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Roger Olson recently posted a writing at Patheos under the title of “Why I am not a Process Theologian.”[1] However, if he would change his title like, “Why I talk with process theology, although I am not a process theologian,” it would elicit much productive discussion. In his writing, after summarizing ten “essentials of process theology,” Olson criticized in ten views that process theology is not Christian theology. First, Whitehead’s organic metaphysics is more important and valuable than divine revelation. Second, process theology’s Christology is adoptionistic. Third, Trinity is very weak. Fourth, it denies miracles. Fifth, it depends too much on modernity. Sixth, there is no real meaning of petitionary prayer. Seventh, it has “no realistic eschatology.” Eighth, God necessarily depends on the world, not voluntarily. Ninth, salvation is “actualization of God’s ‘initial aim.’” Tenth, it is too difficult to underand.

With regard to theodicy, Olson argued, process theology’s solution, that because God is not omnipotent and human beings have free will, God is not responsible for evil, cannot explain real evil. This kind of God is “enough to be admirable but not worshipful.” Olson suggested not metaphysically limited God but Moltmann’s self-limiting God and recommended Greg Boyd as an open theist.

Philip Clayton responed to Olson’s writing.[2] Instead of criticizing Olson’s description of process theology, Clayton pointed out his dualistic position or “in and out” attitude, “Christian or process.” As Clayton described, there are two types of process theology, i.e., “pure” (orthodox) versions and “impure” (neo-orthodox) verions. Among Olson’s list, Clatyon would accept some positions, because he is “impure” process theologian. Inter alia, self-limiting God is Clayton’s main topic. Olson needs to know multilayered verisons of process theology. He would need an umbrella of relational theology as a “continuum” between open theism and process theology. ‘Drawing a line in the sand’ to keep one’s own position, as Clayton maintained, blocks dialogue.

Rather Clayton actively suggests that “[D]raw on every resource you can find that helps show how Jesus’ message is relevant to today’s world. If a philosophy or theology helps you to live authentically as a Jesus follower, explore it. Let no authority figure tell you what may or may not count as a redemptive analogy.” Following Peter Heltzel’s prophetic spirit, Clayton suggests that “let’s do theology in the city streets… like jazz improvisation,” having open-ended communicative attitude. In both conservative and progressive, to draw lines in order to have pure position could make them lonely islands which cannot communicate each other. If so, what would it be good? We need open-ended dialogue.

To paraphrase an expression of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream,” open theism’s destiny is tied up with process theology’s destiny, so that they must “work together.” This is why I hope he changes the title as “Why I talk with process theology, although I am not a process theologian.” If so, we may joyfully join in his discussion.

Self-limitation is self-distance using Volf’s term “distance.” It makes room. The room which limitation or distance makes is that for others. Self-limitation is self-giving for others. It is love or self-giving love. God’s self-limitation is also God’s self-distance which makes room for the world. God’s self-limitation is God’s self-giving for the world. It is grace or self-giving grace. We all without exception live both by love given from the others and by grace given from God.

A Review of Marc Gafni, Your Unique Self

 Product Details

Marc Gafni’s Your Unique Self consists of six parts, 25 chapters. That means it is thick.^^ Part one starts with the “model of Unique Self enlightenment.” Part Two deals with the Unique Self in evolution context and the relationship between part and whole. Part Three offers importance of our own unique story. Part Four suggests understanding of “Love, Joy, and Shadow.” Part Five deploys the meaning of Sex in our life. Part Six finally offers “parenting, malice, and death.”

A main idea of this book is that ‘you are unique,’ that is, “your life is valuable.” Unique self has a formula. “True self + Perspective = Unique Self.” (12) Every individual self has a particular perspective. It is his or her own perspective. Nevertheless, it is not the only one perspective in the world but a “part of a larger whole.” (13) It reminds me of Ken Wilber’s a focal concept, “Holarchy.” I think it is no accident that Wilber writes both forward and afterword of this book. At any rate, when true self has its own perspective, it becomes unique self.

