Friday, August 5, 2016

Holy Spirit in the Theology of Pandipeddi Chenchiah: An Indian Interpretation

The study of Holy Spirit has made a vibrant move in west as well as in east. We could find some sort of similarities and differences in the teachings of Holy Spirit in west and in east, particularly in India.  At the same time, there are indigenous ways for expressing the concept of Holy Spirit. In this context, we could consider Pandipeddi Chenchiah, one of the pioneers for explaining Holy Spirit from an Indian perspective.

Pandipeddi Chenchiah (1886-1959)

1.1.Methodology and Theological Approach

Pandipeddi Chenchiah was one of the prominent figures among the Indian Christian theologians. The Method and his theological articulation are somewhat different from other Indian Christian theologians. An analytical study on his life background and on the influential factors, which lined up his ideas, would be beneficial for knowing his methodology and theological approach in a better way.

1.1.1.      Life and Career

Pandipeddi Chenchiah (1886-1959) was born in an upper caste Hindu family in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh. Chenchiah and his family converted to Christianity and he was baptized along with his father Adinaryanianah in 1901. His father was a prominent lawyer who served in the Legal Department of Tamilnadu and became the Munisiff of Madras in 1901.[1] Chenchiah received his education at Madras Christian College, where he distinguished himself in the study of ethics and philosophy. Chenchiah further pursued his study in law and was appointed as a lecturer at the law college in Madras. He was later designated as Chief Justice of the High Court in Pudukottah. Chenchiah, along with Appasamy and Chakkarai was a member of the group, Rethinking Christianity in India in Madras.[2] Chenchiah and the others shared the spirit of national awakening.

1.1.2.      Background

Chenchiah was a convert from the upper caste Hindu family. During those periods there existed a high recognition of caste and religion. “As a convert from Hinduism and one who had carved out for himself a successful and honorable career in the secular world of twentieth century India, he was anxious to retain to the fullest possible extent his Indian, indeed Hindu, cultural heritage.”[3]Therefore, throughout his writings he had wider side lining with Hindu concepts and tried to relate Christianity with Hinduism. The impact of his designation as a Chief Justice can be seen in his theological thinking, all of which have a social dimension on human life. The philosophical perspectives of Sri Aurbindo Ghose and C. V. Venkatassami Rao attracted him.[4] Aurbindo’s idea of spiritual power, the idea of ‘super man ’or‘ Gnostic man and the idea of “internal yoga” influenced him.[5] Chenchiah was influenced by C V V’s yoga, which emphasizes a spiritual power that descends upon and transforms human life. This influence is evident in Chenchiah’s teaching of Holy Spirit. The French vitalist Philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) also influenced him.[6]

1.1.3.      Theological Method

Chenchiah is one of the most controversial and proactive theologian and has earned many critics. Although he became a Christian, Chenchiah did not serve the relation with his ancestral Hindu faith but he wanted to retain his Hindu, cultural heritage, which he felt to be threatened by the most organized forms of Christianity. G. C. Oosthuizen says that Chenchiah wanted to build a bridge between Christianity and Hinduism but terminated in fusion in order to create a ‘new religion’.[7]Chenchiah believes that Indian Christian theology stands on three pillars- Hindu Heritage, Pratyaksa (direct) experience of Christ, and...the guidance of the Holy Spirit.[8]Chenchiah is against the institutionalized church, the western formulated doctrines and the traditional categories of theologies set forth in propositional truth statement. His objection is that traditional theology impedes the free flow of the spirit in the deeper realms of social and individual personalities. Chenchiah moves away from the church dogmas to what he called the only one theological absolute in Christianity, namely “the raw fact of Christ”. He says that church doctrine and dogma should be tested before we accept. His strong inclination to Hinduism and his antipathy towards the institutionalized Christianity and traditional theology put him in an uneasy relation with the church.[9] One can assume his method which has social dimensions as an inclination to Hinduism by rejecting traditional norms of Christian theology.

