Confucius for Christians? Family and Learning


My friend Gregg Ten Elshof is a philosophy professor at Biola University.  When we visited the school last year with my two oldest sons, Gregg allowed us to sit in on his class in Chinese Philosophy.  He also gave us a copy of his book, Confucius for Christians.

I finally read this book at the end of last year and found it very challenging (I highly recommend it).  In the book, Gregg interacts with Confucianism as a wisdom tradition and “seeks to experiment with reflection on perennial questions of human interest with the teachings of Jesus and Confucius in mind.” The idea is to see what insights can be gleaned from Confucius that might help us to be better and more mature disciples of Jesus.  To many, this might seem a strange project.  But, I found the insights and ideas very helpful.  I will share some a few examples.

Confucius for Christians

Confucius stressed the importance of family and if we wish to grow in goodness, we must grow in our ability to be together.  And, filial piety is at the center of virtue for the Confucian.  “Far from falling into a kind of clannish exclusivity that prevents our caring for anyone beyond those in our families (this would have been more of a tendency with first century Jews in the time of Jesus), we’ve neglected to appreciate the centrality of family for loving those beyond it well.  We’re trying to establish significant and healthy relationships with friends, neighbors, superiors, and the world without having made much progress in the mastery of the basic relational dynamics given us insofar as we are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, older and younger siblings, and spouses.  We’re tempted to think that we can somehow manage to love the world without having learned to love well those whom have been given to us as family.  Reflection on the Confucian emphasis on filial piety can function as a kind of corrective here.  The Confucian would remind us that if we wish to love the world, we’ll need to attend carefully to the ‘root’ of love – the root of goodness.  We’ll need to continually work at wholeness in the basic familial relationships.” (p.19)

I want to live out my faith in Jesus with my family.  Sometimes it is hard in the midst of those who know best your weaknesses.  God help us.  Let our lights shine brightly first in our homes.

On the topic of learning, the Confucian deeply values a life characterized by continual learning.  Knowledge is only a byproduct of having pursued and fallen in love with that thing which is most important – a life of learning.

“We forget that at the center of the Christian Way is the invitation to be a follower.  Conformity is the very heart of Christian discipleship.  Leadership, if and when it happens, is accidental to the Way of Jesus.  Everyone is called to be a follower.  Whether or not we find ourselves in positions of leadership, it is our ability to follow that will dictate our success as disciples.” (pp. 40-41)

“To love learning is to embrace unknowing, uncertainty, incompleteness, impotence and the submissive posture of a follower.” (p. 42)

“We would do well to assiduously avoid the acquisition of new information until we’ve made some progress in the direction of those things we’ve already learned.” (p.44)

That last quote is especially challenging for me.  I have so much good knowledge of the Bible.  I find it fun and interesting to try to understand and learn new things about the Way of Jesus and I can continue in that.  But, I would do well to put most of my energy into an applied kind of learning – learning how to live out what I already know and understand pleases God.  This is an active learning by doing.  I want to make that one of my goals in 2018 – thanks for the reminder and challenge, Gregg!




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s