The Uniqueness and Plurality of Sino-Christian Theology

From my own observation and experience, the 'Christian Theology in Chinese' which emerged in the context of the humanities studies in mainland China has been quite different from the 'Chinese theology' promoted by the Christian communities in Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas since its very inception.1 Its theological issues and paradigms also differ from other types of theology in East Asia, such as Japanese theology, Korean theology, etc.


One of the key differences lies in the fact that Christian theology in Chinese of Mainland China does not originate from or belong to any denomination or church tradition. In fact, as outstanding scholars in their respective specialties, the main concern of Chinese theologians is not the tradition, dogmatics and practicality of church theology, which rightly and naturally belong to the theologians of the Church. Scholars of Christian studies in Mainland China are interested in Christian scholarship as a component of Western scholarship and the use of such foreign resources in renewing and enriching the tradition of Chinese humanities studies. Most of them have already abandoned the outdated complementary notion of 'complementing Confucianism with Christianity' or 'complementing Buddhism with Christianity'. Chinese scholars today have gradually arrived at a consensus that Christian Theology in Chinese should be included into the orthodox humanities studies of China, acquiring a position on a par with, and competing with Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Marxism and contemporary ideologies.2


The inclusion of Christian Theology in Chinese as an important subject in Western scholarship into the 6000 year-old Chinese culture is similar in nature to the inclusion of early Christianity into the then powerful Greco-Roman culture. 3 Looking back on history, we can imagine the crisis and opportunity looming behind Christian Theology in Chinese.


According to the synthesis of Prof. LI Qiuling of Renmin University of China, Beijing, five models of theology emerged out of the interaction of early Christianity with Greco-Roman culture in the first 1500 years:4


1. Theology is consistent with reason (Justinus,  100-166AD)

2. Theology and Reason are mutually exclusive (Tertullianus,  160- 225AD)

3. Theology seeks Understanding (Augustine, 354-430AD) 

4. Theology has nothing to do with Reason (John Duns Scotus, 1266/1274-1308AD) 

5. Theology and Reason are complementary (Thomas Aquinas, 1224-1274AD)


Presently, we have seen these five models unfolding in different Chinese regions. The acceptance of theology by the scholars of the humanities in China is one of the most encouraging developments.


As mentioned in my message in the previous newsletter, one of the four chief missions of the Institute is to promote dialogue and collaboration between worldwide theologians (including those from Judaism, Roman Catholicism, the Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism) and scholars of Christian studies in China. We believe that such interactions will lead to a Christian Theology in Chinese more well-rounded in its humanistic, ecclesiastical, universal and regional dimensions.


Endnotes for OA Message from the Director?

   1.  See reflections of Academic Seminar in this issue, p.4

   2.  See YANG Huilin's 'Some Considerations on Christian Theology in Chinese'.

   3.  Friedrick Heer, The Intellectual History of Europe, 1953.

   4.  See LI Qiuling, Ultimate Concerns, in ZHANG Zhiwei, OUYANG Qian, eds.,  The Wisdom of Western Philosophy, Chapter 2 (People's University of China Press, 2000), p. 41-9.