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The Emptiness of Christ: Mahayana Christology

Jesus in Meditation

The Christology of the Western Church has, with few exceptions, developed in dialogue with the categories of Greek philosophy. As fruitful as the dialogue has been, however, it has created problems for our articulation of the doctrine of the Incarnation, and it is now problematical for those Christians who do not share the philosophical tradition of the West. This article begins the development of a Christology of emptiness, derived from one of the philosophical traditions of Buddhism.

Mahayana theology is a Christian theology which attempts to understand the Christian faith through philosophical concepts developed in Mahayana Buddhism.


Appreciating the Multicultural Church

Dr. Soong-Chan Rah of North Park Theological Seminary speaking at chapel of Fuller Theological Seminary on “The Next Evangelicalism: Appreciating the Multicultural Church” (November 7, 2012). Dr. Rah uses the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 as a model for understanding “a world that is becoming increasingly multicultural  and how the church responds to this very dynamic time in our nation’s, as well as our world’s, church history”.

The following is my summary and notes from his lecture.

The question is not whether the world is changing, but how Christian Americans will respond. (Click to Tweet) (more…)

World Cup of Theologians: Switzerland – Karl Barth

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

barthKarl Barth (1886-1968) was a 20th century Swiss Protestant theologian within the Reformed tradition who has come to be referred to as the Father of Neo-Orthodoxy. His father was a minister, and his mother was a minister’s daughter. In his early education, he studied within the theology of German liberalism, yet when introduced to Immanuel Kant, and leaned away from his father’s influence.

However, in his early pastoral career, he saw that the political conditions surrounding him contradicted many ideas that he was learning and teaching. Within his church, the factory owners were exploiting many of the industrial workers and Barth encouraged the workers to unionize. When World War I broke out and many of his theological peers and mentors supported the German war effort, Barth was struck by what he deemed as a lack of strong theological foundation to separate a nation’s action from the church.

In this context, he authored his commentary on Romans in which he tried to articulate what he saw as Paul’s vision of Rome turned upside down and to counter the theology of his contemporaries.

The descriptively thorough essence of Barth’s theology is the person of Jesus Christ. This forms the center of Barth’s theology which is expounded in his infamous tome, Church Dogmatics. (Click here for Reading the Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth: A Primer, by David Guretzki, PhD). This emphasis upon the person of Christ is seen in his work, The Humanity of God:

This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.

Thus in this oneness Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler, between God and man. Thus He comes forward to man on behalf of God calling for and awakening faith, love and hope, and to God on behalf of man, representing man, making satisfaction and interceding. Thus he attests and guarantees to God’s free grace and at the same time attests and guarantees to God man’s free gratitude.

[Editor’s note: Gender-exclusive language expressed in the quotation is consistent with the source material.]

Phillip Sturgeon is a graduate of Chapman University. He writes at his personal blog, phillipotamus.com and lives in Southern CA, where he almost always drives with the windows down.

World Cup of Theologians: Uruguay – Juan Luis Segundo

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

Juan Luis Segundo (1925-1996) was a Jesuit priest and scholar who was instrumental with the introduction of liberation theology in Latin America and the application of the hermeneutic circle. His initial work, Liberation of Theology, raises issues of the Latin American context and its perspective, although he does so within the style of traditional Western theologians. segundo

In many Western contexts, the term “ideology” has a negative connotation, which bleeds into the consideration of liberation theology, to which Segundo defines the relationship of ideology and faith, writing in Liberation of Theology,

“a system of goals and means that serve as a necessary backdrop for any human option or line of action”, yet “Faith…is the total process to which [the human being] submits, a process of learning in and through ideologies how to create the ideologies necessary to handle new and unforeseen situations in history.” As such, ideologies are derived from the particular context of a community and contribute to faith. But at no point can ideology supersede the role of faith, which encompasses a diverse range of idealized theories of life.

His writing on hermeneutics emphasized the role of the community in interpretation, rather than assuming that an individual is the driver of the interpretive process. This stood as a critique and addition to Schleiermacher’s conception of the hermeneutic circle which would become a standard interpretive principle within liberation theology.

For more information about Segundo’s writing, see the entry in the Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology.

Michael Shepherd is the editor of GlobalTheology.org. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Hope International University in southern California, USA, where he lives with his wife and son.

Acodar Discipleship

Jesus had an affinity for agricultural metaphors. In reading through John’s gospel, two stand out in particular. In chapter 15, Jesus says, “I am the true vine; my Father is the vineyard keeper…I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit…My father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.

The ability to bear much fruit is elevated to be a primary marker of bringing glory to God. It is good that previously in chapter 12 that Jesus says how a disciple is able to bear much fruit. In chapter 12, Jesus says, “I assure you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit”.

The vine and branch metaphor in chapter 15 is significant as it speaks to the need to remain connected to the vine of Christ and exhibit the nature of his life. Missing from this interpretation, however, is the experience of the cross. In chapter 12, we can read foreshadowing of the cross and the approaching suffering and death of Christ. John presents this metaphor for the disciples to see their suffering and death as following in the pattern modeled by Christ.

The process of acodar

The process of acodar

The term acodar, in Spanish, conveys the combination of these two concepts. This is the verb for when a vine is bent or cut and then planted alongside the branch.  The cutting grows to become a offshoot of the branch, which then grows its own branches.  The true vine, put to death and buried in the ground, gives ways to new life and the multiplication of new branches which bear much fruit. We can understand our own discipleship by these same metaphors: we are simultaneously in the vine and being put to death as we identify with the cruciform call of Christ to die to ourselves, join him in his suffering, and by doing so bring life to the world around us.

