Jesudas M Athyal

Gospel and Cultures: An Indian Perspective

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The Lost Tribes of Andaman
Conversion Debate in India
Metropolitan Chrysostom's Message
Ethical and Economic Challenges for Education in a Globalized Era
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Relevant Patterns Of Christian Witness In Pluralsitic Societies: An Indian Perspective
Religion, Marxism & Humanism In Dialogue
Gospel And Cultures: A Subaltern reading of the history of Christian Mission in India
Come Holy Spirit, Diagnose, Heal And Reconcile: Lingering Questions from Athens
Gospel and Cultures: An Indian Perspective
New Challenges for Dalit Theology
Diaconal Ministry of the Church
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 Gospel and Cultures: An Indian Perspective


Our topic of discussion here is, an understanding of the meaning and scope of Christian witness in the pluralistic context, particularly India. At the outset itself, the question, what is the relevance of such a study, needs to be asked, especially as the crucial issue of Christian witness among people of other faiths and ideologies has been the framework within which Christian theology of mission  has evolved during the last few decades. What more can be added to it?

There are at least two answers. The first is a statement of Paulo Freire: `What seems obvious is not always well understood’. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we believe that the challenge of the gospel demands that we repeatedly relate our faith to the ever changing context. Relating the text to the context in the contemporary life situation therefore, brings meaning to the faith community. That is the Biblical heritage, from Amos and the Old Testament prophets, through the centuries. This prophetic hermeneutic invites us to take both the text and the context seriously. It summons us to bring them closely together in creative interaction. Our texts, both the Biblical and the cultural - historical, must be constantly put under the scrutiny of our contexts - and our contexts too, defined in the light of the gospel. This is indeed a dialectical process and we begin doing theology in the context of what we are used to - our life situations, our texts and traditions.[1]

While we recognize that the Christian mission is to respond creatively to the great Commission of God - to go and make disciples, we also recognize that the mandate is not given in a vacuum, but in a context - a specific context. The question before us therefore is, how do we relate the mandate (the text - Bible) to the context? We recognize that there is a tension between the text  and the  context. It is in this tension that we find the cutting edge of the gospel - the gospel of Christ that judges, transforms and redeems - in a context.  

The primary concern of this paper is to focus on a paradigm shift in the theology of Christian mission in India today. During the last decade or so, there has been a decisive shift in the theological thinking on the implications of Christian witness in the country, to one that is basically from the perspective of the marginalised people. One of the key aspects of the shift is the awakening of the people to the recognition that theologizing in the past was not sufficiently sensitive to their perspectives. A certain continuity with the past, especially with the mission and theology of the Indian Church, the missionary movement and the ecumenical discussions on missiology and ecclesiology, is implicit in this shift, and therefore it is not an outright rejection of the earlier patterns. But there is also a radical discontinuity with the past, a critical corrective rooted mainly in a re-reading of history and theology, especially in the light of the liberal democratic and socialist values of justice, equality and participation. My thesis here is that relevant patterns of Christian witness  can be sought only in the context of an organic dialogue between traditional theologies and the subaltern perspectives, especially on the questions of mission and koinonia in pluralistic societies like India. 

Our mission today is to discern how the gospel can be interpreted, proclaimed and celebrated, in the context of India. It is to a brief analysis of the Indian society that we will turn presently.   

The Indian society 

The Indian society is a pluralistic one where the civilization is several thousands  years old. The oldest form of religion in India is a form of Animism. The transition from this rather crude form of religion to popular Hinduism, characterized by the worship of a plurality of gods, cosmic spirituality and the stratification of the society on caste lines, was comparatively easy. The caste factor determined, perhaps more than any other system, the socio-cultural life of the land.  Social scientists trace the origin of caste as an organizing principle, back to the `social functions’ of three interacting social groups, priests, warriors and agriculturist - stockbreeders, inherited from the Indo-European past of the Aryans[2]. By the time of the Rig Veda, a fourth caste, namely sudras or the indigenous population of slaves, emerged. The consolidation of the caste hierarchy, spread over several centuries, resulted in a religious order based essentially on stratification of the society into an immutable socio-religious order. 

There were several offshoots from traditional Hinduism. The main religions that, in one way or another, owe their origin to Hinduism are, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Their distinguishing features, at least in the initial period, were a rejection of caste distinctions and Brahminical hierarchy. The new religions combined within themselves the characteristics of `protest movements’ as well as of reform. Over the centuries, however, several of these reform movements, in one way or another, came under the sway of mainline Hinduism and were co-opted. Another significant period was the Hindu responses to influences from the West. A full accounting of the impact of almost ten centuries of Islam and five centuries of Western presence in India would have to deal not only with their distinctive new influences but also with the ways in which traditional Hindu models have been revived and applied in new and adaptive ways.[3] Unlike the religions of Indian origin, Islam and Christianity maintain an identity unambiguously distinct from mainline Hinduism, but influencing  each other and contributing corporately towards the evolution of a composite and pluralist culture. 

An important aspect of the dominant  religious and social life in India was the virtual exclusion of the Dalits and the tribals from any decision making process in religion or society. Dalits are the `outcasts’ in Hinduism (The word dalit comes from the Sanskrit term dal which means the broken, oppressed and bruised. The outcasts today prefer the term dalit over `scheduled castes’ (as in the official records of the government) or Harijans (children of God), given to them by Mahatma Gandhi). While the society could not survive without the menial jobs being performed by the Dalits, they just did not count. The tribals, on the other hand, were never part of the mainline social order and hence were not oppressed in the way in which the Dalits were. However, they were historically on the periphery of the society and today, are the victims of the patterns of development that increasingly displace them from their traditional habitat. There are other marginalised sections too, women in all societies, fisherfolk, the urban and rural poor, the bonded laborers etc.  

Social Analysis

Numerous communities of  people in India are essentially rural, largely structured along caste lines and organized historically in a feudal order. The adoption of a democratic polity in independent India paved the way for people’s participation in the governance of the nation. The passage of power from feudal lords to elected representatives has however been largely a change in form than content as the high castes and feudal lords dominate the legislative and other elected bodies. The indigenous people continued to be denied their due share in power. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, had the vision of making industries the `temples of modern India’, while simultaneously emphasizing rural development. In the early 80s, the Nehruvian Economic Policies were slowly replaced under the influence of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). World Bank funding  was conditional on the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) with its emphasis on privatization and export promotion. Increasing unemployment, loss of jobs, declining standards of primary education and worsening health situations were the immediate fallout of the SAP. The Government’s social funding in projects like education, health care, food distribution and sanitation were hit hard. According to economist Arun Ghosh, SAP began to bite into the traditional social fabric of India, by enforcing certain policies which were detrimental to the Indian economy generally and to the poorer sections of the populace in particular. Added to this came the new economic policy of liberalizing the Indian Economy, inviting more foreign investment and promoting export. Traditional farmers are being persuaded to switch to cash and horticultural crops to earn quick money. Others are forced to part with their prime land for ‘development projects’ and new Trans National Corporation (TNC) units that are being set up. Thus, besides hitting hard on the already precarious food security of the country, this has caused more migration to the city. Globalisation of the Economy is no panacea for the ailing world economic order, let alone the sinking Indian economy. Globalisation in reality is a stage-managed effort to lead transnationals to bring in their consumer goods and already obsolete technology to the under developed countries. India with its 200 million upper  and middle classes, forms a market as big as several European countries put together, which is a tremendous opportunity that no producer likes to lose.[4]

The ecological crisis is integrally related to the present predicament following privatization and globalisation. Historically, the global ecological crisis began with the technological, export- oriented model of development in the 1950s and 1960s. This produced the energy crisis of the 1970s, which provoked the debt crisis of the 1980s that led to the ecological crisis of the 1990s. The global ecological crisis has been in the forefront on the political agenda since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The continued plunder of the earth’s resources beyond their regenerative capacity and the irresponsible degradation of its delicate eco systems of land, air and water, make survival on this Planet seriously doubtful. 

The ecological crisis- the cry of the planet earth – is central to a  subaltern perspective of nature, especially as the crisis threatens the very survival of the indigenous communities. The groups of people that bear the brunt of this impending ecological catastrophe are the Dalits and the tribals, the women and children. It is their cry for recognition and belonging, the restoration of their identities and culture and genuine participation in the decision-making of society that must be taken seriously.

A major fallout of globalisation has been the diluting of moral and ethical values across the country encompassing all structures, regimes and segments of the society. Its major effect can be seen in the deteriorating political life of the country because every activity has become `money-centric’, thus rendering the economic and political structures fractured and devoid of moral and ethical values - this shift has resulted in generating more hardship and suffering for the already suffering sections of the society. 

Unhappy India, the title of  Lala Lajpat Rai's famous book is a suitable description of the nation-state. Exploitation of the masses, growth of a capitalist mode of life, moral degeneration,  growth in poverty and the tendency to move away from the directive principles of the Constitution results in the brokeness of the masses. This death - like experience for the majority threatens the very existence of the nation. Unbridled, thoughtless development has dried up rivers, cleared forests, and destroyed land  at a time when the monsoon is changing its behavior. Water, food and air are polluted. Humankind and nature groan alike under this survival burden. Tribal, dalit and women's movements are manifestations  of their resistance to suffering. They represent  the inherent desire for reconciliation in a broken and unhappy India. 

The questions 

This study however cannot be confined to a mechanical, periodic application of the faith to the context. There are specific historical reasons in India, especially those that occurred during the last decade,  that compel us to initiate a process of reviewing the existing patterns of mission and evangelism and also, seeking relevant patterns. During this period, the `context’ has changed dramatically, becoming so complex, the pace of change so rapid that it calls for a hard look at the whole question of Christian mission today. We will briefly identify them: 

One is, the wave of communalism and religious fundamentalism sweeping across the country (Communalism is understood in India as the mixing of religion and politics, often for sectarian political ends). Communalism and religious fundamentalism have always been a part of the Indian society, but  following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the fundamentalist forces shed their tactical inhibitions and assumed a center stage role in the socio-political life of the nation. the momentum created by the demolition and its aftermath has pushed the communal and fundamentalist forces to the forefront. Today the very secular and social fabric of the country is under threat. 

