by Thomas Alan Harvey
Even though Christians are only a small percentage of China’s 1.3 billion people, two Christian names are well recognized throughout the country.
Brazos Press, P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287, 2002, 208 pages, $21.99.
—Reviewed by Ralph Covell, missionary in China (1946-51) and Taiwan (1952-66), faculty of Denver Seminary since 1966.
Even though Christians are only a small percentage of China’s 1.3 billion people, two Christian names are well recognized throughout the country. One is the early Roman Catholic missionary, Li Matou (Matteo Ricci) and the other is the Chinese pastor, Wang Mingdao. Thomas Alan Harvey, a faculty member at Trinity Theological College in Singapore, has given us the most comprehensive account in English of Wang in his well-researched book Acquainted With Grief.
The focus of his book is stated plainly in the sub-title: Wang Mingdao’s Stand for the Persecuted Church in China. The author has included two appendices (one on the Christian Manifesto issued by noted church leaders after the People’s Republic of China gained power and the other on Wang’s Self Examination following a term in prison) and fifteen pages of footnotes and bibliography. An index would have been helpful in tracing the various arguments made in the course of the study.
Calling Wang “Dean of the House Churches” in China, the author quotes extensively from the writings of both Wang and his critics to trace the conflict between him and the state-registered China Christian Council (which he constantly refers to as the TSPM—Three Self Patriotic Movement). Harvey spends only about ten percent of his book on Wang’s background that would help to shape his later views, considerably less than the several Chinese authors who have investigated Wang’s life and message. In doing so, however, he points out fairly that Wang, although thoroughly evangelical, often had conflicts with conservative missionary colleagues because of his commitment to pacifism.
Wang became pastor of the Christian Tabernacle in 1936. He and his church successfully resisted Japanese control but found more difficulty with the TSPM formed under the direction of the new government. He was arrested in 1955 and imprisoned for about one year during which time he wrote a confession admitting he was a counter-revolutionary. Following a few months of freedom he and his wife were rearrested and kept in various types of confinement and partial freedom until late in the 1980s. Altogether he endured “twenty years of imprisonment and thirty-five years of enforced silence” (161). He died in Shanghai in 1991 and his wife in 1992. During his later years he withdrew his confession and claimed he had been charged wrongly.
Harvey’s portrayal of Wang does not paint him basically as anti-communist (as Leslie Lyall) nor as unpatriotic (as he claims Philip Wicker does) but as a defender of the Christian faith against a rigid Marxist ideology and the social gospel or liberal views of some TSPM leaders.
He might have pointed out that there were evangelical pastors who joined the TSPM and sought corrections within the movement. More importantly, he could have developed much more thoroughly the views of Chinese evangelical scholars, such as Ng Lee-ming of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Lam Wing-hung of China Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong.
These two authors in their Chinese books and several articles argue that Wang’s theology, very fundamental on basic doctrines of salvation, was inadequate in its doctrine of creation and culture. Ng concludes that although Wang’s message gave eternal hope “it was inadequate to those who sought not to escape from the world but to change it, and it was totally irrelevant to those who were involved in the daily workings of society…” (Ching Feng 16:2, 1973 p. 78).
Despite Harvey’s hesitancy to explore Ng’s and Lam’s views more thoroughly, his book raises many important political and theological issues with which we all must wrestle in today’s world, particularly as the church undergoes persecution.
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