Rethinking the Theology of POWERS
in Communicating Christ
in the Animistic Context of Taiwan
TABLE OF CONTENTS ( MT 533 Theology of Religion Encounter)
A. WAR BEGINS IN WORLDVIEWS...............................................................................................................................7
B. FAITH AND CULTURE OF THE ANIMISTIC CONTEXT IN TAIWAN.............................................................................8
I was raised as Animism without knowing that myself used to be an Animist.
Until I enrolled in “ Theology of Religion Encounter “, and read about, discussed
and reflected on “Animism”, I did not recognize that I was born and reared in the
Animistic practices. This paper is the result of rethinking my own experiences of
faith, and integration with the thoughts from the reading, class lectures and
presentation. The thesis of this paper is that the development and application of a
theological approach of powers in the animistic context in Taiwan is urgent in this
Postmodern Era. There are five parts in this paper. Besides the first section of
introduction, second section I discuss the historical background from 1970s to the
present in terms of the attitude of Christianity towards Animism in Taiwan. In the
third part, the importance of the theology of Powers, and the issues of worldviews,
faith and culture of the Animistic Context in Taiwan have been highlighted.
Fourth section, Jesus’ ways toward Animism in Taiwan are presented. Then, I
conclude with missiological implication.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND (1970S—THE PRESENT)
As the biggest earthquake of the 20th Century shook Taiwan on September 21, 1999, the
churches in Taiwan were also shaken as to the reality of how to distinguish “faith” between
Christianity and Animism. After the earthquake, people asked for the healing on the devastated
site. But to whom were they asking? There were two private relief camps—one was formed by
the Animism group, one was by the Christians. After the churches put up the same sign as the
Animism group, -- “Chu-giung ”( 收驚 ) which means to “scare off fear”, then a line starting
to form at the Christian groups. Along with the relief distributing the Christian groups was
praying with those who came through the line, both the Animist and Christians. Apparently, the
need of knowing and claiming the promise of healing power from the Lord ( 2 Chr. 7:13-15 and
Mt. 11:28) in the deep-seated cultural Animism beliefs is the main issues for practicing
Christians in Taiwan. In order to serve God with holiness, one needs to experience the essential
roles of faith in and obedience to God in experiencing the healing power of Jesus both
individually and corporately in terms of transformation.
The 1999 earthquake shook both the land and the practicing Christians. Yet some thirty
years ago there was a remarkable silence on the part of Taiwanese Christians concerning folk
religion or so called Animism faith. However, yet today, the practices of Animism are the main
forces to unite “community” in most areas of Taiwan( Gates 1971:168). Ninety- eight percent of
all Taiwanese zealously venerate ancestors which is the great stumbling block hindering the
Taiwanese from coming to Christ. People live with an all-pervasive fear of ancestors, spirits,
magic, and witchcraft. Although the Christian message provides an ideology in which “ perfect
love drives out fear( 1 Jn. 4:18) Christ has triumphed over the principalities and powers which
undergird animistic systems and has put them to open shame( Co. 2:15). While animists fear
disharmony, which tears society apart, the Christian message shows how people can truly live in
harmony with both God and humanity. This harmony is not based on human beings manipulating
the divine as the Animists do; rather, the Christian learns to place life dependently in the hands of
the sovereign God, who is worshipped as Lord of lords and King of kings ( Van Rheenen
Most believers including myself have been taught to regard Animism as inferior and
superstitious. However, there is no discussion about the reasons to dismiss Animism.
Embarrassment and pride to discuss something inferior cause the Christians attitude to ignore
this basic and vital issue. This is the evident result of intellectualism, rationalism and post-
modernism of globalization. In a trend of increasing education and urbanization, animistic belief
in nature spirits has tended to decrease, while other types of animism have simultaneously tended
to increase. There are spirit possession and astrology, utilizing the ancient art of Feng-shui ( 风水
) or geomancy--a Chinese folk practice of involving the manipulation of furniture, screens,
water, and walls to protect and enhance the power. This Feng-shui assumes the right to lord it
over others and treat them as lesser beings by means of power, wealth, education and enforced
by principality to propagate domination. It is life pervasive from birth to death. Even the birth
date (Caesarians if necessary) to the cemetery plot are controlled by the Powers of Feng-shui.
