Chinese Theological Review 14

In Response to My Readers


Please explain what you mean by "semi-finished products."

I would like to respond to this question on the basis of light gained from Bible reading.

Our God is the Creator. Creation is a long process, not something God finished in six days and has been resting from ever since. The first chapter of Genesis tells us that God was pleased with what he created in these six days. But how primitive this world would be and how immature our knowledge of God if we were to think that God's creation is limited to these six days and that after this he stopped creating. God said of those first six days that it was good, but from then on. God's creation had to deal with human sin, it had to resolve the question of human sinfulness. Creation was not as simple and easy as in those first six days. But God is the Lord of creation, yesterday, today and tomorrow. God never quits halfway. Creation is continually in process. And this creation will certainly be carried to completion. The created world is a semi-finished part of God's overall creation, It is a work-in-progress. It is being transformed, but still needs work. The term "semi-finished product" is not found in the Bible, neither is "electric light" or "television:' But "semi-finished product" may be an effective term for people in modern industrial societies.

As for us, in addition to statements about humans being in sin without any merit, the Bible also says, `What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor' (Psalm 8: 4-5). These different views of the Bible are not contradictory. The meaning is simply that in the process of being created, people experience reversal, difference, before and af ter states. Works-in-progress are those that are not yet finished, not seconds or rejects. To be semi-finished products in God's hand is honor and glory, but we must be humble, know our own shortcomings, and not imagine that we are already complete.

On the evidence of many passages in the New Testament, it seems quite appropriate to say that we are "semi-finished." For example:

"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known" (I Cor. 13: 11-12).

"Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3: 12-14).

Even the Incarnate Christ, while living as a human in the world, underwent a process of growth: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor" (Luke 2: 52).

Biblical theology is a comprehensive field of study. It would be erroneous to say that the Bible's assessment of humankind is based on only one passage. Personally, my view is that if we see everyone-Adam and Eve, the elder son and the younger son in the story of the Prodigal Son, Peter and John. Rahab who helped bring the Israelites into the land of Canaan, and Man' Magdalene, as well as Priscilla and Aquila, teachers of theology and theological students, scientists and producers-all as works-in-progress in God's great enterprise of creation, we can avoid raising humankind too high, but also avoid scoffing at it. This would be a more moderate approach.

Do you favor replacing religion with morality?

I cannot speak for other religions, but as for Christianity, I do believe that Christianity should lift up ethics and morality. But this is in no way to suggest that Christianity is concerned only with ethics and morality and even less to suggest that Christian faith be replaced with either.

Both Christianity and its forerunner, Judaism, have a tradition of placing great emphasis on ethics and morality. Six of the ten commandments both profess are matters of ethics and morality, such as honoring ones father and mother, not stealing, avoiding sexual sin and so on. The Bible is a book with a great deal to say about ethics and morality. The Old Testament prophets extended the scope of ethics and morality from matters of individual behavior into the social and political arenas.

In spite of this, ethics and morality are not equivalent to Christianity and cannot supplant it. The core of Christianity is faith and doctrine. Christian faith and doctrine are contained in the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, both ancient creeds. Ethical and moral concepts change slowly, moving with the times. Neither is theology the same as faith and doctrine, rather both ethics and theology explain faith and doctrine, and inevitably change according to people, time and place. There is only one Christianity, but there are many and various theological views within Christianity. Even within the one Bible, there are many theological viewpoints, as well as different ethical and moral concepts.

Any advanced religion values ethics and morality. Einstein once said, "A giant leap in the historical evolution of human religion takes place when religions of fear turn into religions of morality", and I agree.

An essay published in Hong Kong recently stated that any Christian who emphasized ethics and morality was denying the uniqueness of Christ. This writer even went so far as to say that Christians on the mainland spoke of ethics and morality in order to curry favor with the Communist Party. Does this writer not know that for thousands of years before there was a Communist Party on earth, countless ancient sages like Confucius, Mencius, Mo Tzu, Socrates, and Paul, along with nearly every writer included in the Bible, held ethics and morality in high esteem? All this about currying favor with the Communists only goes to show that the focus for this author lies in opposition to the Communist Party, and that failure to oppose it is tantamount to favoring it.

