Chinese Christianity, Missions, Globalization, and New Testament Interpretation: An Interview with Dr. G. Wright Doyle

Posted: September 2, 2011 in General

[Dr. G. Wright Doyle received a B.A. with Honors in Latin from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (1966); an M.Div. with Honors from the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria (1969); and a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, with a dissertation on St. Augustine (1975). He studied Chinese at the Taipei Language Institute full-time for two years (1976-1978) and part-time for another two years (1980-82). From 1980 to 1988, Dr. Doyle served on the faculty of China Evangelical Seminary, Taipei, Taiwan, eventually as Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek. He is currently visiting faculty at several Chinese-language seminaries, teaching courses in New Testament and in Systematic Theology. For more info about his writings, go to: http://www.globalchinacenter.org/about/scholars/senior-associate/dr-wright-doyle.php].

Question: Dr. Wright Doyle, I have read some of your articles dealing the concerns of Chinese Christianity. Tell me in brief about China Institute/Global China Center.

Answer: China Institute was founded as a small ministry to Chinese in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, in 1991. It has grown a bit since then to include seven co-workers in England, Taiwan, and the U.S. We seek to share the whole counsel of God with educated Chinese, who are currently very open to Christianity and who will influence their society.

We have a web site www.chinainst.org, and post various sorts of articles about Christianity, including theology and missiology, on it. I have also written a number of books, some of which have been translated into Chinese. I have taught in Chinese seminaries and preached in a number of Mandarin-speaking churches. I have co-authored a book called China: Ancient Culture, Modern Society that helps non-Chinese gain an introductory knowledge of China’s cultural heritage and contemporary society.

Global China Center (www.globalchinacenter.org) was started in 2005 as an academic outreach to Chinese scholars who are investigating Christianity as a field of research. We aim to understand Chinese culture, especially the role of religion in Chinese history and society, and particularly Christianity in China; to build a community of scholars engaged in the study of Chinese Christianity; and to foster the moral transformation of Chinese society.

We publish a web site (www.globalchinacenter.org); the online Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity (www.bdcconline.net), and the Studies in Chinese Christianity series by Wipf & Stock under the Pickwick Publications label. Our overall goal is to help people understand and appreciate what God has been doing through Christians in China over the past several hundred years.

Question: Do you think that it is promising that you, as a westerner, are involved in missions in the Chinese context?

Answer: It is good for us to seek to understand another culture. Given the past history of Western military, economic, and cultural imperialism, as well as the well-intentioned work of missionaries, whenever westerners sincerely try to learn about the rest of the world, we are expressing our respect for the “other” as created in the image of God and capable of reflecting God’s glory. All the members of our team count it a great blessing to be learning more daily about Chinese culture and the role which Christians have played in its formation. We are certainly enriched personally in the process.

Question: I learned that you wrote several books. Among them two books, entitled “The Lord’s Healing Words” and “Jesus: The Complete Man”, captured my attention. How these books are helpful for developing a “renewed Christology” in the Chinese context? Or how far the Chinese context motivated you to write down those books?

Answer: Yes, the Chinese context spurred me to write these studies of the Bible. The Lord’s Healing Words came from my own physical and emotional “crash” after my first term of missionary service in Taiwan (1976-78). Its publication in Chinese resulted from the realization that Chinese people often lead very unhealthy lives and that the Bible has a great deal to offer them, as it has to me.

Jesus: The Ideal Man was composed not only as a guide in my own pilgrimage, but to aid Chinese men in understanding how Jesus can provide both a perfect example and authoritative teaching on how to relate to ourselves, other people, and God. The longest section explores how Jesus can guide us as we fulfill our roles as men in society – sons, fathers, husbands, workers, citizens, etc. – and with the awareness that very little has been done in Chinese on this subject. Actually, the book was originally published in Chinese as Confucius and Christ, and includes extended comparisons of those two great ancient teachers of men.

I believe that our Chinese readers deserve to know that a westerner greatly respects Confucius’ life and teachings, and that they also need to see Jesus as a true man, worthy of imitation, as well as truly God, worthy of our worship.

Question: I also learned that you are involved in the editorial works of “Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity”. What are the striking similarities/differences between “Western Christian Models” and “Chinese/Eastern Christian Models”?