What is the Christian response to this situation? There is a secular position, represented by the liberal and left sections, to the rise of communalism and religious fundamentalism. The secular response is to separate religion and politics  and confine religion to the private realm of the people. It is of course neither practicable nor feasible to thus privatize religion, but what is significant is that the secular forces have recognized the threat of the fundamentalist forces and the need urgently to respond to them. What however has been the church’s response?  

Paradoxically speaking, the same period, the last decade,  saw a vigorous drive on the part of the Indian churches, towards `the evangelisation of India’. Indigenous (Indian) missionaries, often from the churches in the south and in North East India, targeted the huge non-Christian society of north India.  These missionaries, though often well meaning, were grossly out of tune with the socio-cultural realities of the `mission fields’. Insensitive and occasionally aggressive evangelistic campaigns characterize the recent missionary upheavals. It is significant to note that the recent consolidation of fundamentalist Hinduism, and its popularity in the political scene, is also largely in north India. It is not clear whether aggressive evangelistic campaigns by the churches contributed to a Hindu backlash; what is important is that the missionary work of the churches seldom emerged from a theological study of the complexities of pluralistic India. 

The second issue before us is the rapid changes in our society, especially the globalisation of the economy. The market has emerged today  as the determining factor and the role of human beings is primarily as customers, at the mercy of the market forces. The consumerist values are fast determining the agenda of the society.

Lastly, the awakening of the marginalised people: the dalits, tribals, women, fisherfolk etc., is an important factor. As a result of the social reform movements that were a part of the political upheavals in the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was a marked change in the lives of the marginalised people. There was a pronounced  awakening among the oppressed sections of the society, especially in the western Indian state of  Maharashtra and the southern states, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Exposure to the western liberal democratic notions of freedom and liberty, the emerging socialist dream of a radical social transformation and the modern facilities of education (especially women’s education), better health care… all contributed to the awakening. The people who were `no people’, assumed a center stage role in the socio-political process. They are today seeking their place under the sun.  

The marginalised people are the subjects of history and are involved in the struggle for survival. From the perspective of Christian mission, it is also important that they are often the objects of evangelism and conversion. 

These are some aspects of our context - the context where we seek relevant patterns of mission and evangelism. The question before us is, how does the Christian faith become meaningful to our neighbors - Hindus, Muslims, Marxists - yes, also to our dalit, tribal, women, fisherfolk neighbors - inviting them to be disciples of  Jesus Christ? What is the nature of this invitation? Is it a one way process in which we have all the answers and they have the questions? Or is it an experience of mutual invitation (conversion) where the Christians invite others to be disciples of Christ - and in turn, the Christians open themselves up to the possibility of God’s presence and work among all people? 

The Indian Church 

Christian mission is the human response to the promise of new life in Jesus Christ - a life that overcomes all the forces of death expressed in self-centredness, social oppression, injustice and sin. It is a call to discipleship, that is, a call to follow Christ who through his life, death and resurrection, offered life, in all its abundance (John 10:10). Mission is also understood as a process by which a community (Koinonia), which acknowledges Christ as its centre, is formed. The life of the community is expressed concretely through its commitment to love, peace and justice. This Koinonia transcends the divisions of gender, race, caste and tribe as well as that of religion and culture (Gal. 3:28). 

The Biblical images of a new humanity, a new creation (2 Corinthian 5:17), a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1), as well as its concepts of salvation and liberation are attempts to express the depth and breadth of God’s mission in the world. The judging and transforming act of Christ equips us to participate in God’s mission of renewing   communities and renewing God’s creation. 

In the early church those who followed Jesus were known as 'the people of the way'. They  were later called Christians. St. Paul, the other apostles and later many church fathers and mothers continued to serve the community in their servant role. This led to the expansion of the church into many communities, communities that were open and did not have any definite structures. These communities reflected a definite spirituality in caring for and sharing with one another and by reflecting humility in service. This was the Christian fellowship of the early church, the ideal form of  Koinonia. 

As time went by, these communities grew rapidly and became diverse in language, culture, and social status. Eventually, the `Jesus Community’ which was small but was growing, was co-opted for privileges which included security and status,  under the Roman Empire. 

The history of the church took a different direction at this juncture. Now, the expansion of the empire also meant the expansion of  the Empire's religion. Consequently, the ideology that displaced the vision of  the Jesus community was - those who are not with us, are against us. This seemed to be  evident, in the socio-political and economical life of the then world.[5] 

Meanwhile, in India, the church, believed to have been established by Saint Thomas in the first century itself, assumed a different pattern. As a distinct socio-religious community and as part of the larger social milieu, the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala, were inherently a part of the social life there from these early centuries itself. The experience of the early Indian Christians in living in close relation with people of other faiths and cultures is a signkficant chapter in the history of  religious harmony in India. However, it is also important that their identity as a largely upper class and caste Syrian Christian community considerably hampered any missionary outreach, especially in relation to the lower castes, till the inward looking samudhayam (clan, community) consciousness  was challenged by the missionaries. The arrival of missionaries from the West - Catholic and Protestant - drastically altered the character and content of the Christian presence in Kerala. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which saw the heyday of Portuguese power in India were also a period of great missionary activity. It would therefore be no exaggeration to maintain that the missionary era profoundly influenced the course and content of Christian witness in India.  

Missionary impact 

A review of the modern missionary movement which became dominant in India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is an important component of the current ecumenical discussions on gospel and culture. What was their impact? Did it play a constructive or a negative role in Christian witness in India and in `nation building’? What are their lessons for today? These are among the several questions being raised today. At the outset itself, it must be clarified that any generalization of the missionary impact would be too simplistic and inaccurate. The rich contributions of the missionaries, especially  in the areas of health care, education and social upliftment has been widely acknowledged, not only within the church, but even by the secular society and the state. There are, however, criticisms too. One major criticism, especially voiced today, is the way in which the missionaries imposed western culture as an integral part of the Christian faith, grossly undermining the cultures of non-western societies. It has also been pointed out that the missionaries often colluded with the western colonial powers to have dominion over the local people. One historian notes that `colonizers and missionaries sailed on the same boat; gun and gospel were carried on the same ship’.[6] This may be an extreme view, but there is a fair amount of consensus among church historians and ecumenical theologians, especially of the third world, that the missionaries in general supported the process of colonization of the non-western world.  

There is great support for the understanding that the Christian mission and colonialism, in most cases, went side by side. The process of colonization is often seen as `the colonization of non-Christian peoples by Christian nations.’[7] David Bosch feels that Europe’s colonization of the peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas has roots that go deep into the Christian history.  

In fact, it can be argued that the roots of the later conquistadors and the entire phenomenon of the European colonization of the rest of the world lay in the medieval teachings of just war (Kahl 1978:66). On closer inspection one might even say that colonization was the `modern continuation of the crusades'’(Hoekendijk 1967a:317 - my translation). In the words of M. W. Baldwin (quoted by Fisher 1982:23), `Although Crusade projects failed, the Crusade mentality persisted. 

…There is undoubtedly an organic link between western colonial expansion and the notion of manifest destiny…(p. 298) also, …since the sixteenth century, if one said “mission”, one in a sense also said ‘colonialism’. Modern mission originated in the context of modern Western colonialism (cf Rutti 1974:301)[8] 

The idea of Christendom characterized by the union of  colonization and Christianization manifested the mission of the western church from the time of Constantine till about the middle ages. The alliance between the church and state remained more or less intact till the Enlightenment period. `Henceforth, theocratic dreams would belong to the past; colonial and ecclesial expansion were to be  two separate things’[9]. The affirmation of faith in humankind characterized by Enlightenment however was not the only factor that undermined the symbiotic relationship between church and state; paradoxically, the great evangelical awakening too revealed the influence of the Enlightenment. Under the pietistic and puritan notions of `all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’, the distinction between `home’ mission and `overseas’ mission disappeared rapidly. Salvation was understood primarily in terms of the salvation of souls; societal changes were only of secondary concern. The spiritual and material realms had parted company. Christendom was breaking up. 

Curiously enough, in the nineteenth century colonial expansion would once again acquire religious overtones and also be intimately linked with mission! There came a time when the authorities enthusiastically welcomed missionaries into their territories. From the point of view of the colonial government the missionaries were indeed ideal allies. They lived among the local people, knew their languages, and understood their customs. Who was better equipped than these missionaries to persuade unwilling “natives” to submit to the pax Britannica or the pax Teutonica?…As it became customary for British missionaries to labor in British colonies, French missionaries in French colonies, and German missionaries in German colonies, it was only natural for these missionaries to be regarded as both vanguard and rearguard for the colonial powers (cf Glazik 1979:150). Whether they liked it or not, the missionaries became pioneers of Western imperialistic expansion [10] 

The ecumenical and third world theological thinking during the past few decades too shared this understanding of the nexus between the missionary movement and colonial expansion. The focus of the third world theologians however is on the `devastating effects’ of the missionary movement"on indigenous peoples and cultures. A booklet titled `Gospel and Culture: An Ongoing Discussion within the Ecumenical Movement’, published a few years ago by the World Council of Churches, reviews `how the gospel and culture discussions have been conducted within the history of the modern ecumenical movement, in order to uncover the different facets of the debates and the presuppositions that have governed the discussion’[11].   The ecumenical discussions on gospel and culture focus on a critique of the missionary impact on the non-western world, mainly from the perspective of the indigenous people.

