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Thorny Path and Bright Vision
By Grant Chen
The vision of the Blessings Foundation, Inc. founded in 1994 is to transform the Chinese culture so that it may accelerate the spread of the Gospel. This task certainly requires hard labor, patience and endurance.
Hindrances against the Gospel
The Chinese has a long history that lasted more than four thousand years. According to the ancient documents in Yin/Shang dynasties we found that most people venerated the ¡°Heaven¡± in the early years. However, the grand Heaven gradually lost its impact in the course of Chinese history. It became remote and lost the personal characteristics. Finally it only existed as a vague principle. As time went by, the unique combination of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism predominated the Chinese mind with little or no concern to the concept of a ¡°Creator God.¡±
After the defeat of Sino-British war in 1839, the Qing dynasty signed a number of unequal treaties with western countries. The contents included the prerogatives for the missionaries to go inland. Because of this historical fact, many Chinese intellectuals regarded Christianity as an invasion of western culture.
Communism, together with scientism and evolutionism, blossomed in China after the Communist party won the revolutionary war in 1949. Since then most Chinese endorsed atheism and looked down on Christianity, even with hostile attitudes, labeling it as ¡°spiritual opium.¡±
Western thoughts found new opportunities to enter China after its reopen in the eighties of last century. Unfortunately, at that time the dominant trends in academic and popular ethos in the west were unfavorable to Christianity. The postmodern theories, flourished in France and spread to North America in the seventies, soon swept young minds in China . Its emphases, such as denial of objective truth, resistance against authority, deconstructionism, suspicion of meta-narrative, etc. further increased the difficulty for the Chinese to accept the message of the Gospel.
Taiwan's Dilemma and Hong Kong's Chances
Taiwan and Hong Kong (until 1997) were not under the reign of Beijing government in the past 50 years. In terms of contemporary Chinese culture their situations should be considered separately.
The discord among the people in recent decades triggered by vicious competitions between political parties in Taiwan induced societal instability, leading to the erosion of its economic achievement from the past. At the same time we see superstition prospering on this island. Programs of folk religion, Buddhist indoctrination and activities are abundant on TV.
However, probing deeper we may find that Taiwanese young people are no longer attracted by any ideology. Their purpose in life is simply to earn money and indulge in sensational revelry. Influenced by postmodernism, they do not have any appetite of seeking ¡°truth.¡± Neither do they have any concern about preserving the Chinese tradition.
On the contrary, a group of people in Hong Kong uphold Chinese tradition fervently despite the century-long British rule. The merit should largely go to the effort of the New Asia College in Chinese University . Nevertheless this Bright Eastern Pearl as a whole appears westernized, a colonized phenomenon that will not fade away easily.
From the sixties onward, theological studies in Hong Kong has kept its lead among the Chinese Christians worldwide. As a result Hong Kong Christian scholars actively involve in the academic exchange activities in Mainland China in recent years. After this colony was returned to China in 1997, many missionary agencies continue to use this advanced city as their base.
Christianity Fever in China
Accumulating wealth soon became the admirable goal of all people after China government opened its door to the world in 1979. The cities along the coast quickly became affluent. A class of the ¡°new-rich¡± emerged. However, the gap between the rich and the poor and the cities and the countryside widened greatly, sparking off numerous disturbances and conflicts.
Meanwhile, there was good news. The Gospel was well received by the Chinese, especially in the rural areas during the eighties. Many miracles transpired among the believers. The Christians, oppressed and low in number before, increased to nearly 80,000,000 at the turn of the century.
Another encouraging phenomenon is that many elite studying abroad showed great interest toward Christianity. The percentage of conversion to Christianity among the Chinese oversea students remains high.
Inside Mainland China , after the Tienanmen Square tragedy of June 4, 1989, the intellectuals generally lost faith in Communism and turned to the west to find hope. Christianity became a hot topic in academia. Department of Religious Studies was established in many prestigious campuses in the mid nineties.
Reflections from Church History in the West
Augustine of Hippo may be viewed as the first theologian in church history who promoted the notion of Christianizing culture, demonstrated by his masterpiece City of God.
