Tuesday, August 30

Liturgy, Symbolism and Respect in an Asian Context

In recent years, there has been a renewal of the Christian message within Asian culture, and indeed of the liturgy as a whole. However, there are still challenges with integrating the gospel into Asian culture. For example, Asians have felt that the Catholic Mass comes with a distinctly European mold, and with these trappings it can be difficult to translate into their culture. Buddhism and Islam have adapted to their different cultures - evidently it is time for Christianity to continue to do the same, and even more so than it is now. Certain cultural traditions such as funerals and marriages (and their different conceptions of each) ought to be respected and incorporated into the Christian expression in that local area. How do these various traditions interact, engage with and participate in each other in a healthy and respectful way? (Inspired by Chapter XI: Liturgy, Cultures, and Religions from The Eucharist and Human Liberation).

Honoring ancestors may also be thought of as cultural, although there is also the element of religiousness to this. The sort of clothing that is worn is also different culturally between the Western Church and the Asian Churches - those in the West tend to prefer to dress up for Mass, whereas the Asians generally prefer simplicity and therefore it may be pertinent to adapt to this cultural practice. The Eucharist is another consideration: bread and wine are not generally used in Asia as they are elsewhere. All of this being said, In what ways do we see the Christian message intermingling with the Asian context, and what can this teach us about where we've been, where we are and where we are going?

Jesus and the Buddha
Christians are called to recognize the dignity and value of the human person and hold a respect for each individual, but in some cases - particularly those in conflict with Buddhism that are now etched into the Asian memory - Christianity has not been so accepting of others. The Catholic Church (in part due to the work done at the Second Vatican Council) recognizes that other religions do contain truth and the movement of the Spirit, such as in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and others. For example, for Muslims, like many Catholics, St. Mary is held in very high regard and devotions may be directed toward her by both. Dialogue is something that needs to occur between Christians and others, as well as a respect for other religions and the ability to recognize goodness, beauty and truth in these other religious traditions. Part of this attitude toward other religions is accepting their values as well. An example of this can be seen through the Vesak, a festival of light and life. It celebrates the life of Buddha and emphasizes the virtues lived out by the Buddha. Christians may respect these values and virtues and accept these values as being virtuous indeed.

The Second Vatican Council (as well as the earlier Council of Trent) opened up the opportunity for liturgy in different areas to be changed and revised. Although there are certain distinctly Christian elements that should remain, some liturgical aspects can be adapted to the culture. Asia, however, seems to have yet to take much advantage of this. Other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, have certain sacred texts that they use. Since the Church recognizes that each of these religions do have truths within them, there is a suggestion that perhaps selections from these texts can be read at Mass during the service of the Word. As an aside, one may point out that St. Paul quotes from a Cretan philosopher, a Greek poet, a Greek philosopher, St. Jude may allude to two apocryphal works, and there are works (such as the Book of Jasher) referred to in the Hebrew Bible that are not canonical Scripture. So there is a precedent for this sort of thinking, that perhaps at a Mass we may find readings from the Qur'an, the Vedic Scriptures, Buddhist Scriptures, or others.

This caused a major controversy at one point in Christian history, actually, known now as the (Chinese) Rites Controversy. The debate occurred in the 1600-1700s, In short, the controversy centered around whether or not Chinese practices such as honoring one's ancestors as well as other Confucian practices could be compatible with Catholicism, and further, various priests decided to dress in Confucian attire so as the better convey the Gospel within the Chinese culture. The Jesuits were at the forefront of this controversy, and felt that the rituals were compatible with Christianity, yet various religious orders (at the time) did not, and therefore reported this to Rome. There were bans on and off for a number of years, and finally in 1939, Pope Pius XII decreed that Christians may observe their ancestral rituals and practices as well as participate and engage in Confucian-based ceremonies and rites. This spirit of inclusion, inculturation of the Gospel and openness to a new local or cultural theology reached its climax with the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, and this new openness continues to be felt today.

An early Nestorian monk
Interestingly, something similar nearly happened several centuries ago as well. In the early AD 600s, shortly after the early Islamic movement began to spread, a number of Christian (Nestorian) monks from the Eastern Church left for China. When they arrived, they began writing what is now known as the "Jesus Sutras," a collection of sutras (aphorisms, often found in the Buddhist tradition), a way of presenting the Gospel to the Chinese people by using Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist terminology, concepts and ideas. These Sutras are not considered canonical within the Church today, but upon their recent discovery over the past few years, they have served as an important lesson and reminder of how early missionaries presented the Christian message through different lenses, and allowed the cultural and religious traditions to interact and express the message in new, powerful and meaningful ways for their audience.

Concerning modern Christianity and Asia, there are many great spiritual leaders and thinkers that come from Asia. There are also a number of suggestions that have been made as to how Christianity and Buddhism can teach each other - a big proponent of this was the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who participated in a number of interfaith communications. We may consider venerating Buddha on the day of his birth, or tying in these figures to the liturgy. It should be noted that these figures are not regarded as a god or worshiped as such in the other religions; it may be likened to the Catholic reverence and veneration of the saints. Consider also interreligious action. The suggestion is that we as people honor the different beliefs and practices of other religions, and in order to engage in reflection on the Christian Scriptures, we also need to be willing to reflect upon their Scriptures. This inter-religious reflection can bring about great appreciation and understanding. The different religions of the world all have mystical experiences at their roots. The Buddha had several mystical experiences. Christ went out into the desert and was later transfigured. Muhammad spoke to angels. The earthly liturgy should be a reflection of the heavenly liturgy, and it indeed is intended to be so.

To be sure, these various religious traditions and philosophies are very different. Buddhism comes out of an Indian context, brought about by the first Buddha - Siddhrtha Gautama. After leaving his princely life by exposure to the suffering and pains of life, he became a beggar-monk, and a homelss acestic man. He taught that through various means, one can achieve enlightenment and leave the cycles of reincarnation and enter into Nirvana. Taoism is an ancient Chinese religion, named after "the way" (thus, the Tao; interestingly, early Christianity was also called The Way). Taosim focuses on the yin and the yang, and Confucius was an early proponent of this religion. In fact, his ethical principles found in the Analects, for example, are founded in part on Taosim. Taoism is concerned with living in harmony with the universe. Christianity came out of the Middle East (which is also partly in Asia), and although it springs out of the Judaic tradition, it also finds its foundation in Jesus of Nazareth, who we venerate as the supreme deity incarnate who lived among us during the 1st century.

This does not mean, however, that there are not also commonalities or similarities. Take Buddhism, for instance. Buddhism is seen in some circles as a contemplative religious tradition. However, this does not mean that it is without its values on the human person and justice. Since its formation followers of the Buddha have placed an emphasis on social justice borne out of compassion. An early example of this emphasis is seen in the reign of King Ashoka (304-232 BC). Ashoka started out as a violent ruler, but following his conversion to Buddhism he began to repent for his past actions, and as a result, he tried to rehabilitate prisoners and stop the slaying of animals as well as setting up hospital-like areas for both humans and animals. Further, Ashoka formed a group of messengers who could bring their concerns and desires before the king to be given fair treatment. This is something that should be familiar to the Christian audience, as Christians are called to live a life of mercy and compassion rooted in social justice.

Further, in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition we read of the bodhisattva, Christ-like figures who live their lives in service of others. A bodhisattva pledges to take upon themselves the burdens and suffering of all beings, from humans to birds to plants. This allows the bodhisattva to fully experience the life of creation and as a result, he or she grows in compassion - one could compare this in a Girardian sense to the sacrificial work of Jesus as the scapegoat. As another example, the current (14th) Dalai Llama cries out for justice for the Tibetan people, as well as an end to injustices across the globe and fair treatment of all through compassionate means. Although this is only one example, it demonstrates that Buddhism also places an emphasis on the same sort of issues that we would find in Catholic Social Teaching or elsewhere in the Christian tradition.

