4X12

Home    l Global Church Study    l  Theological Anthropology Study    l   Integration Study    l    Paul Study    l    Christology Study    l    Wholeness Study    

l    Spirituality Study    l    Essay on Spirituality    l    Discipleship Study    l   Worship Study   l      Worship Language Study   l   Theology of Worship   

l    Contact Us

"Did God Really Say That?"

Theology in the Age of Reductionism

 

Chapter 1               Introducing the Context

 

 Sections

 

The Emerging Context of Theology

What and Who Emerge from Theology's Context

Shaped by Our Underlying Theological Anthropology

Hybrid Theology: Theology on Our Terms

The Basis for Distinguished Theological Trajectory

The Coherence of God's Self-Revelation

The Unavoidable Challenge of the Face of Theology

 

foreWord

Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Ch 6

Ch 7

Printable pdf of entire study

Table of Contents

Scripture Index

Bibliography

 

 

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? [1]

 

Job 38:1

 

  

            It seems ironic, paradoxical or contradictory to talk about the age of reductionism in a historical period when globalization increasingly determines and even dominates life in this world. The focus of sociology rightfully helps us understand that all of us as individual human persons are part of something bigger than self, though the experience of belonging to this larger context tends to be elusive. Nevertheless, sociology correctly contextualizes us in this collective structure and systemic operation of human life. Though this contextualization is necessary, however, it is insufficient to help us define and definitively understand the bigger picture or larger context of which all of us are part. The emergence of globalization points to this whole of human life, and in various ways it seeks to quantify the whole yet in efforts lacking wholeness. Economic globalization, for example, can be considered an ontological simulation of the whole shaped by a reduced perceptual-interpretive framework of human persons and relations, thereby demonstrating fragmenting practices which have exposed the limited interests of “the few” mobilizing the resources of “the many” at the latter’s expense. In the primary global efforts of today, the functional nature or character of globalization—perhaps not its intention—is not the development of the whole for wholeness, but rather the determination and even domination of the whole based on reductionist practices. Consequently, the whole of human life eludes even the most well-intentioned efforts.

            The key factor needing to be addressed in the above efforts is that their contextualization is limited to only human contexts. The consequence on our epistemology and hermeneutics is a limitation or constraint that prevents being able to go further and deeper, thus beyond the human shaping and constructs of life and its processes. The life processes necessary for the whole to be whole and needed for the functional wholeness integral to the human context cannot by their nature be determined by human shaping and constraints if they are to rise above the human condition (e.g. consider the tower of Babel, Gen 11:1-9). This then prompts the question: What takes us beyond human contextualization?

 

 

The Emerging Context of Theology

 

            Most notably since the Enlightenment, science and its rationalistic basis, method and knowledge have been considered the key to unlocking the mysteries of life and what holds together the universe in the innermost. Yet now science is discovering that it is not a mere universe but the multiverse. Even this, however, is insufficient explanation for the cosmos. We need the wholeverse to go beyond the self-referencing of human contextualization in order to understand what holds together all of life and reality in its innermost. Noted physicist Stephen Hawking realized the limits of human contextualization in his attempts to develop a “grand unified theory” (GUT) that supposedly would, in his words, “know the mind of God” and essentially make a creator God superfluous.[2] Hawking surprisingly gave up his quest for a complete comprehensive theory for knowing the world in its innermost parts because he concluded that this was not possible with the limited framework of science—that a physical theory can only be self-referencing and therefore can only be either inconsistent or incomplete. To state his conclusion in other terms, the whole cannot be achieved from mere parts (whatever their quantity or sum together), wholeness can neither be understood nor experienced from things which/who are only fragmentary.

            Science and its knowledge are engaged in a heuristic process that exposes their limits and also inadvertently points to the source that takes them beyond those limits to the whole knowledge and understanding of reality and life. This heuristic process of science, when engaged honestly and openly, acts just as Paul said the law works to expose our limits and point us to the source of life (Gal 3:19,24). And as Paul clearly distinguished, on the one hand, the law should not be the primary determinant of human function while, on the other hand, it should not be disregarded but affirmed for what it is; likewise distinguished, science and its knowledge should have its place and role in our life.

            Given its limits, science along with adherence to the law (both of nature and of God) cannot be the primary source of self-understanding to determine self (both human as well as divine), and subsequently for any self-justification. Such self-determination and self-justification are merely self-referencing and cannot go beyond the limitations of human resources, weakness and imperfection; nor can it adequately account for these limits in its knowledge and understanding of life. Epistemic as well as ontological humility are necessary in order for science and the law to engage the heuristic function of their nature. Without this humility, any heuristic function is constrained to the limits of human contextualization and thus to the ongoing defining and determining influence of reductionism. The dynamic of reductionism is inseparable from the human context and by necessity must be addressed unmistakably for the human condition to be redeemed.

            Theology by definition should “take us” beyond human contextualization. Yet, the theological task often has been rendered to mere human contextualization, either by design (e.g. natural theology, liberalism) or by default (e.g. much of evangelicalism). Our perception of God and any related God-talk depend foremost on their primary source; furthermore, our interpretation of the source must emerge from an interpretive framework compatible with the source in order for our knowledge and understanding of God to be congruent with the source. Of course, if our primary source remains from human contextualization, our interpretive framework will vary with the human context, thereby allowing for a wide range of interpretations and theologies similar to multiculturalism or even pluralism. How we do theology determines if indeed our theology is beyond human contextualization. The wording “takes us” can be misleading or confusing. If our theology is the outcome formulated from human ideas, methodology and/or even experiences “taking us” to God, then our theology emerges (even unintentionally and unknowingly) primarily from human contextualization determining our interpretive framework—and what we pay attention to and ignore—that subsequently shapes our theological reflections and conclusions.

            Our interpretive framework is the crucial key to the lens we use to focus on what we pay attention to and to filter what we ignore. Without understanding our working interpretive framework, the predisposition and bias in our conclusions cannot be accounted for—a process also true for science. In this critical process needing to be grasped, the biases of reductionism unify into our mindsets, which formalize into worldviews. At this level of development, these perspectives dominate or control our perceptions and thinking, just as a modernist framework has since the Enlightenment. In his classic work, Thomas Kuhn demonstrated how these form paradigms to shape our perceptions, the influence and bias of which direct even those who formulate scientific theories and models.[3]

 

 

What and Who Emerge from Theology’s Context

 

            If our source has been established from beyond human contextualization, then the following critical issue becomes unavoidable for compatibility of our interpretive framework and congruence of our knowledge and understanding: On what basis and terms did the primary source beyond human contextualization emerge in the human context? Two main responses to this critical issue have, knowingly or unknowingly, occupied theology, one prevailing and the other elusive: (1) God emerged in human context primarily on a quantitative basis in referential terms to dispense information about God and life; (2) God emerged distinctly on a quantitative basis yet is distinguished primarily on a qualitative level in relational terms for Face-to-face communication in order for us to know the whole of God in the primacy of intimate relationship together.

            The first response prevails because the biblical text as interpreted in referential language is the common interpretive framework of human contextualization; and this reflects the influence of reductionism that has narrowed down the epistemic field for the sake of certainty, if not convenience. The referentialization of the Word specifically narrows down the embodied Word to referential knowledge and information about what God does (e.g. delivers, works miracles, teaches, serves) and has (e.g. attributes, truth, power and other resources), and likely aggregates these parts of God in a narrow unity for greater explanation and certainty of that information about God (e.g. in systematic theologies or explanatory theories).

            Theological reflections and conclusions emerging from a common or prevailing interpretive framework do not and cannot distinguish the qualitative whole of God (cf.
Lk 10:21). For the God beyond human contextualization to enter and connect with the human context required an ‘improbable theological trajectory’ that is irreducible to anything less and any substitutes from human shaping and construction. Additionally, for the whole of God to be ongoingly involved in the human context necessitates by God’s relational nature an ‘intrusive relational path’ for the whole relationships together on God’s terms that is inseparable from God’s improbable theological trajectory, and therefore nonnegotiable to anything less and any substitutes in human terms. In other words, nothing less and no substitutes than God’s improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path distinguish the whole of God. All other theological reflections and conclusions are fragmentary at best and lack any significance both to God and for us.
[4]

            This was the hard lesson Job learned both in the limits and distortion of his knowledge and the hubris of his speculation about God—a frequent occurrence in the theological task: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful [pala, distinguished] for me to know” (Job 42:3, NIV). Job implied acknowledgement of the distinguished God (Job 21:22) yet he attempted to speak for what is distinguished (pala)[5] from his view (and prevailing interpretive lens) inside the universe, and consequently he also reduced the face of God to obscurity in the un-distinguished (Job 42:3). This evoked God’s relational response: “Who is this that speaks for me by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) God’s question is less an epistemic issue than a relational issue that exposes Job’s lack of direct relational involvement Face to face in the relational epistemic process and its relational consequence; thus Job’s use of referential words for information only about God which he used as a substitute incorrectly for knowledge of God. Moreover, God’s question also reveals the necessary epistemic process to know relationally who, what and how God is, including the necessary interpretive framework to engage God in this relational epistemic process. Job turned from his shaping and responded to engage God in God’s relational context and process, thereby experiencing the relational outcome of intimate involvement with God in the theological task (Job 42:3-5)—a lesson we all need to learn to go further and deeper in theological engagement.

            The human context created by God is not a closed context or system. This distinct context was created with the integrity to be whole, that is, open to the improbable and the whole of God, as well as with the freedom to receive outside influences—namely from reductionism that narrows down the human context, closing the system and consequently separating from the improbable of God and being whole. This reduction and separation emerged distinctly in the primordial garden with the challenging question “Did God really say that?” (Gen 3:1, NIV)—an ongoing challenge in the theological task that remains basically uncontested. This critical challenge narrowed the epistemic field and closed it to the improbable and God’s revelation, though this may not be apparent in referential terms. Up to that critical moment in human history, the Creator had not closed the human context to only God’s determination and control (an issue for predestination, election, etc.) but rather allowed the human context to have freedom to be reduced from wholeness and make reductionist choices. This fragmentation continues in the history of human choices vis-à-vis God’s revelation (cf. Jn 5:39-40; Lk 10:21)—notably emerging with rationalism, science and modernism. In each example, the human context was reduced essentially to a closed context/system, thereby narrowing the epistemic field for greater certainty of knowledge and explanation; the consequence was increasing separation from the improbable and God’s revelation, and not surprisingly further establishing the human person as the arbiter of knowledge, along with shaping the truth and God while constructing them on human terms. This human shaping and construction have been ongoing issues in the theological task to one extent or another—the critical fragmentation from reductionism that has been ignored, not taken seriously or just not understood. These are variations all emerging from the uncontested challenge “Did God really say that?”

            If God never did in fact really say that or indeed truly mean that, then of course the human context is free to be the primary determinant of its life without accountability of itself to another. If God does speak, share and self-disclose—that is, communicate in relational terms, not referential—then theology, the theological task and all who engage in it must by its basic nature account for God’s communication in order to have the theological significance that distinguishes the whole of God, not the fragmentation of God from reductionism in human contextualization. The latter is the prevailing conclusion from the referentialization of the Word.

            If our theology is the outcome of relational connection and involvement with God’s communicative action in self-disclosure—not merely from an authoritative Word or an inerrant Bible—then we are contextualized beyond human contextualization to the further and deeper contextualization in the now-accessible relational context and process of the whole of God. That is to say, this distinguished contextualization is the trinitarian relational context and process into which the whole of Jesus—the embodied communicative Word who vulnerably came to us to “take us” experientially to the whole of God—not only intimately contextualizes us but whole-ly constitutes us in relationship together. This gospel cannot emerge whole in referential terms, only in the relational terms initiated by God’s improbable theological trajectory and determined by the embodied Word’s intrusive relational path. Anything less and any substitute of the whole gospel neither distinguishes God’s improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path, nor has significance for the human condition in our need to be made whole.

            This is the theology which “takes us” beyond human contextualization and the human shaping of the gospel to the irreducible truth (read whole) of the gospel. Such truth has been problematic not only to establish with significance (not the same as certainty) but also to understand without reduction. The gospel cannot be distinguished from human shaping if truth is perceived through a reductionist lens. Biblical truth is distinguished as the embodied Truth (Jn 14:6) in qualitative relational terms, not referential terms; and the embodied Truth cannot be reduced both in form and in substance. For example, when the Truth takes on propositional form, it tends to be disembodied by reducing truth to something we possess, subscribe to and live by as foundational beliefs having certainty. Such truth becomes disembodied because it is functionally no longer about the Person who is vulnerably present and intimately involved with us—that is, with those who must by the nature of God’s embodied self-disclosure respond reciprocally in likeness for relationship together. The embodied Truth is only for relationship, the relational outcome of which is to be contextualized and constituted in the trinitarian relational context of family and the trinitarian relational process of family love (as in Jn 8:31-36; 17:21-26). Anything less or any substitutes of this qualitative relational reality are reductionism of the Truth limited to human contextualization and shaping.

            The incarnation is the ultimate expression of God’s communicative action. In relational terms, the incarnation does not consist of a series of events culminating at the cross. Moreover, the incarnation did not merely locate God in the human context. What unfolds in the incarnation is conjointly the qualitative and quantitative depth of the whole of God’s relational presence and involvement, which cannot be reduced merely to events and/or to mere propositional truths and doctrines (e.g. atonement). The relational context and process of God are distinguished in the whole life and practice of Jesus; his intrusive relational path established the relational context and process of the triune God in order to know and experience the whole of God in intimate relationship together—distinguished in Jesus’ formative family prayer (Jn 17:20-26). Without this contextualization that Jesus composed in the human context, any other contextualization (e.g. in missiology and theology) would only be reductions epistemologically and ontologically of God’s self-disclosure. The absence of the distinct integrating dynamic of reciprocating contextualization results effectively in both disembodying the Word made flesh to referential terms and failing to grasp the whole qualitative-relational significance of the gospel, reflecting incomplete Christology. Any incomplete Christology is insufficient to account for Jesus’ whole person and thus the whole of God’s presence and involvement (cf. 2 Cor 4:6). This is a critical issue in theology today that reflects the influence of reductionism of both God and the human person. And any gospel based on such a theology is not whole, at best proclaiming only a truncated soteriology that is inadequate to make the human condition whole—without the relational significance to warrant a claim of compelling good news.

