Friday, October 29, 2004



By Dr. Chen Zuo Rhen

* yellow shaded areas – unsure words or sentences

Why philosophy?

Whenever we hear of the word ‘philosophy’, our mind perceives it in a very negative light. “Why spend time racking our brains over philosophical questions?” runs the argument. Today, many people all over the world from New York, Manhattan to Kuala Lumpur are preoccupied with the share market. Why do we still want to preoccupy ourselves with philosophy?

In our discussion today, I hope that we can examine the philosophy of present day as well as the Christian faith, its truth and purity. More than that, I hope that we will develop a greater interest in the sphere of thinking in order that we can demonstrate a faithful witness for our Lord.

Firstly, why do we need to study philosophy? This is a question that a thoughtful person would consider carefully. Why is it that we need to pursue and contemplate this subject? As Christians, we will always encounter the question: Since we have believed Jesus Christ, are saved and on our way to heaven where we will be with the Lord for eternity, why is it necessary for us to seek understanding of philosophy? Some may also object: Why are we seeking to understand secular thought when we should be seeking to understand the Scriptures; and what would be the value of such a pursuit? This is what we want to discuss today.

Definition of philosophy

What is the definition of philosophy? The term philosophy consists of two words; ‘phileo’ and ‘sophie’. The former means love and the latter wisdom. The simplest meaning of philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom. Historically, the early Christians did not use the term ‘theology’. The term surfaced only around the 13th century after the era of Thomas Aquinas. It was thereafter that the word theology became widely used. Between the 1st and the 13th century, the church did not use the term. What was the reason behind it? Actually, the church adopted a better term; the word ‘philosophy’ used by Augustine. To the early Christians and early church, to seek God was to seek wisdom. To truly know God was to seek wisdom. Where is this understanding derived from? It originates from Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” To the early Christians, true theology was true philosophy and true philosophy was true theology.

The term philosophy contains the assurance of God’s truth and the significance of it often surpasses that which is found in theology. Why is that so? If one observes carefully, the word theology when translated into its Mandarin equivalent, ‘shen xue’ gives rise to complication. Can man possibly know God through external means? Surely not. In the words ‘shen xue’, there is actually a character missing between ‘shen’ and ‘xue’. It is not possible for man to know God directly, much less to study Him. If man wants to approach God, a mediator is required. Such a mediator has to descend from heaven to earth and this person surely has to be the Son of Man as well as the Truth.

Some time ago, Jia Yi Ming translated ‘shen xue’ as ‘shen tao xue’. There was a purpose behind it. In the Christian understanding of God and salvation, there must always be a mediator. If this concept can be further developed, we will be able to understand the greatest difference between Christianity and Islam. As Christians, we believe that we will never be able to reach God on our own. Only by God sending his only begotten Son to be our mediator would we be able to enter his presence. From this illustration, we can see that the meaning of the word theology, whether in its original form or its Mandarin equivalent, is not completely accurate after translation. This is because theology can be likened to a man trying to contemplate God from his own perspective.

In early times, it was non-Christians who used the term theology, especially Plato. Plato said that theology is ‘mythology’. Why did he define theology in such terms? When man does not rely on external means but uses his own thinking to conjure images of celestial matters, the result is mythology. Because of that, mythology was despised by other philosophers during Plato’s era. Likewise, the term theology was initially considered in a negative light. However, when the truth of Christianity gradually developed and established the belief system of the early churches, the term theology took on a more positive meaning. Since Christians have the guidance of the Holy Spirit and truth, they could approach God directly. Only by studying the Scriptures and relying on the illumination of the Holy Spirit can a true theology be built. It must be observed that even Augustine hardly if at all used the word theology because to him the term had a negative meaning. Instead, the early Christians chose to use the term philosophy.

Let us now consider the important figure of Immanuel Kant. Kant was an 18th century philosopher who pioneered the Enlightenment movement. In his entire life, Kant never left his home in Konigsberg. Kant possessed a very powerful sense of imagination. He also had a great sense of curiosity. Throughout his life, Kant sought to explain the source of man’s knowledge. Hence, the subject of his research and study was knowledge. What Kant gained from his intellectual labour was ‘the knowledge of knowledge’. In philosophical terms, it is called epistemology. Epistemology is the study of the knowledge of knowledge. The questions it seeks to explain are: Where does knowledge come from and what is the content of knowledge? What Kant studied was not wisdom but knowledge. Which is better – knowledge or wisdom? Without doubt, wisdom is better. Those who have undergone higher education, postgraduate or doctorate studies may be knowledgeable, but they may not necessarily be wise. On the other hand, those who are not highly educated may be wiser compared to the former. In fact, the ten richest men in Asia did not received tertiary education.

Nowadays, the most brilliant economists are not found in tertiary institutions but in Wall Street or in the information technology sector. The best computer experts set up their own enterprises rather than opt for the line of education. Our era is an age of wisdom of application. During Kant’s era, philosophy was already in a state of decline. People were not seeking wisdom but knowledge. When it came to our generation, instead of wisdom or knowledge, people began to seek information. The most profound contemporary poet of the West, T.S. Elliot, author of “The Wasteland – The Four Cortex”, put forward the famous quotation: “How to find wisdom in knowledge and true knowledge in information”. This is the challenge that humanity has to face. Until today, we do not have the means to solve this dilemma. Merely seeking knowledge but not wisdom is a form of decline. On the other hand, the pursuit of information to the neglect of knowledge is even worse. The information craze is the reason why there is so much garbage in the Internet today.

