Christian witness in the Contemporary context

August 27, 2010 by

T. Jacob Thomas

Starting with a Critique

I was recently reading the STM Thesis written by Juhanon Thirumeni while he was a student at the Union Theological Seminary, New York, in 1930. The thesis was titled, “The Christian Church in India and the Need for Changed Missionary Objectives in the light of a Better Appreciation of Hinduism.”  He starts with some important  observations:

“From the start foreign denominations came to India bearing a Church and not Christ…..The church idea and not the Christ idea dominated the Christian movements” (p.3).

About the Kerala church he notes: “The word ‘Syrian’ was and is  a millstone hung on the Christians of Malabar. This prevented them from being an active missionary church; this made them into a caste community; this was the source of various internecine quarrels and this prevents them from becoming the nucleus of an indigenous Indian Church….For the future the sooner it throws away its ‘Syrian’ outlook, the earlier it begins to look at things from an Indian point of view, the better will it be fitted to play its part in christianisation of the great and ancient land to which it, by right, belongs” (pp.3-4). Further he observes that the result of  Robert de Nobile’s work “was the formal recognition of caste in the Church” (4).

Thirumeni points out that “the destruction of Hinduism and the promoting of a Church would seem to have been the definite aim of some at least of the missionaries” (p.8). Thirumeni quotes Bishop Heber who had  a very low opinion of Hinduism:  “But of all idolatries which I have ever read or heard of, the religion of the Hindoos, in which I have taken some pains to inform myself, really appears to  me the worst, both in the degrading notions which it gives of the Diety; in the endless rounds of its burdensome ceremonies, which occupy the time and detract the thoughts, without either instructing or interesting its votaries; in the filthy acts of uncleanness and cruelty, not only permitted but also enjoined and  inseparably interwoven with those ceremonies; in the system of caste – a system which tends more than anything else, the devil has yet invented, to destroy the feelings of general benevolence and to make nine-tenths of mankind the hopeless slaves of the remainder; and in the total absence of any popular system of morals or any single lesson which the people at large ever hear , to live virtuously  and do good to each other. ”( p. 9).

    Another American missionary has suggested a course of action: “Their deities must be changed ere their moral condition can be materially and generally improved. The Bible must supplant narratives of their false divinities; their temples covered now with sculptures and paintings which crimson[s] the face of modesty even to glance at, must be demolished; the vile lingam must be leveled to the ground; the festivals in which are reenacted shameless events in the life of Krishna and others like him, must be abolished; the scenes now passing before the eyes of that nation sanctioned by divine  example must cease. Then will India rise from her moral depresssion” (quote from India and the Hindus, pp. 256-7).

Thirumeni gives his reason for being critical more of Christianity than  of Hinduism in his thesis:  “… it is a highly Christian quality to be ever willing  to turn   the search light against oneself.  Self-examination and confession of sins are as much necessary for Christian progress as looking forward into the glory of the future” (p.81).  Against the missionary critique Thirumeni’s observation of Hinduism has  been, “That the corruption was not inherent in Hinduism as such, and that it was capable of a reform in rituals and morals, is proved by its having withstood the attacks of Christianity and in having evolved a new and modern Hinduism”( p.12). In spite of all the wrong things one  finds in Hinduism like casteism some inner strength has been noted by Thirumeni.  That strength is the ability to renew itself which has helped Hinduism to adapt itself to all modern challenges. The point he makes is that the missionary objective should not be destruction of Hinduism but its renewal and witness to that renewal in the light of Christ’s work in the world, an approach which was highlighted later by M.M. Thomas.

Witness: A soft but powerful word than mission

Samuel Jayakumar, in his Mission Reader: Historical models for holistic mission in the Indian Context, (Delhi: ISPCK, 2002) distinguishes four models of mission: mission as rescue, mission as light, mission as transformation and mission as witness. He says that the idea of mission as witness is particularly  Johannine. The Greek  noun marturia translated as witness  is used fourteen  times in John, while not once in Matthew. Mark has three references and Luke has one only. John has used the verb marturew 33 times  while  Matthew and Luke  used it once and  Mark never. The Greek word, martyreo  is translated as “ to witness,” “to bear witness,” a “witness,” “to testify” and “testimony.”  Witness is a martyr, ready to bear testimony even at the cost of death. John the Baptist  came primarily to witness Christ  and for nothing else (John 1:7,8,15,19,32,34,3:26).

 John has seven references to bearing witness to Christ: the Father (5: 31-37), Christ himself (8:14,18), Holy Spirit (15:26), works of Jesus (5:36,10:25) and  the scripture(5:39).  Several witnesses follow the ministry of Jesus – disciples (15:27), the Samaritan woman (4:39), the multitude (12:17).Those who witnessed were committed to Christ, which is very important  to the job of witness.  ”Unless you commit yourself, unless you stake everything on the truth what you say, you cannot be a witness.” (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, p.89). Jesus said to his disciples, You are   my witnesses to these things (Luke 24:48; cf. John 15:27) of what Jesus has done in Palestine. They were called to be his witnesses among the nations. Instead of wishful thinking or apocalyptic speculations they were charged to witness. For that “ You will be empowered  when the Holy Spirit….. earth (Acts 1: 6-8). First thing is to be empowered by the Spirit. It was at Pentecost that the witnessing mission of the church started.  They were not asked to accomplish anything, but to point to what God has done and is going to give testimony to what they have seen, heard and touched (1John 1:1). Witness is a legal term. They have to give evidence of what they have seen. Witness is a saktchi.  They have to testify with their blood, they are martyrs.  Mark says that the resurrected Jesus has directed the disciples  to meet him in Galilee “just as he told you” (16:7).  The promise of Jesus is that wherever they go he will be there already; “and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea  and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). That includes India also where disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit would witness to what Jesus is doing.  When M.M. Thomas perceived revelation of God in the Asian revolution, people’s struggle for self-determination and justice, several missiologists found it difficult to understand and accused him of heresy.  Juhanon Mar Thoma, then C.M. John, was ready to be accused of the heresy of Adoptianism in his   demonstration of Christ viewed by Hinduism as “the perfect ‘Bhakta (one who has attained perfection in devotion to God), the perfect ‘jnanin’ (one who has had perfect of oneness with God), and the perfect ‘Karma Margi’ (one who has attained perfection through right deeds)” (p.84).  It is enlightening to note that  Bishop V S. Azariah interpreted witness as the  experience of love, equality, and freedom in  Christ. To him witnessing refers to a transformed life style.  Witnessing is powerful but not intimidating and overpowering word as mission.

Missiological  concurrence

David Bosch, the foremost modern missiologist, interpreted   mission is primarily transformation of the community (Transforming Mission: Paradigm shifts in Theology of Mission, Orbis 1991).  He introduced the concept of paradigm shift to explain the contemporary crisis   in Christian Theology and Mission. This paradigm shift has also evoked new opportunities to Christian witness. Agreeing with scholars like Spindler 1967:10; Kasting 1969:132; Rutti 1972:113f; Kramm 1979:215 also Frankemolle 1982:94f he says that in the New Testament we find theologies of mission and not one theology of mission. New Testament uses words such as the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city on a hill, to define mission.  In the  postmodern period the truth is not placed in any single theory, but in the multiplicity of relationship. Today we need theologies that witness to the revelation of truth in the web of our experiences, in the network of theories. So we need to have doctrine of salvations, missions, revelations, divine experiences.

Following Hans Kung’s (1984:25; 1987:157) paradigms Bosch has  highlighted  the following missiological paradigms.

1)     The Apocalyptic paradigm of primitive Christianity

2)     The Hellenistic paradigm of the patristic period

3)     The medieval Roman Catholic paradigm

4)     The Protestant Reformation paradigm

5)     The modern Enlightenment paradigm

6)     The emerging ecumenical paradigm.

These different periods have affected various ways of looking at the text and doing theology, which is further influenced by our ecclesiastical tradition, personal context (sex, age, marital status, education), social position (social class, profession, wealth, environment), personality and culture (world view, language, etc) (182). Bosch points out that James Martin, another mission theologian, has classified  Christian  mission  into three methodological constructions: “pre-critical (vitalistic, symbolic), the critical (analytical, mechanistic), and the post-critical (Holistic, ecumenical). (188).

Bosch (Pp 5), with the help of missiologists like Verkuyl (1978a: 168-75; cf. Durr 1951:2-10)  deconstructs mission motives and identifies some  impure streams such as:

i)                 Imperialism

ii)               Cultural domination

iii)             Romantic experience in far away exotic countries

iv)              Ecclesiastical colonialism (export confession and church order to other countries).

Other motives listed were theological such as:

i)                 Desire to convert people’s souls to God.

ii)               The desire for people to enter the future, eschatological Kingdom of God.

iii)             Church planting

iv)              To seek God’s justice and that God’s reign would improve life in the society (Bosch quoting cf. Freytag 1961:201-17; Verkuyl 1978a: 164-68).

Bosch concludes that within this combination of motives there is a dying Christian triumphalism against other religions and therefore questions its uniqueness and truth claims.

