Thursday, October 14, 2004

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 3

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 3: Gun and Ointment | The Future of the Christian World Mission in Asia

Kosuke Koyama says Jesus' anointing shows, "the substance and manner of God's participation in history."

water buffalo theology coverRather than being anointed by members of the temple hierarchy and the theological establishment - guys - to reign alive in glory in sumptuous palatial opulence, within the recognized and reputable imperial structure, within the humanly established order of earthly affairs - Jesus was anointed into his death in the glory of the cross by a woman - a person without any part in the Temple array, who because of gender and caste never could be a priest. That woman who to us is nameless anointed Jesus, at the house of a leper, a person totally outcast from polite society, far outside of the legitimately sanctioned and reputable arrangements and expectations of the world but right within God's upside-down, illegitimate order, God's own scheme that invalidates and inverts most imaginings of what should be - God's way, the way of the Cross, which we know as the Divinely established order of human affairs.

Marian, our discussion moderator, asked:
Are they [Christian world mission and western culture] so tangled together that we'll never untangle them in our own minds?
Tough question! In doing almost any kind of ministry, I find myself worrying a whole lot that my attitude and actions might come across as arrogance and even imperialism; I wonder if I truly have the people's best interests in my heart, or if my life experience and perspective have duped me into visionlessness about where and how the people I'm trying to serve are living their lives and where they need to be in the future. At the beginning of Chapter 3, Koyama writes, "It was 1511..." He then details the way the modernization/imperialism connection took off, with Alfonse de Albuquerque's conviction God was on his side: "commercial avariciousness and theological self-righteousness" ...and the subsequent disarticulation of Asian, economic, political and cultural life - to what end?

The author quotes Mao Zedong regarding the proletariat's "responsibility of correctly knowing and changing the world." And calls it "proletariat ointment": Present-time ointment.

Contrasted with Gandhi's ahimsa - non-violence ointment: an ancient ointment.
Both proletariat ointment and ahimsa ointment ...are two outstanding examples of Asian participation in history. They are not just ideas. Both realize the presence of a strange ointment called the missionary ointment which is trying to heal the wounds of history by the name of a man crucified two thousand years ago.
I needed to quote this, and please read my paragraph supra about Jesus' anointing into his death!

"Prayer and hymn singing in the vernacular" is one of Luther's Marks of the True Church; I'm convinced "Evangelism in the vernacular" also needs to happen for the Church, as the Body of the Risen Christ, to be true to its call, as Jesus always met people more than half-way - Jesus met people as who they were and where they were. For Luther, suffering and persecution also defines the true Church. At the end of chapter 3, Prof. Koyama asks, "How can the Christian mission do this [stand against the 'guns' and give passionate encouragement to all the 'ointments'] unless it begins itself to live under the 'sentence of death?'" I need to think that through a whole lot more.

As you pointed out, the author considers modernization the "gun," or "weapon;" he says it's a new orientation and, most strikingly, modernization allows "environmental control!" We just read Chapter 2: "Will the Monsoon Rain Make God Wet?" So with modernization the people gain control of the environment? But we know our God as Lord of nature!

Marian also asked:
Should western Christians and western theologians...let Asian Christians (or Asian-western Christians like Koyama) define Christian mission for Asia?
Back to my comment on your first question: will attempts at ministry, at attempts to heal what I discern as some kind of pathology hinder rather than heal? It's all too easy to decide difference=disease. I truly believe I'm not commercially avaricious, but too often I catch myself in what definitely could pass for "theological self-righteousness" In seminary we read a paper that had a subtitle something like, "Spiritual Elitism in Corinth," and how I am so constantly convinced I read the Bible properly, my theology is the right theology (because it's somewhat "left," of course)...…and more sins against others' lives and sensitivities than I dare confess.

Thinking about our discussion moderator's asking in response to my "evangelism in the vernacular":

What would evangelism in the vernacular mean to you?

Elsewhere we noted that Christianity in this country wouldn't always be (well, it isn't now!) First Church on the corner of Main and Elm, housed in an iconic white colonial or colonial reproduction building, pews lined up facing the chancel that features a communion table topped with brass candlesticks donated by Annie and Henry's grandparents, 19th century hymns sung from a cloth-bound book and accompanied by a Hook & Hastings organ, the traditional Gloria Patri and doxology, Tiffany-type stained glass, Strawberry Shortcake Socials and picnics on the grassy church lawn...

In my own journey, since I didn't grow up in the church, as an adult I actually lack some of the harmful gear a lot of people have from childhood religion, though of course I have other stuff to contend with! Any church remotely answering that description never would have had any way of reaching me then or where I've ever been.

But of course the churches like those I described got their clues and a good deal of their style from the general outlook of the surrounding "secular" culture, just as the appeal of the Willow Creek churches and the other smaller, more fundamentalist churches in our neighborhoods is consonant with the traits that attract people to secular activities and institutions. In other words, those churches are strongly vernacular!

Back to thinking about "what would evangelism in the vernacular mean:" Telling the Good News in the people's muttersprach, in their "lingua franca," which, of course, means far more than their spoken and written language's syntax and grammar. Our "evangelical" language needs to reach all of their cultural sensibilities as well as their actual native idiom of everyday lives, their values, hopes and dreams. What do they desire for themselves, their children, their community - and even for the worlds beyond theirs? What would they perceive as Good News; above all, what can we demonstrate to them that would make them willing to risk change?

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