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Christian Theologies from an Indian Perspective
© Theological Book Trust 1990 ISBN : 81-7475-038-X
First published 1990 by Theological Book Trust Revised edition 1995 by Theological Book Trust Third edition 2002 by Theological Book Trust
All Rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for the purposes of brief review in periodicals, without prior permission of Theological Book Trust, P.O. Box 9529, Bangalore 560095, India.
Theological Book Trust
Bangalore Printed at : The J & P Print & Allied Industries, Bangalore.
To the memory of my parents
Foreword Author’s Preface
SECTION 1 Introduction
Chapter 1 Why Theology from an Indian Perspective? The contexts in which Indian theologies sprouted The socio-political context The religio-cultural context The sources of theological traditions in India Pramanas: Sources of religious authority in India 3 7 8 14 22 31
SECTION 2 Indian Contributions to Christian Theology
Chapter 2 Raja Rammohan Roy Keshub Chunder Sen Pratap Chandra Mozoomdar Chapter 3 Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya Nehemiah Goreh Lal Behari Dey Chapter 4 Dhanjibhai Fakirbhai Surjit Singh David G. Moses Chapter 5 Sadhu Sunder Singh A.J. Appasamy Chapter 6 Vengal Chakkarai P. Chenchiah P.D. Devanandan ii 41 46 57 63 76 81 85 88 90 96 104 115 121 142 iii
K.M. Banerjea Swami Abhishiktananda Klaus Klostermaier S.K. George
151 154 159 165 169 181 187 199 206 209 211 212 215 223 230
M.M. Thomas Raymondo Panikkar S.J. Samartha
Russell Chandran Vinay Kumar Samuel Vishal Mangalwadi Paulos Mar Gregorios Saphir Athyal
Mahatma Gandhi Swami Vivekananda Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan
The need for attractive, readable yet scholarly Christian books was a felt need among Indian Christians for a long time, as is evidenced by numerous national level conferences and their findings on Christian literature during the last half a century. Among the valid reasons for slow progress in meeting the need lack of expertise, cooperation and financial limitations were the major ones. Though many Christian communities, particularly Christian social activists produced sizable fruits in the area, conservative had lagged behind. Now Theological Book Trust seems to be the appropriate agency under which such theological creativity can be and is undertaken. The organisation did sense the need much earlier, but printing of books at a price an average Christian reader can afford materialized just a few years ago. Encouraged in its early efforts, now TBT has launched a mammoth project of bringing out several series of Christian books, both for the seminary students as well as for the people in the pew: Text Book Series: M.Div. level course-, text-, work- and source- books on theological and biblical subjects, pastoralia etc., meant primarily for theological students; Research and Reference Series: such as library and concordance helps, theological dictionaries, commentaries, compendia, etc.; Theological Issues Series: dealing with religious topics such as pluralism, inter-religious dialogue, syncretism, and ideological issues, revolutions and signs of the times; and Devotional Series: Dealing with practical personal help for all ages in Christian growing. In Thinking Be Adults (1Co.14:20) -- is the motto of Theological Books Trust. The only determining criterion for these series is that they all gladly confess their allegiance to
SECTION 3 What is Indian Christian Theology?
Chapter 11 The Three Confrontations Indian christian theological expressions Some guidelines for contextualising in Hindu cultures Guidelines for Indian evangelical theology Beyond contextualising 239 243 250 257 265
Appendix Suggested Bibliography Subject Index Person Index
271 273 281 287
the Bible as the final authority for all theologizing. Within that guideline there is a bold freedom for innovative theological creativity in all the works. We heartily commend the present volume, Christian Theologies from an Indian Perspective by Sunand Sumithra to theological students in particular and the Christian public in general. It is the second in our Text Book Series. Though written primarily for the M.Div. level students, the book is planned for a greater circle of readership beyond the borders of the seminary. The author is well qualified to write this book with his experience of teaching the course on Indian Christian Theology at B.D. level in the Union Biblical Seminary, Pune for more than a decade. End notes are added for ready reference. Extensive indexes include the Names of Person and Subjects. A glossary of foreign and difficult terms is another felt need for seminarians and has also been added. We are grateful to Sevasadan printers for their very good and prompt service.
This book is written with the express purpose of benefiting primarily the Indian theological student—either in seminary or outside it—as a text book. Hence some assumptions are made in presenting this work, such as that the reader has certain basic theological knowledge and skills. This also explains why certain concepts and terms are elucidated and others not, which may not be useful to a professor in theology. For the benefit of the non-Indian reader a glossary of terms is provided. The overall aim of the course on Indian Christian theology is to make the student aware of the Indian attempts to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that (s)he may relevantly interpret the whole gospel in her/his own context. With this in mind, it is hoped that at the end of this course the student will be able to achieve the following objectives: 1. to discern the Indian religious, cultural, philosophical and socio-political interaction on the interpretation and the universality of the gospel of Jesus Christ; 2. to describe both the nature and development of Indian Christian theology, the divergent Indian thought patterns and the consequent types of Indian Christian theology; 3. to develop a critical openness to indigenous theological expressions; 4. to acquire skills in creating relevant and meaningful interpretation of the gospel in a given context. Though I have used several already existing anthologies on Indian Christian theology (see bibliography), of necessity I have drawn heavily from Robin Boyd’s definitive work, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology (1975). Yet not only is his analysis supplemented by going back to the
originals in most cases, but a lot more material is added, which is not found in Boyd or elsewhere. For economy and readability footnotes have been largely avoided, but wherever needed references and notes are provided. I hope that the book would meet a crucial need not only for text book in our theological training institutions, but also for indigenous scholarly works for the thoughtful Indians. I heartily welcome your criticism on this present volume, in order that the husk may be thrown away and grain preserved. This revised edition has some important corrections and additions. One important correction is the change in the title. We cannot talk anymore of one, single theology of Indian Christians but of a host of theologies. As there is no single Indian culture or forms of religion so there can be no single theology applicable to the whole of India. Each attempt to interpret the Christian message has its validity and usefulness in its locality. Apart from this change notes and references are supplied wherever necessary and a detailed index is included. I must say thanks to the friends who worked on the second edition of this book, especially, Mr. Augustine Bhasker and Mr. Philip Peacock.
WHY THEOLOGY FROM AN INDIAN PERSPECTIVE
Some rash critics — such creatures, we regret to say, do exist — have insisted that Indian Christians have produced not even a decent heresy, let alone theology! Like those who mocked the prophet Elisha and were eaten up by bears, probably these carpers also have received just recompense for their rashness. But they demonstrate one fact, though (beside their jaundiced eye): that they either equate theology with Tillich’s system, Barth’s Dogmatics or Aquinas’ Summa, or they do not understand at all what theology is, considering how they divide theology and heresy. The fact is, in the Indian scene there is now not only an abundance of heresies, but of theologies as well, even systems. Every time the message about Jesus Christ encounters the Indian people in their own contexts, there Indian theology is being created. This is doing theology in Indian context. Doing theology is inevitable — it is risky no doubt, with the possibility of the product becoming a heresy always at hand — but it is inevitable. For, from God’s revelation (the Bible) to its receivers (the Church), theologizing is a necessary step. The current situation in India is so vastly different than that of the apostles, in ever so many ways. Every time a new aspect of the gospel shows its relevance to a particular Indian context, there Indian theology is born. Since this is happening all the time, it is not an overstatement to say that now Indian theology has not only arrived, but is advancing full steam! Or to go one step further: theologizing in India (that is, doing theology in the Indian context, or verbalizing the message of the whole gospel in such a way that it is
meaningful and relevant to the Indian ears) is a matter of communication. If, for example, a boy’s experience of his father is only that of a drunkard, who comes home to beat his wife and children, and does not have any thought for the education or the future of his children, then to tell to this boy that God is a ‘father’, would not be communicating the truth about the God of the Bible, as Jesus revealed Him. If in a tribe a lamb has the basest significance, to speak about Jesus as the “Lamb of God” would hardly express what John the Baptist wanted to convey about Jesus when he identified him as such. In these examples (which, incidentally, are true stories), it is necessary that the hearers’ images of the father or the lamb be first understood, and if possible corrected, and then the truth of the Gospel be communicated to them in these redefined categories. A Hindu may understand by Brahman the highest reality which is necessarily impersonal, and by Ishwara he may understand a personal deity who is necessarily lower than Brahman, of second rate reality (belonging to Maya). So to use these terms either for God the Father or for Christ without previously ‘baptizing’ them carefully with Christian content would not be communicating the truth of the Gospel to the Hindus. No doubt it is theoretically possible to introduce the Gospel message in new terms and concepts: but, such a process of creating new terms and expressions takes excruciatingly long time and hard work; besides, the ‘foreignness’ of the Gospel remains, since the gospel is foreign both to the hearer and to the new media created, and so cannot produce any fruit without grafting. And finally, such new expressions have often meant deformation, at least partial, of the gospel message. As such, in order to produce fruit, theologizing in Indian context (which is another way of saying ‘contextualizing the gospel in India’) is necessary. It is necessary that we make use of the thought patterns (or pre-understanding) of the hearer as much as possible so that the message of Jesus Christ will be as meaningful as possible to the hearer,
evoking a meaningful response. For we as human beings grasp the new concepts only in terms of the old, the unknown in terms of the known concepts.
Effective communication of the Gospel to the non-Christian man of faith depends on the effective use made of the religious vocabulary with which he is familiar, and of the cultural pattern of life in which he finds self-expression and community being. 1
Since each hearer approaches the Gospel with his/her own ‘pre-understanding’, to a certain extent different people may understand the Gospel differently. In Indianising Christian theology this pre-understanding is taken into consideration. You remember the case of King Saul in the Old Testament: God instructed him to utterly destroy the Amalekites, including their cattle and property. But Saul tried to do ‘better’ than that! He not only killed the animals, he killed the best of them for the sake of God: he sacrificed them to God in worship! But the point is, when God asks us to do something, he expects that we do no less than what he wants, nor more! Both extremes belong to the realm of disobedience. If a tired father asks his son to bring him a glass of water, the son may do better by bringing orange juice or wine, but he is not obeying his father! Similarly, if we are serious to bring the message of the Gospel to Indian brothers and sisters, we must be absolutely careful not to bring neither more nor less than the Gospel. It is in ‘contextualizing’ that it is possible to remain faithful to the context of the Gospel. This is our third rationale for Indian Christian theology, namely, to show the relevance of the Christian message to Indians, by making the content of the Christian message meaningful to them in their own thought forms, yet at the same time remaining faithful to the content of the message. In short, contextualization means: faithful to the text and relevant to the context. The phrase ‘relevant to the context’ has another implication. It implies that since there are ever so many contexts (Indian, Chinese, African, European...), each context may
have its own expression of the Gospel message — one context cannot impose its form as valid for another context. This is the burden of de-Westernizing theology in India. Even among the Indians, all do not have exactly the same pre-understanding and so it may be necessary that the Gospel should be communicated to each person/homogeneous group meaningful to that person/group, just as for example, Jesus communicated to the Samaritan woman (John 4). It also implies that the form of theology of one age need not be binding for another — tradition need not be followed blindly. Thus this principle of relevance helps one to be constantly in touch with the living realities of one’s time and its issues. Otherwise we may be giving answers to questions which the Indians have never asked! Some limitations of this principle of relevance also need to be noted. It was already mentioned above that the danger of producing a lopsided Gospel is always present. But a greater limitation perhaps is that once the Gospel is shown to be relevant to a particular context (say, Hindus) mostly it will be irrelevant to any other context (say Muslims). In fact, a major reason why not many Muslims have positively responded to the message of Christ in India is precisely this: it is alleged that the gospel has been ‘hinduized’. Or vice versa in Muslim lands. It is well nigh impossible to find a common factor in all human beings to produce an expression of the Gospel relevant to all of them. Did not Paul say that he became a Jew to the Jews and a gentile to the gentiles? This is our rationale too. There is a fourth rationale: Bishop Westcott once said that a commentary on the gospel of John which does full justice to the rich content of the book can only be written by an Indian. By this he meant that the spirituality of India was nearer to that of the Gospel, hence it is Indians who grasp the fuller meaning of John’s Gospel than others. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that a theology in Indian context can re-discover those aspects of the Gospel message which have been either under-emphasized or are completely left out in other attempts. As such,
contextualization helps Christians all over the world towards a fuller understanding of Jesus Christ — to help recover the universality of the Gospel, or what Paul called “the whole counsel of God” (Ac.20:27). For example, Jesus’ deity has been a crucial issue in the West for generations, owing to their Aristotelian logic (finite cannot comprehend the infinite). But in India, where almost every other citizen claims to be some kind of a divine incarnation and where exist three hundred and thirty million gods in the pantheon, the doctrine of Jesus’ deity hardly needs to be proved! This is one reason why in Indian theological thinking, especially in recent times, the humanity of Jesus gets greater treatment. Similarly, the new trend of reading the Scriptures with the eye of the third world (the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the dalits...), has led to revolutionary reinterpretations of certain passages of the Bible. This kind of reinterpretation may not always be valid; but the point is that contextualization has given the necessary corrective to the earlier one-sided interpretations. Hence we can heartily agree with the affirmation that Indian Christian theology is not the already formulated Christian theology put into Indian terms but rather it is the contribution from India in the very formulation of the human expression of the revelation of God in Jesus. Until India’s contribution is received “revealed truth” has not become “the revealed truth” in its possible expressive fullness.
THE CONTEXTS IN WHICH INDIAN THEOLOGIES SPROUTED
We have seen already in the last section that a living theology is faithful to the biblical text and relevant to the receiver’s context. Both are necessary. Mere faithfulness to the Scriptures may be orthodox but fruitless; and exclusive emphasis on relevance to a given context might be beneficial but could be heretical too. Therefore it is necessary that we know both the Scriptures and the contexts well, in order to do theology. In this section we summarize only the second
part, namely, the contexts. The study of these contexts will help us see why and what kind of theology could have come out of them. There are two important contexts to which every church must respond to — happily the Indian Church also has responded to these — the socio-political and religio-cultural contexts. A study of these contexts in approximately last two hundred years would be quite adequate to understand the present contexts.
through political nationalism that disturbances in other aspects of Indian society were catalyzed. Early Indian nationalism was anything but fascism. It was positive in the sense that it concentrated only on the freedom and development of India. It was therefore far from a fanatic my-country-right-or-wrong kind of spirit. No doubt, there were also some negative zeal, in the sense that ‘selfrule, even if it be worst, is the best rule!’ This was the period of national political organizations, activity and corporate thinking. Under the wise leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, it took the form of Indian National Congress (founded in 1885), and was kept free from all communalistic overtones. As such secularism became the ideology of the Congress party of the time. In 1942, the Indian National Congress passed its historic Quit-India Resolution and set the stage for independence struggle — of peaceful non-cooperation movements, of civil disobedience, of passive opposition, of satyagrahas. All this was buttressed by Gandhi’s ingenious resources of Swadeshiwad (the doctrine of patriotic self-rule), of rejecting everything foreign in preference to indigenous products — from salt to clothes. The Dandi March and its sequel became nationwide symbols of the things to come. His methods of Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satyagraha (pursuit after truth, literally) mostly drawn from Christian resources (in fact, primarily from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount!), were opposed to the use of any kind of physical force. ‘Blunt-the-blade-by-the-blood’ strategy was morally bound to win: for, was it not the strategy of the Cross! Partly in reaction, but partly also as tactics, communal parties began to attract public attention. The Muslim League (founded 1905) came into being with the express blessings of the British, to care for the allegedly neglected minority Muslim community. Later this move culminated in the Partition. This was the master plan of the British, using the ancient but corrupt principle of divide et impera (divide and rule). What an example of a ‘Christian’ nation confessing the name of that Lord who came to unite! In any case, the birth
The Socio-political context
Clearly, the dominant feature of this period is Western colonialism — of the French, British, Portuguese — predominantly of the British. It is of utmost significance that Christian missions and foreign imperialism came together and appeared to support and benefit mutually, though they were often in sharp disagreement with each other. The main result for India of such an alliance was that, to a normal educated Hindu, Christian faith became a foreign faith, the faith of the oppressors. So, more often than not, the majority of Hindus looked down upon it as the religion of Mlechhas (the pagan). Even today this antipathy is no less towards non-Hindu religions — only, it is now more thoroughly based and more militantly organized. Nationalism is the inevitable fruit of imperialism. Soon Indians began to desire self-rule rather than foreign rule, and the Indian Mutiny of 1857 became the starting spark. And exactly as colonialism provoked Indian political selfconsciousness, Christian missions evoked the Hindu religious self-consciousness. That is why people like Chenchiah could say that Christianity has in itself the rare gift of creating its own opposition! And when we consider that during this time — and to a lesser extent, even now — there was an amorphous unity between religion, philosophy, politics, culture and economics of which religion was the nerve centre, we can realize how a disturbance at this centre could be very far reaching in its consequences for the Indian society. But the point we want to make now is that, it is
of the Muslim League catalyzed many Hindu communal groups to sprout — such as Hindu Mahasabha, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, Rashtriya Jan Sangh and the like. It was Hindu Maha Sabha which later master-minded the assassination of ‘the father of the nation’, Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi, in defense of Hindu communal rights. As such, this pre-independence era including several years after the independence is characteristically a period of Hindu-Muslim communal rivalry — future historians will add: unnecessarily. It was a British creation. Not every one accepted Gandhi’s policy to oust the British. Subhash Chandra Bose separated himself from the Congress because he was convinced that only the use of armed force can bring for India the necessary liberation from the British yoke. But as the subsequent history shows, he and his ‘Indian National Army’ were both short-sighted and short-lived, and so came to be known as reactionaries — an indirect tribute to the foresight of the Congress leaders, Gandhi and Nehru. On the economic front, Nehru’s vision of industrialization won the day. During the world wars, India supplied more to war arsenal than any other British colony (one estimate has it at the level of ten billion sterling pounds, and that the amount is still due to India). This supply obviously necessitated the building of rails and roads, factories, national communication systems and the like. In the face of this strong evidence, Gandhi’s revivalist ideas, such as cottage industries, Gram Panchayat (which, only recently, is struggling to stand) and the like could not win support, and so modernization of Indian economy has come to stay, in the form of Five Year Plans, Mixed Economy. It is significant that only in the 1989 elections these ideas began gaining nationwide support. The post-independence India is very different from the pre-independence one, as far as the leaders are concerned. Earlier, in the heat of independence struggle the big problems nagging the nation were forgotten. But once self-rule was realized, the leaders at once awoke to the well-nigh
insurmountable obstacles towards a free sovereign nation. The greatness of these freedom fighters is that overnight they were converted into nation-builders. In the wake of Pakistan, national unity was of first importance. As the Partition resulted in hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Muslims being massacred, Nehru and his cabinet had to reject an overtly Hindu government. India was forced to become a secular democracy. Other forces of division, such as casteism, linguism and regionalism were taken care of by constitutional measures. Discrimination of any sort was unconstitutional. This is at last partly the background for article 25 in our Constitution, which preserves the right of every Indian citizen to practice and propagate any religion he chooses. Gandhi’s Harijan movement, aiming at the upliftment of the low caste and especially the untouchables, was fruitful to begin with, but today the demon of caste has returned with sevenfold force. One very significant benefit freedom brought was the emancipation of Indian woman. Traditionally, according to Manusmriti’s injunction, an Indian woman is always subjugated to men — as a child under father’s custody, in marriage under husband’s, in old age under son’s and in death under Yama, the god of death. She could not be liberated except by legal measures, such as the abolition of sati, compulsory female education, raising of marriage age, anti-divorce acts and social equality of sexes and, most recently, laws concerning sexual harassment on women. All these have made the modern Indian woman a person as never before in Indian History. Another giant obstacle was the bonded labour and its allied zamindari system of agriculture, in which the small farmers were exploited by the richer landlords and became debt-slaves to the latter. Social justice to the farmers was attempted by a number of land reform acts and legislations by the new government. In response to these legal reforms (which necessarily would result in forcible redistribution of land) Vinobha Bhave organised the Bhoodan movement for a peaceful, moral redistribution of land.
Industrialization brought along with it the age of giant irrigation projects, such as Bhakra Nangal, Hirakud, Nagarjunasagar etc., which also tackled the problem of unemployment to some extent. But it also true that sometimes these irrigation projects are overdone, to the detriment of local cultures and peoples. The planned economy of the Five Year Plans put India on the map of developing countries. As one survey initiated by the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi shows, India is a now a creditor country to many nations, to the tune of twenty five billion US dollars. India is also fast becoming self-sufficient in technology. The harnessing of natural resources like oil, coal, steel and minerals, gigantic strides in exports, greater international trade — all these are gradually making the nation a superpower. Quite recently the floating of the Indian Rupee in international trade is hailed as a major breakthrough for attracting foreign investments.
Brotherhood and fellowship were thus emphasized far more as the result of the Gospel than shanti or the peace one gets as an individual. In general, Indian theologians have tended to place more emphasis on the experience of Christ and his power at the cost of purity of the dogmas. For the same reason, especially in more recent times, questions of social ethics have caught the attention of several Christian and Hindu thinkers. ‘Ethics before dogmatics’ is generally true of this period. As against the traditional Hindu lack of participation in historical process, this period of activity was full of historical dynamism. Several top Hindu leaders attempted to reinterpret maya as a second order reality thus giving full significance to one’s actions in history/society. This stress on history underlined the significance of the human person making anthropology another dominant theme. Justice to farmers, untouchables, women and other oppressed classes made social justice the hot theme of the newer theologians.
Corporate thinking is another aspect of the time. To develop not just individualistic ideas but corporate Christian thinking in the church was the burden consciously carried by many Christian leaders. Democratization of church polity, church union negotiations, the active participation of the laity could all be traced back to the organizational awakening of the Indian society during the time.
THE INFLUENCE OF THE CONTEXT ON CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
The changing socio-economic situation in India had its effect on Indian Christian thinking. As we saw, colonialism and freedom are the dominant features of the early years. Patriotism is thus characteristic of this pro-independence period. To the Christians of this generation, the indigenisation of the Church in terms of its theology, worship and the like was inevitable. The theme of liberation also obviously played a major role in their thinking. For, from nationalism to indigenisation of Christianity, from political freedom to religious freedom is but a short step. Unity is another major motive of this time, because of the communal disturbances in the post-independence months. Church unity was a barrier against any type of denominationalism or casteism. Secularization of the gospel was parallel to the secularization of Indian politics. But as caste has re-emerged as an unbeaten force in the Christian Church, the question of human dignity and equality irrespective of one’s caste has become a burning issue. So Christians have often resorted to the biblical doctrine of creation, of man in the image of God for their support.
The idea of progress was another element of this period. Strangely, modernization and industrialization ushered in the idea of progress in all national level government policies. Strangely, because the two World Wars had just proved the bankruptcy of any faith in scientific, technological progress! So the attitude of ‘back to the golden age of Ramraj’ was ridiculed as anti-progress. Yet it is strange that hardly any Indian Christian theologian has taken up the question of eschatology seriously. Two cautions need to be mentioned at this juncture. First, the above pairing of one element from the context with a corresponding element in Indian Christian theology is not
always so neat. Several other factors have contributed to the emphasis on certain themes in theology besides these mentioned above. But at least it shows a general pattern as to how Indian Christian theology came to be selective in its subject matter. Secondly, we must bear in mind that, though the contexts have their decisive role in shaping one’s theology, they are not determinative. That is to say, the context does not determine the content of theology. Though the questions are asked by the contexts, all the answers must be found outside it — in the supreme authority for any Christian theology, namely, the Bible. But we shall come to these methodological questions again at the end of the book.
We need to realize at the outset that Hinduism is no religion. It is an ocean of different — and conflicting — philosophies and logics, religions and cultures, social and ethical systems. Modern writers prefer the term Hinduity or Hindudom (parallel to Christianity and Christendom!) thus depicting it as a way of life. It has no founder — a matter of pride for our Hindu brethren — as its roots reach back to the dark ancient past. Hence it is called the sanathana dharma — the religion from time immemorial, the eternal religion. In principle, Hinduism incorporates all forms of belief and worship without necessitating the selection or elimination of any. The Hindu is inclined to revere the divine in every manifestation, whatever it may be, and is doctrinally tolerant, leaving others — including both Hindus and nonHindus — whatever creed and worship practices suit them best. A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu, and the Hindu is disposed to think synthetically and to regard other forms of worship, strange gods and divergent doctrines as inadequate rather than objectionable, he tends to believe that the highest powers complement each other for the well being of the world and mankind. Few religious ideas are considered to be finally irreconcilable. The core religion does not even depend on the existence or non-existence of God or on whether there is one God or many. Since religious truth is said to transcend all verbal definition, it is not conceived in dogmatic terms. Hinduism is, then, both a civilization and conglomerate of religions, with neither a beginning, a founder nor a central authority, hierarchy, or organization. Before the period of our consideration (that is, before the 18th century), the various schools of Hinduism had already fallen in the rut of their own traditions. There were several schools of Vedantic philosophies like Dvaita, Advaita and Vishishtadvaita, along with their logics. Manu’s Code was in force, particularly his varnashrama Dharma (duties of a Hindu according to his caste and stage in life). The rebellious movements of Buddhism, and Jainism had already become separate religions themselves. Through the centu15
The Religio-cultural Contexts THE RELIGIOUS REVOLUTION
It took several centuries in the Western world to prepare for revolutions of global significance. The industrial revolution, social revolution, political revolutions, educational revolution and other revolutions took place over a few hundreds of years. But in Asia and particularly in India, corresponding revolutions broke out, though on a lesser scale, within just a few decades! Dr. Takenaka of Japan beautifully calls this phenomenon the telescoping of revolution in Asia. In Asia, all these revolutions are taking place simultaneously, and so their consequences in Asia are far more complex and disturbing than in the West. In India, the land of religions, another revolution steals the main stage: the religious revolution. In this section we shall study this as the second context of Indian theologization.
REVOLUTIONARY CHANGES IN HINDUISM
Though religious pluralism is a stubborn fact in India, as we have already noted, by far Hinduism is the most dominant religion. More in the past than in today’s competitive conversions, Hinduism had the greatest number of adherents. What was the condition of Hinduism in the last two centuries? What revolution did it undergo?
ries several aspect of Hinduism had become cold traditions, more a burden than a support for the common man. But as we saw already, the spark of reformation in Hinduism was kindled by the arrival of Christian missions. When we realize that neither the arrival of Arabian Muslims in the 11th century nor of Moghuls later that such an opposition was noticed, we see the significance of the truth that wherever the Christian gospel went, it disturbed. Thus during the 19th and 20th centuries Hinduism entered its renaissance period — because of the gospel.
Under the influence of both the Christian Gospel and British liberal politics, Gopala Krishna Gokhale gave a political face-lift to Hinduism in his Servants of India Society. As the arch-disciple of Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda made Vedanta (Advaita) his basis, and sought to project Hinduism as a universal religion. Thus far, Hinduism had been the religion only of Indians. As the result of the Ramakrishna Mission Hinduism became, contrary to its own nature, a missionary, militant religion. Even now almost every aspect of this Mission (headquarters in Belur Math) is a counterpart of Christian missions, both in content and form. Philanthropic efforts, corporate discipline, religious teaching and training of missionaries — all are copied from Christianity. Gandhi turned, like Roy, to the moral regeneration of Hinduism, but made Bhagvadgita for the first time his basis, rather than the Vedas or Upanishads or other popular sources. Following Vivekananda, Radhakrishnan emphasized the religious resurgence of Hinduism, and saw in Hinduism the ultimate, perfect religion. Yet, in the face of the pressing need of the time, namely, the nationwide phenomenon of liberation struggle, he was compelled to reinterpret some aspects of Hinduism to move Hindus to participate in these historical struggles. So scholars speak of two types of neo-Hinduism emerging out of this period: one in the line of Roy and Gandhi aiming at the moral regeneration and the other in the line of Vivekananda and Radhakrishnan aiming at the religious. Beside these main changes there are no doubt scores of others, all of which are discussed in detail in another M.Div. course, “Modern Religious and Secular Movements”, so we will not deal with them here. We only note here this: the recent decades are exploding with new types of gurus, mathas, movements, swamis and what not. The picture now is thoroughly confusing. Several of these are spreading
RENAISSANCE AND RESURGENCE
This reformation took essentially two forms. On the one hand, there were leaders who looked at Hinduism from a new set of values acquired from resources other than Hindu. They began to transform Hinduism from within towards this new set of values. The other became defensive in the face of encroaching religions and ideas. So they began to preserve the original Hindu systems as they were. The former could be called the renaissance and the latter the resurgence of Hinduism. The former were progressive, while the latter were revivalist. Self-development motivated the progressive, while self-preservation was the aim of the revivalist. Raja Rammohan Roy is called the father of the Indian Renaissance. We shall study his thought in detail later. His criticism of Hinduism was obviously based on Christian values, and centred more on moral aspects. Abolition of Sati, upliftment of womenfolk, emphasis on monotheism — all these were more or less new to Hinduism. He resorted to the upanishads, instead of Vedas. Though Ramakrishna Paramahamsa his guru had done the opposite: he encouraged the popular type of Hindu thought — polytheism, ecstatic experiences (by the possession of gods) and idolatry. Dayananda Saraswati discovered the back-to-the-Vedas principle. He rejected idolatry and other corrupt elements as post-Vedic corruption and founded Arya Samaj.
fast in the spiritually empty West. Many of them are advocating syncretistic solutions. If we remember that syncretism and not mission belongs to the essence of Hinduism, we could say that actually these latter are genuinely Hindu! Bahai and Rajneesh teachings are good examples of this. Some others have taken up social responsibility seriously, such as J.P. Narayan’s Sarvodaya, Vinobha Bhave’s Bhoodan, Ranthodji’s medical missions and scores of others. Still other efforts deal with ancient values like the anticow slaughter movements, gurukul ashram, rishis and maharishis taking the vow of silence and meditation, and many following different types of yoga or tantric practices. As never before the power and organization of four Hindu “Popes”, of the four Shankaracharyas — is increasing steadily on a national scale, even in political and business circles! It is truly a rich kaleidoscope. By way of summary we can say the following : 1) Unlike the Hinduism of last several millennia, Hinduism in the last two centuries underwent revolutionary changes with far-reaching consequences. The Christian Gospel has been the main catalyst. 2) These changes were both radical and apologetical in nature. New elements were also added, such as the dimension of mission. 3) Syncretism was another aspect of this period. 4) A new emphasis on the ‘horizontal’, on man/society gained ground, at the cost of the earlier ‘vertical’ approach to god/religion/priests. Hinduism of this period is hence slowly but definitely experiencing secularization! If we remember that in one way or the other renunciation of this world is the heart of Hindu salvation (Moksha, liberation from this life-death circle), then this focus on the mundane is an earth-shaking change for Hinduism. What is the relevance of all these changes to Christian theology? We could say several things. Firstly, in the light of these revolutions in Hinduism, there is a constant effort
made by Indian Christians either to reinterpret Hinduism to become a fitting container for the message of the gospel, or to reinterpret Christianity to make it more palatable to Hindus. Secondly, since primarily it is the Christian gospel which sparked off this change, there are numerous attempts by Indian Christians to see the effect of Christ in Hinduism in particular, and religions in general. This is why we have themes like the Unknown or Undiscovered or Acknowledged or Unbound Christ of Hinduism running like a refrain in modern Indian Christian theology. Thirdly, the question of syncretism has become a live subject for almost all Indian thinkers. As such, interreligious dialogue is becoming India’s contribution to world christendom, and not spirituality itself, as is often judged! Fourthly, for the same reason, the question of philosophy or sociology of religion along with the allied question of secularization has become an issue of repeated discussions. Without mentioning details (which will emerge in the course of this book), we merely note that a lot of theology is being done in these corporate discussions on the question of religious pluralism. Finally, in the light of the Hindu sociology of castes the doctrine of the Church also has become a burning issue for all of us Christians — Protestant, Orthodox or Roman Catholic. The amount of literature produced on Indian ecclesiology is quite substantial in recent years.
CHRISTIANITY AND THE OTHER RELIGIONS OF INDIA
Beside Hinduism there are other religions in India — Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikkhism and tribal religions. Very strangely, there is minimal attempt made by Indian Christians to develop theologies relevant to these religious contexts. Many factors explain this lack. Firstly, since Hinduism is the most populous religion, it was studied more than any other religions. The study of Islam was confined primarily to the Muslim countries and
the study of Buddhism to countries in the Far East, while they seemed too small in comparison with Hinduism to draw enough attention. Secondly, as the gospel was translated more and more into Hindu thought patterns, it was misunderstood to be a syncretistic product by people of other faiths and so they shunned it. Thirdly, as early missionaries concentrated, except in a few cases, on evangelizing Hindus, those who wrote theologies later also came out of Hindu background and so could not relate the Gospel to other religions. It is a vicious circle indeed. And Hinduism being a non-missionary religion, response from Hindus was greater than that from others. Even the so-called people-movements took place mainly among the Hindu Castes and the casteless. There are also some in-built oppositions to Christianity in other religions, such as the Jihad (religious war) of Islam, atheism of Buddhism, extreme asceticism (World renunciation) of Jainism, militarism of Sikkhism, etc. so that Hinduism was comparatively most responsive. Finally, compared to Hinduism these religions are new, and so are considered foreign (Sikkhism being a syncretistic religion has already taken into itself some Christian and Muslim elements consciously); hence they had to hold to their own for survival. In any case it must be admitted that indigenisation of the Christian message in India has meant largely Hinduisation, and there is a lot to be done as far as other religions are concerned. We shall briefly survey the condition of these religions.
ing of ancient and irrelevant customs. Interpretation of tradition in the light of modernity was their goal. Syed Ahmed Khan went so far as to found a Western type of education system for Muslims at Aligarh. Even now Aligarh Muslim University is the main Indian centre for training Muslim leaders of every sort.
After the emergence of Pakistan, an average Indian Muslim considers himself an alien in a Hindu society, and has developed a minority complex. This has resulted in some resurgence movements. Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca) has increased. A sense of solidarity with Arab countries is stronger. The rich petro-dollar countries are regularly pouring vast amount of money into India toward Islamization. The Ahmadiyya movement of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed is a militantly missionary Muslim sect. It is true that Indian Muslim community is not yet Dar-ul-Islam (house of Islam) but is still darul-Harh (House of war), but things are moving rapidly towards that goal. At the same time, the Christian attitude to Muslims in India is changing, as evidenced by a more sympathetic study of Islam by the Henry Martin Institute, the emergence of missions to the Muslims such as the Fellowship of Neighbours in India and other indigenous efforts.
Change in other religions
Among the other religions, changes in Buddhism are more conspicuous. The neo-Buddhism of Ambedkar and the recent conversion of several hundreds of thousands of Harijans to this movement has made it a force to reckon with, but the issues in these conversions are not really religious but rather humanitarian and economical. The recent extremist events among the Punjab Sikhs in claiming a separate autonomy for the Khalsa have brought Sikhs into conflicts with the secularist central government as well as to a fanatic militancy. Jains and Parsis, as the Jews of India, control the riches of the land as no other community in spite of their size. Perhaps for this reason their need of Christian faith and hence their response to Christ have been very meagre. On the other hand, the unprecedented response of the tribals in the middle belt of the land as well as among the
Change in Islam
The dictum that “Reformed Islam is no Islam” was negated by the new developments in the Indian Muslim community during these last two centuries. In Islam also one can discern both renaissance and resurgence movements. Leaders like Mohammed Iqbal and Syed Ahmed Khan were consciously under the influence of Christian values of Western education, and so tried to bring Islam upto-date, at par with Christian values, through the abolish20
northeast and northwestern regions has been recorded as the greatest recent growth of the Church in India. In conclusion we can say that only with the birth of indigenous missions and of non-denominational movements is there a Christian interest among groups other than Hindus. The field is vast and almost entirely new, waiting for pioneers. Let us pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into His field.
THE SOURCES OF THEOLOGICAL TRADITIONS IN INDIA
Beyond doubt the question of authority (to be discussed in the next chapter) is the first question in any theological undertaking. We Indian Christians should be thankful that our own traditional thought-patterns also lead us to the Scriptures, as we have seen above, to be the supreme authority, whatever secondary authorities people may resort to. Once this is settled, the next question would be: what kind of theology is being done in India? By whom, where, when and in what situations? What is their validity and fruitfulness? The answer to these questions is not as unambiguous as one wishes. Having come out from under the foreign yoke politically, we are still accused that our theology is not yet genuinely indigenous! Therefore, it will be most relevant to study these various streams of creativity, mainly under two questions: 1) Who is engaged in doing theology? 2) In what contexts is it being done? After these inquiries, we will study also a third area, necessarily with a sense of shame. Now, don’t rush to this third area! Unless you become aware of the first two areas I am afraid the third may not be meaningful to you!
(i) The first of course is the Syrian tradition, because this is the oldest, claimed to date back as early as 52 A.D., to the landing of the Apostle Thomas in Malabar (Kerala). During its nearly two thousand years of history, it included a number of traditions, not just one — Nestorian, Syrian, Jacobite etc. But not until the influence of Western theology did any substantial writing emerge from this tradition. There were two reasons given for this lack of creativity. Firstly, the Syrian Churches, living in the midst of an alien Hindu environment for centuries, became introspective; and they also fitted into the caste-system as a special caste. A concern for evangelism or apologetics was missing. Secondly, the church language was Syriac which the people did not understand. Even the translation of the Bible into Malayalam was done only recently. So the Syrian theology remained completely Syrian. This meant of course the rejection of the Chalcedonian formula (The christological formula adopted by the Chalcedonian Ecumenical Council in 451 AD, that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man in one person) and a support for monophysitism (the doctrine of one nature in Christ, not two). (ii) The second tradition is the Roman Catholic one. This dates back to the sixteenth century, when Francis Xavier came to Goa in 1652 A.D. In this case Christian missions definitely allied with imperialism. Boyd comments, “The Padroado had laid down the Christianising of India as one of the aims of the imperial expansion, and so a link was early formed between evangelism and imperialism . . .”2 When Robert de Nobili (1577-1656) came to Madurai in 1606 it was this Europeanised Christianity, which was deeply detested by the respectable Hindus which met him. At once he decided to change all this. So, in order to win the high-caste Hindus he became one like them, took to sanyasa and studied Sanskrit and Vedas, used Aquinas and Aristotle, Sanskrit in the place of Latin. But unfortunately without much success. He wrote in purely Indian forms of literature, Puranas, slokas, commentaries and refutations, both in Tamil and Sanskrit. In spite of all this, it is only fair to say
The Churches and their Traditions
This is what Boyd calls the sources of theological tradition, and he mentions three of them.
that he simply reproduced the theology of the Council of Trent. Several of the later Roman Catholic traditions built upon de Nobili (later on in this course there is a chapter on de Nobili and other names mentioned here). Subsequently, it is in this line that greater theological creativity is to be seen, to this day. (iii) The third tradition is the Protestant one, the last of the three to arrive in India. The East India Company was established as early as 1608 in Surat, and chaplains came to minister to the company’s employees. But they were solely confined to the foreigners. When missionaries came in the 18th century (Ziegenbalg in 1706 and William Carey in 1793), there was a kind of tension between these chaplains and the missionaries, as the former were serving exclusively the British, while the missionaries primarily the native Indians. Naturally some relevant and creative work was done by the latter, and in a rich variety as well. Carey’s translation of the Bible into thirty four Indian languages opened up a floodgate which was to be decisive for Indian Christian thinking in ever so many ways. This was followed by the printing press, which became instrumental in disseminating Christian literature. There were also other trends. Alexander Duff maintained that the British education and culture must be considered as preparatio evangelica (preparation for the Gospel), that therefore it was of utmost importance that these be given to the Indians with urgency. But there were also those like J.N. Farquhar who considered Hinduism as a preparatio evangelica, and Christianity as the fulfillment or crown of Hinduism, and so demanded a thorough study of the same. Thus the product of this period in Protestant circles seems to be an innovative, mixed variety than a single tradition. On the whole we could therefore say that theological creativity in India began as early as in the first century, though a genuinely indigenous product did not gain momentum till the Christian missionary movement, when the Bible was available in vernacular languages.
In recent times the Church’s corporate creativity is seen in a new dimension, namely that of Church Union negotiations. The constitutions of these unions, and the literature in connection with the negotiations and their consummation offer a large bulk of theological material, which are yet to be analyzed and used fruitfully for the benefit of Indian Christian communities.
Though in the church traditions also it was individuals who thought and wrote, here we are talking about those individuals who were not strictly bound by particular church confessions, and so were freer in their opinions. As such creativity is greatest here — in fact, the bulk of theological writings we study in this course is written largely by such individual thinkers. At the same time they were not isolated islands but had a good deal of interaction, following and fruitfulness, so one can study them profitably. We can truly say that it is here that real theological raw material was being processed. There were first of all those who belonged to the fold of the Hindu religion, after hearing the gospel grappled with the person and teachings of Jesus Christ, either in defense of their age-old beliefs or in refutation of certain Christian teachings (e.g. Ram Mohan Roy, Radhakrishnan, Mahatma Gandhi). Then there were others who belonged to the ‘mainline’ (that is, standing in the line of established churches) Christians who defended Christian faith against any Hindu attacks. (e.g. Nehemiah Goreh, Paul David Devanandan). These were perhaps more diligent to preserve the tradition of the fathers than to give new directions in theological activity. Thirdly, there are those who, while still remaining in the Church’s fold, yet, because they did not approve of certain aspects of the church’s doctrine or practice, raised a prophetic voice against such deficiencies. Thus they had a reformatory effect on Christianity as a whole in India, (e.g. Manilal Parekh, Subbarao, Chenchiah). Finally, some of them went right out of the Church traditions and became the pioneers of new directions. Many attempted to reconcile Hindu and Christian
messages and roughly chalked out the path for a movement from the former to the latter (e.g. R. Panikkar, M.M. Thomas, Samartha). Even a good sample of their creativity is not readily available. Books like Boyd’s or Samartha’s or Baago’s are at best selections according to the author’s self-chosen criteria. A definitive historical theology in India, that is, a history of the development of Indian theological thought is yet to be written.
national level meetings, Evangelical Fellowship of India and its numerous conferences, Federation of Evangelical Churches of India are other important examples. In higher theological education, researchers are resorting more and more to the findings of these corporate bodies and less to ecclesiastical or individual works. Association of Evangelical Theological Education in India (AETEI) is emerging as a credible national body handling theological education issues. One note should not be out of place here. Almost certainly you would have participated in at least one such conference in India or even at international level abroad. In such meetings one has the feeling that these meetings bring mixed blessings. Though on the one hand they do blunt one’s sharp edges and fanatic tendencies and thus correct our lopsidedness, on the other hand they seem to be effectively silencing the prophetic voice. For example, if two thousand three hundred world level leaders of the evangelical faith decided such and such an action as mandatory for the church at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation, it is very, very hard for a ‘prophet’ to have the courage to speak up against any deficient or even wrong or unbiblical tendencies of such world bodies. Thus, these corporate decisions are to some extent influenced by group dynamics and so must be taken with a pinch of salt. For the same reason, the Ecumenical Councils of the first five centuries are not infallible, but still stand under the judgment of the final pramana (that is, authority, see next section), the Bible.
Conference and Para-church Organizations
This is basically a twentieth century phenomenon, for twentieth century is the century of organisations. No doubt the early Ecumenical Councils are the forerunners, but in India, because of communal disharmony even in Christian communities, there was a conscious effort made to develop a ‘corporate Christian thinking’. Another major reason for such efforts is involvement in the life of society, and the demonstration of the credibility of the gospel. One can find the roots of such approach in the watershed World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh, 1910. As a consequence of this meeting, several international co-operations sprouted, The International Missionary Council, The Faith and Order Movement, The Life and Work Movement, World Council of Churches and the like. On the Evangelical side there were the World Evangelical Fellowship (1951), the Berlin Congress on Evangelism (1966), the Wheaton meeting of IFMA and EFMA (1967), the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation (1974 & 1989), and a host of their consultations and conferences. At a regional level, in India also all such international efforts had their counterparts. The findings and reports of these meetings are vast and rich in theological content. Christian Participation in Nation-building and Debate in Mission are two outstanding examples of such efforts — each of these books is the outcome of numerous national level Indian theological consultations.
The efforts of the National Christian Council of India (now National Council of Churches of India) and its numerous
On a different level, many non- and inter-denominational organizations like the missionary associations, social action institutes, philanthropic or relief efforts, also have their own theological emphases. But their theological output is far less than that of the conferences.
IN WHICH CONTEXT IS THEOLOGICAL ACTIVITY CARRIED OUT?
There is no doubt a slight overlap between this section and the previous one, but yet, this section must be separately dealt with, because there are two contexts to which
Indian theology has been addressing itself and will be addressing in the future as well. The first is the context of religious pluralism. Perhaps more in India than anywhere else in the world, a solution to the question of the relationship between Christianity and other religions becomes an acute need. This is why a lot of material has come from Indian writers on the issues like inter-religious dialogue, discovering Christ in other religions, cultural synthesis, syncretism etc. Even at the world level Indian theologians, like Stanley Joseph Samartha take the helm in the theology of inter-religious dialogue. This is also the area rich with Christian apologetics and that also of a very high quality and, as we noted in the first lesson, prone also to the danger of becoming heretical!
The second context is that of socio-political revolutions. Nation building efforts preceded by the independence struggle, is perhaps the most influential secular context (next only to religious pluralism) which has shaped the recent Indian Christian theologies. A theology of nationalism (in the sense of nation-building), of liberation and social justice are the key motifs of this context. The whole question of the secular interpretation of the Christian message, and the development of relevant Christian ideologies will occupy several years or decades of future Christian thinkers in India.
theological seminaries, professors, their publications etc.) compared to the other areas described above theologization is least here! If we consider the expertise, the resources, the tools of research available and influential position such educational institutions hold in India, it should have showed much more creativity than is now the case. This puts those of us in the enterprise of theological education to shame, as we said above. One reason is that unlike those “lay theologians” who were in direct contact with life situations, the academic nature of these theologies betrays their lack of contact with Indian realities. Theological writings thus became “professional”, originating from the scholar’s pen and settling down in another scholar’s notebook! Also, most of these teachers are from ‘Western Christianity’ background, which fact may explain the inertia of the status quo in the business of doing theology. Only a few of the theological teachers have substantial pastoral or missionary experience. For a long time now, the whole theological education has been hijacked for the sole purpose of producing candidates for ordination. Further, to a large extent seminaries still follow basically a Western pattern in these institutions in their education, spirituality, life-style etc. The Serampore Senate (which coordinates theological educations for Protestant and Orthodox Churches in the Indian subcontinent) and similar bodies still base themselves largely upon Western textbooks, periodicals, methods of education etc. In the last few years some indigenous efforts are discernible, for example in the Indian Theological Library Series or the CISRS series. Most recently, it is encouraging to see that Theological Book Trust (TBT) has undertaken an extensive theological text-books programme, written and published by indigenous experts. Yet, generally speaking, indigenisation in India has indeed sprouted, but it is yet to be watered and cultivated to bear its due fruit. Several national level consultations have been held in India on the subject of theological education. These conferences struggle to evolve an indigenous theological educa29
In both these contextual theologies there is hardly any consensus which can be labeled as the Indian position. The spectrum varies from extreme conservatism to extreme liberalism, and as such is still in a volatile state. The one great distinctive advantage of these contextual theologies is that there is an in-depth struggle with the contexts and so most relevant and meaningful theologies are produced in such struggles. You know of course that the outcome of the Christian approach to these two contexts determines the credibility of the Indian church in the years to come.
THEOLOGICAL CREATIVITY IN THE AREA OF THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION
Though there is a significant amount of theological activity in the area of theological education (that is, by the
tion for India which is at the same time Christian, relevant and fruitful. The reports of many such conferences, such as those of Charles Ranson, M.H. Harrison, and the Board of Theological Education of N.C.C. recommend that in the future Christian theological education must share “in India’s search for new meaning, New Humanity”, “to be openminded, in encounter with renascent religions”, to “minister to men who face new and unprecedented decisions in their political, economic, intellectual, religious and cultural life”. What do you think? Let us conclude, with the following evaluatory comments: 1) Of the five aspects of theological creativity we have been considering (ecclesiastical, individual, consultational, contextual and academic), each has some weaknesses also: the ecclesiastical and conference theologies tend to be too traditional and static; individual theologies tend to be lopsided, truncated, or partial. Academic, institutional theologies are guilty of irrelevance and impracticability. Thus it is in the case of the theologies produced in raw struggle with the context of the secular and religious world that the hope is best and strongest for a really authentic and fruitful Indian Christian theology, though right now such efforts seem very radical. 2) Men (not principles) are still God’s methods, and prophets (not councils) are still the conscience of the Church. So in our land more than anything else the voice of the one who could say, “Thus says the Lord” must be encouraged and heard. Each of us are called upon to theologize, in however small measure in contexts God has placed us. May God make you a prophet — one who comes from the holy presence of God and says like the prophet Isaiah of old, “Thus saith the Lord!” 3) The theological seminaries and colleges must be encouraged to relate their programmes more relevantly and realistically to the Church’s life as well as society’s needs. For, theology is after all a function of the Church as a whole.
Seminaries must serve the Churches, not vice versa. This means that concrete approaches like appointing teachers in our theological institutions on the basis of their fruitfulness and commitment to the churches by way of pastoral experience, churches’ input in developing the theological training programmes and curricula are among some of the implementations which are needed if seminary theological creativity is to become relevant and fruitful.
PRAMANAS: SOURCES OF RELIGIOUS AUTHORITY IN INDIA What is Authority?
Suppose you had a dispute with one of your colleagues, for example about the meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To prove you are right, you quote from this textbook. Would your adversary be convinced? Not at all! Because, as far as (s)he is concerned, this book will be a weak support. Not because it is wrong (I hope not), but because its credibility is not yet universally recognized. No doubt your quoting the book will be far more convincing than quoting, say the Prime Minister, for the simple reason that theology is our field of specialization, and so rightly or wrongly we the authors are supposed to be experts in the field — while the Prime Minister, in spite of his high power, is just a layman in this area. But what happens if you quote, say, Martin Luther? that would be more convincing, since Luther is more or less universally accepted — but only among the Protestants. Thus in order to establish your point, you will have to take support from some authority which is acceptable both to you and to your colleagues — the nature of the authority you take for support depends upon who your questioner/colleague is — the more universally accepted ‘authority’ you quote, the more convincing your position becomes. As can easily be seen, this question of authority comes up not just in the matter of disputes, but at the deepest level of our beliefs: On what basis (authority) do I believe anything?
The question, which authority is the basis for your theological truths thus becomes a crucial — and so the first - question in any study of theology. The shape of the superstructure in any building is to a decisive extent dependent upon the foundation it has. Similarly, what you believe is decisively dependent upon why you believe, the authority for your belief. This is the reason why most of the systematic treatises on theology start with the question of authority, and the doctrine of the scripture as the supreme authority in matters of faith and conduct.
Against this, the Protestants developed what is known as the ‘material principle’ of Reformation, namely, the Sola Scriptura — that only Scriptures are the supreme authority for faith and conduct (the complementary ‘formal’ principle was faith). Both Protestants and Orthodox rejected the papal claims, while the Orthodox gave a greater weight to the authority of Tradition (Ecumenical Councils) than the Protestants.
Authority in Indian Philosophy
It is fruitful to see that in India the question of authority has occupied a central point in all the systems of Indian Philosophy from their beginning. In fact, one of the crucial differences between these systems is the nature of authority of religious knowledge each uses. It must also be noted that in earlier times in India, as elsewhere, there was no differentiation made between philosophy, theology, religion, culture, etc., and so what was authoritative in one area was valid also for the others. Hence, in developing a relevant theology for India and especially for the Hindus, it is imperative that Christian views of why we believe must first be established and communicated to them. In the following sections, we will first deal briefly with the Hindu understanding of authority, then describe summarily (details in the following units) some Christian attempts to ‘Indianize’ the Christian approach.
Authority in the Christian Church
In the history of the Christian Church throughout the ages, the question of authority for one’s beliefs came up at several points. In the second century, Tertullian and Iraneus, for example, discussed the question of authority of the Bishops, Church and the Scriptures. But the importance of the issue was not fully realized till the time of Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. One of the most crucial subjects of dispute between Luther (for that matter, all Reformers of the time) and the Roman Catholic church was precisely this question of authority. In the dispute, unfortunately, the Roman Catholics crystallized their doctrine of authority in unmistakable terms in the Council of Trent (in session IV, on 8th April, 1546) in the following words:
The foundation of all saving truth and moral discipline . . . is contained in the written books and in the unwritten tradition, which later have come down to us at the dictation of the Holy Spirit by unbroken secession from the mouth of Christ himself or his apostles; hence we receive and venerate both Scripture and Tradition with equal piety and reverence.3
Pramanas in Hindu tradition
The term for authority in Hindu philosophy is Pramana, way of valid knowledge (from Prama, right knowledge, knowledge which cannot be falsified). Each school of Hindu thought accepted a set of pramanas as the true foundation for right knowledge. Knowledge gained in ways other than these was not true knowledge — it was either inadequate, transitory, and belonged to the category of falsehood, doubt, illusion, dream, etc., but not true knowledge.
The last phrase, ‘with equal piety and reverence’ was their way of saying ‘with equal authority’. In Vatican II this equality of tradition’s authority with that of the Scriptures was crystallized into the infallibility of the Pope, leading to the supremacy of the Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church.
