Peter C. PHAN, Christianity with an Asian Face: Asian American Theology in the Making. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003. 253 pages, index, paperback, ISBN 1-57075-466-7. $30.00.
Reviewed by Jill RAITT, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211-2600

Christianity is ceasing to be merely in Asia, but is becoming of Asia, argues Peter Phan, a Vietnamese American, in this well-organized, thoroughly argued, and fairly presented assessment of the work already done and to be done by Asian men and women theologians. Phan divides the book into three parts and eleven chapters. Part I, "Liberation and Theology: Methodological Issues" contains three chapters: (1) The Experience of Migration as Source of Intercultural Theology, (2) A Common Journey, Different Paths, the Same Destination: Method in Liberation Theologies, (3) Inculturation of the Christian Faith in Asia through Philosophy: A Dialogue with John Paul II's Fides et Ratio. These three chapters prepare the background for Phan's discussion of current Asian theologies organized by chapters according to loci such as (4) The Kingdom of God: A Theological Symbol for Asians? and (6) Jesus as the Eldest Son and Ancestor. Other chapters deal with Christology, the way to be "Church" in Asia, and the inculturation of evangelization, and catechesis. Phan discusses the work of individual theologians in the context of Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese cultures. Phan's knowledge of Asian religions is profound, especially those of East Asia, for example Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and the indigenous religion of Vietnam that colors the seventeenth century conversion of many Vietnamese to Catholicism through the enlightened and, for Phan, exemplary Jesuit missionary, Alexandre de Rhodes. Chapter 11, "The Dragon and the Eagle: Toward a Vietnamese American Theology" concludes the book with Phan's own sketch of theology.

Phan's primary thesis is that the whole church benefits from inter-religious dialogue and from the efforts of non-Western Christians to represent Christianity with many faces. From the Sri Lankan Jesuit Aloysius Pieris (An Asian Theology of Liberation, Orbis, 1988), Phan borrows an underlying principle for Asian theology: it must recognize that the majority of Asian peoples are religious and they are crushingly poor. That must be the foundation of Christian inculturation in Asia today. On that foundation can be built a firmly based church and a theology that reaches the people and honors Jesus' preferential option for the poor. Phan sees the likenesses to and the differences from Latin American liberation theologies.

At the conclusion of each chapter in Part II, Phan summarizes the main points, offers an assessment, and points the way forward. For example, after presenting the theology of Jung Young Lee, Phan appreciates Lee's relocation of the margin and hence of the "marginalized", but points out that Lee's criticism of western philosophy lacks understanding of the basic principles of that philosophy. To engage other religions fairly and effectively, theologians must thoroughly understand not only their own but also the other religion's fundamental principles. That's a tall order, but Phan seems to exemplify here what he asks of others.

This is a must-read for theologians today; no theologian can rest content with a basically European Christianity alone. The insights of more ancient civilizations can enrich the interpretation of the Gospel by recalling, as the Asian bishops have done, the thousands of years of philosophical and cultural reflection that underlies the great Asian religions. That reflection, like Christian theology, is based on stories of founders, folk stories, and parables. The stories of the Asian peoples provide insights as well and have become a fruitful source for the work of Asian theologians that liberate and broaden Christianity for its future in Asia and in the countries to which Asian emigrate like the United States.

The book is full of bibliographical references and would have been enhanced by a separate bliography since it will serve not only as an introduction to intercultural Christianity, but as a resource for further study. Perhaps in a second edition? The book deserves a wide readership. Congratulations, Peter Phan!

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