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The Christology of the Western Church has, with few exceptions, developed in dialogue with the categories of Greek philosophy. As fruitful as the dialogue has been, however, it has created problems for our articulation of the doctrine of the Incarnation, and it is now problematical for those Christians who do not share the philosophical tradition of the West. This article begins the development of a Christology of emptiness, derived from one of the philosophical traditions of Buddhism.
Mahayana theology is a Christian theology which attempts to understand the Christian faith through philosophical concepts developed in Mahayana Buddhism.
How do you find the hope for freedom after centuries of oppression from four different world powers? What spark is there to transform the pain that you feel within and the emptiness of the world around you? Minjung theology is borne out of these questions and finds a response in a unique understanding of Christ and how to follow him faithfully.
Minjung (민중) is a word derived from the Korean pronunciation of two Chinese characters: “min” (the people) and “jung” (the masses). The combination of the two creates an image of the majority of people, the poor, the oppressed. The term originated as a descriptor in contrast to the Yangban, or ruling elite class.
Although it is similar in some respects to liberation theological movements, it is an oversimplification of the Korean context to lump in with Latin American, African, or other movements. There is less of an emphasis upon economic injustice and more attention to institutional oppression from colonial and hierarchical structures. These forms of injustice are partly due to geography, as the Korean peninsula is situated between China and Japan, and also (much more recently) politically between the former Soviet Union and the United States.
Minjung theology derives from the experience of the minjung– the people who are exploited by the elite. Initially conceived as an interpretive source by leaders of the Urban Industrial Mission who volunteered for labor camps in the early 1960s, the term has taken on added significance in successive generations. A similarity to the minjung can be found in the gospels’ use of the term ὄχλος (ochlos) to refer to the crowds (of commoners, outcasts) following Jesus.
There are two distinct features of minjung theology: 한 (han) and 단 (dan).
DJ Chuang was asked recently about how best to access Asian American influenced preaching available in podcasts. His page links to a “list of Asian American pastors that regularly preach and teach at their churches and particularly contextualize the Gospel for all peoples, those who are bicultural, interracial, and multiethnic (in contrast to some who may speak from a generic Gospel perspective, not that there’s anything wrong with that… //…to be listed, there needs to be podcast feeds that can be subscribed in iTunes and Android, as well as contextualizing Gospel to cultures.”
I have followed DJ Chuang online and admired his gift for networking, especially among multicultural strands of the North American church. I encourage you to click through and listen to some of those podcasts (I only know one of of the pastors personally, but I am acquainted with several and have grown personally through my interaction with their writing and speaking.)
For more from DJ Chuang about the North American church and Asian American influences, find his website here.
How do we incorporate the cultural expectations of our particular locations in our own theological development? What elements inform our community’s imagination and supply meaning to its spiritual vocabulary? How can we communicate effectively who Christ is and the significance of the gospel?
In 1927, Po Ch’en Kuang viewed the Chinese religious classics Analects, Mencius, and the Book of Songs and Rites as comparable to the prophets, Psalms, and Deuteronomy of the Hebrew Scriptures that were included in the canon by non-Hebrew Christian groups. As Kwok Pui Lan summarized his argument, “since the Bible contains the important classics of the Jewish people which preceded Jesus, he could see no reason why the Chinese would not include their own” (“Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World.” Voices from the Margins. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed. 1991, 302).
Some Christian communities in India exemplify this approach through the incorporation of Vedic Hindu Scriptures. The Vedas and Hindu traditions define the lexicon of the spirituality and so to access this subsystem of the culture requires fluency in the associated terms and grammar. Thangaraj describes the possibility of viewing the Hindu scriptures as a type of “Old Testament for Indian Christians” and the need to “…read the Hindu Scriptures in the light of Christ, just as the early Jewish disciples of Jesus had done with the Hebrew Scriptures” (“The Bible as Veda: Biblical Hermeneutics in Tamil Christianity.” Vernacular Hermeneutics. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed. 1999, 136). This perspective takes seriously the extent to which the Hinduism and the Vedic scriptures have shaped the culture and religious expectation in India. One must mine the cultural influence of the Hindu Scripture to present an image of Christ that is recognizable and incorporated into the lives of the community.
Within these convergent communities, local theologians utilize the existing thought forms and archetypes to mold their unique Christologies. As a North American example, Gabe Lyons, in his book The Next Christians (2010), labels some communities of North American Christians restorers, in clear differentiation from a former buzzword, relevant. A defining characteristic of these communities is a countercultural relationship with the majority culture. The term “countercultural” is not void of meaning to this community, however, as they possess preconceived images that define it. To view Christ as countercultural places him in a category of other iconoclasts and may conjure images of Che Guevara, Malcolm X, or Bob Dylan. Elements of the lives of each of these men find greater definition when applied to Christ, such as commitment to societal change, redefining oneself in relation to one’s commitment to faith, or using poetic language to convey a message of hope and love. A more contemporary example of the countercultural iconoclast is the street artist Banksy, an anonymous activist known to beautify public places in an attempt to bring attention to injustices or awaken people to a life of deeper significance. The theologizing of the restorers follows the pre-existing pattern to determine the type of countercultural figure Jesus is and the manner in which the community can align their lives after his in discipleship. For this community to comprehend Christ, they begin with the images with which they are familiar and then seek the direction of scripture to add greater definition.
What elements exist within your community that form its “lexicon of spirituality”? How can these be used and re-interpreted to convey the gospel?
This essay was excerpted from “Form, Re-Form: Religious and Cultural Identity in the Formation of Christian Theology” , by Michael Shepherd. The full material can be found here and is open for dialogue and review.
A quick thought from a friend about the significance of non-Europeans in the foundation of continental theology. He hits the nail on the head that theological reflection is not restricted to Europeans and provides the opening of a larger conversation about how contemporary non-Western theologians can be more adequately incorporated into the life of the church.
Many East Asian Americans suffer from a spirituality that’s oriented towards the fulfillment of duty. The Confucian heritage is organized in terms of duty fulfillment. If you want to be a good parent and not bring shame upon yourself and your family, you fulfill your duty by sacrificing for your children. If you want to be a good child and not bring shame upon yourself and your family, you fulfill your duty by sacrificing for your parents. Parental sacrifice is reciprocated with filial piety. Since the version of Confucian culture that people are familiar with is an informal, populist one, fulfilling our duty is considered good regardless of our inner disposition.
Think of the immigrant parent who says (more…)
In this excerpt of “Living Buddha, Living Christ,” Thich Nhat Hanh explains how we can impact the world by changing the way in which we understand and practice peace.
We often think of peace as the absence of war– [we think] that if the powerful countries would reduce their weapons arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds– our prejudices, fears, and ignorance. Even if we transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of the bombs are still here, in our hearts and minds, and sooner or later we will make new bombs.
To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves and from the hearts of men and women. To prepare for war– to give millions of men and women the opportunity to practice killing day and night in their hearts– is to plant millions of seeds of violence, anger, frustration, and fear that will be passed on for generations to come.
(pp. 76-77) (more…)