The number of pramanas differs from school to school. To start with, some accepted only two, namely, pratyaksha (perception which comes through sense experience) and anumana (inference, logic, also called yukti) Only the atheistic schools, namely Charavaka, Jaina and Bauddha schools, limited the number of authorities to these two, since they did not want to come under the authority of the Vedas. The rest of the schools, namely Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimansa and Vedanta schools, accepted a third pramana — Sabda (the word of testimony, either human or divine). It was the chief contribution of these schools to develop Sabda as the supreme authority, by limiting it to mean the Vedas, which were assumed to be the superhuman, eternal and creative Word of God. As such, Vedas were accepted as the true and infallible pramana. So of all the literature passed on from time immemorial, the Vedas were carefully distinguished as sruti (that which is heard — the voice of the rishis/gods) and smriti (that which is remembered, by the scholars, community — that is, the tradition). For the theistic schools, it became mandatory to find some kind of support ultimately in the Vedas. To these main three pramanas, others had been added at various stages of development of different schools of thought. The two most common additions are: upamana (analogy/comparison) and arthapratti (implication other than logical). The lesser known additions were: Tarka (rationalization), Anupalabdhi (non-apprehension), Sambhava (inclusion) and Aitihya (tradition). As the English translations of these terms show, the exact meaning and differentiation of these Hindu pramanas is quite an involved affair. Sometimes some of the latter pramanas are included in the major ones. But one can certainly conclude that in general the main authorities for entire Hindu thought were three, Sruti, Anumana, and pratyaksha. Since the last one deals with primary experience, it became equivalent to anubhava (direct experience or intutional experience), though often it meant intuitional experience.
The Pramanas and Christian Faith
What can we say about the use of these pramanas in indianising Christian faith? First, it is important to note that these three correspond well with Christian understanding of authority, and what is more important, both Christian and Hindu systems ultimately resort to ‘revelation’ as the final authority, thereby implying the rottenness of human reason or experience. Is it accidental? Or is this a preparatio evangelica? Secondly, as Robin Boyd points out, the meaning of sruti as revelation is much nearer to the Hebrew concept of the word of God than Latin revelation (re-velare, to take away the veil), derived from its Greek parent word, apokalypto (the same meaning, to take away the veil). Both the Greek and Latin concepts of revelation appeal to the eye, to vision. But the Hebrew dabar (word, speak) and sruti are closer to one another since both resort to the ear, the hearing. God created the world with His word. When Yahweh gave the decalogue at Mount Sinai, the Israelites only heard His voice, but saw no form. And Jesus is called logos, the Word. Thus it is in the concept of sruti that one can far more effectively recover the Hebrew concept of God as the one who speaks. Thirdly, the meaning of the Hindu pramanas is not exactly the same as their Christian equivalents. Reason or logic in Hindu thought has more than one form, beyond the deductive and inductive logics. Hindu thought also includes a new type of logic, which Boyd aptly calls the logic of “reconciling the opposites”. This kind of logic comes very handy when we consider some doctrines which seem to have in-built ‘contradictions’, such as: the Bible as the Word of God and word of man at the same time, Jesus as fully God and fully man, etc. Experience also means more in Hindu systems. It is not just sense-experience alone, but includes also intuition and even mystical experience. Thus it is very necessary that before using the Hindu pramanas as valid for Christian theology, we adequately baptize or define them.
Finally, there are some authorities in Christian thought which have no essential place in the Hindu system of authorities. Tradition, which plays a key role in the Roman Catholic theology (as corporate reasoning), History (as corporate experience) and conscience are not really considered in Hindu schools.
theology today. Would you like to take up this as a challenge and ministry, as the Lord guides you? Experience comes second both for Hindus and most of Christians. Vivekananda became a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa after the latter answered affirmative to his question, “Have you seen God?” If only we Christians could concentrate on witnessing to our experience (for no one can ever question one’s experience!) like the blind man in John 9, “One thing I know: once I was blind, but now I see”, I have no doubt that the fruitfulness of the Gospel would be multiplied. Here we are not talking so much about the Hindu experience of mystical union with the All or Brahman, but rather the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit in the character and conduct of the Christian disciple or community. Needless to add, whatever experience we may have they all must be evaluated in the light of our supreme pramana, the Bible, for the simple reason, our experiences can be subjective or illusory — one may not argue about it, only accept or reject it; yet, their validity is not self-evident. Bishop A.J. Appasamy places — notice he is a bishop! — the Church tradition (aitihya) as the second pramana along with experience. The work of the Holy Spirit during the last two thousand years of Church history cannot be easily put aside (my own view is that the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the believer’s life now, direct and personal, is perhaps a more reliable guide than the general guidance in Church history, being impersonal, past and divergent). One need not be dogmatic here, once the Scriptures are given the first position; and I would put tradition in the third place. It is in the fourth pramana, namely, anumana or reason that there is a rich variety of Indian Christian theologies. In the west, different systems came into being following different philosophical/logical systems, such as Platonism, Aristotelianism, Positivism, Idealism, Existentialism, etc. So also in India: following the six darsanas (philosophical schools, mentioned above) a variety of Christian theologies are possible, at least in principle.
It was Bishop A.J. Appasamy (whose thought we will study later) who first called attention to the primary task of theology: to establish its pramanas, as Hindu thought does. Hindu thought usually develops in three steps: 1) What do the Vedas say on the point at issue? 2) Can it be logically demonstrated? 3) Does it tally with human experience? It is most heartening to see that the Indian Christian theologians, all but three, give to the Bible the first place as authority. One exception is Chenchiah. He gives first place to anubhava (experience). Though Sadhu Sunder Singh gives great importance of his mystical experiences — “a revelation which I have received in ecstasy is worth more to me than all the traditional Church teaching” — it is safe to say that he still places all his experiences under the authority of the Bible, though above the Church tradition. The only other exceptions are Brahmabandhab Upadhyaya and Raymondo Panikkar, both of whom give first place to the teaching of the Church. But both of them are Roman Catholics, so their approach is quite understandable! One could now say that honouring the Bible as the foremost authority is quite Indian! This is also the emphasis of the Reformers and a host of theologians even before them. So Boyd is very right in strongly underlining that “the supreme pramana, must be the Scriptures, and that no philosophical or ecclesiastical tradition must be allowed to challenge this authority.” 4 If this is valid, then it is high time that Indian theologians concentrated on producing substantial exegetical works. Sad to say, lack of such a serious study of the Bible is perhaps the most serious weakness of Indian Christian
Thus far, among these schools Vedanta has been used extensively. Brahmabandhab’s use of Sankara’s advaita and Appasamy’s use of Ramanuja’s vishishtadvaita are the outstanding examples. Besides Vedanta, other systems also are used — e.g. Chenchiah’s use of Aurobindo’s Creative Evolution; Nehemiah Goreh uses, in the Thomistic fashion, the Hindu logic to refute his adversaries. The fifth pramana, (which Boyd considers as a type of logic) is upamana or analogy. Just as Jesus used parables and Thomas Aquinas used his ‘analogy’ most effectively, so in India Sadhu Sunder Singh has used this method of upamana fruitfully in all his writings and messages. Once the Bible is accepted as the final authority, then the resort to upamana can be perhaps more fruitful than other pramanas. What can be said in conclusion? At least this: The primary task of theology is to establish the nature of authority on which one’s faith/theology is based. As we have seen, this is the first question both in Christian and Hindu systems. Also there is a good deal of similarity between the sets of authorities, so that adaptability becomes easier. Once the Scripture is accepted as the ultimate authority (as in Hindu systems), then other Pramanas, Experience, Reason, Church’s teaching, Analogy become supportive authorities.
1. P.D.Devanandan, Preparation for Dialogue, CISRS, Bangalore: 1964, p. 191. 2. R.H.S Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, CLS, Madras: 1969, p. 11. 3. Karl Rahner (ed.), Sacramentum Mundi, Vol. 6, Scripture and Tradition, p. 54. 4. Boyd, op. cit., p. 228.
INDIAN CONTRIBUTIONS TO CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
In the following chapters we shall examine the way in which Christ has been interpreted in approximately the last two and half centuries by Indian thinkers who were in the forefront in the cultural, social, political and religious changes taking place in India. We focus on three or four leading thinkers, both on their life and their interpretation of Christ. For the sake of uniformity the method we follow in each case is the same: we give an outline of the background of their life and teaching and the main points of their interpretation followed by an evaluation. One word of caution here. It does not mean that those whom we consider here are the only ones to have responded to the Christian Gospel, nor that they have responded most. It only means that for scientific analysis their writings are preserved and are available. It is possible that later some other writings/theologians be discovered for an objective study.
RAJA RAMMOHAN ROY (1774 - 1833)
We have already seen that the new self-understanding of Hinduism in the last two centuries was primarily on account of its encounter with Christian faith. There is no doubt that such new self-understanding is really new, because it differs considerably from that of classical Hinduism. It is both a reaction to the Western (then basically Christian) influences, as well as their product. This is evidenced by the new sense of Hindu missions. As religion, culture, politics, society and philosophy were all one bundle, this face-lift of neo-Hinduism affected all these areas. But it is legitimate to say that the primary reinterpretations took place in the social-ethical sphere. There was an increasing aversion to idolatry, polytheism, casteism, joint-family, disregard of woman on the one hand.
At the same time there was an addition of new ethical and philanthropic elements, on the other. Rammohun Roy (1772-1833) is hailed as the ‘morning star of Indian renaissance’, ‘the Prophet of Indian Nationalism’, ‘the father of modern India’. He is also the first Indian leader to take Christian faith seriously, and also has responded to it extensively. He was born in a Brahmin family of Bengal. As such, he was very sensitive in spiritual/ religious matters, and left home at the age of fifteen in search of truth. In his search in other cultures he mastered several languages — Bengali, Sanskrit, English as well as Arabic and Persian. The latter particularly impressed upon his growing mind the truth of monotheism as well as the rejection of idolatry. The watershed in his life was his witnessing to the agony of his brother’s wife, being burnt alive in sati. He vowed at that moment to devout all his life to the abolition of this evil practice. For this he took his strength from the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Upanishads. Boyd rightly comments: It was Christian ethics rather than Christian dogma which attracted Ram Mohun Roy, and he saw no reason why a compromise should not be possible between his own Hindu monism based on the Upanishads, and the morality of the Sermon on the Mount.1 In fact he founded a new religious society based on such a compromise, the Atmiya Sabha (the spiritual congregation) in 1815, which after a few years, and with the influence of Dwaraknath Tagore and Prosonno Kumar became Brahma Sabha (the Congregation of the Brahman). Later it was called Brahmo Samaj (the society of Brahmos) in 1830. In this society, worship was to the one God, with rituals and theologies taken from both Hindu and Christian scriptures. The Society was also concerned with social reform, and published literature for the purpose. Later in his life Roy visited England to fight before the British Government the cause of a local maharajah (from whom he received the title Raja), but died in Bristol due to illness in 1833. Only recently he has been re-discovered as
the ‘Father of Indian Renaissance’, and his writings have been published just in 1948. Roy’s writings include: The Precepts of Jesus (the full title runs: “The Precepts of Jesus, the Guide to Peace and Happiness, extracted from the books of the New Testament, ascribed to the four evangelists” with translations into Sanskrit and Bengalese), Appeals to the Christian Public in Defense of the Precepts of Jesus by a Friend of Truth (18 pages), followed by a second (112 pages) and final (200 pages) appeal.
Roy’s Interpretation of Christ
It is clear from the titles of Roy’s writings that he was not so much interested in the person of Jesus as in His teachings, the precepts. This is a typical Hindu approach, in two aspects: (1) they place the principles above the person, and (2) they are interested more in Jesus than in Christianity as a religion. Roy did so separate Jesus’ teachings as the essence of Christianity:
These precepts separated from the mysterious dogmas and historical records, appear . . . to contain not only the essence of all that is necessary to instruct mankind . . . but also the best and the only means of obtaining forgiveness of sins, the favour of God and strength to overcome our passions and to keep his commandments. 2
It seems that for the same reason he rejects the glorified view of John’s portrayal of Christ but prefers the more realistic picture of the synoptic gospels. And, if we remember his Unitarian position, it becomes apparent that here Roy is rejecting the deity of Christ and accepting an Arian Christology, that Jesus was no more than a created being, and not the creator. For Roy, the primary argument was that Jesus Christ betrays his “natural inferiority of the Son to the Father”, 3 because
(1) The Son is dependent on the Father and is his subject;
(2) The Son has submitted his will to the Father, and thus is in moral union with the Father and not in identity of being;
(3) He is the mediator and the messiah as the first-born of all creatures. So Roy writes,
I regret only that the followers of Jesus in general, should have paid much greater attention to inquiries after his nature than to the observance of his commandments, when we are well aware that no human acquirements can ever discover the nature even of the most common and visible things and moreover that such inquiries are not enjoined by the divine revelation.4
Jesus’ example, that there is a story of one Mathura Nath Bose coming to Christ and baptism through the reading of Roy’s Precepts!
What can we say in evaluation of Roy’s theology? First, he was a watershed in Indian interpretation of Jesus Christ in several ways. He was the first to separate Christ and Christianity, and to reject the latter in preference of the former; the first to criticize the Hindu socio-religious system, and that too on the basis of the truths found in the Bible; the first to emphasize the ethical components of Hinduism; and also the first to start a syncretistic movement, the Brahmo Samaj. Secondly, it is typical of Hindu interpretations of Jesus Christ to minimize the significance of Jesus’ life — his passion, death and resurrection — over against his teaching. The reason is that in the historical understanding of reality, where everything returns again and again to the origin in a cycle, it is impossible to give permanent value to a person, who is a historical reality, only for a brief space of time. The understanding of this world as the realm of Maya, as illusion, is the root cause behind this devaluation of the concrete in preference to the abstract. Hence, Roy and many thinkers after him do not see that Jesus’ calling to people was to himself — and that in Jesus the Kingdom of God has come to man in a decisive form. But Jesus clearly claimed to be the object of human faith — “Believe in me”, “Follow me”, are refrains in the New Testament. Thirdly, it is plain that Roy’s hesitation to ascribe to Jesus the divine nature stems from his allegiance to Unitarianism. Like the Unitarians, he also overlooks Jesus’ claims to deity such as his acceptance of worship, power to forgive sins, power over the material world as its creatorLord, pre-existence, etc. But in the New Testament there is a clear teaching about the person of the Holy Spirit — not only in grammar, but also in revealing his personality in the capacity to have relationship with man, to be grieved,
Thus the main contention between Roy and the Serampore missionaries and particularly Marshman, concerns the nature of Christ. Roy does not deal with the monistic concept (the Father and the Son are one and the same) nor with the Nicene formula of one essence in three persons, but affirms the moral unity. But he does revere Jesus as the unfallen Adam. Though he affirms the virgin birth and the miracles and even bodily resurrection, yet his emphasis is on none of these, but only on the teachings of Jesus. For this reason, he does not also see the saving significance of Christ’s life, namely, of the cross and resurrection. For, he affirms, there is no biblical evidence for such a doctrine of the cross as the all-sufficient means for our salvation, but repentance instead is the only means. He finds divine injustice if God inflicts suffering on an innocent person on behalf of others. It is obvious that this kind of Christology negates also the doctrine of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is not so much a person as ‘it’ is an influence, or power, of God — it is not self-existent, as it proceeds from the Father as does also from the son. This means that only God (Brahma) is to be worshipped, not the creatures, and for Roy the Son and the Holy Spirit belong to this lesser realm. To worship the Son and the Holy Spirit would be equal to primitive Hindu worship! Apparently Roy was not interested in other aspects of Christian faith, such as the Church, which his follower Keshub Chunder Sen took most seriously. So it is concerning the truth contained in the sayings of Jesus that Roy finds the uniqueness of Christ. Here he was so convinced of
and to lead, comfort and accompany believers in their struggles. Finally, the rejection of the orthodox doctrine of atonement — on the cross Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of mankind in their place — takes away the very essence of Christian faith. This is possible when one holds that man is capable of doing what God demands of him, thus denying the fallenness of human nature. Only those who deny the fallenness of man will dilute or throw away the biblical truth that God is holy and righteous, while man sinful. Indeed what Roy says is a mixture of ancient Arianism and Pelagianism. We could also add here that Roy’s rationalism is a stubborn stumbling block to the spiritual truths which can be assimilated only by faith and consequent confirmation in obedience (for a different evaluation of Roy’s thinking, see M.M. Thomas, The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance, pp. 29-36).
all these scholars and theologians, leaders and evangelists put together!
K.C. Sen and the Brahmo Samaj
Keshub Chunder Sen was born (19th November 1838) in Colutolah in Calcutta, as the second son in a Vaidya caste family, to Piari Mohun Sen and Sarada Devi. Losing his father at the age of ten, Keshub came under the vaishnavaite influence of his mother. It was during his teen-age that he became dissatisfied with Hinduism, a strong impulse to pray became the driving force of his life. At this time he began to study the Bible, came into contact with missionaries and philosophies. His marriage to a nine year old village girl was traumatic for him and he decided for ascetic life. He joined Brahmo Samaj in 1857 signing the membership covenant. This seems to have given him a new identity he was longing for. It was under the tutelage of the Brahmo leader Debendranath Tagore that Keshub bloomed in his brahmo convictions. Debendranath says about Keshub, “whatever he thought in his mind he had the power to express in his speech. Whatever he said, he had the power to do. Whatever he did he had the power of making other men do.” Such an eulogy by the leader of the Brahmo Samaj won for Keshub the self confidence as well as respect from others. Sen brought a revolution in the Brahmo Samaj. Originally only Brahmins were to have leadership, and so the ordaining of Sen as the first non-Brahmin Acharya (Priest) of the Samaj was not accepted by all the Brahmos. Throughout his life he was a sincere seeker, highly research-minded, pious. At 17 years of age he joined the Samaj and was soon recognized for his gift of oratory. In 1860 Sen formed a Sangha Sabha where spiritual devotions as well as intellectual debates on the contemporary issues in religion and society were the primary agenda. From 1861 Sen worked whole time for the Samaj. He advocated abandoning the sacred thread. He introduced Christian philanthropy into the Samaj and founded the Calcutta College, in 1861, the first college founded by an Indian. His young wife
KESHUB CHUNDER SEN (1838 - 1884)
Raja Rammohan Roy did start off some of the typical approaches to Christian faith. But he was not a typical Hindu seeker, for ethical and social questions cannot be asked in Hinduism per se but rather primarily religious and philosophical questions. Also, Roy’s thinking was more in the rationalistic line of the Western thinkers than genuinely Indian. The next leader of the Brahmo Samaj, Debendranath Tagore (1870-1905), went consciously and deliberately back into the Hindu tradition, and so had hardly anything worthwhile to say concerning Jesus or Christianity. Thus, the next important Indian interpretation of Christ is his successor, Keshub Chunder Sen. As Boyd observes, Sen is the “pattern Hindu seeker”, yet, “one who has found the pearl of great price but is reluctant to sell all that he has in order to buy it”, namely, the pearl of Jesus Christ.5 This lack of full commitment to Christ is rather the rule than the exception in Indian Christianity, is it not? Imagine the disaster such a lack would bring about in a marriage! Would to God that we had more committed disciples of Christ than
participated in the ordination service of her husband which became a catalyst for women’s liberation at the time. But on the issues of widow remarriage and inter-caste marriage Sen and Debendranath Tagore separated, and Sen founded the Brahmo Samaj of India in 1886 (Debendranath’s Brahmo Samaj died shortly after this). Sen made bhakti the watchword of this new movement which shows the strong influence of Vaishnavist roots all his life. Unlike Roy’s Samaj, Sen’s Samaj included the Christian elements into its sessions in a fuller way: the use of Scriptures, meeting on Sundays, earnest prayers to Brahma, the starting of Brahmo missions, to cite a few examples. He also developed Brahmo liturgies and annual festivals were introduced. While the former Brahmos accepted divine revelation only in nature and intuition, Sen added that God can be known also in history — a step nearer to incarnation than Roy’s rigid position. Soon he became a Brahmo missionary, a very successful one too. He undertook a watershed lecture tour of England in 1870, which seems to have confirmed his disillusionments about Christianity. On his return Keshub began announcing his vision of a new dispensation, demanding all accept him as its initiator. At this time he got acquainted also with Dayananda Saraswati and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa; due to the fanatical tendencies of the former Keshub could not develop a genuine friendship with him, as he did with Ramakrishna, whom he actually introduced to the world. However, his autocratic control of the Samaj, his doctrine of Adesh (see below) and his attitude towards the emancipation of women brought about opposition from the Samajists. His weak health during the last years of his life was a great handicap for his activities and leadership, and he died, rather a disappointed soul in April 1884. In his later life, Sen developed an extreme egocentric attitude which stifled his otherwise great spiritual sensitivity. He began the doctrine of adesha (message, revelation), that in his time God was exclusively speaking and revealed Himself through Sen as the human instrument. He de48
manded Vairagya and expected total allegiance from his followers as devotees. He met Ramakrishna and under his influence started to emphasize the motherhood of God. Later in 1861 he inaugurated the Church of Nababidhan (the church of the New Dispensation) with great pomp and show. For the purpose he presented himself with twelve disciples and four scriptures (Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim) to drive home the fact that like Jesus in his time, he (Sen) was the latest revelation of God, superseding all the earlier ones. He called this band the “apostolic durbar”. He also introduced sacrifices, baptism and Eucharist, mystic dances and even magic.
Paradoxically, it is also during this later period that his attraction to Christ increased — even some of his closest friends have written that Sen died a Christian — a debatable opinion indeed. He died in 1884. He was a charismatic personality with great gifts and sincerity, and has given many seed thoughts for Indian Christian theology. Yet neither in thought nor life nor in ministry was he systematic.
Most of Sen’s theological writings are to be found in his annual lectures to the Brahmos, which he prepared with meticulous research, especially those given between 1863 and 1866 are rich in content. These have been published in two sets: Keshub Chunder Sen’s Lectures in India (2 volumes); The New Dispensation (2 volumes). Besides these several scores of authors have written about him and his theology: C.F. Andrews, M.C. Parekh, V.S. Azariah, S.N. Banerjea, H.C. Banerjee, G.C. Banerji, Meredith Borthwick, Motilal Das, K.S. Ghose, B. Mozoomdar, P.C. Mozoomdar, F. Max Muller, B.V, Ray, G.G. Roy, P.K. Sen, T.E. Slater, Marquess Zetland and many others. The main writings of Sen include (in English) The Book of Pilgrimages, Brahmagitopanishat, The Brahmo Samaj, Divine Worship, Jeevan Veda (autobiography); he has also written scores of articles in English, and books in Bengali.
K.C. Sen’s Theology
The main elements of Sen’s theology could be summarized under three heads: God, Christ and the Church.
DOCTRINE OF GOD
Being a Brahmo, Sen was naturally concerned with the doctrines of the Trinity to start with. It is to Sen that Indian Christians owe their use of the term, Saccidananda (Sat + cit + ananda = truth + intelligence + bliss) for the Trinity. Boyd suggests that this term is more adequate than the Nicene Formula of one substance and three persons, which is still in Greek philosophical categories. It is to be noticed that more than Roy, Sen accepted this doctrine. In one of his annual lectures he writes,
In this plane figure of three lines you have the solution to a vast problem; The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost; the Creator, the Exemplar, the Sanctifier; I am, I love, I save; the still God, the journeying God, the returning God; Force, Wisdom, Holiness; the True, the Good, the Beautiful; Sat, Cit, Ananda; Truth, Intelligence, Joy.
Behold, he cometh to us in his loose flowing garment, his dress and features altogether oriental, a perfect Asiatic in everything. Watch his movements and you will find genuine orientalism in all his habits and manners, in his uprising and downsitting, his going forth and his coming in, his preaching and ministry, his very language, style and tone. Indeed while reading the Gospel, we cannot but feel that we are quite at home when we are with Jesus, and that he is altogether one of us. Surely Jesus is our Jesus.
It is this understanding of Christ that helped Sen to replace the Greek logos concept of the gospel of John with the Hindu/Indian concept of Cit, the word of creation. The eternally asleep logos or cit is not just at the beginning of creation but also at the consummation of it at the end. Thus cit is the culmination of humanity, of the process of history — the whole creative evolution. In all this Christology, Sen understands Christ’s unity with the Father neither as metaphysical nor as ontological but as mystical communion. Unlike many Indians, Sen dwells more upon the humanity of Jesus than his deity! Sen was not tired of describing Christ as the son of a humble carpenter, who grew like any other normal man; yet he was more than a man, because he was “a divine man”, a term which has been repeatedly used in India and elsewhere for Christ since then. In fact this term is Sen’s favourite description of Jesus Christ. This divineness of Christ consists in the fact that he was so filled with God that he destroyed self. Bonhoeffer’s phrase for Christ, “the Man for Others” would have aptly suited Sen’s concept of Christ’s divinity. In one of his lectures he clarifies his kenosis theory as follows:
When I come to analyse this doctrine I find it nothing but the philosophical principle underlying the popular doctrine of self-abnegation . . . Christ ignored and denied his self altogether . . . he destroyed self. And as self ebbed away, heaven came pouring into his soul. For . . . nature abhors a vacuum, and hence as soon as the soul is emptied of self, Divinity fills the void.6
Obviously, here Sen is reconciling the Christian Trinity with Hindu Saccidananda and Greek philosophical virtues. In this attempt, there is a streak of modalism (of God revealing himself in three modes or times) and thus diluting the distinction of the three persons in the Godhead. In another lecture, he describes the three persons as the Above, the Below, and the Within. No doubt these descriptions are helpful — perhaps more helpful than the ontological language of the Greeks. The crux of the matter in Christian dogma is the precise meaning of the terms “person” and “substance” or “essence” — lacking this, any adequate clarification of the Nicene formula of one substance in three persons is fruitless.
DOCTRINE OF CHRIST
Like most of the Indian thinkers Sen, too, is attracted towards Christ and Christology more than anything else. Sen was the first to discover that the Christ of the Bible is an Asiatic Christ, and thus as being nearer to Indian thought than is acknowledged. For Sen, Christ and his religion are “altogether an oriental affair”. He writes in a moving passage,
Sen finds this kenosis of Jesus in his utterances such as “I and my Father are one”, “I can of my own self do nothing”,
and “I am in my Father and my Father is in me”. The first of these quotations has become the most quoted saying of Jesus in India concerning his own person. Jesus manifested his divinity in his utter self-surrender and dependence upon the Father. Thus for Sen “Jesus is identical with self-sacrifice”. It is on this basis that Sen makes forgiveness and self-sacrifice the two foundations of Christian living. But what does Sen think of Christ’s atoning work? Of the Cross and Resurrection? He regards the cross as nothing more than an example of the self-sacrifice. He writes, “I have always regarded the Cross as a beautiful symbol of selfsacrifice unto the glory of God.”7 It is through the moral influence of his death on the cross as the supreme example of self-denial that Christ turns men from sin to God. Each one can be saved by imitating this example of self-giving. Thus, “Go thou, and do likewise” is the way of appropriating Christ’s salvation and no other way is there for Sen. Through Christ, “as through a brother’s example, fallen humanity rises sanctified and regenerated.” 8 As journeying god, he becomes human, in order that we may become divine. As such Sen’s concept of salvation is more of divinisation than humanization. But in all this, Sen is not thinking so much of individual salvation but rather of the cosmic salvation of all mankind. Hence there is little emphasis on repentance and faith as means of appropriating the salvation. In fact, he seems to have conceived of this salvation as an automatic process or result of Christ’s coming, which process he calls christification. There is a danger here, of the possibility that this Christification could mean, in Sen’s thinking, the Hindu realization of Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahman). It is possible, as Boyd gives credit to Sen, that during the latter period of his life Sen came closer to the orthodox concept of atonement, namely that of the efficacy of Christ’s death for the remission of our sins. Even the language of substitution is used:
Christ substituted himself for the world . . . Believe in this substitution and we are all one in Christ . . . Behold, I am reconciled to all through the blood of him crucified.9
Yet, in all this there is hardly any understanding of the Cross being the penalty for the sins of mankind. As such, the dominant ideas of Sen seems to be that Christ is a mediator in what he is than what he does, more due to his nature than due to his work. Before leaving Sen’s Christology, one more element should be noted. He sees Christ wherever he sees something good and noble — be it religion, philosophy or ideology. As such, for him Christ is present in all systems — the concept of hidden Christ which the later thinkers so gluttonously accepted! Sen writes, “Christ is already present in you . . . He is in you, even when you are unconscious of his presence.” 10 Like those who advocate a cosmic Christ, Sen also resorts to passages like John, 1:9: “He is the light that lighteth every man coming into the world”, Acts, 17:27,28: “He is not far from any of us. In him we live and move and have our being”, and 14:17: “God has not left any of us without a testimony concerning himself.” This kind of Christology led Sen to a syncretistic religion very near to that of M.M. Thomas’ Christ-centred syncretism, but which he called the Church of the New Dispensation.
DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH
Sen saw himself as divinely appointed and commissioned to be “the leader of the New Dispensation” in which all religions are harmonized and in which all men are summoned to enter as their spiritual home. He claimed special divine inspiration (Adesha), equal to that of Moses and Jesus. In fact, Sen claimed that Moses’ was the first dispensation, Jesus’ and Paul’s the second, and his the third and the final one, which necessarily supersedes all previous dispensations and revelations. This was definitely a deliberate attempt on Sen’s part to integrate the Western and Eastern religions into one heritage. He used the symbols of the cross, the Hindu trishul (three-pronged spear) and the Islamic half-moon and star as the emblem of his new
indigenous Church. As we saw earlier in the life sketch, he also used the scriptures from these religions on par with the Bible. The goal of this move was the unification of all mankind in himself! This new church was more intimately related to the Holy Spirit than was previously the case. But in claiming his inspiration as final and superseding all others, Sen is in fact monopolizing the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and not the Holy Spirit controlling Sen! You see, between heresy and orthodoxy there is but a thin line of demarcation, which any of us can cross! Look at what Sen could say under such a misunderstanding of God’s revelation:
Keshub Chunder Sen, a servant of God, called to be an apostle of the Church of the New Dispensation, which is in the Holy city of Calcutta, the metropolis of Aryavarta, to all the great nations in the world and to the followers of Moses, of Jesus, of Buddha, of Confucius, of Zoroaster, of Mahmet, of Nanak and to the various branches of the Hindu Church, to the saints and sages, the bishops and the elders, the ministers and the missionaries of all these religious bodies: Grace be unto you and peace everlasting . . .
On the positive side: Undoubtedly the credit of using indigenous thought forms, categories and terms for Christian message goes to Sen. Saccidananda, Christian mahavakya, Asiatic Christ are the obvious examples. More than this, he also gave seeds for posterity to Indianise the Christian faith: the concept of divine-human, hidden Christ, Christ-centred integration, kenosis as self-emptying, the emphasis on the Holy Spirit, Christification, are some of the seeds which have yielded harvest with the later Indian interpreters of Christ. Secondly, while Roy refused to go beyond looking at Christ other than the principle he presents (namely, that of self-giving love), Sen goes one step further and accepts the significance of Christ’s person, not just his teaching. In fact it was the power of Christ’s person and not his wisdom which most fascinated Sen. Thirdly, it was a great stroke of genius to see the place of church in the Christian scheme of things, and Sen makes it essential to his own theology. At the same time, he tried to keep his New Dispensation Church away from the western institutionalism and dogmaticism, hence his loose organisation. It was a mixture of both Jesus’ apostles and the Indian gurukul (teacher and disciples living together) system. Compared to the Brahmos, it was surely a step nearer to the Christian church. Fourthly, Sen was again the first to emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit in Christian doctrines. No doubt there is a tendency to lean heavily upon personal mystical aspects, but as a creative thinker he was not free from faults. And finally, he was also the first to lay emphasis upon the experience of spiritual realities, unlike Raja Rammohan Roy. Not just ethical life, but more than that spiritual experiences made his teachings appealing. For the same reason, against the brahmo philosophy Sen accepted history as a mode of God’s revelation. On the negative side: the first thing to notice is of course his doctrine of adesha, as a unique God’s revelation, higher
And later on the message claims an exclusive revelation to Keshub Sen, and ends with the plea:
Let Asia, Europe, Africa and America with divine instruments praise the New Dispensation, and sing the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.
In spite of the opposition from the contemporary bishops — Anglican and Roman Catholic — Sen continued to stand by his claims, and towards the end of his life there was an element even of irrationality in his thought. Needless to say, this new dispensation church died shortly after its founder’s death — the usual story of all human enterprises! But God’s work will continue, not only in spite of man’s obedience, but because of his disobedience!
In evaluating Sen’s seminal thoughts, we could say many things both in favour and disfavour of him.
even than Jesus Christ. The disregard for tradition is a major sign of heresy. Even we, every time we attempt to start some Christian ministry from the scratch, without building upon the insights of our forerunners, fall into a similar trap! Before God, a recognition not of self-righteousness but of self-unrighteousness counts. Secondly, though Sen accepted the significance of Christ, he did not commit himself to Christ — the basic trouble with all self-confident prophets. For a long time he seemed to be in double-mind as to this demand of Christ, but the later developments of syncretistic Church and personal Adesha betray the fact that finally Sen was no Christian disciple. This also leads him to an handling of the Word of God selectively to suit his convenience — another modern danger! Sen’s calling his approach “Christian eclecticism” does not alter the judgment. Thirdly, Sen could not penetrate beyond his idea of Christ as the supreme example of self-giving love to the biblical idea of Christ’s death as God’s provision for the sins of all mankind. The dilution of the substitutionary understanding of the Cross is the beginning of all liberalism and can be a disastrous by-product of attempts of a positive approach to other religions. Fourthly, the idea of a hidden Christ suggested by Sen is vigorously taken up by many recent thinkers in India such as M.M. Thomas, Raymondo Panikkar, and Stanley Samartha (see later) and also by Westerners like Karl Rahner and Paul Tillich. It must be admitted that to concentrate the whole human-divine enterprise on one man Jesus is an offense to man as man, but the biblical fact cannot be meddled with. “No one comes to the Father but by me” is the only bedrock on which any relationship of the Christian faith with other religions and philosophies and ideologies can be built. We dare not speak more than, or less than, the Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen, confessed as Lord and Saviour. Any vague principles of Christhood or selfgiving love will inevitably lead to anti-Christian messages.
For other evaluations one can find many books, but a handy one is that by M.M. Thomas, The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance, pp. 67-83.
PRATAP CHANDRA MOZOOMDAR (1840 - 1905)
There is not much too exiting about the life-background of Mozoomdar (1840-1905): He was attracted to the Brahmo Samaj because of the charismatic personality of its Guru, K.C. Sen, and through his inspiration became the most important Brahmo missionary. After the death of the founder of the New Dispensation Church, the Apostolic Durbar refused to have any leader other than Sen himself, or to elect Mozoomdar in Sen’s place. But the bulk of the Brahmo membership however, and Mozoomdar himself, felt otherwise, and so Mozoomdar became the last leader of the controversial Brahmo Samaj. Mozoomdar was barely able to hold together the crumbling structure, only his loyalty to Sen enabled him to carry on as the leader. He wrote several books: The Life and Teachings of Keshub Chunder Sen, The Oriental Christ, Heart beats, The Spirit of God, and Lectures in America and others Papers. The first two stand as the best known.
The primary concern of Mozoomdar was to make the Christian Gospel relevant to the “spiritual instincts and national sympathies of Hindus”. Thus, addressing himself primarily to Hindu spirituality, Mozoomdar frames his whole theology in terms of the Spirit. And as the Brahmos rejected pantheism, he explains his system as pan-entheism, Spirit in all things — in nature, human life, history. He says,
The divine Spirit permeates every pore of matter and of humanity, and yet is absolutely different from both . . . There is no beauty, no wisdom, no faithfulness, no purity, no piety and no self-sacrifice that is not inspired by him. The goodness of all the good is a ray of reflection from him, the greatness of all the great points to his throne on high.11
Elsewhere Mozoomdar says: “the universal background . . . the universal heart of things, . . . is surcharged with the Spirit and presence of God.”12 Hindu pantheism is expressed in the two mahavakyas, Aham Brahmasmi and Tat tvam Asi. These statements identify everything with God and thus destroy the personhood of both God and man. By contrast, Mozoomdar asserts that his pan-en-theism safeguards personhood in both. He finds that even Christ can best be explained in terms of the Spirit. Being omnipresent, the divine Spirit manifests himself more in some and less in other human beings, but in Christ the Spirit reveals himself to the greatest degree. The graduation of the Spirit’s presence from the lowest to the highest is as follows: nature-life-man-saints-Son of God. Hence, the incarnation of Christ is the most important revelation of the Spirit, as it reveals most of the Spirit.
have relationships with man, namely relationships of obedience, responsibility. While the Father is far above, and the Son far away, it is the Spirit who is within us. He laments that in Christian theology the Holy Spirit is given only a third place and in the Apostle’s creed nothing more than a mere mention! He is neither adored, loved nor worshipped though occasionally some may address him in their prayers. Yet He is the essence of the Christian Gospel; Christ’s life and mission are the work of the Holy Spirit. How is the Spirit related to Jesus Christ? Mozoomdar conceives the incarnation of Jesus Christ as Spirit made flesh. Jesus realised the Spirit of God in himself, and so the uniqueness of Christ lies in his being: (1) the most complete and universal incarnation of the Spirit, (2) the perfect example of God-man relationship, and (3) the indispensable revelation of God. And all the ‘works’ of Christ — birth, life, miracles, teaching, death, resurrection, second coming — all these are the spiritual missions of the divine man Jesus. The goal of his mission is to establish a kingdom, a society of the Spirit. Even the cross is understood by Mozoomdar differently: It is God’s overruling of the tragedies of life. As such there seems to be little significance of the Cross of Christ as the objective, saving, efficacious event. What is the role of the Spirit in a disciple’s life? Mozoomdar says while the moral laws demand from us the good we cannot do, the morality of the Spirit is that he offers us the ability to do that good. The Christian virtues like love, faith and holiness can be achieved only in the Spirit. This is a welcome reminder indeed. How is the Spirit related to the Church? He sees that there is such a great perversion in the Church, the least claiming the highest revelation, while their life betrays a lack of the Spirit. For this error we need to teach that the Spirit exhorts. He speaks of several tests, “The impulse of
DOCTRINE OF THE SPIRIT
What is Mozoomdar’s understanding of this divine Spirit? For him it is the “evolving principle” in the creative process, source and substance of all things — definitely a Hindu concept! And so he finds a parallelism between Hindu and Christian revelations. In the places of Vedas, Christianity has the Old Testament; in the place of Upanishads, it has the Pauline epistles; and in the place of puranas, it has the Gospel. The doctrine of creation is characteristic of the first, the doctrine of man is characteristic of the third. Of the three divine forces, existence, intelligence and joy (love), he finds that it is joy which is really characteristic of the Spirit. Only in the Spirit is there any possibility of the unity of all mankind. It is the binding factor in the cosmic unity, being active in the creative and recreative processes of this world. And naturally Mozoomdar equates this understand of the Spirit with the biblical concept of the Holy Spirit. For him, the questions of Trinity, Christ and salvation all could be effectively resolved by this doctrine of the Spirit. Mozoomdar clarifies that the Holy Spirit is a person who can
the heart and the conscience, the unanimity of the Church and the voice of the dead recorded in the Scriptures”13 seem to occupy in his mind as the supreme tests. To these he also adds others: “the moral fruits of the Spirit, the power of transmitting the Spirit to others”, and “the unity of the community.” Finally, how does Mozoomdar conceive of other religions in his pneumatological framework? He holds that in reality, it is Christ who is the basis for reconciling religions one to another, but all religions are not equal. For no religion has the monopoly of the Spirit, though each religion is the offspring of the Spirit. According to the nature of the people and their spiritual needs, the Spirit developed various religions. Thus, there is a progression in the gradation of all the religions; in the future, there will be one universal religion which will make all other religions obsolete, and this universal religion is Brahmo Samaj! Thus, in Brahmo Samaj, all religions have already been realized, because though Brahmos reject pantheism, they affirm pan-entheism of the Spirit.
taking away all suffering is far short of the biblical concept. There he affirms that the reality of God is not exhausted by Christ. This explicitly violates the doctrine of trinity and the centrality of Christ. Mozoomdar so develops his pneumatology as if salvation is possible both through Christ as well as through the independent work of the Spirit.
1. Robin Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, ISPCK, New Delhi, 1989, pp. 19-20. 2. M.M. Thomas, The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance, CLS, Madras, 1970, p. 10. 3. Ibid., p. 18. 4. Ibid., p. 15. 5. Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, p. 27. 6. Kesub Chunder Sen, “India Asks ‘Who is Christ’”, Lectures in India, vol.1, 1879, p. 369. 7. K.C. Sen, Lectures in India, vol.1, London, 1909, p. 7. 8. K.C. Sen, Lectures in India, vol.2, p. 27. 9. Ibid., pp. 91-94. 10. “India Asks Who is Christ”, p. 217. 11. P.C. Mozoomdar, The Oriental Christ, Boston, 1883, pp. 41f. 12. Mozoomdar, The Spirit of God, Boston, 1894, p. 9. 13. Ibid., p. 69f.
We need not dwell long on Mozoomdar by way of evaluation. His theology is clearly a theology of the Spirit. His emphasis on the third person of the Trinity, though most welcome, has certain disadvantages in the way Mozoomdar presents his understanding. On the one hand, there seems to be a quantitative understanding of the Spirit (some religions manifesting more and others less of the Spirit). On the other hand the ever-emphasis on the Spirit cannot but end in “pneumomonism” — one God understood only in terms of the Spirit, instead of in triune terms of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But other aspects, such as the power of the Spirit in the disciples’ day-to-day life, the tests of the Spirit in the Church, the demand for the moral fruits of the Spirit — all these are valuable thoughts indeed. Beyond this, a couple of comments should suffice. For example, his understanding of the Cross as God’s way of
BRAHMABANDHAV UPADHYAYA (1861 - 1907) His background and approach
Many anthologies of Indian Christian Theology omit Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya. The reasons for some considering him a Christian and others not, as we shall see later, can be found in his own autobiography — though it is not for us to judge whether one is a Christian or not. But for us Brahmabandhav is one of the most important figures in Indian Christian Theology. He has written profusely on almost every aspect of the Christian message. He lived in a time when theological turmoil in Hinduism was perhaps at its greatest. This was the time of the ABC movements in Hinduism — Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, and Christo Samaj. In this section we shall study this atmosphere briefly.
THE THEOLOGICAL ATMOSPHERE
Awakened by the Christian message itself the Arya Samaj of Dayanand Saraswati was an extreme form of resurgence. Brahmo Samaj of K.C. Sen was a milder form of the same, while the Christo Samaj of Kalicharan Banerjee was even more positive in its attitude towards Christianity. But all these were the products of the time. Following the national patriotic spirit of the times, these were different efforts of indigenisation of the Christian message and the church. Yet, these Samajes had little or no impact on the vast Hindu population but were confined in influence to a selected few. It was rather the non-intellectual message of Shri Ramakrishna (see the section on Vivekananda) which really appealed to the multitude and thus was a greater challenge to Christianity. In no small measure does the success of Ramakrishna owe to his indigenous lifestyle, language and method of teaching, devoid of all philosophical jargon. Perhaps a case can be made also for the super62 63
natural element in Ramakrishna’s life, such as his occultic visions and trances. The crown of Ramakrishna’s success is evident in an intellectual of no lesser caliber than Vivekananda becoming his disciple, and that blindly, as we have seen. Does it not say something about the limitations of intellectual form of the Christian message? Brahmabandhav was aware of all these movements. In fact he was a classmate and even a bosom friend of Vivekananda. He met of course K.C. Sen, whom he held to be very Christ-centered and Christian and he had also contacts with Kalicharan Banerjee, the nationalist who was the founder of Christo Samaj. With Vivekananda Brahmabandhav was also very much attracted towards Ramakrishna, as both of them were attracted also towards K.C. Sen’s Christ-centredness. But later, while Vivekananda followed Ramakrishna, Brahmabandhav followed K.C. Sen. There were also two other scents in the atmosphere at the time. One was the intoxicating nationalism. Leaving his family Bramabandhab came to live with his uncle in Calcutta — where creativity was at its highest — he could not but integrate the nationalistic spirit with his cultural religious enthusiasm. The other scent is that of Vivekananda’s offensive in seeing the Christian message through Hindu eyes. The Swami’s Advaita was such a high fashion of the day that even the Bible was interpreted according to vedantic principles. For example, Vivekananda’s disciple Sri Parananda (see also Boyd) interpreted Mt. 6:12 “forgive us our debts”, as follows:
And let that communion be so complete as to efface all differentiating sense of ‘I’ and Thou’ or of obligations left undone by me, Mayest thou, O Lord, graciously annul the relation of debtor and creditor and make me one with thee.1
Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya was born Bhawani Charan Banerjee (1861-1907). ‘Vandyaji’ was a family title which in due time got anglicised into Banerjee. Brahmabandhav is a translation of the Greek Theophilus meaning a friend of God which he took upon himself at the time of his baptism. Upadhyaya, his family name meaning teacher, was the name he took at the time of becoming a sanyasi, as we shall see later. Brahmabandhav was born in Khanyan near Calcutta in a Brahmin family. His father was a Police inspector and thus both religiously and socially influential. His mother died when he was only a few months old and he was brought by a very orthodox grandmother. His uncle, Kalicharan Banerjee often visited his home and so Brahmabandhav seems to have been introduced to Christianity already in his childhood. (At the death bed of his father he read a Christian book called Catholic Beliefs which also seems to have influenced his attitude towards Christianity.) Later, when his father moved to Calcutta Brahmabandhav continued his schooling at the Scottish Mission School then in Hooghly College and finally in the Metropolitan College. Already when 16 years old in high school he was a burning patriot and had radical idea of overthrowing the British government through military revolution. In fact along with his friends he planned to become a soldier and with the help of the free kingdom of Gwalior to fight and drive away the British. But the rather childish plan was thwarted when the family came to know of it and sent them back to school. Brahmabandhav became a frustrated man and became a teacher. He seemed to have got acquainted with Vivekananda around 1880 in his college days. Being sincere seekers, they both became friends and joined the Brahmo Samaj. They also used to attend Ramakrishna’s meetings regularly. Attracted by K.C. Sen’s message Brahmabandhav became a staunch Brahmo missionary and was sent in 1888 to Hyderabad (Sind). There he met two missionaries of the CMS, Rodman and Heaton, gradually led him to Christ. Already at this early age Brahmabandhav was concerned
The effect of all this was to show that the Christian message is only a part of Hinduism and so can be absorbed by the latter. It was difficult of course for any Christian to maintain the uniqueness of Christ in the light of these movements. Unless we understand Brahmabandhav in the light of these movements we do not understand him at all.
with the two basic elements of the Christian message — the fact of the Resurrection and the truth of Jesus’ deity. Being convinced of both, he was baptized in 1891 in the Church of England. It is important to notice that already at this time Brahmabandhav took Christ as the fulfillment of the Hindu ideal of a sinless guru. This element seems to have remained more or less throughout his life, though some contradiction developed later. Unfortunately at this time, owing both to the strong family pressure as well as to the questioning by a Roman Catholic friend against his baptism Brahmabandhav wavered in his faith. Led by this friend he ultimately took a second baptism, joining the Roman Catholic Church the same year. That is the time when he took the name Brahmabandhav as we have seen. This anti-Protestantism remained in him throughout his writings. But to his credit we must remember that when his family and the Arya Samaj persecuted and even stoned him, he along with his friends and disciples remained true to the new faith he had found, though he was disinherited by the Hindu society. During 1902-1903 he visited Europe and was surprised to find idols in Christians Churches all over Europe. He returned to India with the strong conviction that the pure message of Christ had been westernized and diluted. His emphasis henceforth was to bring back the pure message in Indian terms. He discovered that Indian churches and their worship, along with the dress and the lifestyle of Christians, were also western. So in order to become indigenous he discarded the western clothes and took to sanyasa. That is the time he called himself Upadhyaya. But he went even one step further. In order to detach himself from the western “pollution” he took a ceremony of prayschitta, i.e. repentance and purification, and joined back into the Hindu fold. Though Hindus accepted him after this ceremony as fully Hindu, apparently Brahmabandhav did not seem to think that way, for as we see in his theology later on, he called himself a Christian Hindu. His own Roman Catholic Church priests did not allow him to join Christian worship in the
robe of sanyasi. But after appealing to higher authorities on the basis that even Roberto de Nobili had done that, he was given permission. But he was partly disenchanted by the church structure. So he went on as Jesus did and toured all over India, teaching and preaching. He also added a new Indian element — begging like a mendicant. Along with his disciples he worked hard among the poor and the sick. Even in times of epidemics, when some of his friends died, he bravely worked towards the healing of the disease. Several events from the mature part of his life must be mentioned. During these years we can see some drastic changes taking place in his life and thinking. In a school for Hindu boys where he was working he encouraged pupils to venerate and worship both Saraswati, the goddess of learning, and Krishna. His defense was that these deities were avatars but Christ was an incarnation, which is an entirely different level. Later on, in a dialogue with J.N. Farquhar he mentioned the same distinction. But it seems that he had lost the sympathy of the Christian leaders for this view point. They felt he was making Christ one among the several gods as Hinduism does. Perhaps one major change during the last few years of his life was that Brahmabandhav took entirely to political action and writing. He started a Bengali daily called Sandhya which was a very radical political provocation, which the British held to be very dangerous. He began to maintain he was fully a Hindu, at the same time a Christian. He called himself culturally a Hindu, whereas by faith a Christian. He was arrested in 1907 on charge of sedition. He appealed in the court, not in his sanyasi robes, but identifying himself as a Bengali brahmin. He was released on bail but knew that he was going to be arrested soon after. But before the arrest, he died in an operation at the age of 46.
Like all creative thinkers, he did not produce any summa theologica though he was perhaps the nearest to that. His main theological writings are to be found in the three
periodicals he started and edited. Sandhya we have already mentioned. The other two were Sophia (published first as a monthly and later as a weekly), meaning wisdom. Some of his main articles include: “Conversion of India”, “Our Attitude Towards Hinduism”, “Are we Hindus?”, “Theism in the Vedas”, “The Origin of Man”, “Hindu Philosophy and Christianity”, “The Clothes of Catholic Faith”, “The Trinity”, “The Incarnate Logos”, “The True Doctrine of Maya”, “The Hymn ‘Ka’” and the like. For a full bibliography of his writings please see K. Baago’s Bibliography, and Gispert Sauch (ed.), Theology of Bramabandab Upadhyay.
He says it is a three-fold task:
First to eradicate from the minds of the Indian people the erroneous and mischievous doctrines (pantheism and transmigration); Secondly, to lay the basis of Theism by the help of the Vedas; and Thirdly, to build Christianity on that foundation.
Thus the discussion concerning ‘pre-understanding’ and ‘indigenisation’ which are now occupying the efforts of the theologians seem to be anticipated by Brahmabandhav by several decades. And obviously these two aspects of his approach also show us what kind of content his theology has.
Before going on to study in detail Brahmabandhav’s theology it is necessary here to analyze two aspects of his methodology. a) As it comes clearly in his biography, his whole theological thinking was motivated by his very genuine concern for indigenous expression of Christian faith and life, as Russell Chandran properly evaluates. Chandran says that there are four aspects in which this indigenisation comes to the fore: (1) Integration of the social structure of India into Christian way of life; (2) The establishment of an Indian Christian monastic order; (3) The employment of Vedanta for the expression of Christian theology; and (4) The recognition of the Vedas as the Indian Old Testament. Scholars are divided as to whether Brahmabandhav took to the Vedas or the Vedantic philosophy but that need not stop us at this juncture. b) Brahmabandhav also had a very concrete method as how this indigenisation of Christian message in India should take place.
Perhaps somewhat simplistically, we can divide Brahmabandhav’s theology under three main headings 1. his understanding of religion, 2. his understanding of God and Christ 3. his understanding of the Indian Church.
CHRISTIANITY AND OTHER RELIGIONS
Unquestionably, Brahmabandhav’s basis for all his thinking is the distinction made by the medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas, between nature and supernature (or grace). Very paradoxically, though he builds all his theological thought on this Roman Catholic basis, yet he rejects it in order to replace it by the Vedantic type of thinking. By now we should be able to say why this contradiction arises. The credit of applying Thomism (the theology of Thomas Aquinas) to Indian interpretation must go to Brahmabandhav — not even did de Nobili do this. Why does he do so? His understanding of Protestant missionaries was that they approached Hinduism primarily to find fault with the Hindu thinking, hoping that by this demolition of Hinduism Hindus will be converted to Christ. He felt this was too negative an attitude towards Hinduism. On the other hand, Catholicism, with its distinction between nature and supernature, gave room for natural theology built on human reason on which the supernatural
grace or the theology of revelation can be built. This was definitely a more positive attitude towards to Hinduism, and appealed to the nationalistic spirit of the time. Hence he describes the basis of the relationship between Hinduism and Christianity as follows:
It is on account of the close connection between the natural and the supernatural that we have taken ourselves the task of expounding the Hindu scripture systematically and of fishing out the theistic truths from the deluge of pantheism, idolatry and anthropomorphism and thus glorify him who enlightens every man who cometh into the world.
the destroyer of Hinduism, but as it is fulfillment. “The primitive (Hinduism) and the new (Christianity) are linked together as root trunk base and structure, as outline and filling.” Since root is a first and then is the trunk, foundation is first and then the superstructure so also nature is first and supernature is later. Brahmabandhav strives to make Hinduism the foundation on which the superstructure of Christianity can be built. This is what he calls Vedic Christian theology. It is also in this connection that Brahmabandhav dwelt on the parallels between the Old Testament and the Vedas. But since the Vedas contain the Old Testament understanding of God and nature only spasmodically here and there, he was not really able to build successfully an adequate Vedic Christian Theology. Perhaps this is the reason why Brahmabandhav shifted his emphasis. This does not mean that he rejected the Vedas but simply for the sake of the clarity he resorted to Vedanta, which can be linked to the Old Testament. Kaj Baago’s comment that in 1898 there was a decisive turning point in Brahmabandhav, in his shift from the Vedas to Vedanta, must therefore be qualified. The main obstacle for Brahmabandhav in accepting Shankara’s Vedanta was the latter’s interpretation of maya to mean that it is unreal. But later he interpreted maya to mean not illusion or unreal existence but a dependent existence — that all things created are depending on God. Then he was ready to accept the Vedanta as his foundation for Christianity. Before we leave his theology of religions one more aspect must be noted. It was again Brahmabandhav who was the first to differentiate between Hinduism as culture and Christianity as religion. In his own words:
By birth we are Hindus and shall remain Hindus till death, but as dwija (twice born), by virtue of our sacramental rebirth, we are catholics, we are members of the indefectible communion embracing all ages and climes.3
He is also clear as to the implications of this principle:
The light which lighteth every man who cometh into the world (Justin Martyr’s logos spermatikos) is brightest in the thought of the Vedas perhaps with the possible exception of ancient Greece. Thus it is the pure Hinduism of the Vedas which is the nearest to the gospels, but the later Hinduism has been polluted by two developments, the doctrine of reincarnation and transmigration on the one hand, and the Advaita philosophy on the other.