Furthermore, unique Self has his/her own story. The story is important, because “the entire world was created for its sake.” (177-178) Honesty speaking, in philosophy or theology, individual story is not significant, since it has been considered inferior to intellectual thoughts. However, since each individual being is full of stories which reveal their essence, Gafini argues that “[y]our story is the personal face of your essence.” (191) He does not want to escape the story but “make[s] them sacred.” Thus he insists that “Never lose your story… Live it; tell it loud.” (194) We need to tell our own story to others and to listen to the others’ stories. Why? The stories tells us about the subject of stories. In sharing our stories, we can overcome our loneliness. For Gafni, since even God feels “God’s own loneliness” (levado), God creates a world. (199)

In order to be unique self, we need to know “the way of love,” since love is “the true inner nature of All-That-Is.” (211) Love is not noun, but “the ultimate verb.” (209). If you love God, God will see “with your eyes.” (209) If you love your neighbor, you will “perceive God’s divine beauty in others.” (210) If you love your unique self, which is not narcissism, you identify the essence of who you are (“self-perception”, 216). If we recognize this unique self, joy pervades our life. Joy does not come to us, when we pursue it. Instead, it is given us when we live our unique life (222). Nevertheless, sometimes dark shadow visits us and distorts life. However, Gafni argues that your shadow is also unique, because it is “your unlived life−your disowned Unique Self” (241). If it meets the light, because it is also life energy or abundant wellspring (242), the transformative events occur. (239)

Life is “[numerous] encounters with others.” (309) We do not know whom and when we will encounter. Those who are passing by us are all unique self.  Although we encounter with others and share their stories, the other remains unknowable to us: “You never know.” (321) In encounters, we human beings used to hurt other and vice versa. Whoever gets hurt feels small and whoever hurts others experiences power. (324) In order to overcome this hurt, we need to practice love, although “love is suffering.” (325)

Finally, in the last part six, Gafni argues about parenting, malice, and death. We cannot exist without parents. Parents are causes of our existence. Their mission is to let their children know that they are very special (“the certainty of Being, 331) in the planet. (329-330) Parents cannot make their children happy, because they are happy when they realize that they live unique self. (332-333) Gafni notes that we encounter also malice which is unique self-distortion and creates envy. Envy is the worst sin because it disturbs and disrupts love. Gafni explains the relationship between evil and live: “It is no accident that ‘evil’ and ‘live’ spelled backward. Evil stands against life force. And life force is nowhere more powerful than in the full bloom of Unique Self.”(345) With regard to death, Gafni says that although humans beings are afraid of dying, unique self’s response to death is “not just your life well lived, but your life fully lived.” (350) Thus we need to live our best. Gafni ends the last chapter with the small title “Say Yes.” Yes means in Hebrew kein (“integrity”, 357). Can we say yes to other’s life or our unique life? A simple way to say yes is to love others, because it acknowledges their unique presence. (358)

 

Conclusion

Unique Self is not mere ego in that it recognizes the whole-part relation. The main subject of this marvelous book is that your life is unique. You are unique, because “[y]ou are here to be the poem that only you can be.” (9) No one can write your own poem. Write your own poem and live your own life, because you are so precious to God. You are unique self.

relational_theology

A Review of “Relational Theology,”

Eds. Brint Montgomery, Thomas Oord, Karen Winslow

(Oregon: Wipf and Sotck Publishers, 2012)

Introduction

“Relational Theology,” which is edited by Brint Montgomery, Thomas Oord, and Karen Winslow, introduces the relational thought between God and the world throughout the diverse realms of theology. Thirty theologians or pastors contribute to this book. This book consists of four parts: “Doctrines of Theology in Relational Perspective”; “Biblical Witness in Relational Perspective”; “The Christian Life in Relational Perspective”; “Ethics and Justice in Relational Perspective.”

Definition of Relational Theology

Barry Callen’s short definition of relationship is much powerful: “A relational God has created relational people in a relational world” (8). Thomas Oord describes two core ideas of relational theology:

  1. God affects creatures in various ways. Instead of being aloof and detached, God is active and involved in relationship with others. God relates to us, and that makes an essential difference.

  2. Creatures affect God in various ways. While God’s nature is unchanging, creatures influence the loving and living Creator of the universe. We relate to God, and creation makes a difference to God” (2).

Relational Being

Human beings are relational beings both in relation to God and in creatures.

