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 The Person, the Trinity, the Church

 

Wholeness Study

Chapter 2                                                                      printer-friendly pdf version of entire study

Knowing the Whole of God

 

 

Subsections:

 

The Face of This Triune God
The Experience of Knowing
Convergence with the Trinity
The Relationship of God
To Embrace and Experience

Introduction
Chap. 1
Chap. 3
Chap. 4
Chap. 5
Chap. 6
Chap. 7

Chap. 8
Chap. 9
Chap. 10
Chap. 11

Table of Contents

 

Scripture Index

 

In many of our experiences (not our belief system) the God of creation often becomes in effect somewhat deistic (uninvolved or detached) in function or is perceived as so awesome in nature making it improbable to have intimate relationship with—as in a classic monotheistic perception of a non-relational God. At the same time, in our Christian practice our notions of God can become overly personalized effectively perceiving God more in our anthropomorphic image, thus to our level and on our terms.

 

These perceptions come from reductionism which imposes a reductionist interpretive framework on God. Whether it perceives a transcendent, sovereign God without an intimate relational nature or perceives a personal God without much, if any, of a transcendent, sovereign being, they reduce God into a quantitative box—who either does not get involved in relationship or who does relationship on our terms. Consequently, what is not fully acknowledged, deeply addressed or openly dealt with is the vulnerable presence of God—that is, this transcendent God of qualitative significance with the intimate relational nature who sovereignly acted to be vulnerably extended directly to us. And what we do with this functionally out-of-the-box God depends on our perceptual-interpretive framework which filters what we pay attention to or ignore about God’s self-disclosure, God’s vulnerable revelation to us.

 

The vulnerable presence of God is revealed to us in more qualitative relational terms from the inside out than in quantitative propositional terms from the outside in, though certainly quantified in the incarnation. We need to understand this revelation as fundamental to how God does relationship. God’s revelation is not about information or things about God. This self-disclosure narrative is not done in a vacuum nor on a stage (for example, as a one-actor play); it is shared in relationship. And how God lives and practices relationship involves three interrelated-overlapping issues, which also apply to all human practice: (1) how we present ourselves, (2) the content of our communication, and (3) the level of relationship we engage. Biblical hermeneutics tends to concentrate only on the second area, often with a quantitative interpretive framework which reduces communication to limited content. We need to understand all three aspects of God’s self-disclosure to us.

 

 

The Face of This Triune God

 

Throughout the biblical narrative God’s most vulnerable revelation was not indirect communication to be observed and quantified but rather direct vulnerable connection (“face to face”) to be embraced and experienced. This is about how God presents the divine Self and does relationship. This relational context and process of God’s self-disclosure is completely necessary to understand who, what and how the whole of God is, thus to know God from the inside out and to experience intimate relationship with this God. If God did not engage an intimate level of relationship in self-disclosure, we could not have this intimate experience of truly knowing God—leaving us with only knowledge of some things about God.

 

Jacob and Moses were recorded as having interacted directly with God “face to face” (paneh, signifying direct access, Gen 32:30; Ex 33:11; and peh as an idiom signifying direct communication, Nu 12:8). The exact substance of the metaphor “the face of God” is not understood since, on the one hand, God does not have a quantitative face while on the other no one has seen God (Ex 33:20; Jn 1:18). Nevertheless, this does not diminish the qualitative significance of their direct intimate relations with God. However God was presented to them, it was direct, open and the communication substantive of God. Yet, they represent a very limited experience of God’s revelation on which we should not base our expectations for experiencing the triune God’s presence.

 

Even though the connections Jacob and Moses had with God’s self-disclosure were direct and intimate, the most vulnerable revelation of the whole of God came in the incarnation. In Jesus is where the relational context and process of God’s self-disclosure is totally fulfilled, and the who, what, how of God is revealed “in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). Here God is fully presented (how self is presented) with vulnerable sharing (content of communication), engaging intimate relationship (level of relationship engaged). It is this person Jesus (in complete Christology) with whom our persons need to come “face to face” in order to understand the qualitative significance of the Creator, to grasp relationship with the sovereign God and to experience intimate relationship with the transcendent “face” of God vulnerably extended to us in the persons of the Trinity. Yet, “face to face” requires a response compatible to how God does relationship in self-disclosure with the face of Christ.

