"Jesus is Christ" as the Basis for Efforts at Indigenization and Contextualization in the Chinese Church
Theological discussion is a present historical discussion, for faith is existential and theology is historical. Heidegger held that faith is a way of being in history and theology is the science of history. 1 Thus theological discussion that is related to believers' existence must be undertaken in the historical present. The current state of the Chinese Church is not simply that of a product of Christian history, but is related to world history as well. An understanding of the current state of the Chinese Church and of the current state of development of theology within it must be intentionally undertaken within history. If we elect to speak of it in isolation, our conclusions can hardly be related to the current state of the church in China or to efforts to indigenize the Chinese Church and contextualize Chinese theology.
Issues of indigenization and contextualization have come to seem like platitudes. There has been a lot of discussion of these issues over the last twenty years, but definitions have quite often been confused. Perhaps it is necessary to differentiate somewhat between the two, so that the discussion can proceed as meaningfully as possible. Roughly, indigenization is applied to the mode of church expression, and contextualization refers to the construction of theological thinking. Of course the boundary between the two cannot be absolutely clear, but the two definitely differ in meaning.
We must begin by explaining that indigenization is not inculturation. Quite the contrary, the inculturation of Christianity is the effort to transform Christianity into cultural Christianity. This poses a threat to Christianity, because cultural Christianity is a cultural expression of Christianity, not a Christian expression of culture. Indigenization is a cultural issue whose task is to enable Chinese Christianity to take root in traditional Chinese culture. 2 This point is extremely important for the Chinese Church, because there is a tendency to want to build the Chinese Church on so called "Christian culture" which is in essence a western cultural foundation. The result of this would be to make Chinese Christianity into a product of western culture. Only by identifying with the Chinese cultural tradition can Chinese Christianity better express itself in a Chinese cultural environment and play a role in the development of the Chinese cultural tradition.
Contextualization is a theological effort. Its task is to develop Chinese Christian theology in the Chinese context and oppose making a theology from another context the standard for theological praxis in the Chinese Church. It stresses that Chinese Christian theology must have its feet solidly planted in the Chinese context. Contextualization is a way to understand the present state of things historically, including the present cultural, political, economic and other conditions. It can link the past to the present and the present to the future. But contextualization is not localization, for localization is a narrow concept. Contextualization opens up the local to the world in this historical present. Because of this, contextual theology is not closed, but open. It is historical and not short-sighted or utilitarian.
It is not my object in this essay to discuss historical issues, but rather, through an analysis of several models of church indigenization and theological contextualization to explore, in the consciousness of this present historical moment and in the Chinese context, the trends in these two areas, and to offer two practical models for the Chinese Church.
1 Models of Indigenization
The demand for indigenization of the Christian church in China was raised in the last century and some Chinese church figures made many attempts to carry it through. Their efforts can be incorporated in the models below according to the methods employed.
The classical culture model involves using classical documents in our reading and interpretation of the Bible, or applying classical cultural forms-old rituals from traditional culture, old cultural concepts, or even old linguistic forms. But these efforts possess special features of traditional Chinese culture in form only. In substance, they are simply a restoration and end by making it even more difficult to express modern people's faith in Christian forms. The Renaissance thinking that returned to the classics was not a restoration, but a discovery of inspiration in the classics to address the hesitation of the contemporary church. Xie Fuya was a pioneer in this. His style gives the reader the sense of the traditional eight-part essay format being used to break its own bounds.
Being native-born does not make something indigenous; indigenization is the process of engaging in cultural reflection within the Chinese cultural tradition. The Little Flock is a home-grown Chinese sect whose forms of expression make it distinct from other sects. Superficial examples would be a ban on women preaching and the absence of an ordained clergy. These customs are not from Chinese culture, however, but are examples of direct appropriation of Christian faith practices from New Testament culture joined to a foreign congregational church order. The Jesus Family, another sect, is particularly marked by this way of doing things, even though it, too, is heavily colored by the feudalism of the old Chinese culture. These practices are not indigenous, because they are not a result of cultural reflection taking place within the Chinese cultural tradition.
With the changes in China's economic structure, culture has changed, as have language and its connotations. It is very difficult to express the faith of people today using traditional language with its fixed linguistic connotations. What is more, due to the intensification of ethnic consciousness that has come with economic development, the public ethos cannot bear a return to the cultural and political environment that brought such humiliation to the Chinese people, but desires to infuse Chinese culture with new vitality in this new period of opportunity. Thus the classical culture model has a very limited role to play in indigenization efforts in the Chinese Church.
Rev. He Shiming of Hong Kong devoted his life to indigenization. "It is my profoundly held belief that Christian faith should enter into Chinese culture, and that Chinese culture should accept Christian faith. If this does not happen, however, it will not be easy for Christian faith to plant its roots firmly in the spirit of Chinese culture, nor will it be easy for the spirit of Chinese culture to have a glorious future." 3
His emphasis here makes gospel and culture two fundamentals, because he is exploring how to make two conflicting entities mutually complementary. Thus he must use the comparative model to compare Chinese cultural concepts with the specific concepts of the Bible, and identify points of commonality, or the strengths and weaknesses of each. 4 This model compares Chinese culture and biblical culture, but the problem is that comparison of two cultural notions is in itself uneven, for reasons of cultural extent.
