Challenges Facing Christian Theology in India

The author is the Rector of Kristu Jyoti College, Bangalore and teaches systematic theology there. His e-mail ID is jmksdb@gmail.com He makes a quick review of the work in Indian theology done mostly after Vatican II and outlines some of the challenges that the present situation present to Indian Christian thinkers: inculturation, theology of religions and dialogue, Christology and ecclesiology, mission and liberation, ecology and post-modernism. He suggests lines of reflection that can be taken up by theological centres and individuals.

 

 (May 2013)

 

1. Introduction

It is predicted that the church of the 21st century will be a 'world church' rather than a predominantly western church: "At the beginning of the twentieth century, just 25 percent of the world's Catholic population lived outside Europe and North America. By the century's end, however, 65.5 percent of the Catholic population was found in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In a geographical sense, the twentieth century literally turned Catholicism 'upside down'".1 In this 'world church' the church in India is expected to play a significant role. By 2050 Indian Catholics will number about 26 million, making India one among the top twenty Catholic nations in the world.2 For the benefit of all in the 'world church' it is important that the Indian Christians make their specific contribution in theology.

The church in India has made great strides in theology after the second Vatican council. In this article I shall first present the journey that has been made till today and then point out some of the challenges that we need to address in the coming years so that we may be able to make our responsible contribution to the church at large. These challenges are presented to serve as reflection starters. No attempt is made to propose ways to answer the challenges. Questions are powerful tools. They can ignite hope and lead to new insights. Asking the right question is already the beginning of an answer.

The second Vatican council made it the responsibility of the entire people of God to listen to the voices of our age and interpret them in the light of the divine Word in a way meaningful to the context:

The church learned early in its history to express the Christian message in the concepts and language of different peoples and tried to clarify it in the light of the wisdom of their philosophers.... It is possible to create in every country the possibility of expressing the message of Christ in suitable terms and to foster vital contact and exchange between the church and different cultures.... With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the whole people of God, particularly of the pastors and theologians, to listen to and distinguish the many voices of our times and to interpret them in the light of the divine Word, in order that the revealed truth may be more deeply penetrated, better understood, and more suitably presented (GS 44).

 This exhortation of the council was, in a way, a call to engage in contextual theology. It was a call to make "faith seek relevance", rather than a call to make "faith seek understanding". The church in India took this call seriously. The CBCI, in its communication to the synod of Rome (1974) expressed its commitment to this task in these words: "The church will realize her Indian identity by adjusting herself to the conditions prevailing in the country and developing an indigenous theology. Such a theology will be one of the primary tasks of the local church, for it reflects on the implications of, and response to, the Word of God within a particular religio-cultural tradition".3

 2. Major Trends in Theologizing in India

Much work has been done in the past half a century to articulate a theology that is relevant and contextual (not forgetting the work done earlier by theologians like Brahmabandhab Upadhyay and a host of eminent protestant theologians). Among them we can distinguish "three major trends or approaches: the spiritual-contemplative, the philosophical-theological and the socio-political".4

The spiritual-contemplative approach tries to develop a theology that touches the contemplative and spiritual heart of India. Dom Bede Griffiths, an English Benedictine monk who made India his home, thought that the church did not touch the soul of India: "The Indian church has inherited a tradition of ritual and doctrine which was developed in Western Europe and has little or no contact with the cultural tradition of India. This has meant that the Indian church has become incapable either of awakening any mystical experience or of working any social transformation".5 The ashram movement in India has contributed much to the development of spiritual-contemplative theology.

The philosophical-theological approach aims at articulating a theology that resonates with the philosophical and religious insights of India. The approaches taken and the avenues followed by representatives of this trend are many. Some examine the sruti (that which is heard = revelation) and smriti (that which is remembered = tradition) literature of Hinduism to gauge their value for developing an Indian theology. Others look at the Indian philosophical systems and schools of thought to find ways of incarnating the good news using categories drawn from these traditions. Still others examine the various margas (paths) elaborated by Hinduism for attaining liberation (salvation) to see how the Christian way can be expressed in analogous terms.

The socio-political approach takes the concrete social, economic, political and cultural context of India as the matrix for developing a theology. It tries to see how the Gospel can become truly good news in such contexts by challenging, purifying and transforming the existing situation. Dalit theology, tribal theology, feminist theology, eco-theology, etc., are results of such type of theologizing.

