Wrestling with God in Context—Revisiting the Theology and Social Vision of Shoki Coe, edited by M. P. Joseph, Po Ho Huang and Victor Hsu

In: International Journal of Asian Christianity
Simon Shui-Man Kwan Divinity School of Chung Chi College, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

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(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2018), pp. 359, Print isbn: 978-1-5064-4580-9; eBook isbn: 978-1-5064-4581-6.

Shoki Coe is arguably one of the most important theologians from the global South who had lived for 74 years in the last century to witness the enormous changes around the globe. As a theologian, an educator, a social activist, and an international church leader, Coe’s influence has extended and is extending far beyond from the Fourth World (a term he coined for his own country Taiwan, and other places similarly oppressed) to the global North. The impacts of Contextualizing Theology—a methodology for doing theology and structuring theological education that he advocated during the Third Mandate period (1970–1977) of Theological Education Fund—are still deeply pervasive. With his exposure to movements of various kinds in Taiwan, Japan, Europe, North America, China, and others, the horizon he brought to his time was both cosmopolitan and vernacular in its scope. Certainly, he is, as it is intended to be a recurring theme throughout this edited book, a prophet of our time. This comprehensive and impressive collection presents a multi-dimensional portrait of the epochal prophet that no previous works on him has given.

In the introductory chapter, M. P. Joseph gives a very helpful interpretive summary of Coe’s significance: “Among the various contributions of Coe, four specific involvements—in theological education, redefining mission and ecumenism, reimagining the church, and contextualization of theology—have been hailed globally” (2). As I have argued elsewhere (Postcolonial Resistance and Asian Theologies, pp. 39–52), with these specific involvements, Coe has given at the ecumenical platform of his time an irresistible momentum to the shift of the voice of theologizing towards the then emerging third-worldism. This shift signified a fresh discursive irruption of the South into the field of theology which saw lasting impact on the way theologians define what “good” theology should mean.

The subsequent chapters embody the richness of Coe’s inspirations. The areas of study and practice across which the hand of Coe’s legacy stretches include: theological methodology, decolonial and postcolonial theology, feminist theology, interfaith encounter, biblical hermeneutics, missiology, ecumenism, cross-cultural encounter, intra-religious engagement, theological education, Christianity and society, and so on. Moreover, part V of the present volume demonstrates that Coe’s contextualizing theology has been an important source of fuel not only for the theologies of the two-thirds world (Latin America, Africa, Asia) and the oppressed (the black), but also the West, like the UK.

The final two chapters are particularly significant in situating Coe’s unique contributions in his life context and the context of his time. John England’s chapter provides useful hints for answering the following questions: What were the formative factors that shaped Coe’s later theology? Who were those theologians that had inspired Coe? In what way was his experience in Taiwan related to his vision and innovations of theological education? How significant was Coe to Asian theology? Where did his third-worldism come from? How did the life of Jesus Christ serve as a lens to understand his thoughts? What did his ecclesiology look like, and how did the fast-changing world give shape and substance to it? How are text and context related in his thoughts? Yeow Choo Lak, the author of the final chapter, remarks that he is one of the “very few of Shoki Coe’s colleagues in the World Council of Churches (wcc) who are alive today” (339). As Coe’s close acquaintance, Yeow tells a lot of personal stories with Coe in this chapter. Readers will certainly read with great interest how a senior in the ecumenical movement was nurtured by Coe’s experience, his theological insights, his deep struggles with the text-context matrix, and, last but not least, his friendship. Yeow’s final sentences best conclude the edited book: “In a way, Coe’s contextualizing theology not only attracted some of the brightest minds to create fine ways of doing theology but also to enabled them to give the space needed to create more life-changing and lifegiving opportunities in making the text and the contexts ‘talk to each other,’ as seen in the other papers in the Festschrift” (350).

As with any edited work of comparable size, this volume comes with a rich coverage as well as occasional defects. For example, it should have mentioned the earlier version of Enrique Dussel’s chapter, which appeared in Postcolonial Theology edited by Hille Haker et al. in the International Journal of Theology Concilium 2013 (scm Press). Besides, as a researcher in the field of contextual theology, I would like to see a more comprehensive list of works by Shoki Coe, best including those unpublished writings now stored in various archives, such as the online available one at wcc.

This is a wonderful edited work that will serve as a gateway for theologians and practitioners to follow in Coe’s footsteps. I have listed it as a must-read reference for the Contextual Theologies course that I teach.

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