Tag Archives: Christianity

God is Red: A History of Christianity in Communist China

God is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China, Liao Yiwu. (Harper One 2011) $14.99

God Is RedIn God is Red, historian Liao Yiwu tells the story of Christian missionary workers and the house church movement throughout the twentieth century in China under totalitarian government. For his previous writings, Liao has been imprisoned and his books banned. “But what if we, as a nation, collectively lose our memory of the past?” Liao asks.

This question haunts the entire book, a fear that is reminiscent of Orwell’s perennial classic. Liao delves “into the past and present experiences of a particular group of people in search of clues about China’s future,” interweaving and linking several interviews conducted in the Yunnan province of southwest China between 2002 and 2010. Albeit a particular story about Christianity in China, God is Red takes on the political dragon to record the country’s moment of faith crisis in the wake of a push for modernization.

Readers will find this an easy book to get lost in: Liao recounts the interviews cleanly without losing the humor, as well capturing the Chinese way of telling a story poetically,

I followed Brother Yang, clutching both hands in front of my chest, tears streaming down like raindrops. I tell you, I wasn’t overcome with grief. I felt grateful. For the first time in my life, I didn’t think about myself or about human beings. I was thinking about God, who is above us, above all living things, above the highest mountain, above Erhai Lake. My parents gave birth to me, but God gave me life. I didn’t know that before. Cancer helped enlighten me, giving winder to my heart, which had been downtrodden in the mud, and made it fly and feel the bliss of heaven. Continue reading

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A Thicker Jesus

A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age, Glen H. Stassen (Westminster John Knox Press, 2012) $25

a-thicker-jesusFrom my days at Fuller Theological Seminary, I so enjoyed the perspective taught and embodied by Dr. Glen Stassen.  His ethics course and seminal text, Kingdom Ethics, gave useful language for budding young seminarians like myself on how the teachings from the Sermon on the Mount must infuse every part of our ethical decisions.  His stories about marching with Dr. King inspired me about the value of civil disobedience and political actions today.  His teachings on just peacemaking, gender roles, and the death penalty deeply guided me into the methodology of forming ethical convictions with the narrative of Scripture as a framework. And more than that, his faithfulness as an educator and a follower of Christ gave life to his teachings and proved an authentic model of deeply reflective pastoral engagement in the world through the power of the living Christ.

Though it had been years since my time with Dr. Stassen, I was eager to dive into his newest text, A Thicker Jesus and the book did not disappoint. I was immediately struck by how helpful this text would be for the field of practical theology as it matures as an academic discipline.  As a academic, Stassen only wants to deepen the conversation about Christian discipleship rather than water down any convictions for the sake of accessibility.  Stassen’s work serves as a robust text for defending a Christian ethic of incarnation and engagement in social inequalities.  Building upon the shoulders of his major influencer, theologian and activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Stassen propones that one of the primary challenges for the Church today is to confront secularism with a costly discipleship that will provide the resources for renewal and revival. Incarnational discipleship, as defined by Stassen, will represent three spheres: a thicker interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth, the holistic sovereignty of God, and the Holy Spirit moving the church to what Stassen calls a “repentance from ideological entanglement.”  I could not agree more.  He looks to utilize such a formula as a model to help resolve some of the many challenges facing the Church in the 21st century.  Heroes of the faith throughout Christian history, in his assessment, all share the common trait of a ‘deep and specific interpretation of the apostolic and biblical witness to Jesus Christ.’ Continue reading

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Lamin Sanneh: Culture, Translation and the Life of Faith

Summoned from the Margins: Homecoming of an African, Lamin Sanneh  (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 2012) $24

Summoned from the MarginsMy claim is that no one language can substitute for the truth of God, that as children of God we learn and speak the language of faith always imperfectly and provisionally, and that the divine perfection is beyond cultural advantage or disadvantage.

This is the heart of the book, Summoned from the Margins, by Lamin Sanneh, Professor of World Christianity at Yale University.

Born in Gambia, trained at Edinburgh and Harvard universities, Dr. Sanneh has made the transition from Islam to Christianity, from Methodist to Catholic, over the space of half a century. His book is the exploration of a conversion from unlikely places to unimagined ones: summoned by a Savior to a religion about which he had little knowledge, and a marginal one in a society where the everyday came into tangible contact with, and was largely dictated by, Islamic thought.  Along the way, Dr. Sanneh explores how Christianity dialogues with Islam, and why the two religions often clash in dialogue, coming as they do from two paradigms that often speak past each other.

Following a post-secondary education in The Gambia, Sanneh decided to apply for the full scholarship offered to students at that time by the United States government for enrollment at an American university. He arrived in Virginia in 1963 into the turmoil and conflict of the civil rights movement. “…Nothing in our background prepared us for America: we had no value system to deal with race, and no fund of personal experience to draw on for understanding or self-preservation.” Nevertheless, he continued on in pursuit of his studies, realizing along the way that his interest in history matched up with his religious interest. Continue reading

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Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, Brian McLaren (Jericho Books) $24.99

Brian McLaren has a gift for putting his finger on the challenges and opportunities facing the Christian church. Or, some may say, he relishes the chance to put his finger in the eye of the church. A close reading, however, reveals the heart of the author which betrays his deep love for the church and faith in her potential.

