What’s with the Name (Part 2): Asian
Outside of a circle of social media friends, very few would know why, of all the names to denote the lofty heights of the task of theology, I would choose the name "Awkward Asian Theologian". I could give a completely self-referential answer and say that it is simply who I am.
I AM an a theologian.
I AM Asian.
And I WAS awkward as a child...was...
But over time, the label has come to represent, not just one theology nerd, but a way of doing theology, one that I hope can be relevant to the well-balanced, non-asian, non-theologians out there (whether or not they be Christians...or believers...).
I thought it would be best to use the first three posts to explain what the project is all about, with reference to the three words that make up the name.
Apart from giving due to theology, Awkward Asian Theologian is a project of acknowledging Asianness. I speak of being Asian here as a stand in for one’s experience. While Christians (rightly) speak of objective truth, the philosophical sub-discipline of phenomenology (in the tradition of Max Scheler, Edith Stein and Karol Wojtyla) has also highlighted that there must also be a zone of traction between life and truth which is located in the human person, which is summarised by the term “experience”. I hope to exemplify this in my own person, for while I consciously speak with the vocabulary provided by Christian theology, that vocabulary speaks with an Asian accent.
In my 20s I was told that this part of my person was an accident of history, an irrelevance that gets in the way of the real task of communicating the truth of the Gospel.
As I entered my 30s, I have come to realise that this kind of ethnic innocence makes the people who claim it an ignorance of the cultural packaging through which the Gospel has become communicated to us.
In other words, cultures and ethnicities are not accidents, and God does not make irrelevancies. Cultures and ethnicities matter in the communication of the Gospel today, just as it did in the first century. Put another way, as a person I cannot experience the truth of the Gospel except as an Asian.
With this in mind, AAT hopes to show that theology is not simply the province of ivory tower academics. Rather, the discipline exists because, like the God to which the discipline orients itself, theology has a proposal to the experience of one’s life. At the very least, theology proposes a vocabulary to help decipher the complex fog of episodes of one’s life, or even interrogate the background , to live a full life, as the Gospel of John puts it. At the very least, the discipline write pieces that are theologically robust, and set it in the context of experience.
At the same time, we also want to avoid the slide into a hermetically sealed subjectivism. On the one hand, as mentioned earlier, experiences are meant to be opened out to be shared with other persons, particularly other persons within the larger corporate person we call the Body of Christ, the Church. We share this experience in the confidence that the Word of God weaves into all experiences, blending them all into the single tapestry of the divine artist.
In practice, this means avoiding the tendency to spout abstract first principles without first paying attention to the experience that these principles, starting with my own.
With this nod to my own experience, I want to affirm an argument put forward by the Anglican theologian Graham Ward, that theology does not speak from on high. Put more positively, theology is the human response to Divine Revelation, and as a human enterprise, it will always speak from somewhere, from some location with social, cultural and linguistic freight.
I give weight to this type of experience because it is the way in which I can also explore the implications of what may be the central dogma of the Christian faith, that God became man and lived among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Word of God, which the Fathers of the Church say is imprinted in all of creation, has also woven that Word into the sinews of human life. Human life is thus no mere instrument for a better, spiritual purpose. It is the spiritual purpose. It gives us the reason the Christian affirms the resurrection of the dead in the Nicene Creed, for that which is dead was not meant to be abandoned, but redeemed by the Word of God.
I would go further and say that it is also in light of an active awareness of experience that one comes to understand the Christian faith as articulated in its dogmas and traditions. The two are not diametrically opposed, but together constitute God's accents in the world.