Book Review

Where East Meets West


One World: Two Minds, Eastern and Western Outlooks in a Changing World by Denis Lane, OMF International-Canada, 5759 Coopers Avenue, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L4Z 1R9, 64pp. (paperback), ISBN 981-3009-71-1.  Phone: 905568-9971. U.S. $3.75 and Canadian $4.50 plus postage.

Reviewed by Wright Doyle

The value of brand names is that they elicit confidence.  I trust that a car made by Toyota will perform well, if properly maintained. The same goes for authors:  any book by Denis Lane will be worth reading.  I met Mr. Lane years ago when I was a new worker with OMF.  Since then, I have heard him speak many times and have profited from his writings.  I also know him as a man of intelligence, hard work and integrity.

Thus, I am not surprised to find this little book (only 64 pages) packed with information and valuable insights.  At a time when Chinese and Americans struggle to understand and respect each other, this book (first published in 1995) could hardly be more timely. One World: Two Minds takes its place next to Lin Yu Tang’s My Country, My People and Boyd’s Beyond the Chinese Face in the list of significant aids to understanding these two vastly differing cultures.

Mr. Lane first outlines basic backgrounds and viewpoints characteristic of East and West, then shows the effect of our background upon our thinking.

In doing so, he has to make generalizations.  Actually, I was amazed to see how few of his “stereotypes” missed the mark.  He adds qualifications to avoid overstating his case.  When he details the effects of Eastern and Western ways of thought upon such matters as politics and religion, for example, he takes care to mention the immense changes taking place in Asia.  After showing how Asians tend to respect and follow persons in authority, he notes the effect of Western democratic and individualistic ideas upon such a modern society as Singapore.

Like most observers, he finds the West to be focused on the individual, the East on the group.  Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” putting himself at the center of reality.   Western man sees himself distinct from the rest of reality, which he then divides up into different components, each of which he proceeds to analyze.  In recent times, however, the West has lost confidence in its ability to find a true explanation for the world and has even denied the validity of knowledge of anything not measurable by the senses. The West has fragmented into a collection of individuals each seeking to fulfill himself in isolation from others.

Confucius, whom Lane sees as typical of the East, sees man as part of the larger whole, including human society. Fulfillment comes from finding harmony within this greater reality.  Instead of logically dissecting the world, the Asian seeks to find his place in it.

Our different backgrounds affect our thinking.  In the West, we exalt logic in making decisions and seek to reduce all thought to the scientific method.  In practice we fail, of course, but this is our ideal.  The East will seek a more holistic way of arriving at a conclusion, including prolonged discussion with others in a search for consensus.  All of a sudden, “a conclusion appears as if by magic.”  That is because the Asian participants have been using their whole being to review the whole situation, not just the particular point at issue.  The whole situation includes “all people present at the discussion.  Those people are not simply individuals, but people to relate to.”  Lane shows how this focus on relationships produces a vastly different, but no less valid, method of coming to a decision.

Lane notes that Western women might be more comfortable with the process than Western men, a point Lin Yu Tang anticipated when he called China a “feminine” culture.

In Parts Two and Three (the heart of the book) he succinctly addresses differences in political outlook, educational method, viewing history, making decisions, feeling secure, and major aspects of religious outlook.  For each topic, he first presents the Western, then the Asian view, followed by a “When East Meets West” section.  Finally, he compares and contrasts Western and Asian worldviews with Christianity.  By doing so, Lane refuses to identify either West or East as correct; he measures both against the trans-cultural truth of the Bible.

Lane’s brief expositions of the Christian position at the close of each section end up covering most of the basic articles of Christian faith in a highly practical manner.  These analyses alone are worth the price of the book and lift the debate about contextualization to a higher plane.  Going beyond platitudes, Lane outlines principles that should inform any future consideration of such controversial topics as ancestor worship, evangelistic techniques (he raises probing questions about the invitation system), democracy and dogma.

While the entire book deserves careful reading, some passages rise to brilliance.  We all know that Asians tend to focus on the group and Westerners the individual; how many of us have found a synthesis in the doctrine of the Trinity?  God is both three unique Persons and a perfectly harmonious community.  We would do well to imitate Him and value both society and its component units.

I have only one small criticism.  Although Lane does not say so, a careless reader might infer that Asians and Westerners have two totally different and equally valid ways of thinking and reasoning.  But Carl Henry, in his massive God, Revelation, & Authority, has demonstrated that there is only one common logic, used by all of us regardless of culture.  We may place more or less emphasis upon relationships or symbols, but we all think the same way. Likewise, the once-popular dichotomy between so-called Hebrew and Greek thought in the Old and New Testaments has been shown to be overdrawn.  Both Testaments and both languages employ the same kind of “linear” reasoning and both include poetic devices.

While this little volume needs to be supplemented with longer works on history, culture, religion, and psychology of both East and West so that Lane’s necessary over-simplification can be balanced by more “exceptions,” the book should be read by anyone seeking to bridge the gap between East and West.  Let me put it this way: I began working with Chinese in 1975 and have tried to read a bit about Chinese culture, but I plan to read this book again.

G. Wright Doyle

G. Wright Doyle

G. Wright Doyle is the director of China Institute (www.reachingchineseworldwide.org) and Global China Center (www.globalchinacenter.org), the editor of Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity (www.bdcconline.net), and co-editor of Studies in Chinese Christianity, published by Wipf and Stock. For more on effective ministry among Chinese, see Reaching Chinese Worldwide,... View Full Bio