Theological books and resources from the West are widely available in China today and have become increasingly popular. What the Chinese church lacks, however, are books written by Chinese pastors and theologians. In the article below, originally published in Gospel Times, a pastor gives his thoughts on why Chinese pastors don’t write books.
Reasons Why Chinese Pastors Are Not Writing
The year 2017 marks the 110th anniversary of the introduction of Protestant Christianity to China. If a generation is considered to be 25 years, then there have been four generations. Chinese have written a small percentage of the resources used within the Christian church. Chinese pastors are not into writing books; something we can see by looking not just at quality, but also at quantity. It’s true that some have fallen in love with "writing," but what they write are simply commentaries, sermons, and devotional essays. There are few theological writings and Chinese pastors rarely come up with new thinking.
In fact, for many Chinese, theology is a vague concept. My own experience bears this out. After I graduated from high school, my church told me that I should go to seminary instead of college. After that I was to preach full time in our church. As a matter of fact, theology was quite mysterious to me at that time.
I went to preparatory classes for two years at a place called "XX Theological Center." Studying theology meant taking notes and reading the Bible every day. A teacher would give classes about a volume of commentary copied from the Internet. I felt bored because I thought that this must not be theology. The so-called "theology" was connected with thinking. With such cramming methods of teaching, I only stayed there for one year.
Later I was admitted to the "seminary" in the provincial capital. Unfortunately, the situation was similar; I was still supposed to sit and listen to lectures. The good thing, however, was that there were more books. I was not interested in the lectures, so I read a lot of books. I became obsessed with the new ideas and theological thinking methods in the books I was reading.
After my graduation, the church wanted me to go back to preach. Even though I didn’t have any problems preaching, I was still confused about many important theological questions. If I didn't understand, how could I preach clearly? In their view, theology is the study of the Bible and the purpose of studying theology is to learn to preach. I considered this idea wrong. So I did not stop but continued to pursue my obsession with theology.
In Jinling Seminary, I found the theological palace that I was looking for. Although I didn't take notes every day, I learned how to think and deepened my understanding of theology. Theology was not born for preaching. Theology is thinking and studying about God. Some people dislike the idea of “studying God,” but they should not oppose it. If we are not willing to think about God then he is not worthy of our worship. As Aurelius Augustinus said, “without doubt, there is no real belief.”
So for Chinese believers, theology is "learning the Bible" and then incorporating the meaning into sermons, which contain a few small stories. There is no thinking, and there is no need to think. The pastors who are educated in this way are not willing to do further study. That’s partly because an elementary school graduate can write a short sermon, as long as it doesn’t use incorrect words and says something about God.
When I was in seminary, a teacher said in class that many Chinese seminaries had become places where people kill their time. Some teachers lacked the ability to write, let alone publish papers. Based on my experience, I think he is correct. I rarely read good papers written by Chinese seminary teachers.
So why don’t Chinese pastors write books? I think there are a number of reasons for this. Here are a few:
- We already have a lot of books. Over the past 2000 years, Christian writers have produced a huge number of books which deal with all aspects of Christianity. If we need theological information, we have plenty of sources. This reveals our inertia. It is easier to pick up a ready-made book than to write a new one. When I was in "XX Theological Center," as soon as the teacher finished class we found on the internet the book he had used for his lecture. It made a lot of students feel that being a teacher is easy so long as one's qualifications and experience are sufficient and one is able to copy something on the Internet. Especially nowadays, when we are in a network-developed society, it is so easy to find information on the Internet.
- Rules. Chinese people are particularly concerned about the rules. We think that the past is the rule, and it should not be broken. This is wrong. Jesus taught us that rules were made for man, not man for rules. (Quote: “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”) Why have rules become a major obstacle for Chinese to write books? We tend to believe that our predecessors have written all we need and what has been previously written constitutes “the rules.” We cannot change them and should humbly follow them—this is called “following the path of the sacred.”
- A lack of skepticism. This lack of skepticism is not mainly a problem for Christians, but is rooted in Chinese culture. Our national education never focuses on the spirit of doubt, because that would be considered treason. During my time as a student at “XX Theological Center,” I had a classmate who used to render his teachers speechless with questions. He was eventually expelled for disobedience and sent home. At that time, I liked to chat with him and now we are good friends. He eventually went to the United States and studied theology in a university. When we are chatting, he often remarks that China will never develop theologians because they have all been sent home.
- No freedom of belief. Our beliefs are internal and should not be the government’s business. Also, we Christians tend not to be very tolerant of others and their beliefs. We have a hard time with outsiders and cannot stand new ideas. I have a Catholic classmate. Once, while discussing a topic about which we had differing opinions, he said: "If you were in the middle ages, you would have been a subject of The Inquisition.” Today, although there is no actual Inquisition, there are internal inquisitions. As soon as we hear something that is different from what we consider to be correct, we immediately label it as “heresy.” This is not necessary. This prevents people from thinking. Martin Luther, whom we highly praise was considered a heretic by the Catholic Church.
- Sensibility. Chinese people do not like to be rational. We are always satisfied with being emotionally touched, but seldom try to find the truth of a problem. We prefer to listen to story-telling rather than logic. There are many official WeChat accounts that offer good quality content, but they get less attention than “chicken soup”–type articles. This is different from the West. When Hegel taught at a university, the audience members were all immersed in Hegel's dialectical method. There was only one exception: a man named Schopenhauer. He did not identify with the logical method of Hegel. At the same university, Schopenhauer got the same size classroom as Hegel's (it was said that it could hold more than 400 people) and began lecturing. He criticized Hegel from every aspect but without logic—he only had four people as his audience. In the Chinese church, reason is the least valuable thing and also has the smallest market. But writing, especially theological books, needs to be rational. After we finish writing our books, how many people will want to read them?
There are many other reasons why Chinese pastors do not write books. In addition to the reasons mentioned above, there are other reasons such as low educational level, lack of knowledge, lack of reference books, and a fear that their writing is not good enough. As a pastor, I know that writing is a creative process, which is quite difficult. But we need to continue writing in order to practice and improve our writing ability. I know my writing is not good enough. But writing is also a skill, and can only be improved by doing more of it. Like a child learning to write a composition, we can learn to write well if we continue to practice.
The author is a preacher in Henan Province.