Contextual Theology

The example of liberation theology leads into the second area of discussion - the extent to which theology has different emphases according to

5 Quoted in G. Guttierez, A Theology of Liberation, Introduction to the revised edn (London: SCM,

'In the face of the underdeveloped countries, the church is, and wants to be, the church of all and especially the church of the poor', John XXIII, Address of 11 September 1962: Guttierez, Theology of Liberation, p. 17.

where Christians live. There was a particular relevance in the development of liberation theology in Latin America. Virtually all the Latin American countries were dominated by the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s, and many of them were political dictatorships. The theology of liberation had inevitable political implications, which were immediately appreciated. Moreover the Roman Catholic Church had scarcely ever found itself on the side of political revolution - Belgium in 1830 is the most obvious exception. It had indeed been more common for Protestants to find themselves backing political revolution, though the extent to which this was so should not be exaggerated, notwithstanding the example of the English Civil War. But the theological issue was not so much the question of political revolution as such, as the question of whether and to what extent the state should follow the moral teaching of the Gospel. From this point of view the fact that theologies of the state were often based on the example of the Old Testament monarchy was something of a weakness. The New Testament contained various injunctions by the Apostle Paul concerning respect for authority, teaching by Jesus which was often somewhat obscure - the classic example is 'Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's' (Matthew 22:21), where what is due to each is not defined - and an apocalyptic picture in the Book of Revelation. The result of putting all this together was not so clear as, for example, a simple appeal to Micah:

He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Micah 4:3)

At first theologians from Asia studied in Europe or North America -this was true of a whole generation of Indians. The situation in East Asia was rather different. Here the very point at which things were opening up further west was when things closed down in the east. The Communist revolution in China in 1949 put an end (albeit not immediately) to more than a generation of hopes about the future for Christianity in East Asia. Japan was still recovering from the Second World War. The Korean War in 1950-3 disrupted the peninsula, though ultimately the outcome made possible Christian growth in South Korea. Before the war the strength of Christianity in Korea had been in the north. South Korea moved towards democracy between 1987 and 1992. Indo-China was to be involved in war until the United States withdrew from Vietnam in 1975. The Philippines had secured political independence, but were under a dictatorship until 1986, or 1992 (depending on whether the date of the first multi-party elections is regarded as crucial). Indonesia became the largest Muslim state in the world.

The story of a specifically contextual Asian theology is largely a Protestant one. This is not to minimize the significance of the Roman Catholic Church. But in the pontificate of Pius XII there was still a suspicion of anything which might be called modernism. After John XXIII and the Second vatican Council the atmosphere eased, but the international character of the Church, and specifically of its theological education, meant that the opportunities for a truly contextual theology were more limited. Among the Protestant churches, however, the gathering pace of effective independence from western missionary domination created new opportunities for the development of indigenous theologies.

The pace was originally set by India. The Church of South India (1947) and later the United Churches of North India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (1970) provided contexts for the development of an Indian theology. It is true that many of those who took the lead in these developments in fact received their theological education in the west. But the World Council of Churches was particularly supportive of such people, and also encouraged the formation of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians in 1976.7 Stanley Samartha was Director of the Karnataka Theological College, the United Theological College and Serampore College in India, before going to Geneva to be the first Director of the Dialogue Programme of the World Council of Churches. He subsequently returned to India to the South Asia Theological Research Institute in Bangalore. His book, One Christ — Many Religions? suggested a revised Christology in the light of the contact between Christianity and other world religions; but it was far more than that. Out of ten chapters, the last five concerned the construction of a new Christology and its implications for mission; the first five considered the general issues for Christianity in a situation of religious pluralism and dialogue.

The lead in East Asian Christianity in the later twentieth century was taken by Korea. This was partly due to a long-standing tradition in Korea of sending missionaries outside the country, going back to the beginning

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