Reflecting on the theological ferment in which India is steeped, Lucien Legrand made the following comment some years back:

The search for an Indian theology has ceased to be the isolated contribution of a few original minds. It has become a vast movement of study, reflection, and prayer, with its special moments of sometimes adventurous, always fruitful, interdisciplinary encounters. If this movement has as yet produced no coherent synthesis comparable with that of the theology of liberation, it is doubtless because the task in India is even greater than it is elsewhere. Perhaps never in the history of the church has the Christian faith encountered a culture so solid and so comprehensive, a religion so living and so profoundly mystical, as it has in today's India. The only parallel might be in the encounter with the Greek world. But the Greece of the first Christian centuries had lost its liberty and was entering upon its decline, while the last hundred years in the history of India have been the century of independence and great renewal, the age of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi and Vinobha Bhave, to limit ourselves to figures of the past.6

There is much theological reflection taking place in India today. Even now theology is still a ‘vast movement of study, reflection and prayer', without having produced yet an overarching coherent synthesis', although we can surely speak of an Indian theology, or rather Indian theologies. In this vast movement we have identified three dominant trends or approaches. These trends are not mutually exclusive. And most theologians in India subscribe to more than one of these trends. Further, within each of these trends there are many sub-groups. It is beyond the scope of this paper to enter into an exposition of their positions. What we intend to do here is to point out the challenges that we still need to address in articulating a theology that is faithful to scripture and tradition and is relevant for the lives of people.

3. The Challenges

Way back in 1974, in the first plenary assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), the bishops of Asia considered "matters of common concern for the Church in Asia", and set forth a three-fold dialogue, namely dialogue with the cultures, with the religions and with the poor of Asia, as imperative for presenting Jesus Christ to the people of Asia.7 These are the areas in which much of theological reflection has taken place in India. To these, other concerns of more recent origin, like ecology, globalization, etc., also have been added. The following are some of the challenges that these reflections have raised.

3.1. Inculturation

The second Vatican council encouraged what came to be known as inculturation (GS 44). In his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte Pope John Paul II said:

In the third millennium, Christianity will have to respond ever more effectively to this need for inculturation. Christianity, while remaining completely true to itself, with unswerving fidelity to the proclamation of the Gospel and the traditions of the church, will also reflect the different faces of the cultures and peoples in which it is received and takes root. In this jubilee year, we have rejoiced in a special way in the beauty of the church's varied face. This is perhaps only a beginning, a barely sketched image of the future which the Spirit of God is preparing for us (n. 40).

For many centuries, the Christians in India, had been taught western local theologies like German theology, French theology and Italian theology, theologies developed taking into consideration the sensitivities of the people in those countries and very relevant for them, and which could also have some relevance in other places. Heeding the call of the second Vatican council the Church in India made a great effort to develop a theology and a liturgy that would be relevant for the people of India. As a result it has created indigenous patterns of thought, worship, relationships, organization and celebration. Drawing attention to some of the things that have to be kept in mind in the effort at inculturation Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil points out: "Successful inculturation should create a sense of security, not tension; enhance identity, not cause alienation; create social harmony, not disaffection; provide a sense of purpose and direction, not theological deviation and an irresponsible leap into the dark. The more a Christian community becomes indigenized, the more it becomes open to the universal church".8

Some of the difficulties and challenges that we face in the area of inculturation are these:

  1. Much of the initial efforts at inculturation paid attention only to the language, symbols, thought patterns, of the dominant Brahminic type of Hinduism. There is need to articulate the Good News in ways consonant to values found in other religious traditions like the tribal life, Islam, Buddhism and Jainism.

  2. Greater efforts have to be made so that the good news can be incarnated in a way meaningful and relevant to the disadvantaged groups like the dalits and women. “The announcement of the Gospel in subaltern cultures demands transformation, correction and renewal of these cultures. It is not a matter of purely external adaptation, for inculturation means the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures".9

  3. There is a theoretical question that needs further reflection. It could be phrased thus: Are the Semitic and Graeco-Roman cultures necessary for an authentic expression of the Christian faith and therefore normative for later attempts at expressing the faith in other cultures? Can the normativity of the Gospel be claimed by any one of the cultures in which the Gospel is responded to and re-expressed? While we certainly have to go back to the Gospel and tradition to get in touch with the mystery of Christ, it would seem that we are called to respond to it in life, worship and theology in terms of our own culture.10 The words of Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962, at the opening of the second Vatican council, are very enlightening: "For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honoured teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else".11

  1. In the classical cultures religion is the core or heart of culture. (The modern technological culture is quite another thing.) It is religion which gives values to a culture and thus provides direction to the lives of people. And classical cultures in their essence are open to the divine, the transcendent. So, if by inculturation we meant incarnating a faith by stripping a particular cultural expression and giving it another, this would be harmful to both the cultures. It would be tantamount to replacing one 'heart' with a different 'heart', and this is bound to be rejected. We should rather see inculturation as two cultures encountering each other, in depth, leading to mutual enrichment and refinement. Since the classical cultures, in their essence, are open to the divine, the transcendent, such encounter at depth will lead them to a new and deeper perception of the Truth. This type of encounter, as cardinal Ratzinger (now Pops Benedict XVI) pointed out, could better be termed as interculturation rather than inculturation.12 For the local community, this encounter should result in the community expressing its response to the Gospel creatively by its life, reflection, cult and celebration.

