Monday, June 30, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Wesleyan Sanctification Encountering Buddhist Enlightenment (Musung Jung)

This essay is part of the Renovating Holiness Project.  Musung Jung is Assistant Professor in the Department of Christian Studies at Korea Nazarene University.  He studied at Yonsei University, Northwest Nazarene University, Korea Nazarene University (B.Th.), Emory University (M.Div.) and Asbury Theological Seminary (Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies).  Due to the format of this blog, the footnotes of this essay have been removed.

Photo Credit: Danielle Harms

I. The Korean Context
The two most dominant religions in Korea are Christianity and Buddhism. 

     According to the 2012 survey, 22.5% of the Korean population identified themselves as Christians whereas 22.1% confirmed themselves as Buddhists. This situation puts the Korean Church into an evangelistic challenge regarding how to effectively reach out to Buddhists.
     The fact of the matter is that the Korean church at large has engaged in aggressive evangelism to Buddhists with little concern and respect for their religious reality.  As a result, their antipathy to Christianity has increased, and their receptivity to the gospel has decreased. 

     To break out this vicious cycle, the Korean church needs a paradigm shift from triumphalist evangelism to dialogical one.  As Edinburgh 2010 rightly states, “witness does not preclude dialogue but invites it, and dialogue does not preclude witness but extends and deepens it.”  Such evangelistic dialogue with Buddhists requires that the Korean Church discover some meaningful points of contact between the two religious traditions.  In this regard the Korean denominations rooted in Wesleyanism can play an important role by exploring and presenting the correlation between Wesleyan sanctification and Dono-Jeomsu (a particular understanding of enlightenment within the Korean traditions of Buddhism).

II. Buddhist Dono-Jeomsu (Enlightenment)
Dono-Jeomsu was first proposed by the Buddhist monk Jinul (知訥, 1158–1210), the forerunner of Korean Zen Buddhism as well as the founder of the Jogye Order (曹溪宗), the largest Buddhist denomination in Korea today.  Dono (頓悟) signifies “sudden enlightenment,” and Jeomsu (漸修) denotes “gradual cultivation.”  Combined together, Dono-Jeomsu involves the unified idea of “sudden enlightenment followed and supported by gradual cultivation” in search of the purest and highest state of one’s mind, namely nirvana (涅槃).
     According to Jinul, any human being is a prospective buddha with the indwelling buddhahood.  (“Buddha” literally means “the enlightened one.”)  He explained: “Everyone is originally a Buddha…[and] possesses the impeccable self-nature…The sublime essence of nirvana is complete in everyone. There is no need to search elsewhere; since time immemorial, it has been innate in everyone.”

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 8): Not About Equality

Photo Credit: See-Ming Lee
     The conversation about homosexuality is not about equality.  Not just about equality.  Not simply that.  Equality is not the primary issue at hand.  Not for Christians.

     For Christians, the primary issue at hand is understanding how the Bible guides our lives.  Nothing supersedes that.  We use tradition, reason, and experience to help us understand the Bible, but still the Bible is the primary material for ethics and theology.  As we look at the whole spectrum of the Bible, the parts that speak directly to homosexuality, sexuality, and relationships and the parts that speak to the broader issues of God's movement in the world, what is the confluence of all of those texts? How does the overall story of the Bible speak to the specific issue of homosexuality?  That is the primary question at hand for Christians.
     The larger culture is in a broad push to affirm "gay equality" across all sectors of society.  A notable example is Obama's push for gay partners to have the same rights as straight partners in all areas of federal law.  His twitter feed called his latest effort "another victory for equality."  A great many business and organizations are making similar choices in their own employment policies.
     With this kind of wide-scale change, the questions relating to gay marriage can feel like a no-brainer issue of equal rights for all people.  The no-brainer rating of this issue increases as the age of the opinion-holder decreases, by the way.  But cultural change is not always good.
"Everyone's doing it" doesn't hold much weight logically or theologically.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Empowerment in Holiness and Feminism (Deanna Hayden)

    I set down the phone, dropped my face in my hands and slowly let the tears fall.  As my husband sat nearby, holding our baby boy, he waited for me to settle down enough to explain.   A year before, I had felt the Lord’s call on my heart to become a senior pastor.  Following months of communicating with districts around the country, I had finally interviewed.  The leadership of the church had been enthusiastic toward me, and - even as the voices of some were raised questioning the validity of having a female pastor - my responses seemed well received.  Several people told me they expected favorable congregational vote.  After the vote, however, those questioning voices had carried enough weight to turn down my opportunity to come as their pastor.  The apologetic phone call informing me of the decision left me heartbroken and confused.
    In a holiness denomination that has ordained women since its inception, how could women be refused the opportunity to fulfill their call simply because of their gender?  And from a broader perspective, what is it in the soul of the Church that seems inclined to deny the full equality of men and women?
Can the call to a life of holiness speak to the work of feminism? 
Are they two contrasting theories, or might they relate to each other?