Further he says,
we consider these two doctrines the two greatest enemies of mankind . . . we accept as our own the primitive Theistic truth taught in her shastras.
It is for this reason that Brahmabandhav attacks the Advaitic philosophies of Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj, who accept these two dangerous doctrines in one form or another. Thus his main aim was to lead Hinduism back to its original form and thereby pave the way for the Christian faith, as Baago affirms:
(i) Not only is Hinduism not perfect but even Christianity is not perfect. Thanks to the Logos Spermatikos idea, he finds that Christianity can come to its fullness only in contact with the natural theologies around the world, and especially the pure Vedantic Hinduism. “The development of the Christian religion has not come to an end. It will grow, blossom and fructify till the end of time”.2 (ii) He also finds it is rather the western form of Christianity which is misleading and ought to be got rid of.
Thus following the Thomistic distinction Brahmabandhav says that Christianity should not come as
That means: in customs, manners and social relationships we are Hindus, in our faith we are not Hindus but universal or catholic. To quote him once again:
Our dharma has two branches samaj dharma and sadhana dharma. Our Hinduism is preserved by the strength of samaj dharma while the sadhana dharma is of the individual. Its object is sadhana and mukti (salvation). 4
in spite of belonging to natural theology, found it necessary to understand Nirguna Brahman as saccidananda, then Brahmabandhav contends, how much more can a Christian understanding of saccidananda show the true nature of God. Therefore Brahmabandhav’s concept of God is basically Trinitarian. He knows that this is a mystery, which can be known only through the revelation in Christ.5 Two key concepts helped Brahmabandhav overcome this contradiction. One is the understanding of Christ as cit, or the revelation of God’s inner being. As cit Christ’s uniqueness lies in “his unfolding the mystery of God’s inner life”. This is also Christ’s claim to His divinity. Here Brahmabandhav also gives his understanding of atonement and sin. For him sin is the bondage which cannot be undone by Karma, because it is alienation from God.
By choosing the finite (anatma) as our goal we incur spiritual death and darken our understanding . . . sin leads to bondage and darkness from which there can be no escape, not withstanding the hardest struggle on our part. Thus the only way we can find salvation is God compassionately accepting upon himself sorrow and suffering for our transgressions.
Boyd penetratingly observes here that Brahmabandhav is advocating that Christians accept cultural Hinduism without accepting it as a religion. Or in other words, just as earlier Christianity was married to Greek culture, the Indian Christianity must be married to Hindu culture. That is what is meant by Christian Hindu. This is the reason why Brahmabandhav is called the Indian Clement, since he understands Hinduism as a tutor to Christ as Clement of Alexandria understood Greek philosophy as a tutor to Christ. This brings us to his Christology.
GOD AND CHRIST
Once Brahmabandhav understands Maya to mean dependent existence or second reality, he is at pains to portray the God whom Christians worship to be beyond this level of Maya. Otherwise such a God would not appeal to Him and specially the Vedantins. So for him God is not Ishwara but the very highest — Brahman or Para Brahman — not Saguna Brahman as some have tried to understand. Brahmabandhav is keen to understand god as Nirguna Brahman. Here Boyd’s apt phrase that Brahmabandhav “gives nothing but the highest honour” summarizes his Christology beautifully. In fact he calls himself not just a ‘theophilus’ but in his thinking, even higher than that — ‘Brahmabandhav’. But if Christians should understand God as Nirguna Brahman, i.e. attributeless, relationless and impersonal, then should they also call God neti neti (not this not that, i.e., agnostic)? Does not then God become, as in the case of Shankara’s Vedanta, unknowable? We find that Brahmabandhav reconciles this contradiction by resorting to K.C. Sen’s concept of God as saccidananda. If Shankara,
Another concept is that of maya. For Brahmabandhav maya is not a quality of being dependent, it is also a divine overflow of energy which results in the existence of creatures.
Maya is a mysterious divine operation. It is neither real nor unreal. We cannot explain how the phenomenal multiplicity results from the immutable unity, how being is communicated to the finite . . . maya is neither real nor necessary nor unreal but contingent. By it non-being (asat) is made being (sat) . . . by it that which is nothingness by itself filled with the riches of being.6
Here Brahmabandhav resorts to Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of creatio passiva (passive creation) and equates that with maya. Thus maya is defined as the habitude of having being. Here Brahmabandhav is philosophical as both Thomas and the Hindus. The point to note here is this: In Vedanta ultimately there are no individuals. For Brahmabandhav individuals do not exist, of course, by necessity, but God has given each soul eternally existing state. And it is through the power of maya that these soul
are kept from dwindling into nothingness. Thus Brahmabandhav comes to the conclusion that therefore the spirit of man will not merge with the divine in such a way that his individuality is lost, but to know God and to like him. It is a communion and not a union. We have already seen that Brahmabandhav does not use the term avatara for Christ. This is deliberate. For him avatara of the Hindu deities is qualitatively different from the incarnation of Christ. His details are interesting. He holds that the human is, according to vedanta, composed of five sheaths: animate, vital, mental, intellectual to spiritual. While in human beings these five sheaths are controlled by personality (aham), in the incarnate Son they are activated by the Logos or the cit of the Trinity. Hence they are very different from the avataras, of the Hindu puranas. For this reason Upadhyaya calls Christ often as narahari (nara = man, hari is the proper name for Vishnu) God-Man. Many Christians took offense at his use of Krishna’s name for Christ. His pen name is also Narahari Das (the slave of narahari, the slave of Christ). Following Sen, Brahmabandhav also rejects the lie of Christian avatarism, for incarnation is far higher than the avatara of Hindus. Why then did Brahmabandhav advocate the worship of Hindu deities such as Saraswati and Krishna? Scholars give a two-fold answer: one, being caught up in the nationalistic spirit of the Indian freedom movement, it was necessary for him to appeal to the Hindu heritage; secondly, having assured Christ’s uniqueness by calling him Brahman, he does not see any harm being done in calling other deities at a lower level of avatara or ishwara. For him therefore these deities are just historical figures or moral leaders but not to the level of Christ. In any case, such a position of worship of Gods by Brahmabandhav is a very dangerous one.
court]. But he did recognize the need for a visible organized institution for the regular ministry of the Word and the sacraments. Yet towards his mature age, because of his almost entire involvement in politics, he seems to have abandoned the church. Also because he died suddenly he was cremated by the Hindus and not by the church. To some this means that he died a Hindu. But he was quite strong in condemning the Europeanness of the Indian Church. He was right in saying that the Hindu brethren cannot see the subtlety and sanctity of Christian religion because of the cloak of Europeanism, of trousers and hat, spoon and fork, meat and wine. So he says an Indian can be both Hindu and Christian at the same time. This understanding led Brahmabandhav also to found what he called a Hindu Catholic Sanyas Ashram. Of course such attempt was preceded by De Nobili and followed by Sunder Singh. In all this Brahmabandhav was far ahead of his time. Perhaps more than any other Indian thinker he raised the credibility of the Christian message before the Indian philosophy to its highest level.
1. He had a very high Christology. In calling Christ Brahman he was very understandable before the Hindu brethren. 2. His zeal for indigenisation of the Christian message makes him an uncalled but sent missionary to the Hindus. 3. His understanding of the Bible as the revealed word of God is definitely conservative.
1. His almost uncritical use of the Thomistic system of nature and supernature makes Brahmabandhav blind to several aspects which come up in Protestantism, such as justification by faith alone. 2. His resort to Vedanta to understand Christ as the higher God in relation to the avataras makes the difference
THE CHURCH AND INDIGENISATION
As we have seen, Brahmabandhav was disillusioned by the church structures. [Boyd mentions that he even encouraged others on occasions to use the Church in the
between Christ and others only quantitative rather than qualitative. 3. His finding of Logos Spermatikos in the Vedas, even to the extent of finding the purer Christian message there, dilutes the authority of the Bible. 4. His understanding of Christ as the atonement for the sins of the world is anything but the penal substitution which the Bible emphasizes.
faith — the wife being drugged and kidnapped. Eventually she died after receiving baptism by her husband. He visited England twice (1854 & 76), as the pundit for Maharaja Dulip Singh, and met queen Victoria II. This Indian apologist of the Christian faith was very welcome there and on his return from the first trip he was ordained as a priest and worked in Indore, Panchoudh, Mhow, Chanda, Bombay and Pandarapur. Later he settled down in Pune, a stronghold of aggressive Hindus, in order to witness to them about Christ. In 1876 he was accepted as a novice of the Society of St. John the evangelist, also called the Gowley Fathers. He remained a novice till his death in 1895. Father Goreh led many significant personalities to Christ including the Rev. Ranthonji Navaroji of the CMS of Aurangabad, Rev. Khasim Bhai of Satara, Mr. Shahu Daji Kukade and others. But the most prominent was Pandita Ramabai. At a time when she had decided to reject Christianity, there came an unexpected letter from father Goreh, which seems to have answered the queries of Ramabai at the time and so accepted Christ on that basis. Later on she writes that none else could have caused to change her mind except father Goreh.
NEHEMIAH GOREH (1825 - 1895) Background
Like Narayan Vaman Tilak and Pandita Ramabai, Goreh was of Chitpavan Konkanasth Brahman descent, a very aggressive, fanatically orthodox Hindu background. He was born in Kasipura (near Jhansi), but went in his early childhood to Benares studying Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy. As such, he naturally learnt to despise Christianity, because for Chitpavans Christianity was the religion of the Mlechchhas (pagans). He read extensively works written against Christianity, and engaged in heated arguments with missionaries. He got hold of the Bible and began to read it. As he came to the Sermon on the Mount, he exclaimed,
Who is this teacher who speaks in this manner?. . . No mere man, however holy, can preach this sort of sermon. Surely the author must be divine!
Beside a very gifted and fruitful preaching ministry, Goreh was also a gifted writer. He published more than 35 works in English, Hindi and Marathi. His magnum opus is the Hindu apologetic, Shaddarshana Darpana published also in English, A Rational Refutation of the (six) Hindu Philosophical Systems. His other important works included tracts in answer to objections against certain points in Christianity, lectures and addresses, theism and Christianity, god’s foreknowledge of man’s free will, and the existence of Brahmoism. In these books, Goreh courageously inserted a subtitle like “Hindu Philosophy examined by a Benares Pundit”, “By a converted Hindu Brahmin” etc. Having suffered for the faith, he never drew back from identifying himself as a converted Brahmin from Benares.
This was his turning point. After a few discussions with the missionary William Smith, and with his own relatives (giving them a last chance to argue him out of his new found faith), he finally took baptism in 1848 with the name Nehemiah instead of Nilakanth. He was commonly known as father Goreh, after his ordination into the Anglican ministry. His first wife of childhood marriage had already died, so he married a second time. His daughter was the well-known hymn writer, Lakshmi Goreh, the author of “In the secret of his presence how my soul delights to hide”. Both his family and he had to suffer persecution on account of Christian
In a nut-shell, Goreh’s thought can be summarized as a Church-in-witness-and-defense theology. His primary mission was to give an apologetic against reformed Hinduism such as Brahmo Samaj and Prarthana Samaj, though not the militant Arya Samaj. His argumentation against the Brahmo teaching runs: Hindu shastras, being pantheistic and monistic are unlike the Bible, which is to do with the ultimate destiny of mankind, and therefore true revelation; Brahmos’ concepts are to a very large extent from the Bible and not from the Hindu shastras. Therefore, they are compelled on their basis to accept the rest of the Bible also as their authority. Here Goreh came in direct confrontation with Max Mueller, the liberal Oreintalist who was infatuated with anything Hindu. In his apologetic Goreh finds the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo as the most important for theology. In all the Hindu philosophies, the world has both existed from eternity as well as it has an ultimate material cause. As such none of them really understanding Brahman or God as omnipotent; only the biblical account of creation out of nothing makes God totally sovereign. If the world is an illusion, then God’s power and authority are still less real! The final inference of the Hindu system is a dilemma: If only Brahman is real, then to make the world false and illusion and at the same time to say the world is Brahman is a logical inconsistency. Therefore it must be rejected by thinking persons. Goreh’s rigorous logic is also applied to the concept of Brahman: the Nirguna Brahman, as he/it is qualityless, it is in fact zero! (Saguna Brahman, being a part of the world of maya, is in any case no more than nothing, illusion). Brahman is unknowable, because he is not! But as for the personal God of the Bible, being the world’s creator, support and end, nothing higher than him is imaginable. Goreh’s logical method is best illustrated in his dealing with the vedantic assertion that atman is Brahman:
It is a maxim of Vedanta, that “The soul is Brahman itself, and nothing other”. How, I would ask the Vedantin, can this
be? For they assert that, on the one hand, soul errs by reason of ignorance; and that on the other hand, Brahman is, in essence, ever pure, intelligent, and free, and can never for a movement be otherwise. Still, they maintain that the soul is Brahman, and with interest to reconcile their contradiction, they resort the most elaborate mystification.
Goreh’s own answer to Hindu anthropology is a biblical one: Man is not only a part of God but also of maya. More than any other thinker he emphasized the Fall and the fact of sin with utmost seriousness. He approves that “the frightful nature of sin deserves a punishment whose severity is beyond the reach of conception.” But such punishments are not just for good, but primarily to satisfy the justice of God — it is God’s due. Sin is a positive evil force, not just privative good. The Hindu concept of karma, making both virtue and vice lead to bondage, lacks such a serious understating of sin. For Goreh sin is serious because it is on account of this that he turned to Christianity.
It was the doctrine of everlasting punishment which shook my soul from very bottom, and forced me to come away, at any cost, from the path of error, and I resolved in my mind to strive with all my might to leave of sin and follow holiness and virtue. 7
Boyd aptly calls Goreh ‘a fearful saint’ rather than a joyful one! His idea of salvation is also impeccably orthodox. For him salvation from this terrible power of sin over man and from the wrath to come is purely by God’s grace through Christ’s atoning death, and appropriated by faith. Christ as a lamb of God was sacrificed once for all for oursake, as a penal substitution in our place. It is through the death of Christ that we are made partakers of God’s nature as a Church — and not like Vedantic identification of Atman with Brahman. He dares to ask whether such an identification was really a misunderstanding, though preparatio evangelica. This brings us to another vital theme Goreh dealt in his writings — the relation of Hinduism with Christianity. Though Goreh attacked Hindu philosophy mercilessly, like
all eminent Indian thinkers he too was wholly indigenous in his approach and in content. He rejected western lifestyle in all its varieties. “The Western trappings of the Church repelled him”. He felt himself wholly Indian, and believed that in a hidden manner God is preparing them through Hinduism to respond positively to Christ.
Providence has certainly prepared us, the Hindus, to receive Christianity, in a way which, it seems to me, no other nation — excepting the Jews of course — has been prepared.
He finds this preparatio evangelica in the Gita’s teaching of Ananyabhakti (undivided devotion), Vairagya (renunciation of the world ), Namratha (humility), Kshama (forgiveness), and the like. On a higher level, incarnation (as avatara) miracles are also a foreshadowing of the Christian gospel. Anticipating Farquhar, Goreh says that Christ is the fulfillment of Hindu longings; this is the divine light which was to light every man who cometh into the world, namely, the light of reason and logic. To logic he turned heavily in his defense of the gospel.
element of in-built antipathy to Hinduism, and almost nothing is positive in Hinduism for him. Being a churchman, it is to be expected that his Christianity was Anglican Christianity, closely adhering to its 39 articles and the book of common prayer. Goreh seems to be the Indian Aquinas of all the Indian Protestant theologians; it is he who has used Aristotelian kind of logic rather extensively. Some times this approach gives the reader the impression that his theology is based on reason than on the Scripture. But if we remind ourselves that Goreh’s audiences were Hindus and Brahmos who required a particular kind of argumentation, then such a “rational refutation” falls into its place without jeopardizing the authority of the Bible.
LAL BEHARI DEY (1824-1894)
Born in Talpur (Bengal), educated in the General Assembly Institution founded by Alexander Duff, Dey mastered the English language very early — perhaps it was appropriate that his baptism later took place in an English library! He was just nineteen at that time, and consented because he was intellectually convinced of the truth of the Christian message (some time you should study the relationship between being intellectually convinced of the gospel truth, and being convicted of one’s sin by the Holy Spirit!) against the Vedanta philosophy. He was ordained in 1855 and served as an Anglican minister. Later the British government recognized his abilities and put him in charge of its Educational Service. He also taught as a professor of English literature, history, philosophy. The moving part of his life is the last five years, when he became totally blind and invalid in other ways. His faith and full acceptance of God’s will with cheerfulness amidst affliction is witness to Dey’s staunch commitment to Christ. His family’s unswerving love during this period seems to have brought him closer to the Lord. He used to say, “I shall not be blind in heaven!” Few Christians can witness to the Christian hope that is in them like Dey. Lal Behari Dey’s main concern was to unite and indigenise the Indian church. He dreamt and wrote about the national Church in India which will be fully freed from
Since Goreh is unquestionably in the main line orthodoxy, it is difficult to find fault with his theology. But his emphasis — unlike the modern de-emphasis — was undoubtedly on the Church and its sacraments. Since he grapples with the issues of brahmoism and the Hindu philosophies his theology is also most relevant and has a cutting edge. Like any of his contemporaries, he also accepts without questions the genuineness and the ultimate authority of the Scripture for the Church. And finally, almost uniquely Goreh adheres to the heart of the Christian gospel — the penal substitutionary understanding of Christ’s death and parts company with most of the Indian Christian theologians of repute. There are also couple of loop-holes in his thinking. For example, in spite of all his refutation of Hindu thinking, Goreh never mentions the crucial Hindu doctrine of karmasansara and reincarnation. And further there is an
the Western yoke. His writings include: On Vedantism, Papers for Thoughtful Hindus, The Desirability and Practicability of Organizing a National Church of Bengal, Bengali Peasant Life, etc. He also edited periodicals, including Friday Review and Indian Reformer.
God, can atone for it — thus incarnation is a necessity; iv) Man needs not only freedom from the power of sin but also remission of it; v) True repentance is a decision to reform, not remorse. One could say Amen!
DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH
Dey affirmed, somewhat in old Anglican fashion, that saving doctrines are the property of the Church (cf. the Catholic principle: extra ecclesiam nulla salus - Outside the Church there is no salvation). He maintained that since one form of the Church is more biblical than the other, it is important to know which one is most scriptural. Yet in practice it is hard to play one denomination as being more scriptural than another. The only other alternative is to consider all denominations, including Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, as preserving true essence of the Church. Dey seems to have tended to take the Apostle’s Creed as a sufficient basis for the unity of all churches. In any case his zeal for ecumenism and national Church stems from this positive attitude to all persuasions. As such Dey was influenced more by the ecumenical spirit than missionary spirit.
We could pick up three emphases in his thought.
Living in the Brahmo atmosphere of the time, Dey vehemently rejected the Brahmo concept of authority — be it Vedas, nature or human reason. He disputed that though man’s mind is great, there is that blight of sin upon it, and a worm is eating at human reason so that he cannot think anything properly! This necessitates revelation, and at the most reason can only confirm this truth, not discover it. As such, Brahmoism is baseless, having no proper authority, while Christian message is authentic, based on the Word of God, the divine revelation — a thoroughly orthodox position!
SIN AND SALVATION
Here again, the attack is against the Brahmos. Emphasizing God’s love against the rest of the divine attributes, the Brahmos have taken away the necessity of punishment for sin, alleged Dey. According to them, God forgives all sins lovingly, unconditionally. Human sin does not affect God. Thus for the Brahmos, there is a serious lack in the seriousness of sin. Hence the biblical concept of wrath of God and the consequent need of sacrifices is alien to them — the truths on which the message of the cross is essentially based. The gospel, on the contrary, reveals God’s hatred for sin, and the necessity of atonement. Dey’s theses in this connection are remarkably biblical: i) God’s punishment is his active holiness; ii) Punishment is neither chastisement nor a consequence of sin, but a vindication of God’s honour and justice; iii) Since sin brings infinite punishment, only an infinite person, Jesus as the son of
We have already said Amen to Dey’s soteriology and the understanding of the cross, so there is little more left to evaluate. Remember: Christology is central to all Christian theology, and the Cross and resurrection are the essence of all Christologies. The best way to evaluate one’s thought is to ask at once, what does he say about Jesus’ cross and resurrection? You can accept or reject his whole system on that single test! In the light of this, Dey’s imprecise approach to denominations, a premature zeal to Church unity and the lack of missionary concern can be pardoned!
1. Sri Parananda, The Gospel of Jesus According to St. Matthew, 1898, p. 49 2. Animananda, The Blade, p. 68. 3. Ibid., pp. 71f. 4. Ibid., p. 200. 5. Bramabandhav has written a beautiful hymn in Sanskrit on the Trinity. Many translations are available. 6. Animananda, op. cit., p. 84. 7. N. Goreh, A Letter to the Brahmos from a Converted Brahman from Banares, 2nd Edition, 1868, p. 52.
DHANJIBHAI FAKIRBHAI (1895-1967)
This theologian is a saint from Gujarat. Born in a devout Hindu Bhakti family of Baroda, he became a Christian as a young man. He became a teacher of Physics and retired as professor in a college. Only after retirement he devoted himself to the writing of Christian literature, presenting the Christian faith in a way relevant to the Hindu thinking. He wrote several books which are very widely read in both Gujarathi and English. These include Christopanishad, The Philosophy of Love, Hriday Geeta, Prematatva Darshan, Praktya Adhyatma Darshana, and Shree Krist Geeta.
Dhanjibhai's Focus: Love
As can be discerned from the list of his writings the principal divine attribute on which Dhanjibhai concentrates is that of love. In his own thinking this description of God as love is higher even that of God as Saccidananda. Where intellect fails, love proceeds on; for love transcends all other categories. In this way Dhanjibhai relates all the doctrines of the Christian faith to love. Creation is the work of God’s love. The relationship between man and God is one of love. Sin is the rejection of God’s love. And what is this love? He explains that it is the self-sacrificing suffering of God on behalf of the good of his creatures. As such, the proper response of man to God’s love can only be repentance and humble acceptance in faith. Jesus Christ is love incarnation and new birth is the change of heart to love others and God. He further maintains that more than the karma marga, bhakti marga, and Jnana marga there is one more marga which is the prema yoga, the way of love. This leads to nothing less than salvation or moksha. In addition to this Prema yoga, in another writing called Shree Krist Geetha,
Dhanjibhai expounds in poetical form several other yogas — of faith, of devotion, of action, of divine sacrifice, of selfsurrender, of knowledge, of purification, of perfectness, of universal lordship of the many in the One, and of the supreme person. Prof. Dhanjibhai has used the Indian forms extensively in bringing out the Christian message. His use of Indian forms such as darshana, upanishad, geeta and bhashya are all very welcome to Indian ears. However, there are also certain departures in his thinking from the traditional ones. For example, he does not use the word cit for describing the second person of the Trinity, the Logos, but rather prefers the words shabda Brahman and prajnana. And what is this prajnana? He defines it as follows:
Prajnana — primeval intelligence — is the power which creates, maintains and inspires the world and human beings. Prajnana is power and wisdom, is the word of God. Shabda Brahman [Brahman in verbal form] is God himself — Brahman. This word of God, prajnana, took a body in the man of Jesus. As the heat of the sun’s light, according to the Brahmasutra, is no different from the heat of disc of the sun itself, so this incarnate prajnana, the avatara, is fully God.”1
sense that physically we are of the same stuff. The point to notice here is that in all these unions Christ is the one who sums up all things in himself.
This Kristadvaita is not just individual but corporate, as he explains: When individuals have really became one with the Lord Jesus their relation to one another is that of the members of a body. They all form a body for the Spirit of the Lord. 2
As you probably know, Boyd, who also worked in Gujarat is very much excited about this use by Dhanjibhai of the term Kristadvaita. In fact, after Dhanjibhai’s death Boyd himself used the word for a kind of systematic, contextual and commentary-like theology which he has written on the Book of Romans.
This summary of Dhanjibhai’s work is very fragmentary and brief. Perhaps in future some other elements can be produced. But by way of evaluation we can definitely say at least this: An over-emphasis on the attribute of love is of course not new, but in church history it has always tended to an under-emphasis of the other part, i.e. the holiness or the justice of God. One can never be put higher than the other. Neither is love higher than the holiness of God nor is holiness higher than his love. The Cross is the connecting link between the love and the holiness of God. In the Bible God is love, but the way that love is given to man is holy. So God is not just love but holy love. This is how justice and mercy meet. On the Cross the wrath of God was appeased by the love of God. Unless we keep this tension we are definitely tending towards a lopsided understanding of the doctrine of God and hence of Christology and hence also of man and salvation. Other than that, perhaps there is a slight hint of being too sympathetic towards Hindu scriptures, for in following some of the cosmic Christ ideas he seems to find revelation about Christ, or at least some gleanings of them in the Hindu scriptures. Other than these one can admit that Dhanjibhai’s writings are very conservative.
This is as orthodox as he can get. Another change he makes from the usual the use of the term Kristadvaita. Note that not derived from khrista + dvaita but rather, if grammar of Indian languages (lopasandhi) it tion of khrista + advaita. tradition is in Kristadvaita is you know the is a combina-
For Dhanjibhai the primary content of this kristadvaita is faith-union with Christ in a Johannine or Pauline sense. Though in this union Christ is the nucleus, Dhanjibhai differentiates six kinds of unity: (1) The unity of Son with the Father (2) Christ’s unity with the created world (3) the faith union of the disciples with the Lord. (the main meaning of the word) (4) the mutual unity of the disciples with one another (5) the eschatological unity of all men and of all nations in Christ and (6) man’s unity with nature, in the
Surjit Singh has written his doctoral dissertation on the question of Christology. Being driven to the study of Christ’s divinity through his own personal experience of meaninglessness, he comes to the conclusion in the book through a direct experience of the presence of Christ. Preface to Personality (1952) is rather an expression of his existential situation.
He starts with an examination of the New Testament evidence of the divinity of Christ and comes to two conclusions, that it manifests a two-fold deity of Christ’s metaphysical as well as historical aspects. As far as the metaphysical aspect is concerned, it comes out clearly. The New Testament Christ is the very creator of the universe as well as its sustainer. He is also immanent and the source of man’s light and knowledge. He has full communion with the Father. As such Christ is of the same nature as God — a clear New Testament doctrine.
The historical deity is manifested in the Hebrew view that one who does the will of God is the Son of God. The Hebrew concept of the son is different from the physical or even metaphysical concept of the Greeks. The Hebrew concept is based on a moral relationship of responsibility, care and obedience. There is growth in this filial relationship.
He takes the analogy of the relation of God with the world (that of God as sat and world as asat, or that of deism, or that of dynamic relationship, by which he means one affects the other). From this he brings out the inner meaning of the relationship of Godhead and manhood in Jesus Christ. Thus he defines that the relationship consists in a mutual involution (one is involved in the other), mutual interaction and mutual interpenetration. All this leads to a unitary person. Such a relation is to be found nowhere else. It is sui generis (unique), found only in Jesus Christ. Following this line of thought, Surjit Singh criticizes Radhakrishnan’s Vedantic ideas: that God is ultimately impersonal Brahman; that man, though he may seem to have individuality, in reality he has no personality; and that personality is of no ultimate significance, since ultimately atman and paramatman are identical. In fact, according to Radhakrishnan, the personal is a limitation and distortion and a bondage to the eternal self. He points out that besides reinterpreting several of the basic Hindu doctrines, what is lacking in Radhakrishnan’s understanding of man is that there is no room for discussion of the freedom of man.
And so, in order to find the inner meaning of personality, Surjit Singh turns again to the fact of Christ. He finds, as already indicated, that personality manifests itself best in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because only in his resurrection the body becomes an essential ingredient of the total personality. It is not a cloak to be thrown away but it shows that man is a psycho-somatic unity and so also Christ. To quote Surjit Singh: “The idea behind the resurrection is that soul-body is the complete or whole man. The body in general, representing historical individuality, is not discarded.”3
He pursues a similar study also in the other books of the New Testament where different authors also amply express their understanding of Jesus Christ as fully man. Based on these double findings, Surjit Singh attempts to combine them into one New Testament christology. His own christology starts with the Resurrection. From this he deduces that the divine-human relationship (incarnation) is a fact from the very birth of Jesus. In this relationship neither the divine nor the human is passive or inert. Always they both are active. The resurrection is also a point of perfect identification and unity between the divine and the human in Christ. It is a point of perfect relation and communion. But this unity is not one of essence, rather it is one of relation.
This is an adequate antidote both to the idea that spirit is good and matter is evil, as well as to the advaitic understanding of maya, that God alone is true and the world is untrue. In the doctrine of resurrection there is a positive relationship of God to the world and man. Surjit Singh’s connection is that when we really grasp the content of personality, especially as it is found in Christ, and of course
both in God as well as in man. Only then can we find a proper understanding of God-world relationship, which is the central problem of Hindu theology. Here Surjit Singh is really saying that Christ is the ‘paradigm’ or model of personality. This book is Surjit Singh’s only work. But it can become germinal for beyond the question of essence of spirit and matter, of God and man, he comes to this conclusion: that the real unifying factor in our understanding of God, world, man, and Christ is relationship which is involved; which is part of personality.
Moses has written numerous articles: “God and Personality”; “The Nature of Religious Truth”; “The Need for Christian Thinking in India Today”; “Mission, Unity and Evangelism”; “Church Union”; “Religious Truth and the Relation between Religions”, which is, a response to Radhakrishnan’s philosophy of religion.
Moses and Radhakrishnan
Naturally Moses’ primary interest was also in the area of religions. You remember our earlier comment that the last generation of Indian Christian leaders were compelled into administration and finance and so were least creative by way of theological writing or clarity — Moses also belongs to them. Radhakrishnan’s understanding of religion is summarized by Moses as follows: All religions are more or less equal; but theological (conceptual) truths which are in religion are relative, and therefore their validity as the basis of religion is questionable. There is formless truth of which all religions are different expressions; this also means that there is no final religion. Moses replies: concepts (theology, truth) have value for religions as their basis and instruments. Though man can know the absolute truth only in its relative forms, truth cannot divide but rather unite. Thus truth elements are necessary to religion. In other words, Moses is reacting to Radhakrishnan’s ridicule that Christianity as a religion of dogmas and rules fails to do full justice to religious experience as Hinduism, and so is inferior to it. Moses counters that precisely because of Christianity is based on (revealed) truth is more effective in life and experience. Radhakrishnan understands Hinduism as seed, the ancient (hence the absolute) religion. He asserts that the search for the universal religion, for example, by the Parliament of Religions, cannot but end in Hinduism. Since Brahman is inexpressible all religions are expressions of the same Brahman though Hinduism comes nearest to the truth.
To me the whole presentation looks very exciting and I do not find any major weaknesses. Perhaps, having little acquaintance with the Hindu philosophies and terminologies, he tends to resort more to the EuropeanAmerican philosophers and theologians. This may not be really relevant to the Indian mind. Boyd’s suggestion that similar exposition of the Hindu concept of purusha can be only partly rewarding, for the content of purusha is different from the content of the person as Surjit Singh has attempted to develop.
DAVID G. MOSES (1902-1978)
David Moses is a man of our time having lived till the last decade. Born in Namakkal (Tamilnadu), he was like the most of the brilliant Christian youth of the time educated in the Madras Christian College (B.A.) and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. degree from Columbia University, U.S.A. (193349). Being a good administrator, he soon took up such posts as the president of the World Council of Churches (as the first Indian), and the principal of Hislop College, Nagpur. There is not much known about his commitment to Christ. He seems to have accepted the message of the gospel because of Christian background, but seems to have grappled with the real issues only in his theological studies concerning the philosophy of Radhakrishnan.
In reply to this, Moses says that though the different forms of religions are necessary, they are by no means all equal; otherwise such an approach will lead us into agnosticism. We need to discern between essential and nonessential elements of religion. Finally, in reply to Radhakrishnan’s affirmation that faith is “herd infection”, thus is sociological (by birth, like the Hindu), Moses counters that faith is purely a personal affair, a doctrine, which means the conversion, from one faith to another faith and so change of religion, is valid and inevitable. A brief explanation is needed here to understand the relevance and even the content of the above. Moses lived in a time when the debate of discovering one true religion in all the religions was at its height. Religion with capital R refers to a faith relationship with ‘God’, while religions with lower case refer to the systems containing doctrines, myths, ethics, rituals, experiences and social institutions. And Moses’ time was rife also with the question of missionary work and conversion as proselytisation, and Gandhi and Radhakrishnan were involved in it fully. Thus Moses is attempting here a Christian apologetics, both against Christianity as a religion as well as defending conversion as religious rather than sociological, political or ecumenical phenomenon. Towards the end Moses changed (like Karl Barth!) his position several times, and his final stance seems to be quite conservative, rejecting the teaching that all religions are equally as dangerous. He ended up in saying that Christianity has the final revelation, opposite to Radhakrishnan’s claim that Hinduism is the final religion, because it is the most ancient religion.
almost inevitable temptation for all of us! In any case, Moses’ writings lack the depth which warms one upto the cross and senstitizes one to the working of the Holy Spirit.
1. Boyd, p. 332f. 2. Boyd, p. 334. 3. Surjit Singh, Preface to Personality, CLS, Madras: 1952, p. 112.
Our comments are brief here also. We should appreciate that Moses wrote in response to the burning issues of the day, and hence was most relevant. But he seems to be using the methods and weapons of the enemy, by taking up rational and philosophical argumentation, a common and
Criteria for indigenisation
At this juncture it is unnecessary to repeat that we are dealing with Indian thinkers whose primary aim was to indigenise the Christian message. There are as many indigenised theologies as there are thinkers. The question is which of them is right? Are there any criteria by which we can judge one more valid than the others? Once I read an interesting anecdote in a book: during World War I in South India, rice, which is the staple food, became a scarce commodity. In order to meet the crisis the British sent wheat to the South Indians but they dumped it into the sea all along the coast: Not only did they not know what to do with the wheat but they also took an offense at the British, because knowing that they eat rice they had sent some other grain. Apparently the British thinking went something like this: there is a big food shortage with you and wheat is better than rice, so we are sending that to you. I think the big mistake the British made was they did not adequately south-indianize the wheat and so it was rejected. In indigenisation of theology also, more or less the same conditions hold good. In indigenisation we are not so much concerned with the sales technique or even the packaging but rather with the usefulness (in the case of wheat whether it gives protein to the body or not), digestibility and form (whether it comes as bread or bun or chappati or nan or whatever). As far as the Christian gospel is concerned, the universal claim of ‘no other name’ takes care of usefulness. But we must also be concerned with the form or the expression whether they were familiar with hearers or not. And we must consider the digestibility, that is whether the thoughts and concepts used are understandable or not.
There is one more criterion which perhaps becomes the final seal whether an indigenisation is valid or not. Since a tree is known by its fruit, I think the best way to judge whether an indigenisation is valid or not is whether the people who heard the indigenised gospel have meaningfully accepted Christ or not, by showing the fruit of the spirit in their daily living. That is the final test. As far as the earlier are concerned I think Brahmabandhav must be counted among the top. But when we come to the last criterion — the tree-fruit test — it is not sure whether many people who heard him really responded to Christ. But there is one Indian thinker whose indigenised gospel has brought greater response than anybody else’s: Sadhu Sunder Singh — ‘The most famous Indian Christian who has yet lived’. The contrast between Brahmabandhav and Sadhu Sunder Singh is a well known one in Indian Christian literature and you should some time later dig into it a bit deeper.
All these different attempts show enough about the deep thirst Sunder had. He was a seeker and had a restless heart. None of these different religious exercises he underwent could bring him the peace, the shanti for which he was searching. In all his search Sunder sincerely believed that his own religion could bring him peace. Since there are several versions of his conversion I think the best way to hear the story is from his own lips:
Three days after burning the Bible, finding that Hinduism gave me no comfort, I decided to commit suicide because to live in such misery was impossible. Very early in the morning (at 3. a.m.) I arose and taking a cold bath I began to pray ‘If there be any God let him show me the way of salvation; if not then I will commit suicide by placing myself on the railway’. Up to 4.30 no answer came. Presently there came a light in my room. In that light the beloved and glorious face of Christ appeared and showing his wounded hands, in which the nailprints clearly showed, he said, “why do you persecute? Behold I gave my life for you.” Hearing this his words sank like lightening into my heart. I immediately became filled with joy and I was changed for all eternity.
SADHU SUNDER SINGH (1889-1929)
Sunder Singh was born at Rampur in Punjab. His parents were rich Sikhs, religious yet broad minded. By the age of seven Sunder Singh knew the Bhagvadgita by heart (To make a comparison: we are told that entrance into Cairo University is given only to those who know the Koran by heart. Which of us know the whole New Testament by heart even at mature age!). At 16 he had read through the Granth, the Koran and several Upanishads. This religious inquiry was inspired by his mother who wanted him to become a holy Sadhu and not worldly like his brother. He had also acquainted himself with Christianity at the mission school in Ludhiana, but was strongly opposed to this foreign religion — perhaps influenced by the public opinion of the time. He threw stones at the missionaries and even burned a copy of the Bible. He was also well trained in yoga by the time of his adolescence.
Later Sunder Singh himself gives testimony to the authenticity of his conversion.
This was not imagination. If Buddha or Krishna has shown himself it would have been imagination, for I worshipped them. But for Christ to show Himself, he whom I hated, is a miracle and clear proof that he is a living Christ. Neither was it a dream, for no one can see a dream after taking a cold bath and a dream cannot completely change life. This is a great reality.
This conversion took place on 18th December 1904. Sunder Singh immediately gave his allegiance to Jesus Christ, to the dismay of his own people, who persecuted him very much. But ultimately he had to leave home and was baptized next year in September. Following the wishes of his mother he donned the ochre robe and so became a true Sadhu. From an American, S.E. Stokes, Sunder Singh learned about the monastic life. In 1909 he even joined a seminary, the St. John’s Divinity College in Lahore but had to leave it within months. He was given a preacher’s license by the
Lahore Diocese but later surrendered it because he wanted to be a preacher-at-large to the universal Church. So just taking the Urdu New Testament with him he toured all over India, especially into Tibet. The many mysterious happenings as well as miraculous deliverances he experienced are well known and need not be repeated here. He visited Britain, America, Europe and Australia during 1902-22. In Germany, they held him almost equal to Christ, judged by the veneration they gave him. When he returned to India he again toured all over the land as well as to his favourite Tibet since no ordinary evangelist could go into this very difficult place. Specially in Tibet and in his evangelistic journeys he was persecuted, beaten, lashed and suffered heavily on account of Christ. Once when Chenchiah provokingly commented to the Sadhu that his hand were very soft and delicate like a lady’s the Sadhu replied, “yes, but my body bears the marks of Christ”. That was literally true. The end of Sadhu’s life is shrouded in mystery. On his last journey to Tibet he was seen off by his friends and nothing more is known of him. The Government of India sent search parties but nothing is known so far. It is rather idealistic to say, as some authors suggest, that he was taken without death into the presence of God, but that does not need to detain us here. This was in 1929. His own version was that he went to one great maharshi in the Himalayas, with whom he wanted always to be engaged in the ministry of prayer for the whole world. Perhaps the great commitment the Sadhu had for Jesus Christ can be summarized in an anecdote. Once when he was visiting England, and knocked at a door the little girl (very recently I met this, girl, who is now 85 year old woman) who opened the door, ran back to the mother and said “Mummy, Jesus is standing at our door.” His one passion was Jesus Christ, so much so that others saw Jesus in him.
in contact with supernatural beings or spirits in heaven. He speaks often of having visited heaven and having asked questions to these angelic spirits concerning whatever doubt he had of life or questions on earth. So mostly his answer run like this “I was told . . .”, or “Once the spirits told me . . . ” etc. His writings include, At the Master’s Feet, Religion — Meditations on God, Man and Nature, The Search After, With and Without Christ, Visions of the Spiritual World, Meditations on Various Aspects of the Spiritual Life, The Real Life, The Real Pearl and many articles in several of the Indian and non-Indian periodicals.
Sunder Singh’s Theology
It is very important to notice that besides the revelations in the Scriptures Sadhu Sunder Singh gives equal weight to the trances and ecstatic experiences of visions he has had. He himself explains them very picturesquely this way:
There are pearls in the sea but to get them you have to dive to the bottom. Ecstasy is a dive to the bottom of spiritual things; it is not a trance but it is like a dive because as a diver has to stop breathing so in ecstasy the outward senses must be stopped.
But it must be equally noted that all his ecstatic experiences were always in harmony with the Bible. In fact, the Bible was his primary form or standard. As such, one cannot carp on his resort to his ecstatic visions. At the same time we must also notice the Sadhu uses mostly the New Testament. There are hardly any references to the Old Testament. There is much written of what he thought about the relation between the Old and the New. But definitely he seems to have made no attempt to replace the Old Testament by the Indian scriptures, as some have done. Obviously Christ was the central theme of the Sadhu’s utterances. He holds Christ to be fully God, that in him alone God is fully revealed and that to know him is to know that he is divine. Christ was the Sadhu’s living experiences. He says: “I do not believe in Jesus Christ because I have read
It is singular that most if not all of the Sadhu’s theological pronouncements come as part of trances or visions, or
about him in the Bible. I saw him and experienced him and know him in my daily experience.” The Sadhu considers Christ as God become flesh. Unlike others he does not differentiate between incarnation and avatara. He uses these terms interchangeably. The Sadhu did not give much details of his thought concerning the Cross. How on the Cross Christ brings redemption for the sins of man is never clearly told, but the nearest is this: “Christ knew that neither silver nor the gold nor diamonds nor any other jewels would suffice to procure life. That is why he gave his life for the redemption of the world.”1 There is a sense of legal transaction here equivalent to penal substitution. But in the Sadhu’s teachings there is more of a ‘moral influence’ understanding of the Cross. His stories are full of how the sufferings of the parents for the betterment of their wayward children changed the hearts of the latter. That is why the Sadhu emphasized that Christians do not like to commit sin because they know that it grieves God. Obviously the Sadhu speaks more of life in Christ rather than life given at the Cross, more of sanctification than of justification. For him forgiveness of sins is only one part of salvation. Full salvation includes freedom from sin. This is what he means by new life or new creature. For him, just as the salt which has been dissolved in water cannot be seen but only discerned, so also this new life can be discerned in our lives by others. Another important aspect of his understanding of sanctification is that of life as cross bearing. True to his sanyasi state he takes the cross as an essential part of Christian life. In fact he says, “The Cross is heaven”. To quote him once more,
To follow him and bear his cross is so sweet and precious that if I find no cross to bear in heaven I shall plead before him to send me as his missionary to bear his cross. His presence will change even hell into heaven.2
Here as elsewhere the Sadhu speaks not so much of the cross of Christ but rather the cross of the disciple which each one of us must bear. For the Sadhu seems to believe in rather a lack of goodness than an active principle of evil. “Sin has no independent existence. It is merely the absence or negation of good.”3 This is of course less satisfactory than what Paul calls the principle of sin as a positive force in man. Yet the Sadhu holds to the fallenness of man: that man sins because he is sinful, than sin has power over him and he has no power over sin or to do what is good. Karma is the result of sin, such as the hardening of one’s character, or the degeneration of one’s whole personality, or the very punishment of sin. Thus beautifully the Sadhu relates sin and karma very relevantly to the Indian hearers. Yet, as Boyd brings out clearly the Sadhu believes that suffering for sin is not and cannot be penal. Suffering rather drives us into the lap of God and is not a punishment for sins. As such for him eternal punishment is untenable and he seems to tend towards universalism i.e. the salvation ultimately of all men.
Man has neither created his own soul nor can he destroy it. The creator has brought into being every creature for some special purpose . . . and even though many wonder and go astray, in the end they will return to him in whose image they have been created, for this is the final destination.
Thus emphasizing the love of God more than his holiness the Sadhu thinks that it is impossible to conceive that the God of the Bible will eternally punish his creatures. So also his understanding of the last judgment differs. He does not think that the last judgment is when all people will stand together to be judged. No, rather the real judgment is that which goes on every day. Perhaps the greatest difficulty in the Sadhu’s thinking was his understanding of the church. When asked to which church he belonged his answer was: “To none. I belong to Christ. That is enough for me.”4 Once out of the church he
was a free man, going like a Sadhu among people. Giving greater importance to his ecstasies the Sadhu emphasized more the individual relationship with God and Christ (the Hindu ideal of alone with the Alone) and so the corporate worship had little value for him. He even refused to set up an ashram when he was offered all the means. Whenever possible he did partake of the communion in a church service and also preach. But otherwise he was neither under the authority of any church nor had any relations with them. What does Sadhu Sunder Singh think of other religions? According to him “The living Christ reveals himself to every man according to his need.” So he is revealed in every way because he is the only true light. Hence “Christianity is the fulfillment of Hinduism. Hinduism has been digging channels. Christ is the water to flow through these channels.” For him religions mean love and commitment and not knowledge. So he rejects all kinds of margas, even Bhakti marga, which is perhaps the closest to his own method. He did use most of the terms from Hinduism (remembering that he came from an Urdu background it is significant that he uses the Sanskrit words). Being a Sadhu i.e. living a life away from this world, he speaks more often of life in that next world. So his themes include heaven, hell, the last judgment, the resurrection of the body and the coming salvation of all men and the like. For him hell and heaven are not places but states.
Hell also is a training school, a place of preparation for home . . . men were not created for hell and therefore do not enjoy it and when they desire to escape to heaven they do so but they find heaven even more uncongenial than hell so they return. But this convinces them that there is something wrong in their lives and thus they are gradually led to repentance.
Perhaps the most redeeming part of his theology was his method of communication. More than any one else he has used the method of parables as Jesus did, and with the greatest effect. His parables are very apt and coming out of his own experience they bring the message to the hearer in crystal-clear terms. Since he was interested neither in producing a logical consistency in his talks nor a systematic presentation, we need not hold it against him. But his illustrations are relevant not only to the hearers of his time but also have a universal appeal. That is the greatness of Sadhu Sunder Singh. The following is one of his good illustrations:
Hindus are very fond of saying that god is in everything. I once came to a river which I had to cross. There was no boat to carry me over and I stood wondering how it could be managed. Then a man called attention to a deflated water skin and said that that was the only way. So we inflated it with air and I crossed over in safety. Then the thought came to me that there was plenty of air all around me but it was incapable of helping me in any difficulty until it was confined in the narrow space of the water skin. So it is as unreasonable to deny the necessity of the incarnation of Christ as to declare that the air-filled leather boat was no use in helping cross that river. 5
Perhaps this method has to do with his lack of theological training but judged from the ‘tree-fruit’ test his indigenised theology was indeed very successful.
It may appear presumptuous to evaluate such a man but we must do it as objectively as possible. But we are concerned more with his thoughts. a) His Christo-centricity is unquestionable. b) His basing all his theology on the Scriptures is again commendable, though we must take account of his giving sometimes a greater importance to his ecstatic experience, but as we have seen none of his experiences are contrary to those given in the Scripture. c) Filled with a burning passion to reach people for Christ, his method was to get the message across and so he
This of course smacks of universalism which we have already seen. Many of the things which he says concerning eschatological things are his own personal experiences, so we need not dwell much upon these themes.
developed whatever method was relevant to the hearers. His analogical method can be best explained this way: it would be good if other Indian preachers taken up this method. Some of his weaknesses are: a) Of course his rejection of the church cannot be reconciled with what the Bible teaches. b) His lack of use of OT can be another weakness. This may tend to mean that his understanding of the gospel, the whole counsel of God was inadequate. But given his Christocentricity one need not carp on that. c) His tendency toward universalism is again to be regretted. d) As we have seen Sadhu Sunder Singh looked at Christ more as a living experience rather than the one who brings justification or the one who consummates history. Hence he speaks very little of both the comings of Christ, coming first to die on the cross and coming at the end of history. These two do not play any significant role in his thinking. Thus his theology can be said to be more existential and experiential.
Keeping these distinctions it is the closest to the mysticism of the Fourth Gospel. To Indians, perhaps because they are interested more in mysticism than rational analysis, the Fourth Gospel has always been a great attraction. The advaitic vedantists always contended that the vishistadvaitic tradition is inferior, having a personal god Ishwara, who is part of maya, while advaita rises above that and believes in the higher impersonal god Brahman. Yet even in Hindu literature there exist several strands of this personal god approach. The most important perhaps is Bhagvadgita. Though it has been differently translated to suit one’s own school of thinking, the devotion of Arjuna to Krishna, the personal god, is definitely the dominant note. During the 10th century there came an emotional type of bhakti literature called Bhagavata Puranas. Here the personal devotion to god became so intensive that at times it spilled over even into sensual, rather erotic direction. In addition there is also a third form of literature by the best known Tamil poets called Alvars, who composed very personal bhakti songs. All this was in line with what Bhagvadgita itself said: “Those who worship me with Bhakti are in me and I also in them.” About the 11th century came Ramanuja of Kanchipuram, who courageously opposed Shankara’s advaita and under the influence of both Vaishnavism and the Bhagavata Puranas, developed a theological basis which made the personal communion with god possible without either getting absorbed into an impersonal Brahman or ceasing to exist. This is what is now called Ramanuja’s System or vishishtadvaita — modified non-dualism. There are many competent scholars who suggest that the bhakti literature of authors such as Manikkavasagar, Ramanuja and Kabir were influenced by Christian thought. In any case all this goes to show that the kind of mysticism found in the fourth gospel is to be found also in other traditions, including the Indian Hindu tradition, albeit with a mixture of truth and falsehood as is the case with every revelation apart from Jesus Christ.
As we have seen, Brahmabandhav’s interpretation of Christianity in the vedantic line is not the only type. Sadhu Sunder Singh’s approach closely related to bhakti is another type. There are several Indians who have taken this line as the best way to interpret the Christian gospel. Among them A.J. Appasamy is undoubtedly the foremost. He wrote his doctoral dissertation and made an extensive research into the bhakti tradition from the Christian point of view.
The Bhakti tradition
The bhakti tradition has as its main tenet the existence of a personal god as well as human beings as personal beings. Salvation in the vedantic (i.e. advaitic) tradition means the absorption of atman into Brahman. But bhakti, or what has now come to be known as vishistadvaitic tradition never blurs the difference between God and man.
From this Hindu Bhakti tradition to the Christian bhakti tradition bridging is not difficult. There are several well known names such as H.A. Krishna Pillai (1827-1900) of Tamilnadu, Kahanji Madhavji of Gujarat and Narayan Vaman Tilak of Maharashtra (1862-1919). God’s yearning to commune with man in spite of man’s sinfulness, with his eventual death on the cross, the subsequent sanctification and resultant abounding joy are the themes of these authors. Tilak also added another element to this, emphasizing the love aspect of God. He called God mother, something for the feminist to chew on. Even now in most of the Marathi congregations Tilak’s lyrics are sung with gusto.
Ayyadurai Jesudasan Appasamy (born 1891) was the son of Dewan Bahadur A.S. Appasamy Pillai, who converted from Shaivism to Christ at the age of 24, partly because of Krishna Pillai. After his studies in Tirunelveli, Appasamy left for America and later for Oxford, where he wrote his doctoral thesis: “The mysticism of the Fourth Gospel in its Relation to the Hindu Bhakti Literature”. Many well-known celebrities, like Canon B.H. Streeter, J.N. Farquhar, Rudolf Otto, and Baron Friedrich Von Huegel, helped him in his research. When he was still at Oxford Sadhu Sunder Singh visited there and they developed a deep friendship leading to Appasamy’s writing a very authentic book on the Sadhu called The Sadhu. Apparently the mysticism of the Sadhu had a great influence upon him — birds of the same feather flock together, do they not? After returning to India, Appasamy continued his research into Sanskrit and Tamil literature, primarily to find a Hindu philosophical basis for the Bhakti tradition. Before long he found what he was searching for, vishishtadvaita of Ramanuja. After thoroughly mastering it he published several works which have become definitive concerning the bhakti tradition. Appasamy became a well known writerteacher and Bishop of the Church of South India.
His theological writings include Christianity as Bhakti Marga (1928) which is a revised version of his doctoral thesis. His other writings include An Indian Interpretation of Christianity, The Use of Yoga in Prayer, Divine Incarnation as Found in the Ramayana of Tulsidas, Temple Bells — Readings from Hindu Religious Literature, The Johannine Doctrine of Life — A Study of Christian and Hindu Thought, Christ in the Indian Church — A Primer of Christian Faith and Doctrine, Christ Answers Youth’s Problems, The Gospel and India’s Heritage, Christian Task in Independent India, Sermons and Letters, My Theological Quest. Besides these he has written several articles in well known theological periodicals.
It is necessary to start with Appasamy’s rejection of the Chalcedonian formula — namely that Christ is fully God and metaphysically one with the Father. Usually the two great sayings or mahavakyas from John’s Gospel, “I and my Father are one” and “Abide in me”, are used to prove that God and Christ and believers are one in the same manner and that it is a union rather than communion. Appasamy rejects this, not primarily because it is western but because it smacks of the Hindu advaitic tendency and he will have nothing to do with that. Basing his arguments on another passage in John which affirms the subordination of the Son to Father, Appasamy argues that the Son’s unity with the Father as well as the disciples’ unity Christ is a moral one, one of commitment and communion. Only on such a similarity between the Father-Son and the disciples can Appasamy build his bhakti system. Going on from there Appasamy develops the thought that fellowship with God does not consist in the harmony of the individual soul with the divine soul in thought and imagination, in purpose and will, in humble deed and adoring devotion. This quality of life which the Bible, particularly John’s Gospel, calls eternal life, is what Appasamy calls moksha. Of the three Hindu margas — jnana marga, bhakti marga and karma marga — it is bhakti marga which
maintains this kind of personal communion. Appasamy obviously chooses bhakti marga as the only way to attain moksha. In an interesting definition Appasamy says:
(Moksha) is a real harmony with the holy and righteous Father. It is a personal experience which, however, in its higher reaches transcends the personal. It is a corporate experience, man mingling with his fellow-men in order to attain the heights of God’s love. It begins even in this life and does not wait for an indefinite future.6
that Jesus did nothing of the kind. In fact he encouraged family relationships. This is to safeguard against agape (love) to growing (or degenerating) into Eros (desire).
THE IMMANENT CHRIST
Another of his important thought is his exegesis of John 1:10, “he was in the world”. While normally this presence of Christ in the world is understood to refer only to his incarnation, i.e. as Jesus of Nazareth, Appasamy however interprets it to mean the presence of the immanent Christ both before and after that. This is something similar to the Logos Spermatikos idea which we have already seen. So he says “Incarnation is a more effective means of showing God than mere immanence.” 7
This kind of presence makes Christ antaryami, the indweller or the inner controller. Here it must be pointed out that while many Indians use the term antaryami for the Holy Spirit, Appasamy uses it for the ‘cosmic’ Christ. In his thinking this antaryami is fully equivalent to the Logos of John’s Prologue. He is quick to point out, of course, that this Logos shone at its brightest in Jesus, and so without coming to know Jesus one cannot know anything about this antaryami or Logos. In other words, what Appasamy is affirming here is that all religions have a revelation of Christ, though dim, but only in Jesus (the Church) this light is the brightest. This also means that the difference between Christianity and other religions is one of quantity and not of quality.
Such an interpretation of moksha not only preserves the personalities of both God and man but also gives human beings a social dimension which probably is an addition to the original meaning of the term. This call of Jesus, “abide in me”, demands a response from the disciple which is “keep my commandments”. Thus Bhakti marga necessarily involves a commitment to Christ in this life in an ethical character and conduct. Analyzing the concept of personality in Hindu Bhakti literature, Appasamy concludes that even there the response of the bhakta (worshipper) to God is a whole response involving thoughts, emotions and decisions, though they are a bit weaker on the will. He further contends that in Hindu literature the ‘I’ is pictured as the root of all our troubles and so if we respond to God using our will, being and thought, the suspicion is such a development of egoism. We are commanded to obey, which takes care of that.
Building on this bhakti kind of communion between God and man, Appasamy develops also the relevance of family in this context, since family is the first social unit where such moral relationships are developed. Jesus’ attachment to several families such as Lazarus, Martha, and Mary and others show that he himself had these family relationships. This is to safeguard against the bhakti tradition’s rejection of family in Hinduism. Many of the bhakti poets rejected their wives and parents and children and other family members in their ecstatic and even sensual relationship with their ishta devata, their personal god. But Appasamy rightly suggests
It is easy to see from the above argument that for Appasamy God is in the world, but is not identical with it, but he is active in the world as Logos. Using Ramanuja’s analogy he says that God is the soul and the world is the body. Boyd rightly points out that this analogy of body and soul is an important part of Appasamy’s theology, for he uses it also in other contexts such as in dealing with the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the church.
Rejecting the advaitic teaching Appasamy also rejects their interpretation of avatara. Yet he is very careful to make
the distinction between the Hindu view and the Christian view. He gives several distinctions. (a) In Hinduism avatara is repeated while in Christ it is only once. (b) In Hinduism avataras are incomplete, since only the Krishnavatara is called the full or purna avatara avatara is a complete one. (c) In Hinduism after the avatara is over the deity usually returns to his original state while in Christ it is a permanent one. (d) In Hinduism, as Bhagvadgita says, the avataras are for the destruction of the wicked and the reward of the righteous, whereas the avatara of Christ is to seek and to save the lost. In all this, Appasamy has adequately preserved the once-for-allness of Christ’s incarnation. (e) He also calls the Hindu avataras mere theophany rather than real incarnation. (f) There is no more distinction which comes in Saiva Siddhanta, where the avataras do not have a real physical body but only an apparent one. Appasamy contends that Christ’s is a real physical body, that Christ’s avatara is not appearance or illusion but it was real. He became flesh. Following the vishistadvaitic tradition Appasamy is careful to maintain the reality and the distinction of the world from God.
As far as his understanding of sin is concerned Appasamy gives a new insight: “The problem of getting rid of Karma is far more pressing than the problem of getting rid of sin.”9 His defense is that since a Hindu normally has a real passion for God he should be first helped to understand God’s love and only later he will be shown the seriousness of sin. He also finds an adequate solution of karma in John 3:18: “He that believeth in him is not judged. He that believeth not is judged already . . . ” Following this line of thinking Appasamy rejects also eternal punishment but rather advocates “a perpetual retributive judgment going on even now, men are judging themselves by their good or bad choices. In this sense there is a continual karma working itself out in human lives.”10 Here there is an unmistakable influence of Sadhu Sunder Singh. What does Appasamy think of the work of Christ on the cross? As can be expected, that again is an original interpretation. Starting with two passages “Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die it abideth by itself alone, but if it die it bears much fruit” (Jn. 12:24) and “I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto myself” (Jn. 12:32), he infers that suffering is universally necessary and that suffering influences all the spectators. Clearly this is a moral influence theory of the atonement. He is reluctant to think of the cross in a negative way, that is as penal substitution, but in a positive way, as the illustration of the love of God which draws men to him. However there are indications that later Appasamy seems to have seen the inadequacy of this interpretation of the cross and has tended to accept the penal substitutionary theory, at least in certain aspects.
PERSONALITY, SIN, KARMA
Even with all this Appasamy is not quite clear whether God is truly personal or impersonal, truly absolute or relative. He finds some traces of personal description of God in John, such as in descriptions of personal aspects — a warm person and empathetic human being, full of love and grace. He concludes his exegesis of John by saying that John wants “to emphasize those aspects of Christ which transcend personality as against those aspects which are personal”. 8 Thus Appasamy is really making a synthesis between Ramanuja and Shankara.
SOURCES OF AUTHORITY
As we have seen in the first Chapter, Hinduism accepts three authorities for their faith. The first is shruti (scripture), second yukti or anumana (reason) and thirdly anubhava (experience). Appasamy accepts these, but with great insight he also adds a fourth one, which actually in his thinking comes second, that of the Church, the sabha. He
is quite right when he says: It is of the essence of the Christian religion that God reveals himself not merely to individuals but to his church. The Hindu religion fails disastrously in this respect. 11 Perhaps as a result of the same syllogism Appasamy also accepts, unlike many other Indian Christian thinkers (such as Chenchiah), that the Old Testament is an essential part of Bible, the Scriptures, and not to be replaced by Hindu or other traditions. This positive attitude towards the church (remember he is a Bishop) resulted in making his Church the body and Christ the soul, as we have already seen. And especially in the case of the Eucharist.
Christ himself comes into our soul through the elements, and abiding in us endows us with his spiritual energy. Through faith we abide in him. We turn our thoughts to him in prayer, surrendering all we have into his sacred keeping, and he comes into us and directs us from our inner self.12
iv) Perhaps the greatest weakness of Appasamy lies in his Christology. The complete or near complete rejection of the legal aspect of the cross is a sad lack. Remember, the Cross is the pivot for whole Christology. v) Perhaps for the same reason the seriousness of sin is missing in his thinking. Though he properly emphasizes the influence of karma on Indian mind. Yet a sub-scriptural understanding of sin does not understand Christ in his essence. vi) Finally, his use of Ramanuja’s body-soul analogy is another creative aspect of his theology. I hope in the near future someone can develop another more relevant Indian Christian theology taking that as a theological method.
Here, of course, there is no hint of the physical presence of Christ as trans- or con-substantiation would have us believe. Similarly Appasamy affirms that when Jesus says “This is my body” he is actually using the body-soul analogy. Jesus takes the created elements of bread and wine for fulfilling his purpose of revealing himself to men.
1. F. Heiler, The Gospel of Sunder Singh, LPH, Lucknow: 1970, p. 144. 2. A.J. Appasamy, The Cross is Heaven, London, 1956, pp. 39f. 3. F. Heiler, op. cit., p. 164. 4. Ibid., p. 210. 5. B.H. Streeter and A.J. Appasamy, The Sadhu: A Study in Mysticism and Practical Religion, London, 1921, p. 57. 6. A.J. Appasamy, What is Moksha?: A Study in the Johannine Doctrine of Life, CLS, Madras, 1931, p. 6. 7. A.J. Appasamy, Christianity as Bhakti Marga, p. 43. 8. Appasamy, What is Moksha, p. 103. 9. Appasamy, The Gospel and India’s Heritage, ISPCK, London, 1942, p. 97. 10. Appasamy, What is Moksha?, pp. 218-220. 11. Appasamy, What Shall We believe? CLS, Madras: 1971 p. 16. 12. Appasamy, Christianity as Bhakti Marga, p. 147.
i) Appasamy’s choice of marga is perhaps the closest one can think of in making the gospel meaningful to the Indian mind, since other schools such as advaita or dvaita are much further in thought content from the gospel message.
ii) His high view of the Church is very commendable. Since there is no lonely Christian and since Christ gives all his gifts and responsibilities to the Christians as the Church this is perfectly biblical. One wonders if he had not been a bishop whether he would have emphasized the Church that much!
iii) His acceptance of Old Testament as equally normative as the New Testament is another commendable aspect of his theology.
VENGAL CHAKKARAI (1880-1958)
Vengal Chakkarai is considered by some as the only systematic theologian from the Indian continent. He belongs to the well known trio of theologians — Appasamy, Chenchiah and Chakkarai. He was born in Madras in a rich Chettiar family. His father was a Vedantin, while his mother was a devout Vaishnava bhaktini. He received his early education in Christian institutions: Scottish Mission school and Madras Christian College, where he came under the influence of William Miller. He studied the Bible himself and through the friendship of Miller he was helped gradually to a personal experience of Christ. What really mattered most to Chakkarai in his conversion was the cry of dereliction on the cross by Jesus, “My God, My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” He deduced from this that any man who should cry like that must really be divine. As you have already noticed the person of Jesus Christ touches different people in different ways! He made public profession of his faith and was baptized in 1903. Though qualified as a lawyer, he worked in the evangelistic department of the Danish Missionary Society in Madras, among educated Hindus. Yet as early as 1906 he became a patriot throwing himself passionately into the national struggle against the British. In 1907 he joined the Home Rule Movement and in 1920 he supported Gandhi’s non-cooperation campaign. Later he also took active part in the Labour movement. He became one of the best known Christians and was elected Mayor of Madras in 1941. In 1951 he served as the Chairman of the All India Trade Union Congress. Along with Chenchiah, his brother-in-law, he was one of the founders of the Madras group known as the Christo
Samaj. Later he started a paper, The Christian Patriot, and became its editor. Most of his theological writings were published in this periodical. He was also one of the chief architects of the group called “The Rethinking Group”. This was rather an informal group and is known by that name because they all produced a most significant book under the title, Rethinking Christianity in India. This you can find in the rare-book shelf of a few seminary libraries. His writings include Jesus the Avatara, his magnum opus; The Cross and the Indian Thought, and numerous articles over the years in The Christian Patriot.
It was very negative and skeptical about the historical value of the gospels and their picture of Jesus. Though Chakkarai understands Christ as the mula purusha (root man, first man) or even as the true man, yet he does not understand Jesus Christ to be metaphysically one with the Father in any monist sense, but as one who lived in communion with the Father. Jesus is satpurusha, the true man, in the sense that there is no influence of maya on him, while all the rest of us are so influenced by it. That is why Satan could not be successful in tempting Jesus. As such, for Chakkarai, Christ’s sinlessness is not because of his metaphysical divinity, but a dynamic sinlessness which is the free choice of his own free will. In the self-giving of himself on the cross, this sinlessness comes to its fullest manifestation. And Chakkarai takes pains to stress that even today the knowledge of God is through Jesus alone. Jesus was not only avatara 2000 years ago. Even now he is still the avatara. Incarnation did not end with crucifixion but is a permanent avatara and it is still advancing today.
The Jesus of history is to us the avatara of God, but incarnation whose real significance we are trying to grasp from the standpoint of Indian thought, was not a static product which admitted of no growth.2
Chakkarai’s Theology GOD AS THE MANIFEST
For Chakkarai, theology cannot begin with some abstract nirguna (qualityless) or avyakta (unmanifested) Brahman. We must begin with the manifest, i.e., Ishwara. This means that we must begin with Christ himself and indeed as Jesus Christ. This approach is the Indian way of doing Christology from below. So he calls it the doctrine of the Christhood of God. In Jesus, the Deus Absconditus (hidden God) has become Deus revelatus (the revealed God). If there is any aspect of God which is not to be found in Jesus, then, Chakkarai asserts, it is simply non-existent for us. This is another way of saying what Paul says in Colossians, that in Christ the fullness of Godhead dwells bodily. And how do we know this Christ? Chakkarai’s answer is: through a personal experience. Christ is now Emmanuel or God with us. He thinks not of the divine immanence but of the human immanence of Christ. As such Christ is alive today and it is possible for men to know him and love him. It is the very person of Christ, seated in the lotus of the human heart, who is antaryami. In a picturesque language Chakkarai describes it: “In the picture of Jesus the express image of the invisible has found his own soul. The painter and the picture are one.”1 In all this Chakkarai is attempting to answer the school of Albert Schweitzer which was very influential at the time.
Thus these are the two elements in Jesus’ incarnation: it is both permanent and dynamic. Very interestingly, he says that not only did the incarnation mean a new phase in the life of man, but also in the life of God. To explain this we have to turn to Chakkarai’s pneumatology.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
For Chakkarai the work of the Holy Spirit is the continuing part of the incarnation or avatara of Christ. Actually he identifies the Spirit with the risen living Christ, at work in the world today. His biblical basis for this is John 14:18: “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you”. At the Pentecost this promise was fulfilled. He observes: “The historical is the primary element in the western interpretation.” (that is, concentration on the Jesus of Nazareth), but
“the spiritual is or will be the primary element in Indian conception” (that is concentration on the Holy Spirit). So he says: “It is from the Holy Spirit, our antaryamin, the indweller, that we start our inquiry concerning the nature and work of the person of Jesus”. Elsewhere he very directly says: “The Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ himself taking his abode within us . . . The starting point in the consciousness of the Christian disciple is that the Holy Spirit is Jesus himself.”3 Obviously this dilutes the doctrine of the orthodox Trinitarianism. While Vivekananda went about interpreting Christianity in terms of Vedanta, Chakkarai goes the other way round. He thinks Vedanta can be really understood only in the light of the Christian gospel:
The Mahavakya: tat twam asi is a tremendous assertion of the possibility. In Christian anubhava it is not a mere metaphysical postulate to start with or to end in. It is not a mere achievement, a sambhava. This advaita has been wrought on the anvil of the life of Jesus.4
sponse. The Jews followed the karma marga, the Greeks followed the jnana marga but Christians must follow the bhakti marga as far as Christ is concerned. Though this comes nearest to the Pauline understanding of faith as appropriation, yet there is no clear indication how the justification is wrought by faith.
MAN’S PERSONALITY: SELF-EMPTYING
There is one section where he talks of anthropology, specially in relation to man as personality. He thinks that the whole concept of ‘person’ is not actually biblical, but comes from the Latin persona and is very different from the Greek hypostasis. He thinks the western scientific attitude has limited personality to that of individuality, and has raised it to “the supreme excellence of man” This “sickly growth of the ego” must be stopped. When we see Jesus as the one who has completely eliminated the aham, ego, and has become one with God, then we can enter into communion with him. This is the type of kenosis (emptying) we have already seen earlier, that on the cross Christ gave his self:
Christ ignored and denied his self altogether . . . he destroyed self, and as self ebbed away heaven came pouring into the soul, for nature abhors a vacuum . . . hence as soon as the soul is emptied of self divinity fills the void.
Thus except for the metaphysical union of atman and paramatman he has re-interpreted advaita in order to suit to the life of Jesus.
What does Chakkarai understand about the cross of Christ? He would not accept the theory of vicarious suffering, though he holds that the way to communion with God is definitely through the Cross. Rather than penal substitution he tends to adopt the Christus-Victor theory, since he understood Christ as being the Victor on a battlefield, fighting against the evil forces, the powers and the principalities of the air. Sometimes he even speaks of the death of Christ as a sacrifice, but somewhat in a Hindu fashion. How does man respond to the Cross? Here Chakkarai follows the Gita, where karma marga and jnana marga are found to be inadequate and bhakti marga is portrayed as the solution. He thinks that bhakti, or an intense and loving attachment to the risen Christ, is the proper human re118
Thus he understands Christ as “the most egoless person known in history and therefore the most universal of all.” Here he bases his argument on Hebrew 5:8 and Philippians 2:7 which speaks of the learning by obedience through suffering, and the emptying of himself. To him the historical Jesus was in the ego. But the risen Jesus ceased to be a human being. He became the universal Spirit; hence we can worship him as God since he is no more a human being. Here he comes to the innermost of the cry of Christ on the Cross. When Jesus was on the Cross, he was stripped of everything. But still he was holding on to God as Father and himself as the beloved Son. But when he cried even that last straw of security was gone and he was where no god is. “He plunged into the nirvana or suniyam where god is not”.
This was indeed the depth of kenosis and nobody can go deeper than the absence of God, as Jesus.
P. CHENCHIAH (1886-1959)
Chenchiah is considered the most creative and original among the Indian Christian theologians. For this reason, perhaps, the summary given in Boyd is a little difficult to grasp at the first reading. We will therefore study him with the help of extracts from The Theology of Chenchiah (CLS, 1966) by D.A. Thangasamy. We will not repeat here the background of Chenchiah’s life and especially the influence on him of Sri Aurobindo and the guru ‘master CVV’. You can read this in Boyd. These influences are important. The following summary evaluation of Chenchiah is taken from Revolution as Revelation, p.51:
Pandipeddi Chenchiah (1886-1959), is the most creative Indian Christian thinker of our time. Following the biblical and evolutionary language of the time, Chenchiah takes Jesus Christ to be the starter of a new era of a new stage in the process of evolution. For him, Jesus Christ is thus the adipurusha (original man) of a new creation. For, “in Jesus, creation mounts a step higher”. He is more interested in the fact of Jesus rather than the act of Jesus; hence he repeats that we are saved not by the acts but by the fact of Jesus. Having been committed to a philosophy of evolution, it is difficult for Chenchiah to accept the doctrine of the Fall: he could not accept that human history should start so negatively. As such, salvation is not redemption nor reconciliation, but simply “reproducing Jesus”, by means of our essential (sayyujya) union with him. In this existential and individualistic approach, clearly there is no place for either the tradition (including Old Testament:) or for the corporate Church. He could hence say that Christianity took the wrong turn when it accepted the institution of the Church. He sincerely strove to prove the continuity between Christianity and Hinduism, as that of old with the new.
HINDUISM AND CHRISTIANITY
What does he think of Hindu religion and its relation to Christianity? Like many of his contemporaries, he also thinks that Hinduism is a preparation for Christ. Since the God who reveals himself to man is the same everywhere he believes that He whom the rishis of old saw is also the God of the Bible, and will not wipe away all of Hinduism. That is why Indian Christianity must take the contribution of Hinduism seriously. This is the reason why his writings are full of Sanskrit terminology. However, one feels that just the mere use of Sanskrit terms does not really give a Christian content into them.
I think it is easier to evaluate Chakkarai than others for the simple reason that he concentrates exclusively on Jesus Christ. In one way this is a true approach. But as he does not go into other essentials of the Christian gospel, such as the Church, for example, his theology is rather a beginning than a whole system of doctrines. This is to be regretted all the more, since from such a fertile mind more could be expected. His view of Scripture is no doubt very orthodox, and he takes it as verbally true. But his view of equating the Holy Spirit with Jesus is indeed disturbing. Of course in the history of the Church the Trinity arose by way of accepting Jesus’ deity and only later Nicene Creed was the deity of the Holy Spirit recognised. In any case the real question about the Trinity is not so much Holy Spirit or Jesus, but actually it is a question of terms: What do we mean by person, substance and essence? As we evaluate any theologian, let us keep the criterion always in mind: How far does one’s theology lead one to a saving faith in Christ?
Chenchiah’s basic theological convictions are helpfully summarized by Thangasamy under 6 headings: 1. The Raw Fact of Christ the only Absolute 2. The Person and work of Jesus Christ 3. New Creation 4. Christ in Relation to Christianity, Church and Scripture 5. Christianity and Hinduism 6. The secular Mission of the Church.
The Raw fact of Christ: The only Absolute
Chenchiah distinguished clearly between ‘two views of the task of theology in India — one broad and the other narrow’. He says
The broad view holds that the only fixed immovable absolute centre in Christianity is the fact of Christ and place Christian experience and faith in the relative sphere and sets theology the task of renewing direct experience of Jesus. Believing that God’s training to different nations in different ways enables them to see new features and appropriate new powers in Jesus, not hitherto appropriated by others, this view assigns to theology the function of building with new experiences and powers, new structures of faith. The other view working with three absolutes of unchangeable core, unalterable faith and essential deposit, allots to theology the limited function of translating the fixed faith into a variety of languages, seeking proper ideas and words to express the three absolutes. The province of theology shrinks and expands according as you believe there are three absolutes or one in Christianity. 5
We can call the New Testament a revelation only in the secondary sense inasmuch as it contains the results of the earliest study of the Revelation of the fact of Jesus. Revelation is not, as Christians and Hindus believe, the speech or word of God. It is the creation. God reveals in the stream of Creation. No explanation exhausts the fact, no exposition can be final. Jesus may be found but no interpretation of him could be final. There can be no unalterable dogma or doctrine of Christianity. 7
Chenchiah accepted only one absolute in Christianity, namely, ‘the raw fact of Christ’. He fought a relentless battle against the absolutisation of ‘doctrine and dogmas, worship and ritual, mysteries and ceremonies’; for they ‘gather round till at last the bright nucleus gets enveloped by a huge globe of tradition and testimony’. He said, ‘Jesus is beyond creeds, churches and they cease to point to Him and at best only point to Him.’ But they cease to point to Him, when ‘the Church judges the words of Jesus by the words of the creed’. Chenchiah sounded the trumpet of freedom to accept, reject, reinterpret or modify every doctrine of the Christian churches, no matter how long and how universally it may have been held.
Let it be clearly understood that we accept nothing as obligatory save Christ. Church, doctrine and dogma, whether from the West or from the past, whether from Apostles or from modern critics, are to be tested before they are accepted. 6
Chenchiah was not unaware of the historical and intellectual difficulties involved in trying to extricate the simple and authentic facts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ from the theological convictions that had become bound up with them even through the manner in which incidents and utterance had been selected and clothed in language. He knew quite well the argument that it was the early Church that processed the Gospels for half a century before they were released to the world. Chenchiah maintained that for the discerning eye and the devoted heart the core of the Gospel, devoid of doctrinal accretions, was not difficult to find. In fact, for Chenchiah, rethinking Christianity in India was not primarily an intellectual or even a ‘theological’ task. Nor was it even to be thought of as a task, but rather as the thrust of the two great urges of the Indian Christians —
A desire for direct contact with Jesus (prathyaksha) an aspiration for rebirth, to be born a Son of God in the image of Jesus (Punarjanma). It is not so much a desire to be a Christian i.e. a follower of Christ, as to be identified with Christ — for sayyujya [with the highest certainty] with Jesus, a longing that made Paul to say, “I no longer live, but Christ in me.”8
We must underline that in the above quotation, Chenchiah considers even the apostolic interpretations of Jesus Christ on the same level as church doctrines and dogmas. Or again:
It is as a corollary to these twin urges that Chenchiah calls upon Indian Christians that their theological enterprises should be one of rethinking Christ himself and not only ‘the substance or content of faith’. Chenchiah was deeply conscious of the revolutionary implications of such direct experience of Christ and reflection on it. He wrote, “A man who comes in contact with the raw fact of Christ, if we may say so, upsets law and order.”9
So Chenchiah strove to explore behind ‘creeds, churches and scriptures’, seeking to discover new dimensions of meaning in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. He did so against the background of India. He was conscious of two realities in this background — the long and unbroken Hindu religious tradition of the people and their contemporary struggles to build a new state and society. He spoke of the need to reconstruct Christianity in the light of Hinduism, to approach the Hindu mind and to recover some aspects of Jesus not seen in the Western traditional history of Christianity. He was conscious also of the need of exploring the meaning of Christ in the light of the political and social struggles of contemporary India. We have explored the implications of the two ideas relating to Jesus, namely the value of Christhood as propitiation and reconciliation as well as the meaning of Christ to the individual. But we have to discover the purpose and achievement of our Lord in the redemption of the social order or in his relation to the cosmic revolution. The enquiry bears intimately on the new powers imperatively needed by us in our conflicts in society and state.
2. The working out of theology of the Son of Man in contrast with the traditional theology of Son God, and 3. Linking Incarnation firmly with Resurrection rather than with the Cross.
The Church has not understood the real significance of incarnation. In Jesus God has come down to us to abide with us for ever as a new cosmic energy. But the church has made of Jesus an object of worship, made him ‘absolute’, and placed him on the right hand of God in heaven. But Jesus as portrayed in the records is less than God. He says so explicitly (John 14:28). We wish to make him the very God — Transcendent and Absolute. The Jesus of the Gospels transcends the measure of man: we try to make Him the very man. He presents us a harmonized picture of God-Man — not merely hyphenated God-man. 10
God’s assumption of humanity, including the body, was a permanent one, and from now on, Jesus is the power of God and the first fruit of a new creation, a divine humanity, transcending mankind. In this connection Chenchiah makes a clear distinction between the Hindu and Christian views of the Incarnation; and in fact his criticism of Barthian theology is precisely that it is more akin to the Hindu than the Christian view. He says,
Incarnation is perfected human body receiving the full divinity of God into permanent integration. (It is essential for our doctrine of incarnation to hold that Jesus assumed body permanently as the consummation of creative human process). In Indian Christian theology Jesus belongs to man and even though he may sojourn in heaven. He will return to earth for here lies his home. A type of Christian theology approximates his function to that of Hindu avatar. The Son became Jesus to offer his life on the Cross as propitiation and went to his home in Heaven after His mission was fulfilled. In that case incarnation will be an adventure, an interlude in the Eternal Son’s life, leaving no permanent deposit on earth or in heaven. He assumed the body for a purpose and when it was over, he assumed his former status. Our conception of the Son of Man radically differs from this. Jesus, on the view controverted, does not remain unchanged. He reverts to his place as Second person in Trinity . . . Indian Christian theology probes deeply into the meaning of the fact that Jesus ascended into heaven as Jesus and never resumed his place as the second person in Trinity. After ascension the Trinity was no longer the Father, Son and
The Person and Work of Jesus Christ
For Chenchiah Christianity begins with Jesus Christ and not with Genesis or even with God. Writing about a conference on Christology held at Jabalpur during the visit of Dr. Brunner to India in 1949, he said that one of the points of agreement reached at that Conference had been ‘that Christology should govern theology and not vice versa as hitherto’.
THE PERSON OF JESUS
According to the outlined suggestion, the new lines of thought that Indian Christian should pursue were listed in an Editorial in the Pilgrim in June 1950 as follows: 1. The discovery and recovery of Pauline theology of incarnation as new Adam.
Holy Ghost, but Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit . . . Humanity did not borrow Jesus to stay a while on earth. We have lent him to heaven to stay there for a while.11
In this long quotation, Chenchiah affirms that Jesus represents not merely the meeting but the fusion into unity of God and man so that man may partake of it. Jesus is not God and is not Man, but is the Son of God and the Son of Man. The word ‘Son’ indicates the measure of unity — something less than complete identity with God but something more than difference in category — between God, Jesus and the Christian. God is God. Man is Man. The twain have met in Jesus; not merely met, but fused and mingled into one . . . This is the message of Christianity — that the Word has become flesh and God has become man. It is thus that Jesus becomes ‘God permanently residing in Creation bringing to birth “a new order in creation”’.12 Here incarnation and resurrection are linked. The fact of Christ is the birth of a new order in creation. It is the emergence of life — not bound by karma of man, not stained by sin, not humbled by death, of man triumphant, glorious, partaking the immortal nature of God, of the birth of a new race in the creation of the Sons of God. If Jesus is not the incarnation of this, what else could he be? A mere visitor from heaven who moved by his love, made a supreme sacrifice and then went away to his place on the right hand of God? Is not Emmanuel, God permanently residing in the creation — the answer to the prayer of man to transcend his destiny? These are penetrating and crucial queries indeed.
sacrifice on the Cross and restoring him to his original righteousness and the other as bringing mankind and cosmos to a new creative destiny. Chenchiah’s approach was the latter. Therefore he wanted Indian Christian theology to start not with myths of Adam and his fall, but with the fact of the new Adam, Jesus; not with the Cross, but with the Incarnation and the Resurrection. So long as the orthodoxy adopts an interventionist theory of Incarnation — of God intervening to save mankind and going back to heaven after achieving the purpose — all efforts to distinguish Krishna and Jesus on grounds of historicity fail. The uniqueness of Christianity lies beyond the promise of salvation, here or hereafter. Other aspects of the life of Christ than that of the role of a sacrificial lamb were far more fascinating to Chenchiah. To him Jesus is no less a Redeemer to non-Christians. But for him the redemption in Christ is the opening up of the infinite possibilities of new creation. He holds that the
construction of Christianity making law, disobedience, sin, cross, propitiation, judgment . . . [the essence] misses the beauty and the newness of the Gospels, while a poetry that stresses love, resurrection, service, communion, sonship, gets us nearer to the Master.14
THE WORK OF CHRIST
What can we say to the Gospel which limits the totality of Christ’s achievement to a restoration of man to the original condition? This reconciliation and restoration can only be a new start for life and not its positive content. Is there any new advance for man in Jesus beyond regaining the ground lost? 13
And the salvation of Jesus is “by virtue of his existence and being and not by an act of His”.15 Christ does not save us by suffering on the cross. Just as an animal is saved in man by the animal nature being sublimated by the entry of mind and reason, men are saved by attaining Christhood.
There are two approaches to the Work of Christ. One sees Christ as saving man from original sin through his
Chenchiah believes in Trinity — of God the Absolute who ‘lies beyond our thought, comprehension and capacity’; of Jesus who is ‘God standing in relation to man’ and has assumed humanity permanently to bring to creation a new order of existence (“The finite God is still God, yea, even so our Lord Jesus Christ”) 16 and the Holy Spirit who is universalized Jesus. He differentiates Jesus from God from
the time of the Incarnation, but only to identify Him more or less with the third Person of the Trinity after the Ascension. He says, “The Holy Spirit is the Universal Jesus” 17 and again, “The Holy Spirit presides over the new creation and lives in the sons of God as their atman”. But elsewhere the Holy Spirit is spoken of as cosmic energy which can hardly be the regarded as a Person. For example, “The Holy Spirit is the energy beyond Creation which . . . flowed into the world.” 18 This identification of the Holy Spirit with the person of Jesus virtually amounts to non-recognition of any activity, or even existence, of the Holy Spirit, in the world before the incarnation. The Holy Spirit is the power that descended vertically in the human stream in Jesus. Chenchiah sums up his doctrine of Trinity thus:
God the Father represents what has not passed into creation. God the Son represents what of Him has passed into creation. He is adi Purusha of a new creation while the Holy Spirit is Viswakarma of a new world. Jesus is he that descends and having descended abides with us. He is avathari (he that descends) and Tathagatha, he that is to come to save the world process.19
come’ because of what has been done. It opens up vistas of growth and fulfillment for both man and society. ‘The Children of God are the next step in evolution and the Kingdom of God the next stage in cosmos’. Critics of Chenchiah have pointed out that, at best, Chenchiah’s concept of a new creation in Jesus is only a reiteration of a sadly neglected doctrine of the Apostolic age, that the Church has never completely lost sight of the truth that if any man is in Christ Jesus he is a new creature. However, what is distinctive in Chenchiah’s view of new creation, and what usually meets with incredulity on the part of his critics, is the ‘change of gradient’ that he envisages in the progress of humanity as a gift of God through the power of the Holy Spirit that has come to reside with men in Jesus’ incarnation. New Creation is not just a matter of individual men and women being ‘born again’ in the evangelical sense of the term, but it is a further stage in the planetary life of mankind brought about by the release of fresh energy through a new tremendous creative act of God. The horizontal flow of creation receives new force and elements that descend on it vertically from above and break into it. Life, reason or soul (to use Pauline language) mark such descents of new creative energies into creation from beyond itself. Without the recognition of such ingestions into creative current, we cannot satisfactorily account for the vital turns in creation. The temptation of science has always been to interpret the higher in terms of the lower. The correct way of stating the fact that would be the creative process has received accessions from itself from time to time and these accessions mark the place where creation changes as it were the gradient and raises itself to new heights. The change in the nature of being man is to be reflected in his environment or order of existence also. It has already been said that in Chenchiah’s view ‘today we have to realize Jesus as the head of new world order’. Hence Chenchiah’s hopes for a changed world as well as for changed men.
Since Chenchiah regards New Creation as being not only the basis for his christology but as the only rationale for the continued existence of Christianity, we should give priority over all his other theological views which were all like corollaries from that primary vision of his. He claims that “the real uniqueness of Christianity consists in the doctrine, or rather, the fact, of new creation and new birth.” Chenchiah announced the changes of his favourite doctrine in numerous papers that he wrote. The following is a typical statement of its essence:
Viewed as an outburst or inrush into history, Jesus is the manifestation of a new creative effort of God, in which the cosmic energy or Shakti is the Holy Spirit, the new creation is Christ, and the new life order, the Kingdom of God.20
For Chenchiah, the Gospel of Jesus is essentially the good news of New Creation. It is not just news of what has already been done, but extends to the hope of ‘things to
Chenchiah’s exposition of the doctrine of the new creation loses clarity even plausibility when he insists that it is to be achieved through a biological process. This biological view of the new creation, as something that supervenes at birth and in our physical constitution, made Chenchiah emphasize the doctrine of the virgin birth, as for example when he argued, “The birth of Jesus is of greater importance (that his death) from a biological point of view, for every vital change in the creative order is accompanied by a new process of birth”. Applying the law to the people of today he says, “it is suggested that mutations occur not in the fully developed body, but in the larvae stage. So also the new life may come to man while being formed in the womb of woman.” But, as the Gurukul Group points out, the iteration that Christianity is a problem in genetics does tend to obscure the spiritual character of the new creation.
Though Chenchiah argues for New Creation on the basis of biblical text and Christian faith it is possible to trace the particular biological slant of his exposition of the doctrine to the influence of Master C.V.V. However, he saw the New Creation as a supernatural act of God and not as the result of the pressure of the biological urge characteristic of man. This is the chief difference in approach between him and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin whose concept of neogenesis runs otherwise closely parallel to Chenchiah’s account of the new creation. Starting from scientific data de Chardin argues that the ‘upward thrust’ of consciousness, passing through the stages of matter, life and thought, must culminate at an Omega point. Hence, in his view man is not the centre of the universe as we thought in our simplicity but something much more wonderful — the arrow pointing the way to the final unification of the world in terms of life.
For Chenchiah, the only ground of certainty that the new creation must take place is that it has already happened in Christ. To de Chardin, too, confirmation of his biological postulate of Omega-point is to be found in what has already been accomplished in the ‘Great Presence’ of the Christ.
Parallel Indian and Western Thought
There have been several Western theologians in our time, who have sought to interpret Jesus as both heralding and ushering in a new turn upward in the creative process of history and cosmos, bringing to birth a new order of existence. These Western thinkers had not come to Chenchiah’s notice, at that time in the forties and early fifties when he was thinking hard on the possibilities of new creation. On the contrary, he found support for his view in the philosophical excursions of two of his contemporaries in India. One of these was Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, perhaps the greatest philosopher and spiritual adviser of his time in India. He preached that ‘supernatural life is at hand, seeking embodiment in us and working towards creation of new race of super men, the Christian sons of God’. The other Indian sage who, Chenchiah admitted, had seen the vision of a new creation after men had lost it for nineteen centuries, was ‘Master C.V.V’ — Venkatasami Rao of Kumbakonam. The ‘Master’ had a very small following and made but a feeble impact on Hindu thought or spirituality. Nevertheless, Chenchiah admired him as one who “devoted himself to the technical problems involved in engineering the new power and inducing it in our new personality”.21
Christ in relation to Christianity, Church and Scriptures
Chenchiah’s approach to the Christian religion, to Church and the Scripture is based on his conviction that Jesus and the New Creation in Him form the only essence of Christianity, and that all the rest, Christianity as religion, the Church as Institution and the Scripture, are relative and have to be evaluated in terms of their power to point to, express and convey that essence. On the whole Chenchiah’s view was that they have largely become ends in themselves, hindering rather than conveying the truth in Christ, and he was highly critical of them, and frequently advocated doing away with them. He saw religion smothering life, Church displacing the Kingdom of God, and letter killing the spirit. There is one type of Christianity which is biological, pivoted on new birth, acquisition of a new body and faculties
for the creative operations of the Holy Spirit — a Christianity that reproduces Christ in the Christian, and another type of Christianity where life forces are translated into a lower notation of Church, ideology, organization, state power. The dangerous fact is that doctrines, institution, sacraments, priests and pastors, all join together under the name of the Church and take the place of Jesus whom they in doctrine exalt as God. The Christian does not go to Jesus direct, but clings to Church as the author of his salvation. Chenchiah accuses the Church also of having betrayed the Kingdom of God. The result is that there has been an exchange of the Kingdom of God for the Church. The Church is an institution which came into existence under extraordinary circumstances. It may be seriously doubted whether it was in the mind of our Lord. It was born out of the exigencies of early Christianity when it was confronted with the highly organized imperial society that was in Rome. As Christianity developed, we find the Church slowly raising its structure on tradition or on the Bible, and its social and religious organization on the principles of Roman society. Why did we allow the conception of the Kingdom of God to atrophy and the idea of the Church to take shape and strength? Yet Chenchiah did not wish to escape the Church altogether, but he wished it could be reformed and make a new beginning here in India. Hence his stress on the need for repentance and renewal. If the so-called Church has any discernment yet left, it may leave its offerings at the altar and go in search of God in heaven and implore Him in the name of His creation to come and live with us, chastening, inspiring, ruling and overruling our petty plans and schemes. Unfortunately, however, losing all hope of the Church’s rethinking of its own mission, he began to write of the possibility of a Churchless Christianity. For his ideas Chenchiah claimed the support of a successful experiment in Japan.
Verbal Inspiration versus the Spiritual
Chenchiah did not regard the Bible as a verbally or divinely inspired book, but rather as collection of records of and treatises on God’s revelations of Himself to man and man’s expression of Him. This was not because he made a rational approach and could not accept the miraculous elements in the narrative. On the contrary he did not question the miracles; but on account of the romantic vein in him, he had a pre-disposition to look for them even among the incidents of everyday life. It was clear to him that not everything in the Scriptures was helpful to the understanding of God’s nature and his dealings with man. He saw that the quality of spiritual discernment varied considerably from book to book. Hence Chenchiah could not place equal value on every part of the Bible or give to the whole of it the attention, trust and reverence he spontaneously offered to some particular parts. Chenchiah made a distinction between the Old Testament and the New testament as books and ways of life. As books, he said they stood closely related and the understanding of some of the doctrines or the Pauline theology of the New Testament it would be necessary to know the Old Testament just as ‘to understand Ahimsa as a doctrine it is necessary to know the teachings of the Upanishads, Buddhism and Jainism’. But neither for the understanding of the ethical or spiritual teaching of the New Testament nor for ‘accepting Jesus’ was the Old Testament necessary. He argued that Judaism could give no help at all in understanding some of the New Testament doctrine such as the Incarnation, which would be readily ‘intelligible in the Greek and Hindu religious traditions’. Another example he resorts to is the idea of the Holy Spirit is not intelligible without Hindu experience. As an intelligent and thoughtful reader of the Bible Chenchiah realized that it is a book that often perplexes the reader as much by many of its utterances as by the uncertainties of its text. He said,
I have not the fortune to be one of that group of Christians which mostly represents by pastors, zealous evangelists and strong sections to whom the word of God speaks with a clear and crystal voice supporting whatever views they happen to hold for the nonce . . . My lot is cast with those to whom the scriptures are more confounding than clarifying and who see through the glass of the world darkly rather than clearly, here nothing more than a thunder, [which] others interpret the voice of God . . . If I am never left in doubt after reading the scriptures, I am never in complete assurance either. To me scriptures are part of a Chinese puzzle, not of much use unless we get all the pieces together.22
Christian theology builds bridges from Jesus to Judaism and Hinduism, and not bridges from Judaism and Hinduism to J e s u s . 23
Quite courageous, though unorthodox stuff! He asks, Did Jesus ever say that scriptures are our unfailing guides and illuminators? Was there a New Testament at all for Jesus to speak of its guidance?
Christianity and Hinduism
Chenchiah’s definition of the relation between Christianity and Hinduism arose out of five of his deep convictions. First, that the New Creation in Jesus is the essence of the Gospel; second, that it is so entirely new, that it is other than all the religions which represent only the old creation, and is little apprehended even by the Christian religion and the Church; third, that God has been at work in all religions so that it is possible to build bridges from Christ to them; fourth, that the spiritual treasures of other religions will bring to light new facts of the Person of Christ and of Christian life and experience; and fifth, that the New Creation in Jesus can be realized by all religions if they are prepared for radical transformation in their spirit and life through the Holy Spirit.
The radical newness of Christ places both Judaism and Hinduism on the same level as belonging to the old. Therefore he fought against making a radical theological distinction between Judaism and Hinduism, though he recognized fundamental sociological and historical differences. This attitude determined also his theological attitude to the scriptures of the Old Testament. For Chenchiah, the Jew does not walk forward from the Old Testament to the New. The Christian walked backwards from New Testament to the Old. The Jewish Messianic proof texts did not point to Jesus. Matthew unearthed texts in Old Testament to suit Jesus. Jesus did not point to Old Testament fulfill prophecy. Prophecies are picked up after Jesus to form a sort of background for Jesus. This sort of trick-effect can be produced if you turn Jesus towards Hinduism. Those who advance fulfillment theory of the relation between Jesus and Hinduism, seek to build the same sort of bridge as the disciples built. It was a bridge not built by Jews from the Old Testament side but by the Christians from the side of Jesus. He could pick up material for an Old Testament in Hinduism making selections in the light, of what Jesus said and did. That was exactly what early Christians did and later converts sought to do.
Chenchiah was convinced, however, that bridges can and ought to be built from Jesus to other religions. They can be built because God has been at work in the old creation, work which can be discerned in the light of Jesus. He himself was very sensitive to the working of God in Hinduism.
Now and then without preparation or warning, the religious forces of Hinduism throw into light men of Christian heart, features and love who had no contact with the historical Jesus or the visible Church. They are silent reminders of the fact that God is working in his own way in religions.24
Christ Destroyer or Fulfiller?
Chenchiah’s understanding of Christ’s relation to other religions was dialectical. The newness of the New Creation in Christ led him to emphasize the truth that Christ ‘abrogates’ all religions. There is no continuity in the reverse. He says:
Neither Judaism nor Hinduism leads to Christ. Christ abrogates Judaism and Hinduism more than he fulfills them.
Chenchiah’s respect for Hinduism was neither a matter of native prejudice, nor one of uncritical acquiescence. But it came out of full knowledge of the philosophy and religious
literature of the Hindus. He was critical of several doctrines of Hinduism and interpretations modern scholars tried to give them. For example he suggested that ‘the postulate of ultimate unity of truth so readily believed by the Hindu develops a spiritual shortsightedness which incapacitates him from seeing differences in religion’. Of the karma theory he said that the view that the ‘soul is sent into the world in several births or that it may acquire different experiences which will be summed up and brought into consciousness at the time of fruition’ is a view that ‘rests on pure speculation that finds no support in the facts of life’, He also argued that ‘the absence of all consciousness of previous births militates against its ethical value’. Prominent among the features of the spiritual heritage of Hinduism that Chenchiah wanted Christianity to assimilate were ashramas and yoga. He wrote several chapters in the book, Ashramas Past and Present, which was published by the Indian Christian Book Club. He wrote a series of articles on Yoga in The Guardian. But, while giving a historical and philosophical account of these institutions themselves to be adopted by Christianity he saw a great deal of experimentation need to be carried out in ‘spiritual laboratories’ for the purpose. While Chenchiah believed that Hinduism could offer spiritual discernment and experience to the Indian Christian, and particularly to the convert, he was aware of wide difference between its understanding of truth and that of Christianity. “To the Semitic”, he said, “Truth is ethical, dividing the right from the wrong, good from the bad. To the Hindu, truth is the support uniting the divisions on the surface”.25 He was also aware of differences in the goals or attitudes to ultimate Reality when he stated, “Hinduism celebrates the end of the life, Christianity its birth”.26
gospel . . . as life, opinion and inner change rather than as social groups or spiritual groups outside Hinduism”.27 He was for changing the life impulses of Hinduism itself. According to him the process of Christianising Hinduism will take the shape of men who are influenced by the spirit of Christ partially at first and in increasing degree later. And he asked, “When we have Christians in name with little of the spirit of Christ, why should we not allow Hindus in name but possessing the spirit of Christ in reality?”28 Further he explained that making a Christian should mean implanting the light of Christ in a human heart, creating loyalty to his ideas, promoting devotion to the leadership of Jesus — in short to fill the mind with enthusiasm for Christ’s way of life. Evangelism is a change of heart and mind, not an annexation to the Church. The outflowing of the Christian spirit into the soul and mind of the nation, a movement into Hindu and Islamic society rather than a landslide from those masses to quality, change to character. Chenchiah saw Christ’s influence on Hinduism already at work. According to him, Christ’s influence on Hinduism manifests itself in the re-construction of Hinduism, as in the case of the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, and the Ramakrishna Mission; in the transvaluation of religious and ethical and social ideals; in the creation of a purified spiritual vision which feels the presence of a new spiritual energy in life; in personal devotion, as in the case of eclectic movements such as theosophy and Visvabharathi.
The Secular Mission of the Church
As early as 1928 Chenchiah wrote, ‘Any attempt to separate the Church from its mission is fraught with disaster’. He conceived of the mission of the Church in terms of the new creation, the Kingdom of God and the renewal of the social order. We have already spoken of the new creation. Chenchiah believed that it was the mission of the Church to ‘harness the Holy Spirit to the creation of new life’. And that new life was to be the sign of the Kingdom of God come among men. The period between the Wars was a time of the
CONVERSION TO CHRIST NOT A NEW RELIGION OR COMMUNITY
Chenchiah had a great longing that all his countrymen should come to know Christ. But the process of Christianisation that he advocated was “the spread of the
rediscovery of the message of the Kingdom and an altogether too optimistic gospel was fashioned out of it. But Chenchiah insisted on the need for a firm spiritual basis for the Kingdom. It is only by bringing a new divine power and the energy of the Holy Spirit that we can hope to become the Sons of God and establish the Kingdom of God. Chenchiah was sure that the strong motivating power for the reordering of society, ‘the spirit of nishkamya karma and self-forgetting love so much needed for nation-building, could come only from the ministrations of faiths at the highest level’. The Christian, more than any other, had to enter all areas of life with this spirit and redeem them for the Kingdom. He deplored the compartmentalisation of life into religious and non-religious spheres. Chenchiah outlined a programme of social service and social action by Christians in India. Among these were suggestions for the organization of mobile service groups to undertake relief work on occasions of famine, fire, pestilence and storms; co-operatives; experiments in common farming (advocated as a national policy by Nehru fifteen years later), housing schemes and co-operative banks. He encouraged that Christians should first equip themselves with knowledge, both of their faith and of the possible ways in which social problems could be tackled, before they could play a significant redemptive role in the affairs of the nation. The absence of such thinking was a great lack in the armour of the Indian Christian. Therefore he called upon his educated fellow-Christians to ‘discuss and formulate after study a Christian scheme or policy in politics and economics which they shall try to implement whatever party they may join’. And to stimulate their thinking, he along with close friends like A.N. Sudarsanam, V. Chakkarai and G.V. Job, started the Indian Christian Book Club.
without doctrines and dogmas may be the new gift of the Spirit of the times to the Indian Christians. Chenchiah’s own greatest contribution to the cause of Christianity may be precisely this courage and the lead given by him. Chenchiah declared that the Indian Christian has come of age and therefore, is able to think on his own and add to the spiritual treasuries of mankind. Indian Christians have not been eager to face the challenges of the times but content to face those of a remote past in the manner in which they had been met in the past. Like certain spirits which did not wish to be troubled by Jesus, they would only wish to be left alone to carry on their exercises of piety in their own way. Facing the world of today would demand too great an exertion on their part and would seem to be so dangerous as to upset even the foundations of their faith and life. It was to such a group that Chenchiah addressed his call to courage that is demanded by the effort to meet the new challenges by abandoning the security and the moorings of traditional Christianity. Chenchiah was often at issue with those who sought to prescribe limits within which Indian Christian theological inquiry should be contained. The stand of the typical missionary of the time and his Indian satellites was that what they regarded as basic doctrines could not be questioned, but only explained or interpreted in images and speech-forms that were indigenous. But if theology is not regarded primarily as a set of doctrines which may not be questioned, but as the growing understanding of God’s dealings with man, especially through the life and work of Jesus Christ, it would then rank as a discipline in which any one interpretation of observed or historical fact cannot be accepted as being final. In every science there is periodical re-examination of presuppositions and the theories based on them — from the theory of a geocentric universe in astronomy to the constitution of the atom in physics. In this view, which was certainly Chenchiah’s doctrines such as those of the ‘Trinity and Atonement’ would be regarded as doctrinal theories rather than as absolutes, as they have
Thangasamy agrees with Chenchiah’s assessment in one of the numerous articles in The Guardian, that the courage to think through the challenges to Christianity
been in theology so far. They would, in other words, be treated as the first; profound, perhaps, but by no means final or complete interpretations put upon the facts of the birth, life and resurrection of Jesus as these may be gleaned from the Gospels. It must be admitted that in rejecting, modifying and originating doctrines, Chenchiah tended to rely too much on his own judgment and experience and too little on that of the large body of believers who had faced no intellectual of spiritual difficulty in thinking and living within the neat but narrow framework of the traditional understandings of Christian doctrines. And when he asserts, “Christian individual experience is the centre and circumference, foundation and superstructure, of Christianity. There is no experience which is not individual.” 29 He seems to steer too dangerously towards the existentialist obsession with experience as the basic reality. But, as against this, one has to bear in mind what Bonhoeffer says about a world that has ‘come of age’ — Kairos, as well as God, seem clearly to be calling upon Christians to travail for a new understanding of His nature and His relations with the world. However, the present “is a time for ploughing, not reaping . . . it is a time for making soundings, not charts or maps”.30 Hence, except for the development of the thesis of the New Creation, there is hardly any systematic formulation of doctrine or system of ideas in the writings of Chenchiah. Chenchiah’s Christianity was rooted in the experience of life of the saints down the centuries. He had no regard for conventional religion which “builds on a foundation of nature, colouring and sometime controlling, but really conquering our instincts and impulses”.31 For him religion is the supernatural permeating, transforming and activising the natural, not getting dissipated in it or standing apart from it. The vital experience of such supernatural activity constituted real advance in religion and it alone could provide the means of theological illumination. The experience that Chenchiah was talking about is something far nobler than an individualistic ‘experience of salvation’ that
revivalists often talk about. The experience that Chenchiah was talking about was that of being admitted by grace into the state of striving for oneness with God. Dynamic experience is possible only where there is a willingness to experiment not only in the narrow fields of faith-healing and the like, but also in the larger arena of life. Chenchiah was for making bold experiment that would extend, as Mahatma Gandhi’s did, to the fields of political and social life. What is the experiment and experience that Chenchiah was advocating? It is power of the Holy Spirit as a cosmic energy that is seeking to transform the race of man. Even the critics who were otherwise repelled by Chenchiah’s theology have commended him for rediscovering or re-emphasizing the forgotten doctrine of the creation. There has been such a lack of faith in the power of the intention of God to ‘make all things new’ on the earth or to transform the kingdom of the world into His own Kingdom that for centuries the Church had settled to the job of saving a few brands from the fire that must inevitably consume the world and its structures. Only now, thanks to the struggles of the minds and the souls of men like Chenchiah, we are beginning to affirm that new life must permeate and change its environment. If it is really the supernatural power, if its energy is that of the Holy Spirit, it must transform the social order. Chenchiah was one of the few Christian thinkers in India who, even before the Second World War and the Independence of India, tried to show how Christians in India should participate in the task of nationbuilding. Participation implies living and working with others, taking them seriously as persons respecting their convictions and belief and entering into real partnership with them. Chenchiah was one of the very few Christians who may be said to have not only got inside the world, but to have felt quite at home in it. This was not because he had been born a Hindu, but because quite deliberately he set out to gain a knowledge of Hindus and Hinduism after he was converted.
Dialogue with men of other faiths was a spontaneous, almost natural, Christian self-expression for Chenchiah, at bar association premises, verandah clubs and many other places of meeting. At a time when Christians in India are taking their ‘participation’ in nation-building seriously and are concerned with ‘partnership’ with men of other faiths and ‘dialogue’ with them at depth, it is right and proper that we go back to Chenchiah and draw upon the resources of his thought. Chenchiah is significant as one who cleared the ground for a mature ‘Indian Christianity’.
