Friday, March 25, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we remember the Japanese missionary, author, and professor Kosuke Koyama.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 25th of March 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Oh boy- it’s a Friday.

(for you, and only you unless you’re listening on another day… I can’t police this stuff. But, this show is for a Friday, and the topic is worthy of a Friday- a delightful Japanese missionary and teacher from the 20th c. Kosuke Koyama)

Let me tell you about the rather remarkable life of Kosuke Koyama, who was born in Tokyo in 1929 and died in Springfield, Massachusetts, on this day in 2009 at the age of 79.

Let me give you a brief overview of his life and a few of his works and ideas that I find particularly interesting concerning east-west dialogues about Christianity.

Kosuke was baptized in 1945 during World War 2- he remembered being struck by the call of his pastor to love everyone- even the Americans. He went to Tokyo Union Theological Seminary, graduating in 1952. He came to America and received his B.D. from Drew University. He stayed in America and received his Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Like his fellow countryman Kazoh Kitamori- he was interested in the theology of Martin Luther and how Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” could speak to Christian theology in dialog with Buddhism.

After completing his Ph.D., the United Church of Christ in Japan sent Kosuke to Thailand to work as a missionary. He would serve as a missionary and eventually, from 1968, the dean of the South East Asia Graduate School of Theology.

From 1974 to 1978, he lectured in New Zealand and was then hired by Union Theological Seminary in New York, where he taught from 1980 until his retirement in 1996.

Working as a missionary and in the context of Western missionaries in the East, he was attuned to the language of Western missionaries, which he believed could be excessively western in style and tone. His move back to Luther and the 16th century highlights how he saw some of the Enlightenment’s overly “scientific language” creep into western Christian theology.

His most famous book was called “Water Buffalo Theology.” He claimed that he began writing it when he was a missionary amongst the farmers and the water buffaloes in the rice fields.

“The water buffaloes tell me that I must preach to these farmers in the simplest sentence structure,” he wrote. “They remind me to discard all the abstract ideas and to use exclusively objects that are immediately tangible. ‘Sticky rice,’ ‘banana,’ ‘pepper,’ ‘dog,’ ‘cat,’ ‘bicycle,’ ‘rainy season,’ ‘leaking house,’ ‘fishing,’ … these are meaningful words for them.”

He would write that “Christianity neither eats nor sleeps,” Christianity as an abstract system doesn’t, but Christians do. “Christianity and Buddhism” cannot speak together, but Christians and Buddhists can. His call was to neighborliness between world religions such that those believers could have honest, meaningful dialogue.

Another popular book was “No Handle on the Cross: An Asian Meditation on the Crucified Mind”- For Kosuke, the Crucified mind stood in opposition to the parochial mind- the mind that might be overly dependent on enlightenment rationality.

Finally, another famous work of his is a series of reflections called “Three Mile an Hour God”- concerning that, he wrote:

“Love has its speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed we are accustomed to. It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore the speed the love of God walks.”

Kosuke Koyama was married for 50 years. He had three children and five grandchildren- he died on this, the 25th of March in 2009. He was 79 years old.

The Last Word for today comes from 1 Thessalonians.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 25th of March 2022 brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who knows that Water Buffalo milk makes the best mozzarella cheese… for reals. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who knows that the water Buffalo can weigh over 500 pounds and jump 20 feet; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe (it’s free!) in your favorite podcast app.