Review: Majority World Theology

Majority World Theology: Christian Doctrine in Global Context, Edited by Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K. K. Yeo. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A global collection of scholars discuss the major doctrines of the Christian faith considering the history of doctrines, the scriptures, and cultural contexts.

Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Newman, Hodge, Warfield, Kuyper, Bavinck, Berkhof, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Niebuhr, Henry, Erickson, Bloesch, Hauerwas. These were some of the formative influences in my theological thinking. All male. All White. All Europeans or Americans. Many of my generation thought, and may still think that what they produced is Christian theology.

The global Christian church has gone through a massive transformation over the last fifty years as the locus of Christianity has shifted both south and east. Equally, in the American context, Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous theologians are speaking, teaching, and writing of the bearing of Christian theology on their distinctive cultural contexts. Many women have joined their male counterparts. What those of my generation, race, and gender thought was the conversation increasingly is part of a much larger conversation. As a student, we prayed and mobilized to reach the nations with the gospel. Now, increasingly, the nations are evangelizing the West and both challenging and enriching our understanding of the faith. I’m delighted I’ve lived to see this, which is what makes me so excited to review this significant volume.

This actually represents a compilation of six books, representing six annual gatherings focusing on the major theological categories of Trinity, Christology, pneumatology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. Each of the six sections is introduced with an overview of the contributions for that section. This is followed by chapters written by theological scholars from every part of the world, eight chapters per section except for the final section on eschatology which has seven. The first chapter in each section surveys the historical tradition, usually the only one written by a Euro-American. The contributors affirm a commitment to scripture, tradition, and their own cultures. Having worked through this massive volume, my general sense is that the contributors hit all three of these marks and stretched my own thinking about such things as the honoring of ancestors and the meaning of one’s land. Due to length, I cannot discuss every contribution but I thought I’d highlight some of those I most appreciated from each section.

Part One: The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World

Gerald Bray’s chapter on the Trinity is a masterly summary of outstanding clarity. It was delightful to read Randy Woodley offering an Indigenous American perspective, considering Indigenous ideas of deity and offering a framing of the Trinity as a “community of the Creator, existing eternally in shalom relationality.” I appreciated the care of Natee Tanchanpongs in evaluating various Asian Reformulations of the Trinity, holding orthodoxy and cultural formulations in a creative tension.

Part Two: Jesus Without Borders: Christology in the Majority World

Several of the chapters evaluated various Christologies from each continent. I appreciated Stephen Ezigbo’s discussion of African christologies by the categories of neo-missionary christologies, ancestor christologies, and revealer christologies. The second half of this section is more topical. Aida Besancon Spencer offers a sensitive discussion of the veneration of Mary vis a vis Christology. I also appreciated Yohanna Katanacho’s chapter on reading John through Palestinian eyes and the themes of holy space, holy time, holy experience, holy people, and holy land.

Part Three: The Spirit over the Earth: Pneumatology in the Majority World

I especially valued the articles that bookended this section by Amos Young and C. Rene Padilla (who recently passed). Then Wei Hua offers a thoughtful discussion of how ancestor commemoration may be integrated into Christian faith through the transforming work of the Spirit.

Part Four: So Great a Salvation: Soteriology in the Majority World

Milton Acosta offers a thoughtful discussion of salvation in the Latin American context where material and spiritual concerns often clash in “From What Do We Need to Be Saved? Reflections on God’s Justice and Material Salvation.” Elaine W. F. Goh’s “Qohelet’s Gospel in Ecclesiastes: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15; 7:15-22; and 11:1-6” draws together solid exegesis, tradition and Asian cultural insights in a credible argument for reading the gospel out of Ecclesiastes.

Part Five: The Church from Every Tribe and Tongue: Ecclesiology in the Majority World

Peter Neyende offers a thought-provoking reading of Hebrews centering on the church as the assembled on Mount Zion, which he believes a far more compelling model for the church than the family. Perhaps one of the most thought-provoking essays of the whole volume was Munther Isaac’s “Ecclesiology and the Theology of the Land: A Palestinian Christian Perspective.” speaks powerfully of what it means to be a church in an occupied land and a vision of living on a land “where people of all ethnicities and social backgrounds are treated equally.”

Part Six: All Things New: Eschatology in the Majority World

James Henry Owino Kombo’s “The Past, the Present, and the Future of African Christianity: An Eschatological Vision for African Christianity” considers how eschatology addresses concerns of ancestors, life, death, the intermediate state and Christian hope. Finally, Shirley S. Ho, in the concluding chapter discusses the affinity for Judeophilia of the Taiwanese, and how this misses the focus on the victory and reign of Christ.

