In the business of theology it is hard not to be controversial - Jurgen Moltmann

Saturday, 1 March 2008

evangelicals and East Asian contextual theology

The history of evangelicalism suggests that the success of the movement rests on its willingness to correlate Scripture with the context in which it finds itself, rather than simply reaching backward into evangelical history to draw out past correlations, such as the way in which a text was applied by Calvin in his sixteenth-century Genevan context. Sixteenth-century Geneva bears little resemblance to today's Hong Kong or Singapore!

..... it was well known that Calvin was interested in --- and, to some extent, influenced by --- the language and concepts of the classical Roman philosophical and rhetorical tradition. China has an older philosophical and rhetorical tradition. Why should Asian Christians use the same ideas that Calvin borrowed when they have a distinguished heritage of their own from which to draw?

Alister E. McGrath, 'Evangelical Theological Method: The State of the Art', in John G. Stackhouse, Jr. (ed.) Evangelical Futures: A Conversation on Theological Method (Regent College / Baker / IVP, 2000), 36-37 (my italics).

I am a bit -- just a little bit -- surprised. Didn't quite expect a self-professed evangelical theologian and a professor of historical theology to say such things.

After all, I am happy that it is Alister McGrath who have said this. If they were my words, I could be stoned to death (figuratively, of course) for straying away from orthodoxy and betraying the Way, and setting a bad example for the kids (離經叛道,教壞細路).

So, thank you, Alister. When one day I face the heresy trial, I can have something to quote. And be mindful, all my ethnic Chinese Edinburgh colleagues!

8 comments:

Benjamin Wu said...

McGrath’s Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Chinese edition, Hong Kong, 1991) is one of my first and favourite books about theology. Probably it is precisely the historical reading and understanding of theologies in their own specific historical contexts that has enabled McGrath to say ‘such things’ – things that are indicative of a multiple and divergent conception of Christianity rather than a particular version of Christianity which is historically given in a specific temporal-spatial context and then, most unfortunately, ‘universalised’.

Also, ‘heresy trial’ is something that rarely happens in our east Asian context. Don’t you be worried about that!

connect2truth said...

兄台比我想像中保守了些,死何足懼矣?讀加爾文不就是為了讀通他的思考方式,從而建構適切時代處境的,而不是為了硬塞一個傳統給這個世代吧!
我就是個跨了半個身子進入鬼門關的人,身後雖然是「名門正派」,現正修練的是百分之百世俗政治學者的理論,做的也是完全充滿銅臭味的經濟。要在媒體中弄神學,想也始終要有出關的一天,到時著地有聲,也需有必死之心吧!

Yam 飲者 said...

Ben:

'Heresy trial is something that rarely happens in our east Asian context'.
Are you sure? I see those things happening all the time, all around. May be I shouldn't call them heresy trial; they are sometimes witch hunting.

'it is precisely the historical reading and understanding of theologies in their own specific historical contexts that has enabled McGrath to say ‘such things’ – things that are indicative of a multiple and divergent conception of Christianity rather than a particular version of Christianity which is historically given in a specific temporal-spatial context and then, most unfortunately, ‘universalised’.'
I think you are right on here. You statement reminds me of our own respected Andrew Walls. He started as a historian of early church history and became the father of the study of World Christianity.

BTW, you are destined to be a real theologian. Back in 1991, I think I hadn't even heard of Alister McGrath :p

接通真理的師妹:
「讀加爾文不就是為了讀通他的思考方式,從而建構適切時代處境的,而不是為了硬塞一個傳統給這個世代吧!」
阿們。只是我恐怕/相信/感覺/觀察,不少讀加爾文的人不是這樣想的,而是要令這個時代 「歸正」到那個幾百年前幾萬里外的 「正統」裡去。
也許我真的比你 「想像中」 「保守了些」,不過我認為我大概是 「怕死」多點。
也別說自己跨進甚麼鬼門關,我信全能上主創造天地,我仍信這是天父世界,by inference, 一切都要被claim and bless,於是我(們?)才會不甘經濟給看成 「銅臭」的經濟,媒體給看為 「魔鬼」的媒體,頂唔順那種把世界大部份領域 「割讓」出去的信仰。怎樣稱呼這種心態/信仰呢...我突然發神經,就叫它'cosmic colonialism'吧。:D

Pakkin said...

