Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

What Christianity Can Offer China in the Third Millennium *

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

What Christianity Can Offer China in the Third Millennium *

Article excerpt

In the past, traditional Christianity offered only scattered elements of value to China. However, at the beginning of the seventeenth century a more critically-thinking, dialogically oriented Catholic Christianity did bode well to accomplish something profound by beginning to provide a fundamental, creative reshaping of Chinese culture and spirit in the work of Matteo Ricci. Sadly, that great promise was destroyed in a fit of Vatican self-destructiveness.

Now, however, at the beginning of the third millennium modern critically-thinking, dialogically oriented Christianity can once again offer something substantive that can significantly help China reestablish a coherent, cohesive inner spirit that will drive and direct a creative outer structure and life. It can do this, however, only by creatively connecting its own dynamic source, now reappropriated through the modern critically-thinking, praxis- and dialogically-oriented spirit of contemporary culture, with the best of China's religious/cultural tradition.

In brief, what Third Millennium Christianity has to offer China is a result of a major paradigm shift that has taken place in Christianity in recent decades and, in fact, is still going on. This is the shift from a static, ideological, exclusivistic view of religion and the world to one that is dynamic, pragmatic, dialogic. This has meant the embracing of modern critical methods of thinking as the essential means of reappropriating the tradition. As with all creative renewal movements, contemporary Christianity is also in the process of returning to its source, not in a romantic spirit, but as a necessary step to make its source once again vital in today's world. It is that source, revitalized through contemporary methods, that Christianity can offer China for the third millennium.

I Return to Sources

The source, the origin, of Christianity--despite its name--is not "the Christ," not the church, not the Christian scriptures, but Jesus the Jew, his thought, teaching, and living example, that is, what Jesus "thought, taught, and wrought."

Millions of Christians have for centuries focused their main attention on something other than the source of Christianity. They focused on a religious-theological concept, "Christ," the "Anointed One," which was laden with all sorts of meanings beyond its original Jewish meaning of a man who was given special responsibilities by God--and, hence, also powers to carry out those responsibilities. Or, they focused oil the doctrinal teachings of the church as laid out in early universal (ecumenical) councils, or by the pope. Or, they focused on the writings of the Bible, especially the Christian scriptures.

However, none of those is the source of Christianity. The source of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth (whose family name was not "Christ"), who was not a Christian, who did not read the Christian scriptures, who indeed did not even found a church. Rather, he was a devout Jew whose "family name," if he had had one, would have been "Ben-Yosep" (Josephson) or "ha Notzri" (the Nazarene), who read the Hebrew Bible, and as a "Rabbi" gathered around him a band of Jewish followers to be sent to "the children of the House of Israel," as did other rabbis.

It is to that source, to Jesus of Nazareth, "Yeshua ha Notzri," that more and more Christians are turning at the present time, both as individuals--ordinary people and theologians--and as ecclesiastical institutions. It is also precisely that source, Yeshua, that has much to offer China in the third millennium.

II. Yeshua' A Concrete Human Being

The first thing to notice about the source of Christianity, Yeshua, is that it is not an abstraction, not a set of ideas or teachings, not an ideology--but a concrete person. Of course ideas and wise teachings are important, even essential, but in un-embodied form they have limited inspirational power by which women and men can set their lives. …

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