First, there is the issue of a culture's historical extent. The development of religious life is the result of cultural development, but the comparison mentioned above transcends the process of cultural formation, ignoring the culture's development in history making cultural features into constant cultural properties. It has been pointed out that if we do not know how religious life began and took shape in history, all other issues in religious studies will have nothing to consider. 5 The development of culture is both limited and influenced by its environment. Setting aside the process of cultural formation and looking only at specific abstract cultural concepts severs links to the history and environment in which that formation took place, leaving the concept empty and without significance. If we compared the features of the Jewish and Greek cultures of the Bible with those same cultures today, we would easily find points of dissonance. Simply to undertake a comparison between present cultural concepts and past ones is a task for neither our present Chinese culture, nor for the indigenization of our Chinese Church. Our present cultural task is how to understand past cultural notions today, and find inspiration within them for our real-life cultural practice. The task for indigenization of our Chinese Church at present is to achieve indigenization in the Chinese cultural tradition. I will deal specifically with this question below.
Another issue is that of the extent of cultural geography. The same cultural concept will always have different connotations in different cultures. He Shiming, in comparing filiality in the Bible with filiality in Chinese culture was comparing two things that could not actually be compared, for their connotations were widely different. There is a great difference between Chinese culture and the Hebrew and Greek cultures of the Bible. Tertullian's comparison of Jerusalem and Athens illustrates the essential lack of relationship between Christianity and the non-Christian Mediterranean cultures of the time-the distance between them was like the physical distance between contemporary Jerusalem and Athens. Thus, in these two senses, the comparative model has no practical service to offer indigenization in the church today.
The ethical model attempts to shape a set of doctrines with a strong ethical coloration from traditional Chinese ethical thinking and similar ideas in the Bible. This model has points in common with the comparative model, that is, the issue of cultural extent. The Chinese cultural tradition was a continuous development. If we take its old ethical thinking and sever its ties with today's developments, this is still cultural restoration propped up by old cultural notions. The result is to make cultural features, rather than the Bible, into the basis of faith. In the gospels, the limits on faith that Jesus makes such great efforts to break through are precisely the limits imposed by these cultural notions.
The moral demands of the Bible cannot be ignored, but the issue lies in how to understand the moral demands Jesus makes. In Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus (John 3: 1-8), Nicodemus' misgivings include moral ones: he is old, how can he avoid moral debt? Jesus' demand is: be born from above. To be born from above is a moral demand, but one that transcends a mere individual ethical standpoint and makes personal moral behavior into a part of the renewal of the whole person. If Christianity is concerned only with issues of personal ethics, then it ignores its primary task of spiritual renewal. Again, Christian ethics does not function to put Christian doctrine on an ethical footing. It is moral doctrine that has ethics as its basis, and this is insufficient to make it into religious doctrine.
The renewal model seeks to use Christianity to rebuild a kind of Christian culture, including building up Christian ethics, or using a so-called "Christian culture" to transform the cultural tradition of a place. But the "Christian culture" meant here is in essence western culture. This is a way of bringing in western culture to replace the local culture. There are problems of definition with the concept of "Christian culture" itself, because there is no "Christian culture" which can exist independently in some concrete cultural form. The renewal model sets local culture and gospel in opposition to each other, in fact making western culture a prerequisite for the gospel.
David J. Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen hold that when Third World theologians attempt indigenization, these attempts are a threat to the church: "The mentality of those non-Christian cultures could, for example, influence the theologian and lure him to reject as European fundamental and non-negotiable elements of the gospel. Since European theologians have already struggled through similar issues, European theology can provide practical help to prevent syncretistic patterns from damaging the whole church." 6
It is obvious that they begin by denying the value of Third World cultures, setting local culture in opposition to the gospel, and viewing it as basically unchristian. They take certain aspects of European culture as facets of faith that are non-negotiable. Efforts at indigenization become attempts at syncretism. They see the European church as the mother church and hold that its guidance of Third World churches is absolutely necessary. This is a reflection of Euro-centric thinking. Winfried Gluer, in his study of the theology of T.C. Chao, critiques such thinking, saying that of the first attempts by Chinese theologians at indigenization, very few are known in the West because most of the writings are available in Chinese only, and so westerners have no practical way of accessing them. At the same time, the unadorned criticism of western churches and theology in these writings drew missionary suspicion as well as attention. 7
Douglas John Hall describes the state of American and European churches as "diaspora" churches or post-Christendom. 8 Perhaps Hesselgrave and Rommen, for whom "Christendom" is a precondition, would consider Europe its foundation. But Douglas John Hall criticizes this standpoint. His feeling is that the world has never been Christianized and that there has never been a Christendom. Europe was influenced by Christianity in a relatively painless manner because on its arrival in Europe Christianity had not yet taken on a strong cultural shape. The carriers of Christian culture to Europe were the powerful Latin and Greek cultures of the day. Positing the western cultural context as a precondition of faith has already been proved a failure in the missionary movement during the colonial period. The method of making western churches the necessary mentors of other churches reveals a cultural self-righteousness which is hardly credible when western churches themselves are riddled with problems.
