Engaging Scholars of Christianity

Dear Praying Friends:

Over the past thirty years, and for the first time in Chinese history, God has placed a desire within thousands of Chinese scholars to know more about Christianity.

Though they come from a variety of academic disciplines, they have increasing opportunities to study Christianity as an academic field in itself, often in departments of philosophy, history, or even religion.

At the same time, more and more scholars in the West have begun to focus on Chinese Christianity as a specialty. Some of these are evangelical Christians, though many are not.

Global China Center

Recognizing these twin developments, Dr. Carol Lee Hamrin and I founded Global China Center in 2004. Like China Institute, GCC has two broad aims: To serve among the Chinese, and to mobilize and equip others for service.

Specifically, we seek to engage Chinese scholars of Christianity and Western scholars studying Chinese Christianity, including the missionary movement in China.

In both cases, we are in conversations both with evangelical Christians and with those who are skeptical of the truth of the Bible. We want to encourage the believers, who often feel lonely, and to bring a new perspective to non-believers.

Engaging Chinese Scholars

 “I’m doing a thesis on Gnosticism, and all I can find are sources that support Gnosticism and condemn the Church for suppressing it,” one young PhD student told me last year at a conference in Shanghai.

The scholar who co-sponsored the conference has asked me to write an article on the “sinicization of Christianity” for his journal, which is widely read. How can the Christian faith become truly Chinese without being unfaithful to Scripture? Competing answers to this question vie for dominance, and the outcome will greatly impact the Chinese church.

A very senior professor wrote me the other day asking for recommendations about evangelical missionaries for his students’ Master’s theses, saying, “All I know about are the liberal missionaries, many of whom became discouraged and even lost their faith. We need to know more about evangelical missionaries.”

A student doing a Master’s degree on Abbot Suger, pioneer of Gothic architecture, has requested help from me understanding the religious ideas which informed Suger. She knows hardly anything about Christianity.

The Challenges

As in the West, but even more so, the Chinese academy suffers from almost total ignorance of conservative, orthodox Christian thinkers, much less of those who are evangelical, especially American evangelicals.

They operate in a world dominated by skepticism, secularism, and European philosophical thought, and “liberal” Christian notions about the Bible and theology. At best, they know about a few mediating thinkers, like Barth, Moltmann, and Pannenberg. Without access to conservative evangelical scholarship, they can only reproduce the sterile traditions that have bankrupted Western culture and eviscerated the Western church.

The same goes for their understanding of the history of Christianity in China, as the scholar I quoted above acknowledged. They have been deprived of resources and a balanced and accurate understanding of the origin and growth of Protestant Christianity in China.

In response to this situation, we have tried to introduce them to some of the best of evangelical biblical scholarship and theology, as well as to a more accurate picture of the history of Christianity in China.

Through lectures, articles, book reviews, and books, I have sought to provide an introduction to great thinkers like Augustine, Carl F.H. Henry, and Lit-sen Chang, as well as to “rehabilitate” missionaries such as J. Hudson Taylor who had been unfairly criticized both in China and in the West. Others at GCC have recovered the lost or suppressed stories of Chinese Christians from the past.

Encouraging Scholars in the West

 GCC offers an organizational “home” to seven people who do research and teaching about Christianity in China. We are in touch with many others, in a number of informal networks. Our web sites and the Studies in Chinese Christianity series (published by Wipf & Stock under their Pickwick Publications imprint) provide outlets for their writing.

All of our associates have opportunities to converse with their counterparts in Asia and in the West. All have built relationships with people who want to know more about Christianity, especially the church in China, and all have published books and articles of high quality, with more in preparation, including two dissertations and an edited volume.

Your Part

Please ask God to guide us as we read, write, and participate in dialogue with Chinese and Western students of Christianity.

Visit our web sites: Global China Center and the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity (BDCC).

See the volumes in Studies in Chinese Christianity, published by Wipf and Stock.

Consider writing a book review or a story for the BDCC, or contributing your editorial help. Introduce us to original manuscripts or old classics worthy of reprinting.

Above all, ask God to bring light and life to millions of Chinese who are searching for him.

Your fellow student,

Wright