The Emptied Christ of Philippians, a review.


“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” (Phil 2:5-7)

The caption of the forward to The Emptied Christ of Philippians, Mahayana Meditations by John P. Keenan clearly lays out what this book is about, “Divine Self-emptying: A Buddhist Lens on Christian Scripture and Doctrine.” In the preface Keenan tells us this is a study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians using Mahayana Buddhism as his hermeneutic guide “in lieu of the primarily Greek philosophies that shaped Christian understanding in the past.” The Emptied Christ of Philippians is a deep exegetical study of Paul’s letter seen through the eyes of Buddhist philosophy.

Keenan compares the Orthodox teaching of kenosis with the Buddhist teaching of sunyata. Kenosis is about Christ becoming flesh in the personhood of Jesus. Orthodox teaching deals with the attributes of God, the dual nature of Christ, and The Trinity. In Mahayana Buddhism, sunyata refers to the tenet that "all things are empty of intrinsic existence and nature.”

Keenan’s work is an in-depth study of Philippians. It is well researched and thought out. I read the book sitting at my desk with the Bible on one side, and my phone on the other to look up references, quotes, and articles. The work is not just academic, however. As the title suggests, it is a mediation of the scripture as well. Keenan’s work challenges us to look at Christ and Paul in new ways. Keenan writes, “Indeed, truth may even be an obstacle awakening, for we tend to cling with idolatrous tenacity to our enunciated truths.” By self-emptying and being in Christ, we engage in the ongoing task to “reconfigure our very sense of self, not to be slavishly codependent but to be re-formed.”

I chose to read this book because I am interested in the intersection of Christian teaching with Buddhist and even Hindu teaching. I’ve read Tantric Jesus and Living Buddha, Living Christ and thought this book would be a good companion to those. Although it’s quite different in style, I found it enlightening and educational. I would not recommend this for light reading. This is an excellent study for clergy, preachers and for those interested in going deeper into interfaith studies. This is a book you want to keep on the shelf and go back to again and again.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.


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