Presently, Third World Christianity is developing with a liveliness and vigor that western churches lack. T his is not because it has imported western culture, but because the gospel has sunk roots in the local cultures. Thus, the renewal model is an impossible one and has no value for efforts at indigenization of the church.
2 Bevans' Contextualization Models
Contextualization in China must address the issue of the adaptation of the Chinese Church to Chinese society. It is an issue of Christian theology and of Christian ethics as well as an ecclesiological issue. The issue of contextualization of Christian theology arises as a result of the importance modern people attach to the relationship between faith and individual being. This reflects the emphasis on the value of individual being, 9 along with stress on individual faith. Some people criticize the stress on the inevitability of theological contextualization, feeling that this is simply a way of dealing with some popular issues, accommodating modern people's needs. Contextual theologians' riposte to this is: theology has always been contextual. But differences remain. The crux lies in how great a role the human context plays in the process of theological contextualization. Should the needs of groups whose life experience differs be met in the process of expressing these groups' faith in theology? If the response to this question is in the negative, what is the goal of the theological process? Of course, contextual theologians are conscious that the context cannot be made the sole authority in the process of contextualizing theology, or in using the context to interpret the Bible. Rather the Bible must be read with a historical consciousness by a uniquely-existing self. Contextual theologians call for toleration for the revelation God gives to humans in their specific contexts.
In his Models of Contextual Theology, Bevans sums up contextual theology in five models: the translation model; the anthropological model; the praxis model; the synthetic model, and the transcendental model. 10
Bevans gives a very detailed analysis of these models of contextualization, along with suggestions for concrete contexts. But there are three problems with his views.
First, Bevans does not distinguish contextualization and indigenization, but lumps the two together. He primarily analyzes issues of indigenization, not those of contextualization. Hesselgrave and Rommen have the same problem in speaking of contextual theology. In their Contextualization, it has to do with "theologizing, Bible translation, interpretation, and application; incarnational lifestyle; evangelism; Christian instruction; church planting and growth; church organization; worship style-indeed with all of those activities involved in carrying out the Great Commission." 11 Obviously, they have gone even further, mixing up methods and tactics of evangelism with theological contextualization. Evangelism does indeed need a theological basis (in fact, many very zealous evangelists lack the most basic theological foundation), but issues of evangelical technique mainly relate to how we treat culture and how to be faithful to the evangelical principles of the Bible.
Secondly, Bevans strives to keep to a "fair" and "objective" stance in exploring efforts to rebuild theology in other (non-western) cultural environments, but he has a western cultural stance in guiding its reconstruction there. He wants to use so-called western orthodoxy to guide Third World praxis. Donald L. Gelpi sees this contradiction as one between orthodoxy and the orthopraxis of liberation theology. "Within liberation theology the contrast between orthodoxy and orthopraxis arises from a common criticism voiced by liberation theologians. They fault classical, apolitical, academic forms of theology as well as much of the church's official pastoral magesterium for too much concern with orthodoxy, or doctrinal truth, and not enough concern with orthopraxis, or obedience to the moral demands of the gospel, especially in the area of public morality." 12
He rightly points out that those so-called orthodox, non-political theologies are mainly concerned with safeguarding the accuracy of doctrine, while ignoring the moral demands of the gospel, and the orthopraxis that takes this as its principle in giving full play to theology. 13 Western churches, unconsciously or not, have frequently made their own cultural and political views the center of their religious orthodoxy. They define their own culture as Christian culture, and Third World culture as non-Christian culture, even non religious culture. They ask churches in non-Christian cultural environments to accept their guidance, but in reality this is cultural guidance. Francis Schussler Fiorenza, in a discussion of Chidester's views, says that when the colonial period had ended in Third World countries, "what was first identified as a lack of religion (fetishism) became the sign of religion." 14 He is pointing to issues of cultural bias and culture clash. But the standpoint of many Third World churches is that orthodoxy must be tested and amended by praxis. If we go by first impressions and take western culture as Christian culture, and judge cultural notions from other cultures by this cultural-cum-religious concept, the result will inevitably lead to a comprehensive rejection of the value of other cultures. This approach is a remnant of thralldom to colonial cultural ideology. In this sense, liberation theology is not only theological resistance, but also cultural and political resistance. What is more, the universal oppression and poverty that exists in Third World countries is mostly a direct result of western power politics. Many western churches essentially identify with their countries' tradition and contemporary politics, and are not yet able to critique power politics. This is the path the German churches followed during the Second World War. In such circumstances, how can western churches guide theological contextualization for Third World churches? How can they offer guidance to Third World churches in cultural and political resistance?
Thirdly, an even more key issue is Bevans' stance in exploring issues in contextual theology (actually, for him, issues of indigenization): gospel or culture, or, gospel and culture.
Though in his discussion of the anthropological model Bevans points to the importance of context, his cultural standpoint means that he has not yet given up his recognition of the clash between the gospel and other cultures. Emphasis on a pure gospel leads to discussing "Jesus is Christ" as two questions and trying to find which is central. The recognition that "Jesus is Christ" is the starting point of all Christian theology. Only then can we discuss how to elucidate this issue as well as how to experience this confession in the concrete existence of humankind. In the course of the development of Christianity, due to the remnants of western-centric and colonial thinking, and added to this the innocence and readiness of faith, "Jesus is Christ", this individual confession, has mutated into a religious ideology, and Christianity has changed into a political force with a religious ideology. Some indeed have attempted to use the Christianization of the world to achieve ideological unity.
Martin Luther held that as soon as Christianity reached Europe it began to be corrupted, because the Christianity of that time possessed political privileges. Moltmann goes further, calling European Christianity of the period of special privileges "imperial religion." 15 "Jesus is Christ" is a prerequisite for theological exploration, for the incarnation event not only illustrates the unity of immanence and transcendence, but also illustrates that God's Word and culture are in harmony and not in conflict.
Furthermore, this historical event took place even as contradictions seemed to arise between the Word and culture. Those conflicts were expressed in the stumbling block to the gospel presented by Jewish culture. These were essentially cultural obstacles. The Jews confused religious concepts with cultural ones, replacing the religious experience of others with their own cultural experience. To be sure, in the Jewish religious and cultural environment of the time, all ethnic cultural forms could be seen as having religious significance, since the formation of the culture proceeded in parallel with the formation of the religion, and the two were inextricably linked. The Israelites, in the course of the formation of the religion of Israel, made the worship of Yahweh the most sublime form of expression of their culture (all the fine points of the culture come from the rules of this worship for example, regulations set out in Deuteronomy). This made the culture a religious culture, and its social norms strictly adhere to the regulations governing worship. From this the contemporary religious nation was established. Other cultures were shaped by completely different environments. The formation of any culture is related to religion, but not all cultures are religious cultures, even less can we substitute a religious culture for any other culture. The Jesus Christ event loosed cultural shackles in religious form that bound the universal nature of religion, and not shackles on religion originating from the culture itself.
The gospel and culture are not really in conflict. Clashes arise between the gospel and local cultures because when people take the gospel into another culture, they take their own cultural content with it. One theologian says that the systematic theology approach of making the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ into two issues for discussion is wrong in itself, because if the two are separated for purposes of discussion, there is no way to reunite them. The issue of the relationship between gospel and culture finds a response in the confession that "Jesus is Christ" because “Jesus is Christ" is an expression in human life of an utterance by God, and the Word realized in the form of the flesh. For Bevans, the gospel and culture are two opposites with a latent conflict and he deals with them in this way. This inevitably relativizes the validity of speaking about the gospel and culture in universal terms.
3 The Theological Task of the Chinese Church
The primary task of Chinese Church theology today is to break through traditional Christianized myths and pretentiousness, and establish our theological foundation on the confession that "Jesus is Christ," a confession that must be historical. The church must break through the state of affairs where faith has mutated into religious ideology, making Christianity into a secular force and losing the spiritual power it had given humankind. Only then can the church bring about the historical confession that "Jesus is Christ," and only this confession can enable the church to accomplish the theological breakthrough spoken of above. 16 To achieve this goal, the path the Chinese Church must follow is that of church indigenization and theological contextualization. In what follows, I would like to suggest some models for both indigenization and contextualization. Obviously, these are not fully realized, because specific substance must come from praxis, not from words on paper. These are simply methodological suggestions. There should be no restrictions upon these models, for in any cultural environment and context, the church must continually undertake this kind of praxis to maintain its own nature.
The cultural praxismodel is the proposed model for indigenization of the church. It represents the resistance of many Third World churches toward western cultural bias. In the late 201 1, century especially, with the cultural awakening of Third World peoples, the myth of western cultural centrism has been broken through and the call for Christianity to think in terms of cultural praxis has become quite universal. The precondition for this is not to set the essence of gospel and culture in opposition, but to recognize that gospel must be expressed in specific cultural forms. In any cultural environment, the gospel must use the most basic means available to express itself. Christian cultural praxis does not mean willingly accepting cultural limits, but it is inevitable that the modes of the expression of faith would be subject to cultural limitation. In undertaking cultural praxis, Christianity casts off the limitations of its innate cultural angle, and transcends them. This is an expression of the transcendence of the gospel. Think of Jesus whose image encompasses both the servant and the oppressed; yet in his weakness his Christ nature is made manifest. The gospel's transcendence of culture can only be made manifest in active Christian cultural praxis. The fear that the gospel may be limited by local culture is an expression of cultural dread. Robert T. Osborn says: "Ultimately, theology is faith seeking understanding." 17 Only where there is an appropriate means of expression can we seek appropriate understanding. On this point, the indigenization of the church and the contextualization of theology are closely related. We must not split hairs by trying to discover which came first.