1.2.Chenchiah’s interpretation of Holy Spirit

Chenchiah has not developed a systematically articulated Pneumatology. His thoughts on the Holy Spirit are scattered at random in his various writings. In order to understand this, one has to go through his writings and theologize them in a coherent manner. Chenchiah’s doctrine of Holy Spirit is interwoven together with his Christology.[10]Christina Manohar says, for Chenchiah, the statement about the ‘incarnation in the Fourth gospel “the word became flesh” could be interpreted as “the spirit became flesh.”[11] In order to make Christianity relevant to both Indian Christian and Hindus, he sought for a pneumatological foundation of Christology.

1.2.1.      Holy Spirit as Cosmic Energy

Chenchiah never affirms or negates the personality of the spirit. He seems to be content with the understanding of the Holy Spirit as a great creative power and energy, which he calls cosmic energy. It is used in the sense of the power of the Holy Spirit that brings transformation in the political and social structure of the world.[12]Chenchiah tends to see the Holy Spirit as an impersonal cosmic energy.[13]Chenchiah employs several Hindu categories. A more prominent category is mahasakti (great power). But it is not clear that whether Chenchiah identifies the Holy Spirit with mahasakti. He seems to find mahasakti or sakti as adequate categories to express the Holy Spirit as the cosmic energy to the great power, which will be more intelligible to Hindus. Another category Chenchiah used is visvakarma[14]. Rig-veda refers to visvakarma “as the personification of the all creative power and the architect of the universe, sometime identifies with prajapati. Unlike cosmic energy visvakarma refers to a more personalized creative power, the builder of the universe.[15]
In the use of these Hindu categories, Chenchiah does not attempt to identify the Holy Spirit with them, rather he seems to show the creative power of the Holy Spirit, perhaps with a view for making it more indigenous.

1.2.2.      Holy Spirit as New Creation

The most important interpretation of the Holy Spirit is found in Chenchiah’s teaching about the new creation and the yoga of the Holy Spirit.  D.A Thankasamy comments about Chenchiah’s understanding of new creation that “New creation is not just a matter of individual men and women being ‘born again’ in the evangelical sense of the term, but it is a further stage in the planetary life of mankind brought about by the release of fresh energy through a new and tremendous creative act of God”.[16] The new creation is closely linked with the kingdom of God. Jesus is the manifestation of a new creative effort of God, in which the cosmic energy is the Holy Spirit; the new creation is Christ and the new life order. A Christian became a new creation through a faith-union with Christ, a mystical union with Christ. Therefore Boyd says that all who are united with Christ become new creations and their life “becomes the yoga of the spirit and the sphere of that life is the kingdom of God”[17]. The Christian task is to realize this kingdom of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.[18] The new world order, the kingdom, cannot be ushered in through the cross and repentance[19], but through the Holy Spirit. So he laments that this concept of the power of the spirit is neglected by the church.
Therefore, for Chenchiah, Holy Spirit makes Christianity different from other religions. Therefore, he calls for the recognition of the power of the Holy Spirit and a return from the dependence on human energy to the power of the spirit. The exercise of this power is oriented to the realization of the kingdom of God, the new world order on this earth.

