December 14, 2019
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Religion and the Rise of Indian Christians (feat. Nigel Ajay Kumar) | D’Localites Podcast

Hello world! This is D’Localite podcast
coming to you from Bangalore City. Right now we are here at SAIACS and I have Nigel Ajay Kumar with me. We are going to speak to him about one of his books that he’s written called “What is religion? A Theological Answer.” Besides that there are a number of questions that have been looming in my mind about
not only the book, about Christianity in India and even in the whole political scenario,
the number of things that have been happening just around Christians. So we’re going to speak to Nigel about various things and
we’d love to… I mean if you have any questions about what we’ve spoken, we’d
love to hear from you and do let us know write to us or go to our podcast website:
D’ And so today we have Nigel. And Nigel is a professor at SAIACS. Nigel, why don’t you tell us more about yourself. Ok. My name is Nigel and I teach Theology at SAIACS, which is a particular kind of Christian studies where we focus on doctrines and how to think related to scripture And how do we look at the world from a Christian point of view. That’s largely how we would look at Theology. Before coming to SAIACS I used to work for Filmfare magazine. And it was at that time when I was working there for three years I really felt I didn’t want to be writing all my life about filmstars and
celebrities as interesting as they are for the world. I just felt that there was something more
that I wanted to do And so I came to theological studies. And as
I started studying here at SAIACS itself I found that this is what I want to do
more. I wanted to invest my life in studying the scriptures, studying about
other Christians, what they have to say and I started taking it very seriously.
And I said that, I don’t want to just study it but I want to help teach it.
And so that’s what led me to do my PhD in Theology. And then finally I
became a teacher here at SAIACS. So, just about the book though we’re not
gonna go deep into it, but you wrote about Indian Christian theology and
about this great person called Chenchiah Because Chenchiah for me, as I was
growing up in the Bible College where I did my BTh, this Chenchiah, Chakkarai or the three, the trio, who started the Rethinking Group in Chennai, really
influenced me. And I remember in Bible College BTh in Bengarpet, I was thinking to partner with a friend and maybe try to restart this Rethinking Group. Tell me a little bit
about this. So I don’t know if know what these words are, Chenchiah and all that. So let me just briefly first say about the book. This is the book. There are no more copies available. You have to ask SAIACS to print more copies. If you go on Amazon it’s 4,000 rupees. No no no. That’s the foreign edition. This is the Indian Edition. But that’s okay. The book was actually asking the question, “What is religion?” and what is how do we define religion as Christians because there are
many religions and so as an example I used an Indian theologian called Chenchiah who wrote in the [sic] 1940s 50s and 60s so he was writing around the time of the
Indian independence movement okay so like him give him, there were other Indian
theologians like Chakkarai, who was his brother-in-law and then there were other
people like Appasamy and then eventually Devanandan and there were
many of these Indian Christians who were writing and thinking at that time when
the British Raj was going on okay and so yes so that’s what you meant by the
Rethinking Movement that there were a few of these Indian Christians who said,
no look we need to find our identity as different from British Christianity but
we are neither Hindus or rather we are no longer Hindus but we are not British
Christians, so we need our identity as Indian Christians. What does it mean to
be an Indian and as a Christian? So they were fighting for independence
but they didn’t want to align with British religion but neither did they
want to align with Hindu religion. So who are they and how do they define
themselves was what the Rethinking Movement was about. And you’re right it’s
a very inspiring time they made a lot of statements that today we will be shocked
saying, how could they say that because they are so controversial. At the same
time just as a movement of Indians trying to think of who they are in
relation to Jesus, it was a very important history of who we are. Just going back to the
political scenario that we are in yesterday they were the number of words
that were played by a lot of politicians within our nation and some key parties
mentioned about vote for this particular group especially breaking down on communal lines.
And I mean basically asking especially the Hindu group to vote and the
other religious group were not part of for this whole political scenario and
this political party was not favouring… I mean it was chaotic just on the
news. And somehow there seems to be a disconnection with the Indian and the Christian. Okay I actually don’t know what you’re talking about.
I guess you have to be careful with what you say now. So there’s something I mean… without answering your question directly, Let me just give you a sense that… see in my book again going over here, Hinduism has had a very interesting history. It doesn’t start as Hinduism as it’s
understood today. Today’s Hinduism is very different from ancient Hinduism and even medieval Hinduism and so many people will say that the idea of Hinduism itself is a construct. Now it’s not for us to say that
to other people. But around two hundred years ago, a lot of
these, you can call them the Hindus started trying to figure
out who they were. And they started saying okay what is my identity in
relation to Islam and in relation to this British religion called
Christianity and they started figuring out who they were. And there were two
main movements that came around that time. This we are talking about 1800s.