This book might serve as a good text or supplementary text for a Christian doctrine or systematic theology sequence. It is also a helpful introduction for many of us educated on a diet of white, male, Euro-American theologians. It introduces us to scholars who are in vibrant conversations, whether we are listening or not. A strength of this work is its engagement with rather than wholesale rejection of the theological traditions of the church. It also explores cultural issues that are becoming increasingly relevant in the multi-cultural West. It models cross-cultural conversations about theology that evidence both our common faith and rich diversity. And it is a one-volume introduction to the global theological voices with whom we may want to become better acquainted.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Jesus without Borders

Jesus without BordersJesus without Borders: Christology in the Majority WorldGene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, K.K. Yeo eds. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014.

Summary: Eight theologians from different parts of the world came together for a theological dialogue on Christology, engaging the Chalcedonian definition of Christology and reflecting on the unique perspective they bring on Christology from their part of the world.

One of the most exciting developments of the last fifty years is the rapid growth of Christianity outside of Europe and North America. With this growth has come thoughtful scholars and church leaders representing these movements in the Majority World. What they bring is the unique perspective of each of their cultures that brings fresh light and fresh insight into theological discussions, which in the past, have only been shaped by a western Christian intellectual tradition. This book represents the first in a series of books on Majority World Theology that came out of a theological consultation focused on Christology, what we believe about who Christ is and what he has done.

The organizers of this consultation decided that they would consider the Chalcedonian definition of the person of Jesus as one person existing in two natures, human and divine that are neither mixed nor separated. They were then asked to reflect on the unique contribution each participants cultural perspective brings on how they understand Christ. Kevin Van Hoozer begins with a paper outlining the Western theological discussion of Christology from Chalcedon to the present considering the “Christ from within” Christologies of Schleiermacher and Ritschl, kenotic theologies, the “Christ of history” theologies, down to the narrative approaches of Hans Frei. and Barth’s approach of understanding everything else through the lens of Christology. What he contends is necessary for the global discussion is to “go on in the same way” from Chalcedon, and yet with a plurality of tongues and voices speaking of the One Lord.

The essays then follow in two groups, first focused more around systematic theology, and second around biblical theology. Victor Ezigbo reviews African Christologies, which he categorizes as “neo-missionary” Christologies which retain some reservations about African culture while attempting to relate to the African context; ancestor Christologies, likening the mediatory role of Christ to that of ancestors, and his own approach of revealer Christology which emphasizes Christ’s sufficiency to communicate and interpret life. Timothy Gener surveys Christologies in the Asian context, building off of the multiple perspectives on Christ in the gospels and New Testament. He contends for multiple Christologies that reflect local contexts and multiple religious traditions so long as these aid in Christian discipleship. Jules A Martinez-Olivieri then addresses the Latin context where liberation Christologies give weight to the actions of Jesus over the transcendent aspects of his nature.

The second half of the book then turns to biblical theology. Yohanna Katanacho surveys the gospel of John and the New Beginning that consists in cleansing, a new Holy Space, Holy Time, Holy Experience, Holy People in a new Holy Land, that while rooted in Jewishness represents humanity as a whole in radical inclusiveness. Aida Besancon Spencer considers the veneration of Mary in Latino/a contexts reflecting a false perception of the unapproachability of Jesus when he is in fact intercessor par excellence. Andrew M. Mbuvi discusses African elements in a reading of 1 Peter around blood sprinkling, the lamb of God, and the “spiritual state” of Jesus between death and resurrection and the hope this gives for ancestors.

K.K. Yeo concludes this volume with a review of the discussion reminding readers of the different Christologies of the four canonical gospels and makes his own contribution of directions in Chinese Christology focusing on dao, a Chinese version of logos, renren (meaning “who loves”) a Christology of relationship, and image of God Christology.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of Trinitarian theology, reflecting the idea that the conciliar formulations are not the final word on the Trinity. Likewise, I was impressed in these papers that the theological work of these scholars from the Majority world can greatly enrich our conception of the person and work of Christ, bringing to our attention neglected aspects. At the same time, both Van Hoozer and Yeo bring up the issues of orthodoxy as we explore plural expressions of Christology. It actually seems that conversations like this theological forum are crucial of sharpening and balancing different expressions and looking at the common scriptures together as we do so. As the opening work of the series on Majority World Theology, this volume set a high standard of rich and vigorous discussion we might have around our One Lord.