Towards a Theology of the Concord of God
A Review by
Rev. Ralph Allan Smith
Two Major Problems
Whatever the merits of his proposal from the perspective of clarity in
Biblical exposition, what about its value as a theological proposition?
Again, I have to say that it seems to me less than successful. I should
note in passing that I am not in principle against the notion of expressing
the doctrine of the Trinity in terminology other than that which has become
traditional. After all, there was plenty of diversity in the early Church
itself, including disagreement over some of the most important theological
But Miyahira's proposal is unsuccessful. To be specific, the theses fails
in two of its most important aspects, the linguistic foundations for the
new formula and the notion of contextualization that supposedly throws
light on past and recent discussions of the Trinity. In both of these
areas Miyahira's treatise is remarkably naive. Where he has majored, the
trinitarian theology of Tertullian, Augustine, and Barth, he has demonstrated
scholarly judgment, done adequate research, and expounded positions with
some nuance. However, in the two above-mentioned areas, his thesis is
With respect to the linguistic foundations of his thesis, for example,
Miyahira's book progresses from an erudite discussion of Tertullian, Augustine,
and Barth to a presentation of Japanese culture and language that must
be judged relatively sophomoric. We are told about Japanese rice culture
and agriculture. From there we jump to Japanese notions of "man" that
are supposedly largely influenced by this rice culture. Even on a superficial
reading, this blend of bygone Japanese culture and unsophisticated linguistics
holds little promise for theology. In fact, the linguistic argument is
not only naive, it is remarkably similar to the type of thinking about
ancient Hebrew and Greek found in the theological discussions that James
Barr put to rest in his well-known work, The Semantics of Biblical
Words have meaning in a context. Historical and etymological considerations
are interesting, but not only are they not essential to the definition
of a modern Japanese word, they are usually not even particularly relevant.
What is important is present day usage. To return to the matter of context,
as Barr emphasizes, words have meaning in sentences, not as isolated units.
But what is even more important is the ultimate context for the use of
both words and sentences: the worldview of the speaker. Within that larger
context, people use words with different meanings in different discourses,
which is why every dictionary offers multiple meanings for a single word.
Only the linguistically naive or the perversely political  assume that
all of these meanings somehow overlap or include one another.
What do Japanese people mean by the word "ningen"? Miyahira tells us
the history of the word and offers an analysis by a philosopher, as if
all Japanese people had a common notion of "ningen." I think, rather,
that even in Japan, it depends upon the person and his or her worldview.
A television program some years ago, "A Warning for the 21st Century,"
featured, among other things, two Japanese scholars arguing about the
nature of man. While they both assumed the basic truthfulness of the theory
of evolution, one of them, the Nobel prize winning Japanese biologist
Tonegawa, asserted in no uncertain terms that man is a machine, while
the Jungian psychologist Kawai, naturally, denied that man is a machine.
Though these men operate from more or less the same starting point
biological evolution they have come to have very different definitions
of man. When they use the word "ningen," they have in mind a being that
conforms to the peculiarities of their own worldviews. The fact that they
are both Japanese is not primary at all. This is not to say that Buddhist,
Shinto, or Japanese background does not come out in various ways in Japanese
life and thought. But there is no reason to believe that it is so fundamental
to their view of humanity that most Japanese must be thought to be carrying
around the kind of cultural baggage Miyahira imputes to them in his notion
Whatever ancient influence from the Japanese agricultural past a sufficiently
sensitive observer might be able to detect in the thought of men like
Tonegawa or Kawai, it is clear that they are attempting to offer a definition
of man that fits their own modern secular views of the world. The question,
then, is, what is the view of man that we find in the Christian worldview
and what kind of terms should we develop to express that. If the proper
word for Tonegawa is "machine" because that word expresses his understanding
of man as a biologically determined being, what is the proper word for
a Christian who views man as created in God's image and likeness?
But I digress. The point is that the linguistic argument is basic to
Miyahira's whole work. If this is faulty and it seems to me that
his argument is grossly naive from a linguistic perspective the
entire thesis is undermined. In spite of its importance to his whole thesis,
the linguistic side of the argument seems neither well researched nor
 James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language
(London: Oxford University Press, 1967). It is possible, of course, that
Miyahira believes that his own statements about the Japanese culture and
language are not similar to what theological scholars in the past have
said about Hebrew and Greek language and culture. But he might realize
that among his readers someone may be struck by the similarity and complain.
Shouldn't he at least give us a footnote which addresses the issue?
 I am thinking of feminists, for example, who insist
that words like "chairman" contain some hidden bias.
 Ironically, after Tonegawa went on to explain, with
some emphasis, that there is nothing in man that cannot be explained by
scientific method, he also added that humans are not simple machines.
Rather they have "many random elements" in them. This is the kind of magic
that only Nobel prize winners can perform! On the one hand, Tonegawa pontificates
that man is totally explicable by scientific method. Then, at the same
time and with no apparent sense of contradiction, he also asserts that
random elements, which in the very nature of the case no science can explain,
abound in this rational machine. The question now is whether or not scientific
method has any explanation for why a machine like Tonegawa wishes to perplex
us with such paradoxes!
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