Indian Theology

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The attempt to reformulate biblical theology in Indian categories of thought, in a manner relevant to the Indian context. Until recently Western theology has dominated the Indian theological scene, and Christianity has come under criticism from Hindu thinkers in this regard. The pioneers of Indian theology were not Christians but enlightened Hindus who came under the strong influence of Western thought and Christianity. These enlightened nationalists wanted to reform Hinduism and Indian society, thereby counterbalancing Christian missionary activities. For Indian Christian leaders, Indian theology is an attempt to meet the criticism that Christianity is a foreign and dangerous denationalizing force. It represents a search for and an expression of self identity in India and in the field of Christian theology. It is an attempt to conceptualize the urge for being Christian and Indian simultaneously. It faces the challenge of renascent Hinduism in its relegation of Christianity to a subordinate status. Moreover it stands for the concern of Indian theologians to communicate the gospel in thought patterns familiar to the Indian mind. It is to present "the water of life in an Indian cup."

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Trends in Indian Theology. No uniform pattern or common trends can be traced in Indian theology. Corresponding to the diversified historical context and socioreligious needs, there are varied theological expressions of response to the gospel.

(1) There are attempts to harmonize Christianity, rather than Christ, with Hinduism. Raam Mohan Roy (1772 - 1833), the father of modern India, and his successor Keshab Chandra Sen (1838 - 1884) interpreted Jesus in Indian traditions. Jesus is portrayed as an Asiatic. His ethical precepts, independent of his person, provide the way to happiness and peace. His "Divine Humanity" is explained within the framework of Hindu mystic traditions. Jesus Christ and the "best elements" of Christianity are conveniently accommodated under the wide umbrella of Hinduism. Because of the universalistic and absorptive features of Hinduism, no tension is experienced in this.

(2) There is concern for dialogue. Christian theology in India finds itself in the midst of spirited and influential non Christian religious systems, especially Hinduism, which claims the allegiance of eighty four percent of Indians. Hindu religiocultural factors have, therefore, played a decisive role in the emergence of several significant issues of Indian theology, for instance, the uniqueness and finality of Christ and the nature and scope of Christian mission. A viable base has been found in the NT synthesis of Hebrew and Greek culture for synthesizing Christian and Hindu culture in India. Hinduism and its scriptures are treated as counterparts to Judaism and the OT in relation to the gospel. God speaks equally through other religions also. P D Devanandan and Raymond Panikkar's theologies emerge in this context of religiocultural pluralism. They advocate letting Christ reform Hinduism from within and so unveil the Christ who is already present there, though hidden and unacknowledged.

(3) There is frequently a polemic emphasis. God's special revelation is essential for knowing the truth, and Jesus is this divine special revelation. Without him intuition and inspiration fall short of "the rock of Christ" in knowing the truth.

(4) There is an apologetic emphasis. Renascent Hinduism stripped Christ and Christianity of everything that they claim and possess. Christ is made one among those who experienced the advaitic (monistic) experience. Christianity is treated as one of the earlier stages in the evolution of religion. The church has been accused of denationalism. The crucial issues reflected in Brahmabandab Upadhyaya's theology are to be judged in this context. He reformulated the doctrine of Trinity in which he portrayed Christ as "nothing but the highest." He was a Hindu Catholic, i.e., at heart a Christian, yet culturally a Hindu.

(5) There is concern for evangelism. Jesus Christ is not a monopoly of the West. He is equally for India too. There he is to be presented not in Western robes and image, but in terms and thought - forms intelligible to the Indian mind. Sadhu Sunder Singh's Christocentric theology is a conscious attempt toward this.

(6) One finds emphasis on relevancy. Indian theologians want to erase the ghetto mentality of the minority Christians. Their task is to help Christians see themselves as an integral part of the larger community in India and participate in the common life and experience. The struggles for socioeconomic development and humanization are seen as "Christ at work today." M M Thomas and others contend that Christian theology has to be relevant in this context, and therefore the context and social dimension of the gospel are primary.

Summary and Evaluation

These attempts to explain, interpret, and formulate the essentials of Christianity in Indian thought - patterns have enabled Indian thinkers to contribute something to Christian theology. While contributing to the field of apologetics, these attempts to wed faith with reason, revealed theology with natural theology, have had only partial success. It has, to an extent, made the gospel relevant in the context of Indian nationalism, religiocultural pluralism, and socioeconomic development. It marks the beginning of Indian biblical scholarship and creative theological formulations. Yet none has managed to be faithful to Christian theology in its entirety, nor to the context and content simultaneously. Quite often "context" has become more decisive than the "text," and this is critical.

The final authority seems to rest upon context and not the Bible. More than the special revelation in Scripture, various social sciences influence and determine the content and scope of Indian theology. Instead of being theocentric, God in relation to man, it becomes more anthropocentric, man in relation to man or structures. However, no one philosophy or sociology can provide an adequate framework for Christian theology that is faithful to revealed content of Scripture. The quest for relevance in theology, whether European, American, African, or Indian, should not be at the expense of commitment to the finality of the written and living Word

C V Mathew
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Bibliography:
K Baago, Pioneer in Indigenous Christianity; R H S Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology; H Burkle and W M W Roth, eds., Indian Voices in Today's Theological Debate; M M Thomas, The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance.


The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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