Photo Credit: World Bank Photo Collection

Feminism Defined
    Simply defined, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”  Looking through theological and biblical lenses, we could add “religious” to the categories of equality advocated by feminism.  In a variety of cultures, this term has taken on negative connotations.  Within religious circles including some areas of Christianity, feminism is often assumed to have specific political agendas, and is quickly written off as being irrelevant and even oppositional to a life of Christian faith.  The work of feminism is then something to be ignored, if not opposed.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 8): Not About Whether We Believe in the Bible

Photo Credit: David Campbell
     "The Bible says homosexuality is wrong" - that's the starting point for many conservatives.  The greatest fear among both conservatives and moderates is that, if the Church accepts homosexuality in any form, then we are rejecting the authority of the Bible.  
     The whole debate about homosexuality is fraught with such heavy emotional baggage in part because it is attached to this larger issue of Biblical authority.  
For many, the question of gay marriage is simple: “Either you believe the Bible, or your don’t.”  
The great fear is that we Christians will lose our ethical bearings in the world and become lost in a moral swamp of squishy ground in which everything is personally debatable.  

     On one hand, this makes a lot of sense.  For Christians, the Bible is our moral compass.  The Bible is our guide for life.  Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God and actually alive with the Spirit of God.  The Bible is our supreme authority for understanding God and how God wants us to live in this world.  Of course, we also use reason, tradition, and experience to help us understand the Bible, but the Bible’s voice is always in the trump suit.  The Bible always has the authority to correct us.  The Bible is always the voice that moves the Church to reform when we have gone astray.  It is good and right for Christians to highly value the authority of the Bible.
     And when the Bible talks directly about homosexuality, it is always negative.  Accepting something the Bible seems to reject outright sounds like heresy to many.  It sounds like gay-affirming people are saying we get to pick and choose which parts of the Bible we believe in.  And of course, if we can pick and choose which texts have authority over us, then none have actual authority.   
If we are the filter of authoritative texts, then we are the real authority not the Bible. 

    Some advocates of gay marriage and other gay rights are perfectly fine with this conclusion.  
Whether Christian or not, they view the Bible as an archaic, mostly obsolete book.  
These Christians view it primarily as the story of God’s work in the world, but they see it as so heavily weighted with ancient cultural baggage that it has nothing meaningful to say about ethics in today’s world. 
     Another group of Christians prioritize Jesus’ teachings over all else, to the point of radically discounting both Paul and the Old Testament.  With all of their good intentions and honest love for Jesus, these genuine Christians are also practicing Marcionites.  Marcion was a 2nd century Christian leader who rejected the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament in favor of the portions that incline theology toward an all-forgiving God.  Marcion was ruled a heretic, and the global Church affirmed our commitment as Christians to the authority of the whole Bible.

     However, a whole other set of gay-affirming Christians remain Bible stalwarts.  They believe in the Bible with their whole hearts, and they are trying to shape their lives by the Bible’s teachings.  They remain deeply committed to the authority of the whole Bible - both Old and New Testaments.  And yet, as they understand the Bible, gay marriage is an acceptable option for Christians.  Even more, some of them feel that the Bible itself compels them to work for gay equality in the Church.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Renovating Holiness: A View from the Dutch Pews (Ank Verhoeven)

Editor's Note: This essay is part of the Renovating Holiness project.  Ank Verhoeven is a pastor in the Netherlands, and this essay reflects a series of dialogs with the people and pastors of Vlaardingen Church of the Nazarene, a church of some 1,700 people. 
Vlaardingen Church of the Nazarene
    Personally, I feel torn.  I love theology; I really do.  I love to talk about it; I love to think about it; I love to study it.  But I so hate how it can divide people.
    I just read a discussion on Facebook, of all places, about creation versus evolution. There are arguments to and fro, but all seem to be missing the point of the relationship between God and man.  In a loving relationship people are never testing the words of their significant other to be scientifically true, are they?  It just matters if everything that is significant for the relationship is true, and more importantly, trustworthy.  Why should God’s Word be treated so differently?
    In the present discussion concerning entire sanctification, it is no different.  
There are arguments against arguments, dividing people more than unifying them.  In my opinion, that should never be the purpose of the discussion.  Is the Church of the Nazarene not the place where tolerance for differences in interpretation should be most expected and even valued?  I cannot accept the fact that a theological difference could lead to division in our denomination.  That is why I wanted to participate in the project of the formation of this book.
    I put myself to the task of discovering how the people of my own congregation perceive the concept of sanctification, hoping to find points that would bind us, instead of divide us.
    The Dutch are Calvinistic from origin.  A couple of years ago, there was an internet test issued on how much people score on a Calvinistic attitude towards life, and even atheists (and Nazarenes) scored well above 60%.  Calvinism among the Dutch is often characterized by remarks as: ‘If you’re born for a dime, you will never become a quarter,” or “If your head sticks out above the wheat on the field, don’t be surprised if you lose it in the mowing.”  All of these sayings are trying to make sure that you remain a very humble person.  Success is in no way applauded as it is in the United States.  The possibility of being holy or perfect, even in the meaning of John Wesley’s “Christian Perfection” is, therefore, hard for us Dutch to wrap our brains around.