    First, in relation to God: relation means “participation in God,” which Charles Conniry, Jr. explains entails two important theological terms such as panentheism (“all is in God”) and theosis (“becoming divine” in 2 Peter 1:3, 4; Genesis 1:26). Panentheism means that God is with us and we are all in God. Theosis “calls us to imitate God now with the hope of sharing in God’s glory in the future”[1] (21-23). In the relation, God makes partnership with us for the common good of the world (36). Karen Winslow introduces a concept, i.e., “cooperative covenant partners” between God and human beings. Jesus was God’s unique covenant partner (not my will but your will). (49) In the partnership between God and human beings, according to Dean Blevins, human beings can enter into God by the means of grace such as “Lord’s Supper, praying, fasting, reading scripture, and gathering in community… reading devotional text, meeting in small group, and ministry to the poor” (71).[2]

    Second, in relation to human beings: In China and Korea, we say human being as “인간” (in-gan) in Korean and “人間”  in Chinese. 人” (in) means “human beings,” “間” (gan) means “between,” and the shape of 人 (in) seems to lean against each other. In fact, insofar as human beings live between and among others, they are thus “between-beings.” That is, a human being is already by nature a relational being. If so, ‘we’ is a more appropriate term to the relational conception. ‘We’ is neither arbitrarily united ‘I’ to ‘You’ nor destroyed nor reduced in its individual character to other. ‘We’ means each other. Whereas if I remain in I, I cannot go beyond I, myself; if I go beyond myself, I should be in ‘We.’ Since relationship does not reduce each individual one to other, ‘we’ presupposes the individual being, so that ‘we’ is neither total one nor monarchy one.[3]

Relation and Love

We need to learn how to love in this world. It is Jesus the Christ who teaches how to live and how to love. R. Shelton argues that Jesus is “the live-giving air of the Spirit of God, the Giver of Life” (14). Jesus talks about two kinds of love: love your God and love your neighbor. First is the love between God and human beings. K. McCormick emphasizes that when God is in the world by the “self-giving, self-emptying way,” God makes space for us to dwell in God, which McCormick calls “the space-making ‘way’ of Triune Love,” so that we can become partakers of God’s constant giving and receiving “Triune love.” McCormick explains metaphor of Triune love in relation to the heart of God: “This way of God’s constant giving and receiving opens a window into the very heart of God. It reveals to all creation that the name and nature of God is love. The heart of God is not unlike the human heart that continuously contracts and expands. As our hearts beat, they contract to pump in (diastole) life-giving blood and oxygen. And they expand to pump out (systole) the same life-giving blood and oxygen. Similarly, with every heartbeat of God, God is constantly contracting and expanding, emptying and filling, indwelling and overflowing, giving and receiving.” (11-12)

    Second is the love among human beings. Love does not have any limitation. Oord says, “Christians are commanded to love believers and unbelievers, friends and enemies, the near and dear as well as the stranger” (1). It reminds me of a significant principle of Christian life St. Paul gives us: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). 

    In this sense, we need to reflect on Oord’s definition of love: “To love is to act intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being” (26). In this definition, we need to focus on “intentionally.” Love in a sense requires intention, because without intention, I think, it could be that only “with words or tongue” but not “with actions and in truth” (1 John 4:18).

    Although we love God, it cannot be comparable to God’s perfect and full-orbed love, because God knows everything about us. Nevertheless, we need to imitate God’s love in our concrete context (24, 27).  

Relation and Freedom

That love is in relation is, asserts Oord, that it is in “give-and-receive relationship.” Since God first loved us (1 John 4:19), if we love God, God is pleased, but if we fail to love God, “God is grieved, angry, and forgives.”[4] That is, as Brint Montgomery maintains, since human beings have “libertarian free will,” which is “not just doing what you want to do” (compatibilist free will), but “being able to have done otherwise than you did,” we are free to respond well or not to God, so that we are morally responsible. In this sense, we are not simply extension of God, because no self, no responsibility. (32-33). Furthermore, if we have real freedom to choose, we do not know fully the future. Likewise, as Wm. Curtis Holtzen argues, God does not completely know the future, because God faces an open future which does not exist yet. If the future is already known, we cannot say that we have real freedom. Because we have freedom, we may use freedom well or poorly. (36)

John Wesley and Relational Theology

According to Barry Callen, relational theology’s root is “in the Pietist, Arminian, Wesleyan, Holiness, and Pentecostal traditions of Christianity.” Their basic common ground is mutual relationship between God and human beings (7).

