Insights: Honoring Professor Whit Bodman (Spring 2019)

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Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman

Insights The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary


Rigby • Jones • Morales • Moorhead Lott • Hernandez • Reynolds • Dogan • Saldine 1


The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary Spring 2019

Volume 134

Number 2

Editor: David White Editorial Board: Carolyn Helsel, David Johnson, and Randal Whittington The Faculty of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary Margaret Aymer Gregory L. Cuéllar Lewis R. Donelson Bridgett A. Green William Greenway David H. Jensen David W. Johnson Carolyn Browning Helsel Philip Browning Helsel Paul K. Hooker

Timothy D. Lincoln Jennifer L. Lord Jennifer Owens-Jofré Suzie Park Cynthia L. Rigby Asante U. Todd Eric Wall Theodore J. Wardlaw David F. White Melissa Wiginton

Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary

is published two times each year by Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 100 East 27th Street, Austin, TX 78705-5797. e-mail: Web site: Entered as non-profit class bulk mail at Austin, Texas, under Permit No. 2473. POSTMASTER: Address service requested. Send to Insights, 100 East 27th Street, Austin, TX 78705-5797. © Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary Printing runs are limited. When available, additional copies may be obtained for $3 per copy. Permission to copy articles from Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary for educational purposes may be given by the editor upon receipt of a written request. Some previous issues of Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary, are available on microfilm through University Microfilms International, 300 North Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106 (16 mm microfilm, 105 mm microfiche, and article copies are available). Insights is indexed in Religion Index One: Periodicals, Index to Book Reviews in Religion, Religion Indexes: RIO/RIT/IBRR 1975- on CD-ROM, Religious & Theological Abstracts, &, and the ATA Religion Database on CD-ROM, published by the American Theological Library Association, 300 S. Wacker Dr., Suite 2100, Chicago, IL 60606-6701; telephone: 312-454-5100; e-mail:; web site:; ISSN 1056-0548.

COVER: “Noah’s Ark,” Herat; c. 1425; Leaf: 42.3x32.6 cm; miniature from Hafiz-i Abru’s

Majma al-tawarikh, Iran (Afghanistan), from The David Collection, Copenhagen, inventory number 8/2005, photographed by Pernille Klemp.


3 Introduction

Theodore J. Wardlaw

Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman 4

You Never Know Where God Might Speak

by Cynthia L. Rigby


Not Such Distant Cousins


The Presence and Absence of Faith


First and Foremost a Pastor



Beyond our Comfort Zones by Jasiel Hernandez

I AM a Theologian by Nettie Reynolds

The Beauty of Other Religions by Okan Dogan


by Arun W. Jones by José Francisco Morales Torres by Bee Moorhead Whit Bodman: Joyful Encourager by Michelle Lott

Capt’n Whit and the Williwaw by Kristin Saldine

Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman Dr. Whit Bodman Associate Professor of Comparative Religion, 2003–2018


hit Bodman’s father taught him to sail at a young age in the coastal waters of New England. He continues this legacy in his spare time on regional lakes and, periodically, in far-flung oceans. Whit, however, is not the kind of sailor who is preoccupied merely with getting from point A to point B. He is equally attentive to, and delighted by, the many systems on a boat—the sails, running rigging, engines, dinghies, water, anchors, and electrical systems, maintaining the navigation chart and the ever-present log book for recounting experiences on the way. Even the food eaten and the games played late at night feel as if they are baptized by eons of tradition. For novices along for the ride this can all feel somewhat fussy. But for those with the patience to settle into this economy of exotic practices, sailing becomes a rare and magical event in which we find ourselves subject to something larger and more mysterious than ourselves and our egos—call it what you will; tradition, beauty, participation, the holy. Whit has engaged his teaching vocation at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in similar style. While he published a ground-breaking book and numerous scholarly journal articles, one has the sense that his scholarship is always in service of something larger than personal achievement. Much like his sailing habits, his professorate has never been preoccupied with advancing in prestige from hypothetical status A to B; instead it has been about doing the right things well. Whether eating with students and staff in Stotts Hall, volunteering for a dunking booth, playing a bit of football in the Polity Bowl, shepherding pupils on a travel seminar, or advising and teaching, Whit is diligent in his care for students with much the same quality of attention he might give to, say, polishing bright work or trimming the luff from a sail—that is, with great delight. In the Austin community, his care extends, as it does on the boat, to all the systems that make for flourishing. His work with Texas Impact, Interfaith Action of Central Texas, local Islamic centers, and his legislative advocacy are of a piece with his teaching and care for students. Dr. Bodman’s life and work bear witness to the gospel of incarnation, in which God is present in ordinary things such as a mother and her child, bread and wine, the faces of sinners and strangers, and the flawed vessel of the church—such that, finally, all things are rendered extraordinary. Whit Bodman’s eccentricities of commitment and care have made Austin Seminary a better place. Because of Whit we have all come to care about such things as Christian hospitality to those of different religions, just legislation, good teaching, humor amidst our solemnity … and now and then, just the right tie. Thank you, Whit. We wish you fair winds and following seas. —The Editor 2



n this issue honoring Professor Whit Bodman, I am delighted to get in a first word. Whit was one of the faculty’s newest arrivals when I came to the Seminary some seventeen years ago, and over time I came to appreciate, delight in, and respect his deep commitments. Elsewhere you will read of these commitments in great detail, so I will simply mark the ones that most move me. I’ll start with a commitment that quickly bonded the both of us—a commitment to playfulness. Mark Twain once said, “Show me a man who knows what’s funny, and I’ll show you a man who knows what’s not.” Whit is such a rare person—someone who appreciates the ironies of life and is able to laugh about them, and, more deeply, to respect them, to take them with appropriate seriousness. Whit and I have enjoyed exchanging the gentle prank. We involved the community in a couple of epic “tieoffs”—contests about which of us outdid the other in silly sartorial matters (I won the first one, the one executed fairly; he won the other). Because he and I have been accused of being twins, we made a big deal about how, on this or that occasion when I would be away, he could be the presidential stand-in. Despite my explicit instructions, I would come back to the news that various staff members had received raises, the name on my parking space had been changed to “Bodman,” numerous executive decisions had been made from the vaunted presidential chair in the Board Room— playfulness in which the whole Seminary engaged with a collective wink. It was such fun, and I love Whit for his playfulness. He knows what is funny. And, more importantly, he knows what is not funny. His academic background twinned with a ferocious commitment to a big and generous God propels him into conversations—both local and global—regarding the plight of both Palestinians and Jews, the underserved and hardly noticed immigrant populations on various borderlands, the needs of those mired in poverty in and around Austin. He represents the pains and aspirations of many of us on local boards and at legislative hearings. He has regularly written op-ed pieces and in journals around the world, on behalf of acts of injustice toward persecuted minorities anywhere and everywhere. He has taught tirelessly in churches and other houses of worship on the often street-level impacts of interfaith conflicts threatening communities across the country and the world in these fraught times. He does all of this with both passion and deep grace. In the wake of the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, he asked me to join him at a huge outpouring of solidarity at the Jewish Community Center in Austin—an interfaith moment repeated many times over in cities and towns across the country—and I reveled in the inspiring picture of what belief in our big God looks like. All of this relentless vigor and witness on Whit’s part point to the other deep commitments we expect to see exhibited in a world-renowned professor of comparative religion. But, for Whit, these commitments are never just an academic matter. They are the natural expressions of his own deep faith. A citizen of the world, an inspiring teacher, a person deeply interested in things that matter, Whit’s presence in this community makes us better. Whit, even in retirement (!), Austin Seminary loves you, and we wish you well in this next chapter.

Theodore J. Wardlaw President, Austin Seminary 3

Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman

You Never Know Where God Might Speak: World Religions and the Reformed Tradition Cynthia L. Rigby


ne of the things I appreciate about my colleague Whit Bodman is that he is unflinching about raising concerns even when there is pressure to keep them to himself. Watching his example, I see confirmation that inquiry is a necessary precursor to changing things for the better. With this in mind, I try in what follows first to name some real problems with Reformed traditions and their history with interfaith and interreligious engagement. Then I move to the work I love best—naming some largely untapped doctrinal resources in the Reformed tradition and imagining how they can help all of us do a better job of being in conversation with those who believe differently than we do.

Some Painful History To note that not everyone who has called themselves “Reformed” has been open to hearing God speak through other religions and faith traditions would be a serious understatement. It pains me to acknowledge that some of the same Reformed forbearers who were persecuted by the Roman church in the 16th century themselves persecuted the Anabaptists. How is it possible that those who were so visionary about thinking of all believers as priests and wanting to get a Bible into each and every hand could be so certain that faithful people who believed differently than they posed such a dire threat that they needed to be severely controlled, even killed? Under Zwingli’s leadership in Zurich, at least four people were executed by drowning for the crime of rebaptizing adults. Under Calvin’s leadership in Geneva, Michael Servetus was burned alive1 because he so disruptively and divisively disagreed with Reformed teachings on the doctrines of the Trinity and baptism. Cal-

Cynthia Rigby is The W.C. Brown Professor of Theology at Austin Semi-

nary. She is general co-editor for Connections, the new nine-volume lectionary commentary series from Westminster John Knox Press, in partnership with Austin Seminary. Rigby’s latest book, Holding Faith: A Practical Introduction to Christian Faith was published by Abingdon Press last summer. Rigby served as editor of Insights for ten years.


