts of the above distinctions—and thus they would be incapable of fulfilling their primary function as whole persons for the church to be whole together as the whole of God’s family embodied by Christ (“the measure of the whole of Christ,” 4:13, cf. 1:23)—no matter how gifted they were or how dedicated they performed their roles. What is that function and purpose?
Paul condensed their function and purpose in the phrase “to equip the saints” (4:12), the significance of which has been redefined by Paul’s readers and renegotiated by church leaders ever since. The term for “equip” (katartismos from katartizo) is used only here and can mean either to restore to former condition, to put in order by making complete, or simply to equip, train, prepare. The latter has only secondary meaning, which to Paul had no significance without the former meaning. For Paul, katartismos was only a function of anakainos (being restored to the human person’s original condition, Col 3:9); and it is only this new whole person who can fulfill Christ’s purpose to help restore the persons of God’s family to be whole and to live whole “for building up the body of Christ, until all of us function in the relationships together to be teleios (complete, whole to the full extent) of the pleroma of Christ, the whole of God, as God’s whole family” (4:12-13, as determined in 1:22-23).
Nothing less and no substitutes of the whole ontology and function of both church leadership and church membership can be sufficient for his church to “grow up” (auxano, in Greek subjunctive mood to indicate contingency and merely potential, 4:15). This ontology and function are irreducible and nonnegotiable for any church to be whole, regardless of its situations and circumstances; and Paul challenged any other assumptions about the person and church. Therefore, only whole persons defined from inner out in the qualitative image of God, whose relational function in relationships together is in relational likeness of the whole of God, can meet this contingency and realize this potential: to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into the whole of Christ, from whom the whole body as church family is relationally involved and bonded together by every person made whole from inner out, that is, as each whole person functions whole in the relationships necessary together for the church family’s growth in building itself up in love” (4:15-16). This is the only function and purpose that the whole of Christ gave for his family to be whole. Anything less and any substitutes in the church are ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of wholeness from reductionism; and reductionism of the church starts with and ongoingly is based on a reduced theological anthropology.
These are the necessary roots of the ecclesiology of the whole of God’s family, relationally embodied only by persons of whole ontology (in the image of God embodied by Christ) who are vulnerably involved in the qualitative function of relationships together; that is to say, nonnegotiable function only in likeness of the relational ontology of the whole of God. This is what and who Christ relationally embodied for his church to live whole together and to make whole in the world—as composed in Jesus’ formative family prayer (Jn 17:21-23), which Paul echoed for the church to be whole (Eph 3:14-19).
Therefore, Paul’s theological anthropology is definitive discourse entirely on the experiential truth of whole ontology and function, in which Paul’s own person first functioned for the whole of his witness and the whole in his theology. This whole extends to its completion.
Paul’s only concern, both theologically and functionally, is for the irreducible embodiment of the pleroma of God to be further relationally embodied and extended in nonnegotiable ontology and function in order for the inherent human need to be fulfilled and the human problem to be resolved. This further embodying is the whole ontology and function of those who relationally belong to Christ. In the experiential truth of Paul’s theology, how does the relational progression of God’s relational dynamic of grace and agape involvement become embodied from the pleroma of God to the pleroma of Christ (the church, Eph 1:23) and continue in its eschatological trajectory for the relational conclusion of the gospel of wholeness? And according to the experiential truth of the whole of Paul’s person and the whole in his theology, how do persons belonging to Christ—by necessity both as person and as persons together in God’s family—engage in this relational progression with God and thus participate in the whole of God’s life to the relational completion of whole relationship together?
A prevailing presence in the systemic framework of Paul’s theology that pervades his theological forest is pneuma (spirit). The presence of pneuma is in both ontology and function, both in God’s ontology and function (1 Cor 2:10-11; 3:16; 2 Cor 3:6,17; Rom 8:11; 1 Tim 3:16) and for human ontology and function (1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; 2 Cor 1:22; 3:6,18; 7:1; Rom 8:11; Eph 2:18,22). What is pneuma for God and what is pneuma for human person?
In terms of God’s ontology and function, pneuma is not what but who, though Paul does not specifically call the Spirit a person. Yet Paul implies personness for the Spirit by identifying the Spirit as having a will to decide and using it (boulomai, 1 Cor 12:11), who also can be “grieved” (lypeo, afflicted with sorrow, distressed, mournful, Eph 4:30; cf. Heb 10:29), and, moreover, who bears witness to us of our family status (Rom 8:16). The Spirit’s grief, for example, is over not being engaged in reciprocal relationship together (cf. Eph 2:22), which is not an anthropomorphism but signifies the whole of God’s being and relational nature who is vulnerably present. This identity is the who of a person, the person of the Spirit, who is also vulnerably present and relationally involved. This does not imply, however, that Paul was a trinitarian in the later sense, though his theology certainly provides definitive basis for trinitarian theology.
Since Paul was no trinitarian, his purpose and responsibility to pleroo (make complete, whole) the word of God was not to theologically clarify the Trinity or to develop theological concepts like homoousios, hypostasis and perichoresis. His purpose was more functional and distinctly relational in order to make definitive the gospel as whole without any reductionism. Within his purpose, Paul instead epistemologically clarified the whole of God and hermeneutically corrected human shaping and construction of theological cognition, challenging theological assumptions that were either limiting or reductionist. Thus, Paul indeed took Judaism’s monotheism beyond its limited knowledge and understanding, and he extended the Jesus tradition into the depths of the whole of God. In making relationally functional the pleroma of God, Paul focused also in making relationally definitive the whole of God in the relational presence and relational work of the Spirit.
In pleroma Christology of Paul’s theological forest, salvation was constituted by Christ and completed in Christ for the relational outcome of pleroma soteriology (complete by saved both from and to). Pleroma soteriology is the relational act solely by Christ and the relational outcome is the function of just relationship with Christ (Rom 6:5-11); and both of these are constituted in reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit (Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; 2 Cor 1:22; 3:6,17; Eph 1:13; 2:18,22; 1 Tim 3:16; cf. Jn 1:32-33; Lk 4:1). In the whole of God’s ontology and function, pneuma is person, the Holy Spirit, and not to be reduced to a power, also noted by Paul (1 Cor 2:4; Rom 15:13,19). There is a dynamic interaction for Paul between the embodied pleroma of God and the person of the Spirit—that is, the Spirit as the functional cohort of Jesus who shares in, even constitutes, and now completes the relational work of the Son, whose embodiment (prior to and after the cross) fulfills the relational response of grace from the Father (Gal 4:4-6; Rom 8:9b-11). This is the dynamic interaction between pneuma and soma (body) of the pleroma of God, which is vital for understanding the whole of God’s ontology and function in its innermost, as Paul claimed for the Spirit (1 Cor 2:10-11) and Jesus promised about the Spirit (Jn 16:12-15). Paul understood that soma without pneuma can be confused with or reduced to sarx (“flesh,” cf. Paul’s polemic about the resurrection, 1 Cor 15:35-44). In this sense, pneuma is also a what—distinguished from who—which signifies the qualitative innermost of God’s ontology that is irreducible for God to be God (cf. Phil 3:3 and Jn 4:23-24).
Moreover, the dynamic interaction between pneuma and soma is critical for fully understanding the whole of God’s function, as well as understanding God’s ontology, in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. Pneuma will not allow for the embodied pleroma of God to be reduced or renegotiated to anything less than and any substitutes for whole ontology and function. There is indeed mystery involved in this interaction, but for Paul pneuma is unequivocally the person of the Spirit. Even though Paul had whole knowledge and understanding (synesis) from the Spirit, he did not claim to totally understand this dynamic (1 Tim 3:16).
This dynamic interaction with the Spirit likewise points to the embodying of the pleroma of Christ (Eph 1:23). Pneuma is the person who constitutes also those who belong to Christ (Rom 8:9). In cooperative reciprocal relationship as well with these human persons, the Spirit—who functions as the relational replacement of the Son, as Jesus promised (Jn 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; cf. Eph 1:13)—constitutes persons (both individually and together) in whole ontology and function, that is, the qualitative ontology and relational function from inner out in likeness of the pneuma of God’s whole ontology and function (2 Cor 3:17-18; Rom 8:11, 14-17). For Paul, in other words, the Spirit is not a mere Object of theological discourse but the experiential truth of Subject-person, who is present in us and relationally involved with us for relationship together as God’s whole family (“dwells,” oikeo from oikos and its cognates in reference to family, Rom 8:11, 14-16; 1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:22). Paul goes beyond merely the Spirit’s agency (e.g., power, instrumentality) to make definitive the depth of the Spirit as Subject’s agape relational involvement as the whole of God (Rom 5:5). Importantly, Paul understands that the person of the Spirit is Jesus’ relational replacement for the continued involvement necessary to complete the relational work Jesus constituted. When Paul speaks specifically of “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9; Gal 4:6; Phil 1:19; cf. Acts 16:7), this is Paul’s shorthand-relational language implying the Spirit as relational replacement and extension of Jesus, whose further involvement is indispensable for extending the qualitative process of embodying of the pleroma of Christ and making functional its relational process of participation in the whole of God’s life and family together (cf. 1 Cor 6:14-15a; Rom 8:11; Eph 1:23).
