Toward a Tao Christology: Rethinking Christology in the Chinese Context
Running the church well on the Three-Self principle has been a priority for the Chinese church for a considerable period of time. Concretely, this means that the Chinese church needs "to administer itself well, support itself well, and propagate itself well." The task includes not only constructing a polity for the Chinese church, but also the development and renewal of Chinese theological thinking. Theology is the thinking of church and a church always takes root in a particular history and culture. Theology, in consequence, naturally and inevitably, is historical and contextual. Thus, theology cannot be done in isolation from the concrete cultural, historical, social and political context. Theology must speak to the "here and now." Only then can theology be a living theology, developing with the changing times. Thus, any theological current must be "current" theology.
As Chinese theological workers, we see clearly that Chinese church needs its own theology with Chinese characteristics. Only when our theology stands in the cultural and political context in which Chinese church lives can it speak its own message to our people.
Christology is not only an important part of systematic theology, but is also closely related to believers' life of faith. It not only influences Christians' view of church and salvation, but inevitably affects Christians' view of the world and of non-Christians as well.
The majority of Chinese Christians nowadays still hold to the "traditional" or "doctrinal" christology imported by Western missionaries long ago. This christology is based on the Nicene and Chalcedon Creeds. It is over-theoretical and over-hellenized, and seems less helpful for Chinese Christians today as they face their own historical, cultural, social and political context. The Chinese church needs to reconsider christology and to gain some new light from it. Some Chinese church leaders and theologians have done a great deal of helpful work in this area since the early part of the last century. Among these, K.H. Ting's insights on "the cosmic Christ" have been most influential. This concept has greatly broadened the space for the Christian church in a non-Christian world.
Tracing the thinking of an older generation of church leaders and theologians such as Y.T. Wu, T. C. Chao, Xie Fuya (N.Z. Zia), Xu Baoqian, K. H. Ting, Wang Weifan, and so on, I have found that, an ethical Christology may can be a step in the right direction in the development and renewal of Chinese theological thinking. It is true that Christianity does not simply equal ethics and morality; neither is Jesus an educator or a moralist. Yet it cannot be denied that Christianity is an ethical religion. The teachings of Jesus, indeed the whole Bible, are a huge ethical and moral treasury.
Generally speaking, Chinese culture is ethical, not theoretical. It places greater emphasis on moral teaching than on theoretical disputation. In this regard, it is closer to the Bible and Hebrew thought than to hellenized Christian thought. Therefore, an ethical christology will be more easily understood by Chinese Christians than a "theoretical" christology, and more suitable for the Chinese church in accommodating itself to the reality of Chinese society and its cultural context.
The faith of the Incarnation offers great possibilities in the Chinese context for this kind of ethical understanding of christology. The Word was made flesh in a Jewish context. The place in which the Word was made flesh could refer not only to the small Galilean town of Nazareth, but also to countless places in different contexts. And the fact is that "each one of these places, through its unique culture, allows Christ to be made flesh, flesh which can be sensed and touched by people who live in different cultures." 1
It is true in some degree that the incarnated Christ lived in a culture, and that any christology must be a cultural understanding. In this sense, although there is only one Jesus Christ, there can be many christologies. Each community, even each person can have its/his/her own understanding of christology.
The Word also became flesh in the culture of China and thus Chinese Christians should construct our own christology. Because the christology we have now was imported by Western missionaries long ago, it is alien to Chinese people. This being the case, how shall we construct a christology in the Chinese context? What christology will be more familiar to and more acceptable to Chinese people? These are urgent questions for Chinese Christians.
Bishop K. H. Ting, a Chinese theologian and the church's spokesman has said that there are two "Cs" for the church in China. One is "Christ," and the other is "China." This suggests that Chinese Christian theology must be inculturated in the Chinese context, and the same is true for the understanding of christology in the Chinese context.
In seeking a christological understanding, it is not difficult for us to understand Jesus Christ as tao made flesh. He is God-becoming-human in Chinese culture and in contemporary Chinese situations. Apart from this contextual understanding, there can be no authentic Chinese christology.
As a Chinese Christian and a seminary teacher, I much prefer the wording of the Chinese Bible that translates "In the beginning was the Word" as "In the beginning was the tao ." (When we speak of tao , a host of meanings leaps to mind: principle, word, way, method, reason, truth, and so on.) Jesus Christ is tao become flesh in Chinese culture.
This is our unique understanding of Jesus Christ in our own context. We can call this tao christology, christology in which the tao can become flesh.
In this article, I will begin by arguing the necessity of constructing our own christology in the Chinese context, and then offer a possible starting point for Chinese christology. I am trying to take both the Bible and our own experience, not the Creeds, as the starting points for my thinking of christology. In the body of this paper, I would like to use three metaphors to talk about Christ from three different perspectives. All three metaphors have ethical meaning, and together they point to an ethical Christ. These are: a kenotic Christ, a cosmic Christ and a suffering Christ. This Christ is not a dead Christ. He is a living One, and He is close to our life. He calls for us to "follow" him, to practice his teaching of life. He is an incarnated God, and he is with us, among us. He also shares our anxiety, joyfulness, sweetness, and painfulness. As an incarnated Lord, he can't be caged in doctrine; rather, he lives in our life as a living One. My conclusion is that this reflection on an ethical and practical christology may present a possible direction for christological reflection in the Chinese church today.
The Chinese context must have its own christology
Lucien Richard rightly points out, "Christology must be an attempt to trace the way from Jesus of Nazareth to the Christ of Christian belief. For while the theologian has to tell a story that is not only his or her story but the story of Jesus of Nazareth, he or she must tell it in a different way in every generation." 2 This suggests a dynamic understanding of christology, which is to say that each culture, even each generation should have its own christological understanding. Christ is living, and our understanding of Christ should be living too.
It is true that a proper relationship must be maintained between the present Christ and the historical (biblical) Jesus. For this very reason, "Christology must constantly and simultaneously move in both directions. It must be both critical and practical. This is possible only if we take part in the past event. ... And we must bridge the distance in time between the past event of revelation and the present reality of our own faith, for the truth of our relationship to primitive Christianity. Understanding the past Christ-event and self-interpretation are inseparable." 4 Therefore, each culture, indeed, each generation, has to attempt to retrace the way from Jesus to the Christ from within the context of its own concerns and anxieties. Similarly, "contemporary Christology can only discover its own truth in dialogue with its cultural setting." 5 In this sense, christology must be a translation and an interpretation. This means that any adequate christology must be contextualized or enculturized.
Thus, christology must be historical and cultural christology. Theologians can do christology only in their own context and their own culture. They must face their own problems and their own questions in doing their christology. Therefore, "a vital christology must maintain the tension between the present responsibility of faith, as it attempts to express the Christ-event, and the historical dimension and grounds of that event in the Jesus of Nazareth anew and for its day. Christology must maintain a sense of historical distance between past and present continuity with it. And it must do this within a living tradition often maintained through a most radical discontinuity." 6
For this very reason, Chinese theologians cannot ignore the present Chinese church's situation in doing christology. We must face the situation in which the image of Christianity is that of a "foreign religion," and in which many Chinese see it as a "foreigners' religion." In another respect, in spite of estimates that Christians in China now number approximately 20 million, the Christian population is still in an absolute minority. Christians are marginalized in society, both economically and socio-po-litically. They are seen as being mainly elderly, female, illiterate and economically underprivileged. What is more, some have been happy to be thus marginalized, and have even taken the initiative to marginalize themselves. In this context, it is apparent that classical christology has few implications for most Chinese people. Chinese theology must reinterpret christology in its own settings. Thus, a biblical Jesus is, to some degree, more meaningful for Chinese Christians than a doctrinal christology.
For historical reasons, Chinese people find it difficult to accept the classical Christology that was directly imported into China by western missionaries. This christology is highly westernized and radically exclusive, and it has little to say to Chinese people today and critiques of it have been going on in China since early last century. This christology implies a kind of theological imperialism, and is alien to Chinese people. In its exclusivism, this ecclesiological-centric christology rejects Chinese culture. It can be fitted into Niebuhr's model of "Christ against culture." Because of this, it has been very difficult for Christianity to put down roots in the Chinese cultural soil. Therefore, some Chinese theologians (such as T. C. Chao, Wu Leichuan, Xie Fuya, Xu Baoqian, K. H. Ting, Wang Weifan, Chen Zemin, etc.) have, since the 1920s, been calling upon the Chinese Christian Church to develop its own approach to a Christian theology in general, and to christology in particular. There is a cry for the construction of a Chinese christology. Without an appropriate understanding of christology, there will be no appropriate Chinese theology. This cry is echoing in the present movement of the renewal of theological thinking in Chinese church.
D. M. Yeager rightly says that, "for H. R. Niebuhr, the substance of Ã¢â‚¬ËœChristian social ethics' cannot be abstractly and definitely fixed but must be worked out by Christians interpreting and responding to their complex, varied, and changing particular situations." 7 This is an appropriate path not only for "Christian social ethics," but also for Christian theology. Chinese theologians, as they do theology in general and christology in particular, must re-understand these fields in particular Chinese settings. As they face their own particular situations, the necessity to reconstruct christology in the contemporary Chinese context is very evident. This reconstruction is also reinterpretation. This means that there should be continuity between this re-understanding of and the classical understanding of christology, between doing christology in the Chinese context and doing christology in other contexts.
Doing christology in the Chinese context: Where to begin
There is a clear shift from classical christology to contemporary christology. To a greater or lesser degree, nearly all contemporary christologies give their attention to the "historical Jesus." Although classical christology may still have something to say about Christ in the contemporary Chinese context, in doing christology in the present Chinese context, we must have a different starting point from classical christology.
The liberation theologian Jon Sobrino prefaces his critique of the definition handed down by the Council of Chalcedon with a discussion of the nature of dogma. In terms of his own understanding of theology and of his own context, Sobrino is most enthusiastic about focusing his own christology on the historical Jesus. He consistently emphasizes christology from below as he develops a christology in the context of Latin America. Therefore, he defines Jesus as a part of the historical reality in the struggle of poor people for liberation. In employing this approach, he makes the historical Jesus the primary focus and even chooses this as his starting point.
He gives several reasons for this. He believes that although there are many possible starting points for doing christology, the historical Jesus is most appropriate and effective one. Early in his Christology at the Crossroads , Sobrino explains why he and other Latin American liberation theologians choose to adopt the historical Jesus as the starting point for doing christology. To some degree, his is correct in saying, "Our Christology will (by starting with the historical Jesus) avoid abstractionism, and the attendant danger of manipulating the Christ event. This history of the church shows, from its very beginnings, as we shall see, that any focusing on the Christ of faith will jeopardize the very essence of the Christian faith if it neglects the historical Jesus. Finally, we feel that the historical Jesus is the hermeneutic principle that enables us to draw closer to the totality of Christ both in terms of knowledge and in terms of real-life praxis. It is there that we will find the unity of Christology and soteriology." 8 Clearly, there has been a radical shift here from the Christ of faith to the his torical Jesus as starting point of christology. As Sobrino has seen, the historical Jesus can truly bring concreteness and historicity to christology.