Several decades after the end of colonialism, churches that have emerged from Western missionary activities are beginning to look at what they have inherited as the gospel message and “Christian” culture. And they have a fuller awareness of the need to own the gospel anew in their own culture and in an idiom that makes sense to their own people. There is a new self-confidence on the part of those who do theology from the perspectives of women and the marginalized in society. At the same time, there is a growing impatience with those who deny the legitimacy of this quest.[12] 

The ecumenical movement acknowledges the role of `individual missionaries’ who worked selflessly for the upliftment of people. There were also missionaries who tried to work out the meaning of the gospel in a specific culture. These were however the exceptions. The mainline ecumenical thinking affirms that the missionary enterprise as a whole undermined the local cultures of the non-western world. One of the characteristics of the new self-confidence of the emerging churches in the third world was the rejection of the missionary pattern. The feelings in the churches were so strong that the General Secretary of the National Christian Council of India hinted at the World Mission Conference in Tambaram (Madras) in 1938 that it was perhaps time for the missionaries to “go home” and leave the task to local churches’.[13] Nacpil from the Philippines too, called on the mission societies to leave the churches in Asia alone for some time so that they could discover themselves and their ministry to the people and cultures of Asia.[14] The ecumenical thinking on the impact of the missionary era is clear: it was one of  insensitivity to and arrogance in the context; it undermined indigenous people and their cultures; the churches that were planted by the missions were potted plants, remote controlled from the West. 

A good portion of the current theological thinking on mission too promotes the concept that the missionary movement was little more than `imperialism at prayer’. In this framework, the missionary movement was the `outcome of the eighteenth century evangelical revival which gave birth to the Evangelical Party in the Church of England and to the multiplication of the new denominations of Wesleyan and Calvinistic Methodism, an integral part of the colonial political structure and the accumulated result of western cultural practice’. It was the nexus of political power, cultural manifestations and economic interests that guided both the colonial powers as well as missionaries in the non-western world. In Colonialism and Christian Missions: Post-colonial Reflections, one of the recent books to be published on this topic, Jacob Dharmaraj raises the question whether a good part of the missionary idea and practice in India was not controlled by the colonial climate of thought which did not belong to the essence of the gospel. In his own words, 

I see the domineering European political structure in India on the one hand, and the colonial evangelistic theology on the other, as a single constitutive reality. Attempting to separate colonial ideology from missionary theology, or colonial hermeneutics from a mission model and its epistemological methodologies in evangelistic action, would be futile. Since this kind of functional relationship between colonialism and mission spanned the nineteenth century, mission and colonialism in effect favored and facilitated each other and helped carry out certain ideologies over others.[15] 

It is thus obvious that there is a fair amount of consensus among church historians and ecumenical theologians that the missionary movement in general aided and abetted the process of cultural and political conquest of the non-western world during the last two centuries. Unlike the given history and theology however, there is a subaltern perspective on history. It is to this aspect that we will presently turn. 

Mission and Colonialism: A Subaltern Perspective 

At the outset itself it must be clarified that the current ecumenical and theological thinking on mission and evangelism and especially the role of the missionary era is influenced heavily by the thinking and composition of the indigenous  leadership that emerged in the third world churches towards the twilight of the colonial period. In most parts, the transition was from the missionary leadership to local hands. Even after the formal transition of leadership to indigenous hands, the western presence lingered on in a strong way, in the form of the church structures, financial support and most of all, the cultural identification of the church as an appendix of western culture and religion. As such, the crucial questions were, why did the missionaries collude with the colonial powers in the colonies, why was there no exploration of the meaning and significance of the cultures that the missions met with, why were the indigenous cultures and religions rejected as `pagan and heathen’? 

Some of these questions are important. However, a subaltern perspective would still insist that the complexities of the Indian situation have not been sufficiently appreciated in such sweeping generalizations. (The term  subaltern is understood and taken to be `the inferior and less important consciousness of the people’ on the fringe who are socially, economically, culturally and politically marginalised. There is a dominant national consciousness in India. It is called the `mainstream’ of the nation, though it may not represent the consciousness of the majority of the people. Beside and behind the dominant consciousness, there is the subaltern consciousness [16]). The collusion of the missionaries with the colonial powers and their insensitivity to the indigenous people and culture was the standard theme in ecumenical discussions till recent years. A careful look at the history of the missionary movement in India will however reveal that the relationship of the missionaries with the colonial powers was often far from being cordial. Analyzing the Indian situation, David Bosch notes that the interest of the colonial powers in India was primarily mercantile and thus it clashed with the concerns of the missionaries. `.…the Dutch, British and Danish trading companies, at least in the early stages, usually refused to allow any missionaries in the territories under their jurisdiction since they saw them as a threat to their commercial interests’.[17] 

Lamin Sanneh’s analysis of the impact of the missionary period on indigenous people is more comprehensive.  He questions the widely prevalent view that mission was little more than “imperialism at prayer”. Apart from missionaries being out of tune with the commercial interests of the western political powers. Sanneh says that  colonialists also felt that missionary work might interfere with the traditional lifestyle and practices of the indigenous people.  Taking India as a case, he traces the problematic relationship William Carey had with the British colonial authorities. 

Carey had earlier experienced difficulties with the East India Company authorities in Calcutta. After he moved to Serampore, these difficulties did not abate. There, between 1806 and 1812, attempts were made to restrict the work and to halt all missionary endeavors in India. The authorities argued that mission was a threat to British rule by inciting a spirit of religious animosity, which, by some explicit chemistry, undermined the basis of colonial rule. [18] 

The main focus of Sanneh’s monumental critique of mission and colonialism is the recognition that translation and vernacular renewal played a crucial role in not only the spread of Christian mission in the non-western world but in the liberation of the indigenous people as well. This factor has also been recognized in India. Analyzing the work of  William Carey and the Serampore Mission which he led, in relation to the Bengali cultural renaissance of the 19th century especially at the development of the Bengali language, M.M.Thomas says, `They were Vernacularists in the 19th century debate about the medium of education, unlike the Anglicists who suppressed the local cultures and languages and missed “a rare opportunity of constructive combination” of eastern and western cultures through dialogue. Such suppression, Thomas notes, had devastating effects on the future course of the country, and holds a lesson for the church’s mission today. 

Perhaps a good deal of the religious fundamentalism and communal passion which bedevil public life even today may be a continuation of the people’s revolt against the earlier neglect of their traditional cultures. In contrast, the Serampore Mission emphasized vernacular languages as the sphere of intense cultural interaction between western culture, Christian religion and India…In this light, I am afraid that the Indian church’s concentration on English medium education, today as in the past, may lead to the church’s continued neglect of the renaissance of the national languages and cultures necessary for building India as a community of diverse cultures.[19] 

The commercial interests of the colonial powers in promoting Western languages thus clashed with the focus of the missionaries in translation which made mother tongues the centerpiece of missions. The continuation of the missionary era however went far beyond mere evangelisation and the numerical growth of the church, though those admittedly were their chief objectives. Translation and vernacular renewal had a profound impact on the cultural and social renaissance of the indigenous people. The masses that had `no place’ so far found a place under the sun. Their awakening to a new identity and self-dignity enabled the indigenous people to struggle against all forms of oppression. Far from being `the running dogs of colonialism’ as the current mainline thinking holds, the new converts were at the vanguard in resisting colonialism. As Sanneh puts it,  

`Missionary translation was instrumental in the emergence of indigenous resistance to colonialism. Local Christians acquired from the vernacular translations confidence in the indigenous cause. While the colonial system represented a worldwide economic and military order, mission represented vindication for the vernacular. Local Christians apprehended the significance of world events, and as such the purposes of God, through the familiar medium of mother tongues, with subject peoples able to respond to colonial events in the light of vernacular understanding.[20] 

The primary context for Sanneh is Africa. In India, the role of the missionaries. the new converts  and the indigenous people in resisting colonialism has gone largely undocumented, partly due to the class-caste nature of the secular and theological thinking. During the several decades of the transitory period from western colonialism to national independence in India, the paramount question in the church and theological forums was, to what extend can the Indian church be truly indigenous. That the leadership that was posed to replace the missionaries was an upper caste, elite, male leadership was conveniently forgotten. It was also forgotten that the primary arena of the missionary activity, the dalits and tribals, the truly indigenous people, were still nowhere in the picture. The awareness that dalits and tribals too have perspectives on mission and theology, is a recent one. The emerging Dalit, tribal and womanist theologies today question the established notions of Christian mission in India. That aspect will be referred to later. 

The western missionary enterprise had several dimensions to it. While rejecting the doctored history that undermines the role of the missionaries in the cultural rejuvenation and the awakening of the indigenous people, there is the need to critically approach the missionary era also. These criticisms have enormous relevance in today’s context of neo-colonialism characterized by the process of globalisation and the universalisation of the western culture. The missionary era, like all other phases in the history of the church, will be scrutinized closely and judged for its contributions and shortcomings. Such a historical process, though inevitable, cannot be based on given history alone. Historians and theologians, like all others, are children of their times. As history extends to accommodate the subaltern people also, mission perspectives too change. In such a context, the missionary era would be reviewed not only from the perspective of the elite, upper caste and male nationalist, but from the perspective of the dalits and tribals too. 

Ecumenical discussions 

In the post colonial period, there is available before us a rich heritage of theological reflection on mission and evangelism. A critical historical survey of the mission discussions in India leads to several aspects in such a reflection. The first landmark was in the 1930s (when India was on the threshold of independence), around the time of the third world Mission Conference at Tambaram (Madras, India). Hendrik Kraemer’s epoch-making preparatory volume for the Conference, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World sparked off a serious discussion on various aspects of the Christian gospel and culture in relation to other faiths and cultures. Kraemer’s world perspective undoubtedly shook the foundations of the prevalent liberal Christian approach and marked a paradigm shift in the theological understanding of mission. But the criticism against Kraemer, especially at Tambaram, was that he made an almost absolute distinction between Christianity and non-Christian religions with regard to their relation to culture. His basic thesis (which was expanded in his book, World Cultures and World Religions: The Coming Dialogue) is that religions other than Christianity are essentially culture-religions whereas Christianity makes `a detached distance in regard to culture as the field of human creativity’. Chenchiah, Chakkarai and the Gurukul group questioned this from the Indian perspective and maintained that such interpretation is equivalent to saying that religions other than Christianity were never open to the challenge of truth, let alone the opportunity to respond to it. The position of the Indian theologians was that the challenge in Asia is the proclamation of the Christian faith in the context of  the other faiths in a spirit of mutual respect, dialogue, sensitivity and openness. There is therefore the need to evolve patterns of Christian witness sensitive to the pluralistic context. The Asian response to Kraemer’s position, Re-thinking Christianity in India, is even today considered an important contribution to discussions on gospel and cultures.  