And one movement was the Reform movement in the Hindu
religion. Where they said look the kind of practices that we are having right
now like the Sati or even the… and many other things that they didn’t like about
their Hindu culture, they said, Let’s learn from Christianity, let’s
learn from Islam and let’s try to become better as Hindus. So this was the Reform
movement that happened and a lot of people from the Hindus who never became
Christians were inspired by Jesus and said that we need to make a change in
our own religion in our own culture to make it stronger. So Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a classic example of that. And there were many people like that who
were starting to try to change Hinduism in relation to the modern era that was
happening. While that was happening there was another movement called the Revival
movement. What they did was, they said no no no we don’t need to learn from
Christianity and Islam, we need to go back to our roots and we need to go
back to our Vedas or we need to go back to our ancient religion and recover
that, because in that lies all our answers and so those people started
becoming a little bit more aggressive against the foreign influence or against
the people around them and they said no we need to go back. So for the Reformers
who said no we need to improve ourselves the Revival said yes we need to improve
ourselves but we need to improve ourselves not by listening to the
contemporary culture but by going back to our ancient culture. So the
Reformists were called the Brahmo Samaj And the Revivalists were called the Arya Samaj and the Arya Samaj has been very
influential in eventually in the RSS and and the contemporary movements which are very focused on trying to help Hinduism and to help Indian culture. And I would
not look down on them because the Revival movement is a very important
thing that happened in Hinduism but you can see what’s happening today is that
there’s a lot of push towards revival and less towards reform in terms of
learning from contemporary culture. So a lot of contemporary Hinduism especially
influenced by the RSS has focused on let’s go back to our past our ancient
trends. That’s where I would say our current parties are also influenced
by one or the other and you can see that some political parties are influenced more by revival rather than reform. Thanks for answering because I was trying to understand because somehow I thought they were
pushing it upon people, and I think I think parties around the country were
struggling with it. I think the Revival movement as a movement is a very important movement but it has also been politicized. So people have used the
Revival movement for political gain that that’s common I mean everybody does that
I guess but the idea of revival is a very important revival, even Christianity
goes through that, Islam goes through that, has gone through that in history. So Hinduism
has gone through that. That’s why I think we should be very careful in
trying to… we should not be putting down groups like the RSS and we
should not be putting down groups as a whole. Because what they are trying
to do is something very important in culture, they’re trying to preserve their
culture, they’re trying to preserve who they are, they’re trying to fight against what
they feel is unwarranted… I actually feel sympathetic.
See the thing is these are, as people, real people who are trying to preserve their culture and
I think it’s very important for a culture to do that. We can’t just accept
everything. Now there is also sense where we need to learn from others but that’s
a separate thing but it’s not our job to tell somebody else this is how you
should learn this not. As cultures we’ve always try to either protect ourselves or grow and learn from others. And so
we learn from our past or we learn from our present. And so we will see the
best movements probably are the ones that mix a bit of both. And I think there
are a lot of lessons for Christianity as well. But that’s why I look at
contemporary Hinduism and say okay I can see an emphasis on revival. That’s why
they’ll say things like, oh in the past they were televisions, in the past it was
nuclear, in the past there was this… we may think about laughing at it, but
it’s not about whether it’s true or not, the idea is, we want to recover the
past, the past has our answers that’s enough for us today and we shouldn’t get
caught up with the present, we shouldn’t get caught up with globalization and
Americanism and they might say things like that and even these foreign
influences, let’s go back to our roots and in that find a lot of wisdom to help
us is for a present. Hey thanks Nigel for answering that vague question that I asked. So Indian Christian, and how is the Church being influenced by all this
especially in relation to the book and theology. Yeah, so I think there are lessons in history and so [for] the lessons in history let’s go to 1940s and in fact probably the late 1930s. Around the late 1930s Christianity was
controlled by the West. I mean it was American British, [Protestant] Christianity was all
about that, so when they had conferences they would not invite Indians, they would
not invite Africans, they would not invite Chinese. It would always be a white male
controlled Christianity. So that was how it was common. By the 1930s, late
1930s a lot of the non-white started asserting their voice. And Indians were
one of them and what we find is for instance there’s one white Christian
called Marcus Ward who’s writing how Indian theology should function. So
he said this is what Indian Christianity should be like. So he writes a whole book about it. And then this theologian this Indian, Chenchiah, when
I say theologian he was a lawyer he was not he was not trained in
a seminary, he was not trained in a Bible College He just came from a Hindu background his family became Christian,
he became a Christian, and he started thinking about his faith. So as he
started reading this work by this Western person called, this is how Indian
Christians should be, he wrote a series of articles in the newspaper called The
Guardian about actually what Indian Christianity should be, unlike what this
guy is saying. He said yeah okay right there should be something we should
learn from him but he started devising a way of how should Indian Christians be.