African American theologians have also found the essential significance of Jesus in the lives of African Americans. They hold that the Jesus of history is important for understanding who Jesus was and his significance for black people today. By and large they have affirmed that this Jesus is the Christ, that is, God incarnate. They have argued that in the light of their experience, Jesus means freedom, freedom from the socio-psychological, psycho-cultural, economic and political oppression of black people. In other words, Jesus is their political Messiah. "To free (humans) from bondage was Jesus' own definition of his ministry." This meant that as Jesus identified with the lowly of his day, he now identifies with the lowly of this day, who, in the American context, are the African Americans. 9
The "historical Jesus" is surely important for us. But, searching for the historical Jesus does not mean that one can get back to a real "historical Jesus." As I understand it, the "historical Jesus means the "biblical Jesus." The Bible is simply a witness to, but not a biography of, this Jesus. Thus, it is impossible for us to find the real "historical Jesus." We see a "biblical Jesus," who is, in fact, a theologized "historical Jesus." All references to the "historical Jesus" are theological ones. As one theologian says, "One cannot discern with certainty what Jesus said, did, or thought. All the records we have about Jesus, even the very earliest ones, are already responses to Jesus. Thus, they are already christologies, even if of an implicit sort." 10 This sug gests that in doing our own christology we need to go back to the biblical Jesus, not a historical Jesus.
It is true that contemporary christology cannot be read directly from the earliest traditions about Jesus, yet these earliest traditions are constitutive for christology today. It is possible, of course, to build christologies on later developments in the history of Christian theology. For instance, christologies often have begun with the declarations of the Council of Nicea or of Chalcedon, reading the biblical texts expecting to find and therefore finding the fully human, fully divine Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. As important as these counciliar definitions have been to illuminating who Jesus is and might be for us, we need to go behind them as far as possible to their own sources in the scriptural witness.
As a Chinese theologian rightly says, four conditions are necessary to construct a Chinese theology: revelation (including the authority of the Bible), tradition, culture, and praxis (or experience). 11 Similarly, the construction of a Chinese christology require these same four foundations. Any christology must surely have a biblical basis. Without this biblical basis, there can be no authentic christology. Then, what is the starting point for christology in the Chinese context?
The Bible tells us (Mt. 16:13-20) that Jesus once posed two questions to his disciples while they were in the district of Caesarea Philippi: "Who do people say that I am?" and more precisely, "Who do you say that I am?" An authentic christology must begin from these questions. Other people's, other theologians' understandings of Jesus are important. But the most important thing for Chinese Christians today is who we say Jesus is in our own context. Thus, doing christology in our own situation is doing christology in the Chinese context. Apart from this context, we cannot do our christology. Therefore, doing Chinese christology must take as its starting points both the Bible and our own praxis.
I agree with Lucien Richard that the starting point for a contemporary christology cannot simply be biblical doctrines about Jesus, nor just the historical Jesus. "What men and women of today experience and hope for must be one of the constitutive elements of the Christian response to Jesus' own question, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWho do you say that I am?'" 12 This is true for Chinese Christians in doing our christology as well. Our starting point for christology thus should be both the "biblical Jesus" and our own experience of this Jesus.
From this starting point, in our own Chinese context, an appropriate christology should thus be a biblical christology in some sense. It must have a strong biblical basis and also be in harmony with our own experience. When we make the Bible and our own lived experience the starting point for our christology, we will discover that Christ is not a conqueror, but a servant. God is a suffering God who suffers in our own sufferings. He loves all human beings, Christian and non-Christian. God is with Chinese Christians, also with the Chinese people, among Chinese people, and in Chinese people. And to some degree, we can also find the image of this Christ in Chinese culture.
Tao christology and a few metaphors
It is certainly true that Chinese christology is only on the way. Although many Chinese theologians have started to do christology in the Chinese context, there still is no "one" Chinese christology as yet. But what they have done may be a pointer to a "Chinese christology." As I understand it, a tao christology can perhaps be "Chinese christology" in our own context.
Luis G. Pedraja very much appreciates that "Spanish Bibles and Liturgies provide a certain advantage over other languages by translating references to Jesus as God's verb. When we speak of Jesus as a Verb, it is difficult to reduce faith to just belief without action." 13 Pedraja may be right. But, for me, the Chinese Bible's translation of "Jesus as God's word" into "Jesus as God's tao " has an even more dynamic meaning. Jesus Christ is not only a living Verb, but also a living tao , a God-human with us.
Although most Chinese Christians still hold a view of christology directly imported from the West by missionaries as I mentioned above, some Chinese Christians have started to try to enculturate Christianity into Chinese culture. For them, the Word of God is tao which can incarnate in Chinese culture.
The tao of God not only can, but must, become incarnate in Chinese culture. Using the Buddhist concept of embodiment ( huashen ) to illuminate incarnation might allow us to more easily understand the possibility of incarnation of the tao in Chinese culture. We may see the flesh which the tao becomes in Chinese culture as an embodiment or avatara of the tao . There is not necessarily only one avatara ; they may be limitless, and there may be different types.
It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the possibility of the incarnation of the tao becoming flesh in China, nor to attempt to construct a tao christology, but to reveal some ethical components of such a christology. In light of my understanding of some characteristics of tao , I will try to draw a picture of Jesus Christ from some different perspectives. Jesus Christ is the humble or kenotic Christ. He is also the suffering God, who suffered and also suffers with and among Chinese people. Jesus Christ is still a loving God. He is a cosmic lover. In what follows, I would like to present this understanding of christology through several metaphors.
Metaphor 1: Jesus Christ is like a bowl
The first metaphor points to Christ's kenosis or humility. Jesus Christ is God's tao made flesh. It is easy for Chinese people to understand that tao is like an empty bowl, "Which in being used can never be filled up./Fathomless, it seems to be the origin of all things./It blunts all sharp edges, /It unites all tangles,/It harmonizes all lights,/It unites the world into one whole." 14 Likewise, for Chinese Christians, it is very easy to understand Jesus Christ, tao made flesh, as an empty God. It is a kind of kenotic christology.
