2017 Bible in China Seminar: The Bible and Sinicization of Christianity

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(L) Kua Wee Seng, UBS China Partnership Director, sharing at the BIC.

SHANGHAI, China – The Bible in China (BIC) seminar opened in Shanghai from 15 to 17 November to about 100 participants from the religious, academic and political circles with the theme “The Bible and Sinicization of Christianity”.

Is Christianity still viewed as a foreign or Western religion in China? How do Christians in China localize their faith? What can be learnt from Christians in other traditions and cultures? These were the key issues discussed at the seminar.

Now into its seventh year, the annual event is jointly organized by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS) and Centre for the Studies of Religion and Culture (CSRC) with the support of United Bible Societies (UBS) to demonstrate the contributions of the Bible to the Chinese society.

Amongst the participants were Chinese academics and researchers of SASS and Academies of Social Sciences, universities, Chinese Christian leaders, faculty and students of seminaries, members of Bible Societies and international guest speakers.

At the opening ceremony, Bishop John Chew, UBS Global Council Member (2013-2017), highlighted the mutual trust and cooperation that has been built between UBS and SASS over the past seven years.

“’Seven’ in the Bible represents a full cycle. We thank God and we look forward to a new season and cycle of another seven years.” He then commented on the shift of the Christian majority from Global North to South as seen in the diverse backgrounds of speakers this year, ranging from European, Australian, African, and Asian, in particular Chinese.

L-R: Bishop John Chew, Prof Yan Kejia, Prof Paul Williams and Kua Wee Seng

Commenting on the importance of such international conferences, Wang Xinhua, the Deputy Director General of Shanghai Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission said, “It is not an easy accomplishment to sustain this international conference for consecutively seven years.” Alluding to China’s President Xi Jinping who talked about forging a ‘community of shared future for humankind’, Wang continued, “we live in the age of globalization and face similar challenges in the areas of religion and society; global challenges can’t be solved by a single nation but by the international community. Such conferences provide a good platform for discussion and mutual understanding on common issues.”

The seminar came at a pivotal point in China’s effort in sinicization of religions in its land. China formally recognizes five religions –  Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Taoism and Islam. Officially there are 46 million Christians in China with some unofficial sources putting the number at 100 million.

2nd from left: Prof Andrew Walls

Prominent Christian scholar and Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh, Prof. Andrew Walls, walked the participants through the history of inculturation of Christianity in China from the 19th to 20th century by highlighting the lives and ministries of missionaries and Chinese Christians.

He posited that by providing the Scripture in vernacular languages among other efforts in inculturation, “even in the missionary period . . . there are signs of Christianity authentically taking root in China.”

Sharing on the view of the Chinese Church on sinicization of Christianity, Gu Mengfei, China Christian Council/ TSPM Research Department Director, said that the Chinese Church has reached a consensus on the meaning of the term which is to adhere to the basics of the faith, carry out “religious reform based on the Bible” and let Christianity “take root in the fertile soil of Chinese culture”. He also called for the eventual transformation of the Chinese Church from “Christianity in China” to “Chinese Christianity.”

Presenting on the role of the Bible in the African Christians’ inculturation of Christianity, Prof John S. Mbiti, Emeritus Professor at University of Bern, said, “The Bible is a crucial instrument in the formation, life, activities, spirituality and oral theology of Independent Churches [. . .] they take the Bible as a mirror of its African heritage.” He noted that African churches, instead of throwing away all traditional practices of healing like saying potent words, replace them with words from Psalms to pray for restoration of health.

Chen Na, Research Professor of Fudan University, highlighted that “the mission of Christianity is not about conquering nor replacing or standardizing other cultures but rather it is about cultural inclusiveness and cultural mergence based on genuine respect for the local culture.”

At the closing of the seminar, Prof Paul Williams, Chief Executive of British Bible Society (BFBS), remarked, “The gospel is always foreign to every culture that it is in. And it must always be re-contextualised for every generation. To this end, the seminar has been enriching, thought provoking and stimulating, thanks to all our speakers.”