 

 

The Experience of Knowing

 

God’s general revelation (for example, in creation, Rom 1:20) points to God; and intelligent design may indicate a creator. These quantitative aspects are observable by human effort without any further involvement from God. Only God’s direct self-disclosure, however, gives us access to know God beyond these very general aspects. This special revelation is the sovereign God’s favor extended specifically to us, totally initiated by God without provocation, justification or negotiation by us—that is, only by the grace of God, which tells us a lot about how God does relationships. Therefore, God’s special revelation is not a response to us that we initiated or justified. God’s vulnerable self-disclosure, direct sharing and intimate involvement, however, require a compatible response from us (or any inquirer) in order to complete the relational dynamic necessary to know this God. That response is the intimate relational involvement from the qualitative significance of our person (the whole person signified by the heart), which then consummates the relational context and process started at creation and restored by Christ.

 

In other words, how God’s Self is presented to us is how we need to present ourselves in response. The qualitative-substantive content of God’s communication needs to be understood within this relational context and process, which goes beyond a cultural perceptual framework and deeper than a quantitative interpretive framework. As God engaged an intimate level of relational involvement in self-disclosure, likewise we need to engage God in intimate relationship in order to understand this revelation and know this God—not something less nor a substitute. In Jesus, God presented the full person of God, nothing less and no substitutes (Heb 1:3; Jn 1:18; 14:9; Col 1:19). Therefore, God’s self-disclosure necessitates the same relational response and involvement from us (nothing less from us and no substitutes for us) to be compatible for epistemic connection (the act of knowing). This inquiry is in contrast to a scientific paradigm of modernity (with so-called detached observation) and its reductionism (as represented in foundationalism), though not completely in conflict with the quantitative basis for truth (unlike postmodernism).

 

If we reduce or ignore the relational purpose for God’s self-disclosing initiative, we will also reduce or ignore our relational response to God’s revelation. A prevailing rationalistic approach or a totally subjective approach to the inquiry of truth and knowledge of God leave us respectively with a reductionist theology (usually lacking coherence) or relative notions of God (from one’s own narrative or one’s community narrative, which can even seem incoherent). God’s self-disclosure was completely for relationship, not for objective knowledge and relative experiences.

 

Jesus demonstrated that the epistemic process (way to know) to understand God is relational, with a combination qualitative and quantitative perceptual-interpretive framework in this relational approach. This relational process is not a unilateral effort (that is, for us to find out about God) but a reciprocal effort. This requires a mutual process of the who, what, how of God vulnerably revealed to us and our involved response back to God in that revelation—a reciprocal relational process mediated by the Spirit (cf. Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15). Without this ongoing relational response the epistemic process of knowing God is incomplete, no matter what effort God has made in self-disclosure.

 

Before we discuss how Jesus demonstrated this, we need to distinguish between “the experience of knowing someone” from “the knowledge of knowing something about someone.” At times we confuse the latter with the former; reductionism substitutes the latter as the norm for relationships, even in relation to God. We may have knowledge of God through biblical study, or be informed of God by theological propositions. Yet, as valid as they may be, these are only knowing something about God, not the same as knowing God “face to face.” Knowing someone is a function of relationship and not a mere noetic engagement; thus knowing God is the relational outcome of intimate response and involvement—which includes the trust exercised as the qualitative involvement of the whole person signified by the heart—in relationship directly with God. This relational outcome is the experience of knowing God “face to face,” not merely the knowledge of knowing something about God.

 

As a function of relationship, the relational dynamic of understanding and knowing God involves the convergence and connection of two necessary relational acts. First in progression, by necessity, is God’s self-disclosing initiative; this relational epistemic process does not happen without God’s grace. Second in this progression is our reciprocal relational response which necessarily must (by its nature, not out of compulsion or obligation) be compatible with the first relational act.