Rigby vin was also quite intolerant of the Muslims (or “Turks,” as he called them). Though he admired their piety and religious discipline, he accused them of worshipping a false God and associated them with the antichrist for revering Mohammed rather than God’s true son, Jesus Christ.2 The 17th century brought the persecution of the Arminian Christians by the Reformed churches following the Synod of Dort, held in the Netherlands (1618-1619). Arminian theology would later have a profound influence on the shaping of Wesleyan and Methodist traditions, but 17th-century Reformed Christians had no tolerance for several of its central doctrines, including that Christ died for all (and not just the elect), that grace is resistible (human beings may reject it), and that salvation can be lost (if human agents turn from their commitment to Christ). In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Reformed missionaries effectively proclaimed the Gospel to many countries and peoples. But their vision for moving forward did not emphasize interreligious dialogue. They did not understand their call to be to set Christianity in conversation with other religions, or even to synchronize Christianity with native beliefs, but rather to direct all non-Christians away from their false religion and toward faith in Christ.3 The missionary work of the Presbyterian missionaries John Nevius in China and Samuel A. Moffat in Korea, for example, emphasized respecting diverse cultures and training nationals to be leaders in the church. But the idea that the native religions of China and Korea (including Confucianism, Shintoism, or Buddhism) had anything to teach Christians was not actively entertained. Anything resembling interreligious dialogue established or engaged by Christian missionaries was for the sake of learning what resonances could be claimed with an eye toward more persuasively bearing witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Given this history, it would be naive to assume Reformed theological ideas naturally give way to productive interfaith and interreligious exchanges. At this point, in fact, it would be reasonable to spend the rest of this essay trying to drill down to those theological ideas that have led Reformed people of faith to try to change and even to punish those who think differently than themselves. It is evident, for example, that certain appropriations and abuses of the doctrines of election and the divine sovereignty have been used to justify claims to superiority and power that serve as barriers to mutual exchange. But I am going to take a different tack, more constructive in nature, that I believe will also be helpful for interfaith and interreligious dialogue as we move into an increasingly global future. I will highlight three ideas, explaining their Reformed theological grounding and exploring their benefits. They are: humility, curiosity, and attention. Each of these not only facilitates productive interfaith dialogue, but is consistent with the character Christian believers are called to nurture and uphold in all their interactions.

Moving Ahead: Humility, Curiosity, and Attention Humility and total depravity. When I was a kid, a title on my family’s bookshelf kept catching my eye: I’m OK; You’re OK, it read.4 I kept thinking about the Bible verse 5

Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman that says: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NRSV). That meant that no one was okay, didn’t it? A central insight of Reformed theology is that no one is okay apart from the intervention of God. The idea that we cannot make headway to God on our own takes form in the doctrine of total depravity, a teaching which does not sit well with many who understand it to be too pessimistic about human capacity. To be able to decide to “just do it” is a highly prized value in American culture that total depravity sets into question. And yet Reformed theology insists that for human beings to be thrown off kilter regarding their own capabilities is a good thing. When we know it is God, and not we ourselves, who is the ultimate shaper of our destiny, we are less likely to confuse ourselves and our own opinions with God and God’s ways. We are then free to be who we are as creatures who live before our Creator, playing in the theater of God’s glory which is the created world.5 Along these lines, Reformed theological ethicist Paul Lehmann identifies total depravity as “the most hopeful of all doctrines,” suggesting that it frees human beings from the burden of trying to make it on their own. “If we could transcend the ethical predicament in which we find ourselves we would not be in it,” he wryly observes. “Human renewal is not intrinsic to human capacity; it comes to humanity as a gift.”6 When we overrate our capacities and forget the gifted character of both our existence and our salvation, our total depravity breaks open to sin. One of the benefits of remembering our limitations is that it fosters in us a humility that makes us more open to hearing, and genuinely learning from, the views of others. This is, of course, highly beneficial to productive interreligious dialogue. But there is another, related, benefit to keeping total depravity at the fore: it reminds us not to point fingers at the sins of others without contemplating those of our own. Recall how much harm has been perpetrated by one religious group, claiming to be entirely in the right, accusing another of being the worst kind of sinners. Historically, this has happened again and again when Christians have blamed Jews for crucifying Jesus, using this accusation as justification for anti-Semitic acts. It seems to me that no possibility for Jewish-Christian dialogue exists where Christians are blaming Jews for the death of their Savior while at the same time denying their own complicity in rejecting the Son of God. In a fascinating article titled “The Huguenots, the Jews, and Me,” French Protestant Armand Laferrere writes about why he thinks it is that his European, Calvinistic relatives always had strong, mutually enriching relationships with people who were Jewish during a time when anti-Semitism was rampant. Luther was more anti-Semitic than Calvin, he reflects, pointing out that Luther blames the Jews for the death of Christ and Calvin does not. Or—to be more precise—Calvin doesn’t think the Jews are to blame any more than those of us who are Christian. This is because all human beings are depraved and, in and of their own strength, equally guilty of rejecting Jesus Christ. Laferrere quotes along these lines Théodore of Beza, student and biographer of Calvin, who writes that “Christ [was not] crucified either by the Jews or by Caiaphas and Pilate, but rather by you and me: ‘We, brothers, we were the ones who, after so much pain, ordered him to be bound and slaughtered.’”7 6

Rigby Théodore’s passionate comment might seem to many of us overdone. I cannot help but ponder, however, what would happen around the interfaith / interreligious dialogue table if we came to the conversation with his degree of self-awareness and humility. Knowing ourselves as totally depraved, but nevertheless claimed and beloved by God, would free us to engage others as beloved even as we acknowledged their limits and challenged their sinfulness. Laferrere notes, along these lines, that Calvin recognizes the Jews as God’s chosen people despite their flaws and sins, just as he acknowledges that the elect of God to whom he ministers do not always behave in a manner worthy of their calling.8 Curiosity and the Ubiquity of the Word. If acknowledging our total depravity helps us enter into interreligious conversation with humility, recognizing the capaciousness of God’s living Word prepares us to engage around the table with curiosity. There is an important contribution made by Reformed theology that can help us step into this. It is the idea that the Word of God is not exhausted even in Jesus Christ. To put this another way: Reformed theology teaches that the Word made flesh in Jesus at the same time also fills the entirety of the cosmos. This idea, introduced by Calvin and known as the “extra calvinisticum,” holds great potential for supporting interfaith dialogue because it reminds us that God has the resources to speak however God chooses to speak.9 This way of putting the matter might sound convoluted, but it stands in the proud tradition of Karl Barth, who picks up on Calvin’s idea of God’s ubiquitous Word and insists that God might very well choose to speak to us in a variety of places—perhaps, he says, “through Russian communism, through a flute concerto, through a blossoming shrub, or through a dead dog.”10 For Barth, the point is not that God necessarily reveals Godself through any of these things, but that we need to stay alert and open, for God might very well speak to us in unexpected places and in surprising ways. While Barth insists God’s revelation in Jesus Christ stands at the center of all that God proffers us, and while he further reminds us that all revelation must be consistent with what we know about God through Christ, Barth also warns us to remember God’s Word is a living reality and that God always speaks every moment anew. Whenever we think we have mastered the content of who God is and what God is saying, he suggests, it is time to repent of our idolatry and listen, again. This idea that God’s living Word is bigger, even, than what we know in Jesus should fill us with curiosity about what we can learn about God through other faith traditions and religions. Calvin insisted that Abraham stood underneath all those stars, heard God’s promise, and believed God11 by way of the very same Word known by Christians in Jesus Christ—even though he had no way of even knowing Jesus’s name! Following Calvin’s conceptual lead, we can enter into conversation with those who believe differently than us with a good deal of curiosity, open to the possibility that we might learn from them something new about the living Word Christians experience in Jesus Christ, by way of the Spirit. Attention and the Scandal of Particularity. We have considered how Reformed teach7

Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman ings about total depravity and sin, when acknowledged alongside the nevertheless of God’s claim on us (and others) as beloved, can foster a spirit of humility that is conducive to productive interreligious dialogue. We have explored the idea that contemplating the magnitude of God’s living Word positions us to listen with curiosity to the convictions of others in the hope that we might learn something new about what God is saying. I turn briefly, now, to a final offering of Reformed theology—one that stands somewhat in tension with the capaciousness of the ubiquitous Word. It is the emphasis on the particularity of God’s self-revelation; the fact that the God who fills the cosmos talks to Moses in a particular moment out of a particular burning bush; that the ubiquitous Word enters into the particular womb of a particular Jewish woman named Mary. Contemplation of the fact that God speaks specifically and not just in general should lead us to develop our own capacity for attending to details. This will enrich our interreligious conversations and efforts. Let me try to get at this point another way. Speaking anecdotally, I have noticed that there can be a problem that arises when people grasp the Reformed point about the ubiquity of the Word but forget that the very same Word that fills the cosmos is known in the particular historical person named Jesus of Nazareth. Focusing only on the Word’s capaciousness might lead us to make grandiose claims such as: “Really, we all believe in the same God—we just call God different names.” Now, that may be true or it may not. But the fact that the Word is ubiquitous doesn’t argue that every religion is “in” or that any conviction held with sincerity is true, it simply argues that whatever is actually true is bigger than even our best understanding. The question inevitably emerges, in any worthwhile series of interfaith conversations, of how to discern truth from falsehood, true religion from false religion, that which is of God from that which is not. And there, for the Christian, will be Jesus. Our reference point. Not grandiose at all, but really almost so particular as to be an inconvenience. Never wrote a book, never held an office, never traveled far from his home12 . . . how are we to maneuver in relationship to him when we engage in interreligious conversation? Reformed theologians are among those who characterize the particularity of God’s self-revelation as “scandalous.” When someone acts scandalously they do something that seems to everyone around them to be improper. Scandalous acts are not necessarily immoral—consider the scene in The Sound of Music when Capt. Von Trapp comes home to find his kids dressed in hideous old curtains. He is scandalized by the thought that his children have been seen around town wearing such ugly clothes. When Reformed theologians talk about being scandalized by God’s self-revelation, they are naming, in part, that God is acting in ways we wouldn’t have expected and probably aren’t happy about. With Moses, we may try to prompt God to step up God’s game and provide us with better resources for accomplishing our mission (see Exodus 3). With the apostle Peter, we may want to try to convince Jesus to stop acting like a suffering servant and act more like a recognizable Messiah (see Matthew 16). Remembering the scandalous nature of God’s self-revelation calls us to attend not only to the grandeur of God, but also to the details about God with which we 8

Rigby have been gifted. Reformed theology would argue that, when we are attending to the scandal of the Gospel, we do not set our faith in Jesus to the side when we come, humble and curious, to the conversation. Neither do we set aside our sacred text, the Bible. Rather, when we are attending to the scandalous nature of God’s self-revelation, we will be ready to open up the biblical witness and to discuss its stories and teachings with those who have come to be in conversation with us. We will also bring along with us our testimony to what we love about the traditions and communities that have formed us. I once heard a Christian minister speak reassuringly to a man who was Muslim, telling him not to worry because he was sure they worshiped the same God. After a brief pause, the Muslim man looked the Christian in the eyes and said: “I don’t think I worship the same God as you because you worship three gods. Tell me about your Trinity.” The Christian minister was suddenly at a loss because he had nothing to say about the Trinity. He had never attended to that detail of his faith. Maybe he thought it was only the big picture that mattered. But the scandalous details possibly matter even more. Think of what would happen if we came to our interfaith conversations having already attended so well to the details of what we believe that we were eager to explain to anyone who asked why they matter to us. Such practiced attention—which would no doubt require some degree of study and discipline on our part—would also prime us better to attend to those details that matter to others who believe differently than us. It occurs to me that the strongest relationships seem to be built as much on sharing and understanding particularities as on acknowledging shared similarities. Do we want to build real relationships with people from other faith traditions and religions? Then we’d better get ready to answer specific questions about what we believe and why it matters to us.

Conclusion I began this essay by lamenting the fact that Reformed traditions have too often punished or overlooked those of other faiths rather than entering into conversation and relationship with them. I have assumed that you, with me, want to be intentional about shaping a better future. What I have not discussed are the many ways in which Reformed traditions have been hard at work in doing this for many decades. The World Council of Reformed Churches, for example, engages regularly in bilateral dialogues with people of diverse faiths. Still, in my view there is need for more focused attention on how the theological teachings of our traditions shape our understanding of what interreligious dialogue is all about. With that in mind, I developed the three ideas presented here: that humility can be fostered by attention to our depravity; that curiosity can be provoked by remembering the ubiquity of God’s living Word; and that attention to the particularities is crucial to the development of meaningful relationships between members of diverse religious communities. It is my hope that our fear and reticence to converse with one another will continue giving way to humility, curiosity, and attentiveness, and that we will grow in joy together as we explore with others the questions that matter most. v 9

Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman NOTES 1. Calvin signed the execution orders, though he argued for death by decapitation rather than burning. 2. For a provocative article on this subject (although I don’t agree on all points) please see Katarina Beelers’s essay at: (accessed 2.8.19). 3. For more on the Moffets’ missionary work in Korea, see p14s01-lire.html. 4. I’m OK, You’re OK, by psychiatrist Thomas Harris, was a bestselling book in the U.S. in the early 1970s.

5. This is an image frequently used by John Calvin.

6. Paul Lehmann, Ethics in a Christian Context (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 196, 3), 322.

7, Leferrere, Azure 26 (Autumn 2006). At

8. Ibid.

9. For more on this, see my essay “World-Filling Word: The Extra Calvinisticum and Interfaith Dialogue, ch. 10 of Warner M. Bailey, The Theologically Formed Heart: Essays in Honor of David J. Gouwens (New York: Wipf and Stock, 2014). 10. Church Dogmatics I/1 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark), 160.

11. Genesis 15:6.

12. See “One Solitary Life” at:


Not Such Distant Cousins

Arun W. Jones


hit Bodman and I arrived at Austin Seminary at the same time, in the summer of 2002, and we quickly found that we had much in common. Together we were starting our first full-time academic positions; we had both spent a number of years as pastors in New England; we had significant overseas experience; and we were interested in the academic study of religion, and of particular religious traditions other than Christianity. There were, of course, some differences. I had come to Austin Seminary to teach evangelism and mission; Whit had come to teach world religions. One would think that, given our teaching and academic responsibilities, I would be the man on a mission and Whit the dispassionate analyst. However, given our personalities, intellectual outlooks, and approaches to our work, the reverse was generally the case. I quickly discovered that Whit was on a mission to promote interfaith understanding, dialogue, and cooperation, while I preferred to sit on the sidelines and ponder the relative advantages and disadvantages of various approaches to evangelism and mission. Indeed, I would say that Whit was an evangelist for interfaith work in a way that I could never be for Christian mission and evangelism. Our long friendship (nourished by our respective spouses), profound respect for each other’s thought and perspectives, and many common interests have kept us talking and thinking with each other over the years, even as we have developed different foci for our work, and I have moved to a different academic institution. Catching up with Whit over a meal or coffee has always been one of the highlights of my annual pilgrimage to the AAR/SBL annual meetings.

Arun Jones is The Dan and Lillian Hankey Associate Professor of World

Evangelism and director of the master of theology program at Candler School of Theology. His current research focuses on the history of Christianity in Rajasthan, India, as well as other topics in the fields of World Christianity and missiology. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, he was Austin Seminary’s 2019 Settles Lectures in Mission and Evangelism.


Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman Currently my academic position is in the field of evangelism, and on the face of it one would think that the study of Christian evangelism and the comparative study of the world’s many religious traditions, especially with a focus on interreligious dialogue, would have little, if anything to do with each other. Indeed, for many years I hewed to conventional wisdom—accepted by both sides—and maintained that Christian evangelism and interreligious study and understanding required two very different approaches to the study of religious traditions. The purpose of evangelism, after all, is to witness to other people about the truth of one’s own faith and beliefs; the purpose of religious studies and interfaith work is to understand the world’s many traditions on their own terms—as they understand themselves. Recently, however, I have come to question this neat division, as I have deepened my study of the history of Christian evangelism. Christian evangelists have, over the centuries, been some of the pioneers in the sympathetic understanding of the world’s other religious traditions. Roberto de Nobili and Bartholomaüs Ziegenbalg in South India, and Mateo Ricci and James Legge in China immediately come to mind. And some of the greatest articulators of their own traditions in supposedly secular or interfaith settings have been the most convincing advocates of them— luminaries such as Swami Vivekananda, Anagarika Dharmapala, and Soyen Shaku became evangelists, as it were, at the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893. How could it be that evangelists would become leaders in the study of the world’s many religious traditions? The example of Christian evangelism in India can provide us with some clues for an answer. As far as evangelism in India is concerned, especially during the 19th century, there were plenty of European and American missionaries in pith helmets who used to stand in Indian marketplaces and preach to (or just as often, at) the crowds who had come to the bazaar for their day’s shopping or other business. Such a scene would hardly bring to mind any notion of interfaith understanding. However, it was only the worst evangelists who relied simply on monologues in the marketplace for their work. And it is patently unfair to compare the worst practitioners of one art (or religious tradition) to the best practitioners of another art (or religious tradition). To begin, bazaar preaching was increasingly criticized within the missionary community as the 19th century wore on, for being counterproductive to the positive presentation of the gospel in India. Secondly, even when bazaar preaching was continued, it was seen as simply the first (provocative) step in a much longer process of evangelism, which required extended private conversations and dialogue. Third, bazaar preaching could itself become an opportunity for interreligious interchange. The following report from a Presbyterian missionary in Sabathu, North India, around 1870 gives us a glimpse into the kinds of conversations that bazaar preaching could generate. A couple of villagers coming in one day with loads of grass for sale were induced by curiosity to stop and listen to the [missionary’s] preaching. The Missionary noticed them and interrupted his discourse in order to explain to them what he had been talking about. “I am telling these people,” he said, “that in God’s sight we are all sin12