During the time of Kant itself, we can already see that philosophy was viewed upon in a very negative light. Since then, philosophy has become solely the subject matter of a philosopher’s inquiry and restricted to a mere discipline. Likewise, many people think that theology should be confined to Bible seminaries. This is not correct. As we have observed, from Kant’s era onwards, people no longer purely pursue philosophical questions. It was Karl Marx who undermined the value of philosophy the most. He held that philosophy was a form of ideology. According to Marx, ideology was not really the same as idea because ideas are what philosophers discuss. Ideology was a man-made idea and therefore different people have different idealogy. Marx made a very famous statement: “Philosophers should seek to understand this world but more importantly they should strive to change it.” Is philosophy still significant then? No longer, since it is but one of many different ideologies, ideas and worldviews.

That is why since the time of Marx, philosophy was merely a label for ideology – a kind of false perception. Its motive was not to help people gain understanding but to encourage them to participate in political movements. As a result, philosophy was equated with falsehood, something abstract and in the realm of non-realism. Today, if you think that philosophy is unimportant, abstract and impractical, unknowingly you have been influenced my Marx’s thinking. Marx was one of those who destroyed classical philosophy. To him, man does not need to pursue and understand philosophy because thinking is a falsehood.

Through Marx’s idea, man is able to discover the principles of history. We can thus observe that beginning from Marx to the present, philosophy has undergone specialization under Kant, after which it was left to the philosophers. Subsequently, after Marx, man became less interested in thinking. Does the word ‘philosophy’ appear in the Bible? Yes, it appeared twice. The word first appeared in Acts 17:18 when Paul was disputing with a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens. The second time it appeared was in Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than in Christ.” Here, the phrase ‘hollow and deceptive philosophy’ is mentioned. Most Bible commentaries emphasized that the two words in the verse must be used together. In other words, Paul was criticizing philosophy. He was rebuking the Colossian church, warning them to be wary of false doctrines and thinking.

From the perspective of Scriptures, the word ‘philosophy’ is not used. This is because the Bible is far superior compared even to the thinking of Augustine. That which Augustine sought after was philosophy i.e. the love of wisdom. What about the Bible? The Bible is wisdom itself. That is why its depth will definitely be of the truest and most original nature; the highest degree – the revelation of wisdom. What is the revelation of wisdom? It can be found in Proverbs 8:1-11. “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gates leading into the city, at the entrances, she cries aloud: To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, gain understanding. Listen, for I have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speak what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge. Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” You must choose to follow my instruction because it is more precious than stocks and shares. Is it not? We can see that the Bible is illustrating wisdom itself. Therefore, the Bible does not use the word philosophy because it is wisdom itself.

What then is the viewpoint of the Bible towards philosophy? Firstly, it rebukes the false philosophy of the secular world as we have seen from Colossians 2:8. Secondly, it is the wisdom of God himself. Thirdly, the highest form of the wisdom of God is not framed in theories or academic terminologies but rather wisdom itself, which is truly revealed and individualized. This is mentioned in Proverbs 8 where it was foreseen that Christ would be incarnated in the flesh. We can see that the Bible never opposes knowledge. So if today people use Colossians 2:8 and 1 Corinthians 8 to raise the argument that knowledge causes pride in man and that all philosophy is hollow, it is not correct. We must relate them with Proverbs and the words of Jesus. We will then be able to see that we must seek wisdom and truth with our whole life. And the words of the Lord is wisdom and truth. That is why the pursuit of Christians has a very deep element of “knowing”. The depth of this knowing is of such extent that it makes Christianity different from other religions. Why is this so? We can refer to several of the important periods of philosophy. Firstly, the classical period, and for this purpose, we must return to the era of Augustine. Augustine was the most profound figure in Christianity after Paul. I believe that until today, there is no thinker who can surpass him. What was Augustine’s greatest contribution? His contributions were wide ranging. One of them was to establish the definition of Christian theology, which arguably no one can deny.

What is Christianity? It is the grace of God for the salvation of man. How are we saved? Are we saved through our own conduct? No. Are we saved by our faith? Yes, it is by faith that we are saved. But what is by which we are truly saved? Is it through our own self? No. Is it by our faith? Are we now saying that it is not? What then is that which saves us? Ephesians 2:8, 9 state: “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” This is the core of the whole theology of salvation. What is it that saves us? It is the grace of God. Faith is only the means by which we accept God’s grace. If that is the case, faith is not the reason for our salvation but rather the medium. Therefore, we are saved by grace through faith. So, strictly speaking, although faith has its own function in the context of our salvation, its importance is not that great. What is the function of faith? Why do we need to build up our faith? In this respect, Augustine was known as the teacher of grace because he related the whole theology of salvation to the doctrine of grace. Today, there are many people who relate the theology of salvation to repentance, to rebirth and to faith. In actual fact, the real defining point of the theology of salvation is grace. We are saved by grace. Therefore you will run into trouble if you think that you are saved by your own conduct or through your repentance.