 

How did Jesus demonstrate this relational epistemic process which becomes the basis for the practice of his followers in spiritual formation, for church growth and in the theological task? Let’s look at two interrelated examples.

 

The first example involved a group of followers pursuing Jesus with a passion after his feeding of five thousand (Jn 6:24ff). Yet, Jesus was unimpressed because of their perceptual-interpretive framework. In other words, Jesus knew where they were coming from. What they paid attention to and what they ignored about Jesus exposed a reductionist framework. They defined Jesus’ person by what he did (albeit miracles) and focused on quantitative secondary things (measured by economic interests and full stomachs). In exposing the reductionist nature of their following him, Jesus said “you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs” (6:26). They indeed paid attention to the miraculous acts but they ignored what those acts revealed about Jesus’ person (from inside out), thus followed him for the wrong reasons. “Miraculous signs” (semeion) signify more than the quantitative act but have the purpose to reveal the significance of the person behind the act (cf. Mk 16:20).

 

Jesus challenged their perceptual framework by focusing them on the qualitative (6:27). However, since they also defined themselves by what they do, they inquired further about the extent (“works of God”) of “what to do” (6:28). His response defines the qualitative process for authentic practice as his followers: the work (note only singular) of God is only about relational work and intimate relational response and involvement with God’s self-disclosure (6:29).

 

Their epistemic process paid attention to quantitative things about Jesus and reduced his person to what he did. Such efforts to define his person totally missed understanding the qualitative significance of the person Jesus, this person God vulnerably revealed to them with the very face of God. Sadly, they would not engage the relational epistemic process by completing their reciprocal relational response to be intimately involved with God “face to face.” Though using the same word as Jesus (semeion, 6:26), they inquired about only more quantitative “proof” (6:30), thus exposing their confusion of “the knowledge of knowing something about someone” with “the experience of knowing someone” and substituting the former in this relational process. As a result, many stopped following Jesus because they did not shift to the qualitative framework which is necessary to complete a compatible response to God’s vulnerable self-disclosure (6:66). Despite the loss in numbers, this was in fact a positive development because it clearly distinguished genuine followers of Christ from those with illusions about relationship with God, illusions which we often labor under today.

 

Yet, the relational epistemic process was still problematic for the remaining disciples. This is clearly illustrated in a second example. As Jesus was nearing the end of his earthly life and ministry, he gathered with his disciples for their most significant interactions. Our second example focuses on two of these interactions (Jn 14:1-11). Jesus told them that “you know the way” (14:4). Speaking for the disciples, Thomas replied “we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (14:5). This is a reasonable, legitimate response—that is, from a quantitative perceptual framework which focused on secondary things such as location and directions there, that is, the situation over the relationship.

 

Jesus refocused them on the qualitative significance of his person and on the primacy of relationship signified in his intimate relationship with the Father, which constitutes the relationships in the Trinity. And he confidently added that his disciples “from now on, you do know [the Father] and have seen [the Father]” (14:6,7). How could Jesus make this claim given the data before them? Thus, Philip replied back from a quantitative framework essentially seeking Jesus to quantify this reality (14:8; cf. Jn 2:18; 10:30,31). For certain Jews, their inability to perceive the truth of Jesus might be attributed to the predisposition of sin. For his remaining disciples, however, we have to turn to their perceptual-interpretive framework.

 

“You know the way” converges with Jesus’ next response “don’t you know
me . . . ?” (14:9), in which he seemed to express frustration and sadness. Jesus understood what was missing from the disciples’ epistemic process. Even though Jesus had been intimately involved with them and vulnerably revealed to them the face of God those past three years, the disciples clearly were not deeply connecting with Jesus’ person and, as a consequence, they truly did not know him. They needed to change how they did relationships and shift to a qualitative framework to engage the deeper relational epistemic process compatible with God’s revelation. Without this intimate relational response and ongoing involvement with the face of God, they would not know Jesus nor experience the persons of the Trinity. Without shifting from a reductionist perceptual framework, they would continue to pay attention to only quantitative and secondary things about God while ignoring the qualitative and primary of God, both signified by revelation and constituted in creation’s (original and new in Christ) design and purpose.

