Christ Among Other Saviours

One of the contentious issues in the Asian Christian response to religious pluralism in Asia is the Christocentricity of the Christian faith. While one can quickly discover points of contacts and instances of similarity in the concept of God or the view of scripture, the belief in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ is a matter of intense debate in Asia. This debate involves at least three major issues. One is the attempt by Christian theologians in Asia to discover a language that is relevant and meaningful to Asians in their specific contexts. The other issue is the apologetic side of Christ-ology where one is faced with questions such as 'Why Christ, why not Buddha, why not Krishna?' and 'What about the uniqueness and finality of Christ?' The third concern is the way in which non-Christian Asians have articulated the significance of Christ in relation to their own religio-cultural contexts. How may one christologically evaluate such attempts? Let us examine each of these.

Jung Young Lee, 'Can God be Change Itself?', in D. J. Elwood (ed.), What Asian Christians are

Thinking (Querzon City: New Day Publishers, 1976), pp. 173—93 at p. 189.

Jung Young Lee, The Trinity in Asian Perspective (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996).

First of all, what language may we borrow in this multi-religious setting of Asia to explain the significance of Jesus as the Christ? This is a question which almost all Asian theologians and Christians face. Christos is a Greek term backed by the notion of Messiah in the Jewish tradition. With all its 'scandal' and 'foolishness', it made sense to first-century Christians. What would it mean or entail to speak of Christos in the Asian religious setting? Are there equivalent 'salvific' figures or concepts/images in Asia that can provide a language or offer a helpful starting point for expounding the significance of Jesus as the Christ?

Asian theologians provide us with a wide variety of Christologies mainly because of the diversity of religious and cultural contexts in which they find themselves. One of the challenges for Asian theologians is to find a way to capture, in the Asian religious setting, the view of Christ as Logos-made-flesh. The concept of Logos, as used in the Johannine writings, comes from both Jewish and Greek philosophical-theological traditions. As such, it is foreign to the theological-philosophical framework of Asia. One of the concepts that comes closest to Logos is OM, the primordial sound in the Hindu tradition. This means that one could use the concept of OM-made-flesh as an exegesis of John 1:14. Yet interestingly, Indian theologians have not pursued this line of Christological construction, except in some passing references to Christ as OM in the writings of Sister Vandana and S. Jesudason. Vandana writes: 'In India its [Logos'] nearest equivalent is OM ... Jesus is the OM, the Logos.'33 Jesudason also describes Christ as Eternal OM.34 Christian poets and hymn-writers were freer to use the concept of OM to describe Christ. For example, Vedanayagam Sastriar, a prolific hymn-writer, refers to Christ as Omanathi (the eternal OM). One of the contemporary songs in praise of Christ goes like this: OM Kristu natha, unaith tholuthen (OM Christ, I worship you).35

Many theologians have appealed to the concept of cit in the divine triad: sat, cit, ananda (Truth/Being, Intelligence/Consciousness, Joy/Bliss). Brahmabandab Upadhyaya is prominent among them.36 Discovering the concept of sat-cit-ananda to be a helpful category in expounding the

33 S. Vandana and S. Jesudason, 'Water Symbolism in the Gospel of St. John in the Light of Indian Spirituality', in R. S. Sugirtharajah and Cecil Hargreaves (eds.), Readings in Indian Christian

34 Theology, vol. I (London: SPCK, 1993), pp. 200—13 at p. 211.

Sugirtharajah makes a passing reference to this in R. S. Sugirtharajah (ed.), Asian Faces of Jesus

This song is said to have been composed by Fr. Chelladurai of Chennai. It is sung by Thirupamparam Shanmugasundaram in a cassette recording produced by the Tamilnadu

36 Theological Seminary, Madurai, India. See Boyd, Indian Christian Theology, p. 63.

doctrine of Trinity, Upadhayaya describes Christ as cit. Jung Young Lee employs the Tai chi t'u (the diagram of the Great Ultimate in the I-Ching) and describes Christ as 'the perfect realization of change'.37

While the concept of Logos as such is foreign to Asian religio-philosophical traditions, the concept of incarnation is not, in any way, foreign to the Asian religious and philosophical traditions, especially the traditions of India. It is the twentieth-century western Christianity that has had some difficulty in dealing with the concept of incarnation. As Frances Young writes:

In the Western world, both popular culture and the culture of the intelligentsia has come to be dominated by the human and natural sciences to such an extent that supernatural causation or intervention in the affairs of the world has become, for the majority of people, simply incredible.38

There is a longstanding tradition of the idea of incarnation within the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism. Vishnu (Godhead) is said to take several incarnations to set right the course of the history of the universe. In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna (the incarnation of Vishnu) says:

Whenever sacred duty decays And chaos prevails, Then, I create Myself, Arjuna.

To protect men of virtue And destroy men who do evil, To set the standard of sacred duty, I appear in age after age. 39

The word used to signify incarnation is avatar, which literally means descent. Vishnu is supposed to take ten avatars and the last one, Kalki, has not yet taken place. The idea of avatar is not confined to the religious and philosophical writings of Hinduism; it is popular among the people of India as well. Any and every religious or political leader of repute might easily be referred to as an avatar of God. One can see pictures of Jesus, Buddha and Gandhi together in one frame representing the multiple avatars of God. Thus in the popular Indian mind, Jesus the Christ is one of the avatars of God.

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