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Shaping Christianity in Greater China

A Book Review

Shaping Christianity in Greater China: Indigenous Christians in Focus, edited by Paul Woods, Wipf & Stock, 2018, 290 pages. ISBN-10: 1532644477; ISBN-13: 978-1532644474. At Amazon: paperback $32.00; Kindle $12.00 with free reading app.

In May of 2015 a group of scholars gathered at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS) for a conference to mark the 150th anniversary of the China Inland Mission, known today as OMF International. The papers presented by this eclectic group of established scholars and post-graduate students from Asia and the West sought to move beyond Eurocentric views of mission “from the West to the rest” and focus on specifically Chinese contributions to the development of Christianity in China and throughout the Chinese diaspora. Written by a host of historians, theologians, and mission scholars, this diverse collection of conference papers ranges widely offering readers insights into aspects of Chinese Christianity infrequently discussed elsewhere.

The seventeen essays included in this edited volume are divided into five sections.

Part I: Locating the Faith explores the interplay between missionaries and indigenous Christianity.
Part II: Writing the Faith looks at several examples of Chinese Christian literary endeavors.
Part III: Building the Faith records the contributions of Chinese believers to the work of the gospel.
Part IV: Living the Faith explores different ways Chinese believers have contextualized their faith.
Part V: Commending the Faith presents more recent examples of ways Chinese Christians have attempted to make their faith relevant to society.

The disciplines and subjects covered in the various chapters vary widely, such that while few will find every chapter of interest, there is something here for almost everyone. Reflecting the conference’s interest in developing younger scholars, contributed chapters came from students as well as established academics.

ChinaSource readers focused primarily on the mainland Chinese context will find some of the essays to be of particular value.

Lian Xi’s “Missionaries in the Making of Vernacular Christianity in China” is an artful attempt to recognize the primacy of the indigenizing process and the authority of local actors without denying the vital nature of contributions from outside agents.

The study of medical missionary and national hero Dr. Kao Gin-cheng is also significant, not only for introducing a wider readership to the remarkable witness of this man’s life, but also for its helpful reminder that historical legacies and their documentary evidence are always open to different interpretations from different communities. 

Finally, Easten Law’s concluding study on a Chinese Christian NGO active in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake includes in its final pages a valuable survey of the growing importance of charitable ministries for the church (and society? and the state?) in China today.

Most important of all, this volume adds to the growing scholarship on the beliefs and practices of actual Chinese Christians. Those interested in expanding their understanding of Christianity’s place in China beyond the operations of small bands of expatriate crosscultural workers will find Shaping Christianity in Greater China to be a rewarding addition to their library.

Image credit: John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

Andrew T. Kaiser

Andrew T. Kaiser, author of Voices from the Past: Historical Reflections on Christian Missions in China, The Rushing on of the Purposes of God: Christian Missions in Shanxi since 1876,  and Encountering China: The Evolution of Timothy Richard’s Missionary Thought (1870–1891) (Evangelical Missiological Society Monograph Series Book 1)has been living …View Full Bio

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