Guidelines for Doing Theologies in Asia

 

HISTORY

  • 2006

    Oct 6-7

    Drafted by discussion group in STM, Malaysia

  • 2006

    Nov 18

    Approved with comments by Excom, Jakarta

  • 2007

    Jan 10

    Circulated to member schools for feedback

  • 2007

    Mar 30

    Final approval by Excom, Sabah

  • 2007

    Jul 15

    Adopted by SEAGST Senate in Manila

  • 2007

    Nov

    Celebration for departure, Golden Jubilee, Singapore

PREAMBLE

The Critical Asian Principle (CAP) has a history, purpose and direction. Since its formulation and implementation about thirty years, we believe it has achieved its purpose reasonably well in assisting the process of doing theology and teaching theology in Asia. However in today’s context, given its peculiarities and changing needs, we realize there is a need to review the CAP in order to intensify Asian theological reflection and theological training. Hence the need to revisit and rethink the CAP was suggested at the Taipei 2004 meeting by the ATESEA Executive Committee. Member schools, colleges and seminaries were requested to facilitate and participate in the re-assessment process. The process was to focus on relevancy, sufficiency and adequacy of CAP for today’s Asia.

The Critical Asian Principle has been the framework applied by the ATESEA and the SEAGST in theological education. In 1972 at the Senate meeting in Bangkok, the CAP formulation was introduced by Emerito P. Nacpil and officially adopted to provide the basis for theological construction and education in Asia. The primary concerns behind the implementation of the CAP were twofold:

  • To promote an Asian orientation in theological education in the Southeast Asian region;
  • To seek and identify what is “distinctly Asian and use such distinctiveness as a critical principle of judgment on matters dealing with the life and mission of the Christian community, theology, and theological education in Asia.”

-(Report on Rethinking the Critical Asian Principle, ATESEA Members Schools Myanmar, 2005/2006)

Hence the CAP took into account the common spiritual and socio-economic context of Southeast Asian countries as the point of reference for biblical reflection and theologizing. Four broadly described principles were thus proposed:

  • The situational principle;
  • The hermeneutical principle;
  • The missiological principle;
  • The educational principle.

Each of these principles had general objectives to meet; namely to:

Help Asian Churches develop a theology of their own and be fully liberated from the Western framework;
Help Churches evolve an attitude which would seek to think Asian and act Asian in order to create a scope for living theology;
Help redress the situation whereby Asian Christianity continues to remain Western and the religion of the colonial masters (Philippine Area Committee’ Report. * Revisiting the Critical Asian Principle, Philippines).

WHY REVISIT AND RETHINK CAP

As mentioned in the preamble, the need to revisit and rethink CAP has been made necessary by the constantly evolving Asian context. Many things have since changed and would require different approaches and modus operandi in theologizing and teaching of theology in Asia. The revisiting and rethinking should rightly raise critical questions in relation to the adequacy, relevancy and sufficiency of CAP in current Asian situations. The following comments are findings compiled through the various regional discussions.

The four principles of CAP are too general and do not specifically address modern day challenges.
The usage of the term ‘Critical’ in the context of CAP does not seem critical enough as the four expressed principles are common basic hermeneutic principles.

The CAP merely offers a general framework, without saying anything specific about the principles or application methodology. Hence it is seen to be descriptive and lacking in a clear theological perspective.

Since the principles are general in nature, the CAP lacks clear direction for doing theology and teaching theology in Asia. The original CAP is inadequate to provide interaction with contemporary issues such as globalization, global empire building, ecological and gender justice issues.

A lack is also noted in the areas of pastoral, ministerial and spiritual formation.

FROM BANGKOK TO SINGAPORE – A LONG JOURNEY OF CHANGES

As noted in the keynote paper “Covenant with the Churches in Asia” presented at the ATESEA General Assembly 2005, “the Asian world has changed rapidly in all aspects of economic, political and social development. Christian Churches in Asia continue to struggle to witness the message of the gospel and the promise of the reign of God to be actualized among the people of Asia.” (Huang Po Ho: Covenant with the Churches in Asia – Retargeting Theological Education in Responding to the Life and Death Struggles of the People of Asia – ATESEA General Assembly Meeting, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2005). Since the ‘changing context’ is the key factor which induced the reassessment of the effectiveness, functionality and suitability of the CAP, we need to identify what features color the changed context of today’s Asia and what paradigm shift has taken place between Bangkok (then) and Singapore (now). The following are some propositions:

