Thursday, February 19, 2009

A plea for Theologizing...a Malaysian Context

One of my pastime stuff to do is probably typing down titles of books on the search engine to search for reviews, either on blogs or online publications, I just dig doing this. My girlfriend thinks I'm weird for my unorthodox ways for relaxing and having fun (but she love me though warts and all).

I came across this sort of review about this new IVP dictionary entitled "Global Dictionary of Theology". Released in 2008, the title captured my attention, especially the word 'Global' which denotes theology that transcends the realm of the western world. I love western theology and it's literature, mainly because my theological education requires me to learn them. The other part is because tend to understand books using English language rather then Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysia's national language). I hope Malaysians will forgive me for this.

While I was in bible school I remember my lecturer saying something like this, "...this book (forgot the name of the book) is helpful but some of the things said can't really be applied fully here. This author is mainly writing from a western perspective...". That caught my attention and made me think of the possibilities of having a Malaysian/ Asian perspective view on theology.

Back to the review...I was reading through and this quote caught my attention (follow this link to the post)

"I once heard of a Karl Barth conference that was held in Germany several years ago. The conference organisers had invited a Japanese theologian to participate, but they were somewhat dismayed to find that their Japanese scholar had no interest in theologising his own national context – he was entirely preoccupied with the questions and problems of modern German thought! Presumably the conference organisers had expected their guest to provide a more exotic “oriental” perspective."

I think, this is reminder for me. I view theology to be very important for a christian, because we are in actual fact always and constantly theologizing whether we realize this or not. One of my passions is of course to study theology and make it understandable. This has always been something that I see myself doing. I don't want to sound corny in stating this though.

But one problem I find is, not many Malaysians see theology as something a christian does. Many think theology is meant only for pastors or students in bible school. Many Malaysians don't seem to mind that preachers can just preach mediocre exposition of the bible as long as it is simple and done with a preachers charisma to entertain. Many Malaysians don't seem to mind what a preacher teaches as long as they are known as pastors. And many Malaysians don't seem to see the importance of education, especially in the field of theology because the only thing that counts is practical ministry. I would further convey that many pastors in Malaysia doesn't even care to read any theological books because it takes too much of their time.
Don't get me wrong though. I love Malaysia, its my country and I was born in Malaysia, a full blooded Malaysian. The Malaysian layered criticism is one that I am in contact with and not a thorough assessment of Malaysia as a whole.

I wish Malaysians would see that they do have a voice in theology. That they will do well in charting some of their own conversations. Because only Malaysians themselves know their context and understand their cultural background. And because of that Malaysians need to think and create their own voice in understanding the bible and theology to fit to their own context. I wish that there would be more Malaysian contextualized books by Malaysians. I wish also that someday Malaysians can broaden the theological perspective in the global scene being a voice that widens the theological conversation. At the moment though, this is still a distant reality but nonetheless a worthy undertaking to plow in, one that I am willing to work at.

Are there any agreements if you are a Malaysian/ disagreements with what I said? Are there things that I missed out? I need your thoughts.


Mason said...

As someone who is not in a Malaysian context, but instead comes from the West I think the way we here approach theology needs to change in relation to our global context.
What I mean is that, for the most part, we Westerners to often assume that what we are doing is just 'theology' and what you are doing is 'Malaysian theology'. So that ours is normal/foundational/better, and what you are doing is to take our theology and adapt it to other cultures. This is quite sad and very detremental to the health of the church, and limits our ability to learn from each other since too often it is seen as a one way interaction. There are glimers of change, like the book you pointed out, and an incresing awarness that the center of Christianity is shifting to the Global South, but still there is a lot there we need to confront for what it is, a sort of implicit superiority complex.

Ray said...

Not only do you have a voice, but we (the white American church) need your voice to get a more fuller picture of the imago dei. The Gospel spreads like a muster seed in cultures and is going to look different every where. I hope you can give us a glimpse what it looks like in Malaysia.

Grace and Peace!

Tremonti said...

Your observation is spot on! Since most of the literature that make it to our christian bookstores are of a western influence most of the time adapting western methods and theology is the norm. I would say that I am a student of western theology, and I could say that it has influenced me immensely. But at some points now, I am slowly seeing the different context dimension to it. I do believe that western theology is immensely helpful as it somehow charts progressive thinking. I am still working on the relationship between western and asian thought.

Thanks. It is exhilarating to learn how the gospel is influencing different contexts and wielding different expressions of following Jesus. But the best thing is our differences and diversity of our faith expression are all brought to a unifying act of being in Jesus, our one messiah, saviour and God.

Dan Martin said...

So I'd love it if you would give us an example. What is something that you have thought of as a Malaysian believer that you think might be in some contrast to what you've encountered in us (or other) Westerners? Having lived and worked both in Africa and Latin America, I can say quite confidently that other cultures have valid and valuable things to teach us in the West, just as I believe we in the West have things to share with them. But I have no clue about Malaysian culture, so I don't even have the beginnings of a guess.

What would you say are the top three (or more if you like) unique characteristics of Malaysians' attempts to follow Jesus? What do you find about Western theology that's particularly jarring to your context (e.g. individualism?)? Or asked another way, what can we teach you, and what would you like to teach us?



Tremonti said...

You give me such challenging questions that I simply have to think through this. You may have given me enough to think about for a couple of posts.