What emerges from this reciprocal relational involvement together with the Spirit? Paul first addresses what does not emerge when relationship with the Spirit becomes incompatible. The issue of incompatibility, incongruity or discontinuity with the Spirit (as with Jesus and with the whole of God) hinges on theological anthropology and our assumptions about the human person. This specifically involves defining the person by what one does/has and, on this basis, engaging in relationships with both God and each other, individually and together as church. Paul exposed such reductionist assumptions of theological anthropology in the church at Corinth (1 Cor 3:1-4; 4:6-7). This reductionism directly fragments the person from the dynamic interaction between pneuma and soma, thus leaving soma without the quality of pneuma to then be confused with or reduced to sarx: “I could not speak to you as pneuma people but rather as people of sarx, as infants in Christ without identity formation as whole persons” (1 Cor 3:1). Sarx (and its cognates sarkikos and sarkinos) signifies reduced human ontology and function in Paul’s discourse, whereas pneuma is inseparable from soma in the whole ontology and function of the person.
This reduction of soma to sarx is the issue in Paul’s polemic when he made the ambiguous claim: “Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself” (1 Cor 6:18). Paul’s focus goes beyond sexual immorality and is not implying that all other sins are inconsequential for human ontology and function. He is focused on the sin of reductionism that fragments soma from pneuma to reduce a human person’s ontology and function to that signified by sarx (6:16-17). The consequence is reductionist embodiment diminishing the whole person, which further includes the relational consequence of fragmenting the embodying of whole relationship together (6:14-15, 19-20). Essentially, Paul argues rather that every sin a person commits is the sin of reductionism, thus against the embodying of wholeness. Whole human ontology and function is the inseparable embodiment of both soma and pneuma by the Spirit, which is irreducibly and nonnegotiably embodied together by and with the Spirit in God’s whole family (1 Cor 12:13).
This integration of soma and pneuma for the whole person is critical in theological anthropology in order to distinguish the person in whole ontology and function. For example, dualism (soul and body) does not account for the whole person since it is unable to adequately integrate its soul with soma. Nonreductive physicalism (with its supervenience) does not integrate the whole person because it does not adequately account for pneuma.
In Paul’s theological systemic framework and theological forest, the Spirit functions to bridge the quantitative of bios (including all creation) with the qualitative of zoe. Even more than bridge, the Spirit integrates the quantitative into the qualitative to embody irreducible wholeness and the nonnegotiable embodiment of God’s whole (2 Cor 3:18; Col 1:20; 2:9-10; 3:10-11,15; Rom 8:18-23). This is why cosmology and theological anthropology converge in Paul’s theological systemic framework, and how they are integrated in the theological dynamic of wholeness. Therefore, the Spirit’s person is inseparable from both the whole of God and God’s whole, and the Spirit’s involvement is indispensable for the embodying of wholeness. Anything less and any substitutes for this whole, either of the Spirit or of human persons, are reductionism for Paul, the sin of reductionism that must always be exposed and its counter-relational work confronted—whatever its form, conditions or assumptions.
What does Paul also make definitive as the outcome of reciprocal relational involvement together with the Spirit?
What clearly emerges from ongoing relationship together with the Spirit is the functional wholeness that is incompatible, incongruent and discontinuous with reductionism pervading human contextualization, as Paul clarified functionally and theologically (Gal 6:14-16; Rom 8:6). When Paul boasts of the cross of Christ through whom he has been crucified to human contextualization (“to the world,” Gal 6:14), the soma of the pleroma of God and the pneuma of the whole of God are conjoined and resurrected for the embodying of the new creation. That is, this is the embodiment in qualitative zoe (not quantitative bios) and wholeness (“life and peace,” Rom 8:6), in which the Pneuma also inseparably dwells in the limits of soma for whole relationship together as God’s family (Rom 8:11, 14-16; cf. Eph 2:22). The theological dynamics Paul illuminates have only functional significance for this relationship together (Eph 2:18). Apart from the function of relationship and its relational embodiment, Paul’s theological clarity has no significance, both to God and to human persons for the fulfillment of the inherent human relational need and the resolution of its relational problem (Eph 2:14-16). The Spirit is present and relationally involved for the whole ontology and function necessary for the ongoing relationship together to be God’s whole—the embodying as the pleroma of Christ ‘already’ in relational progression to its completion in the relational conclusion ‘not yet’ (1 Cor 12:13; cf. Jn 7:37-39).
The Spirit’s relational involvement notably emerges in the resurrection, in which the Spirit’s dynamic interaction also involves us whole-ly (soma and pneuma) to be embodied in the new creation (new person, new life, new covenant, Rom 8:11). Involvement together in this relational process is also defined by Paul as being baptized in the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13; cf. Mt 3:11; Acts 1:5; 11:16). The theological dynamic of baptism is complex and mysterious but the relational process involved is uncomplicated yet rigorous: death to the old and raising of the new (Rom 6:3-8). Being baptized with the Spirit makes functional the redemptive change from reduced ontology and function (consequential of the sin of reductionism) necessary for the emergence of whole ontology and function (cf. Tit 3:5). The relational outcome of this relational process is the redemptive reconciliation of whole persons embodied in relationship together as the new creation family of God (Col 1:19-22; Eph 2:14-22)—“baptized into one body” without false human distinctions from reductionism (1 Cor 12:13). This zoe, the embodying of the new creation, emerges specifically from the relational work of the Spirit (Rom 8:11; 2 Cor 3:6; cf. Jn 6:63; Rom 8:6)—“we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13; cf. Jn 7:38-39). On this basis, Paul declares unequivocally: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him…. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Rom 8:9,14); furthermore, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). Therefore, the experiential truth of the theological dynamics of wholeness, relational belonging and ontological identity functionally emerge from reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit—ongoing vulnerable and intimate relationship together.
The dynamic interaction of the Spirit and the pleroma of God always constitutes ontology and function in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes. Thus, the reciprocal relational involvement by the Spirit is neither with only the human pneuma nor with just the human soma. Such involvement would create a duality that fragments the person. Human soma without pneuma is a critical condition because it is a reductionism focused on the outer in that the person cannot distinguish unequivocally from sarx, consequently is rendered to the sin of reductionism notably in ontological simulation (as in Paul’s polemic beyond the situation to the underlying reductionism in 1 Cor 6:12-20). Likewise, human pneuma apart from involvement of soma becomes disembodied, which is also a reductionism focused on a subjective part of a person, not the whole person qualitatively integrated from inner out. The focus of such a person cannot be distinguished from subjectivism, esoteric individualism or self-centered separatism—as often found in spiritualism, mysticism and asceticism—thus is rendered to the sin of reductionism notably in epistemological illusion (cf. Paul’s polemic about reductionism in spiritual practice disembodied from the church in 1 Cor 14). The Spirit is relationally involved only with the whole person (soma and pneuma inseparably) from inner out signified by the function of the heart and embodied in the primacy of relationship together (2 Cor 1:22; Gal 4:6; Rom 5:5; 8:16; Eph 1:17-18; 3:16-19). Additionally, the Spirit’s relational involvement with the whole person from inner out includes both the person’s mindset (phroneo, Rom 8:5) and its basis from the person’s perceptual-interpretive framework (phronema, 8:6). In this involvement, the Spirit also transforms quantitative phroneo and reduced phronema and constitutes the qualitative phroneo (interpretive lens) in its whole phronema (interpretive framework). Both of these changes are necessary for persons to be embodied in qualitative zoe and wholeness together, and to function ongoingly in this new embodiment (1 Thes 5:19,23; 2 Thes 2:13; Rom 15:16).