Today, if we look at the family churches in China, although God directly called them to salvation, there is a dearth of biblically sound preachers to instruct them. One of the largest family church is ‘Chong Shen Pai’ (‘Chong Shen’ means rebirth and ‘Pai’ means group. Generally all churches in China are from “Chong Shen Pai”). Whenever we see a fellow seeker, we will ask him whether he has been reborn. He will be shocked to hear that but he will answer that he has been reborn. Then, we will we ask him how he was reborn and whether he cried on that occasion. He will answer in the affirmative. This is the second type, ‘Ku Pai’ (‘Ku’ means cry). We will further ask him whether he cried for three days. He will again answer in the affirmative. Now, we have the third group, ‘San Tian Ku Pai’ (‘San Tian’ means three days). This is the scenario of the churches in China today. If you keep defining it this way, how many times are believers going to cry in those 3 days? If we use human method to define the doctrine of salvation, we will never be able to discover its true meaning. Man is not saved by tears, neither is he saved by weeping three days. On the contrary, there are many who have been saved without shedding tears. This can be likened to a statement that I made earlier that every intellectual Christian should attend this conference but not everyone who is present is an intellectual Christian. It is very important that we are able to understand the logic of this principle. In Christianity, this kind of logic appears in many instances. In other words, out of those who have been saved by God, there are some that have the experience of having wept when they were reborn. But we cannot conclude that everyone who has wept has the experience of rebirth. Hence, we cannot use human conduct to define salvation. That is the reason why we can see that Augustine, the teacher of grace, emphasized human salvation by grace. Compare this to the biggest cult during Augustine’s era, namely Palagianism. Until today, many biblically sound theologians, especially reformed theologians, who often criticize many churches, are actually semi-Palagian. We have the thinking that due to the little merit we have, God will save us. This is incorrect. It is very probable that the most accomplished theologian will make us realized that we have strayed from the teaching of Scriptures and propel us to return to the right path.

Faith, as we can see, does not have a very major function. It is only like a plate of a beggar that is used to receive God’s grace. What is the use of faith then? Augustine said that it is only after we have been saved that faith serves its greatest function, to compel us to seek understanding of God. This is known as ‘faith seeking understanding’. Faith has a dual role. One of it is its function relating to salvation. This function is very important. It is the starting point of our salvation. But the greater function of faith is its cognitive function, which arises after we have been saved. It is through faith that we continue to seek understanding. This is the natural law of man. When we invest in stocks and shares, we will naturally look at the company’s profile and portfolio. If we do not do so, we are acting on blind faith. Those who have faith have the desire and curiousity to seek and comprehend the object of their faith. Similarly, those who have faith in God have a holy curiousity to continually seek to understand God. Where is this derived from? It is the natural attribute of faith. Faith is that which is invisible, not seeking evidence but rather conviction. Hebrew 11:1 mentions this: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Therefore we can conclude that from the era of Augustine onwards, the essence of the whole theology of Christianity is seeking to understand through faith (faith seeking understanding). It is as simple as that.

It follows that the theology of Christianity begins with faith. We cannot study God, but we have to believe in him in order to understand. However, Thomas Aquinas in his many reference texts, reversed the phrase. He said: “I understand in order to believe.” By doing so, he had reversed the most true and fundamental concept of faith. He no longer placed faith, but rationality, as the starting point. Although this concept is correct, it is too simplistic. Why? First of all, we have no way of making a judgement whether a person is truly saved. Salvation is a mystery of God. Secondly, we can see from Augustine’s writings that faith is a very important element as well as something very spiritual. But if we consider Aquinas to be over rationalistic and does not believe in God, this may be an oversimplification. In actual fact, Aquinas in his writings, held the concept of revelation of God. He separated God’s revelation from man’s rationality. According to him, God’s revelation gave rise to sacred doctrines. However, man’s attempt to deduce God through his rationality resulted in theology. Hence, in my opinion, Aquinas biggest mistake was not his statement: “I understand in order to believe”. He was surely not that simplistic in his thinking and was certainly no fool. How could he not understand Augustine’s most significant contribution. What then was Aquinas fault? He separated God’s revelation of himself in order that man may know and understand God through his own attempt by means of his rationality. By severing these two concepts, it created a sort of a split personality. Nevertheless, Aquinas acknowledged the revelation of God and the sacred doctrines that were derived from the former. However, if we were to rely on our own rationality and deductive ability to understand God, this is called theology.

Aquinas wrote his classic ‘Summa Theologica’. This book was not actually meant for Christians. ‘Summa Theologica’ refers to man using his rationality to deduce the existence of God. There are five paths and many different methods in which he can do so. The whole purpose of his book was not derived from a biblical viewpoint but wholly based on man’s rationality to understand God. So his book is not biblical because he separated the theology of the revelation of God from the theology of man’s rationality. This division should not be made. If we observe carefully, much of so-called systematic theology today is a derivative of Aquinas’ theology – using human rationality to deduce a systematic understanding of God. Actually, the terminology ‘systematic theology’ is good in itself. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, every person who has faith will definitely seek understanding (all faith seeks understanding). Secondly, every believing person who seeks understanding will seek it systematically (all faith seeks understanding systematically). For example, the first day you begin college; what you learn before everything else is principles. In 2 Timothy 1:13, Paul instructed Timothy in this manner: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus”. In other words, Paul was instructing Timothy to guard the pattern of the holy words. God gave us truth and it comes as a whole. That is why we cannot be a Christian only in church because one who has believed in God will have a Christian perspective of politics, economy and society. This is very pertinent. We must have a holistic way of looking at life. This is what is called philosophy.

