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by Simon

Lien-yueh Wei

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God with Us:

Constructing a Theology in the Polytheistic Context of Taiwan

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Most people in Taiwan believe in polytheism. For them, gods are holy and remote in heaven; gods do not have any relationship with profane humans. The purpose of this study is to dialogue with Taiwanese polytheists and to demonstrate to them through Christian doctrines (including the Triune God, Christology, Pneumatology, Creation, Humanity, Soteriology, Ecclesiology and Eschatology) that the Christian God is a God who is with people here and now rather than only later in heaven. This God desires to have a close relationship with humans. The love, power, guidance, action, kingdom and shekinah (the indwelling presence) of this God has been revealed among people and in this world.  
     

I. Prolegomena

1. Context of Theology

The context in which this study will develop a constructive theology is Taiwan¡¦s society where most people are polytheists. Christians constitute only four percent of the total population of Taiwan. In this context, many polytheists are hostile toward Christianity.[1] Christian faith is often misunderstood and challenged in this polytheistic society.

2. Tasks of Theology

In the face of the competition and challenge from Taiwan¡¦s polytheism, the theological tasks of this study are to dialogue with polytheists and their beliefs effectively and defensively through Christian doctrines, to make the Christian faith comprehensible to them, and to convert them to Christianity. The tasks are essentially apologetic.    

3. Sources of Theology 

This study regards not only Scripture and tradition but also the views of modern theologians and the conceptions of Taoism and Confucionism as the theological sources.

Christian¡¦s belief is formed by Scripture (the Bible) and by tradition (a traditional way of interpreting Scripture, practicing liturgy, and defining belief within the community of faith) as well.[2] Hence, both can provide answers to people¡¦s questions about Christian faith. First, the Bible is the most important document of Christianity and is the content and witness of Christian faith. Karl Barth emphasizes that ¡§the Bible can give to every man and to every era¡¨ the answers to their questions.[3] To help polytheists know or believe in Christian faith begins with helping them comprehend the messages in the Bible.

Second, Christian tradition can help people understand Scripture and Christian belief. Alister McGrath asserts that ¡§Scripture could not be allowed to be interpreted in any arbitrary or random way; it had to be interpreted within the context of historical continuity of the Christian church.¡¨[4] Tradition is a bridge between Scripture and biblical readers; people will misinterpret or misunderstand Christianity or Christian faith without it.

Third, modern theologians¡¦ opinions are also an important source for contructing theology. Theology is ¡§the practice of conversation;¡¨ it requires that one not do theology alone.[5] Confering with other theologians will expand one¡¦s theological understanding and make one¡¦s theological views more credible and persuasive. Finally, in order to make Christian faith comprehensible to polytheists in Taiwan, this study also tries to use some common conceptions of Sino-religions and -philosophies, especially Taoism and Confucionism, to express Christian beliefs and doctrines.

4. Norm of Theology

A norm of theology is established for a particular context of constructing theology. A theological norm must also be the most adequate to an apologetic situation.[6] In the polytheistic context of Taiwan, ¡§God is with us¡¨ (Mt1:23) can be regarded as the best norm of theology.

Most people in Taiwan, as polytheists, believe that gods are holy and remote in heaven.  Holy gods do not have any relationship with profane humans; they neither intervene in human affairs nor change human status quo of life. The power of a god can be experienced or received only through occult rituals. Within this context, the norm, ¡§God is with us,¡¨ can help manifest that the Christian God is a God who is closely with people here and now rather than only later in heaven. God desires to have a close relationship with people. God has always participated in human affairs and converted human status quo of life. God¡¦s love, power, and action have been revealed among people and in this world. This norm will determine how this study approaches theological issues, chooses theological sources, and interprets Christian doctrines.  

5. Method of Theology

John Macquarrie points out that several, not only one, methods should be employed together in constructing theology.[7] This study employs apologia and correlation as theological methods of approach to the content of theology.

In the context of Taiwanese society, apologia (1 Pet 3:15), a defense of the faith to the world,[8] can properly be a theological method of this study. The church in Taiwan has to defend (apologien) Christian faith against polytheists¡¦ challenge. This context is similar to the situation of Christianity from the early church to the age of the apologists.[9] During that time, apologia was the primary method for many ¡§theologians,¡¨ such as Justin Martyr. In fact, most parts of the New Testament were written for apologetic reasons;[10] they were formed to reach the standard or pattern of apologia. This study intends to respond to the polytheists¡¦ challenge and to express Christian faith by using the method of apologia.

Correlation can also properly be a theological method of this study in the context of polytheistic society because it will help this study dialogue with polytheistic beliefs. This theological method is a way of uniting contemporary context and Christian message. As Paul Tillich claims, ¡§the method of correlation explains the contents of the Christian faith through existential questions and theological answers.¡¨[11] This study can create a conversation between polytheistic belief and Christian belief through this method.

In using this method, the conversation proceeds first by analyzing the questions in polytheistic beliefs and then in responding to those questions through Christian message. In the process of conversation, the existential questions of people in a polytheistic society are disclosed and then correlated with Christian messages; and Christian faith is thus revealed.[12]
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II. The Triune God

The doctrine of the triune God can help the church clarify the misunderstandings of polytheists about God and thus help them understand Christian belief. It also demonstrates the love of God and the relationship of love between God and humans.

First, this doctrine can help the church answer people¡¦s questions, such as: Why is there only one God? How can the three divine persons be in one God? How God can become a man? How is Jesus human but also divine? And it can help people distinguish the Christian God from the gods of other religions, both polytheisms and monotheisms. For example, this doctrine indicates that God is one substance (ousia) in three persons (hypostaseis): the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three persons in one God are distinct but not divided, different but not separate or independent of each other (Decreed of the Second Council of Constantinople). These three persons relate to one another in the forms of mutual interpenetration.

