A church member asked me, “What’s Asian theology?” when she saw the book I was reading. For point of reference, she’s a bright teacher, has served a number of years as a missionary, and she’s more aware than most of cultural differences. She simply didn’t know, and neither did I—that the Eastern civilization needs theology created by and for its own. When we study engineering there are certain laws and principles that are universally applicable. While it must be translated into one’s language, and the knowledge base might need cultural sensitivity and relevant applications, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, and so on, represent static knowledge. That’s likely how many of us consider theology.
But theology isn’t like engineering; theology seeks understanding regarding life’s biggest questions: “Who is God?”; “What is God up to?”; “Who are we”; “What’s gone wrong?” etc. That knowledge is communicated within the context of the cultural norms of the society for which it was developed. It’s no surprise that the Christianized West has a theological knowledge attuned to its constituency. I’m not saying that there are no universal truths; there most certainly are, but the way in which we hear, receive, and live out of those truths will be very different in Asia. I’d also argue, along with Simon Chan in “Grassroots Asian Theology,”  that the Asian cultural context will often have more in common with New Testament cultural norms and paradigms than ours. Authentic Asian theology will find fewer obstacles to embracing authentic New Testament faith.
For a Western Christian living in Asia, it won’t take long for your frustration level to rise; you will become more aware of your own self-righteousness than ever before. For example, as an American evangelical I have a fairly keen sense of right and wrong. I see a failure in myself or in others and call it sin; I repent, I change. But while living in Thailand I realized most Asians don’t own their mistakes or shortcomings. They call it “Saving face.” But then how do they improve a process or a practice if they don’t own a mistake? More importantly, how do they come to Christ if they don’t repent of their sin?
For a typical Asian, “sin” connotes a serious crime; if you say to an Asian “you’re a sinner in need of a Savior,” they are likely to take offense, knowing they didn’t murder anyone. Their philosophical underpinnings allows for minor mistakes.  Whereas Western theology emphasizes our guilt and God’s grace, Asian theology emphasizes shame and honor. Chan documents that there is actually more said in the Bible about shame and honor than guilt and innocence.  Sin recast from an Asian perspective is characterized by offending the honor of another person. A person who sins brings shame to his or her family, or community; they fail to bring the honor and glory to God that He deserves.
One theologian, Robert Jewett, looked at Romans through an honor-shame template and found that “righteousness” is virtually synonymous with honor and glory. He drew out the implication that it’s less about the legal act of being made right “as a divine act in which the sinner’s shame is removed and a new status of honor is bestowed in Christ. Salvation, then, has to do with being given a new status of honor in Christ.”  So salvation, in Asian theology, emphasizes the imputing of Christ’s righteousness/honor more so than the forgiveness of sins.
Another difference is in the Asian approach to the Trinity. The Asian would see the Monarchy of the Father; they would make much of the hierarchy between the Father and the Son, the giving and receiving of glory and honor within the Divine family, as well as the role of subordination, of obedience. From a Western mindset, we are more likely to focus on their equality, and their distinct roles—ignoring the hierarchical structure.
I’m just scratching the surface of the differences in theology, differences that can initially feel like “something must be wrong”! Our initial reactions are often uninformed and naïve. Asians need their own theology, they need God’s word understood and applied to their context. They can honor God and his word by answering life’s greatest questions from their own point of reference with God’s Word as their source of truth.
 Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014).
 Ibid, 80-81.
 Ibid, 83.
 Ibid, 84.