The need for indigenization was raised in the Chinese Church in the late 19th century. It was an expression of cultural resistance on the part of the Chinese Church. The post-denominationalism of the Chinese Church today is a historical expression and praxis of indigenization of the Chinese Church in Chinese culture, because it is a form of expression of the idea of harmony in that culture. This cultural praxis of the Chinese Church is founded not only on the needs of the cultural environment, but is consonant with the social praxis of the gospel books wherein Jesus pays with his life to enable the gospel to genuinely transcend cultural limits. The Three-Self Renewal Movement was a new theological movement in the Chinese Church, as well as a movement to indigenize the church. With modern Chinese history and the reality of Chinese society as its background, there were two primary issues: how the gospel could be integrated into Chinese culture-a question of indigenization of the church 18 -- and how theology could be integrated with the social praxis of the Chinese Church -- a question of contextualization.
A significant issue in the process of the indigenization of the church is the distinction between indigenized religion and cultural religion. Jesus' efforts were to enable religion to undertake a cultural praxis in culture, not to enable religion to become cultural religion, or to make culture into religious culture. If Christianity were to become cultural Christianity, it would lose the ability to transcend culture, to transcend reality, and it would lose its internal cohesiveness for believers who also seek to transcend reality. This is a lesson from European churches. The reason Pannikar believes that European churches are not at present at the center of the world, but are at the margins of human existence, is because Christianity has become merely an extension of middle-class cultural life.
Indigenization will not happen simply because there is awareness of the need for it. It must be carried on while engaging in clear-headed cultural praxis and with continual reflection on one's own culture. The Chinese Church should not have false expectations that indigenization will happen through the efforts of one or several generations. Indigenization is one of the permanent tasks of the Chinese Church -- and not simply of the Chinese Church -- it is also an issue of establishing a new missiology suited to the needs of the Chinese Church and the needs of Chinese society. 19 As long as the Chinese Church continues without ceasing to fulfill the mission entrusted to the church by Jesus, it must continually address issues of missiology, for this touches on the relationship between the expression of faith of the Chinese Church and Chinese culture; that is, the issue of Christian faith in the Chinese cultural praxis, or, the issue of Christian faith in the process of cultural ideation in Chinese culture. If a religion in a specific culture rids itself of the ideation process of the culture, it will remain forever an unfamiliar outsider. If its faith and doctrine system cannot find expression in the daily cultural lives of the people, it will not be able to produce in people an ultimate yearning for the faith it expounds, and its believers will either seek quick success and instant satisfaction or be believers in name only. 20 The development of a cultural tradition is ongoing and continuous, and the special characteristics of this continuous development inevitably determine the protracted nature of the church's indigenization movement.
The historical praxismodel is a model of theological contextualization. Its emphases are related to those of Bevans' anthropological and praxis models, but there are some differences in the historical self-consciousness of the proposers. Thus there is also a different starting point in terms of cultural consciousness.
The historical praxis model stresses that the rebuilding of Chinese theology must have as its foundation the rebuilding of a historical consciousness, to enable it, within its own historical consciousness, to break out of its chrysalis and enter into the historical present. Through its description of Job's experiences, the Book of job tells readers how to know faith in social praxis rather than through self-recognition. Job's inner conflicts arise out of a traditional isolated self-consciousness cut off from the continuation of historical consciousness. His breakthrough lay in the struggle to reintegrate his own consciousness with the historical consciousness into a present consciousness. The rebuilding of a historical consciousness includes efforts at indigenization and the praxis of contextualization. In terms of culture, the book of Ecclesiastes achieves new heights in the cultural history of Israel. It transcends the fixed customary cultural notions, making individual being the basis of human worth.
The experience of the Chinese Church is unique (as is the experience of any church). Its unusual experience is the preparation God has specially given it for doing historical reflection. The Three-Self Renewal Movement of the 1950s was the beginning of historical reflection in the Chinese Church, and was also an awakening of the historical self-consciousness of church. It showed that the church was no longer closed in on itself, but opened up to society and the world. 21 The meaning of the Chinese Church lies in its selfhood. But the self must exist as a subject consciousness. During the mission board era, the Chinese Church could not exist as an independent subject, so its self-understanding was not part of its self-consciousness. We may say that only from the start of the Three-Self Renewal movement within the Chinese Church, did the church have a consciousness of self and self-worth in terms of the meaning of existence.
The implication of the historical praxis model is the need for reflection on the confession that 'Jesus is Christ." This confession must be historical and present, because only by bringing this historical faith into relationship with the present, can the confession that "Jesus is Christ" become a historical event for individual believers as well as for the church. Osborn critiques the possibility of constructing a new theology: "These theologies, many of which are rarely denoted as Christian theology, are in fact Christian only to the extent that a basic element of their data base is the Christian tradition, and insofar as they seek political power in and through the Christian community, but not because they are committed to that community, share its faith, or seek its well being and development. In other words, these theologies are certainly as ideological and political as the traditional theology they protest or appropriate." 22
It seems Osborn has not been able to put himself in the position of understanding the needs of African Americans and women who have been subject to social and religious bias-needs expressed in North American African-American theology and feminist theology-and feels that all these are not his theology. 23 But his analytical method is not entirely without meaning. For him, the error of theology is either to have Christ without Jesus, or Jesus without Christ. And the fact is that "Jesus is Christ." Thus, genuine theology has to do with God and not with the church.