Right now at the top of my head in thinking the top characteristics of Malaysians following Christ is

1. Theology of Power (i don't have any other definition for this as of yet). In the part of Malaysia I'm at, Borneo, there is keen interest in power issues: the reality of healing and exorcism. I think this is because of our animistic backgrounds. Although I am keenly aware that many exaggerate this, but I do believe in the reality of these things, the spiritual world if i must stae it out.

2. Pluralism- I think this is a given. Asia being riddled with three of the world's leading religions; Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, makes navigating the faith more or less a challenge. I don't think that people here are keen to talk openly about religious issues because it can easily lead to fights.

I can't conjure up a third for now . But I will surely post something along the lines of your questions here! So after I have gathered enough thoughts to warrant a worthy post I'll let you know.

You definitely stretched my mind with this comment! I guess part of the reason I don't have concrete thought along this line is because I never say a need to think theology in my own context for quite some time. I don't think many here do this as well. Or maybe I have stayed too long in Borneo to hear other Malaysians thinking about this.

But as far as I am willing to struggle through this I think of theologizing in a Malaysian context specifically to my own tribe. I don't think anyone had done this before. SO we will see.

Thanks for your comments!

Eugene said...

Hey Tremonti,

Have you checked out 'Mangoes and Bananas : The Quest for an Authentic Asian Christian Theology' written by Rev Hwa Yung?

Pretty much covers what you mentioned in your points above and may be helpful though it may seem quite dated to some.

It's only RM30 from Pustaka SUFES on the Peninsular. Regards!

Tremonti said...


Wow, thanks for the resource man! The bookstores in Sarawak are 'lousy' in a sense that you cant get books here. There are occasions but then again rare moments when we have good books. I'll be sure to check this out! For a moment there when I read 'mangoes and bananas..' i thought this was a spam comment...haha. Weird but catchy title by the way.

Eugene said...

Hey Tremonti,

Sorry about that! Ya, when I first saw the title "Mangoes or Bananas", I didn't know whether I should take the contents seriously.

But I am glad I did and this is one of the few rare gems I have come across though I'm pretty sure Sivin and/or Hedonese have other great book ideas too.

Sorry to hear about the book situation over at your end. We do have things somewhat better here in the Klang Valley but apart from that, I doubt other major towns have it as good as KL.

I don't know whether SUFES, Glad Sounds or Evangel have online bookstores which might be costly, but Canaanland has one:


Tremonti said...

Sometimes i wish that a certain good bookstore would emerge here, but I don't think business would be good though as not many flock bookstores (come on Sarawakians, we need you to take interest in books!).

I managed to get some books from SUFES but had to contact them via email. Would have been helpful if they had online bookstore, because when I went there last year I pretty much like the assortment of books they had. But due to money constrains I just managed to get two books (went back happy but with a sad heart non the less). My envy goes out to you guys in KL :)!

Canaanland has great book selections too judging from their website. I enjoy browsing through looking at the academic titles. If money grew on trees. I don't think Evangel or Glad sounds has their own website though.

The Hedonese said...

Am i the only msian to respond here? hehe... I agree... it is with this challenge in mind for the 'grassroots' (the woman or man in the pew, on the street) that some of us started this nebulous thingy called

Btw I luv both Piper and Wright, and dun choose sides hahaha Eclectic eh? :D

Tremonti said...


Hahaha...sometimes i wonder if any Malaysian read blogs or anything ;)...but I'm not having an Elijah moment here.hehe.

Thanks for the link on Angora. I'll put this on my blogroll. And on wright and Piper, I like both authors also. But I must add that I'm not liking too much of the reformed perspective...that's all. But with that I must say I like Piper's book. I'm taking pointers on how to disagree respectfully! Something i find a struggle in our context (somehow I learned that the only books a person reads are those he agrees with. how naive and immature I might add.).

Eugene said...

A friend of mine from Miri shares the same thoughts with you concerning bookstores lol :)

Hey do you get book allowances and those kind of stuff? I know some churches do allow for this for their full time workers since money, as you said, don't grow on trees :)

You were here over on the mainland before?

Tremonti said...

Ah the ironies of being Mirian.haha. I wonder who this friend of yours is? hehe

Yes they do have those 'benefits' but let me just put it this way in subtle form ;) can buy you two of the same copies of Thomas R. Schreiner's book "New Testament Theology : Magnifying God in Christ" see the link below

I guess maybe they don't see importance in books. So it goes back to wishing 'if only money grows on trees" hahaha.

Yeah I was there mainland you mean KL or semenanjung as a whole? If you meant kl yep I was there last year for short 'holiday cum book gazing and buying'. Bought a briefcase full of books (two of which I bought at SUFES).

Eugene said...


You'll never be able to guess ;-) But I've been to Miri before last year for a holiday :-)

Haha, that was really very subtle! And to think that the recommended book allowance for STM is around RM800 for M Div student. Man!

You rock! You bookworm!

Tremonti said...

Dude, you were in Miri?? haha. Thanks for the bookworm compliment though. And wow is that RM800 for the recommended book allowance is like a slice of heaven to me. If i had that I would spend the whole day in a good bookstore to choose wisely.

Hopeful Theo

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I'm a student of Theology (currently and will always be one). I'm a student of culture and a student of music as well. I guess you could say life is a never ending journey of learning. Because of that we never stop being students. Just a little something about this blog: Deconstructing The Monkey is all about being a safe space for emerging conversations