In its journey toward a theology that is uniquely “Chinese” the Chinese church has at various times clashed with longstanding cultural and religious traditions, weathered and responded to severe domestic turmoil, and intersected with a range of theological influences from abroad.
Looking at just the past century, Watchman Nee emerges as a touchstone for the Chinese church and a respected theological voice outside China. Along with Nee, leaders in China’s other indigenous movements, many from a Pentecostal tradition, laid the foundation for a church that was distinct from the established denominations with Western missionary roots.
Allowed to flourish following the Cultural Revolution, this indigenous house church movement developed its own “pathway of the cross” theology, giving voice to its identity as a persecuted church that was quite separate from this world. Under the TSPM, meanwhile, a push for religion to serve socialism led Bishop Ding Guangxun in the 1990s to promote a theology of “justification through love.” Ding’s effort at theological reconstruction may have caught the imagination of some in the theological community overseas but was roundly rejected at home. In the years since, with the rise of civil society has come a new theological stream that seeks to position the church constructively within society, yet with a prophetic voice toward social and political institutions.
It is against this backdrop that we look afresh at various currents in the theological life of the church today. We are privileged to have as guest editor of this issue Li Jin, a scholar from China currently studying in the United States. Li and his wife, Ma Li, have brought together a fascinating collection of perspectives, most of them written by church leaders in China. Together these articles speak to the historical antecedents of the church’s theological journey while providing fresh insights into what may lie ahead. We also review two assessments from seasoned outside observers whose different theological orientations mirror some of the diversity found within the contemporary Chinese church.
With China’s rise come new challenges and opportunities for the church in China. As their theological journey continues, China’s Christians have much to share with the global church about what it means to be the people of God in rapidly changing times.
Image courtesy of Ink-ed # 2 by Nick Lo, on Flickr.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio