The Tao and The Sensus Divinitatis
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
Knowing constancy, the mind is open.
With an open mind, you will be openhearted.
Being openhearted, you will act royally.
Being royal, you will attain the divine.
Being divine, you will be at one with the Tao.
Being at one with the Tao is eternal.
And though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away.
Lao Tse, The Tao Te Ching (chapters 1 and 16 respectively)1
In Lao Tse’s work, The Tao Te Ching, sprang forth one of the greatest impacts on many eastern cultures. From this comes the philosophically developed conception of the Tao. (Note to the reader: “Tao” can also be spelled “Dao.”)
What is The Tao?
The Tao is meant to illustrate “The Way” (road, means). “In the Tao Te Ching, it is generally used to indicate, the unseen, underlying law of the universe from which all other principles and phenomena proceed.“2
The Chinese character for the Tao actually is a combination of the words “go forward” and “head”. “The idea is that your head chooses to a path to go forward on. For this reason it is used a lot Asian philosophy to denote the path or way to clarity.“2 In summation, the Tao is the force that moves through all. It simply is. The Tao, as a fundamental aspect in Asian philosophy, gives rise to many other ideas in Asian philosophy including the Yin-Yang (which are opposite forces to be in balance; masculine/feminine, light/dark, active/rest, etc and the Yin-Yang serves as their basis for a definition of dualism) and the five natural elements that give rise to natural phenomena known as the Wuxing (wood, fire, earth, metal, water).3
The Tao also supersedes the Taijii: “[i]n contemporary terms, the Taiji is the infinite, essential, and fundamental principle of evolutionary change that actualizes all potential states of being through the self-organizing integration of complementary existential polarities. More simply, it is the co-substantial union of yin and yang the two opposing qualities of all things.“4
“In describing Tao, the following analogy has been used: Imagine a person walking on a road. A bamboo pole is carried, resting on the person’s shoulder. On the end of the pole two buckets are suspended. The buckets are likened to yin and yang. The pole is Taiji, the entity integrating the two. The road is Tao.“5
The Tao, although it has become an important philosophical element in the whole of Asian (particularly Chinese) societies, found it’s root in Taoism (although also mentioned in the writings of Confucius). I loved Taoism (and still do), because of the simplicity of their philosophy. Basically they say: “Drop everything, go into nature, and find the Tao.” (I’ll ask for time off work to do this!)
Reformed Epistemology and The Sensus Divinitatis
To effectively reach these cultures, I propose that they be reached with a form of apologetics known as Reformed Epistemology. This look at apologetics stresses that without evidence, something can be rational to believe. We don’t need to stress upon evidence to reach this culture but just to appeal to who they are at the foundation. John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, talked about the “sensus divinitatis” or the inner sense of the divine.
“That there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service.“
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book 1 Chapter 3)6
I have always used, as the greatest proof for the existence of God, the appeal to the “sensus divinitatis.” Before I go on, let me not sound inconsistent in my theology. I do believe that man hath wholly lost the ability to seek, desire, and understand God (Ezekiel 16:6, John 8:47, Romans 3:10–12); but I do think that, even though being fooled, the natural man can have a sense of the divine (just ask any new-ager). I always pose the question, “name for me 1 person in all of human history that has not pondered and decided on the existence of God, and on top of that, please clarify what the greatest question in all of philosophy is?” Now, these are by nature rhetorical questions, but it is said to serve a point. We all wonder about God, but not all find Him (Matthew 7:14).
In fact, Jesus Himself affirms that some—who are never saved—think that they know God (Matthew 7:21). What does all of this have to do with Tao and reaching Asian cultures with the gospel?
It is important to understand where someone is culturally to effectively reach them through apologetics (please note I am not implying the gospel by itself is not sufficient). Eastern cultures, with pantheistic religions such as Buddhism and Taoism feel very strongly on the “force” of God. Now, the pantheistic god is an impersonal “force” that is in all at all times; that is to say, he is as much in you and I as he is in a table. Even though you’ll find an abundance of atheists (to which Buddhism and Taoism are by large measure atheistic religions in that they don’t worship God or a god), reaching them through the “sensus divinitatis” can prove to be very effective.
Reaching Through The Sensus Divinitatis
As quoted above from the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tse writes: “Being divine, you will be at one with the Tao.” This excerpt runs as a causal chain such as in Romans 8:28–30. Lao Tse iterates a system that is based upon human merit that we transform from constancy to an open mind to royalty to divinity to knowing the Tao. The goal of this is to “…be at one with the Tao.”
It is important to notice that just your knowledge of the Tao and your desire to reach them through their cultural “lens” will do wonders for opening up honest communication. I’ve had a few positive experiences when a Chinese person attempts to try and explain the Tao, until I explain I already know what it is, and they get very excited on your consideration of their ideas. It’s been my greatest asset in reaching the lost from different cultures (behind God’s providence of course).
Talk to them about divinity. What is it? Who is divine? Lao Tse says anyone can be divine; here the Hypostatic Union (the doctrine that Jesus was both 100% man and 100% God simultaneously) and incarnation are great ways to interlude into the topic of divinity. Using examples of piety and respect of elders, others, and God are also great ways to relate to them (I think it’s safe to say the Bible speaks about that a little bit). This is important due to the emphasis that is placed on those ideas in Asian cultures. Share with Christ with them as the ultimate manifestation of piety and understanding. Many of these cultures which stem from a philosophical foundation of ideas such as the Tao are looking for this ‘force.’ Say, ‘hey, I know who the ‘Tao’ is; I know who ‘The Way’ is; I know who will help you balance everything, and He is not an impersonal force!’
Do all this while keeping in mind this universal human inclination and desire to know where this thought of a Creator came to them from (sensus divinitatis). This method is not to be used exclusively for Eastern individuals; I use it every time I evangelize whether they are Chinese, European, or American!
Although there is some consensus in the faith that to share Christianity we need not to understand the cultural conditions, philosophies, and ideologies surrounding that an individual lives in (which is most often iterated by a white American); but the knowledge you attain of another viewpoint will bring you much satisfaction in realizing the majesty of your salvation in Christ. As you study people worshipping statues, the ground, 3 million gods, and the like—the true realization and appreciation of the grace of God will continue to manifest itself for you.
Most importantly, no matter how you choose to evangelize, be sure to continually remain in reverence and respect that only God can change their minds (Ezekiel 11:19). And remember that even if no one were ever to be saved, God would be glorified all the same.
For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.
1 Peter 4:6