Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Asian Theology

Written by: on May 28, 2015

In his book Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up, Simon Chan offers a fascinating look into the reality of Asian Theology. He draws a stark contrast between the official method of Asian theology and points to the more prevalent folk or grassroots theology of most Asians. Formal theology is often practiced by a group of elite theologians who are generally from a professional class. Grassroots theology occurs more organically within the poorer or less educated class. This does not however render it inadequate. In fact, it tends to be a very practical theology.

One area that captured my attention was the way in which sin is understood and explained. Rather than focusing on sin as an act of breaking a divine law, the focus is on relationship. Sin is considered an affront to God the Father and offends his honor, thus incurring shame. Rather than simply needing to pay a penalty, the goal is to restore the broken, shame-ridden relationship. To defend this position, Chan points out that “guilt is mentioned 145 times in the Old Testament and ten times in the New, while shame occurs three hundred times in the Old Testament and forty-five times in the New Testament.”[1] While I do not think that we should abandon the concepts of sin being related to divine law and justice, the Asian concept of shame and honor helps bring a fuller perspective and deeper understanding of the complex nature of sin. This perspective is also insightful when sharing with people from an Asian background. By better understanding an Eastern understanding of key concepts, we can better share the truth of Jesus Christ in a way that is more fully comprehended.

Chan mentioned that young educated Asians are embracing Christianity as a beneficially ethical lifestyle. I can’t help but wonder how many of these decisions are cultural rather than spiritual or simply adopting a lifestyle rather than dying to self and following Christ. I am reminded of a Japanese friend of mine named Chio. Chio’s father is in his eighties and still lives in Japan while Chio lives in the United States. One time Chio was sharing Christ with her father and his response was that he could not become a Christian because he is Japanese. He followed up by saying that if he ever moves to America, he would be very open to becoming a Christian. For him, one’s religion was tied directly to who they were and where they lived; it was purely cultural.

Another recurring theme I noticed was Chan’s praise of the Pentecostal Church. He seems much better acquainted with Pentecostalism than with other groups and repeatedly affirms that they are in a unique position to reach Asia. I would like to hear from other “experts” to see how other denominations or groups are building the Kingdom in Asia. With that said, I saw some similarities in many parts of Latin America and Africa. Chan said, “Many Christians in Asia testify that what convinced them of the truth of the gospel was an experience of divine healing or seeing a relative healed.”[2] I have personally talked with countless people who testify to miracles in their lives that drew them to belief in Jesus. I have also found that the Pentecostal Church has great appeal in Africa and Latin America, but not to the exclusion of other Evangelical churches. A final not of curiosity is that many Evangelical churches that are very “conservative” in America (as far as worship style, demonstrative expressions of faith, focus on the moving of the Holy Spirit, etc.), often have a tendency to take on a more charismatic flavor in other countries.

[1] Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 83.

[2] Ibis., 91.

About the Author

Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

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