At this point, the Taoism¡¦s concept, Yin-Yang, can be employed to clarify this notion of Christian Trinity. According to Taoism, Yang (a cosmic-masculine force) and Yin (a cosmic-feminine force) is same substance (homoousios), but is not same. Yin is with Yang in one substance, called Ch¡¦i. Each invades the other¡¦s hemisphere.[13] In this sense, these two forces in one Ch¡¦i resemble the three persons in the triune God.

Second, many people in Taiwan think that gods are holy and remote in heaven;[14] holy gods do not have any close relationship with profane humans. They have experienced the power of gods but never the love of God. For them, love is not an attribute of gods. At this point, this doctrine can help those people understand the love of the triune God. As Douglas Meeks claims, ¡§God as trinity describes God as love.¡¨[15] Daniel Migliore also states that the doctrine of the triune God reveals ¡§a divine love story of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.¡¨[16] This doctrine refers to the unity of love rather than distinction in the divine three persons. It demonstrates that God is love (1 Jn 4:16).

God¡¦s love is extended to the world in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Hence, humans are able to have the relationship of love with God and to experience the love of God directly. This love has been revealed in the act of the triune God for humans. For instance, God has presented God¡¦s relationship of love with humans by God¡¦s creation, word, messengers, miracles, wonders, visions, and dreams, by the incarnation, life, ministry, and suffering of the Son, and by the counsel, comfort, illumination, and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, in order to remain bound to people, God has participated in the exiles, persecutions, sufferings, and death of people.[17] God is a God who always walks with, journeys with, and guides people. Further, God is coming to bring God¡¦s home to this world for people and to manifest God¡¦s shekinah among people (Rev21:3). In a word, humans are related with the divine love through practical and physical actions of the triune God in history (Jn 3:16).

Here, the doctrine of the triune God demonstrates that God desires to have a close relationship with us. God¡¦s love and action have been revealed especially in God¡¦s act of descent and self-humiliation for people. God is with us in this world rather than only in heaven.
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III. Christology

Christology¡Xthe doctrine of the life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus¡X

demonstrates that 1) God¡¦s reign has been here and now, 2) God¡¦s power is the suffering power in love for people, 3) God was with Jesus on the cross and is with the suffering people, and 4) The divine resurrection is able to have relationship to people.

1. Jesus¡¦ life and ministry

Many Christians in Taiwan are oppressed by polytheists and are suffering for their belief in their offices, classrooms, and/or families. It is not unusual in Taiwan for a polytheistic father to expel his son who is a Christian from home. Many suffering Christians become weak and feel hopeless in this situation. Yet the hope and belief of Christians can be strengthened by knowing the relation of Jesus in his life and ministry to the reign of God¡¦s righteousness.

The kingdom of God brought by Jesus ¡§has come to us¡¨ (Lk 11:20). The reign of God¡¦s righteousness is not revealed only when Taiwan¡¦s Christians are liberated from all oppressions or when Taiwan¡¦s society is completely Christianized. Rather, Jesus¡¦ life and ministry have revealed that the reign of God¡¦s righteousness for liberating the oppressed has come, can be experienced, and will be completed soon. Christians in Taiwan are able to experience this reign in the companionship of Jesus.[18] For example, this reign has been disclosed now in Taiwan by the fact that many polytheists have been converted to Christianity in the name of Jesus Christ, by Christians¡¦ lives and ministries, through the power of Gospel (Mt 28:18-19): God¡¦s righteousness has been with sinners.[19] While the god Yu-Huang, the most powerful god in polytheist religions of Taiwan, discloses its divine reign by offering people health and wealth, the Christian God reveals it by liberating people from the most powerful oppression, sin.[20] The main purpose of Jesus¡¦ life and ministry in the world is to save people from their sins (Mt 1:21; Jn 1:29).

In addition, ¡§Jesus¡¦ past and present involvement in the struggle of oppressed people¡¨ affirms that Taiwan¡¦s Christians are connected with the reign of God¡¦s righteousness and the divine future.[21] Jesus¡¦ life and ministry demonstrated that the divine has always been on the side of the oppressed. This history of God¡¦s reign was, is, and will be a history of liberating people from oppressions in God¡¦s promise. In short, understanding the relation of Jesus in his life and ministry to the reign of God¡¦s righteousness can help Christians in Taiwan perceive the reign of God and affirm the promise of God and thus can strengthen their faith when they face oppression.

2. Jesus¡¦ crucifixion

In Taiwan, the most popularly worshipped gods are those who demonstrated their power and heroism in history or in myths. Many Polytheists think that the crucified Jesus is weak, powerless, and unable to give power to humans. For them, Jesus is not worthy to be worshipped. In this social context of polytheism, many Christians prefer to emphasize Jesus¡¦ miracles and resurrection rather than crucifixion. The cross becomes foolishness to polytheists and a stumbling block to many Christians. At this point, the church can clarify people¡¦s misunderstanding and strengthen Christians¡¦ faith by the profound meaning of Jesus¡¦ crucifixion.

Jesus experienced sufferings and death on the cross for humans. People can be saved from the bondage of sin and be reconciled to God through his crucifixion (1Pet 2: 24; Rom 5:10; Eph 2:16; Col 1:20). People are now able to come to God and to be with God through the way of Jesus¡¦ cross. Jesus on the cross was weak and powerless, but Jesus¡¦ cross brought the power to break down the dividing wall, formed by human sins, between God and humans and to reconcile humans to God. He is willing to suffer for people, unlike the gods of polytheism who have great power, except suffering power, and never suffer for believers. As Leanne Van Dyk indicated, divine compassion ¡§is offered by Christ on the cross and answered in the experience of forgiveness and love on the part of the believer.¡¨[22] God¡¦s powerful miracles and wonders have been revealed among believers in every generation, testifying to the gospel of Jesus¡¦ cross rather than for flaunting divine power. Since the cross of Jesus is the only way for people to receive salvation and to be reconciled with God, it should be the center of Christian faith and be preached continually in the church.

Besides, many polytheists in Taiwan also ask satirically: why would God the Father have forsaken Jesus, the Son of God, on the cross (Mk15:34)? Many Christians also question whether God has forsaken them when they are suffering. The church in Taiwan has to provide an answer to the question of where God was when Jesus was crucified and where God is when Christians suffer. The relation of Jesus¡¦ crucifixion to God can help the church in Taiwan answer these questions because it has revealed that God was suffering with the crucified Jesus and has been with the suffering people of God.

When the Son suffered on the cross in God-forsakenness, the Father also suffered in this forsakenness (1 Pet 2:24-25; Isa 53: 4-10). While the Son suffered the pains of dying, the Father suffered the pains of the Son. Moreover, since the triune persons in God cannot be separated from one another (just as Yang and Yin in Ch¡¦i cannot be separated from each other, according to Taoism), we must recognize that the Father and the Spirit, in the Son, tasted death for everyone on the cross (Hew 2:9-10). Robert Jenson indicates, ¡§[the] one who is the Son does die, and this death belongs to his relation to the Father and the Spirit,¡KThus, this one death indeed belongs to the life that is God.[23] As Quintus Tertullian claims, ¡§[the triune] God was truly crucified, truly died.¡¨[24] Therefore, God was suffering with Jesus on the cross rather than forsaking him.

Further, while polytheist gods help believers only by miraculous power, the Christian God helps God¡¦s people first of all by the suffering love, the suffering power of God. This God who indwells in God¡¦s people has been suffering with them. The crucifixion of Jesus has also manifested the triune God who ¡§participates in our suffering and takes our pains on himself.¡¨[25] People who are suffering can discover that the triune God, who had experienced sorrow on the cross for them and thus understands their pains, is with them. They will find the strength to endure their sorrow in companionship with the triune God. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison, only the suffering God can help suffering people.[26] Therefore, God has been suffering with God¡¦s people rather than forsaking them.

3. Jesus¡¦ Resurrection 

Many polytheists in Taiwan believe in resurrection because many of the gods of polytheism originated from resurrected heroes or heroines. However, the resurrection of those gods benefits only themselves rather than humans. By preaching the resurrection of Jesus, the church in Taiwan can help people understand that a divine resurrection is able to have relationship to them and thus provide them hope for eternal life.

Jesus has promised to people, ¡§I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die¡¨ (Jn 11:25-26). Jesus¡¦ resurrection has disclosed God¡¦s power for life against death and has created ¡§the standing, anti-death community.¡¨[27] Christ¡¦s resurrection has become ¡§the foundation and promise of eternal life in the midst of this history of death.¡¨[28] Paul also reminds us, ¡§Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died¡K, so all will be made alive in Christ¡¨ (1 Cor 15:20,22). Hence, Jesus¡¦ resurrection has overcome the power of death for people and ensured their resurrection. Jesus was raised from death for humans, rather than only for the divine. In short, the resurrection of Jesus is a preparatory action of God in Jesus indicating the divine promise of immortality to humans. People are related to this resurrection in which they find hope for eternal life without the fear of death.

Here again, Christology attests to the fact that God¡¦s love, power, action, and kingdom have been among people in this world. God is with us directly and intimately, especially through Jesus¡¦ suffering and death on the cross for us.
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IV. Pneumatology

Most people in Taiwan think that a god is spirit, a kind of divine force. Divine spirits are holy and remote in heaven; a divine spirit will intervene only when people ask for help in special cases through occult rituals. Most Taiwanese people cannot imagine any relation between a divine spirit and a profane human being. The church in Taiwan can help people know that they are closely related with the divine Spirit of Christianity through the teaching about Pneumatology, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Pneumatology demonstrates that the Spirit is the vitality of created living beings, the uniting love between God and humans and among people, and the guide of Christian lives for accomplishing the missions of the church.

First, the Spirit is the vitality of created living beings. The Bible says, ¡§When you [God] send forth your spirit, they are created (Ps 104: 30) ¡¨; and ¡§If he [God] should take back his spirit to himself, and gather to himself his breath, all flesh would perish together, and all mortals return to dust¡¨ (Job 34:14-15). The Spirit is the Lord, the giver of life (Nicene Creed). ¡§The Spirit is God¡¦s gracious power that embodies us¡¨ in order to make us alive and give energy of life.[29]

At this point, the church can employ the concept of Taoism again to clarify the idea about the Spirit¡¦s power in life for people in Taiwan. According to Taoism, the word Ch¡¦i literally means breath or vital energy. Chinese people use Ch¡¦i to refer to the power of the Tao, the force of life.[30] Lao Tsu, the founder of Taoism, uses the terms Ch¡¦i as a name for that which gives life, keeps life in harmonious movement, and preserves life.[31] Both Pneumatology and Taoism indicate that there is an omnipresent and formless power, either called the Spirit or Ch¡¦i, in which all living beings have been formed.[32]

Second, As Migliore claims, the Spirit is the power who unites us to God and to each other.[33] The Spirit is the communal love between God and people. The common form of God being with people from the past to the present is by the Holy Spirit, the third person in the triune God. Furthermore, all humans are created in the same Spirit. ¡§[The] spirit of the Lord has filled the world, and that which holds all things together¡¨ (Wisdom of Solomon 1:7, NRSV). All humans belong in a community or fellowship of the Spirit. Everyone is related with each other spiritually. The power of Spirit can break down dividing walls and differences between people, such as the differences of race, economic class, and language, in order to unite people together.[34] Likewise, Taoism also regards Ch¡¦i as the dynamic power of uniting people. Ch¡¦i is a kind of world-spirit. Because it is the ¡§between (das Zwischen)¡¨ of all things, it can bring about the universal union of living beings. In it, all humans rely on each other.[35]