Bosch points out that there is no mission in the Old Testament in the way we see mission today and therefore the decisive difference between the Old and the New Testament is mission. However, he admits that there is a missionary element in the Old Testament but there he says it is God who is the missionary (p.19), because it is God who will bring all nations to worship  together with Israel (Isa 51:5; 40:5; 45:22; 42:6; 49:6 etc) placing Israel, the chosen, as the third (Isa 19:22-25). For the eunuchs  God offers “a monument that will be better than sons and daughters. I will set up a permanent monument for them that will remain. (Isa.56:5). God promises them happiness and acceptance: ​​​​​​​I will bring them to my holy mountain; I will make them happy . Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my temple will be known as a temple where all nations may pray” (56:7). This promise is to all who search after God, foreigners, the dispersed and all the marginalized

 

Jesus’ mission has been  to breakdown boundaries and to include all, even those who were seen as enemies, he forgives them. God invites all and it is those who respond who are accepted. The Gentiles in the Jewish tradition seem to be seen as outside, and unredeemable, but according to the New Testament, through Christ, (the earthly Jesus) all those who repent are redeemable. So mission starts with Jesus Himself and at this point, Bosch calls Jesus, “the primal missionary”(p.31). Bosch then goes on to point out some of Jesus’ own self-definitions, which implied his negation towards Judaism’s exclusiveness.

The reign of God is “malkuth Yahweh/ basileia tou Theou). Bosch looks at the Old Testament background and the New Testament development of this concept, and building it towards Jesus’ own understanding of his own mission in relation to this concept. Bosch sees this concept as, “a starting point and context for mission” (Bosch: p 32 quoting Senior and Stuhmueller 1983:144).

Bosch then points out  three main weaknesses, which he sees as having been threats of undoing this new shift of mission paradigm (from the Old to the New Testament).

1)     Although Jesus had no intention of starting a new religion, Christianity later became a new religion. Jesus’ movement was to announce the Kingdom of God and the church came into being.

2)     Instead of Christianity being a movement, it became an institution. Instead of being progressive it became conservative. He draws the contrast between the church in Jerusalem and that of Antioch and points out the dichotomies between–Mission and consolidation; grace and  law; crossing frontiers and fixing them; life and doctrine; movement and institution. This led to the settled ministry of the bishops (elders) and deacons on the one hand and the mobile ministry of the apostles, prophets and evangelists on the other. This led to a creative tension.

3)     The church failed to make Jews feel at home, especially on issues of circumcision and the inclusion of the Gentiles.

Bosch sees Matthew’s main purpose as being to make his community aware of its calling and mission, in that case it was pastoral with reference to the Old Testament helping them in seeing their identity and connection to the law, and it was missionary, by giving them the awareness of seeing opportunities for witness and service, led by the Holy Spirit. Bosch sees a contradiction in this gospel, that in some places it has a strong sense of support to Judaism and in some places it has a strong gentile bias. Through this contradiction he guides his readers towards mission to the gentiles, although he shows that it is the gentiles who came to Jesus and not vice versa.

Bosch sees Luke 24:46-49 as being a replacement of the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28, and points out the focus of Luke’s attention, the poor.

There is no mission text in Paul but we see the whole of his theology as mission focused. As the church became less of a movement and more of an institution, it began to adopt aspects of the Hellenistic culture. While the Jews emphasised on hearing, the Greek emphasised on seeing, and knowledge, “gnosis”.  The development of doctrinal definitions and dogma entered the church. Salvation was to be found in knowledge and ideas, and a lot of Greek philosophers became influential in the process. Bosch lists seven areas, which he sees as a challenge to contemporary mission.

1)     The rise of Christianity in the non-western world to the point of acceding that of the West.

2)     The rise of challenge towards exploitative and oppressive structures (eg. racism and sexism).

3)     Progress as the god of the enlightenment is now seen as a false god.

4)     The danger of damaging the environment and exhausting the resources.

5)     Risk of the nuclear holocaust.

6)     Western theology is no longer able to claim superiority over non-western theology.

175th Anniversary of Reformation – celebration

 

Mandalam Study book 2009( Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church Mandalam-2009 Study: Christian Witness: Rethinking the Mission of the Church), Published by the Sabha Council and translated into English by the North American Diocese) acknowledges the present  the condition of the Church: ”We have become a decrepit ancient monument with inability to respond meaningfully to today’s issues/Samasiyas, challenges and realities; it is a symbol of degeneration and hopelessness; a symbol of the inability to provide a challenge and a vision for a new social order. As a result, nobody is taking the church seriously; church has become irrelevant and decadent. Those who are called out to be different, those who are called out to reform the world through them being different have been transformed into nothingness or meaninglessness [emphasis added]; they have lost their savour” (p.30). Church has come to this pathetic condition as it has failed to critique itself or listen to its thoughtful leaders like Juhanon Thirumeni.  Thirumeni’s findings need to be addressed by the Mar Thoma Church as it observes  the  175th Anniversary of Reformation in 2010. Even eighty years back Thirumeni saw the   “decrepit” condition and  raised questions to our preconceived notions of theology and missiology: “Christ is not the possession of the West or of the existing Church. Christianity, as the religion of Jesus, is a world religion  and Christ belongs to humanity at large…..Mahatma Ganhi calls God ‘Daridra Narayana’ (God of poverty or God who is poor) and who but Christ can fulfil his idea? Would the Christians allow that name to Christ?” (p.84). The reformation has to reclaim its indigenous roots, which was the aim of Abraham Malpan who translated  the Liturgy into Malayalam.  Now the liturgy has to focus on the Daridra Narayan, theGod of  the   poor, the other  rather than celebrating the translation of an imperialistic, cultural nostalgia,   along  the lines of Juhanon Thiryumeni’s thinking.

The Church has no monopoly of Christ, no monopoly of truth, no monopoly of culture. It has to accept the fact that it has nothing more or above other religions and it is one among many other relgions. It searches truth along with others and it may have resources which is different from others . That is its uniqueness as every other religion is unique in their own way as each and every member of God’s creation is unique.  Just as the prophets wanted the Israel to accept the third place among nations the Church is also challenged to accept to shed its, triumphalistic,  superiority complex and accept itself  as the light and salt that dissolves in the community.  Today the Church’s effort to preserve itself, rather than to preserve the society, through its money and power, institutions and moral claims has thrown the Church to the condition the Mandalam study has pointed out. This is what the prophets wanted to teach Judaism, that it is only third among other countries, which Israel found it difficult to accept.  This is the bitter pill Christianity has to swallow as it is the only way for renewing, re-creating its self-understanding, its swathvam, shedding  its pretensions of superiority, uniqueness and tall, baseless claims of morality.  Christians are people who are in search of Christ’s way. In this search others may join on their own, when they realize that it is a common search for truth and freedom, just as the Israelites returning from Egypt were joined by a large mixed crowds of similar seekers (Exodus 12: 38).

M. M. Thomas contemplated Christian witness as recognizing other people’s spirituality in relation to Christ’s sacrificial love.  Wherever  Christ’s sacrificial love for others is present there is Christ, whether it is  Church, faith, ideologies or movements.  Christian mission is not  Christians’ mission, rather  it is recognizing, witnessing to, Christ’s mission of God in the world’s many cultures, religions or ideologies.  Christian mission today need to be understood in terms of the last judgement where religion, spirituality, divinity and humanity all are  understood in terms of what is done to the needy in the world.  Jesus, Paul and all the prophets and Gurus of this world teach that love is ultimate criterion of justice and that love cannot be reduced to some criterion as it is over and above any criterion. Christian witness is nothing but witnessing to the love of Christ that never absolutizes itself, always going before and  beyond, giving place to  the other.

Challenge of Nonfoundationalism to Indian Christian Theology

October 4, 2008 by

 

