Will Brooks quote from “World Mission: Theology, Strategy, and Current Issues” by Scott N. Callaham, Will Brooks, eds.
In Acts, when Paul enters a new city, he goes to the synagogue first. Theologically, he goes there because he believes the Jews have salvation-historical priority (Rom 1: 16; 2: 9), 25 and perhaps more practically, he knows Godfearers will be there who will be both open to the gospel and familiar with the Old Testament (see Acts 13: 48; 14: 1; 17: 12; 18: 4, 7). When he preaches in those contexts, he explains that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. He states that the Old Testament foresaw the need for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead (Acts 13: 17– 41; 17: 3; 28: 23). Acts 17: 2–3 provides a good summary of Paul’s approach among Jews: “He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.”
By way of contrast, when Paul preaches to a gentile audience, he knows that they have little to no knowledge of the one true God. Instead of using the Old Testament to show that Jesus is the Messiah, he explains the existence of the living God and states that God is the creator of all (Acts 14: 15– 17; 17: 24– 31). In response to the idol worship in Lystra, Paul says, “We bring you good news,”that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14: 15 ). Paul’s speech in Athens reveals that though he starts with creation, his goal of proclaiming Christ stays the same (Acts 17: 22– 28). In that context , Paul speaks of God’s existence, autonomy, and sovereignty over all creation. He then transitions and speaks about the man whom God raised from the dead and appointed as the righteous judge of humankind (Acts 17: 29–31). Another interesting comparison is Paul’s
Originally I had a chapter on this topic in a book I was working on. Then I realized that it is not really appropriate for the book. So I turned it into an article. Consider this to be a DRAFT version of the article. Hopefully, it will be cleaned up eventually.
PERSPECTIVES REGARDING SOCIAL MINISTRY IN MISSIONS
Flavor #5. Theological Development of Cultural Artifacts
Ideally, a robust local theology draws from worldview, beliefs, and values. But not all theology is at such a high level. Theology can also be said to address the small and the mundane. For example, a worship service is a gathering where men, women and children mingle together, or are kept separate is based most likely on how culture is expressed in other settings. The same can be said of whether the congregation sits in rows facing one direction, in rows facing each other, or in a circle; or if pews, chairs, rugs, or soil are used for sitting. One may not see this as theological, but as merely a matter of convention. However, whenever one chooses to take a cultural convention or artifact (using the term very loosely to include any sort of cultural characteristic one can readily ‘see’) or rejects it for church or ministry one is taking a theological stance. For example, suppose a culture group normally has meetings where men gather loosely sitting on the ground, with women with their children also sitting on the periphery. Now suppose a pioneering church is established where gatherings are done with rows of chairs set on concrete with men and women sitting together all facing the same direction while their children are taken to a different place for activities. What led to doing things so different from the cultural norm? As soon as one is saying that one OUGHT to function as a corporate body of believers one way versus another, one is being guided theologically. The decision may be intentionally or unintentionally theological, but it will be theological.
Redemptive analogies and other types of metaphors and illustrations can be thought of as small activities of theological localization. Generally, one is attempting to show God’s work of salvation in a way that makes sense in a different culture. St. Patrick’s use of a shamrock to explain the Trinity may be seen as simply an illustration, but as it is an attempt to connect God’s self-revelation to Man’s cultural setting, it is in some way an act of theologizing.
In Cordilleras of Northern Philippines, some churches integrate the use of gongs and local dances into the worship services. Other churches reject these as being ‘pagan,’ using electric guitars and drums, while other churches reject both styles, seeing both as being devilish. Ultimately, it is the local church that should determine what is correct in their context. It is not necessarily wrong for missionaries to have an input (church is both local and universal and as such should be open to critique from both near and far), but the ultimate decision should be the local congregation, not outsiders.
Another example of an activity in the Cordilleras that might hold promise for theological reflection and practical ministry is the “watwat.” This is a community meal where a great deal of food is cooked and served to every member of that community. It actually sounds very much like the Love Feast described by St. Paul, and described in greater detail by Tertullian. <<Provide footnote for Tertullian… and perhaps Paul>> The watwat also then draws us into ethics as well. Paul and Tertullian note that the love feast must model the principle in the church that there is no respecter of person. Each member, rich or poor, free or slave, is to receive equal shares. The watwat also has this same principle. According to Lawrence Kwarteng, the ethical system of the Cordillerans, “Lawa at Inayan” expresses ethical principles through stories. One of those stories, for example, explains why it is necessary that each member of the community should receive shares equally regardless of his or her position within the community. In many churches around the world, “potluck dinners” are held where the church members share and eat together equally. Despite its roots in the Christian rites of Love Feast and Eucharist, these potlucks often as a bit of a humorous part of church culture rather than a sacred and theologically rich activity.
