Thoughts on a Sleepless Night: Looking Back on the Ten Years of Sino-Christian Theology Movement

It was in my sleeplessness on a starry night this year that I happened to realise in retrospect that I have spent 13 years on Tao Fong Shan.  In June 1992, I first stepped into my tattered office.  On the desk, there was dust on the documents. On the roof, colour was fading owing to dripping water. The walls were mildewed and damp...  But when I stepped out of the damp office, poetic inscriptions on the seemingly old buildings caught my eye: "The Word becomes flesh" (道成肉身), "The Universes of Logos and Pneuma" (道風大千), "The Horizon of Logos and Pneuma" (道風境界)...  Since then, it is my conviction that the acts of the Lord are behind the scene covered in dust. A call deep in our heart for years is once again invoked in the indigenous and Chinese atmosphere of Tao Fong Shan: to construct Chinese Christianity.  In the following year, the vision of Sino-Christian Theology became clearer and clearer.

In 1995, the Institute of Sino-Christian Studies was registered in Hong Kong, and our office was moved from the Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre to the former Thelle House.1  Legally speaking, the Institute has been established for 10 years; but actually speaking, it has been functioning since late 1993.2  Just as I mentioned in my "Christmas Eve Message" last year, we have simply been looking forward and marching forward for years in the beginning stage, and our call is similar to that of Abraham in the Old Testament: "...and he set out, not knowing where he was going" (Heb 11:8).  However, it is our firm conviction that this is the Kairos of the Lord to promote Christian studies as a constituent of the Chinese intelligentsia. In "faith", we have been marching forward.

Because of the "creativity" and "originality" of this call, we have been trying and advancing without any precedent. Between 1995 and 1996, our work invoked a debate on "Cultural Christians" among the Hong Kong churches for ten months.3  Through this frank and straightforward discussion, we had a better conception of the importance and uniqueness of our mission.  It is precisely under this rather controversial situation that we, in a reserved way, organised two international "Round-Table Symposia" on Sino-Christian Theology,4 in order to gather Chinese scholars from different disciplines in promoting the theoretical construction of Sino-Christian Theology, to gather their "particular" contributions to various theological agendas, and to justify the necessity of doing and writing Christian theology "in Chinese."  At the same time, in order that we could lay out the first fruits of Sino-Christian Theology in a more systematic manner, we have invited contributions from Chinese scholars in 1997, and published Preliminary Studies on Chinese Theology5 in 2000, thus illustrating the plurality and catholicity of Sino-Christian Theology.

In 2001, in cooperation with China Zentrum, Bonn, one of our partners, we have organised the first dialogical conference between Chinese scholars in Christian studies and German theologians in Berlin.  Both parties engaged in a deep and practical dialogue on the theme "Translation and Adoption".6  During discussion, a German scholar mentioned that there were Chinese scholars who can dialogue with the German scholars in German but, in contrast, very few German scholars could, under the dialogical principle of "equal communication," converse with the Chinese scholars in Chinese.  In light of  this, the advantageous position of the Chinese scholars under the principle of "equal communication" is foreseeable.

Recollecting these four periods, we would discover once again the steps Sino-Christian Theology has progressed: Beginning with the debate on "Cultural Christians" among the Hong Kong Churches, then the confluence of the contributions to Sino-Christian Theology by Chinese scholars from various places, and thus entering into dialogue with the Western academia on the correlation of Sino-Christian Theology with Ecumenical Theology.  A movement starts to develop from within, bringing forth a revolution in silence.

By the end of 2004, we have appointed seven people from our Chinese and foreign academic partners to be the committee members of a core Academic Committee.  The Committee would not only become the "thinktank" of the Institute, but also contribute the strategies of short-term and long-term development.  The Committee would invite scholars of different specialisation areas of participate in our work according to the actual circumstances.
In marching into the year 2005, in passing the first decade, the Institute, through the joint effort of the Committee has already gained preliminary access to Sino-Christian Theology, the uniqueness of the theological content of which is explicated in a concise manner in Prof. Wong Xiaochao's Theme Article of this Issue of the Newsletter: Non-ecclesiastic character (or beyond denominational), Humanistic nature (academic), Intercultural (dialogical and open).  Since Sino-Christian Theology is closely connected to the academic agendas of the Chinese intelligentsia, the multifaceted character of the agendas of Sino-Christian Theology is manifest, and the two other Theme Articles portray will this multifaceted and dialogical character from the perspectives of Chinese scholars and international scholars.

In the face of the coming ten years, we are still marching forward in expectation, just as Isaac Newton wrote in his private letter to Robert Hooke in 1676: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

1. This historical building was built in 1930, as the house of Karl Thelle, one of the founders of Tao Fong Shan.
2. The concept of "Sino-Christian Theology" has already been explicated in the "Message to the Reissue" in Logos & Pneuma. Chinese Journal of Theology 1 (1994), and has become its subtitle. Later, it was suggested in the "New Millennium Congratulatory Message" in Logos & Pneuma 12 (2000) that the Chinese subtitle of the Journal was to be changed as "Christian Culture Review." It is emphasised in the Millennium Message that such a renaming is not to violate the vision in the initiate period of 1993: "promote studies of the Chinese Christian culture, taking Sino-Christian Theology as its main part, in mutual facilitation and in mutual promotion with ecclesial studies in theology and with religious studies in the Humanities."
3. Institute of Sino-Christian Studies (ed.), Cultural Christian: Phenomenon and Argument (Hong Kong: Institute of Sino-Christian Studies, 1997).
4. LIU Xiaofeng, Philip P. CHIA and Chin Ken-pa (eds.), Modernity, Change in Tradition and Theological Reflections: A Collection of Papers Presented at the First and Second Han-Yu Theologians Round-Table Symposium (Hong Kong: Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre, 1997).
5. Daniel H. N. YEUNG (ed.), Preliminary Studies on Chinese Theology (Hong Kong: Institute of Sino-Christian Studies, 2000).
6. Daniel H. N. YEUNG and Paul Rabbe, Translation and Adoption. Ecumenical Theology and Christian Theology in Chinese(Hong Kong: Logos and Pneuma Press, 2004).