Paul is clear about the experiential truth of the Spirit’s relational involvement. Yet, it is important for his readers to understand that the Spirit is involved in reciprocal relationship, not unilateral relationship. By God’s relational nature, the Spirit’s involvement is reciprocal relational involvement, implying a necessary compatible reciprocal relational response to and involvement with the Spirit—not as contingency limiting God’s relational nature but as the condition/terms for relationships together according to God’s relational nature (cf. Paul’s conditional sense in Phil 2:1; 2 Cor 13:13). Therefore, in relation to the Spirit, Paul always assumes the presence of the Spirit (e.g., 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 1:21-22; Gal 5:5), but he does not assume the Spirit’s relational involvement and work, as he implies in his ongoing relational imperative (not moral imperative) “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thes 5:19). Certainly, the Spirit can and does act unilaterally; yet his primary concern and function is in reciprocal relational involvement with persons to extend and complete the whole relationship together constituted by the embodied pleroma of God—all of whom the Spirit also raised up together in order to functionally embody the pleroma of Christ as Jesus’ relational replacement (Eph 1:22-23).
This is the depth and breadth of the Spirit’s relational involvement with persons belonging to Christ, and the likeness of involvement necessary from those persons to be compatible, congruent and continuous in reciprocal relationship together with the Spirit. The dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes constitutes the ontology and function of the Spirit and can constitute the ontology and function of those in whom the Spirit dwells. In Paul’s theological forest, anything less and any substitutes of the Spirit’s ontology and function are an immature pneumatology still undeveloped (and constrained in development) and needing to be whole; anything less and any substitutes of human ontology and function are a deficient theological anthropology, the assumptions of which for Paul always need to be challenged in order to be made whole. This wholeness, however, is made functional solely by the relational dynamic of pleroma pneumatology. The Spirit as Subject-person integrates the implications of theological anthropology for it to occupy the pivotal position and to provide the vital function for this whole.
What this reciprocal involvement with the Spirit constitutes is the ontological identity and embodiment of God’s new creation (Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:10-11; cf. 2 Cor 3:17-18). Just as pneuma and soma are inseparable for the whole ontology and function emerging from the Spirit’s involvement, ontological identity and embodiment of the new creation are also inseparably conjoined for the wholeness made functional by the Spirit (examine Paul’s relational connections: 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:26-28; 4:6-7; Rom 8:14; 12:5; Col 3:15; Eph 2:14,18,22). And this ontological identity and embodiment of the new creation are integrally based on the functional reality of relational belonging to God’s family as definitive daughters and sons, the experiential truth of which only emerges from the reciprocal relational involvement of the Spirit (Eph 1:13-14; 2 Cor 1:21-22; Rom 8:14-16; Gal 4:6-7). Without the Spirit’s reciprocal involvement and relational work, this identity and new creation are rendered, at best, to only ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of wholeness—simulation of whole relationship together with illusions of the whole of God (Rom 12:3-5; 1 Cor 3:21-22, cf. Gal 6:16; Col 3:15).
This relational dynamic of belonging or not belonging is either the relational outcome with the Spirit or the relational consequence without the Spirit, which Jesus made unmistakable in his promise “I will not leave you orphaned” (Jn 14:18). The term for “leave” (aphiemi) means to let go from oneself, essentially abandon to a condition deprived of their parents and family, which in the ancient Mediterranean world was an unprotected, helpless position. What Jesus defines, however, is only that the significance of orphans is relational, not situational, which directly involves the condition of wholeness in relationship together constituted by the Spirit—the what and who, respectively, that Jesus did leave them (Jn 14:27; 16:33). Paul further illuminates the relational belonging emerging with the Spirit and its embodying by the Spirit, which includes the counter-relational issue of orphans.
In Paul’s theological forest, along with God’s relational dynamic of grace, the Spirit’s reciprocal relational involvement is indispensable, sine qua non as with grace, for the experiential truth of the theological dynamics of wholeness, relational belonging and ontological identity. Clearly for Paul, those who are relationally involved with the Spirit in reciprocal relationship together—“who are led by the Spirit of God”—are the daughters and sons of God (Rom 8:14). Paul is not using family language merely for emphasis in a kinship-oriented context, perhaps as a hyperbole, for example, to evoke obligation in response to the Spirit. Rather Paul is illuminating the depth of the theological dynamics involved in the gospel and clearly identifies the person who is necessary for its fulfillment and completion. In dynamic interaction with the embodied pleroma of God, the Spirit of the whole of God relationally extends pleroma Christology to make functional pleroma soteriology by the embodying of God’s new creation family. In other words, the Spirit makes functional the experiential truth of the whole gospel in its relational outcome ‘already’ in whole relationship together, just as the Son prayed for the formation of God’s family (Jn 17:20-26).
What is the significance of distinguishing this relational outcome ‘already’ by the Spirit? As Jesus’ relational replacement, the Spirit both fulfills this relational outcome ‘already’ and completes what is necessary for its relational conclusion ‘not yet’ (2 Cor 1:21-22; 5:4-5; 1 Thes 5:19-23; Rom 8:23; Gal 5:5 Eph 1:13-14; Phil 3:21). In Paul’s theological forest, pneumatology is conjoined with eschatology to integrate the theological trajectory necessary for this relational progression. Paul adds theological and functional clarity to the relational outcome already of the embodiment of God’s new creation family by engaging his family further and deeper into the big picture of God’s eschatological plan framing the trajectory of God’s thematic response to the human condition (Rom 8:18-23). Just as the Spirit is the functional bridge for the quantitative of bios with the qualitative of zoe, the Spirit functionally connects the whole embodying of God’s family with all of creation, with the cosmos and those in it in order to be involved as well with the world for the redemptive reconciliation necessary to be restored to God’s whole—as Paul also made definitive in other letters (2 Cor 5:17-19; Col 1:20), and as Jesus constituted in prayer for the already (Jn 17:21-23).
The big picture Paul paints goes back to creation and the emergence of the human condition (cf. Gen 3:17-19 with Rom 8:20). Not only human persons were enslaved in the condition “to be apart” from God’s whole but the rest of creation was also (Rom 8:20-22; cf. Gen 5:29). God’s whole also encompasses all of creation; and God’s relational response of grace to the human condition is the redemptive key for the rest of creation to “be set free from its bondage to decay” (8:21) and restored to God’s whole (“obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God,” v.21). Therefore, all of creation is dependent on the relational outcome and conclusion of the Spirit’s relational involvement to raise up and embody God’s whole new creation family: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (8:19). The timing of this revealing is ambiguous in this text but the contingency is clearly eschatological. If our eschatology involves both ‘already’ and ‘not yet’, as Paul’s did, then that new creation family ‘already’ is revealed by the Spirit’s relational involvement in those who belong to Christ (8:9), in those whom the Spirit has whole-ly embodied along with Christ and already dwells now (8:11), and thus in those “led by the Spirit” (8:14) and the Spirit relationally constitutes already and ongoingly as the whole daughters and sons of God’s family (8:15-16).
Paul further illuminates this already/not-yet eschatological picture to provide deeper clarity for God’s family. As all of creation waits eagerly for the embodiment of God’s children together, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23). Paul is not suggesting that the theological dynamics of redemption and adoption have not taken place, only that their functional significance is in the relational process and progression of being completed by the Spirit—who has already constituted the relational outcome for those belonging to Christ as God’s daughters and sons, and who continues to embody them for the relational conclusion ‘not yet’ in this eschatological process. Paul clarifies that the Spirit has not yet completed this relational progression, and the basis for this expectation (“hope”) is conclusive in the experiential truth already of having been both saved from and to (sozo, delivered and made whole in Gk aorist tense, 8:24). This hope for full completion “now” is always present and ongoing along with the already (“wait for it with patience,” v.25); yet this unequivocal hope should not be confused with ‘already’ (“hope…we do not see”), nor should it be perceived with a reductionist interpretive lens (“hope that is seen,” v.24).
As Paul clarifies the line between the already and the not yet, he understands that God’s children vacillate between them, even unintentionally or unknowingly. This happens notably when situations and circumstances are difficult. These tend to create various scenarios, drama and anxiety that can define and determine who we are and whose we are, thus rattling our sense of belonging and straining our relational response of trust, just as Paul summarized (8:28-39). In such moments, God’s presence may seem distant and perhaps too transcendent to make relational connection with. Paul addresses the equivocation of relational connection and the ambiguity of relational involvement in those moments. With more than just his own empathy, Paul makes definitive God’s deep understanding and intimate involvement with us through the relational involvement of the Spirit (8:26-27). Especially in our deepest moments of weakness when “we do not know how to be relationally involved as is necessary” (Paul uses dei not opheilo, v. 26), the Spirit helps us be involved in God’s relational context and process—“that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words; and God who searches the heart, intimately knows what is the phronema of the Spirit because the Spirit is reciprocally relationally involved with and for the saints according to the whole ontology and function of God.” Thus, the Spirit ongoingly helps God’s children in the relational connection and involvement with God necessary for engagement in the process of reciprocating contextualization (dynamic interaction between God’s context and human context) in order not to be defined and determined by human contextualization, whether in difficult moments or not.
