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

A sisterly and brotherly local and global catholicity!

Written by: on May 7, 2015

UNITESimon Chan’s book In Grassroots Asian Theology is on point and timely indeed. There is more one could say about the issues concerning Ferguson, New York, the Officer Slager and Scott Walker case, the late Freddie Gray and Baltimore city , but one common theme in all these instances has been the presence of grassroots uprising . Chan’s message too, places grassroots theology at the center of a much need ongoing global church dialogue. He discusses the impact and challenge paused by colliding worldviews from the East and from the west. It comes as no surprise that different cultures have various cultural worldviews which also operate in people’s relationship with the gospel. The notion that “one exceptional culture” has a monopoly on the rightful, most truthful and correctness of the Christian faith doctrine and its expression, is the kind of hubris Chan seeks to address. The attitude of “my theology is better than yours” is of great concern for Chan. He writes as he quotes Braaten and Jenson in the body work titled In One Body Through the Cross: The Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity:

Perhaps it is time to get rid of the habit of describing different patterns of thought in terms of Eastern and Western ways of thinking. In a post-modern, globalized world, such descriptions are neither helpful nor accurate. Rather, a more pertinent question we need to ask in order to develop a contextual or local theology in an Asian context is: what spiritual and intellectual resources of the Christian faith can we bring to bear on the Asian context such that an authentic Christian faith can be effectively communicated and received? Implied in this question is a fundamental theological presupposition: Asian theology is about the Christian faith in Asia. This presupposition may be phrased in different ways, but it runs through diverse Christian traditions, including Catholicism, Orthodoxy, evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. Some see the common spiritual heritage binding these four traditions together as holding promise for a new ecumenism that goes beyond the currently deadlocked World Council of Churches.[1]

Yet such a call for the construction of a “new ecumenism”, were the word ecumenism is defined in the Oxford dictionaries as “The principle or aim of promoting unity among the world’s Christian churches”[2] is still a far cry globally, in spite of the current endeavors by certain churches. There are a lot of Church cultural and worldly historical waters, mostly turbulent tidal waves that have flooded the potentiality of unity among the world’s Christian churches; thus the interference with the actualization of sisterly and brotherly unity  both locally and global.  Jesus’s prayerfully declared, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one”[3] Was this just a nice prayer by the messiah or did the omniscient redeemer know something about the demonically stubborn barriers to the joyful unity of the global ekklesia, enough to weld timeless prayers in the world’s conscience present then and the future disciples including us in the 21century?

Chan skillfully points out the blockades that have led to the imbalanced theological global crisis in Asia’s theological grassroots landscape, which I won’t be able to discussed in depth. He notes how:

Much of what the West knows as Asian theology consists largely of elitist accounts of what Asian theologians are saying, and elitist theologians seldom take grassroots Christianity seriously. Yet it is at the grassroots level that we encounter a vibrant, albeit implicit, theology. It is this theology that I wish to highlight.[4]

But where exactly do the elitist accounts come from and what are they taking advantage? It is often the case that most sweeping movements or revolutions might be attempting to replace and fill preexisting vacuums. Given the post Mao and Deng Xiaoping legacy, it seems that the various presentations of Christianity have “… showed that faith was also possible in post-Mao China not just finance, success and despair. In a kind of postmodern twist, several handfuls of leading young intellectual writers, lawyers and cultural figures have chosen Christian faith in recent years. Since they are outspoken about it, including in the media, they again inspire many students and young professionals.[5]

It seems to me that Christianity might have touched a nerve for some people in China, but Chan is concerned about a n intrusive kind of Christianity and the need for proper contextualization that favors the grassroots establishment and not the elitist account and theologians in Asia. Chan calms that the elitist minds “… tend to impose their views on the grassroots and read their contexts selectively”[6]


