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The Face of the Trinity

The Trinitarian Essential for the Whole of God and Life

 

Chapter 6               The Inter-person-al Trinity

 

Sections

 

The Reality of God's Improbable Theological Trajectory

and Relational Path

The Inter-person-al Dynamics Integral to the Trinity

1. Why did YHWH enter the human context?

2. How did the triune God engage the human context?

Contextual Factor

3. What is disclosed of the Trinity while in the human context?

Structural and Systemic Factors

4. To what extent does this revelation also define the immanent Trinity, the triune God in transcendence, the totality of YHWH?

Social Trinitarianism

Issues of Significance

The Significance Necessary to be Social

The Unavoidable Conflict for Social Trinitarianism

The Relational Outcome of the Inter-person-al Trinity

Reciprocating Contextualization with the Trinity

 

Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Ch 6

Ch 7

Ch 8

Ch 9

Ch 10

Printable pdf
of entire study

Table of Contents

Scripture Index

Bibliography

 

 

This is my Son, whom I love.

Matthew 3:17, NIV

 

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit’s person into the human context.

Matthew 4:1

 

So that the world may know that I love the Father.

John 14:31

 

 

            In July, 2016, the latest electronic game “Pokemon Go” was introduced and immediately captivated the global network. By blending two-dimension electronic artifacts with real world vistas, engaging this game has produced what virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) fans call “presence”—which apparently has been satisfying, or at least feeding, a long-awaited yet elusive human need. Essentially, VR and AR didn’t emerge with electronic development in the Information Age; in reality they have long signified the epistemological illusions and ontological simulations of so-called presence—even the presence of God.

            The presence of God continues to be essential in the theological task, and therefore the central focus needing to be constituted in our theology and practice in order to fulfill the human relational need beyond VR and AR. For this essential outcome, however, a 2-D profile of God’s presence converging with the real world is insufficient, no matter how captivating the profile and the extent of participation in the real world. In other words, God’s presence can be neither a human construction nor even shaped by human terms and still expect to have the whole and uncommon God’s presence to be involved in the human context to meet the human need existing from the beginning (Gen 2:18; 3:7). Therefore, accounting in our theology and practice for the presence and involvement of this self-distinguishing God requires the full 3-D profile of the Trinity, whose uncommon presence is person-al and whole involvement is inter-person-al. With this accounting, we can fully claim and truly proclaim: “You show me the path of life. In your presence [face, paneh, prosopon] there is fullness of joy” (Ps 16:11; Acts 2:28), thus in the real world “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness…be satisfied beholding your 3-D appearance” (Ps 17:15).

 

 

The Reality of God’s Improbable Theological Trajectory and

Intrusive Relational Path

 

            When God disclosed the path of life to the human context, what was made known in the real world integrated the realm of physics with the realm of metaphysics to distinguish the qualitative relational significance of God’s life (zoe) from inner out beyond the outer-in quantitative of bios. For the human context to be connected to the context of God’s zoe involved the improbable theological trajectory that integrated the realms of physics and metaphysics, in order to constitute the intrusive relational path necessary for the relational process of God’s presence and involvement. The reality of God’s presence and involvement beyond VR and AR is contingent on God’s relational context and process making this improbable theological trajectory and thereby taking this intrusive relational path. Without this improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path, God’s presence and involvement are only speculative since physics and metaphysics are not integrated—which then subjects reality to VR and AR.

            The improbable has always been a difficult reality for the human mind to process, which includes those in the church. For example, until the discovery of Australia, people held the conviction that all swans had to be white. Then the first black swan was sighted. Nassim Nicholas Taleb uses this development to illustrate the severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge based on predictability. Taleb addresses this prevailing condition which continues due to our dependence on the probability of expectations, with excessive focus on what we know in narrowed-down terms at the expense of learning more (or the whole) from the improbable signified by the black swan.[1] Even the church had difficulty going beyond this limitation to accept the improbable. Until Galileo demonstrated the truth of Copernicus’ theory that the planets revolved around the sun, the earth was proclaimed as the center of the universe; and the church branded a heliocentric view as heresy. This limitation also reflects the left brain hemisphere’s increasing dominance of the modern mind, according to McGilchrist.[2] The improbability of a black swan then is intrusive to the explainable and predictable, and its intrusion makes us vulnerable unless handled accordingly, that is, narrowed down to explainable and predictable terms. All of this is the dynamic outworking of primacy given to the secondary at the expense of the primary composed by the qualitative and the relational—the dynamic which reflects, reinforces and sustains the human condition underlying it.

            Science has been based on a relatively closed system that renders the improbable beyond the realm of reality. Yet, physics has increasingly had to face an expanding universe that has challenged the limits of its epistemic field. Physicist Steve Giddings provides some perspective on the current state of human knowledge:

Despite all we have learned in physics—from properties of faraway galaxies to the deep internal structure of the protons and neutrons that make up an atomic nucleus—we still face vexing mysteries…. We know, for example, that all the types of matter we see, that constitute our ordinary existence, are a mere fraction—20%—of the matter in the universe. The remaining 80% apparently is mysterious “dark matter”; though it is all around us, its existence is inferred only via its gravitational pull on visible matter.[3]

Since the discovery of the so-called God particle (Higgs boson) this past year—which Giddings also anticipated with hope for the human condition—physics is more optimistic than ever to possible discoveries of new forces of nature. Nevertheless, for this space odyssey to account for reality, it will have to answer the question of ‘why’ raised by physicist Stephen Hawking (noted in the previous chap.). And for that reality, physics will have to expand its epistemic field into the realm of metaphysics—that is, not philosophical metaphysics but the improbable trajectory of the whole and uncommon God.

            The integration of the realms of physics and metaphysics is neither illogical nor unreasonable, but in reality is both heuristic and irreplaceable for the epistemic process to move beyond its limits. Physicist Marcelo Gleiser provides clarity of the limits of physics, which calls for any narrow epistemic field to be opened to the metaphysical realm of God’s improbable theological trajectory:

The combination of having a Universe with a finite age—the time elapsed since the Big Bang—and the finite speed of light creates an insurmountable barrier to how much we can know of the cosmos.[4]

 

The Universe we measure tells only a finite story, based on how much information can get to us (the cosmic horizon placing a limitation here) and on how much of this information we manage to gather (our technological prowess placing a limitation here)…. The lesson here is distressing: not only are there causal and technological limits to how much we can know of the cosmos, but what information we do manage to gather may be tricking us into constructing an entirely false worldview. What we measure doesn’t tell us the whole story; in fact, it may be telling us an irrelevantly small part of it.[5]

At best the perception from this type of lens can only be incomplete and its knowledge and understanding only fragmentary; at worst they are misleading, distorted or incorrect, all while being self-referencing. Gleiser further illuminates human limits:

The crack in the dam of mathematical perfection exposes the innards of human frailty, ennobling our attempts to construct an ever-growing Island of Knowledge…. We can’t always answer our questions by following a closed set of rules, since some questions are undecidable. In the language we have developed here, the truth or falsity of certain propositions is unknowable. As a consequence—at least within our current logical framework—we can’t conceive a system of knowledge constructed with the human brain that is formally complete.[6]

And what this lens does clearly make evident is the need for epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction. God’s revelation challenges our primary lens and prescribes a lens change when our view is limited and our focus is narrowed by primacy given to human reason and related assumptions (cf. Rom 8:5-6). This neither renders the realm of physics unimportant nor precludes its necessary integration with the metaphysical realm.

            To acknowledge the reality of God’s improbable theological trajectory certainly requires epistemic humility. Yet, for this reality not to be subject to VR and AR, God’s trajectory cannot be rendered as a thing, an idea or a simple Object to observe. The reality of God’s presence in the human context means nothing less than God’s improbable trajectory having traversed the expanding universe in order to be directly involved in the human context for relational response to the human relational condition and need. Therefore, the essential reality of God’s presence and involvement required no substitutes for the whole and uncommon God as the complex Subject. The uncommon reality of God as Subject is constituted only by God’s intrusive relational path. As the whole and uncommon Subject, God acted in the human context to disclose the person-al being, nature and presence of the Trinity (the glory of God), whereby the whole who, what and how of God responded in love to our relational condition and need with the qualitative being, relational nature and vulnerable presence of the inter-person-al Trinity.

            There are essential dynamics unfolding in the human context that are irreplaceable for trinitarian theology and practice. Therefore, we need to have whole understanding (syniemi for synesis) of the following:

The reality of God’s presence by its nature must be composed by nothing less than the improbable theological trajectory God initiated for God’s presence to have qualitative significance beyond any virtual or augmented reality. The reality of God’s involvement by its nature must be composed by no substitutes of the intrusive relational path God enacted for God’s involvement to have relational significance. For the uncommon Trinity’s presence to be of qualitative significance then must by nature be person-al. And for the whole Trinity’s involvement to be of relational significance then must by nature be inter-person-al. Anything less of the person-al Trinity and any substitutes for the inter-person-al Trinity reduce both the Trinity’s uncommon presence to common referential terms and the Trinity’s whole involvement to fragmentary human terms.

 

Without these integral dynamics, we are faced with the reality of the following in the trinitarian theological task:

 

Referentialization of the Trinity’s presence—for example by referential doctrines—renders the Trinity impersonal if not de-person-ed. Conjointly, commonization of the Trinity’s involvement renders the Trinity de-relationalized, even in acts of serving and love. Consequently, in this narrowed-down process of reductionism, the truth and reality of the whole and uncommon Trinity are no longer distinguished whole and uncommon in the human context for the human relational condition and need—which then revises the truth of the gospel and fragments the wholeness of its essential relational outcome in integral likeness of the person-al and inter-person-al Trinity.

The fragmentation of wholeness, likely inadvertently and with good intentions, should not be surprising given reductionism’s counter-relational workings.

            Therefore, what is at stake here is the heart of what holds together Christian theology and practice in the innermost: the whole and uncommon Trinity, apart from whom the essential reality for theology and practice would not exist (cf. Higgs boson essential for physical matter to exist). The reality before us face to face must no longer be limited and constrained. Trinitarian theology and practice will not be whole without the reality of the triune God’s intrusive relational path, because without this essential reality the improbable theological trajectory of YHWH’s presence has no qualitative relational significance; and thus its reality is rendered as a thing, an idea or a simple Object—the VR and AR of God’s presence that simulates God’s involvement. In the First Testament, for example, YHWH’s essential reality became a virtual reality when the bread for the tabernacle table only simulated “the Presence” (paneh, face of God, Ex 25:30, cf. Num 4”7). Though signifying YHWH’s presence and involvement, “the bread of the Presence” became a quantitative end in itself augmented by secondary matter without qualitative relational significance (cf. Num 4:7)—bread which David understood as only secondary (1 Sam 21:4-6) to the primacy of God’s presence that Jesus embodied on his intrusive relational path (Mt 12:3-8).

            The indispensable dynamics of God’s integral trajectory to the human context and path in the human context are complex, such that they are both improbable to the realm of physics and uncommon to the realm of metaphysics. Accordingly, the Trinity’s trajectory and path can be neither oversimplified in quantified terms nor mystified in spiritual terms. That is, in essential terms of qualitative relational significance, the trajectory of the Trinity’s presence is to be person-al, or will not to be; and the path of the Trinity’s involvement is to be inter-person-al, or will not to be. These dynamics necessitate by their nature the vulnerability of the whole person for all those involved and engaged by this essential relational process, which was initiated, embodied and ongoingly enacted integrally by the person-al and inter-person-al Trinity. Vulnerable persons are indispensable for the trinitarian theological task and vulnerable persons in whole relationships together are irreplaceable for trinitarian theology and practice. This challenges, if not confronts, the reality of both the faith we claim and the gospel we proclaim.

            Just as acknowledging the reality of the uncommon Trinity’s improbable theological trajectory requires epistemic humility, integrally receiving the reality of the whole Trinity’s intrusive relational path requires ontological humility. Yet, to enact this intrusive relational path also involved ontological humility by the Trinity. The response to the human condition by the Trinity’s intrusive relational path is the relational involvement of love, the interaction of which only transpires between persons in relationship together, notably in intimate relationship together. For the whole and uncommon Trinity to enact this love required ontological humility of the trinitarian persons in order to basically ‘love us downward’—that is, by necessity in a vertical process (not condescending) in contrast to the horizontal love inter-person-ally within the Trinity. This distinction of the process of love is critical for understanding the inter-person-al dynamics within the Trinity and what defines and determines the trinitarian persons (discussed below).

            The integral trinitarian relational process necessary for loving us downward is the relational dynamic initiated and enacted by the person-al Trinity as Subject (Jn 3:16), whose intrusive relational path was embodied by the Son (Phil 2:6-8; 2 Cor 8:9) to constitute the uncommon vulnerable presence and whole relational involvement of the inter-person-al Trinity (Jn 1:14; 17:26, cf. 5:18-23). Without the Trinity’s ontological humility to be relationally involved to love us downward, there is no gospel and God’s presence at best can only exist as VR and AR—an ontological simulation of what many skeptics would rightfully call an epistemological illusion. The whole and uncommon reality, however, before us face to face, heart to heart, person to person cannot be limited to anything less and constrained by any substitutes.