 

The relational epistemic process also includes a quantitative aspect which is not in conflict with the qualitative but in support of it. As Jesus questioned Philip about not knowing him “even after I have been among you such a long time” (14:9), the word for time (chronos) perceives time quantitatively. Jesus affirms that his revelation of God took place in observable time and space, while contextualized in human culture and history. Yet, it was inadequate for Philip to be merely an observer to this quantitative aspect. Such observations may yield knowledge of knowing something about Jesus (which the disciples had) but not the experience of knowing the person Jesus in his qualitative significance. The quantitative aspect is necessary to support the validity of the qualitative yet is not sufficient to grasp the qualitative face of God.

 

The quantitative support of the relational quality of God’s self-disclosure is further reinforced by Jesus when he used his “works” as partial basis to trust him (14:11). The NIV renders works as “evidence of the miracles.” This is limiting since the term for work ( ergon) involves the basic work of one’s life (cf. work in Gen 2:15). Jesus’ miracles only supported his primary work which was totally relational work. The sum of Jesus’ works—primarily qualitative but partially quantitative—provide the complete basis for “believe me” (relational trust), which is incomplete without the intimate relational response and involvement with God’s revelation in the face of Christ.

 

Likewise, when terms like righteous and faithful are used to describe God, these are not quantitative descriptions which merely inform us of something about God. These are qualitative terms revealing to us what and how God is; and the significance of righteous and faithful is their function in relationships. That is, the righteous God is always consistent with the nature of what God is, and the faithful God can ongoingly be counted on as how God is, thus we can expect this God to be in relationship together only by what and how God is. Further, we can expect and count on what God presents in self-disclosure, what God communicates and the level of relationship God engages to be the qualitative significance of the whole of God—nothing less and no substitutes. As signified by the incarnation and constituted in the face of Christ, this is how God does relationship. If we are to go deeper than the knowledge of knowing the righteous and faithful attributes about God (separated from the relational context and process) to the qualitative experience of knowing this righteous and faithful God, this is how we need to do relationship as a compatible response in relational reciprocity to how God does relationship.

 

The above two examples with Jesus demonstrate the necessary relational nature of the epistemic process which defines a qualitative process of the whole person in relational engagement with both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of God’s self-disclosure. In the second example in particular, Jesus is not only demonstrating to us what the mode of inquiry is for the experience of knowing God (and any person), but he is also clearly revealing to us what aspect (dimension) of reality, creation, life is the most significant to know and thus meaningful to experience: the qualitative significance of the whole person (notably the very heart of God’s life in his image) and intimate relationship together necessary for the created design and purpose to be whole in God’s likeness (as constituted in the Trinity). This is the nature of reality and the ultimate reality (ontology) which is basic to epistemic pursuit.

 

Reductionism in any form either stops short of this relational-epistemic process or provides substitutes for the relational function of God’s self-disclosure in the face of Christ. Whether it is a reduction of our “face” or the “face” of God—likely both—it is less than “face to face.” This way to do relationships always lacks relational significance to God, lacks the relational significance of the trinitarian persons of the Godhead, and ultimately leaves us (individually and corporately) lacking in the condition “to be apart” from the whole of God.

 

 

Convergence with the Trinity

 

This condition “to be apart” from the whole is the central issue underlying God’s purpose in the original creation and for the new creation in Christ. Whatever aspect or degree of “being apart” are considered, they are reductions of God’s purpose. Even more importantly, “to be apart” is a reduction of God’s image and likeness, thus a reduction of God as constituted in the Trinity (God’s ontic Being) and as signified by the relational function of the trinitarian persons in the triunity of God. In other words, “to be apart”—any vertical or horizontal relational distance—is not who, what and how the whole of God is, it does not reflect God and it does not represent God—the out-of-the-box God.

