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

Grassroots Theology from grassroots movements need grassroots voices

Written by: on May 19, 2015

Simon Chan, writing in Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking Faith from the Ground Up, [1] offers a recent attempt to rectify what has been an ongoing conundrum in theological reflection around the world. The theological conundrum is that those who are formally well-educated are often the ones who tell the stories and, unfortunately, formal education has a tendency to distance people who have this type of education from other people who have not experienced such learning methods. Therefore, the theology that is often articulated in writing – while often being deeply well-meaning – tends toward an elitist, exclusivist theology through simple removal from certain “grassroot” community interactions.

Of course, the opposite can also be noted to be of concern. That is, grassroot theology can be disturbingly unaware of the goodness of other/outside perspectives/learning. Actually, this is a vital point for healthy theological interaction. Each version of theology (no matter from where it hails) has a distancing myopia that needs to be actively combatted through focus on relational engagement with theologies outside of its own norming functions. Chan speaks to this need at the beginning of his Grassroots Asian Theology.

One of the ways that a mitigation — of the weakness that arise through inordinate focus on ones own interests at the expense of others – can transpire is through employment of the twin principles of ressourcement and aggiornamento. Chan explains that ressourcement is “creative engagement with earlier sources, the fountainhead of spiritual life.” and aggiornamento is “adaptation and updating in light of the new situations in which the church finds itself.” [2] Another way this can be described is as the conversation between particularity and universality, of contextuality and globalization.

There is an irony at the very beginning of this text that should be noted. I’m thankful that Chan has taken the time to write this text; it’s an important dialogue to foster. However, Chan having gained his Ph.D. from Cambridge is now one of the very elitist theologians of which he notes concerns. This is not to suggest that the did not do a fabulous job with his writing, but it is to be honest about the situation. I would have liked to see this work offered in similar manner to how Duke Center for Reconciliation’s Resources for Reconciliation series out of InterVarsity Press offered their texts. In the Resources for Reconciliation series a person who is primarily an academic is paired with a person who is primarily a practitioner. This brings about a healthy conversation throughout the text. As an alternative, I would also have loved to see this as a reader composed of multiple authors with Chan perhaps offering the introduction, a chapter in the middle and a concluding statement. This noted, Chan has sought to incorporate multiple voices and perspectives and it is overall a strong text.

The first chapter in the text begins to lead toward an articulation of an “Asian theology,” but I find this to be too stringent. I think it would be better to discuss Asian theologies. As well, while Chan alludes to engagement of broad and historic church influences with his reference to ressourcement, he really wasn’t kidding. I found the lean toward “Western” theological resources awkward in this chapter due to what felt like inordinate use/reference in contrast with “Eastern” sources. I found myself desiring to hear others from an Asian context quoting these Western sources if they were to be utilized rather than just Chan using them.

It is the second part of the second chapter that I found Chan becoming more helpful in delineating numerous theological discussions/traditions from multiple areas in Asia. This discussion began to really move the text in the direction that the title suggested it would go in at least the sense that it began offering indigenously birthed movements and conversations.

Overall, while grassroot theology arising from grassroot movements was offered and explicated in the text, I would have loved to hear from more actual grassroot voices. More actual voices would have allowed for an even greater sense of empowerment of the very people that this text means to honor and bring into the worldwide conversation of the Church.




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

[2] Ibid., loc 55-69.

About the Author

Clint Baldwin

One response to “Grassroots Theology from grassroots movements need grassroots voices”

  1. Clint, great point that Chan, having gained his PhD from Cambridge, is one of the elitist, and your suggestion about pairing him with a person who is a primary practitioner after the example of the Duke Center is a great idea. Do you believe that we hear more from the academic elite because they are the ones with both the connections to publication and also the experience of writing?

    I agree wholeheartedly with you that it would’ve been great to hear from actual Asian practitioners and their in-the-trenches type work with theology in Asia. Great post, always love reading your work.

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