P.D. DEVANANDAN (1901-1962)
Paul David Devanandan was born in Madras in a pastors’ family. After his studies at Madras, Tiruchirapalli and Hyderabad he went to University in Madras. Coming under the influence of K.T. Paul, he went as his secretary to the United States of America in 1924. He stayed on for seven years and eventually finished his doctorate in the Pacific School of Religion and later at Yale, with the subject “The Concept of Maya”. Later on he ended up as K.T. Paul’s sonin-law! On his return to India he taught Philosophy and History of religions at United Theological College, Bangalore, at a time when these subjects were scorned. He taught them for 17 years. When he was serving as the Literature Secretary of Y.M.C.A., the National Council of Churches called him to lead the newly formed CISS — Christian Institute for the Study of Society. This institute later merged with the Christian Institute for the Study of Hinduism and became the present CISRS — the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society. Till his untimely death by heart attack in 1962, he remained in the position of Director. During this time he went often as a teacher and lecturer all over the world. One of his great contributions was his message under the tittle “Called to Witness” in the third Assembly of the W.C.C. at New Delhi in 1961. In his autobiographical writings, Devanandan confesses that one of his great spiritual experiences was in his reading
of Hendrick Kraemer postulated the discontinuity thesis that there is no point of contact between Christianity and other religions. Thus he rejected the validity of all natural revelations. This stance disturbed Devanandan very greatly. He could not bring himself to condemn Hinduism, under whose influence he had grown all his life, as demonic or containing no element of truth. But later, after a long and strenuous research, he hit upon the idea what can be now called the ‘Devanandan discovery’ on which many later theologians have built their theology of religions. We will look at it later. His theological writings include, beside several articles the following books: Our Task Today, The Gospel and Renascent Hinduism, Christian Concern in Hinduism, I will lift up mine Eyes, (Sermon and Bible studies with a biographical Sketch) and the posthumously published Preparation For Dialogue.
Devanandan’s Theology of Religions
As indicated above, the very decision of Devanandan to study Hinduism (the concept of maya) shows that his entry into theology was through the study of religions. Devanandan understands religion, or more accurately faith, as a series of concentric circles — creed, cultus and culture (a system of doctrinal beliefs, the religious rites and ceremonies, and the world view and life style respectively). The innermost circle is the creed. Invariably, when a religion interacts with its environment, the impact is first felt in the outer circle, area of culture, only later upon the cultus and still later if at all on the credal core itself. This means that the theology of religion changes with great inertia. That is why when a renewal takes place in a religion it effects all the spheres, and it is right to deal with a faith in all these spheres, and not with an isolated one. Devanandan affirms that these resurgent or renewal movements, in a religion are of four types — reform movements, revival movements, renascent movements and revolt movements.
In reform movements there is change brought about from causes outside. The change brings an emphasis upon the new as against the old, and many old ideas and practices and values are given up for the new ones. By contrast, a revival movement takes place within a particular religion. Here the response of the religion to an environment is dynamic and hence the emphasis is not so much on the new as on the old elements. Therefore, all revival movements are both defensive and apologetic, seeking to justify the validity the old claims. Renascent movements are the changes brought about by the forces acting both from without and from within. There is a revolutionary shakeup of the fundamentals of the religion. Finally, in revolt movements the ancestral faith is shaken up so much that it leads to a repudiation of it. Here the older values are outmoded and the modern elements are lifted up.
Indian theological expression of Christian faith. So he says:
Effective communication of the gospel to the non-Christian man of faith depends on the effective use of the religious vocabulary with which he is familiar, and of the cultural pattern of life in which he finds self-expression and community being. 32
Christian influence of Hinduism
In his approach Devanandan has gone much beyond the earlier approaches either of rejecting Hinduism totally or taking Hinduism as the foundation for Christian faith or Christianity as the fulfillment of Hinduism. What are these new elements in Hinduism which it has borrowed from Christianity? Obviously Devanandan takes pains in developing these and we will do well to look at them one by one.
Devanandan further affirms that in modern Hinduism there is a new renascent movement taking place. The new values of person, society, and history are definitely foreign to the age-old Hinduism with its caste system and karma sansara. Then the question arises: from where does Hinduism absorb these new elements?
Here we come to what we call the ‘Devanandan discovery’. His thesis as in The Gospel and Renascent Hinduism, is that the new Hinduism is the result of the Christian message. It is in interaction with the gospel of Jesus Christ that neoHinduism has imbibed these new human values. Thus as Christians we must rejoice in this creative activity of the Holy Spirit. As we enter into dialogue we will often find that the hidden Christ is there at work in Hinduism previous to us. This is the point of contact for Christians with Hindus. This is Devanandan’s post-Kraemer position. His discovery he calls a second spiritual crisis, a second conversion, equivalent to his own experience of conversion to Jesus Christ.
As far as the question of person is concerned Devanandan takes a daring step. He regards Brahman as neither personal nor impersonal; he says that he is both at the same time, i.e. he equates Iswara with Brahman. But God makes himself known to human beings in personal relationships and never as a series of oppositions. As Boyd says, this concept of God as personal, speaking to and dealing historically with man as a responsible person, is fundamental to Devanandan’s thinking. In this connection he develops the imago dei doctrine of man and primarily in opposition to prakriti or nature. It involves at least three attributes: a mutual encounter of I-thou; a capability of being in dialogue and of penetrating another I; and a purposive striving to realize a common end. At the same time we must also point out that Devanandan holds to the orthodox view of human depravity and his view of sin is quite orthodox.
In such a dialogue there are three steps according to Devanandan. First, there is a study needed of the varied types of Hinduism. Secondly, there must be clarification of terminology so that the concepts used are properly understood by Christians and Hindus. Thirdly, there must be an
SIN AND SALVATION
But how does man come out of sinfulness? Not by evolution or by education or by self-realization, but by a deliberate commitment to the offer of Christ.
It is the power and personality of the resurrected Christ which transforms men and makes them into a new and living creation. Hence we can properly say “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation”.
Thus Devanandan stoutly defends the idea of conversion and carefully distinguishes it from proselytism.
tion history); and where God’s will is opposed that is maya (the secular history). Thus his understanding of maya is more or less similar to the understanding of vanity in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Another new element which he finds in Hinduism is community. Since Hinduism regards religion as a private enterprise, Devanandan stresses the need of community life. In Devanandan’s words, “Man is truly man only in so far as he is found in the network of human relations which makes what the Bible calls ‘people’ and which in modern language is called ‘society’. He makes his point by basing it upon the very creation of man in the image of God, which involves the personality and community of man in relation to God and man in relation to others. Thus man is more than both manava and purusha for he must be a bhakta in satsanga or koinonia (fellowship) with God and his people. Following this line of argument obviously Devanandan rejects also the Hindu doctrine of karma sansara, that one is responsible for only his own deeds, because it is not only against social justice but also is not realistic. For Devanandan the Church is this community. It is not only a transformed community. He is not so much interested in the narrow ecclesiastical issues but in the significant contribution of the church that it should be a living, witnessing, worshipping and serving fellowship, as a model to the world, of what a community ought to be.
True community is created by the conscious sense which each one in the group has of being vitally connected with a living centre and because of this living relationship to the centre they are all bound to one another. That is the real difference between a communion of saints and an association of people.
HISTORY AND MAYA
Another elements which he dwells on is the concept of history. Thanks to the Hindu concept of maya neither the world nor history have any abiding value. Giving adequate examples, Devanandan shows how modern Hinduism is gradually awakening to a sense of purpose in history another influence of the Christian message. Thus the age-old concept of cyclic understanding is replaced by a linear understanding. He sees that the transformation of all religions (as he has shown to be the case in Hinduism) is steadily moving, towards the eschaton, “the hope of glory”, the final end. But the question is, if all the religions are moving to this glorious end, will they remain as they are, or will they be abolished, or will they merge into a world religion? Devanandan is not quite clear on that and he leaves the question open, very wisely. He thinks that the truth belongs to the eschaton and we need not speculate on it.
If he takes history so seriously, then how does Devanandan interpret maya? This was after all his doctoral dissertation. The earlier thinkers understood maya either as illusion or as a second rate reality. Devanandan attempts a new Christian interpretation: “Time is as it were shot through with eternity”. Thus the Christian talks about man as a citizen of two worlds. This is really a way of stating that this is a world of maya, a world which is both real and unreal, conditioned by time and shot through with eternity, the scene of human endeavour and the plane of activity. But here the sat-asat nature of world life is not understood in terms of ultimate reality, but final purpose.” In other words Devanandan shifts the realm of maya from being to that of purpose. That is, where God’s will is followed that is reality (perhaps he meant mainly the salva146
Thus he defines the church as “the fellowship of those who endeavour in community, as well as in their own personal lives, to do the will of the Father.” This doing the will of the Father involves not only kerygma or proclamation
or evangelism but also diakonia i.e., service of the community around, and koinonia fellowship with another. The omission of leiturgia (worship) is significant, but since Devanandan was thinking of the Church as a community vis-a-vis Hinduism, it might not be relevant here. And Devanandan defends evangelism in no uncertain terms. He affirms that the primary mission of every Christian believer is to spread abroad good news that God has started a movement in the history of mankind by himself for the salvation of man. Following from this Devanandan advocates praxis as well as orthodoxy as a must for the church’s witness. And he earnestly calls upon Christians to participate actively in the nation building activities and gives a firm basis for this. This means taking part with other groups or non-Christian organizations for a combined effort towards social upliftment — even if need be secular or other ideological groups. Association with non-Christian ideologies and structures does not deter him from the Christian duty of nation building. Other elements in Devanandan’s theology are quite conservative and thus we need not repeat them here.
1. V. Chakkarai, Christ the Avatar, CLS, Madaras, 1932, p. 208. 2. Ibid., p. 112. 3. Ibid., p. 117. 4. Ibid., p. 220. 5. “Indian Christian Theological Task”, The Guardian, 1947, pp. 20f. 6. Rethinking Christianity in India (2nd Edition), 1939, p. 150. 7. The Guardian, 1943, p. 352. 8. The Guardian, 1947, vol. XXV, no. 6, p. 67. 9. Rethinking Christianity in India, p. 53. 10. Rethinking Christianity, p. 53. 11. The Guardian, 1947. 12. D.A. Thangasamy, The Theology of Chenchiah, CISRS & YMCA, 1966, p. 8. 13. Rethinking Christianity, Appendix, p. 22. 14. The Guardian, 1950, vol. XXVIII, no. 9, p. 143. 15. “Dr. Brunner and the Indian Christian Reaction”, The Guardian, 1724 August, 1950. 16. Rethinking Christianity, pp. 10-19. 17. Christianity and Hinduism, p. 18. 18. “Christians and Yoga”, The Guardian, 20 vol. XXII, no. 16, p. 6-7. 19. “Who is Jesus?”, The Guardian, 1943, vol. XXI, no. 32, p. 6. 20. Rethinking Christianity, p. 56. 21. Miller Endowment Lectures, pp. 54f. 22. “My Search for the Kingdom”, The Guardian, 1951, pp. 65f. 23. “Indian Christian Theological Task”, The Guardian, 1947, vol. XXV, no. 10, p. 8. 24. Christianity and Hinduism, p. 3. 25. Christianity and Hinduism, pamphlet of Thangasamy’s Chenchiah, p. 38. 26. As quoted by Thangasamy, op. cit., p. 38. 27. Rethinking Christianity, Appendix, p. 52. 28. Ibid., Appendix, p. 48. 29. “Our Theological Task”, The Guardian, 1947, p. 270. 30. Quoted in J.A.T. Robinson, The New Reformation, p. 19. 31. D.A. Thangasamy, op. cit., p. 51. 32. P.D. Devanandan, Preparation for Dialogue, CISRS, Bangalore, p. 191. Theology of
We can only say this here, that most of his ideas are conservative and often give a new insight which is most relevant to the Indian situation. The only element which is disturbing is that he goes too far in developing the logos spermatikos idea in other religions. However we must be fair in admitting that he does this only subsequent to the Christian mission. One wonders, to what extent his idea of dialogue will be practical, because sooner or later it is a battle at the level of the spirit and one religion’s interpretation and evaluation of the other will necessarily come up with some contradictions and hence confrontation. Dialogue may be short lived, as Devanandan envisages.
K.M. BANERJEA (1813-1881)
K.M. Banerjea (also spelt Banerjee or Banerji) was a recognized leader of the Indian Christian community in Bengal, and was made the first president of the Bengal Christian Association in 1870. The main purpose of this association was to establish a national church of India, ministered by Indians and supported by Indian money. He was one of Alexander Duff’s early converts and also a member of the Free Church of Scotland. Right after his baptism in the Anglican Church he became a priest, in 1852, and taught for 15 years in Bishop’s College, Calcutta, as a Professor. Till 1870 his approach to Hinduism was negative, but after his retirement from Bishop’s college he became sympathetic to Hinduism. His books include Dialogues and The Arian Witness. In this book he starts off by saying that there are striking similarities between the Old Testament and the Vedas. Thereby his desire was to show that Christianity, if not identical with, is in any case the logical conclusion of original Hinduism: He also finds parallels between Vedic and Assyrian texts and even the Hebrew and Sanskrit languages. For Banerjea the Hebrews and the Aryans have a common background. Even etymologically Banerjea finds Manu and Noah to have the same root. All this implies that Christianity is not foreign religion but the fulfillment of Vedic religion. Though the Christian message would frighten many Indians, he exhorts that this is also what happened to Apostle Peter. He did not want to mix with the uncircumcised and had to be mildly rebuked by the Lord in order to be led to the full truth. The corner stone of the commonness is in the institution of sacrifice and priesthood. He is specially quick to find
parallels for the biblical Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world in Vedic literature. Even the parallel between the Creation, Fall and Deluge cannot be accidental. But what happened was that in the course of time the Hindus have forgotten the implications of sacrifice, through which men became gods and attained moksha. But to throw away the whole Vedic sacrifice system is to throw away the baby with the bath water. The Vedas still remind us of the high value in which sacrifices were held in earlier times. Coming to Christ, he finds an excellent parallel between the self-sacrifice of Prajapati, the lord of the universe, for the sake of the creatures, and the self-sacrifice of Christ for the remission of the sins of the world. These two truths he puts in his own words as follows:
Firstly, the fundamental principles of Christian doctrine in relation to the salvation of the world, find a remarkable counterpart in the vedic principles of primitive Hinduism in relation to the destruction of sin and redemption of the sinner, by the efficacy of sacrifice itself a figure of Prajapati, the lord and saviour of the creation, who had given himself up as an offering for that purpose. Secondly, the meaning of Prajapati, an appellative variously described as a purusha, begotten in the beginning as Vishwakarma, the creator all, singularly coincides with the meaning as Vishwakarma, the maker of all, singularly coincides with the meaning of the name and offices of the historical reality Jesus Christ, and that no other person than Jesus of Nazareth has ever appeared in the world claiming the character and position of the self-sacrificing Prajapati, at the same time both mortal and immortal.
himself as a sacrifice for the benefit of humanity”. Only one historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, has claimed this Vedic idea. Thus we may conclude, says Banerjea, that Jesus is the true prajapati, the true saviour of the world, the only name given among men whereby we must be saved. He calls the prayer to Varuna, which is mentioned in Rig Veda, a truly Christian prayer :
O illustrious Varuna, do thou quicken our understanding, we that are celebrating this sacrifice, that we may embark on the good navigating vessel [Banerjea thinks this means sacrifice] by which we may escape all sins.
So Banerjea shows that these doctrines, namely, Christ as the true prajapati, the true purusha begotten in the beginning before all the worlds, the doctrine of saving sacrifice, the primary religious rites, the double character of priest and victim, the ark by which we escape the waves of the sinful world, all these doctrines are found, amid rubbish, in our Vedas and are the fragments of real truth of Christ. Boyd calls the theology of Banerjea ‘Vedic theology’. What he means by this is that since the beginning of time there was a universal cosmic religion in existence, whose basic principle was that there is no salvation without the shedding of blood. Already sacrifice is practised by Abel. Some corrupted forms of this sacrifice have been forwarded to different religious traditions, whereas among the Jews, by God’s special care, it was kept intact, and so he finds a commonalty between the Jewish and the Hindu systems.
I think we must hold fast to the principle that only through the eye of faith in Christ we can discern all other thoughts and systems and religions. It is when tested against the touchstone of Christ that we know whether a particular aspect is true or false, good or bad, right or wrong. He is the norm. By the same token, only in comparison with Christ can we discover whether a particular element is a foreshadowing of him or not. No doubt there is truth in every religion, but for us who are disciples of Christ, Christ is the final touchstone.
This means that Christian speakers, when they speak of those things mentioned above, do not “utter which things be called strange to Indian ears”. The idea of salvation from sin by the death of a saviour who was a god and man himself was a conception which had administered consolation to our ancient rishis, says Banerjea. And to a greater degree it does so now to us Indians. Beyond this, Banerjea asserts also that, “not a single charter in Hindu pantheon or in the pantheon of any other nation has claimed the position of the one who offered
It is one thing to say that there is truth revealed in the Vedas and another to say that it can be discerned. Banerjea, by discerning the truth, I think raises the vedas to the level of revelation. This is unacceptable.
of courageous spirits who have taken the step of entering into the heart of Hinduism to know it better. Happily Swami Abhishiktananda is more readable than Panikkar!
Hindu Christian Meeting point
The book Hindu-Christian Meeting Point, with the subtitle “Within the Cave of the Heart”, is a translation from the French by Sarah Grant. As she writes in her introduction, the book was written a few months before his death, but after his experience of “the reality of Upanishads and gospels”. He wrote and edited the book meticulously so that it also might be awakened to its purpose, “the awakening of others to awareness of the truth of their own being”. The book starts with an analysis of momentous changes in the Roman Catholic Church in 1964. The appointment of Conciliar Commission by the Pope to relate the church with other Christians around the world, and of the Roman Secretariat to relate with the world religions, are seen by Swami Abhishiktananda as the Church’s admission that Christ is already at work outside the Church’s boundaries. These appointments also show the Church’s admission of such a truth. He writes in his own words:
The church thus realizes that her mission is not to lead to Christ the Saviour isolated and poverty stricken individuals, sunk in deepest error and sin. With reverent wonder she finds that, in the hearts of those to whom the name of the Lord is still unknown, his Spirit is already at work bringing them to fulfillment and resurrection. She sees that it is not in spite of but precisely through, the instrumentality of their various religious traditions, their rituals and scriptures and the spiritual vigour and thirst for renunciation which these have transmitted from generation to generation.
SWAMI ABHISHIKTANANDA (1910-1973)
Swami Abhishiktananda was a French Catholic Priest whose real name is Dom Henri Le Saux. He came to India expressly with the purpose of finding a meeting point between Christianity and the great Eastern religions and thus have the way for the dialogue of all religions. He came also as a colleague to Jules Monchanin who is the founder of the Saccidananda Ashram on the banks of the river Kaveri. After the death of Monchanin he became the main guru and lived there until his death in 1973. You would have by now noticed that India is really the place where dialogue is at its best. In fact not just the term dialogue, but the very theology of dialogue, is created as well as maintained by Indian thinkers. And so Swami Abhishiktananda set out boldly to explore the heart of Hindu spirituality, first as a lonely pioneer and later with a growing number of friends whose Christian commitment led to them to Gangotri with other Hindus, and some of his experiences on the way are quite revealing. He wrote several books in French and English. The English books are A Benedictine Ashram, The Mount of the Lord, Pilgrimage to Gangotri, Prayer, The Church in India, An Essay in Christian Self Criticism, Towards the Renewal of the Indian Church, Saccidananda: A Christian Approach to Advaitic Experience, and The Further Shore. Many of them were published posthumously.
As we have already seen, it is precisely because of their belief in the validity of natural theology that there are more Roman Catholic theologians who affirm the validity of other religions than the Protestant theologians. This also is the reason why the dialogue is a constant theme among them, including Swami Abhishiktananda. Following the tradition of Robert De Nobili ( whom we shall study shortly) there is a line
This idea of fulfillment, the pleroma of Christ, is then the main theme of Swami Abhishiktananda’s theology. This means that the Church is no more satisfied with the contacts which individual members have made with the individual members of other religions, but she must now start “official contact” with the accredited representatives of other religions. All this is of course in line with Swami Abhishiktananda’s advaitic experience before his death.
Entering into the heart of Hinduism
Further, if the church is really serious to enter into dialogue with Hinduism, it is, according to Swami Abhishiktananda, absolutely essential that it prepares itself adequately. But this preparation is not at the level of concepts and thoughts, which is theological, but at the deeper level: “the ‘knowledge’ of those ultimate depths of the self, the ‘cave of the heart’ where the mystery revealed itself to the awareness of rishis.” It is only here, in the secret place of the heart, that real dialogue can take place. This means two things. One, it means that Christians must be ready to exercise epoche which he defines as “a temporary suspension of one’s faith”. Not only that, the Christians must also be ready to enter into the deep mystical experience of the Hindus. Such an experiment was conducted in Almora in ‘61, in which Swami Abhishiktananda was playing a major role. Here several of the participants shared their experience. One striking example was from a person who lived in Bengal. Swami Abhishiktananda says,
He helped us to understand the truth that is hidden in the worship of idols, which in India at least does not merit the denunciation launched by Israel’s prophets at the cults of Canaan and Babylon. He explained to us the religious and even contemplative meaning of the worship of ‘signs’, and told us how idol worship had helped him to enter more deeply into the mystery of the signs used by the church as means of grace in order to ‘concretize’ the worship of God’s people especially that essential sign which constitutes the church, the Eucharist. 1
and the Upanishad’s messages. The use of light and life by John, the use of the word Dabar or Logos can be paralleled also in Upanishad by Vac or the word Om. So they call St. John’s gospel the supreme Christian Upanishad. They also find a parallel between Yahweh’s revelation ‘I Am’ and the vedantic ‘aham Brahmasmi’ (I am Brahman). Thus Swami Abhishiktananda advocates that advaita is no danger to Christian faith, because to the pure all things are pure.
Fulfillment in Christ
The study of these details of the advaitic experience with epoche makes Swami Abhishiktananda come to his concept of fulfillment. He believes that God has planted the seeds of true faith in Hindu hearts. So it is the task of the Christian Mission to help the holy seed germinate, since “in the designs of God Hinduism tends of its very nature towards Christianity as its eschatological fulfillment”.4 This means that even the Hindu Upanishads will find their fulfillment in the Bible. That is, for Swami Abhishiktananda fulfillment is a matter of a deep spiritual experience rather than a theological exercise. Following Upadhyaya he also accepts that the meaning of Brahman is really understood only as Saccidananda and only when Saccidananda is experienced as the Christian Trinity. When, in the cave of the heart, Christians and Hindus meet, first they experience the ultimate non-duality of the Christians and secondly “the experience of divine sonship in the unity of the Spirit”.5 The first will inevitably pass on into the second. And that is how the first is fulfilled in the second. He dwells on what he calls “the cosmic covenant and the pleroma”.6 He calls attention to Melchizedek whom he calls “a priest of the cosmic covenant”. His sacrifices foreshadowed the sacrificial death of Christ and are seen therefore as an example of a cosmic liturgy, to be found also in the nonChristian faiths, including Hinduism. Yet he is careful enough to say, that to enter this pleroma the passage must necessarily go through the Cross of Christ. Nothing can come to God unless through the Cross of Christ.
Two conclusions followed this: “first that Christ was already in India”,2 and second “that India has received from her Creator a very special gift of interiority and a unique inward orientation of the spirit”.3 In these experiments, of course only by Christians, even the Upanishads were read “in the presence of Christ”. The conclusion that Swami Abhishiktananda and his followers came to is this: there is a great similarity between St. John’s
Boyd analyses the presuppositions behind Swami Abhishiktananda’s thought. First, he sees that behind Swami Abhishiktananda’s thinking there is an assumption that the intellectual formulations of western Christianity are inadequate to express the spiritual reality of the Christian faith and that the Upanishads are more capable of doing it. So “aided by Indian spirituality, Christian theology must now recover the experiential wholeness which now it has lost”, says Boyd.7 A second presupposition he finds in Swami Abhishiktananda’s thought is that “spiritual life is the most important issue for Christians, at least in India”.8 Of course, many Indians like M.M. Thomas have vigorously rejected such a spiritual approach. Boyd’s own criticism is that whether such a religion of Swami Abhishiktananda can ever be, in Bishop Newbigin’s words, “an honest religion for secular man”?
Then finally, again following the Roman Catholic twotier scheme of discipleship — the higher clergy and the lower laity — Swami Abhishiktananda’s approach seems to cater to the monks and nuns rather than to the mass of lay people. As such it is more a method for the elite and not for the common disciple of Christ. This also explains why it is exclusively spiritual, in a monastic way.
Klaus Klostermaier is a young German theologian who, as a member of the Order of Divine Word, lived for two years near Mathura in Vrindaban, the famous pilgrimage centre of the Hindus, the birth place of Krishna. In these two years he emphathetically entered into the very spiritual experience of his Hindu friends. Out of this experience he wrote two books: Kristvidya: A Sketch of an Indian Christology, and Hindu and Christian Vrindaban. The first one was a paper in one of the Catholic ashrams for discussion, while the later is an account of his experiences and their analysis. As the title Kristvidya (knowledge of Christ) adequately shows, his main attempt is to develop a Christology for India. So his one burning concern is to give a meaningful answer to the question which Christ himself asked, “what do men say about the Son of Man? Whom do they think he is?” (Mt. 16:13). Like the disciples of old, many Hindus even now understand him as one of the avataras, like Rama or Krishna or Chaitanya, etc. Some others may take him as a great moral teacher, a saint, a miracle worker like the old yogis or even like the modern Sai Baba. This is the reason why many Hindu homes also have a picture of Christ. But the question Christ asks his disciples is more revealing, “Whom do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:15). Peter’s answer “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (Mt. 16:16), according to Klaus Klostermaier, is totally inadequate, because in many Indian translations ‘the Son of God’ does not make any impression upon the Hindu mind, since to them all are sons of God. The concept of ‘the living God’ makes still less sense for them, since for them God
Since we have already been alerted to the Roman Catholic approach to theology in general we need not repeat here our criticisms of the Swami which are due to his Catholic faith (there is more of this later in Panikkar’s theology). However, we must point out that all do not follow the same approach, there are exceptions to every rule. We can mention at least three things which are rather predominant. One is the question of epoche. Having once been filled by the Spirit and adopted as the child of God, it is hard for me to imagine that I can suspend my faith for the time being and say that I do not belong to Christ and act as if I am neutral. I personally am opposed to the whole philosophy of epoche. It does not take the existential situation of faith seriously. The other is the question of justifying idolatry. No doubt Boyd, in summarizing Swami Abhishiktananda’s theology, avoids such extremes, but I have purposely mentioned it to show where dialogue patterned after Swami Abhishiktananda’s guidelines can lead to. So the Swami’s approach to idols stands rather weakly supported.
cannot but be a living God. And to say that he is ‘Christ’ makes absolutely no sense since the word Christ is such a strange name that they cannot make head or tail of it. So Klostermaier affirms that since it is useless to introduce any new foreign terms or idioms, we Indian Christians must “find the ‘theological place’ of Christ within the Hindu system as the Greek Fathers of the church did.” Only so “does Christ become meaningful for a Hindu”. So he is sure that for the Hindus we have to express Christ as the living relationship of everybody with the Ultimate. Hence he calls his study Kristvidya, according to him a literal translation of the Greek Christ-logia, Christology. This Kristvidya is presented in a most systematic manner in three parts.
(iii) Thirdly, since according to Klostermaier, the aim of all these several schools are “to enable man to be ‘in’ or ‘with’ God or the Absolute”,11 Kristvidya must also approach not intellectually but existentially experience of being with Christ as in Brahman.
(i) It does not do any good to call Christ holy or great or good and so on. Klostermaier observes that in the Bible wherever Christ is mentioned there is “a movement towards God”. 12 That is, Christ always makes the distinction between ‘my Father’ and all other things, and he definitely includes himself on the side of the Father. There is always a basic distinction between two radically different and mutually exclusive realms of realities in Christ’s mind. Our categories of Hinduism must maintain this thought. (ii) The logical categories of Hinduism are very different from those of Christians. They use the term viveka for the higher level of discernment. While the lower level of discernment gives pairs of opposites like hot and cold, dark and light, sweet and sour, good and bad, the higher level of discernment or viveka gives higher pairs of opposites between the relative and the absolute, between the eternal and the temporal, between prakriti and purusha, between Jeevatman and paramatman and the like. We Christians must always be careful not to mix these two levels and use those higher categories.
(iii) Following from the above, since the Christian Fatherworld relationship is not the same as Brahman-world, to translate one with the other is a gross mistake. The logic of the higher level, as is the case with Brahman-world, is not that of pratyaksha or upamana but of shabda alone, that of logos.
The Prerequisites: Attitudes
(i) First, since the New Testament authors inevitably go back to the Old Testament in order to explain Christ, so also “to make clear to a Hindu what it means to ‘search for the kingdom of God’ we have to make use of his Hindu scriptures”. 9 (ii) The second attitude is a recognition of the necessary Hindu pluralism: many schools and sects in Hinduism “differ not only in inessentials but in the very basic idea of the absolute and the way to it”.10 Klostermaier then masterfully describes the basic attitude of this variety of schools. The basic attitude of Sankara’s school is pure and exclusive desire for the absolute. That of Ramanuja is prapatti, “complete surrender to the Lord” as the only condition for receiving his grace. Bhakti schools have several attitudes, all of which Klostermaier calls the basic attitude required for Hindu ‘seekers’. Madhava emphasizes resignation to the Lord Vishnu, Nimbarka emphasizes sakshatkara, a bodily vision of God, and absolute faith in the guru, others emphasize passionate love and devotion. The basic attitude of karma yoga is that of absolute obedience or faith even when one does not understand it. This is why yajna is a basic element in karma yoga.
Here he starts off by accepting paradox as the method of explaining Kristvidya, exactly as was the method also for Brahmavidya. Only this way can we enter into certain transcendent levels of understanding, which otherwise we
may never reach. Then he examines the three margas of Hinduism in detail. Since Christ also calls himself the Way, Klostermaier is sure that he is a marga — though he does not teach it, he lived it. (i) Karma marga: Here Klostermaier believes that to use the word deva to describe Christ can only lead into misunderstanding, at least one reason being that devas are only those who are called as such in the Vedas. Even otherwise, the function of the Hindu deva is essentially different from that of Christ. As such the term does not apply to Christ. But he finds another term shabda in karma marga, which he understands as mantra. This word is “the connection of the world with akriti, the uncreated idea which as such is incomprehensible and is never exhausted by the individual word.”13 Coming back to John’s prologue, Klostermaier says that according to John Christ also is in the sphere of shabda-Brahman and akriti. “It should be possible to communicate something of the mystery of the divine sonship of Christ in the terms of the shabda philosophy”.14 This rather than other translation like ishwar ka putra, Son of the living God, is far more fruitful. Another term, yajna, is also used for sacrifice but only with limited earthly promises. It cannot be directly used for the sacrifice of Christ, but he believes that shabda yajna can be better used than other terms in karma marga. (ii) Bhakti marga: Since bhakti is interpreted severally by different Hindu commentators, it is best to accept the general characteristics. He mentions, some of these. First, since bhakti marga concentrates on avataras, the manifestations of God is visible form, it insists rather on the historicity of salvation. If you want to say Kristbhakti it is definitely much more than the historical part of salvation. Also, since bhakti is not speculative but rather an analysis of human emotions and techniques,eros plays a significant role in bhakti. So to translate the gospel as the gospel of love is again a misnomer. We must be careful, if at all we use the word bhakti, to bring the content of agape, in it.
Klostermaier says that the real theological problem of bhakti is in its concept of avataras. For the bhakti system the lord, Ishwara, is Brahman. He is the controller and the principle of all, the one worshipped in every religious act, the bestower of every fruit, the sustainer of all, the cause of all effects. As such, though it is appropriate to be used for a high view of Christ, says Klostermaier, we must remember the five-fold existential modes of Hindu divinity, namely, as para, vyuha, vibhava, antaryamin and arkavatara. As para he is Narayana, as vyuha he is the highest brahman himself, as vibhava he is the ten avataras, as antaryamin he is the dweller in the hearts of the individual selves, and arkavatara is the form where he accepts those from which the devotee chooses. Now, which of these five form can we attribute to Christ properly? Since Christ cannot be identified ontologically with any one of them it is best to use all the forms. As para is the procession from the Father, as vyuha he is the procession as the Spirit, as vibhava the divine mission of the world, as arkavatara in the eucharistic presence. Another element of bhakti marga he would like to include in Christian practice is that of japa. Both the Old Testament as well as the Hindu bhakti groups make God and his name equal. The repetition of the name of God, that is nama japa, is an essential part of their worship. There is also a parallel for this, Klostermaier says, in the Jesus prayer of philokalia in the ancient church. As such nama japa and kirtan can be accepted. (iii) Jnana marga: In this school, of course, the essential content is the basic distinction between brahman and nonbrahman. One of the expression used to distinguish these two spheres — and unfortunately not enough attention is given to it — is the pair of karma and adhyatma. Karma is the sphere of constant stage and repetition, nothing eternal and lasting can take place in it; whereas adhyatma is the realm of the self, the spirit, the reality proper. When Valmiki describes Rama as a great king and hero, bound by the laws of this world, it is a karmic description. But when the
adhyatmic Ramana interprets the same adventures, then Rama becomes the absolute being, ultimate reality, and all the episodes are mere allegories for spiritual realities. In the same way the parts of the gospels which only tell the birth, death and events of Christian life belong to the karmic type of scriptures. They cannot possibly satisfy the Hindu mind who looks for the adhyatmic Christianity or esoteric Christianity. For example, Christ understood the miracles and parables as signs and even before his death he only spoke in parables. This is the adhyatma Kristvidya, says Klostermaier. He strongly believes that all the gospels have both poles, the karmic as well as adhyatmic aspects of Christ. St. John’s Gospel appeals to Hindus most, perhaps exactly because it gives more of the adhyatmic Christ, the Logos of Christ. This means that Kristvidya does not belong to the sphere of karma but it is equivalent to brahmavidya. In the conclusion of the book, Klostermaier says that the principle upon which kristvidya is based
Demands a full and real ‘incarnation’ of Christ in the culture and categories of India. We have to find the place of Christ within the Hindu religious systems. That it is not possible to carry him into them from without should be proved by now from history. Christianity is not an additional theological system — perhaps ‘the only true logical’ infallible one — but communication of the Word of God: it should be possible to express the meaning of Christ in any language and philosophy, to point him out as the soul and depth of all philosophies and theologies that deserve the name.15
marga. His other book, Hindu and Christian in Vrindaban, is an exposition of his experience of this Kristvidya.
Klaus Klostermaier is not the only one to accept a combination of all the margas, though, as Boyd points out, he seems to have a preference for jnana marga.
It is highly unlikely therefore that a theology which mixes up terminology from the various ‘strands’ will carry conviction to a Hindu; and the Christian theologian is left with a great difficulty: how is he to substantiate his claim that Christ is God at the same time demonstrate the reality and the goodness of the created world, including the human personality, the human body and human history?17
Beside this, I would also apply the tree-fruit test.
S.K. GEORGE (1900-1960)
Srampikkal Kuruvilla George was born in 1900 in a Syrian Christian family in Kottayam, to a rich cloth merchant. He grew up in the pious and closed atmosphere of the Anglican communion under the C.M.S. Church. After his college education he went to study in Bishop’s college, Calcutta, earned a B.D.degree. But since he developed serious doubts about the orthodox theological position of his church he could not go back to minister there, but worked in the College as tutor for some years. During these years he plunged into the Independence movement and was converted to nationalism. He wrote his manifesto called “India in travail”. Because of this he had to resign from the College, and several years he wandered in the wilderness without finding any group to attach with or support his family. In fact. his small daughter died due to starvation. He came to Gandhi’s ashram and developed a very close loyalty to him and wrote his first book Gandhi’s Challenge to Christianity. Later his wife Mary George, stayed back in Kerala, on Gandhi’s insistence that she take up the work of Kasturba Trust there while her husband went to Shantiniketan to work there with Tagore. Later he came to Wardha and taught there as a lecturer for about six years
Just as the Greek Christologia does not exhaust the mystery of Christ, kristvidya also cannot exhaust the mystery of Christ. An Indian Kristvidya differs from the Greek Christologia in its method. It will not
culminate in a summa of doctrines and definitions but will be largely marga — a systematic liberating of man from all wrong attitudes and concepts to ‘free’ him for the one, the ultimate experience. What is unique is not the way but the goal. 16
Thus, Klostermaier says, in Kristvidya we preserve all the elements of karma marga, bhakti marga and jnana
and edited the quarterly The Fellowship of Friends Truth Quarterly. That he was against conversion seems to be evident as the Niyogi Commission accepted him as a good Christian against the rest who proselytized. After retiring from the Wardha College they returned home and George died in 1960. Besides the writings mentioned above he also contributed articles in journals and magazines like The Guardian, and Young Men of India, and several other books: The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ, The World Teachers, The Story of the Bible and The Life of Jesus.
One can summarize his thinking about Christ as follows: though Christianity has unwarrantedly raised Jesus to the level of deity, what is important is Jesus after the flesh, the man of Nazareth. He is the central figure. His charge was that when he was seeking to deify Jesus the churches have failed to follow him. Thus his purpose to reveal the reality and relevance of Jesus the Christ. As such, he selectively takes up those parts of the gospel narrative where the humanity comes through. Thus his conclusion is:
What is indispensable in accounting for the rise of the Christian movement and what really matters for modern living in the power of Christ is the belief that the spirit of Jesus has triumphed over physical death, and that though dead he still speaketh. That faith is independent of the legend of the empty tomb.
self-giving. The later is rightly regarded by every religious soul as the more primal activity. The initiative is God’s though the human response there to indispensable.
But what is unique about the Bible is the vision of the good it shows. This vision of the good is gradually developed and is consummated in “Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Man and Son of God” who is “the unique treasure the Bible mediates to man”. This means that though the Bible gives narrations about Christ, it does not necessarily give scientific answers to the questions of how and when of creation. Neither does the book of Revelation give an authentic record of what happens but rather a figurative way of God’s challenge to Christianity. George postulates that (1) “a true Christian in India must necessarily be a Gandhiite”, and (2) “a true Gandhiite is essentially a Christian”. Such a conviction of George is based on the truth that the Cross of Jesus Christ is the way for every man, and his belief that Gandhi has demonstrated its applicability and proved its efficacy more than everyone else. As we have seen, George does accept Jesus Christ as a historical person, but he accepts him only as that and no more. According to him the deification of Christ is something parallel to the deification of other gods in India and hence does not belong to the essence of Christianity. Therefore he also does not deal with the crucial issues such as atonement and the Cross and Resurrection. His approach to the Bible is liberal in the sense that he does not see that God’s full and final revelation is to be found in Christ and that he finds that God speaks in other religious scriptures also.
This means that the old form of Christianity presented as a creed, a system of beliefs and rituals, is no more relevant. Rather we must preach it as a way of life in the world and the struggles of today. As far as the scriptures are concerned he gives credit that his spiritual life has been nurtured on them, though he thinks that God has also spoken in literature other than the Bible. He had the dream of contributing to the “larger Bible of mankind”. As such, the Bible is not the unique, the only authentic word of God to man. He further says:
Every sacred book, every religion, is in a sense unique. It is the result of a double process, of human search and divine
1. Swami Abhishiktananda, Hindu Christian Meeting Point, The Institute of Indian Culture, Bombay, 1969, p. 27. 2. Ibid., p. 27. 3. Ibid., p. 28. 4. Ibid., pp. 23-24. 5. Ibid., p. 19. 6. Boyd, ICT, 1989, p. 294. 7. Ibid., p. 296. 8. Ibid., p. 297. 9. Klaus Klostermaier, Kristvidya, CISRS, Bangalore, 1967, p. 13. 10. Ibid., p. 13. 11. Ibid., p. 15. 12. Ibid., p. 39. 13. Ibid., p. 21. 14. Ibid., p. 22. 15. Ibid., p. 40. 16. Ibid., p. 41. 17. Boyd, ICT, 1989, p. 308.
M.M. THOMAS (b. 1916)
In this chapter and the following we will be studying living theologians, so their theology is still in the making and changing. Looking at it one way, of all the contemporary theologians we have studied, M.M. Thomas is a crucial theologian in his own right. He is not only the most experienced among the contemporary Indian thinkers but also the one who has read most and written most. In the years to come he may also have the greatest influence for Indian Christian Theology. Along with Raymondo Panikkar and Stanley Samartha, M.M. Thomas makes up the modern trio of Indian theologians, comparable to the classical trio — Chakkarai, Chenchiah and Devanandan. As we studied the first trio together it will be beneficial to study the second one also together, as they influence and cross fertilize one another.
Madathilaparampil Mammen Thomas was born in 1916 in Panavila, Kerala. His father was a member of the Orthodox Syrian Church. He was pious and quite well to do, a well-known evangelist, also an enthusiastic patriot who wore khaddar. After early schooling at his native place, Thomas went to Trivandrum to study Chemistry. It was during the first year at college that he came into contact with Christ in a meaningful way which he describes in his own unpublished autobiography:
It was through an evangelical experience as a first year college student in Trivandrum in 1931-32 that Jesus Christ became real to me as the bearer of divine forgiveness and gave my life, awakened to adolescent rages, a principle of integration and a sense of direction.1
During his turbulent adolescence he was drawn in gratefulness to God and began reading the Bible and meditating on it. At the time his moldable mind was deeply impressed by
books like The Imitation of Christ, The Transforming Friendship, The Practice of the Presence of God and The Life of Prayer. He also began to witness for Christ among his friends and took active part in his own Mar Thoma Youth Union and also the Student Christian Movement. To begin with he was dependent upon the church. He writes, “I became devoted to the church and beside availing myself of its liturgical and sacramental resources I made regular visits to centres in the neighborhood of the city for evangelistic work.”2
Thoma Church and by becoming a member of the Communist Party of India. Both of them refused, the Church’s ordination committee on the grounds that I was not Christcentred enough, because I did not adhere to the ethic of truth and non-violence; and the Party on the basis that my religious conviction would bring disruption of the party ranks and pave the way for reaction.3
Finishing his college study, he went to Perumpavoor Ashram, teaching in a school belonging to the Ashram. He organized his friends into an “interceding fellowship” and regularly circulated among them some letters apparently of personal nature. At the same time he was actively involved in the creating of an international fellowship among students as well as an inter-religious fellowship of students. Here he rejected both evangelism and the exclusive claims of Christianity, arguing that “love is at the heart of universe” and in love we need not pressurize one another to change one’s convictions. He also met Pennamma, his future wife, during these student activities and after ten long years of engagement married her. As he himself mentions in some of his books, it was his wife who was the primary cause for Thomas’ Christ-centredness.
This impossible attempt of Thomas to reconcile the spirit of Christ to the Marxist-Leninist ideology has remained the most dominant characteristic of his life and thought throughout. Later for a little while he worked in a hostel for street boys. This was the time when he came into close contact with Sadhu Mathai, who remained a life long friend of Thomas. This was also the time when his views on the church were crystallized. In his own words:
There was a time when I thought of joining the ordained ministry of the church and if I now think that way it is because I have come finally to that strong conviction that as things are now I can better serve the church by being outside the official ministry.4
1938 was a significant event in Thomas’ life when he was co-founder of the Youth Christian Council of Action, whose primary objectives were to bring out the social implications of the gospel, to expose the evils within and without the church and to act to remedy them. He was the secretary of the Council, but soon there were splits in the organization on the question of violence and so disassociated from those who rejected violence and formed another new organization called National Christian Youth Council in 1942. But this latter organization was short lived. At this juncture, he says in his autobiography:
I was with this last group and desired to make my double orientation real by getting ordained to the ministry of the Mar
This anti-clerical attitude of Thomas has remained throughout and also explaining why henceforth he worked only with para-church organizations. In 1941 he was instrumental in defining the social creed for the Mar Thoma Students’ Organization, which also became the social manifesto of the church. He based the manifesto of the divine purpose of human brotherhood, the worth of human personality, and the equality of men in the sight of God — elements which have remained with him for good. After leaving the work in the boy’s hostel, along with one Thamby he went to Bangalore to study with the well-known Gandhian brother Ralph Keithahn. In Bangalore well known writers like Reinhold Niebuhr, Hendrick Kraemer, Christopher Dawson, C.H. Dodd, and Nicolas Berdyaev, seem to have made a lasting impression on his youthful mind. He also read Marxism.
During 1943-45 he joined the Student Christian Movement, partly through the urging of M. Adiseshaiah, who also
encouraged him to write in the official organ The Student World. This was the time when he read Luther, Augustine, Aquinas, Aristotle and also met personally John Bennett of Union Theological Seminary, New York, who became a close friend. This association with SCM brought him to Geneva as a political secretary of the World Students’ Christian Federation. In that capacity he toured and organized conferences, specially the famous Asian Leaders’ Conference at Kandy in 1948, and the World Youth Conference in Kottayam (1947). He attended the Oslo Youth Conference in 1947. He also attended the EACC meeting at Bangalore and was made the secretary for the Church and Society wing. Being in Geneva during 47-48, he also got involved in the preparations for the first Assembly of the World Council of Church at Amsterdam and came into contact with leaders like Oldham, Brunner, Ellul, Niebuhr and others. He seems to have contributed substantially to the Church and Society department. Perhaps because of his involvement with WCC, which was seeking an alternative both to communist and capitalistic societies, he eschewed communism, at least in his thinking. He writes:
1948 saw a definite change in my orientation to communist policies . . . I thought in Christian obligation to follow Marxian technique of class struggle for social revolution, within a liberal democratic framework, where it is viable.5
Religion and Society), as Associate Director with P.D. Devanandan, the Director. When Devanandan died in 1962 he became the Director, until his retirement. Thomas is perhaps one of the very few Christian leaders who have attended all the Assemblies of the World Council of Churches and also has made significant contributions to each. In India he worked also with the Committee for Literature for Social Concerns and several allied efforts. His conviction was “That the insights of the theologians and social scientists should coalesce in these studies . . . it has been an explicitly ‘Christian’ interpretation but in the human and not in the communal sense.”6 As already mentioned, his ecumenical activities took him all over the globe. He was made the chairman of the World Conference on Church and Society, Geneva, in 1966. His understanding of society, revolution and ideology was stabilized mainly in connection with his preparation for and contribution in this conference. His book Christian Participation in Nation Building is another key book in this area. In 1966-67 he went for a second time to UTS, New York, but this time to teach as a visiting professor. The notes of his teaching were later published as a book, The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance, a thoroughly selective anthology. In 1968 he was elected the moderator of the Central Committee of the WCC, perhaps the highest honour given to any Indian Christian. Many of his ecumenical utterances have been published by him in the form of a book Some Theological Dialogues. In 1969 a further decisive event took place in Thomas’ life. His wife Pennamma died after a long period of suffering with cancer. This loss was irreparable. Since her pastoral care was missing, he himself acknowledges that his theology went wild afterwards. On his 60th birthday some of his friends at CISRS produced a Festschrift in honour of him entitled Society and Religion. At present he is engaged primarily in writing a mammoth commentary on the whole Bible and also in touring and lecturing a couple of times every year in Europe, the United States and other places. He
Later on he toured quite a bit and this was the time when he wrote The Christian in the World’s Struggle along with Paul Abrecht of WCC. But actually a new stage began only in 1953, as he himself confesses in his autobiography. He came at this time to Union Theological Seminary, New York, to study theology for a year (the only theological study he ever had). Meeting people like Bates, and Paul Tillich, was very exciting for him. After the study and a subsequent touring of the United States, he returned to India to work with the newly formed Christian Institute for the Study of Society (later changed to Christian Institute for the Study of
lives in his home in Panavila and is also actively engaged in indoctrinating the Kerala youth in his thinking. Perhaps one more event in his life must be mentioned. During the Emergency under Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership, when there was an effective silence over all legal measures, it is significant that Thomas boldly wrote against the lapses of the government and circulated his notes privately among friends. Later, when Indira was defeated and another party came to power, his writings were collected and published as a book entitled Response to Tyranny. This paved the way for him to become the governor of Nagaland for two years.
Christ of the Indian Renaissance. This concentration on the human situation has some implications. 1. Since it speaks only to those issues which are relevant, that becomes a selective theology, and since the human situation is the starting point his theology asks for pluralistic answers. Apparently this sounds as if his theology lacks the power of conviction. One also gets that feeling that his theology is not only empirical, but also quite fragmentary, which he himself admits. 2. His theology is action-oriented. Like the liberation theologians of Latin America he places praxis before orthodoxy. Responsibility is the key word here. This is what the WCC calls the action-reflection method. He finds the basis for this in the New Testament: as “faith working through love”. It is for this reason that Boyd labels Thomas’ theology as “The Way of Action”. Since Thomas is not an ‘academic’ theologian, it is difficult to summarize his thought into some accessible titles. For the sake of convenience we can study it under four heads: Man’s quest, Christ’s Offer, the Mission of the Church and the Goal of History.
His theological output, as already mentioned, is unbelievably great. Besides, nearly 1000 articles, he has written several books, and contributed or edited many more. His primary books include, The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance, Man and the Universe of Faiths, Salvation and Humanization, The Christian Response to the Asian Revolution, Christian Participation in Nation Building, Secularism in India and the Secular Meaning of Christ, Towards a Theology of Contemporary Ecumenism, Risking Christ for Christ’s Sake. One hopes that his autobiography, “Faith Seeking Understanding and Responsibility”, will be published in the near future. It is an excellent reading, portraying the sincere searches, successes and failures of an honest soul.
Theological Emphases MAN’S QUEST
Thomas starts with what is happening in the world, that is history, and as he looks at history he discovers that above all phenomena revolutions are predominant. Following the approach of Vatican II and of the World Conference on Church and Society, Geneva (1966), he also finds basically three revolutions in the world: the scientific and technological; the revolt of the oppressed groups, nations, classes and races, demanding social and international justice; and finally the break up of the traditional integration between religion, society and the state or the secularization of human life. Of these, undoubtedly secularization is the basic revolt, for while earlier man was afraid of nature, which swarmed
Before coming to a description of his theology it is necessary to have a look at his theological method. With an astounding consistency Thomas starts with the world. He looks at the world, analyses what is happening there and tries to understand what the Christian solution can be. Thus the first step in his theology is what can be called a contextual or situational approach. This is well expressed as an appendix in his book The Acknowledged
with spirits and Gods, now he is no more so afraid; instead man has moulded nature to suit his own desires and comforts and has created a hominised world. This is also the cause for the scientific revolution. Earlier the Christian Church either rejected all revolutions as satanic or followed the revolutions blindly. He says that both these attitudes are false. The proper approach to revolutions consists in two steps. First, to recognize that within the revolutions Christ is at work awakening desires for more human (that also means Christians) values. Secondly, to identify these values. He enumerates them: freedom, selfhood, humanness of the community and a sense of personal destiny, being involved in mankind’s historical destiny. Such an approach tends to mean that a revolution is a partial fulfillment of the kingdom of God. No doubt he sees the evil in revolutions, that revolution devours its own children, but he says this is where revolutions need the prophetic voice of the church. Hence,
Herein lies the mission of the church. It is to participate in the movements of human liberation of our time in such a way as to witness to Jesus Christ as the source, the judge and the redeemer of human spirituality.
Continuing on the revolutions, Thomas says there must be a fundamental change in our understanding of human spirituality. He is not so much concerned about human nature or person or spirit but spirituality which he defines as “the way in which man, in the freedom of his selftranscendence, seeks a structure of ultimate meaning and sacredness” 8 , the goal being self-realization through involvement in history. His contention is that for our age of revolutions an adequacy must be sought in open secularism. The goal of such ideology, as of revolutions, is a responsible world society — in other words, either the kingdom of God or the Marxian classless society. Since religion is a most potent source for strife in the world it does not help towards a classless society. Hence there must be a need for inter-religious dialogue. And so he comes up with his famous “Christ-centred syncretism”, which means conversion not of individuals but of the whole religious systems to Christ. And so ultimately all religions and ideologies will be found in Christ.
GOD AND SIN
He scarcely deals with the doctrines of God or sin. While dealing with sin he emphasizes corporate sin, corporate remedies rather than personal sins: “Oppressive structures of corporate life are the result of the accumulated sins of generations and they develop an anonymity and momentum almost independent of persons now living.”9 Rejecting the doctrine of creation, Thomas rejects also the doctrine of human depravity. Man ‘falls’ in his destructive and selfish ambitions and is created in his nobler works. This figurative interpretation of the biblical passages also shows that he does not take the inspiration of the Bible seriously. As far as the doctrine of God is concerned, there is hardly anything worthwhile he has written except a couple of gleanings among all his writings. When he does speak about God he speaks of God’s action in political history rather than the attributes of God. That the theology
GOD’S IMAGE IN MAN
Behind these revolutions Thomas sees a revolution in the human spirit. He says that the traditional understanding of man as being created in the image of God needs to be re-cast, so he defines the image of God in man as “the obligation to respond to the call in freedom is the core of his personality, the basis of his eternal status as a person.” 7 This means that freedom and responsibility are the key elements of God’s image in man. Thus the social aspect as well as the spiritual aspect are found here. Here Thomas is consciously following the process theology since he says that not only man, but God also, is in process of evolution. So he finds the evolution of man an inevitable necessity, following to some extent Chenchiah here.
of hope has tremendous influence on Thomas’ thinking is clear from the following quotation:
Creation is the world in motion towards its fulfillment in the coming eschaton. The eschaton is the creative power, the inner dynamic of the world in process, of the history of mankind towards integration in the lordship of Christ.
Following Chenchiah he sees “the absolute as a construct of the human mind involved in the process”, and thus he does not think of God as unchangeable and absolute but as being a part of the evolving process.
