After Imperialism: Christian Identity in China and the Global Evangelical Movement
by Richard R. Cook and David W. Pao, eds.
Pickwick Publications, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401, 256 pages, 2011, $28.00.
—Reviewed by Allen Yeh, professor of missiology, Cook School of Intercultural Studies, Biola University, La Mirada, California.
The two centers of gravity of evangelical Christianity today are undoubtedly China and sub-Saharan Africa. Although much has been written about Africa (e.g., Andrew Walls and Lamin Sanneh), China remains much more mysterious and impenetrable. This collection of essays from noted scholars in the U.S. and Sinophone East Asia is a much-welcome addition to help shed light on the massive growth of Christianity in China in the last century. This encounter of China with Christianity necessitates that the tale be told from both Eastern and Western perspectives, one of the strengths of this book.
The opening chapter is necessary for defining the word “evangelical” and its place in the global Church. The next three chapters harmonize apparent contradictions: localizing Christianity in China vs. being a part of the worldwide fellowship of Christians; the harm wrought by imperialism vs. the benefits conferred, and how westerners should understand the mixed bag which they brought to China; and the partnership/bifurcation of evangelism vs. social action.
The book dedicates chapters 5-9 to biblical interpretation (appropriately enough, as the Bible is the fundamental authority in the evangelical worldview). These chapters firmly locate the Bible’s authorship in the ancient Near East and suggest implicitly that it has more cultural similarities with China than with the West. The final three chapters skillfully address the issue of contextualization and its importance in the Chinese context. Recognizing culture as important to exegesis of the Bible is different from having a cultural interpretation of the Bible.
If there is any quibble with the book, it would have to be with the fact that several of the chapters (namely, 1 and 5-8) have nothing to do with China at all, except as helpful exegetical and historical guidelines with which to interpret any evangelical world Christianities. This is not to say they are not useful, but they are not directed toward China per se. Perhaps this is the “pilgrim principle” (rather than the “indigenizing principle”) at work, as explained by Andrew Walls (via Doug Sweeney) in the first chapter of the book.
In the final analysis, the tension is whether Chinese Christians can properly be defined as “evangelicals” and yet authentically Chinese at the same time. Is the label “evangelical” a Western imposition? Do Chinese Christians cease to become “evangelical” when they adopt a culturally indigenous expression of the faith? This historically and biblically-rooted book shows that both are possible simultaneously, and both orthodoxy and contextualization can co-exist without sacrificing the other, as long as the juxtaposition is done with care.
Check these titles:
Aikman, David. 2003. Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power. Washington D.C.: Regnery.
Hamrin, Carol Lee and Stacey Bieler, eds. 2009. Salt & Light: Lives of Faith that Shaped Modern China. Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick.
EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 248-250. Copyright © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.