Chinese Theological Review 16

Theological Reconstruction in Jiangsu

Zhang Keyun

1 Unite Thinking and Increase Knowledge

In order to thoroughly implement the "Resolution on Developing Theological Reconstruction" passed by the TSPM/ CCC in a timely manner, the Jiangsu CC/TSM began with a Working Conference on Self-Support in late November 1998. The meeting studied how best to initiate the work of theological reconstruction in the province of Jiangsu without delay. Fifty-two colleagues took part in the meeting on the topic: Why is theological reconstruction necessary? There was a lively discussion on the evidence for the necessity, urgency and reasonableness of theological reconstruction. The consensus reached was that theological reconstruction is necessary for the self-construction of the church; for the deepening of the three-self patriotic principle; to resist overseas anti-China forces that continue to use Christianity to interfere in China; for the adaptation of the church to socialist society; and to witness to God's message in these times. These five points fully illustrate the urgency, necessity and reasonableness of theological reconstruction, and such an understanding provides a solid intellectual basis for its development.

2 Clarify the Main Task; Establish Basic Principles and Methods

Reaching a consensus on the importance of theological reconstruction and gaining a common understanding does not in itself ensure success in this work. It is necessary to clarify for all participants the main task, principles and methods of our present theological reconstruction, and through conscientious study and discussion, we came to a consensus on the following:

1 Theological reconstruction is a needed correction of traditional, old or backward theology; it also means a new exposition of the new experience of the Chinese Church before God over the past 50 years and the establishment of a system of theology based on Chinese characteristics which can guide the building up of the Chinese Church and the spiritual growth and seeking of Chinese Christians.

2 In the course of theological reconstruction, we must be aware that:

The conditions for theological reconstruction are no offense against and represent no change in basic Christian faith; and that upholding the adaptation to socialist society means advocating a multiplicity of views and opposing any sort of dictatorial approach;

The object of theological reconstruction is to get rid of old theology received from the missionaries, and thinking tainted by colonialism, imperialism, anti-Communism and antisocialism that does not adapt to socialist society and modern progress;

The basic corps for carrying out theological reconstruction is the broad mass of patriotic pastoral workers, staff and students of theological schools and those pastoral workers and believers with a certain level of education, a level of scholarship, religious knowledge, rich experience and capacity for intellectual work;

Conflict among different theological viewpoints must be absolutely avoided, as must either criticism or special treatment for any particular point of view. The crux of theological reconstruction is whether it can give expression to a pure Christian faith and whether it can adapt to socialist society;

We do not ape foreign models, but uphold using foreign things for China while maintaining our selfhood; we are not in thrall to the past, but use it for today's needs.

3 Define the Themes of Theological Reconstruction

Definition of themes is a means by which people can be organized and guided in their involvement in the important issues of theological reconstruction. When defining these themes, our approach is to "grasp the large and dispense with the minor," focusing on a grasp of issues which are universal and have some particularity. Primarily these are as follows:

Are human beings completely depraved and without any goodness, entirely mired in sin and evil? Are all functions of human reason the work of the devil, all marked as sin by God?

Is human meaning like soiled clothing, sin upon sin? Is everything ordained by God such that whether humans do good works or bad, all is useless and without value?

Are all material things evil? Is the whole world in the hand of the evil one? Is it in submission to the devil? Is certain destruction its end?

Are all rules and regulations, methods, systems and organizations of humans and not of God; are they opposed to God and obstacles to the work of the Spirit? Is the intuition of "spiritual" people the will of God? Those who do not heal by faith or perform exorcism, do not speak in tongues, see visions or dreams, dance or sing in a spiritual trance --have they not been blessed with grace?

Can there be no contact or cooperation between believers and unbelievers? Must believers and unbelievers be separate and not joined together? Does separate mean holy and joined together mean sin?

Are believers citizens of heaven who must hear only to God and not humanity? Is the church spiritual and not under the jurisdiction of this world? Must individual Christians and the church as a whole not heed the government, not accept its leading or regulation, and if they walk with the Communist Party, do they fall into unrighteousness and find themselves in opposition to God?

Is it true that Christians cannot be patriotic, cannot take an interest in politics? Is patriotism secular and politics evil? Can love for the church and love for the country be in harmony?

Is God's revelation once and for all? Will there be no new revelation? How shall we treat the idea of God's revelation as "gradual and developmental"?

Must preachers and believers focus on prayer and evangelism, abandoning all else; if not, do they fail to serve God? Are all work, study and achievement simply like clouds floating in the sky, evanescent and without value?

The participants choose the topic to be repeatedly studied and revised; one person could concentrate on one topic or many. Participants disperse, and then gather together and form groups around the various topics for discussion and prepare written statements.

4 Main Resources for Theological Reconstruction

Through discussion, everyone comes to understand the importance and necessity of theological reconstruction, and that all efforts should be made to develop it and to work for its success. We have become aware that this requires not only subjective conditions: our ability to put in the effort, but objective ones: rich resources. Through study and analysis, we have reached the consensus that in doing theological reconstruction we are not without these resources.

Firstly, in the 50 years of the Three-Self Movement, we have had not only hardship, but have also tasted God's abundant grace. The experiences, light and revelation of these 50 years are our most precious and important resource for theological reconstruction today.

Second, through 50 years of service, we now have a large number of clergy of a definite standard with attainments in scholarship, theology and Bible, and we should not underestimate the strength of this resource.

Third, even more precious is that we have yet with us a group of loyal servants of God of the older generation of church workers who love church and love country and have walked closely with God. This is a strong resource for theological reconstruction which cannot be either replaced or dispensed with.

