A scholar recently called on the church to have the vision of being bold in becoming the Kingdom of God.
On October 16th, at a forum on theology, Professor Qu Xutong from the Department of Philosophy at Tsinghua University was invited to deliver a lecture titled “Becoming a Vision: On the 'Redenomination' of Chinese Christianity”.
Having graduated from Heidelberg University in Germany with a master’s degree and a doctorate in theology, Professor Qu teaches at the Institute of Foreign Philosophy and Culture and the Institute of Religion and Culture at the School of Philosophy of Beijing Normal University.
Starting with real cases, Professor Qu, also a visiting scholar at the Bart Research Center in Princeton, pointed out that the form and influence of Christian denominations in China had always been there. When talking about the theological premise of understanding denominationalism, he urged, “The church should be bold in becoming the Kingdom of God as a vision!”
Firstly, in terms of methods, attention should be paid to the tension and balance between the vertical dimension and the plane dimension, he proposed. Christians should not be too “godly” - too radical, nor too “human” - too compromised.
"We should seek and witness God’s own purpose in between God and men. In addition, we should pay attention to the 'uniqueness and many' in the plane dimension. That included the differences between God’s unique words and people’s responses in different times and situations and the practicality and situation of faith."
When it comes to theology, Professor Qu suggested the focus on Christology, the gospel of the Trinity, and the triplet of dimensions of the Kingdom of God with Jesus Christ as the king. In particular, the Chinese Church lacked the understanding and explanation of the Trinity. The triplet of images of Jesus as the king in the Kingdom of God included the king, the priest, and the prophet, while different denominations understood the triplet of images differently.
For instance, the church had different understandings of the mission: the first understanding was that “the Kingdom of God is in you”, which had nothing to do with specific situations, society, history and culture, and the philosophy only focused on the salvation of the soul; the second insight was that “the Kingdom of God is among you” in which Christians should participate in the construction of culture and society; the third understanding was that “the Kingdom of God is both in you and among you”; and the fourth notion was that the Kingdom of God was a mechanism of mobilization.
“The church is not the Kingdom of God, and it is often not like the Kingdom of God.” He stressed, “The church cannot become or establish God’s kingdom by itself, and it is only possible for the church to participate in God’s kingdom by virtue of God’s grace. The church should be bold to be like the Kingdom of God, to be a ‘preview’ and ‘vision’ of the Kingdom of God, and sincerely witness to and bravely lead others to the Kingdom of God.”
Professor Qu explained the word “vision”, “The word vision was adopted and conformed to the accustomed expression that Chinese Christians are used to. Diverse visions emphasize that there are many visions in the Kingdom of God. The specific received vision is one but of the many, the specific and different vision.”
“In reality, there is no such a concrete church that is ideal, unique, ecumenical and purely true, but only a church that is specific and situational, that pursues and witnesses the truth between ideal and reality, holiness and filth, ecumenism and localization, God and men, inside and outside, and above and below, and that sincerely tries to work with God,” he added.
Considering the church theory in view of "the Kingdom of God” mentioned above, the so-called Christian denomination could be understood as: how to receive the vision from God, how churches should specifically respond to various situations, and what kind of specific denomination or tradition to establish or spread.
His understanding of the Christian denomination first emphasized mobility and generativity followed by continuity and stability. His philosophy was different from the traditional classification of sociology or history and divided the church into mainstream denominations and small factions.
The speaker thought that denomination had three dimensions, including church life (especially church etiquette, church pastoral care, governance, and mission), historical narration, and theological orthodoxy. These three dimensions interacted and influenced each other.
He also explained denominationalism figuratively. For instance, different denominations were compared to large and small rivers. Small rivers might become great rivers and vice versa or even disappear.
As to specific situations and historical tasks, Professor Qu put forward several questions for consideration.
"Does the church belong to 'Chinese Christianity' or 'Christianity in China'? We return to the three dimensions of denominationalism. Is church life Chinese or an American denomination in China? Is the historical narration traced back to Christ or certain pastors?”
In view of the global situation, he raised a question - "how can we get out of the judgmental opposition and one-dimensional paranoia between belief and reason, conservative and liberal after the Enlightenment?"
With regards to China’s situation, he asked, "How can we get out of the opposition between the house church and the Three-self church after the May Fourth New Culture Movement or the Anti-Christian Movement?"
Professor Qu concluded the lecture by sharing his theological imagination and expectation, "In church life, do ceremonies such as preaching and communion services, and church governance and pastoral care have Chinese features and characteristics, which are also a great need of Chinese churches? In historical narration, where is the identity and continuity of the church? In theological orthodoxy, does the Chinese church explore the Chinese theological orthodoxy while returning to the ecumenically diverse Church?"
"Chinese theology can be used as a good proof of scientific theology and church practice," he stressed.
- Translated by Charlie Li