A recent trend among Indian Christian brides in India, much to my dislike, is the preference for the western wedding gown replacing the elegant ethnic wear. While on the surface the issue seems trivial and can be argued as a matter of personal choice, I believe that several other trends pertaining to the nuances between religion and culture in the face of rising westernization and the relevant expression and influence of the Christian faith remain unaddressed. Another instance is the decline of traditional Indian music and literature that is classified as outdated by the general populace and more so by the church that has adapted to western praise music.
This breeds a dual outcome. On the one hand, Christians are criticized for having adopted a western faith that disregards anything ‘Indian’ ranging from customs and traditions to other aspects of culture like literature and arts. Such criticism has also resulted in a suspicion of Christians and separation from the mainstream. On the other hand, since Christians casually ‘go with the flow’ we have contributed neither to preserving and shaping those elements of culture that form our common identity against the eroding forces of westernization nor preventing the ills of the culture we live in, as the church has done in the past. In simple words, the church has insulated and isolated itself from the mainstream reducing its opportunity for influence. This is because it hasn’t intellectually analyzed and answered, from a biblical perspective, if what is Indian can be Christian and if what is Christian can be Indian?
In the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Mark Noll states a case of widespread “anti-intellectualism” among evangelicals where faith and scripture are not tested and tried in the deep recesses of the mind as an intellectual exercise for ‘mindful’ worship. He states several reasons for this, one of which, being the rise of Pentecostalism where the emphasis of spiritual development rests on an emotional experience and exercise of the faith. And this is quite true of the present Indian scenario where Pentecostal and charismatic movements are growing and the importance for diligent and critical thinking of scripture and relevant application is lacking. This is further resulting in an inability of the church to self – theologize; a dynamic process in response to God’s active work in a given context. Therefore, without such intellectual thinking and application, the church operates on centuries old theology that is stale and doctrines and dogmas that are calcified.
Hence, instead of thinking through and constructing a Christian framework for the Indian culture, as Thomas Aquinas did to Aristoltean thinking popular in his day, the evangelical mind has become complacent and careless to take seriously the responsibility to spread a Kingdom mentality. Until the church is able to diligently study, critically think and relevantly apply faith with both heart and mind there will be recurring tensions between religion and culture and unanswered questions. We will still remain in a quandary about questions like: Can a marriage ceremony be the ‘Indian’ way or are there parts of the ceremony that might actually be against the faith? If we take the cultural route, will it be misconstrued as secular? And how far do we compromise? Or should we altogether abandon the Indian culture that has too many issues and settle for the western way that is becoming popular?
The battle for the Christian mind in the cultural realms is real and tangible in this age of secularism where values and culture are merging and colliding. The mind is exposed to the influences of media, technology and cross- cultural interaction presenting information that requires rapid processing. And if we don’t “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5 NIV), then we would have lost the opportunity to plant Kingdom values and much worse we would be found deficient in our worship and love for Lord.
Noll, Mark A.. The scandal of the evangelical mind. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994.