The already-now embodying of God’s new creation family, ongoingly functioning in reciprocal whole relationship together, unequivocally in relational progression to ‘not yet’, is the integrated relational dynamic at the heart of Paul’s pneumatology. The presence of the person of the Spirit as Jesus’ relational replacement and the Spirit’s reciprocal relational involvement must be accounted for both theologically and functionally. Therefore, Paul’s pneumatology is a theological dynamic always in conjoint function with an eschatology that is not either-or but both-and, both already and not yet. The significance of Paul’s eschatological picture above is to further deepen theologically the experiential truth of the whole gospel for the definitive wholeness in both the theology and function of the church as God’s new creation family. Paul’s primary concern always focused on the present from which the future will emerge.
In the complex theological dynamics of Paul’s theological forest, the dynamic presence and involvement of the whole person of the Spirit functions while inseparably on an eschatological trajectory. The whole of God’s theological trajectory and the embodied Word’s relational path are on this eschatological direction toward this eschatological relational conclusion—just as Paul defines his own relational path (Phil 3:12, cf. 1 Cor 13:9-10,12). Yet for Paul, this does not and must not take away from the primary focus on the Spirit’s presence and involvement for the present, just as Paul addressed the Thessalonians’ eschatological anxiety with the relational imperative not to quench the Spirit’s present relational involvement (1 Thes 5:19). The Spirit’s present concern and function is relational involvement for constituting whole ontology and function, for making functional wholeness together, and for the embodying of the whole of God’s new creation family in whole relationship together as the church, the pleroma of Christ—which is why the person of the Spirit is deeply affected, grieving over any reductionism in reciprocal relational involvement together (Eph 4:30).
Illuminating the pleroma (full, complete, whole) of God was the relational function of Paul’s integral witness (Acts 26:16), and making pleroo the word of God was his relational responsibility in God’s family (oikonomia, Col 1:25). These functions were at the heart of his theological discourse integrating the theological dynamics of wholeness, of belonging and of ontological identity for all life and function (as in Col 2:9-10).
Jesus’ theological trajectory extended into Paul to continue its progression on Jesus’ relational path in relational response to the human condition to make it whole. Jesus’ focused concern for the human relational condition is also the focal point in Paul’s theological lens—and should be the core and sustaining function for all theological discourse—because this is what concerns the whole of God and involves God’s whole disclosures as Subject to constitute the theological trajectory vulnerably embodied by Jesus. Paul embodied this whole theology in likeness of God’s whole disclosure as Subject who confronted the historical Paul on the Damascus road, and because God’s relational concern for Paul’s and the human relational condition is what the relational Paul experienced in whole relationship together with God without the veil to integrally constitute the theological Paul. The relational path of function, inseparable from Jesus’ theological trajectory, was always antecedent to Paul’s theology. Therefore, the hermeneutic key to whole theology, and to the whole in Paul’s theology, is the integral interaction of the human relational condition “to be apart” from God’s relational whole with God’s thematic relational response of grace to this human condition. The sum total of God’s actions revealed post-creation were initiated and enacted to fulfill God’s concern to restore human persons to be whole in relationship together—the good news for the human need and problem. This is what Paul clearly proclaimed as the gospel, not of his shaping but only directly revealed from Jesus (Gal 1:11-12). No other theological discourse speaks of God and thus can distinguish the whole of God, nor speaks whole-ly for God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement. This discourse distinguishes the whole of theological anthropology.
Discourse focused on the theology of wholeness was constituted “in the beginning” for Paul, just as Paul revealed the theological unknown and thus the mysteries of the cosmos and of human life and function to the Athenians (Acts 17:24-31). The theology of wholeness involves the relational dynamic of God’s creative and communicative action, which constitutes the whole knowledge and understanding necessary for the cosmos and the human person. In this theological discourse from above is revealed the systemic framework to all creation that defines and determines its wholeness (Col 1:15-17). Within this systemic framework both the cosmos and human life are integrated to define wholeness for each, therefore also establishing their need for this systemic framework in order to determine the function of their wholeness (Col 1:17, synistemi, to consist together). Without this systemic framework there is nothing other than speculation to integrate the parts of creation—leaving the cosmos and human life fragmentary and as a result limited only to their fragmented knowledge and understanding, unable to be whole. Left fragmentary and essentially on their own (as were the Athenians), cosmology and physics as well as anthropology and neuroscience can only speculate or, by its own misplaced faith, only hope for what its wholeness is. Moreover, they are confined within this limitation to determine their function just on the basis of human terms, fragmentary as they are.
In other words, definitive wholeness is constituted entirely within the whole of God’s systemic framework. Paul’s theological discourse on wholeness was unequivocal: Apart from God’s whole, there is only some form of reductionism, which for the human person constitutes the human condition (“to be apart”)—the prevailing human need and problem correctly identified by neuroscience research (cf. the “groan” in 2 Cor 5:2,4; Rom 8:19-22). In this human condition there is undeniable (yet misplaced) longing for wholeness and motivated (yet misguided) pursuit for fulfillment of this relational need—both of which are ontological-functional givens for Paul and intuitive for human persons in his theological anthropology. Furthermore, Paul can be definitive about the whole and decisive about reductionism because the dynamic of wholeness in his theology was exclusively from above, initiated by God only on God’s terms (cf. Col 2:9-10) and thus not subject to human terms (Col 2:8), even Paul’s or Peter’s. Human terms can only, at best, redefine wholeness by epistemological illusion and reconstitute wholeness with ontological simulation from reductionism—which is evidenced in the modern digital world, not to mention in the globalization of human economy today.
Paul’s theological anthropology is definitive of the relational outcome ‘already’ of whole ontology and function and its relational conclusion ‘not yet’. This is signified in Paul’s standard greeting in his letters, “grace and peace,” his shorthand for the relational dynamics of God’s relational response of grace and its relational outcome in the primacy of whole relationship together as family with the veil removed. In the theology of wholeness, Paul purposefully stressed the necessary epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction by which his own person was confronted to be whole (tamiym), and by which he confronted Peter to be whole. This epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction were critically signified with the simple address in the beginning of each of his letters: “grace and peace” (both of Timothy’s letters add “mercy”). He also closed most of his letters with a greeting containing these terms. The simplicity and frequency of this greeting should not define its significance as formulaic and thereby ignore his distinguishing purpose (semeion, 2 Thes 3:17). These terms are critical to Paul’s thought and theology and basic to his gospel—aspects his closing greeting further emphasized.
“Grace and peace” were not combined by Paul as referential theological concepts but as a relational theological paradigm. They integrally compose part of his shorthand theological discourse for the functional convergence of the interdependent relational action and relational outcome directly from God the Father and Christ—whom Paul identified as “the God of peace” and “the Lord of peace” (1 Thes 5:23; 2 Thes 3:16; 2 Cor 13:11; Rom 15:33; Phil 4:9). The relational dynamics involved between relational action and outcome was an interaction Paul never separated nor assumed to be in operation.
This unfolding relational dynamic of “grace and peace” establishes the integral flow that outlines Paul’s theological framework to wholeness:
Paul’s theology of wholeness makes functional the qualitative and relational significance of this relational outcome.
Interrelated with “grace and peace” in Paul’s letters is “blameless and holy,” or a variation (1 Thes 3:13; 5:23; 1 Cor 1:8; Col 1:22: Eph 1:4; 5:27; Phil 2:15; 1 Tim 6:14). This composes his further shorthand discourse for a functional paradigm to supplement his theological paradigm above. Paul did not emphasize “blameless and holy,” for example, to the church at Thessalonica’s eschatological concerns, merely for the sake of purity when Christ returns. It is critical to pay attention to his shorthand language in order to have whole understanding of his relational message. Paul builds on “blameless” (amemptos, amomos, anenkletos) only from tamiym (to be whole) and deepens it: (1) what it means for the person to be whole qualitatively from inner out (“holy,” hagios, uncommon function), and (2) what it means for whole persons to live in relationship with the holy (uncommon) God together to be whole, the relational whole of God’s family only on God’s relational terms. Therefore, “holy and blameless” signify function only “uncommon and whole”—distinguished from the common and fragmentary of the human context.