The Third assembly of the World Council of Churches (New Delhi, 1961) is unique in several respects. The inclusion of the Orthodox churches clearly marked a tilt from the predominantly euro-centric, Protestant composition of the Council. Equally important was a shift in the attitude to other faiths. Paul Knitter records that the Council sought to discard `the previous negative, exclusivist attitude toward other religions that, under the influence of Barth and Kraemer, had prevailed since the Tambaram Missionary Conference.’[21] Theologians from  the third world re-inverpreted the prevalent theological understanding of religions and urged a dialogical approach to other religions. They were voicing the emerging awareness of the need for a more meaningful relationship with their neighbors of other faiths in the non-western world. Their voices were clearly heard at the New Delhi Assembly. The WCC soon initiated a series of consultations with representatives of other religions, in a program named `Dialogue with men of other faiths and ideologies’. By the early 1970s, inter-faith dialogue was formally accepted as one of the units of the World Council.  

Another landmark in mission discussions was when the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society (CISRS) initiated a nation-wide study on the Christian participation in Nation Building. Several hundred people from all over the country were involved in this study process. The participants were led through a series of socio-political studies in the context of the Christian vision. At the center of all these searches, the study affirmed, stood the judging, transforming and redeeming presence of Christ. But we also realized that the new humanity and the new creativity offered through Christ, is realized primarily in our struggles towards social justice and the liberation of oppressed people. Today, in the context of justice concerns, people’s movements and the social action groups perhaps best symbolize the mission of Christ.  

The Roman Catholic contribution towards mission and evangelism in India in the context of inculcation should especially be noted. From De Nobili to Amalorpavadas, there is a rich variety of approaches and emphases. In 1609, Robert de Nobili, a Jesuit missionary, came to India. Owing to missionary work being focused on  the oppressed dalit people who were considered  outcasts,  a general opinion prevailed then that the Christian religion was only for the dalits. To change this opinion, De Nobili interacted with the upper caste people and those who were in power. He even  changed his appearance and dressed to suit the culture of the upper caste, called himself a Brahmin from abroad and approached them with the gospel. In contrast to those who were extending `the Portuguese church’ by gathering out individuals from the Indian world `to remove them to the Christian world’ represented by the mission station, De Nobili chose to be `present within Hindu India, present with all his powers’, to form there a new community to be `the first fruit for Christ of Hindu India in all the fullness of its culture and spirituality’.[22] He attempted to form the Church within the Hindu community as `a fellowship which through word and sacraments was linked explicitly and decisively with Jesus but remained sociologically part of the surrounding caste society.[23] There are criticisms that De Nobili did not question the caste system inherent in the Hindu society. His approach was based on the insights of that period, though today as the nation is moving in the direction of a casteless society, there is the need to evolve patterns sensitive to the context.  

D.S.Amalorpavadas, an Indian Catholic theologian of the twentieth century, stands at the other end of the Catholic thought on mission in India. While critiquing the present forms of mission and evangelism, he distinguishes between the traditional models of evangelism and ` indirect evangelisation’ which is more relevant today. `In the past, evangelisation somehow came to be considered to be verbal and vocal, limited to words and words alone. All activities were considered either as a preparation to the announcement of the gospel or as a means to make the first contacts, or worse still, sometimes as a bait or device to attract people, to dispose them to listen to the preaching’.[24]  In spite of everything, and all the explanations, somehow we may still feel a guilty consciousness as long as we do not verbally announce the gospel, as soon as, and as clearly as possible. This is, first of all, our centuries old, one-sided formation which emphasises the word to the detriment of the deed, the ministry of the word and the sacraments to the detriment of the renewal of the temporal order, the salvation of soul detached from other aspects of human’s integral development and fulfillment.[25] Amalorpavadas affirms that the task before the church is an all embracing one and therefore, word cannot be separated from deed. There is but a single integral reality which is the presence of our Lord in our world and history and his saving action in human history.   

There are also the statements by the churches, especially the statements of the Synod meetings of the Church of South India (CSI) and other ecumenical and inter church forums such as the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI). Almost all the Indian churches have identified evangelism, or evangelisation, as high on their priority list. The question then is, what are the methods employed in evangelisation? How do we understand proclamation? 

K.C.Abraham sums up the mission discussions in India thus: `What was emphasized here was that our commitment to Christ does not give us the right to condemn others. This land, with all its diverse faiths, is also the oikos[26]. In the multi faith context of India, we need to listen to the people’s fears and genuine questions. Pluralism in this context needs to be seen as God’s gift to humanity.

Conversion & Community

Among all the topics associated with mission in India, theologically and sociologically the most explosive ones are conversion and baptism. Inter-religious conversions is one of the most explosive political topics in India today and no discussion on Christian mission can be silent on it. Scholars tend to distinguish between religions with a dominant “mystic’ spirituality and “unitive” vision and religions with a dominant “prophetic” spirituality and “messianic” approach. Indian religions are generally considered  as belonging to the former category and the Semitic religions to the latter, though there are traits of both in all religions. Religions which consider the mystic experience as the ultimate point of spiritual self-realization, consider history with its plurality as of no ultimate significance, and the many religions in history with their emphasis on nama (name) and rupa (form) as ultimately so relative and insignificant, that they are tolerated as equally true or untrue. On the other hand, religions which believe that God has revealed himself and his purpose in a concrete historical event or a tradition of such unique events with fixed nama and rupa and as continually acting in history, see spiritual self-fulfillment as consisving in propagation of the news of the unique event and in building up a fellowship of those who acknowledge the revelatory event which will also be the sacramental sign and instrument for bringing God’s kingdom on earth.[27] Discussions on the equality of all religions or the need for mission and evangelism becomes meaningful only when placed in the historic and spiritual context of the evolution of all religions. 

Conversion is the turning to God and baptism symbolizes a radical break with one’s past and participation in the new humanity offered in Christ Jesus. In India, conversion and baptism also involve a radical break with one’s social and cultural past and identification with a new social community as well. In the traditional, organic societies of India, conversion and baptism raise serious questions. Is it possible to accept the lordship of Christ and remain culturally as Hindus? Can Christ-centered fellowships within other religions be a substitute for the organized church? Easy answers to these questions are not possible, but it is in wrestling with these questions alone that authentic patterns of Christian witness emerge in the Indian context.

From the days of the Tambaram Conference, the crucial question with regard to Christian witness in India was the relation between conversion and the church in a society of other religions and secular ideologies. The mood at Tambaram, unlike at previous missionary conferences, was decisively in favor of the `younger churches’ situated in pluralistic contexts. Kraemer himself was quite emphatic in his assertion that the divine revelation in Christ transcends western Christianity and that this transcendence makes Asian and African incarnations of Christianity not only legitimate but also imperative. As he put it, `The point that needs now to be made is that in principle and for reasons of history, new incarnations and adaptations of Christianity in the concrete Asian and African settings are natural and legitimate’.[28] The argument for contextual `incarnations’ of Christ emerged from the understanding that the revelation in Christ transcends all religions and cultures including perhaps, Christianity as an institutionalized  religion.  

Kraemer did come in for serious criticism from Asian theologians for his almost absolute separation of the ultimate truth from penultimate values and for giving syncretism a rather negative theological meaning, but his focus on the need for Christian mission to be sensitive to multi-faith contexts set the pace for the theological discussions in India on conversion, baptism, the church and koinonia in the next few decades. In tune with the national awakening and independence movements in most of the colonies, there was a strong plea at Tambaram for the unhindered development of indigenous churches. The central emphasis there reflected `the new search by Asian churches for their selfhood freed from"the paternalism and domination of missions to be able to relate themselves to the emerging national selfhood of their peoples within the universality of the worldwide church’.[29] the emphasis at Tambaram on the centrality of the church came in for criticism later - by the evangelicals who feared that the centrality of the gospel was forgotten and by ecumenists who stressed the significance of the `agenda of the world’ for the mission of the church and on the church as the sign of the coming unity of humankind.[30] The understanding of the mission of the church was varied, but Tambaram ensured that questions of missiology in India would be integrally related to ecclesiology in the future.  

K. Baago, the Indian Christian theologian, was one of the first Indians to raise, in the post-Tambaram period, the relation between conversion and the church. His basic question was whether ‘membership in the visible fellowship” was integral to conversion. Lesslie Newbigin, missionary and church leader in India for several decades, affirms that the adoption of the traditions and customs of the `Christian community’ is indeed required for one to `belong to Christ’. A personal commitment to and belief in Christ need necessarily be nurtured within the fellowship of the church. “The New Testament knows nothing of a relationship with Christ which is purely mental and spiritual, unembodied in any of the structures of human relationship”.[31] M. M. Thomas joins the discussion at this point and affirms that in conversion, the issue is neither the participation of the convert in a visible Christian fellowship or the outright denial of  any form of church but `the transcendence of the Church over religious communities, which makes possible the Church’s taking form in all religious communities’.[32] The question then is neither the affirmation nor denial of church but what form the church should take in India. 

One of the landmarks in theological discussions on Christian mission and the church in India was the famous `Thomas - Newbigin discussion’ in the early 1970s, especially in the context of the publication of Thomas’ book, Salvation and Humanization . The Bishop, in a review of the book, raised several questions and asked for clarifications from the author. Thus the debate was started which subsequently involved Alfred C. Krass and Paul Loeffler. Thomas, in 1977, published these discussions in his book, Some Theological Dialogues. These discussions are extensively reviewed in George R. Hunsberger’s recently published Bearing the Witness of the Spirit (Lesslie Newbigin’s Theology of Cultural Plurality). Since these discussions primarily deal with the theological and missiological issues related to conversion and community in the Indian context, they have considerable relevance for us and it would be appropriate to briefly discuss them. 

