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The Face of the Trinity
The Trinitarian Essential for the Whole of God and Life
The Essential Reality of Uncommon Orthodoxy
When many of his disciples heard the Word, they said,
“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.
If we return to the opening question raised in this study concerning whether all Christians worship the same God, we also need to ask whether the presence and involvement of God defines our theology and determines our practice. If given the opportunity, the whole and uncommon God will clarify this for us and correct us where needed. Of course, this is the God disclosed primarily in the Scriptures to be the essential reality of the Trinity, which then further raises the question of having the same Trinity in our theology and practice. Moreover, underlying this issue is whether orthodoxy has become a traditional transmission of a theological meme shaping our practice.
The issue of to be or not to be ongoingly emerges throughout the First and Second Testaments, because it involves the extent of our epistemology defining its epistemic field and process and the depth of our hermeneutic determining what we pay attention to and ignore of the Trinity’s self-disclosures. What’s primary for the Trinity, which is the primacy given by the Trinity in the human context, is often secondary for others and not what people want—as demonstrated in John’s challenging narrative of Jesus quoted above. What we pay attention to and ignore are critical to the trinitarian theological task, which even his main disciples learned the hard way (Jn 6:68-69; 14:9). The pivotal issue of ignoring the primary and paying more attention to the secondary in Scripture is illustrated in the following cartoon called “Peanuts.” The little boy Linus, who has been known to engage in theological discourse with surprising knowledge, is immersed in his theological task and explains this to his sister Lucy: “Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know. The Bible contains 3,566,480 letters and 773,891 words!” Lucy continues to jump-rope and is totally unimpressed. Linus looks puzzled at her and then concludes, “You’re just not interested in theology, are you?”
This extreme example speaks to a common interest centered in the theological task that impacts theology and practice. Certainly, the theological task is engaged at many different levels, yet the extent and depth of this engagement have resulted commonly in explanations and conclusions that strain for significance in trinitarian theology and practice. Having the same Trinity in our theology and practice is an open question, along with the issue of the Trinity’s essential reality to be or not to be in some virtual or augmented reality. The recent surge in theological discourse on the Trinity is faced with this issue. Whether recent discourse merely recapitulates traditional Trinitarianism in so-called fresh ways or goes beyond this common understanding of the Trinity remains to be seen—that is, seen less so in the academy and more as the essential truth and reality in the church. Yet, at this latter stage in the trinitarian theological task, do we really need more discourse on the Trinity—even from the Majority World?
The answer depends on such discourse’s epistemic source composing its theological framework and interpretive lens. For the Trinity, this epistemic field and its related process cannot be defined and determined by conflating the primacy of the trinitarian context with the secondary of the human context. At best, conflation only constructs a hybrid theological framework whose interpretive lens pays attention to secondary matter over the primary (not necessarily at its exclusion)—as seen to an extreme with Linus engaged in his theological task. In other words, what needs to be recognized as common exerts its subtle influence to assume priority over what is uncommon, and likely over what’s more difficult, less acceptable and perhaps unpopular. This priority includes containing the epistemic source of the Trinity within the quantitative limits of physics and the reasoned constraints of metaphysics, which narrow the focus of the interpretive lens to pay attention in simply common terms—even in discourse about uncommon subject matter. This prominent lens prevalent even in Christian contexts is contrary to the qualitative whole mindset constituted by the Spirit (phronēma, Rom 8:6). To adequately address the conflating influence in trinitarian discourse requires the uncommon shift (not an unorthodox shift) to the reciprocating contextualization of the primary trinitarian context interacting with the secondary human context, in ongoing relational involvement in triangulation with the Trinity. This uncommon shift composes the essential reality in which the Trinity’s presence and involvement are the primary source for distinguishing the whole and uncommon Trinity.
Keep in mind the following about the need for this uncommon shift: Discourse alone—no matter its expertise and persuasive composition—does not create reality, specifically the essential reality of the Trinity, though common trinitarian discourse has promoted virtual and augmented reality in trinitarian theology and practice. The uncommon shift composing the irreplaceable relational epistemic process is the uncommon relational basis for Jesus’ family prayer to be defining for the trinitarian theological task and the whole relational base to be determining trinitarian theology and practice. Therefore, if any new trinitarian discourse is to have significance as the gospel and thus relevance for persons and relationships, it will have to go beyond common Trinitarianism and its common orthodoxy and be distinguished by uncommon Trinitarianism and its uncommon orthodoxy.
No doubt this uncommon shift—perhaps analogous to the Copernican shift, at least in principle if not in substance—will create tension, resistance and even rejection as heresy, since the whole who, what and how Jesus embodied, enacted and thus disclosed, commonly “is difficult, who can accept it?” Even though this primacy is what we all need, it’s always easier and more palatable to stay within the limits and constraints of the secondary.
With the unfolding of YHWH’s grace (from Gen 6:8)—the relational response of grace constituted by YHWH the essential relational verb—what the triune God’s presence and involvement offer the human context is congruent with the gospel. Yet, what the Trinity gives us is not commonly what the church (past and present) has wanted in its practice, if not its theology. If the Trinity is to have significance in our theology and practice and thus relevance for our persons and relationships, what the Trinity gives is inseparable from the significance and relevance of the gospel. This is not the common understanding of the Trinity, which reflects both the trinitarian gap in our theology and practice and the need for uncommon Trinitarianism.
For us to claim the gospel in our theology and practice necessitates claiming not just Jesus and the cross but involves relationally claiming the whole and uncommon Trinity. This relational involvement goes beyond merely claiming general referential information about the Trinity to directly engage the person-al inter-person-al Trinity disclosed to us in relational-specific terms for relationship together. Anything less and any substitutes of this gospel that we claim and proclaim misrepresent the gospel and fragment the Trinity—that is, re-present the gospel and the Trinity in less than whole terms. Not to claim the whole and uncommon Trinity is to deny how the Trinity is present and involved for relationship together and thus to deny who, what and how the Trinity is, which then effectively disclaims who and what are essential to the gospel and how it is composed.
The good news of salvation unfolded with the incarnation but did not emerge from the incarnation. The incarnation composes the shift of the gospel’s theological trajectory into the gospel’s intrusive relational path, yet the latter always needs to be understood in the dynamics of the former. In the uncommon context of the Trinity’s thematic relational action for human persons and relationships to be whole—God’s metanarrative, as it were—what unfolded and continues to unfold is briefly summarized:
Initiated with Adam for the human person not “to be apart” from the relationships necessary to be whole in the image and likeness of the triune God (Gen 2:18); formalized in the covenant with Abraham, yet not for a people in nation-state together as mere kingdom but for all peoples in relationship together as the family of YHWH (Gen 17:1-8); partially fulfilled in the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt to be God’s people and the establishment of the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle) in their midst, yet only on YHWHH’s terms (signified by giving them the Law and the specific details for the tabernacle) for the sole relational purpose “so that I might dwell among them” (Ex 29:44-46); the promissory covenant with Abraham is extended and clarified with the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:5-16); and, with a strategic relational shift, now fulfilled in the incarnation of Jesus, whose only relational function was to constitute the whole person in the intimate relationships necessary to be whole together as the new creation of the triune God’s family (Jn 14:23; 17:21,23; cf. Gal 4:4-7, Eph 2:19-22); then, this relational outcome is all brought to completion at the eschatological conclusion of the Trinity’s whole and uncommon purpose by the ongoing relational presence and function of the Spirit (Jn 16:13-14, Rom 8:11,23, 2 Cor 1:21-22, Eph 1:13-14; 2:22).
This is the integrating theme of all God’s relational work of grace that defines the context for discussing the strategic, tactical and functional shifts by the Trinity in the incarnation (discussed previously).
We need to also keep in focus that as a function of relationship, God’s metanarrative is essential truth to be experienced in relationship; without this relational basis, it is reduced to merely information about a sovereign God with no qualitative relational significance, thus a gospel without relational clarity—which likely is the main reason many postmodernists reject God’s metanarrative. Those claiming such a reduced gospel render themselves without qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness in their persons and for their relationships, in spite of how doctrinally correct their theology might be.
Unless our theology and practice of salvation unfold in a truncated soteriology, an unfragmented full soteriology is the relational outcome of the relational progression in the Trinity’s thematic relational-specific response, namely in “the covenant of love” (Dt 7:9,12; 1 Ki 8:23; Ne 1:5; Da 9:4), which was fulfilled in Jesus’ relational work of grace. Salvific expectations prevailing at the time of Jesus appeared to have stalled in this progression to become fixated on the kingship of God and on the current situations and circumstances of God’s people (or kingdom), narrowing the focus to the nation of Israel. They diverged from the primacy of the relationship in the covenant and reduced its significance, thus not affirming the following relational reality: In the relational progression of the triune God’s thematic action and the covenant relationship, the whole of God (not parts of God) is the only portion for the people (Ps 119:57; Jer 10:16; 51:19; La 3:24), and, in relational reciprocity, God’s people are the whole of God’s portion in this uncommon relationship (Dt 32:9, cf. Ex 34:9; Dt 9:29).
