A critical study of the major contributions of J.N. Farquhar and Marcus Ward to the history of Christian thought in India.

A critical study of the major contributions of J.N. Farquhar and Marcus Ward to the history of Christian thought in India.

(A) J.N. FARQUHAR (1861-1929)


John Nicol Farquhar was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on 6th April 1861 and his demise came in 1929 at the age of 68. His main concern was to develop a theology of religions in the Indian context on the basis of the questions raised by the Hindu leaders. How Christ is relevant to Indian context? They asked this question for a rational explanation.[1] The missionary J. N. Farquhar covered the whole range of Hindu religious literature in his still useful Outline of the Religious Literature of India (1920); his Modern Religious Movements in India (1915) is one of the first surveys of Neo-Hinduism and related phenomena.[2]

He came to India in 1891 as a member of London Missionary Society. For the next 11 years he had been worked as college lecture. In 1902 he joined YMCA. This period was remarkable for he made a serious attempt to learn Indian religion and Sanskrit. This led him to have a sympathetic understanding towards Hinduism. Apart from his scholarly works he marked as a literary secretary for National Council of YMCA. After a long period of ministry he left India in 1922. The very year he becomes the professor of comparative religion in the University of Manchester.

The main literary contributions of Farquhar were the result of objective researches. The crown of Hinduism (1913) was a great contribution in the field of theology of religion. A pioneer of Hinduism (1914), and The Apostle Thomas in South India (1927) are other works done by Farquhar. Moreover he worked as the general editor for ‘Religious life of India’. In short the person and work of Farquhar was remarkable in Indian Christian thought. Here we try to incorporate some of his theological contributions against the context of Indian nationalism and liberation theology.

The context

The first quarter of 20th century marked a radical change in Indian Christian thought.[3] There were several factors that influenced this shift in thinking. The growing nationalism and national self-consciousness was the first influence. Responding to the missionary enterprise, Hindu nationalism consciously reasserted the opposition to Christianity. The response was towards a rejection of Christian claims of universalism. The Christian responses towards the Hindu renaissance by the missionaries were negative and non-Christian religion as evil. How ever the oriental scholars like Max Miller, Zeigenbalg[4] and T.E. Slater of Madras, followed a sympathetic attitude and openness towards Hinduism. For they were well informed the secular and theological shifts that take place within the Western countries.[5]

The second influence was the church union movement or the movement towards the Christian unity. In the earliest days of missionary work at the beginning of the nineteenth Century there had usually been a spirit of co-operation between the various Churches and Societies. Later came a less friendly period, not infrequently marked by competition and even sheep-steeling.[6] The movement was towards the indigenization of Indian Church in its administration, liturgy and theology. The gradual emergence of the concept of Indian church resulted in the withdrawal of foreign missions.

The emergence of oriental’s and the influence on the anthropological and social findings that discovered the evolutionary nature of human history was another major influence. The scholars like Max Muller made serious attempt to study the eastern religions objectively and this lead to the rise of Comparative religions. According to this school all religion are equal and nor single religion can claim supremacy over the other.[7] The encounter between science and religion was another challenge to the Christian theologians. The critical approach developed in the liberal theology, which accepted the scientific findings along with faith, questioned the dogmatic and philosophical aspects and gave importance to the ethical teaching of Jesus.

Major Theological contributions of J.N. Farquhar

Instead of a mere mutual exclusion Farquhar wants to express the crucial need of a workable ‘apologetic’ approach to maintain a satisfactory relationship between Christianity and Hinduism. The basic theological affirmation of Farquhar is that Christianity or rather Christ himself, is the crown of Hinduism. Christ provides the fulfillment of each of the highest aspiration and aims of Hinduism. “Every true motive which in Hinduism has found expression in unclean, debasing, or unworthy practices finds in Him fullest exercise in work for the downtrodden, the ignorant, the sick, and the sinful. In Him is focused every ray of light that shines in Hinduism. He is the crown of the faith in India”[8]. For him the early missionary approaches to Hinduism, as evil are not scientific judgments based on a serious study of the evidence but hasty, passionate inference from practical judgment. [9]