Hence, the biggest mistake that Aquinas made was that he separated theology and philosophy. Following that, Kant initiated the enlightenment movement through his article entitled ‘What is enlightenment?’ He defined enlightenment as ‘dare to think’. However, the scenario today is different. It is ‘dare to gamble’. Kant’s thinking is more profound than ours. He said that man must dare to think. If we look at the communist countries, the ones that we greatly oppose, each time they formulate a policy, they would refer to a thick volume containing theories of policy. Behind the rules and regulations, there are theories to formulate each and every policy. Likewise, a proposal will be prepared before an entrepreneur intends to embark on a project. Theory is implemented first before it becomes reality. Yet, the opposite is true of many Christians nowadays. Those who are anti-intellectual, in particular, greatly oppose theory. In actual fact, the people who are against theology the most are the very people who have the soundest knowledge of theology. Why is this so? When we ask someone why we should not study theology, he will replied that it is because (here we must be careful of the word ‘because’ as the reasons behind the word in his answer are wholly theological) we should read the Bible only. This statement is very important. Next, he may argue that the reason for his answer is that theology is not good, or that man is depraved or something alone those lines. Take note, because every statement that he makes here is very important. When you put down these statements in writing, they have become his creed.

Thus, we can observe that there is no person who does not have theology in him or her. We can further make the claim that there is no person who has no perspective and concept of faith, belief and God in him or her. Karl Marx may be regarded as one of the important theologians. This is because he used his theology to oppose Christian theology. None of us can escape from theology. For that reason, Kant advocated the phrase ‘dare to think’. Many Christians at present are not thinking Christians but rather Christians who try to avoid form having to think. Are we then saying that we are to rely on thinking alone to understand God? Surely not. When we have faith, it will lead us to think since faith naturally seeks understanding of God, the Bible and truth. There must be an object to our understanding. Today, many people seek to understand the workings of Dow Jones. But for Christians, it is different. We are to seek understanding of God.

Kant was the one who initiated the Enlightenment movement, which encompassed a long period of time. It is important to note that Kant proposed the concept of science. He said that anything that is in accordance with science is true knowledge. How did science come about? When Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity, was it contained in the apple that fell from the tree? No, actually the knowledge of science is in us. How did science appear then? Science comes from the scientific mind in everyone of us. Fools therefore cannot comprehend science. Scientific minds must co-exist with the scientific world. The scientific world is objective whereas the scientific mind is subjective. Science is the combination of subjectivity and objectivity. That which is objective comes from nature and that which is subjective is gained by continuous learning. Knowledge is derived from the combination of nature and nurture. Kant made this principle the whole law of law: The law of nature being the result of the combination between the subjective mind and the objective world.

Since then, theology did not conform to science because theology was only a subjective knowing. We know God innately. Kant would probably not deny this point. Kant did not deny that our knowledge of God’s omnipotence is knowable to us. However, one thing that he denied is the fact that since the creation of heaven and earth, God’s eternity and deity are knowable; the Bible never said that the knowledge of this could be proven. Furthermore, Paul said in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Paul did not lay down the requirement of concrete evidence. Many people cite this verse to argue that it is impossible for us to use nature to prove the existence of God. In fact, Paul is saying that we know God innately. It is therefore inexcusable for man to deny the existence of God. There is no requirement of having to furnish complete proof. Clearly, we cannot use nature to prove the existence of God.

Kant himself acknowledged the fact that we are not able to find the evidence of God within the sphere of nature although we can sense the reality of God and discover the reason for our need of Him – this is what we call ‘morality’. If there is no God, what is the difference between a preacher and a robber? There is a saying in the United States that there is no difference between a President and a fool because there are many Presidents who appear like fools. Kant’s reasoning is that there must be a God who exists. Only then, will there be a difference between a preacher and a robber. However, that may not be necessarily true nowadays. Let me illustrate this point. A preacher and a New York cab driver went to heaven together. Both of them were given a crown each. The cab driver received a bigger crown whereas the preacher was given a smaller one. The preacher was very upset and wanted to seek an explanation from God. But as the queue was very long, he decided to ask an angel instead. The angel told him that the cab driver deserved to be given a bigger crown because every time he drove his cab, his passengers (whether Muslims or Christians) would pray very earnestly for him. As for the preacher, he was told that every time he preached, his audience would fall asleep. Today, some people may not see any difference between a preacher and a robber. But if there is a God, it will make all the difference in the world. At the same time, we have to remember that God does not judge us by what we do for a living. Instead, he will judge us by our deeds. Therefore, each one of us has to be accountable to him. Because God exists, how we live our lives makes a huge difference indeed! And because God is the substance of morality, we need him in our lives.