    God’s character in John Wesley is “a living sovereignty of love.” God is not using unilateral or coercive power but bilateral one and requires human responsibility. Wesley’s two definitive, mutual directions are first, “without God’s grace, we cannot be saved,” second, “without our grace-empowered but uncoerced participation, God’s grace will not save. The first of these truths is Wesley’s Protestant emphasis (it is God alone) and the second might be called his Catholic emphasis (it is also human cooperation with divine activity).” That is, salvation is possible by both “prevenient” grace and responsible acceptance of the grace. In this sense, a common denominator between John Wesley and relational theologians is that “Christian spirituality is a cooperative enterprise. All praise to God who reigns above and responds below!” (8-9).

    Wesley’s explains our image of God in three ways: 1) God’s lordship (the political image); 2) rational beings with intellect and will (the natural image); 3) God’s holiness (the moral image) (28).   

Relation and Salvation (Atonement)

Salvation reminds most Christians of heaven after this world whence we need to be saved. However, Timothy Crutcher insists to remember that “God created this world to be good” (43). We should not underestimate this world God created. In the sense, we need to have new interpretation of salvation. Oord argues that because God is relational with creatures from the beginning, “sinful behavior makes God angry.” But our positive responses to God’s initial love and ongoing relationship with God “deepen the relational friendship” between God and the world (1). In the interpretation of sin, Michael Lodahl defines sin as “the intentional rejection on our part, at any given moment, of God’s calling upon us to live lives of love” and asserts solidarity[5] of sin: “no one exists ‘on one’s own.’ Therefore, no one sins ‘on one’s own.’” (38).

    Timothy Crutcher also maintains that “sin is really about broken relationships more than anything else. Salvation is salvation from sin. Salvation is really about God empowering us to repair those broken relationships. This brings us back into fellowship with God and enables us to live in right relationship with everyone else.” (44) Atonement is, as Derek Flood notes, “God’s invitation for reconciliation” or “a loving relationship with God.” That Christ died “for us” means that Christ died “for our sake.” However, “for us” does not mean substitution, “instead of us or in our place.” Rather, it means “our dying ‘with Christ,’” and then leads to our resurrection with Christ, so that we participate in Christ and are transformed into Christlike in union with him. (40-41)

    Furthermore, the scope of God’s salvation is not limited within the human beings, but extended to the cosmos. Considering the Spirit as the “relational connection” within the Trinitarian life and the “dynamic life force” in creation, Amos Yong notes that “God’s redeeming work consists of healing the estrangement of our hearts, reconciling human beings with one another, and restoring harmony between humanity and the cosmos” (19).

Relation and Suffering

In relation, just as we experience pain and brokenness in our lives, God willingly feels such suffering with us (36). Flood maintains that the cross means “the crucified God’s solidarity with us in our pain” (42). Shelton appropriately describes that “Christ acts to restore humanity’s divine image and covenant relationship with its Creator. In Christ, we find that salvation is restored friendship with God…. Christ took into his own soul and body the suffering, brokenness, and alienation of humanity. He fully participated in it to the point of taking its own death upon himself on the cross. Crucifixion is about asphyxiation—the body’s ability to breathe is disabled. Christ shared in this existential dying and alienation of all humanity” (15-16). God meets us in suffering unmasked (42). To be a pastor means, describes Jeren Rowell, following “humility (birth in a stable and life as a peasant), solidarity (identification with the poor and abused), compassion (acts of mercy and healing), integrity (no compromise with worldly systems of power), and sacrifice (laying down of one’s life in service to others)” (85).

Relation and Prayer

Prayer is relation. When we see the beauty and suffering of creatures, face injustice and encounter the poor, and see and hear rumor of the war threatening the world peace, we need to pray “When prayer is habituated,” in our whole life, argues Libby Tedder, “the world is oxygenated with God’s love.” Prayer affects both God and us and really changes the world. (67-68). Tedder makes a list of reason to pray: “We pray, because Jesus taught us to relocate our awareness of who God is and who we are (Mt 6:9-14). We pray, because we need to experience the compassion of our heavenly parent. We pray, because it sharpens our intentions and makes us better listeners. We pray, because it heals us of blind unbelief and opens our eyes to God’s will on earth. We pray, because we are never actually alone in this world. We pray, because we remember our true dependence when naming our daily needs: bread, forgiveness, peace with neighbors, and protection from trial. We pray, because we need help to see where the leavening yeast of God’s grace is being kneaded into every nook and cranny of creation. We pray, so that when God’s redemption is baked into our lives and begins to rise throughout the world, we can share it with the hungry.” (68-69)

    Furthermore, Brent Peterson considers worship as “communal worship.” It goes beyond individual healing to “the oppressed, downcast, and marginalized” to rescue them (78-79).

    Douglas Hardy describes sanctification as “spiritual formation,” which usually can be expressed as “spiritual development,” “maturing in Christ,” or “growing in holiness.” Human beings are spiritual because God breathed spirit into us and because we respond to God. Then “formation” means that God formed us (gestation and birthing images). Thus spiritual formation is renewing and strengthening our spiritual identity in order that we can love God and our neighbor.

Relation and Ethics

“Love is at the heart of ethics.” Kevin Lowery argues that just as love is possible in relationship, so ethics has relationship. And ethics (love for neighbor) and spirituality (love for God) cannot be separated (Mt 25:40) (89, 90, 91). The cross shows this two sides of love. Our image of God requires “a moral demand.” Samuel Powell properly points out that “our relation to God is a relation not only of likeness but also of responsibility.” Because we are image of God, unjust killing of people and injustice must be forbidden. We need to be renewed to “the process of sanctification” and conformed to the complete image of God, Jesus[6] (28-29). Each of us is “a responsible actor” before God (39) for social justice toward ‘shalom’ such as, Brian Postlewait gives examples, “child protection, women’s suffrage,[7] prohibition, civil rights for African Americans, protection for the unborn, nuclear disarmament, and most recently, creation care” (99). Thus Gabriel Salguero maintains that we need to become “a servant with a basin and a towel.” (95)

Relation and Other Religious Traditions   

Mary Michelson and Mark Mann deal with the relationship to other religious traditions. Mann asserts the possibility of salvation to those who have not heard the name of Jesus. John 10:16-28 tells us about “‘other sheep that do not belong to this fold’ (the church) but who nevertheless ‘listen to his voice’ and who will have ‘eternal life.’” (109).

Relation and Nature

God and nature are in relation and cooperative. Through the creation stories, Karen Winslow says, we recognize God’s intimate relationship to nature and to us (112). In God-creatures relationship, Sharon Harvey explains, God does not force or control nature, but give them freedom in kenosis. In this sense, God is self-limiting God. (114)

Conclusion

Relation which is the theme of this book is participation. We need to participate in each other without violating or interrupting others’ sovereignty. If we live in the relationship and walk in Jesus’ way, we can become “minister of that reconciliation” (42).

This book could be much easier to approach ‘relational thought’ than process theology did ever before.


    [1] “There are both ‘now’ and ‘then’ aspects to theosis. In the present, we relate well with God when we behave in God-like ways. We are God’s image bearers, and we reflect more and more of God’s likeness in our day-to-day lives. In the life to come, we will realize the fullness of what it means to be co-heirs with Christ. As Jesus became like us in the incarnation, so in glory we will become like him (see Phil 3:20, 21).” 23.

    [2] “… [W]ork out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). 82.

    [3] Dong-Sik Park, “The God-World Relationship between Joseph Bracken, Philip Clayton, and the Open Theism” (2012). CGU Theses & Dissertation, Paper 43.

    [4] “God’s experience is affected by what creatures do. And God’s decisions about how to act in one moment depend in part upon how creatures responded in previous moments.” (24).