  2. The revolutions in information technology, greater facilities for travel, and globalization are making us share and interact with more cultures. In this context the question arises whether we should make greater effort to get rooted in our own culture or to be open to other cultures and give to them as well as receive from them.

While in theory we know that the answer would be that we should be rooted in our own culture and be open to others, in day to day life it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between what is of permanent value in one's culture and what to accept from others without losing one's own identity in the process.

3.2. Theology of Religions

India has given birth to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and many tribal religious traditions. In the course of centuries it has welcomed and accommodated Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians (Parsis) and Muslims. Adherents of all these religions have lived together for centuries in India. Till the time of the second Vatican council the Catholic theology in India, in general, maintained a negative attitude to other religions considering them as false and evil, although in most cases Christians maintained friendly relationships with individuals of other religions. However, after the second Vatican council the theological attitude towards other religions has changed. We mention two significant changes:

(i) From a position that held that religions are primarily human creations or even vain strivings to reach out to God, we have come to accept that religions are graced by God. The CBCI Guidelines for Interreligious Dialogue state: "The plurality of religions is a consequence of the richness of creation itself and of the manifold grace of God. Though all coming from the same source, peoples have perceived the universe and articulated their awareness of the Divine Mystery in manifold ways, and God has surely been present in these historical undertakings of his children. Such pluralism therefore is in no way to be deplored but rather acknowledged as itself a divine gift".13

(ii) From an earlier position that held that the followers of other religions attained salvation in spite of their religions, we have come to accept that they are saved by God through Jesus Christ in and through their religions. As early as 1974 the Asian Bishops asked themselves: "How then can we not give them (the religious traditions of our peoples) reverence and honour? And how can we not acknowledge that God has drawn our peoples to Himself through them?"14

These convictions, properly nuanced, are today shared by the universal church. In his encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II stated that "the Spirit ... is at the very source of humanity's existential and religious questioning.... The Spirit's presence and activity affect not only the individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures and religions" (no. 28). The Vatican document Dialogue and Proclamation says that "concretely, it will be in the sincere practice of what is good in their own religious traditions and by following the dictates of their conscience that the members of other religions respond positively to God's invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even while they do not recognize or acknowledge him as their saviour (cf. Ad gentes, 3,9,11)".15 Some of the challenges we face in the area of theology of religions are the following:

  1. If God, in Jesus Christ, saves the adherents of other religions in and through their religions, how do we understand and articulate the necessity of the Church?

  2. The conviction that God, in Jesus Christ, saves adherents of other religions through their own religions has weakened the enthusiasm to proclaim Jesus Christ and invite people to become baptized members of the Church. Many ask why we should invite others to become Christians when they are saved in their own religions and when they can live as Christ bhaktas (devotees of Jesus Christ) in their own traditions.

  3. Nostra Aetate says: "Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life, and culture" (no.2). It is really a challenge to "preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians", without leading both the Catholics and adherents of other religions to conclude that all religions are equal and are saying the same things.

  4. John L. Allen, Jr., a reputed journalist and an ardent follower of the 'trends' within the church, remarks: "How to interpret religious pluralism theologically, and what it implies for classic Christian doctrines about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the church, has been among the most agonizing subjects in Catholicism for the last two decades..".16 It will continue to be a difficult subject in the coming years too. Speaking, not with regard to theology of religions, to the clergy of the dioceses of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso in Italy, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in 2007 that Catholicism "has always been considered the religion of the great "et/et” (and ... and; both/and): not of great forms of exclusivism (either / or) but of synthesis".17 The challenge before theologians is to explore how this ‘et/et' spirit of Catholicism can be profitably applied in the field of theology of religions without diluting or playing down the specific claims made by different religions.

3.3 Interreligious Dialogue

Closely associated with theology of religions is interreligious dialogue. In the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia (1999), Pope John Paul II tells the church in Asia that "ecumenical dialogue and interreligious dialogue constitute a veritable vocation for the church" (n. 29). The general body meeting of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, Jalandhar, March 2002, had the theme of "The Church in Dialogue". In their final statement the bishops affirmed that "it is imperative for the church to be in dialogue with the followers of other religious traditions". In order to dialogue one should be firmly rooted in and uphold all the teachings of one's own religion, "as an attitude of compromise leading to the giving up of the basics of one's faith and tradition will ... be detrimental to genuine dialogue". Further the bishops affirmed that "we have to develop a positive attitude of respect towards other religious traditions as a pre-condition for dialogue. Any form of superiority complex and suspicions or doubts about the motives of one another on the part of, the dialoguing partners would hinder genuine dialogue".18 Although the Church has taken several initiatives to promote interreligious dialogue she faces many challenges both practical and doctrinal:

  1. Interreligious dialogue, especially dialogue of theological exchange and dialogue of spiritual sharing remain the activity of a few, often considered an elite group. It has not caught the imagination of the ordinary Catholic.

