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Review: Kosuke Koyama, three mile an hour God

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Review: three mile an hour God

Kosuke Koyama's three mile an hour God is undoubtedly less well-known
than his big hit, Waterbuffalo Theology, which garnered celebrity-status
probably as much for being from the right place at the right time as
for popular acceptance of Koyama's theology. This is to the shame of the
popularizers, and not to Koyama's discredit, but it means that his work is now
probably underused. Three mile an hour God is one of those little books that are overlooked, but often more helpful than their larger siblings.

This decades-old book is just 146 pages, two of them endnotes, and contains 45
essays divided into four sections: "Life Deepening", "World Meeting", "Nation
Searching", and "Justice Insisting". Essays is a misleading term, though
every entry is thought-provoking and well-planned; Koyama describes the book
thus in the Preface:

This small book is a collection of biblical reflections by one who is seeking
the source of healing from the wounds, the festering sores, inflicted by the
destructive power of idolatry.

Every chapter begins with a verse, phrase, or short passage, and states the
theme for the meditation. Koyama is neither simply doing exposition, nor
merely springboarding from a text to his own ideas. The reflections are
theological considerations of biblical ideas as they apply to our
lives, at every level: personally, socially, in the church, and nationally
(especially with reference to his native Japan). Many of Koyama's essays have
an appreciation of Buddha or Buddhist teaching as a theme paired with the
biblical text. (This of course almost assures that Koyama continues to be
widely ignored by evangelicals.)

One good example of Koyama's style is his reflection on the saying, "The
sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord
even of the sabbath." (Mk. 2:27-8):

But Jesus was speaking of more than the sabbath. Replace the word sabbathin
this saying of Jesus with the following words; technology, computer, money,
sex, clothing, house, salary, race, state and religion. Sex was made for man,
not man for sex, race was made for man, not man for race, and state was made
for man, not man for state. If this order were reversed, we would have
tyranny of sex, race or state which we call sexism, racism and
totalitarianism. For 'man to be made for race, not race for man' would be
preposterous. This is an unholy and unclean thought. This preposterousness
is the structure of uncleanness. If a bicycle rides man, it is comical. But
if race 'rides' man, as it were, it is unholy.

This reverse order is unholy since it destroys the order which is in
accordance with the mind of the creation and exodus God. Such thought as 'man
was made for house, not house for man' will eventually paralyse man.

Koyama has in view both the personal, the reader's reaction to the biblical
commands, and the social, our sexism, racism, and statism. The strength of
his reflection flows from the connection he is able to draw out between the
text and the reader; Koyama uses the first person extensively and naturally,
for both reproach and affirmation. The sense conveyed is never that untried
theory is being thrust toward the reader, but that personal insight is being
written, with almost the same intimacy as a letter.

Three mile an hour God's themes are rather loose organizers, since
Koyama joins the the social and political with the personal, but some
progression develops through the book. "Life Deepening" opens and explores
the themes of idolatry and holiness. The reflections focus on an inward and
in-depth transformation in God, which transforms our minds for the right
appreciation of a holy God and God's creation. Including the justice themes
of later chapters, this first section is still concentrated on the theological
critique of idolatry, over against the God who moves at our pace. In the
second section, "World Meeting", Koyama addresses the problem of Christianity
in the international and interreligious world. Koyama's reflection on
evangelism (based on Mt. 28:19-20) is provocatively titled, "Christianity
Suffers from 'Teacher-Complex'". In it, he makes a key point, that
"Christianity is a historically developed religion just as Hinduism, Buddhism
and Islam are. There is, then, no such thing as a divine, pure and
uncontaminated Christianity." (Ch. 19, p.52.) Koyama unflinchingly critiques,
in that essay and others, the "-ity" which is more interested in itself and
its plans than in people, or in listening to God. Carefully, however, he
avoids the trap of flattening faith in God down to just one in a series --
that, too, would be idolatry, to place God next to our own ideas on a shelf.

The situation of Koyama's home, Japan, with its struggles of nationalism and
militarism, is discussed in the essays "Nation Searching." Although the
reflections are nearly a quarter-century old, it is a sign both of Koyama's
perceptiveness and Japan's peculiarity that the essays still feel quite
contemporary. Finally, "Justice Insisting" brings home the importance of
holiness within creation, within societies and nations. Koyama lays strong
emphasis on holiness as the wholeness of relationships and as justice (over
against forces of greed and racism): "The life and ministry of Jesus was
focused on the removal of personal alienation and social injustice from the
world. He was the doer. In him the kingdom of God has come." (Ch. 43, p.
139.) This "three mile an hour God" moves us to overthrow idols both in our
hearts and in society, and thus to work for the kingdom of God in our midst.

So although it still shows its age somewhat, this collection of biblical
reflections is nonetheless successful in provoking "in depth" reflection on
the connection between the Bible and one's own life. I would recommend it
warmly as a college or seminary text for a wide range of purposes, given
Koyama's range of topics, and his biblical focus. The short essays and
refreshing lack of jargon make it highly readable for nonspecialists; for
theologians and seminarians, it is a model of understandable Christian prose
which neither dumbs nor waters down. Koyama, too, moves at a human pace to
instruct us.

-- pmfh, Sunday after Ascension, 2003.

Kosuke Koyama, Three mile an hour God. Orbis, 1979.
ISBN 0-88344-473-9

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