Third, the Spirit is the guide of Christian lives for accomplishing the missions of the church. The work of the Spirit can be revealed not only in the creation, the life of Jesus, and the church but also in the lives of people, in whom the Spirit indwells (Jn 14:17). The work of the Spirit is always perceived through, among, or by people. For Paul, ¡§no one can say, ¡¥Jesus is Lord,¡¦ except by the Holy Spirit¡¨ (1 Cor 12:3). A Christian means a speaker of the Spirit for proclaiming Jesus as Lord to others. Meeks also asserts, ¡§The Spirit brings the church into being by giving each person a ministry.¡¨[36] The indwelling Spirit will continually guide Christians to find and accomplish their callings and ministries, the missions of the church in the world. The life of a Christian can be in vain or go astray without the guide of the Spirit. The guidance of the Spirit in Christians¡¦ lives can be understood as a primary form or way of the work of God in the world.

Here too, Pneumatology manifests the fact that God¡¦s power and guidance have been among people in this world. The act of the Spirit from the early church to the present can be understood as the act of God being with us.
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V. Creation

Polytheist religions in Taiwan do not have a clear doctrine about how all creatures came into being.[37] Most people believe in pantheism or evolution rather than creationism. Further, many people think that this world is profane; their encounters with the divine only occur in temples through occult rituals. For them, both the purpose and the future of the world are unknowable. Within this context, the church in Taiwan can help people understand the profound meanings of the creation of the world by five basic beliefs in the doctrine of creation. The five beliefs are: 1) God created time and space; 2) God created nonhuman creatures; 3) God created humans beings; 4) the purpose of God¡¦s creation is love; and 5) the future of all creatures is hopeful.

First, God created time and space. As the Bible narrates, ¡§In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth¡K¡¥Let there be lights...to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years¡¦¡¨(Gen 1: 1,9,14). Because eternity knows no changes, time does not happen ¡§unless creation happens, and unless from creation there issues forth a being that changes.¡¨[38] Time and space were created simultaneously by God,[39] but it is the latter that serves as the principal condition that makes the existence of all life possible. However, God created space not only for creatures to live, but also for God to interact with creatures. That is, God encounters all creatures here and now in this space rather than only later in heaven.[40] Thus, if time and space are created by the divine, and if this world was, is, and will still be the only place for people to experience and encounter with God, then every time and every place, rather than only at festivals in temples, are holy. 

Second, God created nonhuman creatures. God created plants and every living creature (Gen 1:11-24). Every creature is created by God, but is not God, a god, or a piece of God.[41] ¡§God does not manifest himself to an equal degree in everything.¡¨[42] Here, creationism stands against pantheism. All creatures in some ways give glory to God, their creator; all creatures belong not to humans but to God. Scripture presents nonhuman creatures as the inseparable companions of humanity in creation.[43]

Third, God created humans beings. ¡§God said, ¡¥Let us make man in our image,¡Kand let them rule over ¡Kall the creatures¡¨ (Gen 1:26-27). God created humans to be the image of God that nonhuman creatures do not have. As the image of God, humans represent God on earth.[44] Humans are a visible reflection of God¡¦s glory. Moreover, humans find not only the origin of life but also their mission in God¡¦s creation. For according to creationism, humans are given by God the responsibility of caring for all creatures. However, because evolutionism assumes that humans are the highest stage of development of species by natural selection and as a result, humans have made themselves lords of nature with power to dominate all, they then have the excuse for abusing all creatures in some ways and degrees.

Fourth, all creatures have been created purposefully by God; the purpose is not primarily to reveal the existence or power of God, but the love of God. God is love (1 Jn 4:16). Yet love cannot be attested without an object of love, a counterpart. All creatures exist as the counterpart of God¡¦s love. While the trinity of God reveals the inner love of God, the creation discloses the outward love of God, the love of communion with creatures. As Meeks indicates, God desires to make creation a home in which God can dwell and all of God¡¦s creatures can be at the home; creation is by God¡¦s love.[45]

Fifth, the future of all creatures is hopeful. God has promised that all creatures will not be destroyed but resurrected, renewed and immortalized.[46] From the past to the present, all creatures have always harmed one another. However, all creatures will live together in harmonious and joyful community.[47] God continues to act as creator in order to bring God¡¦s promise to fulfillment and the hope to all creatures. Creation is not completed; God is still creating. As Kathryn Tanner claims, the world is created not only at its start, but across the whole time of its existence.[48]

Again, the doctrine of creation manifests the love of God for people. God desires to have a close relationship with us and to encounter us here and now rather than only later in heaven.
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VI. Humanity

Polytheists in Taiwan believe that humans have come into being as spiritual beings with the potential of becoming gods, but without any relationship with gods. Human beings are innocent essentially so that they are able to become the divine. Within this context, the church in Taiwan can manifest the Christian position on the nature of human beings through the doctrine of humanity. This doctrine demonstrate that 1) human beings are created by God in the image of God, but not as God or to be gods and 2) human beings are sinners rather than innocent.

According to the Bible, humans are created by God in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27), but not as gods or as spiritual beings with the potential to be gods. The image of God should be understood as the ¡§calling, vocation, or commission to represent God¡¦s will to the whole of creation.¡¨ [49] As God¡¦s representatives on earth, humans care for other creatures. God puts Godself in a particular relationship to humans in which humans become God¡¦s image on earth. It is this relationship (rather than the characteristic of spiritual beings or the potential of becoming gods) which gives human nature its definition apart from other living things.[50] The image of God is made known to us in Jesus Christ. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus will constitute the decisive norm of true humanity.[51] In this sense, people are able to understand clearly and deeply who they are, should be, and will be only through Jesus.

