reviewed by Lawton W. Posey
Philip L. Wickeri, who teaches evangelism and mission at San Francisco Theological Seminary, has done readers a great service by writing this study of Bishop K. H. Ting, and his leadership in the Christian Church in China.
This lengthy and well-written book will be interesting to a variety of readers. There are still among us a few (very few) of the old missionaries who served China until the ascendancy of the Communist Party in the late forties. Those of my generation listened to their stories, and know of their dedication to the people of China. We can call names such as Harold T. Bridgeman, L. Nelson Bell, C. H. Patterson, the Griers, and others who served sacrificially in China. Some parts of Wickeri’s book may trouble those who have an idealized picture of the missionary service of those sturdy people.
Another group interested in the Chinese Church who may read this volume are those who continue to support certain kinds of mission in that great land. They may be disturbed by the notion of a church that is not particularly interested in the mission activities of a former age.
Still others, and I include myself, have had at least a more than passing interest in China. My grandfather, who died in 1934, was something of a front porch philosopher, and is supposed to have stated that China would rise to greatness in the future. If he did say that, he was probably prescient. China is not the China of the old missionaries, or of legend, but a growing, bustling, and sometimes overwhelming presence in Asia.
Onto the stage of Chinese life, and the history of the Christian Church in China strode the Anglican educated K. H. Ting. Born in 1915, and ordained as a priest in the Anglican-Episcopal Church in China seventy years ago, Ting eventually became a bishop, and is, in fact, the last remaining bishop of that no longer existing communion.
Early in the time of the ascendancy of the Communist government, Ting became a spokesman for the Three Self Patriotic Movement, which was designed to bring unity and government control to the varied churches of China. Catholics were bound together by the Catholic Patriotic Association, which is not in communion with the Church of Rome.
Ting’s promotion of Three Self has been controversial, even in China. Many Christian evangelicals have in recent times been quite critical of a church organization with ties to the state. Ting’s rise to power as a leader in both church and national organizations has been seen by some as a fruitful endeavor, but by others as a betrayal of the heritage of missionary activity of former times. Ting’s role in the difficult times of the Cultural Revolution has troubled some.
I had known little about K. H. Ting. I read an interview with Ting in The Christian Century years ago. I had a hard time then getting a handle on his theology and practice.
Wickeri’s searching study provides insights into K. H. Ting’s theology, hopes, and dreams. Ting, according to this book, has always held on to his liberal Anglican thought, influenced more by the Gospels than the Pauline Epistles. For him, justification by faith (a major Reformed theme) is not nearly as important as an understanding of God’s love for all people. Ting’s hope was and is that the Three Self Patriotic Movement/China Christian Council would embody a religious approach very close to his own. Whether that will be the case is still an open question for many.
Ting’s approach to a theology for China has been called “reconstruction;” the motto of such a church Ting conceives as “running the church well.”
This book is remarkably free from jargon. There is a glossary of abbreviations, which is most helpful, as many organizations are mentioned. If I were to suggest this study to students in seminaries and other schools, I would recommend that the chapter called “Conclusion” be read first, as it summarizes much of the earlier writing.
The issues faced by K. H. Ting are, in some ways, different from those faced in America, and other western nations. That being said, the questions of theological reconstruction, the ascendancy of fundamentalism in the church scene, and the relationship between government and organized faith bodies bear striking resemblances to the questions that Bishop Ting has raised for the Church in China.
One of the strengths of this book is its photography. Bishop Ting and his wife, Siu-may Kuo, are pictured at various stages in their lives. Ting appears in episcopal garb, western informal clothing, and in an outfit sometimes called a “Mao suit.” There are also ample lists of the works of Ting, who has written well into his nineties on religious and political themes.
This book will not answer all our questions about Bishop Ting, but Wickeri speaks from experience. He worked with Ting in the Amity Foundation, which has provided educational assistance and Bible printing services in China for many years. Wickeri knows Ting personally, and has interviewed him on a number of occasions.
I recommend this book for students of mission, church leaders, and persons interested in China and its Christian presence.
Lawton W. Posey is a retired minister living in Charleston, W. Va.