Their divergence demonstrated a renegotiation of the covenant relationship, plus a reinterpretation of God’s words (promises and desires defining the terms of relationship). These alternative terms indicated their quantitative shift in reductionism, which either did not pay attention to or just ignored the qualitative relational significance of the covenant and God’s salvation. The consequence is totally relational, and understanding this relational consequence helps us get to the heart of soteriology, that is, the full significance of the gospel and who and what composed it.
There is an ongoing dynamic that is the lowest common denominator in God’s story, which is essential to the Trinity, the gospel’s composition and their outcome:
At the qualitative heart of the whole and uncommon God’s ontology is relationship, inter-person relationship, as constituted in the inter-person-al Trinity and by the relational involvement of the trinitarian persons within the person-al Trinity. At the heart of creation is this relationship, and that God made human ontology in the Trinity’s likeness. Thus, at the heart of human ontology is inter-person relationship, the function of which constitutes human persons in the relationships necessary to be whole in likeness of the Trinity. In response to human dysfunction (initially due to volition, not imperfection) “to be apart” from this wholeness, the ongoing heart underlying all of God’s thematic action in relational response involves the depth of restored relationship together. Thus, the heart of the incarnation is the convergence of the trinitarian and human ontology of relationship; and God’s self-revelation and truth are only for this relationship. The heart of the gospel, therefore, is clearly the good news of relationship together in wholeness, the essential relational outcome of which is salvation whole-ly enacted by the embodied heart of the ontology of not simply God but the whole and uncommon Trinity.
God’s story makes evident that at the heart of soteriology is not just relationship together, but only the relationship of the whole and uncommon God, the whole-ly Trinity—the uncommon relational context and whole relational process of who, what and how Jesus saves us to only in irreducible and nonnegotiable likeness, the integral likeness of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity.
To account for the whole and uncommon Trinity’s presence and involvement, this ongoing dynamic of relationship must by nature also become the primary function in our perceptual-interpretive framework as the lowest common denominator for our own theological story. Without this primary function of our lens, we can quite easily be found diverging in our own practice—namely by reinterpreting the relational purpose of God’s words and renegotiating the terms for our relationship with God. As we continue to pursue the Trinity’s self-disclosure in Jesus, our deeper understanding of the Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole relational involvement emerges only from a distinct interpretive process. This process (1) engages God in self-disclosure as an act of communication, and (2) is involved with God’s communication in its full context, both in the primary relational context of the Trinity and the secondary social context of the world, as narrated in the biblical texts. This relational dynamic involves us in the relational epistemic process with the Spirit. This crucial relational involvement is imperative because only the Spirit transforms our perceptual-interpretive framework (Rom 8:6) to have the eyes to “see” the whole and uncommon Trinity “face-to-face” (distinguished by qualitative relational involvement), and to have the ears to “hear” and “Listen to my Son” in his whole person without fragmenting into parts (in the relational process of intimate involvement, Jn 14:26; 16:13-15, cf. Mt 13:15-17).
In the person-al Trinity’s communicative action, Jesus enacted the Word as the inter-person-al Trinity’s thematic relational response, and thus he disclosed the vulnerable relational work of the Trinity’s grace in response to the human relational condition “to be apart” from the uncommon Trinity’s wholeness. The language Jesus used (both verbal content and nonverbal relational messages) in self-disclosure of the Trinity’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement needs to be understood in the whole Trinity’s uncommon relational context and, in that uncommon relational nature, must be engaged (both received and responded to) as relational language for its whole meaning—which the early disciples didn’t engage and thereby lacked whole understanding of Jesus (syniemi, Mk 8:17-18; Lk 9:44-45; Jn 14:9).
In contrast to traditional Trinitarianism stated in common referential language and terms, the whole person Jesus vulnerably presented in the incarnation and the purpose of his communication were only to engage relationship—nothing less. It is this whole trinitarian relational process of family love initiated by the Trinity’s uncommon relational grace that necessitates a reciprocal depth of relational involvement (with no substitutes) in order to know and to experience the whole of Jesus (cf. Lk 10:21). Otherwise, any attempt at relational connection would be incompatible, which would create a relational barrier to understanding (as in Lk 9:45, cf. Mt 13:15). In this incompatible relational position, Jesus’ disclosures can seem unreasonable or can lack coherence, thus be disjointed into essentially unrelated words without the functional significance of the whole—that is, specific to the whole and uncommon Trinity’s thematic relational action in salvation history.
The uncommon relational context and whole relational process of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity further progresses to its eschatological conclusion:
As Jesus disclosed, “The Spirit of truth…you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (Jn 14:17); “My Father will love [you]; and we will come to [you] and make our home with [you]” (Jn 14:23); this is, by the uncommon nature of the ontology of the Trinity, the essential relational outcome for both each person and those persons in relationship together by necessity in whole likeness of the Trinity, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us…. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me…and have loved them even as you have loved me…that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (Jn 17:21-23,26). Then in Paul’s accounts of the church, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16); “in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph 2:21-22); and to the Johannine account of the eschatological conclusion in the New Jerusalem, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev 21:22).
And Jesus was constituting this relational progression throughout the incarnation, not only on the cross—which the Spirit, as Jesus’ relational replacement, completes only in the relational terms of his reciprocal relational work. The synergism of the Trinity unfolding above is not a referential account, because the whole who, what and how of the Trinity’s presence and involvement cannot be accounted for in common referential terms but only in substantive relational terms, as initiated by uncommon YHWH the substantive relational verb.
What unfolds in the gospel to its relational conclusion can only be composed in theology and practice by uncommon Trinitarianism, which is integrally constituted by the person-al inter-person-al Trinity. Yet, the essential reality is that the presence and involvement of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity cannot be conflated with any common Trinitarianism, or else trinitarian theology and practice become reduced, fragmentary and no longer whole. For example, in the person-al Trinity, personal is not an adjective but the whole persons of the triune God, whose ontology as the Subject of YHWH functions as the substantive relational verb. The difference between person and personal distinguishes the Subject from a mere Object (regardless of how personal), and thereby distinguishes the vulnerable presence and relational involvement of the person’s whole ontology and function. In other words, even a personal Trinity does not constitute the gospel because that Trinity’s identity (in flat 2-D profile, not full 3-D) is not to be whole to make whole persons and relationships in uncommon likeness. Likewise, relationship should not be confused with the adjective relational and all the common notions signified in relational. The inter-person-al Trinity goes beyond being merely relational to be involved in the interrelationships essential for the Trinity’s ontology and function to be whole—not to be just relational. The psalmist declares that YHWH “remembers [reflects on, zâkar] his covenant forever” (Ps 105:8, NIV)—that is, YHWH keeps the primary focus on the covenant relationship, not a relational covenant. “Forever” is not a poetic hyperbole but signifies the essential reality that constitutes the ontology and function of the triune God: relationship and the ongoing primacy of relationship together, which emerged in the covenant and unfolds in the new covenant.
Given what distinguishes person from personal and relationship from relational, what significance and relevance do merely a personal Trinity and a relational Trinity have? And how essential is such a Trinity, not to mention how essential has such a Trinity been in our theology and practice?
The essential reality (not virtual or augmented) is that the Father sent only the whole of the triune God into the world. This good news is not merely the truth of a doctrine of salvation but definitive only as the essential truth integrally embodied and enacted by Jesus’ person whole-ly in relational-specific terms for relationship together in the whole of the Trinity’s family. The who, what and how Jesus disclosed thereby is exclusively the essential truth and reality of the Trinity—disclosing the uncommon presence of the person-al Trinity and the whole relational involvement of the inter-person-al Trinity integrally within the spheres of physics and metaphysics. The person-al inter-person-al Trinity is the only good news that has significance in the human context and has relevance for the human condition, the condition of our persons and relationships. Salvific life and practice is the relational outcome of what Jesus saved us both from and to (the full soteriology), the experience of which is only in whole relationship together with the essential whole and uncommon Trinity. It is the qualitative relational significance of this ontological One and relational Whole disclosed in the Son, in which he enacted to constitute his followers together to be whole just as (kathos) the Trinity—as clearly illuminated and distinguished in his prayer. On this irreducible ontological basis and nonnegotiable functional base, the Son sends only the whole of his uncommon family to be whole, live whole and make whole in the world—along with his Spirit to complete the Trinity’s uncommon whole in the common human context. Therefore, his family is not, and cannot be, sent on any mission in the surrounding context without function in their call to be whole; nor can their salvific life and practice make whole into (not merely in) that context without being uncommon in life and practice, thus distinctly sanctified from the common’s influence and function. In other words, the whole and holy God composes persons and relationship in the church in the difference (uncommon) that makes the difference, and in the likeness (whole) that makes the difference. The integral relational basis and ongoing relational base of the whole-ly Trinity is incompatible with anything less and any substitutes; therefore, our trinitarian theology and practice must be composed by uncommon Trinitarianism integrally person-al and inter-person-al.
If what and who we “send out” for mission is anything less than whole and uncommon, then how we function essentially misrepresents the gospel with our common function. Most importantly, to send out any substitute for the Trinity’s uncommon whole vitally fragments and reduces these realities: the whole of the triune God, the ontological One, what and whom he sent, and why he sent the relational Whole to be enacted “into the world.” For the Son’s mission, and thus ours, any separation of his commission from his call fails to understand (and so fully receive) the uncommon whole of the Trinity’s thematic relational response to the human condition “to be apart” from the whole and uncommon God. This lack and gap result from conflating the Trinity’s primary relational context with the human context, and thereby substituting the human shaping of the Trinity’s relational process. This common process only fragments his church’s purpose and function as the whole (not simply unity) of God’s family in likeness of the Trinity, and therefore reduces the qualitative relational significance of the gospel—fragmenting it namely with an incomplete Christology and reducing it notably by a truncated soteriology. With a reduced ontology and function by the church, what can “the world believe” about “the God who sent” and what does this “let the world know” about “the God who loves for relationship together to be whole”? Whole relationship together and its primacy in trinitarian theology and practice is the defining relational outcome for which the Son asks his Father to embody his followers together in whole ontology and function, distinguished as their whole family in their uncommon likeness (Jn 17:20-23).
Their uncommon likeness is the righteousness of the whole who, what and how of God in relationship that Jesus earlier made the primacy of discipleship for his whole followers in God’s kingdom-family, primary in order to distinguish them from any and all reductionism (Mt 6:33)—and the true righteousness that Paul made definitive for the new creation church family in likeness (Eph 4:24). Anything less and any substitutes for the church do not distinguish its persons and relationships from the human shaping of relationships together, and consequently cannot be counted on to be of significance both as the person-al inter-person-al Trinity’s family and for the human relational condition. Under this common influence, whatever likeness the church functions in will not make a difference. Simply stated for trinitarian theology and practice: Whatever likeness other than uncommon that the church functions in will not make the difference necessarily both significant in the human context and relevant for the human condition, our relational condition. Such common function, unequivocally, reflects a common Trinitarianism that neither understands nor accounts for the whole and uncommon Trinity’s presence and involvement.
The only difference that makes the difference in theology and practice is the Trinity distinguished by the righteous whole of who, what and how the Trinity is to be. In anticipation of YHWH’s salvation, the psalmist declared in relational terms, “righteousness and wholeness will kiss each other…. Righteousness will go before him, and will make an uncommon intrusive path for his whole relational steps” (Ps 85:10,13). That is, the integral whole of who, what and how to be defines the vulnerable presence and determines the relational involvement of the Trinity. The righteous whole of this Trinity is constituted integrally only by the person-al inter-person-al ontology and function of the uncommon Trinity, which in trinitarian discourse both past and present would compose uncommon Trinitarianism.
Within the reality of trinitarian theology and practice—yet likely not in its virtual and augmented reality—a common Trinity is unholy and a reduced Trinity is unwhole-ly. This ironic reality composes an unwhole-ly and unholy Trinity that is both incongruent and incompatible with the whole and uncommon (shortened as whole-ly) Trinity disclosed to us only in substantive relational-specific terms—disclosed further and deeper than YHWH the substantive relational verb. Therefore, the essential reality of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity’s presence and involvement requires an uncommon orthodoxy in order to offer both the significance of good news in the human context and the relevance for persons and relationships in the human condition. An orthodoxy of anything less and any substitutes is in actual reality essentially insignificant to the human context and irrelevant to the human condition—just as Jesus unmistakably indicated in his prayer, making it defining for his family to determine the difference necessary “so that the world may believe…may know” the essential reality of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity to be made whole in uncommon likeness.
In the theological task, there is a paradox (or inadvertent contradiction) to orthodoxy needing to be understood, which has occupied its efforts throughout history. This paradox of orthodoxy is that efforts to insure the certainty of orthodoxy and to safeguard it have resulted commonly in that orthodoxy becoming unorthodox. That is to say, according to the epistemic source of disclosing God’s presence and involvement, this orthodoxy is no longer composed integrally by the qualitative relational depth of the uncommon Trinity who is distinguished only in whole ontology and function. Rather this source has been narrowed down for greater control over variable views, thereby fragmenting the whole Trinity to less than whole and reducing the uncommon Trinity to common terms in order to be palatable in the human context. The orthodoxy of the Trinity then becomes not to be the Trinity disclosed by the Word. This subtle unorthodox shift exists, if not prevails, in what composes common orthodoxy. Involved also in this commonizing process is fostering the unspoken rule for “theological correctness” (analogous to political correctness). The effects of common orthodoxy on trinitarian theology and practice have been immeasurable. Since a common Trinity is unholy and a reduced Trinity is unwhole-ly, this can only compose an unwhole-ly (not to be whole and uncommon) Trinity that is both incongruent and incompatible with the whole-ly Trinity.
Throughout the incarnation Jesus had to deal with the tension, resistance and denial created by who, what and how he was. The disclosures by Jesus were simply uncommon to existing theological frameworks and interpretive lenses. Judaism was greatly challenged by Jesus’ presence, in spite of messianic hopes and expectations or because of their biased predispositions. Within the diversity of Second Temple Judaism, there still existed a common orthodoxy centered on the covenant, the Torah and the Temple that confronted the uncommon Jesus—notably by the constraining Pharisees and the assimilated Sadducees. Jesus’ disclosures created dissonance with whatever form of common orthodoxy he faced. The Word was just too different and thus difficult to be palatable: “I am the living bread [—the primary over the secondary—] that came down from heaven…unless you participate in the life of the uncommon Son and are relationally involved with his whole person, you have no qualitative life in you (Jn 6:51,53).
Yet, the incarnation was not enacted to be palatable for what persons wanted, as the above interaction illuminates. The embodied Word was given for what persons need and therefore has only this relational purpose: “Those who receive and partake of my whole person abide in me, and I in them in intimate relationship together” (Jn 6:56, cf. 15:9). When those followers asked Jesus, “What must we do to perform the works [pl.] of God?” he responded decisively without equivocation, leaving no room for variation of his relational terms: “This is the work [sing.] of God, that you believe with relational trust and involvement in the whole person whom he has sent” (6:28-29). The incarnation in relational terms composed the primacy of relationship together that persons need, which is difficult to embrace when that’s not what they want. The pursuit of what is palatable for human want over human need makes evident both the prevailing influence of sin as reductionism and its common human function in reduced theological anthropology.
This often subtle dynamic also encompasses an unorthodox shift to common orthodoxy. The whole and uncommon Trinity disclosed by Jesus’ whole person is difficult to accept completely into the belief systems of many Christians, past and present. The essential reality of the Trinity requires an irreplaceable uncommon orthodoxy that understandably conflicts with the limits and constraints of just what persons want—that is, subtly think they need to be doctrinally correct. As the above interaction also reveals, it is easier to compose a belief system with a theology and practice centered on “the works of God” rather than vulnerably involved as whole persons in “the work of God” composed by the primacy of intimate relationship together. Yet, even the singular work of God to “believe” is commonly interpreted as affirming a referential belief—the prevailing indicator of having faith—which is insufficient to define persons as subjects who believe in the Trinity with the necessary relational response composing the work of God. To believe in referential terms is always a substitute contrary to the relational terms disclosed by Jesus. Accordingly, having the right doctrine that fits either what one wants to believe (as in “many of his disciples,” Jn 6:66), or just how one wants to believe (as in “the twelve,” 6:67-69), invariably turns the theological task to an unorthodox shift in order to compose palatable beliefs in a common orthodoxy. That is, this process composes a palatable orthodoxy that is no longer straight/correct (orthos, cf. Heb 12:13) to distinguish the whole and uncommon Trinity with the necessary theology and practice involved in the primacy of intimate relationship together to know and understand the whole-ly Trinity (as the first disciples’ orthodoxy lacked, Jn 14:9).
