The Gospel artd Indian Culture

Document Sample
The Gospel artd Indian Culture Powered By Docstoc

Review Article

  The Gospel artd Indian Culture
       K.P. Aleaz, The Gospel and Indian Culture, .
    . (Calcutta: Punti Pustak, 1994), pp. xiii + 344.

                                                                S.J. Samartha*

THE RELATION between Gospel and Culture has engaged the attention
of theologians and missiologists for many years. In India, during the past
decades several studies have been .made on this subject. This book is
described as "the outcome of a post-doctoral research done as a commis-
sioned study ofthe World Council of Churches on Gospel and Culture." The
author states that the book is "a modest attempt to identify a: double gospel
emerging from the Indian culture, that is,on the one hand, the gospel of
religion-culture integration as well as inter-religious interaction which are
interconnected and, on the other, the new creative dynamic meanings of the
Gospel of God in Jesus arising out of the Indian hermeneutical context"
(Preface, pp. vii-viii).   .
  . Several merits of the book are obvious. It is grounded in sound scholar-
ship, extensive reading and critical interpretation of c'omplex trends. Al-
though the ground covered is familiar, its range is wider because, unlike
some oIthe previous studies; it takes into account both the classical culture
of India and the newly perceived, vigorous and vocal cultures of Dalits,
tribalsand women.' Further, it does not limit the discussion to Christian
theologians, but gives attention to selected Hindu thinkers also in a manner
that sets up an inner dialogue between them. This mood of dialogue
pervades the whole book and provides the context to identify and interpret
emerging trends .
  . There is a further point to be noted. In India when Catholics discuss
"inculturation" there is hardly a footnote to Protestants, write about "indi-

*S.J. Samartha, a presbyter of the Church of South India, isa fonner Director of the
Dialogue Programme ofthe World Council of Churches, Geneva,Switzerland.


genisation" very little attention is paid to Catholic scholars. There are
indeed exceptions to this, but in general, this is the state of affairs. This
book, by discussing Catholic and Protestant studies together, and by also
including Orthodox theologians, points to a way in which such studies ought
to be done, namely as a Christian concern in Indian culture.
   The book is in two parts. The first deals with the "Gospel of the
Religion-Culture Relation in India" (pp. 9-96) and the second discusses "The
Gospel of God in Jesus Emerging from Indian Culture" (pp. 97-282). The
second is justifiably longer and leads to the concluding section with com-
ments on the Church in India.
   It is difficult to define the word "culture" but without at least a working
description no discourse on it is possible. Culture is described here in broad
and inclusive terms. It is the way human beings think, feel, believe and
behave. It includes the material, intellectual and the spiritual. Culture is
not limited to the refined elements of human endeavour like art and music
but also includes social systems, economic structures and political patterns.
Indian culture has along tradition and shouldbe considered in its totality.

                 Some Critical Points Needed Emphasis
    Several marks of Indian culture are noted. Indian culture looks at the_
human in the larger context of the cosmic order so that the destiny of the
human is linked to that of nature. It is composite in character, that is, Indian
culture should not be. identified only with the Hindu but should take into
account the contributions of Buddhism, Jainism; and Sikhism, and later on
of Islam and Christianity, and also the secular, technological culture that
pervades modem life. Further, in spite of modern developments, Indian
culture retains a sense of continuity with the past while being open to the
future. "The culture which is evolving in India today is not a complete
abandonment of traditional culture but an acceptance of foreign cultural
elements in accordance with Indian tradition" (p. 79). The most charac-
teristic feature of Indian culture is its tolerance in spite of certain aberra-
tions hi history. "The gospel ofIndian culture is the gospel ofinterreligious
harmony and integi-ation" (p.283).              .

     While these marks of Indian cUlture are indeed important, some critical
 points also should have been made more forcefully. For example, its bondage
 to past social institutions like the caste system; its refusal to integrate large
.sections of oppressed and marginalised people into the larger community;
 its unwillingness to recognise the freedom of individuals to defy oppressive
 customs in society; and its unwillingness to change decisively and quickly
 when change is called for to enhance the quality of human life. The
 contribution of the Gospel of God in Jesus to change these could have been
 stated with more force.

