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

Grassroots is cool

Written by: on June 3, 2018

Grassroots Asian Theology by Simon Chan is a fun read for me. Having lived in Japan for three years as a child, currently working in a (formerly) Chinese congregation and about to become brother-in-law to a Filipino Chi Alpha Missionary, there was a lot of common interests. I was also drawn to the concept of “grass roots” theology. I supposed this is because I am, along with most everyone else, drawn to grassroots anything. The idea is that it is anti-establishment (rebel sell anyone?) and more genuine because of it’s organic nature. It’s easy to set up the elitist theology as the scarecrow to tear down throughout the entire book.


From the beginning Chan points out that things that defined Christian dialogue in the west were non-issues in many parts of Asia. In the west where seminarians prepare for for years and learn apologetics show up only to teach a crowd more that is interested without apologetics and but needing other complexities explained. This is such an unfortunate oversight that so many Christians and missionaries have fallen guilty of. We dive in to fix them by trying to fix what was broken in us, and think of them as hard hearted when they are not interested. This is where the heart of a missionary is so crucial. One who enters in and lays down his own ethnocentrisms to see the real needs and hang-ups of a people. Reading this book makes me grateful for the hundreds of years of missionary work that has come before us to help teach us the appropriate how’s. I also think, where am I pushing my own “let me fix the problem before I listen” type of attitude to those within my community.


Chan’s section on “God in Chinese contexts” was particularly intriguing to me. The amount that Confucianism has grown into the way of life of the Chinese is staggering. I did not know it had started as a “transcendent” religion, only to be so systematized and legalized that it simply became codes of conduct general wisdom for life. Chan brings up an insight from Tu Wei-Ming who said, “That is to say, if Confucian ethics is to be taken seriously, it has to have some “religious” basis. For Tu, then, “the Confucian way of being religious [is] ultimate self-transformation as a communal act and as a faithful dialogical response to the transcendent.”[1] Brilliant. If Confucianism should be followed, there has to be a something greater just us. And if there isn’t than there is nothing greater to Confucianism than any other set of laws and principles that any other group of humans have concocted before.


Another portion of Chan’s book that stretched my thinking is his section explaining the difficulty with the trinity. Of course, when it comes to the trinity, there is always difficulty. Many embrace this difficulty as mystery and proceed forward with their faith. While others, this idea can be a real stumbling block to then. Chan’s point that Hindu’s find it easier to believe because of the trinity, while Muslims get hung up on here was a very enlightening thought. For the Chinese though, and the Confucius’s, and the Asian culture where family is so paramount, the idea of the trinity as family has been very helpful in explaining the belief. And yet to explain that further gives further difficulty because is there hierarchy within the family, and if there is, how is that possible? Ironically I feel like the peculiarities of this doctrine fall quickly under elitism, which is what Chan is trying to deconstruct. But with the trinity, we can go round and round for hours and yet all will admit it has to be a mystery. We spin our wheels to find a superior model, but still a partial one. But I suppose, “look its 3 in 1 and 1 in 3, so just go with it” is not very persuasive or honoring. Chan does bring a strong answer that would satisfy the Asian read though,


“But as we have seen in the Korean theologian Lee Young Jung, the human hierarchy is patterned after the “functional hierarchy in the Trinity.” This view comes much closer to the traditional Catholic and Orthodox doctrine of the monarchy of the Father, which understands the Father as the one “without origin” and the “sole principle” (monē archē) by whom the Son is generated and from whom the Spirit proceeds.67 The Father’s generation of the Son and spiration of the Spirit imply personal distinction and order, yet the relationship can also be described as mutually dependent. Just as the Son and the Spirit depend on the Father for their origin, the Father is dependent on the Son to reveal his Fatherhood and lordship and on the Spirit’s glorifying the Father and the Son to reveal his deity.”[2]


I think our trip to Hong Kong might still be my most “foreign” trip yet.


Works Cited

Chan, Simon. Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground up. IVP Academic, 2014.


[1] Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground up (IVP Academic, 2014), 57.

[2] Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground up (IVP Academic, 2014), 57.

About the Author

Kyle Chalko

4 responses to “Grassroots is cool”

  1. Jason Turbeville says:

    Good post man, I really enjoyed your discussion on the Trinity. The link below is one of the funniest videos I have watched on the Trinity and I thought you might enjoy.



  2. Greg says:

    I think it is great you all get a bit of a snap shot of some trainings and discussions I have had. In hindsight I recognized that trinity discussion were muttled and confusing but didn’t necessarily connect the family hierarchy stance as the underlining confusion. Whenever I start to feel comfortable I learn something new; sometimes the hard way. Also Confucius does truly lay the foundation of all thought. Even in the church.

  3. Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Kyle,
    I didn’t realize you lived in Japan for three years! I can’t wait to hear more about that. I agree with you that Asian culture is unique in so many ways – we hosted an exchange student from Hong Kong for one year and an exchange student from Taiwan for one year. Both came to the U.S. as Christians so the cultural humility we learned was from students who already rejected many of the Asian norms. I too am excited about this trip! Tell me more about your (formerly) Chinese congregation?

  4. Chris Pritchett says:

    You were so right on in your section on the Trinity. The mystery is so profound that it’s much better to lean into it and to live and experience the life of the Trinity than it is to try to explain it. Three distinct persons who are different yet exist in perfect harmony of self-giving love, one to the other. And this is the nature of God. I don’t really buy the hierarchy business with regard to the Trinity. I do think the Trinity is a great model for the church to learn how to love each other despite differences. To be different, and yet together. Our society doesn’t operate that way. But wasn’t that what happened at Pentecost? Anyway, I always appreciate the spirit of your posts. You get me thinking!

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