Monthly Archives: February 2016

My 5th Article on China Source

My fifth post on ChinaSource.org was put up today. It is titled: ‘Thoughts on Theological Education for Chinese Believers’.

You can view it here: http://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/from-the-west-courtyard/thoughts-on-theological-education-for-chinese-believers

 

Or view it below:

Certainly Chinese church leaders need theological training. Here are some thoughts about the current situation of theological education for Chinese believers.

I like the idea of encouraging more theological training to be done within China rather than in other countries. It’s cheaper for Chinese believers to study in China, plus everything can be done in Chinese, their heart language. But as the number of official seminaries is inadequate to train all the leaders needed for the church in China and none of the house church seminaries are legal, theological education in China is still developing. However, there are many avenues of theological education currently in use in China.

One type of theological education is the many underground seminaries within both the wealthy and the poorer house church networks. These seminaries are less formal, and primarily use materials translated from English into Chinese. The instruction is usually done in Chinese by Chinese house church pastors. Often the teacher and the students build tight bonds with one another as they spend all their time together for an extended period of time. A downside of this type of seminary is that the teachers themselves often don’t have formal theological training, so false teachings can creep in.

Another kind of theological training that has been increasing is for seminary professors or pastors from the U.S. or other countries to travel to less evangelized areas of the world, including China, to teach short-term seminary courses. They teach intensive classes all day for a week or two to a handful of local believers. The advantage of this method is that the visiting professors usually have a strong theological education, but this format is still not ideal.

One weakness of this method is that the instructors usually have to use a translator because they don’t speak the local language. Also, they are only there for a week or two and have no way to evaluate the effectiveness of the classes or if the teaching is being implemented in the students’ ministries. Also, there’s no longer-term relationship between the instructors and the students, which limits their impact on the students as well as their ability to provide meaningful accountability.

A third kind of seminary now available in China is one where all of the teaching is done in Chinese by either a Chinese person or a foreigner who has been living in China for many years and speaks Chinese well. My old pal Jackson Wu is involved in this way to theologically train Chinese house church pastors. This is a good format because the professors are formally trained in theology, usually with a PhD from an accredited overseas seminary but the teaching is done in Chinese by teachers who speak Chinese well. Students who do a program like this receive an internationally accredited bachelor’s or master’s degree.

One further improvement will be when theologically trained Chinese believers teach all the needed courses, rather than having foreigners teach any of it. Foreigners may help lay the groundwork, but Chinese theologians will increasingly take over the responsibility. Over time, Chinese believers will step up as theologians and write doctrinally-sound books in Chinese—eliminating the need for translation—out of a Chinese mindset rather than from a western worldview.

Finally, another option for theological education for Chinese believers is now available at Columbia International University [CIU] in South Carolina (US) under the leadership of Chinese program director Zhiqiu Xu. Students from China can get a master’s degree at CIU—all in Chinese.

A weakness of the program is that the students have to read Chinese subtitles online while watching a CIU professor lecturing in English. This is much more difficult than listening to a professor lecture in Chinese.

The entire program only costs US$16,000 which is more expensive than seminary programs in China but cheaper than other US programs. There are scholarships available to cut down costs even more. However, many of those scholarships are contingent on the student returning to China after graduation which provides a strong financial incentive to return to China after receiving a degree. Students who decide to stay in the US after graduating won’t receive the full amount of scholarship money from the school.

Of these options, which one seems the best? None of them is perfect. I pray for the Lord in his mercy to provide many godly Chinese believers to step up and lead local seminaries faithfully and to write doctrinally-sound, original theological works.

We say to them: “Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it!” (Ezra 10:4)

My 4th Article on China Source

My fourth post on ChinaSource.org was put up a couple days ago. It is titled: ‘Are China’s Best being Lost to the West?’

You can view it here: http://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/from-the-west-courtyard/are-chinas-best-being-lost-to-the-west

 

Or view it below:

I am concerned about a phenomenon that has been growing in the ten years since I’ve been living in China, and maybe even long before that. Many Chinese believers are moving to the U.S. and other Western countries for theological education, and many who go overseas are not returning to China. Many of them have a short-term mindset when they first leave for the U.S. for education, saying that they will probably stay in the U.S. for a few years and then will certainly return to China to serve after that. But, after their theological education is completed, many stay in the U.S. and never move back to China.

