Dear Praying Friends:
A Waste of Time?
You might think it strange that I should consider “research” a means of reaching Chinese with the Gospel.
After all, aren’t we supposed to be sharing the Good News with everyone we meet, day and night, in season and out of season, spreading the Word as widely as possible? Of course.
Why should we spend precious time reading books and articles about Chinese culture, society, and church life, including Chinese church history? The Bible is clear enough, and relevant to all people everywhere; what need do we have to divert energy to apparently non-productive activities like research and writing?
Well, let me ask a few questions:
What if companies like Apple and Microsoft had no research and development divisions? How long would they continue to hold and expand their share of the market?
Why do the U.S., China, Russia and other great powers spend so much money on intelligence?
What experience lies behind the carpenter’s dictum: “Measure twice, cut once”?
Why do you think the Bible contains this statement: “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13)?
The Need for Research
In fact, several hard facts point to the need for solid, sustained study of Chinese history, culture, and society, including Chinese Christianity. Here are a few:
China possesses a long history, a rich culture, and a highly-sophisticated civilization, one of which the Chinese are justly proud. What message do we send if we barge in, without any serious study, and push “our” views upon them?
Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and popular Chinese religion have staged a colossal comeback in recent years, posing not only powerful rivals to Christianity but also influencing the way people hear and respond to the Gospel. Ignorance of these faiths represents folly and almost guarantees failure.
Chinese intellectuals have imbibed a variety of philosophies and world views, especially in the past three decades. Unless we are aware of what they think, we shall not only have little credibility with them, but also be in danger of completely missing the mark in evangelism.
Chinese churches, and those who lead them, are products of their culture and society. Without an awareness of Chinese cultural assumptions and pressures, our efforts to teach and build Christians will be shallow, at best.
Absent serious study, we won’t understand why so many Chinese respond so quickly to the gospel, or why so many leave the church almost as rapidly as they enter it.
Chinese families are falling apart. Some reasons for this match the same crisis in the West, but others are distinctly Chinese. Wise counseling will take these factors into consideration.
Chinese young people may wear Nike shoes and depend on the iPad to communicate, but they are not only buffeted by various waves of Western popular culture but also deeply impacted by their own heritage. How can we reach them if we don’t understand them?
Chinese Christians are eager to serve God, but largely ignorant of the marvelous history of believers and missionaries whose lives shaped today’s Chinese church. We can help them by sharing with thrilling stories of Christians on whose shoulders they stand.
At the very least, by studying the history of Christianity in China, we can perhaps avoid repeating errors made by well-intentioned folks who nevertheless caused unnecessary damage.
Almost all members of our team expend considerable effort reading books and articles about China’s multifaceted history and culture. We attend conferences to learn from people on the front lines of both ministry and scholarship, and try to build relationships with Chinese from whom we can learn, and whom we hope to encourage.
This sort of work is not as glamorous or “sexy” as underground evangelism and leadership training, of course, but we leave it to you to decide whether it is a waste of time.
Indeed, responses to our writings and lectures, both from Chinese and from Western Christians working among them, confirm our conviction that the labor of study and of sharing our findings with others possesses real value. (See www.chinainst.org; www.globalchinacenter.org; www.bdcconline.net, as well as Studies in Christianity, published by Wipf & Stock).
When a young faculty member of a university in China where I was to give a lecture met us at the gate, he said, “I read your GCC web site regularly, and encourage others to do so also.” We have even heard of conversions resulting from reading the Chinese edition of Salt & Light: Lives of Faith that Shaped Modern China.
Please pray for us as we read, write, speak, and build friendships, to the glory of God.
Your fellow-worker in the Vineyard,