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

Theology from the Ground Up

Written by: on June 7, 2018

The Global Church is a fascinating topic. It is incredible how many expressions of Christian faith there are around the world. One would think that with all of the expressions of Christian faith that it would somehow weaken the faith. However, that is not the case. As we look at the world today and the expressions of faith and the subsequent theology they produce, one can clearly see the Christian church not just surviving but exploding, even in the most difficult and rocky places like China. 

Context is essential to understanding the Bible. When it comes to living out a theology context is important too. Dr. Chan writes from the context of the Asian culture, the sustainable faith they practice and the theology that frames that faith expression. He divides his work into 6 chapters, five in which he speaks of Christian faith within the Asian context. These include theology proper, soteriology, Christology, pneumatology, and ecclesiology. 

I think you all know by now that I am Pentecostal and so I am especially thrilled that Dr. Chan is a Pentecostal. Though he is Pentecostal his approach to the expression and understanding of Asian theology, the prism through which he filters his research is not singularly Pentecostal any more than it is singularly Asian. In fact, he draws from both Catholic and Orthodox sources as well as others. Chan states: “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. [1] This use of traditional sources gives strength to Chan’s exploration of Asian theology that would otherwise be missing if it was purely a Pentecostal theology. For example, a Pentecostal theological expression of experience would state that experience is important to a life of faith. However, experience alone does not make up the whole of the Christian experience, be it Pentecostal or Orthodox. Please note that I used the word “experience” four times. That is my Pentecostal framework showing. Of course, there is no problem with a purely Pentecostal theology but to rely only on that prism through which to view a developing theology may not adequately express the complete picture of theological development. 

In the context of the choice of theological underpinnings, Chan quotes, “Liberation theology opted for the poor and the poor opted for Pentecostalism.” [2] In this statement Chan seems to be confirming that though other theological choices were available, the people chose Pentecostalism. Both liberation theology and Pentecostal theology have a power component. One is focused on the power of the people, the other on the power of the Holy Spirit. I find it intriguing that an Asia theology found it’s expression, not in the collective power of the people, but the higher power of the Holy Spirit. This is again my Pentecostal theology speaking. 

I am challenged by some of the theology. An underlying theme of Asian theology is the family. Even the Trinity can be understood as a divine family. [3] Succinctly stated, sin brings dishonor to the divine family. Christ takes on the dishonor and shame and brings honor to the family. This seems to be a sound contextualization and is an example of thinking faith from the ground up. But can it go to far? For instance, what part does ancestrial worship play in the Christian journey? 

The time of an emerging theology is always exciting. Though in the contextualization process challenges arise, the real impact is felt in the addition of the voices to the greater song of Christian faith expression around the world. The emerging Asian theology is no exception and is a welcome voice in the Christian world and, if I may selfishly say, in the Pentecostal world as well.

 

  1. Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014, 7. 
  2. Ibid., 27.
  3. Ibid., 42.

About the Author

Jim Sabella

9 responses to “Theology from the Ground Up”

  1. Mary says:

    “Both liberation theology and Pentecostal theology have a power component.” Yes, but the Holy Spirit is real!
    Yes, Jim there are many options, but only one is the true one. Put another way, if the Holy Spirit was not real, it wouldn’t matter which option you chose. I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world and I pray that Christians in the West could EXPERIENCE more of the love, joy, and willingness to serve that comes with the fullness of the Spirit.
    How wonderful that God is at work in Asia, Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      I agree, Mary. Liberation theology is all about the power of a united people. While Pentecost is about the power of the Holy Spirit. I choose Pentecost every time! The Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. There is no greater power than that. Thanks, Mary.

  2. Lynda Gittens says:

    I thought about you when I read that he was Pentecostal.
    ” 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”
    Authentic theology and Christian tradition to me is not necessarily the same but many church institution do. My experience with Christian traditions that they are man designed and not Christ focused. So we must be careful with that. I do know that he made reference to the apostolic traditions which I believe what the apostles did is what we should mode.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thank you, Lynda. I too agree that there is a difference between authentic theology and Christian tradition. However, there are times when they cross over. I have often been quick to throw out tradition simply because it is tradition. I don’t see tradition as necessarily harmful unless it begins to take the place of the real thing… the fresh wind and fire—the power of the Holy Spirit in our church and lives. I appreciate your comments, Lynda.

  3. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Yes Jim – “Context is essential to understanding the Bible.” I so wish more ministers took this perspective and held this value when teaching the Bible. Good reminder.
    I thought of you when I read the impact of Pentecostalism too! It was so great to hear how it’s been the common and uniting language for Christians throughout the religions of the world. It truly sounds like the uniting and powerful work of the Holy Spirit that we are all hungering for.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks, Jenn. Yes, I agree. The Holy Spirit is not only a power for change, He is a power to unite as well. Sometimes I think we need the greater power to unite than we do to change. When the Holy Spirit unites it is one of the most powerful miracles in our world today. I appreciate your comments, Jenn.

  4. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    I had NO idea you were a Pentecostal, Jim. 😉
    “there is no problem with a purely Pentecostal theology but to rely only on that prism through which to view a developing theology may not adequately express the complete picture of theological development.” This statement, I believe, expresses true hope and true humility; the recognition that our own preferences can be set aside for developing a more robust theology. I’d like to adopt it as well for my church movement.

    I’d also like to add that I appreciate the term “emerging theology,” although I’d like to challenge us to not limit ourselves to thinking that emerging theology only occurs in far-off places. In other words, I’d like for theology to always be emerging among and within us as well, fresh eyes. If I were a good Pentecostal Presbyterian (is that an oxymoron?), I’d add “always emerging, always reforming.”

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks, Katy. I thought i mentioned once or twice that I was a Pentecostal but I must have been mistaken! ? There is such a thing as a good Pentecostal Presbyterian. At least I think so. But I’ll defer to Chip for that one. Your point is well taken on the term “emerging theology.” We are always adjusting and honing our theology and our practice. Although, I wouldn’t necessarily term that “emerging” theology as much as I would, working out our salvation. I agree that it is important to continue to contextualize, maybe not from day to day, but certainly from generation to generation. It’s a continual process. I appreciate your comments, Katy. BTW: There are very few theological positions more robust that Pentecostal theology! ?

  5. Jim! This statement here: ‘The time of an emerging theology is always exciting. Though in the contextualization process challenges arise, the real impact is felt in the addition of the voices to the greater song of Christian faith expression around the world. The emerging Asian theology is no exception and is a welcome voice in the Christian world and, if I may selfishly say, in the Pentecostal world as well.’

    I don’t know how to tell you this, but you might be reformed! Kidding about that, of course, but the idea of an emerging or emergent theology, could also be expressed by the words ‘reformed and always reforming’.

    Isn’t it true – especially if we are trying to be open to the leading and power of the Holy Spirit – that we then must always have a emerging/emergent and/or reforming theology and understanding of theological life and practice

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