Home Christian Spirituality Spiritual Direction Sacred Psychology Interfaith Relationships Purchase Books Links Contact Us  

 

 

ICS
SPEAKERS AND FACILITATORS


ICS publishes a quarterly online journal, En Christo: A Journal for a New Christianity, that includes book reviews and commentary relevant to a re-visioning of what it means to be Christian.

En Christo Archive


Peace Memo, a news and info letter is available by email to all participants in ICS programs and other interested persons.

Peace Memo Archive

EN CHRISTO--                                                          ХР

A Journal for a New Christianity © 
Volume 1, Number 2
2nd Quarter, 2007

James L. Foster & John Lackey, co-editors
Download this En Christo (requires Adobe Reader)             

Publishing data:

En Christo© is published by Institutes for the Study of Christian Spirituality (ISCS), 204 Busbee Road, Knoxville, TN 37920.  ISCS is an institute of the Peacebuilding Institute, a voluntary association dedicated to the promotion and practice of Christian spirituality through this and a variety of kindred institutes.  Subscriptions to En Christo are free and are available by email.  Print editions are not available from the publisher.  The material is copyrighted as of the date of publication, and may not be copied for commercial purposes. However, subscribers herewith have permission to make copies for personal or educational use or for sharing free of charge with others, as long as the source of the copies is fully acknowledged to the recipients. 

Submissions to En Christo may be made by email attachment only and will be reviewed by its editor promptly for potential use in the publication. Acceptance of articles submitted is solely the responsibility of the Editors.  Detailed attribution is required for all quoted material. If non-English material is used a competent translation in English must be provided.

Book and Article Reviews must include title, full name of author(s), publisher name and address, and date of publication.  Reviews may be of any length, and must include detailed attribution for any quotes included.

                Original articles should be written in English, relevant to the need or process of change in Christianity consistent with the focus of the journal and may be edited for length and grammar.  Acceptance of articles submitted is solely the responsibility of the Editor.  Detailed attribution is required for all quoted material. If non-English material is used a competent translation in English must be provided.

En Christo is published quarterly and is emailed free of charge to any who request it.  If at any time a subscriber wishes to be removed from the email list he or she may unsubscribe by notifying the Publisher at the following email address: jimsandyfoster@yahoo.com.

 ХР

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ 

CONTENTS:

Editor’s Introduction………………………………………………...........………….........……………..  2

Dialog and Reader Responses

 

Response  from Tani Vincent to A Vision for the 21st Century  by John Lackey…....……...  5

 

Dialogue with Dale (an Episcopal theologian from Oregon) on Editor
James Foster’s  “deconstruction and reformation of the Christian tradition”………............  8

Dialogue with Dan Robinson…………………………………………………………............…….…... 10

 

Series: Some Thoughts About Global Economics From a Christian Perspective

Article 1 “Oikonomia” by John Lackey…………………………….........................…………...  12

 

Series:  Loving with the Love of Jesus

Article #2: All Love Is of God, by James L. Foster………………………………….......…….  13


Series:  Late Night Thoughts on the World Citizenship Creed

Article #2:  by James L. Foster……………………………………………………...........….….....…..  15


Book Reviews………………………………………………………………………...........…….........  17

Dorr, Donal.  Spirituality and Justice.  Ken Caraway, reviewer……………………......................  17

Boff, Leonardo. Passion of Christ, Passion of the World.  Lloyd Foster, reviewer.................… 18

Spong, John Shelby.  A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is
          Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born
.  John Lackey, reviewer………....................  20

Rubenstein, Richard E. When Jesus Became God:  The Epic Fight over Christ’s
          Divinity
in the Last Days of Rome.  James Foster, reviewer…………...……...........……  22

Amaladoss, Michael. The Asian Jesus. James Foster, reviewer………...…….…………...........  24

 ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Appendix:  World Citizenship Creed……………………………………………….................…….  28

 ХР

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Editor’s Introduction:

This is the second edition of En Christo published by the Institute for the Study of Christian Spirituality (ISCS), 204 Busbee Road, Knoxville, TN 37920.   James L. (Jim) Foster and John Lackey, both retired pastors, are co-editors.  Jim is also the Founder and President of the Institute.  John is co-director with Bob Rundle of The Institute for Spirituality and Global Economics.  Our intent is to create an ongoing dialogue, with any who are interested, about the changes in Christianity that have become increasingly obvious since we entered the new millennium as well as the changes that still need to happen.  For now we will be using Jim’s personal email address, jimsandyfoster@yahoo.com, to facilitate the dialogue, though in the future we may convert to a website and/or blog format.

It should also be noted that the ideas expressed by each editor and by other contributors are their own.  The editors do not censor each other’s writings.

Submissions of articles and reviews and reader responses may only be sent by email attachment to jimsandyfoster@yahoo.com.   Since we do not know all of you personally, please include “En Christo” on the subject line, as otherwise we may delete your email without opening it.  By like token, if you wish to be removed from our “En Christo” email list please let us know.   We do not wish to hassle you with unwanted mail.

En Christo is a transliteration of the koine Greek for “In Christ.”  The focus of the journal is the experience of Christian discipleship interpreted in contemporary and non-theistic categories.  The journal is ecumenical, even interfaith, in its outlook and seeks common ground with lovers of God of a variety of faith traditions.

Reviews of the following books are solicited, though other books not on the list will also be given consideration based on their relevance to the focus of En Christo.  We are seeking books that open up new vistas in the way we typically think about Jesus.  All of the books listed are available from Amazon.com  or Alibris.com in either new or used copies.

Books in need of Reviewers:

Apel, William and Paul M. Pearson.  Signs of Peace:  The Interfaith Letters of Thomas Merton.  (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2006)

Baigent, Michael.  The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History.   (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2005, 2007)

Borg, Marcus J.  The God We Never Knew.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2006)  

Borg, Marcus J.  The Heart of Christianity:  Recovering a Life of Faith.  (New York:Harper San Francisco, 2004)

Borg, Marcus J.  Jesus, A New Vision:  Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship.  ((New York:  Harper San Francisco, New York:  Harper San Francisco, 1991)

Borg, Marcus J.  Jesus:  Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary.  ((New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2007)

Borg, Marcus J.  Living the Heart of Christianity: A Guide to Putting Your Faith Into Action.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2006)

Borg, Marcus J.  Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus & the Heart of Contemporary Faith.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 1994)

Borg, Marcus J.  Reading the Bible Again for the First Time:  Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2002)

Borg, Marcus J. and N. T Wright.  The Meaning of Jesus.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2002)

Braden, Gregg. The God Code: The Secret of Our Past, the Promise of Our Future.  (Carlsbad, California:  Hay House, Inc., 2004)

Brown, Deborah A., ed.  Christianity in the 21st Century.  (New York:  The Crossroad Publishing Co., 2000)

Brown, Robert McAfee.  Kairos:  Three Prophetic Challenges to the Church.  (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990)

Delos, Andrew C.  Myths We Live By:  From the Times of Jesus and Paul. (2006)                    (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1995)

Ehrman, Bart D.  Lost Christianities:  The Battles for Scripture and Faiths We Never Knew.  (Oxford/New York:  Oxford University Press, 2003)

Ehrman, Bart D.  Lost Scriptures:  Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament.  (Oxford/New York:  Oxford University Press, 2003)

Ehrman, Bart D.  Misquoting Jesus:  The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2005, 2007)

Evans, Craig.  Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels.   (Intervarsity Press, 2006

Fox, Matthew.  One River, Many Wells:  Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths.  (New York:  Tarcher/Penguin, 2000)

Funk, Robert W.  Honest to Jesus:  Jesus for a New Millennium.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 1996)

Griffith-Jones, Robin.  The Four Witnesses: The Rebel, The Rabbi, the Chronicler, and the Mystic.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 2000)

Hamilton, William.  A Quest for the Post-Historical Jesus.  (New York: Continuum,  1994)

Harpur, Tom.  The Pagan Christ:  Recovering the Lost Light.  (Toronto:  Thomas Allen   Publishers, 2004)

Horsley, Richard A.  Jesus and Empire:  The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002)

Jenkins, Philip.  The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.   (Oxford/New York:  Oxford University Press, 2002)

Krosney, Herbert and Bart D. Ehrman.  The Lost Gospel:  The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. (Washington, D.C.:  National Geographic, 2006)