Though the Roman Empire accepted Christianity as its national religion since emperor Theodosius, the union between state and church did not realize the desired ideal--Christianization of culture. On the contrary the dark age in the medieval era might be the direct result of the compulsion, doctrinization and formalization of Christian religion.
In the reformation period the famous reformer John Calvin governed the city of Geneva . He tried to apply biblical principles to the entire society. In the eighteenth century John Wesley led great revivals in Britain that renewed the morality of the people and might have prohibited a bloody revolution. At the turn of the twentieth century Abraham Kuyper, prime minister of Netherlands , attempted to apply Christian faith to every realm of its culture and was fruitful at the time. Unfortunately from the mid 19th century onwards most European countries departed from their Christian roots and favored secularism and humanism.
The most successful model of cultural transformation can be found in America between the period of its formation and the mid 19th century. The Puritans came to this new continent with pious spirit. The pioneering politicians applied biblical principles to the young nation and established her rulership on Christian faith. Sadly due to the influence of liberal theology and evolutionism America has fallen from its original faith after the mid 19th century.
In retrospection we may conclude that any so-called ¡°Christian country¡± could become post-Christian, non-Christian, and even anti-Christian if her people turned away from God.
The Theories of Cultural Transformation
How would a culture change? Scholars of anthropology like Lauriston Sharp, Anthony Wallace, and Alan Tippett suggested theories of structural change of society for explanation. When the old structures gradually collapse, the hidden elements of potential thoughts and structures would emerge and finally replace the original ones.
There are plenty of illustrations in the history of Christian mission. For example, when an animistic tribe turned to Christ, they no longer sought the spirits but prayed to the true and omnipotent God. Originally their social time was built around the sacrificial ceremony to the ghosts. Now Christian Sunday worships and the fellowships among the believers replace the former religious rite.
In other word, when the value system of a culture becomes inadequate to hold the society together or to bring about improvement while another competing and vital value system may be able to function, the later will eventually take its place. In this way the culture is transformed.
China faced tremendous challenges of modernization in the last century. Many scholars raised the question, why Confucianism could not produce democracy and science? More than a century has passed, yet the Chinese culture is still in the process of transition. No doubt many forces are trying to influence it. We as Christians should do our best to regenerate the Chinese culture by the Gospel.
The Prospect of Transformed Chinese Culture
How should we describe a transformed Chinese culture by the Gospel?
Perhaps the picture can be depicted as follows. Half of the Chinese people realize that there is a Creator God. About ten percent of the whole population attend church services on Sunday and most people recognize that this day should be dedicated to the worship of God. The fear of the Lord of Heaven becomes the root of the Chinese value system.
Then the biblical ethics will naturally become the indicator of social conscience. Sin will be seen as an offense against God. Church buildings will become the center of local communities. Art and media will present messages in accordance with biblical message. Influential literature or media productions will contain major scriptural truth, just as some famous classic novels in the west.
It is our hope to see the emergence of outstanding Chinese theologians who have abundant spiritual life while being truthful to God's revelation. We look forward to the publication of indigenous systematic theologies imbedded in Chinese culture. We also desire to see new meanings being incorporated to the traditional Chinese festivals in line with the teachings of the Scripture.
The transformation of Chinese culture is a huge spiritual enterprise. Yet by faith we anticipate that the dream will one day come true.
The Blessings Foundation started seminarian scholarship program in 1996 to nurture the talents who have the same vision with us and devote their lives to its fulfillment. We realize that the academia and the mass media are the most severe battlefields in the cultural warfare. Therefore we concentrate on nurturing these two types of talents. Thus far we have supported 22 for the kingdom of God .
The contributors of this book include both our seminarians and board members. Each of them wrote from different perspectives reflecting their thoughts upon the cultural mission.
We cannot predict when the Christianization of culture will come to realization in China . But we know that history is in God's hand. Our duty is to follow His guidance and be faithful to do the jobs entrusted to us. God will eventually transform Chinese culture at His time, to His glory!
President of the Blessings Foundation, Inc.