                                                                      AJT/9: 1195 ·

    The section on "Indian Hermeneutical Context and the case of Some
 Emerging Understandings of the Gospel" (pp. 177ff.) deserves special atten-
 tion. A serious attempt is made here to overcome the conflict between what
 is wrongly described as "Brahmanic" theology and rightly described as
 "Dalit" theology. At present, the use ofthese terms as "adjectives" distorts
 the substance of the "nouns." By giving serious attention to both as emerging
 understandings of the Gospel in the present context, and by putting them
 together in the context of religio-cultural and socio-economic realities, it
 points to the shaping of a Christian theology of culture in the coming years.
    "Dalit theology is still in the making," writes the author. "In and through
 our sufferings, the suffering God in Jesus Christ, and the Dalit Spirit, the
 process of doing theology from the Dalit perspective is to continue today and .
 in the coming days. A common Dalit-Tribal theology and the liberation of
 Dalit women are two of our concerns in this process" (p. 193).
      A case is made for recognising the gospel in advaitic cUlture in India by
  critically analysing "the case ofNeo-Vedantic Christologies." This takes into
. account Hindu thinkers as well as Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant
  theologians. This is well trodden ground but what is new is the way of
  holding together varied insights from different theological trends in India.
  Brahmabartdhav's efforts to interpret the Trinity in the light of sat-chit-
  ananda and K. Subba Rao's advaitic interpretation ofthe sacrifice of Jesus
  on the Cross as the highest ideal of renunciation are recognised .alongwith
  the opinions of more contemporary theologians. Emerging trends in "Neo-
  Vedantic Christologies" receive special attention.  The  author remarks, "It
  will do a lot of good to Christians in India as well as outside Ilidia, if they
  are willing to listen carefUlly to the Neo- Vedantic Christologies and with
  humility learn from them" (p. 195). Not many theologians in IIidia would
  agree with the statement but as coming from a younger Indian theologian
  it does deserve some attention.          .
     It does not come as a surprise that as a theologian belonging to the
 younger generation the author is disappointed with the official attitude of
 the churches to the cUltural manifestations of the Gospel. According to him,
 "ij.oman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox as well as the views of many of
 the theologians are not encouraging the natural manifestation of the gospel .
 from within the local hermeneutical context" (p. 30B).Under such circum-
 stances dissent coUld become a theological virtue.
                 Some Comments to Continue the Debate
    While commending this book for study a few comments are made here
 in order to carry the debate forward. One is the use of the word "Gospel" in
 different contexts. In the long history of the Church the gospel hl,ls come to
 mean the good news of the kingdom of God, what God has done in the life
 and work of Jesus. Without this specificity the distinctiveness of the


 Christian gospel and , he identity ofthe Christian community are atrisk in
 a multi-religious and multi-cultural society. Therefore one must ask
 whether it is quite correct to talk about the gospel of Indian culture or the
 gospel ofinterreligious relationship in the same breath as the Gospel of God
 in Jesus Christ. The gospel of God does not emerge from any particular
 context, but its meaning can indeed be expressed in different cultural forms.
      The accelerating pace and intensity of the process of globaIisatibn has
   not yet entered into the Gospel and Culture debate. Globalisation is "a
   stretching process" that overcomes the, distance between societies, religions
   and cultures as "boundaried systems," and brings them together in a
   network of relationships. During our time globalisation, not just of the
   market but of culfure ,as well, is taking place powerfully and rapidly through
   the mass media. It breaks down the isolation of cultures and promotes
 , cros~-cultural relationships leading to mutual criticism and mutual enrich-
 , ment. Therefore studies on Gospel and Culture have to take this develop-
   ment seriously in the coming
      This leads to the questio~offhe purpose of these studies which are
  promoted from tillle to time . .In the earlier decades one of the purposes of
  such studies was to warn churches in cultures other than the western ofthe
  dangers of syncretism. There was als.o the assumption that by clothing the
  Gospel inlocalculttiralgarb it would become more acceptable to people
  outside the church. One also gets the impression that sometimes these
  studies on culture 4eflect the attention of the churches from the theological
  challenge ofreligions. Ina secular age it is easier, and perhaps intellectually
  more respec:table, to talk abOut cultures rather than religipns, particularly
  in,view of the,prediction by some thinkers of "the coming clash of civiliza-
  tions." However, withou~ touching the substance of religion one is unlikely
, to probethe depths ofculture and civilization. With the retreat of the secular
  aildthe return of the sacred during our time, it is very urgent for the
  churches to develop a theology of religions. It is therefore necessary to
  clarify' the purpose of contemporary studies on Gospel and Culture both in
  localandecumellical contexts.


