CHRISTIAN, MEET CONFUCIUS – AND ALL THAT THE EAST HAS TO OFFER
(364) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – EASTERN MYSTICISM & THE NEW AGE AT YOUR CHURCH’S BACK DOOR
Have you ever considered how much of our society today is being influenced by practices from the East? Think about it. There are many areas of our life that involve these influences – some of which include:
- Alternative medicine
- Medical & health related treatments
- Fitness programs (e.g. Yoga)
- Meditation – public school programs involving children participation in meditation
- Language – words such as Yoga, Kharma,…etc., are commonly used today
- The increasing popularity of Eastern religions and philosophies (Eastern Mysticism, Buddhism…etc.)
Does your church have YOGA classes? If we focus on just one aspect of this increasing influence of Eastern philosophies on religious beliefs and experiences, over the last 20 years (+/-), Christianity in this country has gradually but steadily shifted to being more open and inclusive to these beliefs. Years ago, there was damage done by Liberalism in tearing down the authority of the Bible in mainline denominations. More recent history shows the effect of groups such as the Emerging Church and their inclusion of ancient Roman Catholic monasticism and Eastern Mystical beliefs in with Christian practices. This has been subtle and has not been paraded in the front doors of your church. Like many types of aberrant teachings being exposed to the church today, there has been a gradual syncretic blending of terminology, practices, theology…etc., from Eastern philosophies in with historic Evangelical practices. This commonly occurs through authors who write books sounding very Christian-like but including other terms and beliefs not found in the Bible. These trends are stated so matter-of-factly that they have become part of the vernacular within the church today. Topics such as SPIRITUAL FORMATION, MEDITATION, CENTERING PRAYER, GOING DEEP WITHIN YOURSELF TO UNITE WITH GOD, FOCUS ON BREATHING TECHNIQUES, STILLNESS, YOGA, SILENCE & SOLITUDE,…etc, have taken on meanings with Christian-sounding jargon but actually have minimal biblical support.
I think we will be seeing the next phase of this TRANSFORMATION of the CHURCH. This phase may not be as subtle in combining other religious beliefs in with Christian practices. Instead, they may include a more bold and wide scale – “front-door” approach. They will be endorsed by what used to be solid Evangelical institutions, teachers, authors,….etc. Just one example of this can be seen in this last months CHRISTIANITY TODAY magazine. The article is titled – CHRISTIAN, MEET CONFUCIUS. It goes into detail on how Christians could benefit from learning about what this ancient Chinese worldview can teach us as Christians. I’m not saying that as Christians we do everything right and know everything. But, for the popular Christian magazine (Evangelical) to promote this religion and say it is for our benefit to learn how this false teaching can benefit Christians violates much of what we are warned about from the OT and the NT.
Pagan beliefs are compared to sexual adultery in 2 Chronicles 21:11-13; Isaiah 57:3; Romans 1:24-32. The Bible in many places expressly commands us to NOT worship other gods or idols or not to engage in practices from other religions. It is mind boggling how today, Christians RATIONALIZE their justification of including these other beliefs. CHRISTIANITY TODAY continues its slide away from its original purpose and intent (grounded in an EVANGELICAL foundation) to expose many Christians to beliefs that may not always line up with the Bible. Now, so blatant, it is recommending directly going to these other belief systems to learn from them and apply their views in with Christianity. What? Here it is –
Evangelicals are sometimes suspicious of Eastern philosophy, viewing it as a major worldview competitor to Christianity. Gregg Ten Elshof, professor of philosophy at Biola University, wants to push back against this mentality, at least when it comes to the most prominent Chinese philosopher in history. In Confucius for Christians: What an Ancient Chinese Worldview Can Teach Us about Life in Christ (Eerdmans), Ten Elshof examines how the Confucian tradition can shed new light on Christian theology and moral teachings. Derek Rishmawy, who pastors students and young adults in California, spoke with Ten Elshof about the book.
What kind of belief system is Confucianism? And why should Christians pay attention?
It’s a matter of some serious, academic controversy whether Confucianism is a religion, like Islam, or more of a philosophy, like Stoicism or Aristotelianism. Religion or not, it’s one of the great wisdom traditions on life’s big questions. It studies the road to flourishing in personal, interpersonal, and political contexts, and how to locate yourself in the world. Since it’s been deeply formative for much of human history, it warrants careful attention.
What distinguishes Confucius from Aristotle?
The similarities outstrip the differences. They were both interested in the formation of good people, but both opposed a codified list for right behavior. From the good person, good behavior will come naturally. Confucius, though, is clearer on the distinction between moral goodness and a “well-styled” life. Aristotle discusses various moral virtues, but Confucius envisions a life that attractively and fully expresses human capabilities, including moral virtues.
You highlight Confucian insights that can sharpen Christian faithfulness. Which one is most urgently relevant for Christians in the modern West?
In a word, it’s relationality. The contemporary West has this standard conception of the person as an autonomous unit, a thing unto himself: We believe ourselves to be free-standing individuals who can choose to enter into relationships to make our lives better.
That is foreign to the Confucian way of thinking. Confucianism highlights the significance of relationships for understanding who we are, our place in the world, what we ought to do, and what the good life looks like. If there’s one place where the Confucian tradition can helpfully correct the contemporary Western mindset, it is here.
How can this emphasis on relationships affect the life of the church?
We often think of the church as a loose collection of autonomous individuals who are there to help each other grow in Christ or do the Christian life better. But we don’t equate belonging to the church with belonging to a family, at least as someone in ancient Near Eastern culture would have understood the family bond. People in that culture wouldn’t have been able to understand themselves, or their place in the world, apart from their families.
We’re grateful for our families, and we wouldn’t be here without them, but we can imagine living apart from them. Indeed, we very often choose to do so. The way we in the West think about family shows up in the way we think about the church. When Jesus (and Paul) call the church to be a family, though, it’s a call to something like the more relationally integrated, Confucian conception of family. You get a much different picture.
The Confucian emphasis on relationality can also help us better understand the dynamic of shame in Scripture. We think primarily in terms of guilt, which is almost inherently individualistic: I can’t be guilty for something you have done. But the category of shame is relational. If we are relationally connected, I can suffer shame for something you have done. Shame is helpful for understanding the social dimensions of the Fall.
Is there something particular about Jesus that reading Confucius has helped you better understand?
I’ve gained a more nuanced view of Jesus’ teachings: his command, for instance, to love our enemies. Before reading Confucius, I thought more or less that loving your enemies is about treating them exactly as you would a friend. Confucius helped me see that even though we should love our enemies, pray for them, and seek their flourishing, treating them identically to friends would be unwise in some circumstances. You might need to protect yourself from enemies, or create some distance, all the while continuing to love and pray for them. I read that injunction (and others) from Jesus with greater nuance and less rigidity than before.