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

Asian Theology

Written by: on May 9, 2015

This week’s reading, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up, by Simon Chan was packed with a lot of information. The book focuses on the Asian church and how it understands God within the cultural setting. But, what I enjoyed most was the theological insights on Christianity and church history that Chin focused on in the beginning of his book. He began by explaining the difference between ressourcement and aggiornamento. Ressourcement is a French word that means return to the sources’ or renewal through return to sources.[1]. Aggiornamento is a bringing up to date: modernization dedicated to the aggiornamento of the church.[2] Chan articulated that the church needs to study its history (primarily in the area of theology), and then take that knowledge and make it relevant in today’s culture.


Chan describes the differences between Western and Eastern thinking with regards to theology and the approach towards understanding the nature of Christ. The author states, “The Western way, we are told, is abstract, rationalistic and dualistic both metaphysically (for example, spiritual-material, God-creation) and epistemologically (subject-object), while the Eastern way is concrete, holistic and nondualistic; Western thought presents issues in either/or terms while Eastern thought encompasses both/and; Western thought is linear while Eastern thought is non-linear; and so on.”[3] I believe the Eastern holistic, non-linear approach to Christianity is something the Western church needs to more fully embrace. Since the split between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches in 451 AD the Western church has largely ignored the teachings coming out of the Eastern Church. Asian Christianity differs from Eastern Orthodoxies in that its foundations are a mixture of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, evangelicalism and Pentecostalism.[4] So with this common theological background one would assume that the Asian Church would align closely with western doctrine, but this is not the case


Chan also explores honor and sin in the context of the Asian culture. He states, “In an honor-and-shame culture sin takes on two major characteristics. First, sin is a personal-relational problem. Sin is offending the honor of another person or the community. A person who sins brings shame to those with whom he or she is closely identified, especially his or her family and the community to which the family belongs.”[5] This cultural trait was also a part of ancient Hebrew society, which was based on a patriarchal system. The family structure was centered on the father or oldest male child in the family. The father is held reasonable for what his family does and how they act. He is also reasonable for protecting and caring for the family, including extended family members. In this type of cultural system, a person’s sin not only affects the individual but also harms the entire community. I believe that there is biblical support that sin can and does reflect the on the community. On some level, Christians will succeed or fail based on others actions.

[1] http://vox-nova.com/2008/03/30/culture-and-theology-the-ressourcement-movement-part-1/

[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aggiornamento

[3] Chan, Simon (2014-05-02). Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Kindle Locations 79-82). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[4] Chan, Simon (2014-05-02). Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Kindle Location 100). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[5] Chan, Simon (2014-05-02). Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Kindle Locations 1300-1303). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.


About the Author

Richard Volzke

11 responses to “Asian Theology”

  1. John Woodward says:

    Richard, thanks for your insights and thoughts on Chan’s book. Your take away hits close to the very things that I most appreciated about the book. As you mention, the need for a balance approach, to take hold of the things that have been important and central to the church throughout its history, while at the same time bringing the thinking up to date!

    I found his insights most helpful into how much we can take away and learn from these grassroots efforts. It is a fantastic insight that much of the Asian cultural practices may in fact be closer to Scriptural practices and history. I appreciated so much his thoughts on sin, honor, shame and even the nature of Christ. I am so aware from my mission work that respect and appreciation of another’s culture is vital to building genuine relationships. This practice might also pay great dividends if that same respect is give to the local, indigenous churches…and we might learn some valuable lessons along the way. Great insights, Richard! Thanks!

    • Richard Volzke says:


      Chan’s focus on corporate sin is something that Western church should be embracing. Many times, American missionaries and organizations do not take into account the culture they are operating in. Culture plays such an important part on how a society interprets the Scriptures. I believe that there are two levels of theology that a culture considers. First, there are universal biblical truths that every person must accept and believe in. Second, there are practical biblical truths that society incorporates into there culture and the way they live daily.


  2. Richard,

    Thanks for your post. Your background in theological studies brought credibility to your thoughts.