  2. There is growing fundamentalism in many religions. And a very powerful group, even though a minority among the Hindus, headed by the Sangh Pariwar and its various organizations, is masterminding systematic attacks on Christians as was evident in the violence on Christians in Orissa in 2007 and in Mangalore in 2008. In this situation, although dialogue is part of the solution, it becomes increasingly difficult to convince people of the usefulness of dialogue.

  3. One of the cardinal tenets of interreligious dialogue is that each participant must bring to the dialogue one's faith convictions. As Pope Benedict XVI made clear to the representatives of various religions during his visit to the United States in 2008, "Confronted with these deeper questions concerning the origin and destiny of humankind, Christianity proposes Jesus of Nazareth.... It is he whom we bring to the forum of interreligious dialogue".19 Some hold that interreligious dialogue in not possible if one comes to the dialogue with faith convictions which include a claim to superiority, even though it may be only implicit.

  4. From the early 1970s, many theologians in India have been affirming that the scriptures of other religions can be considered to be inspired in an analogical sense. Within a framework of three covenants, cosmic, Judaic and Christian, and three types of inspiration (eschatological inspiration applicable only to the NT, prophetic inspiration applicable to the OT and illuminative inspiration applicable to other religions), the theologians hold that the scriptures of other religions are graced with illuminative inspiration. Illuminative inspiration, or an inspiration by the divine Light (Jn 1:4-5.9), refers to the self-communication of God in the Spirit to peoples in various ways, which self-communication is at least partly recorded in sacred books which their followers accept as normative for their life.20 The practical and doctrinal implications of this affirmation need to be explored more deeply.

  5. Interreligious dialogue offers people many opportunities to pray together. A research seminar on ‘Sharing Worship' conducted in 1988 studied various issues related to sharing in worship in general (communicatio in spiritualibus) and sharing in liturgical worship (communicatio in sacris). The seminar suggested that because the core intention of prayer is to reach out to the Absolute, though it is done using different names and forms, it is possible for people of different religions to meet together to worship God, either by accepting to use names and forms not specific to one's particular tradition, or by participating in the prayer of a particular tradition (communicatio in spiritualibus). For communicatio in sacris what was generally advised was a respectful presence rather than active participation, without being totally closed to an active participation in some special cases and under specific conditions (e.g., inter-faith marriages).21 This is an area that also needs further reflection.

3.4. Christology

Indian religions present different saviour figures: Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Mahavira, to name just a few. Faced with this multiplicity of saviour figures the Christians of India have wrestled with three questions: (i) Who is Jesus Christ in himself; (ii) What is the relationship of Jesus Christ to the other saviour figures; and (iii) How can we present Jesus Christ in a way that is intelligible to Indian minds and cultures and, at the same time, faithful to sacred scripture and tradition.

In answering these questions there have been some very challenging proposals. An accurate exposition of these proposals would need much space and time. Here I just mention two proposals without debating their merits, both of which go beyond the traditional articulations, to point out the creative struggle of some theologians to find expressions which are faithful to the revealed truth and at the same time relevant to the context.

Raimundo Panikkar holds that "Jesus is the Christ", but that "Christ is not Jesus only".22 According to him one cannot say 'that 'Christ is only Jesus', philosophically, because the is does not need to mean is-only and, theologically, because in fact the risen Jesus is more (aliud, not alius) than the Jesus of Nazareth".23

Reflecting on the mystery of Jesus Christ, Swami Abhishiktananda, the French Benedictine monk who gave a great impetus to the ashram movement in India, wrote:

For the Christian point of view, of course, Christ is the Unique — it is through him that we see all the theophanies. He is the End of them, their Pleroma (...). Wonderful, but from the standpoint of eternity... the brilliance of the paramartha overcasts [overthrows?] all scales of value at the level of vyavahara Our Cosmic Christ, the all-embracing Isvara, the Purusa of the Vedas and Upanishads ... we cannot escape to give him such a full dimension, expansion.... Yet, why then call him only Jesus of Nazareth? Why say that it is Jesus of Nazareth whom others unknowingly call Shiva or Krishna? And not rather say that Jesus is the theophany for us, the Bible-believers, of that unnamable mystery of the manifestation, always tending beyond itself, since Brahman transcends all its/his manifestations?24

In order to present Christ in a way understandable to the people of India the fathers of the synod on Asia suggested that Jesus Christ be presented using images in tune with the Asian mindset such as "the Teacher of Wisdom, the Healer, the Liberator, the Spiritual Guide, the Enlightened One, the Compassionate Friend of the Poor, the Good Samaritan, the Good Shepherd, the Obedient One". (Ecclesia in Asia, n. 20). Recently it has been proposed that in keeping with the Asian custom of presenting truths through stories we should retell the story of Jesus, rather than proclaim him in abstract terms.25

We see that Christology is an area that has occupied an eminent place in theological thinking in India. It presents us with many challenges: (1) How to express our understanding of Jesus Christ in Indian categories. (2) How to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Unique Saviour of all to people who believe in many saviour figures. At the synod on Asia the bishops expressed this difficulty in the following words:

Some of the followers of the great religions of Asia have no problem in accepting Jesus as a manifestation of the Divine or the Absolute, or as an 'Enlightened One'. But it is difficult for them to see Him as 'the only manifestation of the Divine'. In fact, the effort to share the gift of faith in Jesus as the only Saviour is fraught with philosophical, cultural and theological difficulties, especially in light of the beliefs of Asia's great religions, deeply intertwined with cultural values and specific world views (Ecclesia in Asia, no. 20).

(3) The Synod Fathers noted that the church "must be open to the new and surprising ways in which the face of Jesus might be presented in Asia" (Ecclesia in Asia, n. 20). This is a challenge to the Christians in India to find 'new ways' of presenting Christ to others. And it is a challenge to remain open especially if those ways 'surprise' us, be it by their simplicity, or complexity or novelty. (4) Speaking of the salvific role of Jesus Christ Pope John Paul II says that "Although participated forms of mediation of different kinds and degrees are not excluded, they acquire meaning and value only from Christ's own mediation, and they cannot be understood as parallel or complementary to his" (Redemptoris Missio, n. 5). The concept of participatory mediation may offer us an opening to present Christ without negating the value of other saviour figures. This is an avenue that could be explored keeping in mind at the same time the assertion of Dominus Jesus that "the theory of the limited, incomplete, or imperfect character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, which would be complementary to that found in other religions, is contrary to the Church's faith" (n. 6). (5) Some theologians like Felix Wilfred argue that since God is the God of all and the Spirit is at work also in people of other religions, non-Christian Christologies (interpretations of Christ by people of other religions) "take us into new depths and to reassessment of classical Christology... These Christologies are net only legitimate but indispensable for a more complete and deeper understanding of the mystery of Jesus Christ".26 It is true that we cannot be closed to the gifts that the Spirit offers us through people of other religions. At the same time it is to be seen what tool to use to evaluate these Christologies. born from a re­assessment of classical Christology, which is itself one of the normal tools used for evaluation.

3.5. Ecclesiology

The Catholic Church in India is a communion of three individual Churches: the Syro-Malabar Church, The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church and the Catholic Church of the Latin Rite. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), established in 1944, is the assembly of all the Catholic bishops of India. In 1988 it restructured itself to allow three separate episcopal bodies representing the three Catholic individual churches in India. However, the CBCI still functions as the overarching body of the three churches for common planning and decision making regarding supra-ritual matters and issues of common interest.

Some of the challenges facing the churches in India are:

  1. To become a genuinely inculturated church.

  2. To live the missionary dimension of the church fully, about which we shall speak presently.

  3. Although the lay people are getting more and more involved in the life of the church, we still tend to be a clergy-dominated church. Both the clergy and the laity have to belbrmed so that the laity are able to play their rightful role in the church.

  4. The Asian Synodal Fathers wanted the church to be "a participatory church in which no one feels excluded", and "judged the wider participation of women in the life and mission of the church in Asia to be an especially urgent need", acknowledging "that the contribution of women have been often undervalued or ignored" (Ecclesia in Asia, n. 34). The CBCI, in its 28th Plenary Assembly held at Jamshedpur in 2008, reflected on the theme of the 'Empowerment of Women in the Church and Society' and resolved "to mobilise (its) collective efforts towards elimination of the root causes of discrimination against women" and authorized the Women's Commission of the CBCI to work towards preparing a gender policy of the CBCI.27 This policy was approved by the CBCI in 2009 and presented to the churches in India. In his "Foreword", presenting the gender policy, His Eminence Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil of happy and holy memory, exhorts all to "strive strenuously to bring about the required change of mindset and attitude through a proper understanding of the specific roles of both men and women in our homes and workplaces, in our human interactions and social relationships, in the church and society at large (E.A., 34)".28

  5. The three individual churches have to understand, recognize and respect the rights and duties of each and promote each other so that the Catholics in India really become a koinonia of three individual churches bearing witness to the oneness of all in Jesus Christ.

3.6. Mission ad Gentes and New Evangelization

Ecclesia in Asia declares, that "there can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord.... Pope Paul VI explicitly wrote that 'there is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and' the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, are not proclaimed" (n. 19). The CDF in its "Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization" (2007) states: "The relativism and irenicism prevalent today in the area of religion are not valid reasons for failing to respond to the difficult, but awe-inspiring commitment (to evangelization) which belongs to the nature of the church herself and is indeed the church's 'primary task'".29

With regard to mission ad gentes, besides those which we mentioned while speaking about the theology of religions and Christology, some of the challenges we face are the following:

1. Before the second Vatican council it was generally believed that people would not be saved if they were not baptized, although the church taught that there was not only baptism of water but also a baptism of desire and a baptism of blood. The primary motivation for mission ad gentes was the 'salvation of souls'. Today, with our renewed understanding of religions and of the activity of the Holy Spirit in other religious traditions, the bishops of Asia, in the fifth plenary assembly of FABC (1990), presented the primary motivation for evangelization in the following words: "We evangelize, first of all, from a deep sense of gratitude to God, the Father 'who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing' (Eph 1:3), and sent the Spirit into our hearts so that we may share in God's own life. Mission is above all else an overflow of this life from grateful hearts transformed by the grace of God".30 However, many are not as much fired by this motive of 'gratitude' as they were by the motive of 'saving souls'.

