Thursday, February 28, 2013

Happy Kiju, Glen Stassen!

Noted Baptist ethicist/theologian (and Thinking Friend) Dr. Glen Stassen was born on February 29, 1936. (I’m not revealing any secrets, for he has included his birth date on his Facebook page.)
Even though there is no February 29 this year, Glen was still born 77 years ago, which means that this would be a time of special celebration if he were Japanese (or in Japan). One’s 77th birthday in Japan is called kiju, which literally means “joyful longevity.”
So, please join me in wishing Dr. Stassen a Happy Birthday at this auspicious time in his life.
After serving for 20 years as an ethics professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Stassen joined the Fuller Theological Seminary faculty in 1997 and is now the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics there.
Glen is the author of several books, and he is particularly known for his emphasis on “just peacemaking.” His book Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace was published in 1992, and since then he has edited two other books (published in 1998 and 2008) on the same theme.

In addition to his birthday greeting, I am writing this to recommend Dr. Stassen’s new book, A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age (2012).

Academics have been using “thick” and “thin” to talk about interpretations and arguments at least since anthropologist Clifford Geertz’ used those terms in his book The Interpretations of Cultures (1973). A “thick” interpretation gives more than the basic information about a culture, or a person; it emphasizes historical context.
Accordingly, Dr. Stassen states the purpose of his new book: "Mainline churches need a clearer and deeper theology and ethics, and theology needs to focus on a thicker Jesus. . . . Evangelical churches and seeker-friendly churches need a thicker Jesus to guard their members against being coopted by political ideologies . . .” (p. x).
In the second chapter, then, he writes about how incarnational discipleship embraces “a thick, historically-embodied, realistic understanding of Jesus Christ” (p. 16).
The climactic eleventh chapter, “War: Jesus’ Transforming Initiatives and Just Peacemaking’s Initiatives,” elaborates on his ongoing emphasis.
The book ends with “one remaining question: Will you join in the apostolic witness to a thicker Jesus—in the tradition of incarnational discipleship?” (p. 221).
A Thicker Jesus is a significant book, one that deserves to be widely read. And carefully considering its contents should be especially helpful to all who are concerned with what it means, or should mean, to be a follower of Jesus in world today.
In this secular age when Jesus is often sentimentalized, commercialized, and trivialized in various ways, it is gratifying to have Dr. Stassen publish this significant book emphasizing a thicker Jesus.
And in this age that often presents a very thin interpretation of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, it is helpful to have this new book, in the tradition of the Anabaptists and also of Bonhoeffer (who is rather extensively treated), emphasize the meaning and importance of incarnational discipleship.
So, again, happy kiju, Glen. And thanks for this new book and for your ongoing emphasis on the challenge of just peacemaking. Many happy returns!


  1. Thanks, Leroy, for this wonderfully informative essay. I'm intrigued by the idea of applying "thick" and "thin" to Jesus. Why don't you save me the trouble of reading the book, and write a column titled something to the effect, "Do You Take Your Jesus Thick or Thin?" :)

    It appears to me that the primary problem of the "Jesus" of most American Christians, especially the conservative Christians, is that he no longer carries any transcendence for them. He is a minimalistic inspirational figure burred under layers of cultural conservatism, laissez-faire economics, and jingoism.

    1. Thanks for your suggestion, Anton, as well as your comment elucidating part of what it means to have a "thin" understanding of Jesus. This may well be something worth considering more sometime soon.

  2. Thanks Leroy for sharing the significant emphases of Stassen. He has continued to share rich focuses on what matters toward serving Jesus as Lord and people need to know about his concepts.

    1. Thanks for writing, Les, and I do hope more people will read and consider well what Glen Stassen has been emphasizing for many years now.

  3. The premise seems worthy of consideration. But tying to anabaptist tradition would seem a "thin" application with an expressed agenda. I have not read the book.

    1. It seems to me that the Anabaptists have been consistently among the leaders of Christians trying to practice incarnational discipleship.

  4. I really like the "thick/thin" terms!

    Especially in the electronic church, thin is the order of the day - as in what parts sell and what parts don't. This is an important consideration when "the market" demands a product that fits White, male, Americanist domination of all other colors, genders, and nations.

    The rage on the Far Right - secular and religious - seems sourced in the loss of the above (highly fancied) statuses.

    This rage becomes most noticable when any of the dominate-ees have the "unmitigated gall" to say NO! and step out of "their proper place" - of complient silence.

    Any "thick" understanding of Jesus finds those attitudes, and consequent political actions, to fly in the face of any honest take on Jesus' attitudes/actions - and the Year of Jubilee!

    Of course, this gets even more complicated when any jealous group claims some vaunted majoritarian "right" to twist the Constitution into a tool to impose their version of "the good old days" on all others. (This is nothing new.)

    The loss of status is a very powerful driver of anger and lust for power over those perceived to be guilty of taking the status away. (Witness those who wanted "messiah" to stomp on Roman domination of Israel.)

    What I suspect is going on in our religio-political sphere now is the backlash from those who have lost statuses since the end of WWII. They are now attempting to make de jure what they remember as their de facto former status.

    We are offered healing and newness of life by a Unity-Powered-by-Love, but human ego/status issues throughout history have tried to "usher in the kingdom" - for many little WE ONLY groups - by selling/imposing uniformity-powered-by-fear.

    To connect with the anthropologial use of "thick" and "thin" - one could put it this way: Tribalism is very deeply rooted (Actually seems hard-wired in the oldest parts of our brains.) and even God's Spirit has a "tough time" getting passed it.

    Hope that helps!

    All the best, and Happy Birthday to Glen!

    1. Larry, thanks for your comments, which I think are helpful. You have related the "think/thin" concept of Jesus to contemporary political/societal issues, and I think that is what needs to be done.

  5. I appreciate Dr Glassen's work: I've read some articles by him, though I do not think I've read any of his books.

    However, I'm uncomfortable about speaking of a "thick" Jesus, though I understand the very positive intent of countering the plastic, veneer Jesus we often encounter.

    "Thick" brings to mind the idiom "as thick as two planks," and that I do not want associated with Jesus.

  6. Ramanathan's view is valid. Ian Anderson, an ungodly but insightful lyricist, caught this side of "thick" in his beloved song "Thick as a Brick". "...and the wise men don't know how it feels, to be thick, as a brick."

    1. I am not familiar with the 1972 album "Thick as a Brick" either, and after reading some of the lyrics, I still don't know what it means to feel thick as a brick.

      But, again, the words "thick" and "thin" need to be understood in the way they are used in the academic world in order to get Dr. Stassen's point. About any word you can think of will have been used in some negative way, or in some way contrary to the way those words are used in theological/religious discourse.

  7. Just a few minutes ago I saw the following announcement:

    "Glen Stassen, an American theologian, ethicist and author, is the recipient of the 2013 Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award.

    Stassen's nomination was confirmed at a meeting of the BWA Executive Committee on March 5 at its international offices in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of the United States capital of Washington, DC."

  8. I just now heard that Dr. Stassen had passed away. He will be greatly missed, and long remembered, by many.