Jones ners, and that we all need a Saviour. Do you believe this?” “Yes indeed: I am always committing sin.” “Is it possible? Are you not then afraid of the judgment of God? Why do you sin against Him?” “What can I do? We are not rich, we must earn our daily bread, we are too poor to do anything meritorious.” “But why should your poverty make it necessary for you to commit sin? Will you tell me some of the sins of which you are guilty?” “Well, this grass that I am selling, I have destroyed life in cutting it. I cut wood also in the jungle. But unless I sell grass and wood, I cannot feed my wife and children. It is the fate of us farmers to commit sin. It is written in our destiny, we are obliged to cut our grain, and then every time we plough or reap, we are sure to kill many worms and insects.” “But are these the only sins you have committed?” asked the Missionary, wishing to reach the man’s conscience. “Can you not think of any other evil acts?” He said he could think of nothing else. “Do you love God, and seek to do His will?” “Of course I do,” was his prompt reply. “Who ever resisted his will? All men do the will of God. It is He that causes all that happens.” Without stopping to protest against this Pantheistic blasphemy, the Missionary asked, “Do you love your neighbors as yourself? This is what God requires of every man. Have you never been unkind to any one? Have you never wronged any one?” “Never,” he said. “I am an honest man; I never defrauded or injured any one.” Notwithstanding all this, the preacher is frequently listened to attentively and returns to his home greatly encouraged.1 There are multiple layers of misunderstanding—or complete lack of understanding—evident in this dialogue as we read it. There is, of course, the missionary’s apparent lack of knowledge of the peasant’s religious views. Then there is the peasant’s (understandable) misunderstanding of the missionary’s message, although the former’s perceptive and disruptive answers to the latter’s leading questions show the peasant to be quite theologically aware and astute. Finally, there is our own incomplete understanding of both the peasant’s and the missionary’s religious views, removed as we are in multiple ways from their world. Once we recognize the existence of these and other gaps in understanding inherent in the process of evangelism, we begin to see how such rudimentary evangelistic work can become the beginning of rudimentary interreligious and comparative religious conversations, if people from different commitments and worldviews struggle to understand each other. Indeed, perhaps one of the most important steps in understanding different religious traditions is the realization that one cannot understand another person’s perspective. The myth that all religious traditions 13

Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman are mutually understandable needs to be shattered (as the myth that all religious traditions are basically the same has been shattered) before we can proceed to a deeper appreciation of that which binds together and divides human perceptions of the world and the forces that are at work in it. It was the determination of pioneers such as Ricci, Ziegenbalg, Vivekananda, Dharmapala, and Shaku to understand different and strange religious worlds that made them such effective teachers of their own and other religious traditions. Ironically, humanitarian missions, which are most favored by evangelism-shy Christians, actually function to prevent serious religious engagement. Some of the earliest forms of non-evangelistic missions, such as educational and medical work, were started as a means of shutting down cross-religious conversations. In the history of modern Protestant missions, perceptive missionaries came to realize that contrarian conversation partners, such as the Indian peasant in the example above, were not exceptional in the general population where Christian evangelism was occurring (and not succeeding as hoped). Far too often, for the comfort of impatient missionaries, Christian proclamations and assertions were greeted not with awe and wonder but with insurmountable arguments and objections. As Alexander Duff, the famous 19th-century Scottish missionary to India described it, if you were a novice missionary in Bengal in the 1830s and you confidently strode forth to proclaim the gospel, you soon found out that “you are driven from the direct announcement of your message—you are literally driven to entertain” the questions that are being thrown at you by the leaders of the people whom you are addressing.2 Duff therefore forcefully advocated a completely different kind of mission from one of preaching and evangelism. It was a mission of education, and specifically Protestant and European Enlightenment education with English language as the medium of instruction, that would completely bypass the Christian engagement of Hinduism on the latter’s own terms. Such education, he hoped, would substitute a much more powerful system for converting India’s masses for the futile method of evangelism. As he vividly put it, “While you [evangelists] engage in directly separating as many precious atoms from the mass [of Hinduism] as the stubborn resistance to ordinary appliances will admit, we shall, with the blessings of God, devote our time and strength to the preparing of a mine, and the setting of a train which shall one day explode and tear up the whole from its lowest depths.”3 Little did Duff foresee that instead of demolishing it, Western mission education would inoculate Hinduism from the attacks of European Christianity and Enlightenment thought, and would eventually provide Indians with the ideological tools needed for breaking the powerful grip of the British Empire. But to return to mission education and the study of Hinduism or Islam in India: the whole purpose of Duff’s educational project was to obviate difficult conversations across religious differences in order to demonstrate with overwhelming intellectual force the superiority of Christianity and a Western civilization that was built on Christian foundations. Medical missions were employed for purposes similar to that of Western mission education. Andrew Walls has argued that investment in medical missions was heaviest, in terms of human, financial, and material resources, in places like China 14

Jones and India where resistance to conversion was the strongest. The thinking was that Western medicine would demonstrate to recalcitrant natives the intellectual and material power of Christian faith which had given rise to Western civilization, and convince them—in ways that proclamation and argumentation could not—of the truth of the gospel.4 As in the case of Western mission education, medical missions did not in any way achieve the missionaries’ goals. Rather, medical missions allowed non-Western peoples to appropriate new medical regimes and technologies for their physical health and well-being without buying into the assumption that Western medicine was inevitably linked to Christianity. The point to be made here is not that there is some direct line leading from Christian evangelism to the comparative study of various religious traditions. Rather, what is being proposed is that by its very nature, evangelism can open up spaces, and has in fact opened up spaces, for fruitful conversations and sympathetic learning across boundaries of religious difference, in ways that other modes of mission such as education and medical outreach cannot. Evangelism can do this because at its best, it has to engage other religious traditions on their own terms, in order to explain Christianity in ways that would make sense to them. Counterintuitive though it may seem at first blush, evangelism and the comparative study of religious traditions are not such distant cousins after all. v NOTES 1. “Report of the Lodiana Mission, 1872” (Lodiana, 1872), 3–4, MT 80 PSZ LA, Presbyterian Historical Society. Great care needs to be taken in interpreting a passage like this. This may very well not be a verbatim report of a conversation, but rather an indication by the missionary to his audience at home of the kinds of responses that his preaching elicits among certain classes of Indians. 2. Alexander Duff, The Church of Scotland’s India Mission (Edinburgh: General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1835), 4; emphasis in the original. 3. Quoted in George Smith, The Life of Alexander Duff, D.D., L.L.D. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1881), 68; emphasis in the original. 4. Andrew Walls, “The Domestic Importance of the Nineteenth-Century Medical Missionary,” in The Missionary Movement in Christian History (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), 211-220.


Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman

The Presence and Absence of Faith: Being Faithful to Christian Particularity and Committed to Interreligious Engagement

José Francisco Morales Torres “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” —Torah, Genesis 12.3 “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” —New Testament, 1 Timothy 4.10 “My punishment, I afflict with it whom I will, but My Mercy encompasses every thing.” —Holy Qur’an, Sura Al A’raf 7.156 n this short essay, I show 1) that it is impossible to arrive at a “neutral” pluralism, and 2) consequently, that comparative theology seeks to best explain how particularly Christian belief of God incarnate in Christ and God’s universally saving reach might relate to each other. I structure my argument with four successive moves. First, I offer an account of perception according to a philosophical school called phenomenology, specifically its notion of “presence” and “absence.” I do this to frame the overall argument. Second, using the concepts of “presence” and “absence” in perception, I describe the way Christian particularity and religious pluralism are “seen” in traditional theologies that deal with the question of Christian particularity and salvation—both exclusive and inclusive theologies of salvation. Third, I propose an inversion of what has been traditionally seen as the presence and absence of the Christian faith. Lastly, based on this inversion, I suggest a new guiding question for the field of comparative theology.