 

Jesus said the one God is presented to us and communicates directly with us in three persons (not modes, Jn 14:10, 25, 26; 15:26; 16:13-15; 17:6-8) while engaging us in intimate relationship (Jn 14:16, 17, 23; 15:9; 17:26). The primary significance of Jesus’ focus in this farewell narrative (Jn 14-17) is not about doctrine, service or mission but about the primacy of relationship together (both with the whole of God and with each other). This is who, what, how God is as the Trinity and this is the revelation of God seen in the face of Christ as the ontological and relational whole (oneness) of the Trinity.

 

God’s presence with us is the triune God (again not tritheism). This self-disclosure of God is the disclosure of the Trinity and how the persons of the Trinity do relationships: by the qualitative significance of the whole person engaged in the primacy of intimate relationships. No person of the Trinity can be reduced or ignored and still have who and what God is. Nor can their intimate relationships be reduced and still have what and how God is; these relationships are necessary to be the whole of God. Without the Trinity we have no grasp of the likeness of God in function, and we have no understanding of God’s design and purpose for us other than reductionist substitutes.

 

Jesus came as nothing less than God and with no substitutes for God. This ontological and relational oneness of the Trinity is the reason Jesus can confidently claim “from now on, you do know [the Father] and have seen [the Father]” (Jn 14:7). The sum of the data—with the quantitative supporting the qualitative—of Jesus’ revelation allows for no reductionist alternative. Yet, in the same manner, we need to distinguish the God-with-us God in the persons (not modes) of the Trinity and the God-in-eternity God of triune Being (known as the immanent Trinity). God’s self-disclosure and relational work in Christ being brought to completion by the Spirit (called the economic Trinity) is nevertheless only partial revelation of God, thus only provisional for the whole of God’s being. While the fullness of God is present and involved with us, the completeness of the transcendent God in eternity is beyond us and remains a mystery. God’s self-disclosure does not exhaust this mystery. Any attempt to make the God-with-us (economic Trinity) the totality of the God-in-eternity (immanent Trinity) compromises the latter and becomes another reductionism of God.

 

Any reductionism of God is critical for the condition “to be apart” and for our practice in how we present ourselves, the content of our communication and the level of relationship we engage. We need to understand any such reductionism as essentially attempting to negotiate (or renegotiate) God’s self-disclosure.

 

This negotiation can be seen in Peter’s reductionism of God. In the example discussed earlier about those following Jesus who stopped, Jesus asked the remaining disciples if they wanted to leave also (Jn 6:67). Peter affirmed that Jesus spoke of life as the God from eternity and relationally responded to his revelation (Jn 6:68, 69). Later, when Jesus pushed his disciples for their personal opinion of who he was, Peter again affirmed Jesus as the very revelation of God—which Jesus said was revealed to Peter only by the Father (Mt 16:15-17).

 

Yet moments after Peter’s confession of the Christ, he is rebuking Jesus for telling them of his necessity to go to the cross (Mt 16:21-22). Given God’s self-disclosure, Peter is effectively renegotiating Jesus’ purpose because that revelation did not fit into the perceptual framework Peter had of God. Peter put God in a quantitative box that would not allow this to happen to his God. This box was evidenced further when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet but Peter refused to submit to this contradiction (Jn 13:6-8). Peter’s God just could not do such things because of his reductionism of God. Essentially, this reflects a theological shift away from revelation.

 

As a relational consequence, Peter attempted to negotiate God’s self-disclosure. This is a relational consequence because revelation is about how God does relationship. Peter tried to do relationship with God on his terms. Unlike Peter in his explicit attempts to renegotiate the cross, we may not make such attempts in doctrine or theology, yet we would still be renegotiating God’s self-disclosure by defining ourselves by what we do. To base our person on what we do increasingly in function reduces the need for God’s grace and Christ’s relational work on the cross, thus negotiating the terms of how God does relationships. Our self-definition and God’s self-disclosure determine how each does relationship; and in order to have relationship together and avoid relational consequences how each does relationship must be compatible with the other.