All the foregoing is discussed as part of what man is seeking after and hence he comes to the understanding of what Christ has to offer. Since man is seeking freedom and historical involvement etc., Christ, Thomas discovers, offers exactly these things. So his christology is a tailored one. In talking of Christ’s incarnation Thomas is concerned not so much about God becoming man but rather about two aspects: since Jesus is a man born in particular time in history, for him the incarnation means the validation of man as the method of God and history as the arena of God’s action. As far as the Cross is concerned, it is “the eternal and ultimate symbol of . . . condemnation and forgiveness”. He resolutely rejects the penal substitution on the Cross. To quote him once again, “the crucifixion of Jesus Christ reveals that self-love has its source not in any accident of circumstance but in the spirit of man.” Like some earlier theologians he understands that on the Cross kenosis took place, i.e. the emptying not of Christ’s deity or any other aspect, but of his self. And so the Cross becomes a symbol and an example for men to imitate. What does he think of the resurrection as a physical event? Thomas, like Bultmanians, believes that Jesus was raised from the dead but in the minds of the disciples and so it was a spiritual resurrection. In any case, Thomas thinks of Jesus Christ as the new man, as the proto-type of self-sacrificial love.
How does man respond to Christ’s offer of being an example, of being the new man? There are several responses. First, those who accept the pattern of self-giving love and forgiveness have already responded to Christ to some extent. At a deeper level are those who accept the divine mediation or the atonement of the suffering Messiah. At another level there are those who accept the very person of Jesus as the ultimate model of the Messiah to come. He sees all these as valid responses to the Christ. This quantifying of the Pauline faith is rather radically new. But finally he also sees man’s response to Christ involving his allegiance to him as the Lord and saviour and joining his church in baptism. Thomas has more to say on the universal lordship of Christ: “the certainty that Christ reigns as the sovereign Lord of the cosmos and will sum up all things in Christ is an essential part of the biblical faith”. He sees the whole world as being under the hidden kingship of the risen Christ and moving towards the day of his open reign, at his second coming — all these categories are understood figuratively. In this Lordship of all he sees all religions, all nations, all revolutions being imbibed with Christian values and the spirit of Christ. And also on this basis Thomas differentiates between secular and salvation history, as many have done. Thus for Thomas Christ is not only the agent of creation, the divine power, but primarily he is the fulfillment of history. Here very openly Thomas accepts the logical conclusion — universalism.
THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH
Then what is the mission of the Church? As we have seen earlier, according to Thomas it is to participate in the revolutions of our time. The Church’s mission is primarily one of humanization and not of salvation. Salvation or redemption is only one aspect of humanization, catering to the inward or to the spiritual aspects of mankind. The recipients of Christian mission are not individuals anymore but structures such as cultures, religions and ideologies. The method is no more proclamation, but now it is partici179
pation or as he calls it the confession of participation. The bearers are no more the called and sent missionaries, but rather organizations or the churches who do the work. He has enough to say why the verbal communication of the gospel is utterly inadequate for our time. So he comes to the conclusion that evangelism in our time equals service. Unless the church exercises its prophetic ministry of constructive criticism, the priestly ministry of the suffering servant, it has lost its salt. Following from here he goes on to give details of the task the church has in several areas of national and international life — the political, the economic, the cultural, the social, the religious etc. True to his anti-clericalism, Thomas emphasizes more on the ministry of the laity in the world when he talks about the church. For him the church must have koinonia, or open fellowship, without any barrier. For this reason he discusses baptism whether it should be an entrance ticket into the church or privilege of the member of the church (like the Eucharist). These insights lead him also to the formation of the church in Hindu and other religious systems:
Once we acknowledge that the Christ-centred fellowship of faith and ethics transcends the Christian religious community, are we not virtually saying that the church can take from as Christ-centred fellowship of faith and ethics in the Hindu religious community?
Evidently, the theology we have outlined thus far is very much unlike theology, in the sense it looks more like a political or sociological history of man. This is to the credit of Thomas, for he does not see the spiritual aspect of man isolated but in its integral relations with all other aspects. My own evaluations are as follows: 1. Thomas has tried to reconcile the biblical revelation with three systems: Marxist ideology, Hindu spirituality and process philosophy, but he has failed in bringing this reconciliation. He has so failed because the character of the biblical revelation is entirely different from the other three systems. Since he has attempted this impossible amalgamation, his theology ultimately ends up in one or all of the following results: Either God’s holiness as given in the Bible will be rejected, or the personal lordship of Christ will be rejected, or faith as the connection between God and man will be rejected. 2. Following from such an understanding of God, Christ, man and the world Thomas’ theology inevitably leads to political action. 3. There is a basic lack in his approach to the scriptural revelation — he has tried to find revelation in the revolutions. Thomas has done very little exegesis in all his theological writings. His writings are more philosophical, sociological, ideological or political, but almost never have biblical support. Raising history and scientific expertise to the level of the scriptures in authority he has diluted the scriptures radically. It is not just a question of how to interpret the Bible, but of the very place of the Bible in our Faith.
And so he comes up with what he calls “the Christcentred Hindu church”. All this is in line with his understanding of the pluralistic response of man to Christ dealt with earlier.
THE GOAL OF HISTORY
If that is the mission of the church, what is finally the goal of history? Here Thomas admittedly takes the Marxian analysis of history as class struggle, and so the goal is, in his own words, the unity of all things (his equivalent of classless society) (see my book, Revolution as revelation - there I have tried to show that he takes this goal essentially from Hinduism as well as from Marxism and from process theology).
RAYMONDO PANIKKAR (b. 1918)
In ecumenical meetings where Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox are involved, invariably it is the Catholics who dominate the scene by their philosophical input. This is to be expected, because in Protestant seminaries the
whole theological education is finished within three or at the most four years. But in Roman Catholic seminaries they start by learning philosophy for about five years and only then they go on to the study of theology for another six or seven years. Here I am definitely thinking of theological reasons. For me it is obviously based on Thomas Aquinas’ structure of nature and supernature. To nature belongs the natural or universal ability of man given in creation. To the supernature or grace belongs the additional capabilities given through Christ. As far as theology is concerned, reason belongs to nature and faith belongs to supernature. In other words, there is a natural theology as well as a revealed theology. Natural theology is that which man can know about God by human reason without the aid of revelation. Revealed theology necessarily bases itself on the Scriptures. Aquinas accepted natural theology as valid and therefore philosophy has been part of the Roman Catholic theology since his time. Reformation theology has generally rejected the competence of the fallen human reason to engage in natural theology. Only by the enlightenment of the Spirit in regenerate man can a true knowledge of God be found. But behind this framework of thought there is the basic exegetical approach to the image of God in man. In Genesis 1:26 we read “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’.” Here the use of the two terms ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ have different meanings in Protestant and Roman Catholic Circles. The Protestant theologians rightly equate one with the other, since elsewhere in the Bible they are interchangeably used. But the Roman Catholics make a strict distinction. According to Aquinas and the Catholics the ‘likeness’ or similitudo consists in the original righteousness given to man, whereas the image or imago consists in, among other things, reason. They contend that while similitudo (likeness) was lost in the fall of Adam and hence for the rest of mankind, the imago is not lost, that is, the human reason is still intact to know true elements about
God. For this reason the Roman Catholics have majored in natural theology and hence in philosophy.
There is one more final reason and that has to do with sanctification and the sacraments. The Protestants generally accept that sanctification is something imputed to man. That is, Christ’s righteousness, imputed to use by faith. It is based on our relationship and standing before God. But Catholics believe that it is a complete, almost substantial transformation of the inner being, effected by the sacraments. For them, God’s righteousness is imparted to us. Thus sacraments have an effect ex opere operato. That means, the sacraments are effective in the operation itself apart from the faith of the believer. This means that the Church, by the use of the sacraments, has direct access into, the realm of supernature or grace or revelation. Hence, it has a greater command over its ‘subjects’ than the Protestant churches. Ultimately it is linked to the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church and Papal infallibility.
Thus far we have spoken about natural theology because in Raymondo Panikkar we see it at its highest. You will not be surprised by the use of Latin and Sanskrit terms which have to be expected and in which he is an expert. Raymondo Panikkar was born in Spain to a Hindu father and a Spanish Roman Catholic mother. He was also brought up in both places, India and Spain. He learned both Vedanta and the Bible equally. And then he studied in Spain, Germany, and Italy and later also in Benares. Even now he lives in two worlds: he teaches part-time in the West and part-time in Benares. He has written many books both in Spanish and German. Most of them are unknown in India. But what are known are his English books: Cult Mysterium in Hinduism and Christendom, Religion and Religions, Kerygma and India, Indian Letters, The Trinity and World Religions and above all the publication of his doctoral thesis, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism. This last mentioned book was published in 1964 in the midst of the proceedings of Vatican II, and was virtually taken up as the theology of the Vatican II concerning religions, as the final
pronouncements of that Council show. We can begin to study the major emphases of his theology from this book. He starts with the question, what is the meeting place for a fruitful dialogue between Hinduism and Christianity? To answer in his own words:
Where can a real encounter take place, so that both having met there could no longer be room any more for ignoring each other, but only for a catholic embrace and exclusive substitution or a mutual interpenetration?
Here both segregation and substitution are definitely neither desirable nor possible, according to Panikkar. He analyses and finds that neither mere cultural synthesis nor doctrinal parallelism are adequate as meeting point. But he affirms that Christ is the meeting place for the two religions. Both meet in Christ: Christ is there in Hinduism but Hinduism is not yet his spouse. Hinduism is the desired bride whose betrothal was celebrated long ago in the Vedic times and whose marriage still remains the mystery of history. According to him Hinduism seems to say: “Because we all are really the same, what harm is there if we keep separate?” while Christianity seems to answer: “if we are all really the same what harm is there in coming together?” Basing his logic on the classical passages in the Book of Acts about the Logos spermatikos idea Raymondo Panikkar asks,
If God has a universal providence over the whole of mankind, and Christianity is the fullness of his revelation ‘in those last times’, there, must also be a link between the cosmic religions and the religion of his Son.
and transformation of this world” or in simpler words “Brahman is the total ultimate cause of this world”. The text has been of course a crucial one in Hindu theology as Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhava, Yaksha and several others have very variedly expounded it. The question is an old one. If Brahman is the unconditional Absolute how can he be the cause of the world? And this is precisely where Panikkar suggests: a Christian solution to this logical dilemma. In his own words, “that from in which this world comes forth and to which it returns and by which it is sustained — that ‘that’ is Christ”. Thus already in the very core of the Brahmasutra Christ is there, for without Christ the dilemma cannot be solved. This is the agnostos Christos, the unknown Christ in Hinduism. Of course in accepting Christ as Brahman he adopts the personalist strands in Hinduism to the exclusion of the advaitic strands. Based on this presence of Christ in Hinduism Panikkar, like M.M. Thomas advocates the conversion or transformation of Hinduism to Christ. In this transformation he maintains that there is no real loss for Hinduism but it only gains its own soul. It will be a transformation into a higher sphere, yet keeping its full identity. The concept and the logic is a bit difficult to understand but that has been main trust of his thinking.
In a latter book called The Trinity and the World Religions he arrives at a similar conclusion from a different angle. His main concern is to work towards “the universalisation of Christianity, towards the actualization . . . of its catholicity” contributing “to the development of all religions’ unity”. He then proceeds to show how in the doctrine of the Trinity the three kinds of spiritualities, karma marga, bhakti marga and jnana marga, are not mutually exclusive but can be reconciled. Here he admits, of course, the key problem is the real meaning and content of the terms ‘nature’ and ‘person’ — this we have seen already earlier. His final solution is ‘theandrism’.
Theandrism is the classical and traditional term for that intimate and complete unity which is realized . . . in Christ, between the divine and the human and which is the goal towards which everything here below tends in Christ and the Spirit.
In fact he finds that Hinduism is a kind of Christianity in potential, a kind of Christianity in seed. Apparently his own life situation is reflected here, the relationship of his Hindu father and Catholic mother. Panikkar states as his basis the exposition of Brahma Sutra (1:1, 2 ). The text reads, Janmadi asya yatah. Literally it means “whence the origin of this?” According to the rules of the Hindu exposition the text could be expounded to mean “Brahman is the whence, the origination, sustenance,
And he finds theandrism best suited to characterize the synthesis of the three spiritual attitudes described earlier. Of course, the term ‘theandric’ is an alternative term for Trinity. In philosophical terms he puts it thus: “Theandrism stresses in a paradoxical fashion (for one can speak in no other way) the infinitude of man, for he is tending towards God the infinite; and the finitude of god for he is the end (finis) of man.”
situations of the World War. Then later on he worked and lived in America. So all his writings deal with the two worlds, and with border situations, as he himself admits. We find a similar influence of Panikkar’s life context on his theologizing. After all, each of us is a child of our times, are we not.
STANLEY JOSEPH SAMARTHA Background
Like M.M. Thomas, Russell Chandran and Panikkar, Stanley Samartha is one of our contemporary, senior theologians in India. He hails from the South Kanara district of Karnataka, as his name reveals. His influence outside India is more than inside. After having studied at United Theological College, Bangalore, he finished his doctoral dissertation in the United States, on the philosophy of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. On his return he taught for several years in UTC and then at Serampore where he became the Principal of the Serampore College.
In 1968, when the World Council of Churches was reorganizing its Study Unit on the Word of God and the Living Faiths of Men they called Samartha to the Unit as its director. Soon his excellent leadership converted the Unit into a fullfledged organization within WCC, named DFI — Dialogue with Men of Other Faiths and Ideologies. Till 1975 he worked as Director at Geneva and after his retirement he came to teach at Karnataka Theological College, Mangalore. Now he is a lecturer and theologian at large, particularly at UTC.
This theandric vision of reality of Panikkar is an alternative both to dvaitic and advaitic visions. Thus according to Panikkar theandrism is more than both thought and action, it is a spirituality; for Panikkar man is more than a mere human being: he is a theandric mystery.
Of course, as we have already hinted, the whole of Panikkar’s theology is philosophical in approach and the logic of it eludes the reader. Yet we can attempt some evaluation.
(a) Basing himself firmly on Thomism, that is on Aristotelian logic, and on the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, Panikkar does not budge from the orthodox doctrines of the Church. As is the case of most of the Roman Catholic theologians, he tends to centre all authority in the Pope. I say this because as long as Catholicism was closed to outside religion so were its theologians, and once it opened so also did the theologians. (b) Secondly, he has followed the usual Logos spermatikos idea (by now you will be familiar with the term) which though has some truth and biblical support, yet in my opinion definitely dilutes the uniqueness and the finality of Jesus Christ as the culmination of God’s revelation. If one can find Christ in Hinduism, or elsewhere in revolutions, as M.M. Thomas has asserted, why then do Christians preach, why does the Church exist? What at all is conversion and why at all incarnation? (c) For Panikkar, the fact of his being born to a mixture of religions — a Hindu father and a Catholic mother — has had a strong effect on him. A parallel is the life of Paul Tillich, who was born and brought up in Germany in the border
He has written and edited several books. One of the most readable and clear presentation of his thoughts is his book The Hindu Response to the Unbound Christ. Beside that he has either written partly or edited several other books in the capacity of Director of DFI, all on the subject on dialogue.
Samartha’s main contribution is naturally in the realm of christology, and here he has gone beyond his predecessors. Raymondo Panikkar’s The Unknown Christ of Hindu187
ism postulated that Christ is already present there in pure Hinduism but not yet known to Hindus. M.M. Thomas went a step further in The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance affirmed that though Christ is still unknown in the pure Hinduism, he is already acknowledged in the modern Indian renaissance. Samartha goes beyond both these steps. In The Hindu Response to the Unbound Christ he postulates that Hindus have recognized Christ in their own traditions and even have responded to him at several levels. His book is a study of the several levels of Hindu responses. As a conclusion he gives a summary of what an authentic Indian Christology should be and here he definitely takes an advaitic interpretation of Christ. In his books he gives excellent guidelines as to what kind of Christology the Indian Church must evolve:
Its (i.e. the Indian Christology’s) central effort should be to acknowledge the mystery and explain the meaning of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Its starting point is the total commitment to Christ as crucified and risen Lord. Its context is one of sharing and involvement . . . it is my conviction that unless Indian Christian theological thinking takes advaita seriously in both its classical and modern forms it is not likely to make any effective contribution to the quest for resources to undergird our national life.
building on the same river bank, with a cross on the top but with its doors shuttered and its gates locked, to be opened only on the following sunday”12 while on the other side there are slums and huts and workers and strikes going on. Yet, in the midst of all this, Christ is standing incognito because “The Hindu response to Christ is sufficient evidence of his presence, even though the manner of the response and its characteristics may be unfamiliar to those inside the hedges of the traditional church.”13
In this connection, Samartha emphasizes that only the universal accessibility of Christ, but also his universal initiatives, are to be taken account of. But then he is quite aware that such an acknowledgment of Hindu response to Christ outside the church has several implications: a) Now that Christ is found to be present in most important areas of Hindu life and thought, the church must be grateful for such a revelation rather than offer suspicious criticism. b) It paves the way in which direction indigenous Christianity must proceed. c) The Church must start afresh the meaning of “the historic particularity of Christ even when he is ‘unbound’”.14 d) Christianity need not be in competition with Hinduism but learn to co-operate with it.
Our Hindu brethren should not be regarded as recruits to the kingdom of God but as fellow citizens in the commonwealth of Christ, seeking together the fullness of Christ in his continuing work of reconciliation and renewal.15
Thus he makes clear that his primary purpose in studying Christ is to make his claims and offers relevant to the national needs struggles of India, and not a spiritualized version of these needs and struggles.
His theology starts with a very valid question: “What does it mean to affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour today in India?” 10 In answering this the basic situation of India ought to be in competition with the whole range of Hinduism but can rather be in “co-operation with it.” The reason for this is that “if the message of the gospel has to become challengingly relevant to human needs today both the credibility of the Saviour and the meaning of the salvation he offers have to be stated afresh”11, that is, only by involvement and meeting the present struggles and meeting the present needs. But sadly, he says, the Christian presence is symbolized by “the church
e) It also means that this common quest could help Hindus themselves “by way of deepening and enriching its own heritage as it seeks to relate itself to modern needs.”16
Of course, Samartha is not speaking of one response but of several Hindu responses to Christ, because “Response is a complex attitude involving cultural, psychological and theological factors, and in trying to describe it one should be careful to avoid generalization and over-simplification of the issues.” 17
With that principle he differentiates three types of Hindu responses to Christ. a) “Response to Christ without commitment to him”.18 As examples he cites the following Indian thinkers: Sree Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Akhilananda, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, S. Radhakrishnan. For these people there is absolutely no value in the Christian Church nor commitment to Christ. b) “Response and commitment to Christ, and Christ alone, but reject the context of Hinduism itself, but with either indifference to or a total rejection of the Church.”19 Here belong the people who accept Jesus Christ but reject the institution of the Church, like Subba Rao, Parekh and others. c) “Response and commitment to Christ and an open entry into the Church through baptism, but with strong criticism of the church from within its fellowship.”20 People belonging to this kind of response are part of the church, on the membership roll of the church, but raise a prophetic voice against the church practices. The ‘Re-thinking Christianity’ group is an example he mentions, that is people like Chenchiah, Chakkarai and the like. As a postscript he adds a fourth category of response which he describe as “The effort to discover the hidden Christ within Hinduism itself and to unveil him even though there is no conscious visible response to him.”21 Raymondo Panikkar and Klaus Klostermaier are examples of this type of response. Naturally this is not a Hindu response, as Samartha is aware of. The attempt here is to make explicit what is already implicit in this very citadel of Hinduism. Then Samartha goes on to analyze in detail the different responses. Some of the common elements of those who have given the first type of response to Christ are:
1) To all of them experience is the supreme authority in religion. 2) All of them make a selective use of the scripture, whether Hindu or Christian, in interpreting Christ. They also show little interest in the Old Testament. The Gospels are their primary interest and specially the fourth Gospel. 3) The church is an unnecessary appendix for them. The notion of election or the people of God is arrogance in their sight. 4) There is no special significance they attach to the historicity of Jesus Christ. 5) They rather give importance to the ethical teachings of Christ and especially to his sermon on the mount. Yet all of them regard the death of Christ with the greatest respect, since it is a symbol of self-sacrifice and renunciation. But the resurrection has no special significance for them. 6) All of them make conscious effort to separate Christ from Christianity. Thus their response is not to the Christ of the Church but to the unbound Christ. 7) To all of them service is a crucial category, and they regard service to man as equivalent to service of God. As such, worship of God and philanthropic activity are brought together. 8) Most of them use the advaitic framework to fit Christ and his work, so Samartha asserts: “Therefore it is clear that any attempt at Christology in the context of Hinduism, if it should command their intellectual respect, must in some way come to terms with Advaita, not just in its classical form but also in its modern interpretation.” 9) There is a strong tendency in all of them to universalize Christ, to lift him out of his Jewish particularity and western cultural bondage and emphasize the Christ principle against the Jesus of Nazareth. 10) None of them really commit themselves to Christ. “At best Christ is an additional item in their spiritual menu.”
They do not consider Christ as an alternative to present possibilities but only as additional source for their spiritual growth.
INTERPRETING CHRIST THROUGH ADVAITA
With these responses in mind, Samartha comes to define what he calls “the core of the Christian dogma”, “the essence of the faith once delivered to the Saints”. Since anubhava is the chief source of knowledge among the advaitins, that is, since Brahman can be known only through anubhava, Samartha believes that it should be our starting point. But Christian anubhava has a certain distinctiveness,
First in that, unlike advaita, here the Christian anubhava is controlled by the historical fact of Christ, and second, in that it has a social dimension in the church, in the fellowship in which it is sustained, strengthened and transmitted to others. 22
of the world. Maya should be regarded not so much as the doctrine of the ontological status of the world as description of its relation to God.” He approves Devanandan’s approach that maya need not mean even a first-rate reality but a dependent reality which has worth in the sight of God. In any case, Samartha is clear that the maya of advaita is not identical with the world of the Bible. Therefore,
The historical nature of Jesus Christ, with all its implications for man and society, can be justifiably considered in this context. It can be noted that the ontological status and the historical fact of Jesus Christ are held together in his life and framework.
So what is more important is to affirm the fact that in Jesus Christ this world of nature and history is created, redeemed and sustained, and of course God’s grace is being directed to its final consummation.
THE PERSON AND WORK OF CHRIST
Then how do we view the two natures of Christ and specially the deity of Christ? Along with Cullmann, Samartha says that there is no need to say that God’s nature is completely exhausted in Jesus. That is to say, while accepting God’s truth and love in Jesus Christ, the sense of the mystery and depth in God should not be eliminated in any christology in India. Then Samartha considers the work of Christ’s salvation. In the advaitic monism some things are not given enough significance. These include: Freedom and responsibility of the individual personality; the social and historical dimensions of human life; the possibilities for the emergence of the new both in nature and in history; the fact of tragedy and evil within human spirituality sometimes masquerading as goodness; the persistence of sin, guilt and death in human existence, particularly at a time when new weapons of total destruction create the disposal of man, which may willfully be used or accidentally released. So Christian christology must give them significance. Only through an interpretation of Cross and the Resurrec193
Here Samartha of course criticizes both the bhakti understanding of avatara as unsuitable for Christ, as well as Ramanuja’s understanding of matter and consciousness raised to the level of Godhead. He thinks advaita is the more suited strand for the interpretation of the Christian gospel. And particularly the Advaita of Shankara. But since there is a tendency of dvaitic inquiry to reduce the significance both of person and history, Samartha suggests that the Christian view of advaita would “help in recovering the sense of the personal, the historical and the social in the structure of Hindu spirituality”. This means that in Samartha’s thinking the interpretation of Brahman is not impersonal but it is reconcilable with personal values. Thus he is free to relate Christ to Brahman. Samartha realizes that the real point of contention here is: What do we mean by the term person? He suggests that there should be at least the following as its content: subsistence, distinctiveness, completeness and intelligence. How do we then in advaitic system understand the world? Is it an illusion or a reality? Samartha says, “It is not necessary to understand maya as advocating the unreality
tion of Christ can this be possible. Yet we must avoid the ‘emergency measure’ or ‘rescue operation’ kind of interpretation of the Cross, because the scope of Christ’s work is larger than the redemption of individuals:
As the agent of creation and as the Saviour of mankind, his work is continuing until all things are summed up in him. Here therefore the advaita emphasis on the unity of life, where history and nature are seen together in the totality of the life of God, is not irrelevant.
The Goal of Salvation
Samartha knows that this salvation in Christ is beyond human or social or cosmic history. It includes the consummation of all life, the disclosure of the ultimate meaning of creation. It is definitely not a return to the beginning but an enrichment and fulfillment, a move through the struggles and conflicts, overcoming evil in love and finding final fulfillment in the fullness of God himself. Thus there is no exclusiveness in Christology in India. On the contrary, “it is the declaration of the universality of the unbound Christ . . . Christ transcends all cultures.” So Samartha concludes his book Hindu Response to the Unbound Christ by saying Christ is always involved in human situations, wherever the struggle for justice, freedom and truth is going on, and demands that his followers also participate in his crucifixion and resurrection. And he cannot be bound or identified with any particular cultural situation nor to a particular system of thought.
This does not mean, as Christians have often done, that we should explain away the mystery of the Cross. Yet the offense of the Cross need not be stated in an offensive way. He would like us to avoid the following mistakes: the tendency to describe the Resurrection as a kind of happy ending to an otherwise tragic story; theories of atonement based on the idea of sacrifice; the tendency to remain weeping at the foot of the Cross and join the emotional catharsis; and over-emphasis on original sin; the stress on feelings of sin and guilt as prerequisites before the saving power of the Cross; obsessions with the symptoms of sin rather than its root and the like. Samartha says Christ’s death and suffering were, first, voluntary, secondly, vicarious “in the sense that there is a deliberate recognition that it was for the sake of the others”, thirdly, it is the resurrection which is the culmination of the cross. Hence the cross cannot be interpreted without the resurrection. In the conclusion of the book Samartha comes back to the original question with which he started: What does it mean to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour in India today? He answers:
To accept the lordship of Jesus Christ means that one must be prepared to obey God’s demand in Christ to crucify the self, in its desire for isolation and in its feeling of selfsufficiency, in order that the promise of renewal in the resurrection might become operative in human life. Wherever the Christ event is recognized and whatever people are prepared consciously to die with him and to be raised again with him, there God’s work of reconciliation takes place.
Since Samartha is also the primary spokesman for the theology of dialogue of WCC we must say something on that topic also. We will speak of one aspect of dialogue from his writings. He thinks of two principal attitudes for any dialogue: openness and commitment. First commitment. Unless one is committed to a particular set of beliefs he cannot dialogue. Thus he exhorts that only committed Christians, those who are fully committed to Christ, can have the courage to have the dialogue. But commitment is not sufficient unless it is coupled with openness. One should be open not only to understand what the other has to say in dialogue, but be open enough to change one’s own position in the light of the dialogue; only then it is true openness. And dialogue does not take place between structures, i.e., religions or theologies, nor at the intellectual level, but it takes place at the human level. That is why WCC sub-unit is called dialogue with men (later, people) of other faiths and ideologies. This is certainly healthy.
Since dialogue takes place in community there are two aspects to it. First the Dialogue within the community: “the building up of relationships expressing mutual care and mutual understanding”. Among the Christians this must lead to communication. Secondly dialogue between communities: “For the sake of a wider community of peace and justice”. Common purpose in society are important here. This may lead to international consensus or inter-religious dialogue. Without the first the second becomes shallow sentimentalism, but without the second the first becomes narrow exclusivism. What does dialogue do? a) it clarifies the meaning of terms used in dialogue; b) it makes possible “a more coordinated theological reflection on the relationships between religions”; c) it provides a theological framework within which questions can be asked from all sides. Thus, a theological dialogue is necessary, says Samartha.
1. M.M. Thomas, “Faith Seeking Understanding and Responsibility”, p. 1. 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid., p. 24. 4. Ibid., p. 9. 5. Ibid., pp. 56-57. 6. Ibid., p. 89. 7. J.R. Chandran and M.M. Thomas (eds.), Political Outlook in India Today, pp. 168-169. 8. MM Thomas, Christian Action in Asian Struggle, speech at EACC Assembly at Bangkok, 1975, p. 3. 8. Ibid. 9. M.M. Thomas, speech at 5th Assembly of WCC at Nairobi, in Revolution as Revelation, p. 118. 10. S.J. Samartha, The Hindu Response to the Unbound Christ, CLS, Madras, 1974, p. 5. 11. Ibid., p. 3. 12. Ibid., p. 3. 13. Ibid., p. 4. 14. Ibid., p. 14. 15. Ibid., p. 14. 16. Ibid., p. 15. 17. Ibid., p. 117. 18. Ibid., p. 117. 19. Ibid., p. 117. 20. Ibid., p. 117. 21. Ibid., p. 117. 22. Ibid., p. 118.
Samartha’s resort to the advaitic system as the proper vehicle for interpreting Christ is based primarily on empirical enquiry and not necessarily on theological grounds. He seems to be carried away by the vision of unity of Advaita and thus he seems to dilute the uniqueness (one can say even exclusiveness) of Christ as portrayed in the Bible. Since his goal seems to be more of a society of peace and justice and harmony he is more concerned with avoiding religious conflicts than in preserving the truth of the Gospel. As a result, his reinterpretation of the Cross and Resurrection existentially and his dilution of the penal substitutional theory of atonement of the Cross and even the deity of Christ are to be regretted. Though his starting question, what does it mean to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour in India today, is most significant, his answer seems to be tailored more to meeting the need of the hour in India.
In the recent decade or two, there have appeared scores of theologies from new Indian thinkers which are a thorough mixture of all strands we have discussed so far. Many of them are theologically very creative and bold, even radical. Some are good thinkers but not writers. In this chapter we briefly note their contribution, without attempting to do a systematic analysis of their thought. Time, it appears, is not yet ripe for such an effort.
RUSSELL CHANDRAN (b. 1918)
Russell Chandran belongs to that generation of Indian Christians who stand between the colonial period and the emergence of indigenised Christianity. As such he and his contemporaries were compelled to take up the leadership from the outgoing foreigners in all the Christian institutions, and so were unfortunately bogged down in administrative and financial aspects of their organizations. This means that their creativity in those lines, and so their writings are neither definitive nor plenty. But they are important land marks on the way.
Joshua Russell Chandran was born in Tamil Nadu in Kanyakumari district in a Christian family. After his early education he took to ministry at the young age of 20, as a probationer in the Kodankarai pastorate. This led him to theological studies at United Theological College, Bangalore, (BD). He then served as pastor in the Irenipuram Church for three years. He pursued higher studies at Mansfield College, Oxford (1947-49), Union Theological Seminary, New York (1949-50) and Chicago University Divinity School (1957-58). In between he was appointed as a lecturer at United Theological College, Bangalore in 1950, and became its principal in 1954. He was the principal of this prestigious
institution till his retirement in 1981. He was, needless to say, the first Indian principal of UTC. He also taught at other well-known international institutions: Union Theological College, New York (1964-65), Louisville Theological Seminary, Kentucky and the Episcopal Theological Seminary, Cambridge, Manchester (1972). He became the president of the Senate of Serampore College (1968-71) and contributed in this way a great deal to Indian theological education. He was the president also of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) and its prime mover. Chandran has represented the Church of South India at various international ecclesial conferences, including being the delegate to the WCC from that church. He worked also as the vice-chairman of the CSIU’s Executive Committee (1966-68). He was the convenor of union negotiations of the CSI before it was founded, and has decisively shaped the CSI constitution. He was also on the negotiations committee of the joint council of CSI, CNI and the Mar Thoma Church. He is also the founder-president of the Christian Union of India (see later). Chandran was honoured in 1978 on the occasion of his shashtabdhi-poorthi (60th anniversary) with a festschrift entitled A Vision for Man, a book containing several articles by his colleagues in India and abroad. In this work, he is described variously as “the theological teacher”, “the theologian of the Church”, “the fighter for peace with justice”, “the ecumenical man” and as “the Asian Christian”. In recent years he has played a decisive role in the politics of Fiji islands concerning the liberation of Indians there.
Following Jesus. His unpublished thesis “A Comparison of the Pagan Apologetics of Celsus against Christianity as Contained in Origen’s Contra Celsum and the neo-Hindu Attitude to Christianity as Represented in the Work of Vivekananda” is considered a scholarly work. A personal word here: Now that Indian Christian theology has come of age, what is desperately needed is a swarm of creative Indian theologians! Administration and financial expertise can be picked on the way, while theological specialization cannot, and so your and my generation must take up the challenge of writing. If you are called to do so, take it up by all means!
Samuel Amirtham, a colleague of Chandran and the editor of the festschrift in honour of Chandran, has beautifully summarized the theology of Chandran in his article entitled “A Vision for Man”. The title excellently summarizes Chandran’s thought. Even the eulogisations cited earlier show that Chandran is primarily concerned about man as man — not man as sinner. This sweeping statement will become clearer in the following but one preliminary comment on that title “A Vision for Man” is necessary here. It speaks of man in his individuality, as well as in his collectivity — a thoroughly anthropocentric approach. But it speaks also of man not as he is now but rather of man’s utopian goals, of a further futuristic vision of man, what he would be finally. Again, this vision is only one among the many — “a vision” — and thus is very tolerant of other religious and ideological streams — no wonder that Chandran is called the “ecumenical man”. The emphatic element in this vision is apparent in that it is a vision ‘for man’, and not ‘of man’. It is not the self-determined goals of man and society but something which is given for man to grow beyond himself — namely from the perspective of the New Man, Jesus Christ. This vision, the central thought of Chandran, has four elements.
As hinted already, Chandran has not done much of serious writing, commensurate with his ability. Most of his writings are in the form of articles (above 120 in English, Tamil and German). These are in theological periodicals such as the Guardian, National Christian Council Review, International Review of Missions, Ecumenical Review, South India Churchman and North India Churchman. In Tamil he has written one book on Christian ethics, and in English,
A Vision of Human Community that is Inclusive
For Chandran, the Cross of Jesus Christ broke down all the barriers between man and man, and resurrection means that Jesus’ “ministry continues through the people whom Christ indwells through the Holy Spirit”. 1 The Church continues this ministry, and is thus “a foretaste of new humanity and therefore, an inclusive community”. 2 Chandran repeatedly bewails that Baptism is sadly misunderstood as bringing man and woman from out of the world into the exclusive community of the church. For Chandran baptism represents “not separation from the world but commitment for the Lord”.3 The ‘corrupt communal interpretation’ of baptism must be replaced by “an interpretation emphasizing commitment for the renewal of the world.”4 The theological basis for this inclusive interpretation which Chandran suggests is from Christ’s baptism. It was not a baptism of sinners, but Jesus’ identification with sinners.
This inclusiveness of all mankind is based on the common humanity of man as man. This is the meaning of baptism: incorporation into the New Humanity of Jesus Christ, commitment to mission in the world, and identification with the world. And so Christian mission is interpreted by Chandran to mean the task of making man genuinely human, in other words, humanization. He exhorts Christians to discard the false understanding of the church as the realm of grace, while the world is the realm of law and judgment. He recommends that we should rather speak of the hidden and open operation of God in the world and the Church respectively. Thus Jesus Christ is the firstfruits of the final inclusive destiny.
renewal of the Church would imply taking societal concern”.6 This means that “solidarity with the people of God, separation from evil, and being a community of love are some marks of this style”.7 But it should be noted that for Chandran, people of God are not just Christians, but “all people”. Externally, this life style means that we identify with our neighbours in even their religious activities like onam, pongal, deepavali, and other pujas. Initially it means living with a double focus, with the Word and the world, “the sacramental-real” and the “love-law” foci. Such an approach approves of secularization of life as well as ‘man-forothers’ ethics. So a selfless life is the key of this renewed life style, and love is the key of such renewal. Chandran’s theology has as its goal “the new inclusive humanity where Christ gathers everybody into one family.”
A Vision of a Community where there is Peace with Justice and Freedom with Dignity
These four concepts of peace, justice, freedom and dignity are referred to by Chandran in almost all his sermons, articles and talks, for him, since love means concrete action — “love has to be expressed in terms of justice, mercy and peace”. And there is no justice without political change, and the people of God are always on the move changing. This means clearly that political involvement is a must for every Christian, for the Church. To restore every man to dignity and freedom — this is the meaning of biblical righteousness. It means that development is synonymous with freedom from karma, the consequences of my background. Since justice and peace inevitably go together, the biblical concept o peace (shalom) means “wholeness of life, harmony of humanity living together”. And freedom involves an openness for all, respect for dissent and responsible criticism. So freedom cannot be separated from human rights and human dignity. It is in this connection that Chandran founded the unique organization called the Christian Union of India. The motto of this union was “to serve India in the name of Christ”. And the following were its objectives:
A Vision of Renewed Community with a New Style of Living
Renewal of life is the second emphasis in Chandran’s thinking, which he takes from the New Humanity of Christ. Everytime people have responded to the gospel there has been great transformation. This conversion, “from the old complex of law, commandment, reward, punishment, sin, guilt, judgment and death, to the new complex of grace, love, forgiveness and life”,5 has no fixed conventional pattern of operation. Further, this renewal is not just personal; “the
1. to strengthen and promote secular democracy; 2. to educate the Christian community in nation-building; 3. to cooperate with other agencies towards a classless society; and 4. to strive for international peace, justice and goodwill. As is obvious, humanization is the goal of this effort.
at humanization of man and society. This is truly a vision for man indeed.
Here, we have met a line of thinking which is bold and radically different from the conservative thinking, though typical of many contemporary Indian theologians. So we have already dealt with such theologians earlier, such as M.M. Thomas, so, here only comments on some dominant aspects should suffice. First, it must be appreciated that Chandran is passionately concerned about the welfare (shalom) of man — this is no arm-chair theology, but has concrete implications all through. This is good. But what is sadly lacking is a biblical understanding of man as sinner and there is no proportionate emphasis on man’s predicament, as the Bible gives. As such, this anthropocentricity is in danger of turning into anti-theological humanity. For the same reason, Chandran’s approach to the authority of the Bible as the inspired word of God is far from satisfactory, though his resort to human expertise, philosophies and religions is admirably expressed. Secondly, his compassion for all mankind is praiseworthy, but to sacrifice biblical distinctives of the disciples of Christ (repentance and faith in Christ) against the rest of the world as ‘unbelievers’ is equally blameworthy. This bifurcation of humanity into believers and non-believers is hurting, no doubt, but that is a biblical bifurcation, and the New Testament authors have confirmed it. We cannot do less. In Chandran’s understanding of dialogue, the Christian distinctives can be easily lost, in spite of his plea to the contrary. There is also, furthermore, an unwarranted inclusion of political involvement as an essential part of the church’s mission, that is, there is really no biblically developed support for this aspect in Chandran’s writings. No doubt a Christian as a citizen should be a patriot by all means and also partake of the political, cultural and economic life of the nation; but it is another thing to say that the
A Vision of Humanity in Dialogue with Commitment
Since coexistence and survival of mankind are at stake and since religion is a most potent source of human strife in this world, a religious dialogue is a must. Religious pluralism thus has only one answer: dialogue in depth with all religions. Such a dialogue must include a positive respect for all religions, and Christians must be humble enough to admit their limitations. It is only dialogue which preserves the good in all religions. He asserts that it is a way of communicating Christ to others, but not a relativisation of the Christian gospel. In dialogue, there must be a give-and-take attitude in all participating religions. Chandran makes the following four assumptions concerning inter-religious dialogue:
1. Only those who are committed to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour can enter any meaningful dialogue between religions. 2. There must be willingness to reformulate our faith in the light of other faiths, listening is thus an essential element in dialogue. 3. Each religion must be understood from its own point of view. 4. Every participant must be open to the result of the dialogue. With such an approach to religions it is natural that Chandran affirms that the polarization is between light and darkness, since these two are found in all religions. But it is not between religions. It is clear that even here, Chandran accepts only that religion as true which supports and aims
Church of Christ must participate in political actions — will not the Church lose her salt? She must be a worshipping fellowship, and a proclaiming servant — that is her nature and calling according to the New Testament. Let the Church be the Church was the cry of Christian leaders for the last half century. Finally Chandran is fascinated with the great visions of the contemporary ideologies of futuristic outlook, and unconsciously, at least, Marxism seems to have molded his programme of action. Perhaps in this summary of his thinking by his friend it may not be clear, but in the statement of EATWOT, which Chandran drafted, it is unmistakably clear. This statement affirms the task of Indian Christian theology as follows:
We want Indian Christian theology to be a service to the Indian people in our common search for full humanity in an open fraternal fellowship. Indian theology seeks to discern, eliminate and support people’s struggle for human wholeness in freedom and dignity. Its endeavour is to make a meaningful contribution to the march of our people toward human completion in a just society.
Jesus showed an example in this in himself by taking the initiative and announcing that the kingdom of God had arrived in him. He was the embodiment of the kingdom. This kingdom was expressed in the community of disciples which he called to express the life and power of the kingdom. Forgiveness to enemies, welcoming the marginal, renouncing violence and giving an example of servanthood, those were the marks of this nucleus community. Samuel studies this question of Christian discipleship in five aspects, namely, its understanding and its implications in the political, economic, social and religious context.
THE POLITICAL CONTEXT
The political context of the time of Jesus was one of foreign rule under Rome. There was resentment against taxation, and military imperialism. Economic exploitation, and oppressive religious and cultural traditions were enforced by the political domination over the Jewish nation. But Jesus refused to accept the way of achieving and maintaining power adopted by the Romans and collaborators. Roman power was based on the maxim,’strong are the rulers’ but he rode a donkey into Jerusalem in direct contrast to the Roman commanders who entered with horses and chariots. Instead he identified himself with the victims of such power and he himself died as a result of it. Thus, instead of a separate existence of Caesar’s and God’s cities, Jesus really brought the city of God and its structure to man.
So it is only fair to judge that Chandran’s theology has turned into ideology — and that too consciously!
VINAY KUMAR SAMUEL
Vinay Kumar Samuel, an ordained clergyman of the Church of South India in Bangalore, is a energetic thinker and activist, whose primary interest is something like Samartha’s question: what does it mean to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour in India today? That means that he emphasizes more on Christian ethics rather than Christian theology. His definitive thinking on ethics seems to have materialized in his Bishop Joshi Memorial Lectures (1980) with the theme “The Meaning and Cost of Christian Discipleship”. He starts with the assumption that Jesus called his disciples not into a vacuum but into a political-socialeconomic community with definite justice concerns. And
THE ECONOMIC CONTEXT
Since land ownership was the main source of wealth then agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. Jesus strictly warned against the evils of possessing great material wealth. This news was good news to the poor but woe to the rich. In any case, it is amply clear, says Samuel, that in Jesus’ attitude towards the economic sphere was a fundamental bias for the poor and the basis was.
God is the God of Justice and poverty is an expression of injustice; it is the world that is biased against the poor, God is biased towards justice. So the invitation to repentance and the kingdom means a putting down of the mighty and an
exaltation of the poor. His bias is to bring us all back to wholeness.
In order to demonstrate his bias for the poor Jesus sent his community of disciples to serve the poor, to heal the sick, bring the dead back to life and to treat all kinds of diseases and exorcise demons. The reverse side of this coin of bias for the poor was the bias against the rich. Jesus vigorously attacked the rich and said the rich could not enter the kingdom of God. He cried woes to the rich. According to him riches were definitely not a sign of God’s blessing. That is why when many rich young men wanted to join him he asked them to sell all what they had, distribute among the poor and follow him.
In the light of this Vinay Samuel says that the whole understanding of Christian mission also must be transformed. It was not just the winning of souls but meeting the needs in these contexts. Just as Jesus was incarnated in his context, the missionaries must incarnate themselves in these context and alleviate suffering. Mission is a struggle against power and principalities. Therefore in the coming decade the emphasis will be not so much on dogmatics but on the study of sociology and social change. He predicts that the major areas of study will be salvation, church and Christ. Vinay Kumar Samuel has also edited several books and booklets along with Christopher Sugden. These include Christian Mission in the 80’s, Current Trends in Theology and Sharing Jesus in the Two-Thirds World.
THE SOCIAL CONTEXT
Vinay Samuel says that there is no fundamental distinction between the social and the economic, but yet we can make a case for the social outcast. In Palestine woman and children were socially disadvantaged but Jesus honoured them both and gave them special attention. He fellowshipped with Samaritans, with sinners and tax collectors and also with lepers, the sick and the demon possessed.
VISHAL MANGALWADI (b.1952)
Vishal Mangalwadi, from Chhatarpur, M.P. is another of those young theologians who would like the shift from reflection to accelerate. He and his family have suffered, both for the sake of the gospel as well as under the exploitation of the rich zamindars, and so along with the others founded ACRA, an institution to bring justice to the poor farmers against the rich shopkeepers, the zamindars, the police and the political forces. He has written several articles and books, including The World of Gurus and The Truth and Social Reform. The following is taken from the latter book. As he himself confesses, being an untrained theologian he does not resort to exegesis, but his theology is the outcome of confrontation in courts and prisons and with the powers and principalities. He begins by saying that compassion for suffering was a prime element in Jesus’ ministry. This was a prophetic compassion. In meeting with human misery Jesus went to the root of it. In our context this means that our service takes the form of radically stirring the stagnant pool of a selfish society and a judgment of its blindness. But Christians must not stop at that, they also
THE RELIGIOUS CONTEXT
Jesus did not follow the religion of the Pharisees and the Scribes, but in fact was in conflict with them since, in order to keep the traditions of men, they disobeyed the commandments of God. He attacked the Sabbath on the grounds that it prevented men from doing good to the sick and the needy. In opposition to the traditions of washing, he affirms that not what goes inside a man but what comes out of him is what makes him unclean. He said for the sake of religious korban it was not right to take away the natural support for the parents. Thus Jesus was against all the de-humanization of the law. Against all this he affirmed that he himself was the fulfillment of the law. He fulfilled the law in two ways, in giving it true meaning in his own life and in providing the power to obey it.
must go on to social create an alternate power for social change. Then from compassion to social reform is but a stop. He analyzes social reform to mean (a) a critical awareness in a society that their values and institutions are fundamentally wrong, (b) a hope that change is possible, (c) a hope that better alternative is in fact available, (d) a leadership that is able to organize and mobilize the masses against the status quo. He observes that as a rule the privileged, the rich class in society, is not interested in reform since it attacks their own security and luxury. This also means that the reformers cannot play the game by the rules of the establishment since the establishment is corrupted by the elite in the society. This is exactly what Christ does, affirms Mangalwadi. Even John the Baptist called, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Unless our message comes not only as a good news to the poor but also a threat to the rich we are neither relevant nor the salt of this earth. With strained exegesis Mangalwadi attempts to show that Paul was a social reformer but had rather spiritualised the issues. Starting from this necessity to reform the society, Mangalwadi comes to the church as the necessary agent for such a social reform. Mangalwadi does see the church as an essential element in the message of Christ and even as an antidote to social evils such as poverty. Though he does not deal with the role of the church essentially, from here on Mangalwadi goes to the role of the Holy Spirit in social reform. The promise that “ye for shall receive power” has the implication that this power is the power for cross-bearing and to judge and to protest against evil structures. Another form of power, says Mangalwadi, is prayer. After the above theological basis, Mangalwadi goes on to outline a practical proposal as to how farmers’ economic reform movements can be established and gives the details of this proposal. His main contention is that poverty is created and so must be rooted out. Exploitation is the true cause of poverty in India, he says, specially in that part of
India where he lives. The cause of the political economic problem really boils down to religious tensions. My own comments on Mangalwadi’s theology is that all his interpretation of the church’s inability and inaction against injustice, as well as the exploitative situation in the society, are fully valid. But by the same token, it will be necessary not to reform the society (social church renewal). As we have seen, more of the younger generations are really concerned as to how the church can actually participate in the present time in the processes of nation building and in developing a just and equitable society for all. The next theologian study is, unlike them, more interested in the philosophical explication of the gospel content.
PAULOS MAR GREGORIOS (b. 1921)
Paulos Mar Gregorios is a veteran of Indian ecumenism. He has also participated in several of the WCC meetings at the highest levels and has written and lectured profusely. Formerly Paul Varghese, he is known as Mar Gregorios as the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Syrian Church. He is also at present the Principal of the Orthodox Seminary at Kottayam. His books include: The Gospel of the Kingdom, Be Still and Know, Freedom and Authority. The following are excerpts from the last mentioned book. In the present discussion of the whole question of liberation in Jesus and the liberation theologies, Paul Mar Gregorios asks the fundamental questions of what do authority and freedom mean in Christian perspective. The relevance of the question is clearly seen as authority is breaking down everywhere. This crisis of authority is touching not only the Christian church but the whole of human society at its very foundation. The question is, if man is created to do good, and he is created free in the image of God, to love God and his fellow men, how is it that both freedom and authority are now crumbling? He begins by establishing the cause for this crumbling of authority in the present cultures, both eastern
and western, that this is partly because of the Church’s image; it has been too authoritative and has often failed to foster freedom. Then, analyzing the philosophical aspects of freedom and authority, Gregorios bases his convictions on St. Gregory of Nyassa, whom he thinks is a corrective to many of Augustine’s deviations. From there on he gives the Christian conclusion which he summarizes as follows:
All historical human existence is under some pressure to interiorize what is good in certain patterns of authorities, to discard the authority structure with all its freedom-hampering element and to move on to a greater degree of freedom by developing new structures of authority which foster human freedom.
Unfortunately, he has not written much though he is a thinker in his own right. The main thrust of his articles and papers seems to be his concern for indigenisation of theology.
In answering the question, what should characterize an Asian Christian theology, he gives several answers. a) The Christian faith has a historical basis and ter and so the Bible is the only written witness specific history of God’s salvation deeds. This means some way the basis for indigenised theology must Bible. characto this that in be the
Coming to his christology, more can be said specifically about his conviction. Taking the ultimate unity of mankind as his basis, Gregorios affirms that man cannot be truly man if he does not identify with the whole of mankind. Jesus is the one who showed this can be done. This is the new humanity which God created in Christ. So Gregorios believes “Jesus Christ effects salvation for all men whether they believe in him or not.” Because the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit are at work in the church, the church becomes essential in his confession. Yet he is sure that “God’s saving power is at work also outside the church” ( it is revolutionary for an orthodox to say such a statement). This emphasis on cosmic christology, on the universality as well as the historicity of Jesus, the essential unity of mankind with Jesus, all these elements are to be seen also in other ecumenical theologians, such as M.M. Thomas.
(b) Since the context and the background in which God’s word came to man in the Bible are similar to the life situations in Asia today, our theologies cannot be much different from the biblical categories. (c) In the Bible itself there are examples of indigenising the message to particular forms of thought. If that is what contextualisation is, Saphir Athyal contends that in Asia there also must be a systematization but not as in the west. While in the west systematization was more rational, Asian systematization must be around the particular issues in Asia. This means, Asian Christians need to study in depth and sympathetically the cultures and religions of Asia — after all Asia is the birthplace of religions and cultures. This means: “Inter-religious dialogues can be quite valuable in several aspects”. It can create openness and friendship between peoples and help the participants understand the basic essentials of one another’s faith. It also highlights the dissimilarities. Since in Asia culture and religion are closely linked together, all our lifestyle and thoughts have religious overtones. Athyal contrasts this with the western theologies which are primarily based on Aristotle and ancient Greek philosophies. In contrast to the western theologies Asian theologies cannot afford to be purely academic and philosophical. Asian Christians have suffered for their faith and this means that one of the distinctive characteristics of Asian
Saphir Athyal was the erstwhile principal of Union Biblical Seminary, Pune. He is involved in the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelisation as its director for Misson and Evangelism. He is also one of the founders of what was earlier known as the Theological Assistance Programme which later developed into the Asia Theological Association.
theology must to suffer. Thus the total life of issue-oriented
be its mission-orientedness, and willingness in developing an Asian confession of faith in the church, Asian theology needs to be more rather than academic.
These extracts are taken from his article “Towards an Asian Theology” published in 1975.
1. A Vision for Man, 1978, p. 31. 2. Ibid., p. 31. 3. Ibid. 4. “CSI Synod Theological Commission” in South India Churchman, April 1969, p. 13. 5. A Vision for Man, p. 34. 6. Ibid. 7. Ibid.
Hindu Interpretation of Christ
MAHATMA GANDHI (1869 - 1948)
Many historians call Mahatma Gandhi as the man of the century, “the most effective potency in the awakening of the Orient”. In India, without doubt he is the watershed in the modern history of the century, and the most influential voice in every sphere of thought among the Hindus. As such, Gandhi’s understanding of Jesus Christ and the Christian message carries greater weight among Hindus than perhaps all the Hindu philosophical and religious interpretations of Jesus.
Life and Work
Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma is a title, meaning ‘great soul’) is the subject of literally hundreds of books if not thousands, and so his life sketch is too well known to be repeated here. His autobiography, My Experiments with Truth is an authentic and absorbing self-examination of a sincere soul, and makes profitable reading. We need only to mention some major elements of his life which have been influential on his thinking. The powerful position his father and grandfather had as ministers in the local princedom, and his mother’s Vaishnavite bhakti devotion must be the earliest and strongest to make impression on Gandhi’s character. His early youthful experiences and failures led Gandhi to be “devoted to none but truth”. Right from an early age, there is an intense and unyielding pursuit of truth as the chief characteristic of his personality. Later, when he went to South Africa as a lawyer, there he encountered his first life-mission: the two decade long struggle against the racist discrimination against the Indian settlers
there. Gandhi’s patriotism was awakened here. The second work which absorbed his time and his attention was his lifeambition and attempt to bring Hindu-Muslim unity in the land, but which unfortunately ended in the division of India into Hindustan and Pakistan. His third life-mission was simultaneous with the last mentioned one, viz., to lead successfully the Indian Independence struggle against British colonialism. Gandhi described the communal violence that erupted after the Partition as “the greatest tragedy of my life”, because the masses had completely forgotten Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence. His final mission which he set before himself was the emancipation of the untouchables and the socially outcast. It was in opposing this orthodox caste system as well as in his attempt to reconcile Hindus to the Muslims that Gandhi angered the Hindu orthodox elite, fell prey to their plots and so died a martyr. He realised rather too late to what an impossible extent he had to appease the Hindu orthodox for the sake of Indian unity and freedom. Thousands of years old structures cannot be rooted out in a short span of decades — can they? Beside the collected works of Gandhi and perhaps more readable are the smaller booklets published by nonGandhian organizations in his honour. Gandhi — the Man and His Mission, Mahatma Gandhi — an Interpretation are among the books which described Gandhi’s understanding of Jesus Christ and Christianity. Christian Mission in India, The Christian Significance of Mahatma Gandhi (by John W. Sadiq), What Jesus Means to Me (compiled by Prabhu), Gandhi’s Challenge to Christianity (by S.K. George) are some of the good ones. I personally like the two small booklets by Anand T. Hingorani, a personal friend and associate of Gandhi: My Philosophy of Life, and The Message of Jesus Christ, here Hingorani lets Gandhi to speak for himself (quotes all relevant writings/words of Gandhi) without much of his interpretation, and so they are valuable.