José Morales is a PhD candidate in comparative theology and philosophy at Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California. He also serves as the director of pastoral formation at Disciples Seminary Foundation in Claremont. He is an ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). 16


I Phenomenology is a school or method of philosophizing that begins with immediate experience of lived life, as given to one’s consciousness. That is to say, it affirms lived immediacy as the surest starting point for philosophical inquiry and reflection. Seeing, touching, hearing, etc., is a major topic in phenomenology because it is immediate experience. In fact, the faculties are the source of all experience. Regarding the act of perception (seeing), phenomenology frames an object given to consciousness in terms of presence and absence. We never see the totality of the object before us. That which our perception captures is the “presence” of an object, and it is “immanent” to us. Yet there are sides or parts of the object that we cannot perceive immediately. These are deemed as “absent” to us; they “transcend” what is given to consciousness. To take a common example, a cube has six sides. Yet when we approach a cube from our particular angle of vision, we can see no more than three sides at any given time. The other remaining sides are absent, unavailable to our gaze. All objects are simultaneously present and absent to us. The duality of presence and absence marks our perceiving experience. Presence never appears without absence, and absence is always concealed within, yet included in, presence. They are inseparable aspects of all phenomena. They are mutually constitutive. We perceive the presence of a thing as by its absence. And, absence is revealed to us precisely because it is concealed by presence—absence as a revealing concealment.1 All engagement with an object is perspectival. We perceive from a particular place, never from “nowhere.” In fact, we never just are: we are “here.”2 Now, we are more certain of the features of a thing’s presence than we can ever be of its absence. We can speak with greater certitude of a thing’s presence as it goes through our eyes and into our consciousness. We can describe the colors and textures of three present sides of the cube. Conversely, we can only assume details of the three absent sides of the cube. If the three present sides are blue, we could conclude that the three absent sides are also blue. But that conclusion might be wrong. Yet, this does not mean that absences are insignificant, with which we need not concern ourselves. These absences are necessary for us as we discern the object. For example, we can, with some assurance, assume that the cube is a cube, and not simply three plains adjoined in right angles. We know this because the three absent sides are holding up the cube. Otherwise the three present sides would tip over. Jean-Yves Lacoste offers the example of sitting in a chair: it is the parts of the chair that we do not see while seated that are the most important parts of the chair (e.g. back, legs).3 Absence is essential to a thing’s “presencing.”

II The phenomenological framework of presence and absence can be applied to any object, whether the object is physical or conceptual. What happens when the Christian faith is the “object” we are to see and reflect upon? What are the presence and absence of Christian faith? In other words, what are the present features that are more certain and definite? What are those absent features which are indispensable 17

Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman yet less certain and definite? To ask about the Christian faith is to ask about a particular “object.” Therefore, since the very idea of particularity (singular) presumes particularities (plural), the immediate question about the Christian faith becomes the question about Christian faith amidst other religions. (To ask about cube inevitable includes asking about a sphere, pyramid, and cylinder.) In other words, Christian particularity is inescapably situated on a pluralistic religious backdrop. Moreover, the pluralistic field can only be seen from the particularity of the Christian faith, since all reflection is perspectival. (We can see the sphere or cylinder from our cube.) Particularity and pluralism, like presence and absence, are mutually constitutive. When one is asserted, the other is assumed. The presence—how to “see” the Christian faith—comes with the absence—how to “see” other religions from the Christian faith. All theologies of pluralism are particular. Every pluralistic schema is construed from a specific location. The hope of earlier generations of comparative theologians and theologians of pluralism to construct a neutral theology as a shared place for pluralism is now deemed an unachievable task. Pluralistic neutrality is impossible, notes Paul Knitter.4 Indeed, supposing to be “neutral” is dangerous when asserted from the place of power.5 “Pluralism” comes paradoxically from a particular place.6 Put succinctly, there cannot be a generic pluralism. One can only speak of Christian pluralism, Islamic pluralism, Vedantic pluralism, Yoruban pluralism, and so forth.7 Since all pluralism is framed particularly, the question is not, ultimately, about pluralism as some neutral “third place” for encounter. The conversation necessarily shifts to a tradition’s “ultimate,” and in what ways that ultimate might make room for those “outside the fold.” The Christian ultimate is salvation, i.e. how God acted in Christ to save. The question becomes one of exclusion or inclusion within one particular vision of the universal.8 Again, “neutral” pluralism, as a theology, is off the table since theologies of pluralism comes from a specific religious location. Regarding particularity and universality, Christian proposals have fallen somewhere between two extremes: on the one hand, a rigid exclusivity that debases other religions in order to bolster its own particularity, and, on the other hand, a supposedly neutral pluralism that minimizes or erases particularity in order to alleviate tensions of difference. These two tendencies, the “absolute” and the “dissolute,”9 are expressed most noticeably in the soteriologies (doctrines of salvation) that emerge from their respective camps. For the exclusivistic partictularist, the Galilean Jewish peasant preacher from Nazareth is “all or nothing.” For the “neutral” pluralist, this first-century brown preacher is “not all there is.” The former maximizes Christian particularity to make its exclusive claims; the latter minimizes Christian particularity in order to assert a more generic theological ground without the supposedly exclusive trappings of Christocentric faith. The cruel irony is that neither endeavor reaches its stated goal. In preaching faith in Jesus as “the only way,” the exclusivistic partictularist must reluctantly admit that there is, at the very least, an open window somewhere that permits exceptional entry (e.g. a deceased infant or people who “never heard of the gospel”). 18

Morales The other extreme does not achieve its goal either. In attempting to construct a non-particularistic, supposedly-supposedly-neutral position, this “religious pluralist” eventually establishes a new particularity.10 Particularity is unavoidable.11 And particularized pluralism is just inclusivism. Ultimately, as Knitter points out, “we are all inclusivists.”12 Anselm K. Min concurs, “The paradox is that pluralism cannot even define or assert itself without contradicting itself.”13 Although exclusivistic partictularism and “neutral” pluralism are diametrically opposed, these two postures share one thing: particularity is accepted as the “presence” of faith and thus the sure starting point for explaining, or explaining away, universality (or “pluralism”). Because particularity is indeed unavoidable, it is accepted as the “presence” of faith. The converse, universality (i.e. “everyone else”), is seen as the “absence” of faith. Both Christian pseudo-pluralists and exclusivists have traditionally worked from this presupposition: they either understate their particularity to get to a universal vision, or they absolutize their particularity so as to shore up their exclusivity. In both cases, particularity remains the presence of faith, and universality, its absence. The tension between exclusive particularity and inclusive universality runs throughout the Bible. Sometimes, the text promulgates an exclusive particularity. Other times, the text depicts an exuberance of grace that proclaims the universal salvific reach of the God of the “peculiar” Israel.14 The literature of post-exilic return (Ezra and Nehemiah) portrays an exclusivistic particularity. Conversely, the Book of Jonah, wherein the wicked Ninevites repent but the Jewish prophet does not, leans toward a particularistic universalism. In Acts 10, in one narrative swoop, we are told both that among “every nation” there are witnesses “accepted” by God (particular universalism), and that God “chose” a few to witness the resurrection of Jesus Christ (exclusivist particularity). Exclusivism and inclusivism are present throughout Holy Writ. Ultimately, the reader of the Christian canon and tradition has to decide where the soteriological center of gravity lies, in an exclusive particularity or in an inclusive-yet-particular universality.

III What may be the way forward? As I stated above, particularity is always where we inescapably end up. So the question becomes how do we understand the relationship between particularity and universality, not whether we choose one or the other. For Christians who are committed to loving and engaging other religions, we need to decide how universality and uniqueness, plurality and particularity, inform each. Inclusive Christians must decide what kind of particularity we need to affirm in order to live “peaceably with all people.”15 Here, I suggest that as Christian inclusivists we reconsider what are the “presence” and “absence” of the Christian faith. As stated above, Christian comparative theologies traditionally assume that the particular is what we are sure of, what is “present,” and that the universal is what is hidden from us, what is “absent.” Consequently, the traditional task of comparative theology has been how to make sense of the universal in light of the particular. 19

Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman Yet, I am suggesting here that the inverse is actually true. What is given to us, as Christians, is the universally salvific love of God for the whole world. The “presence” of faith is the divine love for all of creation.16 The “absence” of faith is then our particularity as a church that proclaims Christ as Savior of all (and not for Christians only). What is hidden from us, as Christians, is our own particularity. Hence, the energies of exegesis and rigors of theological imagination must be expended on answering this question: What does it mean to be particularly Christian within a world already loved and being reconciled by God in Christ?17 The guiding issue for Christian (comparative) theology is how to make sense of the particular in light of the universal. Comparative theology—especially as praxis, as practiced engagement—reorients us so that we see what is the “presence” and the “absence” of the Christian theological vision. The surest truth given in Christian revelation is that a generous God acted and acts to redeem all creation. One finds a similar vision within the particular revelations of our Abrahamic kin. In the Holy Qur’ān, God declares, “My punishment, I afflict with it whom I will, but My Mercy encompasses every thing.” Even divine punishment is contained, ultimately, within divine mercy.18 The blessed calling of Sarai and Abram is to bless “all the families of the earth.” The election of the “peculiar” people of Israel is for the whole inhabited earth. And the writer of First Timothy declares, “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” “Every thing,” “all the families of the earth,” “all people”: this is the very “presence” of our faith. Of this we can be sure. Of this we are certain. This universal saving reach of God is what is blatantly “present” in our faith. What we, as Christians, should be unsure of is the “especially” clause in 1 Timothy: “… especially [μάλιστα; malista] those who believe.” The “special” particularity of our Christian calling is the question, the hidden, the “absence,” of the faith we proclaim. For Christians, the universally saving love of God in Christ is what is the given, the present, the immanent.19 This “Word of Life” is that “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled.”20 What is we cannot hear, nor see with our eyes, nor handle with our hands, is how our particularity fits within this all-inclusive soteriology. We are more sure of the stars in the sky, than we are of the chair upon which we sit to do our stargazing. We can only begin to understand how God saves “those who believe” (the absence) only within the horizon of God as “Savior of all people” (the presence). Meaning, the “especially” clause might be best understood in dialogue with others who are also wrestling with their own “especially” clauses. Within Islam, the Muslim comparatist might struggle with why the Holy Qur’ān is “especially” revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), in Arabic, though its intended audience is “all humanity,” as Whitney Bodman and Seyyed Hossein Nasr highlight in their work.21 The Dharmic philosopher might ask how the striving toward moksha (“liberation” or “release”) is the existential orientation or ethical task placed in all beings (human and non-human), but this cosmic truth was discovered “especially” by sages from 20

