“The journey not the arrival matters.” – T. S. Eliot
Not the ever so popular “what would Jesus do,” or even “what would Jesus say?” Rather, how would Jesus have said it?
More specifically, if Jesus had lived on Earth in China rather than Israel, what methods would he have used to get his point across?
Recently it was brought to my attention how cultural something like a biblical parable can be. We’re always taught in New Testament that a parable is a short story that holds a meaning. That makes sense…to us. We’re accustomed to symbolism, and concrete things representing abstract concepts. But in talking with people who have tried to explain parables to church-goers in Taiwanese culture, it seems that this type of symbolism is much harder for them to wrap their mind around. Chinese culture focuses much more on concrete things that you can figure out–just look at how many college students go into math and science–than looking for symbolism in a piece of literature. (Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to be an expert on thought patterns of Chinese and Taiwanese. I merely speak from personal experience and experiences of those around me.) For the Taiwanese, parables and their meanings are just hard to grasp.
That’s not to say that Christ didn’t come for everyone. Different parts of the Bible are harder for different people to understand. There are aspects in the Bible that are hard for us westerners to comprehend because of our cultural background. Which makes it kind of cooler in the fact that this emphasizes that Christ met the people of Israel where they were and used a medium that they would be comfortable with: parables.
So, if Christ had come into a Chinese culture, what would he have used to get his point across? Philosophical one-liners? Art-work? Bronze-engravings?
I don’t pretend to know, but this also in some ways shows the challenge that people face in bringing the Gospel to a new culture. How do you retain the message of the Gospel and Christianity and adapt it to their culture?