Christianity and Chinese Culture

by Miikka Ruokanen and Paulos Huang, eds.

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2140 Oak Industrial Drive NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505, 275 pages, 2011, $35.00.

Reviewed by Tom Horn Jr., The Navigators, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

What could be timelier than a resource to better understand Chinese culture? China is dominating the early part of the twenty-first century as an economic power, with which also comes political clout. If we don’t learn what drives the Chinese people so we can relate to them in a culturally appropriate way, Christianity may lose another historical opportunity to bless this great nation at their point of greatest need—spiritual hunger.

This book is a compilation of papers presented in 2003, mostly by Chinese authors. They state, “Our focus was on the question of both inculturation and contextualization: how to adapt Christian teaching to both the cultural tradition and the modern social, political, and economic context of China” (p. xiii). By way of comparison and contrast, writers cover topics such as theological issues (sin, heaven), comparative religious traditions, and practical matters of faith.

Most of the authors come from a non-conservative theological background which will be stretching for some readers. One author courageously writes, “Most, if not nearly all of those who are currently engaged in Christian studies in Chinese Universities and academic institutions are not members of the church, and their academic background is predominantly social sciences and humanities, especially philosophy” (p. 257). Being stretched can be helpful in challenging one’s assumptions, but it will take effort to mine out practical insights.

It is fascinating, for example, to see in the response papers to the primary addresses how sensitive an alternative point of view is expressed. The reader must look closely to discern disagreement. That lesson alone will help many to dialogue in a way that enhances understanding and interaction. One chapter on a case study of Beijing is full of trends and cultural insights. An unfortunate, but understandable caricature is that “since the end of the 1990s China has entered into a ‘self-centered’ period” (p. 266).

Either because of lack of access to alternative information sources or because of a certain predisposition, statistics about Christianity in China over the last two hundred years have typically been one-sided. Moreover, when speaking of biblical and theological matters, a lack of firm grounding in the Bible presents a natural disadvantage in understanding Christianity. However, the references and quotes from ancient Chinese writers add value that many readers would find hard to obtain. The writers are clearly students of Chinese history. This book will well serve those who wish to dialogue with scholarly Chinese thinkers.


EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 114, 116. 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.


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