Some may see bringing the watwat into the church as problematic— a mixing of profane with the sacred. This is doubly true when it comes to the ethical system (lawa at inayan) where the underlying idea is that one should do what is ethical to meet the expectation of one’s ancestors, and avoid bringing a curse upon oneself. However, one can look at it more positively. Not only is the watwat, shared community meal, not inherently profane, but it points to something that is good in the church but has sometimes been forgotten. Shared meals are not only a historical part of the church, but has had a message of equality and a sacredness that those outside of the Cordilleras can gain from. And while the ethical system of the Cordilleras may draw its basis from a less than ideal source (ancestral patterns and fear of curse), the use of story is a far more powerful than propositional ethics that is often expressed in the church today. As such, a localization of the Christian faith can benefit not only the local people, but the universal church as well. <<An unpublished, in-process, dissertation provides considerable insight in this topic. Lawrence Kwarteng, Inculturation of the Gospel in Light of ‘Inayan and Lawa’ for the Evangelization of Kankana-eys, Benguet, Philippines. South Africa Theological Seminary. First Draft, 2017.>>
These “flavors” will ultimately form a chapter in my book on Theology of Missions. Hopefully, some of the rough edges will be cleaned up by then.
It has been common to think of the Philippines as an Honor/Shame culture, particularly in contrast to Guilt/Innocence cultures. However, tests from Honorshame.com for the Philippines bring doubt to this assessment. As noted before, the Philippines is rather globalized, and this helps give results that are a more mixed. (Missionaries become less extreme in their cultural patterns than either people from their homeland or their mission field the longer they stay in the cross-cultural ministry.) Additionally, much of the Philippines has been strongly influenced by Roman Catholicism, which puts a strong emphasis on guilt. Despite this, hiya (shame) is a strong social motivator, and to be described as “walang hiya” (shameless) is a serious accusation. Still, perhaps the central pattern may not be Honor/Shame, Justice/Guilt, or Power/Fear. Robert Strauss speaks of four major patterns. Two of them line up with Honor/Shame and Justice/Guilt. The other two are Harmony and Reciprocity.
Several cultural values certainly fit with Harmony. One is “pakikisma.’ In its most positive form, it involves adjusting oneself to reduce conflict for the good of the group. Of course, it can also describe caving in to others, violating one’s moral principles. “Bahala na” is looked at often as fatalism. It doesn’t really translate well, but essentially means “Things happen— one can’t do anything about it.” However, on a practical level, such a perspective tends to reduce conflicts. <<Evelyn Miranda-Feliciano, Filipino Values and Our Christian Faith.>>
On the other hand, perhaps a better pattern to focus on is Reciprocity. A very important part of Philippine culture is described with the term “Utang ng loob.” This term, literally meaning ‘inside debt,’ translates better into ‘implied obligation’ or ‘debt of gratitude.’ It is important to find ways to pay off what one has been gifted— whether in kind, in cash, or some other way. Related to this is patronage. In this system, the ‘haves’ (Much in line with Confucian values) are to act benevolently for the ‘have nots’ and the ‘have nots’ respond through loyalty and service to the ‘haves.’ Perhaps Reciprocity and Harmony share as leading patterns in the Philippines.
Much of Western Theology has focused on Justice/Guilt. The focus has been so intense that some seem to believe that this is “the Biblical” perspective. However, it is quite clear that other patterns are common in the Bible as well. In fact, Honor/Shame is at least as common in the Bible providing great potential for theology. Power/Fear has been taken up to some extent by Pentecostals and Charismatics for theology as well. However, I believe there is much potential in terms of both Harmony and Reciprocity. In some ways, I think Harmony is easier. The Bible starts with God, Man, and Creation in perfect harmony. Genesis 3 finds God, Man, and Creation in conflict— without harmony. Christ comes to restore harmony, the Church is meant to model harmony, and the end of the Bible finds perfect harmony fully restored. Reciprocity may be a bit more challenging (I could be wrong), but certainly attempts to look at our relationship with God in terms of covenants point toward a certain understanding of reciprocity.