The fact that humans are created in the image of God manifests the sacrificial love of God for humans. For God, it is a perilous resolve that God decides to create humans in the image of God because this image could be obscured or distorted by humans. When humans become the representative of God on earth, what humans do may humiliate rather than honor God. However, God is still willing to do so hazardously for God desires to have a close relationship to humans. The fact that humans are created in the image of God reveals that God is willing to sacrifice God¡¦s honor in order to be with humans closely. It also reveals the first self-humiliation of God and the sacrificial love of God for humans.[52]

Sadly, humans do obscure and distort the image of God within original humanity (Rom 1:23). A mass disorder has occurred both in human society and in individual life. The wickedness of humankind is great in the world; the thoughts of people¡¦s hearts are evil continually (Gen 6:5). For Paul, the root of this disorder is sin, which has entered into the world after the fall of Adam, the ancestor of humans (Rom 5:12-18). In the everyday world, sin¡¦s face is mundane. Caught in sin, we cannot see it; its hold is total.[53]  Sin is a universal condition, but it is also ¡§a self-chosen act for which we are responsible.¡¨[54] Thus, the real condition of humanity is sinful rather than innocent (Rom 3:10; 23; 5:12). Here, sin can be interpreted as humans in the misplaced position or alienated relationship from God or from other creatures. For example, Christians, unlike polytheists, regard the attempt to be God as sin.

Here again, the doctrine of humanity shows the close relationship between God and people and the sacrificial love of God for people. Even though human¡¦s sin has broken this relationship, God has actively maintained this relationship by the act of salvation, which will be discussed in the following section, because God desires to be with us intimately.
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VII. Soteriology

Polytheists in Taiwan define salvation as freeing people¡¦s lives from the bondages of the born-aged-sick-dead circle of life and transmigration (The passing of a person¡¦s soul after death into another mortal body) through doing good and spiritual discipline for next life. But Christians regard salvation as liberating people from the bondage of sin and death and reconciling with God by the divine grace in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross through faith for new life here and now and eternal life. While the salvation of polytheism reflects the human stamina and struggle for life, the salvation of Christianity disclose the sacrificial love of God for human life.

For polytheists, to be human is to struggle with the suffering of life in the bondages of transmigration and the tragic circle of life. The only way for a person to be saved from these bondages of life is to be a god (a divine spirit without physical body) in next life through personal effort rather than divine grace. Polytheistic gods can change neither these bondages of life nor the existence status quo of humans. No god or any divine mediator helps people in the process of salvation. As a result, only few people have won salvation in human history.[55] 

On the other hand, Christians think that the real bondage of life is sin, which estranges the human relationship with God and with other creatures. Human sin becomes the wall between God and humans. It is also the root of causing the suffering of life, death, and the disorder of this world (Rom 6:15-23). To save humanity from the bondage of sin is the problem not only of individuals, but also of the human society and the world. Yet, as Serene Jones points out, while sin implicates us all, God¡¦s grace to free from sin embraces and opens us all.[56] Indeed, human sin may certainly pervert human beings¡¦ relationship to God, but not God¡¦s relationship to human beings.[57] In order to maintain this relationship, God sent God¡¦s only son, Jesus Christ, into the world for saving people from sin (Jn 3:16-18; Mt 1:21).

People¡¦s sins are purified and forgiven by God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. All humans now are able to be liberated from the bondage of sin and death and to have good relationships with God and with one another by the redemption of Jesus Christ.[58] It is the divine action that embraces the whole world, changing our relationship with God.[59] Salvation is primarily an act of the divine for all people. The sinful situation in humanity cannot be changed without divine grace and intervention. Both salvation and justification can be received by faith in God¡¦s grace rather than by human works or disciplines (Rom 4:1-25; 9:11; 11:6).

Here again, the act of God for saving people from sin and for breaking down the wall between God and people demonstrates not only the sacrificial love of God for people, but also God¡¦s desire to be with us intimately.
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VIII. Ecclesiology

Many polytheists in Taiwan think that the temple of polytheism is similar to the church of Christianity, because both of them are place of religious activity. However, they are quite different essentially. The temple of polytheism indicates: a religious building belonging to monks, a local or regional temple, a temporary temple, the only place provide a possibility for changing people¡¦s fates temporarily by asking the divine help through occult rituals, and a place in which the idols are placed.

On the other hand, ecclesiology¡Xthe doctrine of the church of Christianity― has demonstrated that the church signifies: 1) the community of God¡¦s people, 2) one catholic (universal) church, 3) an everlasting church, 4) a community in which people¡¦s lives can be changed permanently, and 5) a community that reveals the close relationship between God and humans.

First, the church (ekklesia) is the assembly and communion of God¡¦s people (1Cor 1:2; Apostle Creed). According to Christian tradition, a church always refers to a ¡§community of people in faith¡¨ rather to a religious building or institution. Paul says the church is the body of Christ established by all believers (Eph2:23; 4:11-12; 5:30; 1Col 12:27). All believers are summoned by God to communion with God and with one another.[60] The church belongs only to God rather than to clergy or a denomination.

Second, the church is one catholic church. Polytheistic gods in each polytheistic temple are different; the ethos of polytheism taught in a temple in the north region is different from that in the south. The temple of polytheism is limited geographically and regionally, On the contrary, the entire church of Christianity around the world is united as one in worshipping the only one God, in proclaiming the same gospel of what God has done for humanity in Christ, and in the baptism of the same Spirit. Theodoret of Cyrrhus stresses, ¡§While there might be a plurality of churches geographically, they were all one Church spiritually.¡¨[61] As a Catholic (universal) community, the church surpasses the limit of space.

