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DAOISM __________________ A Paper Presented to Dr.

James Lee Williams The College at Southwestern


In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for IDE 2103


by Wes Terry December 6, 2007

DAOISM Vernon Ferguson is a passionate missionary who eagerly shares the gospel of Christ every chance he gets. During a mission trip to China, Vernon faced some difficulties when sharing with others about Jesus and the truths of the Bible. How can a Christian use the Daoist influence in China to share the Gospel? That is a dangerous question to ask. Christianity and Daoism are two distinct religions with irrefutable differences. Some would say that these differences exclude the possibility of interchangeable truths or interlaced ethics. However, when a Christian, conversant with philosophical Daoism, understands the Daoist teaching of aligning oneself with the Dao, he will be better able to communicate the Biblical concepts of sin, the solution to sin, and the hope of heaven. The following will not argue that Christianity and Daoism are similar to one another but that there are areas of unique sameness which can be used to communicate the absolute truths of the Bible and the salvation found in Christ. Daoism is not a Religion Before delving into the particulars of Daoism, a brief analysis of its history and content should be discussed. Daoism is often mistakenly understood as a religion. This is somewhat misleading because it does not share the attributes that most religions have in common. For example, in Daoism, there is no creator or judge to open and close the reality known as life. This is especially true of classical Daoism. Catherine Despeux explains classical Taoism (Daoism) with these words, classical Taoism never existed as a social entity nor as a coherent unit of ideas of values. 1 These misconceived notions 1 Catherine Despeux, "Taoism: the enduring tradition," Journal of Chinese Religions, no. 33 (2005): 178. 2

3 are most common in westerners who ignorantly dismiss the complexity of Daoism and instead simplify (or pick and choose certain parts of) Daoism so that it fits into their mold of an ideal religious system. The Daoism explained here will be more philosophical than it is vitalizing or religious. It is the opinion of this author that philosophical Daoism is the form that is most influential in Chinese culture today and is thus most significant to this discussion. Much of the content and nature of philosophical Daoism are derived from the Tao Te Ching. According to Jonathan Herman, when handling the Tao Te Ching, is it best that one situate appropriately and dissect responsibly the multifarious, sometimes chaotic particular discourses than to wed them prematurely into an alchemically conjured harmony.2 In other words, a person should read and interpret the texts of Daoism with attentiveness and sensibility; not with haste. This is even stated by well-known translator of the Tao Te Ching, Hua-Ching Ni. All cultural inspiration starts very simply, but after editing and reediting, the original simplicity is lost. It is the same once a great conception, philosophy or system of thought is turned into a religion, the original thought dies off.3 This author would argue that many in China (if not consciously then subconsciously) feel the same way. It is the original simplicity of Daoism that affects day to day life in China. It is the philosophical content of Daoism that molds Chinese behavior. So, in saying that, one must realize that Daoism, in and of itself, is not a religion. Admittedly, throughout the evolution of Daoism, it has taken on various skins Jonathan R. Herman, "Dao Unto Others," review of The Tao of the West: Western Transformations of Taoist Thought, by J.J. Clarke, Religious Studies Review 28, no. 4 (October 2002): 321. Hua-Ching Ni, trans., The Complete Works of Lao Tzu: Tao Teh Ching and Hua Hu Ching, by Lao Tzu (Santa Monica: Seven Star Communications, 1995), 4.
3 2

4 that look like religion; but it would be better defined as a philosophical system that addresses the ills of life through a unique form of passivity. The main goal of the Daoist is to become at one with nature without trying to manipulate ones condition. This is called wu-wei, and is often translated as actionless action.4 This system is difficult for the westerner to understand because it contradicts everything that most Americans hold essential for their social functionality. Despite that, if a western missionary wishes to use the Daoist influence on Chinese culture to communicate the Gospel, he must understand and appreciate philosophical Daoism and be conversant with its teachings. With that premise in place it is now appropriate to explain what it means for a Daoist to align himself with the Dao and what impact that has on his life and the society in which he lives. Alignment with the Dao Before one can understand what it means for a Daoist to align himself with the Dao he or she must know exactly what the Dao represents. How can one define the Dao? That question would be a pointless one to ask the Daoist because, in essence, the Dao is unknowable. The Dao can be best explained as the integral truth of the universe or The Way.5 The Dao is described in chapter one of the Tao Te Ching with these words, Tao, the subtle reality of the universe cannot be described. That which can be described in words is merely a conception of the mind. Although names and descriptions have been applied to it the subtle reality is beyond the description.6

Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press Academic, 1998), 287. Hua-Ching Ni, trans., The Complete Works of Lao Tzu: Tao Teh Ching and Hua Hu Ching, by Lao Tzu (Santa Monica: Seven Star Communications, 1995), 5.
6 5

