In our day to day lives, we often face dilemmas similar to that of the ancient philosopher Mencius when faced with a choice between fish and bear paws. Christians encounter even more questions like these; for example, an imperfectable human being vs. the quest for perfection; a limited human attempting to fathom the limitless One; human rationality vs. the absolute profession of an ineffable truth, etc. All these are the inevitable result of testing our faith against reality. Perhaps one of the meanings of faith is that in the process, we discover these questions, face these dilemmas and overcome them. But when we push each side of a question to its extreme, we face dilemmas that seem insuperable- absolute contradictions. The relationship between God's creation and God's redemption is one of the critical questions facing the Chinese church at present. Are these two separate or co-existent? Are they works of God that look place at different times or two different expressions or sides of God's work? Our understanding of this question relates to how we regard our faith, the relationship between Christians and non-Christians, how we see our social responsibility, how we witness to the gospel in our context, and how, because of our faith, we make our society more harmonious and not more conflicted.
The Wholeness of Humankind
God created humankind and God saw that it was good,(1) moreover God loved humanity so much that he sacrificed his own Son for it. God as creator and humankind as the created are located in a whole creation. Furthermore the faith history of Christians proves that God is willing to pay any price to keep humanity within this whole.(2) But the tragedy of humankind is that it does not yet know this community; it does not yet know that God is love. The greater tragedy is that when humankind does come to know God and professes him as creator, it is no longer willing to tolerate this community. Humans sometimes are at great pains to set God and humans against one another, as if unless one acknowledges that the two are at odds or even absolutely opposed, one cannot be a person who truly belongs to God. This is essentially an attempt to separate God from his creation. and make God's creation sufficient unto itself (though this is impossible). This is one aspect. Another aspect is that such an approach also seeks to divide humanity, to make Christian and non-Christian an absolute contradiction, with faith as the boundary line dividing humanity into two fundamentally opposed camps, as if the difference were a substantive one.
First of all, the attempt to separate humanity from God does not arise out of human remorse for their own loathsomeness, but out of loathing for God's authority. Humanity cannot stand for an external authority threatening its individuality. And so, out of a kind of regretful despair, raises itself to a position of equality with God.(3) These methods can be used to deny that existence may take a transcendent, ultimate form; it may take a sacred form, but in essence, this is a denial of the sacred. Essentially, the denial of the sacred and the formation of an independent self must be accompanied by a cutting of the ties between the self and the ultimate. This "free" self then replaces the resurrection that comes of the union between the self and the ultimate self-contained being.(4) About this last, Jesus clearly said. "Not everyone who says, lord, Lord..."(Matt. 7: 21). No matter what firm experiences like this take, none are in any way religious experience, because they are self-contained.
Secondly, the effort to isolate humanity in this way is not due to any perceived inadequacy in human life or character, rather it is a type of jealousy and insecurity that leads to narrowness. It is the reason fix Jesus' criticism of the Pharisees. Their piety is nothing more than a whitewashing of their inner rebellion. Through a sublimation of the self, they attempt to banish their anxiety over their rebellion against God. Jesus never tried to convince them to change their reli gious viewpoint, for it was not that they did not know how to be pious in a piety that is one with God, but that they did not desire it. They used religious concepts as their ultimate authority, in place of that true authority which might question their existence. But they knew their own authority was not genuine, and because of the anxiety this caused, they lived in the midst of contradictions. This made them willing to take up any form of authority to resist that authority which could be an ultimate threat to them. Not only did they in fact rebel against authority, but in the name of authority and in an effort to preserve their own, they blocked others from drawing near to and knowing authority. They also strove to cause humanity to lose confidence in itself, to lose the thirst for ultimate authority and to completely give over their futures to them.
Yet the basic separation takes place in creation theory. Some people believe that God created two kinds of people: those destined to be saved and those destined fur punishment. The tendency toward dualism in Greek and Hebrew culture has, to a very large extent, been inherited by Christianity. This idea is given a detailed explanation and development in the war chapter of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Under God or Satan, humanity goes to war, there is no other choice. But does this truly reflect reality?
Last year we heard news reports about the many PLA soldiers fighting the floods who, without regard for their own safety, protected people's lives and property. We also heard of many Christians expressing solicitude for the soldiers. This is a picture of harmony between God and people.(5) But the controversy that resulted was a symbol of a split between God and humankind.(6) The final issue in this controversy was not who made the greater contribution, but seeing creation either in terms of harmony or of disjunction. If sell' sacrifice among humanity does not emerge from the sacred, then what is left of the sacred? If Jesus' great Christian character is not praised by his sacrifice, was his praise for the Good Samaritan satire?
When the U.S. bombed Iraq, some people prayed for them. They saw it as a holy war, a war o£ two groups clashing over faith. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some people did not hesitate to stand with Israel, because the Israelis are God's chosen, the sanctified people. This way of dividing humankind by religious faith and the religious damage that results-is this in service to the sacred? If we legitimize (7) Israel's genocidal treatment of the states on its borders, should we also censure Nazi treatment of the Jews? Is such an understanding in line with the concept of God as love? What does God's punishment of Cain for the murder of Able tell us? How shall we understand the description of God and humanity together in Revelation 21: 3-4, an eternity in which suffering shall be no more? Can this ever be the result of "holy war"? If on the one hand we take all that happens as God's doing, and on the other legitimize because of faith every action of various camps who claim this as their motivation, we may have to redefine God's "righteousness" and God's "love". And how shall we understand the phrase "God does not show preference?" Niklas Luhmann's pungent critique is that people habitually divide the world into different times and places and think that God is especially good to people in specially defined times and places. He believes that the real gospel means that all definitions have meaning only in a distinct context; thus we must be ready to discern what sort of distinction these arise from.(8) Groups of people, discerning the meaning of the same action, do so on the basis of pre-existing standards.
The Wholeness of Creation and Redemption
The attempt at two divisions described above is an effort to separate creation and redemption based on their origins. The idea is that God's creation was completed in six days, after which God undertook no more work of creation. The tragedy of all times which took place in Eden became the watershed between creation and redemption. Bishop K.H. Ting criticizes this approach thus: "The New Testament knows Christ as Creator as well as Redeemer. He is the same Christ, not two. Creation and redemption are one, they are not opposed to each other and there are not two gods, one in charge of each." (9)
Sometimes, we forget the faith journey we have made and even now continue to make: the journey from unbelief to belief; from shallow faith to deep faith. We automatically despise as evil those who do not yet know the gospel. They are the enemy. We forget the care and strength we have received from those who do not yet know the gospel, as if we already belong to another people and have no further need of them. Issler's critique of this attitude is: "We have become accustomed to discarding our possessions when they are no longer useful or needed. Inevitably, such a consumer-oriented perspective is being directed toward people.(10) There is no basis in the Bible for treating neighbors like this. The self-righteous attitude of the Pharisees on this issue reflects the distance between the human quest and Jesus' teachings.
Is our task today to determine how we differ from the rest and express that by keeping our distance? Or is it to find our commonality with others? Is it to seek a richer humanity or to abandon our quest for human perfection because of our thirst for the sacred'? (11) The redemption brought by Christ's sacrifice is of course to enable humans to return, and the goal of returning is God. But the way to do this is by eliminating differences. Eliminating differences does not mean the denial of the many sorts of differences that exist among people, or to banish difference for good, but to recognize the common ground of difference and, through this, to seek the unity within it. Paul, too, stressed the need to pull down "the walls that divide us" (Eph. 2: 14). If redemption cannot dispel the conflict that differences create, where is the practical significance of Christ's sacrifice? If redemption has no practical significance, what impact can it have on humanity's return? The crux of the issue is whether or not these differences are absolute. Are these ultimate differences? Simmel notes that modern human beings can neither devote themselves to a readymade religion, nor intentionally and soberly term religion simply humanity's absurd dream, one that humankind will gradually awaken from. However, faced with this fact, modern human beings fall into a great insecurity: they discover that though in the course of its historical development, there has been a world of difference between religion and the mysteries of metaphysics, emotional value. ethics and spiritual meaning, these differences have only touched on the content of religious faith and not on the principles by which it deals with reality. (12)
Clearly, Simmel is not advocating impiety in modem faith, but explaining a type of human predicament. He believes that people can come to know the immediate significance of faith gradually, in the realities of their everyday lives. People need to rethink their faith and the religious doctrines that emerge from it, in the midst of reality.
Of course, the sacred and the non-sacred are by no means indistinguishable. What we need to ask is, where is the line between them and what is the point of the boundary?(13) The goal usually determines the result. The competition among the opportunities we face in life unconsciously affects our attitude toward redemption. Especially because extreme traditional theologies that stress limited salvation cause some people to be particularly fearful of losing the ideals they have striven so hard for. They then adopt an attitude of hostility toward others, as if the smaller the number of those saved, the more sure they are of their own salvation. What, after all, is God's redemption? Is God's redemption expressed only in a final judgment which has no relation at all to creation? This is not what Troeltsch thinks: "In Protestant Christianity, salvation depends on a fully pious faith in the mercy and holy love of God, in pushing the soul toward a higher inner strength and a conceptual realm."(14) 'This is not the Pharisaic quest for redemption: it does not arise from a utilitarian mindset and it is absolutely unselfish. Rather it is a quest for the perfect human being, a perfect human modeled on the example of Christ.(15) But the prerequisite for this quest is a "fully pious faith in the mercy and holy love of God." There are some whom faith makes not more loving, but more narrow. This is because they have not been able to found their faith on God's holy and merciful love, but have established it on the self.
If we were to say that God's creation fell as soon as it was finished, we are undoubtedly saying that the very moment God's creation work drew to a close, it failed. Quite the opposite, God's creation is a never-ending process and through this process, he brings his creation ever closer to perfection. Whether the goal is to transcend the self as God caused the Israelites to do through an experience of self-reflection in Exodus,(16) or the "change of heart" that comes from victory over the self, as Paul stressed in Romans, both are interpretations of the same subject. As Jesus explained again and again, it is in the very process and approach that the value of faith is found.(17) Redemption is part of God's creation. Through redemption, God causes his creation to develop toward perfection. Since God has been compared to a skilled potter, he must know how to transform his creation from clay to porcelain in the production process. It is not a matter of producing inferior porcelain and then repairing it. Or we might say that redemption is God's method of creation. God's redemption means that in the production process God envisions and molds the existential consciousness of forsaken humanity into awe and faith in God.
The Wholeness of Faith and Morals
Christianity is a religion that emphasizes the moral significance of human behavior, but this does not imply that Christianity consists of nothing more than demands for moral behavior. One of the Pharisees' errors was to lead religion in the direction of pure moral theory by requiring all who desired to be religious (or perhaps this was optional) to become moral teachers as well.(18) Byrne poses the question: "We must ask what kind of religious faith the moral interpretation is able to support." (Matt. 11: 12). The crux of the issue is not one of moral standards, but of religion.
We usually see only religion's power to regulate everyday behavior, while ignoring its other, more important, function. Troeltsch sees redemption as humanity's noblest moral quest because it leads humans to know the source of moral demands. Religion is a net woven of meaning. Only by explaining the interrelatedness of these meanings, can we discover its meaning. Morality is an inseparable part of religion, as Van der Ven said, "serving as a criterion as to whether an individual , social group, or community is in fact religious at all.'(19) The lofty moral function of religion is its wholeness in terms of redemptive meaning. If we understand the moral demands of Christianity merely as fastidiousness in personal behavior, religion loses its integrity of meaning and redemption thus becomes a judgment on human action or pathetic wishful thinking.(20) This in effect negates the moral significance of religion. Of course, this negation is a denial of the significance God's actions have in the real lives of human beings, and a denial of the positive role of the redemption of Christ in human character. People misunderstand the meaning of redemption and separate it from creation. This causes them to think there is a possibility of gaining self-fulfillment in transcending reality before they have cast off worldly things. Thus, whether this appears as moralism, or as a denial of morality, both in substance break the link between the grace of God and human effort.
In the process of sanctification, the perfection of human character naturally ( "naturally" with Christian faith as a prerequisite) is not simply the fruit of individual moral striving, but it is by no means unrelated to it. Never in the Bible did God force moral perfection on anyone, rather there are many instances recorded in the Bible of people who in the end lost God's grace because of their own moral failings. Byrne points out that "sanctification, no matter where it comes from, must work through human beings; whatever language like " -deity" refers to, if it has any meaning, it must be the basis of our being, capable of manifesting the strength of our individual lives..." (21)
The life that comes with the moral strivings of the inner self that Byrne speaks of is the same sublimation of the soul that Troeltsch says comes with redemption. Religious faith that brings no moral power is unthinkable. But this has happened at times in Christianity. (22) A religious faith without the restraining power of morality (or Per haps any faith) cannot carry a person from vulgarity to holiness, rather, it can make some vulgar people even more vulgar, perhaps turning them into outcasts in the end.
The redemption Jesus announced was not meant merely as a comfort for a people writhing in despair, one that would enable them to have courage to the last breath. lie was telling them of a future reality. But they would have to walk the road to this reality by themselves (though he could help them). This announcement broke through ethical conventions that negated ethics and pietistic forms that kept piety sealed off. Thus piety and ethics became the center of Christian ways of behaving. Simmel sees human character through human being's social nature and this human character has a social significance. Thus Christian ethics breaks open the confines of personal ethics and is significant for social ethics.
No matter what, each and every person bears a responsibility for the sins of others ... these internal Christian phenomena manifest themselves in a profound and strong sense of character; or perhaps this is a type of untrammeled feeling, however, it forbids an isolated human existence- for-itself. (23)
Though Simmel is aiming at the ideal of everyone as sisters and brothers in Christ, the interrelatedness of human character he describes can be greatly extended. From the three-part analysis above, we can see that our understanding of creation and redemption cannot be separate. Any attempt at breaking this harmonious relationship places Christian faith in crisis. If, in the Chinese context, we cannot enable Christians and pastoral workers to gain a right understanding of the relationship between creation and redemption, it will be difficult for us to explain our social significance in this rapidly developing society. Of course, we did not adopt a plan for rights and interests in order to be accepted by the Chinese people, but because this is Jesus' teaching. It is also the goal of decades of effort by the Three-Self Movement. Currently in the Chinese church, people understand the doctrines of creation and redemption as divided, as unrelated.
If they do see a relationship, it is as the heritage of the traditional doctrine of predestination: the individual's future decided by God before creation, an eternally unchanging decision of God against which human effort cannot avail. Set aside, for the time being, redefinition of the traditional concept. It may be that no one can speak of humans changing a decision of God before our terminology has been redefined. But the question is this: What is the systematic biblical evidence for such an understanding? Many people are concerned only with eschatological questions and have no idea that the whole system of Christian doctrine is interrelated. Ignorance of the doctrine of creation in particular has affected the self-building of the Chinese church. Their experience of the Cultural Revolution made many of the older generation of pastoral workers realize the importance of the common base of humanity. But the younger generation of pastoral workers, who have not had this experience, must begin by teaming about and understanding the experience of the older generation. If we cannot understand that creation is a prerequisite to redemption, we will inevitably fade Christian truth into a utilitarian quest. And this is one of the biggest difficulties facing the church today.(24)
We must not fall into the creation vs. redemption debate, because that is the same sort of error. The watershed between the two is human-made, yet the event of the Incarnation and the miracle of the resurrection both show that redemption is the continuation of God's creation, because these two events are in substance no different from the placing of Adam and Eve in the garden or the exodus. (25) Decades of experience have shown that one of the reasons that we have been able to develop is because we have been able to share weal and woe with our people. "This ability comes from seeking the common ground and not from emphasizing individual differences.
The Chinese church has developed very rapidly, but this does not mean that it is grounded on a firm foundation; i.e., biblical research and doctrinal understanding. Thus, we cannot be satisfied with ourselves, we must search our souls and reflect on the path we have come. We must make theological preparations for the long future development of the Chinese church. If we become self-satisfied, content with the status quo, we will once more lose the foundation the elder generation established in past decades. While our church is in a period of rapid development and, as the 20'" century draws to a close, looking back to reflect anew on our faith, the understanding on which it is founded and the praxis based on our understanding of faith, will be of tremendous assistance to the church in China.
NanjingJournal of Theology, No.2 (1999), p. I.
Rev. Kan is the Principal of Nanjing Theological Seminary in Beijing.
1 God saw that the humanity he had created was good, but this does not necessarily imply that humans are complete. God's warnings to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden announces this. Of course, there are two sides to the meaning of "complete." One means complete in abilities; the other complete in character. The announcement in the garden of Eden warns humankind that it is still incomplete in both character and abilities.
2 Whether we are talking about the parable of the Prodigal Son, which clearly tells humankind of God's forgiveness, or of Cain's lot, which suggests to humanity God's patient forbearance, both illustrate one thing: God is waiting for humanity's return, whether from obscurity, rebellion, or from despair.
3 In fact, in these circumstances, we humans knows our limits. We know we are fooling ourselves, but this kind of self-knowledge gives rise to a deep sense of sinfulness, which is so oppressive that it must be resisted in order to prove that one will not be despised and has one's own potential. But due to the anxiety and the insecurity dependence brings, our sense of sinfulness intensifies, and this leads to an even more despairing resistance. The story of the garden of Eden is precisely this sort of psychological portrayal: the first revolt is overstepping human boundaries: shifting the blame is the second.
4 Using sacred forms to deny the sacred is the most thorough denial of it, because such an attitude must lead to a denial of any external authority in the life of holiness of the self, and even to a denial of the influence of any transcendent power on the self's life, and finally to making oneself the ultimate sacred and showing off before others. This type of self has no ultimate worth, but it has ultimate form, the final resurrection then becomes the realization of the meaning of the self. This is a process of self-deification, but also one of undeifying the self's existence. Though strong promotion of the sacred might be possible, the sacred is simply a substitute for the self. This approach places strong emphasis on the authority and power of God and denies human initiative, while in fact emphasizing the authority of the self. This was why Jesus criticized the Pharisees.
