February 26, 2017
Did God Overlook China?
Dear Dr. Craig,
I'm originally from China and have lived in the U.S. for 17 years. Through a Christian friend, I've been introduced to your books and debates online. I've been going to church for two years now, getting very close to becoming a Christian. Your work has been instrumental in helping my "engineeringly" wired brain making sense of god, slowly but steadily building up my faith. For that, I'm very grateful and want to give my immense gratitude and appreciation.
I find myself uncontrollably talking about god with my Chinese friends, urging them to spend more time in pursuing their spirituality in Christ. Some were interested and some weren't. Pretty consistently, most of them challenge me with the same type of question, "China has thousands years of history, rise and fall of many great dynasties. Where was god? Why didn't Chinese people document the same god? How did Chinese culture enjoy so much brilliant inventions, literatures, and prosperity, without even knowing anything about god? Why didn't god even bothered to love or making himself known to Chinese people for thousands of years?" I tried to research and come up with answers myself, unfortunately, none of which were very convincing to my Chinese friends. I would use your five arguments (origin, fine-tuning, objective moral values, death and resurrection of Jesus, and personal experience) to challenge them, but find it very hard to get past that initial resistance and make the personal connection.
I have the luxury of being able to go to a church and have the personal experience with the holy spirit. Not all my Chinese friends back home have this luxury. How best to answer their question so that they can put away their cultural pride and prejudice, and open up their mind and heart to god?
Look forward to hearing your thoughts!
How encouraging to read of your spiritual journey, Paul! God is doing a remarkable work among the Chinese, not only students and immigrants to the U.S. like yourself, but in China itself, where there may be nearly 100 million Christians today.
Your friends’ question is not peculiar to China. It is just a particular application of the old question of the fate of the unevangelized. Because Christianity is not just a code of ethics or a philosophy of life, but a historical religion, by the very nature of the case, most areas of the world will be for a time unreached as the Gospel spreads out around the globe from first century Palestine. So people in the Americas, for example, could ask precisely the same question as your friends. True, they did not have the “brilliant inventions, literatures, and prosperity” of China, but God cares about the poor and humble, and not just the rich and brilliant. So they, too, could ask, “Why didn't god even bothered to love or making himself known to [us] for thousands of years?"
In fact, historically Christianity actually came to China relatively early on, during the Tang Dynasty, centuries before it ever reached the Americas. The so-called Church of the East was widespread in China until the 14th century, when it was stamped out by persecution. Thus, Christianity has deep roots in China. Several years ago, when Jan and I were at a philosophy conference at Peking University in Beijing, one of the Chinese philosophers reflecting on the future direction of China said boldly, “China needs a moral foundation for society. Marxism cannot provide it. Confucianism is dead. We need to embrace Christianity. Christianity is an indigenous Chinese religion and offers the best hope of providing a moral foundation for Chinese society.” We were stunned. As he rightly saw, Christianity is not a white man’s religion, but an indigenous Chinese religion with an incredibly long history. This fact, while not addressing your question directly, can go some distance, perhaps, to helping your friends to “put away their cultural pride and prejudice, and open up their mind and heart to god.”
I have addressed the question of the fate of the unevangelized directly in a number of places, for example, in the final chapter of On Guard or here http://www.reasonablefaith.org/how-can-christ-be-the-only-way-to-god. I argue that God, as a just and loving God Who wants all persons to come to know Him, judges people on the basis of the information that they have. So people in China or Africa or the Americas before the advent of Christianity will not be judged on the basis of whether they have believed in Christ. Rather, like people in ancient Israel, they will be judged by God on the basis of their faith-response to the revelation that God has given them. According to the Bible, God has revealed Himself in nature and in conscience in an unmistakable way to all persons at all times in all lands (Romans 1-2). Just as in ancient Greece thinkers like Plato and Aristotle grasped the concept of God apart from biblical revelation, so in ancient China there seems to have been an inchoate grasp of God in the concept of tiān 天 (heaven) or Shàngdì 上帝 (Lord on High). Thus, salvation was at least accessible to Chinese people prior to the advent of the Gospel. So one need not worry that one’s ancestors were inevitably lost.
I’ve argued further that it’s at least possible that God has so providentially ordered the world that any person who would believe in the Gospel if he heard it will be born at a time and place in history at which he does hear it. Thus, no one is lost because of historical or geographical accident. If this proposal is plausible, then it helps to remove any concern that one’s ancestors were lost but would have been saved had they been born at another time and place. On the contrary, anyone who wants or even would want to be saved will be saved.
It may be that your friends will not be much moved by these philosophical reflections; but it may be the case that seeing that it is no betrayal of their Chinese ethnicity to be Christian will help them to be open to placing their faith in Christ.