East-West Axial Methodological Themes
There is a saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Should Asian theologians fix Western theology, or totally repudiate it? Can Western theology be meaningful and relevant among Asian people and churches? Theology whether Western or Asian, generally encompasses the study of God, humans, and salvation. The starting point in doing theology is the revelation of God as embodied in the inspired Scriptures. The living core of biblical theology is revealed in the Scriptures. It is enlightened and made understandable through the rich theological heritage of nearly two centuries of Christianity. Theology which faithfully adheres to the testimony of the Scriptures, the witness of church tradition, and as it is vivified in the Christian life does not stick exclusively to either Western or Asian theologizing. Yet, in forming Asian theology, it is vital that Asian theologians recognize the roles that other theological and religious traditions take part in shaping theology. The enlightenment that Western theology contributes to the theology of the church may be considered as one among many roots, which strengthens the foundations of the church. As such, it is imprudent to totally disregard Western theology. Other extreme Asian theologians refuse anything that is Western. For some, this is flawed theologizing. It may not be valid to play-off Western and Asian theologies. In our attitude toward Western theology, we can use as an analogy the experience of Israel under slavery in Egypt for more than four centuries. When God delivered them through Moses, they took all the plunders in Egypt. The same way, can “plundering Western theology” be helpful in doing indigenous Asian theology? A role that Western theology plays in doing Asian theology is by seeing Western theology as precedent, not as precedence. As a precedent, it primarily provides a form (not norm), secondarily providing a substance, though not absolute. Theology has form and substance, and each element is an inevitable component. The form in which Western theology is styled does not perfectly fit all peoples in Asia; however, we can use their form as a precedent. It can be a good or bad precedent. The way of “plundering Western theology,” in this manner, is by appropriating all good precedents and disregarding the bad ones. For instance, the West’s emphasis on philosophical, ontological, and rational explanations of theology can strike a balance in Asian preference of existential and engaged orientation of forming theology. The substance or content of Western theology tends to be profound and not easily understood by common Asian readers. But, profundity does not negate validity. Its highly intellectual orientation sometimes divorces it from experience. The distinctive that Asian theology possesses is simplicity and clarity. By “plundering Western theological orientation,” we must be sure that Asian theology does not compromise its rational element. The recognition that Asian theologians now afford to other non-Christian Asian religions indicates that there is a need to re-imagine the necessity of theologizing together. Those who are coming from Western perspective tend to easily and effortlessly condemn pluralism and inclusivism as diametrically opposed to Christian religion. However, other predominant Asian religions also play a significant role in doing Asian theology – that is, in the area of contextualization. Theology shapes different religious contexts, in the same way that these contexts give shape to theology. Asian religions are hermeneutical tools, they are not inerrant. Asian religions may also serve as auxiliary source in doing theology, maintaining the Scripture as the supreme authority. As an auxiliary source, Asian religions can give illumination and vivification to biblical truths. And by carefully studying how Asian religions view God, humans, and salvation in light of the Scripture, we can therefore shape a diverse yet unified theology. Pluralism and inclusivism prove that diversity is tremendously real in Asia. Shall we entirely reject these perspectives and practices? Can Asian religions theologize together? I believe that Asian theologians can authentically form an Asian theology which is faithful to the inspired Scriptures and accommodating of a new life together among Asian religions.