In Dennis F. Kinlaw's "Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology", chapter three is entitled "Personhood and the Concept of God." This chapter covers a vast amount of material so it seems best to divide the summary of it into two, possibly three parts.
Recently, I read another blogger's attempt to describe God's relationship to man. He described the relationship with the analogy of someone who builds, designs and tests cars and their relationship with the finished product. In his analogy, for the car not to be destroyed, the car had to be fully functional. After the designer/builder/driver of the car drives sucessfully from A to B, the car, with the capacity for self-awareness, says to the driver, "Aren't you glad I worked synergistically for you?" The designer replies, "I didn't need any effort on your part to build you and since I was the one who turned the key in the ignition and determined the direction you would be driven, I needed no help from you to drive you where I wanted to go. You contributed nothing to this enterprise. Our relationship is not one of synergisim but monergism."
While it must be acknowledged that the blogger knows this is not a perfect analogy, it still must be pointed out that this is a terrible analogy. Why? Because it assumes that God created humans as objects of mere utility, not as beings in a relationship of communion with Him.
Dr. Kinlaw affirms the scriptural truth that all creation, including Man, depends upon God for existence and continued sustainability. But, as Kinlaw points out, creation is not just a toy in the hands of the Creator, but an object of love. In the Incarnation, God identified Himself with creation in a personal way. With the Incarnation, God and His creation belong to each other in a new, intimate way; God and Man in Christ joined inseperately. "The incarnation not only brought about the possibility of regenerational change for us, but of actual change in the life of the changeless one, God himself." (Kinlaw, p. 72) God brought about a union with the material world through "enfleshment", which is totally at odds with worldly philosophy. "The creation carried within it the potential for an unbelievingly intimate and eternal relationship with God. It was good enough for personal union with one of the persons of the Godhead." (Kinlaw, p. 72) Jesus was resurrected and ascended to heaven in a physical body. No person is distinct from his/her body. It is our destiny to be saved as enfleshed persons, as the incarnation and resurrection affirm. The Incarnation reveals the heart and essence of God. His essence does not change or alter. "Yet the Word became speechless." (Kinlaw, p. 73) According to orthodox Jews and Muslims, this is blasphemy.
As stated previously in this series, God is one, but within that oneness there is a distinction between the persons of the Godhead. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit at the same time. Jesus claimed to be God; He accepted worship of Himself, forgave sins and raised the dead. He also distinguished Himself from the Father and the Spirit. How did the early Church explain this? The Church rejected the suggestion that there are three gods, or that Jesus was just a special person, part of the created world. This rejection came out of the Church's realization that there is no salvation outside of God and that salvation is only through Jesus; Jesus must be both God and man. But how was this to be explained? The answer to this dilemma came through the Church's development of the concept and the vocabulary of personhood.
The Biblical concept of personhood is foreign territory for modern/postmodern thinkers. The roots of the modern/postmodern view of the self has its roots in Augustine who encouraged Man to look inward to find God. His studies of the Trinity were studies in human psycology; our interiority was his main concern. Descartes sought to locate the inner self as an isolated object, the building block of epistemelogical certainty. The result of this development is the modern/postmodern contention that with the isolation of the self comes self understanding.
Yet as Kinlaw points out, the human self has no subsistense apart from God. Our very self-definition is found in relation to God and others. We are not complete in ourselves. "We are ectypes, analogues, of a prototype from whom we receive our existence, our identity, and our self-definition. To know us alone wouldn't be to know us at all. We need to know the model from which our personal nature was drawn if we are to find out who we are. This model is the Triune Godhead." (Kinlaw, 76)
The disciples knew that when they saw Jesus, they saw God face to face. In their attempts to articulate this to the Gentiles of the Roman Empire, they adopted Greek and Latin words for "face." In the Eastern part of the Empire, they used the Greek word prosopon, in the west, the Latin word persona. This created a problem. These words originated in the theater to signify masks used by actors to indicate the role they played on stage. This gave the impression that Jesus was just a manifestation of God acting out the particular role of God's Son. But Jesus' very identity consisted in being the Son of the Father. What language could the early Church use to preserve the distinctiveness of each person of the one triune God? The Church's solution was to take the language they had and fill it with new meanings. Moses redefined the terms god, create, holy, salvation. The Church redefined the words person, personhood, personality, personal.
In speaking of the word Father in relation to God, we often make the mistake of using the human example of earthly fathers to understand God the Father and how we ought to relate to Him. Instead, the early Church taught that the word Father first applies to God the Father and only in an analogical way to human fatherhood. The divine reality reveals what the human reality should be. Adam was not the first father. The first person of the Trinity is.
The same can be said concerning the term "personhood." Personhood is not just a human reality that is helpful in understanding God. This thinking must be reversed. "The context of the term person for the church was determined by the understanding of the Trinity and, in particular, the nature of the Son. The application to human persons came later and is strictly metephorical. The fact that the Scriptures teach us that we are made in the image of the Son makes it possible for the terms used to describe the Father,the Son, and the Holy Spirit to be used to describe us." (Kinlaw, p. 78) What is the definition of the word "person" in terms of the Trinity? It is a symbol for the very real distinctions in the Godhead. It is distinct from the term "being" which describes the oneness of God.
To speak only of the Son does not define His whole being. "We must look to him and his relationship to the other two persons of the Trinity to establish our understanding of the term we apply to ourselves." (Kinlaw, p. 78) This understanding comes from Jesus' own words concerning His relationship to the Father and the Spirit, mainly from John's Gospel. We will begin analyzing Jesus' words on this subject in part IV, b of this post.