The Indegenization Movement (1890-1949)

    The Indigenization Movement (1890-1949)

    by Sidney Yuan

    The internal (weakness) and external (invasion from the western countries) problems confronted by China sparked the May 4th Movement. A number of Chinese scholars emerged to take part in politics, trying to rescue China by westernizing her. Among them, Chinese Christians sought to adopt Christianity into the Chinese culture. A popular approach at that time was known as the Indegenization Movement (Contextualization). The word Indigenization was derived from Latin with 'in' meaning within, 'de' meaning from, and 'gena' meaning to beget. It literally refers to that which is native or born from within, as compared to which is foreign or alien. From the point of view of Christian missions, the term refers to making the Gospel understood and acceptable to the local people.

    The five Indigenization approaches were
    1) The Inclusive Approach- Wu Leichuan
    2) The Harmonization Approach- Wang Zhixin
    3) The Fulfillment Approach- Wei Zuoming
    4) The Independent Approach- Wang Mingdao
    5) The Judgement Approach- Zhang Yijing

    All the indegenization approaches, except Wang Mingdao's, tried to rescue Chinese culture following the May 4 movement. The first three approaches, with varying degrees, lack true understanding of Christianity. Both the Inclusive Approach and the Harmonization Approach tried to cling on to the Chinese culture. The former made the mistake of thinking all truth is God's truth, and that there is no uniqueness of Christianity. The latter try to harmonize Christianity and Chinese culture, adopting Chinese culture into Christianity. This was exactly what God tried to avoid by giving the Jews special laws (e.g., circumcision) to separate them from their idolatry neighbors.

    The Fulfillment Approach realized the inadequacy of Chinese Culture, but it failed to acknowledge the deity of God by avoiding the miracles in the Bible. This approach treats the Scripture as pure narrative. By suppressing the deity of God, one denies His sovereignty. The miracles in the Bible served as proofs that God was the creator of the universe and the authenticity of Christ and His prophets and apostles. The accuracy of the Biblical prediction also served as solid support for the inerrancy of the Scripture. By limiting God's sovereignty, one reduces Him to just another mortal scholar like Confucius.

    The Independent Approach and the Judgement Approach were more sound theologically. Both stress the sovereignty of God and the blindness of the depraved man. The Independent Approach defines the world as believers and non-believers, light and darkness, without any middle ground. On the other hand, the Judgement Approach sought middle ground by urging the Confucius followers to look for the similarities between Confucianism and Christianity. The approach that Wang Mingdao took was very similar to the presuppositional method of apologetic, while the Judgement Approach can be considered to evidentialism.

    Paul's evangelistic experience in Athens as described in the book of Acts (Acts 17:16-34), can help us to evaluate theses Indegenization approaches. Noticing that the Athenians worshiped an Unknown God, Paul used that as a common ground to introduce Christianity. Paul proclaimed to the Athenians that this Unknown God of theirs was the One who made the world and everything in it, and that He does not dwell in temples made with hands. He further warned the Athenians that God will judge the world in righteousness by Christ, whom He has ordained and raised from the dead. During the presentation, Paul used another common ground by reminding the Athenians that even their poets wrote about them being the offspring of God. From this we can see that Paul used both Evidential and Presuppositional approaches. It is interesting to learn what Paul considered as common ground and what to proclaim. The two common grounds that Paul used were the Unknown God and that the Athenians were the offspring of God, with both being General Revelation. These are the facts that all men know, but tend to suppress. Paul simply reminded them the truth, before launching his proclamation. What Paul proclaimed on the other hand were Special Revelations, of God judgement and His salvation plan (Acts 17:31). Both General (Psalm 19:1-6) and Special Revelations (Psalm 19:7-14) are taught in the Bible.

    From an indegenization point of view, the Judgement Approach seems to be a better method, because Wang's Independent Approach was hardly an indegenization movement, due to his prejudice against culture. From Paul's experience, we learn that one should use General Revelation as common ground. In doing so, one is not conceding anything, since God has given all men this knowledge, thus we have no excuse of not knowing there is a creator. On the other hand, it might not be wise to use Special Revelation as a common ground, which would lead to the same mistakes as the Inclusion Approach, e.g., confusing kindness as the Holy Spirit and God's creation work as the legend described in the Chinese culture. Special Revelation should simply be proclaimed to the nonbelievers as presuppositions. Since the depraved men are blind to God's truth, they cannot comprehend God's truth unless He first opens the eyes of His elect.

    In summary, out of the five approaches, the Judgement Approach seems to be the best Indegenization method. However, one should be careful in selecting the common ground materials. Although there might be similarities between Chinese culture and Christianity, one should not be quick in equating the two. On the other hand, it is fine to look for God's General Revelations in Chinese culture and use that as a common ground between believers and nonbelievers. The Judgement Approach seemed be more suitable for the Chinese society at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the Chinese were trying desperately to hold on to their culture. Wang Mingdao's Independent Approach on the other hand might be more appropriate nowadays, in the modern Chinese society.

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