Studying Christianity and doing theology extra ecclesiam in China

Choong Chee Pang


Cyprian (c. 200-58), Bishop of Carthage, insisted that 'outside the church there is no salvation' (extra ecclesiam nulla salus). In the context of modern China, the question is now: Is there Christian theology outside the (Chinese) church (extra ecclesiam)? This has become an important issue in modern China because non-Christian scholars in the Chinese academia have been seriously involved in studying Christianity and doing theology for about twenty years now. Lo Ping Cheung of the Hong Kong Baptist University has in fact written an article on this issue: 'Can Any Good Theology Come Out of the University?'1

Lo writes in response to Wilson Chow and Liu Xiao Feng who hold opposing views on the issue. Chow holds that 'The university has virtually no place for theology. As such, the responsibility for theological studies has landed on the theological college.'2 On the other hand, Liu Xiao Feng asserts that if the goals and interests of Sino-Christian theology are perceived within the structure of academia, it will have to depend on the university to produce the kind of theologically educated intellectuals who can expand the knowledge of Christian thought as well as having the ability to engage in dialogue on modern thinking. As such, the traditional division between 'humanist theology' and 'church theology' is precisely what is needed for the survival of Christianity in the modern context.

P. C. Lo and P. S. Kang (eds.), University and Christian Studies (Hong Kong: Centre for Sino-2 Christian Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University, 2002), pp. 373—89.

Calver Yu (ed.), Life and Knowledge: Silver Jubilee Anthology of the China Graduate School of Theology (Hong Kong: China Graduate School of Theology, 2001), pp. 9-12.

Such a division is also required for the development of Sino-Christian theology.3

Lo Ping Cheung attempts to look at the issue from both the perspectives of Chow and Liu and is of the opinion that much depends on how 'the church' is being understood. Treating the church as an 'institution' is just one way of understanding it. In the more restricted sense, Lo thinks that those who are engaged in Christian studies in the university may not necessarily be members of the institutionalized church. On the other hand the church may also be understood as a communion or community (koinonia, Gemeinschaft, fellowship). In this broader sense, those who are involved in Christian studies in the university can have their place in both the university and the Christian community. Lo sees the church-run theological institution and the university-based Christian studies having complementary roles to play. As such, there should be a mutual respect between the two as well as appreciation for each other.4


('cultural heat') of the 1980S

The Christian studies in the Chinese academia which started in the early 1980s must be put in a much broader socio-political context. For nearly thirty years after the founding of Communist China in 1949, this gigantic nation with the largest population on earth chose ideologically to live in isolation from the so-called free world' dominated by the west, especially the United States. Mr Deng Xiao Ping's Open Door Policy, inaugurated in 1978, marked China's most decisive step towards modernization. Deng's epoch-making policy was very pragmatic. It was clearly dictated by economic considerations over the others. In order to modernize, China had to open its forbidden red door to the outside world. But once this happened, the socio-political and other implications were obvious. Throughout the long history of China, the intellectuals were usually among those who first perceived the changing atmosphere of the nation. The Chinese intellectuals in the late 1970s were no exception. This new atmosphere soon generated a kind of heat' (re), which the Chinese qualified with the adjective 'cultural' (wen hua), hence, ' cultural heat' (wen hua re). The newly generated cultural heat' which was felt in the

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