Christianity is the crown of Hinduism

The religion of Greece and Rome could not be the starting point for the religion of the world, like the religion of Israel. Christ did not destroy the old civilization, philosophy, literature, and art. Everything of value that the world contained has been preserved and has flowered once more in Christianity. Clement of Alexandria writes; Philosophy tutored the Greeks for Christ as the Law did the Hebrews.[10] Missionaries do not wish to destroy Hindu society, history and civilization, as Prof. Har Dayal imagines they do. The Muslim came, smashing temple and image, killing priest and scholars, confiscating temple and monastic lands. Christ comes not to steal, and kill and destroy, but to give life and to give it abundantly[11]. The idea that lies at the heart of the Gospel of Christ are slowly but surely permeating every part of Hindu society and modifies every phase of Hindu thought.[12] Christ is already breathing life into the Hindu people. True, Christ passes everything though His refiner’s fire, in order that the dross, which Hindus know so well, may pass away; but the gold will then shine all the brighter. We have seen Christ with many crowns but we do not yet see all things put under Him. Indo-Aryans enjoyed – no caste, no child marriage, no child widows, no enforced widowhood, no sati and no zenana. How near all this is to the spirit of Christianity, [13] Farquhar asks?

Fulfillment theory

From 1902-1923 his main concern was to develop a theology based on questions raised by Hindu thinkers, the very eminent thinkers like Rathakrishan, Dayananda Sarasvati and Vivekananda[14]. Farquhar felt the crucial need of a workable ‘apologetic’ approach to the university educated Indians and as a means to that end sought to find a more satisfactory relationship between Christianity and Hinduism than that of mere mutual exclusion. In a serious of writings he gradually worked out his idea of fulfillment. ‘’ ‘I came not to destroy but to fulfill’ (Matthew 5: 17), has cleared up for us completely all our difficulties with regard to the OT… Can it be that Christ Himself was thinking of pagan faiths as well as Judaism?... If Christ is able to satisfy all the religious needs of the human heart, then all the elements of pagan religious needs of the human heart… since they spring from these needs, will be found reproduced in perfect form, completely fulfilled, consummated in Christ.’’[15] He believes that there is an evolutionary connection between Hinduism and Christianity as of lower to the higher, so that what is only foreshadowed in Hinduism is fulfilled and perfected in Christianity. Jesus Christ crowns and fulfills the quest that is in the Hinduism that is understood as the fulfillment theory. What Christ has fulfilled in Judaism, is fulfilled in Hinduism. He says, ‘When we say that Christianity is the crown of Hinduism we do not mean Christianity as it is lived in any nation nor Christianity as it is defined and discipline of any single church but Christianity as it springs living and creative from Christ himself. It is beyond denominationalism or sectarianism. Every religion has some truth and that is instrumental in leading every man to God, he says. Every religion is useful to lead people to God. Conversion for him is a sincere lead from lower to the higher. Hinduism has gleams of light in it and a Hindu is right in following Hinduism till the great light reaches him or her. According to him, it is a preparation of Christ and every worth truth is foreshadowed in Christ.

Farquhar maintained three things in relation to Hinduism. First of all Christianity should be able to demonstrate genuine sympathy with the phenomenon of Hinduism. This does not mean an uncritical admiration for everything Hindu. Secondly Christianity should be able to maintain scholarly accuracy –objective studies and lastly Christianity should continue to be directed by their own faith in Christ.

Critical observation/comments

His contribution to Indian Christian theology is ever valuable and unique but the following criticisms and comments will help us think better.

  • E.J. Sharpe observes that the lower to the higher was an automatic one, but rather that it depended on individual choice; and he also believed that Christianity must ultimately replace Hinduism rather than merely reform it. In some way it was foreshadowing the recent Panikkar’s The Unknown Christ of Hinduism.
  • Farquhar was critical of the Christians/missionaries’ judgment that Hinduism is evil, which he asks us to review by an objective study. According to P.T. Thomas, ‘ In Christ’s words (I came not to destroy, but to fulfill) Farquhar found a basis for the new relationship between Christianity and other religions. According to Farquhar, the parallel passages in the scriptures of different religions also support the idea of fulfillment’ [16]
  • Farquhar does see some amount of truth in other religion, but he also found that there are elements that Christianity cannot accept. Caste system is one among them, as he opines that equality, freedom and justice are very distinctive aspects of Christianity. Farquhar was holding an orthodox and progressive view in his theology or religions.