What are we left with, then? Perhaps it is important that Christians come to learn more about Buddhists, Taoists and Confucian philosophy, and vice versa. Perhaps it is important to adapt various cultural and religious expressions of the Asian context into the modern liturgy. This integration would be crucial for the people living in each community, as it allows one's cultural and religious heritage to interact, inform and engage with another living tradition that they may or may not be attempting to take on. Finding similarities and matters of agreement and relationality is also vital for continued flourishing and fruitful potentiality. As Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says in Living Buddha, Living Christ, "If we find ways to cherish and develop our spiritual heritage, we will avoid the kind of alienation that is destroying society, and we will become whole again... Learning to touch deeply the jewels of our own tradition will allow us to understand and appreciate the values of other traditions, and this will benefit everyone." Amen.

Monday, August 29

The Call to Humility: Taking the Lowest Place

One of the most important virtues in the Christian tradition is that of humility. In fact, one of the most important calls in the Christian Scriptures is "to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8; emphasis mine). There has been much written about Christian humility, and there are many wonderful examples found through its history - from the poverty of St. Francis of Assisi to the compassion of Mother Theresa; Jesus called this way "gentle and humble" (Matt. 11:29). The Beatitudes reflect this as well, wherein the humble are called the "poor in spirit," as well as later in the Matthean tradition, where we are told that we must become like little children - and in so doing, take on the humility and innocence of a child. Humility is something we desperately need in our society today, where ego, position and titles so often gets in the way of mercy, compassion and justice. If we are to walk in the way of peace, we must answer the call of humility, and take the lowest place.

Consider this past week's Gospel reading in light of the theme of humility. 
According to Luke 14:1, 7-14, 
"On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Phariseesand the people there were observing him carefully.... He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position’... 'For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.' 
Then [Jesus] said to the host who invited him, 'When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
This gospel has a very simple, yet radically potent message: "take the lowest place." Theologically, we would note that Jesus took "the lowest place" by humbling himself and emptying himself when he came to live among us, a process called kenosis (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). This process of self-emptying can lead to humility, yet we may often avoid the path of humility because it also leads to vulnerability. To be humble is to be open to vulnerability, to uncertainty and servanthood. Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said, "Humility is the mother of all virtues - purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed, you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal."

Even Jesus, who deserved "the place of honor",
untied the sandals of his followers and washed their feet,
taking "the lowest place."
Our world today is very much about structures, titles, hierarchy, accreditation, and "places of honor." Yet in the gospel, Jesus is teaching us to "take the lowest place," regardless of our socio-economic, political, and cultural status. This is a hard lesson for us, because humans have a desire to be recognized, to be praised and affirmed, and to be remembered. This is not necessarily a bad thing; psychologist Abraham Maslow would argue that these are basic human identity needs. But challenges crop up when these identity needs are placed before the needs of others, or are lauded around and celebrated at the expense of the dignity and respect for others. I recently heard a story of a professor of graduate studies at a School for Theology who said that if the students had gone all four years of school without learning the names of the janitors who worked in their building, the good people who worked in food service or those who worked on maintenance for the university, then their degree was not earned. They had taken the place of honor, and now held the title, but had not been with those who had taken the lowest place.

Our role as humans in connecting with others ought to lead to upholding, respecting and dignifying others. But if we choose instead to make ourselves into something bigger, and "take the place of honor," then we overshadow those who have taken "the lowest place," and although we may stand as giants, we stand without these important human connections. This message of humility can be taken another way as well. This past Saturday, I attended a Profession of Solemn Vows for three Franciscan friars in Manhattan. On the way there, our bus encountered some difficulties and had to pull over for an extended period of time while the problem was being worked on. In the process, I grew restless and impatient, as I knew we would be late for the ceremony. As I understand it, the community I am with (and came with) was expected to sit in the front of the Church, and as such, be both the first in the opening procession of the ceremony, and probably the first to leave - receiving the recognition of the people.

However, we arrived about a half hour late, and at the end of the ceremony our presence was indeed recognized - but we were all sitting in the back of the Church. The recognition itself was not necessarily embarrassing, but the thought that we could have been the first was at first slightly frustrating for me. When hearing this gospel from St. Luke on Sunday, however, the story took on new meaning. It was not important to be the first ones to arrive or to leave - nor should I desire "the place of honor." It was better for me and for the others in my community to have sat in the very back, to "take the lowest place." It was better to be humbled by the experience of the problematic bus, so that I could learn a lesson of growth in both patience, humility, and vulnerability. It was better that the focus was on our three new solemnly professed friars, as the day was theirs, not ours. As Jesus said, "the one who exalts himself will be humbled," an experience I can now experientially attest to.

Seeking to be loved, admired and appreciated is indeed a very human quality - but as a Christian, I am called to littleness, minoritas, and humility. Today in various Christian denominations, the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist is remembered and celebrated. So in keeping with the life and lessons of St. John - who was himself a powerful speaker, prophet of the people and a well-known itinerant - we may recall his words regarding Jesus, that "He must become greater; I must become less" or as some translations say, "He must increase, and I must decrease" (John 3:30). We must also uphold those who have been marginalized by society, as Jesus says here - "the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind," as well as the many other communities who continue to suffer from oppression and marginalization. These have experienced minoritas, and can teach us how to "seek justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God."

Thursday, August 11

Charles Darwin, Theology and Evolutionary Perspectives

One of the major points of debate in Christian circles is that of origins, often framed as a "science vs. religion" debate, or a "creation vs. evolution." How can theology speak to this continuing conversation? How does an evolutionary perspective interact with the Christian tradition? In order to plunge into this ocean of intrigue, we must begin with Darwin. Charles Darwin (1809-1882), famous for popularizing and developing a unified theory of evolution, argued that all species - including homo sapiens - are products of “natural selection.” Darwin originally delayed the publication of The Origin of Species, largely because he was well aware that his ideas and theories flew in the face of contemporary assumptions and beliefs concerning human origins. His idea concerning the "descent by modification" was the gradual process by which various species evolved and changed. It in effect contradicted the prevailing world view of Darwin’s time, which had spoken of such ideas as spontaneous generation. However, around 1844 an anonymous booklet titled "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation" was published, which discussed what we now refer to as stellar evolution as well as the transmutation of species - the idea that preceded Darwin's theory of natural selection. Darwin felt that this little booklet that was being widely circulated prepared the general public and the scientific community for his Origin of Species, so in 1859, he finally published his work.

One must point out, however, that Darwin was not the first to think of evolutionary ideas. Thales of Miletus (640-546 BC) thought that life originated in water,1 and his student Anaximander (611-547 BC) thought that humans evolved from fish or fishlike forms.2 Xenophanes of Colophon (570-475 BC) recognized that fossils showed how life evolved,3 and Democritus (460-370 BC) taught that primitive people began to speak sounds then moved to words.4 Medieval Islamic authors held similar theories, largely due to their revival of ancient Greek classical texts. Therefore, although Darwin’s theory of evolution was new, it was not altogether unheard of. In fact, there are a number of people who may have influenced Darwin’s idea: Jean Baptiste Lamarck (who held that characteristics gained over a lifetime were inherited), Thomas Malthus (his theory of population growth), Comte de Buffon (came up with the idea of calculus, which helps modeling for evolution), and Alfred Russel Wallace (independently almost wrote essentially what Darwin wrote, but Darwin published first; they held parallel ideas). His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was one of his primary inspirations, as well as Charles Lyell, James Hutton, and Georges Cuvier - who first started assembling different skeletons and was making classifications of plants.

(Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain)
One of the charges often leveled at Christianity is that as a whole it is anti-science. Although there are a good number of modern Christians (especially in various American Christian denominations) who oppose different scientific discovery, there are also a large number who do not, and have not. Consider that it was a Belgian Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître, who discovered the Big Bang! It was an Augustinian friar, Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), who discovered modern genetics and is considered the father of genetics, which helped lead to the discovery of evolution. Consider that it was a Franciscan friar, Roger Bacon, who is credited as developing the Scientific Method. Further, despite commonly held beliefs surrounding the Galileo case and the Catholic Church, Galileo was actually a Secular Franciscan, studied medicine at a Jesuit monastery, had two daughters who became Poor Clares and spent their lives in the convent, and Galileo was especially close to one of the Popes of the time. It is also true that many of the Jesuits who also specialized in astronomy supported the research of Galileo at the time.5 (For more information, see: Galileo, the Church and the Heliocentric Affair)

Despite this and other interactions between science and religion, there is a vast body of evidence that resistance to the theory of evolution remains strong in some parts our society today, long after Darwin's work was published. Take for example the often cited Answers in Genesis, a Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) organization headed by Ken Ham. The YEC movement has been made famous through Ham’s debate with Bill Nye, through the Creation Museum in Kentucky, and the life-sized Noah’s Ark they have built in Kentucky. AiG is not the only organization to espouse this kind of view, there are others - such as the Institute for Creation Research, Creation International and others. The basic beliefs are that the Genesis narrative is literally true, particularly Genesis 1-11, that God created the universe 6000-24,000 years ago, that it only took God six, literal, 24 hour days to create, that modern dating methods do not work and everything merely "looks old," that Adam and Eve were real people, that there was a real, global flood - believed to be the source of fossils, that there was a real Tower of Babel, and finally, that dinosaurs and man lived together. Many Christians, however, instead accept alternative interpretations of the Genesis narrative or other understandings of origins, such as the view of Theistic Evolution, in which the divine Creator uses the processes of descent by modification, natural selection and such as a chisel to make the world, so to speak, just as Michelangelo would use a chisel to sculpt, yet he would remain the sculptor - or in other words, God is the artist, who uses a tool (evolutionary processes) to sculpt the world.

One helpful analogy when discussing science, theology and the Christian tradition is that of the "Two Books" of God's Revelation: the Bible and what we call the "Book of Creation." The Wesleyan Quadrilateral would refer to theology as being made up of four parts: Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason, but perhaps we may more widely define "Scripture" as the revelations of the Creator, which would include this "Book of Creation." Thus, the task of theologians is to "read" this book of creation in light of scientific findings and integrate them into our theological understandings, and vice versa. This idea of the "Two Books" is also not a new one. It is found in early Church writings such as St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, Origen of Alexandria and St. Augustine. it can be inferred from the writings of St. Paul in Romans 1:20, it is mentioned by the Franciscan friar St. Bonaventure, as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and many modern theologians who use it today.6 One organization, Biologos, in light of this understanding, holds that "Christians should think of Scripture and Creation as two “books” that should be read together for understanding the fullness of God’s self-revelation."7

Robert Boyle (1627-1691), an Anglo-Irish inventor, chemist, physicist and natural philosopher, once commented that “The book of nature is a fine and large piece of tapestry rolled up, which we are not able to see all at once, but must be content to wait for the discovery of its beauty, and symmetry, little by little, as it gradually comes to be more and more unfolded, or displayed.”8 From an evolutionary perspective, we may say that relationship is progressive - and God is progressive with God's relationship to creation. In fact, the term “evolution” comes from the Latin evolutionem, meaning “unrolling” or “an opening of what was rolled up,” and what is the foundation of Christianity if not continuous revelation and unfolding? Darwin himself once said, "I see no good reasons why evolution should shock the religious feelings of any... it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws."9

When considering Scripture and theology in light of evolutionary science, the book of Genesis is what is discussed the most - as the first few chapters deal with origins. As such, some have taken an approach to try and fit a literal Adam and Eve into the evolutionary framework, suggesting that at some point in evolutionary history, God endowed our early ancestors with the gift of reason and free will, thus situation Adam and Eve into the evolutionary timeline. Others point to passages early in Genesis to try and fit in what we study today in science with the ancient text; for example, one may believe that Genesis 1:3 which says, "Let there be light..." is the record of the words spoken by The Divine which triggered the Big Bang and set the universe into motion. Or, some may consider evolutionary processes to be found in Genesis by citing verses such as Genesis 1:24, "Let the earth bring forth...", suggesting that God imbued the earth with the creative ability to bring forth life and the conditions for life to flourish.

The Poetic structure of Genesis 1
Others look at the religion vs. science debate from a literary perspective. They suggest that Genesis 1 is structured much like a poem, with stanzas and repetition, and was not intended to give a literal, historic and scientific narrative of the origin of the universe. Rather, it was intended to provide a poetic and artistic narrative that is similar in many respects to other creation stories found in Near Eastern mythologies. Certainly, there are poetic devices in place - such as verse 27, which demonstrates a parallelism similar to how most of the Psalms are structured. The picture to the left also demonstrates the many repetitions within the opening chapter. Some scholars will note that Genesis 1 is laid out much like a liturgical poem, with the response given as "And God saw that it was good," and also containing poetic elements of symmetry and parallelism. Consider just a few of the poetic parallels and thematic parallels in each of the seven days: day one has light and dark, day two has sky and sea, day three has sea and land, day four has sun, moon and stars, day five has birds and fish, day six has animals and humans, and day seven is capped off with divine celebration.10

One scholar, John Walton, puts forth a theory in his book The Lost World of Genesis One. Walton notes that in ancient times, other Near-Eastern nations close to Israel believed that gods dwelled in temples. When they built a temple for a god, they would set up an image of that god on the sixth day of the celebration, and on the seventh day they would rest. Walton argues that Genesis 1 serves a purpose as a functional origin story, wherein God sets up his "cosmic temple." Then, God puts his image in creation - his "temple" - on the sixth day and rests on the seventh day, just as can be found throughout ancient Near Eastern mythologies. Walton believes that this first chapter is written as such to show that the God of Israel trumps all of the other foreign deities, demonstrating his power, majesty and might. Genesis 1 shows the divine sovereign sending forth, issuing commands and declaring dominion over everything - not only of an earth-bound temple, but of the entire "cosmic temple." Other writers have suggested different ways of interpreting the narratives found in Genesis. For example, Peter Enns notes in his Evolution of Adam that Adam serves in a quasi-preistly role  in the Garden of Eden, perhaps foreshadowing the future covenental relationships. Thus, Adam fills the role of a literary character who foreshadows the role of future priests in Israel, demonstrating that just as Adam cared deeply for the garden of Eden and all of its inhabitants, so too much the priests and teachers of the law care for Israel (their land) and all of its inhabitants.

On a narrative level, many different religious traditions, philosophies and non-religious individuals have come together to form a grand narrative, an "Epic of Evolution." In other words, "The Great Story (also known as the Universe Story, Epic of Evolution, or Big History) is humanity's common creation story. It is the 14 billion year science-based sacred story of cosmic genesis, from the formation of the galaxies and the origin of Earth life, to the development of self-reflective consciousness and collective learning, to the emergence of comprehensive compassion and tools to assist humanity in living harmoniously with the larger body of life."11  This "Epic of Evolution" is one way in which all religious and non-religious can dialogue, develop, discuss and have a narrative framework in which to work.

Developing an evolutionary theology brings about a number of wondrous new insights and considerations. For example, consider the beauty of the inter-connectedness with all other beings. St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), though not aware of the Darwinian theory of evolution, modern genetics or modern biology, was fully aware of the sacred connection that exists between all things. Francis celebrated and embodied this in his famous Canticle of the Creatures. In it, St. Francis refers to everything in relational terms as "brother and sister"; as in "Brother Sun," or "Sister Moon." From an evolutionary perspective, bearing in mind that all living beings are interconnected and related, this adds an even more layered depth of meaning. Insights such as these, when more fully explored, bring about a wider breadth to the grand narrative of God's work in history, as well as how we relate, care for and connect with the creation around us. If we are all related, how much more should we desire to care for creation! Another consideration is that every single atom that exists has existed since the moment of creation, meaning that the atoms which make up your body were once something or someone else entirely. Genesis 2 describes the creation of man from the dust of the earth, and today we would recognize that our bodies are made of elements from the stars!

On this point, Christian theologian Elizabeth Johnson notes, "Understanding the human species as an intrinsic part of planetary and cosmic matter has far-reaching implications for the meaning of incarnation. In this perspective, the human flesh that the Word became is part of the vast body of the cosmos. Theologians have started to use the phrase "deep incarnation," coined by Danish theologian Niels Gregersen, to express this radical divine reach into the very tissue of biological existence and the wider system of nature. Like all human beings, Jesus carried within himself what Jesuit Father David Toolan has called 'the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history of the Earth.' The genetic structure of his cells made him part of the whole community of life that descended from common ancestors in the ancient seas. The flesh that the Word became thus reaches beyond Jesus and other human beings to encompass the whole biological world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which we are composed... By becoming flesh the Word of God confers blessing on the whole of earthly reality in its material dimension, and beyond that, on the cosmos in which the Earth exists. Rather than being a barrier that distances us from the divine, this material world becomes a sacrament that can reveal divine presence. In place of spiritual contempt for the world, we ally ourselves with the living God by loving the whole natural world, part of the flesh that the Word became."12

What then are we left with? When we mix Darwin, theology and evolutionary perspectives, and we consider the movement of Christian thought and practice in today's world, we are again reminded of the need for a new theology for the this third millennium. Many of the questions we ask are very anthropocentric. Some believe that the only purpose of everything before us was to bring about the existence of humanity, "God's greatest jewel." But again, this is very human-centric thinking, and fairly limiting to the creative potential and action of the Divine. Where do we see the action of the Divine throughout geological history? In what ways do we find the relationship between God and early ancestors? Where do we find the movement of the Spirit in the Cambrian explosion, a period marked by an outburst of creative energy? If homo sapiens have only existed for 150,000-200,000 years out of the 4.6 billion years of Earth's history. or the 13.7 billion years of cosmic history, what does this mean for our place in history, our place in the universe and our place in the Divine plan for the cosmos? Certainly, the modern debate over origins - particularly between Young Earth Creation and evolutionary perspectives - will continue to go on, but when we view theology through the lens of evolutionary history, what we end up with is an Epic Story filled with beauty, progression and continuation. May the Divine Spirit grant us the insight and discernment as we continue to venture forth into this hitherto unknown country and journey on this voyage of discovery.

"There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into few forms... endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved." 
 - Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species-

[1] Birdsell, J.B. Human Evolution. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1972. 22. Print.
[2] Thompson, B. The History of Evolutionary Thought. Fort Worth: Star Bible & Tract Corp., 1981, 29.
[3] Glass, B., Owsel, T. and Straus, W. Forerunners of Darwin: 1745–1895. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1959. 6. Print.

[4] Macior, L., Introduction; in: Dodson, E.O. and Howe, G.F., Creation or Evolution, University of Ottawa Press, Ottawa, p. viii, 1990.
[5] In 1611, after publishing his Messenger from the Stars, Fr. Christopher Clavius, the chief mathematician and astronomer at the Jesuit Collegio Romano wrote to Galileo to inform him that the astronomers at the college confirmed his discoveries. Where Galileo ran into trouble was when he began claiming his theory as fact without first having actual evidence. Many of his ideas had already been disproven by other scientists, but he refused to acknowledge this.
[6] Mann, Mark. "The Church Fathers and Two Books Theology - Blog Series. Biologos, n.d. Web.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Boyel, Robert. The Christian Virtuoso. Ed. Works of Thomas Birch. 1744. Print.
[9] Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of the Species. 6th ed. Print.
[10] McLaren, Brian. The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian. Book 2. Print.
[11] Dowd, Michael. "What Is The Great Story?" The Great Story. N.p., n.d. Web.
[12] Johnson, Elizabeth. "For God so Loved the Cosmos." Environment. U.S. Catholic, 2013. Web.

Wednesday, August 10

A Kenotic God: Theology of Love. Sacrifice and Relationship

*This is a featured article by guest author Jake Waehner, Graduate of Roberts Wesleyan College*

A theist in any scholarly circle is constantly subjected to the same questions. “How can human beings have free will if God is all-powerful and all-knowing?” “Why is there evil if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good?” Classical theists have had answers to these questions for centuries, but the answers that they propose have not been convincing for many people. There is, then, a need for a fresh perspective regarding the answers to the difficult questions of theism. The traditionally held beliefs in classical theism have been held so tightly that no one has questioned them in mainstream Christianity for hundreds of years. There is a need to reexamine some of classical theism’s tenets, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and immutability.

Two schools of thought in Christian theology have taken a second look at some of these concepts, and as such, they have seen theology from a new point of view. One of these new theologies is process theology. Process theologians have largely rejected the concepts of omnipotence and immutability. As a result, God is able to be in a more intimate relationship with his creation. However, most other theologians believe that process theology goes too far in its out-of-the-box thinking and reject it as outside of Christian orthodoxy. The other new school of theology, openness theology, attempts to soften some of process theism’s less orthodox claims in order to bring it into the realm of mainstream Christian belief. As such, it retains the concepts of omnipotence, omniscience, and immutability and simply rethinks them to better answer the tough questions answered by theological skeptics. However, process theists hold that openness theologians have not gone far enough in their radical reordering of the ideas of classical theology, and as such is not a suitable compromise between the two opposite ends of the spectrum.

Process theology stems from the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and was developed into a theological system by thinkers such as Charles Hartshorne and John B. Cobb. Perhaps the most important idea in process thought, and the idea from which the thought system is named, is that process is a fundamental part of existence.1 As such, in order for something to be fundamentally real, it must be in process; to process theologians, this means that even God is growing and undergoing change just like the universe he created.2 In process theology, the implications of this idea are great. First, the classical theological position of immutability, the notion that in order for God to be perfect, he must be unchanging, is contradictory to process thought; this is the biggest mistake classical theologians make according to process theologians.3 In the same way, God cannot be omnipotent.4 God cannot use his power to force people to do what he wants them to do; God can only persuade people, not coerce them.5 However, as far as knowledge goes, the God conceived through process thought does not have to be entirely different from the God of classical theism.6 Panentheism is one of the most controversial aspects of process theology. Panentheism is the belief that God is in such a close relationship to the universe that the universe is in some way part of God, despite God’s transcendence of the world.7 This is another aspect of how outside-of-the-box process thought can become. All of these ideas are important to consider when developing a system of theology. Process theologians would argue that openness theologians, not to mention classical theologians, do not do enough to rethink the limiting theological ideas that have perhaps been holding Christian theology back for centuries.