Thomas’ starting point is the theological affirmation that `the new humanity in Christ, that is, the humanity which responds in faith and receives the liberation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, transcends the church’.[33] By church he means `the visible and recognizable groups of people whose names are on our various membership roles’. The visible and structured church can indeed be considered as the nucleus, the first fruit and the sign and sacrament of God’s kingdom. The church itself however is not the new humanity and God’s saving purpose is not confined to the church. There is therefore the need to recognize and affirm the signs of new humanity outside the church too. As Thomas puts it, `since Christ transcends not only cultures but also religions and ideologies, the fellowship of confessors of faith in Jesus as the messiah should not separate from their original religious or secular ideological community but should form fellowship of Christian faith in those communities themselves’.[34] Since the law of India treats baptism as transference from one religious community to another, it should not be made the condition of entry into the Christian fellowship but made a sacramental privilege for later use. In the Indian context therefore the challenge before the Christian fellowship is not to form another religious communal body separate from the mainline society but to stay within the existing socio-religious structures as Christ-centered fellowships while trying to transform them from within. 

In tje Indian context where conversion and baptism also means a transference from one legal community to another, Thomas points out, theological discussions on conversion and church are intertwined  with legal and social questions. However, he maintains that theologically too, the indispensability of baptism is an unsettled question. When baptism becomes the condition for entry into the fellowship of the church, `it fails to convey its full meaning and purpose as the expression of our solidarity with the new humanity in Christ, which transcends all communal and caste solidarities’.[35] He quotes T.M.Philip and Joseph Balcastro and maintains that `the New Testament does not teach that baptism was a condition for salvation or the church membership, but baptism was available for the disciples of the coming church…that faith in and acceptance of Jesus as the Christ was the basis of membership in the church’.[36] In this connection Thomas’ own reflections on baptism are worth considering:

I have no doubt that baptism in the New Testament sense is incorporation into Christ and his congregational life. But the meaning of baptism has been distorted for long in India as a mark of transference of sociological, cultural-judicial loyalties from one community to another. The real question, therefore, is how to regain the meaning of water-baptism. Probably it can be done by just dissociating in time from the Spirit-baptism conceptually (suggested by Krass and Duraisingh) and from legal condition of entry into the church structurally and by considering baptism as a privilege. A disciple, already in the Fellowship of the Church and participating in its other privileges, including the Lord’s supper, may ask for it some time in the process of his growth in Christ (as suggested by Bernard Lucas). At least these proposals are worth pursuing further.[37] 

Newbigin accepts that `Wherever (the Christian) sees men being set free for responsible sonship of God… there he will conclude that God is at work, and that he is summoned to be God’s fellow worker, even when the Name of Christ is not acknowledged’ but wonders whether the church cannot be identified with the new humanity in Christ. Hunsberger observes that in the debate as a whole, the extent of the difference of meaning the two attach to the phrase “new humanity” is never clarified.[38] More than an obscurity in semantics however, the lack of clarity apparently stems from basic theological differences on mission and ecclesiology that go back to the Tambaram days.  The central emphasis of Tambaram as a whole was, in the words of William Paton, “the sense of the centrality of the Church to the purpose of God”.[39] Newbigin strongly endorses this position when he says, 

The Tambaram meeting marked the beginning of an exceedingly necessar{ and fruitful period during which missionary thinking was, to use the oft repeated phrase, church-centric… We must grant that the period of missionary history dominated by the `church-centric’ understanding of missions has been fruitful. It has brought us to our present consensus regarding the unity and mission of the Church…[40]

The centrality of the role of the church is at the core of Newbigin’s understanding of mission. To a certain extent the Asian leaders present at Tambaram too shared his position and stressed the significance of the corporate life and witness of the church in the spread of the gospel. But there were criticisms too, for emphasizing the church and forgetting the centrality of the gospel of the kingdom. Indian Christian leaders like E. Stanley Jones and Chakkarai Chattiar feared that `it would lead to a preoccupation with ecclesiastical issues and to Christian communalism to the neglect of God’s world outside the Church’.[41] The global ecumenical movement later corrected this by stating, at the Strasbourg 1960 Federation Conference of the Life and Mission of the Church, when the student Christian leadership stated that the “world” was more integral to the gospel than the church. 

In the context of mission in a pluralistic context too, Newbigin affirms the key role of the church. On the question whether it is possible to have a Christian fellowship, culturally within the Hindu milieu, he affirms, `A man who is religiously, culturally and socially part of the Hindu community is a Hindu. If at the same time, his allegiance to Christ is accepted as decisive, as - therefore over-riding his obligations as a Hindu, this allegiance must take visible - that is social - forms. He must have some way of expressing the fact that he shares this ultimate allegiance with others - and these ways will have to have religious, social and cultural elements’.[42] Newbigin seemingly rejects, as sociologically and theologically unrealistic, any form of Christian witness outside the church. 

Thomas endorses Newbigin’s affirmation of the key role of the church in mission but also fears that the latter’s encounter, as an ecclesiastical leader in India, with the liberal theology of non-Church Christianity for a long time, makes him suspicious of any form of criticism of the present church. Thomas stresses that the question is not so much whether the church is essential or non-essential as `what form the Church should take in India’. For him, the liberating faith and grace which are the marks of the New Humanity in Christ, are not confined to the framework of the Church alone. In other words, while the new humanity in Christ is affirmed by the Church, it also transcends it  and is present and can be discerned anywhere outside the Church. He fears that Newbigin does not take seriously the new humanity which is wider than and transcending the Church and seemingly treats the Church as the `substitute’ for the New Humanity.  `This is probably the crucial issue of difference between us in our understanding of the Church I have anticipated’.[43] 

Thomas’ position that the new humanity in Christ transcends the Church is rooted in his interpretation of the dialectical theology of Karl Barth and Hendrick Kraemer. He maintains Barth’s `christcentric relativization of all religions’ as “the most fruitful theological starting point to interpret religions”. But he gives it a significant interpretation. “Barth should have recognized that because Christ transcends the Christian religion while affirming it, he is free to do the same with other religions. Because Christ relativizes all religions, he cannot be confined to any religion”.[44] For vhomas, one of the clearest signs of Christ’s work in the contemporary world is the growing awareness of other religions, in India especially, neo-Hinduism. `Christ not Christianity or western culture, has been the slogan of many Neo-Hindu movements in the 19th century, even as Christian missions insisted on the three as one packet’.[45] It is in the context of the acknowledged Christ of the Hindu renaissance that the questions of Christ-centered fellowship of faith in Hinduism or Christ-centered secular fellowship becomes relevant. While the new humanity inaugurated in Christ affirms and transcends the Church, it also widens the horizons of the Church. And therefore, the question in India is, what is the nature of the fellowship of those who acknowledge Jesus Christ as in some sense central and decisive in mediating God to human persons. This question posed by Thomas, is the central missiological and ecclesiological concern in India today. 

In India, these questions have more than academic relevance. The presence of Christ-centred fellowships that transcend the present communal identity of the church is essentially part of the history of Christian witness in India. In a survey of the Gurukul Lutheran Theological Seminary some years ago, it came to light that about ten percent of the population in Madras accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior but had chosen to continue in their own religious, cultural and caste communities without conversion to the Christian community. Among them there are those who maintain close spiritual fellowships with other Christians, and others, `who pursue their devotion to Christ without such support’. In his study, The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance, M. M. Thomas traces the history and thought of Kesub Chandra Sen and P.C.Mazumdar who acknowledge that Jesus Christ as the revelation of the Divine Humanity of Sonship was decisive for their faith and ethics and sought to redefine traditional Hinduism both as religion and community in the light of Jesus. `They even formed a Neo-Hindu church of Christ with its own sacraments of baptism and eucharist’. There were also others, sucj as Kandasamy Chetty of the Madras Christian College who maintained a spiritual fellowship with other Christians without joining the church by baptism. He affirmed that he believed in Christ as the one Savior of humankind. He added,  

nothing would give me deeper satisfaction than to feel that I belong to his body. I am not altogether sure that I remain outside the Christian Church. It is true that I have never felt any inward call that I could recognize as divine in its inspiration to join the Christian Church in the narrow sense in which some evidently use the term… There is nothing essentially sinful in Hindu society any more than there is anything essentially pure in Christian society - for that is what the Christian church amounts to - so that one should hasten from the one to the other. So long as the believer’s testimony for Christ is open and as long as his attitude towards Hindu society in general is critical, and towards social and religious practices inconsistent with the spirit of Christ is protestant and practically protestant, I would allow him to struggle his way to the light with failure here and failure there perhaps, but with progress and success on the whole.[46] 

There have also been Hindu groups, like that of Subba Rao of Andhra Pradesh, `committed to spirituality and religious rites centered in the Crucified Christ as savior and Healer’ but deciding to stay outside the mainstream of the structured church of the baptized believers. There were others, like Manilal C. Parekh who took baptism which he considered “a purely spiritual sacrament, signifying the dedication of the new disciple to Christ” conferring the privilege to make known the name of Christ. But he felt strongly that “the new disciple should remain within his community, witnessing from there…” Parekh’s complaint was that ‘the Christian Church had become a civic community instead of a spiritual fellowship”.[47] In recent times, there is also the increasing popularity of house churches where both formal church members and others have fellowship together and which for most of them, is where they find the deepest spiritual experience and Christian fellowship. There is therefore a certain danger in dismissing all forms of unstructured Christian fellowships as `theologically and sociologically unrealistic’. Newbigin seems a little hasty in concluding that `a man who is religiously, culturally and socially part of the Hindu community is a Hindu’. Theological issues and sociological realities are seldom present in clear cut terms, especially in highly pluralistic societies like India. There is the need for intimate contact between the institutional churches and the fellowships outside and between baptized and unbaptised believers. The challenge for us is to be open to discern the mission of God in such contexts. As the report of a seminar on the relationship of the Church to non-baptized believers in Christ concluded, “the Spirit of God blows where it wills. We are called to try to keep up with him”.[48]

Re-reading History

One of the characteristics of the modern period is the vigorous awakening among the subaltern sections in India. While suffering for millennia from the baneful consequences of the myth of pollution,  they have been marginalised to such an extent that economic deprivation, and social discrimination with religious sanction were heaped on them. Inspired by creative leaders conscious of their own experiences and above all of their power, the people are now seen to be asserting themselves as subjects and agents of their own deliverance. In the church too, the subaltern perspective of mission is characterized by a re-reading of the church history and the missionary movement. To cite just one instance, in the context of the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala, a major landmark was the `Synod of Diamper’ which was convened in 1599 by the Portuguese Archbishop Menezes. Following the Synod, the Kerala church was brought under the control of the Roman Catholic church. There was stiff resistance among the Saint Thomas Christians to the Roman control and in 1653, an oath was taken by a section to be free. The mainline church history is that this incident, popularly known as the koonan cross oath, marked the liberation of the church from Western domination. 