Kant, in his third and most significant book, ‘The Critique of Judgement’, posed the question: How do we know God? Here we see Kant returning to Paul’s teaching in Romans 1:20. Kant did not attempt to prove the existence of God but instead sought to verify it. Kant said that we rely on our judgement to judge the beauty of this world. There is a purpose to that beauty. And this purpose will eventually lead to the verification of God’s existence. In the early times, it was said that the world existed without a Creator. We cannot deduce the existence of God through the natural world. But the beauty and purpose of this world necessitates the existence of God. The ultimate goal and purpose of this world are the evidence of God’s existence. So, we can see that Kant did not use reason but meaning and purpose to verify the existence of God. Gradually, Kant’s method of verification of God’s existence became co-related with aestheticism. Today, what the majority of people find most unacceptable is the method of proving God using the purpose approach, although they can accept the cosmological and evolutional approaches.

In reality, perhaps Kant was right about his approach. When people see beauty, they perceive it as something beyond rationality. It is only through the entirety of a man’s life and his ultimate perception that he can probably discover the method to verify the existence of God. But is this correct? No. Every attempt to formulate a method to prove the existence of God is in vain according to the poet, Alduous Huxley. It is almost like sending a letter and having it returned to us without the intended recipient laying a finger on it. The fact is that we have no way of proving the existence of God. Equally, Kant had no way of proving God, whether through morality or aestheticism.

After Kant, people only studied science. Edmund Husserl initiated the phenomenological turn, which lasted for a long while because it was the branch of Western philosophy that adopted the scientific approach to philosophy. According to the phenomenologists, philosophy was not concerned with seeking wisdom or knowledge. To them, the purpose of philosophy was to study phenomena. Is this very scientific? Certainly. For instance, how do we know that a watch is a watch? Recently, I delivered a lecture in Fudan University. A renowned French phenomenological philosopher by the name of Jean Luc-Barionne happened to be around. As I have previously attended his lectures in Chicago, I was quite certain that he would have made some developments in his research and so I wanted to find out what his latest discoveries were.

Just to sidetrack a little, today, there are many intellectuals and scholars in the top universities in the world. The issues that they discussed should be studied in the church. How is it possible that the most important knowledge is chiefly the subject of discussion in the universities? There was a time when all universities are Christian universities. The reverse is true today. The best universities are surely not Christian universities. These universities used to be Christian universities but they are no longer so. This is totally unacceptable. How are we to give an account to God?

Going back to the incident at Fudan University, perhaps I was the only one amongst Barrione’s audience who has seriously read his works. One of the questions raised by him was: How do we know that a watch is a watch? This is the absurdity of philosophy as well as one of the reasons why I would not permit my children to study philosophy. This may not sound very realistic, but do not ever encourage your children to pursue philosophy because the philosophy courses that are offered by universities these days hardly border on realism. In spite of that, we still need to exercise our minds in philosophical questions. We must train our children to think and reason. Usually, I will ask my children only the question ‘why?’

On one occasion, my children and I were discussing the issue of homosexuality and its legitimacy, which were frequently brought up in my country. My son told me that his classmate said to him that a male could marry another male. In reply, I asked him whether such a practice was right. He said that it was not. Then, I asked him ‘why?’ He answered, “Because God married the first man and woman.” This should be the correct approach. We should not strictly enforce a prohibition without giving the proper reason behind it. Otherwise, a child will always be asking ‘why, why?’ because in his mind, his father is not absolutely correct since he is susceptible to telling lies and getting drunk. We cannot act as if we are the authority ourselves. Rather, we ought to use our authority, based on God’s truth, to instruct our children. Reason is very important. Christianity is a religion based on reason.

Husserl was very scientific in his approach. How do we know that a phenomenon is a phenomenon? He proposed a very well known method called ‘bracketing’. We must isolate the phenomenon and not place any assumption on it. Using the example of the watch, we are to simply assume that there is no maker or any purpose for it. All we have to do is just observe the watch and analyze it with our sight and see how we can identify with the object based on our time-space experience. That is how we perceive a watch as an object. This is the process of thinking. What Hursell studied was only phenomenon.

After Hursell, Ludwig Wittgenstein appeared on the scene. Wittgenstein emphasized language. Although it is true that Wittgenstein agreed with Husserl’s approach, the latter used language to express a phenomenon. Back to the most ancient question: does man have any conceptions that cannot be expressed by language? Is there a possibility that man cannot express his thought using words? Surely, that is possible. For example, when a boy wants to tell a girl that he likes her, he can hardly express it. When a person cannot give you any reasons for his actions, you have stand on your guard as he may be harbouring malicious motives. Of course, it could be that the person is plain dumb! Expressing our thoughts is a necessity. If a person has a concept that cannot be verbalised, perhaps there are doubts as to whether he has made out the concept in the first place? What if you have uncertainty as to whether you truly love a girl? And the worse thing is you are unable to translate your thoughts into words!

As we have observed, philosophy as a whole took on a linguistic turn. Looking at the movement of philosophy, we can trace its development from wisdom to knowledge, to Aquinas’s theorem, then to Husserl’s phenomenology, and later to Wittgenstein’s linguistic approach. Next, we shall move on to consider the post era period. The main figure of post era is Martin Heidegger. Until today, he still dominates the whole of contemporary philosophy, whether in the East or in the West. Chinese philosophers are very fond of him as he studied many Chinese poets in his senectitude. He almost became like Kant in his pursuit of aesthetics to feel God. Heidegger said that philosophy is the self-explanation of man to himself, or in simpler terms, the self-comprehension of man to himself. This self-comprehension does not originate from external phenomena but from the most internal realisation. The purpose of this realisation is to make man an object of explanation in order to be analysed. Man is made up of nothing else but worry, sorrow, anxiety and the like. If you agree, then you have become a follower of Heidegger. From the time of Heidegger onwards, existentialism begin to develop because philosophy is no longer a search after truth but a pursuit after the knowledge of the negative and dark side of the human self, such as worry, anxiety, care and concern. This was the birth and beginning of existentialism. If you have read the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, you will understand what I am referring to. So, it was from Heidegger that existentialism started. Anxiety became man’s god and this in turn, became the subject of inquiry. Following that, the whole of Western philosopher was dragged into a quagmire: Either follow Heidegger or revolt against him.

