Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 2 (Summer 2016) - Page 119

VOLUME 11 NUMBER 2 2016 Evangelical Zen: A Christian’s Spiritual Travels With a Buddhist Friend By Paul Louis Metzger. Englewood, CO: Patheos Press, 2015, 187 pp. $14.99 paper. Perfectly good words are all-too-easily haunted by histories they never intended. H ostages of ill-fortune, these once proud turns of the tongue find themselves the outcast amongst polite company. To give an example, in Christian history “gnostic” is one such word; used originally by many church fathers like Clement of Alexandria, it meant much the same that “disciple” does—a learner, one who knows because they have been taught by Christ, the Teacher. Usurped by the potpourri of mystical and theosophical beliefs we organize under the label “Gnosticism” for the sake of convenience, “gnostic” soon found itself no longer invited to Orthodox parties. “Religious dialogue” and “religious similarities” have as of late fallen victim to a similar process. At the far end of their history, both now smack of compromise, and not without reason. The idea that all religions teach the same thing once you look past the culturally relative forms that express them still looms large, of course. But more particularly, there has been a history of scholars attempting to prove that Christianity was itself influenced by Buddhism. In his The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, written in 1894 when “Lives of Jesus” literature was still en vogue, Nicolas Notovitch infamously argued Jesus had traveled to India before his Galilean ministry, and was influenced by Buddhism there. While Notovitch’s thesis was proven illconceived (not least after details surfaced that he had fabricated much of his evidence), the idea remains in the popular works of those like Elaine Pagels. As such, “Christian-Buddhist dialogue” or “similarities” between Christianity and Buddhism seems to many to be either a formula compromising the integrity of each, or an attempt to reduce one to the other. To assume Paul Louis Metzger’s work Evangelical Zen, with responses from Abbot Kyogen Carlson of the Dharma Rain Zen Center, merely exemplify this compromise or reduction, would be a great mistake, however. Zooming down from the lofty peaks of abstraction, this is a discussion based both in friendship, and in the lost art of going through (rather than around) one’s convictions. Being doctrinal without being doctrinaire, maintaining relationship and dialogue even amidst disagreement, are no small tasks, and this book is one of the strongest examples you can find. Nor indeed are Metzger and Carlson’s exhortations to dialogue based on our “global humanity” a form of mushy liberalism. For Metzger, “global humanity” is an authentically Christian doctrine found in the notion of Imago DOI: 116