 Book Reviews
 Jesus in the Power ofthe Spirit by Choan-Seng Song, (Minneapolis: Fortress
 Press, 1994).
    The third volume in Song's trilogy The Cross in the Lotus World,
 explo.res "how Jesus in the power of the Spirit crossed into the frontiers of
 others" and urges us also to experience God's truth and grace beyond
 "Christian boundaries." Drawing on a wide range of Asian and African
 stories, dramas, parables and biblical texts, as well as experience and
 insight from the regional Programme for Theology and Cultures in Asia,
 C.S. Song constructs a multi-level dialogue and meditation on the Spirit's
 presence in Jesus and in all 'secular' life. In the five chapters of Part I,
 entitled "Open Truth," the author affirms that the rebirth of spiritual power
 fora new age is to be found inGod's public truth offree; prophetic action in
 the world. Such tI'1fth is open to the poor and disinherited, andreceives from
 others,new symbols and images for the reign of God which comesin all
 cultures. The deep exploration, and reclaiming, of cultural traditions is
 outlined in some detail to uncover their resources for human meaning and·
 community and to illustrate the Spirit's creative life-giving and purgative
 power in every aspect of people's life.
     Miracles of Gr:;tce (Part II) then presents the implications of Gospel
 passages interpreted by this unconfined Spirit of world- transforminglove.
 Present even in whatever hells there may be, it subdues graceless power.
 Judged by the criteria of God's reign even stranger exorcists become signs
 of Jesus' ministry to outsiders and beyond "Christian" boundaries. The
 Great Commandment of all-embracing love, challenges all establishments
 and orthodoxies, and makes all "outsiders," of whatever creed, full Ileigh:
 bours and companions. For responsible actions of strong love - to restore
 the devastated, and rebuild human community;- are the surprising mir-
 acles .of grace, which the Spirit brings, whoever does them: the reign of God
 is realised in the Samaritan_ or the struggling peasant women today.
     This is indeed a powerful statement of Song's developed, and alternative,
  Christology, which rather than focusing upon philosophical definitionsrif
  divinity and humanity, assumes the presence of Gocl, through the. Spirit's
  power, in the. life of Jesus with others, and meditates .upon the widest
  significance of this for us in the realities and resources .of Asian cultures
  and societies. Central to his demonstration is a.challenge to seek the signs
. of God's compassion, peace and justice in all the jagged and entrancing
  realities of this world; along with the application of the. critical principle. r;>f
  God's reign beyond any limits set by the Church or Christian tradition. If
  we may have looked for a more critical response to Filson - regarding Jesus'
  mission to ·Israel, or to Gernet - regarding alleged failures· of Christian
  mission in China, or hoped that more examples from Christianity's precolo-


nial presence in Asia might illustrate the crossing of boundaries, this book,
and the trilogy as a whole, nonetheless charts the richest of Christological
territories. Many journeys await those who receive its insights.
                                                             John C. Englancf

Between The Flood and The Rainbow, compiled by D. Preman Niles (Ge-
neva: WCC Publications, 1992), pp. 190. " .
    This book is an interpretation of the Conciliar process of mutual com-
mitment (Covenant) to Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIG).
It contains a collection of essays which seeks to interpret the Conciliar
process and all of its complexities. The ecumenical proc( ' ~s of "Justice, Peace
and the Integrity of Creation" was launched at the SL~h Assembly of the
World Council of Churches in 1983 in Vancouver. The World Convocation
on JPIC held in Seoul, South Korea, in 1990, was meant to be a major step.
in the process and was planned as a major resource for it in the years ahead.
Thus this book is all about the Conciliar process of commitment to JPIG. It
also tells us about the ecumenical movement partly represented by the WCC
and other Church traditions and how theyview and relate to this process.
   The essays in this book, all of them by persons involved in JPIC, seek to.
interpret the process from a variety of perspectives. Thus the three sections
seek to "provide insider's understanding of the process as it developed, the
ways in which it manifested itself in the Convocation, and the tasks ha..t lie
ahead" . (p. iX).
   "A Historical survey"of the JPIC Process" by PremanNiles, the compiler
ofthe book, gives an enlightening account ofthe JpIC process from the SiXth
Assembly in Vancouver in 1983 to the Seventh Assembly in Canberra in
1991. It is, so to speak, the official course of JPIC and it also provides the
backgfoundfortheessaysthat follow and it takes into account most of the
important regioIlal and global meetings on JPIC (pp. 1-7). The significant
thing about this survey is that "JPIC was and continues to be a people's
process" (p. 2), which is heartening indeed.              .    "
    Section 1 attempts 'to interpret the JPIC process and dis(,!l1sses its
achievements and failUres. Kaessm.ann, while finding deficiencies in the
ecumenical movemeIlt (p.1l-14), still believes "that concept ofcovenanting
is a great achievement of the Conciliar process" (p. 10). Buehrig highlights
the clash" of views betw.e en theEuro~centric and particular contextual
approaches involved in the JPIC. The problem he highlights is: how to

*John C. England of New Zealand is associated with the Programme for Theology
and Cultures in Asia.                                           ""

                                      206. '

translate ecumenical visions in the specific local context? (p. 18-21). He also
points out that while for the North the "Integrity of Creation" is more
important, for the South justice is more central (p, 22), and he yearns to
leave a heavier burden at the doors ofthe North, in this regard (p. 23). For
him, "the world convocation was a process Cif awareness-building among the
churches and Christian people, and an act of faith. Hall finds the Seoul
World-Convocation "the most significant.ecumenical gathering in the mod~
ern epoch" (p~ 34) and the JPIC process" an ecumenical one ... a global
Christian response tothe realities of an endangered planet" (p. 35). He finds
the problems that emerged at Seoul are problems belonging "to the Chris-
tian movement at this stage in its historical pilgrimage" (p. 47).
   Marc Reuver makes the claim that the Conciliar process ''has become
contextualised" (p. 27), and points out that it has been "a specific means of
promoting the awareness that the struggle against the threats to life is a
common ecumenical task (p. 29), and therefore, "the three issues of justice,
peace and the integrity of creation should constitute major thrusts for the
ecumenical movement in the years ahead" (p. 32-33).
   Ruiz Perez's and NolI's write-ups are regional perspectives. Perez's is a
Latin America perspective on the JPIC process and she finds our world
"unjust" and so she says, "Yet, only when we start thinking in terms of one
world instead of a first, second and third world can the whole creation be
renewed" (p. 53). But she does not answer the question how one can consider
the world as one in the midst of global injustice. The European perspective
from NolI makes the point that "JPIC from its very beginning was defined
as a process" (p. 62), and adds that "one very clear message from Seoul is
that European churches have to tackle issues of economic justice" (p.60), a
point worth noting. The third perspective fromPadolinais feminist. She
makes the point that "the feminist movement, though it takes on different
emphases in different contexts, is global. Its starting point is women's
experience of suffering and struggle" (p. 70-71).

    Section 11 provides some responses to the JPIC process after the Seoul
Convocation: Kim, while reflecting on the consequences of JPIC process for
Asia, makes a point thus: ''What the world needs is a trans-racial,trans-
ethic and trans-religious solidarity which is truly an ecumenical bond for
justice, peace and the wholeness of heaven and earth" (p. 75), Williamson,
evalml.ting. the impact of JPIC on the Canberra Assembly of tneWCC,
concludes that "the decision based ona careful reading of the section reports
and other assembly documents must therefore be "JPIC must go on!" (p. 99).
Coste,from a Roman Catholic perspective, and Limouris from an Orthodox
perspective, point out that for the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches,
the development of the preparatory process and even the convocati0:t:t posed
difficulties and so they sketch possible ways in which their churches can
participate in the continuing JPIC process. Coste identifies both common


ground and divergences between Catholic social ethics and that of the
ecumenical bodies. For him, the problem is methodological. Re says that
"what is needed is a sufficiently well-founded theology that may seem
acceptable to all the great Christian traditions" (p. 108). On the other hand,
Limouris finds Seoul's theology irrelevant and its resolutions, reflections
and affirmationshorizontally secularised ethic of classical humanism (p.
111); These two write-ups are well articulated anci they point to the fact
that divergence oftheological understanding as regards the JPIC between
the WCC on theoilehand and the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches
on the other hand exists. While ORe is inclined to receive their perspectives
                                   I      '           _

with respect, the other however, is forced to say that these divergences are
most weighted in and by theology of the past, and that one tends to feel
disappointed with the dogmatic positions of different Church traditions.
    In the III Section entitled "An Unfinished Agenda," Thomas F. Best, in
his very instructive and enlightening essay, especially from the perspective
of the Faith and Order Movement of the WCC,looks at some of the
unresolved issues in the JPIC process and discusses them, suggesting how
they may be clarified and resolved in ways that will strengthen the conciliar
process. Re finds the jpIC process the": .. latest stage of a discussion, which
is as old as the ecumenical movement itself, on the relationbetween the
unity ofthe Church and the churches' witness and service in the world" (p.
129): For him, "the search for Christian uIlity is not an "addition" to the-
Christian faith, but an essential part of it, "an integral element of the
churches' life."Re stresses cooperation and unified effort of Christians to
"speak as one, 'whether to persons seeking earnestly the meaning of life 'pr
to the 'principalities and powers' governing our ,indifferent or hostilesoci~
ety" (p. 130). Further he adds, "... the commitments made at the Seoul World
Convocation OnJPIChave great symbolic power, as well as considerable
tactical and political potential for bringihgChristian pressure to bear on
crucial ethical issues today" (p. 133). This is a crucial pointthatanyorre wjth
common sense and commitment to God and God's people and Godis creation
would readily recognise and accept.         '
   Oh J ae Shik, while referring~o the much praised Final Document of the
BaselAssembly ofEuropeaIi Churches in which the Roman Catholic ChUrch
also took an active '.part, has "difficulty with 'churches in 'Europe turning
their backon the rest ofthe world and only looking into their ownbackyards.
The document is heavily Europe-centred" (p. 154), Re concludes with two
crucial observations: "Istill believe in the classical political dicttiin that the
powerful will not listen unless they are made to listen" (p.159). "Further,
can trust be built without correcting the wrong committed in past rela-
tions?" (p. 161); ,Well put, hope the readers and listeners understand the
"han" of the Third World in these two statements. One can add: trustcannot
be built without correcting the wrong committed in past relations as well
as those which are continued in the present relations!


    The III Section ends with the Final DocUment of the Seoul World
 Convocation (pp, 164-190). Though some have had difficulty with it, it is a
 comprehensive, inspiring, challenging and a relevant document. It begins
 with God, the giver of life, and goes on to detail God's covenant with
 humanity and creation, ten significant affirmations and the act of covenant-
 ing which opens one's eyes to the global reality and helps commit oneselfto
 the ongoing 'tasks of the ecumenical mOll em ent, partly represented by the
 WCC in the local contexts.
    In reading this book, one is likely to identifY the difficulty in arriving at
 a definition of terms such as Conciliar, Covenant, Commitment and their
 inter-relatedness. One may also identity the following tensions: clash be-
 tween theologians and activists, between universal and contextual theologi-
 cal approaches between theological and non-theological. factors, between
 European/First World and Third World interests, concerns and priorities,
 and so on.                                                                  .    .
    It can be put differently also: This book raises questions such as: What
 is WCC all about? What is the purpose it serves? How do its different
 departments or units function and .relate to one another? What are the
 central issues .inthe ecumenical visions into specific local contexts? How
 are the assembly themes of the WCC chosen and how are they put to work?
 What is the relationship between the WCC and the Roman Catholic and
 Orthodox churches? How does the ecumenical movement, partly repre-
 sented by the WCC, respond to the realities of the endangered planet? And
 so on.
     This is a book that all Christian should read at least once. It is to be read
 because it issues a· fervent call to all those who strive to respo1;ld to the
 challe:nges faced by the ecumenical movement at this historic juncture. I
 commend the organizers of the Seoul World Convocation as well as the WCC
 for the gift of this book. It is a treasure trove.
                                                    Franklyn J •• Balasundaram
                                             United. Theological College, 8angalore

