Archive for the 'Indian Christian Theology' Category

What is Contextual Theology? More questions than answers

Few days ago I was reading an academic paper written intentionally from a Kenyan contextual perspective. The paper critiqued the state of the Kenyan church and called for a transformation of the content and method of education in the Kenya. What struck me was that the author talked about the Kenyan church in almost the exact manner we talk about the Indian church. The Kenyan church, also the recipient of Colonial Christianity, had almost the exact concerns as those facing India.

I asked the author (it was a presentation), what was distinctively “contextual” in his approach since there was such similarity. What was uniquely Kenyan in his theological formulation, his methodology, or even his solution? The author’s defense was that the history of the Kenyan Church, as well as the issues facing the Kenyan church, were unique. While the author was probably right to clarify it like this, in the paper I did not see enough evidence of a theology that arose from the awareness of the history of Kenya or even the unique issues affecting Kenya. In effect, the generic “theological solution” was simply that generic.

This reminded me about how difficult “contextual theology” really is. What we usually see in attempts of “contextual theology” is theology that has implications to a particular region… hence a “practical theology”. This kind of theology seeks to address a particular issue facing a particular context. The generic nature of the “solution” is therefore not a problem because similar issues will have similar solutions.

However, we rarely see good “contextual theology” that actually uniquely emerges out of the context.This kind of theology, that is truly contextual, is mostly unique to the context within which it emerges from. In fact, it may not make sense to those outside that context, but it certainly rings a visceral bell in those within that context. This kind of theology is not simply about the issues facing the context (culture), like poverty, pluralism, lack of education etc. Rather, theology itself is made the issue. Do we understand the Bible correctly? Have we been brain-washed into thinking in a particular way? How should we (from our context) understand God, his word, that helps us to rightly understand and rightly communicate God here, today.

There have been contextual theologians in the past who have done this intentionally or unintentionally. However, good examples of “contextual theology” today are rare. It requires the theologian to be completely honest, even to the point of being willing to question age-old beliefs and traditions.

Keeping in mind the controversial nature of “contextual theology” I’m not sure whether it is a challenge worth fighting for.  But my gut-feeling is that contextual theology, the honest and compelling kind, is still needed today.


Christian Theologies From An Indian Perspective, by Sunand Sumithra (ebook)

Bibliography: Sunand Sumithra, Christian Theologies From An Indian Perspective (Bangalore: Theological Book Trust, 1990, 2nd Edition, 2002). ISBN : 81-7475-038-X

ebook combined from source:

Preaching from Jeremiah – A Sermon on Judgement and Hope


Sermon Draft – 27 June, 2010 (SAIACS Chapel) (All bible references are taken from the NIV)

Jer 17:14 Heal me, O Lord , and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.

The point of the sermon is this: The story of the (early part of the) book of Jeremiah is that there is false hope being offered by the people, which God entirely rejects. Judgement is coming. However, there is also true hope for the people of God, that not everything will be destroyed, God will restore his people.


Personal confession: I find the Bible difficult to understand.

Yet God led me to Jeremiah, to challenge me to know him outside the normal simple texts that I chose.

So for that past few months I have been meditating on the book of Jeremiah. I have thorough enjoyed reading Jeremiah and have even begun to understand parts of it that I thought I wouldn’t understand. Despite the generally negative tone, there is a fundamental positive message for the people of God, and a little of that excitement and hope is want to share with you today.

For my text I am taking a marathon survey through the first 31 chapters of Jeremiah, though focussing on 27-31.

Please don’t be shocked, we are not going verse by verse! But I’m hoping that we will get a feel for the text. But I also hope that you will read for yourself, test for yourself, what I am saying, and take a journey into this difficult yet fascinating text.


The first 30 chapters take the reader through a message of judgement, shown from the perspective of God who is hurt and angry with his people who have forsaken him.


Shifting from possible grace to inevitable judgement

One of the early chapters (chapter 2 in fact) shows God as the accuser, bringing charges against the people of Israel for forsaking their God.