  • Religious Fundamentalism – The escalation of tensions between the Muslim world and the West, as well as terrorist activities sponsored by religious sectarian groups in Asia continue to challenge us in the way we think and act as Christians in Asia. The revival of many sects, with a fundamentalist tendency within the living religions of Asia, stand witness to rising religious fundamentalism. Living in a pluralistic community leaves limited alternatives for Asians: either we build bridges or walls.
  • Gender Justice Issues – The rising cases of violence against women and children, as well as issues aimed directly at marginalizing women from mainstream activities, the evident gender deficit in organizations and institutions, and the circumvention of women’s quest for equal rights and opportunities have become a growing concern in Asia. Often times the oppression of women in Asia is reinforced by Asian cultures and religions. Gender justice issues compel us to accept the truth that women are human beings created in God’s image.
  • Ecological Problems, Disease and Disasters – These ecological and health problems have become common in Asia today. The recent Tsunami, flash floods and earthquakes have taken away thousands of lives and left the living devastated. The outbreak of Avian Flu and the resurgence of diseases (like Tuberculosis. Dengue and Malaria), once thought to have been eradicated in Southeast Asia, have once again resurfaced in epidemic proportions. HIV and AIDS are affecting families, communities and nations and challenge us to re-examine our ministerial formation program. Furthermore, uncontrolled and one-sided exploitative economic development projects have brought with them various ecological crises. “Ecological concerns have often been neglected or conveniently sidelined.” (Wilfred J Samuel, Review of the Critical Asian Principle –Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore Region, 2006). The rape of Mother Earth manifest in uncontrolled logging, indiscriminate use of chemicals in agriculture, inconsiderate disposal of non-biodegradable waste, and human beings’ many other ecocidal acts due to negligence, ignorance or greed destroy the ecosystem.
  • Globalization and Global Empire Building – Much of Asia has moved from colonial contexts to a variety of post-colonial and neo-colonial situations where the global empire and the neo-liberal economic scheme of globalization play symbiotic relationships. The greed of the Empire and the neo-liberal globalization threatens and destroys all life, especially the poor and marginalized people and Mother Earth. Thus, economic globalization and the rise of a global empire is a serious concern for Asia today. Such “new realities within the Asian contexts are posing new challenges to our theologizing today. . .” (Taiwan Area’s Critical Response to the Critical Asian Principle (CAP) of ATESEA/SEAGST, Taiwan, 2006).
  • Colonization – Most Asian countries have a colonial experience. Asia’s post colonial realities and emerging neo-colonial attitudes are matters that should be given a renewed emphasis in combating abuse, imperialism and exploitation. “Neo-colonialism is now disguised in the form of economic domination.” (Emanuel G Singgih, Critical Asian Principal: A Contextual Theological Evaluation, Indonesia, 2005). Neo-colonialism also employs cultural hegemony in both subtle and glaring ways. The principle of ‘decolonization’ must be implemented in making people “aware of the colonizing command and dominance that is around us and in us. We need to engage consciously and continuously in decolonizing all alienating and imposing influences.” ( Taiwan Area’s Critical Response to the Critical Asian Principle (CAP) of ATESEA/SEAGST, Taiwan, 2006).
  • Spirituality – With the increasing influence and impact of materialism, secularism, and liberalism in the post-modern era, Asian countries continue to experience challenges and stagnation in spirituality. These include loss of focus in discipleship and spiritual formation, loss of indigenous wisdom, character and values, and infiltration of western culture and ideology through the neo-Pentecostal and new religious movements influences.
  • Identity and Power Struggle – Most communities in Asian countries have experienced identity crisis through history. In the process of post-colonial impact, some experienced a ‘hybrid’ identity. (Simon SM Kwan, A Hong Kong Reflection on the Critical Asian Principle, CAP Continual Discussion Group Report – 2006. A “meeting place identity” is used to describe this floating nature of identity). Similar to this is the question of “what kind of world order is theology going to project that is consistent with its hope for the kingdom of God, as the people of Asia rise to claim their basic rights and rightful place in the world?” (Philippine Area Committee Report, Revisiting the Critical Asian Principle).
  • Peoples’ Movements and Ecumenism – In a Christian minority and multi- denominational context enhancing ecumenical unity and cooperation is vital. In seeking to fulfil the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, the Asian Churches need to transcend denominational boundaries and constantly seek to promote wider cooperation. Some Asians see denominationalism as a legacy of Western mission agencies that promotes a particular brand of Christianity. Learning from the past history ecumenism must not be just seen in functional terms but as a dynamic unity (‘that they may be one’) (Wilfred J Samuel, Review of the Critical Asian Principle –Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore Region, 2006). Ecumenism is about a vision of God’s household where the members seek to listen to the variety of Asian theological voices, and to practice intra faith and interfaith dialog in order to promote peace, healing and reconciliation.
  • Information and Technological Change and Challenges – “Globalize capitalized economic activities act not only to widen the gap between the rich and the poor, but also weaken the sovereignty of individual nation states by interruption of capital power. Its operation is backed by the information technology and military power, and has led to the decline of the weaker cultures, discrimination against minorities such as aborigines, and exploitation of women and children.” (Huang Po Ho, “Covenant with the Churches in Asia – Retargeting Theological Education in Responding to the Life and Death Struggles of the People of Asia,” ATESEA General Assembly Meeting, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2005).
  • Social Challenges – The expression of sin in terms of greed for power and wealth experienced by the peoples of Asia has had a tremendous effect on the community, especially the poor and marginalized. Ethical problems such as corruption, abuse of power, and prostitution; poverty realities such as indentured child labour and population explosion; communal problems such as ethnic conflicts, racial tensions and breakdown of family structures and continued marginalization of women, children, and persons with disabilities continue to rise.
  • Reclaiming Indigenous Identity and Minority Rights – Loss of identity, dignity, and loss of good cultural values have resulted from lack of dialogue with the indigenous peoples. Dialogue with them has been hindered by our prejudices and stereotyped views about them that were influenced by western theology and culture. The indigenous has often been equated with being ‘backward’, ‘primitive’ and ‘irrational.’ For these reasons, local cultures and their wisdom has been systematically suppressed and marginalized. However, indigenous wisdom has a valuable character that needs to be rediscovered.