Openness theology can be seen as a preliminary attempt to make process theology into something more easily acceptable in more traditional mainstream theological thought. While process theists change the concepts of immutability and omnipotence, openness theologians keep those concepts largely intact while focusing more on the concept of omniscience. While God is still omniscient in an openness view, God still does not know the future. This is because knowing the future is logically inconsistent due to the fact that the future is inherently indefinite.8 This still allows God to be in a deeper relationship with human beings and also gives humanity free will; God can have genuine relationships with people instead of having merely a creator-creation dynamic— it is much more than that.9 However, unlike the process theologian, an openness theologian believes that God can use both persuasive and coercive power, and sometimes God uses this coercive power.10 While process thinkers hold that openness theologians do not go far enough in their reconstruction of their concept of God, openness theologians might think that process thinkers are just as dogmatic and obstinate as classical theists.11 Additionally, openness theologians observe that everyday Christians go about their devotional lives in a way that conforms to openness theology’s ideas than they do to classical theology’s, even if they do believe in the classical model.12

While these two systems both have important insights to offer, and while both have moved away from the stagnant ideas of God put forward in classical theism, neither of them are satisfactory on their own.13 Both process and openness theology value God’s love over his power, and they both value what process philosophy has done to expand many people’s conception of God.14 Process theism may go too far in some aspects, with their outright rejection of omnipotence, as well as their general disagreement with the trinity and with creatio ex nihilo.15 However, openness theology does only the bare minimum to shake the burden of classical theism, and should be seen as the bar over which a dynamic and fresh theological system should aim.16 How can a theologian develop a system that takes the best elements of each of these schools of thought while also making it more palatable for the classical theologians? The most effective way to do this is through the doctrine of kenosis, in which God limits God’s own power to allow for deeper relationships, human free will, and the importance of love over power by emptying himself. A God who has the ability to use coercive power or to know the future, but chooses not to do so out of love for his creation makes for a God worthy of worship while solving the difficult questions of free will and the problem of evil. It still retains all of the major premises of process theism while maintaining the sense of infinity in classical theism, as well as the important retaining of human free will which is so important in openness theism. A “kenotic” God is a satisfactory synthesis of all of the best elements of all three of the conflicting theological systems.

Kenosis is the simplest and most theologically satisfying way to move process theology into the mainstream. If one starts with the classical idea that God is immutable, this makes God deficient in some way since he cannot enter into a deep relationship with a changing creation unless he too can change with it. The concept of perfection as being unchanging is logically inconsistent with the process idea that a being must be in process to be an actual being. This rejection of immutability opens the door for a kenotic God. In order for God to be perfect in love, he cannot force his creation to love him; this would not be a real loving relationship. It would be more Stockholm Syndrome than a healthy parental bond. One could even say that this form of love is akin to an abusive relationship, where one loves the other out of necessity, not out of choice. Even if a perfect being is omnipotent, love is a trait that is even better and more worthy of worship than power. God is made more worthy of love and worship if he chooses not to force us into relationship, especially if he has the ability to do so.17 This is even more so the case than in process theology, where God does not coerce humanity simply because he does not have the ability. In regard to the openness idea of omniscience, it becomes an act of love to not know the future when the future is actually knowable, but God empties himself of the ability to know it to give humanity more freedom. Even if there was no good biblical basis for a kenotic God, it would still be a tempting idea to adopt simply because it puts for a conception of God that is loving and sacrificial.

Fortunately, there is a well established biblical background for kenosis. The cornerstone
for the doctrine of kenosis comes from Philippians 2:5-8:18
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 
6 who, though he was in the form of God,   
did not regard equality with God   
as something to be exploited, 
7 but emptied himself,   
taking the form of a slave,   
being born in human likeness.   
And being found in human form, 
8 he humbled himself   
and became obedient to the point of death—   
even death on a cross. (NRSV)
This verse takes the form of an early church prayer or song, and is instrumental in the understanding of a kenotic God. Verse 7 especially is important, as it says that Christ emptied himself during the incarnation. Some scholars do not take this passage into account in regard to their Christology, but there should be no question that this passage is highly important when understanding the nature of Christ.19 It is a common exegetical conclusion that this passage implies that Jesus gave up his omnipotence and omniscience when he emptied himself.20 Many classical theists wish to hold tightly to those attributes of God, but if Jesus could give them up to become a servant, why could the fullness of the trinitarian God do the same? The point of the kenosis of Jesus was servanthood— he could not serve humanity if he had all of these divine attributes. It seems possible that God could not properly be in relation to the world is he retained these attributes at all. It would be the ultimate act of love to give up infinite knowledge and power so that God could grow and be in process with his creation. It is surely an unimaginable concept to a great deal of Christians, which only adds to its appeal as a conception of a God worthy of worship.

In a theological system, everything is interrelated; once one idea is put in place, all of the other dominos start to fall, so to speak. In this kenotic system, the first domino is divine love. God’s love is the cornerstone of who he is, and as the most important attribute, it dictates all of the others. The reason that God cannot be immutable is that God is first and foremost a loving being. In order for him to love to the fullest extent, “God experiences (i.e., takes into the divine experience) all the joys, pains, and sorrows of all created things at all times, and then offers back to them a leading toward the good.”21 God is affected by humanity in a fundamental way, and God uses all of this experience to help creation continue forward in process. However, he does not help through coercion; but his persuasive power is divinely good and is used to fulfill the divine purpose of actualization of the whole of creation.22 However, for God to know the future outside of the eventual fulfillment of his divine purpose would be limiting of human freedom; this means that God limits his own foreknowledge. God’s emphasis on love dictates the rest of God’s being to an incredible extent, and love permeates not only every aspect of God, but also every aspect of the universe that God has created, grown with, and loved so radically that it is like a part of him.

Photo credit to Leslie Ann Miranda
As the most important part of this theological system, love is the most important attribute of God. It is the driving force of God’s creativity and is the reason for the creation of the universe. The aim of every action of God is “the elicitation of the maximum richness of existence in every situation.”23 God is primarily concerned with the flourishing of his creation, and this is the reason that God chooses to go through all of the suffering that he goes through. God loves so much that there could very well be no limit to how much pain he will go through for humanity. Jesus emptied himself even further to become a servant on earth and eventually is tortured and killed in agony just to be raised again, all for the sake of humanity. All of this is part of an endless and constantly loving dialogue between creator and creation, parent and child, or even between two lovers; it is a constant invitation to join the divine in a future of flourishing and actualization.24

The foundational idea of process theology is that every actual being is in process and as such is growing and changing. This does not exclude God. Charles Hartshorne, one of the original process theologians, counted the idea that God must be unchangeable in order to be perfect as one of the great theological mistakes.25 If one starts with the assumption that beings must be in process to be real beings, then God must be in process. Additionally, it only makes God more loving if he can grow with his creation. Additionally, in the Old Testament, it seems that he could be convinced to change his mind, like with Abraham stopping him from destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and that he regretted some of his earlier decisions, like in the flood narrative where he regretted creating humanity only for them to become wicked and sinful; God seems to suffer when humanity goes wrong.26 The rejection of the doctrine of divine immutability is a vital part of process theology and remains an important aspect of the kenotic system.

The process theologian’s rejection of omnipotence is another aspect of the kenotic God. However, unlike the process view in which God does not have the ability to use coercive power at all, the kenotic God simply chooses not to do so. This means that the process idea that God cannot perform miracles is rejected in this system.27 God can use miracles in special circumstances in which a greater use of power is the best way to elicit actualization in the universe. Especially in regards to the church, God can use coercive power in some circumstances. When people choose to allow the Holy Spirit to influence their lives in a more direct way, they invite God to use coercive power on them. However, since this is akin to a consensual relationship, the power God uses is not coercive, despite the fact that it is much a much more direct way of persuasion since there is no resistance on the part of the person. The Holy Spirit’s influence on the church is more coercive than process theologians would like it to be, since the church lives through the direct power of the Holy Spirit that dwells within them.28 Overall, the kenotic view of God is quite similar in its conclusions to process theology’s view, with the caveat of self-limitation as well as the allowance of miracles and more direct guidance of the willing. This answers many of the questions that a more traditional theist might have about process theology.

