Theology Feed

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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The World Come of Age

The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation TheologyThe World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology by Lilian Calles Barger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very thorough intellectual history that situates the first generation of liberation theologians within their context, demonstrating the various streams of thought that gave rise to this hemisphere-wide movement and how it responded to the immediate concerns facing oppressed peoples. The end of the book evaluates the movement, show how it did not achieve its stated aims of a revolution of the political order, but that it has had broad influence throughout the Americas and far beyond theology.

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Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition

Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian TraditionSeeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition by Hans Boersma
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"Indeed, whenever and wherever we see truth, goodness, and beauty, it is as though the eschaton comes cascading into our lives and we receive a glimpse of God's beauty in Christ."

That's a fine sentence. I can imagine it will appear in a sermon sometime.

This book is a thorough (sometimes too thorough I think) review of the theology of the beatific vision, focused on a handful of key figures in Christian history. The most interesting, to me, chapters were on Protestant versions, as one doesn't usually think of this as a prominent Protestant doctrine. Chapters on Calvin, the Puritans, and Edwards showed that Protestant theology has neglected an important idea.

By the end Boersma seems to be supporting an idealistic metaphysics that I find odd. But the book was substantive and informative.

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Landscapes of the Sacred

Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American SpiritualityLandscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality by Belden C. Lane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this calamitous year our connections to places and spaces have been heightened.  We were/are isolated in domestic spaces.  We walked our neighborhoods.  Many of us gardened and landscaped.  We also couldn't go to places that we enjoyed, found meaningful, that inspire or comfort us.  In religious communities there was the acute realization of the importance to many of us of the places we worship and fellowship and that online versions were but a pale and inadequate shadow creating significant spiritual loss.

I had enjoyed another Belden Lane book and this one has been sitting on my shelves to-read for a while.  This year seemed fitting.  I grabbed it and began it while three days of spiritual retreat in the Nebraska Sandhills at Kamp Kaleo, our denominational campground.

In this book Lane explores the particulars of American spiritualities of place and space. He opens with a discussion of how all sacred spaces are storied spaces. The vast middle section of the book examines various spiritual approaches to place from Native American to Catholic Worker. In this section I found two things particularly lacking--no examination of place/space in African-American spirituality or any discussion of what Eastern Religions have contributed to a sense of place (surely a discussion of Gary Snyder would have been easy?). I personally most enjoyed the chapter on the Puritans.

The book then concludes with the tension in Christian spirituality between a sacramental sense of place and an apophatic tradition that emphasizes transcendence of place. In this section he discusses the need to deconstruct the ways in which landscapes are always constructed (a brief discussion of Simon Schama's wonderful book Landscape and Memory). And how Christianity disciplines us to see the sacred in the places we want to ignore.

As I contemplate how to spiritually direct my people this winter, building on some work I did last spring, I can imagine a pilgrimmage in place, focusing on the interior life and attention to the details in our ordinary spaces. My mental wheels are turning.

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Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology

Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive ChristologyDivine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology by Tripp Fuller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tripp has written a fine book. He's pulled together so many different theological threads and made sense of them.

The first chapter conscisely and straightforwardly summarizes some of the key themes of Process thought. The second chapter is the best summary of the current state of historical Jesus research I've read. Subsequent chapters review major developments in Christology and places differing voices in conversation with one another developing from them the major themes that a contemporary theology should have. And the conclusion draws it all together to present a fresh and inspiring picture of the Christ.

I know I'll find it helpful for teaching and preaching for years. Thank you Tripp.

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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, and Spy

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, SpyBonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I learned so much about Bonhoeffer, about whom I thought I knew a decent amount. But what was best about this book was that it was encouraging, in the strictest sense of the word, in that it gave me courage. Right now, in the midst of our current crises, it was very good to read about how other people of faith grappled with their crisis and faced it with courage and a zest for life.

"He saw it as an act of faith in God to step out in freedom and not to cringe from future possibilities."

