Friday, October 15, 2004

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 8

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 8: The Wrath of God in a Culture of Tranquility

water buffalo theology coverAs I read this chapter, I felt Professor Kosuke Koyama was referring to "history" as the realm of human affairs particularly as interpreted by the salvation history of the Bible, and thus his idea of "history" is transferable to any and all times and places of human life with its broad range of interactions and relationships. He particularly contrasts history and non-history, non-history or cyclical existence leading to the ideal of "no-self," which is "the perfect state of no-pathos." Interesting since we've discussed the emotional joy, pain, distress and elation attachments to people, places - and things - can bring us!

Further, in describing Buddhism's influence on the non-historical mindset of many Thai Christians, he describes it as moving away from karmic chains and away from causality: away from attachment! Clearly the God of the Bible confronts us with choices - sometimes choices between life and death, meaning we act in the midst of both existential and emotional attachment to persons and situations. The fundamental message of Thai nature says all is cyclical and reversible, tranquil and placid; the Bible's God claims our attention and our response by showing us the irreversible nature of our actions and calling us to decision - especially decision in relational contexts.

Introducing the chapter on page 68, he asks, "What is the matter with this God?" In other words, this God who becomes perturbed to the point of wrath is not like our idea of a perfect human! This God is no human invention!

On page 72 the author says the theology of the God not-in-history "is also the theology of God who is held captive in the continual cyclical flow of cosmic time and cannot meaningfully be moved to wrath." This essentially is a domesticated God, of course. One of the revolutionary things about the God of the Bible is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the prophets and the God of Jesus the Christ not only doesn't require beseeching, appeasement, protection or tribute - our God actually is immune to such human attempts at domestication. So in part the Thai Christians' God is not the Bible's God, but more like a god of human desires - a safe god who will remain wherever he is deposited and left until the people decide to return and move the god elsewhere. This brings us back to Egyptian religion, temple religion and imperial religion in general. The Bible's God not only is free but also elusive and cannot, will not be "deposited and left and later moved elsewhere" - the sacraments so aptly image the hidden yet apparent nature of the Bible's God! I love his phrase on page 69: "the scholastic captivity of God." It really must amuse God to watch us in discussions like this!

Detailing the limitations of a "theology of the neglect of history" he mentions:
  • The temptation he calls "stratospheric flight," which many times is such a temptation for everyone. OK, I'll speak for myself in that regard
  • An unmysterious God: I love his quoting Luther that God without "strange work" is God without "proper work!" And again, that kind of God is a God humans can understand and therefore domesticate to their own ends.
  • Finally, and strikingly, the not-historical God is a God continuous with humanity: there's no disruption between finite and infinite.
He ends the chapter saying the Thai Christian awareness of God must be "...deepened and substantiated by [their] sensing the presence of God incarnate in Christ." I love the word "substantiated," as it refers so strongly to a tangible, visible, audible God, to the God Whose wrath has "historical and covenantal reasons," reasons of "I-Thou!"

What about USA-brand Christianity? Is it not obscene to define a person or a family as a 'giving unit!' Or someone casually asking how "large" your congregation is - what does that mean? Baptized? Worship attendance? Budget? Staff?"

It looks as if we're returning to "vernacular, colloquial, lingua franca, Muttersprach!" After commenting Thai Christianity's being heavily influenced by Buddhism's passivity and non-historicism, you're asking have WE been "overly influenced" by the non-ecclesiastical climate all around us? Faithful, grace-filled living means walking am extremely fine line: we can argue forever, forcefully and correctly that Jesus knew the people's language and "spoke" the people's culture. And truly there's a lot to be said for not confronting a previously unchurched inquirer with an exegesis of Romans! In not doing so, are we presenting Christianity "watered down?" If "seeker" style worship not only brings in the numbers and the offering but at the same time leads to growth in real commitment to the Lord of Life, why not? But please be assured - that's not my final answer!

About marketing and organization structure in Cleveland, Chicago, Louisville and at other denominational headquarters, I don't know. I do know "they're all doing it," and they're following what's basically a business model. We can describe the Church as "the exhibition of the Kingdom of God to the world!" According to Jesus and the Bible, that Kingdom of Heaven can be identified by agape love and by inclusion and justice, characteristics not often generated by following typical secular models.

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