The church in Asia has been growing at a phenomenal rate, doubling twice in the last century. This chapter will first examine the beginnings of evangelical and pentecostal theologies up to the middle of the twentieth century; secondly their further developments over the last fifty years; and thirdly the challenges posed for understanding Christianity and mission in Asia and globally.
First we need to clarify our use of the terms evangelical and pentecostal. 'Evangelical' refers to those who are theologically conservative, subscribing to traditional Christian doctrines and affirming the ultimate authority of the Bible, the importance of personal conversion and the need to obey the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. 'Pentecostal' is used in a broad sense to refer to all who emphasize the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit and take seriously 'signs and wonders' in the life and ministry of the Christian church; hence, it applies collectively to 'classical Pentecostals' and 'charismatics' who trace their roots to Azusa Street in 1906, as well as to many varieties of indigenous Asian churches. 1
the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century
Nehemiah Goreh (1825-95) is an important example of evangelical theology in nineteenth-century India. Goreh was a Brahmin who converted to Christianity in 1848. His most significant work, A Rational Refutation of
The term pentecostal (lower case 'p') is used as defined above and distinguished from classical Pentecostals (upper case 'P') here. See further David B. Barrett, et al. (eds.), World Christian Encyclopaedia (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), vol. I, pp. 27—30; and Hwa Yung., 'Pentecostalism and the Asian Church', in Allan Anderson and Edmund Tang (eds.), Asian and Pentecostal: The Charismatic Face of Asian Christianity (Oxford: Regnum, 2005), pp. 37—57.
the Hindu Philosophical Systems,2 is a conscious apologetic directed at the six traditional systems of Hindu philosophy, including a lengthy critique of Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism). He employs the reductio ad absurdum against Vedantic epistemology and the concept of maya.3
Vedantic philosophy affirms that there is only one reality, Brahman; Brahman has true existence in contrast with the practical existence of the world, human souls and the personal God (Isvara). Yet the true Vedantin knows that practical existence is illusory. The phenomenal world and God appear to be real because of maya (ignorance or illusion). Only when one sees beyond these to Brahman, one truly sees reality. Goreh, however, proceeds to demonstrate the incoherence of this epistemology. He states: 'Such is the waywardness of the Vedantins' intellect, that, though they consider a thing to be false, and call it practical and apparent, yet, as soon as they have called it so, it begins to look to them real.'4 That is, while on the one hand the world is said to be false and illusory, on the other hand it is equated with Brahman. But, Goreh argues, either the world actually exists (implying dualism), or everything apart from Brahman is maya (illusion arising from ignorance). Yet, if cosmic-illusionism is true and the phenomenal world is maya (illusion), we cannot know anything in it to be true, including the whole Vedantic philosophical worldview of which the idea of maya is a part. Thus, cosmic-illusionism makes nonsense of all our empirical experiences and, as Goreh shows, one cannot consistently claim to be an absolute non-dualist and try to smuggle in some kind of existence for that which is not Brahman.5
Among those influenced by Goreh was Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati (1858-1922) or simply Pandita Ramabai, probably the most well known of Indian Christian women.6 Like Goreh, she was born a Brahmin. She became a noted Sanskrit scholar as a child, but converted to Christianity in 1883, becoming a radical advocate of women's rights and social reform in modern India. Ramabai is also significant for her role in pentecostal beginnings, following a spiritual revival that began on 30 June 1905 at the Mukti Mission in Pune, of which she was the founder. Accounts of the
Nehemiah Goreh, A Rational Refutation of the Hindu Philosophical Systems, trans. Fitz-Edward Hall (Calcutta: Bishop's College Press, 1862).
Ibid., pp. 156—280; cf. Robin S. Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, revised edition
4 (Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1975), pp. 46—50.
5 Goreh, A Rational Refutation of the Hindu Philosophical System, p. 251.
Hwa Yung, Mangoes or Bananas?: The Quest for an Authentic Asian Christian Theology (Oxford:
For a useful introduction to her writings, see M. Kosambi (ed.), Pandita Ramabai Through Her Own Words: Selected Works, trans. M. Kosambi (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000).
revival reported weeping and speaking in tongues, preceding the so-called 'original' appearance of classical Pentecostalism in 1906 in Azusa Street, Los Angeles, and acted as a catalyst for the beginnings of Pentecostalism in Chile.7 Furthermore, for Ramabai, this revival was one way by which the Spirit was creating an indigenous Indian Christianity.8 This is fairly typical of other examples of indigenous Christianity in Asia, as well as in Africa and Latin America; that is, in the absence of a rationalistic Enlightenment worldview, indigenous Christianity tends towards pentecostalism.
This brings us to Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929), probably the most famous of Indian Christians. Born a Sikh, he was brought up under the strong influence of his mother in both the Sikh and the Hindu bhakti traditions. But following her death he converted to Christianity in 1904. He embarked on an evangelistic preaching ministry across India, into Tibet and, finally, all over the world. Eric Sharpe classifies Sundar Singh's theology as 'evangelical orthodoxy' and asserts that 'no Indian Christian has exercised an influence even remotely comparable to Sundar Singh's'.9
Sundar Singh experienced many visions, which he tested against the Christian scriptures,10 in addition to overseeing the miracles and healings that were apparently commonplace in his ministry.11 Moreover, his approach was firmly rooted in his culture. His sermons and writings constantly used parables drawn from everyday life in India.12 In his arguments, he regularly employed a recognized Indian pattern of reasoning, which dealt with issues, not by precise logic, but by use of vivid analogy.13 Similarly, by living as a sadhu and a sannyasi, he used a contextual model of preaching and teaching which Indians were familiar with and readily accepted. Further, as with Justin Martyr, Sundar Singh saw the Logos at work everywhere, even in non-Christian cultures and scriptures. He sums up his passionate concern to proclaim Christ contextually as follows: 'Indians do need the Water of Life, but not in the European Cup.'14
Allan Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 36—7 and 173—5.
Ibid, p. 173; see also Roger E. Hedlund, Quest for Identity: India's Churches of Indigenous Origin: The 'Little Tradition' in Indian Christianity (Delhi: ISPCK, 2000), pp. 157—63. Eric J. Sharpe, 'The Legacy of Sadhu Sundar Singh', International Bull. Miss. Research 14:4 (1990), 161—7 at 165.
Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, p. 95.
SeeA. J. Appasamy, Sundar Singh: A Biography (Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1966), pp. 97—100. See his writings in T. D. Francis (ed.), The Christian Witness of Sadhu Sundar Singh: A Collection of His Writings (Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1989). Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, pp. 96 and 231.
From a personal interview with the authors, cited in B. H. Streeter and A. J. Appasamy, The Sadhu: A Study in Mysticism and Practical Religion (London: Macmillan, 1921).
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