I had always wanted to read this book and this evening as I met a friend at his house and shared a bit about my trip to UTC, Bangalore, haunted by spectres of Bangalore theologians, I asked him if he had a copy of M. M. Thomas's The Acknowledged Christ of the Indian Renaissance. He immediately pulled out a copy. I was pleasantly surprised to see the original 1970 edition published by The Christian Literature Society, Madras. I expected some kind of photocopy, originals of such books being rather rare, more so in my city, which is very far from Bangalore, in terms of distance as well as in nurturing theological reflection (I, in fact, remember once glancing through a photocopy of this title long time back).
The blurb of the book reads as follows:
A good deal has been written in recent years on the 'hidden' or 'unknown' Christ of traditional Hinduism. Mr. M.M. Thomas deals here with 'acknowledged' Christ of renascent Hinduism which was integral to the total Indian awakening. He surveys how some of the great spiritual leaders of the Indian renascence—leaders like Raja Rammohan Roy, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi—sought to understand the meaning of Christ and Christianity for the new India that was emerging. And he studies, as part of his theological evaluation, the salient features of the dialogue that went on between these men and some of the Christian spokesmen in India.
In the preface, Thomas lays out his thoughts behind writing this book:
..I am deeply concerned with men's reflections on the truth of Jesus Christ in the context of their grappling with the meaning of life in concrete situations of history ... The theological fragments of this book relate to one historical situation, namely the awakening of Indian nationalism in the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth century.
What I have done in this study is to survey how some of the foremost spiritual leaders of the Indian renaissance, especially of Neo-Hinduism, sought to understand the meaning of Jesus Christ and Christianity for religion and society in renascent India...As part of the survey, I have also tried to study how the Indian Church, in the thought of some of its theologically-minded representatives, has attempted to enter into dialogue with the ideas of these leaders and to formulate its own faith in Christ and the meaning of Indian nationalism.
This must be the most important book to be rediscovered by both Hindus and Christians of India, and of Karnatka in particular, a state that has witnessed some of the ugliest expressions of communal and cultural bigotry. I wish more people read and discussed this book and its author.
It's going to be a slow read. I am a slow reader. And given the battered condition the book is in (it's a 40-year-old paperback) it needs to be carefully handled. It needs to be carefully handled because it belongs to a friend and in a strange way the book belongs to the history of my city. It originally was part of Mr J. S. Dethe's library. On the full-title page there is rubber-stamp mark, upside down, that gives the particulars of its first owner, his name, designation, address and a three-digit phone number. Mr Dethe was one of the senior architects in the team that planned and developed the city of Chandigarh. I am intrigued to know that an architect was interested in matters theological. One wishes one could meet and talk to late Mr Dethe about his ideas about developing structures for human habitation and also his notions about developing a framework for biblical theology in India. Mr Dethe was also a member of a small group that got the church built in Sector 18. It would have been interesting to know what he felt about this book and how much did Thomas, who himself wasn't a trained theologian, influenced his efforts in community building. That church today is called Christ Church and is part of the Church of North India's (CNI) Diocese of Chandigarh. I have been told that Pratap SinghKairon, the then chief minister of Punjab, wanted only one church, one temple, one gurudwara and possibly one mosque in the newly built capital city of Chandigarh. For that reason Dethe and others had aimed to build this one church as an interdenominational/non-denominational church, where Christians from all doctrinal backgrounds may come and worship. Ravi Kalia, the author of Chandigarh: The Making of an Indian City, mentions the fact that Maxwell Fry had a 'Quaker background' and Le Corbusier had a 'Calvinistic upbringing' and these affected the work of these two architects of Chandigarh। In this context too, it would too be interesting to know Dethe's church background.
(I am grateful to the publishers of The Herald of India for accommodating this write-up on their news portal. The editor's little note adds a great value to it. I am humbled)