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.

Silence and Beauty // Makoto Fujimura.

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After reading Shūsaku Endō’s masterful and horrifying Silence, Makoto Fujimura’s reflections in Silence and Beauty coalesces wonderfully and insightfully. Through the window of Endō’s life and works, most centrally Silence, Mako (as he is affectionately called at Fuller) perceives and describes beauty present in Japanese history and culture. With the barest observation, Silence is read as a painful story of hopelessness and human wretchedness: Father Rodrigues becomes an appalling failure–an apostate–who is doubly-ostracized from the world of his nurture and from the land of his demise. Yet, Mako invites us further in to inhabit the world of Endō. Shepherding his readers through the myriad of Japanese history and culture, Mako illuminates Endō as “one of the great writers of grace of the twentieth century” (201). When Endō (and Mako) encountered the Fumi-e, he was overwhelmed by the loud steps pronounced on the wooden border. So, shedding off the stark dichotomy of faithful and faithless, martyr and apostate, Endō claims the presence of resilient faith in the Fumi-e steppers and stompers. Their silence reflects the voice of God for “silence is beauty and beauty is silence” (212)–and that is, surely, grace.

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.

Silence // Shusaku Endō.

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This is not a light read. Therefore, this is not an easy read.

What do we do with “the Problem of Silence”? When the desperate and cornered Christians, who boast of their living and speaking God (contra idols [Ps 115:5; 135:16]), can only utter the dreadful refrain: “Why are you silent?” Any serious Christian, like the Fathers in Silence, who is unwillingly forced to doubt in the face of radical evil and radical silence, defamation for lack of faith is shamefully reductionistic and should be resisted. Under the furnace of persecution, this “Divine Silence” exponentiates beyond an existential crisis onto a theological one: God’s silence is received as no-God. And in the face of no-God, the soil is once again tender with the renewed possibility for the reimagination of a new yet ever-present God. And, perhaps, then, we can hear that silence is being loudly present.

 

Mudhouse Sabbath // Lauren F. Winner.

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In this short work, Lauren Winner, once practicing Jew, shares how 11 Jewish disciplines can bolster the Christian life–one that she now lives. This primer is extremely accessible, full of life examples and succinct writing. Winner does not presume to claim divine, salvific magic in embodying these disciplines. Rather, along First Testament (OT) thought, there’s something powerful when we do an act: it affects our mind and heart and spirit. In other words, the Christian faith should be a bodily life. Personally, her chapters on sabbath (shabbat), fitting food (kashrut), mourning (avelut), hospitality (hachnassat orchim), and prayer (tefillah) [pretty much the first half of the book] were extremely meaningful.

Bridge to Wonder // Cecilia González-Andrieu

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Cecilia González-Andrieu, named as one of America’s promising theologians, embarks on an ambitious theological exploration in methodology connecting art, experience, beauty, wonder, and gospel. Prior to modernism, the arts and the religious were intimately intertwined. Yet now, the arts (especially fine arts) carry an air of exclusivity or absurdity: either it is incomprehensible or ridiculous. Rather than abandoning the sector in its entirety, González-Andrieu proposes an immersive theological dialogue between the art, the artist, the viewer, and the viewer’s community. What this enterprise demand is, first, expanding arts beyond fine arts to include creative works or arrangements by an individual(s) for a community(s). Then, the receiving community engages with the art and critically analyzes beyond the mere initial “love or hate (or don’t get)” reactions. What this communal-theological exercise does is to create a bridge to wonder (asombrado), which beauty mixed with the good and the true. On this bridge to wonder, we experience wonder through beauty–we experience God, who is Wonder and Beauty.

The Brothers Karamazov // Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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Alexei (Alyosha) Karamazov, the most unlikely hero of this story (the very words from the narrator himself!), is part of a very unorthodox family. The four men of the family–Fyodor the father, Dmitri the eldest, Ivan the middle, and Alexei the youngest–are entangled in complicated strands of love, honor and reputation, deep resentments, and wealth and debts. Yet, the unlikely hero, quiet as mouse, blazes brilliantly besides his boisterous family members, shining in dark places and moments. The four part, 777 paged story ends with Alyosha exhorting his fellow gentlemen–children of ages 12-14–to be good, humble, and kind, and to remember their fallen comrade who has supremely exemplified such virtues. Perhaps, we, too, should be as children and listen to Alyosha.

The Brothers Karamazov is one of the greatest Russian literary works of all history; Dostoevsky is a master storyteller. Yet, nuances and subtle brilliances might get lost in translation, but Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s is both witty and satirical that glimpse at Dostoevsky’s dark humor. This particular translation is highly recommend (note: I have not read other translations).