China and Christian Origins
I’m currently in Hong Kong in the midst of teaching a short course on “‘God’ in New Testament Theology” (drawing on my book by this title published last year), under the auspices of the Centre for Sino-Christian Studies (17-23 June), and once again impressed with the intensity and extent of Chinese academic interest in Christianity. There are now several institutes and departments in Chinese universities with a focus on Christianity, its history, ideas, and influences upon thought and culture, especially in the West. I have over 30 young scholars from mainland China (PhD students or young lecturers in Chinese universities) who have come to Hong Kong for this course. Most of them are not Christian believers, but they all have strong interests in understanding better the history, beliefs, and impact of Christianity.
Till now, however, most of the studies done in China have been more in the cultural and/or intellectual history of Christianity, and very little has been done in biblical studies or the origins of Christianity. This is largely because there has been little opportunity to acquire the primary-text languages. Most of the Western scholars invited to lecture in China have been theologians, and historians. So I’m particularly pleased to have this opportunity (as a New Testament scholar) to provide some focused study on the New Testament texts and the earliest expressions of Christian faith.
Right now, given the enormous growth of Christianity (figures put at 100+ million Christians in China), and this considerable academic interest as well, I consider China one of the most intriguing places in the world. Its size, economic impact, potential political influences, and other factors are undeniable. But for me there is also the potential of its academic and intellectual developments. I’m delighted to be here and able to see a bit of this, and perhaps in some small way make a contribution.