 

 

Shaped by Our Underlying Theological Anthropology

 

            The reduction of both God and the human person unmistakably emerges in the theological process when, for example, our Christology is incomplete and our soteriology is limited only to what we are saved from. This reduction involves two major issues underlying all theological engagement that need to be clarified: (1) how we define the person, and on this basis, (2) how we engage in relationships. When Jesus the Truth becomes about his teachings, principles or example in life, then those also tend to become disembodied by reducing his person to those things to do, practice and be guided by as truths for daily Christian living. Such truths are disembodied when they are separated or detached (often unintentionally or unknowingly) from his person of Truth, that is, the whole of Jesus; consequently, the substance of the truth has been reduced to things Jesus said, did or exemplified—thus to propositional statements and theological doctrines. This process of reductionism reduces the substance of Jesus’ ontology to be defined by what he did and had from outer in, and not by the who and what of his person from inner out. This outer-in definition of the person interacts with how relationships are engaged; therefore, not only is Jesus’ person reduced from being vulnerably present but also from being intimately involved in relationship, which then reduces the primacy of relationship and by its nature the necessity of our relational response in likeness as persons defined from inner out in order to ongoingly function in and experience the qualitative depth of relationship together.

            The interpretive lens by which we define the person and engage in relationships is the lens we bring to the theological task, and this is the lens we use to perceive Jesus’ person and interpret God’s self-disclosure. The embodied Truth only vulnerably disclosed the whole of God to make accessible the transcendent God for relationship only on the whole and holy God’s terms; the relational outcome of God’s relational work is to be contextualized in the trinitarian relational context to know God Face to face and to be constituted in the trinitarian relational process to participate in God’s life in relationship together as family (Jn 14:6-9). Anything less than Jesus’ whole person and any substitutes of his relational process are reductionism of the Truth limited to human contextualization and shaping—which was why Jesus was so sad and frustrated with his disciples after all their time together (Jn 14:9). This speaks also to our theological engagement and the urgency to examine our interpretive lens by which we define the person and engage in relationships. The prevailing function and practice in human contextualization signify an anthropology that has reduced the human person from being whole and the primacy of relationships together in wholeness. This is the interpretive lens we bring to the theological task unless our theological anthropology is clearly distinguished with the whole of Jesus—not merely in ethical and moral terms but in the full relational significance that has distinguished God’s self-revelation, from the words provoking “Did God really say that?” to the incarnation embodying the whole of God. When this trinitarian relational context and process converge in our theological task, then, and only then, what can emerge is whole theology, the theology of wholeness, that distinguishes the whole of God and on that basis distinguishes God’s family in whole relationship together—nothing less and no substitutes in this age of reductionism.

            Whatever self-disclosure God makes—from the primordial garden through the incarnation to Paul and the early church—God engages communicative action, the dynamic of which always is enacted from God’s trinitarian relational context in God’s trinitarian relational process. This dynamic of God’s nature necessitates involvement Face to face, heart to heart, which cannot be engaged in referential terms as an observer in relational distance. To go beyond the transmission of information about God to the depth level of relational involvement necessary to truly know and understand God necessarily involves receiving God’s communicative action in its given relational context and process in order for compatible connection to be made (cf. Jn 8:42-43). Relational distance not only prevents the depth of relational connection but shifts the focus away from relational engagement Face to face and qualitative involvement heart to heart from inner out. This shift reflects the lens of reductionism influencing the two major issues of how the person is defined and on that basis how relationships are engaged. Relational distance, therefore, clearly indicates functioning within the limits of human contextualization, which opens the door to human shaping as the primary determinant for theology. Moreover, this means theology defined in referential terms, not the improbable and intrusiveness of God’s relational terms.

            Theology in referential terms redefines the improbable (and the whole) by the probable, and thereby determines theology based on the limits of fragmentary knowledge and related understanding. God’s relational disclosures have been narrowed down and kept at a relational distance, which results in explanatory conclusions of narrowed-down theology (or hybrid theology), for example, of doctrinal certainty even of the Bible itself. This certainty circulates in a referential epistemic process—as emerged notably from the Enlightenment with the primacy of reason—that Jesus identified as characteristic of “the wise and learned” in contrast to the relational epistemic process of “little children” (Lk 10:21). Yet what compounds the limits of a referential epistemic process is less about reason and more about the human condition. This involves fragmenting the whole of Jesus’ intrusive relational path to the less vulnerable probable terms of our shaping of relationship together. The absence or lack of involvement, or maintaining distance, in relationship with the improbable Word embodied in whole renders us to just referential terms with God, with only information about God to refer to within the limits of our self-understanding. The relational consequence is that we really don’t know God, and the theological consequence is a hybrid theology which is fragmentary at best or misleading, distorted or incorrect at worst.

 

 

Hybrid Theology: Theology on Our Terms

 

            Peter clearly illustrates the theological problems we face when we try to reconcile the Jesus embodied in whole to a narrowed epistemic field, that is, within the limits of what we know or can rationalize. Of all the original disciples, Peter had the most opportunity to experience the more dramatic of Jesus’ self-disclosures, which should have formed the integral basis for his knowledge and understanding of God, his theology (Lk 5:4-11; Jn 6:67-69; Mt 14:22-33; 16:16-23; 17:1-9; Jn 13:1-17; 21:15-22; Acts 10:9-20, 34-35, 44-48; 11:17). Yet, ironically, relational distance and its consequence for theology are clearly witnessed foremost in Peter among Jesus’ first disciples. Peter’s theological anthropology consistently interfered with his involvement with Jesus and in his discipleship. Besides jumping into the water with Jesus, his bold confessions of faith and his three-fold denial in the moments leading up to the cross, Peter’s actions need to be understood in the prevailing interpretive lens they reflect. Three interactions in particular demonstrate how Peter defined the person and engaged in relationships to shape his theology.

