Evangelicals are sometimes suspicious of Eastern philosophy, viewing it as a major worldview competitor to Christianity. Gregg Ten Elshof, professor of philosophy at Biola University, wants to push back against this mentality, at least when it comes to the most prominent Chinese philosopher in history. In Confucius for Christians: What an Ancient Chinese Worldview Can Teach Us about Life in Christ (Eerdmans), Ten Elshof examines how the Confucian tradition can shed new light on Christian theology and moral teachings. Derek Rishmawy, who pastors students and young adults in California, spoke with Ten Elshof about the book.
What kind of belief system is Confucianism? And why should Christians pay attention?
It’s a matter of some serious, academic controversy whether Confucianism is a religion, like Islam, or more of a philosophy, like Stoicism or Aristotelianism. Religion or not, it’s one of the great wisdom traditions on life’s big questions. It studies the road to flourishing in personal, interpersonal, and political contexts, and how to locate yourself in the world. Since it’s been deeply formative for much of human history, it warrants careful attention.
What distinguishes Confucius from Aristotle?
The similarities outstrip the differences. They were both interested in the formation of good people, but both opposed a codified list for right behavior. From the good person, good behavior will come naturally. Confucius, though, is clearer on the distinction between moral goodness and a “well-styled” life. Aristotle discusses various moral virtues, but Confucius envisions a life that attractively and fully expresses human capabilities, including moral virtues.1
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