Book Review: “Chinese Intellectuals and the Gospel” Samuel Ling and Stacey Bieler, eds. (1999)

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about grace: a Father in heaven, loving, accepting, and transforming his children as they come to Him in faith. China today needs to hear the strong word of grace!” (7)

This book contains a number of essays which seek to first of all define what constitutes a Chinese intellectual, then to determine the extent of the faith of the so-called Chinese “Cultural Christian,” and finally to unearth the best methods for displaying a living Gospel to Chinese intellectuals, both to expatriates in the West and to the Cultural Christians  and intellectuals still living in China. While much of this volume is nothing more than background information, this information serves to prep the reader for a confrontation with the book’s ultimate thesis: How to reach Chinese intellectuals with the Gospel. Although many readers might prefer to skim this scholarly, background material, much of it makes for fascinating reading, such as the history of the Chinese Intellectual during the nations last and highly tumultuous century, or the description of what constitutes a Cultural Christian in China today and why they generally take no part in the fellowship of the Body or in the life of the Church.

For those seeking to take part in evangelizing or discipling Chinese expatriate students and workers in the West, or for those believers seeking to work in China and be a light to the people there, this volume would be a highly beneficial read. The book offers insights into many aspects of this important cross-cultural work, including the core needs which must be met for unbelieving Chinese intellectuals, and tips for Bible studies. Just a few quotations will get these ideas across. Regarding the core needs of Chinese intellectuals, the authors write: “As Chinese students meet Christian teachers in English classes in China, or international student workers on campuses in the West, they want to know: What does Jesus Christ have to say to China’s political, economic, cultural, educational, and family needs?” (7) and “Chinese intellectuals come to Christ most easily in the context of a caring community where their emotional, social, and spiritual needs are being met…The most relevant formulation of the gospel for Chinese students and scholars is ‘Come join the family!'” (158). Regarding Bible studies for Chinese intellectuals, one author wrote that she “began with a few studies from Matthew on the ‘Changed Community’ and then backed up to look at Jesus changing individuals. By looking at Jesus early on, we would address the deep needs for hope, love, and trust. We then backed up even further to get the historical framework for Jesus’ coming before looking at the significance of his death and resurrection” (170).

One final quotation (my apologies for providing a quote-heavy review) worth noting puts in words a thought that I have long had regarding Chinese-American relations, that the mellow hatred American Christians have for China as a nation has greatly hampered their Gospel influence on Chinese individuals. “Unfortunately, many Americans, particularly many evangelical Christians, are making China out to be the number one enemy. This is undermining Christians’ desire to bless the Chinese people and serve the church in China…China is responding to this confrontational approach with its own aggressive, anti-American nationalism…From this alarming picture enters a new generation of PRC pastors, evangelists, and apologists. This is a fact which American Christians and Chinese churches in North America must accept…Will we take a servant’s posture and seek to empower, equip, serve, and support them? Will we be like Barnabas—encouraging, rejoicing, and opening doors of opportunities for them? Or will our approach be reminiscent of the period in which missionaries operated in China as ‘neo-imperialists’? Servanthood or neo-imperialism. The choice is obvious” (137-139).

©2013 E.T.

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