McLaren, Brian D.  The Secret Message of Jesus:  Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything.  (Nashville, TN:  W Publishing Group, 2006)

Nelson-Pallmeyer, Jack.  Jesus Against Christianity:  Reclaiming the Missing Jesus.   (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2001)

Nolan, Albert.  Jesus Today:  A Spirituality of Radical Freedom.  ((Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2006)

Pagels, Elaine.  The Gnostic Paul:  Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters.   (Philadelphia, PA: Trinity Press International, 1992, paperback)

 Ranke-Heinemann, Uta.  Putting Away Childish Things:  The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don’t Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 1994)

Riley, Gregory J.  The River of God:  A New History of Christian Origins.  (New York: Harper San Francisco, 2001)

Schonfield, Hugh.  The Essene Odyssey:  The Mystery of the True Teacher & the Essene Impact on the Shaping of Human Destiny  (Rockport, MA: Element, Inc., 1993)

Spong, John Shelby.  Jesus for the Non-Religious.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco,  2007)

Spong, John Shelby.  Why Christianity Must Change or Die.  (New York:  Harper San Francisco, 1999)

Wallis, Jim.  The Soul of Politics:  Beyond “Religious Right” and “Secular Left”.   (Harvest Book, 1995)

Wallis, Jim.  The Soul of Politics:  A Practical and Prophetic Vision for Change.   (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 1994)

Wells, G. A.  The Jesus Myth.   (Chicago:  Open Court, 1999)

White, L. Michael.  From Jesus to Christianity:  How Four Generations of Visionaries & Storytellers Created the New Testament and Christian Faith.  (New York: Harper San Francisco, 2004)

Wink, Walter.  When the Powers Fall:  Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations.   (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1998)

Wink, Walter.  Jesus and Non-Violence: A Third Way. (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press 2003)

Wright, Tom.  The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990)

As En Christo is not endowed with funds that enable it to pay for submissions (or for editors, for that matter), there is no remuneration offered for submissions of any kind.  Expenses incurred by contributors in the production of their submissions are solely their responsibility, including the purchase of books reviewed.

Dialogue is a space given to readers to converse about the issues raised by the editors and various other contributors to En Christo.  Readers are encouraged to email their responses to the writings of other readers and authors of various articles and reviews.  The editors will include your responses in the next issue.  The responses must be civil in tone and display serious intent to wrestle with the presented issues if they are to be considered for inclusion.  The editors reserve the right to edit accepted responses for length, grammar and civility. 

ХР

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 
Dialogue

 Response to John Lackey’s “A Vision for the 21st Century”
Tani Vincent

John Lackey has a concern for the failure of global economics to deliver its promise of a decent standard of living for all citizens of the earth. Global economics is a moral failure if one believes in equanimity.

Yesterday I sliced a tomato for my burger. It wasn’t that tasty. On the packaging under the English print was Italian. Across from that was ‘grown in Mexico’ and ‘distributed by Canada’. Tomatoes brought to Food City - courtesy of NAFTA.

The distributor must be making a profit if she can travel from Canada to Mexico and back with a load of hothouse tomatoes. Perhaps these tomatoes are so successful they travel to Italy. The distributor must be making a huge profit given the cost of gasoline. Probably the cost of the tomatoes is low because a lot of tomatoes can be grown in hothouses. Also it does not cost a lot to build hothouses or pay for labor in Mexico.

NAFTA seems like a good idea. How many hothouse tomatoes would Mexico export without it? NAFTA is probably very good for Canada’s economy in this instance. I’m not sure that these hothouse tomatoes are good for anyone. My guess is that Mexico neither owns the hothouses nor collects enough taxes from its workers to pay for infrastructure -- which would raise the standard of living in that country.

Mexico would probably benefit from exporting and distributing tasty, naturally grown tomatoes.  Mexico would benefit from having the knowledge and expertise to manage its own distributions.  Low wages and lack of ownership of its industries prevent Mexico from raising its standard of living.  Global economics as we are discussing it here fails.

I don’t see the good for Mexico in allowing someone to set up shop in their country and export the profits.  Food City probably sees a good for itself.  Canada is benefiting.  Who drew up this deal -- and which lawyers got well paid for it? Someone’s sweet deal smacks of unfairness and greed. There are wiser methods to achieve equanimity if that is truly what we value.

My question is -- if globalization fails to result in equanimity why are moral institutions complacent about it? Why are consumers numb? I think it is because we want to be greedy, would rather not tell ourselves the truth and we are probably gleefully preoccupied about the other sweet deals that we are taking advantage of.   

                                                                                     Tani Vincent

 

A Vision For the 21st Century
John Lackey

(Editor’s note:  The following article is from the first issue of En Christo. By John Lackey, a minister of the United Church of Christ. It is reprinted here for the convenience of the readers in following the dialogue.) 

My vision for our world in this 21st Century is a biblically sourced vision having to do with economics. Douglas Meeks, in God the Economist,[1] points out that the Greek word from which we derive economy, “oikonomia,”is a compound of  “oikos,” meaning  “household,” and  “nomos,” meaning “law” or “management of the household.” “Economy” means literally  “the management of the household.” The Bible, throughout, is about a God whose purpose is to create a household in which all of God’s creatures can find home and abundant life.  This suggests lines from the World Citizenship Creed:   “I believe in the dignity of all humanity, that each person is a being of supreme worth...I believe in the stewardship of life and resources to the end that all may mutually benefit from the earth’s bounty and that no person may have to go without food or shelter...I believe in the global community, interdependent and mutually responsible for our physical and social environments...a world where justice and compassion rule and where greed and hatred are diminished...”[2]  The chief goal of this 21st century must be to develop the potential implied in these words.

This requires an understanding of today’s system of Global Economics--why it has failed to live up to its heralded promise that, in time, all of earth’s citizens would enjoy a decent standard of living. The basic problem is that global economics is under the control of the developed nations and giant corporations, which exist for profits and not for people. Even so, as Joseph Stiglitz says in Globalization and Its Discontents,[3]  “I believe that globalization--the removal of barriers to free trade and the closer integration of national economies--can be a force for good and that it has the potential to enrich everyone in the world, particularly the poor.”

This raises some vital questions:

   (1) How did it come about that globalization became a  “domination system,” to use Walter Wink’s term?

   (2) What changes are necessary if globalization is to be transformed into a just, humane system that benefits all of the earth’s peoples and nature?

   (3) How does “outsourcing” fit into the picture?

   (4) How can the greed in human character that drives the profit motive be transformed for the sake of both the victims and the oppressors?

   (5) How can peoples of the developed nations begin to recognize how we support the system?

It seems that the needed reforms require that people around the world work together with collective action in shaping international agreements and regulating international corporations.  Global public institutions must be created to help set the rules.  Concerned world citizens need to join and support organizations that are working toward economic and environmental justice.

This kind of vision calls for a global communications system. It seems that such a system is available to us today through the World Wide Web. With global access to the Web:

   (1) There could develop a common understanding about how the global economic system works and what is needed to change it.

   (2) Workers in a given nation could share information with those in other nations about how the corporation-controlled system is affecting their lives.

   (3) Peoples involved in the struggle for justice in their homeland could enjoy encouragement and support from around the world.

   (4) Global action could be brought to bear on a local situation of injustice (refusal to pay a living wage, refusal to provide health care, damage to the environment, etc.). Peoples in other nations could write the corporation CEO with appeals for justice. When a corporation knows that the eyes of the world are on it, it may feel inclined to change its ways.