Reciprocity may even help us understand aspects of our relationship with God that many of us have struggled with. We learn from Paul that salvation is a gift that is given to us by God, and not earned or purchased by us, made effective through our faith. At the same time, we are clearly supposed to follow Christ, and declare Him as Lord. Even though we are saved by faith not works, our faith is evidenced by works, and faith that does not demonstrate itself in terms of works is suspect. One way to address this is in terms of Reciprocity. We are saved by God as a covenantal gift. However, with God as our patron, such benevolence demands (culturally in the Kingdom of God, not legally) loyalty and service. We serve as a gift of gratitude. While this contextual view does not address every problem of “What If,” it certainly places salvation in a context that makes more sense. Salvation is not transactional, but relational.
Flavor #4. Theologies of Cultural Values
Instead of focusing on major cultural patterns, one can simply focus on one or more cultural values. “Bayanihan,” or the cultural ideal of Filipinos coming together for the common good, certainly can be explored theologically. In fact, many cultural values that have been determined over the decades to be associated with Filipino culture have potential for positive theological reflection.
Jose de Mesa has put a strong emphasis on “loob” as a term that can and should have great significance theologically in the Filipino culture. The term also helps demonstrate why theology should be done by locals, not outsiders. The term, loob, is a Tagalog word whose first meaning is “inside.” As an outsider, this is the meaning that I immediately connect ‘loob’ to. However, the term is used broadly to include virtue and virtuous behavior, and, most notably for theological purposes, one’s ‘authentic self.’ Francis Samdao has noted importance of the concept of ‘Kapwa’ as well in localized theological formulation. Again, the top translation for this term is “other,” but it is in its broader understanding where its value is found. It has a strong relational value. In contrast, the English term “other” commonly implies that someone or something is alien, different, or some other way is disconnected from another. In Tagalog, kapwa suggests connectivity or mutuality. In its strongest sense, it suggests seeing one’s authentic self in the other. <<Add footnotes from Francis>>
The use of cultural values can be fruitful, but there are certainly risks. Historically, so-called cultural values were often assigned or at least popularized by colonizers (or employers in the case of OFWs). Terms such as “crab mentality,” “Juan Tamad,” and more identified perceived qualities and then were used to label/judge the culture. For other terms like “bahala na” or “pakikisama,” outsiders may take the negative implications of these rather than seeing the possible positive implications of each.
At the other extreme, Philippine Psychology has at times seemed to have reacted to the one-sided negative perspective by idealizing Filipino cultural traits. Gerald Melodi has noted a risk of doing this. If Filipino cultural traits are seen only as good, then the line between culture and morality becomes blurred. <<Gerald M. Melodi, “Virgilio Enriquez and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Dialogue: Discerning a Theology of Solidarity in Philippine Kapwa-Culture: Evangelical Review of Theology 45:3, 2021, 268-278.>>If one is to be morally good, one must be authentically Filipino. From this comes obvious questions. Does an Arab, or a German, or an American become morally good as he or she becomes more culturally Filipino? Or is morality only to be judged in terms of living according to one’s own ideal cultural norms? Perhaps the Spaniards who invaded the Philippines centuries ago were morally right to do so since they were living out their own cultural trait of conquest.
Since cultural values are prone to abuse, are they beneficial in developing theology? I believe they can be, but suggest that they are best understood as opening doors to stories. After all, it is difficult to understand concepts such as courage, honor, compassion, and such via definitions. They are understood best through stories. I also believe that it is in terms of stories where we can see the healthy and unhealthy use of cultural values in localized theology. A more nuanced, hopeful but cautious, approach to cultural traits seems wise.
Figure 20 has “The Story Wheel,” loosely based on the work of Sacks and Crossan. <<<Theo-Storying.>>> For a story to be theological and localized, it must take some sort of stance in terms of culture. As such, Action Stories are likely to have little import for this. From there, going counter-clockwise one moves towards greater affirmation of local culture, and going clockwise one moves towards greater challenge of local culture. The extremes of cultural traits led to extremes of story-making. Using cultural traits as weapons to belittle a culture could be called “Anti-mythmaking.” In this, one is seeking to supplant a culture deemed inferior with another culture deemed superior. The other extreme, where one idealizes the local culture could be called “Mythmaking.” In this, stories show how great the local culture is and that one “should not change a thing.”
Figure 20. The Story Wheel
If theological stories for localized theology should address culture in some sort of critical way, then the ideal stories should be Apologues and Parables. Apologues (or fables) embrace the best of the culture and teaches members of that culture to live up to that best. There is no assumption that the local culture is perfect. On the other side, Parables challenge aspects of the culture. However, parables are not anti-cultural. Rather, they are counter-cultural— embedded in the culture to challenge certain aspects within that culture.
