Contextualization of Christianity in China: An Evaluation in Modern Perspective

By Cao, Nanlai | The China Journal, January 2009 | Go to article overview
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Contextualization of Christianity in China: An Evaluation in Modern Perspective


Cao, Nanlai, The China Journal


Contextualization of Christianity in China: An Evaluation in Modern Perspective, edited by Peter Chen-main Wang. Sankt Augustin: Institut Monumenta Serica, 2007. 316 pp. euro40.00 (paperback).

This book provides a historical survey of the development of China's Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant) in the context of Sino-Western interaction. In contrast to recent scholarship that increasingly sees Christianity as a Chinese religion, this book holds the traditional view of Christianity as a foreign religion, and treats Christianity as part of Sino-Western relations.

The book seeks to engage with a particular theological issue, namely the contextualization of Christianity, in modern Chinese history. Editor Peter Chenmain Wang uses a theology dictionary definition for "contextualization" as "a dynamic process of the Church's reflection, in obethence to Christ and his mission in the world, on the interaction of the text as the word of God and the context as a specific human situation" (p. 7). By adopting this theological notion, he advocates that scholars should "pay attention to the interaction between the Gospel and the Chinese context, between missionaries and the Chinese converts, between mission strategies and the Chinese response" (p. 8). Although full of theological terms, the book focuses on contextualized and historicized understandings of Christianity and Christians. Most essays can be characterized as theologically informed historical studies of Christianity in China.

The contributors represent a variety of disciplines, including sinology, history, theology, religion, missiology, philosophy and political science. Most hold, explicitly or implicitly, a positive view of contextualization. Besides the editor's introduction, there are eleven chapters divided into four parts: "Early Mission", "Contextualization Efforts", "Individuals in the Light of Contextualization" and "Church and State Relations". The first two parts cover a range of mission-related issues, including Christian mission theology and mission philosophy, medical missions, Christian education and church music. With the exception of Jessie G. Lutz' s chapter on the sinification of the historiography of China's Christian colleges, these essays all portray and analyze contextualization mainly as a mission strategy, and view contextualized Christianity as a desired outcome of the evangelical process. The authors thus understand Christianity as the Gospel rather than as lived religious experience and practice.

Part 3 focuses on individual missionaries and Chinese pastors and their complicated impacts on the institutional development of the Church in China. The analyses of their stories are all situated in the socio-historical contexts in which they were embedded. The first two chapters in Part 4 examine the relationship between Catholicism and the imperial Chinese state and are perhaps the most innovative and provocative chapters in the volume. Robert Entenmann shows how Chinese Catholics in Sichuan supported the Qing state during the campaign against the White Lotus Rebellion, though the cooperative relationship between Chinese Catholics and the state was rather unstable, due to the state's suspicion of the religion.

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