Interdisciplinary, Universal and Contextual Sino-Christian Theology

There was a wave of introducing western thoughts in the Mainland academia in the 1980s. “Sino-Christian Studies/Theology” was thus established in the promotion of ISCS and some Chinese scholars. Its starting point was from the humanities disciplines like philosophy, history and literary studies, and it has been developing gradually in the following decades.

After some 20 years, in the 1990s the once integrated study of Christianity has developed into many precise and professional subdivisions in the pluralistic modern Chinese context. This can be seen from the many disciplines and methodologies traversed by Christian studies in China. From the perspective of disciplines, Christian studies in China in the 1990s belonged mainly to philosophy, history and literary studies. But in the decade following many Christian studies research units have emerged in different universities. Research plans related to “Sino-Christian theology” have been accepted by funds offered at university and national levels. The subject of Sino-Christian studies/theology has gradually been established.

From the perspective of methodology, Christian studies have a much precise and professional division of labour. For example, there were trends of theological studies (studying the thoughts and trends of different Christian traditions), biblical studies (textual interpretation and cross-textual hermeneutics), cultural studies (post-colonial, feminist and ecological interpretation), empirical studies of anthropology and sociology or religion (study of different regions, nationalities and communities), historical studies (on different denominations, figures, events, issues in the history of missions), religious dialogues (with Chinese religions), public theology (comparison with Euro-American style). We can see that Sino-Christian theology is becoming professional and taking an interdisciplinary route.

Undoubtedly Sino-Christian theology has absorbed resources from the ecumenical tradition including elements from Christian theology and ethics, biblical studies, issues from Christian history and its relationship with modernity. It is the universal Sino-Christian theology shares with ecumenical theology. Nevertheless the Christian mission to China can trace back to Jingjiao in Tang Dynasty some 1300 years ago. Afterwards different traditions (say Assyrian Church of the East, Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Protestantism, etc.) have been to China at different times and interacted with Chinese culture and these experiences formed the important foundation for a contextualized Christianity. In other words, the Sino-Christian theology promoted by ISCS is to enhance the dialogue and integration of the ecumenical Christian tradition with Chinese cultural traditions and the contemporary social context. For example, some Chinese scholars are now taking elements from the Christian thoughts to do dialogue with Chinese traditional religions, Marxism, and other contemporary thoughts, and some are even trying to respond to the contemporary Chinese political and economic situation with Christian jurisprudent thought, reflecting on Chinese nationalism, authoritative capitalism and social ethics, and concerning issues emerged in urbanization, feminist liberation and ecological problems. From the perspective of Chinese Christian thought, we have been facing issues emerging from different cultural and political contexts from the 1300 years history. Some look similar to those of the ecumenical tradition while differences can still be articulated.