Ibid., p. 7

5 That statement is just one of the many in the Tao Te Ching which describe the Dao as something that exceeds definable conclusions and logical constraints. In addition, with those being the first words of the Tao Te Ching, the initial reader should be altered to type of philosophical foundation on which Daoism is constructed: alignment with the Dao. Robert Ellwood describes the Dao quite beautifully by explaining the limitlessness of its character. Behind it all lay a vision of the Tao so great that it exceeded not only what reason and society could comprehend, but even the widest limits of imagination.7 Even though the Dao is unknowable there have been aims at describing it. These are the words of Dr. De Groot, a past professor of Sinology in the University of Berlin, Road or Way, that is to say, the Road or Way in which the Universe moves, its methods and its processes, its conduct and operation, the complex of phenomena regularly recurring in it, in short, the Order of the World, Nature, or Natural Order. As one can see, the Dao is an all pervasive fundamental reality. It can be experienced much more readily than it can be defined. With those words, it would be easy for one to think that the Dao was the creator of the universe. What does the Daoist believe about creation? Despite what one may think, the Dao, though it is the sustainer of everything, was not active in creation. Yin (the dark side of things) formed the earth and Yang (the light side of things) formed the heavens. The Dao nurtures all forms of life, empowers the workings of nature, and restores cosmic balance. The Dao harmonizes pairs of opposites in the world like light and darkness, love and hate, male and female.8

Robert S. Ellwood Jr, Heaven, Earth, and The Way: Religious Traditions of China, in Words of the World's Religions, (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc, 1977), 168.

H. Wayne House, Charts of World Religions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,

2006), 75.

6 This is a helpful illustration of what part the Dao played after creation and how it functions in the universe now, but leaves the Dao absent in the actual process of creation. As mentioned earlier, there is no way to label or define the Dao. It is beyond the limits of being just a creator. However, there are at least some areas in which the activity of the Dao can be seen manifested. The most obvious area of contact that a Christian can share with the Daoist is seen in the religious term sin. The Christian would define sin as rebellion against God. The Daosit, though not using the term sin, sees the source of all human problems flowing from man not acting in harmony with the Tao (Dao). The key difference is that Christian doctrine allows no room for the concepts of yin and yang. In Daoism, when one strives against the Dao, the equilibrium between the yin and yang are disrupted and thus cause turmoil and confusion. Further, if this imbalance is carried on long enough, it is possible for an entire society to be thrown into disarray.9 Christians believe that sin is the cause of suffering in this world. The sin of Adam has consequences for everyone on earth: past, present, and future.10 It is important to make the distinction between the Christian concept of sin and the Daoist concept of disrupting the equilibrium between the yin and yang. Sin, in the Christian sense, is rebellion against a holy and just Creator-Sustainer which has instituted that such action will result in death. Striving against the Dao and disrupting the equilibrium between yin and yang is an attack against the natural order of things in nature. With that distinction made, there are similarities between the two. The Chinese person, most assuredly influenced by Daoism, has in his mind a concept of sin. Instead of


Romans 5:12-14 illustrates this principle well. All sin entered the world through Adam and the death that sin brings with it was imparted to all. This is the common teaching of sin throughout Scripture.


7 rebellion against God, the Daoist sees sin as ones decision to be poorly aligned with the Dao and thus consequently upsets the natural order of the world. By taking that idea, a Christian missionary can explore the one thing that they both have in common: the realization of what effect sin (or disharmony) has on the world. This assumption allows for the possibility that Christianity and Daoism share truths in common and requires additional discourse over the limitations of such interlacing truths. Consider this quote from W.R. Matthews in his work Religion and Religions. It is no longer denied that gleams of revealed truth may be found in the higher religions and the aim of the more enlightened missionary is to show that in the gospel of Christ the partial truth enshrined in the ancestral faith finds its completion.11 Though many disagree with Matthews conclusions at the end of his work (this author included), it is still a statement worth consideration. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, has a very unique ability to embody the truth. Everything that is said, done, or represented in Christ is absolute truth. Jesus even makes this claim of himself.12 So, it would not be out of place to say that all truth is Gods truth.13 In saying this it is necessary to point out that one should not use this interpretation of truth as a license to become inclusive in their Soteriology. Doing so would cheapen the sacrifice of Christ and ignore Scriptures clear teaching that it is only though Jesus that men are saved and reconciled to God.14 However, this does open the possibility for bits 11 W.R. Matthews, "Religion and Religions," in Religion in the Modern World, (London: Unwin Brothers Limited, 1952), 64. John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (NIV) This excludes subjective truth or man's attempt to categorize truth into humanity's felt need at the moment. Only "absolute, objective, and Christ-centered" truth can be God's truth.
14 13 12

Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,

1999), 224.

8 and pieces of truth to be found between world religions: as far in as they are rooted in Jesus and consistent with Scripture. With those boundaries in place, how does a Christian missionary use the Daoist teaching of aligning oneself with the Dao as a means of communicating the problem and solution to sin in the world? This will be answered by borrowing the ideas of author Dean Halverson. The Daoist, in order to refrain from the consequences of imbalance in nature, relies on his ability to become aware of the way in which the Dao operates in the world and then align himself with it. Transformation comes from our (the Taoists) purposeful inactivity (wu-wei) and to go with the flow of the Tao15 Quite oppositely, the Christian relies on what God has accomplished on our behalf through Jesus Christ. Transformation comes as we repent of our sins, trust in the forgiving and reconciling work of Jesus Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to give us new life. The result for the Taoist is that he has order and harmony in society and peace within himself. The result for the Christian is much more significant. Upon the repentance of sins and the placing of ones trust in Christ alone, he will have peace with God, peace with himself, meaning in life, and society with be more ordered.16 Unlike the Daoist, the worldview of a Christ-follower presupposes the existence of a Creator and punishment for ones own spiritual depravity. The Augustinian definition of mans sinful condition states that, all persons possess an inherent,

Kent Kedl and Dean C. Halverson, "Taoism," in The Compact Guide to World Religions, ed. Dean C. Halverson (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), 224.



9 hereditary depravity, which involves both guilt and corruption. We are offensive to Gods holiness because of deliberate acts of transgression and the absence of right affections.17 Despite that difference, the Daoist does see the effect that sin has on the world. Further, that person is already striving to alleviate that effect of imbalance (sin) by aligning himself with the Dao. These two similarities are a great conversation starter for the missionary who is wishing to share the solution to sin, Jesus Christ, to an unbelieving Daoist. How exactly does one go about explaining that? Explaining the Gospel to a Daoist The first step has been established. One must understand that Daoism is not a religion in the same way that Christianity is. Step two is just as significant. A missionary must be conversant with philosophical Daoism to the point that he can see how it influences Chinese culture. Step three is to find themes in Daoism that parallel with Christianity. One example of that, as mentioned earlier, is the burden that both Christians and Daoists share in regard to the effects that sin has on the world. Using that point of reference, the missionary can then utilize the manifestation of that problem in the world to show that it is beyond human control and demands divine intervention. The Daoist will agree! In order to remain in harmony with nature, the Daoist is constantly striving to stay in alignment with the Dao. What is problematic for the Daoist is that he cannot call sin what it is because there are no absolutes in Daoism. This moral relativity is caused by two things. One is the teaching of yin and yang. This blurs morality by teaching that the absence of evil allows for good and that the absence of good allows for evil. Further, there is always a little bit of good in the bad and a little bit of bad in the good. Good and evil exist because they are H. Wayne House, "52. Theories on the Nature of Sin," in Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 90.

10 mutually dependant on one another. Two, the Dao is incapable of declaring good from evil because it cannot be limited to the point of making moral distinctions. The Dao is above everything.18 In Daoism sin is not sin: it is disharmony. The hardest thing for a Christian missionary to do is to help the Daoist understand that he is incapable of remedying the problem of sin through his own effort. Regardless how good he becomes at wu-wei or purposeful inactivity he will never meet the standards of what it means to live in harmony with the Dao. The Christian must explain to the Daoist that he needs a radical work of inner transformation and that transformation is the only solution to one being able to align himself with God (Dao).19 If one explains that well, the Daoist is faced with the same dilemma that the Christian is (and every other living creature in the world). Sin is a problem that cannot be solved without divine intervention. Further, the Dao, who was once impersonal and above the point of defining morality, could now be one that initiates judgment on disharmony (sin). The disharmony that was evident to the Daoist has been given a whole new level of significance. Even more troubling, once the Daoist has realized his own spiritual depravity, he is faced with the penalty that such disharmony (sin) brings. The Solution to Sin Now comes the glorious opportunity for the Christian to share with his Daoist friend the solution to sin in the world. This will be broken down into two levels: the solution to sin in ones own life (individual) and the solution to sin for the world and creation (community). The Daoist already has instilled in him the effect of disharmony in Dean C. Halverson, "Taoism," in The Compact Guide to World Religions, ed. Kent Kedl and Dean C. Halverson (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), 227.
19 18

Ibid., p. 228.

11 himself and likewise knows that such disharmony, when ignored, will bring disharmony to society (the world). Is it possible that the solution to sin is in himself? The Tao Te Ching acknowledges that reaching harmony is impossible. In this passage, becoming as water resembles well what it means to be aligned with the Dao. Everyone knows that the soft overcomes the hard, and the weak the strong, but no one is able to carry it out.20 So, even in Daoist literature, achieving harmony with the Dao cannot be achieved by anyone! However, just a few lines later, an assertion is made that could present the solution to sin in the person of Jesus Christ wonderfully. He who can take the trouble of the people of the world is qualified to rule the world. He who can tend to calamities for the sake of all beings is the right person to be the sovereign of the world.21 This paints a beautiful picture of the God-Man Jesus Christ. This would be a great chapter in the Tao Te Ching to show the sovereignty that Jesus deserves and has; both in this world and in Heaven. The Christian might point to Colossians 1:15-22 to explain how, in Christ, man is reconciled (aligned) to God and lives in peace (harmony) by the blood of the cross. This scripture will be given in its entirety to show how it addresses the previously discussed parts of Daoism. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the first born from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your Lao-Tse, Tao Teh Ching, trans. James Legge (Stepney: Axiom Publishers and Distributers, 2001), 122. Lao Tzu, The Complete Works of Lao Tzu: Tao Teh Ching and Hua Hu Ching, trans. Hua-Ching Ni (Santa Monica: Seven Star Communications, 1995), 99.
21 20

12 minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christs physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation Praise be to God the LORD OF HOSTS who has sent his son as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of the world and become the KING OF KINGS! This single passage addresses everything that philosophical Daoism aims to do in removing disharmony from life. In Daoism, the Dao (God) is unknowable and beyond human imagination. In this passage the image of the invisible God is made visible in Jesus. In Daoism there is no true creator. With this passage it is by Christ that all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, all things were created by him and for him. In Daoism, the Dao that nurtures all forms of life and harmonizes the opposites of the world. In this passage Christ is not only active in creation but it is in him that all things hold together. Most importantly, God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Herein lays the solution to sin not only for the individual but for all creation. The single stipulation is that this peace is only made possible through Jesus blood, shed on the cross. It is not made possible by the human effort of aligning oneself with the Dao. It is not made possible by virtue or harmony. It is only made possible though reconciliation to God by the blood of Christ. So, the Christian missionary can tell the good news of Jesus Christ in the context of philosophical Daoism. He must first understand, appreciate, and become conversant with the themes pertaining to Daoism. Secondly, he must use that knowledge to bridge

13 biblical concepts, namely sin and the consequences thereof, to the idea of that concept in the Daoist philosophical system. He must then expose that problem or concept for what it really is in the world. If it is sin, show sin for what it really is: separation from God and the cause of death. Lastly, he must offer the good news of salvation found in the person of Jesus Christ and show how in Him all is made complete. The creation is accounted for. Peace with God is made possible. Harmony is brought about by internal transformation and not effortless action. The struggles of sin in ones individual life are defeated by the blood of the cross and the hope of eternal life is given. The Daoist is given hope that someday the sin-stricken world he lives in will be renewed and that the powers of sin or disharmony will be defeated forever. The greatest thing is that none of this comes through human effort, achievement, or enlightenment. Rather, all is given as a gift by the grace of God and the blood of the cross. So, yes, the Christian missionary can communicate the Gospel of Christ using Daoist themes without sacrificing the truth of the Bible. All truth is God truth as long as it finds fulfillment in the embodiment of truth: Jesus Christ. So, maybe the Christian missionary who is unfamiliar with philosophical Daoism will find time to study it. Know it. Become conversant with its content. In doing so, he will be better equipped to share the Gospel of Jesus with all of those whose culture is so heavily influenced by it. A conversation about the Daoist pursuit to align himself with the Dao is an open door to share the good news of Jesus with intelligence, passion, and commitment to the truth.


BIBLIOGRAPHY Corduan, Winfried. Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press Academic, 1998. Despeux, Catherine. "Taoism: the enduring tradition." Journal of Chinese Religions, no. 33 (2005): 178-180. Ellwood, Robert S. Jr. Heaven, Earth, and The Way: Religious Traditions of China. In Words of the World's Religions. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc, 1977. Grudem, Wayne. Bible Doctrine. Edited by Jeff Purswell. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999. Halverson, Dean C. "Taoism." In The Compact Guide to World Religions, ed. Kent Kedl and Dean C. Halverson, 216-234. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996. Herman, Jonathan R. "Dao Unto Others." Review of The Tao of the West: Western Transformations of Taoist Thought, by J.J. Clarke. Religious Studies Review 28, no. 4 (October 2002): 319-321. House, H. Wayne. "52. Theories on the Nature of Sin." In Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. ________. Wayne. Charts of World Religions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. Kedl, Kent and Dean C. Halverson. "Taoism." In The Compact Guide to World Religions, ed. Dean C. Halverson, 216-234. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996. Matthews, W.R. "Religion and Religions." In Religion in the Modern World. London: Unwin Brothers Limited, 1952. Tse, Lao -. Tao Teh Ching. Translated by James Legge. Stepney: Axiom Publishers and Distributers, 2001. Tzu, Lao. The Complete Works of Lao Tzu: Tao Teh Ching and Hua Hu Ching. Translated by Hua-Ching Ni. Santa Monica: Seven Star Communications, 1995.