To summarize what unfolds in Paul’s thought and theology: the functional paradigm of “holy and blameless” converges with the theological paradigm of “grace and peace” to signify being whole in relationship together (peace and blameless) only on the ongoing basis of the whole of God’s relational response and terms for the relationship (grace and holy). This integrally summarizes the irreducible gospel of peace for which Paul so lovingly fought, while necessarily fighting against reductionism so uncompromisingly (Col 2:8-10). Despite the reality that longing for wholeness was a given and was intuitive for the human person in Paul’s theology, the function of wholeness was never merely assumed by Paul and, more important, never left to interpretation from human terms. The relational outcome ‘already’ necessitated by its nature for Paul to be distinguished in the whole of his person and the whole in his theology. The same responsibility is theological anthropology’s pivotal position and vital function to distinguish persons in whole theology and practice.
Paul made definitive this wholeness ‘in Christ’ (both ‘already’ and ‘not yet’) as the integrated function of two inseparable and nonnegotiable aspects of life:
Paul’s integrated paradigm, inseparably theological (“grace and peace”) and functional (“holy and blameless”), makes definitive the wholeness and its function for human life in the cosmos (Col 1:19-20). In his systemic framework composed by God’s creative and communicative action, this theology of wholeness conclusively integrates all knowledge and understanding into the wisdom and experiential truth of the whole, that is, the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes of God’s qualitative-relational whole embodied by the undivided Jesus—the experiential truth of the whole gospel for the inherent human need and problem. This relational epistemic process and theological discourse do not stop here, however. While Paul’s theological systemic framework always involves an eschatological trajectory, there is much more ‘already’ to unfold further and deeper on this adventure as sojourners together in relational progression to ‘not yet’—as Paul shared intimately of his own journey (Phil 3:10-16, cf. Jn 17:3) and kept praying for the church (Eph 1:17-18; 3:14-19). In the context of Ephesians’ whole ecclesiology, his latter prayer echoes and extends in the church Jesus’ formative family prayer (Jn 17:20-26). As Paul whole-ly understood in relational language, this prayer can only be fulfilled in the whole ontology and function of the church as God’s family, which requires of person and persons together to be vulnerable and intimate in their practice. In other words, whole theology and practice is not optional but required for all persons ‘in Christ’.
Yet, as the whole of Paul and the whole in his theology understood in experiential truth, whole theology and practice are subject to being redefined ongoingly by referential language in referential terms. In the age of reductionism, theology and practice will emerge from theological anthropology and its related theologies as either a referential outcome in various forms of referential terms or a relational outcome solely in God’s relational terms. These results unfold in a process of time, not a singular moment, and are not always neatly either-or, sometimes going back and forth in formative interaction (e.g. as in Peter) or a dialectic process (e.g. as in Paul). Yet, these two outcomes are clearly in competition and their determining processes counter each other in any aspect of theological engagement.
In relational terms, Scripture is not only God’s revelation but more importantly God’s communication in relational action that is initiated by God’s relational response of grace. Yet, God’s response cannot be reduced to a purpose of transmitting information about God, however useful the information could be. God communicates for the sole purpose of having whole relationship together. Scripture cannot be approached in a narrow epistemic field and be expected to reveal God’s relational purpose. This epistemic limit of referentialization creates a barrier (veil) to obscure God’s purpose, and, consequently, it cannot distinguish the relational outcome of whole relationship together contingent on having the veil removed. In contrast to narrowing down Scripture to incomplete doctrines for faith, Scripture in relational language opens up the whole of God’s relational response of grace to the human condition. The relational outcome unfolds beyond mere doctrines of faith to nothing less and no substitutes of being whole, living whole and making whole—God’s whole in ontology and function.
This relational outcome ‘already’ of whole theology and practice is composed just by relational language only in relational terms. What is required, indeed demanded, challenges human consciousness and its perceptual-interpretive framework and lens, along with its human agency of the will. Jesus calls persons to personness—in the righteousness composing the true identity of the whole person he can count on in relationship together to be vulnerable and intimate. The nature of both his call in relational language and the outcome in relational terms involves nothing less and no substitutes of whole theology and practice—the nature of which challenged Peter and transformed Paul. Theological anthropology engages the pivotal position and provides the vital function to distinguish the person in person-consciousness with an inner-out lens from self-consciousness with an outer-in lens, and integrally accounts for and holds accountable the person’s will in this qualitative relational process.
In Paul’s relational imperative “let the wholeness of Christ rule in your hearts,” he is unequivocal that our ontology and function cannot be defined and determined from outer in without fragmenting the whole person to reduced ontology and function. In addition, persons together are involved in reciprocal relationships that are transformed to be both equalized and intimate. Whole persons in transformed relationships constitute the new relationship together in wholeness, which is the relational outcome of the gospel (as initiated in God’s definitive blessing and fulfilled by Christ). This whole theology and practice are never optional and cannot be negotiated by any other terms.
From Paul’s own experience, if the wholeness of Christ is the only determinant (“rule,” brabeuo) in our hearts, then the relational outcome will be the integral function of whole persons in whole relationships together. This integral function is a nonnegotiable for the gospel; otherwise its outcome is reduced. This relational outcome is conclusive of the qualitative and relational significance of the new creation ‘already’, which composes the new covenant relationship together of God’s whole church family (Gal 4:28-31; Rom 8:6,15-17; 2 Cor 5:18; Eph 2:14-22). As Paul made definitive the ecclesiology for the wholeness of the church, he theologically and functionally bridged this new creation with the original creation, this new covenant relationship with the covenant relationship distinguished with Abraham—who was given God’s terms for relationship together in only relational language (Gen 17:1-2), not unlike Paul. God’s relational terms are always ‘be whole’ (tamiym) as we are involved ongoingly with God in undivided reciprocal relationship together, which the who, what and how of Abraham enacted to warrant the relational function of righteousness—not what he did in referential terms in order to be considered righteous. Paul clearly knew the difference in this critical distinction (Gal 3:6-14; Rom 4) because he once credited himself in reduced righteousness while he labored in a covenant in referential terms (Phil 3:4-6).
Therefore, vital to the issue of righteousness in the whole gospel is our theological anthropology. Abraham and the new Paul were not credited with righteousness for what they did (various forms of works, including serving) or even what they had in referential terms (faith); that would be a referential outcome of defining persons in reduced ontology and function, which is merely a gospel in referential terms. Abraham was credited with righteousness for who, what and how he was in reciprocal covenant relationship with God. This is the necessary hermeneutical lens for righteousness that constituted both the whole of God’s presence and involvement and also the whole person God seeks in compatible reciprocal relationship together—“the new self created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness” (Eph 4:24). This is the relational outcome that unfolded in the gospel of wholeness, which can emerge only from complete, whole (tamiym, pleroma) theological anthropology.
Moreover, God’s relational term for reciprocal relationship in the relational function of tamiym (“be whole,” not the referential condition often ascribed to “blameless”) is inseparable from shalom. By their nature in relational terms, tamiym and shalom unfold in God’s relational dynamic of the gospel from the beginning, and thus they must be integrated for the gospel to be distinguished—yet not in the incomplete narrow terms of being irenic and without blame. The good news is incomplete unless the ‘wholeness’ of shalom composes God’s relational response and its relational outcome. Inseparably, the relational outcome of the gospel is incomplete until ‘to be and live whole’ of tamiym composes our reciprocal relational response to and experience of God’s relational response of grace to our human condition. And this wholeness and being whole emerge only from the relational response and outcome of the definitive blessing that the Face initiated from the beginning, vulnerably embodied and ongoingly enacts: “…make his face shine on you and relationally respond in grace to you…and bring the change necessary for the new relationship (siym) together in wholeness” (Num 6:24-26). The integral relational function of tamiym and shalom makes definitive the reciprocal relational nature of the whole of God’s ontology and function, and thereby conclusively discredits any notions of unilateral relationship in God’s blessing, salvific action and the gospel. Our reciprocal relational response is compatible only in whole theology and practice.
Eliminating unilateral relationship from God’s blessing, salvific action and the gospel does not imply in any way that God’s actions are dependent on human actions. The inescapable implication of reciprocal relationship, however, is that God’s whole ontology and function is present not as Object in referential terms but entirely involved as Subject in the relational terms of God’s nature for the sole purpose of relationship together in likeness of God’s relational ontology. On the basis of God’s relational ontology and function, God’s relational actions seek persons in the ontology and function that will be compatible for relationship, that is, nothing less and no substitutes for our whole ontology and function in the vulnerable involvement of reciprocal relationship together without the veil. God’s whole gospel has no relational significance, and therefore no relational outcome, if it involves a theological anthropology of reduced ontology and function that fragments persons into the parts of what they do and have—even if what they have is faith as an identity marker, and what they do is serve (cf. Jn 15:15; Jas 2:23-24). To paraphrase Jesus: “the theological anthropology you use will be the gospel and outcome you get” (Mk 4:24). The relational imperative for Paul is that “the whole of Christ be the only determinant for the person from inner out and their relationships together.”
