CMR Colloquium: “Religious Freedom and Conversion in India Today”: Reading John’s Gospel as a Jewish-Christian Conflict Narrative

Posted: November 12, 2015 in General

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There was another significant time of presenting my paper during the Center for Missiological Research [CMR] Colloquium, on 11 November 2015, at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, USA. Prof. Amos Yong, Director of CMR and Professor of Theology and Mission, was graciously chairing the session. The introductory lines of the paper are herewith:

[[The paper attempts to investigate how the narrator of the Fourth Gospel captures the socio-religious realities of the First Century CE through his narrative lens. The rhetoric of John is reflection of reality. In that sense it is a mimesis. In a context in which emerging Christian communities were denied religious freedom and were widely persecuted, the Johannine community members realized that their very existence was at risk. The community was undergoing persecution from the hands of both the Jewish religio-political authorities as well as from the Empire of Rome. Johannine community’s antilanguage and its antisocial outlook placed it well over against the Jewish and Roman power structures. While the narrator employs dualism as a major narrative means to decipher the realities, the from above ideology of Jesus is in constant conflict with the from below ideology of the Jews. In this way, two ideologies are brought into a sharp conflict (cf. Petersen, 1993). Through the usage of conflict and characterization as a major narrative devise, the narrator adds vigor and flavor to the narrative dynamics of the story and its discourse in order to turn it out as a dramatic masterpiece (cf. Chatman, 1978). This situation persuades the reader to pose the following questions: How does the narrator of John’s Gospel exemplify religious freedom and persecution both in explicit and implicit terms? How does the narrator convert the message from the Sitz-im-leben Jesu to the Sitz-im-leben kirche? How does the narrator employ the narrative techniques of mimesis and diegesis? How can the Johannine community realities be used as a paradigm in the contemporary Indian context where religious freedom and conversion remain as prima factors? The task of the paper is threefold: first, identify the Johannine tenets of narration to decipher the socio-religious realities; second, investigate how religious freedom and persecution are used as elements that the narrator propels to foreground the contextual realities; and third, understand the relevance of the topic in the present day Indian context where Ghar Wapsi and other anti-conversion activities are widely practiced.]]

Tobias Schuckert’s Missiological reflection of the paper is herewith:

[[Thomaskutty uses the Gospel of John as a framework to understand and interpret the struggle of the church in India. He uses three circles, the Sitz im Leben of the Indian church with the Sitz im Leben Jesu and the Sitz im Leben of the Johannite church to come to his conclusions (Thomaskutty 2015, 13). Thomaskutty’s passage may function to launch the conversation about how local churches can identify themselves with certain books in the New Testament.

Thomaskutty’s study resonates with van Engen’s framework of missiological research (1996, 23) that looks at the faith community (the church in India), the biblical text (the gospel of John), and the missional context (the Indian society). However, in Thomaskutty’s passage, the emphasis is strongly on the biblical text, his interpretation of the gospel of John. Therefore, following van Engen (1996), it would be fascinating to see how the Indian church would follow and interpret some of Thomaskutty’s statements. Has the gospel of John a greater impact on Indian Christans as other biblical books? Do Indian Christians identify themselves with the Gospel of John?

References

Thomaskutty, Johnson. 2015. Religious Freedom and Conversion in India Today-Reading John’s Gospel as a Jewish-Christian Conflict Narrative. In CMR Colloquium, November 11, 2015. Pasadena, CA.

VanEngen, Charles Edward. 1996. Mission on the Way : Issues in Mission Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.]]

Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

[GRI Writing Scholar, Fuller, Pasadena, California]

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