Answer: Oh- what a good question that is! There are remarkable similarities, in that we all admire courage, compassion, clarity of vision, commitment to a cause, concern for the poor and oppressed, and command of oneself in the service of others. In those and other respects, both Western and Chinese Christians are very much alike. On the other hand, there is no doubt that Chinese culture has greatly influenced the way that Chinese Christians, especially leaders, have lived out their devotion to God. Not surprisingly, they are incredibly hard working; self-denying; and eager to maintain harmonious relationships. On the other side of the ledger, they are – again, not surprisingly – more inclined to autocratic leadership and the neglect of their families (though missionaries were not exempt from either of those faults, either!).

Question: Can you share a few thoughts about “Chinese Christianity and Globalization”?

Answer: Another huge subject. Aside from referring you to my recent review of a book on globalization and Greater China (http://www.globalchinacenter.org/analysis/chinese-society-politics/globalization-and-chinese-christianity.php), I can just note that globalization now includes China in almost every aspect of it. Chinese Christianity, too, since Chinese Christians “go with the flow” of China’s growing presence in the world; Christians from other nations go to Greater China or interact with Chinese in their own lands; and Chinese Christianity has become a major focus of thought and research, as well as an inspiring example to us. Certain worrisome trends in Chinese Christianity will also have an impact, but I believe that the overall consequence of China’s growing Christian presence will be a benefit to the whole world.

Question: Can you share in a nutshell about the indigenous Christian communities in China and their indigenous ways of interpretation of the New Testament?

Answer: There are so many thousands of these that it’s hard to generalize. Some are of questionable orthodoxy; others are outright heretical; many emphasize some aspects of biblical Christianity – such as signs and wonders or radical discipleship – but ignore other aspects. In particular, many groups sometimes seem hardly indistinguishable from Chinese popular religion, which is largely instrumental and pragmatic, while Chinese Christian ethical teaching often looks like “baptized” Confucian morality. Then there is the very large and influential “spiritual” influence of Watchman Nee and his disciples. The official Three-Self Patriotic Movement explicitly promotes socialist development and subservience to the state, while most of its clergy and people adhere to what we would consider historic Christian doctrine and practice, as do most large unregistered church networks. House churches are, of course, a driving force in the growth of the church in China, and do challenge us to re-think of concept of “church” – does it have to meet in a designated building?

Question: Share me about the promises and challenges of New Testament theology in the contemporary Chinese context.

Answer: The promise is that Chinese Christians, both inside Mainland China and among the churches in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the West, are producing New Testament scholars of the highest rank. Just to take one example, one of my former students of N.T. Greek, Dr. Daniel Wu, has published commentaries on the Letters of John and on Philippians that deserve to be translated and made available to the worldwide scholarly community. And he is only one of many.

The challenge is that so much mainland Chinese biblical scholarship is being done by people who do not know Greek or Hebrew and who are not trained in careful exegetical methods. They are further tempted to see the Bible through the lenses of traditional Chinese systems, like Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, not to mention Marxism, and thus to distort the meaning of the text. We are all prone to that, of course, but international biblical scholarship has begun to sort out some of these problems and to build some recognized canons of research and hermeneutics – I am speaking now as an evangelical, and referring to the generally –accepted hermeneutical procedures represented in such summary works as those by Grant Osborne (The Hermeneutical Spiral) and Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard (Introduction to Biblical Interpretation). It will be a challenge for Chinese scholars to bring the text to bear on their own context, rather than letting their context determine their understanding of the text.

To facilitate that process, my students and I produced a translation and slight abridgment of Gingrich & Danker’s  Lexicon of the Greek New Testament; a complete translation of the latest edition was recently published in Hong Kong.

I am happy to report that a great deal of excellent work has been done in this area recently, and that tools are now available in Chinese for further advance. May I refer you to a bibliography of N.T. reference works and commentaries available in Chinese that I compiled a few years ago? (http://www.globalchinacenter.org/analysis/articles/new-testament-reference-works.php). And to a report on a biblical studies colloquium held in 2007 at the University of London? (http://www.globalchinacenter.org/analysis/christianity-in-china/chinese-biblical-studies-issues-in-understanding-and-interpretation.ph). There is an excellent book edited by Dr. Chloe Starr, a review of which can be found at(http://www.globalchinacenter.org/analysis/christianity-in-china/reading-christian-scriptures-in-china.php).

Thank you for the opportunity to share a bit about what is happening in the world of Chinese Christianity! For more, your readers can visit the web sites I have mentioned.

(Interviewed by Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India)

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