 

Both God’s self-disclosure and how God does relationship with us, however, are nonnegotiable. Who, what and how the whole of God is cannot be reduced. Based on the qualitative significance and relational integrity of this God-with-us God, our relational response and involvement must by necessity be of like qualitative significance with each of the persons of the Trinity, as well as must converge with the communion of the Trinity in relational oneness—the process of which is all on God’s terms. Converging with the Trinity is not ontological but only a function of relationship in the relationship of God.

 

 

The Relationship of God

 

The relationship of God involves how the whole of God does relationship within the Trinity and the extension of that in how God does relationship with us. How God does relationship is indispensable for defining the person and for our practice of relationships and church.

 

Where we interpret the direction of God’s focus during creation and how we define God’s creative action will determine what status the human person needs to have today in actual Christian practice and how the human condition “to be apart” must be addressed, particularly in how church is practiced. Is God focused on the outside in of the person, paying more attention to quantitative matter (like characteristics and behavior) and secondary areas like “work” (what to do) and then taking further creative action to determine a reduced function for persons and how they will do relationships together? Or is God focused on the inner out of the person, paying more attention to the qualitative significance of the heart to define persons and thus taking creative action to establish the primacy of intimate relationships for those persons in the likeness of the Trinity?

 

To get beyond the mere situation of creation, both where God was focused during creation and how God’s creative acts can be defined are only understandable to us by God’s self-disclosure in the big picture or eschatological plan for creation. These matters are knowable in the revelation of the face of Christ and with the presentation of the Trinity. The directly related issues of the status of personhood and of the condition “to be apart” become resolved as we grasp God’s self-disclosure vulnerably presented to us for relationship.

 

Since self-disclosure is about how God does relationship, we need to revisit the relationship of God. That is, we need to concentrate on the incarnation of Jesus (especially between the manger and the cross) to witness (as participants, not observers) God’s relational progression; and we need to contemplate the Trinity with relational involvement to experience (without reduction) God’s relational dynamic of communion and love. As we do, we engage the trinitarian relational context and process started by God at creation before the Fall and restored by Christ, while currently being brought to completion by the Spirit.

 

The relationship of God disclosed by Jesus in the relational progression is defined thoroughly in another study.[1] So I will limit comments on this aspect only as needed. The most significant aspect of God’s self-disclosure in the incarnation is Jesus vulnerably revealing his relationship with the Father. (In the relationship of God the significance of the designation “father” is only to be relationship-specific, not gender-specific.) Ontologically, they are one and their persons are equally the same (consubstantial, Jn 10:38; 14:11, 20; 16:15; 17:21), thus inseparable (never “to be apart” except for one unfathomable moment on the cross, Mt 27:46) and in a limited sense hypothetically interchangeable (Jn 14:9), though there are important issues of trinitarian uniqueness to be discussed in the next chapter. For us, however, it is their relationship, the relationship of God, that has the most significance.

 

As trinitarian persons (not modes of being) in the qualitative significance of the whole of God, they are intimately bonded together in relationship and intimately involved with each other in love (Jn 5:20; 14:31; 15:9; 17:24). This is the relationship of God. This relationship is most vulnerably revealed to us in the way Jesus did relationships during the incarnation—within the intimate relational context constituted in the Trinity and by the intimate relational process of love constituted by the Trinity’s relational life together. Jesus’ revelation came with only one way he does relationship—the relationship of God, nothing less and no substitutes.

 

How Jesus did relationships with various human persons was an extension of how Jesus does relationships with the trinitarian persons of God because Jesus did not engage in reductionism by reducing his person and how God does relationship. Nor did he reduce human persons who are an extension of God’s image and likeness created with the relational design and purpose of the relationship of God. Reductionism is counter to the function of God’s self-disclosure as “nothing less and no substitutes.” What characterizes these relationships in God’s self-disclosure is without reduction: the communion in the intimate involvement of love at the deepest level of qualitative significance (both the heart of God and the human heart created in likeness).