GUIDELINES FOR THEOLOGIZING AND THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION IN ASIA – TIME FOR ANOTHER PARADIGM SHIFT

The purpose of these guidelines is to allow a redefinition and a retargeting of the role of theological education and its methodology in Asia by addressing the actual situation of a local community and at the same time ensuring it is “biblically based, missiologically oriented, educationally shaped, pastorally advocated and spiritually empowered.” (Report on Rethinking Critical Asian Principle, Eastern Indonesia Area). Theologies in Asia must be authentically Asian in its content, shape and processes. Thus we propose the following guidelines. Theological education should promote:

  • Responsive engagement with the diverse Asian contexts;
  • Critical engagement with indigenous cultures and wisdom for the preservation and sustenance of life;
    Reflective engagement with the sufferings of the Asian people in order to provide hope for the marginalized, women, indigenous people, children, differently-abled people and migrant workers;
  • Restoring the inter-connectedness of the whole creation;
  • Interfaith dialogue as well as intra faith communion and communication for the fullness of life and the well-being of the society;
  • Enhancing capacity building in order to serve people experiencing disaster, conflict, and disease as well as those people who suffer physical, emotional, and mental disabilities;
  • Prophetic resistance against the powers of economic imperialism;

Equipping Christians for witnessing and spreading the gospel of Jesus with loving care and service to fulfil the Christian mission of evangelism.

IMPLICATION AND IMPLEMENTATION

The following suggestions are made in order to allow for effective implementation of the guidelines:

  • ATESEA accreditation criteria (notation) should be revised to incorporate the above requirements.
  • The ATESEA member schools and the SEAGST should reflect the spirit of the above guidelines in their curriculum, ways of teaching and training programs.
  • The ATESEA member schools should adopt an inter-disciplinary approach and avoid the departmental approach in teaching of theology.
  • Ongoing faculty development should be given due consideration in developing expertise in the concerned areas mentioned in the guidelines.
  • The ATESEA member schools should ensure that proper re-sourcing is done in libraries to enable meaningful academic research, reflection and articulation on current and relevant issues.
  • The AJT/ATESEA publications should be encouraged to take the above guidelines into consideration and reflect the spirit of the same guidelines in their publications.
  • Efficient efforts must be undertaken so that the ATESEA member schools and Asian theologians take the ideals of the guidelines seriously in theological education, reflection and construction.

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