(B) MARCUS WARD (1906-1978)

He was born in 1906 in Britain. He took his theological degree from Cambridge University. In 1932 as a Methodist missionary, he arrived in India and began his work in the Wesley College, Madras. In 1942 he joined in the faulty of U.T.C, Banglore. In 1942 he took an active participation in the theological conference held in Poona under the organization of N.C.C. This conference in fact resulted in publishing his book ‘Our theological task (1946)[17]. Ward was the founding editor of Christian student library (CSL). As a spokes person for ecumenical movement, he represented Methodist church for the church union discussion of the church of south India (CSI). In 1952 he represented CSI for the faith and order conference in Sweden. In 1955 he left India and joined in the faculty of Richmond theological College. Ward passed away in 1978 at the age of 72.

Theology of Marcus Ward

Christian theology is not a dark and even dangerous mystery to be handled only by a few initiates, but a matter of high import to all converts who desire to consider, so that they may commend, the faith that is in them. The theological task in India was considered both in itself and in reference to the related concepts of Tradition, Authority, and Experience. It was also applied to the problem of a modern Christian apologetic for India, on the background of Hinduism, Neo-Hinduism, Islam and Secularism. In the process of theologizing the essential content of the Christian Faith is the same for all times, places, and circumstances; but that in different times, places, and circumstances the expression, interpretation, and application must both grow out of, and meet, the actual situations, making such particular emphasizes. Hence within theology the two elements such as the absolute element (the central core- the Word of God- dogma) and the relative element (the expression, interpretation, application- doctrines), have its own special task.[18] A Christian needs to ‘Become a bible reader and true follower of Christ’[19] because bible is the primary source of God’s revelation.

The source of Dogma

According to Ward the primary source of dogma is the Bible. The bible is the record of the divine salvation progressive in history and culminating in Christ, delivered through human agents and the primary revelation, something given to humanity and God made himself known in history.[20] A critical approach will be a great help in understanding what is correct in distinguishing between dogmas from doctrine. Bible is recording the divine revelation, which reaches its climax as the standard of Christian belief and practice and the primary source and criterion of Christian theology. The power of the bible to inspire and enlighten is bound up with its historical function as witness to Christ. It is Jesus Christ, the Word in flesh, who welds the whole written word into a unity. The authority of the bible is the authority of Jesus Christ.[21] The preaching of the church, creed and experience of the church are secondary source of dogma. The whole task of the christian theology is bound up with preaching.

Karl Barth[22], the spokesman argued that theology is nothing but the church seeking to make clear to herself what is the message of her preaching. The preaching and hearing of the word is a permanent and necessary element of corporate worship. The preaching is not the expression of individual opinion, or personal exhortation, least of all of apology. It has methods and a manner all its own by which to manifest the Incarnate Word from the written Word by the spoken word.[23] Preaching is worthy to be called dogmatic is that which sets out and declares a Gospel for today which is, at heart, the unchanging Gospel. The two great Creeds, the Apostolic and Nicene now consider as one of the secondary source, or controls, of dogma. The Creeds can be regarded as an epitome of dogma only in the light of the faith, both individual and general, to which they bear testimony. The five modes of experience such as feeling, knowing, choosing, doing and belonging are called the normative Christian experience.[24]

The method or approach to Doctrine

The Christian doctrine contains five fundamental terms such as the promise, gift, acceptance, grasp[25] and the offer[26]. OT we see the promise of God and in the NT we see the greatest gift fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The gift consists not merely in what He said but even more in what He did and was. When Jesus performed the miracles it is not merely out of compassion for men or in response to their faith, but to declare that the promise has been fulfilled in the Gift.

The Old Testament is at once the Word of God and not the final Word of God. It is an imperfect, provisional, preparatory Covenant; needing to be made complete in the Messiah. It represents a stage in the education of the people of God. This view of the OT as at once divine and incomplete is altogether fundamental to the NT’s view of things and is indeed implied in the OT itself, by the fact that it looks forward to a future messiah.[27]

The revelation is complete in itself as it comes in the form of the Gift, but it is not effective until it be accepted and understood. The primary and fundamental affirmation is accepting Him as Lord and Christ. The question is whether the OT is contemporary and relevant to us in India? If we relate it with the OT and Vedas, one is monotheism and other is monism. The old problem which has to be faced by Christian apologists in the early part of days of the Christian conquest of the Greek-Roman world, and we have evidence of the value of OT witness to the personal God who acts and reigns above history. The OT continues to nurture our people in the growth upwards in the light of the continuous prophetic challenge against lapse and backsliding.

The out line of Christian Doctrine[28]

In the out line of Christian doctrine Vol-I&II he emphasis the concepts like believe in God, the person of Christ, the holy spirit, God the father, the problem of evil, Man and sin, the atonement, the church, the ministry, the sacraments, eschatology[29] etc. Quoting St. Augustine Ward says ‘Thou has made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee’.[30] The chief end of man is the same that Atman is Brahman; that he is no mere individual but is one with Brahman. Ward compared the process towards chief end with the coherent process towards eternity. It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him. Such is the destiny of the creature whose true nature is to have been made in the likeness of God.[31]

Reflection and Conclusion

The logical presentation of Dogma and Doctrine is well appreciated. His attempt was to bring out a relevant theology in India. For him the dogma is the traditional western theology where he makes the same mistakes as early western missionaries. The question remains here is how the personal experience (anubhava) is relevant to Indian Christian theology, whether the personal experience or the experience of the community is relevant. What is more important the dogma or the experience of Christ? In the pluralistic context in India can we think of a Christo-centric theology rather than a Theo-centric Christology based on replacing the Old Testament scriptures with the Hindu scriptures?


Primary Source

Farquhar, J.N. The crown of Hinduism (London: Oxford University Press, 1919).

Farquhar, J.N. The out line of Religious Literature of India (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984).

Farquhar, J.N. The Religious quest of India an outline of the religious literature of India (London: Oxford University Press, 1920).

Ward, A. Marcus The outline of Christian doctrines, Vol-I (Madras: The Christian Literature Society, 1966).

Ward, A. Marcus The outline of Christian doctrines, Vol-II (Madras: The Christian Literature Society, 1972).

Ward, A. Marcus Our Theological Task: An Introduction to the Study of Theology in India (Madras: The Christian Literature Society, 1946).

Secondary Source

Stephen, M. A Christian theology in the Indian context (Delhi: ISPCK, 2001).

Halbfass, Wilhelm

And Arjun Appadrai “History of Study”, Mircea Eliade (chief ed., ) Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol.7, (New York: Macmillan publishing company, 1995).

Boyd, R.H.S. An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, (New Delhi: ISPCK, 1994).

Sharp, Eric J. Faith meets faith, some Christian attitudes to Hinduism in the nineteenth and twentieth Century (London: SEM, 1977).

Farquhar, J.N. “The Relation of Christianity to Hinduism” in Kaj Baggo , Pioneers of Indigenous Christianity (Madras: CLS, 1967).

Thomas, P.T.

and M.M.Thomas, Towards an Indian Christian Theology (Thiruvalla: The New Day Publications of India, 1992).

[1] M. Stephen. A Christian theology in the Indian context (Delhi: ISPCK, 2001), 37.

[2] Wilhelm Halbfass And Arjun Appadrai “History of Study”, Mircea Eliade (chief ed., ) Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol.7 (New York: Macmillan publishing company, 1995),193.

[3] R.H.S. Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology (New Delhi: ISPCK, 1994),86.

[4] His study of Tamil religious customs which provoked his home secretary, A.H. Francke of Hale, to write, ‘The missionaries were sent out to exterminate Heathenism in India, not to spread heathen nonsense all over Europe’ Lehmann E.A. It Began at Tranqubar (Madras: CLS, 1956) p.32. Cited in., R.H.S. Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, 88.

[5] Eric J. Sharp, Faith meets faith, some Christian attitudes to Hinduism in the nineteenth and twentieth Century (London: SEM, 1977),20.

[6] See. K. Baago, ‘Sheep stealing’ in the 19th century, in Bulletin of the Church History Association of India, No. 10 (1966) pp.17ff. cited in., R.H.S. Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, 87.

[7] Eric J. Sharp, Faith meets faith…, 21.

[8] J.N. Farquhar, The crown of Hinduism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1919), 457-58.

[9] J.N. Farquhar, “The Relation of Christianity to Hinduism” in Kaj Baggo , Pioneers of Indigenous Christianity (Madras: CLS, 1967),171-72.