In the gospel of wholeness, Paul illuminated unmistakably the relational outcome of whole ontology and function (both God’s and ours, Col 2:9-10; Eph 1:22-23), and further extends its intrusion (with Jesus into Paul by the Spirit) on the referential outcome of reduced ontology and function to make it whole, and thereby bridging the ‘old’ with the ‘new’ (Col 3:9-11; Eph 4:20-24). Paul’s illumination is conclusive because this also was the relational outcome of his direct engagement with the Spirit in the relational epistemic process (2 Cor 4:4,6; Eph 3:2-6). His epistemic conclusion should not be confused with mysticism or reduced to the esoteric knowledge of early gnosticism. This was simply the relational outcome of Paul’s ontology and function vulnerably in face-to-Face, heart-to-heart involvement with God’s ontology and function relationally initiated to him for reciprocal relationship together in wholeness. God’s ontology and function was nothing less and no substitutes in relational response, therefore Paul’s ontology and function could be neither anything less nor any substitute in compatible reciprocal response. This is who and what God seeks, to compose indeed the good news for our condition.
Yet, this distinguished relational outcome is persistently reduced to a referential outcome, such that the gospel is consistently perceived merely in referential language and terms—much to Jesus’ frustration (Jn 6:26; 14:9) and Paul’s astonishment (Gal 1:6; cf. 2 Cor 11:4). The persistence reflects the influence of sin as reductionism that is still unaccounted for. The consistency exposes the presence of fragmentary ontology and function that still need to be made whole. To what extent does this presence and influence exist or even prevail today? Understanding the answer necessitates returning to the new wine table fellowship with the veil taken away. Most important, resolving the answer fully requires vulnerably involving ourselves in Jesus’ intrusive relational path. The gospel of wholeness relationally embodying nothing less and no substitutes of God’s ontology and function demands by its qualitative relational nature our compatible reciprocal relational response, not an obligatory response in conventional referential terms.
As Jesus made paradigmatic, “the terms you use will be the outcome you get.” Whole theology and practice are neither interchangeable in terms nor optional, and thus are irreducible and nonnegotiable. This is further evident as Jesus continued to call persons to wholeness who were constrained by an identity deficit based on the ontological lie for human ontology and function signifying reductionism and its counter-relational work. If we do not pay attention to this influence from human contextualization and address its consequences on our own ontology and function, then unlike Levi (and others Jesus redefined) we remain subject to this ontological lie and continue to construct our identity from a deficit model, which shapes our relationships accordingly. With the lack or absence of a theological anthropology that is whole-ly compatible with Jesus’ ontology and function in reciprocal relationship together, our ontology and function cannot be distinguished from our human context and thus are subject to wide interpretation or determination. Such results would be compatible with postmodernism and its hermeneutic of suspicion but incompatible to address a template imposing its narrow view epistemologically, hermeneutically, and theologically that constrains ontology and function. This would be insufficient for the hermeneutic of suspicion Jesus initiated to challenge our assumptions of theological anthropology. He continues to confront this condition in its need for redemptive change and also jolts the religious community in likely its most implicit condition limiting or precluding this change: the status quo and its underlying epistemological illusion of confidence or certainty and its interrelated ontological simulation of stability and permanence.
Nicodemus represented his religious tradition and the effects of being embedded in the status quo of his religious community. Yet, Nicodemus apparently was dissatisfied with his knowledge and perhaps unsettled in his messianic expectations, such that he ventured out of this status quo to explore expanding his epistemic field to query Jesus (Jn 3:1-15). This epistemic process is critical to understand in this familiar encounter because it demonstrates the template imposed by the status quo to constrain any change beyond its conformity. No doubt Nicodemus knew that Jesus was a dissonant voice to the status quo, nevertheless he encountered much more than his lens limited by the status quo could understand epistemologically, hermeneutically and theologically. This implicit condition creates a hermeneutic impasse that makes it difficult to recognize the new much less embrace it.
Apparently stimulated by Jesus’ actions and perhaps stirred by the presence of “a teacher who has come from God” (v.2), Nicodemus approached Jesus respectfully, if not with some humility. Yet, he very likely engaged Jesus with the framework and lens that Jesus critiqued elsewhere of “the wise and the intelligent” (Lk 10:21). This would be crucial for Nicodemus. Though his position represented the educated elite of Israel, his own posture was about to be humbled and changed.
Jesus understood Nicodemus’ query and anticipated his questions that certainly related to God’s promises for Israel’s deliverance (salvation), the Messiah and God’s kingship in the Mediterranean world. Therefore, Jesus immediately focused on “the kingdom of God” (v.3), the OT eschatological hope, about which Nicodemus was probably more concerned for the present than the future. Yet, the whole of God’s kingship and sovereign rule is integral to the OT, and thus a primary focus of Nicodemus’ query, however provincial. And he was concerned about it strongly enough (and perhaps inwardly conflicted) to make himself vulnerable to initiate this interaction with Jesus; his query appeared genuine and for more than referential information or didactic reasons. He received, however, much more than he could have imagined or reasoned.
The notion of membership and participation in the kingdom of God being contingent on a concept “born again” was taken incredulously by this “wise and learned” leader, whose sophisticated reason was unable to process and explain in referential terms from a narrowed epistemic field. “How can” (dynamai, v.4) signifies the limits of the probable. Then to be told “you [pl] must by its nature” (dei, v.7, not opheilo’s obligation or compulsion), as if to address all Jews, was beyond the grasp of his reason. Dei points to the nature of the improbable. Even after Jesus made definitive (“I tell you the truth”) gennao anothen as “born from above,” that is “born of the Spirit” (ek, indicating the primary, direct source, vv.5,8), Nicodemus was still unable to process the words of Jesus; the status quo continues to prevail (“How can,” v.9). Why? This brings us back to the interpretive framework and perceptual lens of “the wise and the intelligent.” He was unable to understand Jesus’ language because the words were heard with an insufficient interpretive framework limited to the prevailing assumptions of his knowledge and an inadequate perceptual lens constrained in focus only on the secondary in referential terms—in spite of his sincere query and good intentions.
The prevailing perceptual-interpretive framework that Nicodemus represented made some critical assumptions about the kingdom besides the quantitative situations and circumstances probable for the covenant. The two most critical assumptions were relational barriers to understanding Jesus’ relational language:
In this latter relational disclosure, would-be followers came to a similar conclusion as Nicodemus: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:52) and “This improbable is difficult; who can accept it?” (6:60), compared with Nicodemus’ “How can this improbable be?” (3:9)—all of which reflected these assumptions in quantitative referential terms from outer in that limited both their knowledge to the probable and their learning of the improbable. This is the implicit condition of the status quo, which also imposed a template to limit their practice to fragmentary parts.
What Nicodemus and the others were predisposed to by their perceptual-interpretive framework, and were embedded in as their practice and expectation within the limits of the status quo, was essentially a salvation of the old—a quantitative outcome of reductionism. What Jesus vulnerably engaged them in and with went beyond the status quo to the salvation of the new—the qualitative relational outcome of the whole of God’s relational response to not only Israel but to the human condition. God’s thematic relational work of grace embodied in Jesus for covenant relationship of love constituted the new covenant from inner out, the relationship of which was now directly and intimately involved together with the Trinity in the innermost to be the whole of God’s family (kingdom of those born of the Spirit, of the Father, of the Son). This is the whole gospel vulnerably disclosed by Jesus in relational language, which jolted the status quo of the old represented in Nicodemus that night.
Jesus made it imperative for Nicodemus and the status quo that the redemptive change to be born from above was the only recourse available to be freed from the constraints imposed by any templates from tradition, the status quo and the ‘old’ prevailing in human contextualization—that which constrains, shapes or conforms the new’s presence to the limits of the old, as Peter did (Acts 10:13-15, cf. Jn 15:18-20).
This is where epistemological clarification and hermeneutical correction are needed, both for Nicodemus as well as for us today. Jesus was not pointing to a new belief system requiring Nicodemus’ conversion. Nicodemus could not grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words because his quantitative lens (phroneo) focused on the person from outer in (“How can anyone be born after…?”), and because his reductionist interpretive framework (phronema) was unable to piece together (synesis) his own Scripture (e.g. “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart,” Dt 30:6). This evidenced that Nicodemus was too embedded in the status quo influenced by reductionism to understand—“How can these things be?”—even after Jesus said, “Do not be astonished…”, which implied that a teacher of God’s Word would comprehend God’s whole if not fragmented by reductionism. Now the embodied Word from God (whom Nicodemus initially came to engage) made conclusive the epistemological clarification and hermeneutical correction essential for Nicodemus, Peter, Paul, Jews or Gentiles, for all persons: be made whole from above or continue in reductionism.
