Kosuke Koyama's Water Buffalo Theology ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kosuke Koyama's Water Buffalo Theology

The esteemed and accomplished Kosuke Koyama, an Ecumenical Theologian born in Tokyo, passed away last week, and here's an opportunity to learn about his work.

According to the New York Times,

Dr. Koyama, who taught at the Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, strove to make the teachings of Christ culturally meaningful to Asians, without sacrificing the essential Gospel message. His 1974 book, “Water Buffalo Theology,” was “one of the first books truly to do theology out of the setting of Asian villages,” Donald Shriver, president emeritus of Union, said in an interview on Tuesday.

Directed at the concerns of peasants, the book points out that Christianity and Buddhism do not communicate; rather, Christians and Buddhists do. Dr. Koyama advocated seeing God “in the faces of people” to achieve good neighborliness among religions. He spoke of trying to “season” the Aristotelian roots of Western theology with Buddhist “salt.”

The book favored communicating about Jesus in culturally comforting words but urged missionaries to criticize and reform a given culture if it was found to be against Christian values.

Dr. Koyama made the book’s case in poetic, not academic, language. As a missionary in northern Thailand, he said, he was inspired to write it as he listened to the “fugue of the bullfrogs” while watching farmers working with buffaloes in the rice fields.

“The water buffaloes tell me that I must preach to these farmers in the simplest sentence structure,” he wrote. “They remind me to discard all the abstract ideas and to use exclusively objects that are immediately tangible. ‘Sticky rice,’ ‘banana,’ ‘pepper,’ ‘dog,’ ‘cat,’ ‘bicycle,’ ‘rainy season,’ ‘leaking house,’ ‘fishing,’ ‘cockfighting,’ ‘lottery,’ ‘stomachache’ — these are meaningful words for them.”

At the end of the article, The Times notes this -
Once, in discussing death, Dr. Koyama recalled the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

He said Jesus would be with others the same way:“Looking into our eyes and heart, Jesus will say: ‘You’ve had a difficult journey. You must be tired, and dirty. Let me wash your feet. The banquet’s ready.’ ”

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