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


John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. His many books currently in print include: Reclaiming the Church (1997); with Herman Daly, For the Common Good; Becoming a Thinking Christian (1993); Sustainability (1992); Can Christ Become Good News Again? (1991); ed. with Christopher Ives, The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation (1990); with Charles Birch, The Liberation of Life; and with David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1977). He is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church. His email address is cobbj@cgu.edu.. Published by Crossroad Publishing Company, 481 8th Ave. # 1550, New York, NY, 10017. Copyright ã 1990 by John B. Cobb Jr. All rights reserved. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Chapter 4: The Campus Cafeteria -- Wednesday Noon


Itís good to see you again, Chan-Hie. Howís your work going?"

"The short answer is Ďfine,í" 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, Iím enjoying it, and Chaplain Levovsky has been very helpful. But her sermons bother me. Thatís what I especially wanted to talk with you about."

"She is very liberal, isnít she?" was Chan-Hieís response. "Some of the Christian Korean students say sheís 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. Itís heady stuff. I really donít 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 canít you do all that without sacrificing belief in Jesusí divinity and in the universal power of his atonement?"

"I just donít 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 donít 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 doesnít 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 Godís tender and patient love. Then God seems very Christlike. Sometimes they talk about Godís wrathful judgment in ways that I donít 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 doesnít 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 Jesusí deity end up talking about things that donít 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 doesnít 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. Iíve already told you that. Thereís another group, though, who feel as I do. Theyíre excited about what weíre doing together. To us it feels very Christian. Indeed, it feels more Christian than just accepting what weíre told to believe when it doesnít fit with our experience. But of course those feelings donít prove anything."

Thomas was intrigued. "What do you mean by saying Ďit feels Christianí? Iíve 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 Iím 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 donít 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, isnít our continual preoccupation with this one human being inappropriate, even silly?"

"Youíve got me there," Chan-Hie admitted. "I know what I feel, that itís not so important how we think about Jesus as long as we follow him. But what you say makes sense, too. Why donít we talk with someone else about this. Iíve heard that Doris OíConnor of the religion department is a committed Christian and a fine scholar."

"But isnít she a Roman Catholic?" asked Thomas.

"I think so, but that doesnít mean she canít help us, does it?"

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

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