Botany or Flowers? the Challenges of Writing the History of the Indigenization of Christianity in China

By Tseng, Gloria S. | International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Botany or Flowers? the Challenges of Writing the History of the Indigenization of Christianity in China


Tseng, Gloria S., International Bulletin of Missionary Research


The impressive growth of Christianity in a rapidly modernizing China in the post-Mao decades has attracted much recent media attention. (1) A look at the development of the Chinese church in the past century of China's tumultuous history reveals an even more extraordinary record. (2) Yet the remarkable story of Christianity in China has been burdened by emotional baggage stemming from deep historical roots. An element of this baggage is the unfortunate association of Christianity with Western military power in the minds of many Chinese in the past one and a half centuries because the door to missionary activity was opened in the nineteenth century by various "unequal treaties" following the Opium War of 1839-42. Another is the current state of the Chinese church, divided between government-sanctioned Three-Self churches and "house churches," which are subject to government suppression. Both elements are important to the history of Christianity in modern China, but this essay will address only the latter. More specifically, this essay will address the challenges of writing an integrated history of the indigenization of Christianity in twentieth-century China given the current state of scholarship on the subject, and with a view to the divided state of the contemporary Chinese church.

The history of the indigenization of Christianity in China in the twentieth century has three currents: (1) the ecclesiastical development of the Church of Christ in China, which was the culmination of the church-union movement in China in the first decades of the twentieth century; (2) the emergence of Chinese Christian intellectuals associated with missionary colleges and universities, the best known of which was Yenching University; and (3) the emergence of independent preachers and their mass followings outside denominational missions. The first and the second developments shared a similar set of historical actors: representative figures such as Cheng Jingyi, T. C. Chao (Zhao Zichen), Liu Tingfang, Wu Leichuan, and Y. T. Wu (Wu Yaozong). The third development involved historical actors such as John Sung (Song Shangjie), Wang Mingdao, and Watchman Nee. The rise of these preachers took place somewhat later than the first two developments. Cheng Jingyi was one of the three Chinese delegates to attend the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, and in 1919 Chinese intellectuals at Yenching University formed the Peking Apologetic Group, later renamed Life Fellowship. Momentum for church union in China led to the formation of the National Christian Council of China in 1922. Hence, the individuals associated with the first two developments were already in positions of leadership and considered the spokesmen of the emerging indigenous Chinese church by the time Wang, Sung, and Nee entered the national scene. Wang began a congregation of his own in Beijing in 1925; Sung began preaching in his native Fujian Province in 1928 and first became known as a national revivalist in 1931; and Nee began to attract a small circle of followers in Nanjing in 1927, which developed into the Little Flock movement. This story is further complicated by the fact that a theological fault line ran between the third development and the first two. It became pronounced from the mid-1920s on and even shaped the responses of Chinese Christians to the Communist regime's policies after 1949.

The ecclesiastical, intellectual, and independent-preacher subplots of the indigenization story are told separately, often with conflicting assessments of the historical significance of the first two on the one hand, and the third on the other. This state of affairs brings to mind a sermon in 1931 by A. Wo Tozer entitled "The Love of God." (3) In this sermon Tozer gave a word of caution to his hearers concerning the subject on which he was preaching: that in analyzing the various aspects of God's love, one risks becoming a botanist who takes apart the petals of a flower, with the outcome of this endeavor being botany and no longer a flower! …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Botany or Flowers? the Challenges of Writing the History of the Indigenization of Christianity in China
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.