"'Heresy trial is something that rarely happens in our east Asian context'.
Are you sure? I see those things happening all the time, all around. May be I shouldn't call them heresy trial; they are sometimes witch hunting."
這碼子事,實在有普世性,在華人圈子亦然。一經標籤,要翻身都幾難。
不過有麥氏此言,真係壯膽不少,而且深有共鳴。
Pakkin

connect2truth said...

師兄所言甚是,「歸正」也有許多不同的演繹,而上帝普世性的掌權也是無可置疑。也就是上帝的掌權使人有信心和那必死的決心。跟隨耶穌本身就是個背起十架、進入死亡的呼召吧!
華人圈子的確是個喜歡批評和挑別人錯處的地方,要頂天立地並不容易,只要對得起上帝,死就死吧!

愛丁堡.四十不惑 said...

哦!我不能再更為同意了。比如說我就深覺該回去王夫之探討亂與治、勢與情等而創出我們的歷史神學。有人批評儒家思想與現今有甚麼關係,或與作基督教神學有甚麼關係呢?我覺得看如何處理,即所謂進路和所處理的主題是甚麼而言。大凡我們關心的課題,從來我們的heritage裡都有豐富的discourse。

Edwin Tay said...

Yes! Couldn't agree more. Yet I do not take McGrath's words as suggesting an either/or scenario between drawing from the Western OR Asian (however feebly we might want to define them) traditions. There has to be a complex of correlations in the attempt to relate Scripture to a specific context. I see this as involving among other things, Scripture, theological traditions (East and West), and categories drawn from specific contexts like say the Chinese intellectual tradition, particularly the contributions of Chinese Christian scholars. What is driving my thoughts is really the article from that old creed, "the communion of the saints".

Uh...am I heterodox?

Yam 飲者 said...

Hohoho! Even鄭益民who claims to have minimal ability in Chinese language has come. How can I keep silent? Better say something lest you guys get bored... But what to say呢?...mmm...

Pakkin said heresy trial is universal, yes but I think in Chinese Christian circles it is not「亦然」, but「更甚」.

Many sincere thanks to 接通真理的師妹for reminding me that I am actually already dead -- since the moment that I took up the cross. Very true. So, what is still there to be afraid of? Maybe none. Maybe still something ... perhaps ultimately it is not my personal death that is fearful, but rather, I am afraid of 'pulling others into the water'. These 'others' are the (any) institution(s) with which I am affiliated. 自己死好了,別連累人家嘛.We all know we Chinese are so fond of 'killing nine clans' when one person is found guilty.

While不惑writes an English sentence in Chinese words, 益民has generously translated it back into English for him, haha ...
But if anyone would regard 益民 as a heterodox, then I think the same person(s) would not acknowledge me as a Christian at all -- or at least regard what I study as 'diaper theology'(屎片神學) :p

About the either/or issue, well, I do get a sense of that from McGrath's own words: 'Why should Asian Christians use the same ideas that Calvin borrowed when they have a distinguished heritage of their own from which to draw?'

Yes, of course we CAN study Calvin or, for that matter, or Owen or Barth or Torrance...etc. etc., and it is (should better be) done with a view toward transforming / transplanting / translating the essence of that thought into our own sociocultural context.
The question from McGrath, however, is WHY we have to, and that's what I think is radical about his statement / rhetorical question -- taken into consideration his explicit evangelical position.

At the end of the day, I do not believe we HAVE TO. But just look at any typical course prospectus from a typical East Asian theological school. It is often flooded with Calvin, et al. (Barth is too 'liberal'(???), sorry.)
Ay...saying too much too clumsily, not clear minded enough these days... Perhaps I am creating more trouble for myself by writing this response.