SAHTRI’s initiative to organize a seminar on the theological contributions of M.M. Thomas and to publish the presentations is greatly appreciated. M.M. Thomas is one of those thinkers and leaders who have inspired a whole generation of Indian theologians and ecumenists, whether or not they agreed with him. His addresses, articles and books are thought-provoking and can hardly be ignored.
After his visible role in debates in India and outside ended, one got the impression that his influence was fading. New concerns and developments in India and in the world and new theological trends were determining the agenda of debates in churches, the ecumenical movement and theological faculties and seminaries. New issues that were not at the heart of Thomas’ reflections increasingly needed attention, for instance, the perspectives offered by feminist and Dalit theologians, the concerns around ecological justice and, later, increasing religious radicalism and violence. Thomas was fully aware of the changing agendas in theological reflection and urged younger theologians to take up these new subjects in their study.
It was felt that with these changing agendas the relevance of Thomas’ thinking would also diminish. This volume shows that this is not the case. The centenary celebrations of his birthday have revived the interest in his writings. Several platforms and institutions, including the Mar Thoma Church to which he belonged, have felt that it is worth going back to his writings. They try to discern what his approach to the questions and concerns of his days would mean today. SAHTRI’s choice to focus on Thomas’ contribution to reflections on theological methodologies is therefore very timely and relevant.
However, reading his articles and books, one hardly gets the feeling that Thomas developed a systematic, academic theological methodology. Some remarks and insights can be found throughout the body of his writings, but he did not bring them together in a well-developed study on methodology. This does not mean that he would play down the importance of a sound theological methodology. On the contrary, his reflections on current issues in society, churches and the ecumenical movement, his Bible studies, meditations and sermons, all witness a deep awareness that theology implies a continuous interaction between sociology of religion and theology of society, as he formulated in his book Man and the Universe of Faiths.
This volume of studies on Thomas shows that his theology can rightly be called a theology of dialogue. I would like to add a dimension to the dialogical nature of his thinking which has often not been highlighted. His thinking has also a ‘journey’ dimension, or as we would call it today in the ecumenical movement, his thinking can be seen as a personal pilgrimage of justice and peace. In his unpublished manuscript ‘Faith Seeking Understanding and Responsibility’, he tried to write, probably challenged by some of his friends, an autobiography. At that time his attempt was not really a success as he more or less had brought together significant passages of his most important articles and annotated these passages with some notes with reference to the context in which they were written. It was never published as a book as it would probably not have appealed to a wider audience. However, this unpublished manuscript is of great importance for those who want to study the development of his thinking.
The title of this unpublished manuscript is very meaningful to understand Thomas’ personal faith journey and engagement in and understanding of socio-cultural, economic, and political affairs. He called it ‘Faith Seeking Understanding and Responsibility’. These four words precisely mark the key elements in his thinking: his personal faith and spirituality, the need to analyse and understand, and the urgency to take up responsibility. The word “seeking” forms a crucial marker for his methodology in bringing together faith, understanding and responsibility. For him it was a journey in which answers and solutions were not given once and for all. Comparing his early articles and meditations and his later books helps us to see that he has gone through a development in his thinking which is on the one hand a continuous response to current issues and on the other hand a growth in theological understanding of them leading to Christian responsibility.
This methodological approach is still very relevant. I hope that re-reading his articles and books will help us in our own faith search for understanding and responsibility. M.M. was a person who accompanied seeking out people with pastoral care and encouragement. But he was also a person who liked critical dialogue challenging easy and comfortable assumptions. I hope that this volume will help the readers to engage with him in a heuristic conversation.
Rev. Dr Hielke Wolters
Associate General Secretary
World Council of Churches