How important to the 21st century is the vision discussed here? William Sloan Coffin, in his Credo,[4] says it well: “the war against terrorism will finally be won by economic justice.   There is nothing meta-physical about terrorism. It springs from specific historical causes--political oppression and economic deprivation.  Until these injustices and our complicity and their furtherance are faced, our escalating counter violence will predictably result in more and more terrorists attacking more and more American institutions at home and abroad…”

What’s at stake in the 21st Century is world peace! This world must become a household in which all of God’s creatures find home and abundant life.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Dialog with Dale (Episcopal theologian)

 

Dear Jim    

Thanks for sending us the initial copy of your reincarnated En Christo -- but no thanks.  I want you to know (something you may have guessed from the last couple of face to face conversations we have had) that I have no sympathy for efforts to jettison elements of theism and other things from the mainstream tradition of Christianity going back to the Apostles, especially for the reason that they are not believable to enlightened, educated persons of our day.  It is not just a matter of lack of sympathy on my part.  It is as much or more a matter of intellectual conscience and what in older traditions of Christian spirituality would be called "the witness of the Spirit."  The host of authors you list among the books you would like to have reviewed for your journal, most of whom I know you identify with, do not stand up to serious challenge by the most respected of biblical scholars (despite their recent popularity in the media).  Among other things, they are frequently deliberately obfuscating and caricaturing about elements in the tradition for which they have no sympathy.  They write and do their research with biasing presuppositions and tend to flaunt them as something to be proud of.  That, to say the least, is a fault of lack of charity.  As an example of a respected Biblical scholar whom I respect, I suggest that you take a look at Craig Evan's Fabricating Jesus, which presents a critical serious examination of quite a number of these figures.  Evans is not alone.  (The temptation among these writers is to dismiss Evan's and others' criticisms as manifesting an unreflecting traditionalism or fundamentalism.  That is simply untrue and an ad hominem attack.)  I am concerned more for the resulting confusion among ordinary folks and complete lack of sympathy among these writers toward ordinary, non-intellectual saints in traditional churches and toward the hunger among contemporary young people for genuine life transforming, truly Spirit empowered Christian spirituality.  I do not find genuine saints produced by this modern/post-modern deconstruction and reformation of the Christian tradition.  I know and have known saints produced by the traditional mainstream of Christian spirituality.  By their fruits you shall know them.

Grace and peace,

Dale 

=================================================================================

Dear Dale

I was not unaware of your conservative theology, and that is precisely the reason I chose to send you this “reincarnation” of En Christo, though I must admit to being quite surprised that you believe in reincarnation.  Seriously though, I do value your response despite our perceived differences, differences that however real may not be a great as they first appear.  I sent En Christo to you because I know you to be an excellent scholar whose judgment I respect.  One of the objects of this reincarnation is to stimulate dialog.  Early returns indicate that in this I may have succeeded.

You probably know more of my theological history than most, but to refresh your memory and perhaps fill in some gaps, please allow me to go over some of the points along the way and then respond to some of your observations.

When I came to Christ at age 16 it was for me a dramatic and transformative event that would forever change my life.  It was a personal encounter that had almost no theological attachments.  I believed then and I believe now that somehow in Christ I had met the transcendent God, though I would not have even known the word “transcendent.”  It was a personal, and I would have to say now, a deeply mystical experience.  And to this day that mystery has continued.  That first encounter made such an indelible impression on me that I resolved then to get to know this Jesus as well as I possibly could.  That resolve has continued to this day with such things along the way as the publication of the first En Christo and the pursuit of my Master’s degree in Christology, and beyond that reading everything I could find that might shed some additional light on the identity of Jesus.  I have read scholarly works, and a lot of others in the more mystical vein, ranging widely in their perspectives on Jesus.

In past years some of the most memorable and helpful have been Jesus the Jew by Geza Vermes, Jewish historian from Oxford; Jesus of Nazareth by Gΰnther Bornkamm, Heidelberg University; Recovering the Christ by John Yungblut, Quaker mystic and theologian; The Christology of the New Testament by Oscar Cullman, University of Basel and the Sorbonne; Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography by John Dominic Crossan, DePaul University—I could easily name a hundred others of similar caliber, though regrettably Craig Evans, Fabricating Jesus is not one of them.

Authors whose books I am currently reading or, in some cases, rereading, include Bart Ehrman of University of North Carolina and published by Oxford University Press; Matthew Fox, Catholic mystic; John Shelby Spong, of your own Episcopal communion; and a neighbor of yours, Marcus Borg from Oregon State University.   I would hasten to say that just because I read a book does not always mean that I agree with everything the author says.  This is certainly true of my reading of Spong’s books even though I appreciate his willingness to break new ground in the pursuit of truth and his effort to, at the same time, maintain his fidelity to the person of Jesus.

None of the above would I characterize by your description as “deliberately obfuscating and caricaturing” a tradition for which they have no sympathy.  The one author that I suspect you find least appealing is Bishop Spong, who in his attitude and respect for Jesus, I find remarkably close to my own.  In my reading one thing I try to discern is the bias of the particular author, particularly whether their bias is for Jesus or against him, whether they are sympathetic or hostile to Jesus.  (The latter I typically put down without finishing.)  Every author has a bias, and depending on the strength of the bias, his or her scholarship is to that extent skewed.  I try to be sensitive to that.  I expect that particularly in religious writing it is not possible to write without bias, no matter how objective a person tries to be.  But I find the biases are generally easy to identify.  One of the things that immediately turns me off to a writer is ad hominem attacks, but in my reading it is much more often the case that the writers themselves are the objects of such attacks rather than the perpetuators of them.

Perhaps one of the things that disturbs me the most about our contemporary church is the lack of any commitment to the Jesus I have come to know.  I gather you see this as a result of the writings that present a different Jesus from that of mainstream evangelicalism.  I tend to think that it is more likely the result of ordinary intelligent Christians seeing the discrepancy between the teachings of evangelical Christianity and the lives of those teachers.  To teach that God (and Jesus, by association) is a God of love, and then to practice hate and endorse war, and to preach a gospel of exclusivity that borders on bigotry, seems to me to be much more confusing than the writings of any devoted scholar in his or her pursuit of truth.

As for “saints produced by the traditional mainstream of Christian spirituality” I would contend that it was indeed their spirituality, not theology, traditional or otherwise, that produced them.  It is the living experience of Christ within that produces saints, and that irrespective of the theologies they espouse.  I believe that all of us are saints, albeit some are much less mature than others.  I simply have to trust that the Spirit of God will continue to do his work in me and in others as we strive to know him better.

Dale, I would like to pursue this conversation if you are up for it.  I would also like to include it in En Christo if you are agreeable.  I do not have to reveal your identity if you would prefer to write anonymously.

 

Jim  (Editor, En Christo)   

================================================================

 Dialog with Dan Robinson

 

Jim,

Received your email. Very puzzled. " Non-theistic Christianity " You list Borg's books among those that you would like reviews of --- I think that I know something of the nature of John Lackey - if his understanding of " Agape " does not represent something of a " Theistic " nature then I am very, very confused. The others that you sent the email to today - I really do not know how it will be received. You want dialogue?   It may be only a fraction of a mustard seed, but....

 For now . . ..

May I be free from fear.
May I be peaceful.
May I be healed.
May I dwell in peace.

Dan

==================================================================

Thanks, Dan

Yes!  I definitely want dialogue, publishable dialogue, preferably well considered and definitely civil, meaning no personal attacks.  But to engage people in thoughtful theological discourse will, I hope, be to the benefit of us all.

In regards to my use of the term "non-theistic" as applied to Jesus, one thing I am saying is that Jesus is not God.  I would also say that God is not God in the way we normally think about God.  In my study and reflection I have known for a long time that our attempts to define God as a being, thus as a person, is a hopelessly flawed and impossible endeavor.

God is not a being.  He and She is Being itself, and said as much through the Old Testament assertion of the "I AM".  Humankind has consistently tried to reduce God to our own image, instead of the other way around.  God is the Ground of Being, to use Tillich's phrase, the ground of whatever is.

When we factor Jesus into this mix by saying that Jesus is God and vice versa, then we are simply perpetuating the idea that God is a being, much like us, only bigger.  There are other problems with this theology as well.  1.  If Jesus is God, in the sense of a being, then that effectively removes all hope of my successfully emulating Jesus in my own life.  He has, as it were, a non-competitive advantage.  2.  I do not believe that Jesus, himself, believed that he was God.  That the biblical writers attributed divinity to Jesus, and increasingly so the further they got from him, is clear. But to be divine is not the same thing as being God.  3. That the early church did not believe Jesus to be God is also clear.  It was not until 325 CE that the formulation in the form of the Nicene Creed was accepted by a razor thin majority of bishops, and even then it was through a political process as mean and sordid and violent as any I can imagine.  The way they came to their conclusion does nothing to inspire credibility for their conclusion.  4.  Not surprisingly, the Council of Nicea did not settle the matter.  They apparently did not know that minds and hearts were not changed by coercion, just as we have not yet learned, given our propensity to try to settle our differences through war. The controversy continued to rage on up through the 6th century.  5. Even today there is not agreement.  Many Asian Christians, for example, do not think of Jesus as God.

To say that Jesus is not God is not to say that he is not divine, not to say that his role is not a redemptive one.  It is to say, however, that one of his roles was to show us who we are and what our potential is.  After all, it was Jesus who said, according to the author of the Gospel of John, that we would do the things he did, and even greater, (John 14).  That would hardly be the case if he were God. 

Jim

P.S.-- The books for which I seek reviews were chosen because they potentially open up new vistas in the way we think about Jesus.  To wrestle with what any author says is not necessarily to agree with everything he says.  It is in the wrestling that we engage the possibility of change, and thus life.  For that reason, I do not list books that merely endorse the status quo, though I would certainly invite the review of conservative works that honestly address the issues on which we are focusing.

Be sure to read my articles on Loving with the Love of Jesus, which is definitely divine and Godly and demonstrated by Jesus and, I agree, seen in John Lackey, but not theistic, again because it makes of God a person like us, only bigger.  This will be a continuing feature of En Christo and one which I hope will serve to help clear some of the confusion about Godly Love.

In Christ's Love,

Jim

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Series Article:

“Some Thoughts About Global Economics From a Christian Perspective”

NO.1 “Oikonomia

By John Lackey

Claude Monet sometimes engaged in “serial painting.” That is, he painted different versions of the same subject, from different angles or different lights. For example, he did three paintings from a balcony of the Savoy Hotel on the river Thames, from three main viewpoints. In each painting he had a different end in view.

            Similarly, these days those in power regard the global economy from different perspectives, with different ends in mind. Some regard the global economy from a socialist perspective, some from a capitalist perspective, some from an imperialist perspective, most in the U.S. from a market perspective.

            Then what is the Christian perspective on the global economy? For my understanding, the answer is spelled out in Douglas Meeks’ book, God The Economist. Meeks points out that the Greek word from which we derive “economy” is “oikonomia,” a compound of “oikos”, household, and “nomos”, law or management. The Christian perspective on the global economy begins with the notion of God as The Economist, and, says Meeks, “God’s purpose is to transform the world into a household in which all of God’s creatures can find abundant life” (p.24). Meeks acknowledges that “there is, of course, no scientific economic theory in the modern sense in the Bible, even though the Bible is centrally concerned with economy” (p.3).

            I contend that in this perspective on the global economy lies the best direction for building a just, peaceful, and humane global economy.

 

Series Article —On Loving with the Love of Jesus

No. 2--All Love Is of God
By James L. Foster

If it is love, it is of God, for God is love.  She created it.1   She herself loves her creation, and she has created us to image her Love.  Often the question is asked, “Why did God create us in the first place?”  The implication is, of course, that in creating humankind, God bought herself a lot of trouble.  “Wouldn’t it have been a lot easier just to let well enough alone?”  Such questions forget, however, that the very essence of God is Love.  God so loved the world that she created it.  We were conceived in the mind of God, yes; but even more important, we were conceived in her heart.  In a very real sense, God needed us.  She needed someone to receive her Love.  We were created to fill that need. 

That  “someone” God needed had to be someone who shared God’s identity.  So she made us in her image.  She made us male and female, both in her image. God is both.  If you look closely at your brothers and sisters you will indeed see the Divine image.  It is there certainly for the eyes of faith, but it is also there for the eyes of reason.  I have never met anyone in whom the image of God is totally obliterated.  Though often hidden, sometimes buried under years of rebellion, it can still be glimpsed at unguarded moments even in the most wretched of persons.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

1 Because we have no pronouns in our language to easily express the gender neutrality of God, the author has chosen, on some occasions, to use feminine instead of masculine pronouns.

Often the most obvious indication of God’s image is love—not necessarily agape, but love none-the-less.  Even narcissistic love reflects the image, however imperfectly. 

The capacity to love anything or anyone at all is a reflection of the creating Love of God. 

Thus, the child who loves a parent and the parent a child, and the love of one’s spouse

and the love of a friend, sexual love and brotherly love—all loves point to the Creator of love and through the love we can see her.

When the love we see in another is agape, the Creator can be seen clearly indeed.  Agape is that with which God loves us.  When we open ourselves not only to be the recipients of it, but also to be channels for it, we thereby lay claim to our shared identity with God.  The Divine stamp returns with something approaching the clarity with which humankind was created in the beginning.  How God’s heart must beat with excitement and joy when the creation of her heart comes into its own.

It is this possibility of revealing the Love of God that she opened up for us when she “sent her only begotten Son, that whoever ‘faiths’ into her should not perish…”  (John 3:16).  God so loved us that she not only created us, she gave her Son to redeem us.  By my arithmetic that makes us twice hers.  The fact is that agape never gives up.  We are every one drawn by the Love of God.  We can resist it, we can deny it, and we can run from it, but we can never escape it.  It is simply the nature of Divine Love to pursue its object forever.  Does this mean beyond the grave?  I think it does.

We cannot really appreciate “what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and…know the Love of Christ” until we are “filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19).  But that is precisely what God is doing.  She is filling us with herself!  The more room we give her by emptying ourselves of alienating self-will, the more God fills us with herself.  Simple—but oh so hard.  We do not die to self easily.  The image of God comes hard, but it comes.  God loves us too much to let us stop halfway to the goal.

What is God doing?  The Apostle Paul tells us in a few words: “We all,” he says,  “with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory (the demonstrated presence) of the Lord, are transfigured into the same image from glory to glory (from one demonstration of her presence to another), even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (II Corinthians 3:18).  What do we see when we look in a mirror?  Our own reflection.  But Paul says we see the demonstrated presence of the Lord.  He says further that the transforming process is still going on.  God is not finished with us yet.  The Greek word Paul uses which is translated “transfigured” is metamorphometha, a term transliterated into English as “metamorphosis.”  I get the picture of a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly.  We are in a process not unlike the butterfly, at least symbolically.  The difference is that we are returning to our original condition, though it is no more familiar to us than the butterfly is to a caterpillar.

Through Jesus Christ, God herself is transforming us.  She is restoring her image in us.  We do nothing but let her do it.  When we try to help we always get in the way.  She who made us in the first place is quite capable of remaking us without our help.  She is loving us back into herself, and like the butterfly we, too, will fly--even in this life if we don’t hang on to our old cocoons.

There comes a time in this re-creative metamorphosis, a time when we have genuinely let go of our old selves, that we are no longer in control of our lives and our journey into Love proceeds without any slackening.  This happens when we surrender once-and–forever our will to God.  Only when we no longer have a will of our own will God complete her work of Love in us.  We begin to live out the Love of God.  We increasingly embody Divinity itself as God perfects her beautiful work of Love in us.

In this restoration of her Love in and through us—this restoration of her image—we experience “the breadth and length and depth and height” of agape.  We find that there is no expression of love that is not of her.  Its breadth encompasses the whole.  Thus, for example, the biblical use of sexual imagery of God’s Love for us is not just poetic license.  Divine Love includes sexual love.  It is also Love of self and Love of brother and sister.  If it is love, it is of God.

We also find the reach of agape is unequaled by any other phenomena.  There is no person anywhere to whom the Divine Love does not reach.  As we experience it, we may not ourselves be able to express it concretely to each and every person in the world, but the Love is there and if it were possible to enfold the whole world in our loving embrace we would do so.

We find the depth of agape to be unfathomable.  There is no one so depraved that we will not reach out to him or her.  We do not hesitate to live out God’s Love in the foulest and meanest of circumstances.  We do not draw back from sharing the poverty of another if by so doing we can better express the Love of God. 

We also discover, when we become Love, the sublime height to which it reaches, for it reaches to God herself.  Our joy in her is unparalleled, our desire to please her untarnished by selfish ambition.  We live for God and God alone.

It will happen.  We will know the Love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge.  We will both experience it and be it, by the grace of God.  May her grace work quickly in our lives.  There is a world on our doorstep that needs all the Lovers it can get.

 

Series Article #2, Late Night Notes on the World Citizenship Creed

 

            What is World Citizenship?  The first definition of “citizen” given in Webster’s New World Dictionary is “a native or inhabitant…of a town or city.”  The second is similar, but broader; “a native or inhabitant…of any place.”    It is this second definition that justifies its use in conjunction with “world.”  To speak of  “citizenship” is to speak of “a person’s conduct as a citizen” (also from Webster’s).

The World Citizenship Creed (see appendix, p. 28) is offered as a possible code of conduct for those of us who have recognized that the world with its ease in communication, its entangled economics and its prolific cultural exchanges has become since the 1990’s the preeminent “place” of which we are citizens.  Its thesis is that our primary place of citizenship must be the world.  To claim as primary any part of the world – state, territory, tribe, or nation – is shortsighted and courts disaster.  All of us the world over are so interdependent and connected that no other human allegiance rises to the level of importance as that of this world in which we live.

 

I believe in the dignity of all humanity, that each person is a being of supreme worth.

By James L. Foster

            What is the worth of a person?  The answer will differ from person to person depending on one’s religion, one’s culture, and one’s psychological and philosophical antecedents.  Some religions teach that human beings are worth little more than worms, or as chaff that is blown away by the wind.  The Christian and Jewish teachings about the fall of humankind in the beginning leads some to the conclusion that sin has so corrupted the human race that even God rues the day that he created us.

In some cultures a person has value only as part of a collective group identity, the individual important only as a contributing member of a society.  Individuals are expendable in the interest of the common good.  This is seen particularly in times of war when the young men of a warring state are called on to give their lives in defense of the nation-state.  Suicide bombers exhibit a similar conduct as they willingly kill themselves in behalf of their religious group or political ideology.

Others may discount their own worth because they have grown up hearing nothing but how bad and how worthless they are.   Low self-esteem is learned by children from the authority figures in their lives.  Parents and teachers and institutions that are long on criticism and short on love raise children who are likewise critical and unloving.  The victims of this psychological abuse are in turn often critical of themselves and their children in a self-perpetuating downward spiral.  Society joins in this travesty by creating so-called justice systems that are designed to further dehumanize the victims of childhood abuse.

            This litany of negativity could go on and on and for a variety of reasons, such as poverty, displacement, rejection, greed, prejudice and injustice, but there are other ways to conceptualize the worth of a human being that arrive at dramatically different conclusions.

            In the Jewish and Christian traditions there is the understanding that human beings are created in the image of God.  The Catholic theologian Matthew Fox writes of “original blessing” in place of  “original sin.”  To be created in God’s image is to be created good, and the Creator in the Genesis creation myth is said to have proclaimed his creation of humankind as “very good.”  It is this image of God in all of us, this spark of divinity, that has often been overlooked in subsequent theological speculations.  But not always.  The Psalmist proclaims that to be human is to be a “little less than God.”  And in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes that God’s work in us is to the end that we will manifest God’s presence. (2 Corinthians 3:18)  Just because we may be ignorant of what God is doing in us or ignorant of the goodness with which we entered the world, does not mean that God has changed his mind about us.  God has the last word, and that word is that he will finish what he started in me, in you and in every other human being.

            If we look for the image of God in each other, we will see it.  We will see it even in the most depraved individuals.  We will see it in the poor and starving refugees fleeing the violence of their nations.  We will see it in the eyes of malnourished and dying children.  We will see God’s image in our neighbors and in those of other races.  We will see God’s image in the Jew, the Hindu, the Muslim, the Bahai, and the Buddhist.  We will even see it in the atheist.  We will see his image in our own children.  We will see it in ourselves.  This is why I believe in the dignity of all humanity, that each person is a being of supreme worth, because when I look at a person—any person--I see God. 

ХР

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Book Reviews:

The following two books were chosen from among reviews written some years ago for a print edition of En Christo because each one, in its own way, points to the kind of change required of Christianity, if it is to be the dynamic and relevant faith espoused by its founder.

Dorr, Donal.  Spirituality and Justice.  New York:  Orbis, 1985.  264 pages, paperback.

Donal Dorr’s Spirituality and Justice is critical reading for constructive involvement in the vital issue of world community, and will provide an invaluable tool for the professional or layman who is serious about the churches role in society and it’s mission to persons and structures beyond it’s borders.  Dorr, a Catholic missionary priest, has taught philosophy and theology in Ireland and has worked extensively in Africa and Latin America.

Here the reader will find a positive and nonthreatening approach to issues that tend to polarize the Christian community: “personal” vs. “social” Gospel, conservative vs. liberal, “ spiritual” vs. materialistic or political mission.  Dorr removes the antagonistic flavor these issues usually incur by a reasoned approach to analysis and perspective that gives the reader a basis for thinking and rethinking his or her position.

Dorr links spirituality with justice.  These two images are essential to Biblical faith, to a Christian understanding of humanity, and to human self-understanding.  The book is pastoral in the sense that there is an honest attempt to understand and be with the reader through the writer’s rich experience in the church and in the midst of struggle.  He never talks down to us and he treats technical material, whether religious or secular, with competence and yet in highly readable form.  He is able to do this because he is not out to prove his point so much as to seek with the reader deeper understanding and more effective involvement, to be a part of the healing process.  A primary strength of this writing is that it does not stop with analysis but offers viable options for action.

The value of this book is not so much in offering solutions as in providing perspective.  I commend it as a helpful resource that will move us beyond the established position; the prejudice and labeling that leave us divided and ineffective.  Dorr invites us into understandings that feed and enrich our spirituality through more comprehensive and effective involvement in the whole community.

It has been said that whatever failure is assigned the church today, the essential failure is not in commitment or purpose, but in analysis.  To do the right thing for the wrong reason or the wrong thing for the right reason are ineffective means to questionable ends.  Some such resource as Spirituality and Justice is necessary to know where and how the church stands in the world today.

                                                              Ken Caraway, reviewer

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Boff, Leonardo.  Passion of Christ, Passion of the World.  English translation by Robert R. Barr.  Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1987.  141 pages, paperback.

            Liberation theology has its exegetes.  Leonardo Boff is a Brazilian Franciscan who has been among the leaders in defining the Biblical basis, the “theology” of liberation theology.  Once called to account by Rome, Leonardo Boff most recently (after the disastrous floods of February 1988) has also been among those religionists willing to practice what they preach.  On this occasion he endured arrest for encouraging favelhados, washed out of their shanty homes, to resettle on vacant land near Petropolis.

            Boff’s Passion of Christ, ten years old in Brazil, has only in 1987 translated to English.  It is admittedly partisan in view.  Citing the theological division of Christology at Chalcedon in 451, Boff has chosen to follow the strand of Jesus’ humanity as being the one most meaningful for the poor and exploited people of the earth.  He says, “What I am attempting here is an exploration of the meaning of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for the context of our contemporary faith circumstances.”  He adds, “…that locus is the situation of captivity and resistance in which so many human beings live today—a locus very near that from which Jesus of Nazareth looked out upon his own historical reality.”  In other words, pretty grim.

            Boff, following St. Francis, finds “God precisely in Jesus’ total, complete humanity…to the extent we take the incarnation absolutely seriously…as the total evacuation of dignity—to the same extent we shall accept ourselves, with all our fragility and misery, without shame or humiliation.”  He rejects negative interpretations of the cross and takes a positive approach.  “Jesus suffered and died in a struggle with the objective causes of suffering and death, then and now.”  But, “The glory of God does not consist in human suffering, deprivation, spoliation, and daily crucifixion.  The glory of God consists in human life and human happiness.”

            Boff develops a kind of social theology but sometimes at the expense of Jesus’ presence within the individual.  That, perhaps, is the cost of the social interpretation of the message of Jesus Christ: the corporate problems of humanity tend to supersede individual problems of human existence.  The implication is that human interaction should be the modus operandi of Christ in the world today.  “Through conversion,” Boff writes, “human beings, in the very act of welcoming the novelty of new hope for this world, cooperate in its renovation, by what they build in the way of political, social, and personal mediations.”  So Boff sees the love of Jesus beginning with individual conversion but as needing to act corporately.  The point is important because it is probably the main point of misunderstanding between North American individualistic religiosity and Latin American Christian collectivism.  The fear of religious (or any other) collectivism becoming a power trip is almost traumatic to North American democracy.  Yet, remember that Latin American theology sees North America as subservient to materialistic (capitalistic) power.

            All power trips are potentially evil.  Boff understands this well enough when he writes that “power as domination is essentially diabolical—totally contrary to the mystery of God.”

            Boff is more attuned with the individual when he notes that, “Salvation comes by way of our neighbor.  The purpose of religion is …to establish in us a permanent orientation to genuine love of the other—in whom, incognito, God is hidden…” So the expression of Jesus within and through the individual is a matter of extroversion not introversion.

            Boff avers that, “No authority, not even ecclesiastical authority, that asserts itself independently of the community of the faithful can lay claim to a share in Jesus’ authority.”  The disturbing question is, who defines the “community of the faithful” that has now become so very exclusive?  Is it limited to the totally destitute of the earth?  Or just to that minority fraction of the destitute who happen to have heard of Christianity?

            Perhaps the key for all professing Christians, regardless of their state of existence, is to be found in love and nonviolence.  As Boff states, “Renunciation of the structures and machinations of hatred is not the same as renunciation of opposition.  Jesus opposed, disputed, argued—but not…with the use of violence…Love has its own efficacy…and the certitude that the future belongs to right, justice, love, and a communion of sisters and brothers, and not to oppression, revenge, and injustice.”

            Boff explores, in biblical exegesis, Jesus’ death as a crime and the question of how Jesus interpreted his own death.  Boff insists, “…there is no historically textual evidence for a consciousness or knowledge on the part of the historical Jesus of his approaching death”  (But certainly Jesus was aware, Boff notes elsewhere, that he risked death).  “Jesus preached not himself but the reign of God… The reign of God did not mean another world, but this world.”  Boff is concerned with Jesus’ life:  “It is Jesus’ whole life that is redemptive.  His death is redemptive only in its identity as part of his life.

            I will conclude with a sketch of Liberation theology, a summary of the way I think Leonardo Boff sees it.  Our total lives are in solidarity with the life of Jesus Christ, and his with ours.  Jesus’ death was a part of his life, which was totally transcendent.  Jesus’ life (including his death) was a liberating life, a life liberated from the fear of death.  Jesus’ life was love made concrete and a promise of his continuing presence, within us and among us, as a real as opposed to abstract, receptor of our love.  God intended, through the mediation of Jesus Christ, that human existence on earth be happy and free.

            I want to share one last quotation.  It is a cry that rings through the writings of many liberation theologians that I have read.  It is the keystone of the movement and the reason that Liberation theology will no doubt live and thrive and prevail in our troubled world:  “Death is vanquished when it ceases to be the terrifying specter that prevents us from living and proclaiming the truth.”

                                                                    Glen Lloyd Foster, reviewer

 ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 Spong, John Shelby.  A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born.  (New York:  Harper San                                   Francisco, 2000), ISBN: 0-06-067084-3 (hardcover), 255 pp. 

JOHN SHELBY SPONG is the Bishop of Newark, retired.  His academic credentials include: A.B., University of North Carolina, Degree in Philosophy, Minor in Zoology, Phi Beta Kapp; and M.Div., Virginia Theological Seminary.  He has held teaching positions at Chautauqua Institution: Chautauqua, NY - (5 times); Vancouver School of Theology, University of British Columbia (3 times); Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA, 1999; University of Alberta, Edmonton, St. Stephen’s College (3 times); Alaska Pacific University, Anchorage, AK, 1998; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, William Belden Nobel Lecturer, 2000.  He is the author of fourteen books and co-author of three.

Reviewed by Rev. John Lackey

     To me, developing a faith worthy of one’s life is like an artist who is working on a life-long project. The project begins in one’s childhood church, which provides young artists with a “coloring book,” the drawings all printed out on paper and numbers indicating colors. Many believers never get much beyond this stage. But some artists, more daring and thoughtful, insist on doing their own sketches and choosing their own colors. They are constantly stepping back to view their work with a critical eye, always using the brush to add to, paint over, or change the scene.  Such artists are never completely satisfied with their work, and they are humble enough to seek suggestions from more accomplished artists.

    There is no better source for such helpful suggestions than the writings of John Shelby Spong.  Indeed, in his 2001 book, A New Christianity For A New World, Spong seems to be suggesting that we best discard our paintings and start over!  Thus the sub-title of the book: “Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born.”  He argues that “traditional faith as we usually conceive it is sorely limited, with outmoded beliefs that take a toll on human life.” He insists that we begin our faith paintings with the understanding “that God and one’s way of understanding God are never the same.”  That’s why we must be always stepping back from our paintings to see where changes are called for.

     Some of Spong’s suggestions for radical changes in the way most of us have done our faith paintings are as follows:

(1) Spong agrees with Robert Funk, who says: “We have been betrayed by the Bible. In the half-century just ending, there is belated recognition that biblically based Christianity has espoused causes that no thinking person or caring person is any longer willing to endorse”(persecution of Jews and witches, black slavery, suppression of women, a male dominated self-serving clergy, etc).  Spong adds, “The new reformation will not require Christians to abandon the Bible, but it will require that we remove from the Bible the tribal claims and the literalness that have so often been attached to Scripture.”

(2) He insists that the theistic God of traditional Christianity has got to go. We must learn “to talk of a post-theistic God...not a being but the Ground of Being.” That is, we must move beyond theism, but not beyond God.

(3) He argues that Christianity has traditionally interpreted the death of Jesus as a sacrifice offered to God in payment for our sinfulness. He asks, “Is such a God, Who requires a bloody human sacrifice before He can forgive sinners, worthy of worship?

(4) He says that a “fall in Eden” is not our condition. Rather we are simply incomplete, “a work in progress.” “The next step in evolutionary human development is selfless love.” That is, “In Jesus we are called to be what we human beings have not yet ever been--a humanity without barriers.” Thus in Jesus God calls us to a new humanity, a New Being.

(5) He says that Christianity needs to be set free from its exclusiveness, for the God disclosed in Jesus is a God Whose love is unconditional and all-embracing. Thus “No sacred scripture of any religious tradition can any longer claim that in its pages the fullness of God has been captured...The idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved, has become anathema...” We must also realize that ecclesiastical creeds “never capture the truth of God, all they can do is point to it.”

(6) He asserts that Jesus is not God, but a discloser of God. As such he is “the standard by which we are to measure the God-presence in any other.”

     One may not agree with everything in Spong’s portrait of “a new Christianity for a new world.” But his portrait is worthy of an honest look. He just might be the more accomplished artist whose suggestions could make our own faith paintings a truer work.

                                                                                                John Lackey

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Rubenstein, Richard E. When Jesus Became God:  The Epic Fight over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome (New York:  Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999, 267 pages including Index and copious end notes

Dr. Rubenstein is a professor of Conflict Resolution and Public Affairs at George Mason University, where he specializes in analyzing violent social and religious conflict.  He is a graduate of Harvard College (B.A. 1959, magna cum laude in History and Literature); Oxford University (M.A. 1961, Honours School of Jurisprudence, Rhodes Scholar) and Harvard Law School ( J.D. 1963).

This reviewer has known for many years that the process by which the early Church determined its theology was a political one, and by today’s standards, a sordid one. It was power politics.  Those who had the most power got to determine the theology of the fledgling Church. However, I did not know a lot of the historical details that support that conclusion.  Reading Rubenstein’s account of those days--of who had the power, and how it was exercised—has come as a bit of a shock.  Civil discourse was not a part of the story.

The focus of the book is on the Arian controversy, which spanned the better part of two centuries.  This was a controversy about the nature of Jesus Christ.  Was he God or was he a spiritually astute human anointed by God but neither one with God nor an equal.  The early Church bishops were fairly evenly divided on the question.  Arian, from whom the controversy got its name, was a priest in Alexandria, Egypt.  As a mere priest, he had little power, but he was an able exponent of the view that Jesus was subordinate to the Father but was not of the same substance with him.  Supporting him in this theology were many of the Eastern bishops, i.e. those who were situated around the eastern half of the Mediterranean world.

The Western bishops, those situated to the west of Constantinople, were for the most part supporters of the theology that Jesus and God the Father were essentially of the same substance.

