It is exciting to speculate what new insights will be brought to light by the peoples of Asia when their riches are laid at the feet of Christ. “God has yet more light to break forth from His Word” said John Owen, and we must believe that our apprehension of the truth and our understanding of the faith will be deepened, not only by the peoples of Europe and America, but also by the peoples of Africa and Asia.
Already there are signs of reflective activity on the part of Christian thinkers in the East. A month ago the first issue of The South East Asia Journal of Theology was published. This project was first mooted at the Bangkok Conference in 1956, and was then finally approved and launched at a Singapore Conference of Theological Principals in 1957.
The sponsors record their desire to promote “An Indigenous Asian Theology.” They are anxious to avoid being derivative and imitative, and they quote with approval Richard Neibuhr’s dictum, “Wherever and whenever there has been intense intellectual activity in the Church a theological school has arisen, while institutions possessing the external appearance of such schools but devoid of reflective life have quickly revealed themselves as training establishments for the habituations of apprentices in the skills of a clerical trade rather than as theological schools.” These Asian Christians have no desire to train “apprentices in the skills of a clerical trade”; on the contrary, they desire to engage in serious and responsible theological study. Boris Anderson of Tainan warns against the danger of “imitating the stereotypes of classical Western Protestantism” without further reflection, and thereby perpetuating ecclesiastical and national divisions which are meaningless in the context of Asia.
Editor of the Journal, John Fleming, says “we exist to serve the crown rights of the crucified and risen Lord in South East Asia in the vital area of theological education, and we invite all concerned to share in that service.” The Journal is subsidized by the Nanking Board of Founders, New York, whose help and guidance are acknowledged “gladly and gratefully.”
It is of interest to note that Christoph Barth, a son of the renowned Swiss theologian Karl Barth, is the contributor of a lengthy monograph on “Recent trends in Old Testament Interpretation.” This quarterly promises to be both stimulating and scholarly.
Plans are well advanced for a National Theological Convention to be held in Melbourne, Australia, in February 1960 under the auspices of the Australian Council for the World Council of Churches. The importance of the occasion lies in the fact that some 400 delegates will be in residence at the University of Melbourne. These are delegates drawn from the best theologians from the Protestant churches of Australia.
Five commissions have been set up, the first and major topic being “The Authority of the Word of God.” The material for this session is being prepared by Gabriel Hebert, whose work on Fundamentalism and the Church of God initiated the original debate on “fundamentalism” which has continued with unabated fervor ever since. Representatives of the conservative school of thought will be well represented at the convention (they do not describe themselves as “fundamentalists,” which, with its emotive overtones, has become a disreputable theological swear word) and the debate should be vigorous and animated. It remains to be seen whether, in these theological conversations, more heat is generated than light!
The other commissions will concern themselves with the following subjects: the common evangelistic task in Asia and Australia; ethical problems of economic aid and technical assistance, and the implications for strategies of Australian churches working in partnership with Asian churches; the life of the church in an industrial community; and the life of the church in a rural community.
The presence of overseas scholars will add to the interest and importance of the occasion. The visitors will include Bishop Leslie Newbigin, Miss Renake Mukerji, Mr. M. M. Thomas, Professor K. Takenaka, Bishop E. Sobrepena, Doctor Hans-Reudi Weber, and U. Kyaw Than.
It is not unkind to say that the Australian church has never taken with sufficient seriousness the task of theological training, and that the generality of the Australian clergy and ministers are deficient in theological equipment. For this situation a number of factors are responsible: most parishes are grossly understaffed and books are prohibitively expensive. It may be that this theological convention will serve both to stimulate theological thinking and to stress the timeliness and importance of deeper theological study.
This year is the anniversary of the publication of Calvin’s definitive Latin edition, Christiani Religionis Institutio. The quarto-centenary has not been allowed to pass without public reference to the event. In Victoria the Graduates Fellowship of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship arranged a public conference at which important papers were read by the Reverend Robert Swanton, minister of the Hawthorn Presbyterian Church, on “The Reformation in Switzerland”; by the Reverend Professor K. Runia (a distinguished pupil of Professor Berkouwer) on “The Reformation in Holland”; and, by the Reverend A. Barclay, Professor of the Reformed Theological College, on “The Reformation in France.” The Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, who presided at the sessions, reminded the audience that since the days of the massacre of St. Bartholomew, a Huguenot church has continued to worship in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, England, thus symbolizing the fellowship which unites members of the Reformed faith. The papers delivered at this conference are in the process of publication.
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