However, knowledge without God brings arrogance ( 1 Sam. 2:3; Rom.21; 1 Co. 1:20). Riches
without God breeds unrighteousness ( 1 Ti. 6;9-10; Lk 16:11). Powers without God suffocates
injustice ( Lk 16:10; Pro. 28:8). The true knowledge of God ( Jer. 9:23-24) should shed the light
of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the minds and hearts of Animists in Taiwan.
As noted three decades had gone by in ignoring the issue. Therefore, a Christian
theology of powers with which to confront and dissect the spiritual dynamism represented by the
many animistic elements in the folk religion needs to develop and to be implemented. Efforts to
structure the Christian message in such a way as to bring about genuine power encounter is vital.
Until today, Animism has remained unbreached and unchallenged, resisting the Gospel.
THEOLOGY OF POWERS TOWARD A WORLD OF PARTNERSHIPAND
God is described as our Rock of Salvation who becomes jealous when other rocks are
worshipped ( Deu. 32:4, 15-18, 21, 31,39 ). However, most frequently God is understood in
animistic contexts as the all-power creator who is remote and withdrawn. So the Creator is
distant and unapproachable. God, who created the world and then left it to its own device, is
“ too exalted to be concerned with the affairs of humanity ” ( Burnett 1988, 360-370). Animists
would rather put their faith in magic, a formula, a ritual of ancestor worship, animal and blood
sacrifice and say, “Good luck” instead of “God bless you, Go in peace.” There is no belief in
God’s grace and mercy, with God’s great healing power. However, Animism does have a living
relationship with nature, with the environment, and in terms of their beliefs and practice “ was at
least a sincere attempt at being relevant within its environment.” was written by Dr. Allen
Tippett . The development of Animism “ . . . from the beginning the animists try to place
themselves in the right relationship to unseen power, to deprecate their hostility and to secure
their goodwill (Gates 1971: 14).
Like the ancient Gnostics, the people in Taiwan have a propounded concept of
“ Principalities and Powers” in their daily life. They view the “ created ” as a power
system and everything from the grand cosmic design down to humanity’s psychological
constitution serves its fearful purpose. As a result, three goals of life for the Taiwanese
are happiness, long-life and wealth. They see education not as self-formation or social
transformation, but as personnel-production. Religion is not the quest for transcendence,
but as a means for social control. Morality is not as the free exercise of a sensitive
conscience, but as obedience to laws that uphold the powerful. The God-image has been
corrupted by the human lust for powers, of which too few animists people in Taiwan
seem to be aware of ( Wink 1993:30).
Thus, the powers have been created in, through, and for the humanizing purposes
of God in Christ so they must be honored, criticized, resisted, and redeemed. There are
profound realities which must be confronted underneath and within the social, economic,
and political crisis the Taiwanese face today. The Powers are not “up there” in the sky,
but are rather outer and inner aspects of real entities in this one and only social-physical-
To define what is meant by “faith” is important. Otherwise this is confusion. According to
Van Engen, the definition of faith is:
. . . a personal (not individual ) covenantal relationship by grace
through faith that confesses with the mouth and lives out in
practice a commitment to God the Father in Jesus Christ by the
Holy Spirit in the midst of the Church. It is a personal response to
God's self-disclosure: "I will be your God and you will be my
People” ( Van Engene 2000:21).
In animism, faith is manipulating spiritual forces. Often, this version of faith comes into
Christian spiritual warfare. One must face the issues of sin and repentance. However, Animism
in Taiwan has the definition and understanding of sin and its corresponding beliefs of salvation
from sin as a “works”, fear, unconscious guilt and a legalistic performance. Rebellion against
Jesus focuses solely on the physical institution and its current incumbents, and the attempt to
displace them by an act of the superior force ( Wink 1992:111). The general revelation of
Animism serves only to condemn, not saving. The God of grace and mercy did not abandon the
sinner in the state of self-willed rebellion. God has broken into humanity’s sin-darkened
existence with a special supernatural revelation that holds out the offer of spiritual healing. By
this fresh revelatory initiative, God offers Himself to humanity, not only as a power to be
encountered, but as a Person, Jesus Christ, to be known in a fellowship of trust and commitment.
Taiwan is full of cultural and religious systems and structures whose original creation
purpose was intended to bring glory and honor to God through service to His people. They are all
subject to both the watchful care and the judgment of God. God reserves the right to work
through such systems and powers despite their fallenness. Non are wholly beyond His love and
non are exempt from judgment. Such “Powers” in Taiwan —in the world of business, trade,
communicatons, media, law, medicine, culture, arts, in the social world of marriage, friendship,
family and the personal world of physiacl health and skills, emotional and spiritual hungers and
expresssions—are all redeemable and examinable.