And at that point fundamentally if you could summarize him in one sentence
Chenchiah said we take nothing but Jesus as important for us. We should be willing
to reject everything like Western Christianity, Western Church, Western practices, and the only thing that is real for us is Jesus. Because we have met
Jesus we’ve not met Christianity we have met Jesus. And the problem is that these
Christians and for them when they meant Christians, there were hardly any
Christians in India, but most of the Christians were there in the West and
these soldiers and these missionaries and all was mixed up. The politics and the cultures almost like the mission compound Christians Mission compound was actually another kind of Christianity. If I was to focus on the idea that we need to change Indians to become
Christians was one mentality that let’s see the westerns had. They had an idea
about what does it mean to be a Christian and so let’s make them into
Christian means let’s change that culture. And so a lot of people liked
Chenchiah but Chenchiah especially said no no let’s rethink everything let’s say
only Jesus because we love Jesus, Jesus has power, Jesus through the Holy Spirit
has power, Jesus gives us strength, Jesus gives us life. Now let’s focus on Jesus and try
to figure out who is Jesus for India, who is Jesus for Indians? And so what we find
in Chenchiah, what he does is, he looks at Jesus, and then using his own culture, he
uses people like Aurobino, Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga, he uses Gandhi’s nationalism and he uses even certain evolutionary theories that are around him which do
come from the West but also very connected to Vivekananda. He uses many of these people and he says look these
Indians, my own culture my own brothers and sisters like that, are saying so many
good things. Like Gandhiji is saying so many good things, and Vivekananda is saying so many good things, Aurobindo is saying so many good things.
However, what they miss is Jesus. They don’t really get Jesus. They get a
lot of things right like yoga, according to Chenchiah, is right. But they don’t get
Jesus yoga, they don’t understand what it means to be like Jesus. They get what it
means to build your body and so what he finds out this, it’s like Gandhiji is
right, that yes we need to focus on the nation and we need to focus on one
nation. But he misses Jesus. He doesn’t realize the place of Jesus for this nation.
And as Christians that’s what we need: to bring Jesus back to Christianity.
And not all this Church and this doctrine or that doctrine,
we get confused by all that. And we need to just bring Jesus in. So a lot of what
Chenchiah did at that time was discover a Christianity that said Jesus only; Jesus
and the Holy Spirit. And as a result he made, according to contemporary
Christians, a lot of errors. He rejected the Old Testament, he rejected the Church
entirely almost, and he rejected a lot of things that we would consider important.
Sometimes he even criticized the focus on the cross. He said why do you talk
about cross cross cross cross, Jesus died died died the whole point of Jesus rose
again, it should be resurrection that’s the focus. Why do we celebrate Good Friday?
We should be celebrating Easter. That’s our main celebration. So… he will horrify
some Christians today. He is also referred to as the pious rebel. yeah, like that. But some people won’t even put the world pious into him
they will say he’s just a rebel. But I find in him, notice when he is writing–
during the independence movement–these are people trying to understand who they
are as Christians so really I think Chenchiah was a very interesting person for us to learn from. And not that we have to repeat everything he says but
he stands as a person trying to figure out who is an Indian, who is a Christian.
And as a result, we need to define and discover who that is for ourselves.
That’s what I see is a good lesson even for contemporary Christians today. What do you think about the Church at the moment? I know you’re not so much in the background of Church, but then eventually when I think about a book like this, will the plane land (for the Church)? Oh, ya, sorry, my book was written more for an audience of academicians. But I have been thinking a lot about the Church in terms
of what does this mean. And I would say it means, if I will just simplify it, I would say that
most of us have what is called a belief in Jesus, or a belief
in God, that just comes from our pastors and our teachers and it’s as inside our
hearts. What some scholars call it embedded theology. It’s just our beliefs
that are inside us whether we know it or not, whether we really express it or not,
it’s already inside. So when somebody says Jesus, will say he is
Lord. We haven’t really thought about it that’s just what people have said and
we just believe it. And that’s an important part of our faith as a Church.