 

 

The Inter-person-al Dynamics Integral to the Trinity

 

            Understanding the reality of the person-al Trinity’s improbable theological trajectory and the inter-person-al Trinity’s intrusive relational path enters into the heart of the gospel, which dwells in the innermost of the whole and uncommon Trinity. For this gospel to warrant the full significance of good news for the human condition and relational need, it must be distinguished beyond the limits and constraints of human contextualization and thus composed by the vulnerable qualitative presence and intimate relational involvement of the Trinity. The Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement are distinguished only in the trinitarian relational context and composed only with the trinitarian relational process initiated, embodied and ongoingly enacted by the dynamics integral to the Trinity. In other words, the reality of the Trinity’s presence and involvement is not augmented (as in AR) by these dynamics but constituted by these essential dynamics integral for the innermost and thus to the heart of the Trinity.

            In the tradition of trinitarian theology, the dynamics identified have been defined notably by the concept of perichoresis: the coinherence, mutual interpenetration and indwelling of the trinitarian persons that distinguish the unity of three-in-oneness composing the triune God. Issues of modalism and tritheism prevailed in the trinitarian theological task, and perichoresis has served arguably to describe the Trinity, both economic and immanent. Signified in this concept are inner communion and the community of relations essential for that communion. Whether perichoresis is a definitive concept or just an augmented idea, the dynamics integral to the heart of the Trinity still remain to account for the reality of the Trinity’s presence and involvement. If the Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement are not accounted for integrally in the trinitarian theological task, then what significance do definitions, descriptions and even explanations have for our theology and practice, not to mention for the human condition and relational need?

            The reality of the triune God’s presence and involvement is composed by dynamics that involve the following questions necessary to account for in the trinitarian theological task in order to have distinguished the heart of the Trinity for our theology and practice to be whole in the innermost:

1.     Why did YHWH enter the human context?

2.     How did the triune God engage the human context?

3.     What is disclosed of the Trinity while in the human context?

4.     To what extent does this revelation also define the immanent Trinity, the triune God in transcendence, the totality of YHWH?

Accounting for the reality of the whole and uncommon Trinity is indispensable to distinguish God’s presence and involvement from virtual and augmented realities.

 

1.  Why did YHWH enter the human context?

 

            When the LORD God created the cosmos, the earth was not left unattended as if detached by a deistic God. In creating the world, the name of YHWH as a substantive relational verb involved dynamics that included the Spirit and the Word (Gen 1:1-2; Jn 1:3; Col 1:16-17; Heb 1:2). After many chronological years (i.e. in human time), human persons were created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27). The human person in the image and likeness of God required more than an individual from outer in to fulfill who, what and how the person was created to be. Human ontology and function in YHWH’s image and likeness as a substantive relational verb required the whole person from inner out, who is integrally constituted in whole relationship together with other whole persons in likeness of YHWH’s ontology and function as Spirit, Word and Father—whereby human creation was made whole (Gen 2:18,25).

            This wholeness was reduced and fragmented by human persons in the primordial garden (Gen 3:1-10). The subtle reduction (beyond disobedience) of wholeness emerged with reductionism’s epistemological illusion: “You will not die…your eyes will be opened…persons saw that the resource was good…a delight to the eyes….Then the eyes of both were opened from outer in.” This fragmented the wholeness of persons and relationships with ontological simulation in a substitute likeness: “you will be like God…to be desired to make one wise…knew that they were naked from outer in…and made masks to cover their person…hid their persons from the presence of the LORD God.”

            The loss of wholeness for persons and relationships is critical to comprehend in the trinitarian theological task and cannot be diminished or minimalized without its corresponding effect on trinitarian theology and practice. The above relational consequence set into motion the human condition and relational need for persons to be made whole from inner out in the relationships together of wholeness in nothing less than and no substitutes for the likeness of the whole and uncommon YHWH. In other words, human persons and relationships needed salvation to be restored to wholeness, and YHWH as the substantive relational verb responded accordingly in essential dynamics with the whole of who, what and how YHWH is as Spirit, Word and Father. The only reason that YHWH distinguishably entered and intruded into the human context was for this relational-specific purpose and outcome.

            The dynamics involved to compose this relational purpose and outcome are complex in that they involve both the whole Trinity, on the one hand, and specific trinitarian persons, on the other hand, without necessarily distinguishing between them. Paul illuminated that the process to save us was decided even before creation, the decision which he highlighted the Father as making (Eph 1:3-7). Yet, the Word was also present (Jn 1:2; 8:58) and participated in all that emerged (Jn 1:2-4; Col 1:16-17). Without engaging the discourse on the theological issues of predeterminism, election and irresistible grace, there are interpersonal dynamics underlying why YHWH entered the human context that are more primary and thus significant and relevant for the theological task. The unfolding of these dynamics distinguishes the whole and uncommon Trinity.

            The initiation of the LORD God’s relational response of grace—both antecedent to and resistible by human dynamics—put into motion dynamics that are integrally person-al and inter-person-al. So, the triune “God loved the world…in order that the world might be saved” (Jn 3:16-17). These essential dynamics have been oversimplified in function, narrowed down in soteriology, and simply fragmented in theology and practice.

            Salvation in the OT always involved deliverance by YHWH, which involved situations and circumstances but was always about the covenant relationship together (Ex 15:2; Isa 12:2; 43:3,11; Hos 2:19,20,23) in the covenant of love (Dt 7:9). YHWH’s liberation (redeeming the chosen people) from Egypt epitomized the covenant of love enacted by the whole ontology and function of YHWH (not just by his strength) for this reciprocal relationship of love, even though land was involved (Dt 4:35-38; 7:7-9). In the covenant relationship, having YHWH’s own presence and relational involvement was always intended to be the people’s portion (Jer 51:19; La 3:24; Ps 119:57) and, conversely, YHWH’s people were expected to be YHWH’s portion in reciprocal relationship (Dt 32:9); “portion” (heleq) was always about persons and building covenant relationship, not about land and building nation-state. The more common salvation in the people’s terms might have included the covenant relationship but was always foremost about the situations and circumstances. “To save” (yasa) in the OT connoted initially the aspects of physical deliverance (cf. Nu 10:9; Jdg 2:18) and later denoted its deeper theological meaning and its encompassing qualitative relational significance (cf. Isa 45:20-22)—which the Psalmist failed to find (Ps 119:123), that is, in situations and circumstances but pursued in relationship, as this Psalm seems to describe.

            “To save” (sozo) in the NT denotes also to make whole, which necessitates not only being saved from the reductionism of persons and the fragmentation of relationships, but inseparably also saved to what is necessary to be whole. “To be apart” from this whole is the human condition, to which the triune God’s thematic relational action has been responding since the original creation (Gen 2:18). This is the dynamic relational nature of salvation history and the ongoing relational involvement of the Trinity’s creative activity (ultimately disclosed in Jesus’ resurrection) for the new creation covenant relationship together. After the original creation, this notably emerged with the faithful of Israel as “the people of God” chosen by the triune God’s grace. Then it extends to all the nations as “the kingdom of God,” and thus born from above by the Trinity’s relational work of grace as “the children of God”: those redeemed by the Son and transformed by the Spirit from old to new, and adopted by the Father as “the Trinity’s new creation family”—composed only in the new covenant relationship together necessary to be whole in the ontological image and the functional likeness of the whole and uncommon Trinity.

            The relational-specific purpose, process and outcome of why the now-distinguished Trinity intruded the human context can only be constituted by nothing less than the person-al Trinity and no substitutes for the inter-person-al Trinity—all of which then only emerge and unfold as the essential reality, neither virtual nor augmented. Knowing ‘why’ is indispensable for distinguishing the heart of the Trinity’s presence and involvement in trinitarian theology and practice. In the trinitarian theological task, anything less of the Trinity’s uncommon presence and any substitutes for the Trinity’s whole involvement reduce the Trinity’s ontology and fragment the Trinity’s function; and the consequence renders the Trinity to the ontological shaping and functional significance of mere human thought and ideas. That is to say, if we want to account fully for the Trinity’s presence and involvement, we need to define not only who is present but also what is present; likewise, we need to define not only who is involved but also what and the how of the Trinity are integrally involved.

            Therefore, in the trinitarian theological task, not to understand the Trinity’s whole ontology and function uncommon to the realms of physics and metaphysics, then requires a revision, conflation or even an unintended distortion of why the Trinity is here, and thus who, what and how the Trinity is in engaging all persons and relationships in the human context.

 

2.  How did the triune God engage the human context?

 

            The psalmist summarized God’s prevailing engagement: “It was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them” (Ps 44:3, NIV). The Second Book of Isaiah adds: “The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isa 52:10). To bare (chasaph) is to uncover and thus to be vulnerable, that is, not just in the actions of God’s right hand and arm in quantitative terms from outer in. What constituted God’s engagement involved being vulnerable with “his holy arm” in qualitative terms from inner out that distinguishes “the light of your face” in full profile, whole-ly engaged in the relational involvement of love. In other words, how the triune God engaged the human context could only occur and recur when God’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement ongoingly concur in congruence to be integrally whole and uncommon.

            For the whole and uncommon Trinity to engage the world in love essentially involved contextual, structural and systemic factors. These interrelated and overlapping factors simply must be illuminated in the trinitarian theological task in order for there to be wholeness in both the Trinity’s ontology and function and thus in human ontology and function in likeness.

Contextual Factor:  We cannot referentialize the difference and gap between the whole and uncommon Trinity and the fragmentary and common nature of the human context—that is, and expect the outcome in our theology and practice to be of qualitative significance. Whole and uncommon are both incongruent and incompatible with fragmentary and common, and any hybrid between them always results in the reduction of the former. This was the contextual factor facing the Trinity that had to be resolved to engage the human context. So, how did the Trinity bridge the insurmountable gap with the common yet to be vulnerably whole as the Uncommon?

            The only understanding we have for how the Trinity resolved this contextual issue is that God so loved the world. But, for God to love also involved a contextual issue that cannot be reduced to comparative common terms or a hybrid process. Love (ḥesed and agapē) is not defined in fragmentary terms merely by what God does in situations and circumstances—notably with sacrifice epitomized by Christ dying for our sins. Rather God’s love (“his own love,” Rom 5:8, NIV) engages the primacy of how to be involved in relationship vulnerably with nothing less than the Uncommon and thus no substitutes for the whole of who, what and how the person-al and inter-person-al Trinity is (cf. Eph 2:4-6, 17-18).

            To distinguish the Trinity’s own love, Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you” (Jn 15:9). The Father, “This is my Son, whom I love” (Mt 3:17, NIV). And the Son engaged the human context in that love “so that the world may know that I love the Father” (Jn 14:31). To turn this love essential to the Trinity into the narrow notions of sacrifice and to center it merely on dying reduce the uncommon Trinity to common terms and thereby fragment the whole Trinity to the parts of trinitarian sacrifice. Certainly in the human context, the trinitarian persons’ sacrifice was important but not defining. This is a critical distinction to make in the trinitarian theological task. How the trinitarian persons love each other is neither defined by sacrifice nor determined by it. Their love only involves the primacy of their relationship together and the intimate depth of their whole persons integrally connected with each other inter-person-ally. No matter how personal that God’s love may be perceived, that love must by God’s whole and uncommon nature be vulnerably inter-person-al in order to engage the human context.

            By the Trinity’s own love—which is irreducible to fragmentary parts and nonnegotiable to common terms—the insurmountable gap with the common was bridged by the uncommon trinitarian relational context of family, whereby the contextual issue was resolved in the whole trinitarian relational process of family love. The disclosure of the whole profile of the Trinity is only distinguished in this uncommon trinitarian relational context, and any human contextualization of the Trinity neither resolves this contextual issue nor identifies the whole and uncommon Trinity. There are, however, still structural and systemic factors to account for. These interrelated and overlapping factors further illuminate the inter-person-al dynamics essential to the Trinity and what is disclosed for us to know and understand the whole and uncommon Trinity—including the immanent Trinity without reducing it to the economic Trinity.

 

3.  What is disclosed of the Trinity while in the human context?

 

            The essential dynamics integral to the heart of the Trinity unfolds in the human context by the intimate depth of the trinitarian persons integrally involved with each other in love inter-person-ally. These dynamics converge in Jesus’ disclosure: “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10:38; 14:10-11), and on this ontological basis, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9; cf. 1:18; 12:45). What Jesus disclosed illuminates the existing structure basic to the composition of the Trinity, which counters tritheism; furthermore, it also points to the systemic process at the heart of the Trinity that counters modalism.

