Discerning a Lived Chinese Protestant Theology: Everyday Life and Encounters with the Other in Contemporary China
Author(s)Law, Easten G
Contributor(s)Phan, Peter C
Sociology of Religion
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This study advances a theo-social method of analysis to discern a lived theology among mainland Chinese Protestant young adults in the contemporary Shanghai and Hong Kong regions that bridges empirical research with theological construction. Inspired by abductive reasoning, a religious formation framework built from lived religion scholarship is used to analyze data drawn from qualitative interviews that identify how God’s presence is experienced and expressed in everyday life. Key findings include experiences of inner peace and ethical guidance drawn from congregational life, scripture, and personal devotion. Additional cycles of research, analysis, and theological reflection reveal how these experiences are negotiated and reformed across multiple boundaries of sociocultural diversity, inter-religious encounter, and community belonging within the different contexts of mainland China and Hong Kong.
When embedded in the larger context of modern Chinese society’s ambivalent religious history, my informants’ experiences can be understood as products of a triple negotiation of “liquid religiosity” worked out among China’s multiple modernities: a process of selective re-enchantment, the pursuit of a common or everyday cosmopolitanism, and a search for familial belonging. Relying on insights from David Tracy’s analogical imagination and the growing field of theological ethnography, this triple negotiation is bridged with the theological principles of incarnation, revelation, and the image and mission of God via a process of “semiotic parallelism.” This process reframes observations of religious formation as a theologically framed process of Christ-like formation that understands experiences of disruption and migration as elements of an abductive Christology, adaptive missiology, and participatory ecclesiology.
To situate this argument in modern Chinese theological discourse, the lives and ministries of three important Chinese theologians (Zhao Zichen, Ding Guangxun, and Ni Tuosheng) are highlighted as examples of how Christ-likeness is formed in their experiences of disruption and negotiation. Seen through the lens of lived theology, Zhao’s Christology, Ding’s missiology, and Ni’s theological anthropology and ecclesiology provide valuable resources for negotiating Christian faith and liquid religiosity in contemporary China. In conclusion, this study’s theo-social analysis links God’s active presence with the boundary crossing experiences of my informants to articulate a lived theology of migration consistent with contemporary Chinese Christian experiences in an interconnected world and church.
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