Many stories may in fact have both apologue and parable elements. This just makes sense since culture always has aspects that are both ideal and non-ideal. The story of the Prodigal Son is one such story. In some ways it very much supports cultural values during the time of Christ. Themes such as “Foolishness is in the heart of a child” and “Father knows best” certainly are in no way challenged in the story, and appear to be affirmed. On the other hand, the extravagance of the mercy of the father to both of his rather foolish sons challenges cultural values quite stunningly. Taking this story as pointing out our relationship to God, we find that aspects of our cultural values help us understand God and our relationship with Him, but there are aspects that clearly point us in the wrong direction. God is wise compared to our foolishness, and we are at our best when we are living under His reign. Some of our understanding of father and child support this. However, some of our understanding needs to change. God’s love and mercy is extravagant. God may be just, but He is more merciful than He is just.
I believe that if one recognizes God as the ideal, one can use cultural traits (1) positively through apologues, (2) negatively through parables, and (3) ethically to point us how to live incarnationally in one’s culture but under God’s reign.
Flavor #2. Localized Theology of Cultural Aspirations
Every culture has its own history. That history has not only molded the culture, but also what that culture has as its shared dreams or aspirations. While these aspirations might be judged by others as good or as bad, they are never irrelevant. Many of the popular localized theologies are forms based on cultural aspirations. For example, Minjung and Dalit Theology can be seen as theologies of liberation— one based on concerns for the masses due to political injustice in Korea, while the other based on the injustices based on the Indian caste system. There is a sense of being trapped, and the aspiration is of being rescued, or liberated, particularly in terms of group and in terms of the present.
Theologies tied to aspirations choose certain themes or stories in the Bible as key. Prosperity theologies may choose Deuteronomy or Proverbs over Job or the Gospels. Frankly, we all do it. Most of us identify with the Israelites charging into the defenseless Jericho, rather than those inside staring in shocked horror as their world comes to an end. Liberation Theologies commonly center on the Exodus, relating themselves to the Israelites, and their oppressors relating to the Pharaoh and his people. They may also draw from the Biblical theme of God’s siding with the impoverished and the enslaved.
In the Philippines, certainly theologies of liberation are apt. The Philippines is a nation formed out of invasion and colonization. Three and a half century of control by Spain, United States, and Japan, has put its stamp on the nation. The Marcos dictatorship led to additional theological reflection, especially among Catholic theologians. This sort of theological work links the past with the present, and seeks to point a way toward a preferable future. It is out of the fears and hopes of a people that theology forms.
Most commonly, a contextual theology does not address an entire society but certain elements in that society. Consider the case of Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) in the Filipino context. The high number of OFWs comes, in part, from a common aspiration of Filipino families. For many, the goal is to raise a child who is able to leave the country and work abroad. Then that child can either sponsor over other family members, or at least send home remittances to help those who remain. With close to 10% of Filipinos working in other countries, OFWs have had a great impact on the broader Filipino society. One of the presidential administrations liked to refer to these overseas workers as “bagong bayani” (literally meaning ‘new heroes’). Daniel Russell has described the Philippines as perhaps the first “globalized culture.” For myself, I find it amazing at how familiar Filipinos are as a group with culture, business, and politics around the world, especially in contrast to my own home nation. This familiarity is not only because of the large number of individuals and family members working overseas, but also the large number that remain in the Philippines but deal with foreigners regularly while working at call centers.
There are positive aspects of the OFW phenomenon. It has certainly reduced some of the problems related to lack of job opportunities in the country. There are genuine success stories of those who have been able to gain tangible success abroad. On the other hand there are negative aspects as well. First, the moving of excess workers out of the country to work and send money home is a cheap and easy way for the government to avoid addressing systemic problems. Second, it places a huge strain on marriages, families, and communities. Some rural villages have been depopulated of young people who have gone either overseas or to major cities for employment. Third, in some places, like Hong Kong, or the Middle East (and yes, ‘first world’ nations as well), Filipinos have taken menial work for employment despite often having advanced education. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, the human tendency to judge servants as beneath the ones they serve has led to negative and judgmental stereotypes that can be quite hurtful. Fourth, there has been the belief of many in the Philippines that this leads to a “brain drain,” where talent and training is exported to the detriment of the nation. While this may not be entirely true, placing too much hope on being elsewhere can create an unhealthy dependence on outsiders (even when the outsiders are relatives). Fifth, this desire to work overseas has developed a parallel phenomenon known as “TNT.” This stands for “Tago ng Tago,” referring to those Filipinos who are “in hiding” or living and working illegally in other countries.
