There are far too many keen insights and penetrating critiques in Simon Chan’s Grassroots Asian Theology to be contained in a few topics or a few quotes but here are a few that stuck out to me.
On changing the world
“In spite of a lack of theology of engagement, the practice of conservative missionaries has had a positive impact on society. [Some theologians] seem to regard a theology of direct engagement in the sociopolitical process as the only theology possible. Anything else, even if it has had a positive impact on society, is not considered a theology of engagement at all. This assumption is so widespread in elitist circles that it is considered the received view… There is no place for a spirituality of everyday life if the more important work of the church is to be found in political struggles.”
“Christians influence the world by their distinctive character as Christians rather than by promoting social programs for the common good, although the latter is not to be ignored since Christians inevitably share some common space with non-Christians.”
“God is concerned for the whole person and so Pentecostals do not treat poverty as a social issue in isolation from the broader religious context. Its message is “God can change you spiritually, free you from spiritual bondage, and also heal your body and supply all your needs.””
On gender and hierarchy
“The Taoist yin-yang or female-male understanding of human relationship … could be described as different yet complementary, ordered but mutually dependent and mutually enriching.”
“Hierarchical orders or classes need not be oppressive; the alternative to order is not a classless society but disorder.”
“The hierarchical view of the Trinity has greater claim to universality than the egalitarian model.”
“The exploitation that comes from this divine order represents an abuse of the order; it is not due to the nature of the order itself. The abuse can come from both man and woman when each exploits his or her respective ‘rights’ and fails to accept personal obligations.”
“The Confucian concept of the ‘five relationships’ are remarkably similar to the New Testament household codes with regard to their respective mutual obligations and order:
- Kindness of the father is reciprocated with the filial piety of the son.
- Favors of the ruler are reciprocated with loyalty of the subjects.
- Dutiful behaviour of the husband is reciprocated with obedience of the wife.
- Graciousness of the oldest son is reciprocated with respect of the younger siblings.
- Between friends, a gift from one is reciprocated with a gift from the other.
The basic difference between the Confucian and Pauline concepts of relationship is that the latter is governed by their basic unity in Christ. But equality in Christ does not abrogate the distinction in roles and functions whether within the church or in the family.”
“Sin (jui) is seen more as an act than a state. It connoted serious crimes rather than petty wrongdoings. Thus when a Christian evangelist tells devotees of ‘Chinese religion’ that they need a Saviour because they are ‘sinners’, the hearers are likely to be deeply offended. Their usual response is likely to be, “I haven’t killed or burned down anyone’s home; how dare you call me a sinner?” But there is another aspect of Confucianism that comes closer to the biblical concept of sin: sin is also failure to uphold proprieties (li) in personal relations, not just transgression of an objective law. In this respect it has much in common with cultures marked by concepts of honour and shame.”
[In ecumenical / post-structuralist theologies e.g. liberation, post-colonial, etc] “The sinner is always the oppressor; the oppressed is the ‘sinned-against’. But victims are sinners too in their own ways, even if we think that the greater sinners are still the oppressors. And while the ecumenical viewpoint may represent an important perspective, it is by no means the only one. Here again we see how grassroots Christianity transcends these polarities. For example, the way Pentecostals empower people to take charge of their own lives show that the poor are not always passive victims of an oppressive system. Even though many have come from the lower strata of society, they refuse to see themselves simply as victims, the sinned-against, but as active agents renewed by the Spirit. This gives them a sense of being in charge and of hope of change. When drunkards and womanizers are converted, the result is a more stable family and consequently upward social mobility. When Dalits experience conversion in India they begin to realise that change is possible, and with this realisation, they experience freedom from the inevitable law of karma. The example of the Pentecostals shows that important though sociopolitical analysis may be, it becomes reductionistic when not complemented by the cultural-religious.”
“It does not occur to these [elitist] theologians that the poor may be looking for another kind of liberation: spiritual liberation from fear and fatalism created by centures of internalising the law of karma’ freedom from the fear of spirits; deliverance from demonic oppression, real or perceived; healing for their sicknesses, and so on.”
“Without first addressing the kind of liberation the grassroots seek, there cannot ultimately be any sociopolitical liberation. People need first to experience change within themselves before they can even envisage the possibility of change in the sociopolitical realm. Our Christology will not have much traction with the poor if it does not answer this primal cry for a different kind of freedom.”
“For the grassroots, this freedom cry is answered in their personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We cannot underestimate the radical paradigm shift that takes place when a person experiences conversion.”
“In primal religious contexts the felt needs that the Christus Victor teaching addresses is not primarily sociopolitical liberation but liberation from the fear of spirits and the fear of death.”
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.