  1. Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil remarks: "There are people who are willing to share the fruits of their faith, but not faith itself, which is the source of all good things that they do".31 Many are willing to engage in works of charity, action for justice and peace, interreligious dialogue, etc., but not so enthusiastic about sharing their faith which makes them do all these. People who benefit from such fruits of our faith will benefit even more if we can-share with them our faith.

  2. We have not yet developed a pedagogy for introducing people gradually, step by step, into the full appropriation of the mystery of Christ (Ecclesia in Asia, n. 20). Some speak of 'whispering the Gospel to the soul of Asia,' and others speak of 'telling/re-telling the story of Jesus.' These are ways which are waiting to be fully explored.

  3. The 'New Evangelization' demands that we take care of those who are already Christians so that they may not become disillusioned and lax, and that we be also solicitous about those who have drifted away from the church. This demands from us new ardour, and the willingness to search for new methods and expressions to communicate the faith in a way that answers the deepest quest of the people.32

3.7. Liberation Theologies

India appears to the world as a developed or a fast developing country. The reality is quite different. According to a recent UNDP Human Development Report, which uses the 'Multidimensional Poverty Index' (MPI), eight of the Indian states (Bihar, U.P, West Bengal, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, M.P., Orissa and Rajasthan) have 421 million poor people which is more than in the 26 poorest African nations combined (410 million).33 There is a sizable number of poor people also in the other states. Dialogue with the poor has given rise to a liberation theology in India which has characteristics different from liberation theologies elsewhere. We mention three characteristics:

(i) In India (as in most of Asia) liberation theology focuses on the suffering Christ. The suffering Christ is different from the conquering God of the Exodus. "This is a God who is with us, who suffers with us, who makes our sufferings meaningful.... He does not promise us a miraculous victory, but urges us to take seriously our own responsibility for our liberation, assuring us of his fellowship. He empowers us to become agents rather than mere victims".34

(ii) In their struggle for liberation Christians reach out to the oppressed and marginalized in other religious traditions. Therefore it becomes an inter religious joint struggle.

(iii) One of the major challenges that we face in the area of liberation theology is the persistence of the caste system. The bishops of India have denounced the caste system very strongly in the following words:

We state categorically that caste, with its consequent effects of discrimination and 'caste mentality', has no place in Christianity. It is, in fact, a denial of Christianity because it is inhuman. It violates the God-given dignity and equality of the human person ... the human dignity and respect due to every person, and any denial of this is a sin against God and man.

Catholics, in particular, are called to reflect on whether they can meaningfully participate in the Eucharist without repudiating and seriously striving to root out caste prejudice and similar traditions and sentiments both within the Church and outside.35

Although it has been condemned the caste system continues to exert its influence over church institutions, policies and personnel. We are still searching for a way to eradicate it completely. Dalit theology is a help for this. To the caste system must now be seriously added the dehumanizing impact of globalization especially on the disadvantaged and marginalized people of our country.36

3.8. Ecology

Created in God's image humans are given a share in God's dominion and power over the world (Gen 1:26-28). God's dominion is revealed in God's creating and sustaining activity. So also the dominion humans have over creation is nothing except the power and authority to care for, to nurture and to develop the whole world, and not to destroy it. In other words humans are stewards of creation and must work for an authentic 'human ecology' (John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, nos. 36-38; Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, nos. 27-45).

Two of the burning issues related to ecology that have to engage our imagination are:

  1. It is necessary to protect the environment and at the same time work for the development especially of the poor. At times ecological preservation is pitted against economic development. Ways will have to be worked out for sustainable development so that neither the need for preservation nor the need for development will be jeopardized.

  2. It is often said that the wars of the future may be wars for water. Studies show that water is fast becoming a scarce commodity in the Indian subcontinent as well as in the Middle East. Analysts wonder whether political discussions alone will be able to avert the water wars of the future. They point out that water is seen as; a sacred commodity in virtually all religious traditions. "Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all regard water as a symbol of life and employ water in their sacred rites. That commonality means that religious leaders may be able to bring depth to discussions about water that would be difficult to achieve beyond the level of platitudes in other forums".37 This is a responsibility we have hardly even begun to think about.

