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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.
Francis X. Clooney, SJ responds to a question posed following an interfaith event in which he shared his experiences within Hinduism: “Is enlightenment compatible with Christian faith?”
I think there were two components to the question I was asked: First, is it compatible with Christian faith that someone have a sudden, radical change in life, a single mind- and life-altering experience, insight? Second, can a Christian who experiences enlightenment have that irreversible unitive experience, realizing all reality to be simply, entirely one?
The question of enlightenment turns out to be timely, in light of this Sunday’s Gospel, the call of the first apostles in Mark 1.14-20. For is it not a kind of enlightenment scene? Consider what we hear: (more…)
As we approach a well-known season in many churches liturgical calendars, we are starting a blog series focusing on different perspectives of characters in the Christmas story, holiday practices, and advent themes.
We are requesting submissions of pieces, 500-1500 words expressing the significance of Christmas or Advent within a distinct cultural perspective.
We request posts from primary sources serving in a Non-Western context as well as secondary sources with the ability to give voice to another perspective.
Some possible prompts:
Which characters of the story appear in your context? (shepherds, wise men, travelers, etc.)
What significant elements are present in your church to prepare for or celebrate the holiday?
Which scriptures are most meaningful for your community to understand the incarnation of Christ, and why?
What sermons are written in this time of year for your community?
By sharing together our perspectives of the holiday, we look forward to hearing a familiar story with fresh ears and seeing the advent of God in Christ with new eyes, initiating a kingdom that brings all people together as the children of God.
Please see our Write Page for information about contributing.
Christmas is all about a migration story. I am not referring to Santa’s Christmas Eve sleigh ride around the world—that’s travel, not migration—and it’s also not what Christmas is all about.
Even Jesus, Mary, and Joseph’s escape as refugees to Egypt just after the visit of the Magi—while certainly a formative experience in young Jesus’ life and an experience upon which we would do well to reflect upon—is not at the very center of the Christmas story. (more…)
Throughout our Feminist Ethics class, I have been thinking about Mary Daly’s concept of “Goddess” in her Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. I don’t believe that there is any sound theological argument that the term “God” itself represents patriarchy. Theologically speaking, if we study the Bible systematically, particularly Genesis 1:27, it is unquestionable that God is associated with both feminine and masculine imagery. God is imaged as both mother and father. In contrast to this nature, Mary Daly does not merely seek to erase masculine imagery from the term “God,” but the word “God” itself. However, “Goddess” without the masculine imagery can no longer be the Perfect Goddess, just as “God” without the image of the feminine also remains imperfect.
As I see it, the problem lies not with using the term “God” itself, but how we understand and interpret God with our knowledge and languages. In short, we need not eliminate the word “God”—we need only change our traditional understanding of God.