T. Jacob Thomas

Introduction 
The basic nonfoundationalist position is that there are no fixed or absolute universal foundations for knowledge. Knowledge exists in particular cultural and linguistic communities and such knowledge does not need any validation from out side its community. The nonfoundationalist approach would help us to think about reality in a different way, not in fixed categories but in an interconnected, independent web of existence. With regard to theology of religions nonfoundationalism can justify the truth claims of different religions and make religions coexist in a galactic world, rejecting a monistic and centred world. It can also provide sufficient strategical validity to contextual theologies in India like Dalit or tribal theology in their struggle to find a place in the vast spectrum of knowledge formations. Major Western epistemological schools like rationalism, empiricism and idealism as well as the Indian advaitic school have been basically concerned with universal validation of knowledge. The nonfoundational or antifoundational rejection of any absolute or universal claims of truth, would help the emergence and justification of contextual contested knowledge theories. Postfoundationalism attempts to combine both foundationalist and nonfoundationalist approaches to knowledge. It affirms the foundationalist vision of truth as necessary but holds that our current knowledge is not final; hence ambition for any metanarrative is out of place. However, several people see nonfoundationalism nihilistic. In order to understand the role of nonfoundationalism constructively we will first examine the major traditions in philosophy and theology which were foundationalistic and then the tenets of nonfoundationalism will be looked into. Finally some modern nonfoundationalist heologies will be evaluated for their usefulness in the Indian context. 
The Epistemological Dilemma in Philosophy and Theology 
Epistemological debates since the time of the Greek Sophists in the 5th century BCE dealt with questions such as what is truth and how can we know anything, that is, the possibility of reliable and objective knowledge. The Sophist Gorgias argued that nothing really exists and that if anything did exist it could not be known; if knowledge were possible, it could not be communicated. Protagoras, another major sophist, held that no person’s opinions can be said to be more correct than another’s. However, the Sophists were put to oblivion by the opposing school of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, who held that it is possible to have exact and certain knowledge of world and its “unchanging and invisible forms,” or ideas. They held that what we see and touch are imperfect copies of pure forms; abstract reasoning can provide genuine knowledge of these forms. The real problem Plato confronted was how to distinguish episteme (knowledge) from doxa (opinion) and authenticate one’s knowledge. For this he appealed to intuition. This was met with the problem that when we rely on intuition with out giving any reasons for it we do not have any basis to judge between alternative intuitions. If we give reasons for our choice of correct intuition, then we are no longer relying on intuition , but on reasons; again we are left with out any reason to justify our reasons. That means, there was no sound basis or foundation for thought.
Aristotle called the basic forms of knowledge which are grasped by the mind, scientia, first principles. The knowledge we get from experience is actually processed by the mind abstracting or deducing new facts from those already known, in accordance with the rules of logic, which was set down for the first time in systematic form by Aristotle. St. Thomas Aquinas followed Aristotle in regarding perception as the starting point and logic as the intellectual procedure for arriving at reliable knowledge of nature. The challenge taken up by Aquinas was to make theology a science in accordance with Aristotelian logic. For this he posited the articles of faith as the first principles, on the basis of the authority of the church. However, the Enlightenment philosophers, armed with the spirit of reformation, attacked such authority and challenged the Thomistic way of understanding. Schleiermacher, the enlightenment theologian built his theology not on the authority of the Church but on the self-consciousness of every human being, the “feeling of absolute dependence,” as the foundation for sure knowledge of God. 
Classical Foundationalism
The traditional foundationalist philosophy has as its core tenets: idea of a basic dichotomy between the subjective and the objective; the conception of knowledge as being a correct representation of what is objective; the conviction that human reason can completely free itself of bias, prejudice, and tradition; the ideal of a universal method by which we can first secure firm foundations of knowledge and then build the edifice of a universal science; the belief that by the power of self-reflection we can transcend our historical context and horizon and know things as they are in themselves. 
Cartesian paradigm of the solitary thinker served as the background for the modern search for secure foundations. In his Meditations (1641) Descartes identified “clear and distinct ideas” as the foundation for knowledge. He made the foundation of all knowledge the certainty of the self and as a corollary the existence of God. He was following the mathematical ideal of certainty to know that “something is so and can’t be otherwise” and asserted, cogito ergo sum, I cannot doubt that I who doubts exist. The result was dualism between mind and matter, thinking thing (res cogitans) and extended thing (res extensa), which made mind as the source of knowledge and not empirical evidence as empiricists argued. 
For John Locke, the father of empiricism, all human knowledge comes to us through our senses. Faith helps us, when reason fails, to make the leap towards revelation, not a certainty but a probability. According to the skeptical epistemology of David Hume ( 1711-1776) we can trust only the knowledge that we acquire from our perceptions. Our perceptions,can be divided into two categories: ideas and impressions. Ideas are nothing but copies of our impressions, or, in other words, that it is impossible for us to think of anything, which we have not antecedently felt, either by our external or internal senses. We cannot believe that a certain thing, such as God, soul, or self exists unless we can point to the impression from which the idea of the thing is derived.In his Enquiry concerning Human Understanding he defines the term impression as our lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. Ever since the time of Hume knowledge found it difficult to establish itself on any sure foundations. George Berkeley, another, empiricist held that human knowledge of external physical objects is always subject to the errors of the senses, and concluded that one cannot have absolutely certain knowledge of the physical world a position which was contrary to that of the rationalists. The classical philosophical schools such as the Cartesian rationalism, Lockean empiricism and German idealism accepted the criteria that a knowledge is valid if it is universally true and accepted beliefs that are self evident, incorrigible and “evident to the senses” as foundations of sure knowledge. Immanuel Kant agreed with the rationalists on the possibility of getting exact and certain knowledge, but along with the empiricists he held that such knowledge is more informative about the structure of thought than about the world outside of thought. He has made room for faith by setting limits to reason, the boundary of knowing. Pure practical reason helps us to postulate freedom, God and immortality. 
The Linguistic Turn and the Death of Foundationalism 
The linguistic turn refers to the demise of the long reign of the philosophy of Cartesian monological subject and the recognition of the centrality of language in the constitution of knowledge To understand something is no more to form mental “representations” of it as modernism insisted, rather, understanding has become a matter of actively interpreting our world experience—by means of language. The enlightenment belief that reason is neutral and would lead to truth irrespective of context, tradition, or language was found shaky. Several people have contributed to this turn beginning from John Locke to Gadamer. It was Schleiermacher who liberated the hermeneutical theory from the Enlightenment “objectivity” to the consciousness of the feeling subject, paving the way for liberal humanism with its universal concept of human nature. Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger rejected the concept of knowing subject by the “lived experience” of the involved subject which would discover itself. Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein’s (1889-1951) Philosophical Investigations marked the shift in linguistic analysis. His linguistic analysis perceived reality in terms of language games. No truth is possible outside the language. Languages are shaped by cultural systems and traditions into which we are born. Language is inextricably woven into the fabric of life. Language determines our knowledge. Hans-Georg Gadamer ( 1900-2002) was critical of modern approaches to humanities that modeled themselves on the natural sciences and scientific methods and argued that a “historically effected consciousness” is embedded in the text which itself was the product of particular history and culture. Interpreting a text involves a “fusion of horizons” where the meaning emerges in dialogue with the text’s history with the interpreter’s own background. The final outcome of all these developments was coming to the realization that no absolute knowledge is possible as the enlightenment conceived. 

Poststructuralism 

Ferdinand de Saussure’s structural linguistics contended that language is a system of relations and the meaning is processed within that structure. The text has no given meaning and the author disappears behind the structure. The problem with Saussure’s structuralism has been that it rejects not only the Cartesian knowing self but also the subjectivity and subverted the emerging identity consciousness among the socially oppressed women, Blacks, Dalits and tribals. The resurgence of identity politics among the submerged or subaltern groups challenged the unitary notions of human kind as false universalism that blocks substantive differences such as race, gender, or ethnicity , and contested all traditional knowledges. Poststructuralism and the strategy of deconstruction addressed this growing concern. Jacques Derrida’s notion of decentred universe challenged all fixed or absolute notions of centre and periphery and has conceived universe as a free play. There is no authoritative centre, which makes validation of knowledge necessary. Derrida has gone beyond Saussure’s notion that words derive their meaning in their difference with other words and pointed out that since the text has no foundational meaning any number of meaning can be formed by deferring the meaning of a word. This endless passive and active interplay of meaning is termed by Derrida as “differance.” Differance happens not in the difference of words as in structuralism but when something is known only from its absence. The poststructuralist strategy of deconstruction devised by Derrida categorically asserts the absolute impossibility of attributing to any text one single ultimate meaning. In deconstruction “objective truth is to be replaced by hermeneutic truth 
It brings out the politics behind the construction of meaning. That means sacred texts, such as the Bible, do not have a single ultimate meaning nor are such texts necessarily authoritative. Deconstruction is a rebellion against absolute truth claims. It contest the given knowledge absolutised through hierarchical dualities which Derrida calls binary oppositions, creating superiority and inferiority structures of thought and social practices. Deconstruction disrupts and displaces the hierarchy and dismantles its authority and creates space for the “marginals” to present themselves as social agents.The web of relations outside the text may determine both the meaning of the text and the nature of its authority.
The linguistic turn led to the demise of the foundationalist tenet that for truth to exist there must be some sort of “extralinguistic” reality. Instead the legitimacy of a plurality of stand points and interpretations over an absolute or a contextual conception of knowledge or truth was affirmed. The linguistic turn has led to the postmodern argument that there are no truths, but only rival interpretations. This does not mean that language is everything, but that we know everything by means of language. There is no need of any foundation, either by way of intuition or by experience. 

Postmodernism – Deconstruction of Knowledge

The perspective character of knowledge has been given ever-increasing importance since the age of Nietzsche. Human experience, insights and the perspective shape new ways of achieving and producing knowledge. The new view on knowledge does not assume reason to remain the same at all times and in all places. Rather it is now assumed that the subject of knowledge constitutes itself through a large number of social factors in its cultural context, like gender, wealth, class, and tradition. 
Knowledge has now become a communicative function, an interplay between competence and performance, a “social construction of reality.” It is no longer result of any inherent human characteristic. Circumstances in society affect the subject’s knowing and knowledge. The question of the nature of knowledge is now replaced with the question of knowledge’s social connection and of rationality in communicative social course of events. 
The philosophical core of postmodernism is a rejection of foundationalism, defended as the belief in given or fully attainable truths. LeRon Shults notes that postmodernism was born “out of the death throes of foundationalism.” The distinguishing features of the postmodernism can be identified as (1) rejection of an essentialist metaphysics; (2) a nonfoundationalist epistemology; (3) the historical contingency of all ides and a constructivist view of knowledge; (4) an aversion to metanarratives; and (5) the decentering of the self. Postmodernists differ from one another in important respects. 
The nonfoundationalists defend an aesthetic relation to self; one should affirm “one’s liberty” by devising a personal style in opposition to all ruling norms. They attempt to immunize particular interpretations from critique by appealing only to the intra communal factors; they disengage themselves from any inter communal or extra communal factors. From a static and monist outlook on human kind, these newer attempts emphasized that the knowledge is produced in the interaction between subject and context. This means the earlier anthropological essentialism was discarded in favour of a relational view of the human person. 
Postmodern theologies

The Liberation theology as well as the consequent third World theologies, though aimed at “a radical break” from the Euro-centric epistemologies could not escape the project of modernity, the dialectical progress of history and the Marxist “metanarrative” of class struggle. These contextual theologies could not accommodate epistemological and anthropological pluralism because of their basic foundationalistic world-view. Several contemporary scholars responded to the challenge raised by the nonfoundationalist theory of knowledge in a variety of ways. These nonfoundationalist theologies are postmodern as they reject the modern project of metanarratives but in that attempt find themselves in the awkward position of emitting ultraliberal as well as ultra conservative responses. 

Among the liberal postmodern theologians Mark C. Taylor, Thomas J.J. Altizer, Robert P. Scharlemann, Charles Winquist, David Ray Griffin and Don Cupitt are important, though their works are not identical. Don Cupitt and Mark. C. Taylor endorse the line of thought of postmodern philosophers like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze. Both of them are influenced by Nietzsche’s ideas on the death of God. To them the death of God meant “the death of a transcendental signifier stabilizing identity and truth” and their concern is not a theology in the traditional sense but an “a/theology.” As Taylor calls it. 

Among the conservative Postmodern theologians Graham Ward includes the names of George Lindbeck who initiated the Postliberal school of theology and his Yale colleague, Hans Frei , whose Biblical interpretation became basic source for this school, and other Yale students like William Placher, Ronald Thiemann and Kathrynn Tanner. Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbry also is included among the postliberal theologians. John Milbank, a sociologist, whose theology of Radical Orthodoxy, though nonfoundationalist, is premodern as it rejects any traffic between theology and contemporary human or natural sciences. 
Postliberalism

Postliberal theologians reject the nonfoundationalists claim “that knowledge is grounded in a set of non-inferential, self-evident beliefs.” For them experience comes to us always as interpreted . There is no way for us to check them against some primordial, uninterpreted experience.” The nonfoundational or antifoundational character of Postliberalism goes back to Karl Barth or even to Aquinas. Barth held that there could be no “foundation, support, or justification” for theology in any philosophy, theory or epistemology” Karl Barth affirmed the self-authenticating Word of God as the foundation of theology. The truth of this Word is self evident to the believer. It may not make any sense to those who do not share the faith. This Barthian approach to Bible has influenced the postliberalist thinking that other religions or schools of thought can have their own valid set of foundations with no need of authentication from any outside authority. Lindbeck also is open about his indebtedness to Aquinas who wrote that the Christian language about God is true, but we do not know how it is true. We know God loves us, but we do not know what love would be like for God. We cannot go beyond our experience; we can only work within the rules the community provided to talk about God. As the title of the postliberal theologian William Placher’s book suggests, Christians need not “apologize” for their theology not conforming to non-Christian standards of rationality. 

The postliberal approach finds important the differences among religions, rather than their commonalities. They don’t agree with the pluralists that all religions are saying the same thing. Postliberal theology “emphasizes the scriptural stories or narratives by which Christians identify God and the Christian community and come to understand their own lives.” Interpreting Hans Frei, the postliberalists argue that the Christian story for them can shape the Christian communal identity. It has the assimilative power to absorb the world. Postliberal theology emphasizes the importance of an intratextual use of scripture, relying on “the distinctive internal logic of Christian beliefs and practices. Kathryn Tanner “refuses to locate divine acts in some larger narrative of what is happening in creation, but insists on the primacy of God’s activity, but she sees such an account as ‘empowerment’ of quests for social justice rather than ‘tyranny.’ Postliberalists attempt for the “creative fusion of hermeneutics and epistemology.” 

Postfoundationalism 
If the problem with foundationalism was that it missed the communal factors by absolutizing the thinking subject, nonfoundationalism attempted to “immunize particular interpretations from critique by appealing only to those communal factors”. J. Wenzel van Huysteen, a Princeton theologian and proponent of a postfoundationalist theology fears that postliberal approach to community would develop ghetto mentality or “closet foundationalism.” For van Huysteen, the task of theology is “both to understand and explain.” He criticizes the postliberalists for rejecting the latter aspect of theology and making it simply “narrative” Our knowledge of reality is always mediated by our interpretation of experience. Our claims of truth are not absolute because our interpretation of reality is fallible. Our language is metaphorical and therefore cannot be absolutized, even if it is fully operational with in a given community. He says that interpreted experience is key to the relation between truth and knowledge. According to Mark Bevir, postfoundationalism implies that the individuals can have experiences and exercise their reason only against the background of a social practice or tradition. Individuals can exist only against the background of the community: “an individual is embedded within the community.” Postfoundationalism safeguards identity not by immunizing it against any critique but by emphasizing difference – otherness. It does not make a closed community, as is the tendency in postliberalism or radical orthodoxy, but rather stands for “an open community. 
Van Huyssteen, suggests “critical realism” as a way of overcoming the dichotomy between the thinking individual and closed community. According to Tom Wright, a New Testament scholar and the Bishop of Durham,
…[critical realism] is a way of describing the process of “knowing” that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower (hence “realism”), while fully acknowledging that the only access we have to this reality lies along the spiralling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known (hence “critical”). 

Van Hyussteen has his own version of critical realism that “affirms the embedded nature of human knowledge and existence” Critical realism, believes that the conceptual categories that we use to identify and understand social events are not exogenously determined; rather these categories are socially and historically determined. Critical realism is mainly employed by scientist turned theologians like John Polkinghorne, Ian Barbour, and Arthur Peacocke who were influenced by the scientist turned philosopher, Michael Polanyi. Polanyi’s ideas were taken up enthusiastically by T. F. Torrance a theologian who finds dialogue with science important. Following van Hyussteen LeRon Shults attempts to develop a postfoundationalist theology based on the theological method of Wolfhart Pannenberg, who promotes dialogue with science and the philosophy of Calvin Schrag. Schrag holds that though our knowledge is contextual and fallible that do not automatically entail relativism. Reason has a binding effect across the contexts. Based on this philosophical approach postfoundationslim “insists on developing transcommunal and intersubjective explanations,” a necessary correction to postliberalism. Now we will briefly look at how Indian Dalit theologians deal with the challenge of postmodern theories.

Dalit theology 

Dalit theology emerged as an academic discipline in the 1980s. It emerged as a quest for a “contested epistemology; it offered a “methodological challenge to the grand narratives of ‘prefix-less’ theology and Indian Christian theology.” Arvind P. Nirmal(1936-1995) rejected the Brahminic tradition in Indian Christian theology He observed that even though a third world theology was emerged in the 1970s under the influence of the Latin American Liberation theology it “failed to see in the struggle of Indian dalits for liberation a subject matter appropriate for doing theology in India.” Liberation theology or the third world contextual theologies could not offer a proper method for analyzing and interpreting the story of the Dalits. Dalit theology needed “a methodological shift in this postmodern context.” In his search for a suitable critical and constructive method Nirmal digged out the neglected Indian protest tradition of Lokayata or Carvaka school of Indian philosophy which rejects the Brahminic notion of esoteric knowledge. Vinaya Raj introduces a nonfoundationalist poststructuralist method of deconstruction, suitable for Dalit theology. He writes: “Deconstruction– the poststructural method, as it believes in the fluidity and nonfixity of the meaning/subjectivity helps us to produce new meanings through discursive readings.” The nonfoundationalist poststructuralist strategies offer alternate ways of looking at theories of self and social formations, and transform existing caste practices and institutions in order to construct a sense for Dalits as active social agents.

Conclusion 

Colin Gunton is of the opinion that we should not give up our search for foundations. For him non-foundationalism is a reflex to foundationalism. He argues, “that the basis and criteria of rationality are intrinsic to particular human intellectual enterprises, which should not have imposed upon them in a procrustean way the methodologies which are appropriate for other forms of intellectual life.” Yet Gunton rejects non-foundationalism as it constructs a barrier to outside critique. The nonfoundationalists “run the risk of the rank subjectivism… they evade the intellectual challenge involved in the use of the word ‘God’.” Basing on the theology of Cappadocians Gunton writes that since God is a communion of persons and each person is distinct but inseparable from the others, God’s being consists in relationship with one another. He writes, 

…[the] three persons are for and from each other in their otherness. They thus confer particularity upon and receive it from one another. That giving of particularity is very important: it is a matter of space to be. Father, Son and Spirit through the shape – the taxis – of their inseparable relatedness confer particularity and freedom on each other. That is their personal being. 