Structural and Systemic Factors:  In Jesus’ formative family prayer (Jn 17), he further defined “we are one” (heis eimi, 17:11,21,23) to make primary the trinitarian relational context of family in the primacy of the trinitarian relational process of family love that distinguishes the Trinity’s ontological oneness. What distinguishes ontological oneness involves more than unity and such notions, for example, used to bring together diversity or heal fragmentation. Ontological oneness distinguishes the Trinity’s basic structure that constitutes the trinitarian family together as the ontological One. Therefore, each trinitarian person neither exists separate from nor is distinguished apart from the ontological One, the we-are-one trinitarian family—the innermost essential for the Trinity to be, without which the Trinity does not exist.

            The ontological One structures the Trinity as family such that the trinitarian persons cannot be reduced or fragmented to tritheism. Each trinitarian person is the who, what and how of God without distinctions that would reduce their persons from that whole, thus they are inseparable. In the structure of their essential identity, on the one hand, if you see one trinitarian person you have seen them all; while on the other, to see the whole Trinity is to see the trinitarian persons because each person is distinct in the whole but not distinguished from the whole. This constitutes the main basis for Jesus’ startling claim to his disciples: “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9, cf. 12:45). He did not merely resemble (homoioma, cf. Rom 8:3) the Father but is the exact copy (charakter, cf. Heb 1:3) of the Father. Moreover, as proclaimed in the First Testament (Isa 9:6), the identity of the Son was also specifically named (qara) both Father and Counselor to distinguish (pala) the trinitarian persons’ ontological oneness in their basic structure. This proclamation also pointed unmistakably to the relational Whole (shalôm) that the Son would enact—which determines how “righteousness and shalôm will kiss each other” (Ps 85:10).

            The structure of the ontological One also overlaps with the systemic factor of the trinitarian persons in relationship together. To review and expand on Jesus’ words (discussed in the previous chap.), his disclosure “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (en eimi, Jn 14:10-11) further reveals the ongoing existence (eimi) of their persons in the presence of and accompanied by (en) the other; and this integral bond thereby also signified their essential relational oneness constituted by their intimate involvement with each other in full communion composed by whole relationship together—just as their relationship demonstrated at his baptism, in his transfiguration, in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, along with the presence and function (meno) of the Spirit. Their deep intimacy in relationship together (en eimi, the relational Whole) composes the relational significance of the Trinity’s systemic process, which is integrated with the qualitative significance of the structure essential to their ontological oneness (heis eimi, the ontological One) to constitute the trinitarian persons in the indivisible and interdependent relationships together to be the whole and uncommon Trinity as inter-person-al family. This essential integral interaction of the ontological One and the relational Whole provides further functional understanding of perichoresis.

            The Trinity’s uncommon ontological and relational oneness exclusively (sui generis) constituted the embodied Word, the only one (monogenes) from outside the universe to fully exegete (exegeomai) the Father (Jn 1:18)—not to merely inform us of the transcendent and holy God but to vulnerably make known the Father for intimate relationship together as his family, as Jesus prayed (Jn 17:6,26). These essential relational dynamics and ontological functions provide the remaining basis for Jesus’ claim that if we see the whole of his person we see the Father—and the basis for the Father’s relational imperative “Listen to my Son.”

            What is disclosed of the Trinity is indispensable for understanding the Trinity:

The essential nature of the Trinity’s structure as the ontological One is integral for the Trinity not to be fragmented into three Gods (tritheism), because the trinitarian persons do not function as individuals apart from their being the ontological One—even though each trinitarian person has a person-al identity. Rather, the Trinity functions in the synergism of the Trinity’s systemic process wherein the relational Whole is greater than the sum of the trinitarian persons—which is integral for the Trinity not to be reduced to mere modes of function (modalism) instead of whole persons. This essential structure and synergistic systemic process integrally define the person-al Trinity and determine the inter-person-al Trinity.

What we are exposed to is vital for trinitarian theology and practice:

The inter-person-al dynamics of the trinitarian relational context of family are enacted by the systemic trinitarian relational process of family love at the heart of the Trinity as the relational Whole, and are composed in the essential structure of the Trinity as the ontological One, in order to fulfill the Trinity’s essential relational purpose and outcome to make whole the human condition in uncommon likeness.

            The inter-person-al dynamics of the trinitarian family converged in their person-al nature when Jesus enacted the depth of his love with the footwashing of his family (Jn 13:1-8). The family love Jesus enacted—not as Teacher and Lord but with his whole person as Son—was also enacted by the Father’s and the Spirit’s presence and involvement, who always function together as the ontological One and relational Whole. Thus, when Jesus declared (as he told Peter) “Unless I am intimately involved with you and you relationally respond, you have no share with me,” the me by his nature always involved the whole of who, what and how the Trinity is. That is, Jesus’ whole person involved the nature of the interdependent overlapping factors that distinguish the trinitarian relational context of family (contextual factor) by the trinitarian relational process of the relational Whole (systemic factor) in the essential reality of the ontological One (structural factor). Accordingly, to “share with me” and thus be relationally involved with the Trinity is neither optional nor negotiable in trinitarian theology and practice.

            In the OT, YHWH was ongoingly involved with the people of Israel in situations and circumstances. Yet, the presence of YHWH was accessible only in limited contexts such as Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:11,20) and the tabernacle (God’s dwelling place, Ex 25:8,9; 40:34). This structure promoted a common perception of God as holy and transcendent. The incarnation functionally changes the context of God’s accessibility while maintaining the qualitative integrity of the triune God as holy and transcendent. As Jesus disclosed, “I came from the Father” (ek, out of, indicating motion from whom he belongs), “and now I am…going back to the Father” (Jn 16:28, NIV). The motions “out of” and “back to” are a singular relational dynamic that is integrated in the trinitarian relational context of family and by the trinitarian relational process of family love. The incarnation of Jesus’ whole person in uncommon life and practice was the continuous relational action fulfilling the whole and uncommon Trinity’s thematic relational action beginning with the first Adam. Thus the transcendent triune God was present now as never before and accessible in a further and deeper way. This reflects the strategic shift in the Trinity’s thematic action (discussed in chap. 3), which unfolds in the essential reality of the person-al and inter-person-al Trinity.

            Therefore, it is important to understand in trinitarian theology and practice: In Jesus’ claim that seeing him was seeing the Father, he disclosed in this twofold ontological and relational reality (ontological One and relational Whole) the importance of both what constitutes the full glory of God’s qualitative being and relational nature, as well as what matters most to God in God’s presence and involvement. God’s self-disclosure embodied in Jesus was the who (being) and what (nature) of the whole of God, and about how (presence) God only engages relationships to be Whole. It is in this trinitarian relational context by this trinitarian relational process that the whole and uncommon Trinity’s thematic action is extended in response to the human condition for relationship together as family in family love. While those who respond back cannot experience ontological oneness (heis eimi) with the uncommon Trinity, they can have in reciprocal relationship the experiential truth and reality of relational oneness (en eimi) together with the whole Trinity. The essential reality of en eimi with the Trinity is the definitive basis for Jesus’ followers to have heis eimi with each other together as his church family for the ontological oneness to be whole in likeness of the Trinity (kathos, in congruence with the Trinity, Jn 17:21-22).

            Jesus’ whole person improbably embodied and uncommonly enacted who, what and how the person-al and inter-person-al Trinity is in his relational-specific work of grace only for relationship together and to make relationships together whole, the Trinity’s whole family distinguished by the Trinity’s relational terms. His defining family prayer constitutes his followers together in this qualitative relational significance—composed in the primacy that matters most to the whole and uncommon Trinity. Therefore, his church family lives “ontologically one,” heis eimi together, en eimi the relationships with each other necessary to function to be “relationally whole” in likeness of the relational ontology of the Trinity.

            As this whole and uncommon God’s presence and involvement are distinguished in the human context by the reality of the inter-person-al Trinity—in contrast to and conflict with virtual and augmented realities—there is still another question to account for.

 

4.  To what extent does this revelation also define the immanent Trinity, the triune God in transcendence, the totality of YHWH?

 

            The basic structure holding together the innermost of the Trinity without fragmentation and the synergistic systemic process at the heart of the Trinity need further clarification for the Trinity to be more defining in our theology and determining of our practice.

            For the whole and holy God to engage in relationship with human persons involves a very distinct relational process appearing both paradoxical and incompatible, which illuminates what matters most to God and therefore how God engages relationships. In ultimate relational response to the human condition “to be apart” from inner-out wholeness (as in Gen 2:18,25; 3:7), the Father extended his family love to all human persons in the embodied trinitarian person of the Son (Jn 3:16-17). Yet, unlike how the trinitarian persons love each other in the relational Whole by a “horizontal” relational process between equals, the inherent inequality between Creator and creature necessitates a vertical relational process. This vertical process would appear to preclude the Trinity’s intimate involvement in relational oneness (en eimi) as family together to be whole; that is a logical conclusion from interpreting this process apart from the whole relational context and process of God. Additionally, critical to this vertical equation, the incompatibility between the holy God and sinful humanity compounds the difference of inequality between us. The perception of God’s ultimate response from a quantitative lens might be that God reached down from the highest stratum of life to the lowest stratum of life to bridge the inequality, which certainly has some descriptive truth to it yet is notably insufficient both for understanding the Trinity and for an outcome beyond this intervention—that is, for the relational outcome of what Jesus saves us to. Deeper understanding emerges from the horizon of the Trinity’s relational context, which must have primacy in the hermeneutic of the trinitarian theological task.

            Of most importance and significance, God pursues us from a qualitatively different context (holy, uncommon) in a qualitatively different process (eternal and relational) to engage us for relationship together only on God’s terms in the trinitarian relational context of family and process of family love. That is to say, unlike the Trinity’s “horizontal” involvement of family love, the triune God had to initiate family-love action vertically downward to us in response to our condition “to be apart” in order to reconcile us to come together in relationships en eimi the whole and uncommon Trinity. The enigma of this response of the so-called economic Trinity’s relational grace can only be understood in a vertical process, which must be distinguished not only from the “horizontal” relational process of how the immanent Trinity loves among themselves, but also from the horizontal process implied in the human reductions of the vertical process that signify renegotiating our relationship with God on our terms. This subtle renegotiation of terms—functionally, not necessarily theologically—pervades Christian and church practice (cf. the early disciples and the churches in Jesus’ post-ascension discourse, Rev 2-3). Yet, without the immanent and economic Trinity’s family-love initiative downward, there would be no compatible relational basis for the Trinity to connect with us or for us to connect with the Trinity, both initially and ongoingly.

            In the essential dynamics of this qualitative relational process, the whole and holy Trinity can only love us by a vertical relational process because of the inherent inequality between us. The Trinity, both immanent and economic, can only engage in relationships as the whole and uncommon Trinity, which Jesus embodied and enacted yet never on any other terms, specifically ours—which points to our not having ontological oneness (heis eimi) with God, even with a theology of deification. Nevertheless, in spite of the Trinity’s obvious distinguished (pala, beyond comparison) ontology and superior position and authority, in loving us downward the Son came neither to perpetuate nor to expand the quantitative and qualitative differences between us, though his working assumptions never denied the extent of those differences. Nor did he come to condemn us to or bury us in those differences (Jn 3:17). In the qualitative difference of the Trinity’s family love, the Son’s whole person vulnerably disclosed how the Trinity engages relationship for relationship together to be whole, which the Spirit’s relational work extends for us to experience this primacy of relationship further and deeper to completion. It is vital for us to understand the implications of this qualitative relational process engaged by the whole and uncommon Trinity (cf. Jesus’ footwashing)—both in our relationship with the Trinity and in our relationships together as church family, then in our relations with others to embody the good news of whole relationship together, all of which must be composed by persons and relationships in likeness of the person-al and inter-person-al Trinity.

            For the eternal and holy triune God in transcendence to be extended to us in family-love action downward required the enigma of some paradoxical sense of “reduction” of the immanent Trinity (cf. Jn 17:4-5; Phil 2:6-8), suggesting a quantitative-like reduction (not qualitative) of the totality of YHWH that appears incompatible to God’s whole integrity. That is, the inter-person-al dynamics of the person-al Trinity’s family love downward underlie the basis for the functional differences in the Trinity revealed to us in the Scriptures—functional differences present in the Trinity even prior to creation, yet differences only about the economic Trinity in relation to us (Jn 3:16, cf. Rom 8:29, Eph 1:4-5, 1 Pet 1:2, 1 Jn 4:9-10). These differences among the trinitarian persons appear to suggest a stratified order of their relationships together. Jesus indicated that “the Father is greater than I” (meizon, greater, larger, more, Jn 14:28) only in terms of quantitative distinctions for role and function but not for qualitative distinction of their ontology as the immanent Trinity. There is indeed a stratification of function in the economic Trinity, yet their different functions only have significance in the relational process of enacting family love downward to us. The inter-person-al dynamics of their functional differences correspond to only the economic Trinity, and Scripture provides no basis for a stratified order of relationships in the immanent Trinity in eternity, the triune God in transcendence. While the economic Trinity integrally reflects the immanent Trinity to distinguish the Trinity’s wholeness, the immanent Trinity cannot be reduced to the economic Trinity as if to define the totality of YHWH. Yet, in contrast, others such as Karl Rahner simply state that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity, which is simply an assumption without biblical basis.[7]

            In other words, the Trinity’s functional differences are provisional and cannot be used to define the relational ontology of the totality of the Trinity, the triune God and YHWH. To make that application to the total God yet to be disclosed can only be an assumption, the theory of which says more about ourselves than God. What the embodied whole of the Word of God vulnerably disclosed helps us understand the Trinity sufficiently to preclude such an assumption. That is, what is disclosed is provisional for the following:

Specifically to distinguish the Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement in the human context in order to (1) know the righteousness (the who, what and how) of God, and (2) to understand the glory (the qualitative being, relational nature and vulnerable presence) of God, for the relational-specific purpose and outcome of the primacy of relationship together.