1.2.3.      The Holy Spirit and Yoga

Chenchiah perceives yoga in the Christian view as the transformation of oneself into the figure and image of Christ. Chenchiah does not fully accept the Hindu yoga; he finds the concept of yoga appealing for the task of new creation. He was particularly drawn to the yoga of Sri Aurobindo and Master CVV and their teaching about the divine power that comes from outside. Aurobindo speaks of a spiritual power that descends on a person outside, bringing about renewal and strength, which leads to a “new and better type of humanity. This new life can be practiced, and that “there can, in fact, grow up a new fellowship, where the new life of ‘integral yoga’ empowered by new spiritual force, is a daily reality.[20]Aurobindo calls this power as Supra mind and Chenchiah understands this as Holy Spirit.
Master CVV teaches about a new quality of life, which he calls ‘merry life’ that God brings into being in the world. This new life is given as practical expression in community by means of a special yoga of discipline of life whose main feature is the reception of a new kind of spiritual power. According to this teaching, the divine power comes into a person from outside and brings transformation. Chenchiah finds this thought of Master CVV as being closer to the Christian understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit.[21] The following two passages are a clear reference of Chenchiah’s idea of the Holy Spirit coming from above as a divine power.
Jesus was an earnest of the new order and brings into the biological streams a new cosmic power-personality, the Holy Spirit. Just as animal order begins with life, the human order with mind, the new order of life commences with the Holy Spirit. It descends on man and transforms him from the very roots- body and soul.[22]
The Holy Spirit descends on humanity and begets the son of God, thus making an entry into human beings permanently as a new order in evolution... the Holy Spirit presides over the new creation and lives in the sons of God as their atman.[23]
Taking two thinkers, Chenchiah proposes the Christian yoga, which he thinks will take Christian to a higher spiritual experience of Christianity and transformation of oneself into the figure and image of Christ.
Chenchiah finds the experience of Holy Spirit as equivalent to Hindu experience of yoga. But it should be clear that Christian Understanding of Holy Spirit is far superior to Hindu concept of yoga. Chenchiah was lined up with philosophical ideas of Aurobindo and CVV that the spirit is descending on human from above. However, when we critically examine, Aurobindo proposes a many steps have to be taken by the seeker before the supramental decent is possible.[24] It is not identical with the teaching of the Bible.  This is also similar in the case of CVV. Chenchiah was against church for seeking human effort to realize the kingdom of God. But the Hindu concept of yoga is a human effort to seek God.[25] In his teaching, he was much reluctant to speak about the cross. Without the cross, there is no forgiveness of sin, which is the first step to receive the Holy Spirit. (cf. Acts 2:32-33) and Holy Spirit is given to those who experience the forgiveness of sin through the death of Christ (Acts 2:38)

1.2.4.      The significance of Holy Spirit in an Indian Context

One of the significant things about Chenchiah’s Pneumatology is his conviction of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Indian church. He was concerned about making the gospel intelligible for Hindus. He believed that Christianity could be presented through the Holy Spirit to meet the spiritual needs of India. He says two reasons for that, firstly he identifies Holy Spirit with Jesus and calls Him the universal Jesus. He believes that earthly life of Jesus is limited to space and time but as the Holy Spirit transcends all human limitations. Jesus, as the Holy Spirit is relevant to meet the spiritual needs of India. Secondly, the Holy Spirit is the energy beyond the creation. Jesus, through this energy recreates a new heaven and earth. This offers hope for Hindus who seek to escape from the wheels of samsara.[26]Chenchiah seeks for a change in the outlook of Christians towards Hindus. For that he underlines the need to present Jesus to Hindus as the all enfolding Spirit rather than a man. A Hindu does not require a reform through a change of environment but by a transmission of the spirit. So Chenchiah is convinced that the Holy Spirit alone can lead a Hindu to Christ.[27] Enable Interfaith Dialogue

Christian theology may bracket certain assumptions in specific projects, basic faith commitments cannot be bracketed forever. In the case of Christian faith, the good news is that God has acted through Jesus Christ by the power of Holy Spirit to save the world. This Soteriological conviction cannot be bracketed in the interfaith encounter, at least not over the long haul. According to Amos Yong, disengaging with Christological paradigm and engaging with Pneumatological paradigm will robust the interfaith relationship.[28]What if the Spirit of God became a starting point for our conversations instead? What might the Holy Spirit be doing in the midst of people who believe in other gods? Eventually conversations will turn towards Jesus and feathers may get ruffled, but why not begin with something other than division? Why not start out with something that most faiths can relate to in one way or another? Talking about the Holy Spirit is an access point into a deeper dialogue and a deeper connection with people of other faiths. If people are open to the spiritual realm, (spirits, angels, demons, etc) then the Holy Spirit in that context can easily come into conversation as the Spirit that towers above all others. Conversing about the Spirit may be a channel to interfaith dialogue. Enable Mission in the Pluralistic Context

