The Demon and Attendants in Hell

Among the National Gallery of Victoria’s newest acquisitions is this small and intricate okimono, carved out of ivory and finished with ink. It comes from the Meiji Period (1868–1912) in Japan, and is titled ‘The Demon and Attendants in Hell’. I stand to be corrected about this, but it appears to be a Shinto rather than a Buddhist vision of hell, for whereas Buddhist hells (see here and here) give Dante a run for his money, Shinto hells are not very hellish at all. This one reminds me of a children’s playground.

Japan - The Demon and the Attendents in Hell, Okimono (1868–1912)a.JPG

A study tour to Japan


Japanese Christians in Portuguese costume, 16–17th century. Reproduced in Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History.

I am excited to announce that Dr Gwyn McClelland and I are seeking expressions of interest for a study tour to Japan during Easter next year (8–16 April, 2020).

The trip offers an opportunity to encourage ongoing learning about past mission, issues of colonialism, peace and reconciliation, and the contextualisation of Gospel. The tour includes participation in Good Friday Mass at the Urakami Cathedral, which was destroyed in the blast and is only 500 metres from Ground Zero, a visit the Atomic Bomb Museum, the Nagai Takashi resource room, and, if possible, speaking with a survivor about their experience of the bombing. We will also visit the remote Goto Islands, relevant to the Hidden Christians who were persecuted for over 250 years.

Further details here.

Some things Forsyth

Kawakami on Forsyth and Post Fukushima TheologyMy friend Naoya Kawakami has sent news that his latest book, a theology which brings post-Fukushima realities into conversation with P. T. Forsyth’s thinking on the atonement, has just been published. It represents another reminder not only of the abiding power of good theology to speak to a context unimagined by the original author but also of the long and continuing interest in Forsyth’s work in Japan, where seventeen of Forsyth’s books have already been translated into Japanese, and four additional ones have undergone a second translation.

In addition to Naoya’s two published studies on Forsyth, two other books have also appeared in recent years, including Yutaka Morishima’s study Forsyth shingaku no kozo genri: Atonement wo megutte (A Structural Principle of P. T. Forsyth’s Theology: Through the Atonement). Yutaka also informs me that Forsyth’s book The Soul of Prayer, much loved in Japan, has now been translated into Korean. And that just last week, there was a meeting of pastors and theologians in Tokyo, the sole purpose of which was to read and discuss together Forsyth’s Faith, Freedom and the Future. I understand that the moderator of the group is working on a new translation of the book.

Also, Alan Gaunt, who once penned a wonderful poem inspired by Forsyth’s theology of the cross, has now written a delightful review of my book Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth. The review, which was published in The Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society (May 2015), can be accessed here.

On a considerably more sombre note, Naoya has also asked me to share some news about the situation on the ground near Fukushima. He writes:

Naoya Kawakami

Unfortunately, the situation has become worse. Because of so many misrule and responsibilities, the illness and to contaminate have expanded. We have to see a kind of Massacre on the children and nature. So many people shut down their eyes to see the reality. And TEPCO and government have started what they want crudely.

But some churches stand with the mothers harmed so deeply. We are now waiting how the Lord shall do His Work with them.

Please pray for us and miserable victims.


Naoya Kawakami

On ‘Enter Pyongyang’

Fascinated by a recent film by J. T. Singh and Rob Whitworth called ‘Enter Pyongyang’, but at a loss at how to interpret it, I invited one of my students to offer a comment on it. Here’s the film, and his two reactions:

1. The below reflects a perspective of a 1.5 generation (south) Korean-New Zealander, who seeks to be authentic to both cultures as a genuine expression of who I am. Though I do not know for certain, I see myself not as an expression of a blended mixture of the two, rather as in Jesus’ mystical hypostatic communion of the two natures, somehow an hypostatic expression of the two cultures. At least, I want to explore this dimension. Technologically, the video clip is stunning and the city landscape of Pyongyang does indeed provide an insight into the country that has continued to be shrouded by interpretations of probabilities and propaganda for the last 50–60 years. I am neither an expert nor an intentional follower of North Korean politics. I am likely to be biased and tend to mistrust and to be cynical. Any talk of North Korea brings with it a historical baggage that cannot be readily put aside. But how do I perceive what Dr. Parag Khanna (Director of Hybrid Reality) is trying to do? I agree with Dr. Khanna (in his Foreword) that what the video does is a ‘multi-media contribution to transcending cliches about North Korea as a society defined by reclusiveness and destitution’. But I am concerned that he too readily interprets the video of Pyongyang to be equated with a North Korean change, in fact a change as he says is ‘an organic society that wants to be a normal country’. What does he mean by organic and normal, I wonder? Why would the tourists be strictly guided within the bounds of Pyongyang? North Korean reclusiveness and destitution must be rescued from its ahistorical cliche but these mustn’t be replaced with an agenda and naive thought of positive progress. I agree with Dr. Khanna that we mustn’t predispose ourselves to judge North Korea. Just as any other geo-political nation, North Korea is a living social dynamic. As any geo-political nation, it has a beginning but a beginning that is quite recent in history and emotionally charged with all the biases and influences of Cold War for the wider-world as well as civil war for Koreans. It would be important to recognise and change the frame of mind to see North Korea as a sovereign nation as we do ourselves. However, I doubt the approach of largely appealing to its technological advancement as the controlling framework to understand the social and political climate is a particularly helpful contribution. It requires to be watched through a critical eye and a filtering mind. Technological advancement neither necessitates nor equate to ethical progress. So, I am grateful to the people who made the video. It gives an insight to the people of Pyongyang. It is a privilege to see at least how some small number of my uncles and aunties and cousins and nephews and nieces are living in the city of Pyongyang. I am joyous that some are able to smile in that city. Especially, seeing the nephews and nieces in the skate park interacting with the camera as any kid would with curiosity and surprise brings some sense of comfort. Yet the discrepancy and paradox is too apparent to me – the grandeur of the city of Pyongyang like the rest of our cities but despite our densely populated cities how sparsely populated Pyongyang is. Some may say that is how we want our cities to be like. To have all the technological advancements yet having enough personal space. For me such is a mere utopian dream of the modernist, capitalist, individualistic western mind, which can only be made possible in a dictatorial religiously fanatic world like Pyongyang. No, I cannot see hope as some tend to in the façade of technological progress. If it is sad to see too many churches and too many red lit crosses in the night sky of most cities of South Korea, it is sad to see none in Pyongyang – the city that was once the epicenter of pneumatological cruciformation of Korea, now a sign of dictatorial religious rule of a self-made god-descent family. I only pray that the rumours of underground church still existing in North Korea is a fact, for here is the hope of change.

69th Korean Freedom Day2. Recently, on 15 August, Korea celebrated 69th annual freedom day that we call ‘The Return of the Light’ day (광복절 – kwang bok jeol). It is a day of remembering and celebrating freedom from a half-a-century-long Japanese tyranny. I am particularly concerned of the tendency of the west to mourn the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki without celebrating Korean and, in fact, Asian freedom. Yes, the dead who have been murdered senselessly, we remember and mourn. Yes, Japan was going to lose anyway and the tragedy could have been avoided. But I see the individualistic ignorance of the many western mourners forgetful of those who suffered and still suffer from the pain of the Japanese imperial tyranny – the systematic eradication of a culture, systematic sex slavery of women, and rape of land for imperial ambitions. What does it mean for the West to mourn for Japan’s innocent without at the same time bringing Japan’s war criminals to justice? Many Asians, including Koreans, still have living victims of Japan’s atrocity. There has been no national apology officiated by the Japanese government. Yet on the same day, while Korea celebrates its freedom, Japan solemnly remembers and pays tribute to their fallen soldiers. To mourn the dead of Hiroshima (6 August) and Nagasaki (9 August) without celebrating Korea’s freedom (15 August) is injustice. To celebrate Korea’s freedom without mourning the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is injustice.


Ministry and theology for a ‘Post-Fukushima world’

The Rev. Dr. Naoya Kawakami is the Secretary General of Touhoku HELP, a highly commendable ministry birthed in the wake of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. Touhoku HELP produced a video for a presentation at the recent WCC General Assembly in Busan. With Korean narration and English subtitles, it illustrates not only the recent (note: some of the footage was filmed last August) situation in Fukushima but also something of the inspiring ministry that is emerging from the rubble.

Naoya and I maintain a steady and prayerful correspondence. In a recent exchange, he wrote of the overwhelming number – over a half of million! – who live with the effects of radiation. He also wrote of his own need, amidst the crushing wave of need around him, to ‘keep time to think and read’, and of the urgency for what he calls a ‘new theology for this “Post-Fukushima” world’.

Naoya KawakamiHe mentioned too about a recent meeting of Japanese and Korean theologians who conversed about the situation birthed by the Fukushima tragedy. Among the topics discussed was the possibility of post-mortem salvation for the many victims of the tsunami and of radiation poisoning. He said,

In the tradition of the major protestant churches, there is no way of salvation for the dead who have not believed in Jesus Christ as Lord during their living time. But many Japanese theologians who have read PT Forsyth have spoken out against this tradition since the triple disaster. Yesterday, we talked about this issue. I shared the logic of Forsyth for this issue from his book This Life and the Next.

Inspired by Forsyth’s lively challenge (via his Protestant reappraisal of the doctrine of purgatory) that God alone – and not death – determines the time when creation reaches its maturity, these theologians found themselves, in faith and together, straining to hear – but hearing indeed – the promise of the Lord of hope in a land crushed under the burden of fear and despair.

Please join me in praying for Naoya (he carries a great burden for the people who live in the Fukushima area, and for the gospel), and please consider supporting the work of Touhoku HELP.

[Naoya’s dissertation was on Japanese receptions of Forsyth’s theology, and the subject of post-mortem conversion receives attention in the final chapter of my own study, Hallowed be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All Things in the Soteriology of P.T. Forsyth. Naoya kindly described my latest offering on Forsyth, Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History, as a ‘big present for Fukushima’.]