Easter Greetings from Kuai Mu Institute
By David Marshall
A lot of water has passed under the bridge our first year, running close to flood stage the past few months. In February, we hosted a lively seminar on Islam and Christianity. In March I put on seminars and teaching in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and did some very interesting research. I also wrote a rough draft of my new book on the Gospels, along with other editing work.
In this letter, I will offer a bit of feedback from the February 2004 Islam and Christianity seminar. Then, I will say something about the trip to Asia, trying not to get too carried away. (If pagodas and pineapples don't interest you at all, just skip that section.)
I'll also describe the seminars we are planning for this year. Finally, I'll say something about my new book on those controversial reporters, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the trouble they continue to cause the Jesus Seminar and other Gnostics and skeptics.
founder Robert Funk claimed, in his book Honest to Jesus, that conservative Christians
are "fractious" and "unable to accommodate each other." I'm
glad to say that our experience over the past year has been quite different.
We put on eight seminars, with speakers including Don Richardson, Vishal Mangalwadi,
Dudley Woodberry, and Miriam Adeney. Aside from the generous volunteer
help of individuals from many denominations, and the willingness of organizations
like Campus Crusade, YWAM, ISI, Crista, Reasons to Believe, and local churches,
to chip in with their time and facilities in a generous way, our year would
have been poorer in good memories.
Many of you participated in our second seminar on Christianity and Islam. Almost everyone who came will, I think, agree that it was an extraordinary evening. Four guest speakers shared deep and thoughtful insights: Dr. Dudley Woodberry, one of America's leading authorities on Islam, Dr. Miriam Adeney, Dr. Ahmad, a leading local Muslim scholar, and Mark Lori-Amini, whose love for Christ is a great inspiration.
Over 96% of written feedback from the seminar was mostly "thumbs up." Nearly all responses agreed: "The spirit and the information were excellent and positive. Dinner was delicious." "It was very good -- balanced -- well organized and well-run." "It was both educational and entertaining. The food was excellent." "It was good to hear from a practicing Muslim in addition to Christians. . . All the speakers were very interesting." The most common criticism was that Dr. Ahmad, the only Muslim speaker, was outnumbered; which of course was true.
I think we could have put on several more seminars on the spot drawing on the knowledge and experience of people in the audience. Many came with a wealth of experience and knowledge. People asked excellent questions, some rather leading, but all in charity, "speaking the truth (as each saw it) in love." It was a pleasure for me to lead the evening's activities.
More feedback from the seminar may be posted on this Web site, www.christthetao.com, later, along with information about upcoming seminars.
My first article for Christianity Today appeared in the March 2004 issue, a review of David Aikman's new book, Jesus in Beijing. As I point out there, the book is an extraordinary, somewhat optimistic picture of Christians and the growth of the faith in China. (For a slightly more sobering view, read Tony Lambert's also excellent China's Christian Millions.) Dr. Aikman, who worked as Beijing bureau chief for Time Magazine, did remarkable research for this project, and the stories in book are wonderful. He also mentions a few of my old friends.
knew before I wrote the review that Dr. Aikman studied at my old school, the
University of Washington. I found out, as I did background research, that
he obtained his Ph.D. under the late (much missed) Dr. Donald Treadgold, who
also helped me with my B.A. Senior Thesis. My paper was on Marxism and the Russian and Chinese languages,
and Dr. Aikman's dissertation was The Role
of Atheism in the Marxist Tradition.
By the way, another really remarkable work on Christianity in China has recently appeared, which I'd also like to recommend: a four-part DVD series called The Cross, in Chinese and English. It is an extraordinary piece of living history; a sequel to the Book of Acts on video documentary. I found the final part in the series, The Hymns of Canaan, about a collection of deeply spiritual songs written by a peasant girl in central China, especially moving.
I was invited to
teach at a Youth With a Mission school in Hong Kong, with some people in China,
in early March. Campus Crusade then invited me to Singapore for a series
of seminars later in the month.
During the first part of the trip, I visited the site of the 1400-year-old Nestorian church, which had been discovered a few years ago. All that is left on this site is an ancient pagoda, leaning like the Tower of Pisa toward the farms on the plains below. (Where, as it happens, a modern Catholic church was just visible through the mist.) The Nestorian complex was built a short stroll around the undulations of a hill, through a farming community, with early pear blossoms in bloom, and chickens foraging for grain, and little goats butting heads outside farmhouses, from Lou Guan Tai, an ancient Taoist temple. The story is that the Chinese sage Lao Zi wrote his famous book, the Dao De Jing, at this temple, then rode off on his ox like Paul Bunyan into the mountains. (The Eastern terminus of the Silk Road was nearby.)
The city that was the base for my exploring was Xian, or "Western Peace," once called Chang An, "Everlasting Peace," historically one of the great cities of the world. The Qin, Han, and Tang Dynasty capitals all lay on the plains along the Wei River here, at a slight remove from one another.
The history that could be told of this city! Much of the great verse of the Tang Dynasty, the crown jewel in Chinese poetry, is set in this inconsequential-looking valley, with its morning mists now of dubious coal-dust consistency, flat fields, and still, in this part of China many bicycles.
I climbed Mt. Hua, one of the ancient holy mountains of China, also scaled by the Han emperor Wu Di (who did for Confucianism in China what Constantine did for, or to, Christianity in the West) and others. (They missed out on the German tram that now takes you up the first sweeping granite precipices, so you only have to climb a couple thousand vertical feet or so.) I also visited the resting place of the terra-cotta warriors and horses near the tomb of the great tyrant, Qin Shihuang.
My favorite spot in Xian, not counting the barbecued lamb in the Muslim quarter, was the Confucian temple and the district around it. This district is one of the only parts of the city that have been preserved, and it is a warren of painting shops and traditional art. In the temple itself, ancient stone steles, with classic texts, are kept in a unique public library. Most were set upon stone tortoises, with a canopy of decorations above the text. I came in particular to see the original Nestorian stele, written in 750, which gives the record of the earliest Christians who came to China, and explains the Christian faith, in poetic Chinese. I used to hang a copy of a rubbing from that stele in my office in Japan; it often provoked comments from Japanese or Chinese colleagues and students.
Another location in the ancient capital that is interesting from a Christian point of view is the Tang Altar of Heaven. Until recently, this spot, where Tang emperors would worship the Supreme God, was just a grassy knoll with some relics buried underground between apartments and a sports track. But recently work has begun to reconstruct the altar.
There were no signs indicating the location; it was off "Altar of Heaven lane" through a rusty metal door of the sort that usually leads to old apartments in China.
I took a night train to teach in Chong Qing, a vast, polluted, but interesting city in the heart of China. Then I taught for a few days on Christianity and Chinese Culture for a while in Hong Kong. I enjoyed getting to know people in both places; some quickly came to seem like old friends. I also had the chance to meet two genuine old friends from YWAM days in Hong Kong, Jimmy Stewart and Tim Obendorf.
The "new" Hong Kong YWAM base is located in an ancient village in New Territories, a fascinating hodge-podge of squat new tile-covered houses, run-down stone homes, and temples. Throw in the odd retired water buffalo, blooming tropical weeds, and still-defiant New Territory dogs, and it brought back memories. (I remember the attitude of those dogs! When my YWAM team delivered Bibles to the people of a country town in New Territories 20 years ago, it seemed like three or four dogs emerged from each home, to bark, snip, and let us know we were there on a trial basis. They look a bit less mangy, now, but still wear the same haughty expression.) Though recovering from a cold, I also climbed a mountain behind the base one morning, and got slightly lost in the fog on the way down.
Then on to the "Garden City" of Singapore. What a lovely town! If you go, get off the subway at Neuton, and look for the outdoor food court. Under a canopy of tall hardwoods (in other parts of the city, blooming yellow or orange) sample delicious Chinese, Indian, or Malay foods, making sure to buy a freshly squeezed fruit juice (the pineapple and banana is good, or you can try a coconut with a straw in it, or squeezed sugar cane stalks) to go with it.
