Chinese Theological Review 14

Old Style Theological Thinking Needs Revision and Renewal


Speech to the Meeting of the Joint Committee on National
Minorities and Religion at the Second Meeting of the Ninth CPPCC (1)

I am a Chinese religious believer, a Christian. I have been pondering the issue that is my topic today ever since Chairman Jia Zemin's proposal many years ago to "bring about the mutual adaptation on religion and socialist society." I know that socialism is best social system to have appeared in human history, and there can be no better subject than bringing Christianity and socialism under harmony with one another.

There are different levels of adaptation, and ours cannot stop at that of public declarations. Our adaptation should be based in thought and ideological understanding. This suggests that old-style theology needs to be revised and renewed to some degree. Some things unsuitable to socialist society that were drawn out of faith in the past should be set aside, or at least be downplayed, while at the same time, we should as much as possible draw out things which can beneficial to a socialist society. And this is why today we are promoting theological reconstruction.

Let me attempt an example: There are many places in the Bible that speak of God's care for, love for and blessing on all of humanities including those who believe in Christ and those who do not believe in Christ. This is normal religious faith. But there are some in the church who make purity of the faith their personal mission, exaggerating the gap between belief and unbelief. They say that believers will saved and go to heaven after death, while unbelievers will be damned and go to hell. On this basis, they put all their strength into evangelism, urging people to believe. This makes Christianity into the religion that sets believers and unbelievers against each other. This is contrary to so many passages in the Bible, and it is not an instance of adapting to socialism. China's own theology, even now being constructed, cannot countenance the heedless propagation of the antagonism between belief and unbelief, a theological view that would be very harmful to the greater unity of the Chinese people.

In the past few months, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches in China and the China Christian Council have called upon Chinese Christians, and theologians in particular, to take seriously the issue of political orientation in theological reconstruction, and to hold a series of national and local meetings devoted to consideration of the logistics of theological reconstruction. The response to this has been rather good. One reason for this is that quite a few of our educated pastoral workers who have studied and reflected on these issues over these years, also feel that they can no longer preach much of what they have been accustomed to preaching, that they should not stick to conventions in their preaching. That is to say, they have become conscious of the need to liberate theological thinking and to be bold in innovation.

The following passage from Marx and Engels affords me quite a lot of theoretical support: "With every great transformation of the social order, there will also be a transformation in people's religious views and ideas. This is to say, people's religious ideas will also be transformed." We hope that some years hence the face of Chinese Christian theology will be thoroughly renewed so that it will be more truly compatible with our nation's socialist society, and will be able to act as light and salt in Christianity worldwide.

Religion, I 2/1999;originaIly printed in CPPCC News, March 5, 1999.

1 Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.