Reflection and Words - Interview with Celine Yeung, Assistant Professor (Theological Studies)

 

Mimi Tang 

Development Liaison
MDiv 1996


 

Someone once said: “The end of physics is philosophy, and the end of philosophy is theology.” While it may not be true if these three levels of knowledge should be listed in such order, but the search for truth, the quest for authenticity are indeed connected. This path of truth-seeking has been engraved on Celine’s life journey.

Searching for answers in a space of autonomy

During Celine’s grade 11th study, she visited various overseas education fairs with her younger sister. While earnestly searching for a school of their choice, they finally found a high school in the UK that was not on the top of the ranking list but was endorsed by Hong Kong parents, where small-class teaching was implemented. The learning environment there broke the bonds of elitism, students were free to choose the subjects they were interested in, and teachers were given ample space to teach, ensuring that each student in the class had a thorough grasp of various subjects. For Celine, this was the kind of autonomy that she has always enjoyed and longed to preserve, whether at church or at home, “When I first wanted to go to the UK to study, I only wanted to break away from the educational culture here. I had no long-term plans. My parents have always given me a lot of space in terms of what path I want to take. And the fact that I grew up in a non-denominational church means there were very few burdens or restrictions of a presumed framework imposed on me.”

Having completed high school, Celine went into college and studied physics and philosophy. While science and arts seem to be polar opposites, Celine explained the reason for her choice with her usual calm demeanor that actually sounded reasonable, though a bit surprising: “I got good grades in physics in high school, so it’s safer to choose that! As for philosophy, many of my friends and classmates have always talked about faith. They would ask me questions that are hard to answer, such as ‘Why do people sin?’ or ‘Why is there suffering in the world?’ I really wanted to understand it from the perspective of atheism that questioned the existence of God.” The practice of writing two philosophical reflections and one physics assignment a week help her develop a clear and organized mind, and sharpen her writing skills. However, it was not until 2006 when she had the opportunity to study theology, especially when she came across Barth’s theology, she was enlightened, “I realized that philosophy was asking the wrong questions, and theology answered them all! Theology is a testimony to Christ’s willingness to suffer for us. The answers are not ours and cannot be answered by theory. I especially love Barth’s discourse on Christ, which is flesh and blood, where all doctrines are not abstract (theory), but His work, as a starting point to think about all the questions.”

That interest in theology grew more deeply. After completing the Master of Christian Studies with CGST, Celine became the researcher of the Center for Faith and Public Values for more than a year. She then went to the University of Aberdeen to further her studies, exploring the relationship between Barth’s views of church and state and the context of Hong Kong. Afterwards, she went to Princeton Theological Seminary in the US to study the Lord’s Supper in Reformed theology, a topic she did not understand and was not familiar with when she was studying in Aberdeen. Celine focused on studying the reformer Huldrych Zwingli’s (1484-1531) view of the Eucharist from the history of the Jewish Exodus, “The traditional understanding of the Eucharist mainly came from Augustine, who was thoroughly influenced by Plato’s thoughts. It was still profoundly ingrained in the church even during the period of the Reformation. Zwingli was the only one who tried to break away from this understanding. Although I don’t think he was able to get there yet, he reminded us to take a closer look at the occasion where Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist, which is the Jewish Passover. Therefore, what we have to do is to compare the words of Jesus with the words that the Lord spoke to the Israelites in the past, thus find the underlying meaning in Jesus’ words.”

Waiting for Surprises under Uncertainty

In those years when she was studying abroad, her hometown experienced two social movements that were profoundly engraved in history. Sitting in another side of the world, Celine could only follow the news, listen to the internet radio and watch live broadcast every day. She was so emotionally involved and disturbed by the images on the screen that it had become impossible for her to concentrate on her work, “But it made me realize why I really want to talk about the Eucharist! Traditional Chinese churches always feel that faith is spiritual and have nothing to do with politics, but God’s redemption of people and the liberation of Exodus were never just spiritual. Sometimes our understanding of the Exodus is too simple or abstract! To understand the Eucharist, we must return to the context of the Passover. The Passover itself was a political act, a plea from the oppressed and afflicted people of the Lord, and the Lord heard and had mercy on them. When Pharaoh refused to let His people go, He rose up and killed them, forcing Pharaoh and the Egyptians to let His people go. This incident was the actual redemption, the release and freedom of the slaves, and Jesus deliberately chose this scene.” Therefore, every time we take the Eucharist and take the bread and the cup, we are not only proclaiming to the world who is in power, but also who is saving and who is with those suffering, “When we talk about God with others, we often fall into the framework about whether He exists or not, as if proving His existence would solve all the problems. But how does the Lord define Himself? He is the one who shares in our suffering, who continues to reveal and testify in history that this is His name. In fact, does the gospel we preach carry such a message? If the God we portray sits up high in the heaven, so high that churches think that is the ideal situation, and likewise sit in the distant and high ground, with peace and comfort. Such perception of God is affecting how the church see herself, especially how she expresses faith in the public arena. Hence, when teaching public theology, I would like to walk with my students through the entire systematic theology, and reflect on how the church should examine herself.”

Coming into 2020, no one could escape the global pandemic against which we are still fighting. All of us have been pushed on an irreversible path that seems to have no end. Under various quarantine measures, the norm has been radically reversed. Physical gatherings have been forced to cease, bringing shocks and challenges to churches and both the paradigms of pastoral ministry and visions of the ministry. However, in Celine’s view, the pandemic has also forced the church to change, and it is not a bad thing, “Online worship allows other people to participate, and it is no longer just for the ‘insiders’. Even if physical worship service would resume in the future, churches must be aware that a large number of people may not come back, which is something pastors will need to deal with.” The world is changing rapidly, yet we can see from Celine a very strong inheritance. There is a sense of unchanging guidance in her life that called her back to where she grew up and to the school that she has been so familiar with since childhood, “Both places are my home, even if life seems more appealing over there, it is He who put me here, and I know my calling is here. I really like the saying ‘God is full of surprises’, which broke free from the rules and regulations of the medieval scholastic philosophy, and is very ‘Barthian’! God is beyond our expectations, and I am eager to find out what He has in store for us.”

 

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