5 Love is the concrete expression of this harmony between God and humankind and humanity has only to follow God's will to be in a place of mutual love, and embody this holy harmony to the fullest.
6 Some people think that the spirit of sacrifice is a concrete expression of the existence of the sacred. But they differentiate among sacrifices, believing that some come about because there is simply no alternative. They recognize only that individual holy persons may be truly be moved by the sacred to acts of love, or worthy self-sacrifice.
7 The Old Testament is full of examples of the Israelites doing God's will by slaughtering all the male members of other nations, taking all the females and children into captivity and plundering livestock and wealth. In Numbers 31, Moses is angry because his generals haven't accomplished a total slaughter, he wants them "to kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has know a man by sleeping with him." In Deuteronomy 2, Moses, in describing the war with King Sihon of Heshbon, says, "At that time, we captured all his towns, and in each town we utterly destroyed men, women and children. We left not a single survivor" ([)cut. 2: 34). How should we understand the support of German churches for the actions of Nazi Germany and their search through the Bible for legitimizing evidence against such a background?
8 Niklas Luhmann, Religious Dogmatics and the Evolution of Societies, Liu Feng and Li Qiuling trans. (Hong Kong: Research Center on Chinese Christian Culture, 1998), 228. The author quotes a story Luhmann tells, which is omitted here.
10 Klaus Issler, "A Response to Scott B. Rae," in J.P. Moreland and David M. Ciocchi, ed., Christian perspective on Being Human (Michigan: Baker Books, 1993), 257.
11 Naturally, this depends on how we see human nature. Can we as Christians believe that human nature is essentially depraved? If so, how do we understand Jesus' human nature? Or looking at it from another angle, if God sees the humans he created as good, what does this suggest to us about understanding human nature?
12 G. Simmel, Modern Man and Religion , Cao Weidong et al trans (Hong Kong: Research Center on Chinese Christian Culture, 1997), 46.
13 Distinction here differs from that posited by Luhmann.
14 Ernst Troeltsch, Christian Theory and Modernity, trans. Zhu Yanbing et al (Hong Kong: Research Center for Chinese Christian Culture, 1998), 195.
15 Saucy places special stress on human's social nature, he feels that humans are made in the image of God, and only because of this do humans become social beings. And because of this, humans must form relationships with others based on their image (God's image). And "it is only through his or her relationships that a person lives out the existential meaning of the image of God. Only in this way, can Jesus become the true model of human nature."
16 Robert L.. Saucy, "Theology of Human Nature," Christian Perspectives on Being Human, 26.
18 Karl Barth, Commentary on Romans, trans. Wei Yuqing (Hong Kong: 1998), 558-559.
19 Many Christians and clergy have a dualistic understanding of this issue. On the one hand they are extremely picky about others' personal behavior, as if Christians had to have a behavior and life pattern distinctly different from others: on the other hand, they deny the importance of Christian deeds, as any emphasis on Christian behavior or life(style) would seem to lead directly to a conflict with the doctrine of justification by faith. Such a dualistic understanding makes faith look pallid in the midst of social reality.
20 Peter Byrne, The Moral Interpretation of Religion (Holland, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998), 150.
21 Johannes A. Van der Ven, Formation of the Moral Self (Holland, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998). 13.
22 Byrne critiqued Kant's supposed pure moral ground. lie felt that Kant's moral teaching led him into contrariness ... "Either human beings are capable of moral improvement through their own efforts or they are not. If they are, there is no need of an external agency, let alone a transcendent one, to explain how this is possible, and, furthermore. Kant's account of human beings as sunk in radical evil loses its force. But if human beings do need external moral agency to save themselves from evil, Kant's objections to traditional religious doctrines on the grounds of inescapability of moral autonomy are mistaken", 151.
24 Many Christians do not come to church seeking the meaning of faith, let alone looking for truth, but to gel some benefit for their lives. This includes some seminarians who actually think that faith is for gaining some good thing for their lives. This utilitarian approach to faith is easily influenced by unhealthy thinking or sects, because ordinarily sects emphasize immediate gain. The pragmatism brought by the market economy makes believers' faith even more susceptible to utilitarian influences. So for them, redemption has a dual meaning: benefit for the here and now and insurance for the hereafter. Such an understanding may be possible, but it has shifted people's quest for the knowledge of God to a quest for individual benefit.
25 This is just like Christianity developing out of Judaism into a world religion. The separation from Judaism was not because Judaism lacked anything, but because Christianity was in the process of developing.