The next important figure is Hans-Georg Gadamer, who wrote a book called ‘Truth and Method’. Gadamer was a faithful follower of Heidegger for he concluded in his book that there was no possible way for man to know or grasp truth. How can man ever know truth? Man can only know truth when truth reveals itself. This is no different from saying that we can only see a watch when it appears in front of us. To Gadamer, truth is initiative (he never attributed his statement to any influence of Christianity – the Word became flesh). Here, we have to be careful because there is no foundation of illumination laid up for Gadamer to couch his words in such terms. They might have been derived from the devil. So, Gadamer’s entire book denied the methodology of truth except man’s imagination or ideal to construct. As a result, people branded his book as ‘Truth or Method”. This is because he did not solve the problem, “How can man know truth?”

Paul Ricoeur, a French philosopher who perhaps, was one of those who were more prominent, advocated the necessity to re-emphasize methodology. As Ricouer was a Christian philosopher and a reformed theologian, he used many methods to construct a ‘chuan se xue’. This concept can be found in the Bible. When Paul and Barnabas were preaching the gospel in Lystra, some people equated Barnabas with Zeus, the greatest god of the Greeks and Paul with Hermes, which means messenger. Hermes was also god of the horses as well as the word from which the term hermeneutics originated. We can observe therefore that what ‘chuan se xue’ seeks to resolve is meaning. It is generally agreed however that ‘chuan se xue’ is not able to provide a solution to every complication. For instance, a student in a classroom asks the question, “If we cannot discover meaning, how can we talk about truth?” Today, contemporary philosophers are no longer willing to delve into the subject of truth. They are not seeking true wisdom but rather secular wisdom, to the extent that they are engrossed in the search for meaning. That is why they become very closely related with fictitious literature. Hence, Ricouer concluded that ‘chuan se xue’ could not solve every human problem. For example, we can witness wars between different nations over the issue of sovereignty, wars between different races and wars between different religions. Everyone has his own reason and agenda. Today when we face Islam or other religions, there is also this conflict of ‘chuan se xue’. How do we resolve this dispute? Our critics will claim that their God is true whereas we will argue otherwise. Consequently, Ricouer said that ‘chuan se xue’ could only solve the problem of meaning. It was destined to reach a dead end.

Subsequently, Ricouer introduced another approach, the ‘ethical turn’. Actually, it happened to be one of the last developments in philosophy. According to this approach, only when man understands truth will he be able to demonstrate kindness. This may be compared to the Chinese saying: Only when you have embraced the ‘Tao’ (truth) will you have ‘De’ (morality). Therefore, the concept of truth leading to kindness is paramount in nature. And God has placed this understanding in the hearts of men as part of the natural law of culture. However, when we come to the present French philosophical circle, especially Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), we see something else. Levinas advocated ethics as a major subject in philosophy. Some would ask the question: If a person claims that he understands truth and yet do not manifest it, can it be said that he really understand truth? Doesn’t this question sound very Christian and biblical? Again, they would ask: If a person is able to grasp the meaning of novels and literature and yet neglects to express what he understands, does he in reality understand it? What then is true understanding? Clearly, it is not merely a mental understanding but one that is reflected through conduct.

What the whole concept of ‘chuan se xue’ is concerned with is not only the interpretation of meaning but also the need for a responsible interpreter. How do we give an explanation to an interpreter? Can you see this drastic shift in thinking? Originally, the focus of ‘chuan se xue’ was the study of interpretation but after the ethical turn, its emphasis shifted instead to the study of the interpreter. This concept has long existed in Christianity. Which is more important, the study of Bible interpretation or the interpreter himself? It is the interpreter that is more important. Today, many who study Bible interpretation may not actually be good interpreters. A true interpreter is not only one who is able to understand the mechanics of biblical interpretation, more importantly, he must be one who is illumined by the Holy Spirit in God’s truth. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is our most important teacher, the one who leads us to the understanding of God's word. In every generation in history, the Spirit of God is the one who enables Christians to impact their surroundings. That is the reason why we should study the subject of biblical interpretation.

Biblical interpretation can be likened to a horizontal line that links the past with the present. We, on the other hand, are like many vertical lines that converge with the horizontal line. This multi-convergence creates the essence of biblical interpretation that is derived from the participation of many individuals. Nevertheless, of the two, the human element is more vital. In view of this, we should not confine ourselves to reading only Bible commentaries since we have the interpretative ability. Our understanding of truth depends on our self-comprehension. This is a radical shift in thought. From this point onwards, philosophy has to account for itself due to the extreme destructiveness of the impact it created upon the history of mankind in the 19th and 20th century. The upshot of this is that theology must also operate in accordance with ethics and morality. Hence, we can observe that the entire development of philosophy up to the present resulted eventually in post-modernism.

