Resources for Constructing a Truly Indigenous Chinese Theology: Reflections on Alexander Chow’s “Theosis, Sino-Theology, and the Second Chinese Enlightenment"

As I have tried to show in a long review (part 1, part 2) of this important book, Alexander Chow has posed some very important proposals for all who seek to construct an indigenous theology for Chinese Christians.

1.            We must consider the thinking of major Chinese Christians over the past one hundred years. Chow’s analysis of representative Chinese theologians demonstrates the need for us to read their works, and the writings of others like them, carefully, in order to learn from their attempts to communicate Christian truth in terms which speak to traditional Chinese culture and modern Chinese society. We are not the first to ponder these matters, and would do well to reflect upon what our spiritual elders have passed down to us.

At the same time, we should not ignore more recent Chinese theologians, such as Lit-sen Chang (Zhang Lisheng), and modern writers such as Daniel Wu (Wu Daozong), as well as many others, including Stephen Tong (Tang Congrong) and Samuel Ling (Lin Cixin). In particular, Lit-sen Chang (Zhang Lisheng), who was converted as a mature man deeply immersed in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism, and who wrote extensive volumes on systematic Theology and Apologetics, including contextual theology, deserves renewed study.

English readers may access Lit-sen Chang’s thought through Wise Man from the East: Lit-sen Chang (Zhang Lisheng): Critique of Indigenous Theology; Critique of Humanism, and Zen-Existentialism: The Spiritual Decline of the West.

2.            We cannot ignore the riches of Chinese philosophical and religious teachings. Some of them provide us with very helpful “points of contact” which we can use to make the gospel more intelligible. See my Reaching Chinese Worldwide for more on this.

3.            We should make ourselves aware of the Second Chinese Enlightenment and the Christian leaders who have been influenced by it. See Stacey Bieler and Samuel Ling, Chinese Intellectuals and the Gospel, for an introduction to this major development.

4.            We must think clearly about the theological tradition which we have inherited. More particularly, we need to be careful to present a complete Christian message, one that includes all the major biblical themes and their implications, including Creation, the Fall, Old Testament history, the life and teachings of Christ, the epistles, and the full range of biblical images for salvation. These include forgiveness of sins, justification, regeneration, adoption, the gift of the Spirit, progressive sanctification, incorporation into the Body of Christ, Christian ethics, the duty of being salt and light in society, our final hope – and more. Unless we are familiar with the best theologians of the West, we cannot avoid omitting important truths from our message.

5.            We must also be aware of other theological traditions, including that of Eastern Orthodoxy. Though we may not fully agree with them, we can certainly learn from their appreciation of beauty and worship; their sense of awe in the presence of God; their insistence that theology must be done in worship and for worship; their awareness that God has called his people into a journey that is meant to transform us progressively into the moral reflection of his glory.

6.            We should pray for younger Chinese theologians, like Jackson Wu and Alexander Chow, who are exploring new frontiers of understanding. Indigenous theology must be a major project for Christian leaders. The church has often failed at this point, because the temptation to take our cue from culture rather than the Bible is strong, but we must not give up the effort to proclaim Christ in terms that speak to the mind and heart of our Chinese hearers.

-G. Wright Doyle