And this direct quote from Bonhoeffer, "To renounce a full life and its real joys in order to avoid pain is neither Christian nor human."

And also this quote from him, "It is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith."

A reminder that we are inheritors of a proud, courageous legacy.

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Preaching as Testimony

Preaching as TestimonyPreaching as Testimony by Anna Carter Florence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first heard Anna Carter Florence preach at the Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta in 2006. Despite not being close to the most famous preacher in the line up at that event, she was, by far, the best preacher in the bunch. And since then she's remained one of my favourite preachers to hear preach or to lecture on preaching. Somehow I has missed this book before.

But it is either the best or second best book I've read on my craft (Fred Craddock's classic Preaching being the other).

Florence argues that faithful and effective preaching is a form of testimony, in which the preacher shares about their encounter with God in life and in the text. She develops this idea in three sections. The first is a history of the tradition of testimony in preaching focusing on three women Ann Hutchinson in the 17th century, Sarah Osborn in the 18th, and Jarena Lee in the 19th. These are excellent chapters. Even if you have known something about these women before (Osborn was new to me), you'll learn much more about them. Florence teases out the themes that are shared by these preachers, particularly that they spoke from outside the systems of authority.

The second section develops the theory of testimony based on Paul Ricoeur, Walter Brueggemann, Mary McClintock Fulkerson, and Rebecca Chopp. Florence writes about theory with felicity, humor, insight, and grace.

The final section gives practical advice to preachers on how to preach in this tradition. Clearly many of the techniques and suggestions are developed from her own practice and years of teaching at Columbia Seminary.

This was much more than just a book about preaching, it was a theology, a hermeneutic, an excellent contribution to the intellectual and spiritual life of the church.

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Breaking White Supremacy

Breaking White Supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Social GospelBreaking White Supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Social Gospel by Gary J. Dorrien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dorrien's second volume in his history of the Black Social Gospel is not as strong as the first volume. That is partly because so much in the first volume is a revelation--learning about people, ideas, and movements that one was unlikely to be well acquainted with before. This volume covers more familiar ground.

The opening chapters lay the groundwork of connecting the DuBois generation to the King generation, so those chapters are more like the first volume, with good introductions to Mordecai Johnson, Benjamin Mays, Howard Thurman, and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

I thought that the King chapters dragged on, particularly because I've read better accounts from both historians and religious scholars. These chapters didn't really break any new ground, though they did a better job of interpreting King in light of this long tradition and set up his abiding theological influence.

The final chapter is on the initial development of Black Liberation Theology and then closes with the spotlight on Pauli Murray as a figure on the fringes of the story told throughout the book. Dorrien presents her as a model for what would come in Mainline Christianity--"an all-are-welcome version of the social gospel with a feminist sensibility and a passionate commitment to renewing the civil rights movement." I've been wanting to know more about Murray for a while, and this gave me more, but also deepened my hunger to read more about her.

Dorrien doesn't plan a third volume, but there really could be a third discussing developments in Black Theology since the 1970's.

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Disarming Beauty

Disarming Beauty: Essays on Faith, Truth, and FreedomDisarming Beauty: Essays on Faith, Truth, and Freedom by Julián Carrón
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Faith is 'verficiation' when it shows its ability to illuminate and bring to fullness the typically human dynamics of reason, affection, and freedom, and so increases the existential certainty essential to an adult in all of life's circumstances."

According to Carron, Christianity should be attractive and appealing to humanity because Christian's should live rich, full, beautiful lives of affection, reason, and freedom.

I don't remember how this book entered my to-read list, probably something in The Christian Century a few years ago. The author is a Spanish Catholic theologian supporting the witness of Pope Francis while also embracing the theology of Pope Benedict. There were a number of areas where I disagreed about the particulars of an ethical and faithful life (marriage for instance) but the broad ideas were engaging and resonated with some of my other theological reading such as Wendell Berry and Stanley Hauerwas. I think I'll make use of some of the ideas and sentences, and always good to keep a little theological diversity in one's reading.

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