Book review – Asian Christian Theology: Evangelical Perspectives

Reviewed by Nathan Keller
MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Nathan and his wife, Tina, have served among the Taiwanese working class since 2010. He is a ministry team leader and also a Daniel Facilitator (Language Supervisor) for the Taiwan Field.

Asian Christian Theology: Evangelical Perspectives
By Timoteo D. Gener and Stephen T. Pardue, eds.
Carlisle, UK: Langham Global Library, 2019.

Mission Round Table Vol. 15 No. 2 (May-Aug 2020): 25, 47 ​​​​​​​

As an American cross-cultural missionary who has lived in Asia for twelve years, I have learned much about the importance of understanding the culture of the people with whom I share the gospel. Having said this, I recognize that I have even more to learn, and I seek every opportunity to do so. Therefore, when I came across Asian Christian Theology, something within called out, “You need to read this book!”

In the introduction, the editors note that most evangelical scholarship is Western and that efforts need to be made to support “the flourishing of evangelical theology in the Asian church” (1). To that end, this book is composed of sixteen essays written by Asian theologians and is intended “to offer an approach to Christian theology that is biblically rooted, historically aware, contextually engaged, and broadly evangelical” (2), four criteria that are met in most, but not all, of the essays.

The first eight essays deal with traditional doctrinal themes of evangelical theology: divine revelation, Scripture, the Trinity, Christology, creation, the Holy Spirit, ecclesiology, and eschatology. The authors of each of these essays express theological truth through the perspective of their own cultural and historical frameworks. The last eight essays deal with practical issues that are relevant to the Asian church: suffering, cultural identity, religious pluralism, sacred vs. public living, diaspora communities, Asian religious experience, rapidly changing culture, and reconciliation. These essays provide many case studies of how to live God-honoring lives in the midst of difficult non-Christian and anti-Christian environments.

The contributors are highly educated Asian evangelical theologians. From what I was able to discern, four are Filipinos, four are Indian, two are Singaporean, two are Malaysian, one is Korean, one is Middle Eastern, one is Sri Lankan, and one is from Hong Kong. Most are men; there were only two female contributors. While a few of the essays are written in highly academic language, most of them are much easier to read.

Many positive things can be said about this book. I appreciate the way the contributors explain biblical truth in non-Western ways. Their explanations of theology from different cultural perspective allow us to view the multi- faceted wonder of the gospel from unique perspectives. Many examples of this can be found throughout the essays. For instance, Ivor Poobalan notes that “Asian Christians search for presentations of Jesus that resonate with Asian categories of thought and address the most immediate challenges to witness and mission” (95). He then details and evaluates several explanations.

A second contribution is the vivid portrayal of the authentic struggles that Christians living in Asia experience to live out their Christian faith. In light of this heavy truth, Kar Yong Lim insists that a robust theology of suffering needs to be developed for the Asian church.

A third contribution is the deep thinking given about how to witness to people committed to other Asian religions. One example of this is Lalsangkima Pachuau’s guidelines to cooperate, encounter, and communicate with those of other religious traditions.

I have two criticisms of this book. The first is that, due to the vastness of Asia and the limited size of the book, many Asian contexts are not represented. There are no contributors from Central Asia, Russia, Mongolia, ndonesia, Taiwan, or Japan. Some of these places are briefly mentioned in the essays, but the contributors are not cultural insiders from these areas of the Asian geographical landscape.

My second criticism comes in the form of a question. As all but one of the contributors received theological degrees (some more than one) from academic institutions in the West, to what extent can it truly be said that the contributors’ thinking about the intersection of culture and the gospel is indigenously Asian?

Overall, this is a very well-composed collection of essays by Asian cultural insiders who help an English-reading audience (especially Western cross-cultural workers like myself!) better understand the cultural and religious challenges of ministering the never- changing gospel of Jesus Christ in all of its fullness to people who live in a rapidly changing Asian environment. While some essays will be more useful for certain ministry contexts than others, I strongly recommend this book for anyone who desires to be a reflective practitioner of Christian mission in Asia.

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