- After Imperialism: Christian Identity in China and the Global Evangelical Movement by Richard R. Cook and David W. Pao, editors
The introduction to this volume says that “In May 2008 over a dozen evangelical scholars, Chinese and Western from the United States, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, came together to address issues of Christian and evangelical identity. The ‘Inter-Cultural Theological Conversation’ was entitled, ‘Beyond Our Past; Bible, Cultural Identity, and the Global Evangelical Movement’ ” (p. xi). The conference was jointly organized by the Evangel Seminary (Hong Kong) and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Illinois). Cosponsors were the China Evangelical Seminary and the Evangelical Free Church of China, largely of Taiwan and Hong Kong, respectively.
Of the twelve papers published, six were by Westerners, of which four are faculty members of the same institution, the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School [End Page 482] (hereafter, simply Trinity). Six were by Chinese, of which two are from the same Evangelical Seminary, while three are from different theological institutions, all in Hong Kong. It is the claim of these writers that something new has come to evangelicalism in recent decades: intellectual rigor with interdisciplinary studies and social and environmental concerns. Much credit goes to publications and organizations such as the Sojourners magazine, founded in 1971 by Jim Wallis, an evangelical Christian, and the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), established in 1993. Both entities have main offices in Washington, DC.
All the papers held firmly to an evangelical faith assumption that Jesus Christ is the only source for human salvation. A good example of Christian exclusivity is seen in Ka Lun Leung, of the Alliance Bible Seminary in Hong Kong, who insists that evangelicals have never accepted religious dialogue. “They maintain, rather, that Christianity aims to change both the society and the individual. Such change includes internal religious beliefs as well as external cultural behavior” (p. 30). Maureen W. Yeung of Evangel Seminary in Hong Kong makes the claim that the gospel of Jesus honors the Chinese tradition of the veneration of ancestors as an “in-Christ” activity. Such activity, however, should never be “idolatrous” or seen as “good works meriting salvation” (pp. 154–174). All the writers make good use of the social sciences and the work of scholars in the history of religion. One of the papers (Douglas A. Sweeny of Trinity) even uses such a term as “ecumenical,” which hitherto had been avoided by evangelicals who did not want to be associated with long-established ecumenical agencies, such as the national councils of churches, in different countries, or the World Council of Churches, in the global context. Evangelicalism today, as this book suggests, is also a global movement.
The papers seem to have drawn insights from the Protestant churches in China in their Christian identity in a postcolonial era, as stated in their aim to be thoroughly contextualized in the Chinese cultural milieu. The China Christian Council, organized in 1980, has emphasized not only China’s humiliation under Western and Japanese imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but also the particularity of the church in China to be Chinese and also its universality in being Christian. In an address to the staff of the World Council of Churches in Geneva in 1983, Bishop Ting said, “if we do not cherish our identity and selfhood [as Chinese], we will have nothing to give to the Church Universal.”1 Echoing Ting’s views, Sweeny suggests wishfully that “[p]erhaps Chinese evangelicals will lead the way in showing their brothers and sisters in God’s family how to contextualize the faith without domesticating it — how to render the faith their own without repeating the sins of the past and universalizing their social and cultural preferences” (p. 22). In this light, the papers seem to admit the guilt of cultural imperialism of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century missionaries, largely from Britain and the United States, who foisted their culture, along with the biblical gospel...