Relationship together in the human context required the whole Trinity to be engaged, neither just fragmentary parts of the Trinity nor also the essential totality of the Trinity. Therefore, what is disclosed enacts the righteousness and glory of God that can neither be reduced to common terms nor totally elevated to transcendence.

            As the Word of God who created all things, the Son embodied the most significant function of subordinating himself in order to extend family love downward (as Paul highlighted, Phil 2:6-8). This subordinate action of family love is further extended downward by the Spirit as the Son’s relational replacement to complete what the Son established (Jn 14:16,18,26). God’s initiative downward in the Son, however, must be distinguished from a view that the transcendent God needed an intermediary (i.e. Jesus) to do this for God—a form of Arianism that claims Jesus is less than God in deity, being or substance (ousia). Despite any apparent sense of quantitative reduction of God to enact family love downward, the incarnation was the nothing-less-and-no-substitute God revealing how the whole and uncommon Trinity engages in relationship. This is the complete Christology that composes the epistemological, hermeneutical, ontological and functional keys for the inter-person-al Trinity, which distinguishes the whole ontology and function of the person-al Trinity.

            The relational context and process of the Trinity’s focus on human persons (even before creation) and involvement with us (during and after creation) compose the functional differences in the Trinity necessary for the triune God in transcendence to love us downward. Each of the trinitarian persons has a distinct role in function together as the relational Whole and ontological One to extend family love in response to the human relational condition. Therefore, it is in this uncommon relational context and whole relational process that the Trinity’s functional differences need to be examined to understand the significance of trinitarian uniqueness. There are two approaches to the Trinity’s differences that we can take.

            The first approach is a static and more quantitative descriptive account of their different functions and roles in somewhat fixed relationships. With this limited lens, for example, gender complementarians use this approach to establish the primacy of an authority structure within the Trinity that extends to marriage and usually to church. Meanwhile, many gender egalitarians use the same approach but come to different conclusions about the meaning of the Trinity’s functional differences—sometimes even to deny them; yet their primary focus remains on human leadership and roles also, though who occupies them is open to both genders.

            As an example of the first approach, Wayne Grudem argues that the differences in trinitarian relationships indicate a functional difference of roles (not substance) that subordinated the Son to the Father eternally. Even though the Son was begotten of the Father, Grudem emphasized that this difference in their relationship never began (“begotten of the Father before all worlds”), which includes the authority of the Father over the Son and the Spirit as always part (also “never began”) of their eternal roles (on the basis of Rom 8:29; Eph 1:4).[8] Grudem affirms the equal substance (homoousios), value and personhood of the trinitarian persons while maintaining their differences in authority and roles. This certainly mitigated an Arian controversy. Yet it is problematic to say that the trinitarian differences indicated by begetting and authority “never began.”

            The term “begotten” is associated with two terms used in the Bible. The most common Greek term is monogenes, traditionally rendered “only begotten” with reference to Jesus (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9). Monogenes means unique, one of a kind, one and only, and is more accurately rendered “only one,” “one and only”—defining the unique relationship of the Son with the Father without implying any element of procreation. We will discuss the significance of this designation for Jesus shortly.

            The other term for begotten occurred initially in a messianic Psalm about the Christ: “You are my Son; today I have become your Father” (Ps 2:7, NIV, yalad, meaning become the father of). This verse is quoted in the NT (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5) with the Greek term gennao meaning to beget, become the father of, generate, originate. This term more directly involves the function of begetting and distinctly defines the relationship between the Father and his Son. Yet when the Father said “today I have become your Father,” the term for “today” (yom) denotes both a point in time and a period in time. This certainly indicates that God became the Father of the Son from some point by a purposeful action—action, however, neither to be reduced to the procreation in Arianism, nor to overlook and fail to understand its purpose.

            If the Trinity functions in subordinate relationships, either this structure always existed eternally (without beginning as Grudem argues) or it was generated/originated (at some point, even if an enigma). It is disputable, however, to think these two can validly be combined. If the structure always existed, the Father did not initiate it by his action or authority; like God, it just is and always was. If generated of the Father at some point, the question “why so?” remains unaddressed—which unanswered leaves open the door to some form of Arianism or even modalism.

            The quotes of Psalm 2:7 in the Second Testament help us understand the Father’s purpose to beget (gennao) the Son. In Acts, when asked to speak words of encouragement Paul summarized YHWH’s ongoing faithful response to their condition “to be apart” and the good news that the triune God fulfilled the promise to be the family of God now in Jesus by repeating the reality of Psalm 2:7 (Acts 13:15ff). The whole truth and reality of this gospel is established further in the Hebrew epistle by clearly defining the equality of the Son in the being (hypostasis) of God (Heb 1:2, 3) and his superiority even to the angels (1:4ff). In this comparison with the angels, what is the significance of quoting Psalm 2:7 and also quoting “I will be his Father and he will be my Son”? This distinguishes the essential reality of being God’s family, disclosing that the Father never said this to the angels. They did not inherit the Father’s family name and its rights (1:4), apparently indicating that even though they were God’s personal messengers and servants they were not full family members. But, as Paul declared in Acts, this is the good news for the rest of us. And this full membership in the Trinity’s family is secured by the Son as the great high priest (Heb 4:14ff). Yet this is not about role identity because Psalm 2:7 is quoted again (5:5) to focus on the relationship-specific purpose and action of the Father to extend the Son to us in the primary function of relationships in family love (not priestly duties)—the primary relational purpose and primacy of relational action to reconcile us to the whole and uncommon Trinity so that we can be full members in the Trinity’s family.

            Role identity and function are not fixed ends in themselves but always serve the whole and uncommon Trinity’s design and purpose even before creation, and thereafter as God’s thematic relational response to the human condition of persons and relationships “to be apart” from wholeness. We also need to understand this more deeply about authority and the function it serves. In addition, the fact that the Father’s authority existed even before the foundation of the world does not automatically mean that it never began. While eternity exists beyond our time and space, whatever exists or took place before this created context are not necessarily “eternal without beginning” (e.g. as with angels). “Never began” has to be assumed by Grudem without biblical support.

            Besides assuming “never began,” Grudem also gives a static and quantitative descriptive account of these functions and thus ascribes fixed roles to the trinitarian persons in their eternal relationship. In this narrow framework the eternal nature of these different roles constitutes the basis for eternal subordination in the Trinity and establishes the primacy of trinitarian relationships in its authority structure. It is a major assumption, however, to define the immanent Trinity by the economic Trinity (which includes before creation)—again, an assumption without biblical basis. Since this authority structure and these fixed role differences are also used as the basis for constituting gender relations in marriage and the church, this implies the same authority and role differences to continue eternally for men and women—even though marriage does not exist in heaven. Furthermore, we need to see if authority and subordination adequately define the primary function of the relationship of God within the Trinity and if they signify the primacy given to the relationship of God as revealed by the Trinity in relationship with us. Certainly, if we lack understanding of what is disclosed of the Trinity in the human context, we are freer to render the immanent Trinity, the triune God in transcendence and the totality of YHWH to the shaping by human though and ideas.

            Based on these fixed role differences, what becomes primary in how God engages in relationship? For Grudem, it is the following: “The doctrine of the Trinity thus indicates that equality of being together with authority and submission to authority are perhaps the most fundamental aspects of interpersonal relationships in the entire universe.”[9] I can understand his bias for order and for the need for constraint on free will. Most certainly, there is need for this. Yet Jesus vulnerably revealed more than this about relationship both within the Trinity and for us as his church family. These are the primary aspects of the Trinity’s disclosures that need to be put together in the trinitarian theological task in order to understand (syniemi for synesis) the whole and uncommon Trinity and the person-al and inter-person-al Trinity’s desires in the big picture of trinitarian theology and practice.

            Moreover, Grudem identifies the differences in authority among the Father, Son, and Spirit as the only interpersonal differences existing eternally in the Trinity. In his approach, he needs this difference not only to define the trinitarian persons but also to determine how they will engage in relationship. Moreover, he boldly declares that functioning without this quantitative distinction “would destroy the Trinity.”[10] Since Grudem defines the person by one’s role—a critical reduction of the person both trinitarian and human—in order to differentiate the trinitarian persons and to delineate the way they relate to one another, he argues that without this they would be identical not only in being but also in role and how they relate together. This stands in contrast to Jesus’ declarations noted earlier.

            Further, Grudem uses the name “Father” and “Son” to support these distinctions. Though he suggests a biblical basis that only indirectly may define the immanent Trinity (in eternity), he makes assumptions for a syllogistic-like conclusion: since “those names have belonged to the Father and the Son forever”[11] then their roles are also eternally theirs “because by nature they have always existed as Father and Son,”[12] therefore the Son is eternally submissive to the Father “simply because He eternally existed as Son, and submission to the Father was inherent in that relationship.”[13] Yet he does not account for the Son as messiah also being named “Everlasting Father” (Is 9:6), not to mention Psalm 2:7 noted earlier. Besides making assumptions for the immanent Trinity based on the economic Trinity (as revealed even before creation), Grudem does not adequately put the pieces of revelation together to understand (syniemi) the triune God because he focuses on the quantitative distinctions from reductionism—which have fragmented persons and relationships from their wholeness from the beginning. Such a narrowed-down epistemic process is always inadequate to understand the qualitative ontological One and relational Whole of the Trinity.

            The second approach to the Trinity’s differences, contrary to the first static approach, is more dynamic and qualitative, focusing on the relational process in which their differences occur. While this approach fully accounts for the different functions and roles in the Trinity, the relational significance of those functions involves how each of the trinitarian persons fulfilled a part of the total vertical relational process to love us downward as the whole Trinity, not as different parts of the Trinity in common terms. In this qualitative approach, the primary significance shifts from authority (or leadership) and roles to love and relationships. This distinction is pivotal for trinitarian theology and practice. When churches assess their practice in likeness of the Trinity, they need to understand which approach to the Trinity they use. For example, the successful and highly regarded churches in Ephesus and Sardis certainly must have had an abundance of leadership and role performance to generate the quantitative extent of their church practices, yet Jesus’ post-ascension discourse exposed their major deficiency in the whole and uncommon Trinity’s primary function of love and primacy of whole relationship together (Rev 2-3, to be further discussed in chap. 9). And, as Jesus made evident in this discourse, central to a church’s assessment is the awareness of the influence of reductionism—the influence that increasingly diminishes qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness, notably by giving priority to secondary matters deemed more important.

            Understanding the relational significance of trinitarian differences requires more than the descriptive accounts of authority and roles. The more dynamic and qualitative approach by necessity goes beyond this to the qualitative whole of persons and relationships and the dynamic process in which they are involved to be whole and not fragmentary. This requires the theological framework (both for the Trinity and anthropology) that redefines persons not based on what they do (notably in roles) or have (namely authority) but on who and what they are in qualitative relational significance together, thus understanding relationships as a vulnerable process of the relational involvement in family love (as at Gethsemane) between such whole persons (unreduced by what they do or have) and not as relationships based merely on authority and roles (basically reductionist distinctions, erased by Jesus’ claims with the Father). These qualitative relationships help us understand what is necessary to be whole as constituted in the Trinity, and whereby the church is to live whole in likeness of the Trinity—which requires a compatible theological anthropology that perhaps may even be antecedent for a congruent trinitarian theology.

            When relationships are defined and examined merely on the basis of roles, the focus is reduced to the quantitative definition of the person (at the very least by what one does in a role) and a quantitative description of relationships (e.g. a set of roles in a family) according to the performance of those roles. This is usually in a set order for different roles (as in a traditional family) or even mutually coexisting for undifferentiated roles (as in some non-traditional families). Yet this limited focus does not account for the variations that naturally occur in how a person sees a role, performs that role and engages it differently from one situation to another; for example, compare Jesus’ initial prayer at Gethsemane of not wanting to go to the cross (Mt 26:39) with what he had clearly asserted in various situations earlier. Nor does this narrowed focus account for the inter-person-al dynamics composing the relational process in which all of this is taking place—the process necessary for roles to have relational significance; for example, examine Jesus’ intimacy with the Father at Gethsemane and assess its significance for his role to die on the cross.

