Friday, September 17, 2010

Contra "Asian Theology" - We confess ONE holy and katholikos faith (Part 2)

[continued from here]

The truth behind the evangelism of the West

Implicit in Pagolu's article is the idea that "the West" as defined by those following in the Greco-Roman tradition was its culture of rationalistic and analytical philosophy. The West somehow was never truly "spiritual" in the sense that the East or Asia is "spiritual". Pointing to the fact that "there is the practice of the offering of joss sticks, meat and other kinds of food to ancestral and other spirits at home and at the workplace" in Asian culture, Pagolu had the idea that the West was never liked that at all. So the West is identified with rationalism and analytical philosophy, while the East is identified with spirituality.

The problem with such a dichotomy is that one wouldn't recognize it in pre-Christian Western culture. While Greco-Roman philosophy is indeed somewhat rationalistic and has some unique features, one can get similar philosophies in China (i.e. Confucious, Mencius etc) or India with her many philosophers. The Franks and Goths were animists, the Greeks were pantheists or polytheists, the Egyptians were also polytheists. Before Christ, are there really any features in the East that cannot be found in the West? Joss sticks? Incense are offered in almost every religion. Union with the divine? You can even find that in Eastern Orthodoxy in their doctrine of theosis. Offering food to idols? That is even addressed clearly in the Bible!

There is thus no real substantial difference between what the early church faced and what we see now in Asia. Yet we see the apostolic method remained the same. Paul preached the Gospel in Jerusalem among the Jews, he preached the Gospel to the Syrians in Damascus, he preached the same Gospel in Athens, he preached the same Gospel ... everywhere he went. Do we see Paul coming up with an "Asia Minor" theology, a "Roman" theology, a "Grecian" theology, or even a "Spanish" theology (assuming he really did go to Spain as he had desired to do so - Rom. 15:24)? Are we so ethnocentric and arrogant that we think we need a special "Gospel" for Asia, as the "old Gospel" is somehow insufficient for the task God has send it out for?

Although the secularists can deny it all they want, the fact is that Christianity or rather the Christian world-view is the mother of Western civilization. It is Christianity that turns the West from what it was to what it now is. Apart from Christ and His Gospel, the West would be no different from the East in terms of its worldviews and cultures.

The eternal Gospel is altogether sufficient for the task at hand

If we do not need a new theology for any and ever culture back then, we do not need any new theologies for our modern times either. The method of preaching of the Gospel is foolishness to many (1 Cor. 1:18-25), and it seems to Dr Pagolu too, as he insists on the need to "demonstrate the power of God in daily living". However, what exactly in Scripture is the power of God? It is to be found in the "foolishness of preaching" (της μωριας του κηρυγματος) (1 Cor. 1:21), which is for those who are called both power and wisdom of God.

It is the Scriptures that show us the way of engaging the culture, indeed any culture. It is not so much how much "the faith" was able or unable "to influence places". We are not to influence places period! The Gospel is to be proclaimed although it is regarded as the most foolish thing to do! It is God who will save His elect through the preached Word, not for us to attempt new methods to being in the goats. God's sheep hear His voice (Jn. 10:4); they will come to faith through the instrument of His preached Word without the blasphemous actions of tampering with both the message and the means God has ordained through the creation of such "disciplines" as "Asian theology".

Dr. Pagolu states that "even if Christians succeed in winning the argument, intellectual efforts alone are incapable of persuading people to embrace the faith". That is most evidently true, but what exactly is the Gospel method in the first place? What is conversion and what is evangelism? If we truly believe in the Scriptures which claim divine sovereignty over every new birth (Jn. 3:8), then we know that evangelism is never about converting souls. Only God can covert souls; we can't. Evangelism is always about proclaiming the Gospel and showing people their sins before a holy God, the wrath of God upon their sins, and their need to flee to Christ for their salvation. The revivalism (a Western American phenomenon by the way) and Arminianism present in Dr. Pagolu's sentence is striking and gives us a hint why the Church is not making much progress in Asia. How can progress be made when we have bad theology permeating the churches? Is God honored by falsehoods about Him?

One holy, catholic faith

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:

Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:

The third day he rose again from the dead:

He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:

I believe in the Holy Ghost:

I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:

The forgiveness of sins:

The resurrection of the body:

And the life everlasting. Amen

(The Apostles' Creed)

The last nail in the coffin for "Asian theology" is the fact that Christ is one and His Church is one. We believe in one holy and katholic (καθολικος, -η, -ο) or universal church, and therefore one holy and universal faith. The Faith is one, not many. The last thing we want is to balkanize the church into competing theologies, one for every people group.

The same Gospel that is preached to the Jews is the same Gospel that is preached to the Greeks, the same Gospel that s preached to the Brits, to the Chinese, Japanese, Tibetans, Uighurs etc. There is one faith, one Lord, one baptism (Eph. 4:5), NOT many faiths, many baptisms and one Lord. This catholicity goes through time as well, and it is incredible how much is being embraced by the Asian churches that has neither basis in Scripture nor tradition.

An Alternate Proposal: Sound Doctrine is Critical to Christianity's Expansion

While anecdotal evidence is always fallacious, they can serve as good illustrations of the truth. The early church turned the world upside down with one Gospel, NOT many theologies. The Reformation destroyed the grip of the papacy over entire countries and was on its way to conquering France if not for the severe persecutions by the Romanists starting with the St. Bartholomew Day's massacre on to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes among other factors. This same Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation will never fail in its task (Is. 55: 10-11, Rom. 10:17, Heb. 4:12) and it does not need our embellishing and "contextualization" at all. We do not need more "signs and wonders" and more "relational evangelism" (as if wordless evangelism ever existed). We need more Christians to understand the Gospel, to understand the whole counsel of God, and to live out these truths. Therefore, we need sound doctrine in the churches, not the mush that passes for instruction especially in Singapore churches. As God's people in the past perish for lack of knowing God's Word (Hosea 4:6), knowing God's Word will be critical for Christianity's very existence, nevermind growth.


In conclusion, this article is manifestly in error. There is no need for any "Asian theology" or "contextualization", both of which are manifestly unbiblical and ahistorical. Rather, the problem with Asia is that the churches are weak. Many are in the state described in Hosea 4:6 and have embraced many errors. False teachers and teachings permeate the churches. For how can we expect God's blessings on us when we tolerate [the equivalent of] Jezebels and Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:12-29) in our midst?

May God grant us a revival of His Word and of sound doctrines in the churches. Amen.


ADD: The response can now be found as one article here.


Ming Ying said...

Hi Daniel, thanks for your critique on "Asian Theology". I agree with your critique and conclusion. Hope you don't mind if I quote this sentence of yours and repost on my facebook: "Evangelism is never about converting souls. Only God can covert souls; we can't. Evangelism is always about proclaiming the Gospel and showing people their sins before a holy God, the wrath of God upon their sins, and their need to flee to Christ for their salvation."

PuritanReformed said...

@Ming Ying:

you're welcome. And sure, no problem with the quoting. After all, it's Fair Use.

Michael said...

While I am a good calvinist, I would give this a solid baptist AMEN brother, preach it!

It was Gordon Clark who taught me....

"There have been times in the history of God’s people, for example, in the days of Jeremiah, when refreshing grace and widespread revival were not to be expected: The time was one of chastisement. If this twentieth century is of a similar nature, individual Christians here and there can find comfort and strength in a study of God’s Word. But if God has decreed happier days for us and if we may expect a world-shaking and genuine spiritual awakening, then it is the author’s belief that a zeal for souls, however necessary, is not the sufficient condition. Have there not been devout saints in every age, numerous enough to carry on a revival? Twelve such persons are plenty. What distinguishes the arid ages from the period of the Reformation, when nations were moved as they had not been since Paul preached in Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome, is the latter’s fullness of knowledge of God’s Word. To echo an early Reformation thought, when the plough man and the garage attendant know the Bible as well as the theologian does, and know it better than some contemporary theologians, then the desired awakening shall have already occurred."


PuritanReformed said...


thanks. [Although I do not know that Calvinists are supposed to be stoics =P]

I agree also with the Clark quote. Tyndale's vision must always be our goal. It is amazing how some pastors and theologians seem to think there is no problem with keeping the "laity" ignorant of the teachings in God's Word.