Learning theology from marginal voices
Listening and learning: BMS General Director Kang-San Tan talks about the need to interpret the Bible from all cultures, writes Kira Taylor
The new leader of BMS World Mission, Kang-San Tan and his wife Loun Ling Lee led a seminar called Learning Theology from Marginal Voices at the Baptist Assembly on Saturday.
The General Director, who has been in post six months, has family ties across the globe and the seminar emphasised the need to listen to the whole world, not just the West, to understand Scripture.
The Baptist Assembly this year had a global outlook with worship from countries across the world, including Zambia, India and the Caribbean. The seminar continued this global approach, split into two halves with Kang-San talking about African interpretations of Scripture and Loun Ling Lee exploring Asian approaches to the Bible.
Both speakers talked about how Western theology is dominant to the extent that people can forget there are other contexts. They emphasised the need for interpretations to be two-way with different global cultures sharing their own approach to theology.
The Asian and African cultures, more in touch with poverty and war, offer different translations to texts which Western Christians may have seen in only one light for years.
One interesting interpretation that Kang-San introduced from Africa was the voice of Mercy Amba Oduyoye, known as the mother of African feminism. Her perspective of the Easter story and the women going to the tomb revealed a fascinating new angle.
Oduyoye interprets the stone covering the tomb as the stumbling block, hampering the lives of the oppressed and sees its rolling away as a message of hope that accompanies the resurrection.
Loun Ling Lee took the second half of the seminar, highlighting how Asia is not one culture, but a huge variety of cultures.
She offered insights into how certain aspects of the Bible can make the most impact on those who live in an Asian culture, emphasising how countries such as Japan and China have a close connection to the land, to the mountains and streams, with Chinese names often deriving from nature.
Therefore, it is hard for someone from this culture to understand a world-denying faith. Instead, the glorifying of Creation makes far more sense within their understanding of religion.
Loun Ling Lee also highlighted how the Bible has been translated into different languages. For instance, she talked about Daoism and the culture of living harmoniously with nature. The word Dao means path or way and she explained how this is used instead of “the Word” in some Asian translations with Jesus becoming the “Dao” of life.
In the discussions, people highlighted the way that theology is liable to have blind spots if it is only interpreted from Western cultures, as well as the need to listen to others. This is not only to evangelise others, but can also teach us more about our own faith.