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The God Who Walks Slowly: Reflections on mission with Kosuke Koyama by Benjamin Aldous

03 February 2023

Michael Doe revisits a Japanese missiologist

KOSUKE KOYAMA grew up in Tokyo. In 1945, aged 15, he was baptised as the American bombs devastated his city. He worked as an ecumenical theologian and missiologist in Asia, New Zealand, and the United States. He is probably best known for his 1974 book, Water Buffalo Theology, about doing mission in different cultural contexts in a way that releases Jesus Christ from either stale (often imperialistic) or over-modernistic distortions.

Benjamin Aldous has also been in diverse situations, from Cambodia to South Africa, where, in the Anglican Church, he was ordained priest. He now looks after mission and evangelism for Churches Together in England.

Koyama’s work was not so much a systematic theology as one marked by imaginative words such as “neighbourology” and the now well-known metaphors such as “three mile an hour God”. Aldous shows how he avoided the oft-made distinction between proclamation and service by seeing the missio Dei as God’s walking slowly “because he is love”. So Jesus is “the centre person who moves to the periphery”, spending time with people where they are and especially those treated as strangers. He listens, rather than engage in monological mission. He is the one “in whom God is manifest most evidently and is yet ‘inefficiency’ incarnate”.

For Koyama, the demand for efficiency was one of the idolatries imposed by modernism, especially in Western culture. Aldous draws out what this means for our increasing reliance on technology, which can lift burdens but also dehumanise people. He uses it to criticise the kind of transhumanism which cannot accept our human limitations, suffering, and the inevitability of death.

He applies it also to our understanding of mission and the temptation to engage in what he calls pace, power, and prestige. While he is by no means averse to evangelism and church-planting, he may share the suspicion of many of us that we have not become a “mission-shaped Church”, but, rather, adopted a “Church-shaped mission”. Instead, we should look to the Cross, where all worldly definition of pre-determined outcomes and how they are measured is utterly challenged.

This is a very helpful and well-written book, which opens up what Koyama can say to us today. In particular, mission is not marketing a product more successfully, but walking with and seeing, talking, and even surrendering, to the people we meet. More practically, the author calls on church leaders setting up new church-plants not to set down the results that they want, and certainly to give them more time and the assurance of longer funding to deliver what God is wanting to grow.

The Rt Revd Michael Doe is Preacher to Gray’s Inn and a former General Secretary of USPG.

The God Who Walks Slowly: Reflections on mission with Kosuke Koyama
Benjamin Aldous
SCM Press £22.99
Church Times Bookshop £18.39

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