Contex-Realisation: Gospel & Culture
- By Dr. Chris Gnanakan
- Published 04/19/2010
Dr. Chris Gnanakan
Revd. Dr. Chris Gnanakan, DMin, PhD. is the Director of Training for Outreach To Asia Nationals. OTAN serves in over nine countries in Asia where traditional missions is ‘restricted’, by equipping and empowering national, pastoral leaders to fulfil the great commission.
Chris, a native of Bangalore, worked as an electrician in MICO factory for 3 years before theological studies at the Word of Life Bible Institute and School of Youth Mission (New York). He obtained a Bachelor’s Degree from Tennessee Temple University and went on to do a Master’s in Divinity at Temple Baptist Seminary that he completed at the Asia Graduate School of Theology.
Chris was a youth pastor and ordained at Emmanuel Baptist Church. In 1990 he founded Banaswadi Bible Church where he was the pastor-teacher for over 10 years. He is known as a Youth, Bible & Mission conference speaker and for his radio broadcast with FEBA (Transforming Truth) and TWR (Thru the Bible). His passion is for evangelism, whole-life discipleship, mentoring, training leaders & empowering the Church in Mission.
Chris lectures on and produces curriculum for ‘Biblical Mandate for Evangelism’ at the Haggai Institute for Leadership Development (since 1999 at Maui & Singapore). As an evangelical, he has served as a consultant with the Commission on World Mission & Evangelism on-site London, Switzerland, Athens, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Chile and with Urban Missions in Thailand, Hong Kong, Philippines and China.
During his stay and PhD research in the UK, Chris was a Teaching Assistance at the University of Leeds in the department of Theology & Religious Studies and also served as a minister at the South Parade Baptist Church, where he developed outreach & care cells. Chris teaches ‘Clinical Pastoral Education’ at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital. He is chairman for the Christian Forum for Child Development & Samaritan Purse’s regional Prescription for Hope program
Since 1995, Chris joined SAIACS as Professor and HoD of Pastoral Theology & Counseling and Dean of Chapel. Here, for 13 years, he trained leaders for ministry and mission in India’s globalising context and is passionate doing ”Evangelism through Local Churches”. He is now appointed to serve as the Director of Training for OTAN (Outreach To Asia Nationals) from June 2009.
Chris is happily married to Dorothy, an IT software educator, and they have two daughters Alethea and Charis. Chris enjoys memorising poems on the Bible and football.
Our missionary imperative to communicate Christ to Indians is a challenging task with the many different views of “Christ”, ways to share the gospel and worldviews to relate the same message. This calls for adaptation and translation of God’s ancient, unchanging Word to our constantly changing world, which defines the boundaries of “context” both in terms of locality and temporality. So, for cities like Bangalore, the process of contextualization implies paying attention to the native local context (indigenous culture) as well as the influence of global market trends (homogenized culture). Socio-cultural change matters whether triggered by grass root struggles for justice or globalization. Having shown the legitimacy of contextual theologies let me suggest how we may go about doing it…The potential there is in sharing the gospel in relevant and applicable ways to a respondent culture cannot be underestimated. Cultures have core values and belief systems that the gospel addresses, permeates, affirms, confronts and transforms. Doing theology contextually is an appropriate method to incarnate the gospel.
All theology is inherited, adapted, in a word – contextual. In the doctrine of the Incarnation, God in Christ did not become a Christian, he became human. Jesus’ teachings were tailored to meet the existential needs of his audience and he spoke in categories that arose out of the day-to-day realities of his Jewish context. His mighty works were effective in meeting people’s spiritual, physical and relational needs. There is a ‘locality’ to Christian tradition in different cultures that inevitably interacts with the diverse, yet distinct and nuanced understandings of the sacred. One cannot ‘cut and paste’ dogmatic, westernized forms of theology without it soon becoming, meaningless, boring, culturally insensitive or at worst, oppressive.
Human experience and stories are important in contextual theologies and these elements in theological reflection receive particular emphasis without abandoning commitment to our common humanity. Also, the Church’s tradition or teachings on the Spirit’s ongoing work is considerable. Christianity, as a historical and apostolic faith, learns from and by critiquing older traditions and draws from self understandings and unique experiences to contribute to the already rich tapestry of global Christianity. Further, human reason is crucial to achieve a fair and self-critical articulation of beliefs.
Contextualization engages in a variety of styles of thinking familiar within its own context but seeks to make sense to the outsider. Though culturally sensitive and engaged, it is theologically critical in what it adapts. The Bible is interpreted to allow interaction with cultural experiences, which helps the examiner to read scripture with fresh or non-traditional eyes and allows God’s revealed truth to judge and be judged by local beliefs and cultural practices.
While we heed the cries and concerns of our contemporary culture and need to be cognizant of our evangelical heritage, we must indeed be faithful to the Bible’s message. Making the Bible our ‘norming norm’ holds promise. Gospel truth stands the test of time and experience and there is ample reason why it should be grounded in what God has said and Christians know experientially.