Evolution of evangelical socio-political approaches in contemporary China (1980s-2010s)
This thesis explores the evolution of Evangelical socio-political approaches in contemporary China, arguing that Evangelicals in both the Three-Self church and the house churches have moved towards an increasing sense of social concern in the period from the 1980s to the 2010s. The period is divided into a former period (1980s to early-1990s) and a latter period (mid-1990s to 2010s). The late 1970s was the beginning of the Reform and Opening Up policy, which brought about a relatively open socio-political context and led to fast economic growth. Meanwhile, Protestant Christianity experienced fast growth in church numbers and Christian population. The mid-1990s marked a new phase of significant social change, which saw the growth of a socialist market economy partnered with moral decline and social injustice that continued to the 2010s. During this period, Protestant Christianity witnessed the rise of urban churches and growth of Christian intellectuals. The vast majority of Protestants during both periods would be considered Evangelical. This thesis is a study of historical theology, focusing on four Evangelical church figures as case studies. Among them, in the former period, the house church pastor Lin Xiangao focuses on a pious Christian life and rewards in eternity while disengaging with the socio-political context. Different from Lin’s approach, the Three-Self church leader Wang Weifan aspires to a Chinese Christianity integrated with traditional Chinese culture, taking a culture-driven engagement with the sociopolitical context. In the latter period, the house church leader Sun Yi emphases the integrity and public nature of the church. He proposes to build the church as a model of moral integrity and organisational integrity, based on which the church should openly engage with the wider society. Contrastingly, the Three-Self church pastor Wu Weiqing emphasises a Christ-centred theology, by which he proposes faith in Christ as the solution to social injustice. Different from Sun’s blueprint of church integrity, Wu directs the church’s sense of social justice towards helping the poor through practical means like charity, social service and pastoral support. The present study reveals three trends of evolution in the Chinese church. The first trend is of house church Evangelicals, moving from a privatised faith to an open engagement with society. The second trend is of Three-Self church Evangelicals, moving from a culture-driven engagement to a society-oriented approach. The third trend is of Three-Self church and house church Evangelicals moving towards an increasing social concern across the two periods. Nevertheless, this increasing social concern has encountered changes under the state’s new political leadership in the second half of the 2010s, leaving the Evangelical’s quest for socio-political engagement to face new uncertainties in the near future.