Noted Baptist ethicist and theologian Glen Stassen was born on Feb. 29, 1936. (I’m not revealing any secrets for he has included his birth date on his Facebook page.)
Even though there is no Feb. 29 this year, Glen was still born 77 years ago, which means that this would be a time of special celebration if he were Japanese (or in Japan).

One’s 77th birthday in Japan is called kiju, which literally means “joyful longevity.”

So, please join me in wishing Glen Stassen a “happy birthday” at this auspicious time in his life.

After serving for 20 years as an ethics professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Stassen joined the Fuller Theological Seminary faculty in 1997 and is now the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics there.

Glen is the author of several books, and he is particularly known for his emphasis on “just peacemaking.”

His book, “Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace,” was published in 1992, and since then he has edited two other books (published in 1998 and 2008) on the same theme.

In addition to his birthday greeting, I am writing this to recommend Glen’s new book, “A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age.”

Academics have been using “thick” and “thin” to talk about interpretations and arguments at least since anthropologist Clifford Geertz’ used those terms in his book “The Interpretations of Cultures.”

A “thick” interpretation gives more than the basic information about a culture, or a person; it emphasizes historical context.

Accordingly, Stassen states the purpose of his new book: “Mainline churches need a clearer and deeper theology and ethics, and theology needs to focus on a thicker Jesus … . Evangelical churches and seeker-friendly churches need a thicker Jesus to guard their members against being co-opted by political ideologies.”

In the second chapter, then, he writes about how incarnational discipleship embraces “a thick, historically-embodied, realistic understanding of Jesus Christ.”

The climactic 11th chapter, “War: Jesus’ Transforming Initiatives and Just Peacemaking’s Initiatives,” elaborates on his ongoing emphasis.

The book ends with “one remaining question: Will you join in the apostolic witness to a thicker Jesus – in the tradition of incarnational discipleship?”

“A Thicker Jesus” is a significant book, one that deserves to be widely read. And carefully considering its contents should be especially helpful to all who are concerned with what it means, or should mean, to be a follower of Jesus in the world today.

In this secular age, when Jesus is often sentimentalized, commercialized and trivialized in various ways, it is gratifying to have Glen Stassen publish this significant book emphasizing a thicker Jesus.

And in this age that often presents a very thin interpretation of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, it is helpful to have this new book – in the tradition of the Anabaptists and also of Bonhoeffer (who is rather extensively treated) – emphasize the meaning and importance of incarnational discipleship.

So, again, happy kiju, Glen. And thanks for this new book and for your ongoing emphasis on the challenge of just peacemaking. Many happy returns!

Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. This column appeared previously on his blog.

Editor’s Note: named Glen Stassen Baptist of the Year for 2012. Stassen has contributed columns to, and he also spoke with Robert Parham at the 2012 Baptist World Alliance gathering in Santiago, Chile, about the role of Baptists in the struggle for human rights.

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