Lucien Richard argued, "The kenotic Christology of the New Testament seemed most appropriate." He saw this christology as the most expressive of Jesus' own message and best reflected in Philippians 2:5-11 and in the Gospel of Mark. It is true that, in the form of God, Jesus Christ recognized his equality with God not as a matter of getting, but of giving. His kenosis means that God's glory is thus "demonstrated in shame and weakness. Divinity in other words issued in generous self-giving, not in self-aggrandizement." 15 The christological hymn of Phil. 2:6-11 presents the self-emptying of Jesus as the revelation that to be God is to be unselfishness itself. In his life, "Jesus pursued a style of service even to the act of complete self-giving." 16
Lucien Richard contends that Philippians 1 and the Gospel of Mark establish a paradox which must permeate all Christian lifeÃ¢â‚¬â€salvation and well-being are "attained not by conquest, not by domination of the other, but by self-effacement and self-giving love which leads ultimately to self realization. The coming of the Kingdom is realized through self-actualization of the other. Real authority and power lie in compassionate, persuasive love, in weak-ness." 17 I could not agree more.
There is a similar expression of the power in weak ness in a Chinese classic:
To remain whole, be twisted!
To become straight, let yourself be bent.
To become full, be hollow.
Be tattered, that you may be renewed.
Those that have little, may get more,
Those that have much, are but perplexed.
He does not show himself; therefore he is seen every where.
He does not define himself, therefore he is distance.
He does not boast of what he will do, therefore he
He is not proud of his work, and therefore it endures.
He does not contend, and for that very reason no one under heaven can contend with him. 18
Another passage in Lao Tze has same implication:
Nothing under heaven is softer or more yielding than water;
But when it attacks things hard and resistant, there is not one of them that can prevail.
For they can find no way of altering it. That the yielding conquers the resistant. and the soft conquers the hard is a fact known by all
yet utilized by none.
Yet it is in reference to this that the Sage said
"Only he who has accepted the dirt of the country can be lord of its soil-shrines;
only he who takes upon himself the evils of the coun try can become a king among those what dwell under heaven." 19
A kenotic christology, starting "from below" means that the crucified, the suffering humanity of Jesus is the locus of God's revelation and God's being. God's love is not simply revealed through the Words of Jesus but through action and deeds of kenosis, a self-emptying which led to the cross. This kenotic God put himself at human beings' side to suffer with them and for them. This self-giving love of God demands a radical self-emptying. Here love and suffering co-inhere. In this sense, Jesus Christ is "the periphery-oriented authority of the crucified Lord," 20 and his periph-ery-orientation makes us the center of his love.
The nature of kenosis is the abandonment of self, the taking up of the cross. Jesus not only carried his own cross, he taught his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him. Such kenosis is depicted by Paul in Romans 1:26-32. It symbolized the spirit of sacrifice and the turning of humans from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. As a revelation event, the cross can symbolize the necessary self-emptying as a path to new life. In the cross we discover the fundamental law of the divine life itself: "Power is to be found in weakness." Thus, kenosis, the self-emptying and self-giving, is to be understood as characteristic of the life of God. It is "a characteristic of God's action." 21
It is not difficult to find some similarities between empty tao and the kenotic Jesus Christ. In tao , we find a Chinese expression of God's kenosis. The tao is like an empty bowl. Likewise, Jesus Christ who was the tao became flesh as kenotic God and humble man. Jesus Christ is like a bowl.
Bowls play a very important part in the daily lives of Chinese people. They can be symbols of our daily life because many Chinese people use them daily to eat and drink from. Bowls are part of our daily lives. In some sense, our physical life cannot exist apart from bowls, which imply that without food there is no life. Unlike Europeans and Americans, Chinese do not greet each other by saying "How are you?", but with the phrase, "Have you eaten?" Although many of the younger generation greet each other by saying things like, "Chatted in QQ?" "E-mailed anyone?" "Made any money lately?" or "Won the lottery?" etc., most Chinese people, especially those who live in the countryside, are still accustomed to greeting each other with "Have you eaten?" For most Chinese people, eating well and enough is the number one concern. It's the same in most Asian countries. This being the case, it will always be easy to maintain the relationship between people's understanding of God and the "bread of life." As one Asian theologian says, "When starving people eat the food, they experience God Ã¢â‚¬Ëœin every grain.' They Ã¢â‚¬Ëœknow' and Ã¢â‚¬Ëœtaste' God when they chew each grain. Food makes them alive." 22
My use of a bowl as a metaphor for talking about Jesus Christ here was inspired by an English scholar who connects tao (the Way) with a bowl. As we have seen above in the citation from the Tao te ching , the tao has several characteristics: 1) like the rim of a bowl, tao has neither beginning nor end; 2) Tao is shaped like a bowl. It is an indivisible whole; 3) like a bowl, tao is empty inside. This is what makes a bowl a bowl. Tao is also empty inside, and just for this reason, it can contain all things; 4) Tao is open to the outside, as is a bowl. The nature of the tao is self-hum-bling. Tao is open to the outside and pours itself out. It gives to all, and embraces all; (5) Finally, tao is useful. Tao's nature is self-giving and self-humbling. It doesn't try to lord it over anything or anybody, but simply and silently gives itself up. 23
Here, it is not difficult to find similarities between a humble tao and a kenotic Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, Son of God is open to outside, to all, like a bowl. His hands stretch forth; they reach out to God in absolute obedience, and they also reach us with complete and humble love. He is humble. Like the rim of the bowl, Christ has neither beginning nor ending. He is as eternal as the Father. He is "the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End"(Rev. 1:8). He is and was and is to come: the Almighty. All things were created though Him. But this Christ emptied himself, like the inside of a bowl. In a sense, the emptiness of Christ is the core of the gospel. God has destroyed the barriers between humanity and God, and by this emptying out, is with us always. God became flesh, not to be above us, but to become human like us. As Philippians says, "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, and being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of deathÃ¢â‚¬â€even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:5-8). Through his action of emptying himself, we are able to see and to know Him. This is the inner humbleness of God. Only through God's kenosis, can we see and know God.
