The Impact of My Theological Education: Suffering, Preaching the Word, Understanding Human Emotion

Editor’s note: This month, China Partnership is intentionally praying for theological education within the Chinese house church. This is a complex topic, as theological education often looks different within a Chinese context than the way Western Christians are accustomed to envision it. Many pastors cobble together an education by piecing one class after another; others attend traditional seminaries overseas; still others are largely untrained. A consistent emphasis is the Chinese church’s value of melding the growth of both the head and the heart, and integrating pastoral practice into Christian theological education.

We will be sharing from a variety of perspectives this month, hearing from pastors who have themselves been trained, and from leaders involved in shaping the future of this area. Today, we hear from a Chinese house church pastor, who shares his thoughts on how a formal theological education outside of China prepared him to serve his urban congregation. 

Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors thinking and writing about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.


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The biggest impact my theological education had on me as a pastor in China was discovering [minister and seminary professor] Richard Gaffin’s piece The Usefulness of the Cross and his interpretation of suffering. The type of suffering he describes is not just suffering for Christ, nor even suffering with Christ.  Suffering for or with Christ can easily become legalistic. Instead, we are suffering the suffering of Christ, suffering as Christ, and suffering in Christ. This concept comes from a very deep biblical structure and has had a great impact on me. When I say this I feel very ashamed, because I often forget this and feel very weak, but this is very important.

Another thing I got from my education that was really important is more or less normal: how to accurately preach the word of God. At the seminary I attended that that was a very important emphasis. They taught that faithful preaching must include at least two very important aspects. The first aspect, which was heavily emphasized, was preaching the whole counsel of God. Another aspect was that the pastor must be prophetic. This means when you preach you ought to be like the prophets in the Old Testament, proclaiming, “Thus says the LORD.” This deep commitment to God’s word and believing that God’s word is sufficient is very important to me. From a pastoral point of view, brothers and sisters live very painful lives from Monday to Sunday. If we don’t give them God’s word when they come on Sunday, it is very wrong. We need sound theology to interpret the Bible, to communicate the message of God rather than our own message. Otherwise—sometimes I joke, and it is really what I believe—we might as well just tell our brothers and sisters to go home and watch TV. Of course God has his means of grace throughout the entire worship service, but as a preacher I believe this point is very important.

The last very important thing [I received from my theological education was] the materials I learned from my counseling courses.

Understanding the complexity of reality is also crucial. The more confident one grows in God’s word, the more one can take a more humble posture toward many things, because God has a comprehensive understanding of everything and we don’t, especially when it involves all of our human emotions. This will have a great impact on evaluating our own repentance, sanctification, and sinfulness. 

I am grateful that I took many counseling courses in biblical counseling. Recently CCEF [Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation] came out with a new book called Saints, Sufferers, Sinners by Michael Emlet. He very clearly communicated this complexity and simplicity; ultimately, everything has to do with sin, and Jesus is the answer to all questions. But at the same time, as weak human beings, there is another level in our lives where there are many many things that can’t be explained, like our emotions. There is another book, Untangling Emotions by Alasdair Groves, which helps us understand our emotions. Emotions are our reaction to reality, whether we are conscious of it or not. In our lives, our emotions and our hearts are responding to hundreds and thousands of things around us simultaneously. Our emotions react to our physical situation and many other things. It is very complex. It is not as simple as whether someone has repented.

This also includes how we look at Christ and the balance between his transcendence [Christ is exalted and sovereign above creation] and immanence [God is present and with, or available to, his creation]. This is very important. Traditional, conservative churches emphasize the transcendental aspect; liberal churches will focus on his immanence. But the Bible says that is a false dichotomy. Christ has all the emotions, so when we preach the gospel we have to pay attention to these things. This is seen in passages like Hebrews 2 through 4, and is very crucial element for our apologetics because of our world today. Not only do we have to communicate accurate beliefs, we have to talk about how our beliefs are more interactive. You are being thoughtful and considerate.

We must balance the deity and humanity of Christ, not treating them as dry, impractical, doctrinal concerns. His deity and his humanity are an immensely powerful and personal reality that should drive our understanding of the gospel. Hebrews 2 and 4 are the most explicit presentations of the indispensable nature of Christ’s genuine humanity for salvation and the gospel. It is not merely that Christ assumed humanity so he could die for us as a legitimate method; but the experiential aspect of his humanity. More attention should be paid toward this experiential aspect of his humanity than merely the representational function of his humanity, even though that is super important. In fact, there is not a false dichotomy. The representational aspect of his humanity is meaningful in so far as he embodied the real perfect man that God intended us to be—including the experiential and emotional impact.

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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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Stories from Qingdao

About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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Stories from Chongqing

About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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Stories from Guangzhou

About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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