"Jesus is Christ" is a historical confession, because the truth this confession declares is the result of experience and knowledge within self-existence. Thus "Jesus is Christ" is God's Word become historical event. The Chinese Church must, within its self-existence, return to the Protestant tradition of sola scriptura to discover its own (the church's) historical meaning. 24 Moreover, the church must, in the Three-Self renewal spirit, strengthen the self-consciousness of this moment and enable it to become historical place. This is the historical and actual meaning of "Jesus is Christ," and it is the mission of the Chinese Church to make the confession to "Jesus is Christ" today's historical event.
In the context of China, the historical praxis of the Chinese Church implies that we must carry out theological renewal; that is, through a process of self-reflection, extend ourselves out of tradition into the modern age and face the future. This is a process of breaking out of the chrysalis. Religious faith is not an ideology, not some worldview, but the self-consciousness of individuals in history. 25 The breakthrough in traditional theology depends on how to enable the implications of a sustained ontology, along with the religious ideology that results from an understanding of doctrine unrelated to context, to become a new historical consciousness: In the midst of the exodus, the melding of the religious consciousness with the social consciousness of the people of Israel produced a historical consciousness, and moreover made their entire faith history into a historical event. The formation of religious ideology is an embodiment of historical political consciousness; religious ideology thus has no new place in terms of religious meaning. The establishment of the monarchy in biblical Israel may serve as an example: the political struggles between the Israelites and other peoples became, in the Israelites' religio-cultural historical consciousness, faith struggles. And the great priestly class, while fulfilling its religious mission, extended it to a political one. This led to conflicts taking a religious form during the transition, in line with the needs of social development from a theocracy to a monarchy. This conflict not only explains the formation of the religious ideology of the time, but can be extended to collaboration with victimization in the German church in World War II, or the present political backwardness of the Vatican, as well as the situation of some western churches which have become marginal social groups, religious only in form.
New theological methods come from critical reflection on old theological methods and thinking. If a church has lost the capacity to carry out reflection on its internal self-experience, it cannot continue to have a prophetic function, because the prophetic function of the church is the continual shaping, through self-reflection, of the revelation it receives from God into the principles of its praxis. A critique of the old theology is a necessity, for the principles offered by it for church praxis can no longer bring the church's new experience into line with the new praxis. The critique of the old theology is the church continually linking itself to its foundation God-and enabling it to continue in history to seek the recovery of its alienated self. For example, in speaking of the task of theology in the postmodern age, Osborn says, "...what I would call the new theology has served the interests of the dominant, white, bourgeoisie male world... it worked for white, bourgeois males." 26
If we do not critique this function of traditional theology, the church will be unable, in a new context, to bring the needs of its believers, generation after generation renewed, before God. Therefore, the critique of old theology is a necessary means of self-renewal for the church. Not only can the church renew itself through a critique of old theology, but the setting right of old theology offers the church standards of church praxis as well as standards of social praxis. The church can fulfill its correct social function: the function of being salt that Jesus asked of it in the New Testament.
Theological renewal is a new way of confessing "Jesus is Christ" for the Chinese Church today, and is also a way for the church to enable its internal self-consciousness to transcend the self and become a historical consciousness. Carrying out theological renewal requires new theological methods. Prof. Peter C. Phan of American Catholic University declares that Jesus has already told us the new theological method: New wine in new wineskins (Matthew 9: 17). 27 Jesus' emphasis here in Matthew is to enable his disciples to understand that everything he is preaching is practical for real society, but can also transcend religion and culture-at the time the religious and cultural environment was closed to Jesus' message. If we cannot come to know his teaching from a new angle, we cannot understand the practicality of his teaching in real terms nor its religious and cultural transcendence. New wine cannot be put in old wineskins; new fabric cannot be sewn onto old cloth. New theological thinking cannot be established on a cognitive foundation of old theology, because we cannot make the particular results of historical development into norms of current praxis. Old theology is the result of historical development, and thus is not able to transcend history. The church's knowledge of tradition cannot transcend the historical meaning of religious norms.
The new theological praxis of the Chinese Church cannot begin from a totally new theological model, for new theology is a product of the continual summing up that goes on in the new praxis. The new theological thinking of the Chinese Church can only, must only, begin with an entirely new approach to theological exploration. This new approach must be never again to limit the confession to “Jesus is Christ" to an internal personal experience, but to open itself up, and in relationship to the world, construct itself in this present historical consciousness and undertake a new orientation toward its firm belief that 'Jesus is Christ." Such orientation of the self is not a one-time event, but something ongoing. The capacity of the church for continual self-reorientation is a precondition for maintaining its prophetic function. It is only through a continual process of self-reorientation that the church can keep its self-consciousness in a clear-headed, close, and reciprocal relationship to its context, and only in this way keep itself in the role of prophet. In this sense, the Chinese Church in the 1950s and in the early 1980s was situated in a conscious state of being, for it was continuously self-reflexive, attempting to discover in its own existence its meaning in the historical present. Thus we can say that the Chinese Church's period of conscious existence was that period in which it was searching for a mode of expression from within the Chinese cultural tradition and thus carrying on cultural praxis. This was the period of its efforts at indigenization. This was also the period in which it strove to carry out a historical self-orientation in the Chinese context, the period of its efforts at contextualization. Efforts in both these areas indicate that the church is moving toward maturity as it begins to be able to face the world as a self-conscious subject engaged in self-reflection and as it engages in reorientation in the process.
