The Crucifixion // Fleming Rutledge.

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This book is phenomenal. There have been very few books that I have come across where from cover to cover it has been rejuvenating, refreshing, and powerful. Despite being one of the most elusive doctrines, Fleming Rutledge has produced a masterpiece on atonement. Formerly, Rutledge has worked on this manuscript for 18 years, but really it is the fruit of a life-long wrestle with the cross of the Crucified Lord. And though some might withhold enthusiasm about a non-academic (strictly speaking, a non-PhD holder — though one might need reminding that the West’s theological giants, such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and even our 20th century Karl Barth, never held doctorates) writing a hefty (600+ pages) theological treatise, caveat lector: this is substantial and monumental treatise.

What follows is a sorrowfully short sketch; the present writer, instead, hopes the present reader (you) will just buy and read it.

After a long list of endorsement from significant theologians of our time, Rutledge begins. The book is divided into two unequal halves: (1) socio-historical and literary analysis of the event of Jesus’ crucifixion and (2) biblical motifs of the crucifixion. Rutledge draws from the climatic well of apocalyptic interpretation, specifically thanking Ernest Käsemann. In short, apocalyptic interpretation argues that starting during Babylonian exile (or some time later), there arose an insistence that the God of Israel is “breaking into” the world in new “revelatory” (apocalyptic) ways that expose and destroy the cosmic forces of Evil and Sin — the apex being the crucifixion — and, thus, execute and establish justice through the dikaiosyne theou (“righteousness of God”). The foremost apocalyptic forerunner was none other than Apostle Paul. This apocalyptic framework fits well with Christus Victor. However, unlike Gustav Aulén, Rutledge incorporates in kaleidoscopic fashion a surplus of other motifs — not theories.

I conclude with her own words:

All the manifold biblical images with their richness, complexity, and depth come together as one to say this: the righteousness of God is revealed in the cross of Christ. The “precious blood” of the Son of God is the perfect sacrifice for sin; the ransom is paid to deliver the captives; the gates of hell are stormed; the Red Sea is crossed and the enemy drowned; God’s judgment has been executed upon Sin; the disobedience of Adam is recapitulated in the obedience of Christ; a new creation is coming into being; those who put their trust in Christ are incorporated into his life; the kingdoms of “the present evil age” are passing away and the promised kingdom of God is manifest not in triumphalist crusades, but in the cruciform witness of the church. From within “Adam’s” (our) human flesh, the incarnate Son fought with and was victorious over Satan — on our behalf and in our place. Only this power, this transcendent victory won by the Son of God, is capable of reorienting the kosmos to its rightful Creator. This is what the righteousness of God has achieved through the cross and resurrection, is now accomplishing by the power of the Spirit, and will complete in the day of Christ Jesus (611).

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At Home in Exile // Russell Jeung.

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The grandeur of this autobiography is not the grand things Russell has done or experienced (as jaw-dropping as some of them are). No, rather, it is his candor and glee. Russell, it seems to me, does not seem obliged to write an embellished, poetic lore of his conquests and defeats. Instead, he slips in “dad jokes” (at least, I would categorize them as such or “professorial jokes”) here and there — not taking himself too seriously. What he does take seriously are the joys and sorrows of his life with his community — Oak Park and his family. The first half is dominated by OPM (Oak Park Ministry) and the second half his nuclear family: the highs and lows of each. The highs are definitely eye-opening wonders, but the lows are heart-wrenchingly painful. And such are the stuff of life.

Russell, whether with intention or not, seems to tug at Asian American Christian (particularly Evangelicals) hearts. Though he did not blow out of proportion the prestigious sacrifices he made (such as going to Stanford for undergraduate but devoted a bulk of his life living with the marginalized in mold and roach infested apartments and turning down two promising academic careers to be with his church’s community), any Asian American pressured by the model minority myth will be keen on these sacrifices, especially. I doubt Russell shared this to make us feel guilty or shamed (even more than we might already feel!), but to offer his life as one example of a non-model-minority Asian American Evangelical (though the other extreme to avoid is moralistic Asian American Evangelicals…!).

Towards the end, he seems to make a Christian endorsement of Confucian systems (esp, food and sacrificial forms of love). This isn’t to say Confucianism must be adopted by Asian/Asian American Christians, nor that it is 100% sanctified. No, Russell seems to say that Confucianism affected his life in more ways than one, which God graciously adopted and used to sanctify him and his community.

