the Trinity, the Church
The Call to Be Whole
and the Lure of Reductionism
T. Dave Matsuo
©2006 TDM All rights reserved No part of
this manuscript may be reprinted without permission from the author
The Call to Be Whole
and the Lure of Reductionism
T. Dave Matsuo
©2006 TDM All rights reserved
No part of this manuscript may be reprinted without permission from the author
In recent times we can observe various sociocultural, political, economic and religious movements which, I suggest, can be perceived with a commonality of direction. Developments such as pluralism, multiculturalism, the peace movement, environmentalism, globalization and universalism all have a concern--or at least an interest--for the interrelatedness of humanity. These efforts essentially of inclusiveness have an underlying search for wholeness.
While we may not agree with the philosophy, ideology, theology or methodology used as the basis for such movements, we need to affirm seeking the whole of humankind implicit in the common direction of their concern or interest. Christians need to affirm this search because God created this whole and desires its restoration--first among ourselves, then for the rest of the world, including physical creation.
Modernity has compromised this effort toward wholeness, making it difficult to pursue, or even be aware of, much less experience wholeness. While postmodernity challenges modernism's assumptions and practices in order to renew the effort to be whole, its various sentiments lack understanding of the whole and even confuse its development. What ultimately, however, has been the most detrimental to the whole--of the person, humankind and creation--and the experiential practice of wholeness is reductionism. The general process of reductionism essentially reduces the whole to its smaller parts (or secondary aspects) and, in turn, uses the behavior of those parts to determine what the whole will be, thus diminishing or minimalizing the integrity of the whole.
We can observe the influence of reductionism on social life in the following historical process: how the concerns of a village or region fragmented a tribe, nation or country, as witnessed in Balkanization; how the priorities of an extended family or kinship group fragmented a village or region; how the self-interests of the nuclear family fragmented the extended family, for example, since the Industrial Revolution; and how the prominence of the individual today fragments the nuclear family. In each of these developments reductionism focuses on a smaller aspect of social life (or part) to be the primary determinant for what it means to be whole. In what condition does this leave the human person?
This same process of
diminishing or minimalizing the integrity of the whole can be observed
in the Western church, which this study will address.
In a remarkable scene occupying a small place in the narrative of Jesus (Mt 12:46-50), we have a window to the narrative whole of God's desires--desires formulated even before creation (Eph 1:4, 5; Rom 8:29), enacted at the first creation (Gen 2:18) and fulfilled in Christ for an eschatological completion by the Spirit (Col 1:19, 20; Eph 1:9-14; 2 Cor 5:5). When Jesus said in response to his biological mother and brothers that his family is constituted by those persons who respond to the desires of his Father, we can begin to grasp what is involved to be whole: the whole of God and God's desires narrated throughout the Bible as the integrating theme of God's response to humankind to be whole; the function of human persons in the definitive whole constituted by the whole of God as the Trinity; and the convergence of the trinitarian persons and the human persons in the relational context and process of the whole of God's family signified by the church. Whether this little scene serves as a significant window to the whole of God depends on how well the pieces of God's self-revelation are put together to define the whole big picture of eschatological dimension.
If this epistemic process for grasping the whole is to be complete, it needs to be relational. Understanding the definitive whole of the human person, the church and the triune God, and how the whole of the person and of the church must necessarily interact together with the Trinity in order to be whole, is the functional purpose of this study. Yet, reductionism presents a formidable challenge to a relational epistemic process.
God's most vulnerable self-disclosure was made in the incarnation of the Son. Jesus does not just provide us with a window but opens the door to the whole of God and God's desires for us to be whole. This study examines: how Christ is the hermeneutical key that opens the ontological door to the whole of God, and how he is also the functional key that opens the relational door to the ontology of the whole of God's family constituted in the Trinity, the Trinity qua family. Thus, how complete our Christology is will be critical for our understanding of the significance of the whole--be it of God, the person or the church. More specifically, examining how Jesus related to persons (foremost his Father) is important for understanding the relational significance of the whole.
For example, Jesus extended the above window in the relational progression to the whole of God's desires in an intimate relational moment on the cross when he bonded Mary and John to each other in family love to operationalize God's new family (Jn 19:26, 27). Moreover, Jesus' healing ministry was a clear demonstration of how he saw the person, involved himself with the whole person and acted to restore wholeness by taking them into his family. This was also a threat to reductionists (such as scribes and Pharisees) who used substitutes for wholeness and thus would have had to forego the benefits of a reductionist system that stratified others to their separation or exclusion. Therefore, in the whole of God' revelation, wholeness involves not fragmenting the person into parts--for example in classic dualism of body and soul, or by a reductionist quantitative focus without the qualitative significance of the heart--as well as not reducing the primacy of the relationships necessary to be whole. In the integrity of this revelation, God's design and purpose for the ontology of personhood are by nature both functionally whole and wholly relational.
Throughout God's self-disclosure, we need to grasp how the person is seen and related to in the relationships of the whole. This will help piece together the who and what of the whole of God, which will then engage by what and how the whole of God does relationships. To reduce, diminish, or minimalize any of this has relational consequences which leave persons in the condition "to be apart" from the whole of their self, of God and the relationships necessary to be whole in the church as the whole of God's family.
This theological conversation needs to be engaged with the perspective that theology should not be the task of systematically informing us about God but about establishing the coherence of God's self-revelation vulnerably extended to us for relationship, so that we can intimately know the triune God and experience life together as the whole of God's family in likeness of the Trinity. Basing the whole in God's self-disclosure within the Bible, particularly in the narratives of Christ, is both a necessary and sufficient process to formulate a definitive wholistic theology functional for our practice-- not simply to inform our practice but to transform it. While Scripture is the primary source and priority used for this theological process, church tradition is helpful and necessary to appropriate also insofar as it reinforces or clarifies biblical revelation; where tradition deviates or conflicts with it, then tradition must defer to the priority of the Word.
In this relational epistemic process used for this study, I suggest the following working definition for a functional theology to give coherence to all the theological aspects of our discussion:
Christian theology is the biblically informed study of God providing the context and process for practice to intimately know the whole of God constituted in the Trinity, thus reflecting the vulnerable revelation of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life--the relational Way for the epistemological Truth to experience the ontological Life of the whole of the triune God.
This is the door Jesus
opens to the whole of God through which the person and the church must
both enter together with the Spirit in order to be whole.
Our discussion necessarily includes Paul's life and teachings. He formulated his theology from Christ's revelations (both directly to him and indirectly from the Jesus tradition) and clearly established the truth of the gospel in the midst of reductionist substitutes and practices, even by Peter. In doing so, Paul was the most instrumental in operationalizing faith and church practice in the ecclesiology of the whole. When understood in this relational context and process, his teachings have deeper significance and coherence for our function and practice to be whole today. Indeed, we will come to understand, somewhat tensely no doubt, that Paul leaves us no option.
Since the Trinity constitutes and created the whole, wholeness was never designed to be a static attribute possessed by the individual. Wholeness is the dynamic function of persons intimately involved together in the interdependent relationships which constitute them to be whole in the likeness of the Trinity (and the mutual indwelling function of perichoresis) qua family. Moreover, as Jesus disclosed and Paul made operational, the call to be whole cannot involve merely an individual faith nor can it practice a private faith. To be whole is the practice of whole persons together as family in a public faith, which Jesus makes imperative in his formative familial prayer (Jn 17:15-26), qualifying his commission for his followers (Mt 28:18-20).
Yet, from the beginning
the human person, the journey of God's people and the church in its
history have had to struggle to be whole. Whatever situations and
circumstances, personal and collective accountability, structural and
systemic factors are involved in this struggle, the common underlying
issue to all of them is reductionism. The influence of reductionism was,
has been, and is today the most critical issue in diminishing and
minimalizing the whole of God both in the first creation and the new
creation in Christ. We need to understand the unavoidable lure of
reductionism on Christian practice (individual and corporate) while
grasping the call and need to be whole--not only for the experiential
reality of the church as the whole of God's family but also for the
world to see the significance of the definitive whole of God. We will
discuss the issues involved in the call to be whole for our conceptions
of the human person, our perceptions of the Trinity and our formulations
of the church as well as the lure of reductionism for each.
Despite the reductionist tendencies seen throughout the human narrative, what emerges clearly in the big picture is the divine narrative of God's thematic activity to relationally respond to our human condition "to be apart" from the whole. It is the relational progression of the triune God's ongoing relational involvement that provides the integrating theme for the whole of God and the study of it.
As you engage this study of the whole, the whole of God, it may not always be clear whether "the whole of God" is referring to the whole which the triune God is ontologically, or to the whole of which God created for us to be part. Hopefully, the context will adequately indicate whether it is the former or the latter, or both. Any ambiguity, however, is intentional because they both should be seen together, inseparable from the other. This is apparent for the latter since there is no created whole apart from the ontology of God's whole--though not to be confused with pantheism. Moreover, the ontology of God is revealed not to inform us about God but for the relational context and process to respond to us in order to be relationally whole with God and for us to be relationally-ontologically whole with each other together in likeness to the Trinity.
Anticipating the whole for the church today, particularly in the West, may locate us in circumstances interestingly similar to the first human person and God's response to be whole. When the call to be whole is neither diminished nor minimalized by the lure of reductionism, this call in our contemporary context suggests a unique response to develop the trinitarian relational context of family and trinitarian relational process of family love. This response would be similar to God's response at the first creation to complete the relational context. Defining this unique response for church practice today will be the relational conclusion to this current study.
Furthermore, the definitive whole which the world needs and seeks in the various contemporary movements can be found in the relational significance of the whole of God, which experientially is reflected in the relational life and practice of the church as the whole of God's family. Just as Paul at the Areopagus affirmed the commonality of "the unknown God" whom Paul wanted to make known to them (Acts 17: 22, 23), "the church as equalizer" today is called to be the experiential whole of God which then can be relationally made known for the world to embrace--anticipating the fulfillment of Jesus' prayer in John 17:21-23, along with his complete formative family prayer for whom and for which this study is submitted.
©2006 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.