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Gregg A. Ten Elshof, Confucius for Christians: What an Ancient Chinese Worldview Can Teach Us about Life in Christ.

Gregg A. Ten Elshof, Confucius for Christians: What an Ancient Chinese Worldview Can Teach Us about Life in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015. Pp. 102. $15.00, paper.

This is a pioneering attempt to define what Confucianism can contribute to the life of a Christian believer. Its brevity is deceiving, given that its content is the distillation of several years of reflections. This makes for tough and stimulating reading that offers plenty of food for thought. The first chapter reports the author's discovery that Confucian doctrines can help a Christian become better in his or her faith life, while the next four chapters describe his insights regarding four major topics: family, ethics, learning, and ritual. In the final, sixth chapter the author recaps his points by the use of fiction, narrating the life and spiritual growth ("flourishing") of an imaginary man named Sam. We may call it a pioneering attempt, because "there are embarrassingly few books written from a Christian perspective" (p. 6) that attempt the same thing (at least in Western languages).

One of the author's main achievements is that he renders his material with the aura of serious philosophizing, while in the West it is assumed that Eastern thought is "illogical, uncritical, nonsensical, relativistic, and dangerous" (p. 2). Thus, readers, even if new to the subject matter, are enticed to take Confucius's words seriously and to read the book carefully.

The author offers only an initial taste of the four major subjects, given that such topics as filial piety, love, ritual, or learning are enormous in the Confucian philosophical discourse. The book should be viewed as a sampling, not at random, but of a few important points, in order to persuade the reader that Confucius is worth a Christian's attention. There are many more things in Confucianism that could assist a Christian to enrich his or her inner growth (not just regarding morals, but even basic religious tenets, including Christology), if Confucian-Christian double belonging is taken seriously and applied thoroughly. History, which is regrettably absent from this work, could give much input--either the thousands of highly educated forgotten Christians of seventeenth-century China or other admirable figures of Confucian Christians (both Catholic and Protestant) of later times, down to Thomas Leung, the author's declared mentor (p. vi).

Finally, it should be noted that, while Confucius for the author or any other Western Christian believer is a gracious option, double belonging is a must for any knowledgeable Chinese willing to become Christian. The alternative would be to abjure his or her tradition, as was often required by missionaries in the past. A full-scale double belonging with Confucianism would be quite demanding for Christian theologians called to separate what is unacceptable from what are only disposable Western patterns of thought.

Umberto Bresciani, Fujen University, Taipei, Taiwan

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Author:Bresciani, Umberto
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2016
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