What sort of Theology would take the OFW (and/or TNT) situation into account? Drawing major stories from the Bible such as the Exodus, Exile, or Post-Exile do not quite hit the mark— although perhaps this may be too quick of a judgment. The best equivalence may be the situation of the Jewish Diaspora in the New Testament (and the latter part of the Old Testament). These are Jews who have voluntarily settled in other parts of Near and Middle East. These people lived both counter-culturally and bi-culturally.. Christians in the early Church also lived in a similar manner. The Epistle to Mathetes from Diognetus has an interesting section <<Chapter 5>> that shows this dual identity of Christians living in some ways as if they are indistinguishable within the culture, while in key ways living very much separate from that same culture. The fact that many of the places where Filipino Christians work are openly hostile to Christians, and in some there is a strong pressure to leave one’s faith and/or moral integrity at home, brings a strong light to the challenges of the New Testament church as found in the Epistles, especially Hebrews, as well as Revelation. Adding to this the moral ambiguity of those who work illegally in foreign countries, there seems like there is great potential for valuable theological work.
Another way of reflecting theologically on the Overseas Foreign Worker situation may be similar to the Latin American view known as Mestizo Theology. This view looks at Jesus as one who bridges the gap, in like manner to the way the Mestizo (half Spaniard, half Indigenous) bridges the gap between the people in charge and the people oppressed. Some focus on Jesus not only as the bridge between God and Man, but add the additional bridge of being a Galilean Jew. As such, He is an outsider… disenfranchised on some level even where He should be accepted as local. Jesus would always, like the Mestizo in colonial times, have some doors opened to Him denied to others, and yet would still be denied for access because of who He was. One can see how this might resonate with many Latin Americans today, and even in the Philippines whose history in this particular area is similar. OFWs particularly can find themselves as having feet in very different worlds. In addition, Filipinos sometimes find themselves struggling in terms of identity. In the United States, for example, they have often been an ignored ethnic group, with family names that sound like many of those of the larger Hispanic community, despite being Asian. Other Americans would confuse them with other Asian groups— particularly Chinese.
However, this status has the possibility of a silver lining. In the early church, Hellenized Jews of the Diaspora did not always fit in with the Hebraic Jews (we get a small taste of this in Acts 6), much as the Gentile “God-fearers” did not necessarily fit in with neither the broader pagan Gentile population, nor the local Jewish sub-culture. Yet it was these two groups that served as a cultural bridge that led to much of the early growth of the church. In cultural anthropology there are different strategies of acculturation where people of culture A live with people of a larger local culture B, notably separation, integration, assimilation, and marginalization. Generally, these strategies are viewed in terms of benefits and losses to the people of minority culture A. However, it can also be looked at theologically in terms of the people of culture A serving as a blessing to those in culture B.
This brings us to Abraham, a man called by God to live as a “stranger in a strange land,” <<Hebrews 11:8-13>> and to be a key part of God’s effort to bless all people. Abraham’s faithfulness to God despite not experiencing many of the promises in his lifetime far from his homeland, seems to be a worthy model. However, there are other possibilities as well.
Joseph. Forced to leave his people, he was compelled to work for strangers. But God ultimately remembered him, blessed him and gave him the opportunity to be a blessing to his family.
Moses. He also was forced to leave his people and live in the desert for many years. Yet because of His decision to follow God wherever He led, Moses was ultimately successful in freeing his family and people from slavery.
Exodus. The people of Israel sought the promised land, yet were forced to struggle in the wilderness, living by faith and hope for the next generation.
Babylonian captivity. Judah singing songs by the rivers of Babylon, praying to once again see Zion.
Jesus. Jesus, citizen of heaven, lived in obscurity in a hostile land. Sought by the government, He had to hide in Egypt and was later rejected in Nazareth. He had to spend much of His ministry in Galilee, because of trouble with political and religious leaders in Jerusalem. Not understood and not appreciated– ultimately, He was captured by the government and killed as a seditionist.
It seems to me that seeing Christ as one who left behind all to do what He needed to do in an unforgiving foreign land (for His family) relates well with the OFW (and TNT) experience. The Filipino experience in this setting is one of suffering, alienation, and marginalization— and hope. So little of the imported theology connects with that situation here.
