The Redemptive-Historical Narrative in Evangelizing and Discipling Chinese Internationals

There has long been talk about the role of worldview in cross-cultural ministry and the need for Christians to understand not only their own worldview, but also the worldviews of those to whom they minister. As ministers and missionaries, we not only desire to understand people’s worldviews, but we also hope to see change occur in the student communities we serve. We believe the gospel can and should deeply impact the way our Chinese friends understand themselves, God, and the world. One aspect of worldview that has been getting more attention with the rise of the global church is that of cultural narrative. All peoples live according to a story explaining who they are – cultural narratives explain where a group comes from and where it is going. For individuals, cultural narratives explain what group they belong to and why. Of course, not every person has a complex and well-defined idea of what makes up his or her cultural narrative. Some people have highly articulated understandings of who they are, where they have come from, and where they are going. Others have less developed ideas and operate according to very basic terms of identity.

But regardless of the complexity or simplicity of the narrative, all people operate according to some story they believe explains who they are. For example, I know that I belong within the story of America and its perpetual struggle for liberty. I am the descendant of German and Scotch-Irish immigrants, and I am the first person on my mother’s side to graduate from college. I am a Christian and have always been part of a church since I was born. Along with many other aspects of my narrative, these big and small stories tell me who I am. I may not actively think about them much of the time, but the narrative within which I operate is integral to my understanding of both self and culture. From the small individual to the complex society, narratives shape the world in which we live.

As noted by historians and missiologists, the operative role of narratives in peoples and societies is precisely what makes conversion to Christianity so full of conflict. With the adoption of a new belief system, the convert suddenly risks losing all of her preceding cultural narratives. Who is she now and how does she relate to her home culture? Where is she going and what are the objectives of her life? And often most importantly, how is she supposed to interpret her past? How are the cultural narratives that previously shaped and defined her life to be dealt with?

When faced with these questions, converts to Christianity often respond in two potential ways. On one hand, they may deal with their conflict with complete abandonment of all preexisting narratives. Relationships with family and friends may be abandoned and all things associated with the individual’s home culture set aside. For those of us working with Chinese in America, an example of this might be the strong desire many new Christians display to remain in the United States rather than return home. Because their narrative of faith has only ever been experienced here, it is often simply easier to adopt a new cultural narrative rather than figure out how to deal with the one they left behind.

On the other hand, converts to Christianity may respond in a second way by trying to hold on to their preexisting narratives without letting the gospel challenge or reshape them. This can look like anything from complete syncretism to an overly pietistic interpretation of the gospel in which faith is relegated so completely to an inward and private reality that it never challenges the convert’s previously held narratives. I have watched many Chinese students embrace the gospel as a helpful tool or meaningful experience for life, but fall short of seeing the bigger picture. They continue to operate according to the big picture of life Chinese culture offers and little change takes place in their lives apart from a therapeutic sense of peace. While this inward peace is a good thing, by itself, it does not produce fruit in a person’s life.

As Americans working to spread the gospel within Chinese communities in our country, I am afraid that our students are particularly at risk in this area. They often do not have the benefit of coming to faith within their own cultural context, but rather are converting to a new belief system while in a foreign context. Especially if the Christian walking with them in the process is American, rather than Chinese, the convert faces greater conflict; for just as with all cross-cultural interaction, some of the gospel message will inevitably retain aspects of American culture. Even in my best efforts, I can never fully lay aside my own cultural narratives and this makes the picture even more muddled for my converts as they try to understand exactly what the gospel means for their own Chinese cultural narrative. When is the gospel itself creating conflict with the convert’s cultural narrative and when is it simply the American narrative clashing with the Chinese narrative?

Without an understanding of God’s redemptive-historical narrative for the world and of their personal and cultural place within that narrative, the Chinese we serve will by de facto inherit the narrative of Western life and Western faith. This is something we should be proactively counteracting. It is not our job to make Chinese internationals more American in their faith, and we can only avoid such from happening if we give them a bigger narrative than the ones our and their culture can deliver. It is our job to empower them to understand the metanarrative of the gospel so that they might interpret their cultural background accordingly. In a cross-cultural setting, the Chinese we work among are most commonly either maintaining their preexisting narratives or they are unconsciously piecing together narratives based on the American culture that surrounds them. We need to give them the gospel metanarrative that embraces and transforms all other narratives according to God’s revelation.

Salvation is for the individual, after all, but it demands our adoption into a new family. Chinese converts often know a lot about their relationship to their new Father and what it means for their personal life, but they usually know very little about the family into which they have been brought. Without explaining and incorporating the historical-redemptive narrative into our evangelism and discipleship, we invite students to build a relationship with God their Heavenly Father while allowing them to know nothing of the family God has used and is using to create his story of redemption. Our students know they have a great Redeemer who has rescued them and who gives them peace and meaning in life; but they often lack an understanding of what that means for where they came from and where they are going.

This is key and so I’ll repeat it: in order for a person’s worldview to change, he needs to understand where he and his culture have come from and where they both are going. As Andrew F. Walls writes,

“If a nation is to be discipled, the commanding heights of a nation’s life have to be opened to the influence of Christ; for Christ has redeemed human life in its entirety. Conversion to Christ does not isolate the convert from his or her community; it begins the conversion of that community. Conversion to Christ does not produce a bland universal citizenship: it produces distinctive discipleships, as diverse and variegated as human life itself. Christ in redeeming humanity brings, by the process of discipleship, all the richness of humanity’s infinitude of cultures and subcultures into the variegated splendor of the Full Grown Humanity… This means that the influence of Christ is brought to bear on the points of reference in each group. The points of reference are the things by which people know their identity and know where, and to whom, they belong. Discipling a nation involves Christ’s entry into the nation’s thought, the patterns of relationship within the nation, the way the society hangs together, the way decisions are made.”


Never miss a story

Sign up to receive our weekly email with our original articles.

Does the Christian faith in China simply mean inward peace for individuals? Does it mean becoming more Western as one matures in faith? Does it mean that all of Chinese history and culture must be abandoned? If we agree that the answer to these questions is a resounding “no,” then we must reconsider the overly simple gospel explanations we as American Christians are telling our Chinese students. We must wrestle to find ways of preaching the gospel that communicate the bigger, fuller picture of God’s plan for the world, a picture that includes China, its lengthy history, complex culture, and multifaceted people.

We can start by developing better ways of incorporating what God has been doing in this world from beginning to end in our explanation of the gospel. After all, there is a goal and direction towards which God is working and he asks his adopted children to be a part of it. Until our Chinese converts are able to understand the grand cosmic metanarrative God desires for them to participate in, they will continue to operate according their old worldviews, maintaining faith as a private and personalized matter. It is only through communicating redemptive history in our gospel conversations with Chinese seekers and believers that they will start to think of themselves, their communities, and their culture holistically within God’s grand plan.

 

Hannah Nation serves as the blog editor for the China Partnership. She is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and works full-time on staff with China Outreach Ministries, serving students in the Boston metro area. She first traveled to China in 2005 and has cared deeply for the country and its church ever since.

Share This Story

Further Reading

henry-co-G0rae74NmvY-unsplash
The Internal Cross: A Pastoral Letter
Read More
hangjia-xu-3ZdSvOSlm4c-unsplash
The External Cross: A Pastoral Letter
Read More
billow926-ND4-6joi3t8-unsplash
Qingdao: How to Pray
Read More

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

Videos

ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

Videos

Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

Videos

Stories from Qingdao

About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

Videos

Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Videos

Stories from Chongqing

About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

Videos

Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

Videos

Stories from Changchun

About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

Videos

Stories from Guangzhou

About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

Videos

Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

Videos

Stories from Shenzhen

About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

Videos

Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

Videos

Stories from Beijing

About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

Videos

Stories from Shanghai

give

A short message about partnering with us.