In Nik Ripken’s book The Insanity of Obedience he hits hard on the topic of believers who go abroad for theological education. Ripken writes that 80% of those believers will never return to their home country. He’s referring to Muslim background believers, but I think it may be nearly the same for Chinese believers. Ripken emphasizes that believers will be most effective serving in their own cultural area, but unfortunately that advantage is not utilized well because after they complete their theological education they never return to their own country or town to serve.[1]

Why does this happen? I think there are several factors.

Firstly, often there’s nothing in China that they are obligated to that will guarantee their return to China after they complete their overseas education. I think that if Chinese churches formally sent these believers overseas for education with the clearly expressed expectation to return to China to serve long-term afterwards, then those believers would be more likely to follow through on their intentions to return to China.

A house church in our city currently helps financially support potential leaders to go to seminary abroad, and those individuals know they will return to the house church here in China when they graduate. When I was on campus at Southern Seminary in the U.S. for a year, very few of the Chinese students I met there had any job at their home church in China to return to. Rather, they had come to the U.S. mostly independently, with no expectation from their church back home that they’d move back to China to serve.

Secondly, life in the U.S. is, in many ways, more comfortable than the typical living standard in China. I think it’s hard to blame Chinese believers for being attracted to remaining in the U.S. after finishing their education. There are fewer people, and things are cleaner and less chaotic than in China. Also, many Chinese believers who go to the U.S. can’t help but be attracted to the prospect of having their kids receive an American education and being able to speak both English and Chinese fluently. I can relate to that benefit because we are very thankful that our daughter goes to a local kindergarten in our city in China. She can learn both Chinese and English well. So I can completely understand how a Chinese family would be attracted to the idea that their children would be able to get an education in the U.S.

Thirdly, Chinese churches in the U.S. also play a part. Rather than putting pressure on Chinese believers to stay in the U.S. to serve, they need to encourage Chinese believers going to the U.S. for theological education to return to China after they graduate. Certainly there is a real need for better-trained leaders in Chinese churches in the U.S., but those who stay to serve in Chinese churches in the U.S. should be the exception, rather than the majority. The norm for Chinese believers doing theological education overseas should be to return to China [or possibly to serve as missionaries in the 10/40 Window] to serve long-term in house churches .

The house churches in China are in serious need of theologically-trained leaders. So it seems that those Chinese believers who do theological education abroad should be highly encouraged to return to China to serve long-term. And for those of us who live in China, we need to think twice before we encourage our local brothers and sisters to go to the U.S. for seminary.

My Favorite Classes at Southern Seminary [Part 2]

Here are the five other classes that round out my top ten favorite classes taken in getting my MDiv at Southern Seminary [in no particular order]:

  1. Intro. to Christian Philosophy with Dr. Gregory Thornbury. A benefit of being at such a large and well-known seminary like Southern is that there are many visiting professors who come to teach intensive one-week classes during the winter and summer terms. Dr. Thornbury, who is president of the King’s College in New York City, is known for his hip clothes, his bow ties, and his rock guitar skills. He’s a great lecturer and an expert on culture and relating to modern culture.
  2. Intro. to Biblical Counseling with Dr. Stuart Scott. This was another class I took during a one week intensive for the summer term. Dr. Scott helped me so much on biblical counseling. He brought so much experience and wisdom into the class. It really helped me grow spiritually, and to be better equipped to lead a team in China. This was the only counseling class I took at Southern.
  3. Intercultural Church Planting with Dr. Jeff Walters. I really appreciated how Dr. Walters taught this class. It was a small class, so most of the class times were just discussion times with our classmates. One sweet thing about this class was that it was only about 15 or 20 students, and all of the students were those who had experience in missions or were interested to do missions. So it was one of my favorite classes at Southern. I appreciated that we could read and objectively discuss books that had recently been very popular in the missions world.
  4. Systematic Theology [online] with Dr. Gregg Allison. The reason this class was so monumental for me was because I had to write huge papers about many intense theological topics. The textbook was Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which cleared up many things for me in better understanding the Bible. Maybe this was the most beneficial and fundamental course for me biblically. Dr. Allison knows all about this subject as he’s been teaching it for many years. So he had lots to bring to the lectures.
  5. Survey of Christian Ethics with Dr. Kenneth Magnuson. The main reason this class is on the list is that I learned lots about different views that are relevant on current ethical topics. I’ve been surprised about how much I’ve thought about this class long after I finished it. Many topics have come up and been relevant in my life and in my ministry.

