Thursday, December 31, 2009

water buffalo theology review

water buffalo theology coverChristianity in this country won'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, Tiffany-type stained glass, Strawberry Shortcake Socials and picnics on a grassy lawn…

Water Buffalo Theology is liberation theology, ecological theology, theology of the cross and an offering in the Christian-Buddhist dialogue. By definition Christianity is incarnational, so cautioning every one of us in our attempts to reach others author Kosuke Koyama asks, "How can anyone be a teacher of religion unless he is at home with the language of the people?" and in the course of the book contrasts and compares many aspects of Buddhism and Christianity. Koyama challenges us to tough anthropological cross-cultural work of living with and living as the other in order to become more aware of ourselves, during the journey (hopefully) discerning essential aspects of the way of Jesus we're offering to others alongside possibilities of adapting the host culture's own practices. As an aside, to me it's interesting how the practice of many contemporary Christians is marked by passionate attachment along with attempts to live with greater perspective and more detachment.

Kosuke Koyama, who died during 2009, was born in Tokyo of Christian parents; the years he taught at a seminary in Thailand heavily influenced this book, thus "water buffalo" and careful considerations of Buddhism and Buddhists. Koyama says God's "first and fundamental gift" to us is "the constant awareness that we are under the judgment of the Word of God."

Detailing limitations of a "theology of the neglect of history" he mentions "an unmysterious God" and quotes Martin Luther's "God without strange work is God without proper work!" In fact, Koyama reveals himself as a huge fan of Dr. Luther... not surprisingly, my internet research revealed on Wikipedia that Koyama wrote his PhD dissertation for Princeton seminary on interpretation of the Psalms of Martin Luther. 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!

Koyama says Thai Christian awareness of God must be "...deepened and substantiated by [their] sensing the presence of God incarnate in Christ," to the God Whose wrath has "historical and covenantal reasons," reasons of "I-Thou!" 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. Finally, and strikingly, the not-historical God is a God continuous with humanity: there's no disruption between finite and infinite.

In the half-dozen years since I first read Water Buffalo theology it has been an extremely useful resource for teaching and interpretation that bears rereading and easily carries the weight and freight of a 5-star recommendation.

my amazon review: local yet global

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