“Within church history, Western theologians have tried to present Christian theology as pure, pristine, and unaltered, as if Christian theology has had no outside influence from other religions, societies, cultures, or values. Most modern scholars have accepted the reality that Christian theology emerged and developed within the Greco-Roman cultural hegemony and thus was heavily influenced by its philosophy, thought, practices, and understandings. Had Christian theology emerged elsewhere, perhaps in the East, our theology would look much different from what is it today. When examining the historical development of theology, it is undeniably clear that there have always been external influences that have impacted and formulated theology to make it what it is today. Douglas John Hall writes, “In that mode of reflection which we call Christian theology, there is a meeting between two realities: on the one hand the Christian tradition, namely, the accumulation of past articulations of Christians concerning their belief, with special emphasis upon the biblical testimony and on the other hand, the explicit circumstances, obvious or hidden, external and internal, physical and spiritual, of the historical moment in which the Christian community finds itself. Theology means the meeting of these two realities.”
In order to do theology meaningfully in our present context, it is important to acknowledge the present reality of postcolonialism that has greatly affected our understanding of the world. We need to study the dynamics between the colonizer and the colonized, those with power and those without, those who can speak and those who are silenced.
Traditional Western, European theologies have at times attempted—yet failed—to nourish the culture, experience, and context of people outside the Western world or those immigrants living in the Western world. Such theologies fail to engage in dialogue with present pluralist, multicultural, and multireligious situations of poverty, oppression, and domination, rendering them meaningless or out of touch to many peoples. Due to the negative consequences of colonization, theology needs to find a way to decolonize, liberate, and empower its victims.
Especially in our present context, we need to engage in such topics so that theology will be relevant and make sense to all persons. Such engagement is particularly necessary for Asians and Asian Americans living in North America. We need to decolonize theology so that it can be free from some of the negative effects of Western thought, philosophy, and religion that have favored one race and ethnicity over another. This distance from Western thought can eventually open up doors for acceptance and equality for those who are different from the dominant Western people. One possible way to counteract the negative effects of Western thought is to turn to the East.
Eastern ways of thinking can navigate us toward understanding the Divine, particularly the Spirit, in a way that will prevent domination and subordination of one people over another. Western ways of thinking abstract universal concept from reality. Eastern ways of thinking prefer images and symbols to concepts.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the MATS program at Moravian Theological Seminary. She is the author of Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit (Palgrave Pivot), The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (Palgrave Macmillan) and The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (Pilgrim Press).