Continue reading ‘Preaching from Jeremiah – A Sermon on Judgement and Hope’

An Indian Christian response to Republic Day: (from the archives)

The following is an excerpt from an article by Chenchiah in the Guardian. He bemoans how Republic Day has lost its fervour and is simply celebrated by officials. An important message for today, for both Christian and non-Christian Indians.

“My total impression is that real India has shown very little spontaneous joy at the coming of the Republic. I wonder why Republic means so little change. Wherever I went I observed the celebrations were official and paid as in the British days. The Railway stations, the schools, post offices, police stations were conspicuous and each of them received Government grants for celebrations. Every where the Government officials were in evidence as leaders of the celebrations. In a stretch of on hundred and seventy-four miles there was not a single instance of spontaneous celebration. Only in one house I say Indian decoration–thorannams. I did not see decorations in private houses. I cam to Madras. A traveller in the tram observed that he did not see one smiling face on the Republic Day in Madras. That is my experience also. The wine of liberty has not reached the main in the street. The joy of liberty is mostly an official joy that has not yet reached the proletariat in terms of more tolerable existence. This is a portent which the Government has to note. This may prove in the end a greater danger to the Congress than to the Communists. Independence has not been translated into popular speech.” P. Chenchiah, “A Laymen among theologians,” The Guardian, 16 February, 1950, 103

Police Commissioner Bans Gandhi Jayanti Celebration (From the archives)

newspaperOctober 2 is Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday. It’s a holiday. We know it. We love it. Today, no Indian Police Commissioner would dare ban any Gandhi celebration. But there was a time when celebrating Gandhi’s birthday was an offence and was banned by the (British) Indian Police Commissioner of Madras, a few years before India won her independence. In those days, some people even fought to celebrate Gandhi Jayanti! At least that’s according to the excerpt from The Guardian, the Christian newspaper published during the Indian independence struggle that I’ve been reading over the past month. The following excerpt is from an editorial written in 1943, after the Quit India movement started. And it tells briefly how the British Government wanted to ban all Gandhi Jayanti celebrations. Today (October 2) we have the freedom to celebrate, but that celebration is usually left to officials. I want to celebrate Gandhi’s birth by posting this for others to see and remember.

October 2 was the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi Jayanti week celebrations… have been an institution for many years. the Commissioner of Police, Madras, has prohibited processions and meetings arranged in this connection. The organisations that jointly arranged these are well known in the City and the programmes they planned did not savour of a political campaign. The topics of lectures for the week were ‘Gandhi and Harijans’, ‘Gandhi and Unity’, ‘Gandhi and Khadhar’ and such like. The occasion is usually availed of to review what the life and leadership of Gandhiji has meant to India. It relates to many other fields besides politics and men of all communities and races join in paying homage. To the Government and the Commissioner of Police, Mahatma Gandhi is only an undesirable political figure and they may see sinister meaning in the notice taken of a man whom they have found fit only for the prison. They law and order maintained by prohibition of this kind is only apparent. It is an exhibition of authority which will not win the respect of the people. Students turned away from this programme are collecting funds for Bengal Famine Relief.

No author (editorial), “Notes” The Guardian, October 7, 1943. p. 469

Indian Christian Politics: Chenchiah’s vision for Social Revolution (from the archives)

newspaperIn continuation of my attempt to resurrect some articles from The Guardian,, the following is an excerpt from an article titled “Indian Christian Politics” in The Guardian, October 11 (1945) 325. The scheme for ‘social revolution’, which Chenchiah proposes, was actually formulated at the Bangalore Conference Continuation held that year, 1945 (note the pre-independence date). Here’s the concluding part of the article:

At the Bangalore conference Continuation held last summer a group of Christians who had the tragedy of our political life on their minds pondered deeply over the issue of their deliberations ended in a call to the youth of the country to lead a social revolution as well. They formulated a programme of action and recommended the technique of ‘cells.’ This has the advantage of putting action before talk and service before power. It links religions in patriotic endeavour. It puts the revolutionary leaven right into the masses. In their scheme the cell is the actor and not the audience. This scheme is as follows:

1. No caste–members of the cell should express their renunciation of caste by eating together, openly.
2. No class–members of the cell, those who are in position to do so, should set apart a portion of their net income as a fund to be owned by the members of the cell in common for meeting unemployment and ill health.
3. Productive work. Every member of the cell to devote himself every day to the production of food by gardening or of cloth by spinning.
4. Common Ownership–The essentials of life, food, clothes, should be lifted from the category of private ownership and experiments should be made in the enjoyments of these as common property.
5. Cooperation–The members should extend the principle of cooperation to every friend of economic activity.
6. Replacement of Money–Money should be replaced whenever possible by the social and moral effort which it represents.
7. Religious Unity–Members to secure harmony among followers of different religions by bringing to bear their religious inspiration on the furthering of social revolution.

This article is written in the hope that the adoption of this programme will bring all cates and classes into a fellowship of brotherhood and break the ground for larger programmes of the people’s government. Should we desire to avoid the bloodshed and red trail which revolutions find inevitable in their opponents, we have to prepare the people for the changes that are decreed and ordained for the political evolution of the world.

Why this ‘Indian Christian’ Nomenclature (from the archives)

newspaperIn continuation with the effort (in this space) to resurrect some hidden gems from The Guardian, here’s a short article by V. N. Sharma (a Christian writing in 1951) who critiques the use of the term “Indian Christian” and vociferously calls for abandoning it altogether. I especially liked the part where Sharma says, “we… are Indians first and Indians last and our faith in the Lord paves the Way to behold the Truth and gives us the courage to live That in our own daily life.”

Why this ‘Indian Christian’ Nomenclature?

I have been wondering why the followers of the Christ in India allow themselves [to be] called ‘Indian Christians’ when we see such a nomenclature is unknown in other lands, Christian or non-Christian. A Christian living in Germany does not call himself or herself a ‘German Christian’, and the same rule applies to the followers of the Lord in other lands either in Europe, America or other continents. This nomenclature is particularly peculiar to our own people in India; the historical origin of this might be that the Christian missionaries who propagated the Gospel of our Lord wanted that the sons of the soil would come under the category of ‘Indian Christian’ as apart from their own kith and kin. Those historical events do not exist now and there is no necessity to follow this ancient path at present, if I dare to call this an ancient path at all. Whether we follow the Catholic way or the Protestant way, we are only Christians, born in this ancient land of India and working for the realisation of the eternal truths which this great land of our birth proclaimed in the world at large and for which the Lord stood in His earthly life. As such we, the humble followers of the Christ are Indians first and Indians last and our faith in the Lord paves the Way to behold the Truth and gives us the courage to live That in our own daily life. This, I feel, is our mission ins this life and through this alone we can secure His blessings for His glorification on this earth.

Let us not be enamored with false classification of ‘Indian Christians’ as if we are different form others that we need the state legislation to uphold this slavery of false nomenclature. I have been discussing this question with a number of friends and most of them agree with my thesis that this is a state of false protection so as to separate ourselves from other communities in India. Let us, if you all agree, raise up against this ante-diluvion classification. Let us ask the Government in power to classify us only ‘Christians’, and not ‘Indian Christians’. There are no ‘Indian Hindus’, ‘Indian Jains’, ‘Indian Buddhists’ as they go only under the denomination of their own religion. I know even the Muslims in India prefer to call themselves as Muslims and not ‘Indian Muslims’ even though some of our Muslim friends prefer to call themselves on reasons which I need mention on political grounds etc.

I do hope the elders of the Christian community will bestow some thought on this fundamental matter and set right the greatest harm this artificial designation so far done to us all.

Mylapore. V. N. Sharma

Source: “Why This ‘Indian Christian’ Nomenclature?” V. N. Sharma, The Guardian, October 18, 1951, 477.


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Passage for this Season

Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.