Hints and Shadows

In past Reaching Chinese Worldwide newsletters, we have looked at various methods of reaching Chinese around the world with the Gospel of Christ.

Now we shall begin a new series on “Points of Contact” with Chinese people and their culture, hoping to explore ways in which Christians can speak to existing conditions and concepts.

First of all, let’s look at some potential connections between traditional Chinese culture and biblical Christianity.

We shall note both similarities and differences, and try to strike a balance between two extremes: Saying that there is nothing in Chinese culture that approximates, or reflects, the realities revealed in the Bible, and claiming that certain aspects of Chinese culture exactly correspond to Scripture.

Here are a few examples of what we might call “hints and shadows” of special revelation that can be found, as aspects of general revelation, in traditional Chinese culture.

- The idea of God. The ancient Chinese worshiped a supreme being, called Shang Di, or Di, or Heaven (Tian) with many attributes similar to those ascribed to the God of the Bible. They also prayed and sacrificed to a host of spirits, lesser deities (shen), who remind us of the many “gods” of the biblical world.

- Yin and yang. Chinese have long believed that there are two fundamental principles that continuously interplay with each other to form all of reality. Does the Bible have any such idea?

- Filial piety. At least from Confucius onward, Chinese have put respect for elders (especially parents), reverence for ancestors, and even some sort of “worship” for the spirits of the departed, at the center of their ethical system. How does this relate to “Honor your father and your mother”?

- How do the Confucian concepts of benevolence (ren), righteousness (yi), and ceremony/courtesy (and proper observance of rites, li) compare with biblical ideas of love, justice, respect, and worship?

- The idea of the Way (Dao or Tao). The Chinese Bible used dao to translate logos (word) in the opening verses of John’s Gospel. Is this dao the same as the logos of the Bible, or are there also significant differences?

- The Temple of Heaven and the sacrifices at the Altar of Heaven in Beijing. Here the Emperor, the “Son of Heaven,” annually offered sacrifices for the forgiveness of the sins of the people.

- Reward and punishment; heaven and hell. Chinese possess the idea that good and evil will be rewarded and punished. Through Buddhism, they received the concept of an afterlife where good and bad deeds receive their just recompense.

- Monarchial authority. From the humblest home to the imperial palace, Chinese are accustomed to serve a single authority figure with great, and sometimes almost total, power.

- A legacy of the abuse of power, with the resulting resentment and occasional rebellion.

- A strong sense of group identity. More than Westerners, Chinese have traditionally seen themselves as members of a larger group, whose interests they have identified with their own well-being.

- An obsession with “face” and a corresponding fear of shame.

- A history of Chinese hegemony. For centuries, Chinese assumed that their country was the center of the world, the premier state to which all others owed fealty and obedience.

- A great longing to belong to a nation that is not only respected, but also reigns supreme in the world.

- Recent experience with poverty and hunger, even starvation.

- Intense pragmatism. Chinese focus on what works.

- A keen sense of relative value. They seek the best bargain, and aim to make a profit.

Just a little thought will suggest ways in which the Gospel addresses all of these concerns, and could fill these concepts with deeper meaning.

Aside from these hints and shadows of God’s truth in traditional Chinese culture, there are many pressure points in modern society that offer openings for the Good News of Christ.

We shall explore some of these in coming essays, God willing.