by Wendell Paul Karsen
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2140 Oak Industrial Drive NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505, 454 pages, 2010, $36.00.
—Reviewed by Charles W. Weber, history department, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.
The Church under the Cross is an autobiography as it should be: a vivid, fast-paced account of a person’s life as it interacts with interesting people and significant events. This first volume places the author’s life into the larger social, cultural, and political events in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China primarily from 1969 to 1998. During this time, Wendell Paul Karsen was a missionary and minister of the Reformed Church of America.
Karsen’s account exemplifies the fact that missionaries do not live and work in a cultural and political vacuum. Throughout this book, the reader learns much about Chinese culture, as well as the implications of this for Christian witness. Anyone considering ministry in Chinese cultural areas would be well advised to read Karsen’s insights as he explicates the distinctions of Chinese customs and the impact of history on the Church in these areas.
However, beyond these insights Karsen was significantly involved in the democracy and human rights movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong, which proved to be “times of testing for the churches” in these places. In his own words, the “common thread” in his memoir is “the church under the cross” (p. xvii) and the struggles faced both by national Christians and missionaries.
Part I, “The Cross of Fascism,” focuses on the Church in Taiwan under the control of the Chiangs and traces the role of Christians in the democracy movement. Fortunately, he also recounts the eventual success of this movement even after his service in Taiwan. In Part II, “The Cross of Colonialism,” Karsen deals with his two terms of mission service in Hong Kong (1974-1984, 1990-1998) and the gradual ending of British colonialism and the creation of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under the PRC and the Basic Law. His account recalls perceptively how the Church “struggled to remove the colonial cross and to avoid replacing it with a Communist cross” and how “it had been strengthened in the process” (p. 390).
Through Karsen’s insightful analysis of both these situations, the reader not only realizes his involvement and role in these important events, but also learns of many others, namely national Christian leaders, who witnessed for the cause of Christ in their societies during transitional times.
This is not a one-dimensional study, but an inspirational account of the formative role of Christians in being salt and light under difficult circumstances and struggling to confront the challenges and injustices of their political and social context. The second volume is to be much anticipated as it carries these themes further chronologically.
Check these titles:
Katz, Paul and Murray Rubinstein, eds. 2003. Religion and the Formation of Taiwanese Identities. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Swanson, Allen J. 1970. Taiwan: Mainline versus Independent Church Growth, A Study in Contrasts. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
Tsang, Steve. 1997. Hong Kong: An Appointment with China. London: I.B.Tauris.
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 4, pp. 490-491. Copyright © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.