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"Did God Really Say That?"

Theology in the Age of Reductionism

Chapter  7

Theological Education in the Age of Reductionism




The What of Theological Education

Understanding the Nature of the Word Used for Its Primary Purpose
Knowing the Word’s Identity Used in Its Curriculum

The Who of Theological Education

The How of Theological Education

The Three "AREs" of Jesus' Pedagogy


The Competing Dynamic of Theological Education

Ongoing Reciprocal afterWord


Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Ch 6

Ch 7

Printable pdf of entire study

Table of Contents

Scripture Index




Do not boast in your wisdomyour abilitiesyour resources

but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me,

since I am vulnerably present and intimately involved in relationship together.

                                                                                                               Jeremiah 9:23-24    




            If you were to form today a seminary or graduate school of theology, what would

be your primary purpose? Integrally important to what is who would be selected to teach and how would this pedagogical process be engaged to fulfill your curriculum and purpose? What, who and how are inseparable for the academy; they are integral for the academy to be distinguished in its theology and practice so that it has both theological and relational significance to God and to those participating.

            If you have been to a theological academy or currently are part of one, which of these integral components (what, who, how) is emphasized, ignored or even neglected? This also applies to theological education in the church.

            When I went to seminary, I was stimulated in my mind (mainly with philosophical thought) further than ever before. At the same time, it was also the driest period of my Christian life that some would describe as lacking spirituality. Yet, this is an inadequate explanation that only reinforces fragmenting the person by seeking to balance the prominent intellectual emphasis with the spiritual. The reality was that I had shifted away from my person from inner out signified by the function of my heart—the who and what God seeks and that stirred me the most in our early relationship together. Ironically, I didn’t rediscover this person until further graduate study in social science, not because of those disciplines themselves but by being challenged to go deeper into my person and thus into God and our relationship together. My ongoing journey has necessitated epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction to redirect me from an Emmaus (contrary to Jesus’ theological trajectory) or Damascus (in conflict with Jesus’ relational path) road by challenging my assumptions of theological anthropology defining persons and relationships from outer in, and my underlying view of sin without reductionism. These two critical assumptions were never challenged in my formal theological education, and the subtle consequence was unknowingly being on a different theological trajectory and relational path than Jesus, whom my life was openly dedicated and rigorously committed to follow. Even with the investment of years in theological engagement, Jesus’ question was as penetrating as originally asked of his disciples: “Don’t you know me yet?” (Jn 14:9).

            Whatever your experience with theological education has been (including in the church), it has resulted in a referential outcome or a relational outcome that is vital to examine, even with a hermeneutic of suspicion. The what, who and how of theological education are unavoidable for both those who teach and who study. These components are essential for our theological education—even to clarify and correct from the past—to be integral with Jesus’ improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path in the age of reductionism. The embodied Word disclosed what, who and how God is to go beyond theological education’s mere subject matter and the object of its study in order to distinguish the Subject necessary to be engaged at all levels of theological education.



The What of Theological Education


            The singular boast at the top of this chapter must be defining for the primary purpose of theological education and determining of its curriculum. That is to say, the what of theological education is distinguished only by knowing and understanding the whole of God in relational terms and, therefore, by its relational nature converges with the what, who and how of God vulnerably present and intimately involved in reciprocal relationship in order to be known and understood. This good news makes this boast a simple reality, yet its experiential reality is made difficult by competing boasts commonly expressed explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly, in the academy: boasts of knowledge, insights, theories, abilities and resources.

            No matter what the purpose and curriculum of theological education are, if they are not congruent with what, who and how God is embodied by Jesus’ theological trajectory and relational path, then that what does not signify knowing and understanding the whole of God in relational terms. There are likely other referential outcomes about which to boast but not this relational outcome. This uncommon boast is composed entirely from the primacy of vulnerable involvement with the Word in relational language. Contrary to the relational outcome of knowing and understanding God as distinguished only in relational terms by the Word are the common boasts resulting from the referentialization of the Word. Understanding the nature of the Word has been problematic for defining the primary purpose of theological education, and knowing the identity of the Word has been elusive for determining its curriculum. Both understanding the nature of the Word currently used in theological education’s primary purpose and knowing the Word’s identity used in its curriculum need to be examined with a hermeneutic of suspicion.



Understanding the Nature of the Word Used for Its Primary Purpose


            Consider the following statement of purpose from a major Western seminary:


Fuller Theological Seminary is dedicated to the mission of equipping men and women for the manifold ministries of Christ and his Church. Under the authority of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit, Fuller pursues this mission by providing


·       discipline-leading research and publications,

·       first-class graduate and professional development programs, and

·       widely valued spiritual formation resources,

·       all in the context of a vibrant learning community that is evangelical, multidenominational,

         and multiethnic in character.[1]


It goes on to define “its unique character and distinctive contribution” by listing academic excellence, thoughtful evangelicalism and its three schools, multiple centers and institutes for its creative engagement with church and culture and for its regional and global influence.

            In all its boasts there is no mention of knowing and understanding God. This absence is a critical matter that cannot be assumed or implied in its above statement. Its purpose and curriculum have shifted from the primary of God’s relational terms to the secondary in referential terms. Since it claims to pursue its purpose “under the authority of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit,” their focus and emphasis indicate the referentialization of the Word and an immature pneumatology assuming the Spirit’s unilateral work. Such engagement cannot have the relational outcome of knowing and understanding God in the primacy of reciprocal relationship together but only its substitutes signified by the secondary in a referential outcome.[2] Perhaps this referential outcome is most evident in an honest memoir by one of Fuller’s celebrated professors.

            When asked of his plans after retiring from Fuller, Lewis Smedes (d. 2002) revealed the following:


I told them that I was going to develop a closer friendship with God. They usually chuckled. But I was serious. Abraham was God’s friend. Jesus made friends of his disciples. In all honesty, I had never known God as a friend, not the way I know my other friends. Now, after seven years into retirement, God and I are still not what you would call close friends. What is taking us so long?

     For one thing, good friends like each other…it has to be reciprocal. If I like you but you don’t like me, we are not likely to be friends. So if God is to be my friend, he must like me, which is just what is hard to believe. For years—most of my life in fact—I have not found it easy to think that God could like me.

     …Here is something else that makes it hard to be God’s friend: He never, well almost never, talks to me. From what they tell me, I gather that he talks to other people.

     …I walk and talk [with God], but God hardly ever says a word to me…when I am with God, I do all the talking. Most of the time.

     …Maybe the highest obstacle that, for far too long, kept me even from thinking about God—or Jesus—as my friend was this: good friends admire each other. …But the admiration has to be reciprocated.

     …There is ever so much about God to admire and there is nothing about him not to admire. But is there anything about me that he can admire? As a child and for years beyond, I believed that there was nothing in me that anyone, certainly not God, could admire. Today, in my old age, I have begun to believe that I am someone whom God does admire.

     …I am still more comfortable kneeling before the Lord my Maker than I am looking him straight in the eye and calling him my friend.

     …Growing old has not brought me much closer to God or much wiser in his ways. I once thought that when I retired from a regular job and had no pressure to go here and there and do this and that, I would spend much more time with him. Hasn’t happened. And I thought that, with more time to think about him, I would come to understand him better. Here, I think, I have made some progress—not much maybe, but enough to nudge me to work at it some more.[3]


            Smedes wanted to experience the relational outcome composed in the primacy of relationship together after all his years serving faithfully in the secondary for a referential outcome. He labored in a comparative process under the ontological lie of a deficit model making him ‘less’ and not under the Word in relational language and reciprocal relationship with the Spirit; yet his practice signified his congruence with Fuller’s purpose and curriculum “under the authority of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, there was no apparent epistemological clarification and hermeneutical correction to challenge his assumptions most notably of both a fragmentary theological anthropology defining him and determining relationships from the outer in, and a weak view of sin not addressing his and his context’s reductionism. Consequently, the gospel and the human condition were inevitably narrowed down, the former without its depth and the latter without its breadth.

            This demonstrates the referential nature of the Word used to define theological education’s primary purpose, which is so critical to understand and address. This limited Word is contrary to Paul’s relational imperative for the Word embodied in relational terms to vulnerably engage us whole-ly in relationship as we teach and contend with reductionism in each other. On this relational basis, Paul’s ecclesiology for the church’s wholeness becomes a needed hermeneutic of suspicion for any purpose statement like “the mission of equipping men and women for the manifold ministries of Christ and his church.”

