I am influenced by my geography, the culture and context of the Pacific Northwest. Stephen Bevans identifies contextual theology as a way of doing theology that involves two realities, “The first of these is experience of the past, recorded in Scripture and preserved and defended in the church’s tradition. The second is the experience of the present or a particular context, which consists of one or more of at least four elements: personal or communal experience, “secular” or “religious” culture, social location, and social change.” Such a definition provides insight into the difference of present experience but it also reveals the challenge of contextual theology, experience is both rooted in the past in Scripture and tradition and experienced in the present drawing in culture, location, the experience of social change as well as personal or communal largely dependent upon societal structure.
Such a definition should fit well with Grassroots Asian Theology by Simon Chan. The question is does it? With a PhD from Cambridge, Chan is experienced in western theological thought he is able to move within and between different cultures and different theologies. He asserts, “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.” He begins by asking questions. Questions not only to reorient and at times expose thinking, but questions that seem to look back, as if reflected by a mirror. In an effort to articulate how theology ought to be done and the processes to be invested Chan asks, “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?” Within in this question is the subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) confrontation to the presupposition of theology that is directed toward a people but one that is not developed with the people. It also indicates what is for Chan the inadequate nature of specific contextual theologies, of note, liberation theology and feminist theologies.
Chan drawing from Karl Barth (and in this case from Stanley Hauerwas) invites us to consider three emphases:
- Recognize that preaching the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ is God’s way of transforming the world.
- Christians influence the world by their transformed (“distinctive”) character as Christians. I understood this to mean that more than social programs, our distinctive character brings influence.
- Christians receive and experience their most basic identity primarily through the Church community. (If this is true, no wonder we presently suffer an identity crisis in the Church, especially in the U.S.).
Chan’s perspective is rooted in the family motif drawn from the honor-shame cultures so readily present in Asia. Thankfully he challenges our understanding of sin and grace, inviting us to weigh the implications afresh. “If righteousness is the restoration of honor, sin is the loss of honor…To fall short of the glory of God is to fall short of ‘the ultimate standard of honor they are intended to bear.’” It also exposed, as a mirror might, the flaws from which I evaluate what I think I know. “The issue is not the honor-shame culture itself but what constitutes honor and shame in the New Testament.” For me the vulnerability of honor shame cultures is the element of manipulation and control, even if well intended, there can be a loss of “self” when identity is misshapen. Perhaps this is most noticeable when western churches bring a culture of honor-shame based upon coercion. Thankfully, Chan reminds us, “Christianity redefines the nature of honor by locating it in the God who dispenses it.”
The evangelical focus on salvation as a means to an end has resulted in a loss of responsibility. Perhaps in an Asian grassroots theology we might discover it again. Certainly Edwin Friedman in our reading in A Failure of Nerve reminded us that true empathy involves responsibility. But Chan challenges us to extend responsibility particularly as he points again and again toward the people. “How do ordinary Christians experience Christ?” He finds that the elitist theologians are not vested is discovering the answer among the grassroots experiences. Responsibility extend not just in personal or culture “ownership” but in who we are listening to and learning from.
I found the book challenging and engaging. Chan is offering us a way to have a theology that is encompassing. In essence he presents us with the possibility to consider how a grassroots Asian theology might help us to more faithfully follow Christ. It is not without critique. But is it an invitation for us to consider how we might faithfully love God and be the people of God.
 Stephen B. Bevans, “What Has Contextual Theology to Offer the Church of the Twenty-First Century?” in Contextual Theology for the Twenty-First Century edited by Stephen B. Bevans and Katalina Tahaafe-Williams (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2011), 9.
 Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2014), 8.
 Ibid. 39.
 Ibid., 84.
 Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Seabury Books, 2007), 134. “The focus on empathy rather than responsibility has contributed to a major misorientation in our society about the nature of what is toxic to life itself and therefore, the factors that go into survival.”
 Chan, 103.