[10] J.N. Farquhar, The crown of Hinduism, 53.

[11] Prof. Har Dayal. The passage is quoted by Coomarawamy, Essays in National Idealism, 156. Cited in., J.N. Farquhar, The crown of Hinduism, 53.

[12] Sir. Narayna Chandavarkar, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bombay and a justice of the Bombay High court. from an addressed delivered in the Y.M.C.A., Bombay, on June 14, 1910 cited in., J.N. Farquhar, The crown of Hinduism, 54.

[13] J.N. Farquhar, The crown of Hinduism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1919), 76.

[14] Founder of Arya Samaj Swami Dayananda Sarasvati (1824-1883) as his attitude to Christianity was totally negative. The Arya Samaj is still today a force to be reckoned with and its anti-christian polemic has not mellowed, but, as Goreh pointed out clearly while Swami Dayananda was still living, its exposition of the Vedas, on which it claims to be based, will not stand up to any strict exegetical tests. Brahma Samaj and the Arya Samaj affected only a very small proposition of the vast Hindu population of India, and as yet no leader had arisen to give renewal and cohesion to the traditional structure of Hinduism, which appeared to be being undermined from different directions. Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) provided just such leadership. J.N. Farquhar. Modern Religious Movements in Hinduism, London: 1918 cited in. Robin Boyed. An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology, 58. Vivekananda (1863-1902), foremost disciple of the Hindu spiritual leader Ramakrishna, and one of the key figures in the 19th-century revival of Hinduism. Vivekananda's original name was Narendranath Datta. He was born into a middle-class family in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, where he studied Western philosophy and science. While still a university student Datta encountered Ramakrishna, who initiated him into Hinduism. Datta then took the name “Vivekananda,” which is Sanskrit for “bliss of discerning knowledge.”

[15] Sharpe, Not to Destroy but to fulfill, pp. 311 f. cited in., R.H.S. Boyd, An Introduction to Indian …,89.

[16] P.T. Thomas and M.M.Thomas, Towards an Indian Christian Theology (Thiruvalla: The New Day Publications of India, 1992), 82.

[17]Our Theological Task: An Introduction to the Study of Theology in India (Madras: The Christian Literature Society, 1946).The outline of Christian doctrines, Vol-I (Madras: The Christian Literature Society, 1972). The outline of Christian doctrines, Vol-II (Madras: The Christian Literature Society, 1966).

[18] A. Marcus Ward. Our Theological Task: An Introduction to the Study of Theology in India (Madras: The Christian Literature Society, 1946), 1.

[19] A. Marcus Ward. Our Theological Task, 26.

[20] A. Marcus Ward. Our Theological Task, 35.

[21] A. Marcus Ward. Our Theological Task, 35.

[22] All Barth’s writings concerning the fundamental dogma of Christianity that in Jesus Christ, God came into human history, took flesh and dwelt among us, in a revelation of Himself which is unique, final, completely adequate, wholly indispensable for men’s salvation. It all begins in an Event, The Event, God’s Event. A German disciple of Barth reinforces the application of this in the present context when he says: The Christian service of God is nothing else than the dogma, prayers, preached, sung, of the blessed secret that God is manifest in the flesh’.

[23] A. Marcus Ward. Our Theological Task, 35.

[24] Feeling must be there at the heart of experience, there can be no Christian experience without knowledge of Jesus Christ, An element of will is an integral par of experience in general, belonging involves membership in the beloved community, wherein the historic witness is maintained and provision is made for fellowship.

[25] The way in which the church in the past has sought to relate its convictions to contemporary through and needs are to be grasped while you respond to the present day issues.

[26] Churches witness to the outer world.

[27] A.G. Hebert, The Throne of David, P. 241, cited in. A. Marcus Ward. Our Theological Task, 145.

[28] A. Marcus Ward, The outline of Christian doctrines, Vol-I (Madras: The Christian Literature Society, 1966). A. Marcus. Ward, The outline of Christian doctrines, Vol-II (Madras: The Christian Literature Society, 1972).

[29] While doing a history of Christian though in India I believe to explain each of them are beyond the scope of this paper.

[30] A. Marcus Ward, The outline of Christian doctrines, Vol-II, p.2.

[31] A. Marcus Ward, The outline of Christian doctrines, Vol-II, p.40.


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