            First, when Jesus further queried his disciples about their personal opinion of his identity, Peter made this summary confession affirming Jesus’ deity: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” a revelation which Jesus acknowledged Peter had received from “my Father in heaven” (Mt 16:16-17). Yet, though Peter’s confession was theologically correct about Jesus, his theology could not translate into function with Jesus in relationship together because this would require going beyond his limits based on the probable in order to engage the improbable Jesus face to Face on Jesus’ relational terms—a relational position of vulnerability that Peter still avoided. This was clearly evident soon after his confession when Jesus vulnerably disclosed the painful course “he must” (dei, necessary, unavoidable) take to the cross and the resurrection (16:21). Rather than receive the face of Jesus (and God’s relational response of grace), however, Peter takes Jesus aside as if to counsel him (maybe partly from the confidence gained due to his confession; recall Job, Job 38:2), not to console Jesus. Peter acts boldly “to rebuke him” (v.22). The word “rebuke” (epitimao) means to censure, blame, berate; it is an abrupt and biting charge sharply expressing disapproval, harshly taking someone to task for a fault (cf. Mk 1:25). The word implies that Peter expressed a warning as he confronted Jesus on this absurd disclosure. “God forbid it, Lord!”—the term (hileos) functions in such phrases as an invocation for overturning evil (cf. in our vernacular, “Heaven forbid!” or “Absolutely no way!”). We have to appreciate Peter’s honesty in sharing his feelings with Jesus. In this sense, Peter made himself vulnerable to Jesus. Yet, despite his honesty, was he really opening his whole person to Jesus? The answer involves why Peter had these feelings.

            Jesus’ response to him helps us understand. He responds back even more strongly by identifying Peter as the enemy (v.23)—in contrast and conflict with moment’s earlier (v.17). Why? Because he was a “stumbling block” to Jesus; the term (skandalon) always denotes enticing or trapping its victim in a course of behavior which could ruin the person. Compared to earlier (v.17) when Peter was influenced by the Father’s revelation over human rationalizing, Peter shifted from God’s whole terms to his reduced function on the basis of the probable terms of his hybrid theology limited to “human things” and “not on divine things.” His focus “in mind” (phroneo) means to think, have a mindset—that which underlies one’s predisposition or bias. This is the activity of one’s perceptual-interpretive framework, which also involves the will, affections, conscience, therefore to be mindful and devoted to that perspective—the lens of Peter’s predisposition that emerged from his hybrid theology. In other words, his theological framework and lens defines what he pays attention to and what he ignores, thereby determining how he will function as a person and in relationships, most notably with Jesus. These theological and relational consequences are inseparable from Peter’s lens defining the person and engaging relationships, that which must be accounted for in any and all theological engagement.

            The issue that has fully emerged for Peter in this interaction is not focused on being made whole and having a whole theology but on defining relationship with God and shaping it by his reduced terms on the basis of his hybrid theology. Peter had strong feelings against Jesus’ self-disclosure because that was incongruent with his perceived image of God and what God should do; for Peter, the improbable was incompatible with the probable. This is not merely about his messianic hopes and expectations but exposes a deeper issue. That is, Peter’s perceptual-interpretive framework reduced Jesus’ whole person and determined the terms of their relationship; this then redefined Jesus to function in Peter’s reduced context, not Jesus’ whole relational context, consequently to be something less than and some substitute for the One whom Peter professed Jesus to be earlier. In contrast and conflict with the whole of Jesus and Jesus’ vulnerable self-disclosure here of his relational work to constitute whole relationship together, Peter remains within the limits of the probable in which he can feel more certain and less vulnerable. By its nature, a hybrid theology invariably becomes a wide-gate-and-road theology. This exposes the relational dynamics engaged in a hybrid theology and its predisposition for a dismissive functional position to and a distant relational involvement with the improbable embodied in whole who intrudes his innermost.

            These constraints on Peter’s function shaping his hybrid theology keep emerging, as further evident in the next extraordinary self-disclosure of the whole of God. Six days after the above interaction, the face of Jesus is presented the most vulnerably of any other moment during the incarnation. This happens when Jesus is “transfigured” (metamorphoo, to transform, to alter fundamentally) before Peter, James and John (Mt 17:1-9)—a privileged experience for them that should be integral in taking Peter beyond his limits.

            The transfiguration marks a pivotal point of Jesus’ disclosure of God’s glory, which these disciples have the unique opportunity to experience further and deeper: the “visible” heart of God’s being, as Jesus is transformed to exalted form and substance (cf. Moses’ face, Ex 34:29); the intimate relational nature of the whole of God, as the Father, along with his Son, communicates directly with them in relationship (cf. with Moses, Ex 24:15-16; with Elijah, 1 Kg 19:8-18); and the vulnerable presence and involvement of God, as illuminated clearly in this amazing experiential moment. At this reunion of key persons in God’s family, the whole of God’s thematic relational action coheres from the past (represented by Moses and Elijah) with the present (presented by the Messiah in God’s glory embodying God’s grace) to the future (by the present constituting reality of God’s kingdom/family). In the Father’s relational communication (an extension from Jesus’ baptism, Mk 1:11) specifically directed to these disciples to build relationship together, two vital messages summarize all that God relationally has disclosed, promised and experienced with his people: (1) the full affirmation of his Son in the trinitarian relational context of family and by the trinitarian relational process of family love, and (2) the clear relational imperative (“Listen to him!”) for all his followers to pay attention and respond to him in his relational context and process—imperative because Jesus’ relational language communicates the whole of God, not only with his words but from his whole person, for the whole understanding (synesis) necessary to have wholeness in theology and practice (cf. Mk 8:17-18).

            The whole of God’s glory is vulnerably disclosed in the face of Jesus, as Paul later made definitive (2 Cor 4:6). Moses and Elijah responded to God’s glory “face to face” on God’s terms to build the covenant relationship together. What does Peter do with God’s glory; how does he respond to the face of Jesus?

            God’s glory is not disclosed to observe for information, even to use to construct theology, or merely to behold in awe, but only for relationship—by the necessity of God’s qualitative being, relational nature and vulnerable presence. When Peter wanted to erect three tents (for Jesus, Moses and Elijah) as the opportune purpose for him to be present (Mk 9:5), consider what this does to the whole of God’s heart and intimate relational presence vulnerably presented to him. In the tension of this vulnerably improbable moment, Peter resorts to the past, both immediate and distant, which is still present in function for him. His old mindset (perceptual-interpretive framework and lens) exposed by Jesus six days ago, quickly expressed itself further when he tries to constrain God’s glory to a place—just like the OT ways of relating to God indirectly in the tabernacle (tent). Once again, Peter reduces Jesus’ whole person and relates to the face of Jesus on his reductionist terms, not Jesus’ relational context and process as the Father makes imperative for him. Peter’s shift to the tents further exposes the relational dynamics in his hybrid theology: the reductionist substitute he uses for the face of Jesus; how reductionism diminished his direct relational involvement with God’s glory embodied by Jesus’ whole person; and as a result the relational distance he maintains from intimate relationship together with Jesus and the whole of God as family. The relational consequence is that how Peter functions directly prevents their relationship from functioning together in the relational significance of “Follow me.”

