Salvation for the Sinned-Against: Han and Schillebeeckx in Intercultural Dialogue (Pickwick/Wipf&Stock, 2015

[1] Kevin Considine’s new book, Salvation for the Sinned-Against: Han and Schillebeeckx in Intercultural Dialogue, aims at reimagining a catholic (universal) soteriology within world Christianity, with an emphasis on the ‘sinned-against’ drawn from the particularities of Korean and Korean-American theological insight. But the how within the what, or the methodological approach within his aim, are two parallel gifts from this theologian that together manage to make Considine’s work extraordinarily insightful and useful – and worthy of your New Years resolution to read impactful theology this year.

[2] Here are three reasons why this book made my New Years list, and why I encourage you to pick up this text: First, Considine’s aim for a reimagined soteriology is bold given his starting point, which is to take issue with the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World – Gaudium et Spes, and the accepted classical anthropology and soteriology therein. In Gaudium et Spes, one reads the operative classical dualism between the ontology of fallen humanity evident in the existentially bereft sinner, placed in contradistinction with the inviolable majesty of God having been sinned against. According to my read of Considine, this classical dualism conceptualizes salvation for the sinner in the ever-after but does not adequately account for the experiences of human suffering and woundedness of the sinned-against in the here-and-now. In this view, Gaudium et Spes’ soteriology is askew because the Pastoral Constitution is anthropologically inadequate for our historical moment. Salvation must respond to the experience of our humanity, which is another way of saying that soteriology must follow anthropology. Part of the critique leveled at a weak western anthropology (and affiliated soteriology) from within liberationist theologies and supportive theologians, is evident in what Edward Schillebeeckx identifies as “bourgeois middle-class Christians” who will not speak and write from the locus of the particular saturation of human suffering, or of “non-persons” from something akin to a first-person account. Considine is committed to reconstructing a relevant and adequate theological anthropology and from there to reimagining the case for salvation.

[3] Considine has in mind an intercultural and theological interlocutor in Korean and Korean-American theology for reconfiguring soteriology that considers sinned-against humanity; this said, his immediate step is to first reimagine a culturally competent, viable anthropology, which serves as a new bridge, and is committed to the interpretive power of narrative to mediate human experience, including the experience of suffering in the here-and-now. Now, this said, Considine dedicates his second chapter to Schillebeeckx’s soteriology, and yet what’s truly at stake in this chapter is a case for Schillebeeckx’s anthropology, which is essential for the reader to not miss, however understated, in Considine’s text. As the author notes, “Essential for understanding Schillebeeckx’s soteriology is his theological starting point: human experience.” Right. And why is Schillebeeckx’s anthropology so important as a corrective to a catholic soteriology in world Christianity? Because Schillebeeckx’s anthropos resides between the limits of finitude and contingency, rather than between the ontology of a fallen humanity and violation against God. For Schillebeeckx, one can believe both that the world is created good and that serious even seismic fractures via moral failings and human suffering shape the topography of that world. Chapters one and two of Considine’s text spell out the intricacies of these moves in detail, in a discourse between soteriology and anthropology. What I am encouraged by is this author’s close attention to method and content – to the how in the what – the integration of which provides clear evidence of a hermeneutical commitment to intercultural engagement and the need for serious cross-cultural theology within world Christianity.

[4] A second reason for reading this text is evident in the serious and careful assessment of suffering, and the transparent hermeneutical moves Considine makes along the way. This is a text that is committed to competence in intercultural communication with a writer who clarifies his existential status as a cultural outsider (an outer-hearer), and who demonstrates skill for interpreting the narratives of human suffering that are both culturally situated and yet may also provide universal meaning for Christians around the world. This hermeneutical conviction on the part of Considine bears fruit by positioning a theological optic that is never a rejection of the Catholic heritage. Considine’s project is fully missed if it is interpreted as deconstructive.

[5] Instead, follow Considine’s train of thought throughout the text: He does call into question universalist and essentialist anthropological and soteriological positions in Gaudium et Spes, but he does so in favor of an analogical reimagination of the appeal by which specific and particular (i.e., theologies of han) are open for universal and non-essentialist application once more. Hermeneutic attention of this inter-religio-cultural detail requires semiotic awareness replete with capacity to navigate language systems and commensurate code-switching across these systems, including awareness of the intrusive power of the role of the outside interpreter; in hermeneutic terms there is something of a three-tiered chess at work here. Considine dedicates chapter three to this task, the themes of which resolve in chapter five where he invites an theological consideration of han as a constitutive possibility for a new Roman Catholic theology of the ‘sinned-against.’ Recall that this author is aiming also beyond the Roman Catholic community and toward universal (catholic) Christianity, and you will appreciate the arrival of this aim in chapter five and “intercultural dialogue.”

[6] And finally, a third reason I recommend this text at the start of your year is because it reaffirms the collective hopes of risking interpretations that invite dialogue rather than end it. Unlike a first-generation cooption of liberationist themes to Western theology, in Considine’s text, he aims for theologies of han to resuscitate a contemporary discourse on suffering and salvation through the prism of the sinned-against. Competent intercultural theologians today are aware of how intrusive power can be and in this way they implore a strategy of facilitating an interpretation of theologies (in this case, attentive to han and minjung). They appeal to thinkers who offer cultural and theological direction, including in this case the work of Andrew Sung Park and Wonhee Anne Joh. The longest chapter, chapter four, is committed to precisely this form of hearing. What is han? Considine begins with this caveat: “It is no overstatement to say that han is ultimately untranslatable from Korean into English.” There is nothing taken to be culturally wholesale here, so getting at the refined answer requires the direction of experiential wisdom, linguistic insight, historical awareness and religio-cultural acumen. It is not a spoiler alert to state that the multiple voices in this text pay homage to han as a thick description of the breadth and depth of human woundedness. Considine does finally settle on three characteristics of han theologies. They, like the text, offer an invitation – and a model in chapter five – for intercultural theological dialogue.

[7] There is a lot here, in particular if you appreciate Tracy’s analogical imagination, which will engage theologians who aspire toward courageous and fruitful hermeneutic endeavors that take culture seriously. Finally, Considine is a theologian strongly in the Catholic tradition who desires to be of service to the Church. His work aims at amplifying the voices of the wounded. In our age, and considering this January, public theology requires amplification of the wounded as much as ever.

Michael Reid Trice

Michael Reid Trice, Ph.D, is Assistant Dean of Ecumenical and Religious Dialogue and Assistant Professor of Ethics and Constructive Theology at Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry.