Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Asian Theology Reloaded

Books & Culture, January/February 2008

Mustard Seed and Leaven
Reflections on Asian theology.
by Nate Jones

A few months ago, I left my home in Wheaton to return to Indonesia, where I was born. Besides a few boxes, my trans-Pacific baggage included a handful of stubborn expectations about the shape and substance of my future work. Above all, I carried with me the conviction that God was calling me to sojourn with him again in a new place.

As the weeks and months passed, Jakarta smeared my Wheaton polish of perceptions, opinions, and convictions. Learning again how to live in my adopted home, I was peculiarly ready to pick up and listen to some of Asian theology's foremost authors. My guides in this new (to me) theological world
began their reflections where I was—at the margins of divergent political and cultural worlds. I read how Kosuke Koyama tried to piece together his own fractured past, torn between Japan, America, and Thailand. Peter Phan taught me about theology among the in-between and "in-beyond" lives of Vietnamese Americans. Michael Amaladoss emphasized to me that Jesus himself was marginalized, articulating a Christology in which Jesus is sketched from Asian cultural reference points. Together, all three authors emphasized the marginality of Asia's poor and religious masses, declaring confidently that a theology that does not mean good news for these people is utterly inadequate to the Asian context.

Writing from this conviction, all three authors were inevitably concerned with the dynamics of power. What political and economic centers relegate Asian peoples to the margins? What theological center relegates Asian theology to the edge of acceptability and perhaps orthodoxy? What kind of power characterizes the Kingdom of God, in which the last become first and a homeless, itinerant patriarch becomes the spiritual father of all God's people? What kind of power works triumphantly through the resurrection of the crucified Christ? ...

In their eagerness to reread the gospel in light of Jesus' kingdom teaching, Asian theologians have forgotten that Jesus is also the Lamb of God, and that the God who brings in the kingdom also reserves to himself judgment for the wicked. In fact, Asian theologians have little to say to the survivors of 20th-century genocides, or the victims of the torture and war crimes perpetrated across the globe. By ignoring or denying a soteriology that has historically been strongly associated with Christianity-as-institution, Asian theologians have shut their ears to the cries of the martyrs.

Asian theology needs to reread both the Scriptures and the global context more carefully, listening for the rumble of God's not-so-distant judgment in Jesus' promises of the kingdom and remembering that the Son's incarnation and crucifixion were conditioned entirely upon sin—sin that the entire canon describes consistently in both personal and corporate terms....

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What will Asian Christians say?


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