    [5] Michael Lodahl: “The power of the symbolism of the Hebrew term adam as ‘earthling’ is that it underscores our solidarity with all of humanity and with all other earthly creatures. It does not suggest that each of us is our own Adam, our own Eve. It is much more that we are all, throughout human history, Adam and Eve together. Our temptations, our choices, our moral fiber, our weakened sense of God are inseparably intertwined with all other human beings. We are intertwined not only with the millions who share our planet today, but with all who have preceded us and all who will follow us.” (38)

    [6] “When we look to Jesus, we learn (1) what it means to be a likeness of God and to be morally responsible to God, (2) how we should relate to our fellow humans who bear the image of God, (3) and how we should practice dominion and relate to other creatures” (30). 

    [7] See Diane Leclerc’s “Relational Dimensions of Feminist Theology” in this book for feminism.

A Review of Victor Cuccia’s “Steeple Envy: Losing My Religion and Rediscovering Jesus”

Introduction
“There was a time when the church was very powerful, in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society… Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust. Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world.” Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter From A Birmingham Jail,” Requoted from Victor Cuccia, Steeple Envy: Losing My Religion and Rediscovering Jesus, 6.

Many people are gradually leaving the church. Why is it happening? What is the problem? Is the church dying? “Has the church lost ‘its authenticity?’” Does Christianity recognize this serious phenomenon? In his book, Steeple Envy: Losing My Religion and Rediscovering Jesus, Victor Cuccia asks the place and roles of church in societies and answers to those above questions. We see the crisis of the church not only in some places but also all over the world. We need to be honest for this current state of the church and should not neglect this reality but gaze at it in order to renew the church. (7)

Good Servant: Only Toward the Big Church?
We often see churches as “multimillion dollar buildings” and pastors as “rock star status.” The church becomes a company and pastors want to be CEO. In the sense, we cannot deny this candid expression: “Steeple envy is everywhere.” (8, 64) Since growth means success in the church society, it leads to “accolades and personal remuneration” and needs bigger buildings. (97) But does size really matter? Is the size really a criterion between success and failure? (60) Do we see these phenomena from the Jesus’ teachings? Did Jesus not turn upside-down this thought? Admittedly, Jesus did not concern about numbers of people or popular opinion but about the Father’s will. (62) Then, why is the church running toward the big church? Is the big church the goal in our ministry? The goal is not on the mega-church but on following Jesus and on sharing “His love with a broken world.” (96) The goal of growth should not precede “kingdom priorities.” (68)
Where does this big church syndrome from? We may misunderstand the successful ministry from Luke 19:17, “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.” Pastors used to devote their life to their ministries so as to take charge of ten cities or more. Success is their ministry’s motto. They are big-church oriented. They think it is blessing given from God. They endeavor to make a profit with talents they received, because it may be a failed ministry, if they do not gain profit. This is a prosperity ministry. However, is this word of God really focused on profits? I think it is not important whether they have gain or not. It is our sincere heart that God really looks for. Does it mean that if they gain, they are good servant; if not gain, wicked, lazy servant? Their life attitude may be more important than profit. It will be fine although they do not gain. For example, if any servant says that although I worked very hard, I did not make profits, but have the same amount as you gave me. What would be owner’s response to this servant? Does he rebuke him, saying that “You wicked, lazy servant?” Not at all. Does he not say that well done, Try it again?” Furthermore, suppose that although a servant worked very hard, if he suffered a loss. Does the owner say that you are a bad servant? No. The owner may give the servant another chance.
Admittedly, prevalent belief in the church is about blessing and prosperity: “Give God 10, and He will give you 20” and “we do ‘A,’ ‘B’ and ‘C,’ and God is expected to give us ‘D.’” It makes God inferior to us and serves our bidding. (102-103) Cuccia calls it a dream, “the American dream,” which is a lie. He hopes that people wake up from this nightmare and see their reality. (107) Furthermore, we should stop competition with others and help others who do not know what to do in their local church. In the sense, we need to go to the lower places and to become “good stewards of the finances.” (69, 100) That is, most churches do not “recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church” but pursue successful and controlling attitude such as “‘judgmental,’ ‘money-hungry,’ ‘controlling,’ ‘self-centered’ and ‘fake.’” (7) To that extent, then, we recognize twisted and distorted ministry: Just as where theology of the cross disappears, theology of glory appears, so where the ministry of the cross disappears, the ministry of the glory appears. Thus we need to seek the essence of the church. If Jesus was “a suffering servant” and if we follow Him, we do not have to surprise when we face sufferings in this life. (41)

