Seminar on Sinicization of Christianity and Theological Education in Nanjing

By Yi Yang, June 27, 2017 01:06 AM

65th Anniversary of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary(

On June 6, The Nanjing Union Theological Seminary held its 65th anniversary and dedicated the chapel of the seminary. In the afternoon, a seminar on theological education and the sinicization of Christianity was held and seminary representatives and scholars from various universities made speeches. The seminar was divided into two sections. The first section explaned the sinicization of Christianity while the second centered on theological education and societal construction.

The Sinicization of Christianity.

In his speech, Professor Xu Yihua introduced four transformations of Christian Protestantism in China. The first transformation happened in the mid-1930s when China had seminaries independent of churches indicating the rise of Christian theological education. The second transformation occurred in the 1950s when several Christian seminaries were combined into the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. The third transformation was in the middle part of the 1980s, when The Chinese Christianity Research Center returned to Mainland China from Hong Kong and Taiwan, bringing many talented people to the Chinese church and beginning its golden period. The 21st century is the fourth transformation. The current task is more challenging than before, requiring us to pay much attention to both the quality and quantity of theological education and improve our professionalism as well.

Professor Yang Huilin, a professor and doctoral tutor at Renmin University of China focusing on the relationship between Christians and Chinese culture, spoke on what can be thought about the relationship between polarity and mutuality. He believes that there is tension between Christians and Chinese culture including both opposition and connection. The connection can open the way for Christianity, which seems to have come from Western culture, to fuse into Chinese culture.

Regarding the localization of theological education and the sinicization of Christianity, Professor of Peking University Zhang Zhigang shared two stories about former president of the Jinling Union Theological Seminary Ding Guangxun and the president of Nanjing University Kuang Yaming in order to encourage more dialogue and cooperation between religious and academic circles. The two presidents established the Christianity Research Center of Nanjing University, which was also the first religious research center in China, creating a good platform for communication between Christian and academic circles.

Professor Zhang Lue, Vice Dean of the Chinese Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong, pointed out that the trend of localization of Christianity in China should be viewed from the history of the development of Christianity. According to him, wherever Christianity was taken it faced the challenge of how to become local and acceptable. Translation of the Bible was one example. As a universal religion, how does Christianity adapt and integrate into a particular culture? Analyzing the main reasons for the rapid development of Christianity in history, Zhang thinks that Christianity should take responsibility for and serve society in a multicultural context by serving the visible Chinese believers.

More specifically, from the social point of view Jesus taught believers to "love their neighbors" as the goal, not a means to convert people to  Christianity. Similarly, in order for Christianity to become local and acceptable in China it should have the same heart to love its neighbors, not using love as a means. From the political point of view, early Christian Protestantism entered into China under the protection of "imperialism," causing many Chinese to treat Christianity as a completely foreign religion. In fact, both in history and today's world there are foreign powers who take advantage of religions for their political ambitions. As a result the state requires religious groups to safeguard the country's security.

Dr. Yue Qinghua, Chairman of the National TSPM in Fujian, made a speech on the localization of the Fujian's Christianity and the cultural practice of the sinicization of Christianity in Fujian churches. He pointed out that Fujian churches emphasized that the Chinese Church is the major body responsible for building up churches in China and responsibilities should be implemented from the top down carefully.

Vice President of Sichuan Seminary Long Shangyong's speech was "Talent-raising Secures the Sinicization of Christianity." He encouraged the church to boldly find and use talented people so that the sinicization of Christianity could succeed.

Dr. Chen Xun, Dean of the Yanjing Theological College, said that "theological education" is the combination of "theology" and "education" so not only should the theology be emphasized but also the methods to educate.  

Theological Education

Pastor Chen Yilu, the standing Vice-dean of the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, analyzed the "Reflections on Chinese Christianity Theology Education in the Transitional Period" from the perspective of the seminary. He mentioned that the Chinese Church needs seven transformations; 1, the transformation of western theology to its localization in China: 2, the transformation from Christianity's entering China to its going out from China: 3, the transformation from a special class to professionals: 4, the transformation from traditional to modern: 5, the transformation from learning in stages to lifetime learning: 6, the transformation from face to face learning to online learning: and 7, the transformation from cold knowledge to warm knowledge. He pointed out that in this transitional period the seminary should take the responsibility and opportunity to improve its own quality and raise many talents for the Chinese Church, which is also a call of society.

Pastor Wang Jun from Shanxi's CCC&TSPM emphasized the importance of theological education to the development of churches in his speech. He said that theological education and church development were closely combined. Theological education needs to provide for the church spiritual service, human resources, theory research, ethical instruction, and the trend of development.

Professor Chen Yongtao of the Jinling Union Theological Seminary gave his opinions based on his own teaching situation. He highlighted the connotation of theological education as "translation," a phrase from the Bible found in "His name shall be called Immanuel which translated means God with us" (Matthew 1:23). He believes that the goal of theological education is to translate the truth so that the masses can understand and accept it. The sinicization of Christianity is a tool to translate truth, turning Christian truth into something people can understand without breaking the fundamental principles which society and the church need in its current situation.

Pastor Chen Tianyuan, Dean of Anhui Theological Seminary, discussing the theological education in his speech, pointed out that the Chinese Church will ultimately face Chinese society and suggested that the key to current Chinese theological education is understanding society.

Pastor Xiao Anping, Vice president of Central South Seminary, pointed out that in order to raise talents for the church Christianity must become local in China as a theological education concept. When seminaries can raise talents for the church the Chinese church will not be restrained by committees from foreign countries for truth. Quoting the word of Bishop Kou Shiyuan, he pointed out that in the past the Chinese seminaries had ignored the profound impact of Chinese culture in its concept, action, and administration, unwilling or indifferent to making arrangements in adaptation to Chinese society. They rigidly copied the way of the West though some people resisted accepting what they did because their concepts did not fit the Chinese.

Teacher Su Zhiming from East China Seminary stated that theological education needs to have "education," "research," and "training." These three aspects are closely related to the healthy development of the Chinese Church. What kind of talented people the seminary bring about will determine how the church will develop in the future.


In the constant contact between Christianity and Chinese culture there is no concrete solution to the question of how Christianity can be accepted by the Chinese. Through the continuous research of the older generation of Christian leaders it is found that Christianity needs to become localized in order to be fully integrated into the Chinese people's lives. In other words, its teachings should adapt to fit the current Chinese context and conditions to grow continually in China. Though truth is unique, there are as many ways to express it as there are transportation options from Shanghai to Beijing, including planes, trains, drivinga car or riding a horse. Therefore, the key to the sinicization of Christianity is to permit different cultures to demonstrate our faith.

The essence of the localization of Christianity in China is how should the church develop itself in China. The localization of Christianity in China does not mean reestablishing a new Christianity but rethinking the positions of the church in China's society and what it should do in its position. Since it is a broad concept, how to localize the church differs from in different places, provinces, and societal contexts. Theological education is about teaching the concept with the aim to help the Chinese Church focus on its context or situation so that it can experience greater growth.

Translated By: Alvin

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