BEIJING, China – The Academy of Religion of Minzu University of China (MUC, 中央民族大学) held its annual Cross-Cultural Dialogue on 31 October 2022, with the support of co-organizer, the United Bible Societies (UBS).
With “Prophets in Comparative Perspective” as the theme, the online symposium invited research papers on translation, social and historical findings, comparative studies, theological interpretations, as well as cross-cultural readings to be presented.
A total of eight papers were presented with a time of dialogue and discussion after every two presentations. Presenters included scholars from China’s MUC, Northwest Normal University and Shandong University, America’s Luther Seminary, Singapore’s Trinity Theological College (TTC), Finnish Bible Society and UBS. Postgraduate students and staff of the Academy of Religion of MUC, TTC, and UBS China Partnership (CP) were also in attendance.The Revd. Dr. Joshva Raja John Christopher, Head of International Bible Advocacy Centre of the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), brought greetings on behalf of BFBS.
Professor You Bin, Dean of the Academy of Religion of MUC, said in his opening address that the prophetic books in the Bible contain important revelations on the “ways of God.” Hence, the theme for this year’s Dialogue was a good platform for China and overseas scholars and researchers to share their insights and he looked forward to a fruitful time of learning.
Dr Bernard Low, Co-Director (Ministry) of UBS CP, expressed his heartfelt thanks to Professor You Bin and his team for organising and hosting the Dialogue. On the significance of this year’s theme, he said, “The knowledge, insights, and original ideas that we derive from our research, writing and teaching have the potential and power to contribute positively to culture, society, and religious communities…The prophets knew the times and seasons in which they lived. They spoke words that were relevant to culture. They sought the welfare of the city.”.
This year’s presentations were indeed an impressive showcase of the fruitful works of esteemed academicians, scholars and researchers who have been actively engaged in the study of the Bible to explore its wisdom and continuing relevance for our day and age.
Professor You Bin gave the audience some stimulating ideas from his paper on “’God’s Word’ and ‘Declarations of the Perfected and the True Ones’: A Comparative Study of Prophetic Revelation in Christianity and Taoism.” Citing intercultural theology, Professor You encouraged deep learning of commonalities while also discovering certain “unique characteristics of the Christian biblical prophetic revelation through comparative study”. He suggested that these characteristics could inform the methodology in Chinese biblical studies.
Dr Esteban Voth, Head of Translation Skills Facilitation, UBS Global Mission Team, delivered a paper that was thought-provoking and encouraging. He shared six premises that he deemed essential in his paper “The Old Testament Prophets and Pastoral Ministry”, highlighting that “the primary task of the prophet is to exhort, critique, denounce, and most of all to issue a call for genuine repentance.” He added that as we consider the “complexity and the danger of participating in the prophetic ministry, the problem that emerges is that the church at large has been more taken up by the prophetic ‘mystery’ than by the prophetic ‘ministry’.”
The prophetic role of the prophets was also highlighted in “The Nature of Classical Prophetic Prophecy in the Eighth Century B.C.E.,” a paper co-authored by Professor Jiang Zongqiang and his student Sun Wengao from the Department of Philosophy, Northwest Normal University.Relating the Book of Amos to current affairs and the dilemmas that people face nowadays, notably on the issue of “righteousness and justice” (Amos 5:21-24), the two authors encouraged the audience to “listen to the voice of the prophet, baptised through time…”
Some of the papers generated lively discussions. “Reading Isaiah in Asia” by Dr Maggie Low, Lecturer in Old Testament at TTC, was one such paper. Using her cultural lens, she sought to “identify facets of the text that would resonate” with her context and “uncover meanings overlooked from a Western or androcentric perspective”. Another paper, “The Weeping God in Jeremiah” by Dr Yu Suee Yan, UBS Global Translation Advisor, sparked interesting discussions on the question of God’s impassibility and His ability to suffer with His people.
Ji Qianru, one of the participants from MUC, said “This Dialogue reminds me to read the Scriptures more, and to learn more from other scholars. These presentations inspired me to think deeper about my own research field.”
In closing, Professor You Bin expressed his gratitude to all who participated in this year’s Dialogue, highlighting that it is important to continue exploring the relevance of the biblical texts to modern contexts. He looked forward to future dialogues, hopefully done face-to-face, on Wisdom Literature, the Gospels, or the Pauline Epistles as a follow-up to this year’s Dialogue.
Echoing Professor You Bin, Dr Bernard Low, UBS CP Co-Director (Ministry) said, “I look forward to many more future dialogues when scholars of the biblical texts, from East and West, can gather regularly to share the fruits of our research, help society appreciate the wisdom and relevance of these ancient texts, and support faith communities to understand these texts clearer and better. This is how we can contribute positively to culture and society in the countries we love and represent.”
Story: May Ang & Cynthia Oh
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