Third, the church is an everlasting church. All temples of polytheism are the product of Taiwanese people. None of them has existed longer than 200 years and may not last for another 200 years. These temples are limited by time essentially. On the contrary, the church can last forever because it is not a building but is a group of God¡¦s people from the past to the future, who have been summoned by God into eternity. Paul also claims God will be glorified in the church to all generations forever and ever (Eph3:21). Further, the community of Christian faith is traced not only to Abraham, the father of faith of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, but to Abel, Enoch, and Noah, the ancestors of humans (Heb11:4-7). Thus, the history of the Church can be understood as the history of humans. As an everlasting community, the church surpasses the limit of time.

Fourth, the temple of polytheism is the only place where occult rituals can be conducted by monks in order to help believers contact with gods and then ask the divine to change the fate of believers. However, the change of fate is unnecessary, limited, and temporary. On the contrary, the church is a community in which a person¡¦s life (including fate) can be changed necessarily, completely and permanently in the divine promise.

One can be liberated from the bondages of sin, evil, and death by participating in Jesus¡¦ death and uniting with Jesus¡¦ resurrection through baptism in the church (Rom 6:3-11). As Jesus promises, ¡§the gates of Hades (or the powers of death, RSV) will not prevail against it [the church]¡¨ (Mt16:18). Within the church, humanity is being conformed to Christhood; a transfiguration, resurrection, ascension is going on as the believers participate in the life of Christ.[62] It is in the church that one receives one¡¦s new life and becomes a new creation (2Cor 6:17). In this sense, the nature of the church is the beginning of new life in communion with God.[63]

Finally, the occult rituals conducted in temples for believers to contact polytheistic gods reflect the remote distance between gods and people. In contrast, the church reflects the close relationship between God and people. The Bible claims that the church has been obtained by God with God¡¦s own blood (Acts20:28). God reaches out and gently holds the world in the church.[64] The church manifests the fullness of God¡¦s love. Moreover, people have received the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit in the church (1Cor12:4-13).

It is in and through the church that human beings are coming together with God and the great action of God, in creation, reconciliation, and consummation, is going forward. It is in and through the church that God addresses, judges, heals, and sustains humans.[65] God¡¦s action and shekinah (the indwelling presence) has always been for God¡¦s people and been in the church, the assembly of God¡¦s people.

Again, ecclesiology has demonstrated that God¡¦s power and action have been among people and in this world. God is with us here and now rather than only in heaven.
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IX. Eschatology

Polytheists in Taiwan believe that all living things are fettered in the endless born- aged- sick-dead circle of life and transmigration. Thus, Taiwan¡¦s polytheism does not have eschatology or the doctrine of ¡§last (eschatos) things¡¨. Polytheistic gods neither participate in nor end the existential status quo of life. Only very few people can become gods through strict personal discipline and then can be free from the bondage of this tragic circle and transmigration. Hence, the polytheistic hope for life is not to change this suffering fact of life but is to passively get used to it. For polytheists, the destinies of humans and this world are unknown, directionless, and purposeless. They find adventure rather than hope from the future.

On the other hand, Christians believe in ¡§last things (the ultimate destinies of humans and the world)¡¨; eschatology has played a vital role in Christian faith. According to Christian eschatology, 1) God is coming to end the existential status quo of life, 2) the destiny of all creatures is to be with God blissfully in God¡¦s home in this world, and 3) the coming of God brings hope to God¡¦s people for the future.

First, while polytheistic holy gods refuse to intervene in the secular affairs of humans, the Christian God has been transforming the existential status quo of human life. Human beings have been reconciled with God by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and, thus, have become God¡¦s people who God is with (1Th 4:14-18; Rev 21:3-5). God is coming to completely end sin, evil, sick, and death for God¡¦s people. The new life will be fully actualized at the arrival of God among humans in this world, because life will be permeated by God at that time.[66] Thus, Christian eschatological belief essentially expresses not only about the ¡§last things¡¨, but about the beginning of new life and new creation.

Second, while polytheistic holy gods resist to enter this profane world or to intervene in the secular affairs of humans, the Christian God is humbly and disregardfully coming down to earth for humans and this world.

God¡¦s shekinak and kingdom have been here and now, but they are veiled and unseen (Mt12:28; Lk11:20). However, God is coming to make God¡¦s presence and reign manifest publicly and recognized universally.[67] The ultimate destiny of people is not to go to heaven with God, but is to stay in this world with God because God is coming toward this world from heaven for them. The ultimate destiny of this world is not to be destroyed, but is to be renewed as God¡¦s home in which all creatures live harmoniously, blissfully, and immortally (Rev21:3-5). The space of this world is to become God¡¦s home where it is ultimately God¡¦s resting and dwelling place, just as the time of this world is to become the time of God¡¦s eternity.[68] God has been with God¡¦s people invisibly and is coming to be with them visibly and eternally. All of creation is in movement; this movement is toward fulfillment, consummation, the attainment of this goal of God.[69]

Third, the fact that God is coming to convert the existential status quo of humans and to bring God¡¦s kingdom and shekinah to this world provides hope for God¡¦s people. In this belief people can find the divine promise in their lives and find the direction, purpose, destination of their lives toward the future. Thus, this eschatological belief can not only orientate life, but also bring hope to them. Because this eschatological hope is based on the promise of a faithful and almighty God who loves and is with God¡¦s people, it cannot be lost or taken away. It is this hope that maintains and upholds faith and outlook which embraces all things, including death.[70]

Moreover, Christians do not hope for God who is absent here and now, but whose presence can be seen or perceived only by faith and whose hidden coming continues to sustain the hope of God¡¦s people in God¡¦s arrival.[71] Since God is coming, the eschatological hope is realizing rather than will be realized. In this hope, God¡¦s people seem to be able to see and greet the arrival of God and the full manifestation of God¡¦s shekinah in this world. Even though they are already with God, they desire to be with God at God¡¦s home. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, God is coming to bring God¡¦s home to them and to be with them visibly and eternally.