Morales the Indian subcontinent and written down in Pali and Sanskrit. Interestingly, it is in the context of plurality where particularities shine most brightly. Rephrasing Proverbs, as “iron sharpens iron,” so one particularity sharpens another.22 I suggest retrieving, and expanding, Whit Bodman’s thesis of “resident alien.”23 Bodman posits that as a Christian deeply engaging the Quranic revelation, he is both an “alien” and a “resident.” He is “alien” in that he does not claim Islam as his own; yet he is “resident” in that he journeys through “the Islamic landscape, as it were, without imposing Christian taxonomies or structures upon it.”24 As “resident aliens,” we “sharpen” our understanding of ourselves as we deepen our understanding of the other.25 I like to push Bodman’s thesis of the “resident alien” a bit further, by couching it within the “presence” of universality and “absence” of particularity. If we affirm as foundational this inversion of presence and absence, then a Christian is not only a “resident alien” when engaging the sacred texts of other traditions: the Vedas, the Holy Qur’ān, and the like. A Christian is also a “resident alien” when reading her own sacred scriptures, the Christian canon. We are “undocumented” in our own lands. Since our particularity is that which transcends us, that which we cannot fully “see,” then we are, always and everywhere, alien wanderers. We are perpetual foreigners even in our own “landscape.” Consequently, all Christian theology is, always and everywhere, comparative theology, since it can only make sense of itself by journeying with “the other”—a truth that motivated Professor Bodman’s ministry in and for the world. Christian faith as comparative theology is excellent astronomy but sloppy cartography. We joyously gaze upon the stars that we see, while seated on a chair we cannot see. As a sojourning discipline, comparative theology concerns itself both with the stars we follow and the footprints we leave behind—they are mutually constitutive— except that it is more sure of the brightness of the stars than of the texture of the sand. The “present” starts and “absent” footprints guide our journeying through our respective landscapes—landscapes whose lines of demarcation are constantly blurred by a Wind that “blows where it chooses.”26 v NOTES 1. This notional correlation of “revealing” and “concealing” runs throughout and undergirds Martin Heidegger’s magnum opus, Being and Time (New York: Harper, 1962). 2. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (New York: Harper, 1962), 67 ff. 3. Jean-Yves Lacoste, “Perception, Transcendence, and the Experience of God,” in Transcendence and Phenomenology, ed. Conor Cunningham and Peter M. Candler, Veritas Series (London: SCM Press, 2007), 5. 4. Paul F. Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 216 ff. 5. Idem., One Earth, Many Religions: Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995), 43 ff. 6. Anselm Kyongsuk Min, The Solidarity of Others in a Divided World: A Postmodern Theology After Postmodernism (New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 180.

7. For respective examples, see: Anselm Kyongsuk Min, Paths to the Triune God: An Encounter be-


Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman tween Aquinas and Recent Theologies (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005); Tariq Ramadan, The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism (London: Penguin, 2012); Jeffrey D. Long, “Anekanta Vedanta: Toward a Deep Hindu Religious Pluralism,” in Deep Religious Pluralism, ed. David Ray Griffin (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 130–157; Tracey E. Hucks, “That’s Alright … I’m a Yoruba Baptist: Negotiating Religious Plurality and ‘Theological Openness’ in African American Yoruba Practice,” in Yoruba Traditions and African American Religious Nationalism, Religions of the Americas (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012), 226–70. 8. E.g. For Christians the question: How can one be saved without confessing? For Muslims it might be: How can we make sense of persons who exemplify godly living, but who have not given “testimony” (aš-šahādah)? 9. I am borrowing and slightly modifying Catherine Keller’s use of these terms. See her On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), xiii. 10. Process theologians are especially guilty of this. They see process thought as providing the metaphysical structure for multiple ultimates and irreducible difference. Yet, process thought then becomes the singular mediator of such a pluriform reality. For example, see: David Ray Griffin, Deep Religious Pluralism (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005). 11. One need only look at two traditions with “pluralistic” bases, Unitarian Universalism and Sikhism, to see that they, too, are particularized and particularizing.

12. Paul F. Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions, 216.

13. Min, The Solidarity of Others in a Divided World, 180. He goes on to speak of pluralism as an “attitude,” not a “doctrine.”

14. Cf. Deuteronomy 14.2, 26.18; Psalm 135.4; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9

15. Romans 12.18.

16. E.g. John 3.16.

17. Cf. Corinthians 5.19.

18. One of the best voices, though not the only, for the ultimacy of mercy in Islam is Mulla Sadra. Cf. Mohammed Rustom, The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mulla Sadra (Albany NY: State University of New York Press, 2012). 19. I say, “for Christians,” because salvation is our ultimate. John Thatamanil’s deployment of the “medical model” can be a useful way to compare the ways traditions “diagnose” the human condition, offer the “prognosis,” and offer a “therapy” for healing, without framing the conversation in Christian soteriological terms. Cf. John J. Thatamanil, The Immanent Divine: God, Creation, and the Human Predicament (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006).

20. 1 John 1.1.

21. Cf. Whitney Bodman highlights. “Reading the Qurān As a Resident Alien,” The Muslim World 99, no. 4 (2009): 689-706; Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004).

22. Cf. Proverbs 27.17.

23. Bodman, “Reading the Qurān As a Resident Alien,” 689-706.

24. Ibid., 689.

25. Ibid., 703.

26. John 3.8.


First and Foremost a Pastor

Bee Moorhead

“You have undoubtedly heard many references to our responsibility to take care of the stranger. This is the mandate of all our traditions, however imperfectly we practice it. It is equally true that all of our traditions value community. The Apostle Paul is constantly encouraging, admonishing, and even haranguing the churches under his charge to build bonds of mutual care and affection. Community trust is difficult to build, but easy to destroy. It is our great fear that SB4 will fracture the bonds that so many of us have tried so hard to build up, and therefore we respectfully ask you to reject it.” —Testimony of Rev. Dr. Whit Bodman to the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee, February 2, 2017


everend Dr. Whit Bodman is the most recent past president of Texas Impact, the organization I have served as executive director for nearly twenty years. Working with Whit has been entertaining and challenging and has helped me grow professionally and personally. Whit has brought a focus on education to Texas Impact that has helped the organization broaden its reach and deepen its service to Texas—and U.S.—faith communities. When I met Whit Bodman, he was in many respects a very different person from the man who sat in the Texas Senate Chamber calling on some of the most politically powerful lawmakers in the country to heed the words of the Apostle Paul to favor community over fear. He didn’t know anything about Texas politics, and

Bee Moorhead is the director of Texas Impact and the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Texas’s interfaith public policy advocacy network. She is a graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the University of Texas College of Fine Arts. She co-taught with Professor Bodman the first section of the Faith and Public Policy capstone at Austin Seminary.


Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman he didn’t know much about public policy. He didn’t know where to park at the Capitol—let alone how to find his way through the labyrinth of halls and staircases to a committee hearing. He sometimes called state legislators “congressmen,” and he even called the Texas Capitol “the Hill,” as though the dome in Washington, D.C., could somehow be confused with Texans’ beloved Pink Building. He wasn’t a legislative pro, and he definitely wasn’t a Texan. But he was eager to learn about everything, and when he was elected president of Texas Impact in 2014, he took up the mantle with seriousness of purpose. He spent hours with Texas Impact staff, going over issues and strategies. He attended advocacy trainings and legislative briefings. He read background material on issues ranging from adoption to zero-waste. Whit’s academic practice is in world religions, and early on he had the opportunity to bring his expertise to bear in the legislative process, as Texas lawmakers spent several legislative sessions wrangling over legislation known colloquially as “anti-Sharia.” This legislation was not responding to serious concerns in Texas, but was pushed by national anti-Muslim interests as part of a multi-state strategy. Session after session, Texas legislators introduced versions of the bills, hoping to pass some law that could be characterized as anti-Sharia but that would not have unintended consequences. Whit initially was fascinated by the religious aspects of the issue, but as the issue dragged on session after session, he had the opportunity to become an expert in legislative process as well. He was by turns surprised, bewildered, dismissive, frustrated, and finally resigned to the pettiness and ego-driven games that sometimes are part of the process. He also came to appreciate the nuances of legislative language and communications styles. He mastered the art of saying what he needs to in language that is both appropriate to the legislative environment and authentically representative of his faith perspective, illustrated compellingly in his testimony against proposed discriminatory “bathroom” legislation: “We stand unanimous against discrimination and any policies that result in harm to persons. Any policy that singles out transgender people, especially children, exposes them to abuse, both verbal and physical. This is truly indecent exposure. You have heard all day from people who have chosen to talk about their sexuality when they would rather not, because these bills have required it of their conscience. This bill would force every transgender person in Texas, including children, to make their sexuality a public matter. This also is indecent exposure. You have heard exhaustive testimony—fearful, tearful, angry, shocking, sometimes insulting—describing the dangers this bill poses. Trans children are bullied. This legislature has stood strong against bullying in the past. This is not a time to retreat from that commitment. In fact, we think the testimony in this room today has been so clear on the subject that it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone following these proceedings to deny the danger these bills pose to the safety and welfare of 24