You made the courage and spirit of sacrifice of the People' s Lib eration Army infighting the floods widely known, and praised the soldiers highly, pointing to their actions as an expression of love. But we Christians know that compared to the holy love of God, this love is hardly , worth mentioning. Christians should glorify God and spread God 's holy love, they should not praise humans. What is your reaction to this?

I have thought of such questions often since the floods. Let me explain my views Further

I understand why some Christians feel that only God's love is true and holy love. Perhaps because they have seen or been deceived by people who use love as a cloak for their actions in order to achieve their own selfish ends. Simple souls have suffered at the hands of such people, and the experience has left them bitterly disappointed, feeling that all human love is false and unreliable. They feel that God's holy love is the only thing they have to rely on.

I sympathize with those who have been deceived, but as a Christian I firmly believe that behind the whole cosmos and the created world, there exists God the Father, the Lord of creation. Love is the impetus for all his movements and work, it is his most basic attribute. God is the invisible hover in the cosmos. His justice emerges from his love, rather than being opposed to it. God is even now in the process of creating. I believe the three persons of God are one, for this process of creation includes the Son's moving example and redemption, and the Holy Spirit's revelation and sanctification. This three-in-one God is now in the process of gradually transforming the obstacles to his work of love and his work of the kingdom into helpers and co-workers worthy of him. In this long process one can imagine that there are some works-in-progress coming to completion, while others turn their backs on God, choosing destruction instead.

Years ago at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, I spent half a day each week for several weeks introducing liberation theology, the theology of Teilhard de Chardin and process theology. Theologians in these three areas, along with theologians in many other fields, all praise God's love. They see it as God's most basic attribute and believe that this is the pinnacle of revelation in the Bible. Some religions, especially less developed ones, view justice and discipline as God's highest attributes, seeing God as one who rewards good and punishes evil. The judge and avenger who holds life and death in his hand. People easily see such a god as one who would destroy for revenge and punish the innocent with the guilty. This tendency stands out in some parts of the Old testament, in spite of the fact that in some passages very beautiful language is used in describing the love of God (for example in Hosea where he uses his personal experience to speak of God's bands of love). But in the New Testament, we meet the Incarnate Son in the Four Gospels, in whose person God is pleased to show forth his love, or a loving God. Paul's justification by faith also points to that Christ who, prompted by love, was raised up on the cross, thus liberating humanity from the bonds of the law. Later in I John 4:4, the New Testament language is very direct: "God is love."

In more and more countries today, beatings, revenge and punishment are no longer the principles for dealing with crime. Rather the guiding principles are education, persuasion and reform. Some countries have even abolished the death penalty. Yet among us Christians, some are still hostile to others (non-Christians), threatening them with the day of judgment when they will be punished and Christians vindicated. We should give much thought to how this relates to our Christian concept of God.

During television coverage of the floods, we saw a five or six year old child clinging to a branch, about to be swept away. Without a thought for his own safety, a PLA soldier guided his small boat over, grabbed the child and took her to safety. This act, braving death to save another, is love. I cannot believe such love to be very small. hardly worth mentioning. I believe this is a great and holy love, and that the creator of this love is God. Seeing love like this, God is most certainly pleased, and we Christians, too, should be thankful for it and should not demean it. Can it be that we as Christians should criticize and demean even the good actions of others? Is this normal'? Can our Christianity have no common language with the rest of our people'? John 3: 16 tells us "For God so loved the world..." May we know the will of God and see the world with loving hearts.

Nanjing Theological Review, no. 2 (1999), p.50.

A partial translation also appeared in Amity News Service as "Bishop Ting Responds to Questions," 99.7/8.4 (Sept., 1999).