DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Doing Theology Attentively

Written by: on May 10, 2015

I was delighted that we were assigned a book on Asian theology in light of our up and coming trip to Hong Kong. Upon reading Grassroots Asian Theology, I had two immediate insights: First, I realized that I remembered very little of my “Indian Traditions” class of 40 years ago (though I remembered my professor, a quirky woman who sit yoga style on her desk in brightly colored skirts while she lectured). And second, I had discovered a helpful guide to practicing global theology. I found this book to be highly informative and timely, as our world become much smaller and the church so much bigger and less influenced by Western thinking. Today, as Simon Chan puts it, we are to confronted by a “rapidly globalizing Christian church’s emerging reservoir of insights, testimonies, and convictions from diverse and various perspective.”[i]

Chan provides a primer on how to do theology in our emerging globalized world through the lens of Asian traditions and grassroots church experience. “My main focus is on how theology ought to be done. This book is as much concerned with the processes as the content of theology.”[ii] What Chan proposes is a multi-layer approach to theology, as opposed to a monochrome approach often practiced by Western Protestants. He calls for opening the door to a wider array of voices, providing a space for them to speak and be heard, and suggesting that these voices will not only give greater color and depth to our own theological discussions, but might even bring us closer to the very heart of the Gospel and the teachings of Scriptures. He suggests at least three areas that are often found wanting in Western theology that, if utilized, will provide space for the larger church to hear what is happening among the churches in Asia (and around the world). This dialogue has potential to draw the church back to some of her roots that have been lost throughout much of history. This conversation begins with a genuine acceptance of the legitimacy of the other’s traditions and beliefs in order that they might be approached as valuable dialogue partners, and not just as people that must be proselytized or exorcised false beliefs.

To bring about this open conversation requires then a balance approach. It will first require that we take serious (as Protestants) older Christian traditions. There is a need to recapture much of the earlier teachings and theology that came prior to the Reformation and that continues to be practiced by the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. To be open to and dialogue with the global community will involve taking “freely from Catholic and Orthodox sources. I believe they offer a broader and more solid basis for contextual theologies compared with what goes on in much of mainline Protestantism and evangelicalism today.”[iii] A broader base may be necessary for local theology to be viewed as “authentically Christian,” as Chan recognizes the need for the local church to “have substantial continuity with the larger Christian tradition.”[iv]

Second, it requires that religions, traditions and spirituality are taken seriously. In the past, Western theologians often too quickly written-off other religions and their practices as the result of the “fall” or sin, or the seeking after other gods, or simply those parts of cultures that need to be exorcised and replaced by “true religion” of Christianity. This approach does not give room for genuine dialogue, because it does not accept as legitimate conversation partners those religions and traditions. Without such respect for the other, opportunity for real dialogue, or self-criticism, cannot happen.

Finally, it requires taking seriously the development of the culture and theology of the local church in its new context. As Chan suggests, “the grassroots is where primary theology is lived out…”[v] Here is where real theology is done, through the experience of the church interacting with Scripture, with culture, and with lived faith. The resulting theology is a response to “….how the distinctive culture of the ekklesia is to live and grow in the midst of the alien cultures of the Gentiles, and what it means that men and women are called out by the gospel from their own indigenous ethnic cultures to the new culture of the people of God.”[vi]

The result of this lived theology of the local church is the opportunity for the wider church to hear what God is saying through His people. “The task of the professional theologian is not to tell the church what is good for it but to listen carefully what the Spirit of truth who indwells the church is saying through he people of God.”[vii] Here, Chan’s book is most insightful, as he challenges our presuppositions and Western colored thinking by teaching us through the culture, religion, and local church practices in Asia. He challenges our thinking about issues like the Trinity, the family, shame, sin, honor, and so much more. As he indicates, so many of the practices of the grassroots church in Asia are closer to the culture of the Early Church and Scripture than what is today practiced and believed in so many of our churches in the West. We have much to learn (and relearn) from our Asian church family.

Simon Chan efforts are well captured in Veli-Matti Karkkainen’s own global theological program:

“Only when the ‘global’ theological scholarship—the term ‘global’ here should be understood as inclusive of geographical,    racial, sexual, ecumenical, and other distinctions – will engage in a (self-) critical and constructive mutual dialogue between tradition and contemporary challenges and promises is there hope of a more balanced, robust, and vigorous theology.” [viii]

            [i] Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2014), Kindle, 405.

            [ii] Ibid., 70.

            [iii] Ibid., 57.

            [iv] Ibid., 120.

            [v] Ibid., 450.

            [vi] Ibid., 180.

            [vii] Ibid., 423.

            [viii] Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Christ and Reconciliation (A Constructive Christian Theology for a Pluralistic World) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns Publishing Co., 2014), 406.

About the Author

mm

John Woodward

Associate Director of For God's Children International. Member of George Fox Evangelical Seminary's LGP4.

6 responses to “Doing Theology Attentively”

  1. John,

    Brilliant post! Thanks for shedding light on this text that I did not see as you did. Your post makes me want to go back and read this book more closely than I did. I will do that someday perhaps.

    Yes, if we begin our discussion of theology with a chip on our shoulder, we we never accomplish anything positive. We cannot start with the belief that we only have all the answers. If we do, then there will only be a monologue, never any dialogue. And how boring would that be?

    One other thought I have is that we sometimes do not allow God to be God. We can be so busy teaching theology that we forget about the person of Jesus. We forget about irresistible grace. We forget about the work of the Holy Spirit in revealing Jesus to people. Sometimes, frankly, as sincere as we are, we get in the way. God help us, as you reminded us here, to find a balanced approach in all that we do.

    Thanks again for your great post, my friend!

  2. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi John
    What a great summary of Chan’s book! As you rightly mention, “Chan’s book is most insightful, as he challenges our presuppositions and Western colored thinking by teaching us through the culture, religion, and local church practices in Asia.” There is so much we could learn from the Asian culture that could possibly enrich our own understanding of God, and it begins with listening without prejudice. With some of the biggest growth among christianity taking place within Asia, this need for theological discussion is certainly there.

  3. mm Ashley Goad says:

    John, if I have only learned one thing through this program, it is to take a step back, listen, learn, observe, and understand everything I possibly can before even opening my mouth. Too often there is this jump or push of superiority or arrogance, this “my way is better than yours.” I have constantly struggled until coming to that realization that, in fact, I’m one of those people! I have so much to learn, and this program has truly opened my eyes! As you eloquently said, we have to take others – their religions, their cultures, their histories – seriously. Until we do that, we won’t move forward; we’ll simply stay stagnant and wondering why “they” won’t listen to “us.” Good work here, John!

  4. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    John, Great post! I agree with you that Chan’s book is informative on how to develop local theology in a rapidly emerging global Christian culture. I think your quote from Karkkainen captures Chan’s effort very well. “Only when the ‘global’ theological scholarship—the term ‘global’ here should be understood as inclusive of geographical, racial, sexual, ecumenical, and other distinctions – will engage in a (self-) critical and constructive mutual dialogue between tradition and contemporary challenges and promises is there hope of a more balanced, robust, and vigorous theology.”

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Great job John on this post and summary of the book. You relay the mood of the book and the concern with which Chan writes about such important matters. You write, “As he indicates, so many of the practices of the grassroots church in Asia are closer to the culture of the Early Church and Scripture than what is today practiced and believed in so many of our churches in the West. We have much to learn (and relearn) from our Asian church family.”

    May God grant us a learning posture indeed!

    Thank you

  6. John, Great summary on Chan’s work. One of the books that I have come across is called Globalizing Theology: belief and practice in an era of world Christianity by Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland as editors. It is so true that we are rapidly emerging as a truly interconnected world. Globalization has affected almost every corner of our Globe today. In the light of these changes that affect almost every human being on the earth how can Christians be better at contextualizing the message of Jesus Christ in the light of these astonishing cultural differences? This is what I hope to tackle in my dissertation. I’m really beginning to gain clarity on what I want to do for my artifact alongside my research dissertation. Chan was a great read as I’m still learning so much about doing theology within a cultural setting. Truly you bring out a good point in regards to the Western color of thinking and teaching. I just came across a book entitled Misreading Scripture with Western eyes by E. Randolph and Brandon J. O’Brien. I’m coming across so many books that seem to beckoned me to read them but the dissertation completion date is already fast approaching. Bless you my friend!!

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