Here again, eschatology manifests that God¡¦s guidance, action, and shekinah has been among people in this world. God is with us here and now rather than only later in heaven.
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Conclusion

Most Taiwanese people adhere to polytheism. They believe that gods are holy and remote in heaven and that gods do not have any relationship with profane humans. If they want to ask for helps from the divine, the only way for them to contact with gods is through some special occults rituals conducted by monks in temples. In other words, there is a great wall and distance between the divine and believers.    

In contrast, the Christian God is a God who is with people here and now rather than only later in heaven. Through exploring Christian doctrines (including the Triune God, Christology, Pneumatology, Creation, Humanity, Soteriology, Ecclesiology and Eschatology), we realize that this God desires to have a close relationship with humans. The love, power, guidance, action, kingdom and shekinah of this God has always been revealed among people and in this world.
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Bibliography

Augustine. The City of God: Against the Pagans. Editor, R. Dyson. UK: Cambridge University, 1998.

 

Barth, Karl. The Word of God and the word of Man. Trans. by Douglas Horton. NY: Harper Torchbooks, 1957.

 

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison. Ed. E. Bethge. Trans. by R. H. Fuller. London: Macmillian, 1971.

 

Burghardt, Walter J. Ed. St. Justin Martyr: The First and Second Apologies. NY: Paulist Press, 1997.

 

Cone, James H. God of the Oppressed. NY: Orbis, 1997.

 

Elwell, Walter A. Ed. Evangelical Dictionary of the Theology. Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001.

 

Heine, Heinrich. The Romanic School. NY: Continuum, 1882.

 

Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines. NY: Continuum, 1977.

 

Macquarrie, John. Principles of Christian Theology. NY: Charles Scribner¡¦s Son, 1977.

 

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. UK: Blackwell, 1977.

 

Migliore, Daniel. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2004.

 

Moltmann, Jürgen. God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God. Trans. by Margaret Kohl. London: SCM Press, 1985.

           . Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatolog. Trans by James W. Leitch. N.Y.: Harper Collins Press, 1991.

           . Jesus Christ for Today¡¦s World. Trans. by Margaret Kohl. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994.

           . The Coming God: Christian Eschatology. Trans. by Margaret Kohl. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1996.

           . Science and Wisdom. Trans. by Margaret Kohl. London: SCM Press, 2003.

 

Placher, William C. Ed. Essentials of Christian Theology. Kentucky: WJK, 2003.

 

San-Yan. The research of Christianity. Taipei: Fa-Gu Press, 1999.

 

Smith, Huston. The Illustrated World¡¦s Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions. NY: Harper Collins, 1994.

 

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. IL: University of Chicago, 1951.

 

Tertullian, Quintus S. F. Adversus Marcion. Oxford:Clarendon Press,1972.


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[1] Many polytheists in Taiwan, especially the monks, attack or satirize Christianity in public speeches or articles. For example, San-Yan, one of the most famous monks in Taiwan, criticizes publicly that the Christian God is evil rather than good and that Christian faith is superstitious. By analyzing some events in the Bible, such as the sacrifice of Isaac as burnt offering by Abraham (Gen 22:1-19), San-Yan concludes Christian God as, ¡§In favor of using human as sacrifice, to the extend of cruelty without mercy, doing the utmost evil within the world.¡¨ He points out publicly that Christian faith is superstitious. San-Yan, The research of Christianity (Taipei: Fa-Gu Press, 1999), 82, 95.

[2] As Douglas Meeks indicates, ¡§The Abrahamic Religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) are People of the Book. The basic identities of these religions has always entailed their scriptures as well as the history of studying and interpreting their scriptures that fund their worship, doctrine, and ethics.¡¨ Douglad Meeks, ¡§Authority and Criticism of Scripture¡¨ (Lecture Outline at Vanderbilt Divinity School on September 25, 2005), 1.

[3] Karl Barth, The Word of God and the word of Man (Trans. by Douglas Horton, NY: Harper Torchbooks, 1957), 32.

[4] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (UK: Blackwell, 1977), 219.

[5] Meeks, ¡§Introduction: Conversation as the Mode of Theology¡¨ (Lecture Outline on August 25, 2005), 1.

[6] Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. I (IL: University of Chicago, 1951), 50-51.

[7] John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, (NY: Charles Scribner¡¦s Son, 1977),33.

[8] Meeks, ¡§The Meaning and Task of Christian Constructive Theology,¡¨ (Lecture Outline on August 30, 2005), 1.

[9] In that age, Christianity had to be vindicated against false accusations. See Leslie William Barnard, ¡§The Age of the Apologists,¡¨ in Walter J. Burghardt ed., St. Justin Martyr: The First and Second Apologies (NY: Paulist Press, 1997), 2.

[10] W. G. Phillips, ¡§Apologetic,¡¨ in Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of the Theology (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001), 83.

[11] Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p.60.

[12] For example, under the influence of polytheist beliefs, most people in Taiwan think that one¡¦s fate is predestinate. Therefore, they always situate ultimate concern and hope in next life rather than this life. Since the futures of their lives are unknown and unchangeable, their attitudes toward life are passive and pessimistic. Regarding to the existential questions of people, this study tries to demonstrate that one¡¦s attitude toward life can be positive and optimistic because one¡¦s fate can be completely converted by God. 

[13] Huston Smith, The Illustrated World¡¦s Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions (NY: Harper Collins, 1994), 141.

[14] Even though the idols of polytheistic gods are situated in polytheistic temples, gods actually live in heaven far from this world. The idols in temples are for the believers¡¦ need of the visual objects of worship. 

[15] Meeks, ¡§The Trinitarian Logics: The Economy of God in Church and World¡¨ (Lecture Outline on September 29, 2005), 1.

[16] Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology (MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 68.

[17] Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming God: Christian Eschatology, trans. by Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1996), 305.

[18] Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today¡¦s World, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 19.

[19] Meeks, ¡§Messianic Mission of Jesus¡¨ (Lecture Outline at Vanderbilt Divinity School on October 11, 2005), 2.

[20] This study regards sin as humans in the alienated relationship with God and with one another. Human sin is a dividing wall between God and humans. The section of the doctrine of humanity will discuss sin more details. 

[21] James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed (NY: Orbis, 1997), 118.

[22] Leanne Van Dyk, ¡§How Does Jesus Make a Difference?¡¨, in William C. Placher, ed., Essentials of Christian Theology (Kentucky: WJK, 2003), 217.

[23] Robert W. Jenson, ¡§How Does Jesus Make a Difference?¡¨, in Placher, ed., Essentials of Christian Theology, 202.

[24] Quintus S. F. Tertullian, Adversus Marcion (Oxford:Clarendon Press,1972), Ch 2; 27. Cited in J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, (NY: Continuum, 1977), 152.

[25] Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today¡¦s World, 39.

[26] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. E. Bethge, trans. R. H. Fuller (London: Macmillian, 1971), 361(Letter of 16/07/44). 

[27] Meeks, ¡§The Resurrection of Jesus Christ¡¨ (Lecture Outline on October 18, 2005), 2.

[28] Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today¡¦s World, 80.

[29] Meeks, ¡§Holy Spirit¡¨ (Lecture Outline on October 18, 2005), 1.

[30] Smith, 130.

[31] Jürgen Moltmann, Science and Wisdom, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM Press, 2003), 190.

[32] Despite many similarities between the Holy Spirit and Ch¡¦i, there are also many differences between them. For example, The Holy Spirit is the third divine person in the triune God. On the other hand, Ch¡¦i is not a non-person, non-divine, and natural power or force.

[33] Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology (MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 229.

[34] For example, the Spirit¡¦s action in the Pentecost broke down the barrier of language in order to unite different groups. Acts 2: 1-13.

[35] Moltmann, Science and Wisdom, 191.

[36] Meeks, ¡§Holy Spirit¡¨, 1.

[37] In fact, all gods of polytheist religions in Taiwan are created by something: they are heroes and heroines in myths or in history. No god existed before time or before the creation of the world. Thus, Taiwanese polytheism has never had a clear doctrine of the creation. As for Chinese philosophy, the two biggest Chinese philosophical schools, Taoism and Confucianism, discuss only a few details about the creation of the world. According to the thoughts of these two schools, all things are created by Tao, which is non-personal or supra-personal, rather than by a personal and transcendent God. Taoism believes in pantheism. Neither school clearly mentions purpose and future for creation. See Tao Te Ching, Ch42; and Zhong Yong, Ch27.

[38] Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM Press, 1985), 113.

[39] Augustine, The City of God: Against the Pagans, editor, R. Dyson (UK: Cambridge University, 1998), XI, 6.

[40] Sallie McFague, ¡§Is God in Charge?¡¨, in Placher, ed., Essentials of Christian Theology), 110.

[41] Meeks, ¡§Creation¡¨ (Lecture Outline on November 1, 2005), 2.

[42] Heinrich Heine, The Romanic School (NY: Continuum, 1882), 57. Cited in Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 103.

[43] Migliore, 97.

[44] Moltmann, God in Creation, 217-219.

[45] Meeks, ¡§Creation,¡¨ 1.

[46] Gen 9:12-17; 1 Co 15:53; Rev 21: 1-5.

[47] Migliore, 99.

[48] Kathryn Tanner, ¡§Is God in Charge?¡¨, in William C. Placher, ed., Essentials of Christian Theology, 123.

[49] Meeks, ¡§Humanity, ¡¨ (Lecture Outline on November 18, 2005), 1.

[50] Moltmann, God in Creation, 220.

[51] Migliore, 142.

[52] Moltmann, God in Creation, 217.

[53] Serene Jones, Feminist Theology and Christian Theology: Cartographies of Grace (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 109, 115.

[54] Migliore, 156.

[55] The doctrine of salvation in polytheism has many problems. For example, the belief that people can be liberated from the suffering for the rich, who have enough money and time for charity and discipline, but is a bad news for the poor and fool, who are able to achieve the requirements of salvation. Another example, without the divine intervening, all human efforts for salvation could be in vein; without the divine promise, people may feel hopeless in winning salvation.

[56] Jones, 125.

[57] Moltmann, God in Creation, 233.

[58] If there is another way for saving humans from sin, God would not (need to) sacrifice God¡¦s only son, and Jesus would not descend from heaven to earth and suffer and die on the humiliating cross. Therefore, probably people can be redeemed from sin only by God¡¦s grace through Jesus¡¦ death on the cross.

[59] Cone, 209.

[60] Migliore, 264.

[61] Theodoret of Cyrrhus, In Cant. 3, 6; 1-4. Cited in J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (NY: Continuum, 1977), 402.

[62] Macquarrie, 388.

[63] Migliore, 263.

[64] Jones, 171.

[65] Macquarrie, 391-392.

[66] Macquarrie, 364.

[67] Richard J. Mouw, ¡§Where are we going? Eschatology¡¨, in William C. Placher, ed., Essentials of Christian Theology, 344.

[68] Moltmanns, The Coming God, 296.

[69] Ted Peter, ¡§Where are we going? Eschatology¡¨, in William C. Placher, ed., Essentials of Christian Theology, 347-348.

[70] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatolog, trans by James W. Leitch (N.Y.: Harper Collins Press, 1991), 33.

[71] Migliore, 343.

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