 Doing Theology with the Spirit's Movement inAsia (ATE SEA Occasional
~papersNo. 11). Edited by Yeow Choo Lak (Singapore: ATESEA), pp. 204.
      Doing Theology with God's Purpose in Asia is . a collection of fourteen
  essays produced as a result of the Theological Seminar- Workshop VIII. ,The
  editor, Dr. Yeow Choo Lak, acknowledges in the preface that "The spirit-
  world is alive and is doing well in Asia." All the contributors seek to find
. answers to questions of the movement, activities, and co-existence of the
  Spirit with the people's struggles in Asia. The monograph attempts not only
  t() name the Spirit's activities but also to discern how God's Spirit works in
  and through the Asians.


    C.S. Song writes the first essay as he recounts the abundance of Asian
stories in various cultures, ' traditions, and countries. Song assures the
readers that "Christian theology should be no more and no less than
testimonies to the movement of the Spirit in our world" (p. 14). Archie Lee
Chi-chung affirms and expounds the narrative approach of doing Asian
theology from the biblical and theological perspectives oiGenesis 1. Archie
Lee argues that "the biblical wrIters used narratives and mythical tales to
do theology. The resources are borrowed from their immediate or surround-
ing culture which they are familiarised with" (p. 23).

   John C. England recollects, in the third essay, the Asian narratives from
a historical perspective as he traces briefly the legacies of early N estorian;
Jacobite, Monophysite, Orthodox, Assyrian Or Armenian Christians in Asht.
Yuko Yuasa, in the fourth essay, gives arepresentativepiece ofNoh drama
from the Japanese tradition, concerning male-female relationship. Yuasa
seeks biblical resonance in the Asian narratives: for example, "The Temple
Bell CDojoji)" provides a stage for the discovery of the Reign of God, the
woman's 'burning love, jealously may be Asian imagery for Yahweh's love
and jealousy. Alan J. Torrance tells three stories of the Spirit's movements
in New Zealand: the stories of women's suffrage movement, of the peace
movement, and of the Maori peoples. Torrance's point is worth nqting:
"Serving the Spirit of God in our cultures, therefore, does not mean that we
allow our theologies to be reschematised by the attractive and easy demands
of our cosy first-world cultures" ,(po 82).

    The next article is written by John Mohan Razu as he expounds the
meaning, understanding and signs of the Spirit Movem~nt in the context of
the people's struggles in India. Chou Fang-Ian tells ofa sad story of Chinese
women suffering in Confucian society. There are signs of hope and gospel
as we read in the final paragraph: "As WOmen today tell their stories of the
Spirit they are hoping to hear in reply, as did the Samaritan woman at the
well who encountered Jesus, words of coinpassion, forgiveness, healing, and
understanding. They seek to be taken seriously and to be called by name.
In short, women in Confucian society are seeking to be touched by g!a.ce"
(p.ll6). Kim Soon Young also writes a similar women's story in the Korean
context from a critical feminist perspective ..James Haire looks into the
relationship between Asian animism and Christian pneumatology; Levi R
Oracion considers God's dialectic ofidentifying with and liberating the poor
in the Philippines; and Kathryn Choy-Wong tells the parable ofthe people '
in Asian American history (slavery, racism, feminism); Daniel J. Adams
tells stories of the Spirit movement among the Hwalbindang of Korea.

   David Po-Tsen Hsueh then attempts to transpose and sing afresh an old
T~wanese  folk song "Po Poah bang" (to repair broken nets) with a biblical
hope motif for the people. Finally, Joseph Kaung Tai-Wai discerns the


Spirit's movement in Hong Kong as he reflects on the first anniversary of
the June Fourth event.
   This book is packed with powerful recollections of what and how the
Spirit of God has done especially in Asia. For those of us who used to
domesticate the Spirit, we might find this book offensive. For those of us
who celebrate to use the gifts of naming, recalling, discerning, interpreting,
proph-esying the Gift of Pentecost, we 'will fuid the Spirit is indeed the
promise of God for humanity. God's Spirit is creating, redeeming, and
moving among and with the ~ian people in ways beyond our ·expectation.
This book might be called "The Acts of the Holy Spirit: An Asian Revised
                                                            Yeo Khiok-Khng
                                                   The Alliance Bible Seminary,
                                                                    .Hong Kong


Shared By: