A Critique of ALL Religions: Chinese Intellectuals and the Church, by David Jeffrey

Follow up to: Partnership not Persecution: A Modest Proposal for the Future of China and her Christian Intellectuals

by David Lyle Jeffrey in Books and Culture

I was privileged recently to attend a conference on Marxism and Christianity in China. The venue was Tiantan University, close to the birthplace of Mao Zedong in Hunan province. More than ninety papers were given by philosophers and comparative literature scholars from universities all over China; of the eight “keynote” speakers, four were Chinese academics, four Western.

Strikingly, the Chinese intellectuals presented papers with a more distinctly favorable view of historically normative Christian theology than did some of the Westerners. There were a large number of similarly positive presentations also in the concurrent sessions. In the keynote sessions, I was struck not only by the clarity of theological command and crisp formal argument but also by the warmth and vigor of response engendered from the floor.

 Each of the Chinese speakers addressed Christianity as a comprehensive intellectual system, a body of knowledge grounded in theological convictions with inescapable metaphysical as well ethical entailments. Most presenters showed extensive familiarity with Christian intellectual works from the patristic period through to the present, often quoting from Chinese translations of works as ancient as those of Augustine and as current as Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), Hans Urs von Balthasar, John Paul II, John Macquarrie, Alister McGrath, and Charles Taylor. More frequently adduced were contemporary philosophical and theological writings of important Chinese intellectuals such as are represented in Yang Huilin and Daniel Yeung’s Sino-Christian Studies in China.

The Bible itself was clearly regarded as an important philosophical as well as theological resource in these papers, and engaged with respect and understanding reflected also in conference conversations both in and out of the formal sessions… 

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David Lyle Jeffrey is Distinguished Professor of Literature and the Humanities at Baylor University and, since 1996, Guest Professor of Peking University