Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Book Review: Asian Expressions of Christian Commitment

Asian Expressions of Christian Commitment is an anthology of Asian theologians speaking about their Christian experience. The book is a collection of reflections by theologians who are doing practical theology – Asian theology. The book differs from other anthology on Asian theology for it does not have the big names of Asian theologians, thus offering a fresh insight on how other Asian theologians respond to their Christian commitments. The book tells of different stories based on the particular setting and situation where each theologian focuses his or her work. In all, it presents a collective picture of the Asian expression of their Christian commitments. The book presents the different concerns of Asian theologians. Despite their different themes, the book calls for the recognition of Asian theology as a practical theology.
The Asian Situation:
A critical analysis of the situation in Asia is the first step in doing Asian theology. The first section encapsulates the general situation of Asian countries. Asian countries just recently gained independence from foreign domination, generally from the West, and are striving to rebuild their nation. Yet the West still influences the social and economic structures of most Asian countries. Asian countries have a small percentage of elite and rich while a great number of the general population are poor.
The government structure which Asian countries adopt give power to the elite, while the masses become the minority. Asian countries adopt the consumerism of the West instead of focusing in their labor and agricultural assets. This buried the Asian countries in foreign debts, making the poor poorer and the rich richer.
From this situation, Christianity tries to find a place. This reality is the setting where my vocation as an Asian Christian calls me.
Christian Theology in Asia
Asian theology is a living theology – putting Christian faith in the situation, M.M. Thomas argues. It does not derive theology from a given situation but rather recognizes the presence of Christ in that situation and interprets it in the light of Christianity. This therefore calls for looking deeper into the situation. Since the laity is in the situation, the clergy must listen intently to their stories and articulate it to be able to come up with a living theology. This kind of theology may be partial but one theology could not cover the plentitude of Christ. Despite its different perspective, it is not heresy because it is in dialogue with the catholic and orthodox faith of the Church.
Although this approach of theology, as suggested by M.M. Thomas, is how most contextual theologians perceive Asian theology, I would like to paraphrase his words. I would like to understand that he meant to say that Asian theologians read a particular situation within the story of God’s covenant people, Israel. I believe he meant that the Asian situation is interpreted through the works and life of Christ instead of suggesting to rip Christ and Christianity from their historical significance and putting them in the Asian situation. Instead, we must put the Asian situation in the story of Christ. This for me is Asian theology, as F.J. Balasundaram argued in his essay Counter-signs of the Kingdom in Asia, for the Church to follow the work of the historical Jesus who walked in the midst of society. Asian theology understands the Asian situation within the story of Jesus.
As mentioned earlier, Balasundaram emphasized the importance of following the work of the historical Jesus to fulfill the prophetic mission of the church. The historical Jesus lived in the world denouncing the social structures that oppressed the people and called for living in the ideals of the Kingdom of God. The church must do likewise. The prophetic office of Asian Christianity is to preach the Kingdom of God (not of the church or denomination), work in the society, be the church of the poor and recognize that others are privileged to share in the inheritance of the kingdom.
Asian theology is an action-oriented theology. It understands a God who works amongst the people, and Christians must do likewise. Asian theology is inspired by Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Mark: “What is better to say to a paralytic? ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’”
Theology is not a personal thing, it is relational thus requires involvement and the community. Theology is acted, not thought. This is done by being involved in transforming the social ills – poverty, oppression, etc. As an aspiring Asian theologian, I am expected to work for this transformation to happen.
The Asian Church
Asian local churches must not be branches of Western churches. Even some Oriental churches are not of today’s Asian church. To be an Asian, the local church is to be a church for the poor. This is an eye opening truth for me. I realized that Western branch Asian churches are rich churches working for the poor, while authentic Asian churches are poor churches working with the poor.
Working amongst the poor puts the church in a political situation. The authority of the church does not come from the Bible or tradition but from the poor people who decides which (church or ideologies) mediated better the liberation of the poor. As Fr. A. Pieres wrote in his essay, “Remove the cross from the steeples and plant it once more in Calvary where the prophetic communities die victims of politics and religion (p.49).” The Asian church must be present in the reality of society.
Fr. A. Pieres suggests that only He who is radically poor is qualified to preach the kingdom and only those who are poor are disposed to receive it. Churches that have entered into Asian religiosity (monks) and Asian poor (peasants) can have authority to be the churches in Asia. Thus, Asian Christianity calls for total identification with the Asian monk and peasants who represent Asian religions and Asian politics.
Although I may not have followed the ascetic lives of the monks and have actually not lived a mendicant lifestyle, I totally agree with Fr. Pieres on the need for Asian theologians to immerse themselves with the Asians. This is why I believe it is important for me to work in the community. As a doctor and pastor, I should not sit and wait for those that need help. I must seek out, reach and live among the common people, to immerse myself with Asians and be in solidarity with them.
Asian Expressions
The book offered different Asian expressions of Christian commitment. It tells of the ways in which Asian theologians express their Christian faith in the context of their particular conditions. How an Indian Christian have to live with the reality of its economic poverty and do practical theology with such reality instead of thinking about the dogmas and doctrines is also presented in the book. It tells of the Korean Christians who have been oppressed for many years by tyrants and colonizers and now seek liberty from Minjung theology. It presents an expression of Filipino Christians who see in the poor people, who makes the biggest portion of the population, an eschatological promise of God’s kingdom. It gives a perspective of Christian Southeast Asian living in a Buddhist country that by loving, forgiving and understanding others, Christianity is not a religion of the West but a religion that loves all humanity. The book tells of the different concerns of each Asian culture and their response as Christians. It reminded me that Christian commitments can be expressed in different ways – even expressed in an Asian culture. Such diverse expression of Asian Christianity asserts that Christianity is not only for Westerners but also for Asians.
This book offers me a deeper understanding of Asian theology. The Asian situation is a story of oppression and injustices. This is the situation where Christian Asians try to express their Christianity. This makes me understand why Asians focus their theology in practice instead of the desktop theology done by most westerners. It also encourages me to be among the poor. It makes me understand that the church works in a political and social scenario, and not in the web of conceptual ideas of religion. The essays offer a deeper understanding why the context is important for Asian Christians – why Asian theology perceives Christianity as practical and not just about abstract ideas.
This reading also gives me a better grasp of the importance of having an Asian theology of Christianity different from the Western theology. It makes me understand why Filipinos need to have their own local church where they could express their Christianity in their own culture. That Asians and the Filipinos must express their own Christianity according to their experience. It inspires me to be an Asian theologian – to be in the midst of the people, and give an Asian expression of my Christian commitment.

1 comment:

Ada said...

I will tell this book to a friend of mine on interracialmatch.com,he is very interested in it ,and looking for this sort all the time