            With application also to the academy and its theological education, Paul challenged the renegotiated ecclesiology of churches in reduced ontology and function, and also challenged the assumptions of theological anthropology underlying the definition of the person and its determination of relationships together in reductionist terms. Both of these conditions existed in churches apart from, in contrast to, or in conflict with the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God. Paul’s challenges to such reductionism are summarized in his response to make relationally specific the functional significance of pleroma ecclesiology (complete, whole, Eph 4:14-25). His theological-functional clarity of this functional significance is directly connected to and emerges from his relational discourse on the theological dynamic of church ontology (4:7-13).

            For the ontological identity of the church and academy to be of functional significance, they cannot be shaped or constructed by human terms from human contextualization. In Paul’s ecclesiology, the church in wholeness is the new creation by the whole of God’s relational response of grace (“was given grace”) from above top-down, the dynamic of which (“descended…ascended”) Christ relationally embodied to make each one of us together to be God’s whole (“he might fill all things,” pleroo, make complete, 4:7-10; cf. 1:23). This is the church in wholeness embodying the pleroma of Christ. In God’s relational response of grace, Christ also gave the relational means to church leaders for the dynamic embodying of the church (4:11), which Paul previously defined also as part of the Spirit’s relational involvement to share different charisma from the whole of God (not a fragmented source) for the functional significance of the church body (1 Cor 12:4-11). Paul illuminates this further to make definitive the functional significance of embodying of the church in relational likeness to the whole and holy God.

            Church leaders are given the relational means for the purpose “to equip the saints” (katartismos from katartizo, to put into proper condition, to restore to former condition, make complete, 4:12). This directly points to the dynamic of transformed persons reconciled and relationally involved in transformed relationships together in relational likeness to God, and integrated in interdependence of the various church functions (“work of ministry”) necessary for the dynamic embodying (oikodome, 4:12) of the church’s whole ontology and function of “the pleroma of Christ” (4:13). This means unequivocally: For church leaders to be of ontological significance, their persons must be defined by the wholeness of the new creation in the qualitative image of God from inner out, not defined by their gifts, resources or the roles and titles they have which reduce their persons to outer in; and for their leadership to be relationally significant as transformed persons, their function must be determined by agape relational involvement in transformed relationships together (both equalized and intimate) as God’s new creation family in the relational likeness of the whole of God, not determined by the titles and roles they perform (even with sacrifice) that make distinctions, intentionally or unintentionally, creating distance and stratification in relationships together. The latter practices by church leaders renegotiate ecclesiology from bottom-up based on a theological anthropology from outer in, which also apply to the practices of the academy.

            In Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology, church leaders in reduced ontology and function are not created or living new in the image and likeness of God and, therefore, cannot equip others according to katartismos in the interdependence necessary to be of functional significance for embodying the church in relational likeness of the whole and holy God. Nor can they proclaim the experiential truth of the gospel of wholeness (Eph 6:15). Only transformed leaders—whose persons are ongoingly being restored to the image and likeness of God (anakainoo, Col 3:10-11; cf. ananeoomai, Eph 4:23)—vulnerably involved in transformed relationships together with the Spirit can help make complete the saints; that is, katarismos emerges from integral interaction with anakainoo. Only whole leaders relationally serve to make complete the saints in the interdependence that is functionally significant for the church’s whole function integrally in the following: to dynamically embody (oikodome) the pleroma of Christ until all those relationally belonging to God’s family come to (katantao, reach, arrive) be together as one (henotes, unity), that is, whole in their relational response of trust in reciprocal relationship together and whole in specifically knowing (epignosis) the Son of God in intimate relationship. The relational outcome is persons without distinctions (beyond aner) who are whole-ly complete (teleios) in the qualitative depth (helikia, stature) of the pleroma (fullness, whole) embodied by Christ, therefore who together with the Spirit can embody the pleroma of Christ in functional significance of the relational likeness of the whole of God (4:12-13).

          Paul is not outlining an ecclesial function of church growth models, missional models or any other ministry techniques of serving for the quantitative expansion of gatherings shaped or constructed by human terms. Paul makes definitive the theological paradigm for the whole function embodying the church’s ontology and function of who the church is and whose the church is as God’s new creation family in his qualitative image and relational likeness. This paradigm composes the theological dynamic of church ontology, whose function is entirely relational; and, on this basis, whose whole ontology and function is the relational significance of transformed persons agape-relationally involved in transformed relationships together in interdependence—the definitive paradigm especially for its leaders and those in the academy equipping these leaders.

            It is unequivocal in Paul’s pleroma ecclesiology that the church in relational likeness of the whole of God is irreplaceable for the functional significance of its ontology and function. For the church’s ontology and function to be whole as God’s new creation family, it must (dei not opheilo) be the functional significance of both transformed relationships reconciled together and intimate interrelations integrated together in interdependence; and both of these are functionally significant only in agape relational involvement.

            Church whole relationships together are reconciled together by Christ with the Spirit, thus are by their nature irreducible; and the integrated relational outcome of church interdependence in relational likeness to the whole of God is nonnegotiable. Interdependent is how God created his new creation family, as well as created the whole human family in relationship together (cf. Gen 2:18) and integrated all of creation (cf. Col 1:20; Rom 8:19-21). Just as modern neuroscience affirms this interdependence and acknowledges the influence of reductionism to counter it, the whole ontology and function of the church embodies the functional significance of this new creation to fulfill the inherent human relational need and to solve the human problem—which neuroscience can merely identify without having good news for its fulfillment and resolution. Yet, the church in renegotiated ecclesiology is also without both the functional significance of the good news of what persons are and its relational significance of what persons can be saved to. And those in the academy must also bear this responsibility and be accountable for their ontology and function as persons and community.

            Paul’s relational imperative of the Word in relational language is integrated with his relational imperative for ‘the wholeness of Christ’ to be our only determinant from inner out. Only the nature of the Word in whole ontology and function can constitute “the manifold ministries of Christ and his church,” and thereby compose theological education’s “mission of equipping” us to be and live whole as God’s new creation family and to extend the depth of the whole gospel to make whole the breadth of the human condition. Anything less and any substitutes are fragmentary, incapable of wholeness, and rendered to reduced ontology and function.



Knowing the Word’s Identity Used in Its Curriculum


            The ideal curriculum in theological education can be perceived as a synthesis of faith and learning that results in expanding and developing our faith-practice. The theology engaged in this process needs to be sufficiently significant to produce this outcome, yet this theological significance is contingent on the source of the theology: the specific identity of the Word.

            Evangelicals have long assumed an identity as people of the Word, adhering to its integrity and authority. Yet, the identity of the very Word that evangelicalism assumes needs to be called into question. The issue is not about the embodiment of the Word that reveals God; this unequivocal identification of the Word is common to evangelicalism. Thus, when Fuller defines its character of “thoughtful evangelicalism,” it describes its biblical orthodoxy and rigorous scholarship uniting in the service of truth—in a curriculum grounded in this assumed Word. The issue for evangelicalism, however, is its Word’s identity: simply stated, either the embodied Word used to transmit information about God in referential terms, or the Word embodied to communicate the whole of God in only relational terms.

            Evangelicalism itself emerged as a basic identity issue, namely regarding the Word and the gospel and clearly distinguishing the theology and practice of the Word and gospel from human shaping. However, inadequate interpretive frameworks (notably among neo-evangelicals with a modernist lens) have prevented distinguishing the theology and practice necessary by the nature of the Word and its gospel from evangelicalism’s own human shaping (including a Western template). This has resulted in not only inadequately resolving evangelicalism’s original identity issue but even further embedding many evangelicals in an identity problem. The identity problem is twofold:


  1. Evangelical theology is not defined by the relational context of the whole of God’s revelation in the Word and thus evangelical theology is not distinguished by the relational significance and outcome of the whole gospel, rendering its theology fragmentary and not whole.


  1. Evangelical practice is not determined by the relational process of the whole Word and the gospel of wholeness, therefore evangelical practice is not distinguished by the relational process required for reciprocal relationship to be followers of Christ in compatible whole ontology and function, rendering its practice to reduced ontology and function.


This resulting identity problem emerges from any interpretive framework that narrows the epistemic field of the Word and thereby reduces the relational context and process of the whole of God’s self-disclosure. The unavoidable relational consequence diminishes God’s vulnerable presence and minimalizes God’s relational involvement—the human shaping of which and whom fragments both God’s distinguished revelation to the referentialization of the Word as well as God’s ongoing thematic relational action to a truncated gospel. This narrowing, fragmenting process has left evangelicals in a shallow or ambiguous identity, which the embodied Word communicated conclusively is an overriding problem of major consequence in the age of reductionism (Mt 5:13-16).

            Such an identity problem is unable to distinguish the Word and gospel necessary in order to distinguish evangelical theology and practice from the influence and shaping of human contextualization. This leaves evangelical theological education both with an identity problem and an identity crisis because the identity of the Word used in its curriculum is unknowingly different from what it assumes—a Word insufficient to fulfill its statement of purpose.

            In another context but with similar issues, Richard Hays attempts to identify the Word not only for the curriculum of theological education but for the university having lost its Christian roots.[4] He describes a faculty meeting at Duke Divinity School where they were debating a report on a proposed new curriculum that focused on the qualities and abilities to nurture in their graduates. One item in that curriculum list raised strong objection: “A commitment to living a life ordered toward holiness, justice, peace, and reconciliation.” Hays describes the objection of some faculty members.


They did not necessarily disapprove of holiness, justice, peace, and reconciliation; they just questioned whether it was the job of a university divinity school to inculcate a commitment to such things. As one of our theologians put it, the committee’s list of goals mixed together intellectual aims with moral and religious ones in a way that he found problematic; better to stick to purely intellectual goals and leave the moral and religious elements out of it.

     Despite my great respect for the colleagues who raised this objection, I believe that their comments are symptomatic of the church’s loss of its own proper intellectual tradition, and at the same time symptomatic of the spiritual captivity of the modern university. The truth is that we cannot divide the intellectual from the moral and religious. Or if we do, we will have created universities that are—paradoxically—no longer “intellectual communities.”


            In his attempt to compose the formation of ‘intellectual community’, Hays turns to the identity of the Word needed for theological education’s curriculum to fulfill this purpose in the academy. For Hays, this identity of the Word is a palpable Word, a Word that has become embodied and has given itself to be felt, concretely and physically, by our clumsy fingers. To know this Word rightly, we do not have to ascend to heaven, we do not have to escape our time and space, we do not move in Platonic fashion from illusory physical appearances to disembodied reality. Rather, we see and touch this Word with our hands.


            Hays concludes from this palpable Word the following:


     First, an intellectual community grounded in the palpable Word will value concreteness over abstraction, particularity over generality, engagement over objectivity. The “epistemology of love” suggests that we know best and most truly by loving and by forming committed relationships with the community in which we are engaged in service. This runs counter to Enlightenment assumptions about the objectivity of knowledge, the task of Wissenschaft. That is why I believe that in our curriculum at Duke Divinity School we should seek, precisely as part of our educational task, to form our students in lives ordered toward holiness, justice, peace, and reconciliation. We should seek to teach our students to do the truth. Inculcating such commitments and character formation should be the aim of all Christian institutions, not just seminaries.

     Second, an intellectual community grounded in the palpable Word will be a community that tells the truth, confesses its sins and weaknesses, lives without pretense, bears one another’s burdens. (This is a hard act for us!) It will be a community of those who know themselves to be sinners under grace. Precisely for that reason, it will also be a community in which there is a meeting of persons, not of disembodied intellects. It will be a koinonia, not just an institution.

     Third, an intellectual community grounded in the palpable Word will be a community wary of the power of idols and the lure of the world’s idol-makers. Such a community would be discerning and critical of the culture in which it finds itself, testing the spirits to see whether they are from God.

     Fourth, the revelation of the palpable Word is the culmination of the story of God’s gracious initiative. Therefore, a university that seeks to ground its common life in this Word is necessarily locating itself within the highly particular story of the people Israel, to whom God chose to reveal himself distinctively. …It is not sufficient simply to acknowledge the university’s cultural history; rather, the university must reckon with the fact that it lives and moves within a story in which the God disclosed in Scripture is still actively at work. An intellectual community grounded in the palpable Word is not simply a political society based on a shifting equilibrium of competing interests and power games; instead it is a manifestation of the life of God in the world, and its effectiveness depends on its receiving the gift of the embodied Word.

     The alternative is that a “pluralistic” university will seek to live apart from any story and will therefore be, quite literally, incoherent; with no story, it has nothing holding it together. In such cases, the university will surely be co-opted into the story of Western capitalist “progress” and human autonomy, in short, into the Enlightenment metanarrative, which has had such destructive consequences for human wholeness.


            Thankfully, Hays correctly expands the epistemic field of Scripture to identify the Word in more qualitative relational terms. Yet, the results he anticipates from the palpable Word can only be a relational outcome; and this relational outcome emerges not merely from the Word’s theological trajectory but by necessity from the whole Word’s vulnerable relational path. This vulnerable relational path composes the relational context and process for reciprocal involvement in the relational epistemic process embodied by the whole Word with the Spirit, which is lacking in Hays’ focus. Thus, he also needs to vulnerably engage this relational epistemic process with the Word, inseparably with the Spirit, in ongoing reciprocal relationship together in order for (1) this relational outcome to be clearly distinguished from a referential outcome, and (2) the relationships together of koinonia to be whole as the new wine fellowship relationships without the veil, with nothing less and no substitutes of the relational likeness of the Trinity.

            In the age of reductionism, epistemological illusion is a continuous problem in the identity of the Word used by theological education; and ontological simulation is a common substitute for the outcome from this Word. This condition is what Jesus exposed in the religious community (hypokrisis, Lk 12:1), Paul exposed in the church (metaschematizo, 2 Cor 11:14-15, cf. Rom 12:2) and in Peter (hypokrisis, Gal 2:13). What this condition also exposes is a fragmentary theological anthropology that reduces ontology and function to the outer in, which includes the Word’s identity and thus the Word’s ontology and function. Any reduction of ontology and function is an inescapable issue needing to be addressed (1) because “the Word used in the academy will be the theological education you get,” and (2) in order for the who of theological education to be congruent integrally with the Word’s theological trajectory and relational path.



The Who of Theological Education


            Who teaches, along with who studies-learns, in the academy (or church) is integral to fulfilling the purpose and curriculum of theological education. The criteria used to select the who cannot be separated from its primary purpose but integrated with its curriculum. Certainly, the selection process becomes problematic when its purpose and curriculum are not clearly distinguished in what is primary to God. Equally important, who gets selected is incompatible (perhaps even incompetent) when the criteria highlights distinctions apart from the primary purpose and curriculum of theological education.

            After Jesus unfolded God’s thematic action to birth the new creation that Nicodemus could not comprehend, he challenged Nicodemus’ interpretive framework: “Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand God’s whole?” (Jn 3:10) When the early disciples had trouble integrating what they saw and heard from Jesus, he challenged their interpretive lens and hermeneutic: “Do you still not perceive and understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?… Do you not yet understand God’s whole” (syniemi, Mk 8:17-18,21). These interactions illuminate Jesus’ concern for who teaches and learns.

            The whole of God’s theological trajectory and relational path vulnerably embodied by the Word unfolds for our understanding of God’s whole not in referential terms requiring scholarship (or academic excellence), but entirely in relational terms necessitating reciprocal involvement of the whole person from inner out signified by the function of the heart (not excluding the mind to fragment the person) in the primacy of relationship together. This critical distinction illuminates the definitive distinction that Jesus made paradigmatic between the framework of the wise and learned and the hermeneutic of a child-person (Lk 10:21). Therefore, what the above teacher and students demonstrated and had in common in their theological education were a lack of heart signifying the involvement of their whole person from inner out—who the dependence on the mind fragments—and, on the basis of this lack, the practice of maintaining relational distance in the educational context and process, which also becomes fragmented by imbalanced use of the mind. In other words, as teacher and students they merely engaged in a conventional epistemic process that focused on the quantitative from outer in and the secondary in referential terms—the extent of which cannot be sufficient to understand the whole and holy God and God’s relational whole, and consequently is insufficient to be whole as teachers and become whole as students.

            How closely does the above describe teachers and students in theological education today? Both for those who teach and who study, I think it’s fair to say, the prevailing state of theological education can be described as those minimally involved (if at all) with the whole of God’s (Jesus, the Spirit or the Father) ongoing vulnerable presence and intimate involvement. This relational condition ‘to be apart’, even unknowingly or inadvertently, exists whenever our hearts (the whole person from inner out) have become distant in relationship with God, and likely in relation to our own self. One unmistakable indicator of our level of heart involvement is a preoccupation with secondary matter—which includes the details, nuances and references composing theological literacy and excellence—that should not confuse the heart with dedication and passion. Such focus on the secondary means a corresponding loss of the primary, namely knowing and understanding God in the primacy of relationship together (cf. Lewis Smedes).