Multiplicity of religion is the other challenging issue in which the Pneumatological theology of religions is tackling with. It is important to see that how the Pneumatological category is dealing with the pluralistic context of religions. The apt example to discuss about the Pneumatological engagement in the pluralistic realm can be from the Indian context itself, where there are plurality of religions and diversity and unity within it. Yong finds that Holy Spirit makes possible a wide range of attitudes, posture, and practice for the Christian encounter with those in other faiths precisely because the Spirit makes present, and enables Christians to embody, the hospitality of God. This kind of perspective is vivid in the works of Chenchiah. Chenchiah in his work towards Pneumatology employs several Hindu categories of Spirit. Here, the works of Samartha seems as an amendment to the work of Chenchiah, where he was trying to develop a kind of dialogical approach within the Pneumatological paradigm. For Samartha, John 3:8, (The wind blows where it chooses …you do not where it come and where it goes) is a significant verse for his view that the essence of Spirit as “bondless freedom”.[29] Through this, he justified that the Holy Spirit cannot be confined to the Christian church but is present in and among all the communities of India. Kirsteen Kim observes that Samartha’s theological basis for dialogue includes a Pneumatological foundation.[30]The reason behind the development of Pneumatological theology of religions is for enhancing evangelism in a pluralistic context. Amos Yong convinced that the economy of Spirit was more adequate for mission in a religiously plural society.

Concluding Remarks

Chenchiah’s thoughts were profound and stimulating; they were provocative too and did not gain a broad hearing within the church of his time. Therefore, it is no wonder if the significance of the Holy Spirit that Chenchiah attempted to impress upon the Indian church did not meet with success. For Chenchiah the new creation and kingdom of God are the arenas for the operation of Holy Spirit. This work of Holy Spirit he understood in social dimension and not recognizing the role of the spirit in the wider salvafic plan of God. He was against in subscribing the work of Holy Spirit to individual piety. He finds the spirit is active in all sphere of the life. There is something good in the understanding of Chenchiah that, often there is a tendency for the Christian to separate the role of Spirit from the rest of the creation. There is a difference prevalent in the understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s mission. On the one hand, mission is reduced to mere social concerns. On the other hand, there is tendency to see mission in terms of individual piety and salvation. Chenchiah seems to fall into the former. The work of Holy Spirit must have to be seen in a balanced synthesis of these two different approaches.
Chenchiah’s thoughts are challenging and often incompatible with the scripture. This study reveals that Chenchiah made some serious attempts in his proficiency of Pneumatology. Despite of the critical approach of Chenchiah, which we have observed in his Pneumatology, his services to the church are not less important. Pneumatological emphasis should give sufficient room for the explorative and analytical way of seeing the work of Holy Spirit, which enable us to understand Holy Spirit in every sphere of the human life, both social and spiritual.

