Apologetic Adaptation

When witnessing in China, you find yourself crashing into the same roadblocks time and again. Tiring, but it’s not that different from anywhere else in the world. Critical work, then, for a missionary, is discovering what particular things are problematic for many in believing the Gospel. And learning how to answer them in an understandable way. Part of cultural adaptation is apologetic adaptation.

One example here in China is, I think, related closely to feelings of nationalism. Many Chinese people dismiss Christianity out of hand, saying something like, ‘You believe what you believe because you’re an American. But we’re Chinese. And we don’t really have that kind of faith in China. We’re Buddhist [or atheist – one pattern fits all, in this case].’ This kind of talk can be troublesome for an American to answer. While we don’t want to come across as the Great White Culture-Destroyer, we also know that Truth is hardly a respecter of international borders.

A guy from our church was sharing the Gospel with a (Communist party member) roommate of his. The roommate quickly came around to this attack. He said, ‘You shouldn’t believe that Western stuff. Don’t you know we Chinese people have our own ideas?’ To which, the guy from our church responded, rather brilliantly, ‘You mean like Marxism?’ Really a great point which has helped me many times since. Marx was a Westerner, but that doesn’t stop millions in China from believing in his teachings. Not to mention there are countless other things (technology, scientific discoveries, systems) from the West that have found their way into everyday life in China. It’s illogical to say you’ll take neckties and Windows from the West, but you reject Christianity strictly because it’s Western!

Furthermore, as we all know, there’s nothing particularly Western about Christianity! It’s roots are Middle-Eastern, and in its 2,000 year history, it has flourished on every continent. And, it’s great to remind them, there are tens of millions of Christians in China as well. So you’ve either got to accuse them all of being traitors to their Chinese identity (very arrogant indeed) or admit that being a Christian is a legitimate option for a Chinese person.

And finally, major world-views that China has previously adopted en masse (and even made distinctly Chinese) include the likes of Buddhism and atheism. It’s interesting that these can be perceived to be as Chinese as chopsticks, when they’re really imports. If someone wishes to point out that these things were adopted to fit Chinese culture, we can respond happily that the Christian faith wears many cultural clothes as well. There’s no faith in the world that has adopted to so many different cultures, staying just as true to its own integrity as to that of the culture it enters. I have even found it helpful to talk to people with this particular hang-up about some of the cultural differences between churches in China and those in other nations.

As with all apologetics, it doesn’t really work in an argument. But if a person has an honest objection to faith that they’re stuck on, sharing some of these ideas with them will often help them through it.

Subscribe to The Gospel in China by Email

2 Comments on “Apologetic Adaptation”

  1. Cameron September 20, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

    This is awesome! This is so helpful. I feel like I’m learning presupositional apologetics for the first time, and confident to talk to an atheist. Now I feel confident to talk to more Chinese who say these things to me. I would also add that Christianity isn’t necessarily concerned with the culture on the outside (what you look like, wear, sing, eat, etc) but the culture on the inside of the mind and heart – which will necessarily effect much of the outside culture, but not all of it.




  1. Surprised by Culture – gospel to china - January 27, 2016

    […] presents obstacles in the path to faith. There are certainly some questions that come up often, and our team has written about them before. I was most struck by the way some people obeyed their parents every wish well into adulthood. This […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: