The Western or Eastern Orthopraxy?
Simon Chan’s text is most powerful because of its subtitle – ‘Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up’. Too often the Church has erred because theology has been foisted upon believers from the top down frequently leading to burdensome orthopraxis much like that of the Pharisees with whom Jesus had a contentious relationship, at least according to the Gospel of John. Chan eruditely develops his understanding based on what he sees being practiced (orthopraxis) rather than what is being preached (orthodoxy). Finding the vibrant and often implicit theology in a culture means discovering the lived rather than the discussed theology.
Because the bulk of the great mission movement was launched from Britain and the U.S. it has been the theology of those cultures that has predominated. What initially emerged was that the missionaries were building upon “Western/ecumenical agendas, doing theologyforthe Asian Christians rather than expressing theology by Asian Christians”.But, once indigenous leadership began to develop what grew was an orthopraxy that was specifically suited to the particular Asian context. Chan recognizes the importance of this contextualization when he states; “There is no one theology of God that suits every situation. Each religious context has its own set of issues that Christians must address”.
Genuine Asian/Eastern practiced theology has a great deal to offer the Christian community in the Western world. As many of the texts we read last semester suggested, the consumeristic culture of the Western world has enveloped the Church to a great degree. (It could be argued that South Korea should be included in this indictment even though they are in Asia. Perhaps another time.) “The underlying problem is a culture of consumerism and self-fulfillment. The church is expected to be a service provider to meet the needs of its consumer members”.However, Asian theology appears to be based on a collectivism (at least for now) rather than the rampant individualism and materialism found in the West. Rather than assuming that that which is currently being practiced in the U.S. and the theology developed in the Western world is the genuine article and encouraging the rest of the world to get on board, a humble observance of faith practices in other cultures should be required for all seminarians.
There are certainly some Asian based beliefs that make those in the West uncomfortable, particularly the issue of ancestor veneration. However, this too needs to be studies thoroughly and as much as possible through the lens of early Christianity. Perhaps we have been missing something.
I believe that the most powerful contribution of Asian theology is the insight offered by the Honor/Shame culture by which the New Testament can be understood in a new light. Whether or not this is the intent of the original writers is open to debate, but it does provide some excellent new thinking and interpretation.
The Church has much to learn from Christian brothers and sisters around the world. There should be a more intentional effort to encourage cross-pollenization of both orthodoxy and orthopraxis that will foster a bigger view of the God we worship and practices that heighten awareness of the purposes of God. Again, it is my belief that theology that is more closely connected to life experiences will be found to be more meaningful to emerging adults regardless of the culture from which they come.
Chan, Simon. Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground up. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. (preface)
Rowold, Henry. “Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up. By Simon Chan.” Concordia Journal41, no. 1 (2015): 85-87.
Chan, Simon. Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground up. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. P. 65
Ibid p. 88