 

The communion of God (in the Trinity) and our communion with God (with persons in the Trinity) is revealed to us as a function of relationship. The relationship of God, the relationality of the Trinity (social trinitarianism), is critically revealed vulnerably in Christ—to be discussed in the next chapter. This self-disclosure provides us with the fundamental understanding of who, what, how the whole of God is in significance as God of the heart and God’s intimate relational nature. And the most significant function of relationship emerging here is signified by God’s love, which constitutes the Trinity’s relational oneness (communion) reflecting the ontological triunity of God.

 

Yet, as discussed in the previous chapter, love (agape) should not be perceived in reductionist terms. God’s love of each other in the Trinity is not about what to do—as if the persons in the Trinity needed to do anything with each other to demonstrate or prove their love (cf. Jn 15:9,10). The Trinity’s love is only about how they are involved with each other’s person. The synergistic (and perichoretic) mystery of this qualitative involvement is so intimate that though three disclosed persons yet they are one Being, though distinct in function yet they are indistinguishably and indivisibly one together—without relational horizontal distance or vertical stratification.

 

The relationship of God extends this same love to God’s people (Jn 17:20-26) in the relational process of family love that makes us relationally one with God (not ontologically) without relational distance and one with each other (both relationally and in ontological wholeness) without vertical stratification, just as the Trinity is. This is about family only as God is, the Trinity qua family, and only on God’s terms, family qua the Trinity. As God’s very own in family, the whole person loses unique identity defined from what the individual does or has (reductionism) but gains the special identity of being a part of the whole of God’s family in the relationships necessary to be whole—though each person remains unique in the function of God’s family in the eschatological big picture, just as in the economic Trinity.

By its nature, then, the relationship of God ongoingly engages us in this relational progression and constitutes us (individually and corporately) in the relational progression to the whole of God as family in likeness of the Trinity. Yet, reductionism influences us to stop in function at points along this progression to relationally diminish or minimalize the whole.

 

 

To Embrace and Experience

 

God’s relational dynamic of communion and love cannot be reduced or redefined, yet that often happens inadvertently in our practice, keeping us in relational distance from the whole. This is what God started at creation for Eve and Adam to complete. The relational bond of intimate communion in love between the persons of the Trinity and the oneness of their triunity are the resolution for “to be apart” (Gen 2:18) and the basis for “fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). This is about intimate relational involvement in the very life of the whole of God and together in family love building God’s family in the likeness of the Trinity—which is a function of relationship, not “work.” God’s very triune Being is invested and extended in creation; and we cannot reduce this reality without the relational consequence of “to be apart” in whatever degree of relational distance, even in church practice, thus not truly knowing the whole of God (cf. Jn 14:9).

 

This relational dynamic is what Jesus vulnerably shared with his disciples that when practiced would distinguish them as his followers (Jn 13:35). This is what Christ fulfilled and God’s family will bring to completion with the Spirit (Jn 17:22,23). But bringing God’s family to completion must (dei, necessary by its nature) be a function of relationship and not a reduced function of service, ministry or mission as is our tendency to practice (Jn 12:26).

 

When not reduced, the relationship of God is relationship of the whole (person) in the whole (of the Trinity) for the whole (of God). This relationship—as the very trinitarian relational context and process of the who, what and how of God—was created in human persons. The relationship of God is how the whole of God is revealed in the face of Jesus for us to understand and is recreated anew in Christ for us to embrace and experience in relational life intimately together with the Trinity and with each other as God’s family signified by the Trinity (Jn 17:26; 2 Cor 5:16-18; Rom 8:15, 16, 19-21). This forms not only the narrative truth of the whole of God but also the basis for the truth of the gospel which we embrace and proclaim.

 

As we consider the status of the person in how we function and the condition of how we do relationships and practice church, the relationship of God is the only practice that has relational significance to the triune God. We need to grasp further the relationship of God as the Trinity functions in order to develop and deepen our understanding of God’s desires for our practice.


 

[1] T. Dave Matsuo, The Relational Progression: A Relational Theology of Discipleship: A Relational Theology of Discipleship (Discipleship Study, 2004), on this website.

 

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©2006 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.