Should we study the Shandong Revival?

Studies in global Christianity are driving scholarship in every missiological camp. Philip Jenkins, in publishing The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, sparked the renewal in popular interest in the relationship between globalization to Christianity. His main argument is that by 2050, the geographic center of Christianity will no longer be in the global North, but in the Global South: Africa, Asia, and Latin America.[1] Jenkins, though, acknowledges that his observations are not new. He gives credit to Andrew Walls, Edward Norman, and Walbert Buhlman, and the publication of the World Christian Encyclopedia.[2] Walls works and his influence as a scholar and mentor, in particular, have been significantly influential in this field, especially in studies in African Christianity.[3] Historians, though, have recognized the growing Christian majority world. Kenneth Scott Latourette, in the seventh volume of his most notable work A History of the Expansion of Christianity, argued that

However, in the portion of the period embraced in the three decades between A.D. 1914 and A.D. 1944 what was seen was not recession but a continuation of advance. The advance was of a somewhat different kind than that of the nineteenth century…The advance was seen in three main ways. In the first place, Christianity and its influence were more nearly evenly distributed across the face of the earth in A.D. 1944 than in A.D. 1914…In the second place, Christianity was more deeply rooted among non-Occidental peoples in A.D. 1944 than it had been in A.D. 1914…In the third place. Christians were being knit more consciously into a worldwide fellowship than had been the case since the first three centuries when the Catholic Church was coming into being.[4]

In the face of the apparent collapse of Western civilization and the recess of western Christianity, Latourette saw that Christianity was flourishing in the absence of Western missionaries; when the younger churches were thrust into leadership de facto, they excelled. Furthermore, Latourette stated that “We must here also note a striking power of renewal. Again and again when Christianity seemed moribund revivals broke out within it.”[5] In other words, when Christianity appears to be waning in influence, revival breaks out in renewed vitality. The early twentieth century witnessed much of this renewal. So, while a scholar after scholar produces monograph after monograph on the emerging global South (though an  important subject), it is quite evident that the upsurge of global Christianity began earlier than most realize. Many recent works, however, recognize the importance of the history of missions in the early twentieth century for understanding current global trends.

Two works in particular set-the-stage, so to speak, for in-depth critical study of the Shantung Revival. The first is a published dissertation by Kevin Xiyi Yao, The Fundamentalist Movement Among Protestant Missionaries in China, 1920–1937. The second is a monograph by Mark Shaw, Global Awakening: How 20th-Century Revivals Triggered a Christian Revolution.

Kevin Yao argues that the story of fundamentalist missionaries in China has been left untold, as well as that of conservative Chinese churches. His dissertation, though, focuses mainly on the missions of the Northern and Southern Presbyterians and fundamentalist alliance institutions within China. His work is an excellent introduction to the modernist-fundamentalist controversy played out in China, but he by no means designs his project to be exhaustive. His dissertation “concentrates on doctrinal and theological dimensions of the missionary fundamentalist movement.”[6] While this prospectus will highlight the influence of Early Keswick Theology upon the Shantung Revival, Yao did not discuss this point at length, nor did he mention the revival, since “evangelical piety was not the focal point of debates between the fundamentalist and modernist camps in the field.”[7] Yao agrees, however, that further research is needed in the field regarding the contribution of Southern Baptists and the Shantung Revival.[8] Yao’s dissertation has opened the doors for research on any number of conservative/ fundamentalist/evangelical missions working in China in the first third of the twentieth century.

Mark Shaw provides another source of impetus for this study. In Global Awakening, Shaw argues that global revivals, through the translating of scripture and the transfer of power (from missionary to national, for example), have been the impetus behind the global expansion of Christianity in the twentieth century. Shaw notes eight such global revivals from the early 1900s to the beginning of the twenty-first century. He builds off of Latourette’s observation that revivals were at the forefront of the tidal ebb and flow of the expansion of Christianity.[9] When discussing the Chinese house-church movement, he identifies two prior waves of revival in China in the twentieth century. He mentions the Shantung revival as part of the second wave, but it as only one stream in a larger movement. This analysis is significant;[10] however, the full story of the Shantung Revival has not yet received critical study.[11]

[1] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). One searches in vain for a single thesis statement in Jenkins’ monograph, but the theme of the future of the demographics of Christianity is the issue at hand. The closest statements are found throughout the first chapter.

[2] Ibid., 3

[3] See for instance, Andrew Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2007); and Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1996). See especially chapter six in the latter work “Origins of Old Northern and New Southern Christianity”.

[4] Kenneth Scott Latourette, Advance through Storm: AD 1914 and After, with Concluding Generalizations, Vol. 7 of A History of the Expansion of Christianity (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1945), 463–4.

[5] Ibid., 487.

[6] Kevin Xiyi Yao, The Fundamentalist Movement Among Protestant Missionaries in China, 1920–1937 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2003), 15.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Per personal correspondence with Dr. Yao.

[9] Mark Shaw, Global Awakening: How 20th-Century Revivals Triggered a Christian Revolution (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010), 27.  Shaw also credits Andrew Walls with this observation.

[10] Cf. Daniel H. Bays, “Christian Revival in China, 1900–1937” in Modern Christian Revivals, ed. Edith L. Blumhofer and Randall Balmer (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 161–79; Bays, “The Growth of Independent Christianity in China, 1900–1937” in Christianity in China: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present, ed. Daniel H. Bays (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), 307–16.

[11] One exception would be: Chun Kwan Lee, “The Theology of Revival in the Chinese Christian Church, 1900–1949: Its Emergence and Impact,” Ph.D. dissert., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1988.  Here Lee devotes two pages to the reports of Southern Baptist missionaries regarding the Shantung Revival. There are sufficient resources to say more.

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