    I especially liked your comments on the division between the Western and Eastern Church. Yes, we Westerners have missed so much of the Eastern wisdom and mysticism that we have often written off as heretical or childish. One area that the Eastern Church does better than the Western Church is the area of Mystery. We do not have all the answers. In fact there are some things to which we will never have the answers. And the truly humble Christian is the one who acknowledges this reality. God help us to be those humble Christians who can sometimes answer, “I don’t know the answer to that, but it sure makes for a great conversation.” And, if we are wise and humble, more doors will open for us to speak of the things of eternity.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      I agree that we should not expect that God would reveal all of His mystery to us. If He did there would be no need for us to have faith, because we would know everything. Unfortunately, I’ve found that many Western Christians think that God should be showing us all His mystery. They misinterpret that more knowledge helps us to know Christ in a more personal way. There are individuals who do not understand that God needs nothing from us, yet we need everything from Him.

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Richard
    You highlight some important points. Towards the end you write, “I believe that there is biblical support that sin can and does reflect the on the community.” This is something that is not talked about much, but as you rightly state, is most certainly true. When a pastor falls, the rest of the church is most certainly affected. I’ve seen this happen.
    Thanks for raising this important point!

    • Richard Volzke says:


      I know you worked in an Asian church for many years, and I was wondering if Chan’s book correctly reflects what you have seen of their culture? We have read about many different cultures in this program, but most of us have never lived in these scenarios. It is sad that the Western church (for the most part) has alienated the rest of the Christian world. We do have an elitist mindset when it comes to Christian theology and embracing other culture’s understanding about God. How do you think the Asians view the American approach to theology?


      • Ashley Goad says:

        Liz/Richard, I really hope you (Liz) take over our class tomorrow and give us insight into Asian, or Korean, culture. Did you agree with Chan?

  4. Ashley Goad says:

    Richard, a fantastic review of Chan’s piece, for sure. I loved what you wrote at the end, “In this type of cultural system, a person’s sin not only affects the individual but also harms the entire community.” I have taken quite an interest in individualism versus community living. Is this indicative of our transient lifestyle? In a world where we’re hyper-connected, how are we still such individuals? How do we teach our fellow Christians to live in relationship, to fellowship and learn from one another, and ultimately to love their neighbor? …. So many questions, Richard! 🙂

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Wow a lot of questions you are wresting with. You first question about this being indicative of our transient lifestyle is something I have not considered before. I am not sure that lack of community is due to people’s movement, but I do believe it is a foreshadow of things yet to come. I have lived in both communities where people live and get to know each other, and also areas with high levels of people coming and going. Some people literally live as neighbors for many, many years and rarely talk with one another. We simply don’t truly know how to live in community and to build long-term relationships with each other. As a matter of fact, divorce rates are one symptom of this.

  5. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Richard, Thanks for you insight. Chan’s work is very informative on Asian Christianity. It is interesting that the Asian Christianity’s foundations are a mixture of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. I think that is why Chan heavily draws resources from these older traditions.

  6. Richard, there seems to be so many aspects of the Asian culture that is in direct opposition to the American/Western culture. There are so many redemptive analogies in both cultures but as Chan says we cannot let culture set the agenda for theologians for from there it is only a small step for culture to set the norms for theology as well. Loc. 295. In my other research I have come across an article entitled The Gospel with Chinese Characteristics by Jackson Wu. He also brings up the idea of the foundational relationships within the Confucianism culture. He states that the most important of the foundation relationships are familial, The most prominent being the father-son relationship. As you observed this is also the Hebrew background as well. I have to conclude that the West has moved away from the The Bible in maintaining these deep familial ties. Wu also brought out the Shame-Honor cultural aspect. “In adulthood, this entails financially supporting two parents, two parents-in-law, in addition to one’s own children. This dynamic coupled with China’s massive population creates a context in which everyone feels the strain of competition. Success is not measured simply by good effort; instead, it is assessed by one’s score on the gaokao, the national exam that decides if and where a student can attend college. Any imperfection threatens the family’s security and honor. Fear of shame drives many to languish under the pressure. The sort of stress felt in childhood continues to some degree or another as people take their careers and fight to win respect for their family, company, and country.”

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