With the tools of modern analysis, the dalits however are today challenging this part of the church history. In fact, the dalit perspective of `liberation’ is diametrically opposed to that of the Syrian Christians. According to Vijaya Kumar, the Synod marked the starting point of an anti-caste movement within the church in India. Before the arrival of the Portuguese, Syrian Christians were believed to have followed, like upper caste Hindus, a caste system and norms of untouchability, and also allegedly resorted to oppression of the lower castes. In this context, Menezes attempted to purge Syrian Christians in Kerala of their Hindu values and to make them “real Christians”. His attempts were `revolutionary’ since among other things, he opposed untouchability and wanted equal rights on family property to be granted to women. These progressive steps however were short lived as the church reverted to its traditional patterns.[49] 

Dalit historians today ask whether the resistance of the Syrian Christians was to `foreign control’ or to making the church open to people of all castes. It is significant that, in order to extricate themselves from the hands of the Jesuits, the Thomas Christians sought allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch, under whose dominion, the Syrian Christians continued for several more centuries, as high caste churches. That the fellowship in Christ did not enable the Kerala church to transcend caste barriers has been underscored by several other historians too. According to Lesslie Brown, was in consequence of the place which the community occupied and accepted in the Hindu caste-structure of Kerala that they observed untouchability with respect to the outcast groups like the Hindus and `never attempted to bring their non-christian neighbors to the knowledge of Christ and so into the Christian church’.[50] 

It is also significant that several mainline church historians agree with the Dalit re-reading of history. According to Mathias Mundadan, it is the coming of the Portuguese and the first contact with them in the early sixteenth century which helped the ancient Christians of India to break through their traditional pattern of life and enter into a meaningful communication with world Christianity. The initial encounter with western Christianity set the pace for their history in succeeding decades and centuries.[51] The most significant change perhaps was that this encounter with the foreigners compelled the Indian church to redefine its cultural and religious identity as a caste based community. 

Thus caste exclusiveness, practice of untouchability and the lack of Christian mission, all went together. The rigidity of caste in the Syrian Christian church was first challenged by the western missionaries - the Portuguese in the 16th century and the Protestant missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and the London Missionary Society (LMS) in the 18th century. The missionaries combined their evangelistic mission with radical social action that sought to liberate the marginalised people. That the given history chose to disregard this phase only demonstrates the caste nature of the historians. As the subaltern people attempt to re-read history, this has an important place. 

Another marginalsied section, the tribals too are today contributing greatly to a rethinking on the history of Christian mission in the country. Tribals are among the indigenous people of the country and are especially concentrated in North East India, Jharkhand in the east and Chattisgarh in central India. By and large, the tribals, all through history, were marginalised by the mainstream. Though Christianity has been indigenous to India for almost two thousand years, the tribal Christians assert that it was the western missionaries that brought them the faith. Christianisation was accompanied by radical social changes too, especially with regard to literacy and translation. Nirmal Minz, analyzing the context of the Jharkhand region says, `missionaries gave a written form to Mundari and Kudux languages and the Bible or portions of the Bible were translated into these languages. Dr. Alfred Nottrot translated the Bible in Mundri by the year 1895. Fr. Ferdinand Hahn translated the gospels into Kudux language. Education and medical ministries were part and parcel of mission and evangelism’.[52]  

Along with vernacular renewal and translation, the missionaries concentrated on basic social changes too. India being primarily an agrarian society, the ownership of land is central to radical social transformation. Historically, it was the `landlords’ who owned vast stretches of land and the marginalised people in most cases toiled as bonded laborers on the land. The ownership of land meant wealth and security in traditional India and the landless tribals  were entirely at the mercy of the exploitative landlords. That the missionaries realized this social situation as part of their concern is evident from an instance cived by Minz: 

The secret of attraction was that Fr. Lievens took up the land question of Adivasis (tribals) and fought on their behalf and won cases in their favor in the Court. He worked for the liberation of the Adivasis from exploitation and oppression by the Jamindars (land lords). To protect the land meant literal protection of the Adivasis. He accepted dealing with land issues and other social justice activities as an integral part of mission and evangelism in his ministry to the people.[53]

In short, the subaltern perspective today questions the hegemonic reading of the missionary era. The contribution of the missionaries in translation, vernacular renewal and social change is a historical reality. Perhaps their most significant contribution in India was to break the spiritual sanction of caste. The spiritual fervor created by western education and the renaissance of traditional religions, both closely associated with the missionary period, contributed, perhaps more than any other factor, to social reform and the consequent awakening and humanization of the marginalised communities.  

While acknowledging the rich contributions of the missionaries, it is also significant that the subaltern theologians do not consider the missionary era as an unmixed blessing. The general approach of the western missionary movement was to lead people to renounce their respective religious affiliations and to become Christian. It was assumed that Christianity which had taken shape in the West was normative.[54] Plurality is to be seen as God’s gift and the Christian mission too must respect the religious integrity and faith commitment of the people of other religions. The approach of the western missionaries was often perceived as being insensitive to the local cultures. Analyzing the theology of Arvind P. Nirmal, considered as one of the pioneers of Dalit theology in India, J. Russell Chandran writes,

Nirmal’s theology does challenge us to abandon the traditional missionary policy and call upon people of all faiths to believe in Jesus Christ and become disciples of Jesus, telling them that when they believe in Christ they are not required to renounce their religious beliefs and practices unless they are contrary to the mind of Christ, such as idolatry, superstitions, caste discrimination, corrupt practices etc. Christ came to fulfill, not to destroy; to enrich not to impoverish. We certainly have the responsibility of helping the people of other faiths to know Jesus Christ and become his disciples and to discern which practices are against Christ.[55] 

V. Devasahaym, another Dalit theologian, also question the missionary approach asking whether their strategy was `not only in favor of upper caste people but was also biased against the low caste people and dalits because it was feared that their entry into the church would lead to `baptized heathenism’ and become a deterrent for upper caste people from embracing Christian faith.[56] It was generally when the upper castes and the Syrian Christians rejected the missionaries that they turned to the dalits and the other lower sections. `It was the Dalits, (not missionaries) who took the initiative in mass movements and the missionaries were forced to respond to this Dalit initiative’.[57] 

These criticisms are not entirely unfounded. In several respects, the identity and structures of the church established by the missionaries in most parts of India to this day retain several aspects of the western church. vhe general image that the Indian Christians are mere appendages of the western culture is too deep rooted to be easily changed. Did the missionary, directly or indirectly, aid the process of colonialism in the country, as charged by several historians? Did they really favor the elite and the upper castes over the marginalised people, as the subaltern theologians themselves charge? Did the initiative for liberation come primarily from the missionaries or the subaltern people? There are conflicting accounts on all these, about the real intentions of the missionaries. What is important however is not so much the intentions, as the consequence. As Lamin Sanneh puts it, `Western missionaries provided some of the most important categories for understanding intercultural encounter, whether or not such encounter conformed to their motives and intentions or in other ways was to their credit’.[58] 

The distinction that Nirmal draws between `religious beliefs and practices’ in general and those that are `contrary to the mind of Christ’ is significant. The role of the missionaries in undermining the religious beliefs and practices of the country has been well documented, both in academic as well as church history. Equally important is the missionary perception that a casteist society and Christianity can never go together. For long years, traditional Christianity in India sanctified the tribal, caste, class and folk divisions without opening them up for transformation in the light of the New Humanity in Christ.[59] The first effective challenge to the caste - class hegemony of both the Indian church and society was posed by the missionaries. That also partly accounts for the resistance to the missionaries, especially when the country was at the threshold of independence. It is significant that the call to the missionaries to `go back home’ came generally from the western - educated, upper caste, male, Indian Christian leadership. Their attempt was to make the Indian church `truly Indian’. The criticism of the subaltern sections is that the church has been trying to become `Indian’ in terms of the Sanskritic culture. While the desire of the Indian leaders for the church to take local roots was truly a reflection of the anti-imperialisvic climate of that period, the virtual exclusion of the marginalised people from the leadership would raise questions such as, whose concerns were the church leaders really representing?   

In short, it is neither by endorsing entirely nor condemning the history of the missionary era, but from a critical review  of the period, especially from the perspective of the victims of history alone that a truly Indian Christian mission theology, representative of all Indians, can evolve. A reappraisal of the history of Christian witness in India in general and the role of the missionary era has enormous contemporary relevance. The socio-political context of India today is surcharged with the rise of religious fundamentalism and attacks on minority communities. Hindu fundamentalist forces, comprising largely of high castes and landlords, have shed their inhibitions and have assumed centre-stage roles in re-defining the history of the land and threatening the very secular and social fabric of the country. The primary targets of the fundamentalist forces are the Christian mission work, especially among the Dalits and tribals. The underlying assumption is that the awakening of the marginalised sections will threaten the very social structure of the caste system and landlordism. In such a context, a generalized call for `Indian Christian theology’ or an `Indian church’ would be futile. As long as caste and the ownership of land continue as the fundamental realities of the Indian social structure, the authenticity and relevance of the church and theology will be judged by its sensitivity to this situation.  