            Peter’s function in these relational dynamics is inseparable from his theology; and the unavoidable interaction between function and theology was consequential for both his function and theology. By shifting away from the inner out to narrow down his epistemic field to more quantitative terms from outer in, Peter’s theology cannot account for the qualitative and relational in God’s ontology and function, and consequently cannot account for Peter’s whole person created in the qualitative image and relational likeness of God. Once again, Peter’s theological anthropology interferes with going further and deeper. Ontology and function have been reduced to fragmentary terms, which become barriers to vulnerable involvement in the primacy of whole relationship together. Peter’s person struggled in this relational condition, as he was constrained within the limits of his reduced theological anthropology, the most notable indicator of a hybrid theology.

            All of these relational dynamics converged at Jesus’ footwashing (Jn 13:1-17), at which Peter’s hybrid theology continues to emerge. In this key interaction, it is vital to see Jesus’ engagement beyond referential terms of what to do in serving to its depth in relational terms of how to be involved in relationship (“he loved them”). The intimate depth of Jesus’ relational involvement in footwashing was the most vulnerable self-disclosure of his whole person that emerged in the unique relational context of his table fellowship as family together. This depth of relational involvement unfolds in his relational process of family love to constitute his family in Communion together—that intimate table fellowship of worship indivisible from his footwashing. When Peter refused Jesus’ footwashing, he fragmented both Jesus’ person and his person to their roles and status, reducing the person to outer in by what one does—or in reference to Jesus, what he should not do. The function of Peter’s theology merely extends from his earlier attempt to prevent Jesus from going to the cross (Mt 16:22). Consequently, in the limits of his hybrid theology the probable and secondary continue to prevail, and Peter simply rejected the most vulnerable presence and intimate relational involvement of the whole of God.

            Seemingly incongruent with these relational dynamics at this pivotal table fellowship, moments later Peter declared without hesitation “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (13:37). Such a statement, however, along with his earlier confessions of faith, are not incongruent when made in referential terms from a hybrid theology that has reduced Peter’s person to what he does—or doesn’t do in the matter of footwashing. As the evening progresses and the weekend unfolds, even a lack of performance in what he does did not turn Peter from his reductionism and away from his secondary focus. This is indicated in the qualitative and relational significance of Jesus’ final words to Peter before his ascension: “Do you love me, Peter?” then “don’t focus on the secondary of your service but ‘follow me’ in the primacy of whole relationship together” (Jn 21:15-19).        

            This lack and disparity in Peter’s own theology and function reflect the fragmentation of his person, the extent of which had a reductionist influence on a segment of the early church—including Barnabas, as Paul exposed to Peter’s face at Antioch (Gal 2:13-14). Even though Peter advocated for equality at the church council in Jerusalem, his advocacy likely still focused on an incomplete soteriology, with no indication of being saved to the primacy of whole relationship together as family (Acts 15:6-11). It is critical to understand, that in Peter’s hybrid process (in anyone’s hybrid process) there were limits to what could emerge both theologically and functionally.

 

            What we see unfolding in Peter is a pattern of his reshaping God’s self-disclosures on God’s whole terms, fragmenting the whole of Jesus and redefining his person in a narrowed-down epistemic field for a hybrid theology based on the limits of Peter’s reduced terms. Hybrid theology not only divides theology but also separates theology from function, such that its practice can be neither congruent nor even compatible with its theology, thus reducing both to a fragmented condition. This fragmented condition goes unrecognized as long as one remains within the limits of understanding from one’s knowledge or rationalizing. As Peter demonstrated, this fragmentation of theology may have doctrinal certainty and appear to be united, yet it is not whole. These are the results of epistemological illusion and ontological simulation from reductionism and its counter-relational work, which inevitably can only be in contrast and conflict with the whole of God and the whole ontology and function improbably embodied in Jesus.

 

 

The Basis for Distinguished Theological Trajectory

 

             The need for certainty in our knowledge and conclusions is understandable, yet its pursuit must be understood as a need promoted by human contextualization in a narrowed epistemic field. On this basis, whoever speaks with authority warrants paying attention to—specifically the scholarship of “the wise and learned.” The matter of authority has been foundational in theology, yet what has emerged from the foundation of authority has not distinguished the whole of God and God’s whole for the human condition. This lack or gap in theology is not an authority issue. Though authority is a crucial issue, it is not the most critical for God’s revelation. Most critical is God’s relational grace, and the fact or not of God’s initiative, presence and involvement such that the whole of God can be known, understood and experienced in relationship together without human speculation, shaping or construction. This relational dynamic of grace is the functional difference between deism and theism, and the necessary basis and ongoing base for the theological task and theological education. Theology and its practice can only be a relational outcome of engagement in the relational epistemic process initiated by God’s grace; and this is the only engagement and outcome that have relational significance to God and, on this relational basis, that can be whole.

            The critical necessity in the epistemic process and theological task is for God’s relational grace to prevail. For God’s grace to prevail, it must by its relational nature (dei, not by obligation, opheilo) be the ongoing experiential reality that defines and determines our person and relationships in all our “weakness” (cf. Paul, 2 Cor 12:9), situations and circumstances in the human context, thereby being responsive to and involved with God on God’s terms to experience, know and understand his vulnerable presence and intimate involvement—the relational context and process of God’s grace. This relational outcome emerges only from ongoing involvement with the Spirit in the relational dynamic of reciprocating contextualization—the interrelated interaction between God’s context and our human context. Anything less and any substitutes of this relational process shift it to our terms of human shaping and construction.

            Contrary to common perception, grace is not action by God for unilateral relationship—an implied position of some Reformed perspectives. Grace only creates the opportunity for reciprocal relationship together, for which the recipients of relational grace are responsible and thus accountable; and this is why God has gotten angry and would “hide my face from them” (Dt 31:17). Faith in the transcendent and holy God is possible only by the relational grace of the righteous God, who is vulnerably present and intimately involved only for the purpose of whole relationship together. Faith is the relational response that must (dei not opheilo) be compatible with the transcendent and holy God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement in order for the relationship to be compatible (only on God’s terms) and whole (nothing less and no substitutes). This is the inseparable challenge and accountability for both theology and practice.

            The whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition unfolds in a theological trajectory and along a relational path that converge in the narrow gate and road of the incarnation—and that cannot be divided or fragmented to “widen” the gate and road. By the narrow gate and road, the improbable embodied in whole by Jesus was vulnerably disclosed (beyond apokalypto) in the distinguished relational context and process (to phaneroo) that fulfilled God’s definitive blessing to his family to enact siym for shalom, that is, to bring the change necessary for new relationship together in wholeness (Num 6:24-26). The relational context and process distinguishing the Face of God involved the relational work of Face-to-face relationship that intruded on the probable (the common) and challenged them with the improbable (the Uncommon). For whole understanding—our indispensable and irreplaceable synesis (as Paul defined, Col 2:2-4)—it is necessary to follow this theological trajectory and relational path.

            Crucial to understanding the theological trajectory of the distinguished Face of God now embodied in whole is understanding his relational language. For most persons, this initially requires a major shift away from referential language focused on quantitative information about God in order to receive Jesus’ relational language involved in communicating qualitative knowledge and understanding of God only in relationship—a significant difference for the epistemic process that needs to be accounted for. This shift is unavoidable if we are to follow the theological trajectory of the Face of God, because without shifting we would not be on the same trajectory.

