William Sterndale Bennett and Otto Goldschmidt, eds., The Chorale Book For England, congregational edn. (London: Longman, Roberts and Green, 1863, supp. 1865), no. 231. Emanuel Gerrit Singgih, Doing Theology in Indonesia: Sketches for an Indonesian Contextual
28 Theology, ATESEA Occasional Papers 14 (Manila: ATESEA, 2003), p. 143. Ibid.
of God was not present in their thought; rather they had the Tao which was far beyond the conception of a personal Creator God. The Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans and Protestants suggested their own dynamic equivalents; such as, tian (heaven), shangdi (supreme ruler), tianzhu (Lord of Heaven) and so on.29
In India, however, the situation was more complex. The Hindu tradition had a host of names and terms for God. As far as the terms for God in the Indian languages were concerned, there were two levels of signification. The word Brahman signified the Ultimate Reality that was beyond the personal and can rightly be called suprapersonal. It was devoid of any attributes or forms. The other term was ishvara, meaning a personal God, very similar to the term Theos in the Greek language tradition. The missionaries rightly saw Brahman as different from the biblical view of God and hence rejected it as a possible equivalent term for God. So the only other alternative was the term ishvara. Here was another problem; namely, that ishvara seemingly had polytheistic overtones. This was repugnant to the missionaries in so far as they were looking for an equivalent for the biblical view of God. It was the genius of Roberto De Nobili that he saw ishvara as a live option and qualified it with a prefix meaning 'of all'. Hence he coined the term saruveshvar; God of God or God of all. The Protestants chose the word Devan, which is from the same root as Deus and has a masculine ending. Since the rise of women's criticism of the sexist character of Christian theological language, the word kadavul, which means 'the transcendent-immanent One', is preferred because of its gender-free character.
The numerous names of God in the Hindu tradition pose a problem for the Christian theological response to religious pluralism as well. Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh and Murugan are all personal names of the Hindu pantheon. That means one cannot opt to use those terms for God. Moreover, the Hindu pantheon includes Goddesses too. As you can see the very act of naming God has such serious theological implications and consequences that one needs to tread carefully and cautiously in naming God in the Asian multi-religious situation. The theological concern behind all these various experiments in God-language is to avoid any trace of henotheistic implications and to maintain the radical monotheistic stance of the Christian faith.
Kwok Pui-lan, 'Images of God in the Chinese Context', Voices from the Third World, vol. XXI, no. 2 (1998), 102—18 at 103. See also Hwa Yung, Mangoes or Bananas? The Quest for an Authentic
Asian Christian Theology (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 126.
Another concern that is linked to Asian Christians' God-talk is the Buddhist context in which the very talk of God is at odds with the Buddhist view of the cosmos. With its atheistic beginnings, Buddhism opts for the language of 'nothingness' (sunyata) when it comes to naming the ultimate context of human existence. How does one speak of the Christian view of God in such a setting? Jung Young Lee rejects the view of God as changeless and proposes that we see 'change' as an ultimate category to be used for God-talk, in light of the I-Ching of China. He writes: 'God is changeless because he is primarily Change itself. The ever-changing nature of God has in himself the unchanging pattern of change.'30 In another work, Lee employs the yin-yang symbolic thinking as his theological method to expound the idea of God as Trinity.31 He ends his discussion with these words:
As is true of DNA, I sense that the presence of the Trinity is the basic unit of life in everything from the microcosmic to the macrocosmic world. It is like the ch 'i, the principle of energy, but it is more than the ch'i. Although I sense its presence, I have no way to identify it. The divine Trinity is more than what can be known.32
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