My 1st Article on Desiring God

You can view my first Desiring God article published today: ‘How the Lord Restored Me from Intense Anxiety’

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-the-lord-restored-me-from-intense-anxiety

 

Read below:

When I arrived at Southern Seminary’s campus in August 2013, I’d already been living in China for eight years and was leading a small missions organization there that I’d helped start a couple years earlier. I’d taken some classes online at Southern, but to get the MDiv I knew I had to squeeze in as many classes as I could during our year living on-campus. So I studied day and night, 7 am to 10 pm, 7 days a week, stopping only to go to church and to class. I continued this pattern okay for about three months, then suddenly hit a serious wall, which was in the form of intense anxiety which lasted from late November to early February.

During that period, I hated being around people, dreaded going to church or class, or really doing anything at all. I’d feel great anxiety and fear in those situations. It was an incredibly dark and lonely time for me. Previously I’d imagined that our year living on the Southern campus would be a year of great encouragement and growth. I didn’t imagine at all that I’d be living in such a dark and lonely time while at seminary.

As I think about that period, I thank the Lord for pulling me out of that dark psychological state that I was in. At that time, I wondered if that was just going to be how I would be for the rest of my life, struggling with great anxiety. I had fears that we actually weren’t going to be able to return to China after all, because of this debilitating anxiety. But the Lord is faithful, and he restored my spirit. It wasn’t immediate, but over time the Lord really did pull me out.

Less Is More

There were a few things that really helped me during that time. I started to do a twenty-minute workout each morning, just two sets each of push-ups and sit-ups. Though very simple, doing this daily went a long ways for refreshing me. I’ve found that doing some kind of regular physical exercise is so important for persevering in ministry. When I’m regularly exercising, I just feel better physically and have more energy. I wonder how I could ever get away from exercising. But once I get away from it for a period, it’s so hard to get back to it.

On top of starting to exercise daily, the Lord convicted me — through the kind and blunt intervention of my wife — to take appropriate rests. I stopped studying on weekends and weeknights. I only studied from seven to five, Monday through Friday. I started to have family days each Saturday where my family and I would start going out to explore different places or parks in beautiful Louisville. We took a family trip together for spring break. When I was studying all the time and not taking any breaks, my schoolwork was all-consuming to me. It was all I thought about and it was a huge burden for me. But once I started taking breaks each day and each week, my schoolwork suddenly was no longer all-consuming like it had been before.

Making this simple adjustment helped the schoolwork to no longer be such a burden for me. Oddly enough, once I started taking appropriate breaks, I was able to take as many classes and still get the same grades as before, though I was studying much less. Taking breaks helped me study efficiently.

Since I enjoy making charts — I studied Engineering in college — I kept an Excel chart in which I would keep track each day if I had peace, hope, and joy in the Lord that day. If I did for the most part, I’d write “Yes” in my chart. If I did not, I’d write “No.” This practice helped me in having a very simple goal for each day, to strive from the beginning of the day to the end to fight for peace, hope, and joy in him for that day.

Cling to Jesus and Community

Another key part of the Lord pulling me out of the pits was that I had close accountability with a few guys at our church and I didn’t just have to keep my struggles stuffed inside. I had two brothers that I would meet with at 6:00 each Thursday morning and we’d have accountability time together. Being able to pour out my heart to them each week and have them pray for me was incredibly powerful.

In such a situation of dark depression or fierce anxiety, it is critical to daily be clinging to the Lord for his salvation. He is greater than our circumstances. When in psychological anguish, it can be natural to just think about our own problems. But we must pray for mercy from him to be able to keep our eyes focused on him, rather than ourselves. When we concentrate only on ourselves, we wallow in self-pity. Rather, we must keep our eyes on him and his glory.