by Christopher E. M. Wigram
Christopher E. M. Wigram’s book expands our knowledge of Taylor by analyzing the way he used the Bible for doing missions.
Uitgeverij Boekencentrum. Goudstraat 50, P.O. Box 29, 2700 AA Zoetermeer, Netherlands, 2007, 308 pages, 26,50.
—Reviewed by Kurt D. Selles, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama.
Perhaps no other Protestant missionary has been written about more than the nineteenth-century China missionary giant, J. Hudson Taylor. Most of this writing, however, has provided a narrative history of Taylor and his China Inland Mission and has focused on providing inspiration rather than theological analysis. Christopher E. M. Wigram sets out to expand our knowledge of Taylor by analyzing the way he used the Bible for doing missions.
Because he was preoccupied with the exigencies of daily life on the mission field, Taylor never formulated a systematic theology of missions. But by sifting through the massive collection of Taylor’s personal papers (sermons, correspondence, and journals) and published pieces (appearing in The Chinese Missionary Gleaner, the CIM’s Occasional Papers, and China’s Millions), Wigram pieces together Taylor’s views of the Bible and explores how they shaped his approach to missionary work and the establishment of the China Inland Mission.
After carefully locating Taylor in his hermeneutical context by highlighting the impact of Enlightenment individualism and the Romantic Movement’s emphasis on experience, and providing an overview of the use of the Bible in the various traditions leading up to the middle of the nineteenth century as well as different influences that personally shaped him, Wigram clearly shows that Taylor took the Wesleyan Holiness approach of reading the Bible for spiritual, personal, and experiential meaning. Thus, for Taylor and most other Victorian Evangelicals, reading the Bible was not so much about understanding the story of God breaking into human history to redeem—with all that implies—than as a spiritual channel for hearing God’s voice and responding in acts of obedience that resulted in ever-higher levels of personal holiness.
Taylor’s genius and most important contribution were in applying this hermeneutic to “faith” missions. This way of reading the Bible kept Taylor and the CIM’s focus largely on personal conversion and provided spiritual resources for the problems of running a faith mission. More ambiguously, however, this narrow hermeneutic prevented Taylor and his colleagues from formulating an overall theological framework for structuring their organization and its work; and, perhaps even more significantly, it prevented them from interacting with the Chinese tradition in a more contextualized and holistic way.
Although the work majors more in outline than in readability, Wigram has provided a helpful theological analysis of the influences shaping Taylor’s reading of the Bible and how this hermeneutic shaped his missionary work and that of the CIM. His work also adds to the growing exploration of various aspects of the theology of missions.
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