A Filipino Version of Jesus

Does living in a place where the culture is different from your own entail adopting the theology that shapes that culture? Coming from the Philippines, poverty and oppression are everyday realities for many people in my country. Despite the hardships in life, Filipinos are known to be positive and caring people. Now that I live in the United States, will the prevailing theology in this country automatically influence my values and view of Jesus’s person, nature, and role in my life? Is there a Christology specifically for a cross-cultural setting?

The author Diana L. Hayes points out that, “Changing times require different confessions, and each culture must rediscover Jesus for itself.”[1] However, can there ever be a universal Christology—the theological interpretation of Jesus Christ’s person, nature, and role? Because Jesus is both a historical figure and a divine omnipresent Being, there might be some absolute truths about Him that everyone—regardless of culture, background, and experiences—can resonate with. Does Jesus change depending on who believes in Him?

In this blog, I will share the necessity of a person-specific contextualized Christology by explaining how my cultural values of resilience, joy, and transformed relationships are best reflected in a Filipino Jesus.

A Filipino Jesus encourages resilience. When there is oppression or calamity, Filipinos get back on their feet and regain more than what they lost. Jesus is a co-laborer in the recovery process. He is not just a suffering servant, but His suffering has a purpose and an end. For Filipinos, having Jesus is not a ticket to do nothing about their situation. Filipinos always find a way to contribute and do their part. Filipinos thrive amidst adversities, because they have a clear vision for the future. This vision motivates them to match their trust in God with a strong resolve to do everything they could to fulfill it!

A Filipino Jesus also inspires joy amidst suffering. Filipinos are known to be happy people even as they go through trials and oppositions. This is not a sign of weakness but an evidence of internal strength built through years of poverty, calamities, and oppression. For Filipinos, having faith in Jesus will carry them through and enable them to overcome anything.

Lastly, a Filipino Jesus champions transformed relationships. Filipinos maintain harmonious relationships and transform conflicts. They value relationships so much that they would set aside personal differences and choose peace over winning disagreements. Going beyond liberation, Filipinos would strive for reconciliation. Real victory is when you turn an enemy into a friend. For Filipinos, both parties should win and reconcile, which is only possible through the transforming love of God.

One might argue that when a person adapts to a new environment, that person’s everyday realities, values, and needs also change. Therefore, another contextualized Jesus is no longer necessary—the contextualized Jesus that is presented according to the prevailing cultural lens is already enough. However, although changes in the external conditions may influence a person’s day-to-day life, they do not necessarily change a person’s deeply-rooted values, which are marks of one’s identity. Hayes’s point makes this argument even stronger: “All theology is contextual, emerging from the particular situations of particular peoples throughout their history.”[2]

Additionally, I do not have to claim that Jesus is completely Filipino physically and ontologically. Contextualizing Jesus is about how His character and role in people’s lives respond to their needs and align with deeply-rooted values. While I believe that the Jesus who is active in people’s lives at present cannot be boxed in a color, culture, or ethnicity, a Filipino Christology is needed to address the unique struggles, behavior patterns, and dreams of Filipinos who move to another place but were raised in culturally Filipino environments.

“He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’” (Mk 8:29 NRSV). If Jesus were to ask me the same question, the answer would be shaped by who I am as a person and my cultural lens, wherever I may be. As Hayes points out, “Jesus’s question is contextual and relational, not abstract; it is grounded in the reality of the life and faith of the person doing that theology.”[3] As a U.S.-based Filipino, a Filipino Jesus works for me simply because the Jesus I know and who knows me understands and speaks to the deepest needs of my Filipino being—the need to look at the joyful side of life, to maintain harmony and turn enemies into friends, and to use own resources and strengths to overcome difficulties. He made Filipinos with unique strengths and cultural values but still reflecting His image and likeness. Having these unique needs, cultural values, and world view, a Filipino would then picture Jesus as a Filipino—not in appearance and being—but in how He reveals His character to them and how He loves and relates with them.

Does this mean all of us bring a contextualized Jesus everywhere we go? Are our Christologies influenced by our culture and every culture we are exposed to resulting in a “hybrid Jesus”? The more time we spend with Jesus in our everyday realities, the deeper we know Him in that context. This lifetime will not be enough to completely know who Jesus is, but as I spend more years in the United States, I will be curious to see the Filipino-American side of Jesus.

[1] Hayes, Diana L., In The Oxford Handbook of African American Theology, ed. Anthony B. Pinn and Katie G. Cannon (Cary, NC, USA: Oxford University Press, 2014), 154.

[2] Hayes, 154.

[3] Hayes, 153.

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