The uncommon vulnerable presence and whole relational involvement of the Trinity are commonly difficult to receive in the trinitarian theological task, which reflects the problem of embracing their reality in trinitarian theology and practice. Stated simply, the Trinity is commonly viewed as too complex, demanding, troublesome or just inconvenient for two main reasons: (1) when reductionism is not accounted for in our theological task, and (2) when how persons are defined and relationships are determined in our theology and practice have been reduced or fragmented by our theological anthropology. These interrelated reasons exist when our view of sin is weak and our theological anthropology is not based on likeness of the Trinity’s whole ontology and function, which both make evident their assimilation into (or co-opted influence by) the common’s context. As emerged from the primordial garden (Gen 3:1-7, discussed previously), this influence ongoingly narrows down the epistemic process (limiting its field, distorting its source) jointly with the hermeneutic lens’ focus in the theological task in order to redefine the uncommon with the common, thereby shaping doctrine with a palatable orthodoxy (“good for consumption…desired to make one wise,” Gen 3:6). As unfolded in Jesus’ various interactions, this unorthodox shift of the theological task prevails until addressed at the heart of the persons and relationships involved.
The unorthodox shift of Paul (then Saul) was challenged face to face by the uncommon Jesus, which perplexed Paul but didn’t cause him to retreat from this pivotal juncture in his theological task. When Paul directly asked Jesus “Who are you?” (Acts 9:5), he received a relational response beyond referential information about Jesus to have the relational epistemic connection to know Jesus. When Jesus unequivocally declared to the Father “I have made your name known” and “made your name known to them” (Jn 17:6,26), he was not referring to the transmission of information about the name but summarized his relational communication of the whole person to know only in relationship. As discussed previously, the name is indistinguishable from the person in relational language; yet in referential language the person is not always distinguished in the name. Jesus presented only the person, and Paul’s experience of the whole person presented by Jesus was to define his Christology.
By engaging in the relational epistemic process with Jesus (and then with the Spirit), Paul’s previous unorthodox shift composing his common orthodox monotheism was transposed by an uncommon shift. This new uncommon shift reconstructed his common orthodoxy into the uncommon orthodoxy now composing his whole monotheism. The God previously reduced and fragmented in Paul’s theology and practice was made whole by Jesus’ disclosures. In relational terms, this uncommon shift involved the relational dynamic of the disclosures essential to the whole of Jesus unfolding into Paul to constitute him whole, whereby Paul was able to compose whole theology and practice for Christ’s church family. What unfolds with Paul’s whole theology and practice challenges any palatable orthodoxy, weak view of sin and a reduced theological anthropology.
The relational dynamic of Jesus into Paul is illuminated in Paul’s theology. How clearly this synthesis is illuminated for us depends on our perceptual-interpretive lens of various issues. While the synthesis of Paul and Jesus perhaps suggests a systematic theology—a theological algorithm that, I emphasize, never concerned Paul—their synthesis involves a systemic framework that accounts for the relational dynamic of God’s thematic action from (and prior to) creation in response to the human condition. This was Paul’s integral concern and purpose to pleroo (make full, complete, whole, Col 1:25) the word of God for the further embodying of the theology and hermeneutic of the whole gospel. And he engaged this function to illuminate for us whole knowledge and understanding of God (synesis, Col 2:2-4), which includes more than some integration of parts of Jesus and Paul and more deeply involves the relational outcome of their synthesis.
In Colossians, Paul apparently was responding to a theological crisis in the churches both in Colosse and Laodicea (Col 4:16, cf. Rev 3:14-18), in which their identity was affected by the influence of philosophical notions from mere human reasoning and construction (Col 2:4,8, cf. 20). This condition reduced the truth of the whole gospel and thus needed the theological and functional clarity for the churches there to be and live the whole of God’s family—beyond the mere Christian ethics to which Colossians is often reduced. The extended length of Paul’s opening remarks (1:1-2:5) was uncharacteristic of his undisputed letters, which raises the style issue of his authorship. Yet the situation and development there required a further and deeper response from Paul than he had usually expressed in his previous letters—though in those letters he always responded in part to the ongoing issue of the gospel revised by reductionism (e.g. Gal 1:6-7). This necessitated establishing this further framework (including Paul’s most detailed cosmology, Col 1:15-20) and deeper context to address the issues in Colosse and Laodicea. In this process, Paul also had opportunity to clearly establish his further theological reflections and deeper theological development in the relational epistemic process with the Spirit for synesis of God’s whole.
Paul did not engage in the referentialization of the Word, the process which narrows down the embodied Word to referential knowledge and information about what God does (e.g. delivers, miracles, teaches, serves) and has (e.g. attributes, truth, power and other resources). Moreover, this fragmenting process likely aggregates these parts of God in a narrowed unity for greater explanation and certainty of that information about God (e.g. in systematic theologies or explanatory theories)—operating under the false assumption that the sum of these parts equals the unified whole. In contrast and even conflict with this narrowed epistemic field and process, Paul was involved in the relational epistemic process with the Spirit to pleroo the communicative word from God, most vulnerably communicated by the pleroma of God (fullness of God, Col 1:19), to complete the communication of whole knowledge and understanding of God in relationship. This clearly distinguished Paul from many of his readers after him (cf. Peter’s assessment of Paul, 2 Pet 3:16), including in Pauline scholarship today.
“The pleroma of God” was not a concept signifying some esoteric knowledge about or vague sphere of the mystery of God, as Valentinus misinterpreted from Paul to develop the Pleroma for Gnostics in the second century. Nor was “the pleroma of God” a conceptual-theological person, but rather “the whole fullness of the Godhead” embodied by Jesus’ whole person (Col 2:9). This pleroma personally residing (katoikeo) in the embodied Jesus was the whole God person who functioned only to reconcile for relationship together in wholeness with God (Col 1:19-22; 2:10), whose presence and involvement distinguished the Trinity (as in Eph 2:18-22). Nothing less and no substitutes than the relational ontology of the whole-ly Trinity could constitute this pleroma. Nor could anything less and any substitute constitute Jesus as “the image of God” (Col 1:15; 2 Cor 4:4) to disclose this relational function—which Marcion erred in doing by also misinterpreting Paul in the second century to support his docetic view that Jesus only appeared to be in bodily flesh. This was the One and Only who exegetes God (Jn 1:18) with his whole person in vulnerable face-to-face involvement in relationship: “God…who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). This was in continuity with God’s disclosure “face to face” with Moses (Num 12:6-8), yet now with complete self-disclosure of the whole and uncommon Trinity vulnerably embodied in the face of Christ.
Colossians can be considered somewhat of a test case applying the functional clarity from Galatians and the theological clarity from Romans needed to expose, challenge and negate reductionism for the sake of the whole gospel—the precedent of which the church in Laodicea failed to take to heart, and thus whose heart Jesus pursued (Rev 3:19-20). Paul was entrusted with the administration (oikonomia) of “pleroo the word of God,” that is, the management (oikonomia involves a household) of the whole of God’s family (Col 1:25). This was the summary key Paul came to understand that defined decisively his purpose (oikonomia) and ministry (diakonos) of God’s whole. Yet, as a Jew who became a follower of Christ, Paul engaged in more than defining the continuity of the NT word of God with the OT word of God for his readers. More important, as a person made whole from reductionism, Paul made conclusive the essential truth of the whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace to make whole the human condition (Col 1:26-27; Eph 3:2-6). Therefore, Paul’s synesis of God’s relational disclosures constituted his development essentially of biblical theology, that is, theology which pleroo (to complete, make full or whole) the relational word from God, the gospel of peace (wholeness) from the God of uncommon wholeness to compose his uncommon orthodoxy of what essentially distinguished uncommon Trinitarianism.
This uncommon biblical theology was developed further in the general letter later entitled Ephesians (without personal greeting or specific situation and circumstance), extending the theological clarity of Romans. His further theological reflection in his general letter, likely also while in prison, defined the theological ‘forest’ and added aspects not included in Romans. The added theology developed in Ephesians notably involved the ecclesiology necessary to be whole—the theology of God’s whole functioning in relationship together on God’s relational terms, his oikonomia (administration, management oversight, Eph 3:2) of the Trinity’s whole new creation family as the Trinity’s uncommon temple (Eph 2:14-22).
Both Jesus and Paul ongoingly challenge our common theological and functional assumptions, just as the prophets did. Jesus challenges our assumptions of how we perceive and define his person, how we follow him, how we function in relationship with him, worship him, serve him and practice church—in other words, challenge our basic assumptions about the gospel. Paul extends these challenges and clearly illuminates pleroma theology, from which emerges the ecclesiology of the whole nonnegotiably based on the essential truth of the whole gospel irreducibly constituted by whole relationship together with the whole of Jesus, the pleroma of God, in order to integrally embody the pleroma of Christ (the church, Eph 1:22-23). What then unfolds from these challenges is the relational outcome of uncommon orthodoxy, whose whole composition is critically distinguished from general parts composing common orthodoxy. Thus, these challenges also expose the presence of common influence from the workings of reductionism, and then confront the reality of its assimilated sin and theological anthropology shaping the theological task.
