When Daniel Meets Calvin

Dr Daniel Lee

Associate Professor of Theological Studies

Interviewed and written by Mimi Tang, MDiv 1996

 

Daniel with students

Daniel with his wife Kim and
daughter Veronica were in
Edinburgh early year

 

There is no roaring of lions, and we do not need to go to Geneva. Just being at CGST under the Lion’s Rock in Hong Kong, we can transcend time to encounter and have fellowship.

Daniel: Unearth the Buried Treasures out of Curiosity

Right after completing his doctoral studies at the end of 2004, Daniel (MDiv 1996) returned to Hong Kong and joined CGST to become faculty member. Those of us, classmates of Daniel back in those days during our divinity studies, who had received his generous help with Christian doctrines for our exams were not surprised with this at all. It turned out that he never thought of this himself. Daniel has always wanted to serve young people. He even chose students’ evangelical organisation for his practicum during his studies. However, packed summer camps and tight schedule made one feeling dazed, also made Daniel think hard as to whether that was where he should be.

In fact, Daniel had wondered more than one thing: “My curiosity can be quite intense indeed! I would want to get to the bottom of things whatever it may be.” The pastors and elders of his church had already sensed his burning quest for knowledge, and believed that this “curious youth” would go for further studies sooner or later, so they let him stay on with his pastoral work until he would one day leave for further studies. Daniel would never forget their understanding and fostering care.

During his four years as a pastor of his mother church, serving mainly college students and working youths, Daniel knew that he would only have a few years’ walk with them. In order to strengthen the foundation of their faith, Daniel decided to start discipleship training with them. “Very boldly, I studied the 16th century’s Heidelberg Catechism, 1563 with them.” Daniel could not stop talking about this confessional work. “It starts with two existential questions. So thought-provoking! The very first question is “What is your only comfort in life and in death”, followed by “How many things must you know that you may live and die in the blessedness of this comfort?” In order to answer these questions, not only are teachings like the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments discussed, but the Lord’s Prayer, the Holy Eucharist and other spiritual way of living are also explained. It shows us the very foundation of our faith, where we can find the strength and principles to face with challenges in our life. This is the real anchor of life!

Some participants of the discipleship training group appreciated the depth and richness of faith after reading the work and felt satisfied. “I received a strong confirmation at that instant: when faith and life integrates and supports each other, one will get a more solid hold on life rather than a fragmental existence. This experience affects the way that I teach the theological education by extension course “Principles of Systematic Theology” later. Although I can no doubt teach the Christian doctrines “systematically” one by one, I choose to use the “Apostles’ Creed” to teach the Trinitarian faith, and try to weave it into our lives. My church ministry experience reminds me that we have brothers and sisters struggling out there in the world every day. So whatever my thoughts are, they will have to connect to the bridge that lead to them out there, addressing their immediate concerns and whatever situations and challenges that they may be facing. If we cannot connect with them, all these will remain relics in an academic ghetto.”

It is saddened to see many ancient Christian literature, such priceless treasures are lost today in the process. Daniel understands that the historical distance as well as the use of unfamiliar theological terms will inevitably make believers feel exhausted and lost. “What is needed is translation work. Being teachers of theological studies, we are also teachers of the church. So we should do this translation work well for our brothers and sisters. ”

Recovering the lost treasures of our faith will inspire the later generations, regardless of the struggles and tangles or the success and failures in the process. “These two thousand years of church history will not be wasted! We are not starting from scratch, but are standing on the shoulders of many giants. Theology is the specific response of contemporary Christian congregations to the voice of Jesus Christ. It is a real struggle in flesh and blood, and also a painstaking reflection of how to put our faith into practice. If we do not learn from them, we open ourselves to the risk of repeating the same mistakes unnecessarily. On the other hand, if we have not made any serious effort to read, and reflect on what we read, but simply respond with an “I do not accept”, such non-acceptance is meaningless and superficial.” Perhaps it is for these reasons that Daniel chooses Calvin.

Calvin: Interpreting Theology with His Life

Daniel came from a denomination with Calvinist influence. While tracing roots, Daniel also wanted to untie a knot in his heart, “My church has reservation about the doctrine of double predestination. I really want to understand what was on his (Calvin’s) mind and what he was concerned about.” But when he probed into that historical setting, and listened attentively to the questions and concerns raised, Daniel was deeply moved.

‘Calvin took over from Luther’s interpretation of the gospel, that God enthusiastically implements salvation and is not a QC (Quality Controller) who would merely stay aloof on the sidelines and see how you will end up. So he strenuously defended “sola gratia”, responding to the question regarding “the merits of human works”. To him, salvation is of course to be received through faith, but if one mistakenly thinks that faith in itself has the saving power, he will be doomed. Our faith is so weak! When Peter denied Christ three times and his faith failed completely, didn’t he need grace all the more? Even though I still find that there may be problems in the way he dealt with the doctrine, I can truly feel his painstaking effort. He just bit the bullet and handled this issue, reached a decision theologically and then tried his best to present to believers the doctrine of grace so that they would not keep focusing on themselves, believing that their works could be meritorious. On the contrary, all that we possess in life come about because of the grace of God. Living in gratitude is the very mark of Christian life.’

What touches Daniel even more is how Calvin lived out his theology, “He was extradited from Geneva, but then the church leaders wanted him to go back to pick up the pieces. Although he was very reluctant, he said this in his reply to a friend, “I do not belong to myself. I offer my heart as an offering to God.” The Heidelberg Catechism that I mentioned earlier was written by another group of believers a year before Calvin’s death. You can see that in the historical setting at that time, Calvin and his contemporaries made similarly profound confessions of faith: there is something bigger than our life which is worth sacrificing for and living for. I honestly feel the inspiration coming through the historical hallway from the communion of saints. This is also exactly the voice that people from our generation should listen to, a generation who is desperately obsessed in self-autonomy and self-sufficiency, believing in “I am the lord of my own life and possess the inviolable sovereignty of choice”.

Restraints of time and space will not inhibit the commonality of friends: though we may be different, we are one in Christ. Daniel stresses repeatedly, “I believe in the communion of saints.”  This is belief as well as action, here and now.

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