            Moreover, when primacy is given to the Father’s authority and role to define his person and also to constitute the relationships within the Trinity, this tends to imply two conclusions about the Trinity—if not as theological assumptions, certainly in how we functionally perceive God. The first implication for the Trinity is that everything is about and for primarily the Father (an assumption congruent with patriarchy); the Son and the Spirit are necessary but secondary in function to serve only the Father’s desires. While there is some truth to this in terms of role description, the assumed or perceived functional imbalance reduces the ontological oneness (heis eimi) of the triune God, the ontological One. Interrelated, this imbalance creates a further assumption or inadvertent perception of the Son’s and Spirit’s roles as being “different thus less” (as in identity deficit) than the Father’s, thereby operating in stratified relationships preventing the relational oneness (en eimi) necessary for the whole of God, the relational Whole. This points to the second implication for the Trinity, that such primacy of the Father also tends to imply a person who exists in relationships (presumably together) yet without interdependence and essentially self-sufficient from the other trinitarian persons—similar to the function of individualism in Western families. This unintentional assumption or perception counters the ontological One and relational Whole by reducing the relational ontology of the triune God as constituted in the Trinity, the innermost relational nature which is at the heart of who, what and how the whole (not totality) of YHWH is (as emerged in the covenant).

            These two implied conclusions (or variations of them) about the Trinity are problematic for trinitarian theology, notably when integrated with Christology. They also have deeper implications for our practice of how we define persons, how we engage in relationships together and how these become primary for determining the practice of church, and in whose specific likeness our church practice is. While the priority of the Father’s authority and role must be accounted for in the revelation available to us, our understanding of trinitarian functional differences deepens when examined in the relational context and process of the uncommon Trinity and the whole Trinity’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition in the vertical process of love. God’s self-revelation is about how the whole and uncommon God engages in relationship as the persons of the Trinity in response to us for relationship together in God’s whole—the ultimate disclosure and response of which were embodied by the whole of Jesus.

            As noted earlier, Jesus clearly disclosed that his purpose and function were for the Father. Their functional differences indicated a definite subordination enacted by Jesus. Even going to the cross was his submission to serve the Father—not us, though we benefit from it—as the ultimate fulfillment of the Trinity’s family love and the redemptive means for adoption as the Father’s very own in his family together without the veil of distinctions. The critical question about Jesus’ functional position that we need to answer is what this subordination signifies. Directly related to this is why the Son is designated as “the only One” (monogenes, Jn 1:14,18) of God. Does this define fixed roles in a hierarchy or does it signify the relational process of the whole person-al and inter-person-al Trinity loving downward necessitating transitional subordination among the trinitarian persons, in order to make a compatible relational connection with us, and, thereby, us with the uncommon Trinity with the relational outcome of belonging to the whole Trinity’s family?

            A hierarchy is about structure and is static. But authority (arche) is not merely what someone possesses, rather it is always exercised over another in relationship, thus it involves a dynamic relational process. Hierarchy and authority conjoined together need to be understood as the dynamics of stratified relationships that involve more than order and includes how relationships are done. Stratified relationships can range from  the oppression in power relations at one extreme, to degrees of defined vertical separation in relations, or merely to distance in relationships caused by such vertical distinctions and related comparative differences, intentionally made or not. How can Paul deconstruct distinctions and differences for those ‘in Christ’ if the Son himself is permanently defined and determined by them (Gal 3:28), or erase them from the image of God if the ontology of the Trinity is defined by them (Col 3:10-11)? At whatever point in this range of stratified relationships, the relationships together would be less intimate than what is accessible in horizontal relations; this is the significance of Jesus’ teaching on leadership in his church family, not reversing a stratified order (Mk 10:42-45), as demonstrated also with his involvement in footwashing. Does a stratified relationship represent the sum of Jesus’ relationship with his Father, or do his two earlier declarations about him and his Father define the whole of their relationship?

            The ontological One and the relational Whole, which is the person-al and inter-person-al Trinity, is what Jesus’ whole person embodied in his life and enacted in his practice throughout the incarnation. Though unique in function by their different roles in the whole and uncommon Trinity’s thematic relational response to the human condition, what primarily defines their trinitarian persons are not these role distinctions. To define them by their roles is to define the trinitarian persons by what they do, which would be a qualitative reduction of the triune God to fragmentary common terms. This reduction makes role distinctions primary over the only purpose for their functional differences to love us downward, consequently reducing not only the essential who, what and how of the Trinity but also the qualitative relational significance of what matters most to God, both as Creator and Savior.

            For whole knowledge and understanding of this God—the syniemi of the enigmas disclosed by God—role distinctions neither define the trinitarian persons nor determine their relationships together and how they engage in relationships with each other. God’s self-disclosure is about God’s essential relational nature and function only for relationship together, which required the whole of God’s righteousness and glory. Thus, YHWH defines our boast of knowing and understanding God only on the relational basis “that I am the ontological One and relational Whole who enacts the relational reality of my love, justice and righteousness (the who, what and how I am) in the human context” (Jer 9:24). As disclosed of the persons of the Trinity, namely in the narratives of Jesus, the following relational summary can be made:

The Father is how the Trinity engages in relationship as family—not about authority and influence; the Son is how the Trinity engages in relationship vulnerably—not about being the obedient subordinate; the Spirit is how the Trinity engages in relationship in the whole—not about the helper or mediator.

In their functional differences, the Trinity is always loving us downward for relationship together—to be whole, the triune God’s relational Whole. This is the relational basis for the ancient poet to declare: “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace as wholeness kiss each other” (Ps 85:10, NIV).

            The primacy of whole relationship together distinguishes the ontology and function of the Trinity. Anything less and any substitutes for the Trinity give primacy to secondary aspects, however important that aspect may be to the gospel. Therefore, we cannot utilize how each trinitarian person discloses an aspect of how the whole and uncommon Trinity engages in relationship for loving us downward, in order to make reductionist distinctions between them by which to eternally define their persons and determine their relationships. The consequence of such a reductionism of the whole Trinity alters the embodied-enacted whole of the uncommon Trinity’s theological trajectory and relational path, with repercussions reverberating to the innermost of YHWH’s ontological footprints and the triune God’s functional steps. This reduces the primacy of the whole and uncommon Trinity’s desires, purpose and actions for redemptive reconciliation from our relational condition as well as ongoing tendency “to be apart” from wholeness as persons and relationships—our default condition and mode. Furthermore, this reduction removes trinitarian person-al identity from the relational context of the eschatological big picture and from its relational process constituted by the primacy of how this God engages relationship within the Trinity and thereby in relationship to us. The shift from this primacy of the relationship of the inter-person-al Trinity reduces who, what and how God is and thereby can be counted on to be in relationship that is, such a shift reduces the righteousness of God, who thus can’t be counted on. The gospel then shifts away from this primacy and the essential truth of whole relationship together to a referential truth of a truncated soteriology—thereby transposing this essential relational reality to a virtual or augmented reality. Given this consequence, what significance would the Trinity have for our relational condition?

            What irreducibly constitutes this nonnegotiable primacy in the Trinity’s ontological One and relational Whole is how they function in their uncommon relationships in the whole of God as the whole of God and for the whole of God. This functional-relational oneness of the whole and uncommon Trinity is not signified and cannot be constituted by their authority and roles. Primary function in the distinctions of authority and roles would not be sufficient to enable Jesus to say seeing him was seeing the Father, whereby their whole ontology and function is distinguished in the human context by their essential relational dynamics. Their whole ontology and function discloses unmistakably the whole Trinity, the uncommon nature of which discloses only provisional knowledge yet whole understanding of the immanent Trinity, the triune God in transcendence and the totality of YHWH.

            YHWH already told Moses that the totality of YHWH would not be revealed. Whether that just meant not to be disclosed to Moses or also to the human context then and now can be arguable. Paul illuminated that Christ is the pleroma (fullness, complete, whole) of God (Col 1:19; 2:9). His theological discourse in human contexts was based primarily on the whole of God’s communication to him in the relational context and process initiated by Jesus and deepened by the Spirit. In Paul’s Christology the incarnation set in motion the relational dynamic embodying the pleroma (fullness, complete, whole) of God (Col 1:19), the pleroma of the Godhead (Col 2:9), who is the image of God (Col 1:15) vulnerably revealing the whole of God’s glory (qualitative being and relational nature) in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6) only for relationship together as God’s family (Eph 1:5, 13-14; Col 1:20-22). God’s relational action ‘in Christ’ involves these complex theological dynamics, which often need the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction of tāmiym (the whole relational terms in the covenant, Gen 17:1) for their wholeness. Paul’s theology of wholeness, and thus his gospel of wholeness (Eph 6:15), is the underlying dynamic of his pleroma Christology. The irreducible and nonnegotiable dynamic of wholeness is what Jesus constituted in the incarnation of his own person and, likewise, constituted for human persons (both individually and collectively) by his incarnation in the dynamic of nothing less and no substitutes for all life and function (both for his person and human persons, Col 2:9-10). Thus, for Paul what was disclosed was nothing less than the whole of God. Even as a monotheist, what he discovered in his theological task of the pleroma of God unmistakably made his monotheism whole.

            Paul was likely aware that the psalmist declared: “Righteousness will go before YHWH, and will make a path for his steps” (Ps 85:13). And indeed, who, what and how of the Trinity determined the functional steps disclosed on the Trinity’s relational path—not just fragmentary parts of who, what and how the Trinity is but the whole of who, what and how the Trinity is. This wholeness of God is the qualitative relational significance of pleroma, which is definitive of the whole Trinity without having to distinguish inclusively the totality of the uncommon Trinity.

            Therefore, the totality of YHWH remains undisclosed but YHWH’s ontological footprints and the triune God’s functional steps have been revealed in whole ontology and function. Unmistakably then, the whole and uncommon Trinity continues to be vulnerably present and intimately involved integrally distinguishing the trinitarian relational context of family as the person-al Trinity in order to enact and bring to completion the trinitarian relational process of family love in the inter-person-al Trinity. Nothing less and no substitutes compose trinitarian theology and practice in the whole and uncommon; and the truth and reality essential of the Trinity’s who, what and how unfold to constitute the whole gospel and fulfill the uncommon relational response of grace necessary to make whole the human condition and relational need.

 

 

Social Trinitarianism

 

 

            Contemplate this statement on the Trinity’s presence and involvement:

 

The whole and uncommon Trinity does not give what the human context wants, only what
humanity needs.

            Certainly in our theology and practice, God’s presence has been defined in various forms, much of which misrepresents God with idealized images and stereotypes. God’s involvement also has been determined in various ways in order to be compatible or even congruent with our diversity, which reflects what we commonly want more than what we basically need. In getting what we want over what we need, we have to examine how much this reflects, reinforces and sustains the human relational condition in the human context in general and our surrounding contexts in particular—which perhaps not so obviously would be deficient to fulfill what’s needed.

            When we ask, however, what God offers us with the presence and involvement as the Trinity, this theological trajectory has not been well-defined and this relational path has not been whole-ly determined. Integrally defining the presence of the Trinity in the human context and determining the Trinity’s involvement with humanity is the purpose of social trinitarianism in theology and practice, or at least should be. Yet, for social trinitarianism to fulfill this purpose requires it to define the Trinity’s uncommon theological trajectory and to determine the Trinity’s whole relational path, such that the ontological footprints of the person-al Trinity and the functional steps of the inter-person-al Trinity are the essential reality experienced by human persons and relationships—the reality needed over any other virtual and augmented realities wanted. Therefore, contemplate further that there can be no hybrid combining essential reality and virtual-augmented realities, and thus no hybrid between what’s needed and wanted—just as Jesus clarified and corrected (Jn 6:25-66).

 

Issues of Significance

 

            Historically in trinitarian theology, social trinitarianism emerged as the solution to better define what had been variable understanding of the term person as applied to the Trinity. The perception of person apart from relationship increasingly became insignificant to account for God’s presence and involvement, and understandably so if the Trinity has anything of substance to offer—namely in the qualitative relational significance of love. This lack of significance was problematic, for example, for an indigenous theological framework in North America, which Randy Woodley clarifies for Western thinking:

     Native American views of God are defined almost completely by relationality rather than by function. In other words, the different aspects of the Trinity are not determined by their function so much as by how they relate in community. Recent theological discussions are focusing more on sacred community/perichoresis in developing an understanding that the ontology of the Trinity is not to be found in the persons but rather in the relationship (Zizioulas, Barth, Moltmann, Boff, Grenz, Olson). In terms of common dialogue potential with First Nations theologians, this is a positive change from the usual Western form.[14]

Yet, understanding trinitarian persons in relationship together also became problematic when that understanding did not account for the essential reality of relationship beyond a concept, a simulation or other referential terms (like the noun relationality and the adjective relational). For example, perichoresis has struggled in trinitarian theology and practice to have qualitative relational significance both for the relational Trinity and human relationality in likeness. These lacks evidence not only a lack of understanding of the person but also of relationship, both of which reflect the influence of reductionism. Therefore, the major issues for social trinitarianism in the theological task involve the need to fully understand both the Trinity and what social constitutes.

