Hermeneutics and Unification Theology - Edited by Darrol Bryant Durwood Foster


The present volume grew out of a theological conversation held in Berkeley, California, in the spring of 1979. The participants were theological students from the Unification Church, theologians of several Christian traditions, and professional scholars in the field of religion. The conference was sponsored by the Unification Theological Seminary, Barrytown, New York, as part of its ongoing conference program.

Over the past three years the Unification Theological Seminary has sponsored more than twenty such conferences. Each of these meetings has brought together participants from a wide range of Christian traditions, theological commitments and scholarly disciplines. Each of these meetings has had its own distinctive character, a distinctiveness rooted in the composition of the group, the questions that are raised and pursued and the dynamic which emerges as the conversation unfolds. From these meetings two previous volumes have appeared: Exploring Unification Theology (1978) and Evangelical-Unification Dialogue (1979).

Like the earlier volumes, this volume documents a certain moment in the evolution of these theological conversations. Here we find the record of a theological conversation of considerable depth that, in large measure, focused on an issue. The issue is hermeneutics. In broad strokes the issue here is two-fold. First, how are we to read or interpret the Unification movement? What understandings of the cultural context and historical moment in which this movement emerged are required for us, as theologians and students of religion, to rightly interpret what the movement is about? Do the philosophical assumptions and cultural patterns of the East stamp the Unification movement in a distinctive way? What are the points of convergence and divergence that we, trained in the theological and religious disciplines of the West have to become aware of to read this movement aright? Secondly, what are the hermeneutical principles which shape and guide the Unification articulation of theology in its reading of the Christian scriptures? What are the operative principles and questions -- philosophical, cultural and theological -- which lie at the center of the theology of the Unification movement? Why does it read the story of creation in the way it does? or the fall? or redemption? or eschatology? How does the interpretation of Christian doctrine that we find in the Divine Principle relate to the long traditions of theological reflection we know in the West?

Obviously, these questions double back on one another. More importantly, these issues are, in this conversation, more raised and explored than they are resolved. As in any good conversation, we found ourselves running up against the limits of our varied competencies and knowledge. Time and again we found ourselves wishing we had other people involved in the conversation. At the same time, it is precisely the combination of moments of insight and ignorance that make this a document worth sharing with a larger community.

As indicated above, the present volume is the third to have emerged from the theological conversations that have taken place over the past three years. It is perhaps worth considering this present document in the light of the longer history of conversation and publication. When viewed in relation to the two earlier volumes, this volume testifies to a discernible evolution in the history of these meetings. The first meetings were necessarily more expository in nature since the participants were largely uninformed about the Unification movement. This stage of exposition and critique is reflected in Exploring Unification Theology. At a second stage, reflected in Evangelical-Unification Dialogue, the conversation moved from exposition to exchange. But here the dialogue was characterized by over-againstness since the participants represented a strand of Evangelical theology highly sensitive to doctrinal differences with Unification theology. With the publication of the present volume one can see yet another stage beginning to emerge: the exploration of an issue which, while focused on the Unification movement, is of larger theological import. In this conversation the participants were grappling with issues that are at the very center of contemporary theological debate. How are we to speak of God and the human condition? What light does theology throw on the human situation? What are the sources of authority in theology? How is Scripture to be read? Does theology need drastic recasting? What is the meaning of ecumenical Christianity when we move beyond the boundaries of the West?

While the purposes of the Unification Theological Seminary in the sponsorship of these meetings are openly apologetic (they believe that exposure to their students will result in a more fair-minded reading of the movement than has been received at the hands of the popular press) and educational (they believe that these conferences are crucial to the education of their own students), they are also theological. The theological purpose grows out of the conviction within the Unification movement that we need to find settings for the doing of theology that move beyond the divisions that still, far too much, characterize theology in the West. Mr. David Kim, president of the Seminary, affirms in this conversation his commitment to ecumenical theology, which is also reflected in the ecumenical composition of the faculty at the Seminary. It is in order to move in the direction of a more ecumenical theology that the Seminary has taken upon itself the task of sponsoring meetings where theologians not only meet members of the Unification Church, but each other as well. For some of the participants in these meetings these are the first occasions they have had to engage in significant theological conversation with people from traditions other than their own. Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Methodists, Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses and many others have met in these settings. While the ecumenical commitments of the Unification movement are certainly not unique, they are worth noting in order that we better grasp the background and motivation for this conversation in Berkeley as a part of an ongoing commitment of the Seminary to contemporary theological reflection.

What we may see emerging in these conferences is a new context and setting for theological discussion and articulation. Thus, in a sense, the form of these meetings may well prove to be as significant as their content. In these contexts we are all challenged to articulate our theologies in a context of multiplicity and direct exchange constantly aware that other theological options are living commitments held by others present in the discussion. Here there is generated a dynamic that transforms our consciousness of the theological project, or at least impinges upon that project, in the very process of theological articulation. Here one cannot presuppose like-mindedness as the common ground of conversation but one must acknowledge our "distemporaniety" (Rosenstock-Huessy) in order to create the necessary "contemporaneity, for a shared theological vocation.

The sharing of personal stories is crucial to the generation of the "contemporaneity" requisite for the conversation. As the reader will notice, the participants are thus disclosed to one another as persons engaged in their unique way by life's varied claims, rather than as religious, vocational or theological abstractions. Through the sharing of personal stories a certain depth, as well as a subtext, is given to the conversation. In this process each of the participants has some access to the personal stories that shape each of us as we approach the larger task of theological articulation. This feature of the conversation is not, we believe, incidental to what happens but integral. Consequently, the present volume has retained these personal stories as they were given there.

While this volume documents a conversation on a theme of considerable contemporary theological interest, it does not arrive at any conclusions. Rather, it is a record of a conversation. And, like any conversation, it has its lacunae and lapses: it is open-ended. Indeed, the last section of the text -- the conversation with Dr. Mose Durst -- is really a conversation linked to the preceding sections only by proximity in time. We have, nonetheless, retained it in the present volume because we believe it may prove of interest to students of the Unification movement. Moreover, it testifies to another aspect of these meetings, namely, the intra-Unification discussion between different parts of the movement. As indicated in the text, many of the allegations leveled against the Unification Church center around the Bay Area community. Thus it seemed desirable to include that conversation, as it were, for the record.

The transcripts of our meeting were edited and are here presented in the order in which the conversation occurred. We have asked all the participants to read the edited version and they have graciously assented to our edited account of what they said. As with the earlier volumes, the editorial principle we have subscribed to throughout is that of intelligibility. We trust that the result of our efforts will prove of interest to those who, either professionally or religiously, are concerned to understand something more of this admittedly controversial religious movement. Also, because of the controversy surrounding the movement, one of the participants has decided to take on a pseudonym.

As those of us who participated in this conversation came to see and as is evident in the text, the Unification movement is both continuous and discontinuous with other Christian traditions that we know. Regardless of our evaluation of the merits or demerits of the specific theological claims that are emerging in the Unification movement, we would hope that our readers will share something of our conviction that in the young theologians of the Unification movement we have some impressive new voices in the larger theological conversation.

Finally, we wish to thank Barbara Mallory, Karen Miller and Yolanda Smalls who transcribed the tapes, Sylvia Grahn and Sara Witt for help in proofreading, and John Maniatis and Lynn Musgrave who with consistent good humor and patience have seen the manuscript through to publication.

January 16, 1980


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