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Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Rynne. GANDHI AND JESUS (2008)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 14•08

Rynne, Terrence J. Gandhi and Jesus. The Saving Power of Nonviolence (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2008) p. ix, 228. ISBN: 9781570757662.

The author begins with the assumption that though “Jesus was nonviolent to the core” as Norbert Lohfink puts it, the Christian Church hasn’t embraced the non-violent Jesus. Rynne points out three reasons for this. First of all the Christian culture believed in the redemptive violence, and secondly the spirit of retributive justice and thirdly the Christian Systematic theology has taken violence as given for humans. The Christian Soteriology is rooted in violent terms: God the father demanded the sacrifice of his son. Rynne helps us to appreciate the nonviolent Jesus better through this work.

Rynne, Terrence J. Gandhi and Jesus. The Saving Power of Nonviolence (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2008) p. ix, 228. ISBN: 9781570757662.
The author begins with the assumption that though “Jesus was nonviolent to the core” as Norbert Lohfink puts it, the Christian Church hasn’t embraced the non-violent Jesus. Rynne points out three reasons for this. First of all the Christian culture believed in the redemptive violence, and secondly the spirit of retributive justice and thirdly the Christian Systematic theology has taken violence as given for humans. The Christian Soteriology is rooted in violent terms: God the father demanded the sacrifice of his son. Rynne helps us to appreciate the nonviolent Jesus better through this work.
In this book Rynne presents us a fresh reading of Gandhi’s Satyragraha. He also presents four Christian theologians who have embraced a non-violent Jesus. Thirdly he reformulates what it means to be saved in terms of non-violent power and not in terms of violent sacrifice.
In the first chapter the takes us through the life and thought of Gandhi in order to understand Gandhi’s Hindu beliefs and also the western influences on his thought. Under these influences Gandhi gave Hindu concepts like moksha, ahimsa and tapasya fresh relevance for politics and society. Jesus influenced Gandhi’s thought through the Sermon on the Mount at a very early age. In a similar way, the works of Leo Tolstoy also influenced him deeply. The second chapter deals in details with Gandhian Satyagraha. The author studies both words that constitute the word “Satyagraha”; Satya (truth), Agraha (holding firmly) and the words associated with “Satyagraha” like Ahimsa (non-violence), Tapasya (Self-suffering), This study leads him to conclude that Satyagraha is more than pacifism. It differs from pacifism in three ways at least. While pacifism is refusal to participate in war, Satyagraha is non-cooperation with the whole system that “supports a state built on militaristic assumptions and principles”. Secondly Satyagraha fights against and overcomes the causes underlying war. Thirdly, Gandhi’s understanding of violence was different. He understood violence on a continuum, violence and nonviolence intertwine; humans have to make their own judgments regarding violence and nonviolence. Not only that Satyagraha was different from pacifism it also offered a “moral equivalent of war”. In Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia, Hitler’s persecution of Jews, Japanese invasion of Chinese and German conflict with Czechs, Gandhi proposed non-violent cooperation to check aggression. He believed that nonviolence is an alternative to war; people responding to violence with non-violence could effectively check war.
In Chapter three he presents four Christian theologians who embraced non-violence as central to Christian discipleship. The first is C. F. Andrews whom he calls a Christian Satyagrahi, the second being John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) a Mennonite theologian, Bernard Häring (1912-1998) a Redemptionist Catholic priest and Walter WInk (1935-) a professor of biblical interpretation. He concludes that all these four theologians have rejected the model of salvation, which projects the picture of a violent God.
He goes on to chapter four which explores the root causes of the theology of salvation, which promotes violence. This is Anselm’s theory of satisfaction of the wrath of God. He argues that Anselm’s model gives a misleading picture of God and promotes a theory that is not biblical. Anselm pictures God as “the lord of the manor, infinitely above us, infinitely ready to take offense, caring only about the restoration of order, Nonetheless in our day, it is a repulsive image of God” (p. 143). He finds Anselm’s satisfaction theory unbiblical since it presents God as a judge while the New Testament presents a reconciling and loving father. The satisfaction theory is fundamentally ahistorical since it cuts the link between Jesus’ life and his death. For Anselm, salvation is located in the mythical transaction and his focus is on the death of Jesus and not on his life. This model which has influenced most of Christian thinking focus also on sin from which we are saved and ignores human suffering in the present. Rynne observes that “the gospel included liberation from oppression, healing of the sick, love between equals, hope for the future for those without hope, and a call to discipleship to bring the kingdom to others” (p. 145). There remains the need to rethink Christian doctrine of salvation, and to formulate a soteriology that serves our time. This soteriology should have historical consciousness, should deal with personal and social evil, and must have a link between the life of Jesus and his death and resurrection.
The author then goes to propose a model of Christian salvation in the light of Gandhi’s Satyagraha in the last chapter. He does so by examining the main aspects of salvation theology in the light of the theologies of the four Christian theologians he mentioned earlier and Gandhi. He prefers a Christus Viator model over a Christus Victor model though some aspects of both models overlap with each other. While the Christus Victor model projects a Christ the Victor in the battle against evil, Christus Viator model that presents Christ the sojourned, the pioneer recognizes that there is much more work to be done in history and that the struggle against evil continues.
Rynne would not say that in order to understand the non-violent Jesus we need to rethink not only Christian Salvation theology but many other aspects of our beliefs. The book has immense relevance for our discussions on violence especially in the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) being observed by the WCC. It is even more relevant in the context of Iraq war, US involvement in Afghanistan, fight against terror. In all these, the popular thinking is that Christians have turned against the rest of the world. It is time that the Christians do some serious introspection and this book will be of immense help in this regard.

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