            Referential terms puts God on a different theological trajectory merely as the Object to be observed and for faith. The information gained and conclusions formed about God in this common epistemic process are shaped by the limits of what we know or can rationalize, that is, shaped by our self-understandings. In contrast and even in conflict, the relational terms of God’s face unfolds in the theological trajectory as Subject (beyond a mere Other) to be involved in reciprocal relationship together Face to face, whose Face cannot be defined and whose relationship cannot be determined by our face. What we know and understand of God is distinguished in the relational epistemic process emerging from our involvement in reciprocal relationship with Subject-Face—whom the early disciples had issues distinguishing without syniemi (putting the pieces together) in its necessary relational epistemic process (Mk 8:17-18). The difference in these trajectories may seem unnecessarily nuanced when in fact the difference is immeasurable if knowing and understanding the whole of God are primary and therefore is composed by the relational Word. As Subject, God speaks for himself, and theology is contingent on God’s communication in relationship. As Object, God’s voice is mute and God’s words are disembodied, fragmented and otherwise subjected to human shaping in the theological task. As Subject, relationship with God is only on God’s whole terms. As Object, relationship and relating to God is negotiated by reduced human terms, shaped by the probable down to a fragmentary condition; this is how Christ becomes divided, as Paul exposed in the reductions by the fragmented church at Corinth (1 Cor 1:10-13). To follow Jesus’ theological trajectory as the distinguished Face, we must, by his nature as Subject, be involved with him along his relational path (cf. Jn 12:26). Yet, as seen consistently in Jesus’ interactions, the relational Jesus embodied as Subject is both improbable (uncommon) and whole, and that is problematic for the probable (common) and fragmentary—an unsettling intrusion on what prevails (the common, as ‘the wise and learned’ and would-be followers discovered) and a jolt to the status quo (distinguished from the uncommon, as Nicodemus learned, Jn 3:1-15).

            The Creator (for science) and the whole of God (for theology) emerge only in reciprocating contextualization, engaged with respective epistemic and ontological humility. This theological task cannot be undertaken from the observation of a scientific approach or from the relational distance of the rationality of philosophy, both constraining the heuristic process leading to the whole knowledge and understanding of God’s self-disclosure (as Jesus declared, Jn 5:39-40). This outcome is only the relational outcome of reciprocating contextualization engaged in the relational epistemic process of Scripture with the Spirit. This relational process brings us face to Face with the distinguished whole of God from outside the uni-multiverse to engage the improbable theological trajectory for direct involvement in the intrusive relational path of the embodied Word from and of God. Anything less and any substitutes put us on a different theological trajectory and relational path. If we maintain any relational distance to circumvent Jesus’ intrusive relational path, we will find ourselves on a different theological trajectory—even if our doctrine appears to have certainty.

            Evangelicals traditionally have deferred to the Word and its embodiment in Christ. Yet, how the Word was embodied goes further and deeper than objective history to compose the relational context and process distinguishing the whole of God and God’s creative, communicative and salvific action. Unless the qualitative and relational how of the Word’s embodiment defines our theology and determines our theological engagement and outcomes, our theology and practice will be on a conflicting theological trajectory and deviant relational path (as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Lk 24:13-32).

 

 

The Coherence of God’s Self-Revelation

 

             Christian theology is distinguished when it understands the coherence of the triune God’s creative, communicative and salvific action, and therefore makes definitive the whole of God’s self-revelation vulnerably extended to us only for whole relationship together. Coherence in relational terms involves interrelating the whole (syniemi, as Jesus defined, Mk 8:17-18) for whole understanding (synesis, as Paul made definitive, Col 2:2-3), which is basically different from merely systematizing information in referential terms (characteristic of systematic theology). To understand God’s action—not fragmented or piecemeal but with coherence—is to know the whole of God from a qualitative-relational interpretive framework that vulnerably engages in the trinitarian relational context and process necessary for the relationship to whole-ly know God on God’s qualitative-relational terms, therefore on the basis only of God’s grace (relational initiative) and not by human terms and effort (no matter how well-intentioned). Any determination by human effort (even in systematic theology) implies a shift from the primacy of God’s grace for relationship, consequently substituting human terms for God’s.

            For example, the problem with depending on human reason in hermeneutics is that it minimizes the Other’s (Subject-God) horizon and thus gets into denying (and often masks) the Other’s terms by substituting one’s own terms. Not receiving Jesus on his own terms effectively disembodies him as Subject (perhaps not as Object) and removes him from the relational context and process he composed in relational terms, consequently reducing a hermeneutical circle to a vicious circle revolved around self. God did not merely extend his revelation as an object (noted by only apokalypto) to be observed; if so, then this would warrant the scientific method as the best approach to the Bible. More importantly and significantly God communicated his self-revelations as Subject (distinguished by phaneroo, Jn 17:6) to be heard, received and responded back to in relationship together only on God’s terms.

            This vital distinction between apokalypto and phaneroo will determine whether God’s revelation is separated from his given relational context and process, and consequently disembodied by reductionism to mere propositional truths or concepts, principles and other abstractions. In Luke 10:21, Jesus declared that the Father only apokalypto to children, yet God apokalypto to everyone and did not conceal from anyone. That is, Jesus is making the vital point that knowing and understanding God is not through human effort no matter the extent of God’s apokalypto; rather this relational outcome is experienced (1) only on the basis of God’s initiating grace in relationship, and (2) by our compatible relational response to his relational self-disclosure (phaneroo), which is symbolized in children. This epistemic relational process with the Spirit in reciprocating contextualization involves the hermeneutical cone (further and deeper than a circle) with God’s Word—oral, written and embodied—that must by its nature involve the reflexive relational process of reading, listening, interpreting as well as responding back relationally to Subject-God, not to disembodied teachings, commands, propositions.

            In contrast to Peter who struggled with reciprocating contextualization, Paul emerged to make definitive the theology integral for the whole gospel. Interestingly, Paul began on a contrary theological trajectory to Jesus; but he openly responded to the whole of God’s intrusive relational path (more than a Christophany) that engaged him with epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction. The relational outcome for Paul unfolded with whole knowledge and understanding of the triune God to constitute whole theology (e.g. Col 1:15-23)—the theology with which Paul confronted, exposed and corrected Peter’s hybrid theology (Gal 2:11-16).

            With the recent success in 2012 of the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, physicists are excited that the vexing mysteries facing human knowledge will soon be illuminated: specifically with the discovery of the Higgs particle (the so-called God particle) to explain why some matter (notably our bodies) has mass, that is, without which our bodies would not be held together to exist.

