Scribbling in the Sand: Notes on Malaysian Theology (2)

In my previous post, I was warming up to get back into the blogging groove only to fall sick and therefore delay the second installment.  Now, returning back the 1989 Roxborogh piece, I’ll use 3 Observations he offered to generate some reflections. Let’s start with no.1:

1. There is a local and particular form which is properly given to truths which are universal.

This is an ideal statement.  Christian truth is always in some culture or another and you can argue, at length, about the idea of universal truth. Nevertheless there is truth which is more than local which finds expression in different ways in different cultural and different historical contexts. An example is bible translation. The texts from which the translations are made are more or less fixed; the languages and cultural contexts into which they are translated are various.

One area I’m thinking is in line with paying attention to the political is how a particular religious community ‘translates’ their theological ideals in concrete particular circumstances.  In the case of Islam in Malaysia, in an interesting discussion on ‘Apostasy’, without neglecting some exegetical, historic and theological debates, even if ‘apostasy’ is clearly defined as ‘sin’, I would be interested in how exactly will the Muslim community envision the practical process involved in either attempting to ‘win’ back one whom is considered ‘lost’ or the uneasy question of punishment,  assuming misconceptions on ‘apostasy’ are clarified to some extant.

Christians might want to reflect on what does it mean to ‘leave the faith’ in the light of the discussion above.  What does it mean to be a Christian ‘Apostate’? Perhaps we cannot simply ignore this question by simply dismissing the word ‘apostate’ as dated? There’s much talk on a process of conversion for an individual or even communities. 

I wonder whether  we have thought about the ‘exit interview’ part. Now granted, in Malaysia, the discussion will not have the same social-cultural-political implications compared to a Muslim discussion on this question.  But then again, once upon a time a switch from Roman Catholicsm to being a Protestant wasn’t that easy. Is there something in how ‘Christianity’ has come to the current position which might be offered as reference for our Muslim friends?

So, the theologizing that’s going on will on one hand be directed within our own self-understanding of our respective religious communities, but it’s not detached from the ‘other-understanding’ of the respective religious communities of others. Context does that to us, unless we simply want to ignore everyone around us.


* * *

Turning to a brief practical note, I think it’s worth reposting a comment in response to the rephrase question, “what are suggestions to conduct more sustainable theologizing (in the Malaysian context at least)?” I hope someone who’s got the energy and resources maybe can take up the suggestions, or better suggestions are welcome.

Here was my unedited response:

I think a lot has been done in the past at one level or another. e.g. Publications via books by individuals or compilations, and a Journal by the Malaysian Theological School Association. Of course, the process towards using ‘print’ goes back to as old as Gutenburg :-)

While, we still need to do the above, perhaps we can complement it in the following manner to suite different goals and yet fit within the overall purpose of in your words ‘sustainable theologizing’.

For starters, we here at FIC, “we” meaning a small handful of us trying to keep this blog going :-) are happy to offer this platform for ‘critically reflective’ (short of academic) contributions from a Malaysian perspective. From a Malaysian perspective doesn’t necessarily mean one must be based in Malaysia (as I am currently not), but one that takes into account the conditions, the values, the struggles, the themes and the agenda that arises from the Malaysian experience and ongoing public discourse. A possible model we could adapt is or heading towards

For a more advanced and rigorous level, I think it’s best initiated by either those who are senior scholars or theological institutions. This will be more in the academic tradition of a peer-reviewed journal by fellow peers in the field of Malaysian Theology, but we do it online, and then publish on paper, the other way round. The model closest to it I can see now is

At a more grass-root level, where things are closest to the ground, we can affirm significant contributions either via sermons, liturgies, songs, or statements, and so on. This could be done through this blog as well, but there may be other better avenues for a wider readership.

So, in a more organized way we can approach it in these three ‘projects’, academic-peer-reviewed, middle level critical reflective, and a more popular on the ground level. Each requiring a different approach and expectation on the contributors, and yet with the over all purpose towards a ‘sustainable theologizing’ community to emerge.

Now, there are some important areas to consider as well.
1. Language – While I think the easiest to start based on our immediate contacts are English, I do think Bahasa Malaysia needs to be high on the priority for the projects mentioned above. Then there’s also Chinese and Tamil as two other key languages used in our churches. There are others in the Chinese speaking community I’m aware that would and perhaps are probably already working out something along what we are talking about but less from a ‘Malaysian’ perspective, but more from a Sino-theology perspective.
2. Inter-confessional (some might want to use ‘ecumenical’ perspective) – I think we simply cannot ignore the Roman Catholic contribution especially in the light of the fact that together we only make up 10 % of the Malaysian population. But also, two high profile cases that have been shaping the Malaysian imagination is the Lina Joy Case, and the ‘Allah’ Controversy. The cases no doubt have had implications for the whole Christian community and I’d argue the whole nation, but the fact is that the Herald and the RC Church played an important role in these cases. Furthermore, others like Jojo Fung and Edmund Chia both have reflected on indigenous theology and dialogue.
3. Standing on the shoulders of giants – Of course, I’m well aware of the many who have already worked on clearing a path for a vibrant theologizing environment in Malaysia, and I would suggest to reinvite them to reflect on ‘doing theology’ in Malaysia after March 8, 2008 as one possible theme. It would be clearly within the frame I have suggested in this post, i.e. doing theology that arises from and speaks to the political and the civil.

Posted on December 20, 2011, in Christianity, Islam, Malaysia, Politics, Religion, Society, Theology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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