From the Clash to the Renewal of Civilizations: A View from Jakarta

By: Amos Yong
Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

JakartaThat the “clash of civilizations” thesis regarding the coming Armageddon between Islam and the West, including Christianity in the most apocalyptic scenarios, remains an ominous possibility is no less felt in Indonesia than it is in various pockets around the world. Yet my recent visit to Jakarta, including stops at International English Service, Harvest Theological Seminary, Seminari Bethel (affiliated with the Church of God, Cleveland), and Gereja Bethel Indonesia GLOW Fellowship (in the Serpong suburb), suggest to me that the church in Indonesia may be poised to make a substantive contribution to the next generation of renewal theology. Here are two major reasons for my cautious optimism.

First, the postcolonial democratic philosophy of “pancasila” – literally, the “five principles” – puts Indonesian theologians in a unique position to contribute to theologies of interfaith encounter and relations, political theologies, public theologies, theologies of culture, theologies of contextualization, and theologies of mission in the context of 21st century globalization. The many languages of the many people groups may potentially become a resource for an authentic Indonesian theological contribution to these various theological discourses. If so, Indonesian theologians would not have to repeat what western theologians have been or are saying on these matters but can interject their own constructive models and approaches. I believe that renewal theologies grounded in the “many tongues of Pentecost” narrative of Acts 2 are in as good a position as any to facilitate such contributions. The fact that renewal theologies note and even emphasize how the various languages of the world can be instruments of declaring the wondrous works of God (Acts 2:11) is arguably an optimal foundation for the next generation of Indonesians engaged in the constructive theological task.

This is because, second, the contemporary Indonesian state remains what might be called a “mediating” context, perhaps par excellance. What I mean is not only that “pancasila” might mediate between Islam (the dominant religious majority of the country) and a religiously pluralistic world, but also that the history of this country has itself has been constituted through a series of mediations – for instance, between the colonial Dutch and Germans on the Western end (Sumatra) to the colonial Americans on the Eastern end (bordering the Filipino islands); between the indigenous Malay on the Northern side to the aboriginal Melanesians and Australians on the South/eastern side; between South Asian (Indian) and East Asian traders and their legacies and presences; between island-sharing with East Malaysians (in Borneo) on the one hand and with Pacific Islanders (Papua New Guineans) on the other hand; etc. Indonesian theologians who take their own histories, contexts, and geographies seriously are primed to think about a range of “islandic” theologies given the thousands of islands that make up the nation. Such efforts will foreground the distinctive particularities comprising the peoples’ lives amidst the criss-crossing trends that have marked the Indonesian experience over the last few millennia, and which modernization, urbanization, and globalization have accelerated.

Again, it seems to me, renewal theological sensibilities and intuitions are suitable for such a dynamic and yet important present task. Here, the ancient and yet future orientation of faith in the historic and also coming Christ can only be forged and articulated if there is a robust pneumatological theology that inspires Christian confession in a multi-lingual, cultural, and religious domain. Indonesia, in this sense, is a microcosm of what the world of the 21st century is increasingly becoming. Is it too much to hope that a home-grown Indonesian theology will be relevant not only for its people but for the global church, perhaps even sparking the renewal of the Christian theological tradition? I hope that its theologians will emerge, renewalists and otherwise, to take up the challenge of fulfilling the promise of a faithful and yet relevant Christian theology for the third millennium.

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Amos Yong
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