The Church within the Church
If the church does not function as the church in the society, do we have to give up the church? More positively speaking, can we live today in a beautiful church like Acts 2:42-47, “where love and hope could be found, a place where grace and acceptance was extended to all?” (19-20) Is today’s church “a good representation of Jesus?” (17) Although the church is corrupt, insofar as God still uses the church, we should also restore the church and should not throw it away, because ‘we are the church.’ (109) We need to seek and turn to “the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world.” (6) In order to turn to this ideal church, we should remind of Jesus’ teachings. These descriptions of the church are different from Jesus. Why is there a gap between church and Jesus (7) and between “religion is bad” and “Jesus is good?” (48) Why is there difference between “American version of Christianity” and “sacrificial lives” by Jesus and His disciples? (16)
Christianity and the church need change. In order to change the church, God uses “normal, everyday people for the most part,” not “institutions.” Everyone who was following Jesus can consist of church. However, the place is not important. It could be “a beautiful building, a coffee shop, a bar or someone’s home.” (33, 35). Those who left church and “jaded Christians” need “to meet the Jesus that is alive and well, living in His people” and “to see the beauty of the Church lived out before them.” (45) Cuccia does not find any hope from institutionalized church, because it was religious leaders who killed Jesus (48). In the sense, we need to recognize that “the church is not an institution,” but “consists of those who love and follow Jesus” (46). Jesus rebuked religious leaders. What would be Jesus’ response to current institutionalized Christianity? It had become “a barrier between God and everyday people,” (53) whereas Jesus focuses on the person and relationship. While religious leaders judge others who are different from themselves, Jesus loves them. True religion is not in words, as James 1:26-27 say, but in action to look after isolated people (58).

Church and Society
“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” (Mother Teresa)
God calls us to be a part of interdependent community sharing life together like a loving family (80-81). We are all subjects and the individual whole in our own life. However, when a subject meets others, the subject as a whole becomes a part of them and then the parts together become the whole. There are subjects as a whole in a church. However, the subjects cannot hold themselves as a whole in the community. They consist of the church as a whole by connecting each other as parts. Each part grows and builds the church up in love. Each church as a whole becomes a part in meeting with neighbor churches. If we push this process forward endlessly, is it not possible to build those churches as the body of Christ? Ephesians 4:16 says, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
In the relationship between church and society, the church does not exist outside the society but in the society. It needs to contribute to the development of the society and to make a difference in the society. In this sense, the church needs to be “thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” (6) Although we Christians are ordinary people, if God uses us, we can make the world a better place. (131) If we do not try to change something wrong in this world, how can we be the children of God? Just as “Jesus stepped out of heaven and into our world because He loved us,” so we need to go to the society and to love the poor in the street or even in the third world, because love most concretely shows Jesus. But we should not expect any repay from others or from the society (145, 147)

Conclusion
“Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7-9)
Cuccia emphasizes throughout the whole book that the church is not in essence buildings or institutions, but people. If there is someone who agrees with this critical assessment of the institutional church and tries to break through the crisis of the church, we need to say that “You’re not crazy, and you’re definitely not alone.” (17) We have hope, since “there is a great need for change within the church today” and although “I alone cannot change the world,” as Mother Teresa says, we believe that “I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” (153) The hope is not in the big church but in the “simple church,” saying that “small is the new big,” although Cuccia does not fully agree with the saying. (151) In order to rebuild the church, we should not give up Jesus and the church. (152)

“The church is a whore, but she is still my mother.” –St. Augustine (17).

Church’s role

“There was a time when the church was very powerful, in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society… Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust. Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world.” Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter From A Birmingham Jail,” Requoted from Victor Cuccia, Steeple Envy: Losing My Religion and Rediscovering Jesus, 6.

Church: a part and the whole

“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)

We are all subjects and the individual whole in our own life. However, when a subject meets others, the subject as a whole becomes a part of them and then the parts together become the whole. There are subjects as a whole in a church. However, the subjects cannot hold themselves as a whole in the community. They consist of church as a whole by connecting each other as parts. Each part grows and builds church up in love. Each church as a whole becomes a part in meeting with neighbor churches. If we push this process forward endlessly, is it not possible to build such a church as the body of Christ?