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Theology in a Chinese Idiom

A Webinar on Reshaping the Conversation

Anyone who has studied Chinese language will be familiar with Chinese idioms—usually four- or eight-character expressions that convey a deep-seated cultural value. One of my favorites is pao zhuan yin yu (抛砖引玉). Roughly translated, “to turn a brick into jade,” it conveys the sense that even things that are negative can result in something good result. In fact, there’s a great book that I used when I did cross-cultural training programs in China called Turning Bricks into Jade: Critical Incidents for Mutual Understanding Between Chinese and Americans. It is filled with stories of communication between Chinese and Americans going awry because each side lacked the cultural knowledge to understand what the other was doing or saying. Stopping to consider the incidents, however, yields a positive outcome. The bricks of the cultural mistakes turn into the jade of mutual understanding.

The word “idiom,” however, has another meaning, namely a “characteristic mode of expression.” It is with that meaning in mind that Jesse Ciccotti will present a webinar titled “Christian Theology in a Chinese Idiom: Reshaping the Conversation.”

The Christian theological conversation spans two millennia. Recently, however, more scholars have begun to recognize that, in the words of Andrew Walls, “the theological agenda is culturally induced; and the cross-cultural diffusion of Christian faith invariably makes creative theological activity a necessity.” What does that look like in practice? Doesn’t that lead to syncretism? Can’t we just teach a pure gospel?

In this webinar, Dr. Jesse Ciccotti will investigate theologizing in Chinese contexts by first discussing theology as an “idiomatic activity,” that is, an activity by which Christian thought is expressed in ways that are natural to a cultural native. He will then highlight key Chinese cultural material in Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism and illustrate these with examples. He will close with a discussion of the relevance of cross-cultural theological creativity, as well as highlight its risks.

About Jesse Ciccotti

Jesse Ciccotti holds a PhD in Comparative Philosophy from Hong Kong Baptist University and an MA in Chinese Philosophy from Wuhan University. He and his family lived in China for 12 years.

Dr. Ciccotti’s primary research area in philosophy has led him down several interdisciplinary paths, one of which is historical studies of Christianity in China, regarding the transmission of the Christian message across cultural boundaries, examining the lives and works of Chinese Christians and foreign missionaries to China. His work for the Center for Global Christianity and Mission focuses on the recently opened online archive of Chinese Christian posters.

Date and Time

Thursday, June 10, 2021
7:00 PM–8:30 PM US Central Daylight Time

Join us for this online, free event. Register to reserve your place.

This event is part of a collaborative public lecture series, “Exploring Christianity and Culture in China: Today and Yesterday,” cohosted by ChinaSource, the US-China Catholic Association, and the China Academic Consortium. 

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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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