Theological elitism then appears to pause a challenge to the grassroots local church’s efforts to contextualize the biblical gospel. Other scholars go as far as pointing out the content and sources of the elitist theologies in question in Asia. Fredrik Fällman comments:

There is a tendency among some of the urban, unregistered churches to adhere to reformed theology, inspired by what in North America is sometimes known as “New Calvinism.” The focus is more on Puritan teachings than on John Calvin himself. Such communities draw much interest from young urbanites, and they seem to attract these young people because of their solid stance on moral issues and their non-relative beliefs, contrasting with society at large. Reformed Christianity may also appeal to the subconscious Confucian thought patterns and beliefs that linger among Chinese elite intellectuals in general.[7]

On the other hand, if one were to analysis the quote above, it would also seem that the “New Calvinism” has found a home in some Christians’ minds and hearts some of the urban young and adults. But Chan argues for a theological approach that accounts for “a more adequate way of organizing an Asian theology is to center it in the doctrine of the triune God as the divine family”[8].Chan perceives such a Trinitarian Asian theology as a culturally viable option for the explanations of original sin in the Garden of Eden. For example, through a Asian theological lens, the Genesis account can be seen as “an affront on God’s honor (Anselm) and an act that dishonors the family name”[9] Furthermore, “Salvation is the restoration of one’s standing in the family”[10] Chan unlike what Tanya Luhrmann observed during her epic study titled When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God; of the Vineyarders of American evangelicalism and their culture of “a personal relationship with God”; the church in Asian’s grassroots theology is far more a central piece.  I highly recommend Chan’s book because he is obviously addressing  theological and missiogical issues in the global church. He looks to the likes of Karl Barth and other theologians in such of the way forward. Chan suggests a number of ideas to improve the conditions of grassroots theology in Asia. I found myself thinking about the need for a conference between the “New ecumenism” and the “New Calvinism”. Perhaps believers in the grassroots and elitist camps might forge a way forward in the interest of a sisterly and brotherly ecclesial Asian context. Chan writes:

Speaking of ecclesial experience in this way helps us avoid two major pitfalls. Frist, it avoids conceiving theology as purely objective facts or as primarily subjective experience (“faith” in Schleiermacher’s sense). Second, it does not consider individuals as the primary agents of doing. Doing theology is essentially an ecclesial endeavor requiring cooperation between the people of God and the theologian. We could even speak of it as a relationship of mutual dependence [or interdependent][11]

[1] Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 10.

[2] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/ecumenism

[3] John 17

[4] Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 7.

[5] http://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/urge-for-faith-postmodern-beliefs-among-urban-chinese

[6] Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 23.

[7] http://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/articles/urge-for-faith-postmodern-beliefs-among-urban-chinese

[8] Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 42.

[9] Ibid,. 44.

[10] Ibid,. 45

[11] Ibid., 17.

About the Author

Michael Badriaki

12 responses to “A sisterly and brotherly local and global catholicity!”

  1. Michael,
    You have (rightly) given us a perspective to see Chan’s work with a glimpse from above and at street level, perhaps very much like the views we will take in from the heights of our hotel rooms in Hong Kong as well as what we might see when we are at street level. Thank you.

    I too thought about the New Calvinism and the danger it can bring (and it has brought within one particular expression) when a honor shame culture is created that suggests obedience to the church leadership is obedience to God (I’m “reducing” the teaching that has been exposed, I know). What that reminded me of is the necessity of learning. The gift of an honor shame culture and the redemptive aspect present in the Word is one that is not “top down” but rather best understood within a “grassroots” context. That is were you and I along with others might sit down and say “let us consider”…. and together then become more of who we are to be. Roberta Bondi expresses it in “To Pray and To Love”: “The fulfillment of our deepest purposes and our profoundest longings for God can never be separated from our love of God’s own images among whom we live. We find ourselves in God not for a self-fulfillment that will make us independent from the need for other people but in order to love.” (96). Or as you expressed it, “in mutual dependence.”

  2. Deve Persad says:

    So much that you have written is so important to consider, Michael. What caught my attention was this statement: “Asian theology is about the Christian faith in Asia.” It’s so simple and yet perhaps because of it’s simplicity it gets lost in the complexity of theological thought. That’s what I appreciated about much of Chan’s book – bringing focus to the character of God, in particular through The Trinity. The challenge then becomes, for those of us who aren’t immersed in the Asian culture, to take time to understand, celebrate and enter into the expressions of faithful Christian brothers and sisters. In so doing, we too, may grow to appreciate just how incredibly amazing is Our God. There’s so much to learn…thanks for helping that cause.

  3. Julie Dodge says:

    I am always impressed by the breadth of your knowledge and insight, Michael. As I read your post I was also struck by the contrast between the elite and grassroots theology. I wonder if, in reality, most of the global church operates from a grassroots perspective. Certainly there are academics and educated pastors, but don’t most American Christans function at a non-elite place? How many know the names of Calvin and Wesley? How many actually know their teaching? (Someone asked me who they were just this week). It is my impression that the theology most Christians practice is what they heard at church filtered through their personal and cultural experiences. Certainly some delve deeper. But I am pondering this more and more and wondering … Well, just wondering and pondering.

    Thanks for making me think.

  4. rhbaker275 says:

    Thanks for your insightful perspective and illuminating post.

    I, also, was quite intrigued by Chan’s presenting vibrant, authentic theology on a pendulum from grassroots to elitist. It is not that he juxtaposes the two, rather, it is that we must have a belief theology and a lived theology. The problem, I surmise from Chan’s thinking on the contrast of grassroot and elitist theology, is when the value of what we believe becomes attached to academia alone. He highlights this problem early by stating “elitist theologians seldom take grassroots Christianity seriously.” I did not read in Chan an aversion to “high” theology. His emphases on Christian tradition, the history and theology, would seem to argue for a deeper more reflective understanding of scripture. This deeper reflection will result in an elite understanding (the where-with-all to give an answer for the hope within you); however, and perhaps what Chan stresses most, people are “asking” about that hope only because the theology of deep reflection has engaged the believer where they live. There is little value to theological study and reflection (academia) if it does not impact people where they live – at the grassroots where belief and practice come together.

  5. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Thanks Michael! I enjoyed reading your post and others comments on it. Like you, I agree with Chan that doing theology is essentially the work of the church, which is also the work of the Spirit. Theologians, as fellow worshipers, must listen to what the Spirit says through the church.

  6. Michael, it is true that in a shame-based culture there is a danger of bringing in strictly obedience type theology such as new Calvinism. If we strictly go on the basis of my ability to be perfect then my salvation is found in how I conduct myself or align myself to the tenets of the faith that I follow. If we are to rightly contextualize the message of Christ within a shame-based culture there must be a cautionary note to our introduction of rules and regulations least we come across pharisaical and perfectionism become the idol we call people to.

    I came across this article by Jackson Wu entitled The Gospel with Chinese Characteristics: A Concrete Example of Cultural Contextualization. In this article Wu quoted Brene Brown’s insight that was quite helpful, “We get sucked into perfection for one very simple reason: We believe perfection will protect us. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. We all need to feel worthy of love and belonging, and our worthiness is on the line when we feel like we are never ___ enough (you can fill in the blank: thin, beautiful, smart, extraordinary, talented, popular, promoted, admired, accomplished).” See Brene Brown, “Want to be happy? Stop trying to be perfect,” November 1, 2010, n.p. [cited 19 April 2013]. Online: http://www.cnn.com/2010/ LIVING/11/01/give.up.perfection/index.html.

    Bless you my friend! Mitch

    • Michael says:

      Mitch you are so right about the “perfectionism theology” and I believe that where things fall apart. With that kind of a mind set a believer forgoes the need to be dependent on Jesus Christ and His mission.

      Thank you!

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