definition: par•a•digm (pār'ə-dīm', -dĭm')

3. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this blog is four-fold:
to recognize that every person functions within a basic paradigm, which affects how all information is processed;
(2) to understand the paradigms of others;
(3) to discuss, in particular, paradigms which are related to science, religion, and philosophy.

(4) to reveal the paradigm shifts in my own life, a process that has completely changed the direction and purpose of my existence.

The purpose of this blog is NOT to convince anyone that their paradigms or beliefs are correct or incorrect. I am hoping for an honest dialog, but the discussions must remain respectful of others, even if there is profound disagreement. If any comments are not respectful, they will be removed.
(Revised 1/13/09)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Spirit, Soul, and Substance--One Theologian's Perspective

Although the Chinese, Christian theologian who is discussed in the following excerpt held many controversial opinions, his distinctions among spirit, soul, and body may resonate with many eastern philosophies, as well as mainstream biblical scholarship.
by Huelon Mountfort

Watchman Nee is considered one of the most important indigenous church leaders and thinkers in the history of Chinese Christianity. There are few leaders in the history of Chinese Christianity whose influence is as prevalent as Watchman Nee's....

Watchman Nee was born into a family with a Christian heritage. His grandfather, U Cheng Nee, was the one of the first ordained Chinese ministers of the Congregational missions in the Fukien Province of China. Nee was the third child of nine, but the first male child. Since Chinese tradition favors sons, relatives despised families with no male children. When Nee's mother was expecting the third child she prayed to God earnestly asking for a son and dedicated this third child to God similar to Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:1-20. God heard her prayer. On November 4, 1903, Nee Shu-Tsu (later known as Watchman Nee) was born. Nee later changed his name to "Duo Sheng" ("Watchman" in English) meaning, "sound of the gong," or a watchman to raise the people of God for service.

Throughout his youth, Nee attended schools founded by the Church Missionary Society in Fuzhow, China. And in all areas he showed extraordinary intellectual promise. When he was 18 years of age, Nee dedicated his life to Christ through the preaching of Miss Dora Yu, an ex-medical student, who forfeited a lucrative occupation and dedicated her life to the preaching of the word of Christ....

Nee and other students who had a common zeal for the spreading of the gospel among the young people in their town and local schools and colleges gathered in prayer and Bible study. They set up their own meetings and engaged in vigorous street evangelism. Between the years 1923-1928, Nee published the magazines Revival and Christian, as well as the book The Spiritual Man. Nee was instrumental in the spiritual revival among students at that time....

In 1928, Nee changed his name to Watchman and settled in Shanghai. During that time, he had a good measure of disdain for denominational churches of that day. In the magazine, Revival, he expressed that he believed the church was hindering the purpose of God. According to Nee, many ministries done "for the Lord," "in the name of God," "for the kingdom of God," "for the Church of Christ" were being done in the flesh. People are not seeking for God's will but the will of their own.... He saw that churches in China should be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating.... It was at this time Nee set up the first independent assembly at Hardoon Road in Shanghai. He was the main speaker at the first Shanghai conference of this new movement, which was later known as the "Little Flock." ...

On October 1, 1949, the People's Republic of China was established. Despite others' entreaties, Nee and his wife returned again to Shanghai from overseas. Nee wanted to be with his brothers and sisters in Christ. For the first two years of the Communist rule, Nee was still able to do ministry, bringing 3- 4,000 people every Sunday, in the Shanghai church. But on April 10, 1952, Nee was arrested. He was accused of espionage, counter-revolutionary activities, financial and even moral irregularities. The indictment running 2,296 pages against Nee was made public in January 1956. Many Little Flock believers were arrested and churches throughout the country were closed by force. The Shanghai assembly was eventually closed and made into a factory.

Nee was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment, however, he was not released in 1967, when his sentence was complete. It was common for prisoners who were considered 'unreformed' to be given an additional five to seven years of sentencing and on June 1, 1972, soon after he was moved from the Shanghai prison to a rural work camp, Watchman Nee died at age 69....

Nee was aware of ways in which the Christian missionary movement was compromised by its entanglement with Western imperialism and denominational controversies. He was also keenly aware of the inability of the church in general to satisfy the spiritual need of the people. Against such a background, Nee developed a wholly independent Chinese Christian movement by returning to a more simple, New Testament model of Christianity. Therefore, the movement was the combination of old biblical principles and the new ardent nationalism....

According to J.A. Lee[1], an expert in theological structure of Watchman Nee, Nee's theology is systematic, with all aspects, even his unique ecclesiology, centering on his anthropology.... Nee is a trichotomist. Throughout his writings, he has categorized man into three parts: body, soul and spirit. To Nee's understanding, the spirit has the highest value, the physical body has the lowest, while the soul is intermediary. From the aspect of redemption, Nee explains that these three parts (body, soul and spirit) have "functional relationships". Namely, the spirit controls the soul and the soul controls the body. Not only is there a functional relationship among the three, there is also a hierarchical relationship. The spirit is higher than the soul, the soul is higher than the body. From these relationships, Nee determines his doctrines of the Fall, regeneration and sanctification. According to Nee, God's original intention is for the spirit to control the body, through the soul. However, after the fall of Adam and Eve, this order is reversed. The Fall results in the body controlling man's soul, which in turn controls the spirit. Regeneration for Nee involves the spirit only, not the soul or the body, because "flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit" (John 3:6)....

According to Lee, Nee holds to ethicoreligious dualism. Nee polarized the kingdom of God and the world (cosmos). The world and God are in opposition, with the world controlled by Satan. Satan uses all activities, i.e., culture, business, and economy to lure Christians into his world system to be his slaves.... Thus, in Nee's teachings, Christians should separate from the world, cut off relations with the world. Even though the Christian is the light of the world, this only pertains to sharing the gospel and Christ to the world.... In his critique of Nee's cosmology, Lee asserts that Nee's position lacks the awareness of the Christian's cultural mandate to this world.... We need to remain in contact with our culture and at the same time use the truth of the Bible to enlighten, challenge, and transcend our culture. Lee points out that Nee’s "spiritual man" is not one who is only concerned with the growth of his spirit but also his body; the concern for the whole person. Whether one divides a man into a trichotomy or dichotomy, a man is not complete if he lacks any part of his mind, emotions and thoughts....

Nee's influence on the Chinese Churches is not limited to Asia. His theological influences are alive and well to this day. No doubt that Nee was truly a dedicated Christian leader who "wanted nothing for himself and everything for his Lord, who sought throughout all his life to be a spiritual man even unto death". Yet, just like any Christian leader, he was not perfect. We should be deeply inspired by his love and devotion for Christ, and at the same time be keenly aware of the aspects of his teachings that are extreme to the point of being erroneous.

As Nee’s nephew wrote:
Many spiritual leaders have failed and were weak. However, the Bible was always truthful without covering over the failures of these people whom God used. The failures of Abraham, Moses and Gideon were recorded in the Bible. God did not put these events for us to see how great and successful and worthy of our worship these people were, but to allow us to see His marvelous works manifested through a bunch of useless vessels to accomplish His good will. Likewise, my uncle had failures. Yet those things will not deny the truth of how God has used him mightily. He is among the lowly, he is incomplete, yet he was truly used by God mightily and he was a vessel filled with precious treasure[2].

[1] Jian An Lee, Theological Critique of the Contemporary Chinese Church-A Study of Watchman Nee's Theology (Reformed Institute, Washington D.C., 1998)
[2] Stephen C.T. Chan, My Uncle, Watchman Nee. Chinese edition. (HongKong: Golden Lampstand Publishing Society Ltd., 1999)

IIIM Magazine Online,Volume 4, Number 19, May 13 to May 20, 2002


FishHawk said...

One of my very best friends is absolutely enamored by Watchman Nee.

SoulandSubstance said...

He has written some very interesting books.