<From “Tago ng Tago Theology” “>https://munsonmissions.org/2011/10/09/tago-na-tago-theology/>
Instead of repeating myself, please read PART ONE. Now, let’s move to the first flavor.
Flavor #1. Localized Theology in Terms of Region
Using the example of the Philippines, a localized theology for this country might be thought of as Asian, or sharing features of theologies of other parts of Asia. Emerito P. Nacpil claims that there are “at least seven features that are characteristic of the region” (of Asia) that are useful for developing Asian theology. These are:
-Nations in transition (nation-building and modernization)
-People seeking authentic self-identity
-Christianity as a minority religion
-Contains some of the largest living religions
-Peoples seeking new social orders
<Emerito P. Nacpil, “The Critical Asian Principle,” in Asian Christian Theology: Emerging Trends, D.J. Elwood, ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1980), 56-57.>
When I first saw this list, I felt that the list does not lead to common experience. After all, the first and the sixth items on this list (plurality, and home of the largest living religions) seem to say that the commonality is due to a lack of commonality. That being said, it may be true that there is a commonality of experience that would tend to drive Asian theologies toward a range of characteristics that could be grouped together, in a similar way as “Western theologies” get lumped together. The Western commonality of strong link between civil power and religious (Christian) power, the focus on the courtroom metaphor for salvation, economic power, centuries of hegemony over many other parts of the world, and the aftermath of the Enlightenment all give Western theologies a rather similar “flavor,” despite what at first appears to be great diversity. For example, much of Western theologies struggle with the issue of whether God decides who to save and who not to, or whether individuals make that decision. The result is a spectrum of views. At first this suggests great diversity. However, most all questions regarding salvation in Western Theology relates to the individual in the hereafter. There is little attempt to take seriously salvation in terms of community as well as the “here” (meaning present).
Looking at the figure below, one might say that Western theologies are focused, in terms of salvation, on the individual and the hereafter. There are aspects that extend to the community and the here/present, but not much. One might also say that various Liberation theologies tend to focus salvation predominantly on community (commonly in terms of class, caste, ethnic, or gender group) and on the present. Much ink has been spilled in one side arguing against the other side. However, rather than doing this, it is worth suggesting that both are in some ways “sub-Biblical” by themselves. By emphasizing one aspect of salvation over others, an image of salvation is given that is lop-sided— less than God’s full revelation. As such, rather than fighting, a more constructive answer would be dialogue between so-called Western and Liberation theologies. <Stanley Grenz, 20th Century Theologies>
There is, however, another way of looking at it as well. Rather than saying that Western and Liberations theologies are sub-Biblical in terms of salvation (an admittedly harsh assessment), one could say that each is a contextualization of God’s revelation. It only becomes sub-Biblical when one proclaims one’s theological construct as addressing God’s full revelation on the matter. In this case, the contextualization can be good as long as it answers (with divine truth) the concerns of those it is developed for.
This is not to say that all contextualized theologies are true, or that they are always necessary. It seems doubtful that there is a need for “Left-handed Theology” to counter the “Right-handed” bias of Western (or Eastern for that matter) Theology. My son is left-handed, and my father was left-handed until the school system forced him to right-handedness. That being said, their view on this could be different than mine. Ultimately, it depends on the people of a culture to develop a theology, and these same people to decide whether it is needed and beneficial.
Saphir P. Athyal states “A Western systematization of theology may not fit in the Asian scene. Asian theology should take a systematization which is dictated by the emphasis of the culture and leading thoughts of Asia.”<Sapphire P. Athyal, ”Toward an Asian Christian Theology” in Asian Christian Theology: Emerging Themes, D. J. Elwood ed., 71> Although this seems reasonable, should Asian theologies be systematized at all, or is that desire for structure a Western characteristic? Perhaps a narrative form is more relevant— or perhaps visual. As always, I don’t feel competent to say.
In one very crucial way, the Philippine context does not fit the broader Asian context. The Philippines is predominantly Christian. Over 90% of Filipinos would describe themselves as Christian. Christianity has a position of power in many aspects of life in most of the Philippines. This makes things very different than much of the rest of Asia. In fact, it is common for Filipinos to say that they are the “only Christian nation in Asia.” Ignoring the question of the validity of the term ‘Christian nation,’ this is not actually true. Timor-Leste, Armenia, and Cyprus are definitely Christian majority nations, while South Korea, although not having a Christian majority, still finds Christianity having a strong role in the broader society. However, the Philippines is the largest country in Asia to be predominantly Christian. This has led to calls for the Philippines to be a key nation for reaching Asia for Christ, and in recent years the Philippines has joined the list of what is referred to as “New Sending Countries,” as it pertains to exporting missionaries to the world.
Another difference is that the Philippines has strong ties to the West. These ties go beyond being a former colony. Huntington in his “Clash of Civilizations” sees the Philippines as part of the Western Sphere. <Samuel P. Huntington The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order> One does not have to accept Huntington’s overall thesis to recognize that the Philippines has a rather unique relationship with The West. This is partly due to the American colonization of the Philippines (Note: Americans balk at the use of the term colonization.) This influence is sustained by the use of English as the main language of business and governance, and the high number of overseas foreign workers and immigrants to Western countries.
These differences should certainly make Philippine theology quite different from other Asian theologies. However, the relative youth of the Philippines as an independent nation, its connection with other Asian regions over millennia, and its colonial history will likely make the ‘flavor’ of an authentic localized theology distinctly Asian.
Years ago I created several slide presentations on Spiritual Abuse. I am not an expert, but I have a great interest in the topic, and modest experience in it. So, I did some minor updates and have them below.
It has become popular to say that certain countries, regions, or cultures are today to be labeled “Post-Christian.” The idea behind this is that in the past, the cultural norms, presumptive beliefs, and government allegiances were tied to Cultural Christianity. I believe I must add the key term “cultural to Christianity since a lot of the hallmarks used to identify Christian have little to do with Fruit of the Spirit, or obeying the Great Commandment. Cultural Christianity is often often tied to issues of government, law, and economics. Frankly, it is hard to say with much confidence what governmental form is Christian. Moses and Joshua led a chiefdom. The Judges like Deborah and Jephthah led a tribal confederacy. David and Hezekiah led a classic monarchy. Zerubbabel and Nehemiah served as provincial governors of a (pagan) empire. The New Testament, frankly, works under the premise that Christians will live under a governmental system that is either hostile or ambivalent to them. Economically, one can read parts of the Bible and believe that God is a Laissez-faire Capitalist, and other places a Laissez-faire Socialist. Much of cultural Christianity deals with things that God is not all that interested, and in some cases actively opposes (noting, to be cautious, that I could be wrong).
It is probably best to say that the Bible supports a Christianity that is counter-cultural with no presumption of control over government or the economy. And that was true before the Emperor Constantine (ignoring Armenia, Adiabene, and Osrhoene). While Constantine did not make Christianity the “law of the land” (others did that later), he did give Christianity status and influence within the Roman Empire. Power was given to Christian leaders that went beyond their own congregations. And by taking on the self-assigned role of Bishop to bishops, Constantine made Christianity as part of the system. So while the Kingdom of God was in opposition to the kingdoms of this world, but the Church was not.
Prior to Constantine (Pre-Constantinian) the church grew despite (or perhaps because of) modest to severe persecution. With Constantine the church grew fast, but the church changed drastically and not necessarily for the best. The symbols of power were taken on by the bishops, and money flowed in from the government. In many ways the empire entered the church far more than the church entered the empire.
From Constantine onward, there were a lot of attempts to link church and state. The United States was one of the first big-scale attempts to separate the two in Western Christianity, followed by the more extreme (first) French Revolution. It was, however, not until the 19th and 20th centuries where Christendom was truly seen as problematic. The Church needs to be protected FROM the government more than it needs to be protected BY the government. Arguably the broader society needs the example of Christians rather than the coercion from Christians.
There is a cost for this link of Church and State. Only a few years ago, January 1, 2000, the government of Sweden formally broke official ties with the Church of Sweden. While the response wasn’t unanimous, it seems like the Church of Sweden rather liked the divorce. The special status the church had also resulted in the government having a fair bit of control over the church leadership and policies. Some members of the leadership of the Church of Sweden appeared to welcome the removal of that control. I am not a Swede by nationality (although my ancestors did come from Sweden) so I don’t know whether the separation was a good thing or not. However, I come from a Free Church tradition that generally sees separation of Church and State as a good thing (although some of my Free Church friends in the US seem to be rethinking that issue a bit lately).
It seems to me that Jesus was always counter-cultural. Some people believe that counter-cultural means anti-cultural. That is far from it. Counter-cultural means to be fully enculturated into a society and stand out in only specific purposeful ways. Jesus was so linked to 1st century Palestine (Judea and Galilee) that He needed to be identified by one of His friends for His arrest. He ate, drank, talked, and socialized like the people of His time. Yet, in certain key ways, His life was a testimony against certain beliefs (even worldview beliefs) in the society in which He resided.