China today is open in terms of self-consciousness, or we can say that China has always been open, because even though during the Cultural Revolution era this self-consciousness was always in a state of tension, it was never genuinely closed off. This was what brought about the great reforms of the 1980s. The energy amassed by China's rich cultural tradition over thousands of years must be expressed (we could also say set free), and the need to express this cultural energy guarantees that Chinese culture will always be in a state of self-reflection. 28 China's cultural tradition offers an excellent environment for self-conscious reflection by the Chinese Church, and the Chinese context offers a not-to-be missed opportunity for the church's reorientation. But there are serious challenges for the Chinese Church: the development of modern society, the intensification of the market economy, the rising level of privatization, and the influence of western individualism. Amid the voices hawking the market economy and globalization, amid the din of extreme individualism, the western churches have weakened. Western churches on the one hand have accepted an official ideology to maintain the symbol of the universality they once had; on the other hand they must recognize the trend toward personalization of faith. We might say that the personalization of faith in postmodern society is a rational need of modern people, or that it is difficult to avoid, simply an attempt at finding an excuse for the church's decline. The church, this historical faith community, has a historical mission to stand firm in an extremely personalistic, postmodern society. Whether or not the Chinese Church can shoulder this mission depends on how it carries out its historical reflection.
In the postmodern era the world has broken through cultural boundaries, and cultural exchange and dialogue have led to religious dialogue. From this angle, the world seems to be tending toward peace. But politically, dictatorship and brutality are not yet passes power and might are stronger than ever. Such power politics have also affected the religious realm. The self-righteous religious ideology is still strong and tries to extend its influence, either independently or as a political force. This is due to the fact that these churches have lost the capacity to confess anew to the declaration that "Jesus is Christ," but rather make maintaining the benefits that affect their own interests their ultimate mission. Such a situation is the fundamental reason why a church must reaffirm the confession "Jesus is Christ."
There are in the Chinese Church, as in all churches, many aspects that don't come up to expectations. There are present as well as historical reasons for these. In the 1950s and early 1980s, the Chinese Church was in a place of independence and could thus declare to the Chinese people that its mission came from its confession of faith. In the late 1980s and 1990s the Chinese Church entered a period of rapid growth, but this development has not yet been reflected to any great extent in a connection between its mission and its confession of faith. Rather the overseas "colonial church" mentality has replaced the experience of an independent realized self in its declaration of faith. The close of the 20th century was also the time of the greatest challenge of the influence of secularism in the Chinese Church, as reflection on the declaration of its faith became the primary concentration for the Chinese Church, as a realized self, once again. In theological consciousness, this was another point when Jesus became Christ in the Chinese Church. It was also another time of renewal for the Chinese Church, a juncture when it turned toward the future. Whether or not it has the capacity for cultural or historical praxis is the key to whether the Chinese Church will flourish, for there are already so many examples to show that any church, if it loses the capacity to reaffirm that "Jesus is Christ" in its own cultural and historical praxis, will inevitably separate Jesus from Christ. The result of this is that the "Great Commission" becomes an excuse for different groups to benefit themselves and the divine commission becomes a cloak for the secular commission by which they do so. The Chinese Church should take this as an object lesson.
Yanjing Journal of Theology 112001: 8-26.
Rev. Kan Baoping has served as Vice-Principal of Yanjing Seminary in Beijing. He is an Associate General Secretary and member of the Standing Committee of the China Christian Council.
1 Heidegger/Ott, Heidegger and Theology, edited by Liu Xiaofeng, translated by Sun Zhouxing et al (Hong Kong: Institute for Chinese Christian Culture, 1998), 12-13. 2 The Chinese cultural tradition does not refer narrowly to the old culture, but to the continuing rich development of Chinese culture within the Chinese tradition. Stress on cultural tradition is not necessarily to reject new content, nor is it necessarily in conflict with a pluralistic culture, for Chinese culture itself is pluralistic. Today's Chinese culture is a product of tradition, or is an extension of tradition, but it has also absorbed new cultural thinking and cultural concepts. The development of the cultural tradition, while it must strive to acquire new things, must also eliminate factors that are not beneficial to its development.
3 He Shiming, Looking at Chinese Filiality from a Christian Viewpoint (Beijing: Religious Culture Press, 1999), 21. 4 _____, A Christian-Confucian Dialogue (Beijing: Religious Culture Press, 1999). 5 Ai Bo Lin, Theological ResearchAn Encyclopedia-style definition, translated by Li Qiuling (Hong Kong: Institute for Chinese Christian Culture, 1999), 60. 6 David J. Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen, Contextualization (Baker Book House, 1992), 41. 7 Winfried Gluer, The Theology of T.C. Chao, translated by Deng Zhaoming [Joe Dunn] (Hong Kong: CCLC, 1998), 30-31. 8 Douglas John Hall, Confessing the Faith (Fortress Press, 1996), 201331, 257. 9 This is not meant to imply that stress on the individual consciousness is a modern concept.
10 Stephen Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1992). [The author's detailed discussion of each model has been omitted here for reasons of space].
11 Hesselgrave and Rommen, 200. 12 Donald L. Gelpi, The Turn to Experience in Contemporary Theology (Paulist Press, 1994), 26. 13 Ibid., 26. 14 Francis Schussler Fiorenza, "Religion: A Contested Site in Theology and the Study of Religion" Harvard Theological Review, 93:1 (January 2000): 18. 15 Jurgen Moltmann, The Coming of God (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1996), 166. 16 If the church limits itself to a narrow interpretation of doctrine, it will lose the corrective function in society that it should have and will become sidelined as a force in society; this is an indication of secularization of the church. 17 "Theological Table Talk the Possibility of Theology Today," Theology Today: 564. 18 Liu Zongkun of the Philosophy Department of Beijing University holds that the Chinese Church's Three-Self Movement has been a process of "nationalizing" the church, a far cry from the goal of indigenization. This accusation lacks historical and academic rigor. A poetic romantic humanism cannot be used as a practical critical weapon. The indigenization goal of the TSPM is to make the Chinese Church Chinese, not to make it a national church and when the new government established in 1949 received the support of the people, if the church did not go with this historical tide it would have lost the social praxis of the gospel. Old thinking in the Chinese Church must be broken through, but this will take time. The energy of the Chinese Church was in the past given over to training preachers, not scholars, but this situation is changing. The kind of "national church movement" I Liu speaks of would lead the church to abandon its cultural responsibility and fall into a narrowness of fundamentalism, conservatism and personal salvation
19 The author's term, here rendered "missiology," xuandao xue in Chinese, could literally be taken as "evangelism Studies." He says I cannot avoid the use of xuandoo xue, but I personally take issue with the term. Xuandao does not necessarily have anything to do with "spreading the gospel," but diverts people's attention from the gospel to church growth. In the colonial period the church stressed evangelism (xuan jiao) and not spreading the gospel (chuan fuyin). The term xuanjio xue [as used in Chinese--ed.] cannot shake the associations of that corrupt period of church history.
20 The Chinese Church has grown rapidly, but the quality of faith among believers is generally low. The primary reason for this lies in the fact that the Chinese Church has not yet achieved a cultural ideation. Either there is the form of Christian faith with a folk-belief essence, or the content of faith is that of a faith response to the western culture of several centuries past. This is the issue the movement for indigenization seeks to address.
21 This opening up was dialectical. Through efforts at independence, the historical self-consciousness of the Chinese Church was awakened, opened up. The self-consciousness of the Chinese Church under the domination of the western churches had been isolated, suppressed Thus, at the time, as an organization the church was open, but its self consciousness as a community of faith was closed.
22 Robert T. Osborn, "Theological Table Talkthe Possibility of Theology Today," Theology Today (January 1 999): 566.
23 He recognizes liberation theology as genuine theology, because it is a theology of the church, that deals with God and Jesus. lie also declares that liberation theology belongs to the Third World, but tie is not in the Third World, so he does not need liberation theology. But African American theology and feminist theology are a part of liberation theology broadly defined, and the faith needs expressed in these theologies are those of his First World.
24 This is not to suggest that the Chinese Church fins not stressed the Bible in the past. The tradition of the Chinese Church is people and the Bible, that is, it stressed the interpretation of the Bible by specially appointed persons. Martin Luther's emphasis on sola scriptura was that I in my individual existence or this present experience take the Bible as authority and through the Bible receive the revelation of the word of God. The method of the person and the Bible is I with my knowledge of the Bible must proceed, taking the authority of others
25 In this sense, historical consciousness is religious, for the sell consciousness referred to here is the consciousness of an existing self, and consciousness of existence is itself religious See Macduarrie'Principles of Christian Theology, translated by He Guanghu (Hong Kong: Center, 1998), 139-164.
26 "Theological Table Talk," 566.
27 Peter C. Phan, "Method in Liberation Theologies, Theological Studies vol. 61 (March 2000. 61 63.
28 The Qing government's policy of isolation was maintained until the mid 20' century China's powerlessness in the face of allied powers does not mean that Chinese culture was weak or out of date, rather it was engaged in a new stage of cultural reflection and storing up energy. preparing tot Chinese culture to enter a new era of development. This reflection included the digestion and absorption of the Manchurian culture and other foreign new culture concepts, it also included ,he chrysalis process of the new Culture Without that long period of painful reflection, there would have been no new China in the 20th century and no new vigor appearing in Chinese culture in the late 20th century