“Faced with the problem that had confronted all Christians since St. Paul—how to be a monotheist believing in only one God, yet still worship Jesus Christ—Arius advanced the view that Jesus was a creature intermediary between man and God…  All Christians believed that Jesus’ sacrifice redeemed humanity.  What God did for the Son by resurrecting him and granting him immortality He could do for us as well, provided that we became new people in Christ.  But if Jesus was not God by nature—if he earned his deification by growing in wisdom and virtue—why, so can we all.  The Good News of the Gospels is that we also are God’s potential Sons and Daughters.  How, then, is Christ essentially different from or superior to us?  And if he is not, what does it mean to call ourselves Christians?” (pp. 55-56)  These were questions that demanded answers.  The answers given by Arius and his bishops in Alexandria--at first Bishop Alexander, and later his successor, Bishop Athanasius—were poles apart.

Civil discourse was apparently never considered a viable way to resolve the conflict.  Instead, Arius’ bishops resorted to strong-arm tactics, each having gangs of street thugs whose job it was to beat their opponents into submission.  Arius and some of his followers were forced to flee into the desert to escape bodily injury and possible death.  At the same time there were other bishops in other cities who were rallying to the support of Arius.  Riots spurred by street fighters spread to other cities, leaving paths of destruction in their wake.  It appeared the whole fabric of Roman society was being ripped apart.

Into this volatile mix, early in the fourth century, steps the recently converted Roman emperor, Constantine.  Ultimately it was Constantine who held the position of power, so each side in the controversy appealed to him for support of their particular theology.  The problem for Constantine was that he was no theologian, and he tended to side with whoever was talking to him at the moment.  The thing that Constantine wanted most was peace in the empire, and he had hoped that Christianity could be the instrument to bring it about.  To this end he convened the bishops from all over the empire at his summer residence on the Lake of Nicaea near Nicomedia in Asia Minor, what is now modern day Turkey.  The council began in May of 325 with 250 bishops in attendance.

“Constantine’s great hope was to convene a conference that would end the bishops’ bitter wrangling and begin an era of harmony in the Church.” (p. 69) It was not to be, in spite of the fact that “Constantine was in a position strongly to influence—perhaps even to dictate—the course of events at Nicaea.” (p. 71) The bishops staked out their positions…  “the strongest anti-Arians experienced their present as a sharp break with the past.  It was they who demanded, in effect, that Christianity be “updated” by blurring or even obliterating the long-accepted distinction between the Father and the Son.

“From the perspective of our own time, it may seem strange to think of Arian ‘heretics’ as conservatives, but emphasizing Jesus’ humanity and God’s transcendent otherness had never seemed heretical in the East.  On the contrary, subordinating the Son to the Father was a rational way of maintaining one’s belief in a largely unknowable, utterly singular First Cause while picturing Christ as a usable model of human moral development.” (p. 74)

Constantine came down on the side of the anti-Arians, and the Nicene Creed, an amended version of which is still repeated in churches today, was the result.  “Several later gatherings would be more representative of the entire Church; one of them, the joint council of Rimini-Seleucia (359), was attended by more than five hundred bishops from both East and West…but its result—the adoption of an Arian creed—was later repudiated by the Church.

Unity was not achieved.  Theology did not change as a result of the councils.  Those who sided with Arius continued to do so.  The anti-Arians dug in their heels even deeper, refusing to even acknowledge the legitimacy of the Arian bishops.  Constantine continued to flip-flop in his efforts to unify the empire.  He died May 22, 337, but the Arian controversy did not die with him.  Rubenstein continues the story through the Great Council of Chalcedon (451 CE).

 He concludes, “Soon, most of the Eastern world would come under the domination of a new religion offering another interpretation of Jesus’ nature and mission.  The Islamic Jesus was not the incarnate God of Nicene Christianity or the superangelic Son of the Arians. In the view of the Muslim conquerors, he was a divinely inspired man:  a spiritual genius ranking with the greatest prophets, Moses and Muhammad himself…With the ascension of Islam, Arianism as a discrete religious philosophy disappeared in the East as well as in the West.  But the great questions that had generated the controversy over Jesus’ divinity remained—and remain yet—to haunt the imagination and provoke the conscience of humankind.” (pp. 230-231)

If we have learned anything from the past, it should be that one’s beliefs cannot be changed by violence.  Truth is neither validated nor invalidated by coercion, political power, theological wrangling, or ecclesiastical mandates.  Rubenstein’s very readable, detailed and well-documented account can serve well as a reminder of our past and of the highly tenuous theological conclusions we have inherited.  Thus the debate continues, but please, may it at least be civil.

                                                            Jim Foster, reviewer

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Amaladoss, Michael, The Asian Jesus, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2006; 180 pp, including Endnotes, Bibliography, and Indexes.

Michael Amaladoss, S.J., a native of South India, is a professor of theology at Vidyajyoti College in Delhi and director of the Institute for Dialogue with Cultures and Religions in Chennai.  Among his books and articles is Life in Freedom: Liberation Theologies From Asia (Orbis).  With a special interest in intercultural and interreligious dialogue and spirituality, Amaladoss has been a consultant to the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Other Religions and to the World Council of Churches. He also has served as the president of the International Association for Mission Studies.  He is the author of 20 books and more than 300 articles in various languages.

Reviewed by Jim Foster

            Occasionally one picks up a book that proves to be an unexpected breath of fresh air.  For this reviewer The Asian Jesus turned out to be such a book.  It is written, I believe with two audiences in mind—the Asian religious (though not necessarily just Christians) and Western Christians. For the former he supplies a great deal of material, including a few entire chapters, about perspectives on Christianity that are not unique to Asian Christianity.  For the latter, however, the preponderance of material is quite unique to Asians, this in large part because of the cultural and religious milieu in which the Christian faith has developed, often without the overwhelming influence of Western missionaries.  (Though Amaladoss nowhere makes this assertion, his description of the Asian cultural and religious influences on biblical interpretation certainly strongly imply that this is the case.)

            The Asian perspective that Amaladoss unfolds is formulated in terms of a number of images of Jesus that Asians incorporate into their understanding of the Gospel accounts of his life and ministry.  These include the images of the Way (Tao), Guru, Moral Teacher (advaita), avatar, satyagrahi, and bodhisattva.  (There are others that Amaladoss discusses at some length—for example, sage, servant, dancer, pilgrim--but these are more conventional portrayals common to both Eastern and Western traditions.)

The Tao:  The term Tao is used in both the Taoist and Confucian traditions in China and means simply, “the way.”  In India, one would use the term marga, and Buddha spoke of the eightfold path.   “It is in this context that we must understand the way proposed by Jesus.  He does not indulge in any metaphysical speculations… The framework of Jesus is a human community fragmented by egotism and pride embodied in structures of religious, social, and political power.  People are called to turn away from this self-centered arrogance.  This is achieved through the selfless love of others, shown in humble service and sharing…The way of Jesus therefore operates at the level of human and social relationships…It resonates with the nishkama karma of the Indian tradition and the wu wei of the Chinese tradition.  But it is set in a framework of cosmic-human-divine community building.” (pp. 58-59)

Amaladoss cites the observation of Indian writer George Soares-Prabhu:  “The vision of Jesus indicates not the goal but the way.  It does not present us with a static pre-fabricated model to be imitated, but invites us to continual refashioning of societal structures in an attempt to realize as completely as possible in our times the values of the Kingdom.”  Amaladoss continues, “The Kingdom of God that Jesus announced and began to establish is not an institutional, politco-military structure.  It is a community of people who are ready to love and forgive, share, and serve.” (p. 59)

Amaladoss goes on to describe the way of Jesus as a way of love and service, a way of non-violent struggle, a transcendent way, and an inclusive way.  “The way of Jesus is the way of creation.  It is the way that humans and the world live. It is the life.  It is God’s gift to creation and humanity.  We can understand why some Chinese theologians call Jesus the Tao.  But the Tao of Jesus has a Confucian resonance because it concerns community building.”  (p. 65)

 Guru:  In Indian practice, a guru is a person who has traveled a particular spiritual path and is thus qualified to lead others on that path.  “In the Advaitic (non-dual) tradition, in which true spiritual experience consists in realizing one’s oneness with the Brahman or the Absolute, gurus are seen as divine, because they have experienced advaitic oneness with the divine. In the Bhakti traditions…in which the final experience is one of encountering Siva, the Absolute, in love… the guru [is understood to be] a divine-human person…  Many Indian disciples of Jesus, whether Hindu or Christian, have considered him as their guru.   Christians stress the uniqueness of Jesus by calling him sadguru (true guru).” (pp. 69-70)  Jesus is thought to be “the guru of a cosmic movement that he initiates himself and perpetuates by choosing disciples and sending them to continue his mission.” (p. 76) He is seen to be exemplary of what other gurus should be like.