Philosophy of Life
Being primarily a man of political and social action, Gandhi was no systematic thinker. Nonetheless, he had a broad philosophical framework which governed all his thinking and acting. So before looking at his approach to Jesus Christ, it will be necessary for us to briefly look at his underlying philosophy of his — “my philosophy of life”, as he called it. In the ashram Gandhi founded at Wardha, every inmate must take eleven vows, and Hingorani rightly points out that these eleven vows are the epitome of Gandhi’s philosophy. Gandhi always said that life without vows was “Iike a ship without anchor or like an edifice that is built on slippery sand instead of a solid rock”. These eleven vows are: 1) Truth, 2) Non-violence, 3) Brahmacharya (chastity), 4) Control of the palate (fasting) 5) Non-stealing 6) Non- possession (renunciation or sanyasa), 7) Fearlessness, 8) Removal of untouchability, 9) Equality of religions, 10) “Bread-labour” and 11) Swadeshi (indigeniety). Of these except truth, non-violence and swadeshi, the rest of the vows deal with the practical aspects of developing personal and social virtues, while equality of religions will be discussed later. So we will concentrate here mainly on these three, which form the core of his framework as many point out. Here it must be noted that Gandhi arrived at this basis empirically, he said that they are “not final — I may change them tomorrow!” Of the three cardinals of Gandhi, Satya, Ahimsa and swadeshi, (truth, non- violence and indigeniety), truth is by far the most important. He always put truth first — “I was capable of sacrificing non-violence for the sake of truth”, said he. Truth is the supreme goal or dharma of man (cf. the motto on the Seal of the Indian Government: Satyameva jayate - truth alone conquers). In an honest confession Gandhi says, “I am but a seeker after truth. I claim to have found the way to it . . . But I admit that I have not yet found the Truth.”
Gandhi knows that this way is “straight and narrow . . . like the edge of a sword”, and he strives and rejoices to walk on it — for God’s word is that “he who strives never perishes”. And what is the nature of this truth? “Truth is God — nothing else, nothing less . . . I worship God as truth only . . . My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other god than Truth.” Gandhi could say that love is God and God is Love; with Christians he always preferred to speak of God as Truth and Truth as God. This means, for Gandhi there is no atheist, for even an atheist is a seeker after truth! And the vision of God means the realization that God dwells in one’s heart — truth “is what the voice within tells you”. But it is also relative (and only God knows the absolute truth, it is not given to man). This means that people who worship idols also are pursuing truth, albeit in a lower level. This condemned and supported at the same time the idolatry of the Hindus. Is then Gandhi’s concept of God impersonal? He himself says, “I do not regard God as a person. Truth for me is God . . . Because God is an idea . . . not a blade of grass grows or moves without his will.” Ahimsa, non-violence, is always coupled with Satya, truth, in Gandhi’s thinking. His ashram’s ideal was, “seeking Truth through the exclusive means of Ahimsa”. Thus if Truth is the supreme dharma (the goal or righteousness), ahimsa is the supreme — “exclusive” — means to attain it. “Ahimsa means ‘love’ in the Pauline sense”, said Gandhi. Negatively, it means “not injuring any being, whether by body or in mind”. Positively, “ahimsa means the largest love”. That is why if I follow ahimsa, I must love my enemy. The difference between man and beast is that while man can practice ahimsa, a beast can practice only himsa. For ahimsa requires the highest form of courage — the spiritual courage. Hence no coward can be a practitioner of ahimsa, and the greater the ahimsa, the greater the civilization of the people who practise it. Gandhi therefore equated cannibalism with himsa and vegetarianism with ahimsa. When pressed, he admitted that himsa is the utter selfishness of
man, while ahimsa is the self-giving love. But Gandhi was careful enough to see the limits of his concept. So he admitted also that all taking of life is not himsa. “Even manslaughter may be necessary in certain cases”. A man who runs amuck and goes about killing people, needs to be killed. A physician’s operation causes only pain and not himsa. So to commit as little as possible himsa to others means to practice ahimsa. Gandhi, ascribing good to the spirit and evil to the body, like the Greek Gnostics, affirmed that as long as we are in the body it is difficult to live a fully non-violent life. Ahimsa is essentially a soul-force, while himsa is a body-force. Perhaps the great strength of Gandhi’s teaching on ahimsa is that he practiced it:
I have been practicing with scientific precision Non-violence and its possibilities for an unbroken period of over fifty years. I have applied it in every walk of life, domestic, institutional, economic and political. I know of no single case in which it has failed.
Thirdly, Swadeshi. “Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the world remote. By this he meant, “I must not serve my distant neighbour at the expense of the nearest.” It does not imply hatred of the foreigner or of foreign things, but it means positively that a man’s first duty is to his neighbour. It is for this purpose, to help our own neigbours, the village producers, that Gandhi supported the wearing of Khaddar (home spun yarn and cloth), and the use of the spinning wheel. This swadeshi spirit for Gandhi is all pervasive. Concretely it takes the following forms: In economics, it means a rejection of Industrialization and modernization and the encouragement of cottage industries to create self-sufficient villages; in sociology, swadeshi means the submission to the age old varnashrama dharma (the duty of a Hindu to his caste and stage in life), and the rejection of the foreign Christian, liberal or other social systems. In politics, it means the support of the ancient village panchayat or gram panchayat. In religion, one’s continued support of
one’s own religion in opposition to conversion. “I must restrict myself to my ancestral religion — that is, the use of my immediate, surroundings in religion. If I find it defective I should serve it by purging it of its defects”, instead of forsaking it. As such, Gandhi does not envision one world religion in the future, but rather that each religion grows strong and participates in a parliament of religions.
Gandhi’s Understanding of Christ
With the above philosophical basis of Gandhi, let us now turn to his understanding of Christ and Christianity. It is rather unfortunate that Gandhi’s contact with the gospel was not good to start with. The condemnation by the missionaries of the Hindu gods and religion, the conversion of a Hindu who was ‘forced’ to eat beef, drink alcohol and wear western dress, his reading of unpalatable books in the Bible like Leviticus or Numbers — all this seems to have driven him away from the content of the biblical message. Happily, his reading of the New Testament, and especially of the Sermon on the Mount, caught hold of his heart and imagination at once. “Resist not evil” seems to have been the most influential message he got from Jesus’ teaching. In spite of his rejection of the gospel message in its essence, Gandhi was honest enough to say that it is Christianity to which he is indebted “for the religious quest which (it) awakened in me”. “It is that Sermon [on the Mount] which has endeared Jesus to me.” And the message of Jesus is contained in this sermon. Bhagvadgita’s message of renunciation was confirmed for Gandhi in the Sermon, and so became one of his most cherished sources of life. But Jesus himself failed to impress upon Gandhi’s mind. Like Vivekananda, Gandhi also rejects the significance of Jesus’ historicality, for Jesus is only an illustration of the principle of Christhood.
I may say that I have never been interested in a historical Jesus. I should not care if it was proved by someone that the man called Jesus never lived, and that what was narrated in the gospels was a figment of the writer’s imagination. For the Sermon on the Mount would be still be true to me.
Therefore, for Gandhi, like a great number of Hindu thinkers, even the cross of Jesus is only a symbol of the principle of Christhood, and at best a concrete example of Christ’s selfless love for others. So Jesus was a martyr. But in the ultimate analysis what is significant is the eternal principle of Christhood (for that matter, also the principle of Buddhahood) and the person becomes irrelevant. Hence there is no uniqueness in Jesus not found in other souls. The birth, life and death of such Christs are recurring events in the history of mankind. It is by following what Jesus taught that we can attain to his height. Following from this, Gandhi said that God did not bear the Cross nineteen hundred years ago, but he bears it today. He is also dying and is being resurrected day by day. It is clear that in all of this Gandhi is strictly following the primacy of principle over person. Here one is moved by the frank challenge given by Stanley Jones — a friend of Gandhi — to “penetrate through the Principle to the Person” of Jesus Christ, in order to find the truth. As Jones says in his book Mahatma Gandhi — Christian?, Gandhi failed to penetrate the principle and meet the person Jesus. Once this uniqueness is rejected, the equality of all religions is just a matter of deduction. As M.M. Thomas analyses, the basis for this equality is to be found in Gandhi’s beliefs: a) that there is one God, unknowable; b) his revelations and human responses to them are to be found everywhere and in all ages; c) the central teaching of all religions boils down to the principle of Ahimsa, though it is called by a multitude of names; d) there is error and imperfection in all religions as human enterprises; e) all religions are continuously evolving towards the fuller realization of Truth. So Truth or revelation cannot be the monopoly of any single religion. This calls for mutual respect and tolerance of one religion to another. For Gandhi religion is a matter of the heart, not of the mind. If one reaches in his own heart in his quest, then he has reached all hearts too. So, preaching of one’s faith to another, and proselytisation of any kind are unwarranted.
The value of each religion must be judged by its ethical teaching and practice, rather than its mystical or philosophical achievements. In another context Gandhi even talks like a nationalist: he says that from his youth upward, he “learned the art of estimating the value of scriptures on the basis of their ethical reality.” He exercises “his own judgment about every scripture, including Gita” on the basis of his own conscience and reason. “I cannot surrender my reason while I subscribe to divine revelation!” Having experienced the Western Christianity adulterated with imperialism and materialism, Gandhi has a lot to say to remake Indian Christianity. He insisted that Indian Christianity must disassociate itself from its Western counterpart, because of the latter’s alliance with himsa and mammon. Christians have misunderstood Christ’s command to “go ye into all the world” by taking it to mean only proselytisation. But what Christ actually sent his disciples into the world for was philanthropic work. We have already seen how Gandhi’s opposition to conversion and evangelism stems from his concept of Swadeshi in religions, and so we need not go into that here.
c) In spite of all the geniality and tolerance, Gandhi was, or became in his maturer years, a staunch Hindu. His supreme allegiance to Bhagvadgita, the name of Rama and, to the Hindu caste system show that he died a Hindu. d) It is this loyalty to Hindu teaching that blinded Gandhi from seeing the uniqueness of the historical person, Jesus Christ. In one sweep the Cross, the person and work of Jesus are brushed aside as irrelevant and the principles he represents are preferred instead. Once a hot debate, the question whether Gandhi was a Christian thus need not detain us a bit here. He was born, lived, worked and died a martyr for the Hindu cause.
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA (1862-1902) Ramakrishna and Vivekananda
During the waning years of Brahmoism there arose in Bengal another entirely different movement in the person of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who was the guru of Swami Vivekananda. We cannot study Vivekananda’s thought without getting acquainted with his guru. So here we do a brief summary of the life and teaching of Ramakrishna. Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1834-86) originally Gadhadhar Chhatopadhyaya, is the name he chose for himself when he became a sanyasi. He was through and through a mystic, little educated in Sanskrit or English or in his mother tongue Bengali. Coming from a very poor Brahmin family of Karparkar (West Bengal), at an early age he was made a pujari (ministrant, priest) in Calcutta, and later of the famous Dakshineshwar temple. He gave it up later to devote his life fully to contemplative meditation and the practice of Yoga. At the age of 59 he married a five year old girl, Sharada, who later became his disciple and lived with him as a virgin all through his life. His thought was influenced by several people. As a young man he came into a contact with a Hindu nun Bhairavi, through whom he was introduced to ecstatic visions as possible and essential religious experiences.
By way of evaluation, we can see the following: a) the greatest strength of Gandhi lay in his life rather than in his teaching. With utmost diligence and sincerity he practiced what he taught, — almost perfectly. This is perhaps the greatest challenge he has for you and me as the disciples of Christ. I am reminded again of the maxim of Stanley Jones: “If I will not obey the light to the extent I can, the time will soon come when that light turns into darkness, and I cannot obey even if I will!” Gandhi did obey the light given to him, there is no doubt about that. Have I so obeyed? b) As almost every Christian critique of Gandhi has rightly pointed out, Gandhi’s concept of God is far from the biblical concept, but soon turns into an impersonal idea, and not a living person. This is at the root of most of his misunderstandings of the Christian message.
Through the ascetic Totapuri he learnt Shankara’s Advaita. Only later in his life he learned about Christianity, through Jadhu Malik, who was one could say, an uncommitted Christian. Except in the first case of Bhairavi’s ecstatic visions and trances, Ramakrishna was not committed to others. He also went through experiences of other religions in turn, and so through these trances he came to his basic philosophy of religions: all religions are the same. So much so that he could experience the opposing strands, like Shaktism and Vaishnavism. He was even in a trance for six months with Christ — after which till his death, Ramakrishna was convinced that Jesus Christ was an incarnation of God. This experience is described by the publications of Ramakrishna Mission in Belur Math thus: “Christ merged in Ramakrishna, who forthwith lost his outward consciousness and became completely absorbed and savikalpa samadhi in which he realized his union with Brahman with attributes.” Swami Vivekananda, his archdisciple, was never tired of telling his disciples that Ramakrishna was not only a perfect man, but the incarnation of god himself, and relates how on several occasion Ramakrishna claimed this, and in some cases also manifested his superhuman power. Ramakrishna was a unifying factor not only for Bhakti and Shakti sects of Hinduism, but the whole of Hinduism in himself — the goal of course to unite all religions. Thus, as Thomas points out, personal, ecstatic experience was to Ramakrishna of supreme importance in his religion. That is why he repeatedly said:
I have practiced all religions, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity . . . and I have also followed the paths of different Hindu sects . . . I have found that it is the same god toward whom all are directing their steps, though along different paths . . . The tank has several ghats. At one Hindus draw water in pitches and call it jal; at another Musalmanns draw water in leather bottles and call it pani; at a third Christians do the same and call it water.
have remained as Ramakrishna’s main tenets. Only he vehemently rejected the Christian concept of sin, and refused to settle down to one concept of god as well.
Once a man gave me a Bible. A part of it was read to me, and it was full of that one thing — sin and sin! One must have such a faith in oneself that one can say, ‘I have uttered the name of god . . . how can I be a sinner?’ This is the one trouble with Christian and Brahmos.
There is thus a lack of a realistic concept of human nature as well as against the biblical understanding of fallen human nature. All these three elements — the equality of all religions, personal, mystical, experience as necessary, the rejection of sinful human nature — have been passed on to Swami Vivekananda.
Swami Vivekananda’s Life
If we pause to note that Vivekananda lived only forty years, his influence and creativity cannot be explained except we accept him as an intellectual giant and spiritual genius. Originally named Narendranath he was a sensitive soul, who came into contact with Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in his search for an authentic guru. To his question, Have you seen god? the simple answer ‘yes’ of Ramakrishna ended his search there. Unlike Ramakrishna Vivekananda was a highly educated and intellectual person. He graduated from Calcutta university in 1884. In 1886, when his guru Ramakrishna died, he was the obvious choice and successor and took on sanyasa with the name Vivekananda. His faith in Ramakrishna as the incarnation of God seems to have given him an unquestioned leadership and following among the educated Hindus. In 1893 he was sent by the maharaja of Mysore to represent Hinduism at the world parliament of religions. He gave there several addresses and was hailed as the greatest influence and thinker at the meeting. Later on he also founded the Vedanta Society of America which became a part of the Ramakrishna Mission, with Belur Math as the headquarters. This Ramakrishna Mission, the first missionary organisation proper of Hinduism, was also his creation. The
This equality of all religions and the realization of this fact through the medium of Sadhana (practice, experience)
main objective of this Math was to propagate the teaching of Ramakrishna (as described above) and also to revive Hinduism. He toured all over India and established Maths whose objective was to produce dedicated workers for the good of Hinduism and India. He died very young at the age forty. His speeches and writings have been selected and published as Collected Works, in seven volumes. There are numerous Christian interpretations of Vivekananda also, of which the dissertation by J.R. Chandran on a comparative study of Vivekananda and Origin, is worth special mention. An easier reading would be Selections from Swami Vivekananda, published by the Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, in 1944.
Your way is good for you, but not for me. My way is good for me, but not for you. My way is called in Sanskrit my Ishta. Mind you, we have no quarrel with any religion in the world. We have each our Ishta.
This idea of Ishta stubbornly rejects any corporate religion! For here religion is purely a private affair — an echo of what Ramakrishna taught.
Advaita and Christianity
With this basis of Vedanta as the universal religion, he interprets Christ and Christianity in Hindu terms. Christ is a Vedantin for Vivekananda. Buddha is the greatest character the world has ever seen, and Christ is next only to him — but both are representations of the principle of Christhood and Buddhahood. Each of us too can attain this state of Buddha- or Christ-hood:
Jesus had our nature; he became Christ; so can we and so must we. Christ and Buddha were the names of a state to be attained. Jesus and Gautama were the persons to manifest it.
Vivekananda and advaita
Advaita was in the air as the hottest subject of philosophical debates in India, and being a fully patriotic Hindu, Vivekananda identified himself at once with the movement of Advaitism. Thus it is true to say that Vivekananda added Advaita to Ramakrishna’s other teachings. For Vivekananda, Vedanta is the true and universal religion, and mother of all religions. The reason for this universality, as against Christianity for example, is that while Christianity rests upon a person as its basis, Vedanta’s foundation is purely principle:
It is in vain we try to gather all peoples of the world around a single personality. It is difficult to make them gather together even round external and universal principles. If it ever becomes possible to bring the largest portion of humanity to one way of thinking in regard to religion, mark you, it must be always through principles and never through persons.
Thus Jesus is unimportant, except as an instrument for the manifestation of the Christhood. But the significance of Jesus as an incarnation of God is to be seen in three aspects: 1) he achieved the man Vedantic was a yogi who has realised jivanmukta. This Jesus by complete self-renunciation. In renunciation, within dies and only God remains — thus the goal is realised.
But this does not mean that every human being must follow the same religion. He advocated Ramakrishna’s concept of Ishta Devata, one’s personal God according to one’s liking. A person can at best provide one of the paths but never be universal, for there are ever so many persons to follow — and Christ is only one among them. Vivekananda defined the concept of Ishta Devata thus:
2) Christ was God “If I as an Oriental have to worship Jesus of Nazareth there is only one way left for me, that is to worship him as God and nothing else.” Here the advaitic idea of “I am God” is clear. For, in the same breath when he acknowledged Jesus as God in the above quotation Vivekananda continues, that he also worships all criminals and murderers and everyone else as God! 3) Jesus realised his identity with Brahman and taught this at three different levels. To the common people, Jesus taught, “Our Father...” To a higher circle he gave a more elevated teaching, “I am in my Father and he in me, and I in
you...” But his final and most advanced teaching was advaitic — ”I and my father are one”. These are the three Christian mahavakyas. It is of course easy to see all the dvaitic, vishishtadvaitic and advaitic teachings. From this it is clear that there can be no real significance of the Cross and hence of atonement. “Christ was God incarnate; they could not kill him. That which was crucified was only a semblance, a mirage.” We are “saved” by imitating Jesus and hosts of others like him; as noted earlier, Vivekananda does not use Christian categories. Again, as an Advaitin, it is impossible for Vivekananda to have any sympathy towards the Christian concept of sin: He says,
The greatest error is to call a man a weak and miserable sinner. Every time a person thinks in this mistaken manner, he reverts one more link in the chain of avidya that binds him, adds one more layer of ‘self-hypnotism’ that lies heavy over his mind.
By way of evaluation, one can say several things in appreciation of Swami Vivekananda. For example, he was an innovative thinker in Hinduism itself. His idea of ‘practical vedanta’, that is, absorption into Brahman through selfless service gave this material world and man’s actions essential place in Hindu theology for the first time. Notice here the departure from the classical understanding of such absorption — absorption into Brahman through self realization. Further, his commitment to advaita philosophy is consistent. When we look at his approach to Jesus Christ as being God, it is this advaitic interpretation rather than any Christian one. In any case it is to Vivekananda’s credit that he gave the highest possible status to Christ in his system. In all his thinking he most deliberately and consciously using Hindu terms — as such fully relevant to the Hindus. This is perhaps one of his greatest appeals with his countrymen. On the other hand, being a dedicated disciple of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda could not come out of Ramakrishna’s teaching of the equality of all the religions, the plurality of the approaches (the concept of Ishtam) and the divinity of the human nature. This is also Vivekananda’s greatest misunderstanding concerning the Christian gospel. Lacking a biblical concept of holy and gracious God, he could not see the human depravity, the qualitative difference between God and man (what Karl Barth calls the ‘gulf’). For this same reason Vivekananda could not see through the seeming equality of all religions to their essential differences, or the significance of a human person over against a principle. As such he tends to reject sin as moral evil. Further, thanks to his loyalty to advaita, Vivekananda doesn’t seriously consider God as being a personal being, and all historical personalities are given even lesser significance. We need not find fault with his handling of the biblical passages inadequately and eclectically, but it is enough to say that it is this mishandling of the Christian
The fact that Jesus cannot be separated from Christ is the problem of Christianity. Having a circular view of history, Vivekananda affirms that nothing happens in history only once, and therefore all historical personalities and events are accidents for him — only the principles are eternal and universal. Close to the foregoing is another essential advaitic element in Vivekananda’s teaching: God cannot create anything, be it even ex nihilo, but only evolves himself. As such man is not created and so cannot be identified with the essential conditions of this history. There is not much of Vivekananda’s understanding concerning other aspects Christian faith to be learned. But the above sample suffices to show that he stoutly interprets — for the first time — Christ in terms of Hindu goals. This was a line which Radhakrishnan developed more fully in his Polemics Against Christianity.
Scriptures that leads him to wrong interpretations of biblical doctrines. As noted earlier, Swami Vivekananda, as the pioneer of one of the two types of modern neo-Hinduism schools, is of crucial importance in relating the Gospel of Christ to the modern Hindu mind.
SARVAPALLI RADHAKRISHNAN (1888-1975) Background
By sheer force of personality Gandhi’s understanding of Christ became more or less the most common Hindu understanding. But because Radhakrishnan was an original thinker and philosopher of the highest calibre, his interpretation of Jesus Christ is better known and discussed in the West and in Christian circles. He is regarded as “the spokesman par excellence for Hindu spirituality”. Moreover, we could also say that he is the most formidable Hindu opponent of Christianity! Being the “the best, most eloquent, learned and erudite ambassador of India all over the world,” he lacks the utter honesty and courage of Gandhi. Instead, even in his appreciations of Christian elements, one invariably finds a mine hidden! There is a reason for his approach. While he was studying in Madras Christian College, he was intensely disturbed by the condemnation of Hinduism by the missionary professors and principals of the college. Their attack on Hinduism, that it was not coherent intellectually, aroused in him the fighting spirit to defend Hinduism at all costs. In one of his letters to a friend at that time, he reveals how he vowed to reverse the trend and determined to create a Hindu apologetic and polemic against Christianity. This warns us to be careful in our dealing with our neighbours, does it not? Often what we speak may be forgotten, but how we speak remains! More than the content of our words, the attitudes behind them evoke a response — either positively or negatively.
Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan was born in Tiruttani, Andhra Pradesh, in a rich Brahmin family. He received his education in almost exclusively Christian institutions, such as Madras Christian College, Tambaram. Later he worked as professor of philosophy in the universities of Madras, Mysore and Calcutta. During 1936-52 he was at Oxford as a professor of Eastern religions and ethics. After this he entered politics, and was the leader of various Indian delegations to UNO commissions. From 1949-1962 he was the Indian ambassador to Moscow. Afterwards he became the vice-president of the Indian Republic, and finally the President.
He wrote many books. Some of the well known are: Indian Philosophy, Vol. I & II; The Hindu View of Life, The Religion We Need, East and West, Eastern Religion and Western Thought, Religion and Society, Recovery of Faith, etc. His philosophy has been included in the best series all over the world which are dedicated to the study of philosophy or religion. (e.g. in the Library of Living Philosophers, History of Philosophy, Eastern and Western and many others).
In his autobiography, Radhakrishnan says that it is Vivekananda who aroused the patriotism in him, not Gandhi! Thus we have here the second line of neo-Hinduism, that of Vivekananda and Radhakrishnan.
Radhakrishnan’s method is quite scholarly, yet simple. For him, water is purer at its source, though it gets muddied in its flow later. Similarly Radhakrishnan compares in order to evaluate a religion, be it Hinduism or Christianity (incidentally, these are the two religions in whose context Radhakrishnan’s thought developed exclusively), we must not go to the church history in Christianity, nor to the later accretions in Hinduism. Each religion must be judged according to its Scriptures — we must go to Vedas and the Bible. Yet, he is ‘progressive’ enough to reinterpret these conservative thoughts in a way that is relevant to the modern time.
Like all Hindus, Radhakrishnan also starts with a concept of reality. What is reality? Following Shankara, he also affirms that the absolute or the Brahman is the only reality. However, there are five different stages in realizing this reality — anna (matter), prana (life), manas (consciousness), vijnana (intelligence) and ananda (bliss). In this ladder of reality, different religions belong to different stages. Semitic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity), being object oriented religions, belong to the lower type. Hinduism or Buddhism, emphasizing experience, are of the higher type. While the former insist upon belief and conduct, rites and ceremonies, authorities and dogma, the later go beyond these and insist upon self-discovery and the contact with the divine. As such, the latter are the spiritual religions! “The fundamental truths of the spiritual religions are that our real self is the supreme being, which it is our business to discover and consciously become what this being is.” This is pure Advaita, to be sure. From this as a corollary it follows that this world is not a creation, as the Bible teaches, but a movement of God. Further this world is not an illusion or unreal: “the perfection of God overflows into the world. The world is the outflow of the surplus energies of God, the supreme artist.” This is a far cry from Shankara or orthodox Hinduism! Following this process of argument, Radhakrishnan redefines the concept of Hindu karma as well. For him, it is an expression of the functioning or moral law in human life. Since the past has inescapable influence on the present, and since God is the supervisor of this process of automatic justice, the doctrine of karma is fully consistent both with facts and with Hindu thinking. It is most significant that in spite of all his elaboration of maya and karma doctrines, he never says a word about another related and important Hindu concept — that of sansara (world).
Hence Christ must be interpreted and best understood in the Hindu framework. In Jesus, the Jewish nationalistic spirit as well as the Indo-Aryan religious elements were mixed — nay, they were in tension. Thus Jesus was a mixture of conflicting elements, hence not perfect. The legalistic and the mystic, material and the spiritual, messianic and the universalistic, militarism and passivism — were constantly fighting to dominate Jesus’ actions. It must be stressed that the latter concept in each of the above pair belongs, according to Radhakrishnan, to the IndoAryan element in Jesus. Thus Radhakrishnan’s Christ is an integrated Christ. In this scheme, the Cross is understood as “the abandonment of the ego” and “identification with a fuller life and consciousness”. Similarly, resurrection and eternal life are merely goals of men in Christian garb. But understood in their true spirituality (that is, in Hindu terms), resurrection is “the passage from the death of selfabsorption to the life of unselfish love . . . from falsehood to truth, from slavery to the world to the liberty of the eternal.” This allegorical interpretation is again typical of Hindu as well as liberal thinkers. But further, Radhakrishnan sees in Jesus a failure. Jesus was hoping for the establishment of the kingdom of God in the Jewish manner. As he failed to fulfill this claim, eschatological interpretations became predominant, and the risen Lord takes the place of God, and the Church the place of the Kingdom of God! So just as Jesus is the mixture of Hindu (Aryan), Jewish, Platonic, Gnostic influences, Christianity also is a syncretistic religion, incorporating in itself the Upanishadic, Buddhist, Gnostic concepts. But the worth of Jesus is to be seen in his historical context, just like Rama’s or Krishna’s avatara in their contexts. As such, Jesus is not unique, but only an avatara. His incarnation is neither final, too — there could be better incarnations in the future. His attitude to religions is again exclusively a Hindu one. In a nut-shell, he says that all religions are equally true, but Hinduism, being the sanathana Dharma, (the ancient
Radhakrishnan’s Interpretation of Christ
Now we are ready to analyze Radhakrishnan’s understanding of Christ and Christianity. For him, Christ is nearer to the Indian thought than the Western or Greek.
religion) is the essence of them all. This attitude we can truly call Hindu philosophia gloria. The reasons for this glorification of Hinduism are precise in his thinking. First, the most basic tension between the plurality of the expressions of truth about the ultimate reality and the one truth, is best dealt with in Hinduism. Secondly, religion, being above all a matter of experience, and mystical experience at that, is best fulfilled in Hinduism. Vedas are “the record of spiritual experiences of souls strongly endowed with the sense of reality. Thirdly, a central principle of Hinduism is religious tolerance, since Hinduism is totally undogmatic, and is therefore best suited to become the universal religion. Fourthly and finally, the Hindu dharma alone “acknowledges all spheres of life and accords to them their appropriate place and mutual relations within the system.” Here Radhakrishnan means no doubt the caste system, the four stages of life and the three margas or yogas. Christianity because of its idea of exclusiveness of Christ, Judaism because of its concept of ‘jealous God’, Islam because of its Jihad — they all lack inclusiveness which Hinduism has. In fact, it is wrong to speak of different religions — there is really only one religion. All religions are different expressions of the true religion. And what is this religion? Radhakrishnan says, “The eternal religion behind all religions, this sanathana Dharma . . . it is our duty to get back to this central core of religions”. Hinduism is the modern, anglicized name for this sanathana Dharma, as all Hindu writers throughout the ages have emphasized.
mission of defending Hinduism at any cost. This lacks a scholar’s integrity and honesty. Secondly, being a militant Hindu, his understanding of Jesus is a Hindu interpretation — he is of course free to interpret Jesus as he likes, but the point here is that like Vivekananda, Radhakrishnan also sees Christ as an imperfect traveler on the road to the advaitic goal. This does not do full justice to the claims either of Jesus, or of the prophets and apostles. In making Jesus a mixture and Christianity a syncretism, Radhakrishnan advocates a universal religion which borrows faithful obedience from Judaism, a life of beauty from Greek paganism, noble compassion from Buddhism, divine love from Christianity and a spirit of resignation from Islam. Thirdly, he himself does not stand in the line of orthodox Hinduism, but rather his is a radical modern interpretation of Hinduism. Fourthly, his goal was so to interpret the Hindu fundamentals that they give an undergirding to the problems facing modern India — as such his relevant expressions are praise worthy but to claim the stamp of orthodoxy for them is to defeat orthodoxy.
It is difficult to evaluate Radhakrishnan’s thought, because he appears to be more tolerant and sympathetic, while in reality he is a strong Hindu defending Hinduism to the last straw. But a few things can be said about him. First, Radhakrishnan’s attitude to religion in general, and Christianity in particular, seems from his self-assigned
WHAT IS INDIAN CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
You will notice in this final chapter we are coming back to the questions we raised in the earlier chapters of this course — the question of doing theology in context. It is a truism to say that Indian Christian theology has of course relevance for the Indian people, but the question here is: Does it have any significance for churches outside India? We want to draw out from what we have learned in the thinking of many Indians.
Again we may look at Boyd’s summary of the development of Christianity in the world. It had to struggle to survive and every time it overcame a particular culture or philosophy or religion its growing power increased correspondingly.
THE THREE CONFRONTATIONS
Boyd says that the first great confrontation Christianity had was with the Jewish culture. With a strong sense of being the elect the Jews thought they were the centre of all nations — they called all the other nations heathen. It must have been well-nigh impossible for the early Jewish Christians and apostles to come out of the Jewish environment. It was very easy for them to understand that Christianity was just a continuation of the Jewish religion and that Jesus was the promised messiah to consummate the Jewish kingdom. In fact, some understood that way. But it is the miracle of history that Paul and Peter and James tore away radically from Judaism and that at its very birth. Perhaps here some of the Jerusalem Christians can be the cause. But whatever the cause, the Christianity of the early church was definitely no mere sect of Judaism. That is one reason why it could immediately take root in heathen and Greek cultures and that is why Antioch and not Jerusalem became the centre of mission, and later the centre of orthodox Christianity (here I am referring to the
tension between Antioch and Alexandria in the 2nd and 3rd centuries). It is for this reason that even the very high cultured and highly intellectual Hellenism (Greek philosophies) could not contain the gospel. The Christian gospel broke through the walls of Hellenism also and went beyond the then world of Greece. This, Boyd calls the second great confrontation. Then when Christianity spread beyond the known world of the time into Africa, India and other lands, it confronted also barbarism, animism, and above all Islam. Boyd prefers to call all these confrontations insignificant, but they seem formidable enough to be termed the third and the fourth great confrontations. But all these confrontations were mild. Some of these tribal or barbaric cultures had no system of theology or doctrines or culture or ethics. Islam, of course, was itself a child of Judeo-Christian teachings, claiming itself to belong to the children of Ishmael. The confrontation with the Chinese culture, “where along with the dominant Confucianism and Taoism there was also the Indian derived Buddhist tradition”, has now been virtually broken off. Boyd seems to suggest that even this confrontation was not a big match for the two thousand year old Christianity. Though there is another kind of confrontation, that with communism, Boyd seems to think that along with the Chinese traditions communism also has been vanquished. Hence he says: “The task of presenting the gospel in India is then of quite exceptional importance.” Therefore, according to Boyd, the third great and final confrontation of Christianity is with Hinduism. Christianity stands or falls as it fares with Hinduism. For one thing, as no other religious or philosophical tradition Hinduism has both a very developed intellectual and closed system of thinking added to that, it also had its own sociological system and world-view. In another context we have already seen that Sanskrit contains more philosophical and theological words than all the terms in Greek, Latin and German put together. That means that any theology, anywhere in the world, which interprets the message of the gospel of
Christ, cannot be complete without the Indian contribution. Thus Indian Christian theology adds not only to the fullness of the Christian gospel but also a depth so far unknown to it. You and I as Indian disciples are called upon to do our bit in this great task. God forbid that we fail. Since in this chapter we are more or less summarizing what has been said in the earlier chapters, we need not go into the details as to what an Indian Christian theology should contain. We can briefly describe the issues in the current debate as follows. Starting at Radhakrishnan’s comment that Christianity is a dogmatic religion which requires the assent of its adherents to prepositional statements, and not a religion of experience, many Christians have tended to reject dogmatics. As we have seen most of the Indian Christian theologians have been rather apologetes and not systematicians. Thus dogmatics, the sum of the teachings of the church, and systematics, the presentation of dogmatics according to one coherent principle of relationships, have been deliberately avoided. So far I have not seen any systematic theology or dogmatic theology from Indian writers, though there are several books containing some chosen doctrines. So in Radhakrishnan’s criticism there is an element of truth, namely, we Christians have preached but not practiced. We accept a set of beliefs but that has no life implications. Now the questions is, what kind of theology must now be produced in order that the church can be renewed and be vital again? The following are a minimum: (a) I think we have already seen that the exegetical work from Indian writers is almost negligible. So it is of utmost importance that we start producing biblical theology. Not that our biblical theology will be much different from others, but it shows that we Indians go to the Bible ourselves and find the truths in it originally and so apply it to our situation. That will have weight. (b) We have said already that Indians are weak on history and I think to a great extent it is true. That is why we do not
have very many biographies of Christian saints or events in India. So the second great need is to produce an account of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done to particular persons in concrete situations in India, rather than to think vaguely on an Indian national scale. (c) Perhaps the one area where we have all been strong, as the host of above Indian thinkers show, is in the area of apologetics. It is necessary in order to defend the gospel against the current questions and attacks from outside the church. And every generation must write its own apologetics, since it cannot borrow it from the past generations. (d) Since in India we have more than 550 million Hindus, when we think of Indian Christian theology the tendency is to think rather of theology relevant to Hindu hearers. Such a tendency has been disastrous in evangelism among Muslims, since to the Muslims Indian Christian theology is more or less Hindu theology. Thus, I think we Indians must develop Christian theology or the message of Christ in forms relevant to religions other than Hinduism — Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Parseeism and Sikhism. It is a sad fact that the Sikh community, though they have a population only a few lakhs, have had the influence to have a Sikh President, whereas with 20 million we have not yet had one Christian President in the last half century since Independence. Unless the Christian gospel makes an impact on religions other than Hinduism we cannot be the salt of the earth. (e) There is one new problem which is now coming on the horizon of Indian Christians — that of liberation theology. I believe in the coming years liberation theology will occupy most of our energy, be it evangelical or otherwise. So our theology must develop some kind of expression relevant to the socio-political context. I mean a balanced emphasis on Chrisitan ethics or even Christian social ethics is an urgent need right now. Dalit theologies are now in the air, albeit with shaky bases.
INDIAN CHRISTIAN THEOLOGICAL EXPRESSIONS
In this section we will simply analyze the various terms and strands of thought in Hinduism used in Indian Christian theology, eventually attempt to evaluate, and make some recommendations also. In the next section we try to integrate all that we have learned and we want to evolve something for the future. In fact we ask the basic question: Is there such a thing as Indian Christian theology, and if yes, what is it? We hope to describe it a bit. In the final section we supplement our analysis to even a broader level and discuss what contextualisation or indigenisation is, and we hope to arrive at a presentation as to what elements an Indian Christian theology should have.
We have used various terms — literally hundreds of them — from Hindu, Sanskrit and other linguistic backgrounds of India. Apparently they are not all equally important. Are there certain crucial terms which in any case we must either use or baptize?
Terms for God
Of course the question, what kind of word we use for God is essentially related also to the words we use for the world as well as Christ. Following are the terms which we have seen as attempts: deva (which is cognate with theos of Greek and deus of Latin), ishwara, parameshwara, Brahman and saccidananda. Sometimes even the word bhagwan is used exclusively for Krishnavatara). One redeeming feature of this is that several names like Hari or Rama or Purusha are conspicuous by their absence. Sometimes we have used the word paramatman but as we have seen the word atman, meaning spirit, in almost all its allied forms is used for the Holy Spirit. Of these perhaps the most important are the following three: Iswara, Brahman and Saccidananda. As far as the word saccidananda was concerned, we saw that it was
confused neither with the terms for Christ nor for the world, so perhaps that is the one with least difficulties. But we had difficulties about both Brahman and Ishwara. The problem with Iswara is that it belongs to the world, the maya, so can it bring out the transcendence of God as the Bible portrays? As far as the word Brahman is concerned we had two sets of difficulties (i) which Brahman do we mean, nirguna Brahman or saguna Brahman? Nirguna Brahman, being more impersonal and having no relations or attributes, is actually not suitable as consummator of all things. But since nirguna Brahman is the highest understanding of God in Hinduism, we dare not leave it alone. For the same reason to use saguna Brahman for God, which is rather a lower category of God for the Hindus, is not really suitable to use for the one almighty God. The other difficulty was: If we use the word brahman for God what other word can we use for Christ? Several people who have taken the advaitic strands as the only means of interpretation, like Brahmabandhav or Surjit Singh and Samartha would give nothing less than the term Brahman for Christ. So using the word Brahman for Lord Jesus Christ deprives him of his significance, that was the feeling we had. One solution was to call nirguna Brahman the Reformer’s Deus absconditus or the God hidden; and saguna Brahman the Deus revelatus or the revealed God. In another theologian’s words a God of grace and a God of wrath though the opposition is not exactly similar. I do not think our studies have proved that Brahman is higher than ishwara because there is at least one case (in bhakti interpretation) where ishwara is manifested as Brahman.
all created beings. It is of course difficult to choose a term which answers all the questions adequately — unless of course we invent one, which may also not be any more useful. Perhaps more than anywhere else it is here that, if any of these terms is chosen for the world or creation, as the Bible means, it must be baptized carefully with the biblical content.
Terms for Christ
We encountered the following: maya, shakti, chit of saccidananda, avatara, purusha, sat purusha, mula purusha, purna avatara, antaryamin, saguna brahman, nirguna brahman and ishwara. The problems here were (i) that any term we use for Christ we must say that he is fully God and hence not part of this world, maya, and at the same time he is fully man and so must be part of this world; (ii) he must be co-equal, co-eternal in all respects with God the Father; (iii) and he also must be presented as the prototype man, the full man, the true man, the real man. Particularly these christological terms show us as to what dangers we run into if we use one term without explaining the missing elements. We also encountered in this respect the two mahavakyas, so called, of the Johannine Gospel: “I and my Father are one” and “Abide in me” as being crucial in interpreting Christ to the Indian minds and hearts.
Terms for the Holy Spirit
Several thinkers have used the following: atman, paramatman, antaratman, antaryamin, shakti, para shakti, maha shakti, ananda and jeevatman. And what were the difficulties here? (i) In any case the term should not give the connotation of just a mere influence or power or principle but rather the Holy Spirit as a person must be preserved. (ii) It also must not be made lower than the second person of the Trinity. (iii) It must somehow be more accessible to man as the paracletos and wisdom, as the indweller. (iv) The term for Spirit must not make it pneumomonism — an exclusive but non-biblical emphasis on the third person of the Trinity. That means that it should not exclude the first and or the second person of the Trinity.
Terms for God and the World
We saw that various authors use various words for the world: maya, sthiti, prakriti, asat and shrishti, prapancha, sansara, loka. The three problems which confront us in this were: (i) whether the world is real or unreal? (ii) whether it is created by God out of something or is it fully under his control? (iii) what is the means of the creation of the world? From these points of view the last term shrishti has no problem since shrishti means creation as well as the sum of
It is most interesting to see that of all the languages in the world it is Sanskrit which has the greatest abundance of words for the Spirit. So it is quite possible, the Indian philosophical and religious genius can provide a more adequate elucidation for the slippery category of the spirit. Professor Hengel of Germany once voiced that the greatest weakness of the German language is that it has no word for the ‘spirit . So the Germans somehow manipulate the word they use for the spirit also for reason, rational intellect, and yet understand it to mean spiritual things.
surprising that the one word which most of the Indian languages use for sin was conspicuous by its omission — the term papa. The difficulties here were, of course, to see man as not only a sinner but sinful in nature. In addition, sin as belonging only to the realm of matter was discussed. We also saw that Hinduism does not have a sense of guilt for sin but rather for the shame of wrong. What was most conspicuous is the discovery that in Hinduism sin is not necessarily godward, as in the Bible.
Terms for Church and Sacraments
Sabha, samudayam, quam, ashram, math, were some of the expressions. Some Indian languages have found great difficulty in finding an Indian equivalent and so they have retained the very Greek word ecclesia in their translation of the Bible. The problem here was whether the Church as an institution has any serious theological value. Thanks to the Hindu vedantic approach to God, man and the world, the corporate worship or life of the community of the church is definitely lacking. Surprisingly, there was not much difficulty in accepting the Christian ministry. There seems to be an unconscious transfer of the sanyas to the ministry of priests or clergy in Christian church. As far as the terms for the sacraments are concerned there are as many terms as there are Indian languages. Some of the languages have retained either baptism or eucharist, but more often than not they have used some rather very common expression indicating the Lord s Supper or initiation in baptism.
Terms for Man
We saw the following: atman, purusha, bhakta, manava, aham, ahamkara. One problem we faced in the terms used for man is to preserve the finiteness of humanhood, in comparison with the Hindu advaitic infiniteness. The second problem was that the question of ‘I’ the person, should be preserved in its positive connection, while generally in Hinduism freedom is rather considered as a fall! And thirdly, the Gnostic idea that only spirit is good and matter is evil has tended to understand man only in his spiritual elements, so that the body does not play a real part. Another problem was the differentiation between self and soul — since as the popular understanding goes among Hindus, it is the self which is contaminated by sin while the soul remains pure. Recently I learned that the very concept of person, like of history, is a Christian contribution to the world. In fact, it is in dealing with the problems of christology (one person and two natures)and of trinity (one substance and three persons) that we find how crucial is our definition of the term ‘person’ for our theology.
Terms for History
I am sure we did not come across any particular Indian term, other than charitra or itihasa being used for history. Though we use the word itihas or charitra or story in some other way, I do not think any of these terms have yet acquired a theological significance. That in itself is the problem, is it not?
Terms for Sin
We saw one term which came to be used overwhelmingly is karma. Actually the only other term is of advaitic origin, avidya, ignorance. We also used words like ahamkara (selfishness), agnana (ignorance) for sin. But actually these represent certain particular sins rather than the principle of sin. The word mala meaning dirt was also used. But it is
HOW DO WE USE THEM?
Actually the problem is that the terms one uses are entirely dependent on what line of thought one accepts. By
that we mean, since most of these terms are more or less part of a particularly Hindu philosophical or religious system, we cannot use them without these contexts. This requires us to study briefly also what different strands of Hindu thinking the Indian Christian thinkers have attempted to use as their vehicle.
whether Israel took their quality of good and evil and the eschatological implications of the final victory of God over the forces of evil from the Persians. (iii) Of course there are many like Klostermaier, who did not advocate any one strand because they believed none of them are really adequate. We should rather use the richness of all the strands to express the message. Some have interpreted that this is what the Bible means when it says that all the riches of the nations will be brought to Zion. But we also saw the weakness of that. As Boyd pointed out, it will be difficult to avoid misunderstanding of the terms other than as used in their own strands.
Strands of Hindu Thought
(i) Of course, the most obvious is the advaita strand. The reason behind Brahmabandhav or Surjit Singh accepting this line of thinking is that the advaitic categories are more comprehensive. But the problems encountered here were numerous. The impersonality of God, the unreality of the world, the status of Christ’s deity the finiteness of man, the nature of salvation, and even the very concept of sin, just to mention a few. (ii) The second strand was that of Ramanuja, the vishishtadvaita. As we have seen, it has certain marked advantages over advaita. But it has the tendency to make God or Christ too mundane and historical and empirical rather than eternal. Perhaps that is the reason why the vishistadvaitins are accused by the advaitins as idolaters. In addition, what Rudolf Otto calls the gap — the mysterium tremendum et numinosum — between God and man is lacking in this type of strand. But many like Appasamy, have seen the bhakti tradition, coming in this strand, as the best suited to the Christian message. The reasons were, of course, that it speaks of grace, of a personal relationship, of obedience and faith and love and commitment, as well as it necessitates incarnation. As we saw, Klaus Klostermaier suggests that even the bhakti practices of nama japa and kirtan are good worship modes for the Christians. You will notice that another vedantic interpretation, that of dvaita (dualism) is not used for communicating the Christian message. Perhaps you know that the whole question of duality between good and evil, light and darkness, really goes back to the Zarathushtrian duality between Ahriman and Ahura Mazda. Scholars are divided as to
Many strands and the terms have been used by our Indian thinkers during the last 200 years. I suggest the following guidelines for using such indigenous categories and expressions: (a) It is necessary that the Christian Church in India strives to use Indian modes of thought to express the Christian message. One must definitely analyze to what extent the western or the in-between missionary has brought into Indian Christian theology their cultural elements, and then to eliminate them. This is a long process. (b) Having said that, we must also say we cannot do the same with the Jewish culture, because if we accept at all Old Testament as part of the word of God, then we must also accept it as normative for us. So what we need to do is to study the biblical culture and find counterparts in our own culture. (c) Just because a term is found in all the languages (such as karma or deva or bhagwan etc.), it does not mean that it has the same connection or sense. Those who use the word bhagwan for God may be surprised to see others use the word andavar or still others to use the word deva or ishwar or allah or even devi or mother, as Narayan Vaman Tilak used. That is, it is not really so necessary to develop an
Indian Christian terminology as it is to develop Christian theology in particular languages or cultures — since here we are thinking mostly of terms and thoughts. (d) I have noticed that in most of our Indian prayers we never use the word Brahman or such high sounding words. We use mostly words like swami, prabhu, pita, and so on. That is to say there are many words in our Christian usage, borrowed from the Indian cultures, which have been naturalized for such a long time that the new content of this is obvious even to the Hindus. All this goes to show that just as the early Christians let the Holy Spirit decide as to what the canon should be and only later endorsed it, I think we will be safer if we also let the Spirit guide us as to what terms and strands we must use for communicating the gospel to our Indian brothers and not to make such deliberate and conscientious efforts to create or apply the existing terms. Do we not believe that the Holy Spirit is able enough to guide even a weak church or a congregation, to guide into all the truth? (e) Most of these contextualisations must take place in an evangelistic context. It is in speaking to real persons that issues arise and the Spirit will guide us as to what we should use. We will see later the example of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.
certain features common to all shades. At a popular level, the caste-system, the belief in karma and punarjanma, the worship of various gods and goddesses and festivals and pilgrimages in honour of them, observance of religious days and duties — these can be taken as the essence of Hinduism. Perhaps the greater influence of popular religious literature, such as puranas and epics and folklore can be added. But the power and resilience of Hinduism through the millennia is to be found at another level — we could call it the spiritual level. Some key elements of this level are: (a) A synthetic way of thinking. Reconciliation of opposites has always dominated the Indian mind. It is because of this that a Hindu is perfectly at home with atheism, pantheism, polytheism and monotheism, henotheism and demonism. Hindu thought can simultaneously accept the concept of nirguna and saguna Brahman (the brahman who is without qualities and cannot be known by man, and the one with qualities and hence can be known). Or, that atman can be one in substance with the brahman and yet is subject to maya (illusion) is no inconsistency to Hindus. They believe that this kind of truth can be grasped only by “intuition”, while contradictions belong to the rational level. That reality is one essentially, but only apparently many, is the philosophy (advaita) which is at the root of it all. Thus the well-known Hindu religious tolerance is a theological necessity for Hindus! In addition, such a logic has given Hinduism numerous philosophical systems, which are very rigorous and precisely worked out in all details, and co-exist to this day. The advantages of the Hindu way of thinking, however, include: paradoxical concepts like incarnation (fully God and fully man), inspiration (God’s and man’s word simultaneously and fully), the Union with Christ (not essential, neither moral, ethical . . .), can be easily comprehended by the Indians. The disadvantages are: mixing up good and evil, right and wrong, etc., one is left without a point of reference. This robs man of any sense of direction and action. The recent theological method developed by Asians,
SOME GUIDELINES FOR CONTEXTUALISING IN HINDU CULTURES
As long as particular cultures, religions and ideologies exist contextualisation is a necessity. As long as there are more than five hundred millions from the Hindu background, this is the peculiar situation to which the gospel must address itself in India. Notice that we are dealing in the plural — “in Hindu cultures”. As far as India is concerned, it is thoroughly pluralistic context. Hence one can speak only in the plural. Hinduism is an ocean, of many religions and cultures, morals and philosophies. One can of course distinguish
called the Yin-Yang approach, is very closely related to this type of thinking, though it has many advantages over the Aristotelian (the law of contradiction) way of thinking.1 Yet one must accept, as Boyd rightly observes, 2 the synthetic way of thinking is not the only way in India; in fact, the analogical and the analytical logics also are used for the Indian philosophical systems. (b) An exclusive emphasis on spirituality. The renunciation of this world of society and material and physical things in preference for spiritual realization is a coveted high ideal in Hinduism. In fact, it is a religious requirement for every Hindu, that once he has satisfactorily completed the first three stages of his life namely balashrama (childhood), brahmacharyashrama (youth), grihastashrama (adulthood and marriage), he must go on to the final stage, that of sanyasashrama (renunciation). Such an ideal has caused the sprouting of many ashrams, gurus, sadhus, and sanyasis. It has led to the devaluation of this world and history and has encouraged a life of detachment. It has also led to the preference of individualism and spontaneity rather than organization and planning. c) The all-compassing Hindu world-view, can be best summarized in the doctrines of maya and karma-sansara. Maya is the mysterious creative power which brahman possesses through which all changes, pluralities and qualities come into being; since brahman is without quality or potentiality maya is the illusion, karma sansara is the cycle of rebirths from which the individual soul (atman) wants to be liberated (moksha). Neo-Hindus, like Radhakrishnan and Gandhi have attempted to interpret maya so as to give reality and responsibility to earthly life. In particular, in the face of the struggle for freedom from the colonial British power and the task of nation-building following independence, it was necessary for these Hindu leaders to give meaning and reality to world, society and history by reinterpreting the classical meaning of maya; but thousands of years of indoctrination cannot be so easily counteracted.
(d) The ways of God. Another very widespread belief among the Hindus is that there are essentially three margas to God (ways): karmamarga (the way of action or duties), bhaktimarga (the way of personal devotion, submission) and gnanamarga (the way of wisdom, enlightenment). It depends on the type of personality as to which way one should choose gnanamarga is the highest while karmamarga is the lowest, conceptually speaking, but all ways lead to God. These factors mentioned above reveal the magnitude of our task in contextualising the biblical message for India. That contextualisation is particularly necessary in India is best illustrated by Sunder Singh, the greatest Indian Christian of the century. 3 We in India do not just need to use Indian words for some foreign concepts. We need to make the biblical message so relevant to the Hindu’s pre-understanding that he hears what the Spirit has to say to him through the Word. What are some of the special emphasis needed in India? i) Religious authority. Both among the Indian Christians as well as Hindus the discussion concerning authority is very much alive. We discussed this in the first chapter. As we have seen, the three main pramanas sruti, yukti, and anubhava have been extensively used by Indians. Sadhu Sunder Singh was careful to check that his experiences were no contradiction to the Bible. Brahmabandhav and Panikkar, as well as Appasamy to some extent, give the first place to the Church. The doctrines and authority of the Church have precedence. Chakkarai, Goreh and several others have given the Scriptures the first place as the supreme authority. Hinduism itself places sruti first, anubhava second and yukti third. In the face of excesses of Indian legalism (brahmanism) and occultism (shakti and bhakti), the one-sided emphasis either on the Scriptures or on the Holy Spirit in the Indian Christian theology will not meet. We need to stress the ‘objective word and the ‘subjective Spirit as equally, supreme authorities and necessarily together. Actually,
both comprise one single authority, as the two sides of the coin. It must be stressed in the Indian scene that inference, analogy and experience must all be judged by this two-edged divine authority. This is perhaps the only way to keep Indian Christian from ‘bibliolatry’, on the one hand, and schwaermerei (that is, an irrational movement, as of bees swarming) on the other. (b) There is no other system which has influenced the Hindu mind more than the advaita system, that truth is ultimately one, monistic. (We are speaking here of course, of the cream of philosophical Hinduism). In this system, good and evil, right and wrong, life and death, etc. are necessary pairs (as in the Yin-Yang method), and so Hinduism leads one to a kind of universalism unimaginable in Christianity. In real sense it is a justification of evil, wrong and falsehood along with good and right and truth, like in the Hegelian system. Such a thinking leads not only to antinomianism but also to apathy, meaninglessness. In the face of this, it is imperative that the Christian Church in India lifts up the biblical picture of God as a holy God, who is of holier eyes than to behold evil. Most of the Hindu writers and thinkers accept without reservation the biblical idea of God as love, but what all of them miss is His holiness. The Bible portrays God as a jealous God, who does not give His glory to others! Without such an uncompromising emphasis on the holiness of God, the biblical message loses its cutting edge. The atoning death of Christ, the missionary enterprise, the ethical responsibilities and even the existence of the Church become unpalatable to Hindus. Thus the Church stands in constant danger of being absorbed by the vortex of Hinduism. That God is not love alone but holy love is the one strong foundation of which the Indian Church can be built up and be a strong witness to her Lord. (c) The world and reality. Renunciation of this world has a great appeal in India because of the belief in maya, that this world of matter is an illusion or, at best a second-rate reality. Unless maya is drastically reinterpreted, Hindus do not have any basis for historical or ethical action. As we have
seen, this is what both types of neo-Hinduism of Radhakrishnan and Gandhi attempted to do. Men, world, society, history will have meaning provided they are real. Hundred of thousands of sadhus and sanyasins have completely renounced this world of relationships precisely because of the reality of this world is negated. In such a scheme of things the Bible’s message comes with a challenging relevance, when it discloses that this world is a creation of God and is the realm of His loving action on behalf of man. You remember Surjit Singh’s theology, that it is precisely because of the resurrection of Christ that the body, the world and history have infinite significance in God’s scheme of salvation. Man also is not only a creature, but one who is in the image of God. The doctrine of creation and providence have tremendous relevance to India. (d) That man reaps what he sows, either in this birth or in the following ones, is the most universal belief of Hinduism. The religious zeal of Hindus can be explained only by this root motivation. The world for a Hindu is a prison, of his deeds and their consequences, and to get out of this prison is thus his only salvation, or goal — mukti. Justification by grace through faith is more relevant to Hinduism than perhaps to any other religions or ideological system! The one word the Hindus use most often is the word shanti, peace, which they strive to achieve by their own works. Peace with God which grace brings to the believers will be a most welcome message for them provided it is clearly shown to them with a challenging relevance. Perhaps the understanding of conversion, regeneration, sanctification, union with Christ do not make much sense with Hindus as compared with justification. Bruce Nicholls comments,
In the context of the Hindu notion karma and the total lack of assurance of salvation, I believe the recovery of justification by faith is one of the greatest needs in the formulation of an Indian Christian theology.4
(e) Fellowship. C.F. Andrews wrote, after interviewing many leading Indian Christians of his day, that in many cases the reason for their conversion was not a desire for
personal salvation, but rather the appeal of Christian brotherhood. He adds;
I do not imply that the sense of individual need for salvation is absent or that this experience is necessarily typical. But in such cases as these, the purely personal aspects develop later. The community is the primary concern.
brings liberation. We do not need so many organizers and organizations, not so much theologians and scholars as simple people filled and led by the Spirit. Among the Hindus nothing gives surer acceptance than the evidence of a Spirit far stronger than their own.
It is the deep-rooted caste-system, where one’s social and religious and even human status is determined by birth, which is the cause for driving thousands of Hindus out of the Hindu fold. During the last few years several hundred thousand harijans or the untouchable, casteless Hindus embraced Buddhism openly, declaring that it gives dignity and meaning. Many of the people movements in India were primarily among the harijans. It is obvious that the one thing they were looking for was this element of fellowship. Hindu people are now fed up with the ritualistic and legalistic pictures of the Church. Nothing will attract them more than the koinonia, which is expressed in leiturgia and diakonia. We Indian Christians have failed most in showing this koinonia not with outsiders but with one another. Have we Indian Christians fully realized the great truth in the Lord’s saying, “If you have love for one another . . . the world will know that you are my disciple”? Koinonia is perhaps one of the most effective forms of witness for Christ. Would to God that he sends such a revival of the spirit from above and so unites the grain together, even throwing away the husk, that there be a sense of koinonia as never before, and so the whole continent of India comes to know that we belong to Christ. (f) Power Encounter. We in India are deeply grateful that the gospel can be understood in terms of power.5 Nothing seals the fruits of evangelism more than a power encounter with the force of darkness and the victory of the Holy Spirit over them. When one constantly sees among the neighbours the fear and bondage to evil spirits, and how the fear governs their total religious and social life, one is convinced that the message of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of power
GUIDELINES FOR INDIAN EVANGELICAL THEOLOGY A BIBLICAL MODEL
One of the most thrilling stories in the Bible about the leading of the Holy Spirit is the story of Philip — the first missionary to the Gentiles and the Ethiopian eunuch, the first Gentile convert. Philip, as you know, did not belong to the top twelve but rather to the serving seven. Yet he was so zealous in preaching Christ that he was called “the evangelist”. The eunuch was neither a Jew nor a Samaritan but a Gentile worshipper of God. He belonged to a ‘third world nation’ of the time. He was so honest that he was made the minister in charge of the queen’s treasury (it is of course true that the greatest need in the Indian Church is for well trained evangelical Christian leaders. Money is the other God, as Jesus said, and unless we have learned to overcome this idol worship we are still worshiping mammon.) Actually, eunuchs were forbidden to worship in the temple, according to Deuteronomy 23:1. We do not know whether he was forbidden or was allowed to worship on account of status or even the long journey — probably he was allowed to worship. In any case he was having a portion of the scriptures in his mind and was reading it on his way back home. Philip was directed to meet the eunuch on the way. The eunuch was reading, providentially, that part of the scripture which was well suited to speak about Christ. And the Spirit prompted Philip to join the chariot. He joined and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” “How can I”, answered the Ethiopian, “unless someone guides me?” (Ac.8:31)
Now the Bible does not tell us exactly what Philip told the Ethiopian except that “beginning with this scripture he told him the good new about Jesus”. Neither do I want to re-create the whole of Philip’s message; but what I am driving at here is that what Philip did then is exactly the contextualization of the message of the gospel to the Ethiopian’s needs. In any case I am convinced that in our attempts to contextualise the gospel and concentrate on interpreting the scriptures, in telling others the good news of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will guide us, as we depend upon him. That is exactly what Philip did.
de-emphasis, the principle of the system, are all so drawn as to be relevant to the context of the theologian — hence the plurality of these results. You may be surprised to find that even biblical theology (or exegetical theology as some call it) is not all absolute; for in speaking to describe and classify the facts of the biblical revelation within the limits of biblical categories and times, it must use contemporary human language. Moreover, the criteria of classification are extra-biblical and are determined by the theologian himself. There may be greater agreement in biblical theology than, let us say, in dogmatics, but both have varied. Thus all theologies, as human expressions, are inevitably conditioned by, and therefore relevant to the theologian’s particular context. There are three aspects involved in any valid contextual theology.
WHAT IS CONTEXTUAL THEOLOGY?
Christian theology can be described as the articulation by a disciple of Christ of his understanding of the contents of the biblical revelation. Such an articulation is historically conditioned by several factors such as language, culture, socio-politico-economic conditions, the past inheritance and so on. So Christian theology must be contextual in the sense that it is shown to be relevant to these contexts. Perhaps a better word to express the connections of indigenisation and contextualisation is relevance . Unfortunately it has no verb. The word comes from the Latin re levare, to raise up, relieve — from the notion of helping. Thus it is free of either geographical or situational connections. Perhaps one of the best usage of the term is by A.G. Hogg, his famous phrase “challenging relevance”. Herbert Jaisingh uses the term somewhat naively to mean “speaking to a situation”.6 Explicitly or implicitly such a relevance is a must in any theologizing. Otherwise no theology would have any cutting edge! All systematic theologies, all confessions and dogmatics and all summae theologies are contextual too. This is why we have not one but many systematics, dogmatics and confessions: by Origen, Aquinas, Melanchthon, Calvin, Berkhof, Tillich, Chakkarai, and a host of others, as well as confessions of different churches. The origin, the method of treatment, the issues dealt with and their emphasis or
Contextual theology is the contextualisation of the biblical revelation.
This is based on the conviction that the Bible is “the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice” (Lausanne Covenant). So a contextual theology must primarily attempt to determine and interpret what the biblical authors wanted to say.7 A proper contextualisation does not philosophize the ‘gospel message’, into some abstract ideas like ‘self-giving love’, ‘man for others’, ‘liberation’, ‘shalom’, etc. Rather it concretizes such ideas in images and pictures portrayed in the Bible, and builds its tenets upon them. For example, instead of discerning an abstract Christ who is hidden in all religions, cultures, liberation movements and ideologies, a valid theology attempts to discover the Christ who is revealed in a concrete person, Jesus of Nazareth. To take another example, instead of deducing the nature of the Church from its functions, which may be particularly useful to a human situation, a valid theology must start
with the biblical understanding of what the Church is and then deduce the function, and the form of the Church which express her nature — and so discover what the Church can do at a particular time. The primary issue here, therefore, is not an understanding of an idea of Christ or the gospel in particular context. Theology is primarily an interpreting of the Bible or scripture in context. The Bible is thus the primary source, ultimate authority and foundation for it. Such an affirmation has at least two implications. (a) This high view of the Bible is a confession of faith. The Bible is given primarily as an object of faith and obedience. If God has spoken, how else can man accept his word if not by faith? No miracle can really replace the hand of faith — that is why Abraham told the rich man who was suffering in hell-fire, “if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Further the Bible exhorts, “be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). He who believes God’s word honours God. So faith is the only proper attitude towards the Bible. The result of all biblical research — exegetical, historical, critical, hermeneutical — entirely depends upon this attitude for its validity. (b) Our faith attitude towards the Bible is also a confession of our human predicament, for it admits that both the human reason and experience, individual or collective, are impotent to grasp any true knowledge of God. All our logic, wisdom, memory, history, must be judged by the Bible. In matters pertaining to God all our faculties are bankrupt. As Paul says in Romans, “None is righteous, no not one. No one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong. No one does good, not even one” (Ro. 3:10-12). (c) Thus, in starting with the Bible, a valid contextualised theology recognizes human fallenness and looks away from
all human strivings and recognizes God as trustworthy and looks up to him.
Contextual theology depends on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit
How can man understand if by nature he is fallen and incapable? Hence the sola scriptura principle is powerless without the presence and power of the Spirit (1 Co. 2:11). The Holy Spirit who has separated the sixty six books of the Bible by inspiration and fixed the canon, is also the one who interprets the recorded word relevantly in every situation. He is also the Spirit of truth and so leads them into all the truth. He is the power and criterion of all valid theology. This second affirmation also has its implications. (a) “For as yet as Spirit had not been given because Jesus was not yet given glorified” (John 7:39). The scriptures abundantly clarify that the Spirit shall come in Jesus’ name (John 14:26). He shall bear witness to and glorify Jesus (John 15:26; 16:24) and remind the disciples of Jesus’ teaching (14:26). Even the conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment which the Holy Spirit brings to the world is concerning Jesus (16:7-11). Thus the content of theology is Jesus Christ and nothing else. “You search the scriptures because you think in them you find eternal life and it is they that bear witness to me”, said Jesus (John 5:39). The Bible is given in order that we may know him, and believing in him we may have life (Phil. 3:10; John 20:30, 31). Thus we proclaim Jesus, not any truth or wisdom. He is our truth, our life, our way, wisdom, redemption and goal. “In him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him . . . for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:16ff). And so we look forward for the day when “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10-11).
(b) It is precisely because of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit that a valid Christian theology is also the theology by the whole Church. For to each of us is given a variety of gifts “by the Spirit for the common good”. So none of us knows the truth, i.e. Christ, fully — but only partly, for at best we can see only through a glass, as it were. The variety of the gifts is for the purpose of “building up the body of Christ” and therefore, “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together, . . . makes bodily growth and upholds itself in love” (Eph. 4:12, 15, 16). Across all the barriers of time and space, race and nation, language and culture, we as the body of Christ encourage and correct one another. We need one another. All church traditions and persuasions which are built upon the above two affirmations though seemingly sectarian, are at a deeper level ”eager to maintain the unity of spirit“ (Eph. 4:3). Both at universal and local levels therefore all Christian theology is the articulation by the church of her knowledge of and devotion to the Lord Jesus.
giving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever!” (Rev.7:12). The implications of this are : (a) The above seven-fold doxology is based on the three-fold revelation of God as the creator, sustainer and consummator of all things. Hence, he is the source, support and end of man too. Though everything that is, is by him and for him since he is holy he cannot be made the author of evil, for he is of holier of eyes than to behold evil! But not only is he holy but also holy love. Thus he sustains all things, including man, through all situations, including the situation of the evil one. In this way we should speak of providence as redemptive providence, instead of as creative providence (as some have affirmed). He is also almighty and so can consummate what he has begun hence our assurance is God and God alone! “Holy, holy holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8). (b) It is surprising that in spite of all the difference in their understanding of man, anthropologists agree on one thing — that man is what he is only when he is before God. Thus, instead of making our theology anthropocentric, as many have already attempted, evangelical theology tries to understand man from God’s point of view. Hence anthropology must necessarily follow theology. It is not our selfunderstanding which is crucial, but rather God’s understanding of us. Only when we know that God is holy love can we speak of the redeemed man, new creation. For “what is man that thou art mindful of him and the son of man that thou dost care for him?” (Ps. 8:4) To summarize, evangelical theology has at least three essential characteristics. Based upon the Word, accompanied by the Holy Spirit, it serves and glorifies God, All three elements are equally essential and fundamental. Without the Word, the natural desire we have to worship leads to mysticism, and the sensitivity to the Spirit we have brings conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment. This was the case with Cornelius. It may lead to seekers, but it
Evangelical contextual theology needs to build upon firm foundation of the Bible and the divine power behind it. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7 etc.).
The ultimate goal of evangelical theology is worship and the glorification of God
In whatever way our doctrines are formulated, be it the Bible or the Holy Spirit, faith or sin, Christ or the Church — all must lead to the glory of God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. Of course, our theologies have objectives such as leading people to Christ, planting churches and edification of the believers to grow into the maturity of the fullness of the stature of Christ. But all this must be done with the ultimate goal of glorifying God the Father. Any other goal is atheological and hence anti-theological. Our first wish in prayer is always, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done . . . !” (Matt. 6:9,10). And our final item is even the same: “Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks262
leads also to judgment, hopelessness and fatalism. Unless the word, that is the word of grace, is spoken, there is no redemption. But without the Holy Spirit, our natural desire to worship can become dry and dogmatic, like the Pharisees who had a form of godliness but lacked the power thereof. And we may even have the Word without the Spirit, but then we get mixed with words and philosophies (like Hegel, Schleiermacher) and this may lead to dogmatism and schism. Only the Bible, without the Spirit and the supreme goal to worship God may lead to worship of the creature rather than the creator. In fact to self-worship and even to ideologies (Utopia or Christo-marxism). Only the presence of the Holy Spirit, without the Word and the supreme desire to glorify God may lead to false worship which is not worship in truth — to occultism, animism, and spiritism. And only the goal of worshipping God without both the Spirit and the Word, will of course lead to error — lacking both the power and the Word of God — to heresies, ritualism and religions. Thus it is of crucial importance that evangelical theology must always keep all three basic elements intact and in balance. Whatever the terms, the genuine concern behind the contextualisation debate is a step forward in the sense that it has made us realize the inadequacy of the both the terms in their traditional connection. Indigenisation as a process of relating the gospel to a culture, and contextualisation as relating the gospel to a secular situation — both are outdated. Because, as Bruce Nicholls shows, a person s pre-understanding is not based on either of these alone, or even both taken together. There are other factors which also decisively influence the interpreter’s/receiver’s pre-understanding. The expansion of one term to include the other has not really clarified the issues. Perhaps new terminologies and new approaches are needed. In any case, though it may seem arbitrary, I have chosen the term contextualisation to express our concern here, partly because it frees one from geographical and political overtones.
Thus contextualisation is meant here as the process of showing the Bible to be meaningful/relevant to the receiver in whatever culture/context he may be, in order that he may truly discover what the Bible has to say to him. The main concern here is to take the total pre-understanding of the hearer into consideration and not just one aspect such as culture, ideology etc.
Our above definition has several implications (a) In order to present the good news of Jesus Christ to those of the Hindu fold, Indian Christians are compelled to go beyond both cultural and theological contextualisation in modern India. There are some who consider only the religious aspects as the relevant sphere, while others deal only with the ideological aspect. Thus far a wholistic contextualisation, taking into consideration the total pre-understanding of the receptor, has not been attempted in India — at least no concerted effort is seen. (b) Perhaps of even greater weight is the fact of the “coming world culture”. Whether we like it or not we are being caught up in “the current of the single world history” which is huddling us together as neighbours to one another in “one global village”. This is a new fact, particular to our time. Perhaps as in other parts of the world, also in India it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify what a Hindu culture is. As the cross-fertilization of ancient cultures is steadily preparing for the one world culture it is also de-culturizing many aspects of them. Like many others, the modern Indian is in a cultural vacuum, or at least in a multi-cultural situation. Will it not be more meaningful and more fruitful if instead of only a cultural approach, we also add a person-to person approach in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ? (c) Empirically, it is this exciting realisation of the imminent unity of mankind, the “one world” ideology which is sweeping everywhere, which makes us Christians depend
upon one another as never before in past church history. The number of inter-denominational activities and conferences in our time so outweighs the denominational ones that it is a truism to speak of the ecumenical character of our contextual theologies. The historical distinctions may continue, yet we have all amply realised that we need one another across denominations and persuasions, across political, economic, racial and ideological barriers. After all we are one body and have one spirit, one faith, one Lord and one hope. Not only does the west need the east and the north need the south, but we of the Two-Thirds World need the First World brethren. Any evangelical theology in any culture needs henceforth to re-state itself in the light of these above inter-contextual factors. Otherwise it will not be a relevant theology. Though the scriptures belong to a particular historical context and culture the biblical message is universal. Christian, secular and other religious ecumenisms of our time are clarifying this truth to us very effectively.
background (the synthetic way of thinking, the pluralistic situation, the need for a united front against communal opposition, Hindu/Muslim/Buddhist counter-missions etc.) Indian Christians have set aside theological differences in the name of unity and service, survival and growth. But now at long last we must realize the seriousness of these differences. They are as great as the gulf between the unknown Christ of Hinduism and Jesus Christ of the New Testament; between action groups to break down inhuman structures and the fellowship of believers for worship and witness; between vedic Sruti and biblical revelation. It is time that the evangelicals discern the spirits and take a stand. We also recognize gratefully that such efforts are on the increase. What is needed in the Indian Church now is not so much loyalty to various organisations such as EFI, NCCI, etc. or to denominations and institutions like CISRS, UTC, UBS, etc., but cutting across all these, a loyalty to the Lord of the Bible. Such cases are to be found, we are thankful, more and more. Though the need for developing theologies relevant to various Hindu contexts is no less now than before, the simultaneous need for an evangelical confession/consolidation is also increasing. Systematics or dogmatic are not so irrelevant as many seem to think. In a nutshell, our theology must also edify the Indian Church beyond the legitimate task of equipping her for evangelistic efforts. Only when the Church is so built up can she be the base for missionary outreach. Evangelical theology is therefore more than evangelistic theology or a theology of mission, or even a theology of the church. It must aim at the contextualisation of the comprehensive biblical message — as we have already seen in other lessons, the whole counsel of God.
TOWARDS APOLOGETICS OR DOGMATICS?
(d) The consolidation of theology into confessions or dogmatic or systematics or summae is necessitated on account of heresies and controversies. Looking at the Indian scene at a time when the production of theologies is increasing rapidly, one reluctantly agrees that a time for such a consideration has come. One is overwhelmed by the scholarly (doctoral) monographs written, or being written, by Indian Christians let alone by the literature churned out at the popular level. But it is another question how much of this bulk is evangelical or how long any system will last in our fluid situation. This means at least one thing: One great need in the Indian Church, even for the sake of her mission, is what St. Paul calls diakrisis — the dividing of the spirits or the discerning of the spirits. Partly due to historical reasons (colonialism, denominational rivalry, the intoxication of the nationalistic spirit in the pre-independence era, the Church Union movements etc.) and partly due to our cultural
THE MESSAGE OR THE MESSENGER?
(e) In our effort to develop a relevant theology there are also factors which are more significant than the theology itself.
The biggest hindrance to the Church of Jesus Christ in India is not outside her but inside — the very lives of those of us who are called the disciples of Christ, what Stanley Jones calls “the Great Hindrance”. Gandhi once said, “if you call one of us a Christian man he is complimented, but if you call him a Christian, he is insulted.” Hindus have time and again told us very frankly that if we Christians lived a little more like Jesus Christ or practiced a little of what we preach, the process of conversion would have gone on far more rapidly. The following conversation between Stanley Jones and Gandhi, the greatest representative of and the most influential among the Hindus, is revealing:
In conversation with him one day I said, “Mahatma Gandhi I am very anxious to see Christianity naturalised in India, . . . what would you suggest that we do to make that possible?” He very gravely and thoughtfully replied: “I would suggest, first, that all of you Christians, missionaries and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ . . . Second, I would suggest that you practice your religion without adulterating or toning it down . . .”
1. Jung Young Lee, “The Yin-Yang way of Thinking: A Possible Method for Ecumenical Theology”, in Mission Trends No. 3, pp. 29-38. 2. ICT, pp. 231-233. 3. Once when he was traveling in Rajputan he saw a brahman hurrying to the railway station. Exhausted by great heat, he fell down on the platform. The Anglo-Indian station master, anxious to help him, offered him water. Although the brahmin was thirsty he refused it. “I cannot drink that water. I would prepare to die”, he said. “I am not asking you to eat the cup”, the station master chided him. “I will not break my caste”, replied the brahmin, “I am willing to die.” When, however, the water was brought to him in his own brass vessel, he drank it eagerly. It is the same with the Water of Life. Indians do need the water of Life but not the European cup. This is well expressed. 4. Contextualization, p. 54. 5. Once with a German friend I had long discussions about the authority of the Bible. He could not see how the BIble can be the supreme authority. In desperation, I told him, “If you want to see how the Bible is powerful, you just come to India and see how the gospel works as a power against the evil powers everywhere.” A tree is known by its fruits, Jesus said. 6. Herbert Jaisingh, “Toward a Relevant Gospel in India”, in Indian Voices in Todays Theological Debate, Lucknow Publishing House, Lucknow, 1972, pp. 125-142. 7. Bruce Nicholls says, “The purpose of this method is to discover what the biblical writer said, and it must be distinguished from the more speculative historical-critical method which aims to discover the author’s intention”. See Contextualisation: A Theology of Gospel and Culture, p. 49. I am indebted to this booklet for many of the insights here.
This brings us directly to the next point: we should concentrate more on preparing the messengers than the message itself. If we look back to the story of Philip, we realise how contrasting were the missionary and the native, the preacher and the hearer. But the preacher was so thoroughly prepared by the Holy Spirit in Samaria, in serving the tables, that he finds it no problem to contextualise the message to the Eunuch — it was a complete success. Also the messenger is already on his way to the next assignment after the Eunuch’s baptism. It is a story of the messenger. Every time we stand up for the sake of the Lord, may He grant us his grace, and prepare us and the hearers, rather than the message. Finally, we need Philip’s sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit — and more we need the presence of the Holy Spirit. Nothing less than a visitation by the Spirit of God is the solution or India, for the Indian Church.
The importance of writing Biographies We are indeed very much indebted to Dr. Kaj Baago for producing under the research plan of the United Theological College, Bangalore, an anthology of Indian Christian writing. This is a good, though by no means exhaustive collection. As you read through the collection, one dominant feature is that the biographies of Indian Christian saints are lacking. This is not to say that there are none of them; there are of course. But I am convinced that there is a greater majority of saints whose biographies are not written. There are varied reasons for this: (a) Following the oriental logic one is not supposed to say anything bad about those who are dead and gone (perhaps that has to do with ancestral worship?) except in eulogies. (b) Lacking a sense of history perhaps our Indian mind is less inclined to put down the facts or even to interpret them with a definite purpose. (c) Since Christianity came to India through the western colonialism and was already an established religion in western countries for several centuries, there seems to be an unconscious idea in the Indian mind that only Saint Francis or Saint Teresa are saints in India. (d) Finally, what Jesus said also is true. Since a prophet is without respect in his own country, those who know him best tend to remember rather the working side of the person. The right side is often forgotten, hence its usefulness to the wider world is gone. If you read some of the Puranas or Hindu literature, and then turn to the Bible, one of the most striking features is that even about the great patriarchs like Abraham or David or Jacob the Bible is very realistic in picturing their character. It does not hide their mistakes. In fact, I remember as a young Christian this aspect greatly impressed me concerning the truthfulness of the Bible. But what I am driving at is this. The Bible itself has several biographies written. If the gospels were not written you would not have known about Jesus now. The famous list of the faith giants in Hebrew 11 is a grand cloud of witnesses which can edify us even today. Just think how much poorer our under270 271
standing of God’s relationship with man would be if we did not have the records of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, or Moses running away to Libya, Hannah’s dedication of Samuel, Queen Esther’s devotion to her people, Job’s suffering and his fighting with God, Daniel in the den of Lions, Paul’s conversion and missionary journeys, and dozens of other biographies. It is wrong to think that biographies are written only for self-glory. On the contrary they are written with the express purpose of glorifying God; that what God’s grace has wrought in others can also work in me and encourage and edify and strengthen me in my Lord’s service. Thus one of the main reasons why throughout history several saints’ lives and ministries have been recorded is that they edify the church universal. Is not God really glorified through the faith and commitment and life of his servants? But this education is two fold. It not only helps us to follow where the saints have trod, but it also helps us to avoid the mistakes they have done. For example, David’s adultery, Jacob’s deception, Peter’s denial are still strong warnings to us today. Actually speaking, church history is the story of God’s people. Right now I am involved in corresponding with senior Christians all over the land to collect some of the unknown Christians’ biographies. Some of the things I have discovered are most illuminating. I hope some day to publish them. But it is most encouraging to see that in the recent decade several anthologies of Indian Christian saints have appeared. If you come across any of these biographies I will be grateful if you can kindly write to me or even send a copy of that to me or let me know the address where they are available. If you know of any unwritten stories, you could tell me also. Perhaps we can share it for the benefit of other Christian Indian brothers and sisters. Thank you.
Dr. Sunand Sumithra Theological Book Trust 54, MIG. Colony Koramangala, Bangalore- 560095.
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action-reflection 175 adesha 48, 53, 55, 56 advaita, advaitic 15, 17, 38, 64, 70, 105, 107, 109, 112, 157, 186, 188, 191194, 196, 227-229, 232, 235, 246, 248, 254 ahimsa 9, 133, 218, 219, 221 (also see non-violence) analogy 38, 89, 109, 112, 113, 252, 254 antaryami - Christ 109, 116, 163; Holy Spirit 118, 245 anthropocentric 201, 205, 263 apologetics 18, 23, 28, 77, 78, 92, 144, 201, 242, 266 Apostolic Durbar 57 Aristotelian logic 37, 81, 252 ashram 75, 102, 136, 154, 159, 165, 170, 218, 226, 247, 252 atonement 46, 52, 73, 76, 82, 139, 167, 179, 194, 228, 254 authority 14, 15, 22, 27, 31-36, 38, 76, 78, 82, 111, 181, 186, 191, 205, 211, 212, 253, 254, 260 avatara(s) 74, 75, 109, 110, 117, 125, 159, 162, 163, 192, 233, 245 baptize, baptism 45, 49, 66, 76, 77, 81, 179, 180, 202, 247, 268 Bhagwadgita, Gita 17, 96, 105, 110, 220, 222, 223 bhakti 48, 104, 118, 160, 162, 163, 192, 224, 244, 248; bhakti schools 160; bhakti groups 163; bhakti system 107, 163; bhakti marga 85, 102, 107, 108, 118, 119, 163, 185, 253; bhakti traditions 104, 106, 108, 248 biblical theology 241 Brahman 4, 37, 72, 75, 78, 91, 104, 145, 157, 161, 163, 185, 192, 224, 227, 229, 232, 243, 244, 245, 250, 251; Para Brahman 72; Saguna (and Nirguna) Brahman 72, 78, 244, 245, 251; Shabda Brahman 86; impersonal Brahman 89, 105; avyukta (unmanifested) Brahman 116; Brahman-world 161 Capitalist 172 caste, caste system, casteism 11, 12, 15, 23, 41, 144, 216, 219, 223, 234, 251, 256 Chalcedonian formula 23, 107 Christ 58, 86, 89, 96-100, 102, 103, 116, 117, 119, 131, 132, 145, 146, 152, 153, 158, 159, 161-163, 165-167, 169, 174-176, 179, 181, 182, 189, 192, 194, 203, 210, 212, 221, 222, 226, 227, 232, 243, 248, 258, 289, 260, 262, 268; adhyatmic 164; as avatar 67, 109, 110; as the basis of tradition 32; as cit 73; as sacrifice 118, 157; Asiatic Christ 50; atoning death of 154 commitment to 90, 108, 190, 195; conversion to 136; cosmic 87, 109; cross of 59, 118, 157; deity of 193, 196, 228; divine and human in 88; divinity 88; doctrine of 4, 49, 50, 51, 53, 58, 107, 112, 209; experience 115; Gandhi’s understanding of 220-221; hidden Christ 55, 56, 144; Hindu response to 189, 190, 195; imitation of 170; immanent 109, 116; incarnation of 58, 67, 103, 117; Indian interpreters of 55; lordship of 178, 179; message of 66, 210, 241; mystery of 164; nature of 44; person of 116; pleroma of 155; presence of 109, 112, 156; present in all systems 53, 164, 184, 185, 188; revelation in 73; risen Christ 118, 255; salvation in 195; significance of 44, 56; sinlessness of 117; spirit of 137; terms for 243-245;
unbound Christ 187, 188, 191, 195, 197; union with 251; uniqueness of 44, 64, 196; unknown Christ 183, 185, 187; working outside the church 155; works of 59, 111, 126, 127; Christification 52, 55 christianising 136, 137 Christian action 170 christology 23, 43, 44, 50, 51, 53, 72, 75, 83, 87, 88, 113, 116, 124, 128, 159, 160, 178, 187, 188, 191, 195, 212, 245, 246 church 3, 19, 23, 25, 44, 49, 60, 75, 80, 83, 98, 101, 102, 104, 109, 111, 112, 120-123, 125, 131, 132, 141, 147, 151, 154-156, 166, 170, 171, 176, 179, 180, 183, 188, 190, 200, 202, 203, 206, 209, 210, 211, 212, 241, 242, 247, 254, 256, 260, 262 class struggle 172, 180 classless society 204 communal 9, 10, 12, 267 commune, communion 51, 64, 71, 74, 88, 102, 105-108, 117-119, 127, 147, 165 communication 4, 5, 10, 33, 103, 145, 162, 164, 180, 196, 204, 248 Communist 172, 240 community 5, 9, 21, 25, 26, 34, 60, 136, 145, 147, 148, 151, 176, 180, 196, 202, 203, 206-208, 242, 256 compassion 239, 240 conservative, conservatism 28, 92 consummation 51, 125 context, contextual 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 22, 27, 28, 87, 108, 174, 187, 207-209, 213, 233, 239, 242, 248, 265, 267 contextualization 7, 213, 243, 250, 253, 259, 264, 265 contextualizing 4, 5, 7, 258
contextual theology 28, 259-261 conversion 14, 21, 68, 92, 97, 115, 136, 144, 146, 166, 202, 220, 222, 255, 268 cosmic covenant 157 council (s) 23, 24, 26, 27, 32, 33, 170, 187 creation, creator 12, 58, 78, 85, 101, 121, 126, 127, 128, 132, 135, 147, 152, 177, 178, 179, 182, 244, 263; doctrine of creation 12, 58; new creation 121, 125, 127, 128, 130, 134, 137, 140, 146, 263 creatio passiva 73 creed 15, 59, 83, 122, 124, 143, 166; Apostolic Creed 15, 122, 124, 143, 166; Nicene Creed 120 criterion 96, 120, 261 cross 9, 44, 46, 52, 56, 59, 82, 83, 87, 100, 101, 106, 111, 113, 115, 117119, 125, 127, 157, 167, 178, 193, 194, 196, 202, 221, 223, 225, 228, 232, 233 culture (s) 8, 12, 15, 24, 71, 72, 143, 164, 191, 211, 239, 240, 249, 250, 258, 259, 265 dalit 242 denomination, denominationalism 12, 83, 266, 267 dharma 72, 217, 218, 234 dialogue 19, 28, 67, 142-145, 148, 149, 151, 154, 156, 158, 173, 177, 184, 187, 195, 196, 204, 205, 213 discipleship 207 dvaita 15, 112, 186, 192, 228 EATWOT 200, 206 ecumenical, ecumenism 173, 174, 181, 200, 201, 211, 212, 266, 283 energy 73, 128, 138, 141 epoche 157, 158
eschatology, eschatological 13, 86, 102, 157, 249 eschaton 146 eucharist, eucharistic 49, 109, 112, 156, 163, 180, 247 evangelical theology 27, 251, 262, 263, 266, 267 evangelistic 23, 98 evolution 38, 51, 121, 145, 176 exegesis 109, 182 existential 88, 104, 121, 158, 163 experience 16, 29, 31, 34-38, 88, 91, 92, 98, 99, 100, 102, 103, 108, 111, 115, 116, 122, 133, 136, 140-142, 154157, 169, 215, 218, 223, 224, 232, 234, 260 fall 152 Festschrift 173, 200, 201 folklore 251 freedom 12, 212 fulfillment 157, 176 Gospel, Gospel message 3-6, 13, 17-19, 20, 37, 41, 57, 59, 112, 120, 123, 126, 137, 140, 143, 144, 155, 162, 164, 170, 188, 191, 192, 196, 202, 204, 209, 211, 220, 229, 240, 241, 250, 256, 258, 260, 264 harijans 11, 21, 256 heresy, heretical 3, 7, 28, 56, 264 history, historical 13, 104, 117, 123, 127, 128, 139, 145-148, 165, 175178, 180, 181, 192-195, 213, 215, 221, 228, 239, 241, 247, 255, 260 Holy Spirit 32, 37, 44, 45, 54, 55, 58-60, 81, 93, 117, 118, 120, 126-129, 132134, 137, 138, 141, 144, 202, 210, 212, 243, 245, 250, 253, 256-258, 261, 262, 264, 268 human dignity, depravity, right 12, 203, 229, 246 humanity 7, 126, 204, 205, 226
humanization 52, 174, 179, 202, 204, 205 human nature 46, 225 human reason 69, 82, 182, 260 ideology (ies) 9, 53, 56, 132, 148, 173, 177, 179, 181, 187, 195, 206, 250, 264, 265 idolatry 16, 41, 42, 158, 218 image of God (imago Dei) 12, 145, 147, 176, 182, 211, 255 incarnation 7, 45, 58, 59, 67, 68, 74, 80, 83, 85, 88, 103, 107, 109, 110, 117, 124-129, 133, 164, 178, 186, 209, 224, 225, 227, 233, 248, 251 Indian Church 8, 66, 69, 75, 81, 106, 151, 200, 266, 267, 268 indigenisation 12, 20, 29, 63, 68, 69, 74, 75, 81, 95, 96, 103, 213, 243, 258, 264 indigenous 9, 21, 22, 24, 29, 54, 55, 63, 66, 68, 80, 139, 189, 199, 249 Indianising 5 infallibility 183 inspiration 133,177 interiority 156, 212 interpretation 107, 108, 111, 117, 136, 139, 140, 146, 148, 164, 211, 216, 226, 229, 233, 244; Christian 173; Hindu 45, 235; of Christ 43, 46, 122, 188, 196, 215, 230, 232, 245; of Christian message 28, 192, 240; of Christianity 104, 107; of cross 111, 193; of moksha 108; of tradition 21; Islamization 21 Jesus 3, 4, 42-45, 98, 103, 105, 109, 115118, 122-128, 132, 134, 135, 144, 152, 153, 163, 166, 167, 169, 176, 178, 186, 188, 193, 194, 196, 201, 202, 204, 206-208, 212, 215-217, 220, 229, 233, 242, 244, 257, 258, 259, 261, 268
journeying God 52 jnana marga 85, 107, 118, 119, 163, 164, 185, 253 justice 175, 195, 196, 200, 203, 204, 206, 207, 232; of God 79, 82, 87, 207; automatic justice 232; social justice 11, 13, 28, 147 karma 73, 79, 80, 101, 110, 111, 113, 126, 136, 138, 144, 147, 163, 203, 232, 246, 249, 251, 252, 255; karma marga 85, 107, 118, 119, 160, 162, 164, 185, 253 kenosis 51, 119, 120, 178 kerygma 147, 183 Kingdom of God 45, 128, 129, 131, 132, 137, 141, 160, 176, 177, 189, 207, 208, 211, 233 Koran 96 liberalism, liberal 28, 167, 172, 219, 233 liberation 12, 17, 28, 48, 175, 176, 200, 211, 242, 257 linguism 11 literature 19, 25, 34, 42, 81, 105, 106, 142, 166, 173, 251, 266; bhakti 105, 106, 108; Christian 24, 85, 96; Hindu 107, 108, 136; Sanskrit 106; Tamil 106;Vedic 152 logic 15, 35, 78, 80, 103, 151, 161, 184, 186, 252, 260 logos 35, 51, 70, 74, 76, 86, 109, 148, 157, 184, 186 low caste 11 mahavakya 55, 58, 107, 118, 228, 245 martyr 221, 223 Marxism 171, 177, 180, 206 maya 4, 13, 45, 68, 71, 72, 73, 78, 79, 89, 105, 117, 142, 143, 146, 147, 192, 193, 232, 244, 245, 251, 252 methodology, method 14, 68, 113, 164, 174
mission - Christian mission 17, 26, 148, 157, 209, 216, 239; of Christian believer 148, 212; of Goreh 78; of Jesus 125; of the church 132, 137, 155, 175, 176, 179, 180, 202, 205, 266; of Gandhi 215, 216; of Radhakrishnan 235; of Ramakrishna 17, 224; Ranthodji’s Medical mission 18; secular mission 121 missions - Brahmo missions 48; Buddhist counter-missions 267; Christian missions 8, 16, 17, 23; emergence of missions 21; Hindu missions 41; indigenous missions 22; International Review of Missions 200; moksha 18, 85, 107, 108, 152, 252 monotheism, monism 16, 42, 78, 117, 251 motherhood of God 49, 106 mystery (of Christ) 73, 164, 188, 194 mystical, mystic, 37, 105, 106,156, 222, 223, 233, 263 nationalism 8, 9, 12, 28, 42, 64, 165 natural theology 69, 73, 154, 182 nature 82, 86, 194; Church’s nature 206; nature of God 73; nature-supernature relationship 69, 70, 71, 182; nature and person 185, 227, 246 new dispensation 48, 49, 53, 54, 55, 57 Nicene formula 44, 50, Niyogi Commission 166 non-violence 171, 216-219 (see also ahimsa) Omega Point 131 pantheism 57, 58, 60, 69, 70, 78, 251 pentecost 117 pluralism 14, 19, 28, 160, 204, 234, 250, 267 pneumatology 60, 61, 117 pneumomonism 60
polytheism 16, 41, 251 poor, poverty 7, 207, 208, 210, 223 pramana 33, 34, pre-understanding 4, 5, 6, 69, 264, 265 preparatio evangelica 24, 35, 79, 80, personality - concept in Bhakti literature 108; Gandhi’s 215, 230; K.C. Sen’s 49; of Christ 89, 90, 146; of man 74, 90, 91, 101, 110, 119, 145, 147, 165, 171, 176, 193; one man’s personality 226 praxis 148 prayer 98, 154, 170 proselytism 146, 221, 222 reality - ethical 222; historical 45; Indian 29; Jesus’ 166; ladder of 232; second order 13, 72, 193; spiritual 158; ultimate 4, 97, 146, 163, 164, 251 reason 37, 81, 111, 129, 182, 183, 222 reconciliation 124, 126, 181, 189 redemption 127, 152, 194 reform 144, 210 reformation - in Hinduism 16; Protestant 32, 33, 112, 149 reincarnation 70, 80, reinterpretation, reinterprete 7, 17, 19, 41, 122, 196, 254 relevance, relevant 3-7, 18, 19, 30, 85, 108, 166, 239, 255, 258, 259, 265, 267 religion 15, 72, 91, 92, 97, 131, 134, 136, 140, 143, 146, 153-155, 158, 179, 183, 184, 186, 191, 195, 196, 201, 204, 205, 208, 213, 217, 219, 220222, 224, 225, 227, 229, 231, 234, 235, 241, 259, 264, 250; theology of 71, 143; of Mlecchas 76; history of 142; cosmic 153, 184; Eastern 154; equality of religions 217, 225, 229; universal 235
renaissance 16, 20, 42, 43, 46, 174, 175, 188 renunciation 18, 191, 220, 227, 252, 254 repentance 44, 52, 66, 85, 102, 132, 205 resurrection 44, 45, 52, 59, 66, 83, 88, 89, 102, 125-127, 140, 155, 167, 178, 191, 193, 194, 196, 202, 221, 233, 255 Rethinking Group, rethinking Christianity 116, 123, 190 revelation 3, 35, 36, 44, 48, 49, 53, 54, 58, 59, 70, 73, 78, 82, 87, 92, 99, 105, 109, 123, 133, 143, 154, 167, 181184, 186, 189, 221, 222, 258, 263, 267 revolution (s) 14, 18, 28, 47, 65, 124, 172, 173, 175-177, 179, 181, 186, 212 sabbath 208 saccidananda 50, 55, 72, 73, 85, 154, 157, 243, 245 sacraments 75, 80, 132, 170, 183, 247 sacrifice 5, 49, 82, 118, 126, 127, 151, 152, 153, 157 Saiva Siddhanta 110 salvation 18, 44, 52, 58, 61, 72, 73, 82, 83, 87, 100, 102, 104, 121, 127, 132, 140, 145, 148, 152, 162, 174, 179, 188, 193, 195, 209, 248, 255 sansara 232, 244 sanskrit 23, 43, 76, 102, 120, 151, 183, 223, 227, 240, 243, 246 sanctification 100, 106, 183, 255 sanyasa 66, scriptures 7, 22, 32, 36, 37, 38, ,48, 49, 54, 80, 81, 87, 99, 103, 111, 112, 120, 121, 124, 131, 133, 134, 135, 155, 160, 164, 166, 167, 181, 191, 222, 230, 231, 253, 257, 258, 260, 261, 266 secular, secularism, secularization 9, 11,
12, 18, 19, 174, 175, 203, 204 self-sacrifice 52, 57, 85, 152, 178, 19 sermon on the mount 9, 42, 76, 220 sin 46, 52, 53, 73, 76, 79, 82, 100, 101, 106, 110, 111, 113, 126, 127, 145, 152, 155, 177, 193, 194, 202, 225, 228, 229, 248, 261-2631 sinlesslness 117 social justice 12,13,28, sources 22, spirit - doctrine of 57-60; of Christ 87, 117, 119, 137, 155, 157, 166, 171; as contrasted to matter 89, 90, 131, 148, 156, 163, 219, 246; of the times 139; as Holy Spirit 158, 182, 185, 245, 253, 256, 257; human spirit 176; swadeshi spirit 219 spirituality 6, 19, 29, 57, 154, 158, 166, 176, 177, 181, 186, 192, 193, 218, 230, 233, 252 subordination 107 substitution, penal 52, 56, 76, 79, 80, 100, 111, 118, 178, 196 suffering 44, 85, 100, 101, 111, 119, 179, 180, 194, 209 supernature 69, 70, 71, 75, 99, 131, 140, 141, 182, 183 syncretism 18-20, 28, 45, 53, 56, 177, 233, 235 systematic 32, 49, 103, 115, 164, 199, 213, 217, 241, 258, 266, 267 Tamil 23, 105, 200 Theandrism 185, 186 theological education 29, 30, 182 theologization, theologisation 3, 4, 29, 187 third world 7, 257 Thomism 69, 70, 75, 186 tradition (s) 6, 16, 21, 22-25, 33, 36, 37, 46, 56, 86, 104-106, 108, 110, 112,
121, 124, 132, 133, 153-155, 188, 207, 208, 240, 262 transform 141, 208 transformation 146, 185, 202 transmigration 70 trinity 44, 50, 58, 60, 61, 68, 74, 86, 120, 125, 127, 128, 139, 157, 183, 185, 186, 245, 246; trinitarianism 118 Truth 217, 218, 234 uniqueness, unique 156, 167, 233; of Christianity 128; of Jesus 221, 223 unitarian, unitarianism 45 untouchables 11, 13, 216, 256 universal, universalism 7, 59, 60, 102, 104, 119, 122, 179, 185, 188, 191, 212, 225, 226, 228, 233, 255 Upanishads 16, 17, 42, 58, 86, 96, 133, 155-158, 233 vaishnava 47, 48, 105, 115, 215, 224 varnashrama dharma 15, 219 Vatican II 180, 183 vedanta 38, 64, 69, 70, 68, 71-75, 78, 79, 81, 82, 89, 104, 118, 183, 227, 247 vegetarianism 218 violence 170, 207, 216 virgin birth 44, 130 vishishtadvaita 15, 38, 104-106, 110, 228, 248 vision, ecstatic 223, 224 worship 5, 12, 15, 42, 44, 45, 66, 72, 74, 97, 102, 105, 122, 147, 148, 163, 191, 206, 218, 227, 247, 251, 257, 262, 264, 267 wrath of God 82, 87 yagna 160, 162 yin-yang 252, 254, 269 yoga 18, 96, 136, 223, 234; prema yoga 85, 86
Abhishiktananda 154-158, 168 Abrecht, Paul 172 Adiseshaiah, M. 171 Ahmed, Mirza Ghulam 21 Amirtham, Samuel 201 Andrews, C.F. 49, 255 Animananda 84 Appasami, A.J. 36-38, 104-113, 115, 248, 253 Appasami Pillai, A.S. 106 Aquinas, Thomas 3, 23, 38, 69, 73, 172, 182, 258 Aristotle 23, 172 Athyal, Saphir 212-214 Augustine 172 Aurobindo 38, 121, 130 Azariah V.S. 49 Baago, Kaj 26, 67, 70, 71, 270 Banerjea, K.M. 151-154 Banerjea, S.N. 49 Banerjea, Kalicharan 63-65 Banerjee, H.C. 49 Banerjee, Bhawani Charan (see Upadhyaya) Barth, Karl 3, 92 Berdyaev, Nicolas 171 Berkhof 258 Bhairavi 223 Bhave, Vinobha 11, 18 Bishop Westcott 6 Bonhoeffer, D. 140 Borthwick, Meredith 49 Bose, Mathuranath 46-48 Bose, Subhash Chandra 10 Boyd, Robin 22, 23, 26, 35, 36, 38, 42, 46, 52, 61, 64, 72, 74, 87, 90, 93, 109, 121, 145, 153, 158, 165, 168, 239, 240, 249, 252 Brunner, E. 124, 149, 172 Calvin 258 Carey, William 24 Chakkarai, Vengal 115-120, 138, 149, 169, 190, 253, 258 Chandran Russel 68, 187, 197, 199-206, 226 Chenchiah 25, 36, 38, 98, 115, 121-142, 149, 169, 176, 178, 190 Cullman, O. 193 Das, Motilal 49 Dawson, Christopher 171 De Chardin, Pierre Teilhard 131 Devanandan, P.D. 25, 142-149, 169, 173, 193 Devi, Sarada 47 Dey, Lal Behari 81-83 Dodd, C.H. 171 Dom Henri Le Saux (see Abhishitananda) Duff, Alexander 24, 81, 151 Fakirbhai, Dhanjibhai 85-87 Farquhar, J.N. 24, 67, 80, 106 Gandhi, Indira 12 Gandhi, M.K., 9, 10, 17, 25, 92, 115, 141, 165, 215-223, 252, 268 George, S.K. 165-167, 216 George, Mary 165 Ghose, K.S. 49 Gokhale, Gopala Krishna 17 Goreh, Nehmiah 25, 38, 76-81, 84, 253 Goreh, Lakshmi 76 Grant, Sarah 155
Grregorios, Paulos Mar 211-212 Harrison, M.H. 30 Heaton 65 Hegel 264 Heiler, F. 113 Hengal 246 Hingorani, Anand T. 216 Hogg, A.G. 258 Huegel, Friedrich Von 106 Iqbal, Mohammed 20 Iraneues 32 Jaisingh, Herbert 258, 269 Job, G.V. 138 Jones, Stanley 222, 268 Kabir 105 Keithahn, Ralph 171 Khan, Syed Ahmed 20, 21 Khasim Bhai 77 Klostermaier, Klaus 159-165, 168, 190, 248, 249 Kraemer, Hendrick 143, 171 Krishna Pillai 106 Krishnapillai, H.A. 106 Kukade, Sahu Daji 77 Kumar, Prosonno 42 Lee, Jung Young 269 Luther, Martin 31, 32, 172 Madhava 160, 185 Madhavji, Kahanji 106 Malik, Jadhu 224 Mangalwadi, Vishal 209-211 Manikkavasagar 105 Manu 15, 151 Marshman, J. 44 Martin, Henry 21 Martyr, Justin 70
Melanchthon 258 Melchizedek 157 Miller, William 115, 149 Monchanin, Jules 154 Moses, David G. 90-93 Mozoomdar, P.C. 49, 57-61 Mozoomdar, B. 49 Mueller, Max 49, 78 Naraharidas (Upadhyaya) 74 Narayan, J.P. 18 Nehru, Jawahar Lal 9-11, 138 Newbigin, L. 158 Nicholls, Bruce 255, 264, 269 Niebuhr, Reinhold 171, 172 Nimbarka 160 Nobili, Robert de 23, 24, 67, 69, 75, 154 Otto, Rudolf 106, 248 Panikkar, Raymondo 26, 36, 56, 155, 158, 169, 181-187, 190, 253 Paramahamsa, Ramakrishna 16, 17, 37, 48, 49, 63-65, 137, 190, 223-225, 229 Parananda 64, 84 Parekh, Manilal 25, 49, 190 Paul (the Apostle) 6, 116, 239, 260, 266, 271 Paul, K.T. 142 Pennamma 173 Philip 257, 258 Prabhu 216 Radhakrishnan 17, 25, 89-92, 187, 190, 228, 230-235, 241, 252 Rahner, Karl 56 Rajneesh 18 Ramabai, Pandita 76, 77 Ramana 164 Ramanuja 38, 105, 106, 109, 110, 113, 160, 185, 192, 248
Ranson, Charles 30 Ranthodji 18, 77 Rao, Venkatasami (Master CVV) 121, 130, 132 Robinson, J.A.T. 149 Rodman 65 Roy, Raja Rammohan 16, 17, 25, 41-46, 48, 50, 55, 190 Roy, G.G. 49 Roy, B.V. 49 Sadhu Sunder Singh 36, 38, 75, 96-104, 106, 253, 255 Sadhu Mathai 171 Sadiq, John W. 216 Sai Baba 159 Samartha, S.J. 26, 28, 56, 169, 187-196 Samuel, Vinay Kumar 206-209 Saraswati, Dayananda 16, 48, 63 Sauch Gispert 68 Schleiermacher 264 Schweitzer, Albert 116 Sen, Keshub Chunder 44, 46-57, 61, 6365, 72, 74 Sen, P.K. 49 Sen, Piari Mohun 47 Shankara 38, 71, 105, 110, 160, 185, 192, 232 Singh, Surjit 88-90, 93, 248, 255 Singh, Maharaja Dulip 77 Slater, T.E. 49 Smith, William 76
St, Gregory of Nyassa 212 St. Francis 270 St. Teresa 270 Stokes, S.E. 97 Streeter, B.H. 106, 113 Subbarao 25, 190 Sudarsanam, A.N. 138 Sugden, Christopher 209 Swami Vivekananda 17, 37, 63-65, 190, 201, 220, 223-231, 235 Swami Akhilananda 190 Tagore, Dwaraknath 42 Takenaka 14 Tertullian 32 Thangasami D.A. 121, 138, 149 Thomas M.M. 26, 46, 53, 56, 57, 61, 158, 169-181, 185-188, 197, 205, 212, 220, 224 Thomas, the Apostle 23 Tilak, Narayan Vaman 76, 106, 249 Tillich, Paul 3, 56, 172, 186, 258 Totapuri 224 Upadhyaya, Brahmabandhab 36, 38, 6376, 84, 96, 248, 253 Valmiki 163 Varghese, Paul (see Paulos Mar Gregorios) Victoria II 77 Xavier, Francis 23 Zetland, Marquess 49 Ziegenbalg 24
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