We live in a Post-Constantinian era for the church. We (as in ‘the Church’) no longer have unquestioned sway (in most parts of the world) over government or the broader non-Christian populace.
While I think it is naive to think that one can recapture the past, some different things in the past are better than others. Recapturing Constantinian Christianity is not one we should desire to recapture. Recapturing a Pre-Constantinian (now more appropriately called Post-Constantinian) Christianity I think is a good thing. It should be embraced… welcomed.
Far too often when the church tries to use political power to attempt to solve societal problems, we become part of the problem.
I am considering writing a book— or maybe only an article, we will see— on a model of missions that embraces Weak, Small, and Poor as positive, even defining, characteristics. In line with that, I was looking a bit at Mission from a Position of Weakness by Paul Jeong (American University Studies Series 7— Theology and Religion Vol. 269, New York, Peter Lang, 2007). It looks at Missions from a position of weakness rather than power as consistent with the model given us by Jesus, continued by the early Apostles, and modeled by many missionaries and mission movements since then. I hope soon to read Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry by Timothy G. Gombis. The title of this second one sounds interesting even if I am not convinced the vision is in any way original to Paul. But one can not know a book by either its cover or its title.
Back to Jeong’s book for now, Ed Schroeder wrote a review of the book for the journal “Missiology.” In it he gave a critique of the book where he suggested that it lacked an underlying theological foundation (not unusual in Missions writings). Jeong suggested that there are different ways to do missions, but Weakness is best because it is consistent with the example of Christ. While this Biblical argument may be good, it is incomplete. Jesus did not use satellite communication for spreading His message, but that is not enough to throw out all electronic technology in mission work. Schroeder suggests that Weakness Missions is not only the most Biblical form of Missions, it is the most theologically sound. He suggests that Weakness Missions aligns with Theology of the Cross, while Power Missions aligns with Glory Theology. Glory Theology is oriented towards power and success— seeing the Christian life as progressive towards accumulation of authority and blessing. The Theology of the Cross (consider the writings of Martin Luther) sees ourselves as weak and suffering but in a state of Grace due to what Christ has done on the cross. I will have to look into it a bit more. I am not an expert on any of this, but am aware that Glory Theology is a bit of a “straw man” to contrast Theology of the Cross. It is, however, a straw man that many take as their Christian worldview.
At this time, it seems to me that there are three pretty good arguments for Weakness Missions over Power (money, social control and political coercion, for example) Missions:
Biblical (Jesus gave us the example that we are suppose to follow, as well as the example of the apostles that followed the example of Christ.)
Theological (God’s Word leads us to an understanding of our living in a state of weakness and suffering that compels us to live and minister in complete dependence on God, rather than on utilizing strategies and forms of influence to coerce others to align with our goals and faith.)
Historical/Practical (History has shown that many of the most successful mission movements have followed a model of weakness, not power, and those that successfully utilize power missions often create problems that undermine their short-term success.)
An area that I struggle with is the area of divine power. If we are to rely on God, to what extent is Weakness Missions consistent with things like Power Encounter. There are many who support some form of “Vulnerable Missions” who still also promote miracles/signs as part of the ministry. Biblically, this appears to be sound. Jesus did use miracles— sometimes as an act of compassion, and sometimes as a sign of His authority to give a message. The early Apostles did the same. A look in the Gospels and the Book of Acts shows that (1) there is some ambivalence as to the results of such work, and (2) it seems as if miracles were used more at the start of ministry work and less as time went on.
But my question is whether these should be considered to work against the idea of Weakness Missions. My short-term answer (that may change) is SOMETIMES. I feel that in Missions, promoters of Power Encounter such as Charles Kraft and C. Peter Wagner clearly embraced Power Missions. (It is interesting that Jeong’s book was originally a dissertation at Fuller, a seminary that has had such a major role in promoting Power Missions (in my opinion at least).) I come from a faith tradition that is pretty skeptical of miracles in the present era. While I do believe that a somewhat open-minded skepticism is probably for the best, that doesn’t really answer the question here. If Weakness means demonstrating dependence on the power of God rather than on the power of man, when does the use of God’s power drift from dependence to exploitation and abuse. From New Apostolic Reformation, to preachers in Africa calling down curses on their competition, there is a place where what should be seen as good becomes toxic.
Still mulling this. Hopefully I will have a good tentative answer by the time I am ready to publish something.