Church: Old and New
A Cross-Section of Space-Time
Tuesday, October 29, 2019
Choan-Seng Song, a theologian and author, has worked tirelessly to decolonize the image of God and Jesus brought to people in Asia by Western missionaries. His writings are a wonderful example of the global nature of movements emerging in Christianity. Song was born in the East and still identifies with his Asian culture while he’s been educated and worked in the West. His foundational text is the Bible, but he is also influenced by political and economic theories. In his book Jesus, the Crucified People, Song articulates how Jesus works to this day, within each of us and our churches, no matter what our culture.
[Jesus] burnt himself out totally, like a candle, to give light to the people living under the power of darkness. He lived, toiled, and died solely for that purpose. But unlike a candle he did not just melt away, leaving no trace. . . And though a candle is unable to prevent the return of darkness as soon as it is extinguished, Jesus’ light has burned on and has ignited countless new lights in the world. . . .
Perhaps Jesus waited, for these past two thousand years, to hear something different about him from the parts of the world now called Third World. Who could blame Jesus if he has grown a little tired of hearing over and over essentially the same thing about him said, taught, proclaimed, and preached . . . for so many centuries with only slight variations . . . ? He himself strove to bring fresh air into the traditions of his own religion. He must have been unable to suppress a sense of irony to know that the churches established in his name have come to revere him as a tradition that allows little fresh air to enter. Now that new voices are being enunciated about him by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, he must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. . . .
Jesus as a historical person can be identified within a particular cross-section of space-time. . . . That particular cross-section of space-time proves, from the Christian standpoint, to be an extraordinary segment in human history. [It] was not a mere thirty years limited to the small confines of the land in which he was born. His time seems to stretch to eternity and his space extends to all the universe. In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever” (13:8). John . . . in a flash of penetrating theological hindsight grasped the meaning of Jesus in relation to the world when he said: “The Word became flesh” (1:14; Revised Standard Version). What a mystery is packed into this brief statement! The Word that was in the beginning of time now comes into the thick of our time. The God who filled the space of chaos with creation now fills our space of suffering, strife, and death with the Word-become-flesh.
I so appreciate Song’s focus on the human person of Jesus and the freedom Jesus must experience in the voices that speak of him today from the center of their own culture, language, and lived experience. But Song also honors the reality of the Universal Christ who has been present to all people for all time. He encourages us to remain open to the ever-unfolding truth of the Christ present in every life and every culture.
C. S. Song, Jesus, the Crucified People (Fortress Press: 1996), ix, x.