Sadhu Sundar Singh is one of the well-known Indian Christians. His dramatic encounter with Jesus, intense devotion to Christ, mystical experiences and daring journeys across the snow-clad mountains to Tibet are memorialized in the collective consciousness of the Indian Church and beyond.

Born into a Sikh family, Sundar Singh embraced Christianity and became an ardent disciple of Jesus. Then, at sixteen, he left his home to live as a nomadic Holy man (Sadhu) and spread the Gospel message of hope. 

Sundar Singh lamented the uncritical, if not the unconscious, westernization of Indian Christians and the culturally repellent forms they manifest their faith. Not surprisingly, the Sadhu represents an unusual approach to the Christian faith.

His saffron turban and robe are atypical of Indian Christianity. Furthermore, he is one of the foremost Indian-Christians to attempt an indigenous Identity for the Indian Church through his life and teachings. 

Sundar Singh firmly believed that Indians needed the ‘water of life in the Indian cup’. His teachings are drawn from a deep study of the New Testament and an intense devotion to Christ. However, they are profoundly grounded in the religious traditions of India. 

The Sadhu introduced mystical and ecstatic experiences to the theological discourse. But, sadly, mysticism has not attained much significance in the development of Indian-Christian Theology. 

I regret not having read his classics – ‘At the Master’s feet, ‘ With and Without Christ‘, ‘Reality and Religion’ – while in Seminary. These are flat out masterpieces! In fact, they offer a full meal rather than a morsel of spiritual food.

His books continue to reveal the Saviour’s light to all who seek. His books are easy to understand, filled with everyday metaphors, real-life experiences, and full of spiritual value. Simply put, you feel and experience Christ in his books.

This Apostle with bleeding feet walked far and long and preached far and wide. The Sadhu used uncomplicated words and spoke with immense cultural imagination, creativity, and conceptual clarity.

Sadhu Sundar Singh’s theology of piety demands a radical shift. At heart, he was a practical theologian. His ideas of the Christian life, faith and spirituality were primarily drawn from his lived experiences. In effect, his theology of piety is a challenge to contemporary theologizing.

We peddle a particular strand of academic bias on mystical experiences and personal piety. However, I wonder if there have been real efforts to develop a theology of piety and devotion. Sometimes, we are slow to catch up that we seem to understand only in hindsight!

The Church bears a gargantuan task of communicating the gospel to the wider culture. Sundar Singh’s legacy of practical theology, contextualized piety, culturally-informed religious discourse, simple parables, story narratives should lead us to constructive global South conversations.

Sundar Singh attempted to share a relatable faith and feed devotion within the wider culture. His authenticity, depth of insight, and experience open up possibilities. We can draw upon this large repository of spiritual experience and acumen.

Photo by Bartosz Golewicz on Unsplash

Samuel Thambusamy is a PhD candidate with the Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life.