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What Can South Asia Teach the West About the Holy Spirit?

Categories New Testament Old Testament

South Asia Bible CommentaryThere has been a fascinating movement afoot within the Church since at least a decade ago: brothers and sisters in Christ from Africa, South America, and Asia have been teaching us Westerners a thing or two about Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

A prime example is the new South Asia Bible Commentary, a resource by South Asian scholars for South Asian readers.

Originally the brainchild of fourteen Langham scholars from India and Christopher Wright, SABC is focused on “building a bridge between biblical teaching and life in modern South Asia.”

I submit it’s also a resource for us Westerners, as it provides a non-Western lens through which to view the Bible and Christian theology. Given increasing global (particularly Eastern) influences in the West and the global nature of the Church we need such a resource.

Below is an example of the kind of biblical and theological insights SABC provides. As you will see, it offers to help us better understand the nature and purpose of the Holy Spirit. Not merely for South Asia Christians, but Western ones too.

South Asian History of Interpretation & Theology of the Holy Spirit

“In view of the ancient tradition of spirituality in the Indian subcontinent,” Ivan Satyavrata explains in an article on South Asian understandings of the Holy Spirit, “the subject of the Holy Spirit occupies a place of prominence in South Asian spirituality.” (1437) Yet how South Asians have traditionally conceived of the “spirit” is fundamentally different than the Christian view of God as a tri-personal being.

Satyavrata goes on to explain, “There are primarily two traditions in classical Hindu thought: one, the advaitic tradition, speaks of the Absolute as an impersonal Spirit, and the other, the bhakti tradition, speaks of a personal God.” (1437) This cultural conception has affected how some have conceived of the Holy Spirit: some have understood him as “the presence and activity of God focused in Jesus Christ;” others as a sort of cosmic energy, “the dynamic means by which the lives of believers and the entire cosmos is being transformed and incorporated into Christ…” (1437)

Given the dominance of advaita in Hindu thought, an impersonalist conception of the Absolute holds a greater attraction than a personal God for both Hindu and Christian thinkers alike. The West runs the same risk when it comes to the Holy Spirit, given the influence of Eastern spirituality and the way Christians sometimes describe the Holy Spirit as an empowering force.

Which is why “There is a critical need for the reverent realisation, based on biblical truth, that the Holy Spirit is not just an impersonal celestial force or an abstract link between the Father and the Son…” The West as much as South Asia needs to understand “He is the dynamic, personal, Holy Spirit of Christ – the khrista-sakti, who comes from the Father, through the Son, to indwell and empower those who confess Jesus as Lord.” (1438)

South Asian Biblical Insights into the Holy Spirit

At its heart SABC offers Western Christians several biblical insights, beginning with Joel. Commenting on God’s pledge to “pour out my Spirit on all people” in 2:28 SABC notes, “In the past only a few individuals received this gift of spiritual abundance…But in this new age of blessing, all of God’s people will experience this bounty, irrespective of their age, sex, class or caste.” (1135)

Jesus reiterated this prophecy when he promised an “Advocate.” SABC offers this insight into John 14:16: “Jesus is the first advocate and the Spirit is his successor (1 John 2:1). Thus, the Holy Spirit is not Jesus in another form.” (1430) Another reminder of the absolute uniqueness of the Holy Spirit’s person.

Of Pentecost in Acts 2, SABC provides this cultural angle: “Put in Indian terms, the Holy Spirit, the pavitraatman, is the antaryaamin, the in-dweller, who will help those who experience him to be witnesses as far as the ends of the earth.” (1457) It also reminds us of what Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 12: “It is important that the South Asian church remembers that everyone who confesses the Lordship of Christ has the Spirit, and that all of these people have been given gifts by the Spirit. A truly charismatic community is both Spirit-centred and Christ-centred.” (1576)

Finally, commenting on 12:4–6, “Paul insists that there are different kinds of gifts, different kinds of service and different kinds of working”—even today. Paul emphasizes “their single source in the triune God,” which “are given for the common good and not merely for the private edification of the individuals who receive them (12:7).”

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These insights from South Asian scholars are only a glimpse into what South Asia Bible Commentary offers Western Christians.

By exploring it yourself “you will be fed by the biblical scholarship found in this book and inspired to theological, cultural, ministerial and personal application through the integrative writing found here.”

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