Interweavings for November 2016

It was a joy to be in the historic and vibrant city of Bengaluru, the digital capital of India, from October 17 to 24, and to meet up with so many theologians. (The change from the older name, Bangalore, became official on 1 November 2014.)

Our first conference of the Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion project was in Cairo in April this year, and I was in Bengaluru for our second conference, which took place from October 19 to 21 at the Ecumenical Christian Centre.

It was a delight also to preach and lecture at the United Theological College (UTC) and to preach at the South Asia Institute for Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS).

In this Interweavings article, we shall consider first the conference, second my stay at UTC, and third my morning at SAIACS.

Conference: Contextual Mission in India Today

The Ecumenical Christian Centre was established in 1963 by the late Rev. Dr. M.A. Thomas with a vision for promoting “the unity of humankind as an expression of radical obedience to Christ.” It lies within in 29 acres of beautifully kept gardens in Whitefield, the cradle of Bengaluru’s IT industry.

We were warmly welcomed by the Director, the Very Rev. Dr. Cherian Thomas, who is also Vicar General of the Mar Thoma Church, and the Deputy Director, the Rev. Sudhaka Joshua, a priest of the Church of South India.

The Dean of the Indian School of Ecumenical Theology, based at the Centre, the Rev. Dr. John Samuel Ponnusamy, a priest of the Church of South India, was co-chair of the conference with me and invited the 26 theologians who were present. One of them, Godson Samuel from Mumbai, was our resident artist. He carves in palm leaves and created some fine silhouettes of participants during the conference.

The following six papers were presented, responded to, and revised during the conference. On the final morning, just before the concluding Eucharist, we had a countdown, and all six papers were published simultaneously on the Mission Theology site.

  1. Dr. Susan Thomas, President of the Women’s Fellowship in the Diocese of Madhya Kerala, Church of South India, “Contextual Mission in India: From Women’s Perspective
  2. Dr. Hrangthan Chhungi, Council for World Mission Asia Secretary, “‘Live and Let Live’ — The Essence of God’s Mission from the Perspective of the Indigenous Peoples (Tribals and Adivasis) of India
  3. Dr. Muthuraj Swamy, Head of the Department of Christian Theology, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, and Continental Editor for Asia of the Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion project, “Doing Mission in Context: Christian Mission as Invitation in Contemporary India
  4. Dr. Ken Gnanakan, Founder of the Acts Group of Institutions, Bangalore, sadly could not attend the conference, but his paper was published: “The Mission of Jesus Christ in India Today
  5. The Rev. Dr. David Joy, Professor of New Testament at the United Theological College, Bangalore, “Contextual Mission in India: Evaluations and Directions
  6. The Rev. Dr. Arul Dhas T, Senior Chaplain of the Christian Medical College, Vellore, “Healing Ministry as Christian Mission

One of the theologians present with us throughout was the incoming Director of the Ecumenical Christian Centre, who started in November, the Rev. Professor Mathew Chandrankunnel, CMI. Previously he was Professor of the Philosophy of Science at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram and Christ University, both in Bangalore. He is an ordained priest of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, and is the first Roman Catholic to be Director of the Centre and the first who is a scientist as well as a theologian. He specializes in quantum mechanics, received a Templeton Foundation postdoctoral fellowship and wrote, amongst other books, Ascent to Truth: The Physics, Philosophy and Religion of Galileo Galilei. He would like the Centre to become a focus for the interface between theology and science in India. I have since put him in touch with the Rev. Professor David Wilkinson, Principal of St. John’s College, Durham, who is an astrophysicist and theologian.

United Theological College

I very much enjoyed my two days at the United Theological College, which was founded in 1910. The Principal, the Rev. Dr. John Samuel Raj, was present at our conference and invited me to preach in the college chapel on Sunday, October 23, and lecture to the whole College on Monday, October 24. My lecture was based on the one I gave at the Pontifical Urban University, Rome, earlier that month: “Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission, 1977-84: Insights and Significance.” I was encouraged that representatives of both ECC and SAIACS also attended the lecture, which contributed to fellowship across the three colleges.

It was a joy to meet up again with two old friends. First, Dr. Paul Jenkins, historian and archivist of the Basel Mission, who was visiting UTC, and to give supervision to one of his students. I last met Paul in 1998 at the conference at Bishop Tucker College, Mukono, Uganda, which produced the bicentenary book of the Church Mission Society, edited by Kevin Ward and Brian Stanley: The Church Mission Society and World Christianity, 1799-1999 (Eerdmans, 2000).

Second, it was a surprise and delight to see at my lecture Jyoti Sahi, the renowned Roman Catholic painter and theologian who lives in Bangalore. One of his paintings is the centrepiece of the Ecumenical Resource Centre of the College. Jyoti gave the Teape Lectures in Cambridge in 1995 on “The Art Ashram,” and gave to the Henry Martyn Centre, now renamed the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide, a series of his prints. We later shared a room at the International Association for Mission Studies assembly in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1996.

South Asian Institute for Advanced Christian Studies

On Monday morning, October 24, I travelled across the city to the South Asian Institute for Advanced Christian Studies. SAIACS was founded in Bangalore in 1984 and is a leading evangelical centre of scholarship. The beautiful campus has ten and half acres of land and has a spacious feel to it.

I was invited to preach in the chapel by the Principal, Dr. Ian Payne, and enjoyed meeting the staff over coffee and having individual sessions with Dr. Havilah Dharamraj (Academic Dean and Old Testament), Dr. Prabhu Singh, (Missiology), and two friends from the International Association for Mission Studies assembly in Seoul in August this year, Dr. Arun Kumar (Religions) and Dr. Atola Longkumer (Religions).

Conclusion

I am very grateful to all my hosts in ECC, UTC and SAIACS and to the time given to discussions of theology in official settings and in informal meetings.

I also enjoyed worshipping and preaching at St. Mark’s Cathedral on Sunday, October 23, at the invitation of the Vicar (Dean), the Rev. Prem Mitra, who, I discovered, is an expert on elephants and ecology.

On Saturday, I was kindly guided around the city by the Rev. Hema Latha, chaplain at the Church of South India hospital, and a respondent at our conference. We visited the Lalbagh Gardens and the beautiful palace completed by Tipu (Tippoo) Sultan in 1791 (begun by his father, Nawab Haidar Ali Khan, ten years earlier). Tippoo Sultan built a bigger palace at Mysore and fought four battles against the British Army, finally dying in battle in 1799. He was an extraordinary administrator who set in place far-sighted anti-corruption checks for his staff. He was a visionary builder, ecologist, and warrior.

Intriguingly, in the palace, we saw a replica of the famous sculpture of a tiger mauling a British officer, with a French-designed mechanism which makes the tiger growl and the officer raise his arm in terror. The original is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which I inspected on my return. I still need to visit the Woolwich Arsenal Museum, where there is an example of a gunpowder-fueled rocket which Tippoo Sultan used against the British.

During my visit, it was fascinating to see and discuss the continuing impact of colonialism, post-colonialism, and the interface of many religions of India.

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