I did two seminars and one other lecture with Campus Crusade for Christ, and another seminar with Overseas Radio and Television. Up to 120 people came to the seminars. Mostly, I talked about Chinese religions, and how the Gospel redeems the best in them, and is the deepest fulfillment of Chinese culture. People asked many questions and brought up interesting points, about the Gospel in Chinese characters, "ancestor worship," Buddhism, and so on. I hope that some of what was said in those seminars was helpful to those who came; I certainly appreciated their patience with a foreigner talking about Chinese culture!
We're back in Seattle now. (Mayumi and the boys went to Japan while I was further east to see relatives.)
Our primary focus
during the coming year will be on the Gospels, especially on refuting recent
attacks on them by prominent scholars and novelists, and showing that they are
reliable records. We are planning a series of seminars on this topic, along
with a book, with the tentative title of Beyond Unbelief: A Literary Defense of the Gospels against
the Jesus Seminar, Elaine Pagels, and the Da Vinci Code.
Maybe after a title that long, I won't have to write the book!
Craig Blomberg, author of The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, is due to come to Seattle in October. Ward Gasque, who helped found Regent College and now teaches theology in Seattle, has also promised to participate, as has Gary Habermas. We are also discussing the possibilities with pastors from leading outreach-minded churches in the Seattle area.
Why all the fuss? Go into a major secular bookstore and take a look at what is for sale under "Christian books." You could more accurately call a lot of them "anti-Christian books." Many of the scholarly books on Christianity are produced by scholars like Pagels, Crossan, Mack, Borg, King, and Funk, or popular authors like Bishop Spong and Dan Brown, who are quite outspoken in their view that if Christianity isn't done for yet, it ought to be. While qualified Christian historians have written good answers to their more coherent allegations (Blomberg and Habermas included), you won't find their replies in your local Barnes and Noble.
Among many educated non-Christians, and I suspect liberal Christians, we are losing the debate over the historical truth of Christianity not because our faith in Christ is misplaced, but because truth is not given a fair hearing.
We would like to do what we can to change that. If you think your church would like to be involved in this project, please send me an e-mail or give me a ring.
Aside from bringing in outside speakers, I am also preparing six seminars, by myself or with local scholars. Here's a quick run-down:
If your church or fellowship would like to learn about one of these topics, we are now working on our schedule for the coming year, and welcome inquiries.
do four ancient journals about a wandering Jewish sage continue to haunt the
human race? What is this "Gospel" of Thomas that is praised so highly
by noted historians? Is it true that there are other, equally valuable records
of Jesus' life, "hidden Gospels," seditious tales of Christ secreted
away from the "faithful" so as to protect our orthodox kingdom from
dangerous facts? Or are the evangelists themselves the seditious ones, and the
modern world trying to wish or whitewash them away, as the ancient world hounded
the teacher they speak of, to the cross?
The Gospels have come in for sustained criticism recently, from the scholars of the Jesus Seminar, confederates like Elaine Pagels, and popular works like The Da Vinci Code and the writings of Bishop Spong. The truth about Jesus has been covered up, they say. The Gospels are unreliable, myth, fictions. Jesus never claimed to be God, worked only minor, psychosomatic miracles, and remains safely in the ground, thank you very much, though he inspires us by his clever aphorisms and appeal to the disenfranchised.
In my new book, I analyze the Gospels as whole works (rather than cutting them up in the normal fashion), then compare them with other ancient literature. What I have found is really amazing. One thing is perfectly clear: despite talk about other Gospels, and common comparisons with Ithris or Buddha, in reality there is nothing in the world like the New Testament Gospels. Under close analysis, the evidence points even more strongly to a conclusion about the Gospels as far more remarkable than any of the wild theories suggested by Jesus Seminar scholars: that they are, in fact, telling the truth.
We have just celebrated Easter, the time when we remember that our hope is not an idle dream, but is founded in what God has done and continues to do in this world to bring us redemption.
I hope that your Easter was full of joy, and that the coming year also brings you an abundance of Christ' blessings.