3.9. Post-modernism

Post-modernism is a trend that is affecting practically every area of life, like literature, art, architecture, philosophy, the moral discourse and religious writings. Rather than a well-defined doctrine it is a particular sensitivity, a way of looking at reality. Jean-Francois Lyotard, one of the chief exponents of post-modernism says: "I define post-modern as incredulity toward meta-narratives". A meta-narrative is a general theory or an unexamined worldview that is used to justify particular actions and choices. For example, the assumption that a white person is superior to others is one of the things that propagated and sustained colonialism. That some are superior to others by birth sustains the caste system. That there is a personal and loving God who is involved in the lives of people, guides the thoughts and actions of Catholics. Post-modernism would consider these positions/beliefs as meta-narratives, and therefore suspect. It gives more importance to the little stories of minority groups rather than to the grand narratives (meta-narrative is a short form for meta-grand narrative) of the dominant groups.

Modernism held that the experimental sciences based on human reason could solve all problems and lead to unending progress. The world wars of the last century, the persistence of poverty, the economic crisis of our times, etc., show that both science and reason have their limits and their claims are suspect. Hence post-modernism considers doubt and suspicion of everything, especially the universal, overarching and absolute claims to be good and healthy. It holds that what is morally sound and desirable is to be determined by each individual and that one should hot judge the actions of other people in terms of one's own moral values. This leads to moral relativism as well as individualism.

Some of the challenges that post-modernism offers to Indian theology are the following:

  1. We Christians are called to be persons of dialogue (GS 92). We need to enter into dialogue with post-modernists so that we may be able to understand their concerns and respond to them reasonably and responsibly. Although we may not agree with them, we could be enlightened by them,
  2. Post-modernism invites us to examine the assumptions we may be uncritically nurturing in our lives, e.g., the superiority of one ethnic or language group over others; the idea that people are poor because they are lazy.
  3. It challenges us to take seriously the small, the minority, those struggling to have a voice, and those on the margins. Theology should give voice to their experiences and insights.
  4. Post-modernism does not seem to have strong ethical principles. It advocates relativism. It makes everything a matter of private opinion. This is an unacceptable position. If "everything is relative", that position itself becomes relative. Those who hold such a position cannot demand that it be accepted by others. If they demand that others should accept it then they make it something absolute. And often this is what happens. Those who advocate post-modernism demand that all the others should subscribe to that position. They do not tolerate any other position. Thus in the name of tolerance they abolish tolerance. This is what Pope Benedict XVI calls the tyranny of relativism. He said: "We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires".38 While relativism cannot be accepted and it would be destructive to hold that truth cannot be attained, the critique by post-modernism teaches us to be cautious and careful about claiming universality and absolute value for many of our positions. Many of them are historically and culturally conditioned. This awareness can make us be more open to other positions.
  5. Post-modernism challenges the Church to find new ways and means of strengthening the faith of the faithful. Unless faith is constantly nourished it will not be able to withstand the onslaughts it faces from various quarters. Only then will we be able to make a defense of our hope to all those who demand it from us (1 Pet 3:15).
  6. Post-modernism through its strategy of deconstruction (a detailed inspection of a text to determine its weaknesses and flaws, assumptions and blind spots), makes theologians re-examine the role of metaphysics in theology. There are proposals for a non-metaphysical theology from the post-modern perspective.

4. Conclusion

The preceding pages show that there are many issues that require study and that the journey is still long. There are no easy answers. At a time of great cultural and spiritual change like ours, new questions that are raised "require new answers and solutions, even daring ones",39 as the CDF points out. The difficulties that might arise in trying to articulate a contextual theology are no reason to give up this much needed service that will be of benefit to the whole church. Theologians should not abdicate their prophetic role lest they impoverish the church and the world. The "Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian" (1990) states: "It is the theologian's task in this perspective to draw from the surrounding culture those elements which will allow him better to illumine one or other aspect of the mysteries of faith. This is certainly an arduous task that has its risks, but it is legitimate in itself and should be encouraged".40 With the needed daring, creativity, sensitivity and fidelity to scripture and tradition we will be able to articulate theologies that will be relevant to our context and at the same time illumine Christians elsewhere and thus make our theological contribution to the world church.

End Notes

1John L. Allen, Jr., The Future Church. How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church

2New York: Image, 2009, p. 15.

2 Ibid., 137.

3 Report of the General Body Meeting of CBCI. Calcutta, 6-13 January 1974.

4 A.M MUNDADAN, Paths of Indian Theology. Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications 1998, p. 22.

5 Report of the First Annual Meeting of ITA, 1977.

6 Lucien LEGRAND Mission in the Bible: Unity and Plurality. Pune: Ishvani Publications, 1992, p. x.

37 Gaudencio B. ROSALES & C.G. AREVALO, For All Peoples of Asia: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Documents from 1970 to 1991, New York: Orbis Books, 1992, pp. 14-16.

8 Thomas MENAMPARAMPIL, “Inculturation of the Sacred Liturgy in Asia: Possibilities and Problems”, VJTR 73 (Feb. 2009), p.93.

