Jesus: The Path to Human Flourishing (The Gospel for the Cultural Chinese) by I’Ching Thomas. Graceworks Private Limited, 2018, 126 pages. Paperback. ISBN: 978-981-11-5718-9. Available on Amazon and from Graceworks.
Augustine stated that “All truth is God’s truth,” and in I’Ching Thomas’s book, Jesus: The Path to Human Flourishing, the author takes this to heart. She demonstrates through the ancient beliefs of the Chinese that many of God’s truths, that they observed and applied from general revelation, can be acknowledged when sharing the gospel with the cultural Chinese.
Starting with her personal history, Thomas demonstrates the Chinese cultural values of practicality and maintaining harmony. She continues throughout the book to give insights into how beliefs are “caught” while living life with family and not dichotomizing a spiritual or physical side, and then how these influence their beliefs. The author’s goal in the book is to give a context (history) to the beliefs of the cultural Chinese as well as tools for understanding. She does this not only to share the gospel, but also to answer the question of why, with such a rich history in their own faith traditions of Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, the gospel is even necessary.
An important aspect of the book is the focus on staying true to a Biblical worldview, especially when involved with sharing the gospel and contextualization. The author, using illustrations that are relevant to the cultural Chinese, demonstrates why knowing what you believe, as well as what those around you believe in terms of creation, the fall, and redemption of the world, is important to transforming the whole person and their belief systems.
Thomas makes evident through her research that when we know, to the best of our ability, the core beliefs of the cultural Chinese, then we will be able to find the commonalities of the gospel culture and their culture which will then enable us to speak to them in a manner that makes sense to them.
Another key point she makes, through looking at Paul’s writings, is the importance of being disciples ourselves if we are to make disciples of others.
The author begins with her exploration into the ancient beliefs and value system of the cultural Chinese and then states what she feels are the main contributors to their core values: Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. As she examines the ancient belief systems, she explains how they were affected by the new belief systems (Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism) and how they in turn contributed to current values. As she gives an introduction to each religion/belief system, she also demonstrates how those worked their way into the values of the cultural Chinese and manifested themselves in the daily workings of their lives.
Through these examinations, the author introduces us to many aspects of Chinese culture. For instance, before the three main religions/philosophies stated above, the Chinese had a belief in an omnipotent, personal God who ruled the world, and this was influenced and changed by the incoming belief systems of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, and showed why these were easier to incorporate into the Chinese context than more prescriptive beliefs.
The book gives good introductions to the basic belief systems and how they manifest themselves today, even when they may not be followed explicitly. For instance, not many may claim to be a Daoist, but many may have strong influences from the arts as well as a strong belief in Chinese medicine. Confucianism may no longer be the “state religion” but filial piety and education are strong core values still intact from Confucian influence. The important philosophical discussions on how to be truly human—how to be a Noble Man—are still very practical in daily life.
All these are explained in such a way as to allow the reader to understand more deeply Chinese core values and how many of them align with the truths of God and can be used in sharing the gospel, while highlighting commonalities as well as noting what is missing. Along with the philosophical introductions to the belief systems, Thomas also details what striving to be a Noble Man looks like today in family relationships, societal expectations and responsibilities, and how these lead, in a Chinese mind, to knowing how to achieve human flourishing.
Along with her analysis of the religions, Thomas also compares the values with the Biblical reality of shalom. She goes into detail as to what shalom is and what it isn’t, and how it can fulfill the cultural Chinese’s understanding of the world via a thorough explanation of harmonious relationships with God, with one another, and with the community.
Along with the virtues of the cultural Chinese, Thomas also gives modern day examples of weaknesses which none of the prescriptions from Confucianism, Buddhism, or Daoism can remedy. It is here that she demonstrates how Biblical faith answers questions of good and evil, life and death, and ethics.
The title of the book, Jesus: the Path to Human Flourishing sums up Thomas’s goal for the book as she concludes with a look at what beliefs among the cultural Chinese will communicate the gospel message most clearly. Just as she went into the historical details of how different belief systems influence how the cultural Chinese receives new information, she also deals with how Christianity came to China and the lasting impact from its history.
Acknowledging these influences as well as the strengths and weaknesses of their culture, Thomas presents the important aspects to keep in mind when sharing the gospel—the deep desire/value of maintaining harmonious relationships, dealing with shame and guilt, self-sufficiency, and practicality. Addressing the desire of the cultural Chinese to flourish by highlighting those attributes when we share about Christ, weaving their beliefs from general revelation with the shalom of the Bible can help them realize that Jesus is the path to the human flourishing they desire. In doing so, Thomas demonstrates not only an apologetic, but also that Christianity is not just a “foreign” religion.
This book will be helpful for anyone who engages with cultural Chinese and needs a good introductory history, as well as those involved in contextualization as she models the important aspects to consider when choosing what is important to consider when discerning how best to communicate the gospel.
Colleen M. Yim PhD, Associate Professor of Intercultural Education, Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary. Dr. Yim holds a PhD in intercultural education from Biola University, an MA in linguistics and TESL from Northeastern University in Chicago, and a BA from Moody Bible Institute. As a Moody Bible Institute student, Dr. Yim... View Full Bio
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