It is much easier for Chinese Christians to accept such a weak and humble Christ who is with us even in our suffering and weakness. Jesus Christ is God become human, not a human become God. He is made human, not to show power, but for love; not to be glorified, but for mercy. Christ's strength does not lie in his might, but in his weakness. Christ's victory is not in his glory but on his cross, in his suffering. In his kenosis, he brings us abundant life. As the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says, Jesus Christ is truly the victory of God. But the victory of Jesus Christ comes not through power, but through his love, and his kenotic act. In his kenosis, he is exalted by the Father. This kenotic Christ is God to us and in us.
Metaphor 2: Jesus Christ is like the sun
My second metaphor is the sun, which points to the cosmic Christ. The cosmic Christ shines like the sun on all creation. As "great Tao pervades everywhere," the light and heat of the sun pervade the whole cosmos. In the same way, in this cosmic Christ God's light embraces the whole creation. This Christ loves and takes care of the whole cosmos.
China is an agricultural society, and in an agricultural society, the sun is vitally important. Without the light of the sun, plants cannot grow, there will be no harvest, and thus none of the food necessary for life. The sunlight shines on the whole cosmos, everyone and everything. It rejects nothing and no one. Jesus Christ is like a just sun, and his love is for all creatures. God also makes "His sun rise on the evil
An understanding of Jesus Christ as the cosmic Christ is not new. It comes from Paul's understanding of Christ in Colossians and Ephesians. It is also one of the main emphases of Asian theology in general and Chinese theology in particular.
Levisons argued according to Colossians that the cosmos has its origin, present sustenance and fulfillment in Christ. Christ is the origin and the goal of creation (see Col.1:16b, 1:17b, 1:20a). This perception of Christ has implications for Christianity's relationship to other religions and cultures. Besides this, the other foci of Colossians 1 are cosmic unity and the universal accessibility of God to the creation through the mediation of Christ. 24 Levisons' arguments here are especially important for the Asian situation. The minority status of Christianity in Asia in general, and in China in particular, has not, then, led to a minor presentation of Christ. On the contrary, the scope of Christ's presence is cosmic. This cosmic Christ is beyond the Christian Church.
For Chinese Christians, what the cosmic Christ reveals to us is not God's omnipotence, but God's love. God's nature is love, and God is the cosmic lover. God is love enacted. Without God's love it would be impossible for us to love others. God's love initiates a new possibility for being human. As K. H. Ting says, "That Christ is cosmic gives us assurance that God is the cosmic lover, not any cosmic tyrant or punisher. He works by education and persuasion rather than coercion and forced obedience. He lures and invites and waits for free response and does not resort to scolding and reprimanding. That is why many of us in China find the Gospel's analogy of the transformation of seeds and growth of plants in air, rain and sun more appealing than that of beating and controlling the sheep with rod and staff. God's is the will-to-fellowship, not the will-to-power." 25
This cosmic Christ is not only the ascended Christ, but also the Christ who lives among us. We can find the image of this cosmic Christ in our next-door neighbor, and in a Christian in our church. Jesus Christ also lived and still lives in our community. He was and still is someone we could call upon to understand our plight and to give us hope. We also can find this image of the cosmic Christ in the love of Christians and also in any good deeds of non-Christians. This understanding can pave a way for us to identify with our people.
The Chinese Church is extremely small and weak. As Chinese Christians, if we want to identify with our people, we must discover new meaning in this cosmic Christ. This Christ enables us to see a God whose love is inclusive and not exclusive. God's love embraces all people, and all life in the cosmos. This understanding of cosmic Christ can shine great light on our treatment of the relationship between non-Christians and Christians, between church and society.
In his essay, "Christ in Cosmic Context," Jurgen Moltmann contends that without text there is no context and without context, there is no text. His text is the biblical tradition of the creation wisdom and the cosmic Christ. His context is the ecological crisis of the earth-system. The most important context for us as Chinese Christians is our particular social and cultural context. In this context, a bib-lically-based cosmic Christ can bring meaning to our own christology. Truly, "when we see the world, we see God's divine nature and eternal power." 26 Jesus Christ is cosmic lover and cosmic governor.
The sun as metaphor here points to God's universal love. God is the cosmic lover. Understanding of Jesus Christ as the cosmic Christ is not new, but, for Chinese Christians,40 the significance of knowing Christ as having a cosmic nature lies essentially in ascertaining two things, as K. H. Ting has pointed out: 1) the universal extent of Christ's domain, concern and care, and 2) the kind of love which we get a taste of in Jesus Christ as we read the Gospels being the first and supreme attribute of God and basic to the structure and dynamic of the universe. In light of this love we get an insight as to how things go in the world.
Christ is not so small as to concern himself only with religious or spiritual or ecclesiastical things, or only with believers, or only with making converts of those who do not yet consciously believe in him. He is the one who sustains the universe by his word of power (Heb. 1:3). His is the primacy over all creation. Christ has everything to do with Creation. His concern is to bring Creation to its fruition when love, justice and peace become the rule. Redemption does not stand against Creation but is one process with Creation. Not only communities of Christians here and there, but humankind as a whole and, indeed, the whole cosmos, are within the realm of Christ's redemptive work. 27 This understanding is very important for Chinese Christians. Christians in China are in an absolute minority. If we want to witness well to God in China, we must first witness to this inclusive love of God. This will help to ease the distance between ourselves and the rest of the Chinese people.
In Romans 5:15-17, Paul speaks of the infinitely greater impact of Christ on humanity than that of Adam. We are elated and get a sense of liberation upon reading this. The incarnation profoundly affects human and cosmic life in all its aspects. It is inconceivable that any area of human endeavor should be unaffected by the few who profess a belief in Christ. All truth goodness and beauty come from this Christ. He shines in all that is fair in the world, no matter whether this is to be found in the Church, or outside it.
That Christ is cosmic gives us assurance that God is the cosmic lover, not any cosmic tyrant or punisher. God works by education and persuasion rather than coercion and forced obedience. He lures and invites and awaits our free response and does not resort to scolding and reprimand. That is why many of us in China find the Gospel's analogy of the transformation of seeds and the growth of plants in air, rain and sun more appealing than that of beating and controlling the sheep with rod and staff. God's is the will-to-fellow-ship, and will-to-love, not the will-to-power or will-to-con-trol.
For Chinese Christians, to discard the image of a vengeful, frightening God, God the omnipotent, in dealing with humans, and to come to adore God the Lover, the Sympathizer, the fellow-sufferer who comes to us, is a shift that is truly liberating, and also truly necessary. It is an entirely new understanding for Chinese culture and not foreign to it.
This cosmic Christ is related to the kenotic Christ. A passage from Lao Tze's Tao te ching says:
The supreme Tao, How it floods in every direction!
This way and that,
There is no place where it does not go.
All things look to it for life,
And it refuses none of them:
Yet when its work is accomplished it possesses nothing.
Clothing and nourishing all things,
It does not lord it over them.
Since it asks for nothing from them,
It may be classed among things of low estate;
But since all things obey it without coercion.
It may be named supreme.
It does not arrogate greatness to itself,
And so fulfills its greatness. 28
This passage prepares the Chinese soil to receive a Christ whose dimensions are cosmic. This Christ is the cosmic lover. He loves Christians, and also loves non-Chris-tians. His love permeates everywhere. He fills the whole cosmos with his great love and self-giving mercy. In this Christ, we can find something which helps us in welcoming goodness outside of the church. God is not only the Christians' God, but also the non-Christians' God. God is the Lord of the whole universe. In Jesus Christ, all are included in God's impartial love and mercy. This cosmic Christ is God with us.
Metaphor 3: Jesus Christ as a suffering mother
My third metaphor is the image of a suffering mother. This points to Christ's suffering in the midst of love. Chinese Christians have a great appreciation for this image of Jesus Christ. Our experience tells us that a mother will suffer for her children; this is suffering for others. This suffering Christ is God for us. Not only does this Christ weep for our pain, he suffers personally for us, he takes up our sins and burdens. He dies, and lives, for us.
Suffering has given the people of Asia their history. Our history is truly the history of suffering and pain. As C. S. Song says, "Suffering makes our history really historical. It makes our history truly contextual." 29 In our own context, "Asians do not have to look for suffering; it comes to them.... They cannot choose one kind of suffering as against another kind of suffering; suffering chooses them. In short, for them to be is to suffer." 30
For Asian Christian theology, therefore, it is important that God addresses the experience of suffering through a "gravity-bound" love that draws God into history and into the historical lives of human persons. The sign of "gravitybound" love is God's suffering with humanity. God suffers "with" humankind. "This suffering God feels pain-love; that is, God loves people to the extent of feeling their pain, as a mother feels pain in childbirth for the child whom she loves. Jesus was the pain-love of God in his earthly life." 31
Japanese theologian Kazon Kitamori posed the theology of the pain of God as a necessary approach to understanding the Christian Gospel in its fullness, which addressed both the theological environment and Japan's immediate historical circumstances. For him, the pain of God emerges from the conflict between God's wrath and mercy. "God suffers pain when he tries to love us, the objects of his wrath." 32 I agree with his understanding of God's pain-love, but do not agree that the pain of God emerges from the conflict between God's wrath and mercy. It is my understanding that God's fundamental attribute is God's love.
Thus, God's pain arises because of God's love for us. In God's love, God suffers with us in our own sufferings. God does not need to suffer, but out of love for us freely shares in our pain. "The distance between love and suffering is very short indeed." 33
We find the biblical foundation of the identification of Jesus with human suffering in the portrait of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:3. Suffering people can thus identify with Jesus on the cross, his deepest point of suffering. The biblical portrait of Jesus as the suffering servant finds its Asian counterpart in Jesus as the pain-love of God. Like many Asian theologians, Byung Mu Ahn, a Korean theologian, contends that Jesus' suffering is the core of the christology. 34
Many Asian theologians, especially Asian women theologians, have started to portray Jesus through the image of a mother. They see Jesus as a compassionate one who feels the suffering of humanity deeply, suffers and weeps together with us. Some even go so far as to clothe Jesus in the image of Guanyin (Kuan Yin). For them, "since Jesus' compassion is so deep, the mother image is the most appropriate one for Asian women to express their experience of Jesus's compassion." 35
Turning to the Chinese context, I would like to say that this third metaphor of Jesus Christ in the Tao-became-flesh christology, that of the suffering mother, is most appropriate. It is one Chinese Christians can appreciate. Jesus Christ is like a suffering mother whose love is a kind of self-giv-ing love. This image of the suffering mother is also familiar to Chinese people in general.
Let me cite two more passages of Lao Tze, which refer to the nature of tao :
Rear Creatures, then, feed them,
Rear them, but do not control them.
Feed them, but never lean upon them;
Lead them, but do not manage them.
This is called the Mysterious Power. 36
But the myriad creatures are worked upon by him;
he does disown them.
He rears them, but does not lay claim to them; Feeds them, but does not lean upon them;
Achieves his aim, but does not call attention to what he does;
And for the very reason that he does to call attention
to what he does.
He is not ejected from fruition of what he has done. 37
We can see from this that tao is like a mother who cares for and loves her children with a self-giving love. This love must contain a kind of self-surrendering, and suffering.
Jesus Christ is like this tao . He loves his people as a mother loves her children. Jesus Christ loves us, and also suffers for us. When we are suffering, Jesus Christ is with us, among us, and in us. He also carries our cross for us. Chinese Christians much prefer this image of Jesus Christ, a Christ who suffers because he loves us. He loves us; thus, he suffers for us.
Historically speaking, China as a nation has experienced too much suffering. Therefore, for Chinese, the mother image relates not only to love, but also to suffering, and this suffering mother is lovable and understandable. During the Cultural Revolution, for example, when thousands of Chinese people were detained, struggled against and persecuted, thousands of mothers suffered with their children. The nation's catastrophe, and the home's tribulations, all weighed down upon the shoulders of China's mothers. When their sons and daughters suffered, many Chinese mothers suffered with, and also suffered for, their children. In these mothers, we can see the image of a suffering God. God suffered with and for us. This is why many Chinese Christians know that the reflection of Christ is to be found in a mothers' love.
Jesus Christ therefore took up his cross for all humankind. In this human suffering, he experienced our pain. In the same way, God truly suffered for the Chinese people in their suffering. In those who suffer and struggle for life, God is present as an object of history. In those who act out of love for others, in those who struggle for the lives of others, we also see God as a historical subject, acting on behalf of others. Through those who struggle on behalf of life, who act out of love and compassion for others, God becomes incarnate as a subjective agent of history. For this very reason, the risen Christ is a suffering Christ, one who died on the cross for the sake of human beings. Therefore, all who have endured suffering, torture, and oppression find a deep connection with the crucified Christ, who stands in solidarity with all the countless victims of oppression and suffering in every place, culture and time.
This Christ is no stranger to Chinese Christians; they know him well. Many Chinese Christians have found Christ in the course of their search for a mother's love. Xie Fuya wrote in his autobiography that because his mother constantly called upon the name of Buddha on his behalf, he saw in his mother's love the great love of God, and finally became a Christian. The image of the suffering mother is lovable and understandable for them. Christ as a suffering mother is Christ who is among and with us in our suffering. He was and also is a suffering God.
In one of his essays, another Chinese theologian, Wang Weifan, once mentioned his mother's suffering for her sons. His father died when he was seven years old, and his mother endured many hardships in her life, all for her son's sake. For the sake of him, his mother chose her path: a life of hardship and humiliation. For his stepbrother, the child of his father's first wife, Wang's mother set out on a long and arduous journey during the war years, which eventually led to her death. He writes, "For her own son's sake, she chose the hardships of life, and for a son not her own, she was willing to risk danger and die.... When I recall my mother's love, and read again the passage Ã¢â‚¬Ëœby his bruises we are healed' (Is.53:5), I cannot but say that the shadow of the cross is reflected in that mother love which is shaped by traditional Chinese culture." 38 This is not the experience of all Chinese mothers, but the image of a suffering mother is nonetheless a common image of Chinese mothers. A mother who loves is always a suffering mother. In the same way, Christ is the God who suffers for love. He suffers because he loves the world and us. He loves his creatures, and therefore, he suffers for the whole creation, as a mother suffers for her children. We discover the image of the suffering Christ in the image of the suffering Chinese mother.
N. T. Wright rightly points out that western scholars are observers, not participants. They use so-called objective methods to observe the objects of their research. They image Jesus as a great teacher of truths-divorced-from-real-life. 39 For Chinese Christians, this western-style understanding seems very biased. Jesus is not only a teacher, but also a self-giving lover. He so loves us that he carries our sin and suffering. He is God with us, and among us. The cross is the sign of God's suffering in Jesus Christ.
In those who suffer and struggle for life, God is present as an object of history. God truly suffers in the suffering of the Chinese people. Through Jesus' incarnation, God reveals to humanity the image of God we bear in ourselves, impelling us to see God in each other. The Incarnation locates God's presence in the messy reality of life, and more specifically, it locates it in the struggle for life. Therefore, in the struggle for life, Jesus Christ is with us. In our tears, we can see Jesus' tears for us.
For Chinese Christians, the resurrection truth also tells us that it is through loss, poverty, suffering and death that life is attained. It tells us life does not depend on power, wealth or property, but on the Risen Christ, the Lord of life, who is also the Ascended Christ, sitting at the right hand of God and upholding the universe by his word of power. This Christ is a suffering Christ who died on the cross for the sake of human beings. He still suffers with us and for us. In our suffering, we can see the image of Jesus Christ as a suffering mother.
Conclusion: A practical or ethical christology
Of course, there are other metaphors for Christ in Chinese theological thinking, but due to the limitations of time and space, I have focused only on three in this essay. In any case, it seems accurate to say that Chinese christological thinking is more practical in nature, unlike the western tradition which is more theoretical. For Chinese Christians, Jesus Christ is not an object of theoretical thinking, but a subject for practical imitation. Therefore, our christology is to follow Jesus ChristÃ¢â‚¬â€the kenotic, loving, and suffering GodÃ¢â‚¬â€rather than to think about him. Tao christology should be "walking" christology, not "thinking" christology.
Xie Fuya, the Chinese philosopher and theologian, contends that the Chinese christology that is in the process of taking shape should be very different from western christology, which is theological and philosophical, more concerned with profound metaphysics. The core of Chinese christology should be a band of saints who imitate and follow Christ. We should have our Chinese Paul, our Chinese John, our Chinese Augustine and our Chinese Aquinas. Chinese christology will have no interest in a debate over creeds, doctrines or dogmas. Chinese christology will directly study Jesus Christ, who is both God and human, human and God, and follow the life of Jesus so that he can be a new moral model for Chinese people. In terms of theory, we will build a new theory in which heaven and humankind form a whole, so that we can fulfill the old heaven-human-in-one theory ( tian ren heyi ) of Chinese tradition. In this sense, a Chinese church which makes christology central will contribute many Christian junzi (the Confucian ideal of the gentleman-scholar). 40 It is in terms of such praxiological aspects that Xie terms christology "Christ studies," suggesting that christology in China is not a matter of discussing Christ, but studying to be like Christ. This clearly reveals the essence of the Chinese christology that is taking shape.
I cannot help but add a resounding "yes" to his insight. What I have done above and what Xie says is consistent to some extent. We are seeking the footprints of an ethical Christ. For Jesus Christ is a kenotic Christ. He is also a cosmic lover. This Christ suffered and still suffers with and for suffering people; he is there in their midst. By following Christ, the Chinese church can contribute many Christian "exemplars" ( junzi ) to the Chinese church and Chinese society. For this reason, the Chinese christology which is in formation should be practical christology. An ethical christology is a practical christology. It demands that we not only talk about Christ, but follow Him in all the fullness of our lives. These Christian exemplars will be able to bring about the kingdom of God, to make God's will done on earth as it is in heaven. This is the significance of an ethical christology.
In Christ, heaven and humanity become one. The tao is not only the word of God, but also the way of God on which human beings can walk as the sons and daughters of God, and as the followers of Jesus Christ. This tao is not far from us, but very near us, around us and within us. This tao has to become flesh in our own culture. And it will enhance our understanding of Christology in our own context. As part of the ongoing theological reflection taking place in the Chinese church, an ethical christology provides a possible direction for the formation of a Chinese christology.
Chen Yongtao teaches at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. He presented this paper at a conference in Beijing, "Fateful/Faithful Encounters: Religious and Cultural Exchanges between Asia and the West," organized by the Institute of World Religions and the Graduate Theological Union, October 2002. English original, edited.
1 See Wang Weifan, "The Word Was Here Made Flesh," Chinese Theological Review: 8 (1993): 92.
2 Lucien Richard, A Kenotic Christology (University Press of America, 1982),2.
3 See Virginia Fabella, "An Asian Woman's Perspective," in Asian Faces of Jesus , edited by R. S. Sugirtharajah (Maryknoll, NY, 1993), 217.
4 Lucien Richard, A Kenotic Christology , 2.
5 A Kenotic Christology, 17.
6 A Kenotic Christology , 68.
7 See Glen H. Stassen, D. M. Yeager, and John Howard Yonder, Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture (Abingdon Press, 1996) ,97.
8 Jon Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads , 27.
9 See Jaequelyn Grant, White Women's Christ and Black Women's Jesus (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1989), 215.
10 See Christ in A Post-Christian World , 43.
11 See Wang Weifan, Chinese Theology and Its Cultural Resources , (in Chinese) (Nanjing: Nanjing Theological Seminary, 1997), 1.
12 A Kenotic Christology , 100.
13 Jesus Is My Uncle (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 87.
14 Lao Tze , The Chinese-English Bilingual Series of Chinese Classics (Changsha: Hunan Press, 1994), Ch.4,.9.
15 A Kenotic Christology , 104.
16 A Kenotic Christology , 106-7.
17 See A Kenotic Christology , 114.
18 Lao Tze , chapter 22.
19 Lao Tze , chapter 78.
20 Kosuke Koyama, "The Crucified Christ," in Asian Faces of Jesus , 156.
21 A Kenotic Christology , 315.
22 See Asian Faces of Jesus , 243.
23 See Brant Pelphrey, "A Short Meditation on a Bowl: Tao Te Ching and the Kenotic Christology of The Christian East," in Liu Xiaofeng, ed., Tao and Word , (in Chinese) (Shanghai: Joint Publications, 1995), 351-5.
24 See "Jesus in Asia," in Hilary D. Rogan and Alan J. Torrance, eds., Christ and Context: The Confrontation Between Gospel and Culture (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993) , 61-62.
25 K. H. Ting, Love never Ends (Nanjing: Yilin Press, 2000), 416.
26 T. C. Chao, Four Talks on Theology (in Chinese) (Hong Kong: The Council on Christian Literature for Overseas Chinese, 1955), 9.
27 See K. H. Ting, "The Cosmic Christ," in Love Never Ends , 411-2.
28 Lao Tze , chapter 10, p20.
29 C. S. Song, "Oh, Jesus, Here With Us!" in Asian Faces of Jesus, 138.
30 See Song , The Passionate God (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1982), 122 .
31 See "Jesus in Asia," in Christ and Context, 68-9.
32 Shusako Endo, GTU thesis, 1993, 9 .
33 C. S. Song , " Theology from the Womb of Asia , " Part 111, in Jesus in Asia,68.
34 See "Jesus and People," in Asian Faces of Jesus , 170 .
35 Chung Hyun Kyung, "Who Is Jesus For Asian Women," in Asian Faces of Jesus , 234.
36 Lao Tze , chapter. 10.
37 Lao Tze , chapter.2.
38 Wang Weifan, "The Word Was Here Made Flesh," Chinese Theological Review : 8: 94.
39 See N. T. Wright, Jesus And The Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 578.
40 N. Z. Zia (Xie Fuya) , "Classics age, Buddhology age, and Christology age," Tao and Verbum , 658-9.