For many years, the Protestant church in China has been more or less concerned with its internal life. In the years following the Cultural Revolution, Three-Self, while not isolationist in its relationship to the broader, non-Christian society, has focused on the basics of self-government, self- support and self-propagation. The often-stated goal has been to run the church well, so that three-self becomes three-well: a church that is well governed, well supported and well propagated.
Unprecedented church growth over the last twenty years has brought with it pressures and challenges both inside and outside the church which have raised the necessity for new ways of responding and new ways of thinking theologically, particularly in response to the broader society. The pressures and challenges the church faces require a new self-understanding through theological reflection, one that looks both inward and outward. There has been a growing concern over the role of the Church in society and its relationship with non-Christians. The response has been the movement for theological reconstruction, first raised at the Jinan Meeting of the Sixth National Christian Conference in 1998. [Earlier discussions of theological reconstruction can be found beginning in vol. 14 and following.]
This volume of the Chinese Theological Review continues its emphasis on this movement for theological reconstruction. The essays frequently center on the ability of the Church to respond to changes in society brought about by economic growth and the policies of reform and opening.
Xiao Anping considers the Church's role in modernization, while Zhang Xiaofa stresses the need to popularize theological reconstruction. Both essays discuss a wide range of issues the Church faces. Wang Aiming looks at the origins of the movement for theological reconstruction in the earlier writings of K.H. Ting. These and other authors in this issue affirm again and again that the church must "move with the times" or be left behind, becoming marginalized and unable to have a positive impact on society. The challenges are felt at all levels and in every aspect of the life of faith: Meng Yanling discusses the need for a new understanding of marriage and family for Christian women that transcends a narrow view of women found in both traditional Chinese society and traditional interpretations of the Bible.
Challenges facing the church include the perennial shortage of adequately trained clergy, structural weaknesses which make it difficult for the church to act institutionally, the need to appeal to a broader spectrum of the Chinese populace, especially educated young people and intellectuals, continuing theological differences, a rapidly changing social environment and a government call for religions, especially Christianity, to adapt to socialist society.
Seeking ways to adapt to the socialist reality is necessary for the continued growth of the church, as well as its revitalization. This is part of the political aspect of theological reconstruction alluded to by several authors. Reading the essays in this volume, one gets some inkling of the broader issues involved. For those who see theological reconstruction as the way forward for the church, it is a matter of finding a role for the church which allows it to have a positive impact on a society in flux, as well as a matter of political expediency. The church has experienced tremendous growth, but society is changing and there are serious challenges for the church in seeking to relate to and contribute to shaping the Chinese future.
The Chinese Church has long struggled with what it means to live as a Christian minority within a socialist context. In earlier years, differences of belief and opinion within the Church revolved around how to treat or deal with non believers and how to understand and accept the good deeds of people outside the Church. In recent years this has been expressed most sharply in understanding justification by faith in the Chinese context. Following a statement by Bishop Ting that justification by faith should be de-emphasized or down-played in the interests of closing the gap between believers and non-believers, there has been a heated debate on this issue among Chinese Christians. Many of the authors in this volume discuss de-emphasis on justification by faith, but three essays, those by Li Weizhen, Ouyang Wenfeng and Wang Guanghui, deal specifically with the issue. These essays will help the reader understand the background to the debate, though not all will agree on the proposals they advance.
Theological reconstruction provides the framework for exploring theological responses in the Chinese context. When changes and adjustments in doctrinal approach are discussed, some fear that such changes may endanger faith itself. The consensus in the essays included here is that faith does not change, but theology can and must.
Volume 18 also includes a short essay on Three-Self Education by K.H. Ting; an essay on the theology of Shen Yifan; and the Foreword to Remembering the Past as a Lesson for the Future, edited by Luo Guanzong. This last contribution is from a book of essays on the relationship between missionary activities and imperialism in the period prior to the founding of the PRC in 1949. The book has been the subject of controversy in China, criticized by some scholars as being too heavy-handed in its treatment of foreign missionaries. Within the CCC and TSPM, however, the book has been seen as an important reminder of the political involvement of the church before 1949. Readers may not agree with the arguments presented in this Foreword, but they do represent a continuing stream of opinion in the Chinese Church.
I am grateful to the authors of the essays which I have translated for this volume. Any errors in representing their work are entirely my own. Quotations from books in languages other than Chinese which could not be consulted in standard English translation are given as indirect quotations to minimize the pitfalls of back translation.
The various levels of church bodies and offices are referred to as CCC or TSPM with appropriate regional modifiers (local/ regional, etc.) or (at the national level) CCC/TSPM. The English title, Love Never Ends, is used when referring to both the Chinese and English editions of the book of writings by K.H. Ting. Biblical quotations are taken from the NRSV, unless another version has been used in an original English piece.
Thanks are, as always, due to the FTE for its continuing support of this journal and in particular to Dr. Marvin Hoff and Mrs. Joanne Hoff.