Moorhead transgender Texans. This legislature, these 181 public servants, you members of this committee, are part of a long history of serving the people of Texas. You work hard to strengthen the health, welfare, and prosperity of our beloved state. We, the board of Texas Impact, believe this bill diminishes all three. Please reject it. This is just common sense.” It was Whit’s idea to start a capstone course at Austin Seminary in faith and public policy. I taught the course with him and now teach it with Professor Asante Todd. It is no small mark of his seriousness and depth of commitment to advancing the public good that Whit has attended Asante’s and my class as a “student” from time to time. His perspective has changed over the years, and his thoughts about public policy and democracy are increasingly profound. I would have been a Whit Bodman fan if our connection stopped at the years of collaborative work for sound public policy and social justice we have shared together at Texas Impact. However, the fact is that Whit is not first and foremost a policy geek, nor is he a political operative, nor even a prophet. First and foremost, Whit is a pastor, and no matter what job title he holds, he brings pastoral care to his work. When my mom entered hospice care and came to spend her last days with my household in Austin last year, Whit took on the role of pastor to our whole family, and especially to my mom. He drove her to church, he visited her at her sick bed, and when she died late at night, he came to the house and stayed with us until all the medical and burial professionals had done their work and left the scene. At the end of the day, the aim and purpose of public policy is to create the conditions for loving community. We need public policy to help us put our best feet forward as we strive to live into the call to love our neighbors. Since his arrival in Texas, Whit has worked to build community in every situation, and he has become a confirmed expert. He may be stepping down from teaching classes at Austin Seminary, but the vocation of community-builder does not have any retirement path. I expect to be working alongside Whit Bodman for a long time to come, and whenever I think about that, it makes me happy. v


Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman

Whit Bodman: Joyful Encourager Michelle Lott


s I write this reflection, I am completing my first six months as a solo pastor and commissioned elder in the United Methodist Church. I don’t know if I would be here if not for Whit Bodman. His was the first classroom I entered after dropping out of college twenty-three years earlier with twenty-five hours of credit. I didn’t know how to study or write a paper. I was nervous and felt that I wore a huge sign that told everyone that I was not where I belonged. If you’ve ever taken a class with Whit, you know that he created a safe place for me to learn, and he affirmed my participation in class and my attempts at graduatelevel work. The first class I took from him was “Jerusalem: Holy City, Three Faiths” (as is typical in a Whit Bodman class, there was at least another sentence in the course title but I can’t find that anywhere). Whit’s class gave me the confidence to continue taking a couple of classes each semester. I took classes as a non-degree student for two years, but eventually I went back to complete my undergrad so I could return as an MDiv student and seek ordination. When I returned, I made sure to take a Whit Bodman class my first semester. He hadn’t changed a bit. His passion for his subject, his ability to navigate the personalities and theologies in classroom discussions, and his innate joy was a confirmation that this is where I belonged. Whit joined us for lunch in the dining hall and entered into deep conversations, as well as teasing banter, with the ease of a person who simply enjoyed life and the people around him. When Whit joined us there was never a sense that we needed to “straighten up” or present ourselves as more academic than we were. In January of 2018 I had the great joy of going to Israel with Whit and sixteen very diverse people. We had a wonderful time, filled with laughter, insight, silliness, awe, energy, purpose, and information. Throughout the two-week trip, Whit accepted and engaged every person, kept us on track without losing sight of the wonder, and provided opportunities to worship together.

Michelle Lott (MDiv’18) is pastor of Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in San Antonio, Texas, where she has served since July. Originally from Norman, Oklahoma, she has served United Methodist congregations as senior pastor in Driftwood, Texas, and as associate pastor in Corpus Christi and La Grange, Texas.


Reminiscences One of the greatest moments of the trip for me was when he paused in our exploration of Caesarea Philippi to offer me one of the greatest affirmations I have received. I wouldn’t be surprised if he took a similar moment with each person on the trip. That is one of the things I most appreciate about Whit—his authentic appreciation of individuals. From Whit, I learned far more than data about a variety of religions. I learned to accept people as they are, to seek to understand others rather than assume their position, to live with joy and grace even when dealing with difficult topics, the importance of making others feel comfortable, and an approach to help other people understand other religions. Thank you, Whit, for your friendship, your leadership, your instruction, and your example. v

Coming in the Fall 2019 issue:

Professor Eric Wall on Singing (and other music) in the Church


Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman

Beyond our Comfort Zones Jasiel Hernandez


s part of the curriculum for the class “An Introduction to World Religions” taught by Professor Bodman, every student is required to attend at least a couple of worship services of religions other than Christianity. It was during these religious visits that I first came to witness Professor Bodman’s genuine concern for religious ritual and people’s beliefs. He invited us to fully participate in these services by getting rid of assumptions or expectations and rather be open to wonder and learning. And Professor Bodman is truly an example of someone who is always open to wonder and mystery while also being fully invested in mindful learning and respectful participation. The way he faithfully engaged in each type of worship and the graciousness he constantly showed at each visit are unique representations of the attitude one must take on when learning about someone else’s faith. Professor Bodman’s passion for teaching about other people’s faith traditions was authoritatively exemplified inside and outside the classroom. His teaching style never entertained the idea of just “getting to know” the content of the class or to just “get a taste” of other faith traditions. He expected us to immerse ourselves in the proper study of what other people believe and why they believe in such manner. The readings, the visits, and the papers and quizzes allowed me to see the bigger picture while also diving deep into the mysteries of faith as presented in this world. His expectations as a teacher and mentor invited me to step out of my comfort zone to walk towards discovery and newness. Such lessons proved to be exceptionally valuable during my time at Austin Seminary and now in my life in ministry. Professor’s Bodman genuine concern to faithfully teach about other faith traditions also exemplifies his natural interest in learning people’s stories. During the January term study abroad trip in Israel and Palestine, I was constantly amazed by Professor’s Bodman’s enthusiasm to learn more about the stories of students on the trip, about the trip guide’s stories, and about the stories of each site we visited. Professor Bodman offered a great deal of fascinating information each day at each

Jasiel Hernandez (MDiv’18) is the Lake Fellow Pastoral Resident at Sec-

ond Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. Born into a Presbyterian family in Veracruz Mexico, Hernandez attended a Presbyterian high school, college, and seminary in the U.S. In his senior year at Austin Seminary he earned the most prestigious prize given to a graduate, the David L. Stitt Fellowship.


Reminiscences site. But most importantly, he also offered his earnest friendship and kind companionship during the trip. Almost every night after debriefing for the day, he would join the group of students to play card games, share a drink, or simply sit and share stories about life and the realities of the trip. His leadership and companionship during the trip made the whole experience more memorable and quite transforming. Professor Bodman, through his service to Austin Seminary and the church, has been a faithful witness of what it means to have faith, to respect faith, and to nurture faith. And it is because of all these relevant lessons that I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from him. v


Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman

I AM a Theologian Nettie Reynolds


s a student at Austin Theological Presbyterian Seminary I took as many classes as I could from Dr. Whit Bodman. There are so many ways he’s inspired me, but I think, as a chaplain, the key thing I always drew from Whit is how to be open to interfaith dialogue. Whit taught me so many skills in listening and being open to other faiths, not only through the way he taught, but in the way he lives. Whit’s skill in touching students’ hearts lay in asking more questions and prompting us to look more deeply into our own feelings of faith. Whit did not take faith for granted, and his views on why knowing and living a tradition of faith were important to our lives as students made a great impact on me then and continues to do so today. One memorable thing for me is how often Whit would make himself available to meet with me and talk me through questions I had in terms of studying other faiths more deeply. As an interfaith chaplain it was so valuable to have him as a professor, because he taught us so much about all the faiths in the world. I remember struggling in my last year of seminary to claim my place as a theologian—as I did not feel I had the legitimacy of one and often felt out of step with fellow students. Often when I would get up in class to ask questions, I would start with, “I’m not a theologian, but I wonder if Moses’s sister was much more important to the story then what we read,” always quantifying what I was “not.” One evening after class Whit told me stop prefacing my questions with “I’m not a theologian” because it discounted what I was learning and what all the professors were teaching. He reminded me that I was a theologian because I studied theology. Whit probably doesn’t know to this day what that conversation meant to me, but it helped me see beyond my own insecurities and enabled me to see I had a place in the conversation and I could contribute. Whit also encouraged me to write more deeply and research more deeply what I really wanted to convey. He focused on always going back to more questions, in order to ensure that I was always trying to learn beyond what I thought I could.

