Mission in the Spirit: The Holy Spirit in Indian Christian Theologies Kirsteen Kim, Delhi: ISPCK, pp290, pb Rs 210/-, $18, £15.00
Robin Boyd, author of the well-known Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, writes on the back cover that 'This book should prove an indispensable guide to three important late 20th century Christian theologians.' This is certainly true, I can only regret that it has taken me so long to produce this review, something due in part to the very compressed, dense style which appears when people condense their Ph.D thesis. I am also not sure that this book can be fully appreciated unless one has already read Robin Boyd's book, or one of RS Sugirthirajah's admirable readers in Indian Christian Theology, and has some knowledge of Hindu beliefs, though Kim does provide occasional explanations, and a useful glossary of terms. For example, in discussing Vandana's reflections on the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel in Waters of Fire, she writes, pneumatologically, and drawing on her interest in Indian music, Vandana argues for the missiological priority of silence over sound, Spirit over Word. She does this by reinterpreting 'word' in John's Gospel in Hindi terms as the feminine vac rather than the more masculine shabda (word) and then attempting to show how, in Hindu and Christian thought, silence is the end and the origin of sound...' (P113) Not knowing any Hindi, I cannot address this distinction, but it would have been helpful if Kim had noted that Vac (Sanskrit) is the Vedic goddess through whom the world was created. In fact I cannot find this passage in the 1981 English CLS edition of Waters of Fire. Instead the Logos is compared with OM, the primeval sound used by Hindus to invoke God. It is one of a number of instances where the subject needed more exploration. In the earlier chapters of the book Kim is also given to terse single sentences sounding a note of criticism about the concept she has been describing. (eg p 181) To some extent this lack of development is rectified in the concluding chapters when she compares the theologies of Samartha, Vandana and Rayan directly.
The choice of theologians, Stanley Samartha (1920-2001) from the former Basel Mission area of Karnataka, Sister Vandana (b 1924, nee Gool Dhalla) from a Mumbai Parsi family and professed as a Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1945, and Samuel Rayan S.J. (b 1920), a Keralan with a long and distinguished teaching career in Delhi and Bangalore, is interesting and appropriate. It may go some way towards redressing the fact that Rayan in particular is far too little known in the west, and Samartha, partly because of the orientation in his autobiography Between Two Cultures (WCC 1996) almost exclusively for his work in inter-religious dialogue for the World Council of Churches (1968 -1981). All three are highly creative theologians whose work, as Kim rightly shows, is an integral part of their spiritual voyages. She compares and contrasts them well, so much so that at one point I thought they had been selected to illustrate the three principal Hindu paths to salvation, the way of enlightenment (Samartha), the way of contemplation and personal devotion (Vandana) and the way of right action and impartial justice (Rayan). However, it is more complicated than that, as she shows. All are in various ways reacting against western cultural and religious imperialism, as typified by colonial mission structures and yet all have to defend themselves against elitism. It is only Rayan, who has the best and most articulate critique of caste who can really be said to escape that charge. Inevitably Vandana, with her engagement with advaita vedanta philosophy and the Sanskrit tradition who is most susceptible to that charge.
Her choice of pneumatology is also most apposite because it is not only perhaps the area where her subjects are most creative and distinctive but she very tellingly links their ideas to both the more abstract aspects of their theologies of the Trinity, and the practical effect on mission and worship as embraced by them. In the case of Vandana and Rayan we really come to understand the impact of Vatican II while it is useful to have Samartha placed in his ecumenical context. If one has only read one book or article by any of them, it is so helpful to have a coherent picture drawn of the development of their thought. At the very least Kim's book should inspire one to read more Indian Christian theology, especially as in her introductory chapter she outlines 'the story so far... '
I remain extremely doubtful whether Indian Christian theology can be termed 'liberation theology', though there is no doubt of the liberating effect of this exercise in theology. Rayan has engaged for long periods with Marxism as understood by Indian students, and with campaigns for social justice in India. However, the profound dialogue with Hinduism at all levels does produce theologies which have very little in common with Latin American liberation theology not least in the understanding of the significance of human history. I think Kim's book also exposes the limitation of the now traditional division into 'exclusivist', 'inclusivist' and 'pluralist' approaches to salvation in Christ, and western 'protestant' approaches to theology. All three were and are very hospitable in their approach to Hindu traditions and are prepared to take risks in handling a doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Kim rightly comments on how this addresses neglect by earlier generations but then in describing how her subjects fail to then connect their findings to the rising Indian Pentecostal movements, fails to understand fully the roots of that movement. Having their experiential roots in nineteenth century revivalist movements as well as in the ecstatic village cults of popular Hinduism, they represent a genuine people's movement viewed with much suspicion by western educated church people, and the gulf is social as much as theological. All theology is contextual, and whether the insights of Samartha, Vandana and Rayan will transcend their contexts and vitalize mission theology by their emphasis on the Spirit is the fascinating question with which Kim's book concludes Their engagement with the principle of shakti, the Hindu understanding of the divine feminine creative power leads one to hope so.
The book has an excellent 'select bibliography', index and footnotes which are often a line of enquiry in themselves, and merit closest attention. Unfortunately, however, the binding, while appearing to be of better quality than earlier ISPCK/CLS books, came apart on the second reading, the result of a laudable attempt by the press to make books affordable to as many as possible in India. So not only should one read this interesting book thoroughly, but it should be handled with care, too.
Eleanor M. Jackson.