What is post-modernism and what is Modern Age? From the Western historical point of view, Modern Age consists of three major movements – the 14th century Renaissance, the 16th century Reformation and the 18th century Enlightenment. Apart from Modern Age, we also have Present Age. This period is signified by the Declaration of Independence of America in 1776 and the French Revolution in 1789. However, Present Age is an occurrence pertaining to a particular era or period and it is relative. To better illustrate this point, we Orientals would certainly not use events of such nature as stated above to earmark an era. The weakness of ascribing a definition to Present Age is obvious. What about Contemporary Age? It is a period that encompasses a span of 200 years from the Bastille to the Berlin Wall (1789-1989). Again, we can observe that this type of classification is relative.

When we consider the Asian context, China for example, how are we to come up with a classification? It is clearly not possible for us to arrive at a conclusive determination. For the Chinese, Modern Age is sometimes considered to be part of Contemporary Age. In this respect, Contemporary Age is broader in scope and the exercise of interpreting the ages would not be solely along the lines of Western classification. Nevertheless, we are faced with the difficulty of drawing a distinction between Modern Age and Contemporary Age? When does Contemporary China begin? If we consider it in terms of number of years, we have to use the term ‘Modern China’ instead. Probably, Contemporary China started in 1840 after the Opium War. What about China’s Present Age? Some would say that it started in 1911 during the Taiping Rebellion. And when does China’s Contemporary Age begin? For Mainland China, it started in 1949. So, the whole point of argument is that if we classify these ages according to years, it would not be workable. This is because both Modern Age and post-modern Age cannot be looked at in terms of era.

Next, we will consider the definition of ‘Spirit of the Age’ (Shi Dai Ching Shen De Ting Yi). What is post-modernism? Present Age is not really present. The Chinese translated the word ‘modern’ into ‘mo den’. Modern Age is not the same as Present Age. Actually, it refers to a sort of modern spirit and quality. The word ‘modern’ is like Shanghai Bay, like the painters who came back from France at that time (elaboration required). Modern is a kind of state or condition. Similarly, ‘post’ does not mean ‘after’. In reality, the term ‘post-modern’ is used to describe the age after Present Age. How do we explain this? We can allude to two examples. The first is from the viewpoint of economics, ‘post-recession’. It refers to the state of affairs after an economic recession. Although recession has subsided and the worst have passed, the after-effects of it are still being felt. Essentially, post-recession is a situation where although recession is still occurring, only traces of it remain. This phenomenon is transitional in nature – the old has not fully faded away in the midst of awaiting the appearance of the new. Secondly, we can consider the difference between ‘post’ and ‘after’ in relation to Deng Xiao Ping. ‘Post-Deng’ refers to the period when Deng retired, claiming himself as the most influential citizen in China. In contrast, ‘after-Deng’ points to the time after the death of Deng.

What we can gather from the post-modernistic era is that man’s influence is slowly diminishing. From the perspective of economy, recession still exists but it is gradually disappearing. Put in modernistic terms, traces of modernity can still be seen although it is slowly fading away. This state of affairs is one of instability. Presently, however, this matter has become increasingly less a subject of conversation. In Mainland China, there is a popular magazine called ‘Readers’ Magazine’. The saying goes that ‘a person can afford not to study, but he cannot afford not to read Reader’s Magazine.’ It creates an impression that the magazine is of utmost importance. Now, people no longer talk about post-modernism or the study of it. Instead, the important terms used are post-colonialism and globalisation. Today, we appear to be left behind since we are concerned with matters that are no longer on people’s lips. What is post-modernism? It can be said to be a form of mental state. What about modern people? It refers to those living in the Present Age who considered themselves as modern, educated, cultured, rational, progressive, in the know of things, non-superstitious, scientific, confident and seekers of self-satisfaction. However, It is the verdict of post-modernism that all these attributes are insufficient and inadequate. But how can they not suffice? If you think in such terms, you are slowly being sucked into the post-modernistic mould.

There are several explanations for the inadequacy of Modern Age. Firstly, in terms of the development of technology, we are moving from exploration to ecology. This trend is very evident in China at present where the call is to protect the ecosystem in the quest of for economic prosperity. In the pursuit for greater development, the ecosystem must also be preserved. Secondly, from the economic point of view, we are shifting from maximisation to optimisation. For example, if a person was asked to invest in a company that is maximising its profits, he might be hesitant, especially if the company has already maximised its profits (the company has reached its maximum capacity and its prospect for future growth will never match its present achievement). However, if a company is only starting to optimise its profits, then it is prudent to invest in it because there will be opportunity for greater growth and optimisation. This is the emphasis of post-modernistic thinking. Thirdly, from the industrial point of view, the information technology that is heatedly debated is considered as post-industrial technology. Previously, when we talk about zero-disposal industry, it often refers to tourism, but nowadays, information technology is also classified as zero-disposal industry in which no conveyor is needed as a medium of transport. All the information is in free flow in the Internet network. In the past, we talk about national economy but now we talk about global market. ‘Market’ is the favourite term in use, and in extreme cases, it is even hailed as a god of sorts. The term ‘market’, as described by Adam Smith, is an invisible hand, not a force comparable with the transcendent God who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. If we blindly embrace capitalism as our central belief, we are as pitiful as those who blindly embrace communism. What choice would you make: a prosperous nation or a global market? The recent demonstrations in Montreal and Seattle are terrifying as demonstrators voiced their anger against globalisation. Which position would you take? As Christians, we must show our concern for global issues, but without compromising our beliefs at the same time.