In this sense, Paul’s theology was polemic discourse composed out of necessity by him as the definitive apologist for the whole gospel, fighting conjointly for the integrity of this gospel and against all reductionism of its wholeness (e.g. Eph 6:15). To understand the whole in Paul’s theology, therefore, is inseparable from understanding the integral witness of his whole person, not just as a Jew or a Christian. In Paul’s journey, what must emerge, by the nature of his human person and being, are the whole of Paul’s person and his witness as well as the whole in Paul and his theology. This uncommon wholeness is the primary identity that defined who and what Paul was and that determined how he functioned—that is, his whole ontology and function, which is commonly unrecognized in Pauline studies. The relational dynamic of this process both illuminated Paul’s essential truth of relationship with the whole and uncommon (yes) Trinity and challenges what is necessarily involved for any and all theological engagement in the uncommon shift from common orthodoxy to uncommon orthodoxy. It is critical for Paul’s readers to pay attention to, and for theological and biblical studies not to ignore, this integral process Paul engaged theologically and functionally. Otherwise we are susceptible to an unorthodox shift that merely composes common orthodoxy, which neither redeems the sin of reductionism nor transforms reduced theological anthropology.
Colin Gunton’s view was that Irenaeus is a model for all systematic theologians: “Irenaeus is less concerned with systematic consistency, more with the integrity of the faith in the face of attack…he thought systematically in a broad sense.” Perhaps Irenaeus learned the theological task from Paul, whose theological systemic framework to pleroo God’s word continues to challenge both any fragmentary theological engagement and any incomplete theological assumptions—particularly in the referentialization of the Word. However we may approach theology today, it is imperative for us essentially not to merely defend the gospel—notably referentially in modernist terms and with mere systematic doctrines—but indeed to justify its good news relationally, the essential reality of which makes whole the human condition by resolving the human relational problem and fulfilling the human relational need. And claiming and proclaiming what is palatable will not complete this responsibility.
In the same sense as Paul, we are all apologists for the gospel, whether we accept the relational responsibility and engage in it or not—just as Jesus clarified the identity of his followers from the reductionists (Mt 5:13-16), extended this responsibility to them (Jn 15:16), and prayed for them to be whole together and thereby live and make whole in the world (Jn 17:21-23). Yet, unlike Paul, it would be insufficient to limit our fight just for the gospel. That is, we cannot fight for the whole gospel unless we conjointly fight against reductionism, both in the world and in our own persons (personally and collectively) and the function defining us in church and the academy. Reductionism was and continues to be the most formidable challenger we face in life as well as study. For Paul, reductionism’s challenge is inescapable, though the fight against its influence can be ignored—with significant consequences both theologically and functionally. Therefore, in this study it is critical that we take to heart this integral rule of faith from Paul: “let the wholeness of Christ rule in your hearts” to define and determine our theology and practice (Col 3:15); and by embracing his uncommon wholeness, we engage the unavoidable conflict with reductionism—notably confronting palatable theology and practice, and the assimilated sin and theological anthropology underlying.
In distinct contrast to common orthodoxy and conflict with what’s palatable, the whole gospel embodied by Jesus, the pleroma of God (Col 1:19; 2:9)—who embodied its theology and hermeneutic—was further embodied into (eis denoting relational movement to) Paul, who extended the embodying of the gospel of wholeness (and its theology and hermeneutic) in the body of Christ, the pleroma of Christ, in reciprocal relationship with the Spirit. This relational dynamic emerges whole-ly in Jesus’ story and converges integrally with Paul’s story. From the beginning, Jesus is the theological, ontological, relational and functional keys to the whole and uncommon Trinity, and thereby constituted the integral pivot for the triune God’s thematic salvific action in history throughout the unfolding words in the First Testament and Second Testament. Paul is a functional bridge between these inseparable Testaments to pleroo the communicative word from God. Therefore, he only illuminated what Jesus embodied in whole and never went beyond the pleroma of God to construct his own theology. Nor was he influenced by what would be palatable for the orthodoxy of the Word (e.g. 2 Cor 2:17; 4:2).
For Paul, nothing less and no substitutes for the whole and uncommon God was disclosed to compose his new uncommon orthodoxy; and anything less and any substitutes reduce God’s revelation to his old common orthodoxy, which the whole of Paul fought rigorously against in order that the whole in his theology illuminated unmistakably the new—even by correcting the other disciples (Gal 2:11-21) and thus making whole the theology and practice of the church. Uncommon orthodoxy then requires an uncommon view of both sin and theological anthropology to keep from shifting into common orthodoxy (Gal 3:22-4:7).
Having said this about Paul, it should be understood that Paul’s uncommon orthodoxy was not commonly trinitarian. In spite of his clear distinctions of the Son, the Spirit and the Father, Paul was certainly not a trinitarian in his theology in the traditional sense. Nevertheless, in his transformation from a common orthodoxy to the uncommon orthodoxy of his whole theology and practice, Paul provided the whole and uncommon basis for the essential reality necessary to compose uncommon Trinitarianism and its uncommon orthodoxy. Yet, traditional trinitarian theology in large part has gotten separated from Paul’s whole and uncommon basis, and this has rendered its theology less significant for trinitarian practice than Paul’s whole theology and practice. This gap in trinitarian theology is likely the reason for the notable absence of the Trinity in the everyday practice (as the primacy of “the work of God”) of Christians personally and collectively as church—ironically making Paul more relevant for trinitarian theology and practice.
The whole in Paul’s uncommon orthodoxy countered what is more palatable in common orthodoxy and its common Trinitarianism. In contrast, this commonness has neither redeemed sin as reductionism nor transformed a theological anthropology of reduced ontology and function. Paul’s uncommon orthodoxy requires this redemption and transformation in order to constitute whole theology and practice in uncommon likeness of the Trinity. And having this strong view of sin and whole view of theological anthropology have been lacking in Pauline studies in particular and biblical-theological studies in general, and thus continues to be problematic in the church’s trinitarian theology and practice. The consequence has been and continues to be the prevailing reality in the theological task of composing God’s presence and involvement in a common orthodoxy as a common Trinitarianism, whether perceived as more palatable or not. The ongoing results apparent in our theology and practice are a diversity of virtual-augmented realities composed by ontological simulations and functional illusions that basically shape God into a pseudonymous God, even if idealized. Can we claim and proclaim this to be the same God or Trinity disclosed by Jesus?
Accounting for God’s presence is one issue that is uncontested in orthodoxy—even as initially witnessed in Israel’s experience, that is, at least in their covenant situation and circumstances if not in their covenant relationship (cf. Ps 114). The defining issue in the theological task, however, that distinguishes uncommon orthodoxy from common orthodoxy is the depth of God’s involvement, which then distinguishes the uncommon whole of God’s presence (as Paul experienced further than Israel). Trinitarian theology and practice must be able to distinguish the whole Trinity’s uncommon presence and the uncommon Trinity’s whole involvement in order to be integral for composing orthodoxy in the qualitative relational significance of the gospel of wholeness (as Paul made definitive, Eph 6:15)—the whole gospel that disclosed the whole and uncommon Trinity. Yet, moreover, distinguishing the whole-ly Trinity disclosed also requires a hermeneutic that is able to distinguish the Trinity’s disclosures in uncommon relational language from common referential language; this necessitates a view both of sin as reductionism and of theological anthropology in whole ontology and function—as Paul further demonstrated in his theological task—in order to engage the relational epistemic process needed for the Trinity’s disclosures.
Therefore, take in the full significance of the depth of the Trinity’s involvement:
The Father made it the relational imperative to listen to his Son, whom he loves; the Son unmistakably disclosed the Father whom he loves, and likewise distinguished the Spirit’s person in relational terms, that is, the presence and involvement of the Spirit of truth as the relational replacement for the embodied Truth—neither as referential information nor as propositional truth but enacting the essential reality of their family love together.
In uncommon Trinitarianism, what distinguishes the persons of the Trinity most distinctly is not their various functions but their relationship together. Their relationship composed nothing less than and no substitutes for their uncommon intimate relationships of love. Traditional trinitarian theology highlighted the relationship to some extent but arguably not to the depth of the Trinity’s involvement disclosed, even with perichoresis. To be sure, modalism never distinguished the Trinity because while modes of function could be related and interrelated, nevertheless modes don’t have relationships notably in the intimate involvement of love. This depth of relationships is also uncommon and requires whole persons. Of course, this also raises the issue of tritheism, yet the Trinity’s disclosure cannot be limited to the epistemic field of physics and its narrow methodology, or constrained to the philosophical thought of metaphysics and its common rationalizing. As Jesus disclosed unequivocally, the trinitarian persons together are the ontological One and the relational Whole, which goes beyond the realm of the common and thus must be either accepted on the basis of its uncommon nature or denied by some common measure.
