DMINLGP

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

Questions and Mirrors

Written by: on May 7, 2015

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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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?”[3] 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:[4]

  1. Recognize that preaching the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ is God’s way of transforming the world.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.’”[5] 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.”[6] 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.”[7]

 

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.[8] But Chan challenges us to extend responsibility particularly as he points again and again toward the people. “How do ordinary Christians experience Christ?”[9] He finds that the elitist theologians are not vested is discovering the answer among the grassroots experiences.[10] 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.

 

 

            [1] 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.

[2] Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2014), 8.

            [3] Ibid., 10.

[4] Ibid. 39.

            [5] Ibid., 85.

[6] Ibid., 84.

[7] Ibid.

[8] 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.”

[9] Chan, 103.

[10] Ibid.

About the Author

mm

Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

5 responses to “Questions and Mirrors”

  1. mm Julie Dodge says:

    You provide a nice overview of some of Chan’s approach. As I was reading your post, I also wondered if some of what Chan did not include was linked to the high context nature of many Asian cultures. In high context, much of communication is unspoken. It is assumed that the other person already knows the cultural nuances – the context – of the culture. I sometimes felt like the text was too dry, and that I was missing something. I wonder if that was it; that Chan unknowingly wrote in a high context place. Anyway, as you already noted, I too was drawn to some of the honor- shame implications. In a more relational culture, honor and shame would carry great weight as the desire to preserve relationship is higher. I think we miss that in our culture. Thanks for another thought inspiring post.

  2. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Carol,
    Thanks for your insightful post…

    Like you, one of my favorite readings this past term was Bevans work, “Models of Contextual Theology.” I loved your quote from “Contextual Theology for the Twenty-First Century.” I do not see much disparity between Bevans and Chan. Especially Bevans understanding of contextualizing as “recorded in Scripture and preserved and defended in the church’s tradition.” A similar statement is noted by Chan, “Any authentic theology must be developed in light of the larger Christian tradition. The appeal to Christian tradition is not simply a matter of preference but essential to our theological quest” (7).

    Chan does criticize Bevans’ “global perspective” (28) as confining the view of “lived theology” in the local context to the narrow lens of elitist theology that imposes a selective context for grassroots theology. The answer to Bevans’ limitation is for deeper theological on grassroots “lived theology.”

  3. mm Deve Persad says:

    Carol, you’ve done an excellent job of synthesizing Chan’s book with some of our other readings. That is very helpful indeed! I appreciate your three point highlight package. Additionally, I also found it intriguing how Chan, as a PhD, spoke to the divide between elitist and grassroots theology. In particular, his consistent assertion to learn from what those in the grassroots were experiencing. I wonder if it was a personal journey or challenge for him as well. To that end, you mention: “Responsibility extend not just in personal or culture “ownership” but in who we are listening to and learning from.” My own understanding of the culture in which I live is confined to my own experience. Yet, the more I take time to listen to the lives of others, I recognize that there is so much just a little beyond my cultural experience that is transpiring. From an outside perspective these would all be considered as part of the same culture and yet the experience between myself and my neighbour are so vastly different. As you embrace your new role, how much is “listening” to others a challenge?

  4. Carol,

    Thank you for your good, thoughtful post. I often learn more about the books we are assigned to read by reading student posts than from the books themselves. Yours was one of those posts this week.

    One statement you made really caught my attention and I found myself reading it over and over again. You say, “The evangelical focus on salvation as a means to an end has resulted in a loss of responsibility. ” I will really be thinking about that. I think you are absolutely right.

    My father will be 83 this year. He is a strong evangelical Christian who has “asked Jesus into his heart” many years ago. That is a good thing. The problem is, that is where his faith has stopped. He has not grown as a Christian or as a human. In fact, he has stayed the same for decades and is always preaching to me the same message. I love my dad, but I feel sorry for him that he believes that knowing Jesus is all that matters. We cannot discuss anything outside personal salvation. Other topics, particularly about “how should we then live” are not open for discussion. Thus, everything stays at level-one communication. This, in my view, is a great tragedy. Thankfully, however, my relationship with my son is so different than that. We can talk about anything and everything. I am thankful for that difference.

    Thanks again for your lovely post. It really got me thinking deeply!

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Carol you just have a way of putting words together and bringing a fresh perspective to the readings. Right from the start I was captivated by your discussion of contextualization. Indeed we are products of our settings and our settings are also products of us. You underscore the need for believers to listen to one each other and be mindful about the pitfalls of manipulation and control.
    I also liked your statement and Chan’s book, “It also exposed, as a mirror might, the flaws from which I evaluate what I think I know.” How we all need such enlightenment as we seek to serve people in communities!!

    Thank you!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *