Chapter 4: The Campus Cafeteria — Wednesday Noon

Doubting Thomas: Christology in Story Form
by John B. Cobb, Jr.

Chapter 4: The Campus Cafeteria — Wednesday Noon

It’s good to see you again, Chan-Hie. How’s your work going?"

"The short answer is ‘fine,’" Chan-Hie replied. "If you want the truth, it will take all afternoon to tell you. How is it with yours?"

"Mixed," said Thomas. "Really, I’m enjoying it, and Chaplain Levovsky has been very helpful. But her sermons bother me. That’s what I especially wanted to talk with you about."

"She is very liberal, isn’t she?" was Chan-Hie’s response. "Some of the Christian Korean students say she’s not a Christian at all. They go to Intervarsity meetings and stay away from the chapel."

"How do you feel about her yourself?"

"I appreciate her position. So much of Christianity is doctrinaire. I find it oppressive. It seems to negate and exclude all the traditional values of Korean culture. In seminary I began to find the freedom to think for myself. Some of my professors encouraged me to be proud of my Korean cultural and religious heritage. They introduced me to some theologians who are rethinking Christian theology in terms of the Korean experience. It’s heady stuff. I really don’t know where it will lead. But I want to be free to explore it and to bring other Koreans into the exploration. Chaplain Levovsky has encouraged me."

"But can’t you do all that without sacrificing belief in Jesus’ divinity and in the universal power of his atonement?"

"I just don’t know. Right now I feel freer and more honest to bracket those issues, to begin with the experience of the Korean people, and to see how Jesus is good news for them."

"How does that work out?" Thomas wanted to know.

"I don’t have a lot of answers," Chan-Hie admitted. "But one thing that has meant a lot to me is to believe that God is like Jesus. That doesn’t contradict a lot of our Korean religious beliefs, but it does help to sort them out. It also helps to sort out the beliefs Christian missionaries have brought to Korea. Sometimes Christian preachers there talk about God’s tender and patient love. Then God seems very Christlike. Sometimes they talk about God’s wrathful judgment in ways that I don’t find revealed in Jesus at all. Anyway, Chaplain Levovsky suggested this to me, and I like it."

"I can see that up to a point," Thomas agreed. "If God is revealed in Jesus, then God must be like Jesus. But doesn’t that have to mean that God is incarnate in him. If Jesus is just one man among others, why select him as the standard for judging what God is like?"

"You may well be right," said Chan-Hie. "I really have no objection to drawing that conclusion. But so many people who begin with Jesus’ deity end up talking about things that don’t make sense to me — about how he descended from heaven and why he gave up his equality with God. My point is only that I want to start somewhere else and see what happens. So far, I like what is happening."

"But doesn’t that put Christian faith itself up for grabs? Maybe your explorations will lead you far away from Christian teaching. To me it sounds very dangerous indeed!"

"A good many of the Korean students here agree with you. I’ve already told you that. There’s another group, though, who feel as I do. They’re excited about what we’re doing together. To us it feels very Christian. Indeed, it feels more Christian than just accepting what we’re told to believe when it doesn’t fit with our experience. But of course those feelings don’t prove anything."

Thomas was intrigued. "What do you mean by saying ‘it feels Christian’? I’ve always thought that whether something is Christian can be decided objectively by comparing it with the official teaching of the church. I doubt that feeling is a safe guide."

Chan-Hie agreed. "But I’m not sure orthodoxy is either. Some pretty horrible things have been done for the sake of doctrinal correctness."

"But at least," Thomas continued, "there has to be some center, and I don’t see how for Christians that can be anything other than Jesus."

"I agree with you there!" Chan-Hie replied. "For me what has been attractive about Christianity has always been the gospel stories. I was taught to love Jesus in Sunday school, and the lessons took. That may be why I am so sure that God is like Jesus."

Thomas was not satisfied. "It seems to me that Christians are those who say Jesus was divine — human, of course, but not only that. He was completely unique, the one human being in whom God was incarnate. If not, isn’t our continual preoccupation with this one human being inappropriate, even silly?"

"You’ve got me there," Chan-Hie admitted. "I know what I feel, that it’s not so important how we think about Jesus as long as we follow him. But what you say makes sense, too. Why don’t we talk with someone else about this. I’ve heard that Doris O’Connor of the religion department is a committed Christian and a fine scholar."

"But isn’t she a Roman Catholic?" asked Thomas.

"I think so, but that doesn’t mean she can’t help us, does it?"

"I guess not," Thomas answered, a little embarrassed. "I’ll call her right now."