By acknowledging that the Powers are good, bad and salvageable, Christians are freed
from the temptation to demonize those who do evil. The result is nothing less than a new
worldview, one that will help to address the problems of the present and meet the challenges of
the future. Christians need to be as concerned with salvation to include justice as for the whole
person. To be fair and just and merciful, and to walk humbly with God is all He want from His
people ( Mic. 6: 8).
A. War Begins in Worldviews
To change a society like Taiwan that has abetted so much animistic energy,
and to reconceptualize theology so that it may serve as a tool for personal and social
one needs to form a new worldview. God’s creation has both an inner and an outer
reality. Individual attempt to live in the world the way they imagine it to be.
Perception and reality often differ. Infinite truth must come by revelation not just by
information. That is why prayer and revelation were fundamental to witness and
conversion. As the Apostle Paul said “If our Gospel is hid, it is hid to them that are
lost; whom the God of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest
the light of the glorious gospel of Christ who is the image of God should shine unto
them” ( 2 Co.4: 4). True conversion only begins in a radical change of mind and
attitude called “repentance.” We are not to be “conformed to this world” but
transformed by the “renewing of our mind”(Rom. 12:2).
Much of contemporary Christianity in Taiwan has been so culturally compromised for so
long that one cannot conceive of its recovering a fresh sense of its mission apart from a renewed
understanding of the powers. However, one sees the world around through the “lenses” each
wear, materialist, spiritualist, pantheist, and religionist. As the Apostle Paul wrote “ we see
through a mirror darkly ”( 1 Co.13: 12). Finite beings can easily be deceived. Even with “truth”
and correct logic. If one starts with a false premise with some of the right facts and with all the
right reasons, can still come to the wrong conclusion.
B. Faith and Culture of the Animistic Context in Taiwan
Culture is "the more or less integrated systems of ideas, feelings and values and their
associated patterns of behavior and products shared by a group of people who organize and
regulate what they think, feel and do" (Van Engen 2000:30). Thus to share the Gospel with the
Animists in Taiwan, one needs to understand the difference between worldviews and the
Gospel. Paul Hiebert in his Anthropological Insights for Missionaries wrote:
The gospel must be distinguished from all human cultures. It is
divine revelation, not human speculation. Since it belongs to no
one culture, it can be adequately expressed in all of them. The
failure to differentiate between the gospel and human cultures has
been one of the great weaknesses of modern Christian missions
To apply the Cross model to evangelize Animists, one need to come to them where they
are culturally, affirming it and then confronting it in its wholeness. But, faithfulness to the
Gospel has to be expressed with humility in an increasingly pluralistic world. Because God's
general revelation extends to all creation, there may well be traces of truth, beauty and goodness
in the animistic belief systems. But one has no warrant for regarding any of these as alternative
gospels or separate roads to salvation. Dialogue with Animism must be "courteous and kind," but
"not a substitution for proclamation." Meanwhile, the evangelization should aim to see the rise
of churches that are both deeply rooted in Christ and closely related to their culture. This means
appropriate cultural identification while guarding against equating the gospel with Taiwan’s
culture (class note).
In terms of evangelism theologically and missiologicaly, the Pluralists and Inclusivists do
not examine difference between faith and culture. Neither do fundamentalist exclusivists. Each
views culture as faith. There is a core relationship between faith and culture in so-called
renowned Western theologians both the inclusivists and exclusivists, such as Ernst Troeltson,
Paul Knitter, John Hick, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Karl Rahner. If culture is equated to faith, then
conversion to Jesus Christ for Animists in Taiwan, conversion too easily becomes conversion to
the particular version of Animism-Christianity (Van Engen 2000:22).
The negative effect of pluralistic universalism in the Mission effort may be diminished by
recognizing that the Gospel of Kingdom is culture-universal and faith-particular, as understood
through the biblical record of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Dr. John Hick’s
degrades the idea of “ outside the church there’s no salvation “by referring to it with terms such
as arrogant, cruel, entirely negative, ignorant, blinded by dark dogmatic spectacles, an attitude of
rejection” (Van Engen 1996:160).