Nettie Reynolds (MDiv’17) is an interfaith grief chaplain. She is also a

playwright and mother of two. She currently works for the American Heart Association in Austin.


Reminiscences I appreciated him in class and outside of class and his willingness to always be supportive, inquisitive, and available to his students. Whit never diminished our participation in classes and incorporated many ideas into new classes. He took his students seriously, and he brought great value to our learning while not letting us take the easy way out. Whit continues to inspire me in all that he does. I admire how willing he is to stand up for what is right and to value humanity and the many faiths in all their forms. I’m grateful to him for this example, because, as a chaplain, is it the one thing I know we are called to do along with being a comfort to those in grief. v


Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman

The Beauty of Other Religions Okan Dogan


rofessor Whitney Bodman is one of those professors who has left an indelible mark on my educational and spiritual life. He is a visionary and thought-provoking professor with a great sense of humor. I think he envisioned the importance of creating a safe environment where religiously diverse students can come together, live on the same campus, learn from, and share with each other while preserving the individuality of their faith. Thanks to his project, I was admitted as the first Muslim student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2010. I do not know how much my classmates learned from me, but I learned a lot from my professors and classmates. During my education at Austin Seminary between 2010 and 2013, I had Whit as my professor for a few courses, including World Religions. I can say that he transformed the way I see Islam and other major world religions. His courses helped me understand how a person can maintain his/her faith identity in a religiously plural world. His World Religions course provided an amazing experience of having long conversations with faith leaders of various religions. I also enjoyed his interesting and exciting lectures on various subjects relevant to contemporary issues. His skill to establish the relevance of the Qur’an to contemporary ethical and legal issues impacted me more deeply than his profound knowledge of the Qur’an, encompassing many classical and modern exegetical sources on the Qur’an. In his courses, I learned a great deal of common and divergent themes between the Bible and the Qur’an such as Revelation, Prophecy, Ethics, and Love. He was always a friendly and accessible professor and good person to talk with outside of the classroom, as well. Students’ feedback on his courses were valuable for him. It was a tradition that every semester, he invited his class over for dinner at his house at the end of the semester and asked their detailed feedback on his course. I am equally impressed by his commitment to interfaith education outside the

Okan Dogan

(MATS’13) is currently a second-year PhD student in the Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations program at Hartford Seminary. He was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. In addition to his degree from Austin Seminary, he holds a masters degree in Islamic studies and Arabic from the University of Texas at Austin (2015).


Reminiscences school. He did not just help others explore the beauties of other religions through grassroot activities, but he also clarified many misunderstandings and misperceptions of religions, including Islam. I believe that Professor Bodman, as a devoted Christian, helped eliminate Islamophobia in society more than many Muslims. His dedication to social justice for all faith communities in the society is also unforgettable for me. He was the key to making my nearly three-year stay at Austin Seminary the wonderful experience that it was. He contributed greatly to my education in the fields of Islamic studies and Muslim-Christian relations. I consider myself fortunate to have had Whit Bodman as a teacher, mentor, and friend in my life. v

“As We Are” by Reverend Dr. Whit Bodman O Beloved of the Beloved, what can we say to thee? We are as we are: Sometimes plump and self-satisfied, having no need of thee; Sometimes crippled and torn, having no love for thee; Sometimes empty and afraid, having no trust in thee. We are as we are: Seldom having sought thee seriously; Seldom having listened to thee earnestly; Seldom having followed thee faithfully. We are as we are. Enter us, O spirit of power and gentleness. Astonish us. Overcome us. Uproot us. Fill us with this earthy fruit and heavenly hospitality, but starve us for thee, lest we sate ourselves with ourselves, and fail to quest for thee. We are as we are, but not as we can be. Bend us toward one another—Jew, Baha’i, Muslim, whatever the shape of our faith. Lift us beyond the terror of difference to the delight of difference. Nourish us now on this sweet fare of our neighbor’s words and smiles, for in them is a taste of the feast that is to come, once we no longer are as we are. Amen. 33

Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman

Capt’n Whit and the Williwaw or, how the skipper conjured a magical map Kristin Saldine But as one was felling a log, his ax head fell into the water; he cried out, “Alas, master! It was borrowed.” Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick, and threw it in there, and made the iron float. He said, “Pick it up.” So he reached out his hand and took it. – II Kings 6:5-7 from the log of the Xena, Resurrection Bay, Alaska, summer 2012:

MIDNIGHT. With a whirling howl, the wind rips the nautical chart from our

grasp and hurls it overboard. We lunge over the gunnels, reaching with arms and boat hooks, but it’s no use. The nautical chart floats just beyond our grasp, ghostly white in our headlamps, before it slowly sinks into inky darkness. The chart—the nautical map that shows the rocks and shoals, that warns of danger and signals

Kristin Saldine is interim pastor at Journey Presbyterian Church in Fol-

som, California. She was associate professor of homiletics at Austin Seminary from 2006 to 2015. She earned the PhD from Princeton Seminary and served as associate director of the Joe R Engle Institute of Preaching there. An ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church, she has served churches and academic institutions on the west coast.


Saldine safety, that shows us the course back to port—is lost. “Skipper,” someone cries out, “the chart is gone. And it was borrowed.” Sailors never want to admit they’ve lost something overboard. It speaks to poor seasmanship. When we’d begun our sailing trip into the Kenai Fjords National Park one of the crew asked Skipper Whit, “What’s the procedure for man overboard?” Whit replied, “Don’t fall overboard.” But we’re in the eye of a williwaw, a little weather demon that stirs up trouble by pulling cold air down from the glaciated valleys to the warmer sea air below. The williwaw swirls into the bays and inlets with a demented fervor, corkscrewing in every direction, sending a merciless chop that roils our boat in every direction. Xena is a seaworthy craft, but her protests tell us she’s not enjoying the challenge. Repetitive motion aboard—roll, pitch and yaw—that’s sailing. But a mechanical bull ride? It’s a torturous night for vessel and crew. We’d been bracing in the cockpit, pouring over the chart debating whether to weigh anchor and search for a quieter corner of the bay, no easy task in a williwaw, in the dark, in thirty-eight fathoms. No one wanted to stay put, but without a chart we would be in danger of running aground, hitting a shoal, or anchoring too deep or too shallow. Skipper Whit went below while the crew, discouraged, prepared for a miserable night. He reemerged on deck with a mysterious box that, with a touch of a button, glowed in the dark. The chart suddenly appeared! It was on Whit’s iPad—that tablet Whit carried everywhere at Austin Seminary, long before anyone else carried tablets around. He’d brought it along and had the foresight to take pictures of the chart before we’d set sail. His ingenuity in that moment has always reminded me of the miracle story in II Kings, when a man faced debt slavery when a borrowed ax head falls in the water and a prophet miraculously recovers it. We’d have been facing debt slavery if Whit hadn’t produced that chart and we’d foundered that boat! I’d never loved Whit and his iPad more than that night in the williwaw. We’d sailed together several times—we’ve swum with sea lions in Baja Mexico and watched glaciers calve in Alaskan fjords. When you sail with someone you have to trust them, and I trust Whit, especially his deep intuition and creative ability to improvise in a pinch. I may not always understand why he chooses a particular course or point of sail, but I always heave to when he gives an order. Besides, he’s fun to sail with. He doesn’t yell when you inadvertently foul the anchor wench or protest when you beg for the last Lomotil. On the Alaska trip he took us into Taz Basin, a keyhole cove on the west side of Granite Island. It was a masterful bit of boat handling, running against the ebb tide into an extremely narrow entrance, hugging the north side to avoid a mid-channel rock (look it up: 59 ° 39’ 9” N, 149 ° 48’ 47” W). We’d met a park ranger in Seward who told us he’d always wanted to see Taz Basin but wasn’t up to the challenge. Skipper Whit was. He had a smile on his face when he made that dazzling run, and we had the adventure of a lifetime. v


Honoring Professor Whitney Bodman



THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY Theodore J. Wardlaw, President Board of Trustees G. Archer Frierson II, Chair James C. Allison Janice L. Bryant (MDiv’01, DMin’11) Claudia D. Carroll Katherine B. Cummings (MDiv’05) Thomas Christian Currie Jill Duffield (DMin’13) Jackson Farrow Jr. Beth Blanton Flowers, MD Stephen Giles Jesús Juan González (MDiv’92) Walter Harris Jr. John S. Hartman Bobbi Kaye Jones (MDiv’80) Keatan A. King Steve LeBlanc

J. Sloan Leonard, MD Sue B. McCoy Matthew Miller (MDiv’03) W. David Pardue David Peeples Denise Nance Pierce (MATS’11) Mark B. Ramsey Conrad M. Rocha Matthew E. Ruffner Lana E. Russell Lita Simpson Martha Crawley Tracey John L. Van Osdall David F. White Carlton D. Wilde Jr. Elizabeth C. Williams Michael G. Wright

Trustees Emeriti B.W. Payne, Max R. Sherman & Louis H. Zbinden Jr.

Spring 2019

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