Taiwan Seminary has a “Center for the Study of Christian Thought” 基督教思想研究中心 which holds several seminars or symposia a year on different topics. This weekend there was one on theological thought and formation 神學人學思──心路歷程. Several fairly recent PhD grads shared about how they came to the point they are at. It was an interesting group, with several mainland and several overseas (Malaysia, Singapore) scholars, as well as a mix of faculty from my seminary, China Evangelical Seminary, Taiwan Baptist Seminary, and Zhongtai Seminary. It was probably 70% Reformed and of the 17 PhD/ThDs I counted today, 100% male (which I think is very unfortunate but tends to be the norm in this group). That said, I am grateful for ecumenism in all its forms, and this particular conversation (1) is relatively new, (2) reflects friendships and collaborations between traditions that have often been challenging (China, Taiwan, SE Asia; Taiwanese and Mandarin churches; evangelical and mainline denominations), and (3) invites conversations that are probably good for the broader church.
A mainland pastor-scholar talked about the Chinese church as a “tradition-rejecting church” and also on his own search for a theological genealogy 家譜. In his personal pantheon of traditions, he included a pastiche of the great early 20th century Christian scholars (Song Shangjie, Wang Mingdao), the broader tradition (reflected through a study of Pelikan and others and an affinity for some periods, such as the pilgrim movements), and some appeal to modern translated scholars (from Calvin early on to Barth more recently). I found him very thoughtful and helpful to the overall conversation.
There was a also a recent Oxford grad who talked about his path via music and science into theology. He referenced Karl Barth a lot and I found his dissertation online, also on Barth. One of the things that has sort of surprised me is how popular Barth is among the under-40 crowd. My only contribution to the discussion today was to say that when I first came to Taiwan 10 years ago, I rarely heard about Barth, and after studying at PTS (where I think at one point 7 of the theologians were Barthians or had written on Barth for their dissertations), I was sort of grateful for a reprieve from him. In the last few months, when I’ve encountered Barth, he’s often been used how as I remember him, which is to say as a weapon. In Taiwan recently I’ve seen him used (1) to reject theological pluralism, (2) to repudiate contextual theology, and (3) as a safe all-purpose answer to various contemporary concerns (the guy today mentioned Barth’s usefulness for scripture). I understand that Barth is a major figure, but I still often feel like his total emphasis on revelation and rejection of natural theology means that he more or less ignores culture and has almost nothing to say to human-human (as opposed to divine-human) interaction. This is probably unfair of me, so I’ll try to read more in this area.
One of the side conversations during the conference was over Confucianism and Christianity. When theologians discuss Confucianism they bring great nuance to their Christian theology, but then offer a fairly simple “teachings of Confucius” approach to Confucianism (it would be as if you compared 100 scholars from 2500 years of Chinese teaching to the words of Moses). In Taiwan, a compounding problem is that there’s a strong emphasis on Chinese classics in education and a sense that people have a grounding in traditional Chinese culture, but then there are not the public conversations over Confucianism as in Singapore. People feel like they *own* the tradition, but then often haven’t really thought through how Confucianism acts like a religion (or doesn’t), contributes to the broader cultural system, or is applicable (or not) to education, government, and so on. One of the things about conferences like this that drive me nuts is that we can lose so much time just trying to get on the same page (what do we mean by “worldview,” “Confucianism,” “Reformed,” “Chinese,” etc.). There is sometimes a core of theological shared texts within one or two traditions, but when we get beyond this (into other cultures, religions, disciplines) we lack even the basic ability to understand each other.