Now we turn to recognize a new context. With the opportunity to be exposed to British education and western thinking a group of Hindu thinkers in modern India, including Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) and Keshab Chunder Sen (1838-84), were motivated to reform their tradition. They challenged exclusive claims by Christians and their missionaries and reclaimed the positive aspects of their ancient tradition. At the same time, they were different from those who were hostile to Christian mission and cynical about its contribution. They read the Bible with fresh eyes and criticized the western doctrines as twisting and mystifying it. Their perceptions helped some Indian theologians to see the influence of the gospel in unexpected ways, to make their own response and to engage in original thinking. Sen was an original thinker and developed some seminal ideas in a unique way of presentation.30 He claimed that Jesus was originally an Asian before he was Europeanized and that the western image of the church was a hindrance to unveiling the true person of Jesus. Sen's personal experience of God was of the Trinity. He identified the supreme Brahman of the Vedanta with Logos, the personal shape of which was Jesus of Nazareth who typified the new humanity to be created by the same reality. Sen was the first to expound the meaning of Trinity using the Vedantic category of Brahman as Saccidananda, a compound word constituted by Sat (Truth or Being), Cit (Intelligence) and Ananda (Joy). He identified the Sat with Father, Creator, the still God, the 'I am', Force and Truth; Cit with Son, the Exemplar, the journeying God, the 'I love', Wisdom and Good; and Ananda with Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, the returning God, the 'I save', Holiness and Beauty. They are three conditions and three manifestations of Divinity.
Sen influenced many people, including other Christian theologians such as Pandita Ramabai (1885-1922), Manilal Parekh (1885-1967) and P. C. Mozoomdar (1840-1905), and also leading Hindus such as Vivekananda, Gandhi and Radhakrishnan. All these persons in a way upset those missionaries and Christian Indians who wanted to emphasize the distinctiveness of the Christian gospel because they presented Hinduism -with reference either to the mystical experience of oneness with the Supreme Being or to the ethical ideal of non-violence - as the 'crown of
D. Scott (ed.), Keshub Chunder Sen (Madras: Christian Literature Society for CISRS and United
Theological College, 1979).
Christianity'. The continued influence of their position is such that no Hindu thinker has thought it necessary to reread the New Testament and review the church in India.
Of those Indian Christian theologians who made a studied and considered response to the Indian renaissance and the perceptions of the Hindu reformers and thinkers on Christ and Christianity, four are most worthy of note: P. D. Devanandan (1901-62), M. M. Thomas (1916-96), Stanley Samartha (1920-2001), and Russell Chandran (1918-2000). With the exception of Thomas, all of them were presbyters of the Church of South India. What is common in these men is that all of them in one way or another were associated with the United Theological College and its neighbour the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society (CISRS) in Bangalore, were exposed to the West either for study or work or for both, and made a significant contribution to the ecumenical movement, particularly through the Christian Conference of Asia and the World Council of Churches. All of them took pains to correct the Hindu tendency to subsume Jesus into its system of thought and to clarify in different terms the distinctive character of Jesus as representing a divine humanity or the human face of divinity.
Devanandan, the founder-director of CISRS, believed 'The real problem in Hindu India is to effect a synthesis between the traditional world-view and contemporary secularism ... it is in relation to this concern that the good news of God incarnate in Jesus Christ will have to be spelled out.'31 As he saw it, the present world, conditioned by many limitations, is both real and unreal, and without the paralysing limitation of karma samsaara, Christians have a glimpse of transformation and a vision of hope. He called Christians to help Hindus 'to redefine the very nature of what is called religion' by dialogical inter-penetration to find out the common goal and strive to achieve it. For him, participation in nation-building was an imperative for every Christian in order to spell out Christ convincingly.
M. M. Thomas, who succeeded Devanandan as the director of CISRS, built on his vision, views and programmes. Echoing the views of senior national leaders and thinkers like Lal Behari Day and Gopala Krishna Gokhale, he expressed a positive view of the colonial impact on modern Asia, which effected what was almost a revolution.32 At the same time he did not fail to point out the immediate possibility of fall and perversion.
P. D. Devanandan, Preparation for Dialogue (Bangalore: CISRS, 1964), p. 38.
M. M. Thomas, The Christian Response to the Asian Revolution (London: SCM, 1966), p. 29.
It was evident that there was conflict in the process of integration, and crushing poverty in the midst of productivity and industrialization. However, for Thomas, the 'Asian revolution' gives 'the spiritual vision of a more abundant life'. In this context the church in Asia has a unique opportunity to have an encounter with all people of progressive thinking, religious and secular, to present Jesus Christ as critically relevant, and to participate in nation-building and social transformation.
In response to Raymond Panikkar's The Unknown Christ of Hinduism,33 Thomas produced his The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance (1970), the outcome of an extensive study of the modern Hindu reformers and thinkers we mentioned above. He showed how Christ had not been ignored by those who wanted to reform Indian society, although they had their shortcomings in grasping the full stature and meaning of Christ. Thomas argued that theology should always be 'contextual'.34 Attaining the self-hood of the church should be seen as an outcome of a theological process of discerning the relevance of Jesus Christ for the situation, and he saw in this connection the achievement of the Church of South India in 1947 as very significant. In the context of the battle to find a true anthropology in dialogue with the modern Hindu reformers and secular humanists, Thomas suggested a new phrase to understand the meaning of salvation, 'salvation as humanization'.35 Thomas paid tribute to those western missionaries who contributed to the process of humanizing the poor and the untouchable communities of India, through which they found their dignity and became part of a new fellowship.
In parallel to John Hick's God and the Universe of Faiths,36 Thomas published his Man and the Universe of Faiths37 in which he presents the divine humanity of Jesus Christ as a spiritual source of a new community and suggests the possibility of 'secular fellowships' and 'Christ-centred syncretism' motivated by 'a spirituality for combat'. While he found secular ideologies like Marxism to have a vision of society close to the Christian vision, he points out how ideologies can become dogmatic, leading to totalitarian structures and failing to continue the exploration
R. Panikkar, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1964). M. M. Thomas, The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance (Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1976), pp. 309-15.
M. M. Thomas, Salvation and Humanization — Some Critical Issues of the Theology ofMission in 36 Contemporary India (Madras: Christian Literature Society (for CISRS), 1971).
J. Hick, God and the Universe of Faiths: Essays in the Philosophy of Religion (London: Macmillan, 1973).
M. M. Thomas, Man and the Universe ofFaiths (Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1976).
Was this article helpful?