Chinese Public Theology: Generational Shifts and Confucian Imagination in Chinese Christianity

By Wickeri, Philip L. | Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

Chinese Public Theology: Generational Shifts and Confucian Imagination in Chinese Christianity


Wickeri, Philip L., Anglican Theological Review


Chinese Public Theology: Generational Shifts and Confucian Imagination in Chinese Christianity. By Alexander Chow. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. xii + 210 pp. $85.00 (hb).

Christian theology in China takes different forms. In the Protestant tradition, the theology taught in Chinese seminaries is largely evangelical, although ecumenical and Chinese contextual theology are also taught at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, the premier college for ministerial training in China. At Roman Catholic seminaries, students are required to take three years of philosophy before they begin their study of theology. They are taught by a faculty trained in the West but seeking to develop a Chinese theology. In the Chinese academic world, including university departments and social scientific academies, theological and religious studies more closely resemble their counterparts in Asia and the West. Chinese scholars have published a series of social scientific journals concerned with religion and important theological books over the last twenty-five years. In each case, the emphasis among theologians and academic scholars in recent years has been "Sinicization" (zhongguohua), so that Christianity can be better adapted to society, draw closer to the government program, and contribute to society.

Alexander Chow, Lecturer in Theology and World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, has now introduced Chinese "public theology" as a way of speaking of the growing public voice of Christianity in China. Public theology has become important in Europe and North America, in part reflecting the decreasing visibility of churches in the public square. Chows purpose is to import this concept and apply it to Christianity in China, drawing on resources from the Chinese tradition and recent academic discourse. In part I, he introduces what he terms "public theology" among theologians in state-sanctioned Protestantism, academic intellectuals, the so-called Cultural Christians, and urban intellectual Christians, especially those who have been dissident voices from house churches in major cities. He speaks convincingly of the generational shifts that have taken place in Chinese Christianity, from the older generation of Protestant church leaders such as Bishop K. H. Ting, Chen Zemin, and Wang Weifan, to a new generation of Christians and academics who came of age in the period of reform and openness (1978 onward). There is now an emerging third generation, he suggests. In part II, he explores possible developments in public theology drawing on a "Confucian imagination," largely unacknowledged among Christians and academics alike. Chows brief introductions to the various thinkers he discusses are quite useful and are supplemented by biographical briefs in an appendix. …

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