            If Paul were walking in this context today, he would seize the opportunity to enter this conversation—just as he did in Athens when he addressed the vexing mystery of human knowledge facing the Athenians at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34). And the light Paul shared to illuminate the gap (dark matter in physics) of human knowledge for the Epicurean (a likely forerunner to physics, tending at best, if at all, to deism) and Stoic (religious materialism which was pantheistic) philosophers would not be an anachronism in the halls of modern science because Paul was addressing the same epistemological and hermeneutic issues. Yet, modern science perceives the uni-multiverse through the lens of a quantitative interpretive framework from modernism; and it also perceives the same human species in enlarged context though still from outer in (as does neuroscience), and likewise constructs human knowledge from the bottom up (comparable to constructing the tower of Babel, Gen 11:1-4). All of these efforts engage in an underlying process of reductionism in a narrow-down epistemic field, the bias of which is ignored apart from the presence of the whole and thus without the benefit of its illumination—a deficit intrinsic to the human condition. If our theology is to be distinguished from prevailing knowledge and understanding—and have significance for the human condition—then we need to account unmistakably for God’s qualitative-relational terms in our interpretive framework and theological engagement.

            Paul would have felt right at home today in these critical issues of cosmology, anthropology and epistemology. No doubt he would be saddened by how little has changed in these issues and by how much reductionism prevails. Nevertheless, this was the whole of Paul’s relational responsibility (his oikonomia, Col 1:25) and the functional purpose of the whole in his theology, which urgently continues in compelling relevance for today: to make whole (pleroo) the word of God’s revelation and to illuminate the mystery of the whole (pleroma) of God—God’s whole only from top down. This is the definitive whole in Paul’s theology which sheds light on the mysterious “dark matter” necessary to meet the same inherent human need and problem, both defined from outer in and hoped for from bottom up by neuroscience and physics.

            When Paul highlighted the Athenians’ “unknown god” (Acts 17:23), he went beyond contextualizing the gospel in their culture. This opened the door to their worldview to address their epistemological gap (agnostos) and the related hermeneutic blind spot (agnoeo) in their perceptual-interpretive lens. Paul challenged the framework of their worldview with the whole (top down, inner out, 17:24-30) necessary for epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction—just as the whole of God’s theological trajectory and relational path revealed for Paul. Moreover, in this decisive challenge Paul points to the implied yet definitive framework of his theological discourse.

            Paul’s theology did not have a systematic quantity that could be collated for systematic information about God. Likewise, a systematic format to his theological discourse is nonexistent in his letters. I do assert, however, there is a systemic quality to his theology which signifies the systemic framework for the whole in his theology. It is this systemic framework that is necessary in order to understand the coherence of Paul’s thought in his letters and to know this whole at the heart of his theology.

            His theological systemic framework emerged from being rooted in revelation initiated by God (Eph 3:2-3) and thereby was based on whole knowledge from top down in the relational epistemic process (1 Cor 2:9-10), not on fragmented knowledge constructed from bottom up in, at best, a limited epistemic process (1 Cor 2:12-13). It was from this systemic framework that Paul addressed the Athenians definitively about epistemology, cosmology, theological cognition and anthropology, their nature and qualitative-relational significance, and the good news which sheds the Light on their unknown—which otherwise would remain mysterious dark matter without it. The outcome from this systemic framework in Paul’s theological discourse made conclusive the theology of wholeness, without which the human species will remain reduced and fragmented, unable to realize their ontology in God’s relational whole from top down, inner out.

            Paul’s address in the midst of the Areopagus challenged the assumptions of the Athenians’ epistemology and their view of the kosmos. He also affirmed part of their knowledge (acknowledging an unknown god), yet Paul strongly implied the insufficiency of their epistemic process in not pursing this course of knowledge further in the kosmos—for example, as in the heuristic nature of science. The epistemic dynamic to the universe reveals also its systemic quality, as it links the communicative dimension to the source intrinsic to and integral for the quantitative with all else that exists (as Paul illuminated, Acts 17:27-28). It is this source’s qualitative systemic framework by which all things hold together (cf. Col 1:17). The qualitative communicative dimension of the epistemic dynamic to the universe can be responded to, ignored, rejected or denied—which has less to do with what can be observed than how it is observed, most commonly by the predisposed or biased lens of the observer embedded in a quantitative perceptual-interpretive framework.[6] The implications directly affect the extent and depth of human knowledge, ranging from the universe to the human person, including theological cognition. Paul deeply explained what those implications were.

            What Paul clearly placed in juxtaposition, and thus in dynamic tension and conflict, signified the critical distinction between an anthropocentric model of the universe and a theocentric model. Paul’s cosmology was unmistakably not of his own shaping or construction, nor defined by surrounding worldviews and mythology in his day. Distinguished from these sources, his cosmology was theological discourse from top down, thus based on God’s revelation with early roots in Judaism (e.g. Ps 19:1-6). Yet his cosmological reflection went further and deeper than Judaism’s theology to involve the whole of God and the systemic framework of God’s thematic relational action. The universe was the work of the Creator alone, who is not the God of deism. God’s creative work is always relational work, which signifies the relational ontology of the whole of the Creator. It is this relational God who is revealed to creation only for relationship together, and whose likeness is created in the human person for relationships together to be whole. The relational work of the whole of the Creator was the functional purpose of Paul’s cosmology; this was how he made known the unknown for the Athenians. Therefore, his cosmology also was not about natural theology.

            Paul’s cosmology is based on these revelations and thereby relationally rooted deeply in the whole of God. On only this basis, his cosmology is simply theological discourse for the sole purpose to definitively illuminate what otherwise would remain dark matter: the systemic framework of God’s qualitative whole from top down constituting all life and function only on God’s relational terms, that is, for the relationships together necessary to be whole in the image and likeness of the pleroma of God (cf. Acts 17:28-31; 2 Cor 3:18; Col 2:9-10; 3:10-11).

            A corollary implication to the knowledge of God involves how God is perceived and his function is interpreted. Paul not only challenged the theological cognition of the Athenians and his readers but also their epistemic process used to that end. As this was addressed by Paul, his conjoint fight for the whole gospel and against reductionism becomes even more decisive. Moreover, by its nature this implication interacted with the counterpart implication for how the human person is perceived and human function is interpreted.

            Knowledge about God shaped or constructed by human contextualization is no longer excusable, even with the best of intentions (Rom 1:20; Acts 17:30). Paul was unequivocal about the communicative dimension in the kosmos: “For what can be known about God is plain [phaneros, manifest, open, public] to them, because God has shown them [phaneroo, not merely apokalypto]” (Rom 1:19). What God has revealed is irreducible and thus not subject to reshaping, reconstruction (or deconstruction), any other revision or substitute from bottom up as well as outer in. Yet this was how the Athenians perceived God and interpreted how God functioned evidenced in Paul’s critique of their practice: “God…does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is served by human hands…an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals” (Acts 17:24-25, 29). These were reductions and substitutes of God which fragmented the whole of God, thus keeping God in the mysterious unknown and embedding them in the human relational condition disconnected from God’s whole.

