A Sino-Christian Theology Beneficial to Both Academia and Ecclesia

Whenever I introduce the inscriptions in the Christ Temple of Tao Fong Shan to visitors, and I come to the signboard which states “the wind blows where it chooses,” I often add the comment that this is also my philosophy towards work—to keep opening myself up, to follow the guide of the wind of the Spirit, to be transformed by the renewing of my mind to carry out the mission of ISCS. Recently, I have had another experience of “the wind blows where it chooses.” During the pandemic quarantine, I received a call from Rev. Prof. YUE Qinghua, Dean of Fujian Theological Seminary and a good friend of ISCS, who cordially invited me to write the preface for his newly edited book, Selected Readings on the Sinicization of Christianity, since all the readings he has chosen are actually selected from Sino-Christian Theology Reader, which was edited by HE Guanghu and myself in 2009. For me, the publication of this newly edited book means precisely that Sino-Christian Theology is not only beneficial to Chinese academia, but also facilitates dialogue and collaboration between academic theology and church theology. For this reason, I willingly accepted his invitation and took this chance to clarify and summarize how both forms of theology can develop positive interactions with each other. The following text is taken from the preface I have written, which I would like to share with you:


Many friends of mine have asked me, “How did the ‘Sino-Christian Theology Movement,’ which originated in the mid-1990s, manage to bring together so many academic talents?” Every time, I have responded by imitating the words of Peter the Apostle in Acts 3:6, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you: these are the books we have published, and, when we gather, we associate with each other through books. The first generation of Sino-Christian theologians, such as LIU Xiaofeng, HE Guanghu, GAO Shining, ZHUO Xinping, LI Qiuling, YANG Huilin, WANG Xiaochao, ZHANG Qingxiong, YOU Xilin, FU Youde, have all been practicing this “associating with each other through books” from the very beginning, and now over many decades.


A dozen years ago, I met a Vice Dean from Fujian Theological Seminary during a conference in China. In 2011, when he visited Tao Fong Shan, his greeting surprisingly echoed the above-mentioned response which I have often given to my visitors in the Christ Temple of Tao Fong Shan. In fact, he was more straightforward than I: “Director YEUNG, I want nothing but your books!” I burst into laughter and said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you!” What astonished me even more was that his love of books had already reached the level of “book-mania.” He not only always looked for books and asked for books no matter where he went, but he also carried boxes of books back to the seminary all by himself. That was undoubtedly never an easy task! The Vice Dean which I met at that time was, of course, YUE Qinghua, the editor of this newly edited book, Selected Readings on the Sinicization of Christianity. But he is certainly much more than this. He is actually a key figure from the other side, of the ecclesia side in the “Sino-Christian Theology Movement.” If you ever have the opportunity to visit Fujian Theological Seminary, I am sure that you will be very impressed by the modern facilities in its library and the large scale of its book collection. This is certainly a good footnote to YUE Qinghua’s great love of books. The publication of this present book further illustrates the bold and innovative approach adopted by him, in developing the curriculum of the seminary. The result of his curriculum development is manifest in the impressive research papers of classic text interpretation by his students, which are also included in the present book. These papers illustrate in a very convincing manner, that there can always be a fruitful interdisciplinary dialogue and exchange between confessional Christian studies and humanistic Christian studies.


This book also reminds me of the two major questions on Sino-Christian Theology which had been occupying my mind when I was editing the two-volume Sino-Christian Theology Reader with HE Guanghu in 2009: “What is theology? What is Chinese?”. In terms of paradigms in theological studies, the “theology” of “Sino-Christian Theology” is, from the very beginning, different from the “Chinese theology” advocated by Chinese church theologians in Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas; and in terms of subject matter and working paradigms, it is also different from other types of theologies in East Asia, such as the “Theology of the Pain of God” in Japan, the “Minjung Theology” in Korea, and so on. What is at stake here, is the fact that Sino-Christian Theology did not originate from the ecclesia, but from the Zeitgeist of Chinese academia as they massively began to introduce Western learning in the 1980s. At that time, individual scholars in China, on their own accord, began to conduct research on Christian learning, which, in turn, is one of the main constituents of Western learning. As a result, the subject matter and the direction of their research studies were not constrained by any confessional considerations at all. What concerned them, was simply the question of how Christian studies could inspire and enrich Chinese academia and China’s intellectual tradition. It is this academic concern which enabled the integration of Sino-Christian Theology into China’s intellectual tradition in the contemporary era, of which Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Marxism, as well as Contemporary Thought are also the main constituents and major dialogue partners. In contemporary China, all these different schools of thought have been engaging in an on-going dialogue with each other and mutually complementing each other. In a similar manner, academic theology and church theology should also engage in dialogue and collaborate with each other in a positive, constructive way. The publication of this book bears a good testimony to this positive, constructive collaboration.


On the other hand, the “Chinese” as understood in “Sino-Christian Theology” also plays a crucial role. For instance, in the discussion of the big question of “ultimate concern” and its significance in the construction of a “community with a shared future for humankind,” it will be meaningful to compare the case of Sino-Christian Theology, which carries with it the 6,000-year-long heritage of “Chinese learning” on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the case of Western Christianity, which actually resulted from the great collision between primitive Christianity and many other linguistic and cultural traditions of the Ancient Orient and the Ancient West. One will readily recognize many wonderful parallels between both cases. As one may recall, LI Qiuling once summarized five paradigms in theology which resulted from the interaction and integration between primitive Christianity and ancient Greco-Roman civilization in the first 1,500 years of Christianity. These five paradigms may well illustrate the major approaches to the big question of “ultimate concern”:


1. Theology is consistent with reason.

2. Theology opposes reason.

3. Theology seeks understanding.

4. Theology and reason do not interfere with each other.

5. Theology and reason complement each other.


As can be seen from the research papers of classic text interpretation by students from Fujian Theological Seminary, the above-mentioned five paradigms are also present in the Chinese churches of different ages, as well as in the Chinese academia and ecclesia in different regions. From the perspective of interaction and integration, Sino-Christian Theology may well be considered as an intellectual movement which transcends and connects academia and ecclesia. It advocates dialogue and integration between ecumenical theologians (from Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental, and Protestant churches, as well as from Judaism) and Sino-Christian theologians, with an aim to construct a “new” theology, which carries on the past heritage, and opens up the future for the coming generations, stressing both indigeneity/locality and globality at the same time, and which also emphasizes both the academic/humanistic and the ecumenical at the same time.