What distinguishes these trinitarian persons is their inter-person-al intimate relational involvement of uncommon family love. What is uncommon about their family love is that it is not so much about unity but is distinguished by wholeness in ontology and function—an uncommon condition eluding the human context, namely the condition of human persons and their relationships. The whole function of their family love is intimacy: defined as the hearts of their whole persons involved with each other to constitute their synergistic depth together as the relational Whole. Yet, their involvement of love goes beyond their function of love in intimacy, and this is vital to understand about the Trinity—not to mention for how we commonly describe God’s love. The intimacy of love also constitutes the whole ontology of the Trinity. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16), therefore the Trinity’s uncommon being exists beyond the common realms of physics and metaphysics as the ontological One. Together in love the ontological One and relational Whole integrally compose the uncommon intimate whole essential to the reality of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity.
Moreover, the uncommon intimate whole of the Trinity cannot be fragmented by common trinitarian theology and practice that reduces the person of the Spirit to the love (as some dynamic or force) binding together the Father and the Son. The Trinity’s family love is intimately constituted by the whole ontology of the person-al Trinity and the whole function of the inter-person-al Trinity. Anything less and any substitutes of the Spirit’s person no longer composes the essential reality of uncommon Trinitarianism—though perhaps depicting the virtual-augmented reality of a fragmentary and common Trinity.
The Trinity’s whole ontology and function in intimate family love also explains why God’s “faithfulness and love meet together” (Ps 85:10), always go together and are inseparable from God’s righteousness to determine who, what and how the Trinity is (Ps 85:13; 89:14). That is to say, the faithful God loves and the loving God is faithful, the disclosure of whom can be counted on to be reliable and thus valid because the faithful and loving God is righteous (the legal significance of sedeq). The righteous God discloses and enacts only what is true, correct, straight (ortho), that is, the orthodox who, what and how of the whole and uncommon Trinity. On this whole basis, the intimate whole of the Trinity’s family love discloses the ontology and function uncommon to the common’s human context. What this presents, on the one hand, is difficult for the common to accept, while on the other hand is what the common human condition of persons and relationships need to be made whole. Distinguishing this essential difference of the uncommon from the common is irreplaceable and thus indispensable for the trinitarian theological task to compose whole trinitarian theology and practice. Accordingly, we cannot validly talk about the faithful, righteous and loving God without the uncommon intimate whole of the Trinity, because this is the only God present and involved. Yet, such discourse pervades the theological task and prevails in common theology and practice.
In family love, Jesus disclosed the nature of this whole ontology and function in three relational-specific ways, not exhaustive but defining ways which are uncommon so they usually are ignored in theology and practice composed especially by an incomplete Christology:
When Jesus grieved over Jerusalem because they didn’t know or understand what would give them peace (shalôm, wholeness, Lk 19:41-42), he expressed the hard reality of his family love (as in Lk 13:34). First, he upset the good news of the incarnation and declared somewhat paradoxically, yet only because it was uncommon: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt 10:34), that is, “but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided…against each other” (Lk 12:51-53). Is this family love? Secondly, Jesus exercised his forceful hand to clean out the temple, causing division among God’s people in order that ‘My family house shall be called a home of relational connection for all the nations” (Mk 11:17)—constituting the intimate communion of relationship together as God’s family. Is this the new way to define peace? Third, on the basis only of the relational significance of family identity—not a referential religious or sociocultural identity—Jesus clearly distinguished his uncommon family from the common: “Who is my family? …Here is my family! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my family” (Mt 12:48-50). Is this how to determine family?
And what is foremost in the will of the Father? “Listen to my Son” who enacts the Trinity’s uncommon family in intimate relationship together in order for his followers to be in whole likeness of the Trinity—just as the Son made conclusive in his defining family prayer (Jn 17). In other words, the three relational-specific ways of family love, peace and family are all uncommon, and they expose the common ways these vital areas are defined and determined by reductionism and a reduced ontology and function. Therefore, these uncommon ways integrally disclose the whole ontology and function of the Trinity and distinguish the whole who, what and how composing the Trinity’s church family in likeness.
In spite of their understandably discomforting or perhaps disbelieving effect, these three relational-specific ways disclose the significance of the Trinity’s uncommon presence and involvement in whole ontology and function. They cannot be ignored and must be accounted for in the trinitarian theological task, if trinitarian theology and practice are to be distinguished uncommon and not rendered merely common. The likeness of the Trinity presented in common orthodoxy is not the uncommon Trinity disclosed by the Son, affirmed by the Father, and made conclusive by the Spirit in their intimate relational involvement together of family love. The relational dynamics unfolding with the Trinity’s presence and involvement can be nothing other than uncommon if the whole Trinity is to emerge at all. This is the essential reality facing orthodoxy.
In the strategic shift of the Trinity’s uncommon theological trajectory (discussed earlier in chap. 3), the Son made definitive that in the inner-out ontology of the Trinity (“God is spirit”) the Father seeks also whole persons from inner out for the primary purpose of intimate relationship together (Jn 4:21-24). That is, “spirit” signifies the hearts of both the Trinity and human persons vulnerably involved with each other in the depth of intimacy. The Trinity’s uncommon theological trajectory embodied by the Son was more vulnerably enacted in his intrusive relational path, the functional steps of which were uncommon to the human context and confronted the common’s human condition not just at the surface but down to its roots. The whole relational terms disclosing the Trinity for this intimate relationship together also both discomforted persons and threatened the common relationships existing even among God’s people, including his followers. For further clarity and correction in the trinitarian theological task, the Father made it the relational imperative for all Jesus’ followers throughout history to listen to his Son, that is, respond on his irreducible and nonnegotiable relational terms. These are the whole terms that Jesus made indispensable in an irreversible paradigm pivotal for the theological task and determinative for theology and practice (Mk 4:24-25).
In Jesus’ irreversible paradigm, the “measure” (metron) we give or use and thus get or receive back involves our perceptual-interpretive framework that we use in the theological task. This then determines (measures, limits) the level of participation in the epistemic process for the Trinity’s disclosures. When Jesus defined “the measure” used by his followers, he specifically identifies our perceptual-interpretive framework and lens, which determines what we will pay attention to and ignore, and thus what we see, hear and listen to. For example, how selective are we about listening to all of Jesus’ words, and/or how seriously do we take what he says—most notable in the three ways expressed above? Accordingly, to respond to Jesus’ imperative to listen carefully to all his words and to understand the depth of what he says, we need the following: (1) to understand the horizon (his relational context and process) of where Jesus is coming from, and in this process, (2) to account for the horizon (the common’s surrounding context and process) of where we are coming from—which includes any defining and determining influence our common context may exert as it converges with Jesus’ uncommon context. Without knowing our own horizon and accounting for its influence on the framework and lens we use, we cannot listen to Jesus speaking for himself on his own relational terms. This is pivotal for the trinitarian theological task, with irreversible results for trinitarian theology and practice.
What is unmistakable in this indispensable process and unavoidable in Jesus’ nonnegotiable imperative emerges in this:
The trinitarian relational context and process—which Jesus enacted for our involvement in the relational epistemic process to the whole and uncommon Trinity, for the Trinity’s uncommon whole and our uncommon wholeness together—cannot be diminished or minimalized by common human construction (e.g. a narrowed-down quantitative framework) and shaping (e.g. generalized referential terms), that is, without the loss of whole knowledge and understanding (syniemi, synesis) of the Trinity, as well as what it means to be whole.
In his imperative for his followers, Jesus makes it clearly conclusive: our perceptual-interpretive framework and lens will define our reality and determine how we function in our life (“the measure you give”). On this basis alone, we should not expect to experience anything more or less (“the measure you get”), notably in relationship together. Implied further in his words, Jesus defined the outcome of a open-ended qualitative perceptual-interpretive framework and the consequence of a narrowed-down quantitative perceptual-interpretive framework, both of which are directly correlated to the epistemic process: “For to those who have a qualitative framework and lens, more will be given; from those who have nothing, that is, no qualitative framework and lens, even what they have from a quantitative framework will be taken away or rendered insignificant” (Mk 4:25). This outcome directly applies to uncommon orthodoxy and this consequence to common orthodoxy.
Jesus’ defining statement “the measure you use will be the measure you get” (Mk 4:24, NIV) was not expressed as a propositional truth, though it should be paid attention to with that significance. More importantly, his relational language communicated this relational statement that is directly connected to his relational imperative “Pay attention to the words you hear from me”; this extends the Father’s relational imperative “listen to him” (Mt 17:5)—the embodied Word from God. Later, while everyone was amazed at what Jesus did, he qualified these relational imperatives to listen to the Word with the use of tithemi (to set, put one’s person, Lk 9:44, cf. “lay down one’s life,” Jn 15:13). In referential language tithemi would be about putting Jesus’ words “into your ears” (NRSV) to complete the transmission of information. Yet, in this context his disciples did not understand his words (i.e. have a frame of reference, aisthanomai, 9:45, cf. Heb 5:14) even though Jesus said tithemi. Why? Because Jesus’ words are in relational language that cannot be recognized, perceived, understood (aisthanomai) to distinguish his relational words without the interpretive framework of his relational language (cf. Jn 8:43). The disciples only heard general referential words to put in their ears, which had no deeper significance to them. They did not put their whole persons into the relational involvement necessary for the relational epistemic process to have the hermeneutic to understand Jesus’ relational language; and their relational distance evidenced their lack of vulnerable involvement in tithemi with the Word (“they were afraid to ask him”). In other words, they lacked the relational connection that the Father made imperative in order for the intimate relationship together the Father seeks with all his followers.
