As much as Jackie Pullinger was chasing the “dragon” (heroin, gangs, sex trafficking) in her text, Chasing the Dragons, Simon Chan appears to be chasing the Holy Spirit in his text, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up. Chan’s work is an important and relevant read for any and all intercultural studies students. Chan’s premise centers around the cultural disconnect between Western Christianity and Asian Theology – and is a humbling reminder to have cultural awareness and humility as a Westerner.
Chan’s challenging words also connect back to our readings by Anthony Elliott, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction and David Bebbington’s Evangelicalism in Modern Britain.
Chan says the church’s basic identity is found “not in what it does but in what it is.” Using contemporary social theory as a lens, church/religion are simply a social construct – which Chan convinces the reader of as he discusses the cultural implications of theology. “Chan reminds us that authentic theologies are grounded in particular peoples, places and cultures.” Someone with cultural humility and a good grasp of the variables of Biblical writings will not be threatened (or probably surprised) by the idea that cultural context must be considered as the interpretation and teaching of Biblical principles is applied around the world. Chan brilliantly uses Asian values, such as ancestor veneration, spiritual phenomena, sexual exploitation, inter-faith relations, family systems, and more, as a launching place to hammer this concept home.
Chan could also make an Asian connection to David Bebbington’s thoughts on Evangelicalism… “One could still use a “working definition” like David Bebbington’s which highlights four features: conversionism (the belief that lives can be changed), activism (the expression of the gospel in some form of effort, especially in mission and evangelism), biblicism (a particular regard for the Bible as a source and norm for truth), and crucicentrism (a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross). But these beliefs are much more widespread in Asia.” On the surface, Asian theology appears Biblically grounded and significantly influenced by the belief in, and power of, the Holy Spirit. This leaves me wondering how – just how – could westerners be critical of Asian theology?
Perhaps I can attempt to answer that question by discussing the concept of ethnocentrism as it relates to our pluralistic (a condition in which minority groups participate fully in the dominant society, yet maintain their cultural differences) American society. According to Merriam Webster, ethnocentric is defined as “characterized by or based on the attitude that one’s own group is superior”. How is this lived out in America, specifically by Christians? First and foremost, ethnocentrism exists when one believes that their own culture is “right and normative” and this manifests in many ways – attitudes, behaviors, and actions which can manifest on a personal level but also at a community/state/national level. From simple observations “why is that family eating differently than me (societal norm)?” to overt racism and discrimination “those people shouldn’t be allowed to live in my neighborhood” to state/national discriminatory policies (school funding based on property tax income or predatory lending) ethnocentrism is alive and well in the United States. Since President Trump’s election there is an agenda from the administration to move towards a nationalist model – “take care of ourselves”, “isolate from others”, claim superiority”; essentially isolating ourselves from the global world and proclaiming our dominance. It is disheartening that Christians are embracing President Trump’s efforts to become nationalists. Why? The answer lies in the Word…“The Bible however dismantles the notion of ethnocentrism. It does not allow us to look negatively upon people who are different than us.”
In the story of Peter (a Jew) and Cornelius (a Gentile) in Acts 10, a clear example of ethnocentrism is evident in Peter. At that time, Jews were very hostile towards Gentiles – so much so that Jews would not associate with Gentiles because they were “unclean”. God gave Peter a vision (indicating he was not pleased with the animosity that Jewish Christians were harboring toward other races) commanding him to visit Cornelius’ house alongside other Gentiles. It was there that Peter’s ethnocentrism began to dissolve. After Cornelius explained the series of events that led them to that gathering, Peter made a breakthrough discovery: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). “Don’t miss the magnitude of this shift!…God, in his love, actually desires to gather people from every tribe, tongue, and nation into his Kingdom. This is no ethnocentric agenda, but rather a cosmic plan to unite people of all ethnicities together in Christ.”
Chan discusses how Asian theology embraces the Holy Spirit – people of God, body of Christ, temple of the Holy Spirit – the triune God.” He (Chan) sees the church as the sacred space “where believers are baptized by the Holy Spirit with fire, resulting in many members being able to speak in tongues (glossolalia), and it is only through the church that they can act to create a better world” (and isn’t Jackie Pullinger’s experience with the Holy Spirit a perfect example of this?). Let’s not forget that Christian theology – until recently – has been written with a very narrow cultural paradigm by white European men. So, here’s my challenge to you this week…CHASE THE HOLY SPIRIT! Chase the Holy Spirit until you find it, embrace it, and allow it to fill you with life and breath. Chase it until you can internalize and live out a Biblical worldview that you reject ethnocentrism within yourself and others. Embrace other cultures in your city or neighborhood and consider it an opportunity to extend the love of Christ across cultural boundaries. This could be a powerful testimony. I’m planning to make it mine…
 Woo, Franklin J. “Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up.” China Review International 20, no. 3/4 (July 2013): 294-296.