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What is Simon Chan’s ‘Grassroots Asian theology’?

Late last year, Mike Bird called Simon Chan’s Grassroots Asian Theology ‘one of the best books of the year’ in 2013. So, what is grassroots Asian theology? Here are some quotes, emphases mine.

On Theology

“Postmodern theologians, having quite rightly done away with positivistic view of doctrines as universal timeless truth, end up without any particular truth claims to make. They either become trapped in their respective contexts, or they attempt to universalize a particular experience, such as the experience of women (feminist theology) or the poor (liberation theology).”

“We can no longer speak in terms of sola scriptura, at least not without qualification. The roles that Scripture and dogma play need to be more carefully spelled out in relation to the church and tradition. Church doctrines are not the result of Scripture alone. This is the mistake of conservative Christians who think truth is only a matter of rightly interpreting the objective meaning of Scripture and applying it to a different context.”

[drawing on Vanhoozer] “The Bible is the redemptive drama, which is not reducible to abstract, fixed concepts. When we attempt to do local theologies we are not merely trying to explain the meaning of a script; rather, we are interpreting the gospel drama by indwelling the text, enacting it and improvising as we go, much like how good actors act out the script of a play. In this process of improvisation, new understandings emerge.”

On Asian Theology

An Asian theology “cannot be derived solely from Asian cultural resources. Any authentic theology must be developed in light of the larger Christian tradition…. A theology developed in this way would not only be a theology for Asia but also from Asia to the universal body of Christ.”

“It is this correlation [with the larger Christian tradition] that validates its claim to universality. An authentic Asian theology is not just for the church in Asia but for the worldwide church.”

On Grassroots Asian Theology

“Theology is first a lived experience of the church before it is a set of ideas formulated by church theologians.”

“The task of the professional theologian is not to tell the church what is good for it but to listen carefully what the Spirit of truth who indwells the church is saying through the people of God. Elitist theologians who fail to recognise what God is doing among his people by his Spirit are no better (or perhaps worse) at recognising what God is doing in the world.”

“True theology occurs when the faithful respond with ‘amazed recognition’ to the theologian: You said for us what we had wanted to say all along but could not find the words to say it. In other words, theology is ratified in the church by the laity’s “amen”; without it, theology is merely the imposition of the theologian’s own ideas.”

On Elitist theologies

“If the Minjung should desire a more spiritual kind of liberation, or if Asian women should desire to pursue the ideal of motherhood and family, they are accused of having “false consciousness” and therefore all the more in need of liberation. Elite theologians may theologize about the poor and oppressed, but such a theology is not likely to find much traction among the poor themselves. The failure of such theologies is well summed up by one Latin American theologian who noted, “Liberation theology opted for the poor and the poor opted for Pentecostalism.””

“Elitist Christologies begin with how the doctrine of Christ might serve the ’big’ questions regarding the church’s relation with the sociopolitical and cultural-religious contexts, and the answer is through the cosmic Christ who liberates the poor and oppressed and is inculturated in Asian religions and cultures. They seek to show how the church’s involvement in these contexts can be achieved primarily through dialogue. They often do not ask the more fundamental questions: How do ordinary Christians experience Christ? Why are poverty-stricken Asians, notwithstanding what liberation theologians have to say, attracted to Pentecostal churches instead? Elitist theologians often do not take seriously grassroots experiences.”

Categories: Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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