Advaita:  As a moral teacher, advaita (Indian non-duality) presupposes a strong monotheism, a view that militates against acceptance of Jesus as God.  Asians who maintain this view may think of the unity of will between Jesus and God rather than the identity of being.  “Jesus was an exemplary human being who taught us how to live by word and example.  He shows us the way to self-discovery and moral behavior.” (p. 22)

Avatar:  Avatar is the word used in Indian languages to refer to the incarnation of the Word in Jesus.  “God is believed to self-manifest in some earthly form to encounter the devotees and grant them liberation.” (p. 105) Amaladoss cited Hindu Swami Vivekananda:  “Jesus had our nature; he became the Christ; so can we and so must we.  Christ and Buddha were the names of a state to be attained.  Jesus and Gautama were the persons to manifest it.”  Vivekananda goes on to note that one need not become a Christian to be a follower of Jesus.  “He (Christ) had no other occupation in life; no other thought except that one, that he was a Spirit.  He was a disembodied, unfettered, unbound spirit.  And not only so, but he, with his marvelous vision, had found that every man and woman, whether Jew or Greek, whether rich or poor, whether saint or sinner, was the embodiment of the same undying Spirit as himself.  Therefore the one work his whole life showed, was calling upon them to realize their own spiritual nature… You are all sons of God, Immortal spirit.  ‘Know,’ he declared, ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you.  I and my Father are one.’” (p. 23)

Avatar can be variously realized at different places at different times.  The Hindu “devotees of Siva [the Absolute] think that God cannot become human.  But they still believe that Siva can manifest himself in various ways in the lives of his devotees.” (p. 105) Because of this cultural/religious context, “Indians looking on Jesus will spontaneously consider him [Jesus] an avatar.  It is an Indian religio-cultural entry point to explore our experience of Jesus as a human-divine person (p.106).

Amaladoss suggests, “…the term avatar, meaning ‘manifestation,’ helps us look at the plurality of manifestations of the Word, of the Spirit, and of God positively and openly and profit from all of them” (p. 107).  He believes that Jesus’ disciples experienced him first of all as a human being.  But as avatar it was eventually recognized that Jesus had a deeper dimension as a unique manifestation of the Father, but a manifestation that was still subject to the limitations of it human nature.

Satyagrahi: Satya means “truth”.  Graha means “clinging.”  The combination, satyagrahi, coined by Mahatma Gandhi, is someone who clings to the truth, namely, to God.  “Gandhi saw his own life as a quest for truth.  He knew that truth is absolute.  One does not possess truth; rather, one is possessed by it” (p. 86). Gandhi held that “we cannot reach truth through untrue means” nor  “peace through violence.” As applied to Jesus, “the image satyagrahi points to the idea that Jesus, though he was a revolutionary, was a nonviolent one” (p. 87). 

            “What distinguished Jesus from the Zealots [of his day] were two things.  The Zealot effort focused on liberating Palestine from the colonialism of the Romans…On the contrary, Jesus does not seem to focus much on the Roman presence in Palestine.  He takes it for granted… The second difference between him and the Zealots is the means used to promote revolution.  Jesus is firmly committed to the means of love and nonviolence.” Jesus believes the ends and the means must be the same.  “We cannot promote love through hatred, nor peace through violence” (p. 95).

            “God, the Father of Jesus, is not a vengeful God who demands expiation for sins. Jesus presented God as a loving and forgiving parent.  The suffering imposed on Jesus comes not from God but from Jewish leaders who seek to defend their own self-interest by doing away with Jesus.”  But “The murder of Jesus…does not put an end to the movement that he has launched.  As a matter of fact, it acquires new vigor” (p. 97).

Amaladoss continues with an extended analysis of the role of suffering in Jesus’ life and, by extension, in the lives of his followers.  He asserts, “Suffering for its own sake is not a Christian ideal.  Suffering has meaning as an element of protest or as a manifestation of self-giving.  Without such meaning, suffering is not a virtue.  It has no transformative value” (p. 104). 

He concludes his discussion of satyagraha: “The image of Jesus as satyagrahi places the idea of salvation on a personal, human-divine level.  It is not something automatic effected by the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus.  It is a divine-human interaction marked by freedom on both sides…Jesus calls us to be satyagrahi in our turn.

Bodhisattva:  Buddhists in Asia consider Jesus a bodhisattva.  In Buddhist tradition the bodhisattva is the model of the compassionate person.  In this sense Jesus is seen to be very much like Buddha.  “Having achieved personal liberation, the bodhisattva delays the personal enjoyment of it in order to help everyone become liberated” (p. 135).

            As a bodhisattva, Jesus is compassionate like no other.  His compassion operates around God’s gift of abundant life, which he not only promises but shares with others. (p. 136).  “The measure of the abundance of God’s gift of life is not our merits but God’s generosity.  The crucial element in the process of salvation is our openness to accept it as a gift of God, since God’s gift is always there.  Being sure of God’s unbounded love, we are ready to abandon ourselves to God.  God then saves us.”  Thus, in a major departure from the understandings of Western Christianity, “Jesus saves us precisely by enabling us to respond to God in humility and faith, in egolessness and surrender, and thus receive God’s gift of life.  He enables us by being in solidarity with us” (p. 143).    “He saves us by freeing us, by forgiving us, by loving us, and by empowering or enabling us.” (p. 144)

            This reviewer is struck by how much resonance there is between many of the beliefs of Asian Christians and the so-called “heretical” teachings of a certain 3rd and 4th   century priest in Alexandria, Egypt.  His name was Arius.  His teachings were affirmed by most of the Christian bishops in the Eastern half of the Mediterranean world of his day but were opposed by most of the bishops from the West, thus creating something of an East-West divide in the Christian Church.  Could it be that the present Asian-West theological divide has its roots in that early division?   Interesting.

Jim Foster

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Appendix:

WORLD CITIZENSHIP CREED

 

As a citizen of the world...

I BELIEVE in the dignity of all humanity, that each person is a being of supreme worth.

I BELIEVE in the wholeness of the human race, undivided by economic, cultural, racial, sexual or national differences.

 I BELIEVE in the stewardship of life and resources to the end that all may mutually benefit from the earth's bounty and that no person may have to go without food or shelter.

I BELIEVE in the primacy of human relationships as a person committed and responsible to other persons, regardless of their economic status, race, creed or nationality.

I BELIEVE in the global community, interdependent and mutually responsible for our physical and social environments.

I BELIEVE that we are One World and affirm that I am a citizen of this world. My allegiance to it and its people, my brothers and sisters, is primary over all other political entities.

I AM, therefore, committed to the promotion and care of the whole of humanity without partiality or prejudice and with such resources as I have at my command, both within and without.

I HEREWITH AFFIRM that I wish, as much as I possibly can, to base my actions on my beliefs and thus contribute to a world where justice and compassion rule and where greed and hatred are diminished.

ХР

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

If any copyright has been infringed, this was unintentional. The possibility of a site such as this, as with other collections of electronic texts, depends on the large availability of public domain material from texts translated before 1923. [In the US, all texts issued before 1923 are now in the public domain. Texts published before 1964 may be in the public domain if copyright was not renewed after 28 years. This site seeks to abide by US copyright law: the copyright status of texts here outside the US may be different.] Efforts have been made to ascertain the copyright status of all texts here, although, occasionally, this has not been possible where older or non-US publishers seem to have ceased existence. Some of the recently translated texts here are copyright to the translators indicated in each document. These translators have in every case given permission for non-commercial reproduction. No representation is made about the copyright status of offsite links. This site is intended for educational use. Notification of copyright infringement will result in the immediate removal of a text until its status is resolved.


[1]  Douglas Meeks, God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy (Searching for a New Framework), (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989).

[2]  The World Citizenship Creed is appended at the end of this issue.

[3] Joseph E. Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents, (W. W. Norton & Co., 2003).

[4] William Sloan Coffin and James Carroll, Credo, (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004).

Back to Top


Copyright 2007-2016 Peacebuilding Institute,
a voluntary association
in Knoxville, Tennessee