Christology: A Global Introduction // Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen.

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Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, one of the most productive theologians of our time, revisits his Christology: A Global Introduction after more than a decade with a fresher and wider scope. Initially hoping to be a quick update, Kärkkäinen rather quickly found himself needing a wholesome revision, especially in light of his massive 5-volume Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World nearing completion. The breadth that Kärkkäinen displays is easily one of his most impressive features in this short introduction (~230 pages). Yet, this is an introduction: breadth is favored over depth. But as an introduction to Christology, I have found Kärkkäinen’s purview more than helpful to ‘mentally map’ the trends and tracks of various Christologies. Additionally, his near endless bibliography is a trusted reference for primary and secondary sources.

The first half is devoted to historical Christology. The second half then surveys various contextual theologies (Euro-American Global North [yes, Euro-American-male theologies are contextual], Global South [Africa, Asia, Latin America], and “contextual” American [feminist, black, womanist, mujerista, postcolonial, Asian American, queer]). Finally, roughly the last 30 pages or so are devoted to interreligious dialogues–however his Christ and Reconciliation (the first of his five-volume set) delves much deeper.

Again, as an introductory text, this is superb. However, it is shallow (not because of any lack in part of the theologian but because of the confines of the book’s purposes), therefore it is highly encouraged to read further. Read–especially read–primarily sources.

The Exploration of the Inner Wounds–Han // Jae Hoon Lee.

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Jae Hoon Lee’s analysis of han, unlike many others, has prioritized a psychological lens to interpret and understand han. This is a great supplement to readers of Minjung or others constructive theologians (the most published Korean American theologian being Andrew Sung Park) who utilize han in a more socio-economic sense. Lee is firm in claiming that a stringent oppressor-oppressed dichotomy does not get the full sense of han (Andrew Sung Park, on the other hand, is explicit about this dichotomy. However, he explains that he does so for heuristic purposes). Lee’s adoption and adaption of C.G. Jung and Melaine Klein brought light to three distinct levels of hanjeong-han (love from han), wonhan (hate from han), and huhan (nothingness/apathy from han). Knowing all three will help a subject to better diagnose his or her own sufferings and reactions, thereof.

Note: this was a scholar-read.

The Making of Korean Christianity // Sung-Deuk Oak.

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Sung-Deuk Oak’s The Making of Korean Christianity is a tremendous contribution to the World Christianity Series and religions scholarship in general. Sketched thematically, Oak surveys a host of letters by Protestant missionaries and emerging indigenous voices. Issues concerning Korean Christianity’s adoption of a shamanistic deity’s name (hananim), changing perspectives of the cross, awareness of spirits and the need for exorcism, funeral memorials, influences from Chinese tracts and messages, and Daoist spirituality and rituals are all considered under Oak’s astute scholarship. Additionally considered are the tumultuous and volatile times Korea had from 1876-1915: Tonghak Rebellion, Russo-Japanese War, Sino-Japanese War, and more. These pressuring forces undoubtedly, at times, prevented and, at other times, encouraged Christianity’s acceptance. Oak is, also, sharp enough to notice the difference between simplistic (and insulting) syncretism and indigenizing Christianity. On the other hand, if ‘syncretism’ is held purely as a neutral descriptor (as this blogger is starting to hold), then the what and how of Korean Christians’ reactions to the Protestant religion can be accurately depicted and affirmed as good indigenization of the Gospel.

Personally, I have found this extremely helpful academically and for my own self-discovery (as a Korean American). But I can understand why some people might feel uneasy about Oak’s ease to associate folk religions’ influence on Korean Christianity. To not feel uneasy, one then must think hard about Christianity’s relations with cultures and come to conclusions of their relationships. For Oak (and I), Christianity is inherently a translatable and (re)contextualizable religion. In other words, Christianity must be indigenized.

The Wounded Heart of God // Andrew Sung Park.

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The Wounded Heart of God is Dr. Andrew Sung Park’s first seminal work (1991) on challenging and expanding traditional Christian doctrines–specifically in this case, the Doctrine of Hamartiology (Sin)–with the concept of Han (or Haan). Park is extremely critical of the West’s (especially, post-Reformation/Enlightenment’s) historically individualistic and sinner-centric assessment of sin, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The fundamental problem Park has is that the perspective of the sinned-against is (mostly) excluded from consideration in these doctrines. In other words, sinners are solely concerned about absolving their personal sins without taking a second thought about what their sin has done against others and what they should do in light of that. Therefore, the concept of Han acts as a corrective because Han is sinned-against-centric. Han, in short, is the pain, suffering, and sorrow in the aftermath of being sinned against. When Han expands reconciliation beyond the mere individual-God vertical to include the individual-individual/society horizontal, then dissolving Han and Han-producing forces start to reflect God’s cosmic vision for New (re)Creation.

