What Has Jerusalem to Do with Beijing?
A review of K.K. Yeo's, "What Has Jerusalem Have to Do with Beijing? Biblical Interpretation from a Chinese Perspective," by Dr. M. Daniel Carroll R.
Khiok-khng, Yeo What Has Jerusalem Have to Do with Beijing? Biblical Interpretation from a Chinese Perspective. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity International Press, 1998. x + 325 pp. $25.00 pb. ISBN 1-56338-229-6.
This volume by Yeo Khiok-khng, Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary, attempts to bring the Bible-both the Old and New Testaments-into dialogue with Chinese culture. After a brief introduction, the ten chapters are divided into three major sections: Part I, “The Methods of Cross-Cultural Hermeneutics” (chapters 1-2); Part II, “Dialogue with Perennial Themes in Chinese Culture” (chapters 3-6); and, Part III, “Biblical Messages for the Current Chinese Situation” (chapters 7-10). A short conclusion and two indices round out this monograph. Seven of the ten chapters are revisions of publications that have appeared elsewhere in a variety of journals from 1991 to 1996.
The author defines contextual theology as “a particular and culturally oriented theology that acknowledges human beings as cultural beings.” From this starting point, Khiok-khng explains that “cross-cultural hermeneutics is related to universal, cosmic unity through diverse and ambiguous contexts” (pg. 13). In other words, his quest is to try to ascertain how to explore and convey eternal truths from and for specific cultural contexts. His model for this cross-cultural hermeneutic is the apostle Paul’s speech at the Areopagus in Acts 17 (developed in chapter 7). Khiok-khng would label Paul’s method a “rhetoric of dialogic imagination,” which used cultural and social items of Greek culture as a bridge to communicate the truth about the Gospel and Jesus Christ. The apostle acknowledged the validity and insights of Greek culture, but also exposed its shortcomings, and then pointed the way to the Messiah. The question for the author, however, now changes from “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” to “What has Jerusalem to do with Beijing?”-which, of course, is the title of his book.
The entire volume is dedicated to putting biblical themes and passages into conversation with Chinese perspectives and issues. Chapter one (“Theological Methods and Chinese Contexts”) fittingly initiates the Western reader into some of the intricacies of the Chinese worldview and religious thought, such as yin-yang philosophy, Taoism, and the teachings of Confucius. The chapters dedicated to the Old Testament use some of this material in their theological reflections. For instance, Khiok-khng parallels the yin and yang understanding of reality (that is, its bipolar nature, directed by mutuality and harmony) to explore the relationship between the transcendence and immanence and between the immutability and changeableness of God, as well as the reciprocal relations between God and humanity and between the genders (“‘Yin and Yang’ in Genesis and Exodus,” chapter 3). Some of the concern for humanity and the importance of morality that was championed by Confucius is compared to the demands of Amos 4:4-5 and 5:4-24 (“The Ming of T’ien [Will of God] in Amos and Confucius,” chapter 5). The author also appeals to the intertextual connections between Isaiah 5:1-7 and 27:2-6 to establish that God’s ultimate desire for all humanity is transformation, not despair and hopelessness (“Rejection and Restoration in Isaiah and Tienanmen Square,” chapter 9).
For those of us who are not versed in this sort of thinking from that part of the globe, this book can be a helpful introduction to that way of approaching life and the divine. In addition, it is encouraging to see Christians from different parts of the world trying to break from Western theological patterns and processes and to be truer to their own contexts. If the Bible is the Truth for all humanity and all time, then the Church should appreciate the fresh insights generated by different experiences and perspectives. Khiok-khng does not glorify or idealistically defend his Chinese culture; in fact, he desires a “meta-critical principle” that would transcend his own particularity and his culture’s misguided views on, for example, the nature of God and the afterlife (cf. pgs. 193-97, 309-13). This is why he also argues for an open and humble dialogue between cultures and their readings of the Bible: we all need each other in the pilgrimage to the Truth.
I have two criticisms of the book, one of style and the other of substance. Some of the discussions do not make for easy reading: the language can be very stiff and repetitious. If it is difficult to follow some of the reasoning from the Chinese point of view anyway, the burden on the reader is doubled. Second, this reviewer sometimes came away wondering how well the author understood the original biblical text and differences in scholarly positions. For instance, in his chapter on Amos, Khiok-khng appeals to the reconstructions of Coote and Hayes for his argument, yet these scholars actually have very distinct (and distinctive) perspectives that disagree on a number of issues. In the chapter on Isaiah 5 and 27 the author offers his own translation with copious footnotes, yet the latter cite a wide range of scholars with different views; some of the notes also appear to contain errors regarding his observations on the Hebrew text. The purpose of such extensive textual work (which in some cases seemed beyond the author’s expertise) is not clear. Is the author still trying to impress the Western guild (he teaches in the Chicago area), even as he struggles to be authentic to his background and people? Khiok-khng admits in the Conclusion that he is using the methods of his training, but all of this sometimes seems to get in the way of some of the cross-cultural points he is trying to make.
In sum, this is an interesting book. It comes from the pen of someone committed to the Scriptures and to intercultural dialogue. Such a volume is to be welcomed. May such efforts be multiplied for the enrichment of the worldwide Body of Christ.
M. Daniel Carroll R., Ph.D.
Professor of Old Testament