While there is no real necessary change to omniscience in Process theology, kenosis in relation to God’s knowledge can answer the question of whether or not humans have free will.29 Openness theologians argue that God is omniscient, but that the future is by nature unknowable.30 Another viewpoint, one that perhaps meshes with the system of kenosis, is that even if the future is indeed knowable, God does not know it. This is because if God were to observe what happens in the future, the universe would be locked into that future, and thus free will would not be able to exist. The solution to this is either the openness view that the future is indefinite and unknowable, or that God empties himself of the ability to see the future in order to give humanity, as well as the rest of creation, the ability to take a plethora of different forms more or less on its own. It is important to note that while the rejection of omniscience is not necessarily a tenet of process theology, Charles Hartshorne did reject the doctrine of omniscience as a theological mistake.31 This may give more weight to the argument that the future is knowable, but God does not know it (or, at least, chooses not to know it for the sake of the allowance of free will.)

While the reframing of these attributes of God, as well as the expanded understanding of kenosis could be seen as a more or less coherent theological system on its own, some of the other ideas of process thought are worth examining to see if they can add more insight into the kenotic God. Panentheism is the idea that “the world is in some sense within God, even though God also transcends the world.”32 This is not to be confused with pantheism, the idea that the universe itself is divine. The idea of panentheism works well with a kenotic God; if the world is contained within God, then creation in itself is a sacrificial act in which God literally empties out a space within the divine so that creaturely or non-divine beings can live.33 Panentheism also takes God’s love for and relationship with the universe to the next level because the universe is closer and more dear to God than any classical view of theology could have considered. While this is a point that should be embraced in a kenotic theological system, the process view of panentheism does pose some problems in regards to some important foundational beliefs in Christianity that should be preserved.

The first problem that panentheism poses is that many process theologians reject the trinity in favor of this concept. This is because they see the universe as God’s body in some way; this means that the trinity is not necessary.34 However, panentheism and trinitarianism go together too perfectly to disregard either of the ideas. First of all, panentheists see creatures as distinct points of activity within God; trinitarians, likewise, hold that while God is one being, there are three distinct persons in the one being.35 If panentheism already accepts that there are multiple centers of activity within God, then it is perfectly plausible to hold trinitarian beliefs as well as panentheistic ones because the ideas are based on the same premise.36 God creates life within the spaces divine life to create the universe, it only makes things easier if the trinity always has existed as three distinct realities in the first place; the universe could be seen as a multitude of selves within the triune Self that is God.37 Trinitarian thought fits perfectly well with panentheism and both should be accepted in the kenotic theological system. This is because trinitarianism is an instrumental part of classical theology that is not limiting to one’s conceptualization of God, so it should not be rejected like the stagnated views of immutability, omniscience, and omnipotence. Additionally, panentheism is a useful way to understand God’s relationship with the world, as long as it does not interfere with other attributes of God such as
the trinity.

Another problem that arises out of process theology, and out of panentheism specifically, is process theology’s rejection of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. Since many process theists hold that the universe is God’s body, they reject the idea that the universe has not always existed.38 If God is defined by his relation to the world, then if the world did not exist at one point, God would not have existed either. However, once trinitarianism is established in process thought, then God has always had a divine relationship within the divine life, whether or not the universe has always existed. Additionally, while the universe has not always existed, God’s creative and relational nature means that God must create by his very nature. God’s decision to create the universe had to be a freely made divine decision.39 Like with all of the other sacrificial decisions made by the kenotic God, this is another aspect of God that is made more poignant when it is his choice to make, rather than an aspect of existence made necessary by a limitation of God.

A theological system based in kenosis will have a specific answer to both the problem of human free will and the problem of evil. The problem of free will is easily solved through the doctrine of kenosis. God limits his foreknowledge so the future is not fixed due to it being observed or put into place by God, or the future is simply unknowable (but in such a case kenosis becomes unnecessary). God also limits his power so his ability to use coercive power does not get in the way of human beings making choices on their own. This, however, is not always the case, since some people (as well as the church as a whole) allow the Holy Spirit to guide them more directly. Miracles are also an exception to this rule. Overall, God makes sacrifices to allow human beings to make their own decisions, even if their decisions are not what God would want from them.

As far as the problem of evil goes, the process idea of persuasive and coercive power provides a more or less satisfactory answer to the problem of evil so long as God does not have the ability to coerce people away from evil in any way. However, since a kenotic God can use coercive power but chooses not to, the question gets a bit more complicated. How can one justify evil in a system where God has the ability to stop it? The simplest solution is that God allows the world for the most part to its own devices, and then only uses persuasive power the vast majority of the time because that is the moral thing for God to do. God must allow his creation to choose evil in order for them to have free will. If he were to stop all evil through coercion, the universe becomes a puppet show, and free will becomes a lie; the relationship between humanity and the divine would be a sham. Additionally, when evil happens in the world, it is important to remember the pantheistic idea that the world is contained within God. This means that when people are hurt, God is hurt as well. God suffers with the universe so that he can lead it into a future where evil is no more.40

An important aspect of any theology is how its implications affect people in real life. As such, it is important to note that a kenotic view of God fits well with many concepts of liberation theology. The idea that God suffers with humanity and uses that to lead them towards fulfillment is an idea that seems right at home in liberation theology. The relationality of the kenotic God reinforces the idea of creation as the first act of salvation as well as the concept of creation and salvation as a joint process between God and humanity.41 “Process theology provides a reinterpretation of church doctrines which supports the liberation theologian's critique of the tradition and its ethic, and which is consonant with the worldview of a modern person.”42 The classical theistic view stems from a largely Eurocentric view of God, especially the doctrines that process theology rejects, like omnipotence and immutability.43 This helps people who are suffering in real life connect with God in a way that classical theism does not allow. An important way that this theological system can help suffering people understand God comes from the response to the problem of evil. In this system, God is not the cause of every event that happens in the world.44 This means that people are not forced into the idea that their marginalization is caused by God. It also gives people hope that God is there to help them. The beauty of a relational God is that he shares in the sufferings of the marginalized. In a sense, the oppressed have a relationship with God that a privileged person could never fully understand. God also takes these sufferings and uses them to move humanity forward, and one of the most important ways that humanity must move forward is to have fulfilling relationships with one
another that do not marginalize or oppress people.

This conglomeration of process and openness theology with the doctrine of kenosis offers a view of God that values love over everything. The kenotic God empties himself for the sake of humanity. While in some ways, this emptying makes God fundamentally less in some way in that his power is diminished, this God becomes infinitely more worthy of worship. The kenotic God is a God that is consistent with scripture while also breaking free from the chains of static traditional theology. In the same way, however, the kenotic God is consistent with much of the beliefs that people already have of God. It also softens some of the controversial language of process theology while keeping all of the fresh new insights that it offers into God. While God is still omnipotent and omniscient, he is also infinitely loving and relational through kenosis. This solves many of the problems that skeptics have with classical theology while still remaining in the realm of Christian orthodoxy. Perhaps the most important consequence of this system of thought is the real life implications. Not only would the acceptance of the kenotic theological system bring a greater sense of hope to people who are already Christians, it could also show skeptics a God who they could have faith in. The kenotic God is a result of a sound theological system and also has a message that brings a fresh and hopeful point of view into the realm of mainstream Christian thought.

Works Cited 
Basinger, David, William Hasker, Michael L Peterson, and Bruce R Reichenbach. Reason and   Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. n.p.: Oxford Univ Pr, 1991.

Basinger, David, William Hasker, Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, and John Sanders. The Openness  of God: a Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. Downers Grove,  Ill: InterVarsity Pr; Paternoster Pr, 1994.  

Clayton, Philip. "Kenotic trinitarian panentheism." Dialog 44, no. 3 (September 2005): 250-255. 

Cobb, John B. and Griffin, David Ray. Process Theology: an Introductory Exposition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, c1976. 

Cooper, Burton. "How does God act in our time: an invitation to a dialogue between process and liberation theologies." Union Seminary Quarterly Review 32, no. 1 (September 1976): 25-35.  

Ford, Lewis S. The Lure of God: A Biblical Background for Process Theism. n.p.: Fortress Pr,   1978.  

Hartshorne, Charles. Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes. Albany: SUNY Pr, 1984. 

McClain, Alva J. "The Doctrine of the Kenosis in Philippians 2:5-8." The Master's Seminary   Journal 9, no. 1 (1998 1998): 85-96. 

Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love: a Theology of the Holy Spirit. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity  Pr, 1996. 

Searching for an adequate God: a dialogue between process and free will theists. Ed. Cobb,   John B., Jr. and Pinnock, Clark H.  Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, 2000.

[1] John B. Cobb and David Ray Griffin, Process Theology: an Introductory Exposition, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, c1976, p. 14. 
[2] Ibid..
[3] Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes, Albany: SUNY Pr, 1984, p. 23
[4] Ibid., 3.
[5] David Basinger, William Hasker, Michael L Peterson, and Bruce R Reichenbach, Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, n.p.: Oxford Univ Pr, 1991, p. 149.
[6] Ibid., 148. 
[7] Philip Clayton, "Kenotic trinitarian panentheism,” Dialog 44, no. 3 (September 2005): pp. 250-251.
[8] Basinger, et al. Reason and Religious Belief, p. 148.
[9] David Basinger, William Hasker, Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, and John Sanders, The Openness  of God: a Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God, Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Pr; Paternoster Pr, 1994, p. 7. 
[10] Ibid..
[11] Ibid., 9
[12] Ibid., 8.
[13] Clayton, “Kenotic,” 250.
[14] Searching for an adequate God: a dialogue between process and free will theists, Ed. Cobb, John B., Jr. and Pinnock, Clark H. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, 2000, p. ix. 
[15] Basinger, et. al, Reason and Religious Belief, 145.
[16] Clayton, “Kenotic,” 250.
[17] Basinger, et al, Reason and Religious Belief, 149.
[18]  Alva J. McClain, "The Doctrine of the Kenosis in Philippians 2:5-8,” The Master's Seminary Journal 9, no. 1 (1998 1998): 87. 
[19] McClain, “The Doctrine of the Kenosis,” 87.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Clayton, “Kenotic,” 252.
[22] Lewis S. Ford, The Lure of God: A Biblical Background for Process Theism, n.p.: Fortress Pr, 1978, 22.
[23] Ford, The Lure of God, 24.
[24] Basinger, et. al, The Openness of God, 7.
[25] Hartshorne, Omnipotence, 2.
[26] Ford, The Lure of God, 29.
[27] Basinger, et. al, Reason and Religious Belief, 149.
[28] Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: a Theology of the Holy Spirit, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Pr, 1996, 115.
[29] Basinger, et. al, Reason and Religious Belief, 148.
[30] Ibid., 171.
[31] Hartshorne, Omniscience, 3.
[32] Clayton, “Kenotic,” 250
[33] Ibid., 252.
[34] Basinger, et. al, Reason and Religious Belief, 145.
[35] Clayton, “Kenotic,” 252.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Ibid., 253.
[38] Basinger, et. al, Reason and Religious Belief, 145
[39] Clayton, “Kenotic,” 251
[40] Ibid., 252.

[41] Burton Cooper, "How does God act in our time: an invitation to a dialogue between process and  liberation theologies,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 32, no. 1 (September 1976): p. 30.
[42] Cooper, “How does God act in our time,” 26.
[43] Ibid., 25.
[44] Ibid., 35.

All One in Christ Jesus: A Goal of Complete Equality

*This is a featured article by guest author Jake Waehner, Graduate of Roberts Wesleyan College*

Among the most powerful and radical verses in the Bible is Galatians 3:28. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV). This verse is likely the most progressive verse to be found in the entire Bible, and is seemingly contradictory to other statements made by the Apostle Paul throughout his letters through the early churches; some of the seemingly most misogynistic and oppressive statements in the Bible are contained in his letters. Even today, these statements are used to oppress women in the church. Many churches (perhaps even the majority of the Christian circles of the world) still do not reflect the radical equality described in Galatians 3:28, while upholding an interpretation of Scripture that holds women, and the Church as a whole by extension, back.

It is important to see that while Scripture does contain verses that would be considered misogynistic and oppressive to women today, they were actually quite progressive in the first century. Galatians 3:28 represents the trajectory found in the Bible of complete and radical inclusion of all people without preference or discrimination. How does one then justify this trajectory throughout Scripture, and what does a community that reflects Galatians 3:28 look like? Additionally, what changes need to be made in modern Christianity in order to attain this goal? The most important issues at hand is the need for a change in worldview that leads to a radical restructuring of the worldwide Church so that it can be a force for empowerment and progressive change, rather than an anchor holding society back or a global force for oppression of women.

Throughout the Bible, it is evident that the end goal is complete equality. In Genesis 1:26-27, it says that both male and female were made in the image of God. There is nothing in the first chapter to suggest that women were meant to be submissive to men. However, in the second chapter, there is argument that when the woman is designated ezer in Genesis 2:18 that this leaves the male to be the one in the leadership position. However, this cannot be true because God is an ezer in verses such as Exodus 18:4, as well as in Deuteronomy 33 and throughout the book of Psalms. The first time that the women is told to be submissive to the man is in Genesis 3:16 as a result of the curse that brings about the fall of humanity. The patriarchy, then, is a result of the fall, and is something that society needs to actively work against in order to bring about the world that was originally intended by God before a morally corruptible human nature caused sin to distort the social hierarchy. In other words, patriarchy and the subjugation of women is a literal curse on humanity.

After the fall in Genesis 3, there are countless examples of violence and oppression against women. Common examples of these aggressions include the use of concubines, such as Abram’s use of Sarai’s maidservant Hagar in Genesis 16, which is later justified by the law throughout the Pentateuch.  Laws in Exodus chapters 20 and 21 outline how daughters can be sold like slaves, except that female slaves do not get freed after six years like male slaves do. In the Old Testament, women are entirely dependent on men as outlined in Genesis 3. If a married man divorces his wife (which he is allowed to do per Deuteronomy 24:1-4), the woman’s life is essentially ruined; she has no husband to support her and her family will not take her back. She has no rights to property, because she is the property of either her husband or her father. An especially gruesome law is found in Numbers 5:11-31 in which a man who suspects his wife of committing adultery (an offense only a woman could commit in the Old Testament), or is simply feeling particularly jealous that day, is allowed to make a women drink cursed water that will “cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people” (Numbers 5:27 NRSV) if she had committed adultery.

It is clear that Old Testament Law is oppressive towards women, but it is apparent that Old Testament society, while still oppressive, contains examples of strong females who subvert the laws to do good for their society. An obvious example is Deborah, the prophetess and judge who lead Israel into battle with Barak, who refused to go unless Deborah went as well. Her prophecy in Judges 4:9, in which she tells Barak “the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the  Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” comes true not through Deborah, but Jael, another woman who drove a tent peg through the general Sisera’s temple as he slept. Another story of female empowerment is the story of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25, in which she takes over her household in her husband Nabal’s drunken ineptitude and saves hundreds of people put in danger by his foolishness. Even though the laws in the Old Testament were stacked against them, there is a vein of strong women in the narrative who still do righteous and important things.