For Barth the doctrine of the imago Dei means that God created human beings for fellowship. Humans are naturally fellowshiping beings, with other beings and with God. It also means only in relationship with God that we can be fully human. There is no objectively existing datum that can be called religion, no “true religion” as such. Neither are we able to discover truth. We only become real only in relation between objectivity and subjectivity. Hendrick Kraemer called this Barthian approach “Biblical realism.” Since we cannot understand ourselves or others wholly we must focus on what we are made for—relationship. So the encounter with other religions must focus on the relational aspects of the encounter. The relational character of being human existence, the network of existence need to be the common ground between people, defined by way of religions, ethnicity, race, language or gender. Postliberlaism failed to note this relational aspect of Barthian theology, instead they used him mainly to insulate themselves from any outside scrutiny. Postliberal suggestion that Christian community exists alongside other communities with each having its own rules of discourse and linguistic conventions, each becoming a system unto itself, without any cross-cultural, universal values, is not satisfactory. The problem the postliberalists want to solve is not solved as there still looms the danger of the most dominant group exerting its values upon others. Colin Gunton criticizes postmodernity as “an imperious for truth which abolishes all other truth by a form of homogenization. It is, despite appearances, a form of universalism” Postliberlaism deprives itself any theological warrant to establish mutual relationship as the rules of each community remain separate. 
The challenge to Christian theology in India is to demonstrate that Christian faith, at its very heart, and not only in its moral preaching, promotes the dignity and honor of human personhood. Christians have to acknowledge the criticisms raised by contemporary discourses on casteism, racism and, sexism. In order to accept the other, to accept difference, theology should change its universal, fixed, absolute categories of knowledge and values and reorient its theoretical basis to accept the validity of multi-foundational faith, values and practices. If we redefine our worldviews it is possible to see that as stars in relation to galaxies, or galaxies in relation to the universe or universe in relation to multiverse are not necessarily centred on any particular point; the world organism, even the atoms and the subparticles exist only in relationship, one keep the other in its place with their simple presence, mutually influencing and shaping other’s identity. If that relationship is broken the entire universe will collapse. Hence our theologies need to be relational with respect to individuals, communities, genders, races, and all creation, resisting all efforts to subsume the difference or drift away from one another.
Select Bibliography 
Ford, David F., ed. The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian theology in the twentieth century. Second edition. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1997. Gellner Ernest. Postmodernism, Reason and Religion. London: Routledge, 1992.Danish Yearbook of Philosophy vol 35, 2000. University of Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum press, 2001. Healy, Paul. Rationality, Hermeneutics, and Dialogue: Toward a Viable Postfoundationalist Account of Rationality. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2005. Healy, Paul. Rationality Judgment, and Critical Inquiry,” The Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy 1:3, 1993. Kamitsuka, David G. Theology and Contemporary Culture: Liberation, Postliberal and Revisionary Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Lindbeck, Goeorge A. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and theology in a postliberal age. Philadelphia: John Knox Press, 1984. Nirmal, Arvind P. Heuristic Explorations. Madras: CLS, 1990. Nirmal, Arvind P.ed. A Reader in Dalit Theology, Madras: Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute, 1991. Raj, Vinaya, Y. T. “Poststructructuralist theory of language, discourse, power and resistance and its implications for the re-working of Dalit theological methodology,” M.Th. Thesis submitted to the Senate of Serampore College, 2006. Rorty, Richard. The Linguistic Turn: Essays in Philosophical Method .Chicago: University of Chicago press[1967], 1992. Schrag, Calvin. The Resources of Rationality: A Response to the Postmodern Challenge. Bloomington: Indian University Press, 1992. Schwarz, Hans,.Theology in A Global Context: The Last Two Hundred Years Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005. Shults, LeRon, F. The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology: Wolfhart Pannenberg and the New Theological Rationality. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmaans, 1999. Toulmin, Stephen. The Return to Cosmology: Postmodern Science and the Theology of Nature. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

Onam Reflections based on the Sermon on the Mount

October 4, 2008 by

Onam Reflections based on Mathew 5: 1-12

  

  

  

Matthew 5:1-12 is the most simple as well as the most appealing part of the  Sermon on the Mount.   In India people like  Mahatmaji and Rajaram Mohanroy offered their own interpretations of it. In the context of Onam and the story of Mahabali the text becomes more meaningful. Onam is primarily  celebrating the myth of annual return  of Mahabali, the Asura King, to his country after being pushed down to the netherworld by Vamana, the Brahmin incarnation of Vishnu. Popular stories and songs picture Mahabali as a noble and righteous king who sacrificed his kingdom to keep his word given to a boy who begged three feet of land, enough for sit in prayer. Under his rule there was no caste or social or discrimination among people; no kind of fear or fraud, treachery, oppression or violence in the country. There was perfect harmony between humans and animals as well as with nature; no one trespassed the rights of others and every one enjoyed perfect freedom and security. Yet Mahabali was deprived of his power and position under the pretext of  the higher good of salvation  by the Aryan God. Maha Vishnu who came in disguise as a Brahmin boy to protect the interests of the Devas (Aryans).  Later this act of atrocity was justified by charging Mahabali with  pride and immorality, challenging the supremacy of Devas (gods), and leading people away from the true  religion of Brahminism  and the act of sending Mahabali to patala was held as an act of kindness to secure the Asura (Dravidian) kings’s salvation.  

Matthew 5: 12 says, happy are those who are insulted, persecuted and accused of all  kinds of evil falsely, for their reward is great in heaven, “for the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Do Mahabali resemble some of the persecuted prophets, or  one of the “many and various ways”  by which “long ago God spoke to our ancestors” (Hebrews 1:1) or like Melchizedek, the Canaanite “king of righteousness and peace, “resemble the Son of God” (Hebrews 7:3).  Mahabali is  Maha(Great) Bali  (Sacrifice), one who sacrificed his life to keep his word, though his Guru Sukracharya, tried to save him from performing the jaladanam, ritual pouring of water to finalize the land deal with Vamana.  Mahabali is a vanquished king, defeated and rejected by the Brahminic priesthood and the Aryan hierarchy, but has been  eagerly awaited by the Malayalees  to  welcome him to their homes and to their land year after year, in remembrance of  his sacrificial life and death, his noble values and impeccable reign. Keshub Chunder Sen, the great renascent leader of Bengal has said that what India needs is not more religious sacrifices but self sacrifce. He cited Christ as the  supreme example of self sacrifice. Rabindranath Tagore has congratulated Christianity for introducing the idea of  vicarious suffering into Indian religiosity.  Mahatma Gandhiji was also very much moved by the self offering of Jesus to humanity on the cross. The story of Mahabali who lost his Kingdom to the Aryans who invaded Kerala beginning from the third century CE onwards is an example of  the values of self sacrifice and vicarious suffering. 

 


  

Bible is emphatic about the need of recognizing our spiritual poverty. Spiritual complacency is hypocrisy. Jesus condemns it. It keeps you away from God and others. To feel one’s spiritual nothingness is important in Christian spirituality. On the cross Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Eli, Eli lama sabachtani, Matt.27: 46). On the night before his capture Jesus felt spiritual darkness all around him and requested the prayer support of his disciples (Matt:26:37-38).  All honest Christians will certainly recognize such spiritual helplessness. There is a danger involved in our spirituality: the moment we are confident of it, we lose it. When others praise our goodness and righteousness we are in the danger of being carried away by it and succumb to our spiritual pride.on the other hand, when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me, you are blessed” (Matt.5:11).   When we begin to think of our own importance, their starts our spiritual fall. The recognition of this spiritual poverty is what the Greeks consider as the supreme wisdom: knowing yourself.  Job during the several of his trials began to doubt his own faith. M.M. Thomas titled his commentary on Job thus: Faith Confirmed through Doubt. Dr. Valson Thampu, who has been a member of the Minority Commission of the Government of India and now the Principal of St. Stephen’s College, Delhihas written an article in the Deccan Herald (September 10,2008) on the occasion of the 11th death anniversary of Mother Teresa. The article was titled, “Mother Teresa shows the way: Faith in scepticism.” He started his essay by quoting from Mother Teresa’s diary notes: “Where is my faith? Even deep down…there is nothing but emptiness and darkness… If there be God —please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul … How painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal…what do I labour for?”  These personal notes have embarrassed the Roman Catholic hierarchy in their efforts at beatifying her. Dr. Valson Thampu calls her an honest Christian. Sermon on the Mount shows us the blessedness of having a self examining mind, self critical spirituality over a boastful, over confident and self-righteous spirituality.  While  Jesus had his moments of doubt as seen in his prayer at Gethsemane and on the Cross, by contrast, his disciple Peter was so confident of his spiritual prowess and faith, which in turn proved to be empty boast of a  shallow faith as he denied  Jesus three times before the enemies.   In the history of world more wars were fought by people who were cocksure of their faith and wanted to defend it by any means, not considering seriously for a moment what that faith really meant or whether they have faith at all.  In the recent Orissa violence, innocent people were killed and put to all types of torture on account of  religion by people who want to protect the “tolerant” nature of their religion by poisoning of the minds of  Kandh tribals against Pana Dalits, a large number of whom happened to be Christians. Playing one group against another, divide and rule poloicy,  was not invented by the British, but it was  an age old method of exercising the Brahminic supremacy  in India, by which some castes were put against  some others.  Brahminical heirarchy has always  been  clever enough to maintain their superiority over Indian society first by defeating and manipulating the anti casteist indegenous movements of Jainism and Buddhism and accommodating their founders in  their  pantheon of avataras.Today  the same ploy is now used by the radical Hindutva groups to destroy those who  support Dalit resurgence.  Mahabali’s story is such another example of Brahmin Dalit conflict in which Brahmins were able to posses the land of Kerala from its Dravidian King. 