However, what’s interesting about Park’s work is his lack of Christological and Pneumatological considerations in dealing with Han and the Han-healing affects of God. His strongest and most visible Christological contemplation is in his adoption of Luther’s theologia crucis (theology of the cross), but, beyond that, there’s not much else.

Growing Healthy Asian American Churches // edited by Peter Cha, S. Steve Kang, and Helen Lee.

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Birthed from a collaboration of 14 prominent Asian American pastors and professors, Growing Healthy Asian American Churches covers a variety of unique issues, problems, weaknesses, and strengths of the Asian American Church. With a powerful and affective metaphor, like “household,” these various contributors speak gospel-centrically to critique and exhort the manifold ways Asian Americans have played their dealt hands–the gifts, tools, and challenges they’ve received. Without abandoning the uniqueness of Asian Americans, this collective work presents insightful ways to not meander the problems but engage them in healthy and growing manners.

There are few setbacks I have perceived: (1) Nearly half of the voice are Korean Americans and nearly all are of East Asian descent; (2) because of (1), a lot of unique problems and gifts are Confucian-based; (3) the contributors are not sociologists nor academics (which is not necessarily a negative but not wholesomely positive). The overwhelming strength of this book is that it is very accessible and practical.

Divinity and Humanity // Oliver D. Crisp.

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Just how important is orthodoxy for the doctrine of the incarnation for Christian theology? Well, according to Dr. Oliver Crisp, the answer is very much so.

In the past century, the incarnation has been distorted and dismissed as either contradictory or paradox. Unwittingly, much of these debates are rehashings of earlier heresies, specifically Apollinarianism (“God in a bod”) and Nestorianism (“Two persons in one body”). So, in six successive essays, Crisp defends and draws from a ‘broadly’ Chalcedonian Christology [sic]. Lucid and accessible (with a handful of Superman references), Crisp, in the first half, clarifies the perichoretic problem with the hypostatic union, sifts through various proposals of Christ’s human nature, and untangles the anhypostasiaenhypostasia distinction. In the second half, Crisp rides on the momentum of the first half to engage and disarm theological claims of Christ assuming a fallen human nature, divine kenosis, and John Hick’s non-incarnational theology.

The reader might be tempted to think that theologians, like Crisp, and their theologies are ‘mere word plays.’ For example, what’s the difference between the incarnation as paradox or mystery? Or God taking on a human body vs. God taking on a human nature? These questions and more are, indeed, tempting to lure one to dismiss the enterprise as a whole. But, allow Crisp to help you to wade through the fog, and, (hopefully) in the process, you’ll see and understand that words–especially words about God–matter very much so.

p.s., the book cover’s illustration is also an original Oliver D. Crisp.

Marginality // Jung Young Lee.

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“Theology is autobiographical…”

As an Asian American, Jung Young Lee is a marginalized person. He is neither fully accepted by Asia nor America. He lives in the in-between (neither/nor), being pushed outward by both worlds. However, he also lives in the in-both (both/and), reaching inward into both worlds. This paradoxical place allows him to be in-beyond: total negation (in-between) and total affirmation (in-both). The fluidity and resistance to complete and stagnant conformity condition him, and other marginals, to participate in the marginal person par excellence: Jesus Christ, the marginal Jew. Jesus was both divinely marginalized (Incarnation) and humanly marginalized (outlier-Jew). Jesus is the “creative core” and the “margin of marginality.” Only in and through this marginal God-Man, can redemptive marginal existence flourish and overflow.

As a marginalized person myself, I applaud Jung Young Lee’s audacious take on a marginal theology–contra centralist theology. However, there are several theological claims he makes, or jumps to, that I cannot and would not make (whether he would blame my hesitance on my ‘centralist-brainwashed-mind’ or not cannot be determined nor assumed). He makes questionable claims that invite more question than clarity. But, perhaps, this is part of his assertion that theology should always be work in progress.