The complex and multi-faceted reality of India is reflected in the variety of approaches and levels of understanding of theology. Faith-talk or God-talk is interwoven with historical, natural and social realities and passes through different stages. Robin Boyd's assessment of Indian theology after presenting the first stage is noteworthy. Writing in 1969, he says:
To use a familiar simile, the Church in many parts of India has been like a pot-plant transplanted into a garden. At first it grew in its imported soil, and perhaps the assistant gardener who accompanied it forgot to break the pot! The time has come, however, when the plant has taken root in the new environment; the pot has been shattered within and the imported soil has been absorbed and replaced. No longer does the gardener have to bring the water of the Word from a distant source, for the plant has struck its own deep tap-root to the perennial springs. It grows larger and more luxuriant than it ever did in its bleak northern home. And the time for fruit-bearing has come. The western confessions have indeed been channels for bringing the Water of Life, but they are not the only ones and the Indian Church must in time develop its own confession, a development to which many official statements and publications already look forward.71
Boyd's observation is fascinating and has gone on to be fulfilled today. Perhaps Sen and Chenchiah would have whispered that the original habitat of the Water of Life was Asia before it was taken to the West and poured into jars and cups of complicated shapes, and that the western confessions were not pure channels but tainted with political domination, commercial interest and a sense of cultural superiority. And Hogg and Sathiasatchy would ask for the recognition of similar plants in the Indian garden with their roots attached to the perennial springs. But what has
W. Longchar, 'An Emerging Tribal/Indigenous Theology: Prospect for Doing Asian Theology',
The Journal of Theologies and Cultures in Asia 1 (2002), 3-16 at 13.
R. H. S. Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, revised edn. (Delhi: ISPCK, 1975), pp. 259-60.
failed the hope of Boyd is the Indian Church, which is unable to break the pot that has no attraction for the Indian majority.
The theologians mentioned in this essay have shown great courage and confidence to criticize what was held as sacrosanct and attempt new interpretations of the gospel. Greater has been the confidence more recently in re-reading the Bible with fresh eyes based on the social experience of living in concrete contexts and encountering realities on the ground. For example, Dhyanchand Carr (b. 1938) has launched a movement of re-reading the Bible in the whole of Asia. His interpretations of the Galilean priority of Jesus' ministry and of the Son of Man as the true representative of the victim community has been a great boost to dalit theology. His is an activist's understanding of the Bible as the 'Sword of the Spirit'.72 Similarly, there have been distinctive biblical reflections in specialized areas such as the dalit movement and theology73 and relating to people of other faiths.74
For most of the theologians studied by Boyd, Hinduism means Vedanta, Vedanta means Advaita Vedanta and that again is that of Sankara! And the Latin captivity referred to at the beginning of this article seems to have been replaced by a Sanskrit captivity! We have a long way to go to recognize a variety of traditions within the pan-mythic Indian religious reality, and the dynamic interaction within and between them, which would greatly inform proper methods in Indian Christian theologies. The present revival within the Hindu fold with the persistent identification of Indianness with that of the Brahminic tradition hardly allows scope to develop a dialogical theology with commitment and openness. At this juncture the attempt of Christopher Duraisingh (b. 1938) needs recognition. Captivated by Sunder Rao's experience and vision of the coalescence of the two streams of west and east providing the inseparable 'co-efficients and co-determinants of the Indian ethos', with a background in the study of Ramanuja and process theology, and referring to the achievement of poets like Krishna Pillai, he presents a rather ideal scheme in a series of articles on 'Indian Hyphenated Christians and Theological Reflections' (1979-80).75 Duraisingh critically evaluates the earlier attempts of Indian Christian theologians, arguing that theology is not an exercise in ideas and
7 See D. Carr, Sword of the Spirit: An Activist's Understanding of the Bible (Geneva: WCC, 1992).
74 V. Devasahayam, Outside the Camp: Bible Studies in Dalit Perspective (Madras: Gurukul, 1992).
I. Selvanayagam, Relating to People of Other Faiths: Insights from the Bible (Tiruvalla: Christava
75 Sahitya Samithi-BTTBPSA, 2004).
C. Duraisingh, 'Indian Hyphenated Christians and Theological Reflections - A New Expression of
Identity', Religion and Society XXVI/4 (1979), 95-101.
concepts, but more to do with life and liturgy, in which there will be thanksgiving for all the resources of the Indian heritage, including arts and architecture, herbal medicines and yoga. But if the 'total Indian hyphenated Christian ethos' includes 'our classical linguistic and religious sensibilities as well as our socio-economic realities and actions', Brahminic tradition with its ritual and caste system, which has chained masses, may still be at the centre. Even the subaltern traditions have perpetuated fatalistic notions that obstruct process of development. The Hindutva (Hinduization) vision of militant Hinduism is no different, even though India is now a fast-changing society in the throes of modernization and globalization.
It should be pointed out that the Indian understanding of the Judaeo-Christian tradition has not been purged of the anti-Semitic attitude of the early western theologies or of Hinduism. Because the worth of the Hebrew Scripture was relegated to the position of mere preparation and promise for fulfilment in Christ, some Indian Christian theologians like Chenchiah and Chakkarai have gone to the confused extent of suggesting the replacement of it with some Hindu scriptures, but without clarifying their axioms. Today we have to take the Jewish-Christian relationship within a continuum, a single process in which God, with mysterious names like Yahweh and Trinity, has specially located himself in the faith journey of a community which had its origin in slavery and liberation, and which experienced extension and renewal. God's struggle with this community, both challenging deviation and taking new initiatives, is uniquely insightful. The significance of Jesus, perceived and confessed in several ways, was originally part of this process, and the development of extended communities by the power and guidance of the Spirit is very important for Indian Christians. They are called not to save their souls only but also to create a transformed and transforming community of equals with collective charisma and commitment to service so that the other Indian communities do not ignore them.
Awakening to and asserting distinctive identities is important for creative theological reflections. But if we are committed to being truly part of the body of Christ all over the world, we should also be able to communicate and exchange with others. It would be hard to deny that outside observers find much of what is said in India has already been said in their own context, and this needs to be acknowledged within an academic ethos. Moreover, it is time to recognize as universal the shifting combinations of the power of evil in abusing differences between socio-economic status, intellectual capacity, gender and age. The only way out seems to be to recapture Jesus' vision of a powerless yet loving and trusting child with whom God is identified and who symbolizes the universal ethos of the Kingdom of God. The combination, exemplified by persons like Sundar Singh and Ramabai, of prayerful life in Christ, simple life-style and communication, commitment to service, but without giving up reasoning, seems to have perennial appeal to India.
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