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History of Protestantism in China: The…

History of Protestantism in China: The indigenization of Christianity

by Sumiko Yamamoto

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The focus of the book is the first half of the twentieth century, when Protestant churches in China were making a push to indigenize. This was driven by both the Chinese, who wished to take control of the church and make it more Chinese, and from an ecumenical missionary movement that grew in the early years of the 20th century.

The Chinese wished to make the church more Chinese in approach and attitude so that it might appeal to the Chinese without western traditions, most of which are not mentioned in the Bible. In a sense, they were fundamentalists or protestants. The Chinese had never understood the denominational differences of westerners, which they saw as artificial barriers to Christian brotherhood. Missionaries and some Chinese leaders tried to address this problem by bringing the Protestant churches under a single organization. The first attempt was the National Council of Churches, an umbrella organization to help communication and coordination amongst the churches. This was followed by the Church of Christ in China, which actually folded several denominations into one. But these organizations did not overturn western traditions, only limit some of the divisive ones. Indigenous movements grew out of that, including the Family of Jesus and the Little Flock, which incorporated Chinese traditions and values and rejected the divisions of the western church. The turning point, according to the author, was the 1920's when Chinese nationalism led to anti-Christian violence. Chinese Christians re-evaluated their beliefs to understand why their countrymen resented them so much. They resolved that Christianity could only flourish in China if it valued Chinese traditions and norms.

Chinese Christian leaders like L.C. Wu, T.C. Chao and Y. T. Wu would try to "ferret out all the trivia and distortions" that had crept into western traditions. They focused on love and benevolence rather than sin and sacrifice. They also say that Christ was trying to redeem the nation of Israel, not individuals, so they see the value of Christianity in the revival of the nation and in social progress.

This book is very useful for someone interested in the development of Christianity in China. Although it only goes through the 1940's, it lays the groundwork for what comes afterward. In particular, it does a good job of interpreting the theology of Chinese leaders as they became independent of missionaries. If the book has a flaw, it is that it is clearly written from a Christian perspective, making judgments on faith, theology and religious discourse. It looks at Chinese Christians very sympathetically. There is nothing wrong with that, but it probably misses out on some of the negative aspects of the indigenization. Still, this is worth reading if you are interested in Chinese Christianity. ( )
  Scapegoats | Mar 9, 2014 |
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