We have to hold on to the faith that was taught by our fathers and mothers. We
must hold on to this faith. But after that an important part of Christianity is
also what is called thinking again. This is an important part of the history of
Christianity, where you don’t just accept what was taught in the past, but you also
think about it for yourself. Is this really true for me? Is this really true
for my culture? And a lot of people like the ancient Christian believers, to even
this generation, have been thinking again of what does this mean for me.
So sometimes what our fathers and mothers have taught may not be fully right.
So we test it and we try it and we retest it. And this is what we call rethinking.
And it’s an important part of any Christians growth. Where we don’t just accept
what we are taught in Sunday schools, we also believe it in again. Where will test it and say what if it’s not true that Jesus is Lord. It’s not to doubt but it’s to
say, to think again, is it really true for me. And that I feel is important for the Church Because I remember when I was working in a Church and I was
speaking to one of the youths and I told her that listen theology is
important because it shapes the way we think. And she just brushed me aside and said theology is for theologians in academic institutions, it’s not for church members. Oh yeah, theology gets a very bad name that way and I understand that. We theologians are the cause of that, we deserve it. I think the
way we have taught theology is really bad. But I can say that that is partly
true. But I would say that what I mean by theology is that it’s not just learning
what is in the past but it is also thinking again. It is
about thinking about your faith and that is what we call the search for God.
We need to do that ourselves. And every generation needs to do that not
simply accept blindly what was taught but think again. I think and this is
where I would say I disagree a little bit with Chenchiah, no not a little bit in fact
fundamentally with Chenchiah. What he said was only Jesus is important
and as a Christian I would say, yes Jesus is important but how do you know about
Jesus? You know about Jesus because of the Bible. And so what I have been figuring
out is that ultimately it’s the Bible and Jesus that’s the most important.
I would not say only this part of the Bible is important. I would say the
scriptures, the holy scriptures, are important. And Jesus is important.
Now let’s rethink the way Christianity has been explained in America may not be so
important for me. The way Christianity has been explained in… may
be helpful may not be helpful… the way Britishers explain it. But as Christians
in India we really need to go back to the Bible, we really need to see who Jesus is connect with who Jesus is the Living God.
We need to be praying to the Holy Father again. We need to be revived by the Holy Spirit again.
We need to be looking at the scriptures through all of this and
saying, okay Lord, what does this have to do with India today? What does this have to
do with my beliefs today? And this is what I feel that, what Chenchiah hinted at, it’s what we need in our generation. We really need to rethink our
faith. How much of it is really just because others have taught us? And some
a lot of it is from the West. But what if we just take the Holy
Scriptures and say Lord teach me again, help me to spend time again and
think about what it means for me for our generation as Christians
in, living in India, living in Africa living in China. We really need to
rethink what does Christianity mean for us. Hey do you have any last words before we close this episode? Last words? It is finished. I mean, there’s so much to say, I really feel that Or you can speak about the future See, the thing is, and this what I’m saying is only a part of my book and
there’s a lot more to say that a lot more in my current research. But I really would say there’s two things that Indian Christians need to do. We’re not
trying to criticize, so basically don’t be quick to criticize Hinduism and
Muslims and our neighbours around you. Don’t be quick to criticize them. Try to
understand them. Try to understand their history and their culture and why they
are saying what they are saying. When they are… celebrating a festival
and it’s really loud or it’s really like like that… colourful,
understand why they are celebrating it. And don’t be afraid of it.
Get to know it and that’s something that I would say to Indian Christians that
don’t be afraid of your culture because we are it is part of our culture.
Of course we also have our culture, we are also different, but we should not be
afraid of it. And we should teach our children to work with the people around us.
So don’t, I think you used the word mission compound, be careful not to
protect yourself to such an extent that you cut yourself from your culture. To
understand that there are many good things around your neighbours. There are
many good things and good people around you. And be able to become close to them.
And this is not it’s not simply about… it is not just simply to bring
the love of Jesus to them… which is also important. We must bring the love of Jesus.
