God Among Gods

Christianity did not arrive in a 'godless' Asia even though quite often Christian missionary rhetoric portrayed Asia as devoid of any knowledge of God. For example, Bishop Heber, who worked in India as an Anglican missionary and bishop, wrote the hymn 'From Greenland's Icy Mountains',

Boyd, Indian Christian Theology, p. 147.

P. Chenchiah, 'Wherein Lies the Uniqueness of Christ? An Indian Christian View', in R S. Sugirtharajah and Cecil Hargreaves (eds.), Readings in Indian Christian Theology, vol. I 25 (London: SPCK, 1993), pp. 83-92 at p. 92.

Some of Masao Takenaka's works include God is Rice: Asian Culture and Christian Faith (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1986); Mission and Art, co-edited with Godwin R Singh (Singapore: Christian Conference of Asia, 1994); and When the Bamboo Bends: Christ and Culture in Japan (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 2002). For Jyoti Sahi, see Stefan Belderbos, 'Jyoti Sahi's Synthesis between Western Christianity and Traditional Indian Art', Exchange 31:2 (2002), 157-70.

in which he describes the people of Asia this way: 'The heathen in his blindness, Bows down to wood and stone.'26 On the contrary, Asian religions had highly developed notions of God, albeit different from those of western Christianity. This means that Asian Christians' God-talk had to engage in a dialogue with the notions of God that were already present in a powerful way among the peoples of Asia. Such a dialogue, often, was compelled to address the following issues.

First, what is the dynamic equivalent for the term God of Christian faith - shaped by both Yahweh of the Hebrew tradition and Theos of the Greek tradition - in the local languages of Asia? This was a central and crucial question for all those who were involved in translating the Bible into Asian languages. Even though the Roman Catholics were not too keen on translating the Bible at the beginning of their missionary ventures in Asia, the Protestants saw the translation of the Bible as the first and primary task of missionary work and Roman Catholics were later engaged in it as well. Therefore, the work of translating the Bible demanded finding a dynamic equivalent term for God in local languages. The search for such an equivalent was not an innocent linguistic exercise; it was an exceedingly loaded theological task, primarily because of the presence of well-developed notions of God and the availability of a variety of terms for the Divine.

Let me offer a few examples. In Indonesia, whose population has a Muslim majority, one finds that the terms Allah and Tuhan are taken over and used in translating the biblical terms for God.27 The use of Allah for God was based on the principle of finding a dynamic equivalent in the local language. Of course, the use of Allah in the Indonesian Bible may raise theological questions for other Christians in that geographical region. We see that:

... in the Javanese Bible, 'Lord' is 'Gusti' or 'Gusti-Pangeran', and 'God' is 'Yehuwah' which is a Javanization of 'Yehovah'. In the Batak Bible, 'God' is 'Debata' which is derived from the Hindu 'dewata' (deity), but 'Lord' is 'Jahoba' which is a Batak derivation from 'Yehovah'.28

One can notice a similar kind of struggle in China as well. The Chinese people had such a dramatically different view of the cosmos that the idea

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