Book Review

The People of the Hour


The “Chinese” Way of Doing Things: Perspectives on American-Born Chinese and the Chinese Church in North America by Samuel Ling with Clarence Cheuk. China Horizon, 1999, 229 pp. ISBN 1-892-63202-0, paperback. Order from Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, PO Box 817, Phillipsburg, NJ 08865; Ph 800.631.0094; Fax 908.859.2390. Cost: $12.99 + S/H.

A review by John Peace

As Samuel Ling begins his book, he expresses his appreciation to Asian Americans who, over the past decade, have offered him critical suggestions for his writing. He states, “They have opened my eyes to the increasingly complex picture of the cultural milieu within which the twenty-first century Chinese church lives, moves and has her being.” In this volume Ling examines many of these complexities. His book is divided into five sections. In the first section, he introduces the reader to representatives of various Chinese groupings in America. In the second, he examines the “perplexities” of Chinese history and culture, overseas Chinese communities, American society and culture and Chinese Christian communities in North America. Section three deals with the present state of ethnic Chinese placing American Chinese in global perspective. He highlights some of the differences between overseas-born and Americanborn Chinese and offers a bicultural profile of Chinese church ministry. As he writes, Ling demonstrates that to some degree or another Chinese in North America are all influenced by both Chinese and Western culture. To reach the complex needs of a very diverse people as well as of individuals who themselves reflect differing degrees of cultural assimilation, Chinese churches must know whence they have come, must understand where they are and must make plans for where they want to go. In a word, the church must take to heart the attitudes and suggestions of this book that are subtle, broad-minded yet profound. Simplistic notions and simple solutions will not work.

As he moves into section four, with great boldness, Ling asks searching questions about our current ways of doing things, challenges both overseas-born Chinese (OBCs) and American-born Chinese (ABCs) to change and adapt to one another and offers practical, hard-hitting suggestions for bi-cultural ministry in the new century. He points “beyond the ‘Chinese’ way of doing things” with a fresh look at a “theology of culture” that calls for a “deep-level transformation of worldview” that will allow “us to make proper responses to the cultures in which we find ourselves and to witness effectively to the biblical faith.” He calls us to “be serious about all of God’s revelation—the whole counsel of God, nothing less—yet sensitive to the processes of intellectual and cultural change.”

One powerful chapter exhorts Chinese Christians to realize that they are “people of the hour” presented with “tremendous opportunity.” God is calling them to devote their energies to the vital task of “bridging racial and linguistic gaps” with a radical emptying of self, a renunciation of ethnic pride and a reliance on the Holy Spirit. “The bridge we are called to be is a bridge of servanthood.”

Ling’s fifth, concluding section, excellently summarizes his previous sections, identifies where people are at in their understanding of the issues, and gives suggestions for exploring Scripture’s truths.

Several attributes enhance the message of this work. Ling writes with clarity and precision. Each sentence contributes to the whole and his illustrations help establish the case; it is a densely packed book. He also writes with breadth providing us with historical, sociological, psychological, and theological descriptions of the North American Chinese church. His sound theological training and extensive experience in Chinese churches around the world provide depth and prevent him from making broad generalizations and drawing shallow conclusions.

Firmly grounded in the Word of God, he measures methods and worldviews by that infallible standard; he will not allow custom or culture to dictate the agenda. On the other hand, he poses challenging questions about the way we have “done” theology; perhaps we need to re-evaluate some of our long-held views. Nevertheless, Ling is no armchair theologian; he is also a pastor. His “Afterward” section presents the gospel and its liberating implications for each believer beautifully and powerfully. Read it for yourself, slowly, with tears of sorrow and then with the laughter of unquenchable joy.

An index and a bibliography (with references to T.K. Chuang’s Ripening Harvest and Mainland Chinese in America: An Emerging Kinship), as well as some tentative answers to Ling’s provocative questions in chapter twelve would have been helpful. Hopefully, a future edition will contain these. Despite his best intentions, I found a few references to such concepts as “linear thinking” and “Western, corporate-style leadership” that needed either more definition or a more Biblical treatment. Also, there is an occasional grammatical error.

Let us conclude with one of dozens of eloquent passages:

This is our vision: to let the earth hear God’s voice. This is our mandate: to preach the gospel among all peoples—our own Chinese kin, and all non-Chinese as well. This is our motive: not to perpetuate the Chinese culture, not to embrace Western culture wholesale for its own sake, but to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and be renewed by the transformation of our minds as to what is acceptable, what is good, what is the will of God in both Chinese and non-Chinese culture (Matthew 6:33; Romans 12:2).

The bottom line: Dr. Ling has given us a brilliant book. All who minister among Chinese, in North America or anywhere else in the world, should buy and read it carefully as soon as possible.

Image credit: Welcome to Chicago Chinatown by pulaw, on Flickr

John Peace

John Peace, Ph.D., is a pen name for a scholar who has worked among Chinese in Asia and America for 25 years. View Full Bio