- Embodied Cross: Intercontextual Reading of Theologia Crucis
The author of Embodied Cross states his intention in the first sentence of his introduction: "This book aims to outline an intercontextual reading of theology of the cross . . . that flows across a global context," but in particular the context of Japanese Buddhism and, secondarily, Shinto tradition. Since Miyamoto declares this book is based on his doctoral dissertation submitted to the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago in 2009—and it certainly reads like a dissertation written for Lutheran theologians— it might be useful to begin with a general description of the meaning of "theology of the cross" and "contextual theology" in order to communicate Miyamoto's intention and conclusions to a wider audience.
A major problem facing contemporary Christian theological reflection is the issue of power. The contemporary postmodern critiques of thinkers such as Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, and particularly Michel Foucault assert that all claims to truth, including the claims of theology, are merely secret bids for power. Until the late nineteenth century, Christianity dominated the cultures of the Western Europe, not because Christian tradition is truer than other religious traditions, but because Christianity was culturally and politically more powerful than its rivals. The question is, where does power lie? How are clergy and church leaders to use their power? Such accusations have been strengthened by the sense that the church has often used [End Page 164] theology to legitimate its claims to domination. This style of theological reflection is the defining character of "theology of glory" (theologia gloriae), which generally asserts that: (1) God's ways can be generally understood by human reason; (2) God's favor is experienced in the circumstances of life, in particular, life's successes and victories; (3) God is pleased by sincere human self-effort; and (4) faith, meaning "trust," in the historical Jesus as the Christ is God's ultimate revelatory self-disclosure and is the only means of redemption, meaning Christianity is the only path to "salvation."
Theologies of the Cross (theologia crucis) are quite different from theologies of glory. "Theology of the Cross" was first coined by Martin Luther to refer to theological reflection that asserts that the life, death, and resurrection of the historical Jesus on Easter are the only sources of knowledge concerning God and how God redeems human beings and the world. Luther first used this term in the Heidelberg Disputation in 1518, but he actually very rarely used it in his subsequent theological writings and preaching. Luther was an Augustinian monk at the time, representing his order, and first presented his theses that later came to define the Protestant Reformation. To perhaps oversimplify, in contrast to theologies of glory, theologies of the cross generally assert: (1) God's ways are paradoxical and hidden to human reason; (2) God's grace is manifested in the historical Jesus, particularly in his suffering, death, and resurrection; and (3) God is pleased only by the historical Jesus as the Christ. Lutheran theologians generally claim that theologies of the cross and theologies of glory are mutually exclusive.
Contextual theology refers to analysis of the way theology has been conceived in particular contexts. Contextual theologians are concerned with the interaction between universal themes in theology and issues relating to the particular context in which theological reflection takes place. Christian theological reflection is required to take the cultural and religious pluralism of all human communities seriously. But the theological traditions of Europe and America tend to absolutize Western culture and political traditions. The problem is that any universal truth claim arising from the experience of a particular culture or community can only have particular value for that particular culture or community. Accordingly, Christian theologians unaware of the thought and beliefs of peoples elsewhere assert false claims to universalism. This is so because there is no completely universal perspective, since all human thought and beliefs are limited by particular cultural and historical boundaries. Even so, there can be openness to the universal.
While theologians of glory object that theological reflection deals with...