Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Relational Theology in a Nutshell

Way at the start of this blog, we were talking about how to articulate our theology. If you are in concert with our trend of thinking, you would be challenged to articulate this theology in as few words as possible. Here is my attempt...

[added 2010-04-04] What name should I call this theological perspective without being associated with either classicist theologies nor cultic theologies. Essentially, this theology should be called "Covenant Relationship" Theology. It is NOT Covenant Theology which has its own classical premises nor is it the relationship/relational theologies that include process theology (which I opine is clearly aberrant biblically) or openness theology (whose foundational proposition I disagree with because it seems to dilute the sovereignty of God). Hence, in any discussion in this forum, I use "relational theology" for short but it is supposed to mean "covenant relationship theology" where God does not only seek relationship but a "covenant relationship" with man. The covenant is divinely initiated (the Creator is also the covenant Creator) and man simply needs to respond correctly to such a gracious and magnanimous offer.

This version of Theology is a systematic theology that is founded on the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible, who is Love and Who Loves and desires true personal, individual and intimate relationship with man within the context of a covenant. Covenant RelationshipTheology is a form of Biblical Theology (meaning, tenets are based on scriptural declarations or descriptions), the unique perspective of which looks at relationship with God as the key to the understanding and formulation of theology, instead of merely salvation, redemptive plan, sovereignty of God, free will, openness, process, etc.) Most theological books deal with these topics in a compartmentalized manner and usually fail to synthesize them into a simple common-sense concept. They (think they) have mastered the trees without having any idea of the forest. The whole of revelational Scripture is NOT just about salvation, for salvation is just a small fraction of its discussion albeit an essential one. The Bible is about God's design for relationship with man of which SALVATION is the necessary first step, and OBEDIENCE to God's commands and design is the next step and Personal HOLINESS is the maintenance step.

Because God is Love, He takes risks. When God created man in His Own Image because He wanted to share His love, He took one of the greatest risks to His Sovereignty, for a creature in God's image will have Free Will and the privilege of independence of thought and decision apart from God, as well as human attributes that Sovereignty can no longer control without changing their definition --- Love, Faith, Hope among others are Divinely-designed human rights which virtually exist BEYOND the CONTROL of ABSOLUTE SOVEREIGNTY --- THAT is the RISK that The Loving God incurred when He created man IN HIS OWN IMAGE. God's risk out of His great Love was the creation of a being who may not return His love, and with the ability to actually rebel against Him or reject Him.

At the heart of Relational Theology is a revolutionary (but I believe this is the true First Century version) understanding of the kenosis of the Incarnate Christ. The pre-Incarnate Divine Son of God, literally emptied Himself of His rights as God (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and other qualities of absolute sovereignty) but not of His attributes (Love, Righteousness, Faithfulness, Truth, Light, and other qualities found in theomorphic man like personality, emotions, will, intellect, etc) without which He ceases to be God.

Covenant Relationship Theology is Love-fixated and Relationship-fixated in many of its Biblical interpretations especially of the most difficult passages to understand from a Classical perspective. Divine Love controls Divine Sovereignty and not the other way around. Hence, the concept of the Elect and predestination is correctly interpreted along this lines. Hence, also the complete negation and rejection of the Calvinist TULIP. Hence, though God exercises ominiscience all the time, He exercises foreknowledge optionally and mostly confined to what He has explicitly predetermined in Scripture or as a response to the plea for Divine Intervention from the prayers of His beloved people.

Biblical Hermeneutics is founded ONLY on revealed Truth, nothing more, nothing less. God is the greatest communicator. As such He chose the right language, right time in history, the right context to convey EXACTLY what He wants to reveal. Relational Theology denies that God speaks in code. What He reveals, He reveals clearly and unequivocally. What He does not reveal is not our worry (Deuteronomy 29:29). Hence, concepts like anthropomorphism when applied to Bible Interpretation are a direct INSULT to The Greatest Communicator. This tenet clearly implies that natural theology or any form of philosophy or theosophy or any logical mambo-jumbo capitulates immediately without apology to Biblical Divine revelation when the two do not agree even when it is just a shade of contradiction.

For another example, Covenant Relationship Theology does not deny predestination. However, it sees predestination as limited ONLY to those that are mentioned in Scripture. Why? Precisely because that is what was exactly revealed, and any extrapolation to apply this to all situations is a complete corruption of Scripture and the intent and heart of God. It becomes obvious from reading Scripture without performing mental calisthenics to excuse what the plain words mean, that God relents, is surprised, gets angry, rejoices, etc. simply because there are things that He has not pre-ordained and these events actually take Him by surprise. Only His Wisdom and Omni-competence make up and find a way to enable God to deliver some of His desired outcomes without using the impersonal and mechanical force of His absolute sovereignty (That is His privilege [to force things His way] but NOT His style!).

Covenant Relationship Theology believes that the future is mostly open to God. This is similar to Open Theism with two significant differences. First, in Open Theism, the openness of God seems to be foundational. In Covenant Relationship Theology, the future being open is an implication of a deeper foundational basis which is that God is Love and Love involves risks and less control over so many things including free will.

Secondly, Open Theism explicitly declares that there are things that God does not know which implies a lack of sovereignty and therefore lessens God (albeit in concept only). In Covenant Relationship Theology, God's closing much of the future from Himself, is an exercise of Absolute Sovereignty. It is God's choice, out of His infinite Love and wisdom, to lock the future from even Himself in order to relate to man in a way that He Himself can exercise True Love and true give-and-take relationships which involves both risk and the surrender of control over the one being loved.  Covenant Relationship  Theology believes that if God wanted to do so, He can take back all these freedoms He has granted man and lessen the risks on Himself, BUT HE DID NOT CHOSE THAT ROUTE according to the Bible. God chose the current route because He delights in loving.

Finally, Covenant Relationship Theology has a unique interpretation of the doctrine of the Kenosis and its implications but will stand the test of Scripture that such interpretation is truly and unpretentiously Biblical and the most hermeneutically honest. Example implications are that Love, Truth, Righteousness, Holiness are indeed Divine attributes (qualities that cannot be missing in the Divine personality, or qualities that are the essential character of God) while Omnipotence, Omniscience, Omnipresence are simply Divine rights (qualities that can be missing in the Divine personality temporarily as exemplified by the Incarnate Jesus Christ).

Although it may be true that Covenant Relationship Theology as summarized above may contradict much of the church fathers' teachings (but not the first and second century church fathers), no one can claim that it is not faithful in its bible interpretations and logical and honest in its hermeneutics.

[added 2010-04-04] I need to mention if one were to summarize in one sermon what covenant relationship theology is, that would be Christ's Sermon on the Mount of which much is discussed in this blog. Essentially it implies reaching the world by who we are (Kingdom children and Kingdom citizens who are naturally "salt" and "light" according to Christ with a "righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees.") and not necessarily by what we say or do. Then, "if necessary, use words". Also, it needs to be pointed out that the first century church changed the world with two simple elements: The Holy Spirit and Transformed Lives, not by man-made planning, budgeting and training ad nauseum which may have their place in the church but NOT BEFORE the first two are in place. Another thing that needs to be pointed out which is foundational to covenant-relationship theology is that when the first century church overcame the world, their basic material was not the Bible as we know it today but simply, the Jewish Scriptures. ALL of the New Testament as we know them today were simply a set of non-cannonized addenda or instructions from the apostles which further clarified and completed the covenants of the Old Testament (Jewish scriptures). This does not mean that the New Testament does not have any value, but rather that New Testament hermeneutics and exegesis for it to remain biblical should be viewed from a Jewish perspective and not from a western or Greek perspective which includes much of the misguided classical theologies we have today.

In fact, I have yet to meet some theologian who claims a systematic theology that is Biblically faithful and hermeneutically honest who will contradict my claims in this entire blog site. Most theologians today simply parrot what others have already claimed without verifying Scripture. In fact, many of them are still confused especially the classicists since they experience many contradictions between what they were taught and what the actual plain contextual reading of the Bible says and their day to day experiences and walk with God. Some simply chose to live in ignorant bliss, but that is their unfortunate loss.

[added 2012-03-07]. As far as Biblical hermeneutics are concerned, I have found only one verse in Scripture that I could not interpret logically.  Compare that to 10% to 20% of Scripture that I could not even understand when I was yet a classicist in interpretive foundation.


  1. Everything is predestined, not just those things mentioned in the Bible. God created time itself, so knowing the end from the beginning is a given. Einstein's Theory of Relativity demonstrated that time is a part of creation and experiment has shown that time slows down for particles approaching the speed of light.

    Predestination does not mean that humanity is not free to choose its destiny. Relational theology is revolves around the central position of the personal relationship that God wants with his people, as expressed in the Covenant of God, God's Mission Statement.

    Derek Thompson

  2. I agree with your short description of relational theology. However, your first paragraph illustrates how misleading the word "predestination" is. It seems to mean different things to different people. In this site, however, we only seek to find out the Biblical meaning of certain words and how it should be understood in the proper context of the author and setting when and where it was written.

    Your first statement contradicts teh biblical meaning of predestination. In contrast, your first statement in your 2nd paragraph is correct. Nonetheless, please note that predestination is among the MOST MINOR issues of the Bible and that is its proper place, it is a VERY MINOR doctrine. It is St. Paul's way of putting a certain perspective to what is mentioned in different ways elsewhere in Scripture. In other words, Remove the verses in Ephesians 1 and that one verse in Romans 8 and we still have a complete picture of God's plan for our lives and eternity.

  3. I agree that predestination is a minor issue in that we are not in a position to know the future and in any case, it does not negate human free will. Open theism, in trying to explain the existence of suffering and evil in God's world, does not need to argue that God does not know the end from the beginning or that the Creator limits godself to only occupy the present time and space. Theologians cannot afford to ignore the discoveries of science. If the time-space continuum is a part of Creation then it must be the case that God who transcends Creation is uniquely able to give free will to humans and know what they have done/are doing/will do. Predestination is not the same thing as determinism or foreknowledge.

    I am presently enjoying John Sander's book, The God Who Risks, but the notion that God limits godself to the present time appears to be put forward because of the belief that if God knew the future God would be responsible for it. I don't see the need to add this teaching to open theism when Scripture portrays God as knowing the future.

    Derek Thompson

  4. YES!!! John Sanders is quite an eye-opener. I owe a lot of my present Biblical awareness to him. What he has really taught me is how to think outside of the box and still be Biblical. Read it from cover to cover. Like I mentioned here, I do not necessarily agree with the theological foundation of openness but I believe we are of kindred minds and spirits in everything else.