“How?” The Question of Disobedience

Last night I got into an intriguing and interesting conversation with a pastor who is beginning to rethink everything he thought he knew! He has heard the Gospel of Humanity’s Adoption into the Life of the Trinity in Jesus being proclaimed and it is rocking his theological world to the core. He finds himself wanting to hear and know more because of experiencing “something” in his gut that tells him this is the “home” he has been looking for, especially the last 7 years or so.

There is a problem though. This pastor is having conflict in his gut because his seminary and theological training has only schooled him to focus on the “what” and “how” questions. You know things like “What is God?”, “What is salvation?”, “How is it possible that Jesus is still human?!”, How do you reconcile this passage with that passage?”, etc.

I could see and feel his pain and wanted to help! In the Light of the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus Christ can you see what much of his problem is?

In his book “Relationships Unfiltered”, Dr. Andrew Root gives us help in this area by sharing thoughts from the late Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Bonhoeffer believed that all theology, ministry, and faith be­gins with the question, “Who?” Who are you? Who is this Jesus of Nazareth? Who is this one who heals? Who teaches with au­thority? Who is this?

In the same way, Bonhoeffer believed that the question, “How?” was the question of disobedience. How is God present in Jesus? How is Jesus divine and human? How do I have faith in Jesus? How can I be good? The problem with a how question is that even if you get a “right” answer, there’s no need to encoun­ter the living person of Jesus Christ.”

Bonhoeffer believes “Who?” is the better question because it’s a question of encounter; it’s a question that assumes Jesus Christ is still living and moving in our world, continuing in min­istry, and encountering our person with his own person. “Who?” is about a relationship with Jesus Christ as living and still active in the world. The question, “How?” on the other hand, is absent from en­counter; it doesn’t need a living Jesus. It’s simply a theoretical question. “How?” can be solved on a blackboard and then walked away from. But, “Who?” demands change and transformation. Encountering the who of Jesus Christ, encountering his living person, makes Jesus Christ not a logo for our religion but a living person who encounters our own person (this is the “relational” in incarnational ministry.)

Rather than argue scripture with him, or try to influence this pastor to our view, my other friends and I (led by Dr. Baxter Kruger) deferred to the “Who” of the Holy Spirit (Who dwells in all flesh – Acts 2:17) and completely bypassed his “what and how” questions. We encouraged him to consider the probability of his being encountered by the Who of the Father, Son and Spirit, Who Love and include Him in Their life, live with him in his doubts and fears, and Who will never let him go! We asked him to consider the possibility that he is being addressed NOT by abstract things, but the concrete and living Triune God!

I saw the Holy Spirit make A LOT of headway when we addressed him in this way! He even thanked us for taking this approach because, in his words, he “loves to play the ‘devil’s advocate’ with the scriptures” and the conversation would have been fruitless. As it was he was left to pursue the “Someone” whom he believed had called him into ministry in the first place, rather than the “something’s”, leading to endless argument, frustration, and debate. He left us visibly encouraged and a lot more passionate to relate with the “Who” a little more for himself!

Though there is a Trinitarian logic and good Trinitarian theology that can be expressed to others in helpful ways, even addressing many of the fundamental “what’s and how’s” in the true Gospel Light of the Person of Jesus, you may consider this approach in many of your interactions with those who struggle with the theology. The “Who” of the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son will give you the help and discernment you need!

~ Timothy Brassell

4 comments so far

  1. Jerome Ellard on

    How have we missed it? The WHO question should be supreme…I am guessing that the “what” and “how” questions can be motivated by fear, if they are the first things we want to know. It would seem they can only truly be answered finally under the umbrella of “WHO.” Thank you, Jesus, for revealing Your Father and sending the Holy Spirit so that we may know WHO God really is! (I downloaded Baxter’s message…looking forward to hearing it! I was wondering how Baxter was doing.)

    • Pastor Timothy on

      Amen Jerome! I think you are on to our fallen humanity when you speak of our missing it because we are motivated by fear, which is the opposite of love (love being the Who of the Father, Son and Spirit Himself!) As you say, “Thank You” to the Who of the Incarnate Son Jesus, Who has brought with him into our actual flesh and humanity His relationship with His Father in the Spirit!

  2. John on

    Thanks Tim
    For most of my life performance and results were the most important which were always sought after through what and how. It is the who question in relation to Jesus that truly allows me to see myself and the rest of humanity in Him as a human being rather than a human doing.

    • Pastor Timothy on

      You’re welcome and thank you too John! You have certainly described my life in your comments. One time I actually created a book with graphs and charts to measure the progress of my relationship with God based on the what’s and how’s! You can only guess how discouraging that was!!! Sheesh! I am now being and doing in my being and doing in him the true Who, and in his shared faith, and the yoke of my relationship with him is much lighter and easier as he promised! 🙂


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