- Timothy Richard:Christian Attitudes towards Other Religions and Cultures1
In October 2006, when Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was paying a two-week visit to China, he made at one of his lectures in Nanjing the following remarks, saying:
China is emerging as a senior partner in the fellowship of nations; a country whose economy is changing so fast and whose profile in the world has become so recognisable and distinctive that we can't imagine a global future without the Chinese presence. . . (And he said to the students there) Yours is a society which will have messages to give to the rest of the world. . . 2
In November 2005, Lord Wilson, the Master of Peterhouse spoke as the Lady Margaret Preacher at the Commemoration of Benefactors Sunday at our University Church, the Great St. Mary's Church of Cambridge. He reminded us that what was happening in China today and in the years ahead would be very significant for the rest of the world. It is indeed a very appropriate time for us to spend three lectures on China Mission at our Seventh Henry Martyn Lecture in this year of 2007.
Robert Morrison (1782-1843) was the first Protestant missionary sent to China by the London Missionary Society in 1807. When Morrison decided to go to China, he could not go directly because at that time China was still adopting the closed door policy and the British East India Company dared not take Morrison to China, fearing that would upset the Chinese government. Morrison had to go to New York and took another boat from America to China. So, in the very beginning of the Protestant Missionary movement to China, the missionary had already known that it was not an easy job to evangelise in the Far East. [End Page 73]
A hundred years after Robert Morrison's arrival to China, Protestant missionaries held a Centenary conference in Shanghai in 1907. In the same year, Timothy Richard published his biographies and articles, sharing his experiences and his new vision on Christian mission.3 Now, another hundred years have passed by and it is definitely the most proper and significant time for us to do a similar work as Timothy Richard did and review the work of Christian missionaries from our experiences in the past 200 years. Prof. Andrew Walls once reminded us that the 'the missionary movement was a great learning experience for Western Christianity'.4 It could be a great challenge to review some basic assumptions about our Western theology and about our conception of Christian mission. Hence we have this series of lectures on three prophetic voices from China which are valuable for our rethinking of Christian mission today.
What Is A 'Prophet '?
People may ask the question, 'What constitutes a prophet'? In his book, The Shaping of Prophecy: Passion, Perception and Practicality, Adrian Hastings remarked that 'Prophecy is an old-fashioned, biblically grounded concept which is still valid today – provided it contains two essential elements. The first is a clear, rational and sophisticated understanding of the world . . . The second is fidelity to a tradition, a faith, a shared discourse through which one speaks; not a rigid, uncritical fidelity, but the acceptance of a language and culture of meaning and of value.'5
This may remind us of the words of Hubert Allen, the grandson of Roland Allen, who wrote a book on his grandfather describing him as a twenthieth-century prophet of Christian mission. Allen defines a prophet 'as a person who has the perspicacity to observe truths that are unfashionable, and the tactlessness to voice them. In this way the prophet greatly annoys whoever those people are that happen to be the contemporary 'pillars of the society': because the prophet makes them feel uncomfortable, and rather less confident of their own wisdom and their own worth.'6 Like the Old Testament prophets who were committed to what the Lord had commissioned them, and out of their personal experiences they could speak of their visions and express prophetic voices which were so distinctive of their time, yet could not be apprehended by the people of their time...