The sprouting of new wine necessitates addressing without exception all templates that constrain function ontologically and relationally. Such templates (“old wineskins”) are signified in the veil not being removed, thus preventing the new wine table fellowship from inner out in the primacy of relationships together, and thereby rendering all theology and practice to the old condition in front of the temple curtain—as if Jesus never went to the cross on God’s relational terms. We need to exercise a hermeneutic of suspicion on our own theology and practice to expose and challenge any assumptions that essentially have constrained, shaped or conformed the new to the limits of the old.
As long as our perceptual-interpretive framework is reductionist—most notably with a fragmentary theological anthropology—our lens’ view of the qualitative, the ontological and the relational will not discern the extent of the surrounding influences reducing the whole of our personal and church practice. The underlying issue critical for our understanding is the ontology and function of both the person and persons together as church; and the challenging question remains: Is it reduced ontology and function or whole ontology and function? The relational demands of grace, however, clarify for our and church ontology and function that nothing less and no substitutes than to be whole is the only practice that has any significance to God (as Jesus made definitive about worship, Jn 4:23-24). Additionally, the lens of repentance in conjoint function with a strong view of sin makes no assumptions to diminish addressing sin as reductionism, first and foremost within church practice and then in the surrounding contexts—in other words, being accountable for nothing less and no substitutes. This is the ontology and function that composes ‘the narrow gate and road’ leading to whole life (zoe). And Jesus wants “all the churches” to clearly “know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts” (Rev 2:23, as he did with Peter); that is, he examines the qualitative significance of persons from inner out, whom he holds accountable to be whole in the relationships that hold together in the innermost as the whole of God’s family (2:25; 3:11). In their effort to be relevant and possibly pragmatic in the surrounding pluralistic context, by engaging in a hybrid process the Thyatira church overlooked (knowingly or unknowingly) in their many admirable church practices what was necessary to be whole and to make whole (cf. a similar error by the church in Pergamum in a reductionist context, Rev 2:12-15).
It is insufficient for churches to be a mere presence, or even merely to function, en the world; their only significance is to function eis (relational movement into) the world both to be relationally involved with others as God’s whole and, by the nature of this function, also to confront all sin as reductionism of the whole. Jesus teaches us about ecclesiology in his relational discourse (Rev 2-3), and the lesson we need to learn from the hybrid process of the Thyatira church is indispensable: to let pass, indifferently permit or inadvertently allow—“tolerate,” which other churches also did more subtly—the influence of reductionism in any form from the surrounding context proportionately diminishes the wholeness of church theology and practice and minimalizes their relational involvement with God, with each other in the church and with others in the world, consequently rendering its relational condition to a level no longer distinguished for, and perhaps from, the human relational condition. For churches to get beyond practice merely en the world, they need a different dynamic to define and determine their practice.
By searching hearts Jesus communicates the relational message to us that church ontology and function are about being whole in the innermost, not merely doing correct ecclesial practices. And the eis relational engagement of church function has to be conjoined with the ek (movement out of) relational involvement with the whole of God as its defining antecedent in the ek-eis dynamic (the reciprocating contextualization discussed previously), or else church ontology and function remain susceptible to engagement in a fragmenting process. This reciprocating relational process negates the continuous counter-relational work of Satan and its reductionist influence (Rev 2:24) by ongoingly engaging, embracing, experiencing and extending God’s whole, that is, the irreducible whole in the qualitative significance of the integrated ontology of both personness and the church constituted in and by the Trinity, the whole of God. The relational outcome is whole theology and practice, the only alternative integrally in contrast and conflict with a hybrid theology.
This interpretive framework and hermeneutic lens are integral to the vital function that the whole of theological anthropology necessarily provides in order to be distinguished in its pivotal position to compose the whole theology and practice required for the person and persons together to be distinguished as the new creation family.
A quantitative framework shapes our theological anthropology to define the human person from outer in, based notably on the parts of what the person does and/or has. On the basis of this self-definition, this is how that person defines others, which then determines how relationships are engaged, both with God and others. The consequence of this human-shaping dynamic is far-reaching to define the human condition and determine the human problem. This quantitative framework and lens, as discussed at various points, creates a process of measurement in social context with others in comparison and competition with them for one’s self-determination (see Mt 6:1-8, 16-18) and self-justification (see Mt 7:1-5). Self-determination is never an individual action (or an individual group action) done in isolation from others (or other groups). Self-determination is a social phenomenon requiring a process of comparison to others to establish the standards of measuring success or failure in self-determination. Invariably, these comparative (and competitive) differences lead to “better” or “less” social position (historically, even ontological nature, as seen in racism), consequently the operation of stratified relationships together (formalized in systems of inequality).
When relationships become separated, partitioned or fragmented, there is a basis of justification needed either to access a “better” position or to embed/maintain others in a “less” position. The pursuit of this basis is the effort for self-justification by individual or group. That is to say, the effort for self-determination inevitably becomes the function in social context for self-justification; and the results of this effort invariably come at the expense of others, even unknowingly or inadvertently. Jesus challenged these dynamics of reductionism, its counter-relational work and the functional workings of the sin of reductionism countering the whole of God’s desires—the human condition. Paul builds on Jesus’ words (1 Cor 4:6-7; 2 Cor 10:12) and extends them in the dynamics of the ecclesiology to be whole, which counters this reductionism (e.g. Eph 2:14-22; Gal 3:26-29). Therefore, our theological anthropology is critical for the theological process we engage and epistemic process we are involved in, and for their relational outcome of whole theology and practice.
The relational outcome of whole theology and practice is a unique experience (not common but uncommon) in the age of reductionism, both within the church and the theological academy. In spite of their good intentions in these interdependent contexts, this relational outcome continues to strain to emerge, struggles to unfold and has difficulty to mature. On the one hand, this is not unexpected with the ongoing presence and pervasive influence of reductionism and its counter-relational work. It should, on the other hand, be surprising given the gospel of God’s whole presence and involvement. The issue involves what happens to the new wine, as Paul contends (Eph 4:14, 20-24).
For the whole of Paul and the whole in his theology, there is no other relational outcome from the gospel of wholeness; “the new creation is everything” (Gal 6:15), that is, for those who follow the whole of Jesus’ theological trajectory and relational path in the new wine relationships together with the veil removed (Eph 2:14-22). The seeds of new wine have been planted in our innermost and have sprouted ‘already’, yet the good news of its flow has not been accurately reported. There is just something missing to announce. The gospel has lost its significance without this relational outcome, reduced to what Paul defines as “no gospel at all.” What does remain prominent, if not prevailing, in this condition is both a weak view of sin not dealing with reductionism—and thus inadequately understanding the human condition—and a fragmentary theological anthropology reducing the ontology and function of the person and the church and for the academy. Consequently, various templates have formed in theology and practice that have constrained the outcome of the gospel to their limits—the function of old wineskins that Jesus confronted at the initial new wine table fellowship (Mk 2:22).
Jesus’ conflict with the reductionist segments of Judaism involved their pragmatism in contrast to their needed relational function in the covenant relationship together, the covenant of love (Dt 7:9) and of wholeness (Isa 54:10). Pragmatism also emerged at another new wine table fellowship to try to constrain the new wine (Mt 26:6-13; Jn 12:1-8). The new wine flowed from Mary with her vulnerable involvement in relational response to Jesus. The expensive perfume was secondary to the primacy of relationship together but the disciples made it an issue of discipleship in primary response to the situation of the poor. By rebuking Mary harshly (par. Mk14:5), they demonstrated the limited concern of their pragmatism, therewith exposing their continued reduced ontology and function that still had not tasted the new wine but indeed tried to constrain it. In contrast and conflict, Jesus fully experienced the primacy of Mary’s involvement and the depth of her discipleship—celebrating the new wine of whole persons in new relationship together and anticipating her flow of the new wine to give clarity and depth to “wherever this gospel of wholeness is proclaimed in the whole world” (Mt 26:13). Mary will be discussed further in the next chapter.
In Jesus’ imperatives to pay attention to how we listen (Lk 8:18) and the words we hear (Mk 4:24), it is not only relationally indispensable but epistemologically, ontologically and relationally determining: “the theological anthropology you use will be the persons you get.”