We must tell them about Jesus. That’s an important part, and that’s who we are. But it’s also just to understand who
they are. We don’t need to be afraid of the RSS, we don’t need to be afraid of
any other government, we don’t need to be afraid of… these are people who really
want to do good using their own understanding. They think they’re doing good,
so we need to understand why they think they’re doing good. And maybe
that’s why we can have dialogue. But at the same time, I would say the second thing
I would tell Indian Christians is look know who you are, understand your
culture, understand your faith. And know that sometimes you’re just doing things
because you’re being told to do it. Maybe your church has told you, maybe
somebody else has told you, but what if we say only the Bible can tell
us, and we as Christians need to start thinking again what the Bible tells us.
And it’s not to say that what people have taught us is wrong, but at least we
should think again. And that I would say is an important thing for Indian
Christians today to do. It’s not just love your neighbour, but try to love God again
afresh. Who is God for me? What does the holy scripture say? Let’s try it again.
Let’s say that maybe we would taught the wrong things. Maybe there were somethings that were right, there were somethings that were wrong. We need to be careful about
that. We don’t need to get into where and what is right and wrong, but just
trusting the Word of God, trusting the Holy Spirit, trusting Jesus as our Saviour
and trusting the Father that He is actually available to help us, this is
all part of what we need to employ in faith and go to the scriptures again
and say Lord what are you teaching us in our generation. So that’s basically if I
would sum up I would say this is what I would like to tell the Indian Christians today.
And myself. Thanks, Nigel and thanks for speaking to us about a number of things and pleased about the future as you spoke about it. And my desire
is that Christians in India would continue to rethink faith and continue
to dialogue with people of other faiths yeah yeah I think yeah so when you say
dialogue with other faiths. I’m just afraid of that because see not everybody
wants a dialogue you know not everybody was a dialogue
about faith and talk what did Jesus say Let’s be friends with them.
Yeah. I think see dialogue means if somebody gives you sweets you know
that is what I mean by dialogue. Don’t say, oh I’m a Christian I will not take, I will not celebrate with you just be careful that there are certain things
where you have to live. We have to take the bus with a person who’s a Hindu, you
have to take a bus with the person who is a Muslim, a Sikh. That’s how we live,
we go to shops where different cultures are there, we live and live and breathe
the same air, we are part of the same culture. That’s what it means. But what some Christians
have done is they say okay let’s talk about my faith and let’s talk about your faith and we remove ourselves from our lives. And we really
need to live with one another. Whatever that means. And yes of
course in peace and harmony, but it’s not simply about dialoguing. But no sorry, sorry I am sure you meant that.. live in harmony… so many words let’s just be friends. yeah but you know
there is a sense where Hindus and Muslims have rightly criticized their
own cultures. They themselves have said what is right and wrong about
their own religions. They know it. They don’t need others to tell them. And we can
share that we Christians have also done a lot of errors for ourselves in the
West in our history. And so what we do is when we say we want to live as friends
we also recognize there are certain weaknesses that we have. And it’s not
necessarily our job to always expose other people’s weaknesses but recognize
where they themselves recognize their weaknesses, and we ourselves. The moment
we expose their weaknesses and focus on our strengths we are not recognizing our
weaknesses. And I think we need to be humble in the way we bring Jesus to one
another. At least I can say that Jesus is perfect, because I believe that Jesus is
perfect. So bringing the example of Jesus living the example of Jesus, and rightly
responding to one another, recognizing that none of us are perfect. But
especially that everybody may have done something wrong, but there’s also grace
available, there’s also forgiveness available from God not from us. And God
himself brings the message of peace and hope for us all, is something that I
would love Christians to be more confident in. That it’s not about wrongness but it’s about the grace that God can give to all of us. Once again thank you for that and we do run a group at our Cafe at Stars
Cafe, called Rethinking Christianity, where we tend to meet every
Thursday. Of course the season is gonna start from June onwards. And our
desire is that we want to engage with people. We want to speak about it,
we want to understand, people in this country that we are living, and be glocal also.
And yeah, thank you once again for speaking to us. It was great.
And finally friends, great and please respond to us I am Sangster bringing
this podcast to you from D’Localites website.

Otis Rodgers



  1. Christian Book and doctrine Summaries In Hindi Posted on April 18, 2019 at 8:32 am

    Thanks for the video.

  2. Christian Book and doctrine Summaries In Hindi Posted on April 18, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    First time I came to know that, reformed hindus were called Brahmo Samaj and revivalist hindu were called Arya Samaj. Thanks bhaiya.

  3. Paul Jayakumar Posted on April 19, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    Thanks for the video… It is very informative…

  4. fedoracore321 Posted on April 23, 2019 at 7:29 am

    It would be good to have a discussion with Sashi Tharoor and Nigel!!