Fisherman in a Boat

Christianity in China

Article Review: Pan Chiu LAI, “Sino-Christian Theology as a Comprehensive Way of Christian Studies.”

P
an Chiu LAI, “Sino-Christian Theology as a Comprehensive Way of Christian Studies.” This helpful article appeared in the Spring, 2011, issue of the Institute of Sino–Christian Studies News. Very concisely, Professor Lai brings us up to date on the rapidly-changing status of Sino-Christian theology.

He begins by noting the variety of cultural, intellectual and religious backgrounds among its proponents. In contrast to the previous generation, today’s practitioners of Sino-Christian theology include a higher percentage who are “taking Christianity as their own religion” and becoming involved in church activities. That has led to “more healthy interactions or even cooperation” between the academy and Chinese churches than was the case ten or twenty years ago.

Secondly, some Mainland Chinese scholars of Christian studies now refer to themselves as “Christian scholars” rather than the “cultural Christians” of a previous generation. They have begun to question whether the methodologies of the human sciences are adequate to build a serious Sino-Christian theology, or whether the Christ event must take precedence.

Third, the field has moved from translating classics of Western (mostly liberal) theology to “the creative re-interpretation of western theologies and the articulation of innovative theological discourse with Chinese characteristics,” as several recent works on Karl Barth indicate.

Fourth, the scope of Sino-Christian theology has broadened, and now includes some very impressive Chinese biblical scholarship. (I would add that this process has been going on for a long time in Taiwan and Hong Kong.)

Fifth, mainland Chinese scholars have begun to shift from using the methods of human sciences to those of the social sciences, including sociology and anthropology, a turn that recognizes that “Christianity is no longer something belonging exclusively to western civilization [but] has become a cultural as well as social phenomenon… in contemporary China.”

Sixth, “Sino-Christian theology is moving towards a full-fledged study (or studies) of Christianity, rather than focusing on the theological aspect alone,” illustrated by the publication of a new bilingual journal in Taiwan, Sino-Christian Studies: An International Journal of Bible, Theology, and Philosophy.

The movement has thus become not only broader as to its subject matter, but the scope of participants in the discussion has expanded to include the entire globe. The prospects for Sino-Christian theology in China and in the world are bright, indeed.

Lai Pan-chiu is Professor, Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong and a member of the ESCS Academic Community. He is the author of Transmission and Transformation: Christian Theology and Cultural Traditions (HK: Chinese Christian Literature Council, 2006).

If any doubt remains about the accuracy of Dr. Lai’s thesis, one need only glance at the rest of this, or any other issue, of the fine journal in which his article appears. From its pages, we see that the Institute of Sino-Christian Studies, located on Tao Feng Shan in Hong Kong, sponsors a wide array of conferences, lectures, reports, and visiting scholars; it publishes both the journal and substantial scholarly tomes; sends its own scholars to universities in mainland China to engage in dialogue on Christianity and Chinese culture; and includes in every issue a representative list of “teaching and research activities of Christian studies in the university of Mainland China.” The Director, Dr. Daniel H. N. Yeung, contributes a stimulating article at the end of each number of the journal, which appears several times a year.

I highly recommend this publication, which may be ordered by writing to info@iscs.org.hk. The ISCS web site address is www.iscs.org.hk.

Other evidence for the breadth and depth of Sino-Christianity can be found in several major books published in recent years, including Christianity and Chinese Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), edited by Miikka Ruokanen and Paulos Huang; Sino-Christian Theology: A Theological qua Culture Movement in Contemporary China (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2010), edited by Pan-chiu Lai & Jason Lam; Reading Christian Scriptures in China (London: T. & T. Clark, 2008), edited by Chloe Starr; and Sino-Christian Studies in China (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2006), edited by YANG Huilin and Daniel H. N. YEUNG.

Dr. Starr’s book was reviewed earlier in these pages (reviewed here); look for reviews of some of the other volumes listed above in coming weeks and months.