Published 11 years to the day after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, McLaren invites us to consider afresh a theme that has consumed him for years: generous orthodoxy. [1] Along with many who have been involved in interfaith partnerships and friendships, he is concerned that Christians are hung on the horns of a dilemma: we can either be generous to those outside the boundaries of the Christian faith or we can be orthodox in our beliefs, but not both. McLaren insists there is another way and it’s more than a nice balance of the two extremes. He calls it “strong/benevolent faith;” something many people consider impossible to achieve, not least the main stream commentators and scholars of American social and political life, some of whom argue that monotheism, in particular, is inherently violent. [2]

How can we arrive at this strong/benevolent faith? He proposes a “Great Reformulation” and His prescription is three-fold: doctrinal, liturgical and missional. The generosity McLaren so often speaks of is found in the tone with which he challenges some of the church’s most serious failings. Nevertheless, as with many of his books, this most recent contribution will push many people past their comfort zone. Continue reading

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Our Enemy is Our Ignorance: An Interview with Dr Abuelaish

A Palestinian born in the Jabalia refugee camp of the Gaza Strip, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish overcame tremendous odds to earn his MD. As an OBGYN he practiced in both Palestine and Israel, frequently commuting between the two countries. In January 2009, during a three-week long war, an Israeli tank fired two shells into the doctor’s home, killing three of his daughters and his niece. Dr. Abuelaish was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of his commitment to Israeli/Palestinian reconciliation. He is the founder of Daughters for Peace an organization that provides university scholarships as well as leadership programs on health and education to young women in the Middle East. On January 12 we sat down with Dr. Abuelaish after his public lecture about his new bestselling book, I Shall Not Hate, at the Los Angeles Public Library – a part of their ALOUD series. For further coverage of this conversation and Abuelaish’s bestselling book, you can access Ryan Bell’s piece in the Huffington Post.

—The Editors

Your book came out in Canada in the Spring. Has it been selling well? How has the reception been so far?

I didn’t expect the positive response of the book. It was released April 27th. It’s a best seller and was among the influential books in 2010 in Canada. The people who read the book—it made a difference in their life, in their attitude, in a positive way. And the people, as you see in today’s event, they said it’s full of hope. It inspired them. And when they read the book it finds a receptive ground. The people are thirsty. And I think there is hope in that. And also, it has been translated into about 15 languages: English (worldwide, by Bloomsbury United States and UK), French (worldwide), German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Turkish, Portuguese, Finnish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Indonesian.

I am satisfied that the message can reach the hands and the minds and hearts of people and that through that we can make a difference and create a momentum we can build on.

You tell this amazing story in the book about a Jewish lawyer named Stephen Flatow and how he tried to have you removed from a panel. Since then you’ve eaten in his home. Are you still in touch with him?

Yes. And this is the message: he judged me without knowing me, just on perception and stereotype. This strengthens my belief that our enemy is our ignorance. We don’t know each other. So we need to communicate in order to know each other. And not to know just the name or the faces, we need to know the deep elements of what we call the other—to engage.

It’s the personal stories, it seems, that break through.

Yes, to engage with your heart. In our lives when I say to you, I know this person, be careful. This means I know him deeply. Don’t tell me about him, I know him well. I know the way he thinks, the way he eats, the way he behaves. So that’s what we need to know each other.

You must have many experiences like the one you had with Stephen Flatow. Does that happen fairly often?

I can say to you, in Palestinian-Israeli relationships, there are many good stories. You can see Israelis who met with Palestinians and Palestinians who met with Israelis. I know a friend of mine who never met a Palestinian. He had stereotypes about Palestinians, but once he met a Palestinian he realized that this guy is similar to him.

What is it about you or about what you believe that makes you the kind of person that leaves the safety of what you know to go out and know someone else who is different from you? Because I know a lot of people who don’t want to leave their area, they don’t want to leave the people they know already?

I’m not preoccupied with this feeling. This morning when someone said to me, Izzeldin, you must be careful of Ryan. Why? I meet with you with open heart. I am confident in what I believe. I am honest with myself. I am coming to meet with you from goodwill, for the good cause. And it’s important for both of us to do that.

So there was a trust that was somehow planted in your heart early on—to trust someone who is different from you?

Always. Because if I want to be trusted I must trust others.

Your father was this way? Your mother?

This is the human feeling. If I started to meet with you and I was suspicious of you, how can you trust me? I want to meet with others and place my trust in them because if you want to be trusted you must trust others.

Continue reading

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Higher Biblical Criticism: A Conversation with David Rosenberg


David Rosenberg, former editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society, has been at work translating the Hebrew Bible for several decades, endeavoring to restore the literary authorship of its diverse books as well as their respective cultures. His efforts have earned him praise from a wide range of poets, critics, and biblical scholars, from Donald Hall to Andrei Codrescu, Anthony Burgess to Walter Bruegemann. His past books include
New York Times bestseller The Book of J, with Harold Bloom, The Poet’s Bible, and his biography of Abraham, Abraham: the First Historical Biography.

His most recently published translation, A Literary Bible(Counterpoint, $35), compiles much of the Hebrew Bible in the distinct voices reflected in the original texts, rather than the homogenized versions expected from contemporary translations. His version, while still contemporary in speech, retains the diction of poetry, as in the following passage, from Ecclesiastes:

ECCLESIASTES XIII (6:10)

Anything that has a beginning

everything

was  seed in the pot

planted before existence

and named by men

as it flowed into the world

man is also a kind of flower

whose growth is defined

and all that flows from his hands

and with our own little names

we can’t argue with our creator Continue reading

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