            This primacy of whole relationship together in the Trinity is irreducible to human contextualization and nonnegotiable to human shaping of relationships. The integral relationship of the Trinity is the righteousness of God—that is, the whole who, what and how of the Trinity’s presence and involvement—which Jesus clearly made the primacy for his followers as whole persons from inner out to seek first in God’s kingdom-family to distinguish them from reductionism (Mt 6:33), namely from those functioning from outer in (5:20ff). This primacy of the trinitarian persons in whole relationship together is neither reducible for the Trinity nor negotiable for human persons and relationships. Without this primacy of wholeness, persons become reduced to outer in, defined by secondary matter (such as roles), whereby relationships are fragmented and engaged accordingly. Thus the primacy of whole relationship together in the Trinity is irreducible to human contextualization and nonnegotiable to human shaping of relationships. This is the full significance of what Jesus made primary for all his whole followers to seek first, making all else secondary even if vital for daily life (Mt 6:25-32).

            In creation, God constituted the human person in the image of the qualitative innermost of the whole and uncommon God signified by the function of the heart, not in dualism but in wholeness (Gen 2:7). The trinitarian persons and human persons in likeness cannot be separated or reduced from both this essential quality and relational substance and still be defined as whole persons. This wholeness signified by the heart is the innermost the Father seeks in worshippers (Jn 4:23-24) to be compatible with his uncommon presence in order to experience him (cf. “see God,” horao, Mt 5:8) in the primacy of relationship in whole relational terms, and what the Son searches in church practice to be whole (Rev 2:23). This primacy of the heart challenges the level of our qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness and our assumptions of theological anthropology. The qualitative significance of the heart is an integral necessity for the primary definition of the person from inner out, both trinitarian and human, not the secondary definition of what they do (roles) or what they have (authority) from outer in, and therefore is vital for both human ontology and the ontology of the Trinity. In other words, persons lose significance when detached or distant from their heart—that which integrates and holds together persons and relationships in their innermost.

            The Cappadocian fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, between 358-380) formulated the initial doctrine of the Trinity by distinguishing the trinitarian persons (hypostasis) from substance (ousia) to clarify relationality; but they advanced the person as ontologically more important than substance in order to give priority to the relationality of the triune God—establishing a social trinitarianism—though for the Cappadocians their persons were based on begottenness and spiration. While this significantly countered the prevailing idea of God’s essence as unrelated (or nonrelational), complete Christology does not allow reducing the importance of the qualitative relational substance essential to God—that is, the innermost of God who functions from inner out in the primacy of the heart for the primacy of relationship. Jesus vulnerably disclosed his whole person and the substantive relational quality of his heart, while interacting together in relationship with the Father to make definitive both whole persons as necessary to define the person-al Trinity (the ontological One) and whole relationship together as necessary to determine the inter-person-al Trinity (the relational Whole).

            This lack of understanding the ontological One and relational Whole in trinitarian theology creates a gap in understanding the Trinity as well as what constitutes social trinitarianism, and as a result a gap in church practice based on likeness of the Trinity. Complete Christology provides whole understanding of the qualitative relational significance of God to intimately know and understand the relationship essential in the Trinity.[15] In trinitarian theology, the predominant explanatory basis for relationality has been the Greek idea of perichoresis: the interpenetration of the trinitarian persons in dynamic interrelations with each other. The importance of perichoresis has certainly been critical for our perceptual-interpretive framework (notably of Western influence), and it could serve as a conceptually more complete term to define the ontology of the Trinity. But, as noted previously, this idea of relationality needs further and deeper understanding because it lacks the functional clarity to be of relational significance both to more deeply know the whole Trinity (not just fragmentary parts) and to intimately experience who, what and how the Trinity is in relationship together—which are the relational basis and ongoing relational base of Jesus’ defining family prayer for all his followers (Jn 17). The Eastern church, rooted in trinitarian theology from the Cappadocians, appears to lack this functional clarity in their ecclesial practice based on the Trinity.[16] If this is accurate, I would explain this as primarily due to the functional absence of the whole person in their relationships together as church—given the reduction of ousia inadvertently diminishing the function of the heart and as a result unintentionally minimizing intimacy together, perhaps by substituting icons. This shape of relationship together would not be the likeness of the Trinity. The whole of Jesus provides this clarity in how he vulnerably functions with his person in relationships throughout the incarnation—signifying his intrusive relational path—for which he holds his church accountable by family love as demonstrated in his post-ascension discourse on ecclesiology to be whole (summarized in Rev 3:19).

            This clarifies the existing weakness in trinitarian theology that continues to diminish or minimalize trinitarian practice. The major problem in the trinitarian task is having an insufficiently defined person to try to determine the significance of relationship composing the Trinity. In other words, the significance of relationship—and thus the significance of social trinitarianism—is contingent on the significance of the person present and involved in the relationship. The qualitative significance of the trinitarian persons defines the person-al Trinity that integrally determines the relational significance of the inter-person-al Trinity—the essential reality of who, what and how enacting the Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement in irreducible response to the human condition and relational need, nonnegotiable to human want.

 

The Significance Necessary to be Social

 

            The Trinity was disclosed for relational involvement in the human context that has been defined and determined by the common. For the Trinity to be in this common context is problematic for both theology and practice unless the Trinity is distinguished whole and uncommon. To be distinguished whole and uncommon is the core issue necessary for our theology and practice to have the qualitative relational significance congruent with the Trinity.

            The qualitative relational significance of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity’s presence and involvement converges in Jesus’ formative family prayer to fulfill integrally the purpose of social trinitarianism, whereby the essential relational outcome of the whole and uncommon Trinity emerges for trinitarian theology and practice to be composed whole and uncommon. The qualitative relational significance of this relational outcome does not emerge with the traditional view of Jesus’ prayer as his high priestly prayer. Though Jesus as our high priest certainly has importance, to assume his prayer is based on that then narrows down the definition of Jesus’ person to fragmentary parts of what he does, notably in his high priestly role. This insufficient definition renders his essential person to reduced ontology and function, which thereby no longer has the qualitative relational significance that discloses the person-al inter-person-al Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement.

            Whatever aspects of relationship that converge in Jesus’ prayer—which include multiple aspects—their significance for relationship is contingent on the whole definition of the person(s) present and involved in the relationship composed integrally by all these aspects (not just fragmentary parts). Whether for Jesus’ person, the Father’s person, the Trinity’s and those in the church family, fragmentary parts always relegate persons and their relationships to reduced ontology and function. Jesus’ defining family prayer, however, constitutes the needed response to the common existence of this fragmentary condition—also commonly existing in church trinitarian theology and practice—to make persons and relationships together whole and thus uncommon in likeness of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity as family. The essential relational purpose, process and outcome of Jesus’ prayer are irreducible to anything less and nonnegotiable to any substitutes.

            The integral relational aspects composing Jesus’ prayer involve the following relationships:

 

·       the relationship within the Trinity,

·       the Trinity’s relationship with the human context (the common cosmos),

·       the Trinity’s relationship with Jesus’ followers,

·       those followers’ relationship with the human context in uncommon likeness with the Trinity,

·       the relationship between those uncommon followers and the uncommon Trinity as family together in wholeness,

·       this whole and uncommon relationship together as family enacted in the human context to make whole the human condition of fragmentary persons and relationships.

 

Only as these inseparable relationships are understood can social trinitarianism compose the qualitative relational significance necessary for these relationships to unfold in the essential relational outcome of the gospel of the Son, the Father and the Spirit.

            Understanding the what of salvation’s good news for whole relationship together is contingent on understanding the whole of the Who constituting the gospel. If salvation does indeed go further and deeper than just saved from sin, this necessitates an integral relational basis (not referential) for the whole relationship together of what salvation saves to—which includes by necessity an ongoing relational base to function in whole relationship together. The whole and uncommon Trinity—the ontological One and relational Whole from outside the universe—composes the meaning, significance, purpose and means of whole relationship together, apart from whom relationship together lacks the meaning, significance, purpose and means to be whole, and thus lacks what’s essential for the human relational condition. Understanding the whole of the triune God, the whole of the Who constituting the gospel, provides the integral relational basis and ongoing relational base for whole relationship together. That is, only the Trinity both illuminated the essential truth of who came and distinguished the essential reality of what has come. Therefore, understanding what distinguished the Trinity and how the Trinity is distinguished are indispensable for those claiming the gospel and irreplaceable for proclaiming the good news of whole relationship together. This understanding is distinguished in the whole and uncommon Trinity’s thematic relational action enacted in relational-specific response to the human condition—the integral dynamics of which converged in Jesus’ prayer.

            In his defining prayer for the Trinity’s family, Jesus summarized what has been his relationship-specific purpose and function to disclose (phaneroo, not merely apokalypto) his Father and thus the whole and uncommon Trinity. His disclosure in relational terms distinguished the who, what and how integrally constituting the essential reality at the heart of the gospel and its essential relational outcome (Jn 17:6,21-26). Jesus’ disclosure by phaneroo over apokalypto is a vital distinction that is defining for the trinitarian theological task and determining for social trinitarianism. Apokalypto merely reveals the Object in referential terms that transmits information about the Trinity, which may be considered important information to know (especially in the academy) yet neither goes any further nor has deeper significance. Phaneroo, however, discloses the Subject to those to whom the Trinity communicates in relational terms within the context of relationship, not to merely have information about the Trinity but to know the person-al Trinity and understand the inter-person-al Trinity in relationship together as family.

            The inter-person-al dynamics composing Jesus’ prayer go beyond the intercession of the High Priest and encompass all the above relationships. His prayer begins with the depth of relational involvement within the Trinity that distinguishes (“glorify,” doxazo, Jn 17:1) the ontological One and relational Whole shared together by the trinitarian persons (as in Jn 13:31-32). These relational dynamics are essential to the Trinity and must not be perceived in referential terms merely to transmit information about God. The only relational purpose for disclosing the Trinity’s intimate life (zoe, not bios) is “that they may know the person-al Trinity, the only true God” (17:3). The Son enacted the relational-specific work that the Father gave him in the inter-person-al Trinity’s relational context of family and relational process of family love (17:4-6,24), whereby the relational outcome is relationship together as family (17:25-26).

            Yet, what the Son enacted does not distinguish (“glorify”) the person-al and inter-person-al Trinity unless these relational dynamics are unequivocally uncommon—that is, unmistakably distinguished from the common human context (17:14,16). The Trinity is holy and the integrity of the ontological One (the person-al Trinity) and the relational Whole (the inter-person-al Trinity) is contingent on being uncommon (17:11). Who, what and how the Trinity is can be nothing less and no substitutes, or the Trinity’s whole ontology and function is reduced—namely, to comparative terms no longer distinguished beyond the common. In the human context, anything less and any substitutes of the Trinity’s whole ontology and function common-ize the person-al Trinity and derelational-ize the inter-person-al Trinity, such that the Trinity’s presence and involvement don’t have the qualitative relational significance to whole-ly constitute the gospel and fulfill its essential relational outcome for the human condition. Anything less than whole and any substitutes from the common defining the Trinity relegate social trinitarianism to this relational consequence, which then challenges social trinitarianism’s engagement in the human context.

            As the Son enacts with the Spirit (Lk 4:1,14,18) the inter-person-al dynamics from the Father, the synergism of the Trinity emerges “as we are one” (Jn 17:11,22)—with no trinitarian person greater than the others (“All I have is yours, and all you have is mine,” 17:10, NIV, cf. 16:14-15) or more important than the others (“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you,” 17:21), such that the whole Trinity is greater than the sum of the trinitarian persons. This essential structure of the Trinity’s synergistic systemic process is irreplaceable for the whole and uncommon Trinity. Their synergism illuminates the ontological One and relational Whole, whose inter-person-al dynamics distinguish the Trinity’s uncommon presence in the human context and disclose the Trinity’s whole relational involvement specifically with Jesus’ followers (17:6-12). Thus, the Trinity’s synergism is pivotal in Jesus’ prayer, integrating the whole and uncommon Trinity who emerged in the human context with his whole and uncommon church family that will unfold in the Trinity’s likeness. Unless social trinitarianism extends this synergism essential for the Trinity’s inter-person-al dynamics, what it composes does not account for both the person-al and inter-person-al Trinity’s presence and involvement. Accordingly, what it offers cannot have the qualitative relational means to make whole the human relational condition, our relational condition; but, in fact, its good intentions may even reinforce or sustain the human condition, notably serving merely ‘the common good’ rather than working for the depth of whole good.

            Jesus clearly understood from direct experience with his disciples that their persons and relationships with him were still shaped by the common of their surrounding contexts, even their Judaism. This demonstrated the inner-out change needed for his followers to be transformed from the common’s reduced ontology and function to the uncommon’s whole ontology and function in likeness of the whole and uncommon Trinity—“because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world” (17:14,16). This is nonnegotiable for the terms of relationship together to be in uncommon wholeness with the Trinity.