Paradigm shift

Baptism, the church and koinonia in the context of Gospel and cultures are still central to a discussion on Christian witness in India, but there has been a paradigm shift, especially in recent years. The interaction of the gospel with the local context has been the theme of Christian mission for well over three centuries. Reference has already been made to the efforts of De Nobili to build Christianity in India along the lines of the great religious traditions of the land. Using the idioms of Hindu culture and religion, he laid the foundation for what eventually came to be known as  indigenous Christianity. M. M. Thomas associates himself with De Nobili’s  experiment of forming the church within the Hindu community though he"criticizes him for separating `sociological realities entirely from renewal in Christ’ by not reckoning with the seriousness of caste divisions.[60] One of the major theological shifts in India in recent years however is the emergence of subaltern theologies that affirm the centrality of sociological realities as the context of theology. The subaltern critique stems basically from a recognition of caste as an important theological and sociological category. It is widely recognized that the Indian society is arranged basically on the caste system. Sociologists like Louis Dumont maintain that caste system is inconceivable apart from the Hindu context. Dalit theologians today maintain that unlike the gods of the Hindu pantheon who rob Dalits of their life and dignity in association with the powerful, the Biblical God constantly rejects the dominant values and refutes human images of God and ourselves. Reflecting on the story of Cain and Abel, V. Devasahayam notes, 

God fails to give Cain self confirmation and turns Cain’s scale of values upside down. God refuses to stand with the first born, the great ones but goes after the weak ones, the “younger brothers”. It has been true in the experience of Dalits in India that in spite of Christian missionaries targeting upper caste people, God in Christ has chosen mostly the weak, the illiterate, untouchables to constitute the Indian Church and has chosen to touch India through the hands and minds of the untouchables.[61] 

Though there was a visible Christian presence in India from the early centuries, the Dalit experience was that just as the mainline Hindu society outcasted them, the traditional Church too rejected them. Despite several  bitter experiences in the initial stages, the they today affirm that the first major breakthrough in their condition came with the missionaries and their exposure to the gospel of Christ. Several missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, realized that the Indian society is caste based and organized their work accordingly. They combined their evangelistic efforts with struggles against social evils and for the empowerment of the indigenous people. The gospel of salvation and liberation was perceived by the Dalits as good news and they joined the Church in large numbers during the mass movements. `They found church as a sign of the kingdom of Dalits, irrespective of religious affiliation, (and) have seen missionaries as the friends of Dalits’.[62] Today the Indian Church is largely a church of the indigenous people. 

The marginalised people of India received the Christian Gospel as fulfillment of their aspirations and as entry into the Promised Land. `The concept of Yobel year emerges out of the experience of the oppressed and becomes also their goal’.[63] The Yobel year tradition is today becoming increasingly popular, both in the church and the secular society, especially among the marginalised people. The biblical tradition of the Yobel year is represented both by the prophets of the Old Testament and Jesus who used the Jubilee tradition to proclaim his messianic vocation. The Yobel year involves a radical re-structuring of social orders when there is rest and liberation for the slaves, animals and land. It involves the forgiveness of debt and restoration of lost property. The Yobel year represents God’s favor with the poor and the dispossessed. Reflecting on the significance of the Yobel year from the subaltern perspective, a Dalit theologian notes, 

It seems to me that there are several points of convergence between the Yobel year tradition and the Dalit tradition. Dalits, particularly the Christian Dalits experienced, the modern missionary movement as the Yobel year, a year of God’s favor and have responded by joining the church in large numbers leaving their ancestral religions…. Though Dalits were subjected to abuses and hardship, we have learnt that turning to God, means also a turning away from all idols, false values that"enslave us.[64] 

The momentum that was created following the missionary period however, waned considerably as the leadership of the church passed on to `indigenous’ hands.  During the course of church history, the dalits, tribals and women have been considerably marginalised in the churches. One of the paradoxes of Indian church history is that the hopes of the people who came to Christianity in search of equality and justice, have not been fulfilled. The theological discourse in India during the post-missionary era too largely bypassed the indigenous people. As has already been noted, the arena for discussions on issues such as conversion, baptism and the church in independent India was the pluralistic context of `living faiths and ideologies’. The primary concern was, how the gospel of Christ could be proclaimed and others invited to be disciples of Christ within the corporate life of the Church, in a way sensitive to the religio-cultural context of India. The dalit and tribal theologians today question this approach and maintain that conversion and baptism have been traditionally discussed from the perspective of the elite and the upper castes and that there is the need for a paradigm shift. There is the need for a new perspective, and a new view point which is the perspective of the indigenous people. In India, Hinduism has been so much identified with the caste system that liberation for several dalits came in the form of Christianity. Theirs was a search for human dignity and self-affirmation. It also meant a new faith, a new community and a new identity for the dehumanized people. 

There are clear subaltern perspectives on baptism and the corporate life of the Church, which are distinctly different from the mainline theological thinking. An important trend in the ecumenical thinking of Christian mission in India is that, since Christ transcends not only cultures but also religions, the fellowship of the confessors of faith in Jesus as the messiah should not separate themselves from their original religions  but should form fellowships of Christian faith in those communities themselves, and that  so long as the law sees baptism as transference from one religious community to another, it should not be made a condition for entry into the fellowship of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper but rather made a sacramental privilege for later use.[65] The basic assumption here is that the Church is not only a theological entity but a sociological one too. In a community like India, polarized to the core on caste-community lines, it was assumed that it would be ideal to speak of the church in the non-communal sense. To the Dalits and Tribals however, it would be impossible to think of a non-communal church in a communal society like India; the point is, on whose side is the church? `The Church becomes the body of Christ in so far as it is prepared to identify, express its solidarity with the oppressed community in our caste society - the Dalits, the tribals, the women, the backward class’.[66] The understanding of baptism is also relevant in this context. The resistance against receiving baptism is perceived by the Dalits as a reluctance to discard our loyalties, allegiances and identity. As Devasahayam further puts it, 

The Church however is a place where we celebrate our identities in Christ as the primary identity. If we still want to hold on to our social and cultural identities, I do not know how it will become a church of the Christ where the primary identities need be withdrawn in terms of our relationships, in terms of our faith to Jesus Christ. So to me the sin of the church is not that it has isolated itself from the social and cultural community but precisely it has failed to isolate itself to come out of this cultural and social community and it has failed to evolve a new social order.[67]

The indigenous people today question the established Indian Christian theological approach to mission. Their perspectives become significant as over eighty percent of converts to the Christian church are from the various subaltern communities. Their insistence that conversion to Christ cannot simply be understood from the elitist perspective, demands a radical review of the existing mission paradigms. The concept of the Yobel year as a period of repentance and transformation is common to all indigenous people. To the Dalits, tribals, fisher folk and women, among the most marginalised people in India, Christianity  came as liberation from their ages of oppression and exclusion. The betrayed people are today longing for the experience of Yobel year. Indigenous theologies represent the marginalised people’s reflections on a system that religiously and socially sanctioned their enslavement, and their undying hope to regain a lost humanity.  

In the context of the history of Christian mission in India, there is  however another side to conversion and baptism. Conversion and baptism in India invariably involve a radical break with one’s social and cultural past. Of course, the subaltern perspective that the past for them is the history of oppression and marginalisation and therefore in the new faith rooted in the understanding of a new identity in Christ, a radical break with the past is essential, is important. Conversion in such a context is a powerful social and political weapon as well. However, the history of Christian mission in India seldom led to a radical social upheaval, but rather, left the new converts culturally  rootless, rejected by the traditional Hindu society and never fully accepted into the fellowship of the church comprising largely of the culturally `superior’ traditional Christians. Questions of conversion and baptism therefore have repercussions far beyond the traditional or subaltern theological or sacramental positions, and cover the totality of life.

Religion and Pluralistic consciousness

In conclusion, we will briefly go back to perhaps the most compelling reason for this study: the wave of communalism and religious fundamentalism sweeping across the country. Religion in modern India is invariably linked to secularism. Indian secularism is a product of modern Indian history, evolved mainly during the days of the struggle for independence and later, in nation building. Secularism in India is defined as freedom from discrimination on the basis of religion and also, the promotion of renascent and reform movements in religions, especially those aimed at the liberation of the downtrodden sections of the society. The Neo-Hindu movement of the 19th and 20th centuries was in essence the struggle of Hinduism to build up a religious humanism in active dialogue with the secular anf socialist movements in the country. The Brahmo Samaj founded in 1828 focusing on deistic monotheism and a form of congregational worship to go along with a rejection of idolatry and caste, Arya Samaj (1875) which propagated refined nationalism and democratic Hinduism, Ramakrishna Mission with its strong bhakti and tantric traditions and also the socio-political thought of Aurobindo Ghosh and Mahatma Gandhi… all these reform movements in the context of the awakening of the marginalised people and influenced by the nationalist and socialist idealism sweeping the country, contributed to the evolution of a common platform for dialogue between renascent religions and social reform movements, in the process building up the foundation of a secular and democratic India. 

Several theologians and social scientists feel that one of reasons for the popularity of  communalism and religious fundamentalism in recent years is that this dialogue has now become dormant. Over the years, renascent forces in religion were overtaken by more aggressive and shrill voices from within. Equally important, the secularist movement, caught up in the web of rigid academic confines and political compulsions, turned dogmatic. The dialogue of the religious and secular, crucial for building up a secular ethos became dormant. In the words of M.M.Thomas, ` It is my conviction that it is the strengthening of the closed secularism with  this total privatization of religion and the development of what may be called Dogmatic secularism which rejects any relevance of religious values in the public realm, along with the slackening and marginalising of religious and social reform movements that have created the spiritual vacuum which is now sought to be filled by religious fundamentalism and communalism.[68] Thomas however goes on to say that the hope for a secular India lies not so much in the separation of religion and society but in the positive and healthy interaction of the renascent and liberative elements in both. In his own words, `if religion is part of the problem in India, religion must also be part of the solution’.

