If you’ve been paying attention to my little corner of this blog for a couple of years now, you may remember how well I love bookstore and library displays that present “If you liked __________, try these similar titles!”
I have a new Eerdword display for you today. If you liked Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner, try Confucius for Christians by Gregg Ten Elshof.
In Mudhouse Sabbath Lauren Winner, a convert from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity, reflects on the rich traditions and spiritual practices of Judaism and presents ways that they can be incorporated into Christianity. It’s a beautiful book that I learned a lot from and that added new dimensions to my own faith.
In Confucius for Christians: What an Ancient Chinese Worldview Can Teach Us about Life in Christ, Gregg Ten Elshof reflects on the teachings of Jesus and Confucius together. He takes a passage from the Confucian Analects and a passage from the Bible on the same topic — family, learning, ethics, etc. — and discusses how the wisdom present in both really fits together — better, usually, than the typical Western worldview fits with what Jesus had to say.
There are a few important differences between the two books, of course. Ten Elshof, unlike Winner, was raised in the Christian faith, and he reflects on the teachings of a deep and influential wisdom tradition rather than on the practices of a competing religion. But the principle that lies at the very heart of the two books is constant: Christianity could be enriched by wisdom from other traditions.
Take Ten Elshof’s chapter on the topic of learning for example. The Confucian Analects say “I will not open the door for a mind that is not already striving to understand, nor will I provide words to a tongue that is not already struggling to speak.”
Doesn’t that sound a lot like Jesus’ tendency to teach in parables?
In reflecting on what it means to love learning, as Confucius instructs, Ten Elshof says “The position of the learner is submissive and unknowing. To be a learner is to be a follower. To embrace learning to is embrace incompletion.”
Doesn’t that sound a lot like Jesus-following? Our knowledge now is necessarily incomplete, so we’re constantly learning and following Jesus, embracing our inherent shortcomings as humans.
I know it can be hard to accept wisdom from other traditions and figure out how to faithfully apply it to our own faith experiences. But Ten Elshof’s book is an excellent example of how to do it well. If you’re nervous about it, take his advice:
Read [the Analects of Confucius] not in order to point out all of the similarities and differences with traditional orthodox Christian thought. Read them as scientists of human flourishing. Read them in search of anything that might conduce to the human life well-lived. Remember that Jesus loves you. And he wants you to flourish. And he would have you to find ideas conducive to your flourishing wherever they are to be found. He won’t be threatened in the slightest if you find ideas conducive to your flourishing somewhere other than in his teachings or the teachings of his followers.
And, I would suggest, take Ten Elshof along to guide you through.
Mark your calendars for August 2015. Gregg Ten Elshof. Confucius for Christians.
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Laura Bardolph Hubers
About The Copywriter’s Notebook:
I’m Laura Bardolph Hubers, and I’m the resident copywriter at Eerdmans.
The books I’m excited about, at any given moment, are not the books anyone else is excited about. It’s not that my interests are completely divergent from everyone else’s — it’s just that, due to the nature of my job, I’m always looking at books that aren’t coming out any time soon.
The Copywriter’s Notebook is a place for me to post my notes on all the fantastic things that cross my desk, long before they get to yours.