The cover of this issue of the InSights Journal for Global Theological Education features artwork from Katsuhika Hokusai, “Kajikazawa in Kai Province,” from his series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, produced in the first half of the nineteenth century. The image depicts a fisherman casting a net into the Fuji River, shortly below the confluence of the Kamanashi and Feufuki Rivers. (For more on the image, which is in the public domain, see https://www.masterpiece-of-japanese-culture.com/paintings/ukiyoe-wood-block-printing/katsushika-hokusai/kajikazawa-kai-province-thirty-six-views-mount-fuji.)
In the painting, the waves seem to rage around the angler, who holds tight to the lines that stretch below the turmoil of the surface. The depiction of a fisherman naturally connotes Christ’s call for his disciples to join his redemptive task as “fishers of men.” Those who serve the Church are called to engage a turbulent world, often navigating the convergence of socio-cultural factors for the sake of the Kingdom.
From its inception, the ISJ has sought to amplify Majority World voices and issues as part of a larger global dialogue on theological education. An inherently contextual experience, theological education takes place in a particular time and space. And that locus brings with it a particular set of needs, questions, and issues to which the scriptures and practice of faith speak. To draw on Hokusai’s image, the waves into which the fisherman casts his net are not an abstract set of waters somewhere but a specific river located under the shadow of Mount Fuji.
At the same time, local realities matter because they can offer inspiration to the broader body of Christ. In his recent work, Why Evangelical Theology Needs the Global Church (2023), Stephen Pardue reminds us that context matters beyond the application and communication of theology. Such a limited view would render cross-cultural interaction of minimal importance. He writes,
After all, if cultural context is to shape only the expression and application of theology, then a North American pastor or scholar need not be very concerned with how a Nigerian pastor is reading the language of sacrifice in Hebrews, or how the Chinese theologian is conceiving justification in terms of shame and honor. Whatever is substantive in such proposals will be unrelated to the culture in which it emerged, and whatever is ‘contextual’ will be irrelevant to someone in a different culture – except perhaps as a missiological case study. (Pardue 2023, 28)
As Pardue develops his argument for the value of theological development that takes context seriously, he demonstrates how the whole Church can help to generate our understanding of God as revealed in scripture and at work in the world. He writes, “Authentically catholic contextual theology requires, instead, viewing emerging local theologies as genuinely necessary partners in discovering and discerning the full riches of the faith and meeting the needs of the whole church” (Pardue 2023, 140). Theology and theological education benefit from cross-cultural interactions, as these provide greater insight into the fullness of God and his activity in the world.
At the ISJ, we firmly believe that where we do our theology matters. Whether one sees the outline of Mount Fuji, Mount Kilimanjaro, or Pike’s Peak in the distance, reflections from one geographical and cultural location can give valuable insights for others and feed the body of Christ. Considering how the war in Ukraine has shaped theological reflection, I recently wrote,
Contextual engagement does not mean limiting learning and application only to those specific places. Instead, contextual engagement provides insights that may benefit other contexts with similar questions. Furthermore, because we are a united body of Christ, what happens in each context reverberates throughout the whole. (Hunter 2022, 11)
We do well to look in multiple directions and to listen to multiple voices in accruing wisdom with regard to the content and practice of theological education.
And so this issue turns our attention to Asian perspectives. Although not originally designed as a thematic volume, as it took shape, this issue collected a series of articles rooted in Asia. These authors communicate perspectives from India, Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Philippines as part of the larger global conversation. As signaled by the cover art from Japan, this issue seeks to share these voices from Asia.
In her article, Dr. Eva Wong describes how the Bible College of Malaysia undertook a strategic planning process rooted in sustaining the school’s mission. The school identified challenges related to intergenerational leadership and mental health and developed a plan to confront these issues within their calling as a seminary. Mathias Gergan reflects on the development of theological education in India’s Himalayan region. His article explores how intercultural dialogue has shaped new realities that show continuity and discontinuity with the rest of the global Church.
Similarly, two more case studies provide insights into particular cultural realities and also convey knowledge applicable in other regions. Dr. Eric Sarwar encourages the cultivation of a theology of worship within Pakistani contextual theology. Drawing on educational theory from Mezirow and King, Dr. Allan Harkness examines student experience with transformational education in a Master of Theology program in Asia.
Finally, Karishma Paul reviews Willie Jennings’ After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging, the second title from the series, Theological Education Between the Times, reviewed in the InSights Journal (see K.W.T. Wong, 2021). Although the book addresses the unique racial context of the United States, Paul posits that it has broad value as readers from “colonized contexts experience the dichotomy between Whiteness and our own cultural patterns” (Paul, 2023, 91).
The original painting, zoomed out beyond the excerpt that appears on this cover, shows a young boy on the shore watching over a basket of fish. So, while the fisherman plies his trade, he seeks sustenance for himself and the next generation. In the same way, theological education should prepare women and men for Christian service (both vocational and volunteer) and cultivate reflection that speaks prophetically to the Church and society. Like Hokusai’s fisherman, we labor in specific locations but with an awareness of how our contexts are linked to a much larger whole.
Hunter, Evan. “Where We Do our Theology Matters.” InSights Journal for Global Theological Education 7.2 (2022): 9-12.
Pardue, Stephen. Why Evangelical Theology Needs the Global Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2023.
Paul, Karishma. Review of After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging by Willie James Jennings. InSights Journal for Global Theological Education 9.1 (2023): 87-91.
Wong, K.W.T. Review of Beyond Profession: The Next Future of Theological Education by Daniel O. Aleshire. InSights Journal for Global Theological Education 7.1 (2021): 59-62.