[Rev. Dr. Modayil Mani Chacko (PhD [Biblical Studies, Kings College London]) was Head of the Department of Old Testament Studies and Principal at the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute, Chennai, India, from 1990-2006. He served as the Director of the Ecumenical Christian Centre (ECC), Whitefield, Bangalore, from 2006-2011. Currently, he serves as the General Secretary of the Bible Society of India (BSI), Bangalore. He is also an ordained minister of the Church of South India (CSI).
Dr. Mani Chacko (known to us as ‘Mani Achen’) was one of my Master of Theology (MTh) Professors at Gurukul, Chennai. As a New Testament student, I took special interest in enrolling myself for “Old Testament Theology since 1900” as my course from other branch. It was a tremendous experience to learn under such a profound scholar and teacher like Mani Chacko. Our learning of scholarly contributions from Gerhard von Rad and Walter Eichrodt to Walter Brueggemann and themes like the centre of Old Testament theology, the OT-NT relationship, closed/open canon, and the like brought me to another level of learning experience. Moreover, he was instrumental in my appointment as faculty both at Serampore College, Hooghly, West Bengal, and at the Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, Maharashtra. It was my privilege to have him respond to my questions. My questions and his responses are herewith.]
Q 1: On several occasions, I heard that you were passionately speaking about your PhD supervisor Prof. Ronald E. Clements. May you share a few things from your learning experience with him? What you have learned distinctive from him and how that learning moulded you to equip yourself as a scholar/leader?
Response: Professor R. E. Clements was indeed an inspiration to me. His thrust on theological dimensions of the biblical text along with the historical and literary dimensions fascinated me. His primary argument was that the bible is primarily a religious text and a faith statement, and therefore it is important to focus more on theology than on history and other aspects. He used to state that the biblical-theological focus can be achieved not by negating other methodologies but by integrating them with that. So, his integrated approach to the Bible influenced me extensively and is still a force in my current interpretation of the Scripture.
Q 2: In my journey of learning, I was privileged to learn from you the lessons of the Bible at Gurukul, Chennai. What impressed me more was your scholarly lecture(s) on the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. May you share your views concerning the OT-NT relationship with us?
Response: The OT-NT Relationship has been traditionally seen using the promise-fulfilment methodology.The main assumption here is the promises made in the Old Testament times stand fulfilled in the New Testament especially in Christ. This way of looking at the OT-NT relationship merely on the theme of promise-fulfilment robs the riches of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament should be seen as the Scripture of the Hebrews and the New Testament as that of the Church. Each is a scripture by itself and this scriptural status and identity should never be ignored or overlooked. The Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible should be seen as a statement of faith of a group of people called the Hebrews and the New Testament that of the Church.God is a mystery and is viewed differently by different people. We the church or the Christian community should be more aware of this fact and that the revelation of God in Christ should enable us to be open-minded and sensitive to other Scripture texts and the other Faith communities.
Q 3: Tell us in brief about the argument(s) of your book Liberation and Service of God: A Theological Evaluation of Exodus 1:15-15:21 (Delhi: ISPCK). What is your significant contribution there?
Response: The text Exodus 1:1-15:21 has been chosen because it is a text much used in contemporary Liberation Theology. Yet, the intention was not to engage in a “liberation exegesis”, nor to render a critique of Liberation Theology. The overall goal was to establish a broad theological and thematic exegesis of Exodus 1:1-15:21, in order to bring to the surface the different motifs of prime theological significance which are inherent in the text. In such an exercise, it is noted that the liberation theologians in their use of the exodus text, project “liberation” as the central motif of the exodus tradition. It is argued in the dissertation that this is inadequate as there are other motifs of prime theological importance in the exodus text such as the charismatic leadership of Moses, the incomparability of Yahweh, the remembrance of the past, and the cultic motifs in the Exodus tradition. It is affirmed that these motifs, along with the motif of “liberation”, appear to be so clearly interwoven and interrelated that a separate treatment of each is necessary for a full theological understanding of the text.
Q 4: May you briefly share with us your thoughts about the “Exodus Motif” of the OT and its interconnectedness with the “New Exodus Motif” in the NT? How the “Exodus Motif” is seen as the foundation of the “New Exodus Motif”?
Response: The “Exodus Motif” of the OT powerfully conveys the theme of “a departure from slavery to freedom”, which is an experience of “life in all its fullness”. The “New Exodus Motif” of the NT also projects a “departure from slavery to freedom” to be found in Christ.
Q 5: You served as the Director of the Ecumenical Christian Centre (ECC), Bangalore. As a Biblical scholar, what were the measures you employed in order to foster ecumenism in the contemporary Indian context? How your Biblical professional experience persuaded you to choose thosemeasures?
Response: It was a rare privilege to have had the opportunity to serve as the Director of the Ecumenical Christian Centre,Bangalore, from 2006-2011. The centre was founded by the famous visionary and ecumenist late Rev.Dr.M.A.Thomas. I was deeply convinced that a Christian, if he/she is a true and practising Christian, has to be ecumenical in his life and work. With this in mind, several new ventures were initiated like the Bangalore Inter Theologate Forum(BITS), the ECC Neighbourhood Interactive Forum (ENIF), International Institute of Horticulture Management (IIHM), and the like. I find the basis of ecumenism in the Bible and in the God of the Bible, who is a God of all, irrespective of caste, colour and creed; one who desires and works towards a new world order where all experience that life in all its fullness, which Christ offers.
Q 6: We are happy that you are currently serving as the General Secretary of the Bible Society of India. Share with us the challenges and prospects of the BSI in fulfilling the scriptural needs of the varied people groups of India.
Response: We have so far been able to provide the entire Bible in 67 languages and New Testament in 72 languages. Making the Scripture available to all in a language they can understand and at a price they can afford continues to be a challenging task. Attempts are being made to focus on scripture engagement along with Bible translation, production and distribution. I feel strongly that the readers of the bible should be enabled to dialogue with the Bible and the Bible to dialogue with the readers to understand the deeper meaning of life and of God and of God’s Mission of Transformation.
Q 7: Finally, what are your advices to the upcoming Biblical scholars in the contemporary Indian context?
Response: Being a Biblical scholar is a lifelong task. This would need constant reading, review and revision. This can be possible only if there is humility in the scholar along with academic and critical intelligence. To me, a true scholar is one who is able to say “Iknow I do not know what I ought to know”.
Dear Mani Achen, it was nice having you to respond to my questions. Thanks.
Interviewed by Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India