Fourth, erroneous teachings of foreign infiltrators, their ideas and old, conservative backward theology from history provide negative object lessons for theological reconstruction, and there are still quite a few of them around.

Fifth, there is something else that has always played a very important role and that is that God has provided for our Chinese Church an incomparable external environment; not only can our theological reconstruction grow freely in such an expansive environment, but we have government understanding, sympathy and firm support.

These five aspects are precious rich resources as we undertake theological reconstruction and guarantee its success. Through analysis, we are infused with zeal, our confidence is increased, and we are able to go forward confident of victory.

5 Draft a Solid, Achievable Plan

Theological reconstruction is an enormous project, one that cannot be achieved simply relying upon subjective imagination. It is an important project with high goals, standards and demands and cannot be borne along by sheer force of energy. It must begin bit by bit, step by step, moving along on a solid footing. Thus there must be planning, steps to be followed, organized movement. The key to all this lies in achieving a balance between a number of seeming opposites:

Fast vs. slow . Whether to move quickly or slowly cannot be decided subjectively. Speed cannot always be achieved. Progress might seem slow, but not necessarily be so. We are fully aware that theological reconstruction must follow certain objective laws. Thus, our proposed policy of "active, reliable, steady, gradual" as the guiding thinking for this work. For administrative purposes, it has been expressed as: "Small but continual steps moving reliably and gradually, accumulating small successes into large ones." This is figurative, but accurate. Two-plus years of implementation have shown that this is a correct guide. It may seem unsatisfying or too timid, but in fact, progress has not been slow, but has kept a steady speed and achieved visible results.

Short-term and long-term . We focused our attention on long-term goals as well as short-term goals. Long-term goals must be based upon small concrete ones. Once long-term goals are set, short-term goals must be scientifically set on these preconditions in order to guarantee the smooth completion of long-term goals. Short-term goals should have clear concrete tasks and timetables, pushing the work actively toward the goal. A set timetable is necessary and helpful even if the goals are not achieved strictly on time.

Breadth vs. depth; popularization vs. a rise in standards. These two represent a unity of contradictions, they cannot be polarized. Without a definite level of popularization and breadth, we cannot have depth and a rise in standards. The latter two are built upon a base of popularization and breadth. Theological reconstruction cannot all at once achieve high standards and a high quality of writings. If we have over-inflated and unrealistic demands and an excess of confidence, we could be headed for failure and disappointment, especially in the face of the reality of a Chinese Church which in the course of one hundred years has yet to build up its own theological system. Therefore, at this beginning stage we must firmly grasp how to open up theological reconstruction broadly.

The critical point at this stage is "participation as the center" -- how to attract more pastoral workers and related colleagues and fellow Christians to join in. Of course this broadening and popularizing is also a process of gradual opening up, of gradual expansion. On the basis of this breadth and popularization, the organizers must focus on the issues of depth and higher standards, while at the same time focusing on finding good seedlings in the whole process -- colleagues with the gift of good writing who can be organized to contribute their strength to deepening theological reconstruction. As organizers, especially in the beginning, popularizing stage, we should pay close attention to finding those talents who can further deepen theological reconstruction, forming a corps of such people, so that the process of deepening goes forward and moves unceasingly toward laying a foundation for the construction of a theological system with Chinese characteristics. At present, there are some 40 theological reconstruction activists in Jiangsu, mostly young and middle-aged pastors with a great deal of potential.

How to bring the early fruits of theological reconstruction into our sermons and pulpits in a timely manner is another issue related to the goals of the movement. Even a small amount of fruit must be swiftly translated into spiritual guides for believers and guides for the church's service. The Jiangsu CC/TSM has organized publicity teams and published Food for the Spirit to provide conditions and opportunities for just such a purpose. This is popularization and at the same time a continuous development and deepening.

6 Current State of Progress

From the first study seminar on theological reconstruction held by the Jiangsu CC and TSM in March 1999 until the present, four such seminars have been held, with over 280 participants; for example, the seminar held in December 2000 had 91 in attendance. Two hundred sixty-eight theological essays were submitted at these seminars, with 1 19 of these shared in the plenary sessions, and over 40 published in periodicals such as Tian Feng, Voice of the Gospel and CCCITSPM News. In addition, over 1 10 were collected from Bible schools and seminaries.

In late April 2001, the provincial CC/TSM began a program of such seminars in the large cities. Each city set up a small group for the promotion of theological reconstruction consisting of a chairperson and general secretary from the TSM and a president and secretary general from the CC, to be responsible for the work of theological reconstruction in the city. Up to the present, study seminars have been held in four large cities, for example in May in Suzhou, the clergy submitted 80 papers; in Kunshan, 30 papers were submitted; 34 were submitted at a study seminar in Nantong held June 1-2. Lively preparations are underway in other cities for seminars to be held in June and July (2001).

The provincial CC/TSM's priority is in research work, the work of improving quality, preparation of teaching materials for Bible schools and two lay training centers, as well as carrying the fruits of theological reconstruction forward (as described above), improving literature work, the publication of Voice of the Gospel and Food for the Spirit, publicity work, etc. At present publicity is carried out mostly by the large cities with the provincial CC/TSM lending ideas, aiding in organizational work and dealing with submission of papers. The provincial and directly-administered municipality levels of the two organizations divide the work clearly, each with its own focus, moving forward in cooperation.

From Symposium on Theological Reconstruction in Shanghai and Jiangsu. Shanghai: Shanghai TSM/CC, 2001, 128-135.

Zhang Keyun is an Associate General Secretary of the TSPM.