The other motifs Russell used, exile and hakka, are worthy of further reflection. But, alas, this post is already too long.

Retrieving Doctrine // Oliver D. Crisp.

With analytic clarity and fastidiousness, Retrieving Doctrine offers an eclectic collection of essays in Reformed Theology by Oliver D. Crisp, a forerunner in analytic theology. The classic “greats” of the Reformed Tradition, such as Calvin, Edwards (and Barth, if one classifies him as such!), and some lesser known are critically and graciously engaged over complex and easily confused (and often misconstrued) issues concerning each theologian. For example, Edwards and the metaphysics of imputation of sin, Calvin on petitioning the foreknowing God, Barth’s paradoxical denial of universalism, Nevin’s Real and Ideal Church, Turretin’s thoughts on “Incarnation Anyway” approach, and more. The impression one is left with is the breadth of the Reformed Tradition; surely, this 500 year old Tradition cannot be pigeon-holed to be just “justification by faith” (a crucial crux of the Tradition, nevertheless). 
Crisp, here, is not merely interested in clarifying confusion but sees constructive value for contemporary theology. One such value can be the practice of thinking with and, with caution, against the “greats.” How they were wrong is just as, if not more, important to ask than how they were right: theologians of today both stand at the shoulders and must attempt to see beyond the mistakes of the past. In other words, we must not merely ignore nor copy the past but think with the Tradition.

The Making of Asian America // Erika Lee.

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Despite attempts to lump them together or tell their through a simplistic and monolithic “model minority” lens, Asian Americans and their histories are in fact exceedingly diverse and complicated. To be Asian American in the twenty-first century is an exercise in coming to terms with a contradiction: benefiting from new positions of power and privilege while still being victims of hate crimes and microaggressions that dismiss Asian American issues and treat Asian Americans as outsiders in their own country (Lee, 391).

There seems to be an existential crisis every time an Asian American, like myself, attempts to answer “am I American (enough)?” If yes, then what do we mean by “American (enough)”? If no, then what prevents us? What has infected our imagination of who belongs and who does not in this so-called “Land of the Free”?

America, seems to me, has a unique ability to remember things differently and selectively. Reading The Making of Asian America was a speechless experience — how have I never heard of these stories before? Truly, the phantasm of Asian American histories attests and perpetuates the non-visibility of Asian Americans. The reading was also heart-wrenchingly painful — oh, how much we, as a collected lump of diverse Asian Americans, suffered so much and so silently! One does not need to understand much of politics or policy making to see the one thing American history has made clear: things get done fast when — not if — people discriminate. Many preposterous laws, such as you have to be born in the states and be of white skin tone (many early petitions and appeals have been shut down because Chinese or Japanese Americans born in the States do not shimmer white tones; there was even one Middle Eastern who argued on the grounds that he is actually a caucasian but was still denied), have passed and lasted because of unbated fear and hatred.

Of course, Asian Americans are not without faults and blame. I cannot blame all of America, where my citizenship is tethered to, for my own ignorance of our checkered histories.

This is not to say reading and learning history solve moral corruption — far be it! Rather, history provides both a window and mirror: a window to our expansive past, enriched with valuable resources for virility and grace, and a mirror to match and differentiate how our current situations, personal and public, relate to prior ones. Matching and differentiating are crucial for understanding the complicated nature of diagnosing personal and social ills and implementing prescribed healing. In short, learning history must be paired with both constructive-critical lens and untiring hands and feet.

The Making of Asian America is a must read. Do not be stumped by its length (402 pages). By the time you finish, you’ll wish she wrote more.

The Drama of Doctrine // Kevin J. Vanhoozer.

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About five years ago, while Kevin J. Vanhoozer had his itinerant time at Wheaton, word of this book, his magnus opus, was buzzed as the book to read for eager students of theology. So, wanting desperately to learn more, I bought the book, read the first few pages, and closed the book. His verbosity dwindled my fragile excitement.

Now years after the fact and having just finished the book, I both bemoaned my prior weak grit and celebrated how much I have learned since then. His verbosity, rather than stifling, was a delight to thumb through — he’s a word-wizard.