This demonstrated some critical interrelated issues for those who “hear” the Word, notably in the academy, and proclaim the gospel:
“The language you use will be the Word you get,” and “the interpretive framework, lens and hermeneutic you use will be the knowledge and understanding of the Word you get”; thus, “the epistemic process you engage will be the theology and practice you get.”
Therefore, in the trinitarian theological task, the measure most needed to use points to a theological framework and interpretive lens uncommon to common theology and practice both past and present. This raises the need for uncommon orthodoxy if we want (as in need) to go further and get deeper than the prevailing theology and practice of common orthodoxy. The irreducible truth and nonnegotiable reality are that the orthodoxy we use will be the Trinity we get; and the Trinity we use will be the gospel and its outcome that we get in our relational condition and thus the human context gets in its human condition.
Given how confronting the Son’s intrusive relational path was and how discomforting and threatening the disclosure of the Trinity was, it would seem logical that the orthodoxy needed for trinitarian theology and practice would have to be radical. Uncommon orthodoxy indeed gets to the deepest root of theology and practice based on the whole and uncommon disclosed by the person-al and inter-person-al Trinity, and in that sense it would appear to be radical. Yet, even if you didn’t perceive uncommon orthodoxy as radical, don’t be surprised to experience discomfort or threat by it; this is the essential reality of the Trinity that the Father presents, the Son enacts and the Spirit discloses. Uncommon orthodoxy, however, is neither a radical orthodoxy nor a progressive orthodoxy, neither a Western orthodoxy nor even an Eastern orthodoxy, and in fact is distinguished from them in vital matters basic to all life. All these theological frameworks are rendered or have undergone some form of common shaping, notably in their underlying theological anthropology, which subtly yet commonly reduces the whole ontology and function of both God and human life in likeness. The consequence has not been given top priority, more likely ignored or just not understood by these frameworks and their lenses, and therefore has had the effect of reflecting, reinforcing or even sustaining the fragmentary human relational condition—no matter what their theology may profess and their gospel may proclaim.
Accounting for the Trinity’s presence and involvement has been a struggle in the theological task, often elusive mainly because of an incomplete Christology. Uncommon orthodoxy has its essential basis and substantive base in the uncommon life and whole function of Jesus, who integrally composes the complete Christology that cannot be fragmented and still have an orthodox (straight, correct, true) theological framework and interpretive lens, much less uncommon orthodoxy. For example, Jesus’ teachings cannot be applied apart from the person-al inter-person-al Trinity; this is commonly practiced by Christians in general and in particular efforts (even movements) for social justice, peace and other Christian ethics—all of which should not expect such application to have the qualitative relational significance necessary to make whole the human (including our) relational condition. That relational outcome is inseparable from the Trinity embodied by Jesus’ whole person. The significance of all Jesus’s teachings disclosed what the Father taught him (Jn 2:28) and therefore is central to the whole and uncommon Trinity. To be selective of Jesus’ words and not take seriously what he says both fragment Jesus’ person and reduce his ontology and function from the whole of who, what and how he is. This fragmentation also occurs when the focus on Jesus is only on the cross; likewise, he is reduced when theology and practice are overly christocentric.
In the common orthodoxy of most theology and practice, Jesus is the key to the traditional gospel, which in narrowed-down terms is fragmentary and incomplete. In uncommon orthodoxy Jesus is the key to the Trinity, the person-al inter-person-al Trinity who initiated the gospel long before the incarnation. What Jesus embodied in his whole person then unfolded uncommonly to enact the Trinity’s relational-specific response of grace in the relational involvement o family love, in order to make whole our human relational condition. Uncommon orthodoxy is the theological framework and interpretive lens of the following dynamic that continues to unfold, yet should not be confused with process theology:
The essential reality composed by the whole ontology and function of the person-al inter-person-al Trinity, whose uncommon vulnerable presence and whole relational involvement are disclosed in relational terms (phaneroo qualifying apokalypto) integrally by nothing less and no substitutes of the Son in triangulation with the Father and the Spirit, unfolds in the human context in order to constitute this essential reality’s orthodox (straight, correct, true) needed response—though not always wanted in the human context—to complete the essential relational outcome of the gospel. Since the whole and uncommon YHWH’s essential ontology and function as the triune God had been disclosed with the Spirit, Word and Father in the First Testament, and now fully disclosed in the Second Testament as the whole ontology and function of the Trinity, to claim this gospel is to claim the person-al inter-person-al Trinity—which, of course, not even all of Jesus’ followers wanted (Jn 6:60,66), and that his closest disciples didn’t know and understand (Jn 14:9).
So, why wouldn’t anyone want the gospel; and for those who claim it, why don’t they know and understand the Trinity? This gospel integrally holds the Trinity accountable as well as the Son’s followers accountable for reciprocal relationship together in the uncommon intimate whole of the Trinity’s family, that is, only as Jesus made definitive in his family prayer. If we claim fully the gospel, we are embracing the uncommon presence and whole involvement of the Trinity; and if we whole-ly embrace the Trinity, we are embracing the uncommon intimate whole of the Trinity in intimate relationship together—both of which the twelve disciples lacked in their theological task. This puts the gospel in its complete context (in 3-D), and its uncommon nature and significance don’t always appeal to what persons want (or at least pay attention to) even though it’s what all persons and relationships need (notably in the church). Yet, the whole and uncommon Trinity offers nothing less and no substitutes, and this presents an insurmountable challenge for common Trinitarianism and its common orthodoxy.
The intimacy between the trinitarian persons centered only in the innermost of love at the heart of their persons, which is both irreducible and nonnegotiable and thus neither variable nor optional for the Trinity and its orthodoxy in likeness. This intimacy integrated their hearts in the relational involvement of love, which by necessity integrally (1) constructed the essential structure of the Trinity as the ontological One and (2) constituted the synergistic systemic process of the Trinity as the relational whole. Without this intimacy the Trinity in the human context reveals a fragmentary Trinity whose ontology and function are not distinguished whole. With the incarnation, however, this intimacy of love distinguished between the trinitarian persons emerged whole-ly in the human context with its essential reality enacted uncommonly by the Son. Void of idealized terms or variable purpose, Jesus’ relationship-specific involvement of love embodied the Trinity’s vulnerable presence in this intimate relationship together and for this intimate relationship together. Without the reality of in there is no relational outcome of for, whereby the gospel is rendered without qualitative relational significance for our human relational condition. In this uncommon relational process and for this uncommon relational purpose, Jesus’ relational involvement with his disciples enacted this uncommon intimacy composed by only the whole Trinity, including the person of the Spirit.
The intimate relational involvement of the Trinity converges in Jesus’ footwashing, which signified to Peter that to avoid involvement with Jesus was to reject the Trinity he embodied (“no share with all of me,” Jn 13:8). The challenge of Jesus’ intimate relational involvement demonstrated in his footwashing faces all of us, with the same implications Peter faced. To keep relational distance from, to avoid or reject how the Trinity is present and involved with family love for intimate relationship together, is to deny who and what the Trinity is as disclosed vulnerably by Jesus, and therefore to disclaim (even inadvertently) who and what are essential to the gospel. This essential reality was the deep concern central to Paul’s prayer (echoing Jesus’ family prayer) for the church to be whole as the relational outcome of the intimate relational experience with the pleroma of God’s uncommon involvement of love (Eph 3:16-19).
Even though Paul was no traditional trinitarian, his new uncommon orthodoxy of whole monotheism signified that the new creation church family was inconceivable apart from the uncommon triune God (Eph 4:24), and thus inseparable from the whole Trinity (2 Cor 3:18; Eph 2:22). Embodying this relational outcome of the gospel of wholeness (Eph 6:15) was integral to the relational dynamic of Jesus into Paul. The image of the whole of God in the face of Christ was innermost for the whole of Paul (2 Cor 4:4,6; Col 3:10) and integrated the whole in his theology (2 Cor 3:18). To be transformed to the qualitative image of the ontological One and to live in the relational likeness of the relational Whole defined the ontology and determined the function of the church for Paul. Therefore, churches must make the critical decision how their practice is to be or not to be: either shaped by a framework essentially with the temple curtain still between them and God and thus without intimate relationship together, or distinguished by the relational context and process in likeness of the Trinity’s intimate relationship together with the veil removed. The church matures only in the difference of the holy God and the likeness of the whole-ly Trinity (Eph 4:13; Col 1:27-28).