            Jesus’ prayer makes definitive what he wants, enacts and fulfills for all his followers: For us to intimately experience the relational reality of the Trinity’s family love, and thereby to be the essential reality of the Trinity’s uncommon family that is constituted by whole ontology and function in the very likeness of the uncommon Trinity’s whole ontology and function (17:20-26). For this essential relational outcome, the common notion of unity is insufficient for defining the ontology of his followers to be one as the Trinity is one, the ontological One and relational Whole. Nor does unity get to the depth for determining the function of his followers to mature whole-ly (“completely,” teleioo, v.23) into one ontological family and relational whole—at the depth of being relationally (not ontologically) “in the Trinity” as the trinitarian persons are in each other (17:21,26). For the essential reality of this relational outcome, Jesus has given his followers the glory of the Trinity, that is, the Trinity’s qualitative being, intimate relational nature and vulnerable presence (v.22). On this definitive basis, then, Jesus’ prayer is both irreducible for relationship together as his family, as well as nonnegotiable for the terms of this relationship.

            The synergism of these inter-person-al dynamics emerges for this essential relational outcome only on the basis of whole ontology and function, integrally for the uncommon Trinity and his uncommon followers. Therefore, anything less and any substitutes of the Trinity’s family relationship together and any negotiation of its relational terms relegate ontology and function to a reduced condition; and its fragmentation emerges in the church with ontological simulation of relationships together to compose merely virtual-augmented realities of family—the social reality of the common.

 

The Unavoidable Conflict for Social Trinitarianism

 

            Since the Trinity was disclosed for relational involvement in the human context, the Trinity’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement have to be in uncommon presence and whole involvement in order to be distinguished from what prevails in the human context. This is an ongoing process because the Trinity’s essential relational purpose, response and outcome are ongoingly subjected to the prevailing influences, pressures, terms and shaping—even subject to that which have permeated the church. The prevailing reality of this ongoing condition presents the unavoidable conflict for social trinitarianism.

            The human context exists from the beginning under the influence of reductionism, the commonizing influence of which infects persons and relationships with reduced ontology and function. Until the reality of the common is redeemed, the influence of reductionism and its counter-relational workings remain defining for persons and relationships—even by default, as discussed previously for the early disciples—which required Jesus to include in his prayer the defining dynamic that transforms his followers from the common in the human context to the uncommon in the Trinity’s context. Without this dynamic interaction of contexts, the common prevails to determine our practice no matter how much notions of the holy may define our theology—with the latter defined by renegotiated general referential terms no longer distinguished in the depth of the Trinity’s relational terms. Therefore, the transformation from the common to the uncommon is pivotal in order to be distinguished with the whole and uncommon Trinity; and this requires challenging the prevailing presence of the common and confronting its reductionist influence, which involves unavoidably taking on this conflict in order to be relationally involved in the human context congruently with the Trinity (as with Jesus, Mt 10:34).

            To claim this gospel of transformation and the essential reality of its wholeness in relationship together, and to proclaim this gospel of wholeness and live its whole relationship together in the world, necessitate integral understanding of who came and what has come that embody the gospel in the realm of physics to enact the gospel in the realm of metaphysics. The whole ontology and function of the who is inseparable from the what (saved to); and the essential reality of salvation’s good news for relationship is contingent both on the integral relational basis constituted in the whole ontology and function of the Trinity and on the ongoing relational base composed by the uncommon presence and whole involvement of the person-al inter-person­-al Trinity. This contingency needs to be met in relational terms in order for our ontology and function to be in whole and uncommon likeness to embody and thereby enact the relational outcome of the gospel. This integral relational basis and ongoing relational base are illuminated in Jesus’ defining prayer that clearly distinguished the whole ontology and function of his family in uncommon whole relationship together with and in likeness of the uncommon whole of the Trinity. What is defining for the church family is also by its nature defining for social trinitarianism.

            The church family’s ontology and function are distinguished on the relational basis and ongoing relational base of only the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole and uncommon Trinity. As Jesus continued to pray to the Father, this whole relationship together (defined as eternal life, 17:3), theirs and ours together, cannot function while under the influence of the surrounding context “of the world” (ek, preposition signifying out of which one is derived or belongs, 17:14,16). That is to say, “of the world” signifies relationship determined by our terms (even with good intentions) or by reductionist substitutes from the surrounding context, including alternative shaping of relationship together. In contrast and conflict with this, Jesus made evident the following:

He illuminated the ongoing conflict with reductionism this relationship encounters and distinctly pointed to the relational dynamic necessary to live as whole persons in whole relationship together, the uncommon nature of which Jesus vulnerably enacted in whole-ly distinguished life and practice to be intimately involved with his followers for their integrally distinguished life and practice—that is, to “be sanctified” (hagiazo, make holy, uncommon, 17:19) in the essential difference that makes the substantive difference for relational involvement in the human context, in order to be congruent in the likeness of the Trinity that makes the difference “into the world” for the human condition (17:18,21,23).

This defining process is indispensable, essential to be distinguished, and thus cannot be overlooked, diminished or minimalized without incurring relational consequences for the gospel and its relational outcome composed by the whole and uncommon of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity.

            In his prayer, Jesus commissioned (apostello) his followers for the specific mission “just as” (kathos) his Father commissioned him: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (17:18, cf. 20:21). In Jesus’ paradigm for serving (Jn 12:26, discussed previously), the first priority is the primacy of intimate involvement with him in relationship together, which is necessary over the priority of the work of serving, ministry and mission. For conventional paradigms for mission, sending workers out to the harvest fields becomes the urgent priority dominating our focus, thereby shifting away from whole persons in the primacy of relationship to both disembody and derelationalize the commission (however well meaning). Yet, as Jesus made definitive, the call to discipleship is the call to be whole, which, in order not be reduced, involves the need to be sanctified (to become holy, uncommon) to distinguish this wholeness from the common’s function in the surrounding contexts of the world, including those notable harvest fields. This call clearly qualifies ‘Christ’s commission’ for mission and challenges prevailing perceptions of it by defining the following from the relational basis in Jesus’ prayer: what to send out, whom to send out, why and thus how to send out. His integral call and commission must also be defining for social trinitarianism, if our relational involvement in the human context is to be congruent with the whole-ly Trinity.

 

The Relational Outcome of the Inter-person-al Trinity

 

            For the Son’s purpose and function from his Father to be transferred to his followers, the enactment of the commission has to be made both uncommon and whole to be compatible (“just as,” kathos) with the Father-Son relationship and then the Father-Son-disciples relationship—with the Spirit’s involvement central to both relationships. Jesus’ prayer integrates the call to be whole and his commission in the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love (17:21-23). This clearly established the context of his commission in uncommon life and practice with the whole-ly Trinity, not the context of “into the world.” When there is congruence in intimate relationship together and compatibility of function in the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love, his followers together (the church as God’s new creation family) are not statically “still in the world” (en, remaining in it, 17:11) but now dynamically sent “into the world” (eis, motion into) to function whole in likeness of the Father and the Son with the Spirit in further response to make whole the human condition. What is disclosed to us in relational terms makes definitive the likeness that makes the difference to intrusively enact the good news of whole relationship together, which is integrated by the ongoing relational base of the Trinity’s whole ontology and function. Therefore, in this unfolding synergism, his followers’ call to be whole is conjointly his followers sent to be whole. This composes the significance of what to send out and signifies the importance of whom to send out and defines more deeply why to send out (with the full soteriology), while providing the relational basis for how to function in his commission. Only this likeness will make the difference that distinguishes the gospel of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement in the human context.

            This inter-person-al relational dynamic for involvement in the human context (whether in mission, in culture and/or Christian ethics) is made further definitive in Jesus’ formative family prayer. While the whole of life together in his relational context and process is uniquely intimate and uncommon, its practice cannot remain private or individual—which urgently calls the church to fulfill the vital relational purpose of social trinitarianism. As he directly related the world (and life and practice in its surrounding contexts) to himself and then to his followers (in relationship together), Jesus prayed using the prepositions “in” (en, 17:11,13), “of” (ek, vv.14,16), “out of” (ek, v.15) and “into” (eis, v,18). Each preposition has its own significance that needs to be distinguished in any discussion on church life and practice and its function in the human context.

            For Jesus to be “in the world” only described a general surrounding context in which he remained (en) temporarily. While en also signifies his followers remaining in the world, this functional (not ontological) position is governed by the preposition ek. How Jesus functioned while remaining in the surrounding context was determined by the ontological nature of his context of origin (relationship together in the Trinity), not by what prevailed in the surrounding context “of the world” (ek, out of which one is derived, belongs to) since he didn’t belong to it. Likewise, for his whole followers, those also “not of the world” (v.14, “do not belong to this world”), ek involves a dynamic movement from being embedded in that surrounding context to motion out from within the surrounding context, yet freed only in terms of the common’s function and practice, not physically removed out of the common’s surrounding context. This dynamic of ek signifies going from being defined and determined, for example, by the prevailing culture (or situations and circumstances) in a surrounding context to movement out from within its influence (hence “not of the world”)—which certainly necessitates engaging culture.

            Yet, the dynamic of ek is not a statement or resolve of self-determination “not to be of the world.” Rather this dynamic more deeply involves a relational dynamic, a relationship-specific inter-person-al dynamic. Implied in the phrase “not of the world” is the relational process that involves distinct movement not only away from the common’s influence but integral movement to the holy (Uncommon) and whole Trinity. This primary relational movement and involvement signifies both what his followers together are and whose they are, which necessitates triangulation and reciprocating contextualization to constitute them in this uncommon wholeness while remaining “in the world”—just as Jesus was “not of the world” and sanctified himself for his followers to practice “in the world” (17:19).

            The ongoing practice of this primary relational involvement is always while “in the world,” which the above ek phrase does not include since it is limited to a shift only in purpose and function. In the same breath Jesus also prayed for his followers not to be removed “out of the world” (17:15). “Out of” is the same preposition ek, which is used differently in this second phrase not for being embedded but for the matter of spatial location. The dynamic of this second ek phrase signified the direction of their purpose and function to be relationally involved not away from but directly in the midst of the surrounding context and in the lives of persons in that context—yet always in congruence with the Trinity’s relational involvement. Eliminating this sense of separation (spatially and relationally) also applies to not being removed from relational involvement even while practicing service, ministry and mission by maintaining subtle relational distance. This certainly includes righteous involvement with others beyond merely Christian ethics, so that those persons can count on his followers to be of qualitative significance and their actions to have relational depth in likeness of the Trinity (“so that the world…,” 17:21,23). The depth of this relational involvement is the what, who and how social trinitarianism is distinguished in the world to make the difference needed (not always wanted) for persons and relationships in the human context.

            Clearly then, Jesus gave his followers no option but to remain (en) and to be relationally involved—not the spatial and relational separation of ek, “out of the world”—both vulnerably and intrusively in the surrounding contexts of the world in likeness (“as,” kathos) of his whole ontology and function. Whole ontology and function composes the identity of subjects taking initiative and actively involved in the lives of others, in contrast to objects re-acting to whatever or whoever enters their lives. Such reaction also to the needs and conditions in the surrounding context should not automatically determine social trinitarianism’s action, because it may not be based on relational involvement and thus lack the significance needed for the human condition that is composed by only the inter-person-al Trinity’s relational involvement. Therefore, he distinctly qualified what (who) is to define them and determine how they function in those contexts—en is governed by the first ek, out from within its influence—with the ongoing relational base for their ontology and function to be in his likeness to enact the relational outcome of the gospel.

            While this inter-person-al relational dynamic is irreducible and nonnegotiable, there is always the functional alternative to remain “in the world” on ambiguous terms—for example, on the referential level in an ambiguous or shallow identity (cf. Mt 5: 13-16)—which essentially become defined and determined by reductionist substitutes, notably in ontological simulation and epistemological illusion that are indistinguishable from the shaping of relationships in those contexts. In this essential relational dynamic, understanding the juxtaposition of en and ek (out of) conjoined with the first use of ek (of, belong) is a crucial distinction, the subtle difference of which is commonly blurred by reductionism. Being “not of the world” (first ek, “not belong to the world”) goes beyond having a static identity or self-determination status and deeply involves an inseparable functional-theological framework imperative for the ongoing relational base of the trinitarian relational process to define the life and determine the practice of those who remain (en) in the surrounding context but emerge beyond (second ek, “out of”) the common’s function—indeed, beyond the reductionists, as Jesus made imperative for his followers’ whole person (Mt 5:20).

            These interrelated dynamics are the integral relational basis in his prayer for Jesus making imperative his call and his commission in conjoint function. The call to be whole (thus uncommon, holy, sanctified) emerges in life and practice in the surrounding contexts of the world as sent to be whole in likeness (kathos) of Jesus sent whole by and in the Father. For this emergence to be unambiguously distinguished and thus clearly distinct from the common’s function in a surrounding context, it is necessary in function for the call to precede the commission because the commission alone is insufficient to fulfill the transfer of the Son’s purpose and function in likeness, that is, without enacting the qualitative relational significance to be whole in the primacy of relationship together constituted by his call. Thus, if social trinitarianism composes any commission without its basis in this call, it loses the qualitative relational significance both to live whole and to make whole—regardless of the extent of its service in the human context and its benefit for the so-called common good.