[1] P. V. Joseph. Indian Interpretation of the Holy Spirit (Delhi: ISPCK, 2007), 67.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Robin Boyd, Indian Christian Theology (Delhi : ISPCK, 1989), 145.
[4]Master CVV(Kanchupativenkata RaoVenkatasami) as he known to his pupils, was the guru of a school of yoga at Kumbakonam on the banks of the river Kaveri. His teaching which was wholly directed to practical living, was a reversal of the major stream of Hinduism which teaches non-attachment as the means of attaining salvation. So one need not to detach himself/herself from this life in order to discover the full manifestation of life. See in Robin Boyd,
[5] Ibid. 69-70.
[6] O. V. Jathana, The Decisiveness of Christ Event and the University of Christianity in the World of Religious Plurality (Bethe: Peterlang Pub., 1981), 353. For Bergson, reality is constantly becoming, and it is creative and moves upwards. This can be grasped only by intuition and not by intellect since intuition is in direct touch with reality.
[7]G.C Oosthuizen, Theological Discussion and Confessional Development in the Church of Asia and Africa (Franeker. T Wever, 1958), 39 cited in P. V Joseph, Indian Interpretation of the Holy Spirit...,68.
[8] M. M. Thomas, The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance (Madras: CLS, 1991), 163.
[9] P.V. Joseph, Indian Interpretation of the Holy Spirit..., 68-69.
[10]Ibid., 72.
[11]Christina Manohar, Spirit Christology An Indian Christian Perspective (Delhi: ISPCK, 2009), 153.
[12] P.V. Joseph, Indian Interpretation of the Holy Spirit...,72.
[13]Ibid., 73.
[14] It is also a Hindu concept associated with power, the creative power. Chenchiah connects God the father which represents what has not passed into creation. God the son represents what of him has passed into creation. He is AdiPurusha of a new creation while Holy Spirit is Visvakarma of a new world. See Christina Manohar, Spirit Christology..., 156.
[15] P.V. Joseph, Indian Interpretation of the Holy Spirit...,74.
[16] D. A Thangasamy, The Theology of Chenchiah with Selection from his Writings (Bangalore: The Christian institute for the Study of Religion and Society and Y.M.C.A, nd) cited in P.V Joseph, Indian Interpretation of the Holy Spirit (Delhi: ISPCK, 2007), 74.
[17] Robin Boyd, Indian Christian Theology..., 155.
[18] P.V. Joseph, Indian Interpretation of the Holy Spirit...,75.
[19] Chenchiah was critical towards the traditional idea of the doctrine of salvation. For him the Christianity is grounded on the experience of life, that why Frank Whaling says “Chenchiah’s emphasis was switched from Jesus as the saviour of the individual from sin, for a future in heaven, to Jesus as a term in the creative process’ who is at work within the cosmic and historical process now, preparing a new future for man here on earth”. See in P. V Joseph
[20] Robin Boyd, Indian Christian Theology...,146.
[21] Robin Boyd, Indian Christian Theology...,146 and P.V Joseph, Indian interpretation of the Holy Spirit..., 80.
[22] P. Chenchiah, “ The New Creation”, D. A Thangasamy, The Theology of Chenchiah with Selection from His Writings (Bangalore: The Christian institute for the Study of Religion and Society and Y.M.C.A, nd) cited in P.V Joseph, Indian Interpretation of the Holy Spirit (Delhi: ISPCK, 2007), 80.
[23] P. Chenchiah, “ An Indian Christian Spiritual Discipline”, D. A Thangasamy, The Theology of Chenchiah with Selection from his Writings (Bangalore: The Christian institute for the Study of Religion and Society and Y.M.C.A, nd) cited in P.V Joseph, Indian Interpretation of the Holy Spirit (Delhi: ISPCK, 2007), 80.
[25]Yoga’s goal is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility. The goals of yoga are varied and range from improving health to achieving Moksha.[14] Within the Hindu monist schools of Advaita Vedanta, Shaivism and Jainism, the goal of yoga takes the form of Moksha, which is the liberation from all worldly sufferings and the cycle of birth and death (Samsara), at which point there is a realization of identity with the Supreme Brahman. cited on 30/08/2014.
[26] P.V Joseph, Indian Interpretation of the..., 84.
[27]Ibid., 85.
[28]Amos Yong, “Can We Get Beyond the Paradigm…,29 for further reference see, Amos Yong, Frank D. Macchia, Ralph Del Colle, and Dale T. Irvin, "Christ and Spirit: Dogma, Discernment and Dialogical Theology in a Religiously Plural World," Journal of Pentecostal Theology 12/1 (2003): 15-8

[29] Stanley J. Samartha, Between Two Cultures…, 73-74.
[30]Kristeen Kim, Mission in the Spirit; The Holy Spirit in Indian Christian Theologies (Delhi: ISPCK, 2003), 31. 

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