The ontology and function of the church in likeness of the Trinity is neither a paradigm (though the trinitarian example does serve as that) nor a limited analogy, that is, if Jesus’ defining family prayer is taken seriously, not to mention Paul in whole. But more significantly this reality-in-likeness is the relational outcome of directly experiencing the Trinity (including for Paul) in intimate relationship only on God’s qualitative relational terms. This ongoing relational process is integral to the ongoing relational base of the Trinity’s uncommon vulnerable presence and whole intimate involvement in the function of church as family, particularly as revealed vulnerably by Jesus in the relational progression of following him to the Father and in the reciprocal relational work of the Spirit illuminated by Paul (e.g. Eph 2:22). In trinitarian theology and practice, the church must both account for the face of the whole and uncommon Trinity and also be accountable to the person-al inter-person-al Trinity in face-to-face relationship.
In the trinitarian theological task, we cannot adequately “observe” the Trinity without being relationally addressed by the Trinity at the same time. Keep in focus that God’s self-revelation is how God engages relationship. How the Trinity is revealed, therefore, is how the Trinity relates to us, which is how the trinitarian persons engage relationship with each other (though in horizontal relational process discussed earlier). This involvement of family love in the primacy of relationship together may appear limited to the God of revelation, yet we cannot limit the righteousness of God only to revelation without righteousness becoming the totality of who, what and how the loving God is—though by definition righteousness defines for us the whole of who, what and how God is in relationship. The intimate loving God in righteousness and holiness is who is present and involved with us; and on this relational basis, Paul makes definitive the likeness that determines the new creation church family’s likeness (Eph 4:24).
To account in the trinitarian theological task for the Trinity’s presence and involvement signifies knowing and understanding the Trinity in relational terms (as Paul prayed, Eph 1:17; 3:19), not just having information about the Trinity (cf. 1 Jn 4:7). Boasting in knowing and understanding the Trinity is primary for the theological task, above and beyond anything else that can be boasted about (notably information about the Trinity, Jer 9:23-24). Yet initially, we cannot even epistemologically know and ontologically understand the Trinity without engaging the Trinity in how the trinitarian persons engage relationship in their context and are engaging relationship with us specifically in our context, yet still by their primary context. It is within their relational context and process that the Trinity’s self-disclosure is vulnerably given in relational terms and needs to be received in likeness—and not narrowed down to referential terms and acknowledged indirectly—thereby directly experienced as an outcome of this relational connection. To narrow this down to referential terms disconnects what is revealed from the relational context and process of its Source. Thus, this consistency with the trinitarian relational context and compatibility with the trinitarian relational process cannot be engaged from the detached observation, for example, of a scientific paradigm, or with the measured involvement and relational distance of a quantitative-analytic framework (even exegetically rigorous). As Jesus made definitive, the measure we use for the Word will be the Trinity we get. Accordingly, the Trinity’s whole context and process can only be engaged from the qualitative function of relationship—in the relational epistemic process with the Spirit as demonstrated by Paul (e.g. 1 Cor 2:10-13). Similarly, J. I. Packer defined the process of knowing God as a relationship with emotional involvement, and he challenged as invalid the assumption that the theological task can be engaged meaningfully with relational detachment. Earlier, Helmut Thielicke made the critical distinction of no longer reading Scripture as a relational “word to me but only as the object of exegetical endeavors.”
This is the relational significance of the deeper epistemology that Jesus made a necessity for Philip, Thomas and all his disciples in order to truly know him and whereby also know the Father (Jn 14:1-9)—that is, relationally knowing the Trinity in intimate relationship without the veil, which is definitive of eternal life (Jn 17:3). This is the relationship-specific process that does not merely see (or observe) but rather is deeply focused on the Subject (as in theaomai, Jn 1:14); and that does not reduce the person merely to attributes and categories but rather puts the parts of revelation together to comprehend the whole and uncommon Trinity (as in syniemi, Mk 8:17, that the early disciples lacked, and synesis, Col 2:2, that Paul gained).
This relational epistemic process is the outworking of the Trinity’s intimate loving relational involvement with us. Therefore, to come to know the triune God is neither possible by individual effort nor is the individual’s relationship with God alone sufficient. This process involves the practice of reciprocal relationship in family love as composed by the Trinity that, when experienced, results in the relational outcome of uncommon intimate whole relationship together as the new creation family of God constituted in the person-al inter-person-al Trinity. Thus this integral relational process involves the integration of both the primacy of the qualitative (heart function in intimate relationship with the Trinity) and the primacy of the relational (intimate involvement together in the family relationships of the Trinity)—together composing the uncommon intimate whole of uncommon orthodoxy. Whole knowledge and understanding of the Trinity as revealed (i.e. present and involved with us) is never merely for us to be informed about God but always directly intrudes on our whole person and relationships in the innermost, thereby transforming how we define our person, how we engage relationships and practice church to be whole in likeness (2 Cor 3:16-18; Col 3:10-11). Maturing goes deeper in this difference and likeness, just as Mary vulnerably demonstrated (e.g. Jn 12:3) and Paul made definitive for the church’s whole ontology and function (Eph 4:11-16).
Consequently, the ontology and function of the Trinity cannot be understood in referential formulations of trinitarian theology nor experienced in church doctrine, as exist in the theology and practice of common orthodoxy. Along with reducing the whole Trinity to attributes and the trinitarian persons to categories or roles, these reflect how our understanding (“a reputation of being alive,” Rev 3:1, NIV) and our practice (“have abandoned the love you had at first,” Rev 2:4) become decontextualized or disconnected. That is, they are relationally detached or distant from the relational context and process of the uncommon Trinity, and they need both to be recontextualized in the whole relational nature of the Trinity and reconnected to the Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement—which likely may also require deconstruction, transformation and reconstruction in the theology and practice of our discipleship and churches.
The essential reality of uncommon Trinitarianism and its uncommon orthodoxy challenges the deepest roots of our theology and practice—also digging into the core of sin encompassing reductionism and getting down to the heart of theological anthropology’s ontology and function. The whole and uncommon Trinity facing us will not go away or wear a palatable mask, but in love and faithful righteousness the person-al inter-person-al Trinity continues to pursue us face to face—seeking answers to “Where are you?” and “What are you doing here?”—in order to “shine upon you and be gracious to you…and bring change and establish new relationship [siym] together in wholeness” (shalôm, Num 6:25-26). The whole profile of the face of YHWH’s definitive blessing has been fulfilled by the essential reality of the Trinity’s uncommon presence and whole involvement. Yet, the questions persist: Where are you in relationship with the whole and uncommon Trinity? and What are you doing here with the reality of the Trinity’s presence and involvement? Jesus adds, “Don’t you know my whole person even after all I have vulnerably disclosed to you in relationship together?” and Paul further adds, “Has Christ been divided, fragmented, reduced to create diversity in the church?” (1 Cor 1:13).
Performing “the works of God” are not enough to answer. Virtual and augmented realities are insufficient to respond. The essential reality of uncommon Trinitarianism and its uncommon orthodoxy provide the only sufficient basis to respond in reciprocal relationship both compatible with the person-al Trinity’s uncommon presence and congruent with the inter-person-al Trinity’s whole involvement. Perhaps in common orthodoxy, you would raise your own question in response to uncommon Trinitarianism and its uncommon orthodoxy: “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it—much less live in likeness?”
 Created by Charles M. Schulz, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2016.
 A full discussion of the integration of Jesus and Paul is found in my study, Jesus into Paul: Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel (Integration Study, 2012). Online at http://www.4X12.org.
 In Pauline studies, scholars have concluded that the most undisputed letters in the Pauline corpus are limited to 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians and Philemon. The other six letters traditionally attributed to Paul have various points of dispute. Though disputed letters appear not to be congruent, for example, with Paul’s writing style (the issue of dissimilarity), they still seem congruent with Paul’s thought (the issue of similarity). I affirm all his letters in expanded discussion in The Whole of Paul and the Whole in His Theology: Theological Interpretation in Relational Epistemic Process (Paul Study, 2010). Online at http://www.4X12.org.
 Colin E. Gunton, ‘Historical and Systematic Theology” in Colin E. Gunton, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine (Cambridge University Press, 1997), 15.
 The uncommon orthodoxy discussed in this study has some overlap with the framework of Radical Orthodoxy, but uncommon orthodoxy is not synonymous with Radical Orthodoxy. For its position, see James K. A. Smith and James H. Olthuis, eds., Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition: Creation, Covenant, and Participation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).
 As noted by Alister E. McGrath, “Evangelical Theological Method” in Evangelical Futures, ed. John G. Stackhouse (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 23.
 Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 33.
©2016 T. Dave Matsuo