The two most important thinkers from Japan in this period are Kanzo Uchimura (1861-1930) and Toyohiko Kagawa (1888-1960); the former is the pioneer of the 'non-church' concept and the latter is known for holistic mission.

Kanzo Uchimura, from the samurai class, grew up with a combination of Confucian morality and Japanese folk religion. In 1877 he enrolled in the Sapparo Agriculture School, where he converted to Christianity, although, during the Meiji Restoration, Christianity was often deemed to be incompatible with traditional Japanese values. Uchimura attempted to reconcile patriotism and Christianity. He went to America in 1884 and became more evangelical while studying at Amherst College. He studied further at Hartford, before returning to Japan in 1888 and devoting his life to education, journalism and evangelistic ministry.15

Uchimura's distinctive contribution to Japanese Christianity is his mu-kyokai or 'non-church' concept, which was a major initiative towards indigenization, or a unique Japanese form of Christianity. He rejected the institutional church as 'a kind of government or political party, which tries to expand its power and save the people, not by faith but by public opinion'.16 He disliked creeds and traditional doctrines, and was indifferent towards the sacraments. For him, the Gospel is 'Jesus Christ and him crucified. I protest against any doctrine or set of doctrines which go beyond ... this simplest of all doctrines'17 and the non-church is the natural expression of the community of the coming kingdom; it is the true church, the church of those who are without an institutional church. However, Uchimura never rejected the church perse as a community of God's people, unlike some of his more radical followers. He and his followers formed small Bible study groups, meeting weekly in homes. Widely published, he had a major and lasting impact on the Japanese church and society.

Toyohiko Kagawa converted to Christianity at fifteen, subsequently training in the Presbyterian College, Tokyo, followed by Kobe Theological Seminary and, later, Princeton. He moved to Shinkawa, the appalling Kobe slums, in 1909 in order to begin a credible programme of evangelism and social outreach as an insider. As a Christian socialist, he

Akio Dohi, 'The First Generation: Christian Leaders in the First Period', in Yasuo Furuya (ed.), A l6 History of Japanese Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), pp. 11—42 at pp. 18 and 35—42. Kanzo Uchimura, The Study of the Bible, no. 11 (1921), cited in Dohi, 'The First Generation', p. 37. Kanzo Uchimura, Protestantism, no. 5 (1916), cited in Dohi, 'The First Generation', p. 40.

cared for the sick and destitute, unionizing both industrial workers and peasants (at a time when unions were illegal), espousing non-violence and opposing Japanese military aggression overseas. He was often in trouble with the police and sometimes imprisoned, until, at the height of the 1930s depression, he was made chief adviser to Tokyo's welfare bureau, subsequently serving as special adviser to the government on public welfare.

As an indefatigable evangelist, Kagawa coordinated the Kingdom of God Movement in Japan from 1929—32, netting 62,460 'decisions', although only a fraction of these actually joined the church. His goal, in his own words, was to effect 'the salvation of 100,000 poor, hasten the day of the emancipation of 9,430,000 labourers toiling in various fields and liberate 20,000,000 tenant farmers'.18 Perhaps the greatest difficulty in assessing Kagawa lies with his theology. Charles Germany places him among the key exponents of modern Japanese liberal theology.19 Nevertheless, he held fundamentalist theological beliefs, such as the virgin birth, the incarnation and the Cross as penal substitution. Yet, his extreme optimism about post-conversion humanity and his view of the Kingdom of God as fully realizable in history, through an ethic of love and human brotherhood, clearly place him amongst proponents of the social gospel. He maintains respect amongst Japanese Christians today.


The three most notable revivalist figures of China in the 1920s and 1930s are Wang Ming-Dao (1900—91), John Sung (1901—44) and Watchman Nee (1903—72). In 1927 Wang Ming-Dao began building the Christian Tabernacle, an indigenous church in Beijing, in addition to which he produced a quarterly magazine, Spiritual Food. Between 1927 and 1940 John Sung brought revival to hundreds of churches across China and Southeast Asia, leading to tens of thousands of conversions, and exercised a powerful healing ministry. At the same time Watchman Nee (or Nee To-Sheng) was building a network of churches called 'Little Flocks' throughout China. Both Wang and Nee suffered long years of Communist incarceration, with the latter dying in prison.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, there was widespread opposition towards Christianity and its perceived links with imperialistic

Cited in William Axling, Kagawa (London: SCM, 1932), p. 112.

Charles H. Germany, Protestant Theologies in Modern Japan (Tokyo: International Institute for the Study of Religious Responsibility, 1965), pp. 32—7.

western powers. In response to the anti-Christian attacks one group of Chinese Christians, many of them modernist, responded quickly with apologetic arguments and indigenization efforts, shaped by the social gospel of the time.20 The conservatives, while agreeing with the modernists on the need for national salvation and the revitalization of the church, however, rejected the social gospel in favour of a soteriological focus emphasizing personal conversion. For them, repentance and faith in Christ was the first step towards real transformation. Only then could the church exemplify the life of Christ, and China's hope of building a truly ethical society materialize. As Thomas Harvey states, 'Beneath the harsh rhetoric, the true divide between Chinese modernists and fundamentalists lay not in the goal of social improvement but in the means for achieving it.'21 Wang, Sung and Nee agreed upon the need for an independent Chinese church, recognizing that western control and dependency on foreign funds were stunting church growth; hence, they advocated the three-self principle (two decades before the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Communist era). Sung, for example, urged the church 'to be self-propagating, self-governing and self-supporting',22 and Wang built his Beijing church on that basis. Nee went further by challenging the division between clergy and laypersons, and promoting local autonomous and non-denominational churches, freed from external organizational control. In practice, however, his 'Little Flock' movement became an indigenous denomination of its own, having grown, by 1949, to seven hundred congregations with seventy thousand members. The movement remains a significant force amongst the contemporary house church movement in China. Nevertheless, Sung was the most effective Chinese evangelist and revivalist of that period and operated most freely in the realm of 'signs and wonders', including healing and prophecy, even though he was not a classical Pentecostal.23

