A Clear Understanding: Books that Shape China Partnership

Editor's note: I recently asked some of China Partnership's leadership team what books have most influenced their work. Focusing this week on Christian publication in China, I was curious to know what books have shaped CP. The responses were thoughtful and challenging - these guys read a lot! I'll definitely be adding a lot of these titles to my reading list and encourage those interested in getting know both CP and China better to do the same.

What books have shaped CP's focus on the gospel and the church?

杨明道: To start, theological books are very helpful because we have to have a clear understanding of what the kingdom of God is and what its relationship to the culture is. So for that, Vos’s book lays out and very clearly articulates the relationship between the church and the culture.

Also, Clowney’s book, which is the doctrine of the church, and Ridderbos’s books, one of which focuses on Pauline theology and the other on the meaning of the gospel and the kingdom. Also, Richard Gaffin’s Resurrection and Redemption. All of these books help to shape our theology and our doctrine of the church, and also our perspective on the church and the culture. And of course, Keller’s Center Church has been very helpful. These have been very helpful. They have all created our theological background.

The Kingdom of God and the Church, by Geerhardus Vos

The Church, by Edmund Clowney

Paul: An Outline of His Theology, by Herman Ridderbos

The Coming of the Kingdom, by Herman Ridderbos

Resurrection and Redemption: A Study of Paul’s Soteriology, by Richard Gaffin

Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, by Tim Keller

I also speak very highly of Andrew Walls’s missiology - it is a huge influencer of my work. He has two books, and his writing has played a big part in forming our ministry strategies and philosophy. It has helped us to know where we are in doing ministry in China and what the historical precedent for this process is. I think everybody in Christian ministry needs to read these two books. They are not thick books, but every chapter is so interesting and so useful.

The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith, by Andrew Walls

The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith, by Andrew Walls

What are some of your personal favorite books?

杨明道: In shaping my personal understanding of the gospel, Tim Keller’s books have been important. But I particularly appreciate Martin Luther’s Theology of the Cross. There are some good modern translations of it to check out. Martin Luther’s theology of the cross has really personally impacted me and my spirituality.

On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518, by Gerhard Forde

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, by Carl Trueman

How has reading helped you to understand China?

杨明道: Reading Chinese history has also been a huge help. Understanding Chinese history, US history, and world history has helped me understand where we are in world history, what the Western and Chinese dynamics are, and how China came to today from three thousand years ago. This has helped me see how China came from more of a feudalist society into today’s time; and in modern history, how the Anglo-Chinese wars and conflict really shaped today’s mindset and today’s ideology.

There are some general history books that give good background, but there is one book written by a Western scholar that is a marvelous book, not only because it talks about the ten years from 1860 to 1870, but because it has a very detailed analysis of what was going on and all of the social conflicts and dynamics. It examines how the old society and structures transitioned into the new; but on the way, they started to collapse. The new things did not come to fruition. This book was originally written in English and then translated back into Chinese, and it is a very fantastic book.

I would say that anyone trying to seriously minister to Chinese needs to read this book. It’s not an easy read, and it’s talking about almost one hundred and fifty years ago, but just seeing from that lens how we got to where we are today is fantastic. It helps to really appreciate Chinese history, because it really lays the foundation for how the country transitioned from the Qing Dynasty and its traditionalism to today, and how that last battle of survival for Qing traditionalism succeeded pretty much, but then it just suddenly collapsed. It is a very, very fascinating book.

There are many other good books on the general background of Chinese history, but I think as long as you see China from a perspective of cultural transition, you understand that everything happening now is still just the same transition taking place. When you understand that, then you have a better understanding of what is going on. There has been a long struggle with modernity, and it has happened everywhere. We even see it now in the Islamic world. And even though modernity grew up in the Western world, Western Christianity still has to face it. The struggle with modernity is everywhere. From that angle, you look at what is currently happening in China and you can see that China is still in a stage of transition.

This circles back to why I am so fascinated by Luther’s theology of the cross. The only path of survival is the gospel, and the gospel is really the cross. If Western Christianity cannot really understand and embrace the cross, the true gospel, then Christianity in the West will be doomed.

The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism: The T’ung-Chih Restoration, 1862-1874, by Mary Clabaugh Wright

Jeff Kyle: Wild Swans was the main contextual book I read to prepare for serving in southwest China for three years after college. I had already read a lot of Chinese 20th century history and about the ways so many people were impacted by different events; however, this book gave me the true life stories of three generations of Chinese women. I think this book enabled me to see the Chinese people as extraordinary in resilience and courage.  

Wild Swans, by June Chang

What books can help Anglo Americans engage Chinese populations?

Jeff Kyle: Following Jesus Without Dishonoring Your Parents was one of the first books I read to prepare for my first summer trip to China while in college. It prepared me to see how different cultures really are, and how even the things I would consider simple interactions with my parents have a totally different dynamic in Asian contexts. This book really gave me a lens to see the uniqueness of each person, and how his or her life story meets the gospel in different ways than mine. 

Following Jesus Without Dishonoring Your Parents, by Jeanette Yep, Pater Cha, Paul Tokunaga, Greg Jao, and Susan Cho Van Riesen

Also, J.D. Payne is one of my favorite missiologists because he writes with such clarity and passion. The world is changing because of globalization, transportation, technology, and mass migration. As churches in the US and the broader Western context think about what mission should look like, J.D.’s book was influential in helping me see the significance of reaching the different ethne as they are scattered across the globe, as well as in their countries of origin. Mission is not just about sending the few who are called out of their own country, but it is about the entire church loving the stranger next door. This book is a must read for anyone thinking about missions from a Western context.

Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission, by J.D. Payne

Many Colors is a great read after Strangers Next Door because Rah demonstrates how the US is changing so rapidly in its ethnic make up, and that it is so easy for the majority culture in our nation not to take time to listen to the minority cultures. In my own life I have seen the tendency to believe that my views or perspectives are the correct ones due to my education, experience, etc. Many Colors was a helpful read for me to step back and both challenge and encourage myself to listen to the stories of the non-Anglo American experience, beginning to grow in cultural intelligence.

Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing World, by Soong-Chan Rah