There are Christians, and there are Confucians. The first is rooted in the teachings of a first-century Jewish rabbi named Jesus; the second, in the teachings of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher who pre-dates Christianity by at least 500 years. The two worldviews have often remained separate, but a professor at a prominent evangelical college argues that there should be “Confucian Christians.”
In “Confucius for Christians: What an Ancient Chinese Worldview Can Teach Us About Life in Christ,” Gregg Ten Elshof, who teaches philosophy at Biola University outside of Los Angeles, says that too many Western Christians have dismissed Eastern philosophies as “illogical, uncritical, nonsensical, relativistic, and dangerous.” These false characterizations often prevent Christians from drawing upon the deep wells of wisdom of Eastern worldviews, according to Ten Elshof.
In this highly readable book, Ten Elshof addresses topics such as family, ethics, and ritual to show how the Christian worldview lines up with the Confucian worldview (as opposed to the Western, Platonic worldview). Several chapters begin with a quote from Jesus next to one from Confucius. Such an approach is sure to make many evangelicals uncomfortable, so Ten Elshof is quick to point out that he does not think “all of the world’s great religions represent equally legitimate expressions of the human response to the Divine.” Rather than place the two traditions on equal footing, he hopes to argue that studying Confucius’ writings can actually help Christians move further into and up the way of Jesus. Here, we discuss his provocative proposal.
RNS: Let’s start with the obvious. Some Christians feel uncomfortable learning from a figure in another religion. Why should they care about Confucius?