Dear Workshop,

On Thursday, October 20, Paul Chang, PhD student in the History of Christianity will present:

“The Trials of Translating Theology: A Literature Review of English-Language Publications concerning Watchman Nee and the Task of ‘Translating’ His Theology into Even Wider Chinese, Christian, and Intellectual Contexts”

Time: 12:00, Thursday, October 20, 2011

Place: Swift Hall, Room 200

Food: Snacks provided, feel free to bring your lunch!

Paper: A copy of this essay can be obtained by emailing

And here is the abstract to my paper:

Watchman Nee has been recognized as one of most influential and innovative Chinese Christian thinkers, if not the preeminent example. His work is almost the only work of Chinese theology that continues to be widely read in Christian communities outside of the Chinese context. It is also widely acknowledged that his theology continues to exert a powerful influence over the ideology of contemporary Chinese Christianity, both in the Three-Self and House Church movements. Academic papers on Nee’s thought have been published in the English language since at least the 1960s.

The vast majority of scholarly critics have dealt with Nee’s legacy according to the various categories suggested by systematic theology, including the Trinity, Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, theological anthropology, eschatology, epistemology, the Eucharist, and practical spirituality. Most of these theses and dissertations have proceeded by giving a brief introduction to Nee’s life and historical context and then engaging in a focused examination of Nee’s thought on one or two of the above topics. Such theologically rooted analyses usually involve the close reading of selected portions of Nee’s writings and related Biblical texts and comparing the results with historical and contemporary Christian theologies, particularly of the evangelical, Protestant vintage. Nee’s critics and their work have tended to emerge from conservative traditions and institutions, oftentimes with ideological commitments and presuppositions not far from Nee’s own.

Such work has generally been intellectually sensitive, with the authors being naturally attentive to the nuances of Nee’s arguments. Many have taken extraordinary care to fairly present Nee’s claims and to systematically reconstruct Nee’s unique contributions to their particular fields of study. With such a pinpoint focus on theological arguments, there seem to be at least a few points of general consensus. First, all of Nee’s interlocutors maintain that he is best understood as the product of a number of Anglo-American evangelical trends including revivalism, the missions movement, Keswick piety, the Holiness movement and Brethren theology. The critics also agree that Nee remained within this conservative Protestant heritage while building onto it with his own novel emphases and constructive projects. There seems to be broad agreement that some internal coherence holds together the wide range of Nee’s many intellectual interests, but there is considerable difference of opinion with respect to the level of coherence and even the general nature and content of this overarching vision.

While the rich contexts of tradition and institution have kept the portrayals of Nee’s thought subtle and precise, they may have also limited the scope of Nee’s original vision. If one of the most vital questions concerning Nee’s thought is to explain its continuing resonance for both Chinese and Western Christians, it seems necessary to treat Nee’s thought on its own terms, especially given the consensus that his work is somehow “different” than that of other inheritors of his same Anglo-American traditions.  Especially since Nee’s starting point was a primitivist, overt rejection of Western denominations and the post-biblical tradition (including the creeds), it may be necessary to jettison the systematic categories and begin with a creative re-imagination of Nee’s Biblical hermeneutic to rebuild his theology from the ground up. Such an intellectual analysis must be paired with Nee’s particular, historical context as a third-generation Christian who came of age in a period of time that is widely recognized as being one of Modern China’s greatest periods of intellectual and patriotic ferment. This would fall in line with the general academic trend throughout the decades to read Nee’s cultural and historical context more robustly into his life and thought. Such a study would also necessarily build on the finer and finer nuances that have emerged from the sustained attention to Nee’s theological values.



— Paul

Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact Paul Chang in advance at