During my ministry in Kayamkulam area I learnt about another tradition of Onam known in and around Onattuakara  which includes the present Kayamkulam, Karunagappaly  Mavelikara taluks. This local little tradition gives much light to what makes Onam memorable.  Onattukara means the land of Onam. Mavelikara means the land of Maveli, the more popular  shortened form of the name, Mahabali or Maveli was the king of Onattukara. Mahabali was a Buddhist King. Even now the remnants of Buddhist culture is present in Mavelikara and nearby places. Bali, Palli, Maha, katha and several other Malyalam words come from  Pali, the pre-Sanskrit (prakrit) language of Jainism and Buddhism. It is to be noted that Christians and Muslims in Kerala, who were  converted from Buddhism when it declined at the hands of  Vedic revivalists beginning from Sankaraharya, called their worship places Palli. Christians call their central religious ritual,  Qurbana, as the great self-sacrifice, Maha Bali. Bali is the sacrifice of a great King. Several important princes of ancient mythologies were known  as Balis (King Bali who saved a dove by offfering the vulture  meat from his own thigh, and Bahubali, the great Jain Prince of Sravanabalgola, in Karnataka are examples),  This liitle tradition, probably comes from the Kerala’s Buddhist past, tells that Sabarimala Sasta, the most important deity in Kerala, has been a Buddhist prince, who later turned out to be an incarnation of Vishnu. Even Buddha, who taught atheism,  himself was made into an incarnation of Vishnu.  The seated Buddha statue outside the  Mavlikara Temple resembles the Sasta of Sabarimala. The sitting posture of Sabraimala Sasta is undoubtedly a Buddhist Lotus posture. The special chantings during the pilgrimage to Sabarimala also resemble the Buddhist Saranam chants. (compare  the Budham Sarnam, Sanghom Saranam, Dharmam Saranam chants with the Swami Saranam, Ayyappa Saranam of Sabarimala  pilgrims. More over the earliest reference to Onam celebration come around AD 800 after the decline of  the Buddhist Sanghom period, in South India. This also marks the time of the resurgence of Hinduism under Sankarachaya. Hence for all probablity Onam is the celebration of the ideal rule of a Dalit indigenous Buddhist King of Kerala who was defeated  by the Aryans. The only Vamanamurthy temple in Kerala is in Thrikkakara, near Cochin, the earliest Brahmin settlement in Kerala.   Two of the most prominent events in Kerala, Onam as well as Sabarimala pilgrimage, are associated with Kerala’s Buddhist past and are  observed by people of   all  religious traditions. Onam celebrates the return of the good King who established a Kingdom with justice and equality as the corner stones, and sacrificed his life, emptied his  power  and authority  and descended to hell (patala) and comes again to see his people;  something which the Christians are also proclaiming as the truth of Christ. Mahabali makes an ideal symbol of Christ and Onam brings the hope of the just and peaceful Kingdom of God.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said: “Do unto others what you want others  do to yourself.” All persons have the right to profess what he or she believes or considers significant in his or her life and finds beneficial to others. At the same time there is no meaning in propagating faith in places where it is not welcome. Jesus said: “If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”(Mark 6: 11 The Message Translation)   Those who consider their religion sufficient for their salvation need not be disturbed just as Christians are not comfortable to be preached that what they believe is not enough for salvation as some of the sectarian Christians do even among Christians who do not subscribe to their sectarian views.Those who see their spiritual need, recognize their spiritual poverty, are the people who are blessed, irrespective of their religious affialitation. Jesus mission is God’s mission. People in all lands and religions are God’s people. God is working in them. Christian missionaries can only witness to what they know of God. They do not have any monopoly of  God’s truth, which is more than we know about God. Jesus said Holy Spirit will guide the disciples in all truth. Truth is a search.  Christians must be prepared to meet  witnesses of truth  in other communities. Onam is such a cultural festival which speaks much gospel to Christians.  The Gospel as God’s will for creation is eternal. It is entrusted not only to Christians. Justin Martyr, the second century philosopher who courted martyrdom of Christ, believed that where ever reason is acknowledged Christ is present. The seed of the logos is universally present (logos spermatikos). Hence he believed that philosphers like Socrates and Plato were Christians before Christ.  Gospel is not outside of  even atheistic traditions such as Buddhism, where mercy and justice are held as the supreme values. We should remember that early  Christianity  was accused of atheism  in the Roman  Empire, because of its humanistic character.  Christians must take the risk of showing Christ’s love towards the poor and the neglected of our country, the Dalits, tribals and women. In doing good we need not be afraid of any one and risk ourselves courageously. Those who work for peace and justice will be counted as the children of God and inheirtors of the Kingdom of God. It must be recognized  that many Hindu friends in India are thretened by the organized evangelization of several groups of Christians with western economic support. We do not have any right to threaten or cause fear among people of other faiths by our preaching or even social actions. It is only in humility and knowing our  own imperfections can we proclaim Christ.  Christians have to search for what makes peace between communities without forgetting our commitment to Dalits and tribals in their search for human dignity. Mahabali is still remembered as a king who courageously laid down his life for the values he held.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Word and World: Logic of Plurality

September 6, 2008 by

Certain dualism has always governed the  thoughts of the Western world and the theology we inherited from the West. The Platonic view that distinguished the world of ideas radically from the world of experience has overshadowed our concepts of God and world as well as our morality, making idea the ideal and events insignificant.  The New Testament affirmation that the “Word became flesh” was a radical affirmation of the importance of history in God world relationship.  Though the biblical and major Indian philosophical schools were free from the Platonic dualism of matter and form, the Indian Church was not able to articulate its own theology, understanding of God world relationship,  independent of the Western categories. Though the  Indian Advaitic philosophy  has been free from any dualism,  its   denial of  any ultimate significance to the world, made it unable to challenge the social evils like caste system.  For thousands of years the sufferings of people under caste system was interpreted as maya or ignorance and  never a real problem. In the Aristotelian correction of Platonism  the world derived such a significance that the present experience of  inequalities and injustices were interpreted as the justice of God in terms of natural theology.  The theme, “Founded on the word and focused on the World” should not lead us to think that the Word exists outside the World. The doctrine of Incarnation, “Word becoming flesh” rejects such a view.  It must also be remembered that Karl Barth, the renowned theologian of the 20th century, has written a book called, the Humanity in God which affirmed : “It is precisely God’s deity which rightly understood includes his humanity.”   In this article I deal with only one aspect, “Word of God” as presented in the Bible and its relation to the culture and religions  of the world as it is one of the most sensitive and volatile area of Word-World relationship.  Theologically speaking other areas such as science and technology, economics and societal ideologies are equally significant.

World of God – God’s people in the world

The Bible starts with the affirmation that God has created the world and thus it affirms the integral relation of God and the world. Genesis chapter one has been written against a Babylonian world view after the return of the exiles from Babylon where the elites of Judah were captives.  Though the Babylonian religions have influenced the biblical theology in several ways, Biblical writers made it clear that everything God has created is good and there is nothing that is not the creation of God.  It is the emphasis of the Bible that God who created the world  is involved in the very development of history, directing the world in accordance with the will and purpose of God through individuals and communities, through secular as well as religious institutions.  Even the story of Paradise is God’s attempt to rescue human beings from self destruction.  God even ensures the safety of Cain so that the human race will continue to go on.  In the story of building the tower of Babel God intervenes in human affairs and saves them from their inflated pride which would have led them to total destruction by accumulating unbridled power and knowledge. God’s way of redeeming the accrual of resources and power was by enabling the development of different languages and cultural groups.   Through out history God challenges the grouping of communities to build unified world bodies, by challenging individuals and groups to form small communities.  Not only Abraham, but Lot, Ishmael and communities like Israel as well as others like Ethiopians, Philistines, Syrians  – Arameans (Amos 9:6) were chosen and led by God in their histories and helped them to resist the hegemonic super powers of the period like Assyria or Egypt.  God had his people in Salem where Melchizedek priest and King (Genesis 14:18) and in Midian where Jethro Exodus 3:1) was the priest and administrator (Exodus 18). God had appointed Moses to liberate people from the power of the Egyptian Empire and anointed the Cyrus the Persian to be the Messiah of the captives of Babylon (Isaiah 45:1).  In Jesus Christ God again selected a small community to be the beacon of God’s work in the world. As Paul has pointed out God’s election of the Church does not mean that God rejected all other people (Romans 11.1) just as the election of Israel never meant rejection of other people. Jesus himself said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold” (John10:16 cf. 11:52).  When the early disciples were beginning to settle down in Jerusalem God scattered them to different countries (Acts 11:19). Christian tradition gives evidence to several other such re-groupings of Christians in terms of fellowships and denominations to serve some historical purposes. We need not idealize schisms in church history as inevitable or eternal, however, they have somehow served the purpose of God in the world.  Today’s revolutions and liberation movements of people groups could be expressions of human freedom by the exercise of which the purpose of God is fulfilled.

 

Word of God – Plurality of God’s word

The Greek word used by St. John to refer to the word of God is Logos, which means wisdom, logic and, rationality  of God.  Many early Christian theologians like Justin the Martyr believed that the universal logos, the word of God, seed of the logos (logos spermatikos),  permeated not only the entire universe, but also present in a special way in all intelligent beings, homo sapiens.   Justin considered Socrates and other philosophers as Christians before Christ.  Therefore, today’s Christians need to reaffirm the presence of God in all creation and we need to be humble when we claim to be Christians,   following the will of God, so as not to make monopolist claims to the word of God.  We need to find the spark of God in all people and all creation.  Therefore, pluralism needs to be interpreted in terms of plurality which is a universal experience,  not that the truth is universal, but rather plurality of truth is universal. So plurality is the universal truth, that is, each person is different, time is different, experience is different. Thus religions have their own independent meaning and validity and the mission of the church need to be refocused to the needs of people, to free them from the demons that enslave people, in the form of ignorance, poverty, cruelty, violence and not to convert them to what we believe. Conversion needs to be a conversion towards God and not to the different denominational and selfish spirit that tarnishes  all our mission enterprises.   One of the Christian responsibility in today’s world is a refocusing of the mission of the Church to the needs of the people, not to our own defective understanding of God’s purpose of the world.

Word or Logos is not  monolithic.  Word is a combination of many sound bits; logos is the rationale behind the thought process.  Whether  the ancient Vedic concept of OM or the Greek concept of Logos, or the Hebrew concept of Dabar (Word),  all  refer to the expression of what is thought,  the meaning of  experience of our existence. It is the logic of thought , purpose and action, a sign and symbol.  Word is symbol of  consistent deliberation and experience.  Bible says, God spoke to Godself:  Let there be … Let us make humankind in our own image, male and female…(Genesis 1:26-7). God’s name is given  in  Genesis  1 is in  plural form: Elohim. One who got many names is our God. And people have the right to know God in many names. If the Hebrews understood God as the Lord of their future, other people can know God in one of the many names. The name Yahweh was unknown to the earliest generations (Gen 4:20; 6:3)  Jesus is the name of that God and Lord in the New Testament.  The Christian affirmation of Jesus as God and Lord has made it necessary for the Church to accept Godhead as Trinity, not as monarchy. Christians have to witness to this Trinity of Godhead with full conviction; then only our mission will be saved from the arbitrary monopoly of authoritarianism and monotheistic absolutism, against which the early Church fought so fiercely.  Trinity is the safeguard for the plurality of God which makes plurality the truth of everything. Any kind of absolutism in the name of God, religion or ideologies is rejected by the doctrine of Trinity .  Modern researches in quantum physics as well as astrophysics make it clear that plurality is the basic structure of the atom as well as the megaverse, viewed in terms of Super strings or the star dust-cloud. The very life itself has been conceived as a wonderful combination of different elements.

Plurality of languages, culture  and Religions

There are many languages in the world and we consider them as a blessing for the particular expression of our particular identity and culture. In the same way  we need to consider the existence of other religions.   Religion is an integral part of culture and culture is what we cultivate and both culture and religion need to be reformed, refined for the benefit of each community.  God in the bible is involved in such a reformation of religion and societies.  The religion in which we have grown up means so much to us. Any forcible intrusion upon  our language and culture will be naturally  resisted,  similar is the case with  religions. We need to be open to new languages as well as to religions,  that will only increase our horizon and lead us to an appreciation of God’s glory in human creativity and imagination. If we are not open to other religions and if we do not like other religions to be preached to us how can we expect other people to be open to our preaching. Jesus taught us: “In everything do to others as would have them to do to you: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

Each language has its own rules. People from one culture many not understand another  culture or language as the rules of  grammar differ from one another. Unless we are willing to learn the rules and grammar of another language we will not properly understand that language or the mind of the people. Similarly religions also need to be respectfully approached and patiently studied.  In the past many languages and cultures of people are sadly destroyed by the dominant language and culture groups. This cultural violence has deprived the world of so many gifts those cultures carried and destroyed the identity of people.  Such cultural gifts are very much valued by God and accepted in the “City of God” as envisioned by St. John in the book of Revelation (Rev. 21:24). Similarly many missionary religions have  destroyed the culture and religions of many weak cultures by falsely believing that they thus would bring glory God not knowing that they have in fact  made irreparable loss to the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God belongs to  the least and the lost  So one of the responsibilities of the modern Christians  is to participate in God’s mission to restore all the lost heritages of humanity.  Our mission is not destruction of the religious and cultural heritage of people but revealing the universal logos present in all cultures and religions and disciple them in the truth of the Gospel.

The Gospel of God in Jesus compels us to “Go out into the world and make all people my disciples,” that is, to gather “the dispersed children of God in all nations  (John 11:52). The Church misunderstood the meaning of the preaching of the gospel to bring together people in all nations, into something of an imperial programme of conquest and annexation.   God’s invitation to all people was modified to something of a necessary mandate that can be resisted only at the peril of eternal damnation thus making the freedom God has given human beings to nothing;  God’s loving act was changed to divine wrath and punishment; the message of the cross, love and forgiveness, was deprived of its meaning. Various Christian denominations began to understand  mission as a colonial mandate to  add members to its own community by destroying other national communities or even the disciples of Christ in other folds. In the world history much blood has been shed, much treachery has been played, by different Christian groups, against one another.  Even in the early centuries there were excommunications and banishments of Christian leaders and communities who lost the fight by those who won the doctrinal battles  under the protégé of the political authorities.  Church history would give ample evidence for the persecuted Christian groups in Palestine, Syria and North Africa  inviting the Muslim rulers to come and protect them  from their Christian masters. In the history of the Kerala Church the  “Coonen Cross” in Kochi gives evidence for the struggles of  the local Christians to protect themselves  against the onslaught of other  Christians who have pressurized them to leave their traditional faith with the help of foreign powers. The story still continues in other forms with independent preachers armed with tons of money predating the traditional churches, as  well as national communities. The Christian  Church today is in need of a re-understanding the purpose of God in the creation of the world and the role of the Christian  Church in the execution of Divine plan in the world.  In our relations to other religious communities the Christian denominations share the view that all religions should ultimately be destroyed for the glory of God. This is a defective theology.  All religions need to be redeemed in Christ including Christianity.

The world has to be seen as  a process, a journey, towards an unending  future, aided by God in its struggles, through the interference of historical events and individuals, movements or prophets, as illustrated in the life  Jesus Christ who set the world in the  right track of freedom.  World history should not be interpreted as a journey to one world, one religion, one government, rather it is a journey to future to discover the development of all people, birth of new communities, so that new aspirations can find its fulfillment in new earth communities who would  “not hurt or destroy” one another “for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord” (Isaiah:11:9). They “shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees  and no one shall make them afraid” Micah 4:4). Isaiah (19:24)conceives of a time when God makes Israel  “a blessing in the midst of the earth,”  the third with Egypt (God’s people), and Assyria (the work of God’s hand) and  Israel (God’s heritage).  Bible does not conceive a single religion or culture as the ideal one.  A world with a monolithic culture and religion or government would be unbearable  to humanity. One should see different religions and cultures to be a blessing to keep human life human and free. To make  disciples of all nations is not about the destruction of them rather  enrichment of their life with the values of the Gospel,  making religion (Sabbath) for humans and not humans for religion. The mission of the church is to  follow the life and ministry of Jesus wherever  people are in need.

 

Gospel  to all Creation: God’s Word to God’s World

Bible lovers always held that the assertion in St. John 3:16 as the “key” to understand the world God relationship: It is a love relationship. When we say God so loved the world it  means not only  that God loves the people whom  God created but every thing God created in the entire universe or multiverse, to be precise. Christian church sometimes have failed to understand this basic  aspect of the Gospel and conceived the world to be  in opposition to God’s will and exhorted that humans are to exploit the world to the maximum. Many scholars have pointed out that his way of interpreting God’s words in the book of Genesis ( 1:26 — human beings to have “dominion” over creation) has been the chief theological reason for what we experience today as “green house effect”  which is driving the world to the  dangers of ecological imbalance. So the  Church today  need  to correct this wrong theology and   bring back the world to its sacramental  status. Sacrament views the world as the sign and symbol of God’s love and means of salvation. New theological formulations like ecotheology or green theology help the church to see where it has gone wrong and set it back to the right track of divine will for the world. As committed Christians we have the responsibility to till the earth and “keep it,” for the glory of God in the good of the creation. 

 

Rev. T. Jacob Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon on the Mount : Earth Quake Resistant Foundation

July 16, 2008 by


Sunday, July 13, 2008In concluding the Sermon on the Mount Mathew records that Jesus has said: Any one who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock … (Matt.: 7:24-27). I have preached on this verse several times. All those sermons were focused on the necessity of unchanging foundation. That has been the way it was interpreted in the Annangar church by Dr. K.M. Thomas, of Kozhikode today. Dr. Thomas is brother in law of Mr. James Abraham (Saji) our choir member) who visited the Church for the promotion of the ministry of the Gideons International. Gideon ministry will place Bibles in Public places in your name for the money you contribute. The parishioners generously responded to his appeal. People are in search of reliable and strong foundation. However, these days I am being challenged by the schools of non foundationalism and post foundationalism. The argument of the non foundationalism is that there are no reliable foundations. There are only shifting foundations and we cannot take any absolute position. Postfoundationalist position warns us of the danger of falling into the foundationalist ghettoism, taking something to be a foundation when such a thing is not there. Unless we read in between the lines of Jesus’ sermon we may fall into two dangers: First, building our life on false premises, thinking that it is the foundation that Jesus spoke about as it has been happening in the recent text book controversy in Kerala. Second is endangering our freedom to change since change is the only constant reality in the world.How to find out what does it mean by rockfoundation in Jesus’ words? The Jewish people have been bringing up their children strictly on the word of God. They strongly believed that what they teach are right because all their teachings were based on the words of Torah, the Mosaic Law, the words given by God to Moses. They believed that therefore they cannot be wrong; there is no foundations stronger than their Torah for that matter. Jesus did not accept this interpretation. All his efforts were to challenge the edifice the Jews had built upon the Law, not because that they are built on shifting sands but rather that they are built on false premises, thinking that they are absolutes. All religions find their founding documents authoritative and absolute. It gives them security and sense of purpose. Without them people find them helpless, with out any direction in life. Therefore they are even willing to die for the protection of them. Christians, Muslim, Hindus, without any exception would die for their sacred Scriptures, ground of their faith, since they think that this is the basic minimum that they should do with their life. Without this foundation, no life.The whole Sermon on the Mount is a challenge to change such traditionally considered absolute foundations based on the interpretation of the scripture. Jesus is asking them to search for new foundation in his words. The strong foundations of faith which the Jews had only led them away from God, to look to themselves and idealize their standpoints. The rock upon which the Jews built their religion had been working well, shaping their community, economics, faith for more than 1500 years. Jesus has been asking them to build their houses on his words that point to the , the fulfillment of the law, the purpose of God for Creation. The Law is fulfilled not in rediscovering the Mosaic injunctions of the past but in search of its present and future fulfillment.Rocks, rigid, stern foundations are not as safe as we used to think as the modern geology teaches us. Every year, earthquakes, breaking and shifting of rock beneath the earth’s surface, take the lives of thousands of people and destroys houses, causes tsunamis. We need to rethink the mode of our structural designing to resist earthquake forces. For hundreds of millions of years, the forces of plate tectonics have shaped the earth as they move slowly over, under, and past each other. Sometimes the movement is gradual. At other times, the plates are locked together and the plates break free causing the ground to shake.