Traditionally, Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities living together were largely isolated from each other without any meaningful spiritual interaction. In societies like India, physical nearness of several communities did not produce any meaningful pluralistic consciousness. One of the characteristics of modern history in India however is the emergence of a pluralistic consciousness among the various subaltern people.  It is this situation of isolation without mutuality that is now being broken with the emergence of the moral challenge of the single history to each and all. It is the moral responsibility for world community that makes for pluralistic consciousness worldwide. The moral concern for our common historical destiny provides not only the common framework but also the common language and common reference point for discourse at depth on the varied approaches to the ultimate human destiny.[69] Any kind of meaningful interfaith dialogue in future would be possible only in the context of this emerging pluralistic consciousness.

The subaltern theologians too affirm the emerging pluralistic consciousness but insist that that be understood within the fundamental contradictions of the Indian society. India is a land of diversity. The people are divided not only into a rich and poor society but the rich has power over the lives of the poor. An acknowledgment of real differences and sharing the richness of a very diverse history therefore is central to the emerging pluralistic consciousness. The common struggles of people cutting across religio-cultural differences on justice issues would make pluralistic consciousness relevant to the subaltern people. As Gabriele Dietrich puts it, this again is a task for people’s movements where members join on the base of issues and of a common cause, irrespective of caste or religious community or at least with the thrust that these primeval loyalties can be overcome in the common struggle for transformation.[70] 

What pluralistic consciousness does mean for Christology too is important, especially in the Indian context where Christ and the vision of the cross had a tremendous impact on social reformers of other faiths like Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda and even on atheistic secular ideologues like Ram Manohar Lohia and Ashok Mehta. The challenge before the Church today is to grapple with the meaning of the cross and the crucified Jesus that inspired not Christians alone, but people of all communities.  Thomas maintains that while such a Christology is predominantly anthropological in content, it is a faith response to Jesus as the bearer of New Humanity. And for this same reason, an `undefined umbrella-God or Universal Religion’ cannot be the basis for an authentic Christology in relation to pluralism.[71] What is affirmed is the New Humanity of Christ which not only transcends Christianity, other religions and atheistic ideologies, but also transforms them from within. 


In the highly pluralistic context of India, the search for relevant patterns of mission and evangelism in most cases is also an encounter between the Christian faith and other faiths, raising questions of gospel and culture at the theological level. The intrinsic relation between religion and culture also thus becomes central to our search for new paradigms of mission and evangelism. 

The search for relevant patterns of Christian witness needs to be rooted firmly within the complexities of the Indian Church, religions and cultures. There is also the need to raise questions about the ongoing ecumenical discussions on `gospel and culture’ (often used in the singular). There is today a fear that the complexities (or plurality) of societies like India are not sufficiently appreciated in these discussions. India is a land of diversities. Diversities in religion often tend to overlap with sociological divisions. There is therefore the need to understand the theological aspects of gospel and cultures in relation to the sociological realities. The perspective of the indigenous people that it is the Christian faith, brought to them by the western missionaries, that liberated them from their traditional bondage and exclusion, is significant in this context. Such insights also call for a re-appraisal of the role of missions and missionaries, from the perspective of the people. The debate on mission at this stage becomes elevated from the plane of  a singular native `culture’ versus western mission, to the complexities within the native cultures  (essentially plural) and their diverse responses to the impact of the Christian mission. It is equally important to distinguish the missions of the church in relation to the mission of the church. As D.T.Niles put it, `There is no task greater right now than that of re-defining the missions of the churches in terms of the mission of the church’.[72] Indeed, the subaltern perspective of mission becomes the Indian contribution (or corrective) to the current ecumenical discussions on gospel and cultures.

In the final analysis, enabling various cultural expressions to be in dialogue with each other, thus bringing these diverse expressions into mutual accountability in Christ, becomes not only essential, but our theological task today. The gospel that meets people of other faiths with the message of salvation needs also to challenge the church to transcend its walls of cultural and historical prejudices. This is a process of double conversion. While bearing witness to the redemptive act of God  through Christ in history, both the evangelist and the church too need to be open to the possibility of God’s presence and work among people of all faiths. The tension between our openness (vulnerability) in a pluralistic situation and our commitment to evangelize needs to be central to our discussions today. The tension is between our recognition and affirmation of God’s presence and work among people of all faiths and our own commitment to bear witness to the lordship of the Jesus of Nazareth. 

[1] Doing Christian Theology in Asian ways, ATESEA Occasional Papers, No.12

[2] Alf Hiltebeitel, The Encyclopedia of Religion, p. 337

[3] Ibid., p. 357

[4] The Statement of the Bombay Workshop on Mission and Evangelism in an Urban Technological Society, October, 1995

[5] Statement of  the Workshop on `Mission and Evangelism: in Dialogue with other faiths’, Hyderabad, July, 1997

[6] Dharmaraj, Jacob S., Colonialism and Christian Mission: Postcolonial Reflections, ISPCK, Delhi, 1993, p. xvi

[7] Bosch, David J., Transforming Mission: Paradigm shifts in Theology of Mission, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1991,  p. 227

[8] Ibid., pp. 226-227

[9] Ibid., p. 275

[10] Bosch, op. cit., pp. 303-304

[11] Ariarajah, S. Wesley, Gospel and Culture: (An Ongoing Discussion within the Ecumenical Movement), WCC Publications, Geneva, 1994, p. viii

[12] Ibid, p. vi

[13] Ibid, p. 19

[14] Ibid

[15] Dharmaraj. op. cit., p. xix

[16]  Nirmal Minz, Meaning of Tribal Consciousness in Religion and Society, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, p. 12

[17] Bosch, op.cit., p. 303

[18] Sanneh, Lamin, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1989, p. 102

[19] Thomas, M.M., A Diaconal Approach to Indian Ecclesiology, CIIS, Rome & CSS, Tiruvalla, 1995, pp. 65-66

[20] Ibid., p. 123

[21] Knitter, Pcul F., No Other Name? Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1985,  p. 111

[22] George R. Hunsberger, Bearing the witness of the Spirit, (Lesslie Newbigin’s Theology of Cultural Plurality), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan/ Cambridge, UK, 1998, p. 169

[23] Thomas, M.M., Some Theological Dialogues, CLS, Madras, 1977, pp. 115-116

[24] D.S.Amalorpavadas, The Theology of Indirect Evangelisation, pp. 10-11

[25] Ibid, p. 14

[26] Abraham, K.C., Mission and Evangelism in India - A Historical Appraisal, p. 2

[27] John, J. & Athyal, Jesudas, Religion, State and Communalism: A Post-Ayodhya Reflection, Christian Conference of Asia, Hong Kong, 1995, p. 98

[28] Thomas, M.M., An Assessment of Tambaram’s Contribution to the Search of the Asian churches for an Authentic selfhood, in International Review of Mission (World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1988), p. 394

[29] Ibid., p. 393

[30] Ibid.

[31] Hunsberger, op. cit., p. 178

[32] Ibid., p. 179

[33] Some Theological Dialogues, op. cit.,  p. 112

[34] Religion, State & Communalism,  op. cit., p. 105

[35] Hoefer Herbert E., Debate on Mission, Gurukul Lutheran Theologcial College and Research Institute, Madras, 1979, p. 321

[36] Ibid, pp. 321, 312

[37] Some Theological Dialogues, op. cit., p. 135

[38] Hunsberger, op. cit., p. 180

[39] Quoted, An Assessment of Tambaram, op. cit., p. 393

[40] Newbigin, Lesslie, Relevance of Trinitarian Doctrine, pp. 23-24

[41] An Assessment of Tambaram, op. cit., p. 393

[42] Some Theological Dialogues, op. cit., pp. 121-122

[43] Ibid. p. 113

[44] Knitter, Paul F., No Other Name? Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1985,  p. 111

[45] Kumari, Prasanna, Liberating Witness, Gurukul, Madras, 1995, p. 11

[46] Ibid., p. 12

[47] Ibid., p. 13

[48] Hoefer, Herbert E., Debate on Mission, Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute, Madras, 1979, p. 403

[49] R. Madhavan Nair, In solidarity (Frontline Online, Vol. 16, No. 3, Jan. 30 - Feb. 12, 1999), p. 2

[50] Thomas, M.M., Towards an Evangelical Social Gospel, CLS, Madras, 1977, pp. 18-19

[51] A.M.Mundadan, History of Christianity in India (Vol.I), p.1

[52] Minz, Nirmal, Mission and Evangelism in Jharkhand context (Unpublished paper)

[53] Ibid

[54] Chandran, J. Russell, Rev. A.P.Nirmal - A Tribute, National Christian Council Review (Nagpur, India), January, 1997, p. 32

[55] Ibid., p. 33

[56] Devasahayam, V., Outside the Camp: Biblical Studies in Dalit Perspective, Gurukul, Madras, 1992, p. 37

[57] Ibid., p. 38

[58] Sanneh, Lamin, Encountering the West: Christianity and the Global Cultural Process: The African Dimension, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 1993, p. 152

[59] A Diaconal Approach, op. cit., p. 67

[60] Ibid, pp. 174-175

[61] Outside the Camp, op. cit.,  p. 11

[62] Devasahaym, V., Turn to God - Rejoice in Hope (Reflections from the Dalit Perspective), NCC Review, Nagpur, November, 1998, p. 832

[63] Ibid., p. 831

[64] Ibid., p. 832

[65] Religion and Society, March 1972

[66] Religion, State and Communalism, op. cit., p. 112

[67] Ibid.

[68] Religion, State & Communalism, op. cit., p. 14

[69] Thomas, M. M., Christology and Pluralistic Consciousness (NCC Review, January, 1987), p. 5

[70] Religion, State & Communalism, op. cit., p. 116

[71] Thomas, Christology, op. cit., p. 9

[72] Niles, D. T., Upon the Earth, p. 16