(L-R) Prof Yan Kejia, Rev Zhang Kequan, Vice Dean of Jiangsu Seminary, James Harding, Director of St Paul’s Theological College, Malaysia

The key seminar organizer, Prof Yan Kejia, Director and Research Professor of Institute of Religious Studies at SASS, emphasised that the interactions and sharing at the seminar have been valuable for the three circles of people –  religious, academic and political. He was especially encouraged by the attendance of the 60 seminarians and faculty members from Huadong Seminary, Jiangsu Seminary and Shandong Seminary.

Han Xue, Shandong Seminary student shared, “I used to think that Christianity and sinicization are rather incompatible. But the seminar has helped me think otherwise. Listening to the development of Christianity amongst the Lisu ethnic group has caused me to seriously reflect on the sinicization of Christianity in my church in Shandong.”

“The inculturation of the Christian faith is a journey and an ongoing process, and we pray for the Church in China as they continue to adapt and express their Christian faith in the context and culture of China,” said Kua Wee Seng, UBS China Partnership Director. “One of the specific contexts of the Church in China is the call by the Chinese national leadership to build a community of shared future for humankind, together with the other countries of the world. SASS is interested to explore how Christianity could contribute towards this community building and they hope to look at this theme in future seminars.”

Watch video on what the speakers say about the seminar here.
See photos of the seminar here.
See below for themes of previous BIC and some of the papers presented at the 2017 BIC

Story: Cynthia Oh
Edited: Tan Lay Leng
Photo:  UBS CP
2017 © United Bible Societies China Partnership

Themes of Previous Bible In China seminar

2011 – The Bible in China
2012 – The Bible and Harmonious Society
2013 – The Bible and Social Service
2014 – The Bible and Culture
2015 – The Bible and Environment
2016 – The Bible and Values
2017 – The Bible and Sinicization of Christianity

Some papers presented at the seminar

From Africa

  • ‘Where was God’? The Bible and the Creation of African American Christianity by Ingrid Reneau Walls, Senior Research Fellow, Afriki Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture, Ghana
(L) Prof Robert Banks

From Australia

  • The First Multicultural Christian: Paul – Apostle to the Nations by Robert Banks, Adjunct Research Professor, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Charles Sturt University
  • A Case Study in Inculturation: Amy Oxley Wilkinson and her Blind School in Fujian by Linda Banks

From Britain

  • Can Christianity authentically take root in China? Some lessons from 19th and 20th Century Mission by Andrew Walls, Honorary Professor in the University of Edinburgh

From China

  • Conversion as an overlapping Development of Indigenous Tradition – Understanding the Practice of Confucian Xiao among Li Village Christians by Chen Na and Fan Lizhu, Research Professor, Fudan Development Institute, Fudan University
  • What is “Sinicization”? How can “Sinicization” be Made Possible? by Zhao Jie, Researcher at Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies, Shandong University
  • Pastor Hsi’s Legacy: A Local Christian Community in South Shanxi by Liu Yi, Professor, History Department, Shanghai University
  • On the Sinicization of Islam From a Multi-dimensional Perspective by Ding Jun, Professor, Institute of Middle East Studies, Shanghai International Studies University
  • Sinicization of Religion by Deepening Cultural Identity by Zeng Chuanhui, Director of Marxist View of Religion Research Office, China Academy of Social Sciences

From Germany

  • The Hebrew Bible in the Making: 1000 Years Masoretic Text–Artifacts and Materiality as Result of Inculturation by Dr Kay Petzold, International Projects Coordinator, Bible Society of Germany

From Malaysia

  • The Chinese Noah as a Model for the Sinicization of Christianity by James Harding, Director of St Paul’s Theological College, Malaysia

From Singapore

  • The Involvement and Engagement of the Transition of Pluralistic Society in 1965 Independent Singapore by Bishop John Chew, UBS Global Council Member (2013-2017)
  • Reflections of a Singaporean Chinese Christian by Kua Wee Seng, UBS China Partnership Director
  • Feast and Alien: Ritual Imagination, Memory and Education in the Bible by Lim Teck Peng, Associate Dean, Trinity Theological College, Singapore

From Switzerland/ Africa

  • The Role of The Bible in African Independent Churches by John S. Mbiti, Emeritus Professor, Institute for Systematic Theology, University of Bern, Switzerland