            The uncommon life and practice to be whole, the whole of the Trinity’s family in uncommon identity distinguishing “not of the world” (first ek), constitutes his commission and signifies the integral relational basis for the whole undertaking of their mission in salvific life and practice to make whole in the surrounding context. To be whole kathos the Trinity is the relational basis for his followers, in the likeness that makes the difference, to be sent “into the world” (eis, 17:18). As ek governs en with the “motion out from” the world’s influence necessary to constitute their qualitative relational significance to be whole, eis now governs “motion (back) into” the surrounding context for enacting the gospel in likeness for their function to make whole in order to fulfill the transfer of the Son’s purpose and function from his Father to his family. Ek and eis are not in dialectical tension but operate ongoingly together in a reflexive interrelated process (with triangulation and reciprocating contextualization) for his followers to mature (teleioo) completely as one in their integrated call and commission of wholeness (17:23). Therefore, by enacting the inter-persona-al Trinity’s relational involvement in the world, Jesus made this definitive:

Salvific life and practice to make whole emerges from uncommon life and practice to be whole in order to join together congruently in likeness with the Trinity’s thematic relational response to the human condition “in the world”—the essential truth of the gospel of transformation to whole persons in whole relationship together as the Trinity’s uncommon family.

This is the relational outcome of the inter-person-al Trinity’s relational involvement in the human context, which is the only relational outcome of significance that social trinitarianism can compose for the human condition.

            How his followers live and practice in the surrounding context emerges from who and what they are; that is, who and what define them determines how they function. This defining and determining process necessitates their theological anthropology of who and what they are, to be composed on the integral relational basis of the whole and uncommon Trinity’s ontology and function. The truth of this functional paradigm was enacted by Jesus throughout the incarnation: his full identity (composed by the Trinity’s context) integrated with his minority identity (composed in but not by the human context, cf. 17:14) in uncommon life and practice, the integral function of which constituted his salvific relational work of grace for the good news of relationship together in the Trinity’s uncommon whole family. Jesus prayed to deeply establish his followers in this interrelated process that is indispensable for the following: To be “in the world” and “not of the world,” salvific life and practice must by its nature (dei) function distinguishably in the minority identity he enacted “in the world,” thereby qualitatively distinguishing “not of it”; this minority identity necessarily by its nature is functionally integrated in uncommon life and practice with the full identity of who, what, and how his followers are in relationship together in likeness of the Trinity—therefore relationally congruent and compatible with the whole-ly Trinity and the person-al inter-person-al Trinity’s relational action (17:16-19).

            Yet, what defines his followers in the surrounding context and determines how they function is constantly being influenced, challenged, even coerced by that context—for example, to be assimilated into its surrounding culture, for us today to be absorbed into the Internet and virtual-augmented realities. To the extent that surrounding context’s culture is incompatible with the whole-ly Trinity and the person-al inter-person-al Trinity’s relational action, this is the ongoing tension and conflict with reductionism—the common’s function and practice contrary to uncommon life and practice. It is essential, then, for his followers to engage any common culture on his uncommon relational basis and whole relational terms, and thus to ongoingly practice triangulation and reciprocating contextualization with the Spirit in order to mature in difference and likeness. Reductionism’s subtle influence shifts human ontology from inner out to the outer in, thereby redefining the person and how persons function—notably in relationships “to be apart” from the qualitative significance of the wholeness composed by the person-al inter-person-al Trinity. Under such influence how his followers practice relationships together is compromised, and how they engage in mission is fragmented—namely without the qualitative relational significance to be whole and to make whole. Any lack of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness has this consequence, which social trinitarianism must account for in its understanding of the Trinity and the meaning of social.

            As Jesus prayed, it is imperative for his family’s public life and practice that eis (“into” as the dynamic integrated with the first ek, “not of”) is not to be confused with only being en, that is, merely to be in the same context, remain in the same space, even merely occupy ministries in surrounding situations and circumstances. En only statically describes where we (notably as objects) remain, not what, who, why and how we are as whole persons in that context congruent with the inter-person-al Trinity. Eis, however, is not simply dynamic “movement into” a surrounding context, which is the reason “into the world” is not the context for his commission. The eis dynamic further signifies active engagement (intrusive) of other persons in deep relational involvement of family love, the depths of which is “just as” (kathos, indicating congruence) the Father sent his Son in the incarnation (17:18) and has loved him (17:23,26)—that is, the relational outcome in complete likeness of the inter-person-al Trinity (17:21-23). Kathos is nonnegotiable in order for the essential reality of this relational outcome to be.

            This essential relational process of embodying from inner out and enacting inter-person-ally invokes God’s self-disclosure principle of nothing less and no substitutes. Accordingly, in the depth of the whole embodying of his followers enacting to live whole, anything less and any substitutes of this depth of direct relational involvement to make whole are reductions of his family’s inseparable call and commission and no longer is kathos the inter-person-al Trinity. While the commission takes place “in the world,” it can only be enacted and fulfilled “into the world”—and not detached “out of the world,” (second ek)—as salvific life and practice (to make whole) emerging from sanctified life and practice (to be whole) distinguished by both “not of the world” (first ek) and not from the influence “of the world.” Anything other than relational involvement in this integrated ek-eis process is less than whole, a substitute of reductionism no longer defined and determined by the integral relational basis and ongoing relational base of the inter-person-al Trinity. Without this basis and base, his family is subject to variable shaping from surrounding contexts, which is why and how Jesus’ formative family prayer is defining for his church in likeness (discussed further in chap. 9).

 

 

Reciprocating Contextualization with the Trinity

 

            All Jesus’ followers and his church family cannot underestimate the subtle influence of reductionism and its counter-relational workings in the human context. In our unavoidable relations with our surrounding contexts, it is inevitable to be common-ized in some way due to having a weak view of sin that does not encompass the scope of reductionism. Jesus never ignored sin as reductionism and ongoingly addressed the sin of reductionism that defines the common and determines the human context. That’s why in his prayer he highlighted his uncommon context as the only basis to address the common context and not to be common-ized in our relations with it. For example, even notions of peace get common-ized in theology and practice, which counteract the uncommon peace Jesus gives and saves his followers with, and thus to and ongoingly in (Jn 14:27; 16:33). Primary relational involvement in the uncommon context of the Trinity is the only way to avoid being subject to reductionism even though we are ongoingly subjected to its subtle and not-so-subtle workings—which Jesus doesn’t pray for us to be removed from and separated, but protected from and distinguished whole (17:15) in order to live whole in the human context and make whole the human condition (17:21,23). Thus, in trinitarian theology and practice, reciprocating contextualization is critical for social trinitarianism to fulfill its purpose with the qualitative relational significance of the who, what and how essential to the Trinity.

            In the full picture of Jesus’ life and function, even he depended on reciprocating contextualization to fulfill his purpose in the human context (e.g. Jn 5:19-20; 8:28-29; 12:27-28, 49-50). John’s Gospel contextualizes (by the uncommon, not the common) the narratives of Jesus’ relational involvement with common life and practice in the surrounding context (notably its culture), distinguishing his person as the embodied whole of the Word composing God’s communicative action—for example, starting with his participation in the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-11) and finishing with his intimate involvement of his disciples’ footwashing (13:1-17). As the whole Word, Jesus engaged culture not by merely contextualizing his involvement in a culture’s life and practice, but with uncommon significance he contextualized a culture in his relational context of the Trinity and in his context’s relational process of intimate relationship together in family love. This involved the relational significance of his own culture (and his full identity) composed by the person-al inter-person-al Trinity, which determined his life and function by this reciprocating relational process while in other surrounding human contexts—defining only his minority identity and never determining the full identity of who, what and how he is.

            Jesus, therefore, personally understood what was necessary to prevent being defined and/or determined by the common’s surrounding context, and ongoingly to be distinguished in the primacy of the uncommon’s context of the Trinity. To be in his full identity is not to be in a hybrid with his minority identity; his full identity distinguishes his primary identity within the person-al inter-person-al Trinity, while his minority identity is only a secondary distinction in the common context that necessarily points to and thus further distinguishes his full identity. If Jesus’ followers are to be distinguished with him in relationship together as the Trinity’s family, they must also emerge uncommon from the ek-eis dynamic of reciprocating contextualization—in ongoing relational involvement with the whole-ly Trinity in triangulation with engaging the human context (17:17-19).

            It is vital to understand the indispensable dynamic of reciprocating contextualization, and to practice this integral relational process in necessary conjoint function with triangulation, both of which can only be engaged in the Trinity’s relational terms. This irreplaceable relational process is imperative—as the Father declared to listen to his Son—for the qualitative distinction in the surrounding common’s context: in order not to be defined or determined by the common’s reduced ontology and fragmentary function and to be distinguished uncommon in the whole ontology and function of our persons and relationships—in likeness of the uncommon person-al Trinity and the whole inter-person-al Trinity. And it is urgent for his followers to understand, and thus address as Jesus prayed, that culture is the common’s most subtle and seductive influence on the ontology and function of persons and relationships. Social trinitarianism must encompass, embody and enact this urgency if it is to be distinguished and thereby have qualitative relational significance for the human condition, including our condition in the church.

            All these relationships and their integral dynamics converge in Jesus’ prayer neither by coincidence nor as an ideal plan, any results of which would have no basis in essential reality. The presence and involvement of the whole and uncommon Trinity are on the line here; and at stake for all Jesus’ followers is the whole ontology and function of his family in likeness of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity, whose whole ontology and function is essential reality or rendered to virtual-augmented realities. If the latter, the human context has nothing substantive to receive and gain (17:21,23). With the former, however, the human relational condition in general and our relational condition in particular have the relational basis to be made whole and the ongoing relational base to live whole and thus also to make whole. These integral relationships and the synergism distinguishing their interrelated dynamics, which are essential for their ontology and function to be whole, are made definitive in Jesus’ formative family prayer—composed only in relational terms for just the essential reality of this whole as well as uncommon relational outcome.

            Therefore, his defining family prayer for all his followers is the irreducible call and nonnegotiable commission that social trinitarianism must fulfill by its nature (dei, not out of duty or obligation, opheilo) in likeness of the whole and uncommon Trinity. Nothing less and no substitutes are essential to be whole and have the qualitative relational significance to live whole, and thereby to make whole the human relational condition, our relational condition. Anything less and any substitutes perhaps are the reason that the lens of social trinitarianism has diminished in recent trinitarian theology and practice.[17]

 

            If we claim the whole profile of God’s presence and involvement, then we are claiming the whole and uncommon Trinity—the whole who, what and how of the Trinity integrally person-al and inter-person-al. If we embrace the person-al inter-person-al Trinity, then we also claim the gospel that encompasses making whole the human condition (and our relational condition) in trinitarian theology and practice, because making whole persons and relationships together in wholeness is the only purpose that the whole-ly Trinity’s presence and involvement are disclosed to us. This composes the whole understanding (synesis) of the Trinity and what ‘social’ means. When these essential relational dynamics and relational outcome compose social trinitarianism, its qualitative relational significance fulfills its purpose of wholeness in trinitarian theology and practice and thereby enacts the whole who, what and how necessary to make whole our relational condition and the human condition. Accordingly, if not understandably, this also means that Trinitarianism must be uncommon by its essential nature and thus be distinguished from its common tradition. Uncommon Trinitarianism, moreover, further involves the need for orthodoxy uncommon to traditional orthodoxy and that is not common to the theological task.

 


 


[1] Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (New York: Random House, 2007).

[2] McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary, 163-64.

[3] Steve Giddings, “The physics we don’t know”, op-ed, Los Angeles Times, Jan 5, 2010.

[4] Marcelo Gleiser, The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 79.

[5] Gleiser, 92.

[6] Gleiser, 257.

[7] See Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen for a summary of this view and its variations in The Trinity: Global Perspectives (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007).

[8] Wayne Grudem makes his argument to support a complementarian gender view of human relationships in Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth (Sister, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2004), 405-418.

[9] Grudem, 429.

[10] Grudem, 433.

[11] Grudem, 413.

[12] Grudem, 438.

[13] Grudem, 435.

[14] Randy S. Woodley, “Beyond Homoiousios and Homoousios: Exploring North American Indigenous Concepts of the Shalôm Community of God” in Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue and K. K. Yeo, eds., The Trinity among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 46.

[15] For a broader development of this aspect of trinitarian theology, see my overlapping study The Person, the Trinity, the Church: the Call to be Whole and the Lure of Reductionism (2006), online at http://www.4X12.org.

[16] For a modern Eastern view conceptualizing personal being as a communal ontology of the Trinity and the church, see Eastern theologian John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985).

[17] An overview discussion of the development of social trinitarianism is found in Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, The Trinity: Global Perspectives.

 

 

©2016 T. Dave Matsuo

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