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

Doing Theology-Eastern Style

Written by: on May 30, 2018

Simon Chan’s Grassroots Asian Theology is not the typical East meets West dialog where the West dominates the doctrinal outcome. Instead, Chan’s Ecumenical focus promotes a Biblical theology for the development of an “amazed recognition” by Christians and theologians.[1] My goal is to examine Chan’s work for ideas, themes, and links to further my study and understanding into the problem with spiritual warfare. This post will look at three reviews, explore how Chan’s perspective contributes to leadership, and discuss ancestor worship in the Asian context.

Three reviews of Chan’s work include Nguyen, Woo, and Tran. First, Nguyen says that Chan “brings Asian grassroots Pentecostalism as an authentic flavor” into the scope of the global church to help contrast the ways of thinking between East vs West Christology.[2] Second, Woo discusses how the center of gravity for Christianity has shifted from Europe and North America to the Global South including Africa, Latin America, and Asia.[3] Furthermore, Woo claims that China will be the largest Christian nation in the world.[4] He credits Chan for offering a text that describes how to “do theology” from the ground up. Third, Tran summarizes Chan’s work into a Pentecostal theology that focuses on family, dealing with honor and shame, and the “engagement with deceased ancestors.”[5]

Chan’s perspective on Asian leadership is based in honor and shame as opposed to the Western theme of guilt and sin. His viewpoint on the “hybridization” of spiritual warfare by the more contemporary idea of “prayer walking” was valuable to my research.[6] I was also intrigued with his application of the honor-shame template to interpret Paul’s use of righteousness. For example, the breastplate of righteousness in Ephesians 6:14 viewed from the Western guilt-sin motif represents the supernatural imputing of Christ’s justice, morality, and virtues into our account with God. Applying the honor-shame lens to the same verse helps the believer save face, relieves family stress, and restores honor with God through Christ’s work on the cross.  I also liked how Chan reinforces that Satan was defeated by Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. The cross was not a theological mouse-trap where Satan took the bait under the guise of His humanity. Instead, Chan systematically details how Christ’s victory over Satan was both legal and ontological.[7] I relate this to the armor of God doctrine because putting on Christ in our daily walk is how we, wearing Christ, can exercise his authority and power in an ongoing and active resistance toward Satan’s use of principalities and powers.

Ancestral veneration, according to Nguyen, is a controversial practice that may need further exploration and discussion for the larger Christian audience; but it aptly fits the Asian context.[8] Tran believes Chan is trying to create discussion for Asian contextual issues, like ancestor worship, that face ordinary believers in their daily experiences.[9] I reflected on our Cape Town Advance and Winston Mahlatse’s conversion story and breakaway from his tribe’s practice with ancestor worship in South Africa. He was brought up believing prayers had to go through his dead ancestors first.  He described Ancestorism a as place where the dead reside and exist until enough family rituals are fulfilled to help them move into their final spiritual realm.  Much like the Asian ancestral veneration system, which believes the dead can influence “fortune of the living,” those who practice this belief are left paralyzed in shame and fear.[10]

I think Chan could use Winston’s new worldview that he shared at the LGP Advance, “I was born to God before I was born to my parents.”[11] While I do not support the idea of worshipping ancestors, I remember Dr. Clark’s advice to LGP8 that was given right after Winston spoke to our class. Dr. Clark challenged LGP students not to get so caught up in their academic advances by asking us to reflect on the idea that the DMin program could be dangerous for our doctoral health. He encouraged us saying, “Don’t become so Heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.”[12] I thought of that when I was ready to throw out Chan and his position on giving the new Christian some space to still deal with the cultural challenges of their dead ancestors. I prefer the Biblical principle that Paul uses to describe what happens to a Christian when they die before Christ’s return saying, “absent from the body, present with the Lord.”[13] I also like Christ’s final exchange on the cross when he told the penitent thief that he would be with Him in Paradise today, literally meaning that as soon as they both died, Christ would take him to heaven with him.[14]

In summary, Chan gives a good Asian biased type of systematic theology that tries to unite, or at least create space, for religious diversity on some Biblical doctrines. While they may not be negotiable to most of us in LGP8, Chan gives us strong contextual views that will help prepare us for the Hong Kong 2018 Advance. I found some helpful ideas and recognized theological differences in how the Eastern Christian must prepare for spiritual warfare. I think Chand does a good job helping challenge the DMin student. I look forward to being stretched again as we try to stand firm in our personal theologies while making some spiritual white-board space to draw up some Biblical strategies. While most of these might be outside our theological comfort zones, we may yet find some spiritual tactical options that lead to Gospel solutions.

Stand firm,

M. Webb

[1] Simon Chan. Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014) 17.
[2] Kimson Nguyen. “Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 39, no. 1 (2015): 46.
[3] Franklin Woo. “Book Reviews: Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up.” China Review International 20, no. 3-4 (2013): 294.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Anh Q. Tran. “Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up.” Theological Studies 76, no. 2 (2015): 394.
[6] Chan, Grassroots, 32.
[7] Ibid., 111.
[8] Nguyen, Grassroots, Missionary Research, 46.
[9] Tran, Grassroots, Theological Studies, 394.
[10] “Ancestral Veneration,” Wikipedia, accessed May 30, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veneration_of_the_dead.
[11] Winston Mahlatse, “Sharing My Story” (lecture, Comodore Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa, September 23, 2017)
[12] Jason Clark, “Plenary Lecture” (lecture, Comodore Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa, September 23, 2017).
[13] 2 Cor. 5:8
[14] Luke 23:43

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11 responses to “Doing Theology-Eastern Style”

  1. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Mike,

    Winston Mahlatse’s conversion story and breakaway from his tribe’s practice with ancestor worship in South Africa was one of my biggest takeaways from our Cape Town advance. Thank you for reminding me of him. I was thankful to listen to him after his talk, and I think you were there in our little group as he shared further.

    I did not remember his statement (until you reminded me), “I was born to God before I was born to my parents.” Very powerful! Weren’t we all “knit together in our mother’s womb” by God, as Psalms says? Yes!

    I notice that you take great effort in responding to other Blogs, with thoughtful and deep responses. Just want you to know I appreciate it.

    • M Webb says:

      I replied to you via email, I guess that does not update this block. huh…

    • M Webb says:


      Yes, it is a profound statement about being “born to God before our parents!” Biblically speaking, it must be true. Therefore, this gives us theological pause for reflection.
      Stand firm,
      M. Webb

  2. Thanks Mike for your thoughtful post. I agree that Chan’s book really makes one reconsider our own theologies, and I like how you applied it to your situation.

    When I read the section on ancestral worship, I reflected on how my own theology has evolved around the idea of the communion of saints, which is part of the Nicene Creed. What do we do when we die? Revelation points us to the idea that we worship and pray as we will then be in unencumbered communion with the Trinity. It allowed me better understanding then to realize how the Catholic Church endorses the idea that the saints pray for us. As they are in communion with God, they can lift up our concerns. My Catholic sponsor told me that we should consider the saints just like a prayer group; just as we ask our friends to pray for us, so we too can ask the saints the same. We are a part of a much bigger community and we all care for one another, except that some of them just happen to be dead (but alive with Christ). Anyway, long-winded response but that’s one of the surprising shifts that I’ve gone through when my theology took a left turn somewhere east of Albuquerque. 😉

    • M Webb says:

      You are right, this block was not updated when I replied to your email.

    • M Webb says:

      Thanks for the comments! How does the Nicene Creed handle 2 Cor 5:8 and Luke 23:43.
      I am interested in the idea of considering the Saints in the supernatural family of God who “might” be able to pray for us. That assumes a lot that does not fit the doctrines of Heaven and what Heaven is. I would have to ask, if the Saints could see the hell we are living in, then would they really be in Heaven?

      Just pointing to the Scripture that says when they both died, they were in Paradise. I personally think Christ modeled how it will work for the Christians. When we die, we are with the Lord in Spirit, our bodies are buried, burnt, or whatever. When Christ returns in the flesh, we get our resurrection body, minus all the pain, sickness, etc. and are with the Lord. We will know those we knew, have continued relationships, but have no memory or pain from the lost loved ones left behind. That is why I think created beings like us, or the Saints, could not be “with the Lord” and still see or feel the pain and misery we are having in our earth suits.

      Just my thoughts on the matter….

      This is a conversation worth engaging further.

      Stand firm,

      M. Webb

  3. Jennifer Williamson says:

    Great post, Mike. I as pondering this statemen that you make: “I look forward to being stretched again as we try to stand firm in our personal theologies while making some spiritual white-board space to draw up some Biblical strategies.”

    Can we “be stretched” if we “stand firm”? I think so. I hope so. But I do wonder if we are sometimes “standing firm” on personal preferences that are disguised as “theologies.” SOme of those might need to be not only stretched, but dismantled, once they aare revealed for what they are. Thoughts?

    • M Webb says:

      I replied to your email.

    • M Webb says:

      I am confident in my position on the armor of God. If I were to move in any direction, it would be toward an even more conservative approach. I just hope to encourage all of you to take a serious look at your own lives and ministries and ensure you are not blinded to the threat and able to withstand the very subtle and devious evil schemes of the devil.

      My thoughts are that we need to be very careful about accepting new “theologies” and trying to “explain” why the old cultures in the Bible do not fit the new technologically advanced world we live in. We must guard against “opening our minds” to the modern lies that don’t fit the literal Bible nor pass the test of Holy Spirit discernment. If we do stretch or dismantle in error, we just might be replacing Biblical principles with the sin of the world, that everyone is now calling a new set of values.

      Stand firm,
      M. Webb

  4. Greg says:

    Hi Mike. The concept of ancestor worship is one that has and is a controversial topic in the Christin church in Asia. How do we honor the culture and parents that is so ingrained in this part of the worship without appearing to venerate and worship other gods, spirits etc… in my context we have people that honor family and deceased grandparents without worship. This is a fine line that some feel is too close but we have found more acceptance from parents when they are not publically shamed for a child that doesn’t honor relatives at a funeral than ones that bow and show respect while explaining to family there faith. These are not easy concepts to navigate.

  5. M Webb says:

    Thanks for the review and comments. I agree, not easy to navigate, but worth the effort nonetheless.

    I agree having lived in several cultural contexts, we show respect, honor, and reflect the light and love of Christ to those with ingrained cultural-family practices.

    Stand firm

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