            Underlying any secondary preoccupation is the primary occupation of self-determination (individually and collectively) seeking distinction in the comparative system of the intellectual community and/or the community-at-large. Such distinction only results from what we do and have based on the standards of those contexts. This measurement exposes the template of a fragmentary theological anthropology that reduces our ontology and function. This unknowing or ignored reduction fragments our person and distances our heart clearly in the following interrelated process: (a) priority given to the secondary at the expense of the primary—necessary for greater control—therefore resulting in the loss of both (b) the qualitative over the quantitative—needed for greater distinction—and (c) the primacy of relationship together—a less vulnerable engagement than inner out. The emerging ontology and function is a reduction conjointly of the person (re)created in the image and likeness of God in wholeness and of the new creation relationships together in wholeness, both of which compose the who needed for theological education to be whole and not fragmentary.

            The use of knowledge in order to construct needed status or worth for self-determination is a prevailing dynamic (notably in the intellectual community)—with roots in the primordial garden—that has pervasive relational consequences. Paul helps us understand this process among God’s people in his first Corinthian letter, which made clear his epistemology and its functional and relational significance (1 Cor 8). Though the situation was about food sacrificed to idols, the underlying issue was about knowledge and its use. In this situation Paul addressed the two basic approaches to human knowledge to get to the source of all knowledge and understanding, as well as to identify each approach’s distinguishing character and the functional significance of their difference. He did this in order to clarify the implications for negative consequences or positive outcomes which the use of that knowledge can have.

            Interestingly, Paul put conventional knowledge into juxtaposition with love (agape)—“Knowledge puffs up but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1, cf. 14:4)—and identified for each two vital matters to fully understand for human living. The first vital matter is distinguishing the character of love from conventional knowledge. Knowledge tends to revolve around the knower and thus becomes an end for oneself to be better defined—that is, “puffs me up”; love rightly engaged (not about what the lover does but about how to be involved with others) focuses beyond the lover and the lover’s action to the persons with whom the lover is involved for their sake, not the lover’s—that is, “builds others up.” The difference in the character distinguishing love from conventional knowledge creates both tension and conflict in human life and relationships; ‘me versus others’ is a human problem that affects us all.

            The other vital matter Paul identified is the functional significance of their difference in character. With the attention (even unintentional) on ‘me’ (even unknowingly), whatever the human context is, the knower assumes the primacy of the individual over the whole in human life, and thus assumes the freedom for such pursuit, which is pervasive even in collective-oriented contexts. That the individual’s interest and concern are the priority is the knower’s position by functional implication, despite any contrary intentions or beliefs—that is, “puffs me up” because the individual is more important than the whole, or at least “puffs me up first,” and sometimes even “puffs me up only”. Love functions in clear distinction from conventional knowledge since the lover assumes the primacy of the whole over the individual, yet neither at the expense of the individual nor by reducing the importance of the whole person created in the image of God. Moreover, the lover affirms persons created in the likeness of the relational ontology of the triune God, therefore also affirming the primacy of the relationships necessary for the person and persons together to be whole—that is, love “builds others up” in these relationships which then will also build the lover’s person up to “build us up together to be whole,” God’s whole on God’s terms. The functional significance of the difference between knowledge and love not only creates tension and conflict in human life and relationships but also with God. The inescapable dynamic of ‘the individual versus the whole’ signifies the human relational condition which involves us all; and those in collectivist contexts should not have any illusions that this human condition does not exist within their midst.

            Paul used this juxtaposition of knowledge and love to expose illusions about the epistemic process and to chasten the working assumptions and simulations of human ontology. Additionally, in his polemic Paul necessarily implied that the ontology of the human person was created whole conclusively for two interdependent primary functions: (1) the person was created whole from inner out to constitute the qualitative function of the person (signified by the primary importance of the heart), who cannot be reduced to outer-in definition and function and still be whole; (2) and interrelated, those whole persons also were created for the relational function not “to be apart” essentially from one another in qualitative function but only in the primacy of relationships together necessary to be whole. That is to say, God’s created whole on only God’s terms—not by human shaping or construction—is the integrated qualitative-relational function of both person and interdependent relationship together to constitute wholeness. And Paul was confronting the epistemological illusions and ontological simulations from reductionism which had influenced life and practice in the church—the necessity of which certainly continues to be relevant for the church today with application to the academy.

            Part of the epistemological illusion involved failing to acknowledge the quantitative limits of one’s knowledge (“Anyone who claims to know something,” 1 Cor 8:2, cf. 13:8,9,12). Such knowledge must not be used to define the person and determine human life and practice because it “does not yet have the necessary knowledge” (dei, by its nature) to go beyond ontological simulation; in other words, because such a person does not know sufficiently to claim the knowledge that by necessity requires to know whole-ly. Knowledge and human ontology cannot be reduced to mere quantitative information, facts and practice that impose templates for conformity to their limits. The necessary wholeness of knowledge and human ontology is by its nature always in the context of relationship with God, the creator of all life and the source of its knowledge, which Paul clarified theologically and functionally by affirming monotheism in a pluralistic context as the conclusive source of whole knowledge “through whom we exist” (8:4-6).

            As the determinative source, God is the only one who, on the one hand, reveals conventional knowledge (gnosis, common to everyone) within the quantitative limits of creation and, on the other, reveals further and deeper whole knowledge in its qualitative significance of relationship. Without engaging this relationship to receive the whole knowledge from God (synesis, relationally specific of God, epignosis), the epistemic process is limited to conventional knowledge from creation (essentially knowledge without understanding). From this limited basis human persons can only make assumptions or speculations at best to shape and construct human life, and even ideas of God. Paul addressed the liberties taken with such limited knowledge as well as how all knowledge affects others. Yet there is often a thin line between God’s whole and the human efforts amounting to epistemological illusion and ontological simulation. For this purpose in his polemic, Paul put knowledge into juxtaposition with love to expose the dynamics of reductionism in clear distinction from the qualitative-relational function of God’s whole.

            To understand Paul’s thought in his corpus, Paul needs to be kept in the deeper relational context with God, which then always locates the existing situation into further and deeper context. Knowledge from God did not come to Paul in informational form, nor did the truth come to him in propositional form. The embodied Truth was always for relationship to be involved in together (as in Jesus’ definitive disclosure to his disciples, Jn 14:6), thus always functioned qualitatively and relationally for experiential truth. As discussed previously, this was what emerged, and progressively continued, for Paul from the Damascus road. Therefore, for Paul, knowing something (even whole knowledge as truth) which God revealed (e.g. 1 Cor 8:7-8) must by its nature be understood as the relational outcome of God’s relational response of grace for relationship together. This knowledge (notably as truth) then was given in love (agape family love), because the Truth embodied is always for relationship and any truth given is only about relationship together, not mere information even in propositional form. Thus, this knowledge-as-truth, or wisdom-as-experiential-truth, comes with the reciprocal relational responsibility to use this knowledge in the qualitative-relational way it was given by God—and not, as in the context of the situation (8:9-13), for one’s individual use (“this liberty of yours”) or gain (“puffs me up”). If not used in the way given, its use will have relational consequences: “others see you who have this knowledge” and influenced by that a “brother is fragmented by your knowledge.” Such use of knowledge, even if unintentional, is sin, the sin of reductionism.

            Paul made clearly unmistakable the relational reality that we know by the saying: “A little knowledge can be dangerous,” which Paul would add “and its use can be deadly,” thereby reducing God’s relational whole and fragmenting the relationships together necessary to be whole. The above situation about food only highlights the issue about knowledge and its use, for which only the further and deeper relational context and process of God can provide understanding. Paul’s thought and polemic then applies to any use of knowledge in any situation, notably in the church and the academy, where knowledge is used to puff up individuals at the expense of or substitute for building up in love the whole of God’s family—where the use by the former implicitly becomes primary making the latter secondary.

            We need to take to heart the two vital matters usually ignored about epistemology that Paul made conclusive in his thought and polemic:


  1. The epistemic process for acquiring knowledge is never done in a vacuum, that is, in isolation from the presence or influence of others; the contextual source of one’s interpretive lens (what is paid attention to or ignored) exerts defining influence on the extent of the knowledge acquired.


  1. Moreover, what happens to that acquired knowledge, and its implied use, remains in the context of others; any acquired knowledge always engages either a negative dynamic (e.g. comparative to others signifying more or less, cf. 1 Cor 1:12; 3:3-4; 2 Cor 10:12) or a positive dynamic (e.g. edifying of others to build wholeness, cf. 1 Cor 13:1-2,8), that exerts determining influence further involving others (including God) and how others will be affected (intentionally or unintentionally) simply by the knower assuming possession of that knowledge.


