- Sino-Theology, the Bible and the Christian Tradition 1
In the last two decades, a group of intellectuals in Mainland China have come to the fore participating enthusiastically in Christian studies, especially in the discussion of Christian theology. Since most of them proclaim themselves to be intellectuals rather than Christians and they usually are not adherent to any Christian churches, they are conventionally called 'cultural Christians'. Many of these 'Cultural Christians' attempt to promote a 'Sino-Theology' (or to be more precise, 'Sino-Christian Theology'). The main aim of this paper is to discuss the relation of Sino-theology with Biblical studies and the Christian tradition.
This paper consists of three main parts. The first part attempts to offer a critical review of the relationship between Sino-theology and Biblical studies, and thus draws attention to the fact that Sino-theology hasnot been well-recognised by the Chinese churches, due to its failure to integrate itself with Biblical studies. There are many possible factors contributing to such a situation. As is widely acknowledged, the field of Biblical studies has not received the academic status in Mainland China to which it is due, for social, cultural, and political reasons. Moreover, with respect to the academic background of individual scholars, very few of them have received adequate training in Biblical studies. More importantly, even those scholars occupied in the studies of Sino-theology might not have fully recognised the academic character of Biblical Studies and its importance with respect to theological thinking.
The second part of this paper argues that among the advocates of Sino-theology, there are a number of rather basic misunderstandings or misconceptions with regard to Biblical Studies that should be to be rectified. Moreover, as Biblical scholarship in Mainland China is expected to be [End Page 266] enhanced in the foreseeable future, sooner or later Sino-theology hasto take seriously its relationship with the Bible and Biblical Studies. If advocates of Sino-theology were to pay more attention to the academic, humanistic, and intellectual characters of Biblical studies, and look for a more interactive relationship between Sino-theology and Biblical studies, it would be conducive not only to the wider acceptance of Sino-theology in academia and in the Chinese Church, but also to its integration with the Christian tradition.
The final part of this paper endeavours to suggest that in the long run, Sino-theology may better appropriate the rich Chinese cultural resources, including the methodology of scriptural studies within the Chinese tradition, such as the Buddhist method of doctrinal criticism. In doingso, Sino-theology may develop some rather distinctive approaches to Scriptures and Biblical interpretation, and thus make its unique contribution to theological studies worldwide.
Retrospective on Sino-Theology and Biblical Studies
In the present Chinese world, the principal force in Biblical scholarship consists of researchers from theological seminaries, especially those outside Mainland China. The research strength of Mainland China scholars remains relatively weak in this area. To date, Biblical Studies remains the 'weakest link', if not the 'missing link', in theological studies in Mainland China. Articles or books on Biblical studies by Mainland China scholars have been meager, and even fewer among them have been able to master the methodology generally adopted by contemporary Biblical scholarship. In fact, Biblical Studies constitutes only a tiny proportion of the publications of Cultural Christians. Generally speaking, Cultural Christians seldom quote the Bible in their theological writings, and even fewer devote themselves to in-depth research into Biblical studies. Their research and writings bear no close relation to the Bible or Biblical studies.
Liang Jialin (also known as Leung Ka-lun), a church historian teaching at a theological seminary in Hong Kong, once criticised the theologyof cultural Christians, especially in terms of the methodology which separates their theological thinking from Biblical studies:
Most of them are interested merely in Christian thought and its philosophical implications, and the main subjects of their studies are those theologians in history who were original in theological and philosophical thinking (especially modern theologians), so that they do not follow the conventional approach (or tradition) of theological [End Page 267] studies: exegesis → Biblical theology → historical theology → systematic theology → applied theology...