Wrestling with David Marshall’s Depiction of Jesus, and Conservative Evangelicalism in General

For my write-up today on David Marshall’s True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture, I’ll feature three quotes from Chapter 4, “The Tao of Revolution”, then I will ramble on about God, Jesus, and Christianity.

Page 44: “Human nature yearns for God.  Even the most atheistic ideology can only disguise or pervert this drive.  [James’ note: Marshall often talks about how Communist nations have practically idolized or promoted the idolization of Communist leaders, such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc.]  Recent mass suicides and murders by cults in Tokyo, Texas and Switzerland, are extreme examples of what happens when people set the wrong altar on Mount Tai.”

Page 45: “Sometime later my friend [who was involved in the occult] felt so depressed she decided to step in front of a car.  (I learned firsthand in Taiwan how common suicidal impulses are among those who do business with spirits.)  At that moment a stranger came up to her and told her, ‘Don’t kill yourself.  God loves you.’  She became a Christian.

“What do you do when you don’t believe in spirits, but at night your house shakes and invisible feet stomp across your hall?  On my first visit to China, friends I was traveling with met a young woman with this problem.  Atheist professors and Buddhist priests were unable to help her.  She’d become a nervous wreck and lost many pounds.  My friends prayed with her and both house and occupant found peace.”

Page 50: “Which should China choose; the Way of Loyalty, or the Way of Rebellion?  She needs both.  Not just two teachers who attract two different kinds of people.  [James’ note: Marshall’s referring to Confucius, who emphasized family loyalty, and Mao, who conducted a revolution that brought a mixed-bag of reforms and terror.]  She needs a sage who binds disparate strands of morality into a single thread and joins broken fragments of truth.  China is looking for a leader, humble and kind like Confucius and with his integrity.  She also needs a general who is bold enough to reach for Heaven: a man with fire in his soul.  Somebody who stands against oppressors and says, ‘Love the weak or face the wrath of God.’  The ancient realist Hsun Tzu wrote of human nature, ‘Crooked wood needs to undergo steaming and bending by the carpenter’s tools; then only is it straight.’  Two thousand years ago in Israel a carpenter opened shop—-not to work wood or stone, but human hearts.”

Although I have critiqued Marshall’s arguments, Marshall’s depiction of Jesus still attracts me.  Marshall presents Jesus as someone who was kind and compassionate, who healed others in a quiet and low-key manner and was a champion of the sick, the poor, and the marginalized.  And Marshall talks about how these features of Jesus inspired his followers throughout history to care for others and to bring about reforms.

But I’d have a hard time going back to conservative evangelicalism—-with its smug attitude, its judgmentalism, its obsession with doctrinal points that strike me as irrelevant to the human condition (i.e., whether water baptism is a requirement for salvation, Calvinism, etc.), its view that its simplistic narrative and “answers” adequately take into account the complexities of life (i.e., the nature of unbelief, the struggles of homosexuals, the existence of different religions, etc.), its exclusivist tendency to look down on people who behave or live their lives differently, its marriage to the Republican Party, its discouragement of learning different facts and points-of view (which is not true of all or even most conservative evangelicals, but I have noticed a tendency towards that within conservative evangelicalism), its belief in hell for all who do not believe exactly one way, its chest-thumping support for Israel, as if God takes sides in such a complex issue, and the list goes on.  I’m not just criticizing others here, mind you.  I’m also criticizing the way that I was back when I was more of a conservative evangelical.  And, although I dislike my current bitterness and realize that my present state is far from ideal, I do not want to go back to where I was.  Even if I’m attracted to Marshall’s depiction of Jesus, Christianity has so much baggage in my mind that I fear that my attraction to this compassionate Jesus would turn out to be a mere blip on my mind’s radar. 

I just gave you a list of problems I have had with conservative evangelicalism.  Now I’ll list areas in which my hopes in it have been disappointed.  Conservative Christianity emphasizes community, but I have a hard time fitting into groups.  Christianity says that Jesus changes people, but I find that I’m the same person—-shy and introverted.  I’ve gotten to the point where I feel that I have to deal with myself as I am, and to make the most out of that, rather than trusting in a god to make me something completely different and beating up on myself when that does not take place.

Do I long to worship someone?  In a sense, I do.  That’s why I have liked certain celebrities or politicians or characters in books, television, and movies.  I wouldn’t exactly say this means that all of human nature “yearns for God”, for there are plenty of people throughout the world who do not worship the God of the Bible, Judaism, and Christianity, either because they’re atheists, or they have a depersonalized depiction of God, or they equate God with the cosmos, etc.  But I believe that, for me personally, I need to look to a power greater than myself.  I’ve been told all of my life that the object of my adoration should be God, but, to be honest, I never really understood why that particular being should receive my admiration or adoration.  God seems at times to be too distant or abstract to me.  Threatening me with hell or punishment does not increase my adoration for God.  Perhaps I can focus on the compassion and humility of Jesus, but, to be honest, there are times when Jesus in the Gospels strikes me as an apocalyptic, my-way-or-the-highway, know-it-all, conditionally-loving psychopath.  It’s hard for me to “adore” God, per se.  But perhaps my faith needs to be destroyed for it to be reborn.  Maybe there is garbage in my previous depictions of God that needs to go, and I can then embrace God in a more positive, healthy way.

Marshall’s stories about spirits stood out to me because I have long admired Jesus’ authority over unclean spirits.  It makes me feel safe, especially when I watch a scary movie or hear stories about demons.  I desire security in this scary world.  But there are people in non-Christian contexts who believe in a higher power who subordinates demons, or spirits. Can I believe in the concept, without accepting the baggage of evangelical Christianity?

I’ll stop here.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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