With compelling clarity for human contextualization, Paul made it a functional reality for any epistemology and epistemic approach: Knowledge involves a social process with relational implications which affect all of us in one way or another. And Paul held the church, along with any formal or informal context of theological education, accountable for these relational implications.

            This raises an unavoidable issue about who teaches (including who studies) in the academy (and even in church). We have to eliminate self-determination (individual and collective) in theological education. This demands: (1) a tough view and stance against sin as reductionism, regardless of identity distinctions establishing our reputation both past and present, and (2) an uncompromising theological anthropology of God’s created whole ontology and function, regardless of the costs needed to maintain the integrity of our person and to address our human condition—both of which are indispensable to bring about the redemptive change currently needed to transform persons from inner out (metamorphoo, not the outer in of metaschematizo) and relationships together to wholeness in likeness of the Trinity. Nothing less must define the who and no substitutes must determine who teaches in theological education in order for the relational outcome of knowing and understanding the whole of God, so that we can be, live and make God’s relational whole on God’s relational terms.

            In Paul’s ongoing integral fight for the gospel of wholeness and against its reductionism, he always confronted reduced ontology and function and challenged the underlying assumptions of theological anthropology. Earlier when he made definitive the theological dynamic of church ontology (Eph 4:7-13), he clearly illuminated the process necessary “to equip the saints” (i.e. make complete, katartismos, v.12) for the dynamic embodying of the church’s whole ontology and function. This directly addresses all teachers in theological education and challenges our qualifications “to make complete the saints.” For teachers to be of theological significance, the ontology of our persons must be defined by the wholeness of the new creation in the qualitative image of God from inner out, and not defined by our scholarship and resources or the roles and titles we have which reduce our persons to outer in. And for teachers to be relationally significant in the educational context and process as persons in whole ontology, our function must be determined by agape relational involvement in new wine relationships together without the veil—the whole ontology and function of God’s new creation family in relational likeness of the Trinity—and not determined by the titles and roles we perform (even with dedication and sacrifice) that make the comparative  distinctions creating distance and stratification in relationships together with the veil still in place. There was no doubt for Paul that teachers in reduced ontology and function were incapable of making complete the saints. Nor can such teachers illuminate the truth of the gospel of wholeness (Eph 6:15), as Peter struggled with. This can only be the ontology and function of teachers made whole and ongoingly living whole, and therefore able in reciprocal relationship with the Spirit to make whole students to grow the new wine koinonia for church and academy in whole ontology and function.

            Any lack of whole ontology and function in theological education always reflects the nature and identity of the Word used, whether by teachers individually or collectively by the academy and church. This brings us back to Peter’s struggles with the Word and the relational terms the Word made conclusive for Peter’s (and thus our) function to teach for the growth and maturing in wholeness of God’s new creation church family.

            “Do you love me?… Feed my sheep.… Follow me!” (Jn 21:15-22) “Feed” (bosko) points Peter to teaching his family but beyond merely with limited knowledge in referential terms; Jesus qualified bosko with the whole process of poimaino (tend, shepherd by guiding and leading). In this conclusive prospectus for all teachers, Jesus defines God’s relational terms that fulfills this whole process for teaching in theological education.


Teaching is a function of two integral relational imperatives: (1) “Follow me,” that is, discipleship of his whole person in ongoing reciprocal relationship, not merely adhering to his teachings and example; and (2) “Do you love me?” that is, following his person in the vulnerable reciprocal response of agape relational involvement by our whole person from inner out, thereby signifying heart-level involvement. The ongoing relational outcome is knowing and understanding the whole of God further and deeper.


Since Peter was focused on secondary matter (21:20-22), his compatible relational response did not readily emerge. Could this be the basis on which Paul became our main theological educator—not because of his intellectual credentials but because his response of following the Word in compatible relational involvement burst forth from inner out?

            These integral relational imperatives illuminate unmistakably the nature and identity of the Word whom teachers must follow and be vulnerably involved with in reciprocal relationship for their ontology and function to be whole. This by necessity constitutes teachers, and thereby qualifies them, in order to teach a curriculum that also makes students whole—a process in which teachers and students likewise integrally live whole in relationships together so that they can further make whole the human condition, even as exists in the academy and church.

            This is the criteria that Jesus established for teaching theological education; and his relational terms provide us with the qualifications needed to be teachers who are whole, who teach whole and accordingly who make whole. Nothing less and no substitutes qualify to be the who of theological education. Therefore, this gets us back to the three major issues (discussed through the course of this study) indispensable and thus unavoidable for the practice of teachers:


  1. The whole integrity of the teacher from inner out who is presented in theological education.

  2. The qualitative integrity of this teacher’s communication in relational terms and not narrowed down to referential terms to transmit fragmentary information.

  3. The depth level of agape involvement engaged without the veil in this teacher’s relationships both with God and others—integral with who is presented and what is communicated.


            As a theological educator, Peter certainly had his ups and downs (as Paul exposed) but the key always involved his eventual willingness to make vulnerable his whole person from inner out in agape involved relationships together. We need to learn from Peter, yet mostly from his struggles and mistakes, so that we follow the Word in his uncommon theological trajectory and are agape involved in his vulnerable relational path. And on this basis alone, we can qualify to teach the whole Word, the Who who defines the Subject of theological education and determines the significance of its outcome distinguished entirely in relational terms.



The How of Theological Education


            Another major assumption made in theological education is an implied approach that learning takes place however the pedagogical process is engaged. There is a benign neglect of how teachers teach and students learn, operating on the assumption that teachers teach and students learn. The apparent thinking is that teaching and learning are achieved by the transmission of and exposure to a high level of content—and the higher the level the better the achievement. This is a pedagogical model composed in referential terms by the wise and learned that Jesus exposed as incompatible to know and understand God (Lk 10:21-22), and that Paul identified as being embedded in an endless process of learning without knowing the truth (2 Tim 3:7), that is, the embodied Truth who frees us from such referential constraints (Jn 8:31-32).

            If the truth of theological education is the embodied Truth and the primary purpose of theological education is to know and understand God according to the Truth in relational language, then theological education can no longer adhere to the referentialization of the Word and depend on (even by default) a referential pedagogical model for its teaching and learning. The how of theological education is not optional on the agenda of the academy or church but integral for the irreducible and nonnegotiable relational outcome of knowing and understanding God in whole theology and practice.

            It was no mere event of transcendence when the Father communicated directly to Jesus’ followers: “Listen to my Son” (Mt 17:5). The Father’s relational imperative clearly illuminated the nature and identity of the Word entirely in relational language, and the whole of God’s relational terms set in motion the final phase of the relational epistemic process that distinguishes theological education in God’s whole ontology and function. To be so distinguished, theological education must compatibly engage this relational epistemic process and be congruent with the Word’s improbable-uncommon (not probable-common) theological trajectory and vulnerable relational path for its pedagogical model of teaching and learning. For this reason, Jesus extends the Father’s relational imperative with two interrelated relational imperatives: “pay attention to how you listen” (Lk 8:18), and “pay attention to what you hear” (Mk 4:24) because “the pedagogical model you use will determine the teaching and learning you get.” Of course, our interpretive framework (phronema) and lens (phroneo) determine what we pay attention to and ignore, what we make primary and only secondary, thereby determining our pedagogical approach and composing our teaching and learning. Certainly then our phronema and phroneo are critical to the pedagogical process, which, as Paul distinguished conclusively, makes the Spirit the key for theological education to be distinguished with the necessary phronema and phroneo in order to engage the pedagogical process in the primacy of wholeness and the qualitative (signified in zoe, not merely bios, Rom 8:5-6).

            Jesus embodied what to pay attention to for the how of theological education to be integrally (1) determined by the primary over the secondary, and thus (2) distinguished by the qualitative in whole relational terms and not the quantitative in fragmentary referential terms. When the core of theological education returns to the Word unfolded in whole (cf. Rev 2:4-5), it is face to Face with the relational Word who, by the nature of the Word, must be taught in his relational language with relational words by his relational process. Teaching in only his relational terms and not referential terms challenges the prevailing pedagogy in higher education. Therefore, theological education also needs to turn to Jesus for how to teach its innermost core.

            The most consequential non-issue issue in theological education involves its Christology, which routinely separates Jesus’ teachings from his whole person, leaving only disembodied teachings. Contrary to prevailing views of discipleship, both in the ancient Mediterranean world and the modern world, Jesus did not merely embody teachings to follow, examples to emulate, even principles to embody, and subsequently for followers to teach. Accordingly, current theological students must be in contrast to rabbinic students in the past, which also necessitates a qualitative relational difference in theological teachers.


The Three “AREs” of Jesus’ Pedagogy:


            The whole embodied by Jesus was clearly distinguished both in what he taught and how he taught. Jesus’ approach to teaching the whole was not about revealing (apokalypto) key knowledge and critical information in referential terms because the relational content (qualifying word-content) distinguishing God’s whole involved only the whole person in relationship. What this involved for Jesus is vital for us to understand both to more deeply experience his embodied whole and to further extend God’s whole to others within the church and in the world, the antecedent of which emerges from the quality of theological education and not its quantity. Jesus’ pedagogical approach to teaching and learning, integrated into the relational progression of discipleship in his theological trajectory and relational path, not only needs to inform and reform theological education in the academy and all levels of Christian education in the church but also to transform them.

            When Jesus told the Father that he disclosed him to the disciples (Jn 17:6), he used phaneroo, which refers to those to whom the revelation is made, and not apokalypto, which refers only to the object revealed. This is not an artificial distinction to make but a critical one to distinguish God’s revelation as Subject engaged in relationship in contrast to only the Object to be observed. Phaneroo signifies the necessary context and process of his disclosure of the whole of God and God’s whole, whose relational content would not be sufficient to understand merely as apokalypto of the Object observed in referential terms. How did Jesus constitute this key context and process to fully disclose this wholeness?

            John’s Gospel provides the initial overview of Jesus’ pedagogy, which is the functionally integral framework for the qualitative significance of his disclosures. In the narrative of a wedding at Cana attended by Jesus and his disciples (discussed earlier), Jesus used this situation to teach his disciples about himself (Jn 2:1-11). This initially evidenced the three dynamic dimensions basic to his approach to pedagogy.

            As a guest, Jesus participated in the sociocultural context of the wedding (an event lasting days). In response to his mother’s request, Jesus appeared reluctant yet involved himself even further than as guest. In what seems like an uneventful account of Jesus’ first miracle unrelated to his function and purpose, John’s Gospel also provides us with the bigger picture illuminated in his introduction (Jn 1:14). John’s is the only Gospel to record this interaction, and the evangelist uses it to establish a pattern for Jesus’ ministry. The miracle was ostensibly about the wine but its significance was to teach his disciples. Both what and how he taught is vital for the wholeness of theological education.

            When Jesus responded to his mother and got further involved, he made the whole of his person accessible to his disciples. Jesus was not just approachable but vulnerably accessible. This involved more than the quantitative notions of accessible language or words in teaching, or of making accessible one’s resources. This deeply involved making directly accessible the whole of his person and the qualitative significance of who, what and how he was. In this social context Jesus did not merely reveal (apokalypto) his resources but most important vulnerably disclosed (phaneroo) his functional glory to his disciples, not a mere theological glory lacking functional significance (2:11, cf. 2 Cor 4:6). The first aspect of his glory that Jesus made accessible to them was God’s being, the innermost of God signified by the primacy of the heart. It was Jesus’ heart, composing his whole person, whom he made accessible to them. The whole person, composed by the function of the heart, distinguishes clearly the depth level of significance necessary to be accessible in Jesus’ pedagogy. Anything less and any substitutes are inadequate for this accessible-level to teach the whole further and deeper than referential terms. A turn from the heart is consequential for the qualitative engagement needed to be accessible. It is incongruent to be helping others understand wholeness while one is not functioning to be whole in the process. Therefore, Accessible (A) is the first dynamic dimension in Jesus’ pedagogy necessary by its nature to be whole in order to teach the whole.

            Phaneroo illuminates the irreplaceable context and process for making his whole person accessible. The miracle, self-disclosure, being accessible, all are not ends in themselves but in Jesus’ purpose and function (even in this apparent secondary situation) are always and only for relationship. More specifically then, phaneroo distinguishes the integral relational context and process involved in his teaching. When Jesus disclosed his glory, he did not end with making accessible God’s being, the heart of God. The second aspect of his glory involved God’s nature, God’s intimate relational nature, witnessed initially between the trinitarian persons during his baptism and later at the transfiguration. In this teaching moment, Jesus disclosed his whole person to his disciples for relationship together, thereby disclosing the intimate relational nature of God—that is, his functional glory, in his heart and relational nature, communicating in the innermost to make relational connection with their human ontology as whole persons created in the image of the heart of God for relationships together in likeness of the relational nature of the Trinity (as in Jn 1:14). This also provides further understanding of the relational context and process of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition and what is involved in that connection, which integrally composes the innermost core of theological education.

            In this seemingly insignificant social context, Jesus qualitatively engaged and relationally involved his whole person with his disciples in the most significant human function: the primacy of whole relationship together. As he made his whole person accessible in this relational context and process, his disciples responded back to his glory by relationally “putting their trust in him” (2:11). Their response was not merely to a miracle, or placing their belief in his teaching, example or resources—in other words, a mere response to the Object observed. The context of his teaching was relational in the process of making accessible his person to their person, thus deeply connecting with the heart of their person and evoking a compatible relational response to be whole in relationship together Subject to subject, Face to face, heart to heart. This relational process also illuminates the intrusive relational path of Jesus’ ‘relationship together involving the whole person’, which anticipates his improbable theological trajectory to remove the veil for intimate relationship with God. If his teaching content were only cognitive, this qualitative relational connection would not have been made. Anything less and any substitute from Jesus would not have composed the relational context and process necessary to qualitatively engage and relationally involve his whole person for relationship together to be whole, consequently not fulfilling God’s thematic action in relational response to the human relational condition. Therefore, Relational (R) is the second dynamic dimension in Jesus’ pedagogy necessary by its nature to live whole in relationships in order to teach the whole, only God’s relational whole.

            When Jesus turned water into wine in this secondary social situation, he did not diminish the significance of his miracle or his glory. His disclosure was made not merely to impart knowledge and information about him for the disciples to assimilate. Who he presented and what he communicated are major issues. His disclosure was made in this experiential situation (albeit secondary) for his disciples to experience him living whole in this and any life context, not in social isolation or a conceptual vacuum that a theology divided from function signifies. For Jesus, for example, merely giving a lecture/sermon would not constitute teaching—nor would listening to such constitute learning. That is to say, his teaching was experiential for their whole person (signified by heart function) to experience in relationship. For this experience to be a reality in relationship, the whole person must be vulnerably involved. This involved the third major issue of the depth level he engaged in relationships. When Jesus made his heart accessible to be relational with his disciples, he also disclosed the third aspect of his glory involving God’s presence, God’s vulnerable presence. In the strategic shift of God’s thematic relational action, the whole of Jesus embodied God’s vulnerable presence for intimate involvement in relationship together, therefore disclosing God’s glory for his followers to experience and relationally respond back to “put their trust in him.” The embodied Truth is experiential truth vulnerably present and involved for the experiential reality of this relationship together. If this is not the qualitative relational significance of the gospel at the heart of theological education, its core is not in the innermost.

            Human experience is variable and relative. For experience to be whole, however, it needs to involve whole persons accessible to each other in relationship by vulnerable involvement together. For this relational dynamic to be a functional reality, it must be the relational outcome of Jesus’ theological trajectory that removed the veil in relationship together. This was Jesus’ purpose in his teaching and his pedagogical approach, which also was intrusive with ‘relationship together involving the whole person’. This was who, what, and how Jesus was ongoingly in his glory: who, as his whole person signified by the qualitative function of his heart; what, only by his intimate relational nature; and thus how, with vulnerable involvement only for relationship together to be God’s whole. The reality of relationally knowing (not referential knowledge about) the whole of God and relationally participating in God’s whole only emerges as experiential truth. Jesus’ teaching remains incomplete, and our learning is also not complete, unless it is experiential. Therefore, to complete the three-dimensional approach, Experiential (E) is the third dynamic dimension in Jesus’ pedagogy necessary by its nature to integrate the other two dimensions of Accessible and Relational for the qualitative depth of the whole in order to teach the experiential truth of the whole for its experiential reality in new relationship together in wholeness.

            The three AREs of Jesus’ pedagogy form a definitive three-dimensional paradigm to be whole and to live whole in order to teach the experiential truth (not merely a propositional truth) of the whole. That is, this three-dimensional paradigm is to teach the whole as God’s relational whole on God’s qualitative relational terms, just as Jesus vulnerably embodied, relationally disclosed and intimately involved his whole person with other persons. From this overview, Jesus ongoingly demonstrated his three-dimensional pedagogical approach. His most notable embodying unfolded in the last table fellowship he had with his disciples (Jn 13:1-17).