9 Thomas DABRE, “Announcing the Gospel in Subaltern Cultures: The Way to be Intelligible and Effective in the Church’s Mission”, VJTR 74 (Sept. 2010), p. 668.

10 Michael AMALADOSS, “Foreword 1”, in Asian Christian Theologies: A Research Guide to Authors, Movements, Sources, Vol. 1, ed. By John C. England and others. Delhi: ISPCK, 2002, p. xvii.

11 “Pope John XXIII—Address at the Opening of Vatican II–11 October 1962”. http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/pope026li.htm accessed on 06-11-2010.

12 Joseph RATZINGER, “Christ, Faith and the Challenges of Cultures”, FABC Papers. n.78, Part 1 http://www.ucanews.com/htmil/fabc-78-fratzinger.htm accessed on 16-05-2012.

13 CBCI Commission for Dialogue and Ecumenism, Guidelines for Interreligious Dialogue, 2nd rev. ed. New Delhi; CBCI Centre, 1989, no. 25.

14 ROSALES & ARÈVALO, For All the Peoples of Asian: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Documents from 1970 to 1991. New York: Orbis Books, 1992, p.14.

15 Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Dialogue and Proclamation (1991) n. 29.

16 Allen Jr., The Future Church, p. 448.

17 “Meeting of the Holy Father Benedict XVI with the clergy of the Dioceses of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso” http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2007/july/documents/hf_brn-xvi_spe_20070724_clero-cadire_en.html accessed on 16-0502912. Explanation within brackets are additions by the author.

18 Final Statement of the 25th General Body Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, section II. B.

19 Address of Pope Benedict XVI at the meeting with Representatives of Other Religions, Washington D.C., 17 April 2008. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2008/april/documents/hf_ben_xvi:spe20080417_other-religions_en.html accessed on 06-11-2010.

20 A good summary of the various arguments used to arrive at this conclusion is given in Jose KUTTIANIMATTATHIL, Practice and Theology of Interreligious Dialogue. A Critical Study of the Indian Christian Attempts since Vatican II. Bangalore: Kristu Jyoti Publications, 1998, pp. 451-63.

21 For a summary of the reflections on these issues see ibid., pp. 395-427.

22 Raimundo PANIKKAR and Abraham KOOTHOTTIL, “Man and Religion: A Dialogue with Panikkar”, Jeevadhara 11 (Jan-Feb.1981) p. 25.

23 Raimundo PANIKKAR, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism. Towards an Ecumenical Christophany. Revised and enlarged ed. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1981, p.14.

24 James STUART, Swami Abhishiktananda. His Life Told through His Letters. Delhi: ISPCK, 1989, p.273.

25 Antony KALLIATH and Thomas D’SA, eds., Retelling the Story of Jesus: Through the Stories of People. Bareilly: Sugranth Subordana publications, 2011.

26 Felix Wilfred, "Christological Pluralism: Some Reflections eds, Concilium, no 3 (2008), p. 88.

27 CBCI, “Empowerment of Women in the Church and Society”, n. 5.

28 Gender Policy of the Catholic: Church in India. Delhi. CBCI Commission for Women, 2010, p.xi.

29 CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, “Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization”, n.13. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc:20071203_nota-evangelizzazione_en.html accessed 15-11-2010.

30 ROSALES & ARÉVALO, For All the Peoples of Asia, p. 280 (“Statement of the Assembly", 3.2.1.).

31 Thomas MENAMPARAMPIL, “Evangelization in Inter-Religious Contexts”, in Faithfulness of Christ Faithfulness of Priests, eds. David Maria Selvam and Gabriel Karunaraj. Bangalore: Kristu Jyoti Publications, 2010, p. 129.

32 The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. Lineamenta. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20110202_lineamenta-xiii-assembly_en.html accessed on 16-05-2012.

33 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/8-indian-states-have-more-poor-than-26-poorest-African-nations/articleshow/6158960.cms accessed on 08-11-2012.

34 AMALADOSS, “Foreword 1”, p. xv.

35 Report of the General Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. Tiruchirapalli, Jan. 4-14, 1982. Delhi: CBCI Centre, 1982, pp. 45-46.

36 FELIX WILFRED, “Religions Face to Face with Globalization”, in Globalization and its Victims, eds. Jon Sobrino and Felix Wilfred. London: SCM Press, 2001.

37 ALLEN JR., The Future of Church, p. 446.

38 Mass 'Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice'. Homily of His Eminence Card. Joseph Ratzinger Dean of. the College of Cardinals", http://www.vatican.va/gpll/ documents/homily-pro-eligendo-pontifice_20050418_en.html accessed on 18-05-2010.

39Commentary on the Notification of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Regarding the Book Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism by Father Jacques Dupuis, S.J". n. 1. hppt://www:vatican.va/roman_curia/ congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith doc_20010312_dupuis-2 en. hmtl accessed on 09-11-2010.

40 CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian. Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1990, n.10

 

Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection, Vol. 76, n. 7, July 2012, pp. 35-57.

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