A Christian approach to Animism should begin and end with Scripture. The affirmation
of Christian truth is based on the experience of Jesus Christ, and grounded on the revelation of
God as found in Scripture. God is the creator of all human beings, but it is only in Jesus Christ,
by the power of the Holy Spirit, through faith, that they are given the “power to become children
of God”( Jn 1:12). It is through God’s grace (Eph. 1:5-6). The invitation which Jesus Christ
extends for salvation in Him is extended to all people. If one takes seriously the Pauline culture-
universality in all its human, cultural, and relational dimensions, Mission efforts will be
revolutionary. All peoples, all tribes, all nations confessing in one common faith that “Jesus is
Lord’s will be brought together (Van Engen 1996: 162, 165; 168).
JESUS’ WAYS TOWARD ANIMISM IN TAIWAN
The essential contextualization of Christianity in the Animism context in Taiwan is Jesus’
way of affirming and fulfilling--“neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”( Jn. 8). God’s
love as expressed by the pluralist’s “common humanity” is to come to people both as a fellow
human being and as someone loved by God. And, since God loves both Christian and Animist
are comes to the animistic person in love. Christians are not to convert Animists, but to witness
to Jesus, and also to be changed themselves. I, personally would love for the animistic people in
Taiwan to come to Jesus, but that’s not my primary goal. Although I would like to see them know
the God Creator and Jesus personally, it should be on their own terms, in their own cultural way.
For example, a Christian might live among the Animists, learning their language, coming to see
from their worldview, building long term relationships which start with acceptance, grace and
listening. To “evangelized” with a film of what hell looks like if you don’t become a Christian
has just as much fear issues as the Animistic fear. God created everyone, including the animistic
people in Taiwan. Jesus loves them, and the Holy Spirit is working in their life, revealing things
to them in cultural ways. Since Mission is Jesus’ Mission, it is Kingdom Mission. Incarnational
Mission is “take on the struggles of the people because you love them,” affirm them ( class note).
The practicing Christians in Taiwan have tended to adopt an attitude of
passive disregard for the Animism beliefs. One is that the churches were pressured to
distinguish themselves from the religious practice of their social surroundings, both in
belief and worship. In addition, society affirmed that the Christians were regarded as
no longer a part of that community which derived its coherence from the folk
religion. As a former long time practicing Buddhist, James Stephens wrote in his
article --Where are the Gatekeepers? on the Fuller Semi. It is obvious today that
interest in religion is down, but interest in spirituality is soaring. Stephens asks these
questions: Is there an ethic without a spirit worshipping foundation? Who is our
society now listening to in this postmodern age? I affirm that the Taiwanese Animism
people are my neighbors, to whom God sent His son Jesus, to die for. I was one of
them, an Animist before becoming a believer. Many of them have not heard the truth
of the Gospel in a way that they can understand. To again quote from Stephens:
The war is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and
powers. Against the god of this world who has blinded the eyes of
humanity to the mysteries of the Gospel now revealed in Jesus
Christ, our God, Master and Savior. We need to know who our
neighbor is to pray with understanding and to fulfill the
commandment, 'Love your neighbor as your self.’ We need wisdom
as a Christian community to see the bigger picture. This is a long-
term issue. May God light our path, and may we be bold and wise
enough to follow Him (1999: Semi).
I am a Christian, because the power center, grace center, saving center is the Jesus Christ
who is the same yesterday, today and forever ( Heb. 3:8 ). One of my future callings is to focus
on “power evangelism.” On the New Year’s Eve of 1996, in a group Bible verse” God’s
Promise” drawing, I drew the verse Luke 10:19-- “I have given you authority to trample on
snake and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” I did
not understand this verse after studying this course is a reinforcement for me to apply the
principles of powers to approach my own people in Taiwan wherever the animism belief
permeate people’s minds and hearts. I believe that a balance between truth, allegiance, and
power encounter need to be made. To fight error and ignorance with knowledge is important. The
focus of one’s allegiance requires commitment and courage. My focus is on Jesus Christ as
revealed in Scripture. Therefore, to fight power with power in faith and obedience is vital, and
not to fight power with knowledge ( Kraft 2000:177 ). Being Jesus’ disciple, I will follow Jesus’
mandate: As the father sent Jesus, so Jesus send me ( Jn 20:21) to go with authority and power
( Lk. 9:1) to communicate, to heal ( Lk. 9:2) and to witness ( Ac. 1:8). Most importantly I want
to demonstrate the heart of Father, to use His power, love and compassion with cultural
understanding of worldview and the transformation needed.
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