In the New Testament, there is a still greater movement towards gender equality. Jesus allowed Mary, Martha’s sister, to study under him in Luke 10:38-42, which was unheard of in Jesus’s society. He even praises Mary’s choice to study rather than to conform to traditional gender roles, saying in verse 42 that “Mary has chosen the better part.” The story in John chapter 4 of the woman at the well is often told as a condemnation for sexual promiscuity, but when Jesus commented on the number of husbands that she has had, he is not saying that the Samaritan woman was a sexual sinner. He was disclosing to the woman that he had divine knowledge, but more importantly, he was condemning the patriarchal system that had failed her. These husbands had left her for dead; Jesus condemns this system of divorce in the Sermon on The Mount (Matthew 5:31-32). The Samaritan woman then becomes the first evangelist, causing her whole village to believe.

While the Apostle Paul might have said things in his epistles that seem misogynistic to modern readers, his writings suggests a worldview that is a continuation of this movement towards equality seen throughout the Bible since the fall. In Romans 16, Paul refers to Phoebe as a deaconess, and to Junia as an Apostle. While he seems to condemn women in leadership in I Timothy, it is apparent that the situation is not so explicitly clear. In other letters, Paul refers to women who are in leadership, like Romans 16. The Christian church offered an unprecedented inclusion of women that was part of the reason that the church was successful despite the persecution it faced. One of Paul’s most powerful points comes in Galatians 3:28 in which he lays out the end goal for a Christian society: equality for all people regardless of status, nationality, or gender.

(Photo credit to Transforming Christianity)
It is apparent, then, that feminism is compatible with the Bible, and anything less than full equality between genders is a moral failure. However, it is also apparent that the church, as well as society in general has fallen short of this goal. Feminist theologian Mary Daly said that “the reformed, democratized Church of the future is not yet here, although the seeds of it are present in the living faith, hope and courage of the Christian community.”1 Daly’s first book, The Church and the Second Sex, contains a message of hope despite the rampant patriarchy in the church. In many denominations, women do not have the right to serve in ministry. Additionally, traditional gender roles are still held by many Christians. Complementarianism is a conservative response to feminism that reinforces gender roles by asserting that some roles are for women and others for men.2 However, even though many complementarians assert that these roles are separate but equal, it is obvious that there is a hierarchy implied. The male roles include the authority to decide what the female roles are, and none of the female roles are exclusively female like the male roles are.3 Even in secular society, casual sexism is still pervasive. The church should be a leading force for equality throughout the world, but it is unfortunately holding society back. Even among feminists, full equality is difficult to attain. It is important for feminism to be intersectional. Women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women of disabilities are just a few groups of women who will inevitably face more and different forms of oppression than a heterosexual, cisgender white woman.4 This often causes conflict within feminism. It is important that all women work together for their common good while acknowledging their differences in solidarity.5

The Episcopal Church is one of the most progressive churches in the United States. In addition to their LGBTQ+ inclusion in recent years, women have been able to be ordained for the past four decades.6 They acknowledge that women are created in the image of God and that they too are called to ministerial roles like men are.7 In a statement to the United Nations, the Episcopal church said “Episcopalians have published, studied, gathered, advocated and campaigned on gender discrimination, domestic and gender violence, sex trafficking, gender budgeting, election advocacy, word studies, and gender parity, both within our Church and at the United Nations.”8 There is an emphasis on women’s issues in this denomination, and many women serve in high ranking positions in the church. The last Presiding Bishop, the leader of the Episcopal Church, was Katherine Jefferts Schori, who was the first female leader of a denomination in the Anglican Communion.9 St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Olean, NY is led by the Reverend Kim Rossi today, but when women were first allowed to serve in ministry in the denomination, this parish had a different opinion. “The Rector of St. Stephen’s Church at that time, The Rev. Richard Duncan, flew the Episcopal Flag upside down and at half mast when the church approved the ordination of women.”10 However, in the span of a few decades, a woman rose to the highest position in the denomination. Additionally, the Episcopal Church has recognized the intersectional struggles of women who are also part of other oppressed groups. The Episcopal Church has come a long way in the path towards a Galatians 3:28 society, but there is still work to do in order to end sexism in the world.11

If the church is going to become a fully equal place, there needs to be sweeping changes not only in practice and doctrine but also in the mindsets of the people in the church. Sexism is something that has become socially omnipresent, so it needs to be consciously unlearned. If the church was able to unlearn sexism, it could become a safe place for women and a powerful force for equality. However, in order to do this, there must be a radical restructuring of the church. Reconstructionist feminist theology argues that more needs to be done than just allowing women to serve in ministry; “reconstructionist feminist theologians seek a liberating theological core for women within the Christian tradition, while also envisioning a deeper transformation, a true reconstruction, not only of their church structures, but also of civil society.”12 This is the stance that Mary Daly took in her first book. She argued that since women were created equal at the start of Genesis, they should then get equal rights as men in the church, but also that the church needed to do much more than what they were already doing in order to get there.13

In order for the patriarchal mindset of the church to be changed, there are a plethora of things that need to be done. Those who are in leadership now need to be convinced that women are equal to men. The problem is that there is no female voice in the church. This is not because there are no women speaking out, but it is because there are no women in power. But in order for women to get power, there needs to be a feminist voice that is actually heard by church leadership. It’s a frustrating cycle that has surely caused countless bright and promising women to leave the church. This is why there must be a grassroots, ground-up, foundational reconstruction of the church. One way to accomplish this would be through protest. If people were to leave the sexist churches behind and rallied around a church that heard the voices of the oppressed, the results could be monumental. It is also highly important that men speak up for women. Since men are still unfortunately in a position of privilege, perhaps one of the most efficient ways for equality to be reached is by the already powerful male voice in the church using his position to speak up for the oppressed. The Episcopal Church has heard the voices of women and has begun the necessary changes to become the Galatians 3:28 community. If all of the bright minds shunned by other denominations coalesced around a church like the Episcopal Church, their voices would become so loud that the greater Christian community would have to listen.

Overall, the Episcopal Church’s stance on women has gone in a positive direction in the last 40 years. Women are allowed to serve in ministry, and their highest position was held by a woman for nine years. It understands the nuances of feminism and of intersectionality while actually doing work to end systematic oppression of women. It has put systems in place to help women, especially women who are affected by other systems of oppression, get the treatment they deserve. Perhaps most importantly, they have the potential to be a light for other churches, and they can be a positive influence on Christianity. As Mary Daly said, “the reformed, democratized Church of the future is not yet here.”14 The Episcopal Church’s efforts are not yet enough. There needs to be a more powerful movement that can speak out against oppression and make waves in society. Moving forward, the Episcopal church should be a more vocal presence in the feminist movement, so people can hear their message and join them in working for full equality. The Episcopal Church’s idealogical shift towards progressive values has shown skeptics that Christianity is not irredeemably patriarchal and is compatible with feminism. People who want equality for all genders can still strive for their goals in a Christian setting without compromising either their Christian or their feminist ideals; in fact, the people who do this will end up changing the world for the better through their efforts.

Works Cited
Clifford, Anne M. Introducing Feminist Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002. 

Daly, Mary. The Church and the Second Sex. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1968. 

Interview with Rev. Kim Rossi. 29 November 2015. 

“Statement by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America to the 59th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.” The Episcopal Church. 20 March 2015.

[1] Mary Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1968.1
[2] Anne M. Clifford, Introducing Feminist Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002; 146.2 [3] [3] Clifford, Introducing, 146.
[4] Ibid., 28.
[5] Ibid., 28
[6] Interview with Rev. Kim Rossi, 29 November 2015. 
[7] “Statement by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America to the 59th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women,” The Episcopal Church, 20 March 2015. 
[8] “Statement,” The Episcopal Church, 20 March 2015.
[9] Interview with Rev. Kim Rossi, 29 November 2015.
[10] Interview with Rev. Kim Rossi, 29 November 2015
[11] “Statement,” The Episcopal Church, 20 March 2015.
[12] Clifford, Introducing, 34.
[13] Daly, The Church, 1968
[14] Ibid.