            As the Master Teacher (13:13-14), Jesus took his pedagogical approach to a whole new level. His footwashing is commonly narrowed down to serving, thus fragmenting Jesus’ whole person to a part (in this case a secondary act) that is perceived with the lens of a theological anthropology in reduced ontology and function. This is the phronema and phroneo Peter had in this key interaction, which contrasted and conflicted with the pedagogical approach Jesus relationally embodied—that is, who vulnerably intruded on traditional and conventional pedagogy. Beyond the norm and what would be considered reasonable, Jesus made his whole person vulnerably accessible to them without the veil of his title and role in order to reach the depths of agape involvement for the relational connection necessary for them to experience the intimate reality of relationship together in wholeness. Since Peter defined his person from outer in focused on secondary matter, he defined Jesus’ person by the title and function of Master Teacher. Consequently, reduced ontology and function prevented Peter from learning experientially the primacy of whole relationship together embodied by his Master Teacher’s vulnerable relational path in whole ontology and function. And Peter’s fragmentation should not be ignored in theological education since the limits in his theology and practice were consequential for the fragmentary formation of the early church.

            Jesus’ pedagogy contrasted with the prevailing teaching practices in the ancient Mediterranean world; and it conflicts with any reductionist teaching approaches, notably in the modern Western world with its primary focus on referential knowledge and rationalized understanding through the narrowed-down quantitative lens from reductionism (predating the Enlightenment)—further exposing a theological anthropology of reduced ontology and function. The learning process of Jesus’ pedagogy necessarily involves whole knowledge and understanding (synesis), which engages the primacy of the qualitative and the relational for the outcome of whole ontology and function. Therefore, Jesus’ teaching of God’s whole involves redemptive change and transformation to the new—not only for the whole person to experience as an individual but most importantly to experience in relationship together to be the whole of God’s family. God’s relational whole on only God’s qualitative relational terms is this new creation family ‘already’—the new wine communion with no veil—relationally progressing to its ultimate relational communion together ‘not yet’, which Jesus made imperative to be taught after he discussed a series of parables about the kingdom of God and the last things (Mt 13:52). Anything less and any substitutes of this new in whole constrain the flow of the new wine and reduce the planting, cultivating, growth and taste of the new wine in its full qualitative relational significance.

            John’s Gospel gives us this big picture from the beginning, in which Jesus ongoingly functioned in his theological trajectory yet remaining vulnerably involved in his relational path for intimate relationship together. The whole of Jesus’ teaching only had significance in this definitive relational progression for this relational outcome ‘already’ and relational conclusion ‘not yet’. And this is how any teaching of the whole of God’s family needs to be theologically and functionally contextualized—and all the “trees” of life put into the “forest” of God’s thematic relational action for the eschatological big picture and the ultimate relational communion together, just as Paul composed in his theological forest and systemic framework. For Jesus, and Jesus into Paul, the only embodying of theology that has qualitative relational significance is nothing less and no substitutes for the whole. To embody God’s whole, therefore, any theological enterprise by necessity functions in the pleroma of God’s improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path; and this trajectory and path involve irreplaceably the primacy of the qualitative and relational needed to be God’s new family together in wholeness with no veil—the fulfillment of God’s definitive blessing that embodies siym for shalom.

            Both Jesus and Paul intrude on theological education today to challenge integrally what composes its core and how it teaches this core. In teaching God’s relational whole, its engagement must involve the three AREs of Jesus’ pedagogy to be compatible with the trinitarian relational context of family and to be congruent with the trinitarian relational process of family love that compose the new creation family. At the heart of this relational context and process is ‘relationship together involving the whole of persons’, and this clearly involves both teachers and students being accountable for our whole ontology and function with the veil removed. The new wine is composed by and is contained in only this whole ontology and function.



The Competing Dynamic of Theological Education


            The ancient poets illuminated the primary for theological education. Psalm 67:1-2 is the summary text of the primary: The whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition in the innermost of the global picture for the primacy of new relationship together in wholeness—the relational outcome of the Face’s definitive blessing from the beginning. Psalm 46:10 is the functional key to theological education: “Be still, and know that I am God” in the context of Psalm 46 is to stop and cease preoccupation with the secondary, relax the hands of human effort in self-determination and don’t allow the influence of our human contexts to define and determine who we are in God’s image and likeness and whose we are as God’s whole family, thus being freed from referential constraints so that we know and understand God in relational terms. This opens up the pedagogical process beyond innovations in a conventional epistemic process to the vulnerable reciprocal response in the relational epistemic process with the Spirit. Simply stated in relational language, this reciprocal response is the relational function of “Pay close attention, O my people, to my teaching in relational language; open wide your ears from inner out to the relational words of my mouth, not merely a text” (Ps 78:1).

            This relational dynamic, however, has extensive competition in theological education (as witnessed in Judaism’s history) that fragments God’s integral thematic response, that diverts us to the secondary embedded in a self-determining process, and that limits the pedagogical process to variations of the ‘old’ or the status quo. In this competing dynamic, anything more that goes beyond our cognitive understanding and/or what we can control is suspect or threatening, and consequently met with resistance in one way or another. Peter demonstrated his resistance, reflecting a competing dynamic in his theological education that limited his pedagogical process to the templates of the old.

            Based on the experiential truth and reality of the new wine constituted ‘already’ by Jesus, this further raises the question for theological education today: Has it become an old wineskin that constrains the flow of new wine and reduces the new wine of its qualitative and relational significance in the present?

            It is unlikely that Jesus and Paul would survive in the prevailing framework of education today in churches and the academy. Though both of them taught in the temple-synagogue contexts, they were in ongoing conflict in those contexts. Their conflict was not with the faith they had in common, but with the prevailing phronema and phroneo and with a reduced ontology and function. In the primacy of “zoe and wholeness” (Rom 8:5-6), therefore, Jesus and Paul intruded on those engaged in self-determination and shaping of relationships, and they would also intrude on and likely threaten theological education today. For Jesus and Paul, even well-meaning intentions in those contexts are insufficient to compose theological education, and inadequate to clearly distinguish its function and ongoingly sustain its practice—as evidenced in the churches Jesus critiqued in post-ascension (Rev 2-3).

            The divide between theology and function and the increasing fragmentation of theological education into multiple theological disciplines are normative for the academy today, lacking a sense of the whole even when stated intentions seek coherence. Theology and function were inseparable for Paul, with function the priority from which his theology emerged. Function without theology does not determine whole function. Theology without function cannot constitute whole ontology. For Paul, wholeness in theology, ontology and function are determined only by the primacy of the relational Word both indwelling and inhabiting us from inner out with his qualitative presence and relational involvement (Col 2:9-10; 3:16). Anything less than the innermost and any substitute for it in theological education would no longer have the wholeness of Christ as its primary determinant (Col 3:15); nor would it have the whole of God holding it, the academy, church and the universe together in the innermost (Col 1:17; Eph 1:23; cf. Lk 9:32). Any loss of synistemi and lack of wholeness raise the basic question of what is at the core of theological education, which the academy can no longer assume to be valid.

            The core of what holds together the human person, the church and theological education depends on one’s interpretive framework and lens. That is, ‘core’ may either be merely the center (what is central to) of a person’s, church’s, theological education’s perspective/position, or be the innermost of what holds all else together in the whole. The latter necessitates the primacy of the qualitative and the relational. Therefore, to go from what is merely at the center of theological education to its innermost exposes the need for decontextualization and deconstruction of two primary issues facing theological education in the church and academy today:


  1. The explicit primary issue is the referentialization of the Word, which is the influence of human contextualization—from distant past, recent past, present or perhaps from left-hemisphere brain dominance—resulting in narrowing down the epistemic field of the Word for the purpose of (further) explanation and certainty on the basis of more probable referential terms; this requires decontextualization in order to return to the whole Word unfolded in the primacy of the qualitative and relational, while deconstructing any epistemological illusions of the Word shaped by listener-reader response.


  1. The implicit primary issue is one’s theological anthropology with a reduced ontology and function that converges with human contextualization to promote both a turn from the heart in efforts of self-determination and a turn to human shaping of relationships—all of which reflect, reinforce or sustain the human relational condition—thereby reducing the primacy of the qualitative and relational; this requires the ‘cease and desist’ (Ps 46:10) by deconstructing both the efforts of self-determination (notably of the Word) and the shaping of relationships (notably with the Word), while conjointly decontextualizing any prevailing influences of reductionism present from human contexts in order to restore the phronema and phroneo of “zoe and wholeness.”