We have to be discerning in understanding what is behind the core beliefs of post-modernism. The final barrier is no longer religion. The influence of religion has been completely eroded by the Enlightenment. In light of this, we must rise up and stand firm for our Christian beliefs, like the seven thousand who did not bow to Baal. Religion, morality and even science, have been stripped of their powers. Science and technology are now in the control of the entrepreneurs. What is the last hope of humanity in resisting the changes brought by globalisation? Nation is the last frontier of post-modernism and the last stronghold of modern culture. The last bastion of modern civilisation is nation. However, most nations today exist as nations only in the sense of geography. For example, Ecuador in South America is no longer using its own currency but the American dollar. The country has completely lost her sovereignty and rights. While nations are important, the issue we have to resolve is this: Do we blindly uphold nationalism as our solution? In the end, we cannot deny that humanity is a grandiose unity. Although people may be different, nonetheless, they can still be united in their diversity. As Christians, we may differ in our beliefs with Muslims, but we can still live together in harmony. We can even have dialogues with them to express the pursuit of our beliefs. Indeed, it is dangerous to seek our own individual beliefs while forsaking the concept of a grandiose unity.

Do we agree with the globalisation of economy? The World Trade Organisation (WTO) can be a dangerous threat. We may not subscribe to the idea of world unification but global interaction and communication is something we cannot avoid. To give blind support to globalisation is unacceptable, tantamount to having a narrow nationalistic worldview. How do we then strike a balance between these two extremes? The upshot of the emergence of globalisation is that ‘post-modernism’ attracting less attention in academic publications. Today, globalisation is the real crisis. All who study philosophy should return to the fundamental question: So what? Undeniably, post-modernism has a strong influence on modern society. For example, how should we confront our cultural identity, social status and economic interest against the wave of change? In the past, it was Europe who controlled the heartbeat of the world. Now, it is the United States who has become the global superpower. ‘Americanisation’ has become the dream of some people, but by the grace of God it is something that can never be accomplished (except perhaps for ‘McDonalisation’). At the same time, we have also given up on the pursuit of Westernisation. Although globalisation is a pertinent issue that has to be addressed, it may not be the only solution in view of its many fault lines.

There are three principles to be borne in mind when responding to the philosophy of post-modernism. The most important principle is that post-modernism is not really ‘post’ anything in the actual sense of the word because modernity is not really in such a bad state. As Ha pa Ma xi said, we must technically develop a project of enlightenment. But what are the technical aspects involved in such a pursuit? According to him, what must be pursued are freedom, equality, rationality and science. Are all these good? Yes, but they do not possess any ultimate value. Instead, they are susceptible to manipulation to serve the interests of politicians and entrepreneurs. As Christians, we should not mindlessly endorse democracy but rather we should aspire towards a society that is receptive to fresh ideas. This marks the great difference between Christians and the idealists of the Enlightenment movement. Secondly, we can take an opposing approach to the thinking of Marx, Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche. They believed that the whole sphere of modernity is non-existent. Humans are not completely rational – Freud discovered the element of sub- consciousness, which cannot be analysed using the rational mind. Thirdly, as Riccouer has suggested, we must take a multi-dimensional approach towards post-modernism, which is neither totally good nor evil.

How shall we respond then? Primarily, we have to acknowledge that God’s truth is single-dimensional and not multi-dimensional. Another word for single-dimensional is absolute. Multi-dimensional is not relative. Conversely, God’s truth is living truth; it is absolute. Therefore, we are opposed to relativism and post-modernism. However, we have to admit the fact that there are five Mosaic books and four gospel books. Christians ought to be able to answer the question: Why didn’t Jesus write his own biography instead of asking different persons to write the four gospel books? And why four gospel accounts instead of one? This proves that our God is like a diamond. A diamond is not made up of only four edges; otherwise it would be called crystal. Rather, our God’s truth is living truth and multi-dimensional. Hence, there should be room for diversity amongst believers. Some people questioned why there are so many churches around? In fact, there should be more churches around. We should abandon our narrow paradigm and return to the original essence of philosophy, i.e. the love of pursuing wisdom.

Today we have heard a great deal about wisdom, but what are we after is true wisdom. We want to state our objection to secular philosophical study as well as our opposition to professional philosophers who treat philosophy as their occupation rather than a pursuit of wisdom. For us at present, we need to develop a post-academic theology. We should not be bogged down by too many technical terms but ought to propagate our system of faith. How are we to propagate this faith? Here, the reformed gospel movement provides the solution: Theology is so important that it should not be left to theologians and seminaries alone, just like philosophy is so important that it should not be left to philosophers alone. In the reformed movement, we are using God’s truth to equip every one of us, not in order that we might become experts but rather to be the disciples of God. Only then would we obtain truth, life, absoluteness and eternal life in order that this truth might flow from us. This is the primary reason why we provide theological education and courses, plant churches and organise talks and seminars. Amen.


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