The Bible is the Christian's highest standard for faith and behavior. Reading and interpreting it is the most basic problem all Christians of all times, ethnic and cultural backgrounds face in common. This question-how Chinese Christians today should understand and explain the "essential meaning" of the Bible in a "moderate" manner-is one which contemporary clergy and theologians of the Chinese church should approach with the greatest of care, because it is closely related to the question of how the Christian religion, born in the Middle East and grown in the west (meaning European culture with its Greek and Roman heritage) will be able to exist and develop in a contemporary Chinese society influenced by the ancient culture of China.
Christianity made several attempts to enter the vast land of China, but several times failed miserably and took its leave. Speaking of the modern and contemporary Chinese church, it has been precisely in these short decades since the founding of new China (minus the many historical "movements" and the Cultural Revolution) that the membership of the church has grown and grown again. The quality of the church has also continued to rise, until today we look upon the moving scene presented by a thriving church in China. Searching for the reasons behind this, we must acknowledge that it is inseparable from the unceasing search for a characteristically Chinese hermeneutics done by Chinese Christians within their own post-Liberation reality. In this process of development and change, the establishment of the three-self principle was a correct decision with broad significance and profound impact. We have reason to believe that it is in line with the will of God and the teachings of the Bible. In the Bible (especially in the New Testament) God did not make the early church in Jerusalem the only model of a Christian church. Nor did the early leaders of the church deny Paul's faith and the church he founded because his understanding and explanation of the Christian gospel came out of a Greek cultural background. Just the opposite, Peter and James and the rest saw in his genuine faith the abundance of the power and love of God.
Now as in the past, it is in a different and specific historical context-for Chinese Christians, this happened only after the founding of new China-that we truly began to attempt and ponder a hermeneutical principle arising from our own context. The establishment of the three-self principle enabled the Chinese people for the first time to have a sense of identification, of familiarity and belonging with Christianity, and enabled Jesus Christ for the first time in China to shed the -'blond and blue-eyed" image brought by western missionaries, becoming the Lord Jesus Christ for the Chinese people themselves. An example of this today is the "Christianity fever" that has risen among middle-aged and young intellectuals from a cultural understanding. It is not difficult to see that since Liberation, and especially since the implementation of the policies of reform and openness, Christian exegesis and reading of the Bible has gradually been identified with and accepted by more and more of our compatriots.
But at the same time, the Chinese church, as a church which can adapt to a socialist society under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, has from the beginning been subject to criticism, opposition and even imprecations on all sides. And the majority of the opposition comes from within the church itself, those so-called "brothers and sisters" (whether Chinese or not). This, it must be said, is a great tragedy for the church.
Not long ago, in the Hong Kong Christian Literature News, I happened to see a piece entitled, "Biblical Research and the Chinese Social Context" (which I will refer to below as "Research and Context'). The article attempted an analysis of the social context of the Chinese church since Liberation (in fact of the political context, of the fact that China is a socialist country under the leadership of the atheist Communist Party) and its relationship to biblical research. The article's aim was to establish (or at least to hint at) the herme neutical principle and direction of Christians in China today. The article summed up contrastively the so-called "two obviously different trends in social context and biblical research since the founding of new China. These two represent two types of theological viewpoint and methods..." In a negative tone, the article first described the so-called post-Liberation "hermeneutical method for exegeting the Bible that arose from the political context" in mainline Chinese churches; and went on to describe, in an appreciative tone, the minority of so-called "evangelicals" whose hermeneutical method sought to know the biblical context by beginning with the Bible. Leaving aside for the moment the author's limited knowledge of the issue of context, l would like to deal with the author's analysis and comparison of so-called different hermeneutical views within the church in new China.
First, while reading the article conscientiously, one always has the feeling that it is not an exploration of theological issues of the "different trends in social context and biblical research," but more of an illustration of an individual's political tendencies and an expression of political sentiments. There were many differing opinions in the Chinese church when new China was founded regarding how to view religious issues in a nation under the leadership of an atheist Communist Party like ours. I believe that as Christians these different ways of understanding arise from seeing the issue from different biblical angles. I do not want to critique any concrete viewpoint here. But one point should first of all be clarified, and that is that it was this very unbelieving Communist Party that led the Chinese people, for the first time in modem and contemporary history, to regain the dignity and self-esteem stolen from them by force by western powers made up of believers. In "Research and Context," the author always wants to label those Christians who supported and commended the leadership of the Party as "politicized," while deliberately throwing a mantle of so-called conforming to the highest traditions of the Christian Bible on those Christians who are opposed to or are dissatisfied with socialist China.
Secondly, the author's bias and conclusions are not a matter of happenstance, but seem to bear the marks and odor of colonial culture. Modern Chinese Christianity is a religion brought from many places (including Europe and North America). What, after all, should Chinese Christians glean from this heritage? Should it be an undiscriminating wholesale acceptance of the cultural and political views that come with (or are forced upon us) along with the biblical truth passed on? I believe that this is truly an issue worthy of our-we modern Chinese Christians- pondering. Some proud and narrow-minded western Christians from developed countries, due to their own ignorance of real conditions in the Chinese church and Chinese society. rely on subjective views made up of ideological conjecture and arbitrarily believe that people in the Chinese church, in its context under the leadership of the Communist Party and adapting harmoniously with it, have all deviated from the so-called "traditional Christian faith". The reason for this is that they have no conception of the reality of the Chinese church. This is the only way they are able to persist in their narrow belief that only they represent the whole of the Christian faith and church.. Or perhaps their attitude arises from hostility toward China. But if these judgments and viewpoints come from Chinese Christians themselves, this may perhaps demonstrate an even more lamentable and weak sort of understanding.
It is my belief that Christians' hermeneutical principle should be founded on the gospel and linked to context. "Research and Context" purports to be discussing issues of biblical hermeneutics. It is in tact an illustration of a personal political viewpoint.
Yanjing Journal of Theology, No. 1 (1999), p.49; reprinted in Nanjing Theological Review, No.4 (1999), p. 68.