Jesus’ use of these metaphors, to live as extensions of the true vine yet to die in order to produce fruit, are not exclusive to each other. By utilizing acodar discipleship in imagining our response to the call of Christ, we can enter into new and deeper identification with the suffering death and resurrected new life in the kingdom of God.

What metaphors help you or your community understanding your life of faith?

Sudden Enlightenment, Christian Discipleship

Francis X. Clooney, SJ responds to a question posed following an interfaith event in which he shared his experiences within Hinduism:  “Is enlightenment compatible with Christian faith?”

He writes:

I think there were two components to the question I was asked: First, is it compatible with Christian faith that someone have a sudden, radical change in life, a single mind- and life-altering experience, insight? Second, can a Christian who experiences enlightenment have that irreversible unitive experience, realizing all reality to be simply, entirely one?

The question of enlightenment turns out to be timely, in light of this Sunday’s Gospel, the call of the first apostles in Mark 1.14-20. For is it not a kind of enlightenment scene? Consider what we hear: (more…)

Tibetan Christian Thangka Storytelling

Jesus’ Life on Earth

One year ago I wrote a post about Tibetan thangkas and mentioned therein a Christian ministry that was selling Christian thangkas, though at the time I didn’t know anything more about how they were being used.  In today’s post, I am excited to provide some more information about them.

Back in 2001, some expatriate workers in the Himalayas puzzled over the repeated lack of effectiveness of more common approaches to reach Tibetan Buddhists for Christ, so they began to seek alternative ways of presenting the Gospel that would connect more directly with Tibetan Buddhists.  They formed a group called The Tibetan Storytelling Project (TSP) to address this concern.  The group eventually decided to produce an evangelistic DVD which would utilize traditional Tibetan art, songs, choreography and rhythmic speech in presenting the Gospel.

How Atheism Can Help Christians Avoid False Idols

“Atheists are hard at work cleansing our temple of idols. We should thank them”

So begins Paul Wallace’s insightful (and provoking– think about who else notably “cleansed the temple”…) post about the service that atheist movements are doing to refine theological reflection. He distinguishes the conceptualization of God through philosophical theological reflection as idolatry, akin to worshiping the image of God that we have created. Worshiping the God of our projections, which is a sanctified way of worshiping ourselves.


Japanese Theology: What Can Be Learned (Part 2)


(You can find part one of this essay here)

Christianity is often presented as the religion of the superpowers, and it has become a visibly dominant religion in many leading nations. From the 4th century onwards, Christianity became the religion of the Greco-Romano world, with the consequence that Greek and Latin became the “language” of God. Thus Hellenic views on Christianity overruled other forms of Christianity elsewhere. Continuing into the 15th / 16th century, the rise of the Spanish and Portuguese nations expanded Roman Catholicism across the entire colonized world, and thus Spanish/Portuguese Christianity became visibly dominant on the surface of the planet. The emergence of the reformation in the 16th century, and its collaboration with the Western and Northern European governments, caused a reformed and protestant theology to dominate certain parts of the world.

For the past two hundred years or more, Anglo-American Christianity and its relationship to the expansion of British and American territorial interest has had important results. English became the language of evangelical religion. Christianity took a commercial course and dominated the worship and literature industry worldwide. Today, anyone who wants to study theology anywhere in the world cannot bypass American and English Christian literature and writers. Church history means reformation history; theology means Anglo American Evangelical or Dutch Reformed theology. This dominant manifestation of Western Christianity has caused two different major reactions in the non-western world; 1) Almost total acceptance and implementation of this Western Theology with slightly native cultural influences. For instance, Evangelical Christianity in the Philippines is simply an American-influenced Christianity, and the Korean Protestant Christianity is based on Reformed Theology; in Africa, American prosperity teaching preached by the satellite TV stations inspires the Pentecostalism. 2) Instead of total surrender to imported Christianity, the second reaction is the creation of Christianity with an indigenous theology. There are relatively few countries that have created their own Christian theology. Japan tried to belong to the second group. In his book Japanese contribution to Christian Theology published in 1960, Carl Michelson indicated that even though Protestant Christianity was relatively young in Japan, Japan was apparently the first country to develop its own significant theology (more…)

Sometimes I Want to Call God Mother – What We Call God Matters

Sometimes I want to call God Mother, Father, friend, companion, lover of my soul. At other times I want to call God creator, saviour, Lord of the Universe, bringer of justice, rescuer of the poor. I thought about this a lot this morning after receiving a message from a friend who reads my facebook prayers.

I’ve really enjoyed your prayers, Christine. However in recent months I’m noticing more and more that Jesus isn’t mentioned by name…. Somehow God and Christ, accurate names, aren’t as intimate and personal too me as the name “Jesus”… Am I just a hopeless Evangelical?

Her words were very perceptive but caught me off guard inviting me to think about what I call God and why. Have I drifted away from a sense of personal intimacy with God or is there more to this change?

Christ- King or Friend or Companion?

What we call God matters. All the names I listed above are legitimate and important names for God, but they produce very different images in our minds. The first list all bring a sense of intimacy with them. They draw us into a close and personal relationship to God. They invite us to call God Abba, the Christ Jesus and the Spirit Comforter. The encourage us to grow the love of God deep within our hearts.

However, these names can also have negative connotations. (more…)


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