by H. L. Richards
In what ways might Christianity and Hinduism properly engage one another? What does true and dynamic faith and worship look like in India?
Centre for Contemporary Christianity, P. O. Box 4601, Bangalore 560 046, India, 2005, 218 pages, $15.95.
—Reviewed by Mike W. Stroope, George. W. Truett Seminary, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
In what ways might Christianity and Hinduism properly engage one another? What does true and dynamic faith and worship look like in India? These are the kinds of questions that prompt and guide H. L. Richards’ examination of Kalagara Subba Rao (1912 to 1981) and the ongoing movement of his legacy.
While one might think that the narrow focus of such a study would only appeal to the initiated or the specialist, this is not the case. In the opening chapters, Richards guides the reader through the complexities of Hindu identity with an overview of the definition of “Hindu” and by introducing major topics of religious Hinduism. In addition, he summarizes the difficulties of an imported, Western form of church not at home in mainstream Indian life. He discusses issues concerning Dalit Christians and the political and sociological confusion that surrounds conversion and baptism. In only forty-two pages, Richards succinctly sketches the landscape of the modern Christian-Hindu interaction and sets the stage for his presentation of Subba Rao.
Thirty-four songs are the lens through which Richards interprets Rao’s life and teachings. Through an analysis of these songs, Richards critiques Rao’s use of Hindu terminology, the foundations for his thoughts and his possible excesses. Richards judges that Rao was a faithful minister of Christ within the Hindu community of his day. Rao “called for and worked toward a truly Indian, even Hindu, expression of discipleship to Jesus Christ” (156).
Richards’ critical, yet sympathetic, examination of Subba Rao could be instructive to the reader in at least two ways. First, because Rao serves as a prototype of interactions between Hinduism and Christianity, an understanding of the positive and negative aspects of his life and teachings could give guidance to those who long to see the church thrive within modern India.
Second, Rao’s opposition to Western, rationalistic, organized religion could inform Euro-American Christians as they seek to experience the depths of and give witness to Christ in the post-modern context. For example, Rao’s over-reliance on experience and lack of a biblical foundation give rise to excesses and doctrinal tendencies.
This book pushes the reader beyond narrow, provincial and nationalistic portrayals of Christ and the church and affirms that the gospel has a home in all cultures and among all peoples.
Check these titles:
Bharati, Dayanand. 2004. Living Water and Indian Bowl, rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
Richards, H. L. 1999. Following Christ in the Hindu Context: The Life and Legacy of N. V. Tilak. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
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