            When theological education makes this shift of its core from merely what is its center to the innermost of what holds theological education together to be whole, it can address the innermost composition of its core. This exposes a further relational issue facing theological education, particularly in the academy and accordingly in churches. Most problematic in the academy has been a growing (even established) lack of “paying attention to how you listen to the Word” (Lk 8:18) and an increasing (even self-sustaining) inability to “pay attention to what you hear from the Word” (Mk 4:24)—each disregarding the Father’s relational imperative. In any discussion of the Word it is important to distinguish between ‘what is heard’ and ‘what is seen’. Modern perspective (or worldview) gives priority to sight over sound. Yet sound is more basic than sight. In anthropological study, most traditional societies regarded sound as more important than sight, and those societies tended to be more personal and relational. The Father’s imperative to “Listen…” gives priority to sound over sight because sound is more qualitative than sight and can account for that which is not seen and for mystery. The significance of the Word is both qualitative and relational, therefore the written Word needs to point to the sound of the communicated words from God’s mouth. But if the sight of the Word has primacy over the words from God’s mouth, then the Word becomes disembodied and thereby disconnected from the qualitative relational significance of the whole of God’s self-disclosure for the sole purpose of whole relationship together and knowing God intimately, not merely having referential information about God.

            This relational problem in the academy has been consequential in the decrease of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness—in both theology and function for persons, while in the academy, the church or in the world—that has rendered interpreting the Word to a hermeneutical vicious cycle of human contextualization and shaping, consequently reducing the composition of theological education in its core and at its edges to self-referencing. Its edges include attributing the human shaping of ministry and mission to what God is doing in the world. The self-determining efforts and shaping engaged in self-referencing is further evident in the identity of the academy’s various institutions, whose primary identity highlights its self-referencing—centered on the primacy of what it does and has (cf. 1 Cor 4:7)—and not the qualitative relational significance of the Word unfolded from and by the whole of God (1 Cor 2:9-10; 4:6).

            Jesus keeps knocking at the door of the academy to intrude on its self-determination and its shaping of relationships with ‘relationship together involving the whole of persons’ to get to the innermost to hold the academy in whole relationship together. For this innermost core to emerge in theological education, there is needed not a mere central truth centered on doctrine but rather solely the primacy of the qualitative embodying the primacy of new relationship together in wholeness—the relational outcome ‘already’ of the whole of God’s definitive blessing. From the beginning of his theological trajectory to the current relational progression of his relational path, we need to listen to the pleroma of God whose wholeness composes the core of theological education with nothing less and no substitutes. Theological education is unable to address the functional and tactical issues (challenges, needs, opportunities), much less strategic ones, facing it within the academy, the church and in the world, until it has whole understanding of the strategic, tactical and functional shifts of the whole of God’s theological trajectory and relational path. Without this understanding, it is inevitable to become preoccupied with the secondary over the primacy embodied by the Word in whole.

            A further challenge needs to be raised directly at the academy’s common engagement in theological education. The academy’s prevailing identity is a clear indicator that theological education today is not distinguished as holy, sacred (qados, hagios), that is, clearly distinguished from the common and ordinary of the secular academy and its education. Rather the theological academy has been co-opted by the secular academy, whereby it has looked to and shaped its identity in the common and ordinary of secular education and its scholarship templates. The relational consequence is that the theological academy with its education has lost or struggled with its distinguished identity, including its distinguished Subject if not even its primary subject matter. God is distinguished as holy (Ps 99) and any theological context distinguished with God is also holy (Col 1:19-22; Eph 2:21-22). Such a theological context (academy or church) and its education must by its nature (dei) distinguish this God, who can only be known and understood in the relational context of the Uncommon (in the uncommon theological trajectory) and beyond the relational terms of the ordinary into the whole and holy God’s vulnerable relational path. To be distinguished as holy-sacred is neither an adjective nor a static attribute or condition. Sacred-holy composes the distinguished relational context and process of the whole of God in which God is vulnerably present and intimately involved for new relationship together only on the whole and holy God’s terms, nothing less and no substitutes. Therefore, the whole of God cannot be known and understood (the unique boast of Jer 9:23-24) or exalted (the compatible response of Ps 99:5,9), much less be the distinguished Subject of theological education, in the common and ordinary of our limited terms shaped by the prevailing influence in our human contexts—that is, by that which is distinctly of reductionism, the competing dynamic to God’s whole and its theological education.

            Wholeness is not optional or negotiable for both the academy and the church. Paul made conclusive that ‘the wholeness of Christ’ is our only gospel and the sole determinant (i.e. “rule” of faith, Col 3:15) for our ontology and function as persons and theological community. To state it simply, yet not to be confused with dogmatism, anything less and any substitutes will be insufficient to be whole and to live whole in order to teach the whole and holy God’s whole. Any such alternatives, even with the best of intentions, impede the relational dynamic of God’s thematic response to make whole the human condition, the relational consequence of which then includes preventing our ontology and function from being whole in likeness of the Trinity—whereby our theology and practice starts to reflect, reinforce or even sustain the human condition.

            Therefore, to challenge and address the assumptions and existing practices of theological education in the academy and the church requires inevitably to confront the breadth of the human condition in the age of reductionism with the whole lens of sin as reductionism. Additionally and integrally, requires us to respond vulnerably and intrusively in agape involvement with the depth of the gospel of wholeness that composes our theological anthropology in whole ontology and function. This is the what, who and how that Jesus in post-ascension holds his church and his so-called academy accountable for: God’s relational whole as the new creation family on the whole and holy God’s qualitative relational terms, the who came and the what has come to constitute whole-ly what holds us (individually and collectively) integrally together in our innermost ‘already’ in spite of any contrary dynamic from the age of reductionism.


            God really did say that! Moreover, God clearly speaks for himself, without needing our theoretical shaping and speculative construction along with hermeneutical assistance ‘in front of’ or ‘behind’ the text. Contrary to egology, the truth of theology emerges from the relational epistemic process with epistemic humility listening to God. Hence the Word, “Don’t you know me yet?”

            Indeed, we, our theology and our practice are accountable for every word from God’s mouth communicated in relational language without reduction and negotiation—nothing less and no substitutes, and thus including being accountable for contending with whatever pervades and prevails in the age of reductionism. Therefore, with clarity of speech, “pay whole attention to the Word who speaks because the measure you use will be the measure you get!”   



Ongoing Reciprocal afterWord


            In relational response to the Word embodied and distinguished whole-ly, my wife and I lift up our persons from inner out to the whole of God who continues to be vulnerably present and intimately involved in reciprocal relationship together without the veil. Join us to share together in this ongoing relational response that we composed for the primacy of new relationship together in wholeness. (See next page.)




Hallelujah Whole

click here for sheet music in pdf



Mt 15:8-9, Jn 4:23-24, Col 1:19-20





1     Hallelujah!    nothing less

       Hallelujah!    no substitutes

       The whole of God be present

       The whole of God be praised!

       Nothing less no substitutes



Hallelujah, hallelu, hallelu

Hallelujah, hallelu, hallelu

Praise to You, to You, to You

Praise You holy! Praise You whole!

All of You—all of You!


2     Hallelujah!    nothing less

       Hallelujah!    no substitutes

       The whole of God be involved

       The whole of God responds!

       Nothing less no substitutes



3     Hallelujah!    nothing less

       Hallelujah!    no substitutes

       The whole of God be embraced

       The whole of God exalted!

       Nothing less no substitutes



4     Hallelujah!    nothing less

       Hallelujah!    no substitutes

       The whole of God highlighted

       The whole of God give thanks!

       Nothing less no substitutes




       Ending:    All of You!




©2013 T. Dave Matsuo & Kary A. Kambara



[1] Taken from a document describing Fuller’s search for a new president in 2013, “The Fuller Presidency: Opportunity Profile,” 2-3.

[2] TiteTienou, dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, identifies knowing God as basic to their core values: “there is no possible doubt that we must have recourse to the Bible if we want to know God.” He adds, “At Trinity we believe that knowing God is essential for all aspects of life” (Trinity Magazine, Fall, 2012, 10). Yet there is no indication in their focus that this is distinguished from merely knowing information about God in referential terms, however personal, as a substitute for the primacy of knowing God in reciprocal relationship together. Unless clearly distinguished, a hermeneutic of suspicion would conclude that their focus is not distinguished.

[3] Lewis B. Smedes, My God and I: A Spiritual Memoir (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 160-65.

[4] Richard B. Hays, “The Palpable Word as Ground of Koinonia,” in Douglas V. Henry and Michael D. Beaty, eds., Christianity and the Soul of the University: Faith as a Foundation for Intellectual Community (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 19-36.





©2013 T. Dave Matsuo

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