            Paul exposed the underlying issue of these persons described above with the clarity of his theological discourse fighting for the whole gospel, which then necessarily also amplified his fight to confront how they indeed functioned as inexcusable (Rom 1:20) and inescapable of accountability (1:24a, 26a, 28; Acts 17:30-31). In other words, these human persons engaged the nature of reductionism as unequivocal sin, functioning in the sin of reductionism by reshaping, reconstructing or redefining the qualitative whole of Creator-God, as well as the whole of human persons from inner out created in God’s likeness. Consequently, they made substitutes by human shaping, construction and terms from bottom up which function in counter-relational work/practices from outer in—often signifying the ontological simulation and epistemological illusion of prevailing alternatives from reductionism.

            Just as Paul demonstrated to the Athenians, the process to deeper knowledge and understanding necessitates first confronting the influence of reductionism in an indispensable but secondary epistemic dynamic of deconstructing and reconstructing the consequences of reductionism and its fragmented knowledge and understanding. His definitive discourse equally applies also to Judaism and the Christian church, as unfolded in his letters. This interrelated secondary epistemic dynamic is conjoined with its counterpart, the primary epistemic dynamic of the universe, in order to vulnerably engage the relational epistemic process for whole knowledge and understanding. As Paul did this for them, and continues to do this for his readers, his theological discourse made definitive the systemic framework within which the relational dynamic of all life is enacted, engaged and thereby makes whole, nothing less and no substitutes.

 

 

The Unavoidable Challenge of the Face of Theology

 

            The contrast, and even conflict, between Peter’s theology on his own terms and Paul’s theology transformed by God’s terms is no mere theological exercise. Theology today in the age of reductionism struggles to emerge definitively and, more important, flounders to be distinguished in its subject matter. Though Peter was in the ongoing presence of the face of Jesus, unlike Paul after the Damascus road, a veil functioned between Peter and Jesus to make the whole of God’s Face elusive for Peter both to make face-to-Face connection and to distinguish from inner out—a consequence despite the reality that Jesus removed the veil for intimate relationship together (2 Cor 3:16-18). This qualitative perception of God’s Face and relational experience with God Face to face eludes many in theological engagement today, essentially for the same reasons as for Peter. While Peter was not one of the two Jesus found on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-32), he was often on a conflicting theological trajectory and deviant relational path. Many Christians, both theologically and in the practice of faith, are also on this road to Emmaus, having lost the significance of the whole of God’s presence and involvement. Reductionism ongoingly obscures God’s Face and interferes with face-to-Face connection by diminishing the primacy of relationship together—all while promoting substitutes for epistemological illusion in theology and ontological simulation in practice.

            This has become a crisis in theology distinguishing its subject matter and an identity crisis in practice having the significance in likeness of the whole of God. The underlying sin of reductionism has been consequential epistemologically, ontologically and relationally, such that nothing less than a turn around from the road to Emmaus, a turn back to the whole of God’s improbable theological trajectory, and a return to the intrusive relational path of the embodied Word will provide the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction necessary for God’s whole (see shub, Ps 80:3,7,19; cf. Jer 31:18). The ongoing relational imperative for theology and practice is simply stated by the ancient poet: “seek his face always” (paneh, Ps 105:4, NIV), rendered also “seek his presence continually,” signifying nothing less and no substitutes of face-to-Face involvement (cf. Jer 2:27). ‘Face’ is how the whole of God is vulnerably present and intimately involved (Num 12:8; 2 Cor 4:6) as the relational outcome of God’s definitive blessing to “make his face to shine upon you…and bring the change [siym] for new relationship together in wholeness [shalom]” (Num 6:24-26).

            We cannot diminish or minimalize this relational imperative without the consequence witnessed in Peter. In other words, the significance of the theological task cannot be defined for us until we engage the Face; and we cannot determine the significance of our involvement in the relational epistemic process with the Face until we understand our reductionism (as on the road to Emmaus) and shub. Therefore, the initial major challenge in the task of theology today urgently surfaces for this discipline to distinguish its unique (and improbable) subject matter, that is, without becoming co-opted by other disciplines in its quest for scholarly status. Moreover, this distinguished subject matter is not information-based in referential terms but experience-based in relational terms, though not by observation. Accordingly, the epistemology emerging with the Face is inseparable from soteriology and converges with God’s thematic relational response to the human condition. This relational dynamic connects irreducibly and makes integral Numbers 6:24-26 and Psalm 80:3,7,19—cohering in the summary text, Psalm 67:1-2—with the whole of God’s strategic, tactical and functional shifts vulnerably enacted in the incarnation.

            For evangelicals today, the most likely gap in evangelical thinking about the Word is the failure to understand the qualitative and relational significance of God’s strategic shift in self-disclosure with the incarnation (as initially disclosed in Jn 4:19-26). The influence of reductionism underlies what unfolds, or doesn’t unfold, in evangelical thinking. The insufficiency of a quantitative interpretive framework is consequential for reducing God’s communicative action to referential terms, without the deeper qualitative and relational significance embodied in whole by Jesus, thereby inadequately distinguishing the whole of God—even if based on an inerrant Word. This referentialization of the Word necessitates a paradigm shift (more likely redemptive change) compatible with God’s strategic shift that can make the connection in the relational epistemic process for involvement together “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23), that is, “with heart and vulnerableness” to intimately experience the whole of God in vulnerable self-disclosure. As Jesus made definitive, these are the persons “the Father seeks” in reciprocal relationship together.

            God’s improbable theological trajectory intrudes in these relational terms, and theology in the age of reductionism must by this relational nature involve a compatible relational response or be rendered incongruent with the Face’s theological trajectory and relational path.

            “Did God really communicate that?”

 


 

 

 


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

[2] Quoted and discussed in Hans Küng, The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 15-24.

[3] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).

[4] Much of what is expressed in this study initially emerged in my previous studies, namely on wholeness, Jesus, Paul and their integration. Refer to these studies for expanded discussion on various aspects of this study, particularly in relation to the whole of Jesus and Paul. The Person, the Trinity, the Church: The Call to Be Whole and the Lure of Reductionism (Wholeness Study, 2006). Online: http://4X12.org. Sanctified Christology: A Theological & Functional Study of the Whole of Jesus (Christology Study, 2008). Online: http://4X12.org. The Whole of Paul & the Whole in His Theology: Theological Interpretation in Relational Epistemic Process (Paul Study, 2010). Online: http://4X12.org. Jesus Into Paul: Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel (Integration Study, 2012). Online: http://4X12.org.  

[5] Greek and Hebrew word studies used in this study are taken from the following sources: Horst Balz, Gerhard Schreider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975); R. Laid Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce Waitke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980); Ernst Jenni, Claus Westermann, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. Mark E. Biddle, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997); Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974); Harold K. Moulton, ed., The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978); W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1981); Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMG Publ., 1996).

[6] For an indispensable discussion on this process and development in modern science’s perceptual-interpretive framework, see Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

 

 

 

©2013 T. Dave Matsuo

      back to top    home