The purpose and thesis of the book are fairly simple: to restore the Bible and doctrine as trusted twin sources of authorities for the glocal church. The scope and the means by which he staked his claim, however, are vast and deep. To be fair, I felt him to be a bit redundant, yet knowing the projected scope suggests to me that, perhaps, Vanhoozer even condensed and shorten some! Again, it was impressive how he juggled and argued on multiple fronts: against anti-intellectuals, reductionistic accounts, liberals, postliberals, modernists, and more. He constantly returned and re-tested his hypothesis, at times, to his readers’ grief and, at other times, their enlightenment.

One of Vanhoozer’s great concerns and, consequently, the book’s strengths is the broken bridge between theology and praxis, theory and practice. As systematician and committed Church member, he bends over backwards to convince readers and fellow “in Christ” members of the role and benefits of doctrine for the local church. Originally, doctrines are meant to expand the mind and heart to overlap one another into truth, so that what Paul said of “renewing one’s mind” (Romans 12:2) is fundamentally a sanctifying endeavor. In other words, the more you know is not merely for knowledge’s sake, but for holistic integration of the Christian self to itself, to others, and, most importantly, to God.

Just as I heard The Drama of Doctrine as the book to read for budding theologians five years ago, I cannot help but continue the buzz.

Economix // Michael Goodwin (Illustrated by Dan E. Burr).

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I’m not sure how and what sparked my interest in economics, perhaps it was Kathryn Tanner’s Economy of Grace or the fact that I’m disillusioned by both capitalism and communism or the fact that I am in near constant financial crisis (aka, the normal graduate student life and post-American-college-with-their-stupid-student-debt). Nevertheless, I am glad I read this.

Economix came up as one of the most recommended introductions to the history of economics — according to Reddit. I appreciate how Michael Goodwin opens the book: he confesses that modern economists are, at times, beyond confusing and inconsistent and that primary sources are the way to go. When he went back to the original sources, the sources all the modern economists were quoting, he found that (1) primary sources were more often than not taken out of context and (2) primary sources had some faulty assumptions and ideals [like the Supple and Demand chart assumes an ideal economy with stagnant desires, resources, political climate, etc. In this sense, the Supple and Demand chart is a very flat, 2-dimensional model]. For example, laissez-faire (“let it be”) might have worked in a pre-industrialized, pre-technologically-advanced, pre-globalized country–but the success was short lived. Most 20th century communism models picked and choose what they liked from Marx (to his great frustration, assumingly). Reagonomics, tickle-down economics, and tax cutting the rich and major corporations pretty much ruined everything. So, along with Reddit, I cannot recommend this enough. Plus, the comic book form is amazing. The book, though, is not without faults, but as an introduction it is very informative.

Economics is much more than just money — it is political, psychological, sociological, philosophical, and, agreeing with Tanner, theological. So, as much as I did not want to learn a lick of economics, as someone who wants to be a theologian, I must learn more economics: it is both exciting and dreadful.

From a Liminal Place: An Asian American Theology // Sang Hyun Lee.

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Originally known for his impressive scholarship on the philosophical theology of Jonathan Edwards, Sang Hyun Lee takes a more autobiographical note and pens this short appetite-whetter: From a Liminal Place.

For Sang Hyun Lee, liminality has a narrow definition drawn from anthropologist Victor Turner: “A transitional time in which persons are freed from social-structure hierarchy and role playing and, therefore, may be more open to what is new, experience a close communion with other persons (communitas), and become capable of prophetic critique of the existing social order” (Preface). What makes liminality different from marginality is the creative potential of the former (I believe Sang Hyun Lee is making this distinction to clarify what he saw as a confusion of Jung Young Lee’s Marginality. For Jung, “marginality” describes both the negative and positive sides of being on the peripherals of power centers). This creative potential of liminality is ultimately, I believe, for communitas. Communitas seems to be akin to Martin Buber’s Ich Und Du (“I and Thou”) encounter. At the root of it all, Sang Hyun Lee cements his liminality-communitas construal on his understanding of what the Triune God does in history according to Edwardian philosophical theology. In short, the Triune God “repeats” his infinite, inner-trinitarian in creation’s time and space. The result will be the Triune communitas established in creation.

I find Sang Hyun Lee’s proposal intriguing but wanting. However, 150 pages is not nearly enough space to fully develop his thoughts–a problem he is very much aware of.