Recently, some friends in Asia theological circle (mostly biblical scholars) felt the call for Asian theology. Contextual, intercultural, inculturation, indigenous theology have been the concern in Asia for several decades. It is always a glad to thing to see more people plough the field and to have more fruitful harvest.
Teaching at Sabah Theological Seminary (STS) for four years, and being asked several times by colleagues in Edinburgh of how to use Mandarin (Chinese) to teach theology, I find that the challenge is not with the language, for even if one is teaching Barth, Calvin, Aquinas, etc in English to English speaking students, the difficulty in understanding still there, the problem is how to make them relevant to our students’ context, to our own cultural religious context.
I have used translated textbook for systematic theology, have also prepared my own compilation of different issues. STS’s curriculum on systematic theology only counts for four credits which include introduction to theology. Conventional curriculum for systematic theology would be eight to twelve credits. Comparing two curriculum, STS looks deficient for having not enough time to cover all theological topics. But its strength is that it takes out these credits and allows for a replacement course in Asian Theology (compulsive) to make up for the lost. The emphasis of course is different. Whether it is a gain or a lose will be depending on perspective.
Colleagues in biblical complains about not enough classes for students, not enough biblical languages etc.
In the coming years after I finish my PhD and start to teach again the seminary, I am now considering to use textbook of biblical theology to teach systematic theology. The point is that Chinese churches still read the Bible and preach from it on a regular basis, but do not have to know in details of the theological construction of theologians in the West. To root our faith in fuller understanding of biblical theology and to connect it to our historical, ethnical and religious context is of more crucial effort an Asian theologian has to do.
The following is the “Consensus" reached among theologians in Conference 2002
Consensus of the Conference
Description of Contextual Theology (CT)
· CT is not another/separate subject in the curriculum.
· CT is a way of doing all theology that begins with the experience of a community.
· CT is a way of discerning God’s presence in a people and in a concrete situation.
· CT is not one particular theology or method but it is theology by its very nature.
· CT is an ongoing and transforming process for teacher, student, church, society.
· CT is a radical critique of theological suppositions and existing models.
· CT is a challenge to the institution and to our way of being church in our own context.
· All theology is culturally conditioned and contextual but some contexts are wrong.
· The context has to be addressed consciously.
· Context is both global and local; one has to be aware of the political and economic elements in a given culture.
· Context decides the meaning of language.
· The experience of a community is that of a community suffering, rejoicing, weeping, dancing, hoping.
· CT does not begin in a mind filled with information but in a compassionate heart ready to listen.
· To do CT is to take a faithful stance.
· CT involves risk.
Towards a Methodology : A Task List
· Use Asian resources and the “body of knowledge” as a resource.
· Embrace the multi-religious context as our heritage.
· Nourish the imagination. Put students in touch with beauty (poetry, art, symbols).
· Link students with the struggle of a community.
· Use a feminist perspective as integral to CT : from experience to analysis (the hermeneutic of suspicion and affirmation), deconstruct in order to reconstruct.
· Train lay theologians.
· Change faculty formation, faculty-student relations and the infrastructure.