Conventional earthquake resistant design of buildings depends upon providing the buildings with strength, stiffness and inelastic deformation capacity. New structural engineering introduces the concept of base isolation where buildings rest on frictionless rollers. When the ground shakes, the rollers freely roll, but the building above does not move. Thus, no force is transferred to the building due to the shaking of the ground; simply, the building does not experience the earthquake. The base-isolators are flexible pads. Another way is to install Seismic Dampers in place of structural elements, such as diagonal braces which act like the hydraulic shock absorbers. These modern technology provide more stability to buildings rather than inflexible rock foundation.
Jesus is asking us to build our lives on his words which challenge the absolutist categories and conventional wisdom which go over thousands of years. Jesus words act like contemporary flexible pads and base rollers absorbs better the tremors that destroy the house. Jesus’ point is that no one would build a house on the sand if one knows that. In Palestine water will rise in wadis perhaps after several years. When some one builds a house one will not be knowing that the foundation cannot uphold the building. Don’t try to defend the conventional knowledge as if they were eternal truths but be ready to go beyond. In Postmodernist thinking foundational truths are linguistic constructs, interpretations. So Jesus interpretation, the Words of Jesus, is the true foundation, not settling down by the present foundation. Search for the words of future from Jesus in order to find true stability for our life.The present text book controversy in Kerala illustrates how people are upset when the conventional foundations are threatened. They are afraid that if the children are exposed to the wind and rain in the world their faith would drift away. Jesus’ point is not to blame the rain and wind, which the people are now trying to do. Let the children get the right to decide, rather than we bidding them to grow in our own ignorant and false foundations.

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June 27, 2008 by

Gurukul Community.Com: Faith and Theology

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June 26, 2008 by

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What is Faith? What is Theology?

June 26, 2008 by

Theology is thoughtful faith. Faith and theology are inseparable. Theology is an inquiry into faith. The classical definition of theology is “faith seeking understanding”(St. Anselm: fides quaerns intellectum). Augustine also points to the integral relation of faith and theology, when he said: “I believe in order that I may understand.” Do you understand what you read? is a classical raised by an early evangelist to a pagan seeker (Acts 9: ). Prophet Isaiah laments over people who do not understand, who do not care to understand. Gospel writers say that Jesus also endorsed the prophet’s concern. (Mark 4: ). The Deuteronomic Creed, Shema, exhorts people: Love your God with your whole heart, mind and spirit (Deut: 4 ). Understanding is the capacity of mind to comprehend. Where there is no understanding people perish ( Isa. ). Theology is understanding what is believed. Without theology faith turns out to be fideism, an ideology without the possibility of correcting it. As Edward Schillebeeckx noted, Christian faith “causes us to think.” Faith keeps on seeking and asking, thus moves out of ideological blindness to responsible freedom. Human life ceases to be human when we no longer have the courage to ask questions that are necessary “to keep human life human” (Paul Lehmann, Ethics in a Christian Context, 112). Without faith theology loses its cutting edge, its focus, its subject. The starting point of faith is not Cartesian self-consciousness (Des Cartes,” Cogito ergo sum,” I think, therefore I am) but the awareness of the reality of God ( “God is, therefore we are,” Daniel Migliore, 5). For Karl Barth: “Theology means taking rational trouble over the mystery…. If we are unwilling to take the trouble neither shall we know what we mean when we say that we are dealing with the mystery of God: (Church Dogmatics , 1/1:483, Cited by Migliore, p.8). Miglior’s Faith seeking Understang has been of great help for this writeup.

Christology

June 23, 2008 by

Where to begin? The methodological problem

Christological studies have been always confronted with a methodological problem: Where to start, “from above” or “from below.” From above refers to the ontological aspect of Christology, beginning from the second person of trinity, stuffed with Greek metaphysics and the Jewish concept of the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed Son of God, and the preached Christ of faith . From below refers to the incarnate Jesus, historical person and the work of Christ as a human being, the historical Jesus. The new Testament records a growing awareness of Christians, from Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph, to Son of David and Son of Man to Son of God, and the second person of Trinity. It can be said that the Synoptic Christology is a “from below” Christology while that of John as “from above” christology. The discussions on the importance on the starting point in christological methodology has acquired significance from the inception of contextual theologies in the late sixties of the last century. Certainly, the quest for historical Jeus which started in the ninteenth century certainly challenged the Chalcedonian Christology which was based on the discussions on the two-nature christology: how divinity and humanity in Jesus coexisted in Jesus. though Chalcedon wanted to maintain a balance between the Alexandrian tradition which emphasized the divinity of Christ and the Antiochean tradition which high lighted the humanity of Christ, both were revolving artound Greek metaphysical considerations.

Martin Kähler’s book, The So-called Historical Jesus and the Historic, Biblical Christ, edited and translated by Carl E. Braaten, Fortress Press, 1964) made proclamation of the early church as the most significant event in the study of Christology. Schleiermacher and the Erlangen School of Theology earlier suggested that historic Christ can be really apprehended only in the faith of the Christian community.

Kähler was attacking the quest for historical Jesus prevailing in the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Those who were after the Quest set Jesus in opposition to Paul., Harnack was the most prominent one who contrasted Jesus with Pauline theology. Against this tendency Kähler asserted, “The real Christ is the preached Christ.”

It is now clear that the early church faced similar problem. The way they solved it was by presenting Jesus from various angles, Jewish, Gentile, Popular and Philosophic angles. They were trying to build a Christology after the model of how the disciples answered Jesus’ question at Caesaria Philippi: What do people say that I am? The result was the four Gospels of the New Testament. While selecting four they had to discard several other interpretations of Jesus. This method makes sense in the context of religious and cultural context of today. Multiplicity of interpretations can not be avoided, but the Church has the responsibility to say which constitutes more authentic among the interpreatations, but should not fall into the trap of proclaiming any one interpretation as the authentic, which the early Church also found to be unfeasible.

The form-critical study of the Gospels help us to distinguish Jesus’ person and work from “the particular perspective in which it is transmitted this or that New Testament witness.” (Pannenberg, Jesus- God and Man, 23). The form critical study, however, does not help us to understand the chronological sequence of the life and ministry of Jesus, “for the sequence of presentation in all four Gospel has been proved to be determined by consideration of composition.”

The historical-critical approach to the Gospels tried to explore how the early Christian proclamation of Christ “emerged from the fate of Jesus” (Pannenberg). There remained an unresolved question of an antithesis between historical Jesus and the primitive Christian Kerygma. To make the connection between the two has always been a difficult methodological task for Christology.

The earliest document of the Christian Church, the Pauline letters, do not provide any evidences to determine Jesus’ life. What Paul has attempted is to present a Jesus as he has appeared to faith: to present Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one, promised in the scriptures. Since the Jews rejected him, as Paul explained in his theology of the Cross, Christology refocused its attention from the Palestinian Judaism to a Hellenistic-Judaic-Roman context. Going beyond this faith proclamation seemed impossible to any rational search for Jesus.

As Schweitzer concluded the Quest, thoughj it showed the significance of historical Jesus, has failed to go beyond the mystic, keygmatic, mythic experience of the early Christian Church. Bultmann closed the Quest by absorbing the person of Jesus in the word. (Bultmann, Jesus and the Word Chalrles Scribner’s Sons, 1958). He was satisfied with his demythologized Christ, preached Christ of faith.

However, Bultmann’s disciples, Kasemman, Fuchs, Bornkamm and others tried to overcome the historical constraints by assuring themselves that historicity of Jesus is no longer important, what is communicate d through the Gospels were enough to arrive at a knowledge of Christ life and work. The contextual theologies of the 1960, the Black, the Liberation and the Feminist streams, were anxious to establish Jesus’ historicity as it strengthened people’s struggle to establish, equality and Justice, which they thought was the most important contribution of the historical Jesus.

Church in Chennai

June 16, 2008 by

About 380 young members of the Mar Thoma Church got together from 29 May to 1June 2008, at the Hindustan College of Engineering, Padur, Chennai. The Conference was named “CEDARS ‘ 08” and was hosted by the Chennai Centre Mar Thoma Yuvajana Sakhyam organized by the youth wing of the Mar Thoma Church. The Bishop of the Chennai-Bangalore Diocese. Rt. Rev. Dr. Geevarghese Mar Thodosius, presided over the Conference.

The theme for study was “ROOTING FOR FRUITING” based on the Psalm 1:3 from the Bible. Rev. Abraham Scariah of the Mar Thoma Counseling Centre, Kottayam, was the Main Speaker. Rev. Vinod Victor, from the CSI Diocese of South Kerala led the Bible studies. Com. Jacob and Rani from the Scripture Union, Mr. Prince Solomon and Mrs. Princey Solomon of the Madras Christian College were the other leaders.

It was the third such conference of the Diocese. A lot of money and effort by the clergy and young leaders of Chennai were pooled into the organizing of the Conference. I was telling my friend Liba Varghese who was one of the leaders of the Conference to look critically into the effectiveness of such meetings. She has got a very high opinion regarding the success of the conference. Nevertheless I was prompting her to look at the conference with a critical eye. Certainly it has got the positive values of bringing young members together into fellowship which is very much needed in the post modern context of individualism; also it awakens youngsters to the spiritual dimension of human life. Further it promotes the interests of the Mar Thoma Community. All these are necessarily good in themselves. However the larger interests of the Church and Society are neglected in most of such conferences. Youngsters are fed with a lopsided spirituality fostered by self interests and the narrow vision of the community. Inter religious, inter-cultural and interdenominational vision of a broader society must be the theological focus of any such programmes. The leaders of the Church must see that inter-cultural sessions are included in the programme in order to promote a vision of wider community, which goes beyond the boundaries of one particular community, though the interests of the community has got its place in the development of individuals.