The imperative in Mark 4:24 needs to be integrated with Luke 10:21. The difference in the perceptual-interpretive framework between the child-person and the wise and learned (of Lk 10:21) is the difference between the qualitative and the quantitative, the relational and the referential. This difference is critical for defining which epistemic process we engage (relational or referential) and critical for determining how we engage in that epistemic process (vulnerably or measured, distant, detached). In relation to God’s self-disclosures, this difference means the epistemological, ontological and relational gap between the relational outcome of knowing God more deeply and the relational consequence of merely having fragments of information about God, that is, of not truly knowing God. The former is whole knowledge and understanding (syniemi, as Jesus highlighted, Mk 8:17-18) while the affirmation, assertion and dogmatism of the information in the latter can only be some form of reductionism, even when aggregated and generalized in a systematic or biblical theology.
The “measure” (metron) we give and get that Jesus refers to involves our perceptual-interpretive framework that we use, which determines (measures, limits) the level of participation in the epistemic process for God’s self-disclosures. The above difference in frameworks signified by the child-person and the wise and learned is clearly made definitive by Jesus for “the level of relational involvement you give will be the extent of reciprocal relationship you get, both in the relational epistemic process and in relationship together”—for either a relational outcome or relational consequence (Mk 4:24-25). Therefore, the relational context and process—that Jesus embodied for our participation in the relational epistemic process to the whole of God, God’s whole and our wholeness—cannot be diminished or minimalized by human shaping and construction without the loss of whole knowledge and understanding, as well as what it means to be whole. Nothing less and no substitutes are the irreducible and nonnegotiable terms the whole of God embodied, and which need to compose theological anthropology.
Jesus’ defining statement “the measure you use will be the measure you get” (Mk 4:24) was not expressed as a propositional truth, though it should be paid attention to with that significance. More importantly, his relational language communicated this relational statement that is directly connected to his relational imperative “Pay attention to the words you hear from me”; this extends the Father’s relational imperative “listen to him” (Mt 17:5)—the embodied Word from God. Later, while everyone was amazed at what Jesus did, he qualified these relational imperatives to listen to the Word with the use of tithemi (to set, put one’s person, Lk 9:44, cf. “lay down one’s life,” Jn 15:13). In referential language tithemi would be about putting Jesus’ words “into your ears” (NRSV) to complete the transmission of information. Yet, in this context his disciples did not understand his words (i.e. have a frame of reference, aisthanomai, 9:45, cf. Heb 5:14) even though Jesus said tithemi. Why? Because Jesus’ words are in relational language that cannot be recognized, perceived, understood (aisthanomai) to distinguish his relational words without the interpretive framework of his relational language (cf. Jn 8:43). The disciples only heard referential words to put in their ears, which had no significance to them. They did not put their whole persons into the relational involvement necessary for the relational epistemic process to have the hermeneutic to understand Jesus’ relational language; and their relational distance evidenced their lack of vulnerable involvement in tithemi with the Word (“they were afraid to ask him”).
This demonstrated critical interrelated issues for those who “hear” the Word, most importantly in theological anthropology:
“The language you use will be the Word you get,” and “the interpretive framework, lens and hermeneutic you use will be the knowledge and understanding of the Word you get”; thus, “the epistemic process you engage will be the theology and practice you get”; and all of this qualified by the interaction of “the context and process you use will be the theological anthropology you get” and “the theological anthropology you use will determine the outcome you get”—nothing less and nothing more.
The Word’s defining statement is decisively the determining process for theological anthropology and conclusively the constituting process for persons.
Whether the person is distinguished in whole ontology and function is directly contingent on whether the whole of theological anthropology is distinguished. For theological anthropology to be distinguished whole-ly, it must occupy its pivotal position on the whole of God’s theological trajectory and must engage its vital function in the whole of Jesus’ relational path. Therefore, the pressing challenge for theological anthropology is to take up the responsibility of its pivotal position and vital function by conjointly (1) composing its theological trajectory to be compatible with the whole of God and (2) living its relational path to be congruent with the whole of Jesus. Anything less and any substitute for theological anthropology is on a different theological trajectory and relational path. Thus, theological anthropology must assume its responsibility only in God’s relational language and terms in order to integrally constitute persons in complete context: (1) to be whole together in the primacy of God’s relational context, and (2) to live whole ontology and function into the human context based ongoingly in the primacy of God’s relational process—as Paul made definitive for the church to be whole (Eph 4:11-13).
Jesus calls the person of theological anthropology to personness and wholeness, and the response in relational terms can only be vulnerable and intimate for the relational outcome ‘already’ in whole theology and practice. Together with the presence and reciprocal relational work of the Spirit (the Son’s relational replacement), Jesus’ transformed followers are theologically and functionally reconciled together to be the new creation whole of God’s family in likeness of the Trinity, ongoingly in the trinitarian relational process of family love. At this integral new wine table fellowship with the whole of God, his church can celebrate God’s whole only as church family together without relational distance, not as relational and emotional orphans functioning as orphanage (as Paul illuminated, 1 Cor 11:17-34). Without this relational celebration of God’s whole, our Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, pneumatology and eschatological hope become merely narrowed-down referential doctrine essentially disembodied and de-relationalized with nothing qualitatively distinguished to practice and nothing relationally significant to experience both with God and with each other together. The only alternative left to practice and experience in this relational condition is “old wine,” about which some say “The old is good or enough, even better” (Lk 5:39).
Jesus raised up Paul to extend and exceed his relational work of the new wine fellowship (Acts 26:16; Jn 14:12). Vulnerably involved with the whole of Jesus and in reciprocal relationship with the Spirit, Paul became the hermeneutical key for the theological and functional clarity of the church as God’s family in whole ontology and
function. Therefore, even traditional, conventional and prevailing distinctions such as circumcision and uncircumcision became old wineskins for the new wine fellowship in his perceptual-interpretive framework—“neither…is anything” (Gal 6:15). For Paul, himself as a reduced person made whole, the new covenant and new creation were indispensable for the gospel, irreplaceable for its relational outcome, and irreducible for its emerging ontology and nonnegotiable for its ongoing function in relationship together—“the new creation is everything.” Nothing less and no substitutes either defined Paul or determined his theology and function. The flow of the new wine in the new covenant and creation constitutes the relational dynamic of Jesus into Paul, and the who, what and how of Paul embodying the theology and hermeneutic of the whole gospel for practice to be, live and make God’s relational whole. Their theological anthropology now extends to us, seeking to constitute this relational dynamic into our whole persons.
As Jesus called persons and God has called us to “walk with the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement and be whole,” this renews the challenge of God’s questions for the persons of theological anthropology: “Where are you?”—“What are you doing here?”—“Why are you…me?” When theological anthropology responds whole-ly in relational terms, it fulfills the responsibility of its pivotal position and vital function. The relational outcome is the whole of theological anthropology distinguished, nothing less and no substitutes.
 Consider the following statement on the current state of human knowledge in physics by physicist Steve Giddings: “Despite all we have learned in physics—from properties of faraway galaxies to the deep internal structure of the protons and neutrons that make up an atomic nucleus—we still face vexing mysteries…. We know, for example, that all the types of matter we see, that constitute our ordinary existence, are a mere fraction—20%—of the matter in the universe. The remaining 80% apparently is mysterious “dark matter”; though it is all around us, its existence is inferred only via its gravitational pull on visible matter.” Taken from “The physics we don’t know,” op-ed, Los Angeles Times, Jan 5, 2010.
 Consider this critique of the digital world by Jaren Lanier, a computer scientist known as the father of virtual reality technology: “Something like missionary reductionism has happened to the internet with the rise of web 2.0. [Uniqueness of persons] is being leached away by the mush-making process [of fragmentation]. Individual web pages as they first appeared in the early 1990s had the flavor of personhood. MySpace preserved some of that flavor, though a process of regularized formatting [i.e., a template] had begun. Facebook went further, organizing people into multiple-choice identities, while Wikipedia seeks to erase point of view entirely.
If a church or government were doing these things [to impose conformity], it would feel authoritarian, but when technologists are the culprits, we seem hip, fresh, and inventive. People will accept ideas presented in technological form that would be abhorrent in any other form. It is utterly strange to hear my many friends in the world of digital culture claim to be the true sons of the Renaissance without realizing that using computers to reduce individual expression is a primitive, retrograde activity, no matter how sophisticated your tools are.” You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (New York: Alfred A, Knopf, 2010), 48.
 An expanded discussion of theology in the age of reductionism, and its implications for the church and academy, takes place in my study “Did God Really Say That?” Theology in the Age of Reductionism (Theology Study, 2013). Online at http://4X12.org.
©2014 T. Dave Matsuo