- The Life, Legacy, and Theology of M. M. Thomas: “Only Paraticipants Earn the Right to Be Prophets.” ed. by Jessica M. Athyal, George Zachariah, Monica Melancthon
The Indian theologian, prolific writer, and ecumenical and prophetic activist, M. M. Thomas (1916–96), may have been the best known Protestant in the twentieth-century Indian church. “MM,” as he was usually known, also served as Moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches and as Governor of the Indian State of Nagaland. The volume’s twenty-one sympathetic contributors (ten from India) discuss “The Man and His Legacy” (Part I), his “Theological Foundations” (Part II), his “Prophetic Witness for Fuller Humanity” (Part III) and, in Part IV, “A Dialogical Approach” [to Asian religion and culture, and to political and ecumenical issues].
Several ironies emerge that illustrate aspects of MM’s life: his rejection for ordination because of his Marxist inclinations and his rejection for membership by the Communist Party because of his strong Christian faith; his discomfort, as a champion of the poor, with the enforced trappings of office during his time as Governor, before a conscience-led resignation; his prominence in global and Asian ecumenical affairs while discomfited by the underdeveloped state of ecumenism within India itself, due, in part, to his membership in the small Mar Thoma Syrian Church; and his impatience, in religion-saturated India, with religious pietism that failed to advance what he came to call the urgent “task of humanisation of the world in secular history.” Nonetheless, the volume also makes clear the central importance to Thomas of christological foundations for even some of his more radical beliefs; chapter titles contain the phrases “a Prophet of the Cross,” “the New Humanity in Christ,” and “Political Theology of the Crucified God.” [End Page 290]
Perhaps the authors might have made more of this immanent dimension of the sovereignty of Christ that so strongly engaged Protestant thought, both Indian and global, in the 1960’s and that enabled MM and others to see Christ at work in the political renewal that he called, e.g., “national awakening to new life.” This redemptive action of God in the crucified and risen Christ and the proclamation of this message for the salvation of humanity added a forceful missional and even evangelistic dimension to MM’s restlessly activist life and work. Two hesitations remain for this reviewer. First, might one ask these authors what MM might have made of successive political convulsions in India and elsewhere that offer little tangible evidence of Christ at work? Might the eschatological note he also sounded perhaps have tempered some of his confident liberationist assertions? Second, several of the chapters project his thought into contemporary issues in ways that could well have surprised even his curious, generous, and agile mind.
Potential readership of this volume include those interested in a mainly Protestant approach to twentieth-century ecumenism, the Christian encounters in India with Hinduism and secular ideologies, and the advocacy of a Christ-centered prophetic witness that embraces both traditional mission and the struggle for human dignity. There is a concluding but necessarily selective bibliography covering his sixty published books and nearly a thousand articles (in English and Malayalam).