All three men borrowed much from the theologies of conservative western missionaries, which, at the time, prioritized the spiritual over

20 Wing-Hung Lam, Chinese Theology in Construction (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1983); Chun Kwan Lee, 'The Theology of Revival in the Chinese Christian Church, 1900—1949: Its Emergence and Impact', unpublished PhD thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary (1988),

Thomas A. Harvey, Acquainted with Grief: Wang Mingdao's Stand for the Persecuted Church in

22 China (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2002), p. 8.

Cited in Leslie Lyall, A Biography of John Sung (Singapore: Armour, 2004), p. 98. Similar statements can be found in his diary entries; cf. John Sung, The Diaries of John Sung: An Autobiography, trans. Stephen L. Sheng (Brighton, MI: Luke H. Sheng and Stephen L. Sheng,

Lyall, A Biography of John Sung, pp. xv and 168—73; on 'tongues' see Sung, The Diaries of John Sung, p. 29.

socio-cultural matters. Hence, despite the inadequacy of the modernists' alternative, these Chinese leaders failed adequately to address the socio-cultural challenges of their world. Nevertheless their legacy has helped shape the ethos of the Chinese house church movement, as well as that of many overseas Chinese churches today.

the second half of the twentieth century

The Second World War disrupted the life of the Asian churches, only to be followed by two decades of regional wars and widespread poverty. Through these times the church grew steadily, albeit slowly, in most places. It was some time before a more mature evangelicalism began to detach itself from its earlier fundamentalist tendencies, and for indigenous pentecostal movements to come into their own. From the late 1960s onwards there has been a gradual growth and strengthening such that, by the end of the twentieth century, Asian Protestant Christianity was largely evangelical and/or pentecostal.

Asian Christianity has always been broadly conservative, although some western missionaries and western-trained national leaders attempted to steer it in a liberal direction. In order to fight this trend, evangelicals banded together increasingly after the Second World War, initially forming the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia and the Asia Theological Association (ATA), and followed later by the Asia Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization. Notable individuals associated with these movements include Bong Rin Ro, Ken Gnanakan and Vinay Samuel; the first two were General Secretaries of the ATA. Ro's contribution has been mainly through his editorial work of multi-authored volumes on evangelical Asian contextual theology.24 Similarly, Gnanakan has produced some important volumes on mission-related issues, while Samuel, in conjunction with his British colleague, Chris Sugden, has produced important literature on holistic mission.25

Similarly, within pentecostal circles, some very significant thinking in mission and evangelism has been emerging. For example, among

4 These include Bong Rin Ro and Ruth Eshenaur, The Bible and Theology in Asian Contexts (Taichung: ATA, 1984); Bong Rin Ro (ed.), Christian Alternatives to Ancestor Practices (Taichung: ATA, 1985); Bong Rin Ro and Mark C. Albrecht (eds.), God in Asian Contexts (Taichung: ATA, 25 1988).

See for example Ken Gnanakan, Proclaiming Christ in a Pluralistic Context (Bangalore: Theological Book Trust, 1989 and 2000); Vinay Samuel and Christopher Sugden (eds.), The Church in Response to Human Need (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and Oxford: Regnum, 1987); and Vinay Samuel and Christopher Sugden (eds.), Mission as Transformation (Oxford: Regnum, 1999).

non-classical Pentecostals, Bakht Singh of India, who founded a cluster of 'Assemblies' with more than 200,000 members, has been referred to as a 'biblical indigenous prophet'.26 Also, important theological work on evangelism, mission, pastoral leadership and spirituality is emerging among classical Pentecostals, such as Simon Chan, Wonsuk Ma,27 Young-Gi Hong, and, most notably, David Yong-Gi Cho, the pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Korea, all of whom come from the Assemblies of God tradition.

From a rather different angle, the Korean Presbyterian, Moonjang Lee, has made some innovative evangelical contributions to hermeneutics, mission and theology in an Asian and religiously plural context.28 We shall look at ATA, Samuel and Cho in more detail below.

Asia Theological Association (ATA)

The Asia Theological Association was formed out of the concern that the Asian church leadership was being increasingly influenced by liberal theology. It was first constituted in 1968 at the Asia South-Pacific Congress of Evangelism in Singapore, with the goal of developing evangelical scholars and thinkers for the leadership of the Asian Church. Since its inception it has helped develop theological education all over the continent, up to doctoral level, and it has acted as the accreditation body for evangelical seminaries.

Theologically, its 'Statement of Faith' indicates that it follows mainstream evangelicalism in the west, as opposed to sectarian fundamental-ism.29 At the same time, in its concern for contextualization, it demonstrates that it is no mere western clone. Without minimizing the dangers of religious syncretism, universalism and accommodation in contextualization, it nevertheless affirms that 'these ... should not excuse evangelical theologians from taking responsibility for their cultural context seriously'.30 In line with this concern, it has pioneered efforts to

Karma Crash Course

Karma Crash Course

Finally, The Ultimate Guide To Changing Your Life Forever. Get Your Hands On The Ultimate Guide For Improving Karma And Live A Life Of Fortune And Certainty. Discover How Ordinary People Can Live Extraordinary Lives Through Improving Their Karma.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment