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China and Christian Origins

June 19, 2011

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.

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  1. Kurt Brown permalink

    Thanks for the post…very interesting. Keep up the posts, I enjoy reading your blog.

  2. Sam Tsang permalink

    Hi, Dr. Hurtado. It’s funny this world is so small. Dr. Wasserman’s friend Dieter is also my friend here in HK. I teach at the HK Baptist Theological Seminary here. You get a lot of mainlanders studying in Universities here in HK. They can’t really legally study in HK seminaries here, only universities. Most universities here are focused on cultural elements. HK students are overall very knowledgable in biblical studies, but those who study the Bible seriously tend to go to seminaries for their studies. There is a reason why they do not study the text in the mainland. It is because hardly any Christian scholar can publish on the Bible itself. In order to be an academic in many universities, you can’t be professing Christian. Furthermore, HK has published a lot of biblical studies materials as they’re many PhD’s here teaching and writing, but such material is not allowed to be published in the mainland. This leads to a shortage of material. This is my theory. China knows that once people study the text, they’ll get at the root of Christianity even more, whether exegetically or historically. So, it keeps Christianity as a religious phenomenon in the universities. This trend will continue as long as the communist party is in charge. Although many mainlanders will come to HK to study, biblical studies will continue to be backwards in the mainland. In HK, however, it’s always going to progress unless the mainland clamps down on it (which could well happen). Do pray for the situation.

  3. Mike Bird permalink

    There’s some good stuff on Christianity in China in Philip Jenkin’s book “The Lost History of Christianity”. My colleague here at Crossway is a Chinese speaking South African, Johan Ferreira, and he’s written some stuff about the history of Christianity in China, particularly during the Tang Dynasty.

  4. I must confess I am a bit envious. By the way, my former colleage in Lund, Dieter Mitternacht, is currently the New Testament professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Hong Kong (

  5. Thanks for taking the time and effort to post. Always interesting reading. I wonder if there is a disconnect between the Chinese academic world, and the world occupied by Chinese citizens, who are subject to governmental pressures to abandon Christian allegiance. Would be interesting to know if there is any academic study in China academia of the Chinese government’s treatment of Christian believers and adherents of other non-government endorsed groups. Some groups (Falun Gong) are banned outright and their adherents are considered criminals. While others (Jehovah’s Witnesses) are not recognized as legal but are not banned. And then there is the Catholic phenomenon in China, with the government sponsoring a parallel structure; this appears to be the fate intended for Tibetan Buddhism.

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