Freedom in the Making of Western Culture

Jesus in Asia

Jesus in AsiaJesus in Asia by R.S. Sugirtharajah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Asian quest for Jesus did not see him as a unique person, but perceived him as one who was engaged in work similar to that of the Asian seers, and welcomed him and such teachers 'as God's revelation in history.'"

Sugirtharajah writes about a number of Asian Jesus scholars whose contributions have been overlooked by the Western theological academy. Some of these Asian scholars were Christians, but some of them were Hindo, Jain, or Buddhist and were writing about Jesus from those religious perspectives.

Much of the material was completely new to me. I was very fascinated by the chapter on Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's work on Jesus from a Hindu perspective. Sugirtharajah writes that for Radhakrishnan "what was attractive about Jesus . . . was his ability to awaken an awareness of the divine in oneself." Radhakrishnan saw Jesus in the tradition of the Upanishads.

I learned the most from the chapter on the Korean theologian Ahn Byung Mu. Ahn argued that to understand Jesus you had to understand who he kept company with and the status of those people in their society. Here's an example of Ahn's ideas as discussed by Sugirtharajah:

"What counted most were the lifestyle choices Jesus had made, such as forgoing all material possessions and securities of life, cutting himself off from family attachments, and more crucially, overturning the value system so that those who exalted themselves were humbled, and the humble were exalted."

One common theme among all these Asian scholars is emphasizing that Jesus was Asian and should be interpreted in the broader context of Asian religious culture rather than the Hellenistic and Roman interpretations because Jesus rejected and seemed to have so little in common with those cultures.

In the conclusion Sugirtharajah uses these scholars as a means of criticizing the search for an historical Jesus and identifying how even Western academic approaches are emotional, imaginative constructs--"The so-called historical Jesus is invariably an idealized picture drawn from the interpreter's fancy and from fads."

But what we learn from these Asian scholars is that maybe we shouldn't center our faith on the history of one individual person. Rather, shouldn't we focus on the values Jesus taught and the kind of life he modeled as a way of awakening spirituality within humanity?

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