W. A. P. Martin And The Presbyterian Message In Mid-Nineteenth Century China -- By: Ralph R. Covell

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 39:2 (Spring 1977)
Article: W. A. P. Martin And The Presbyterian Message In Mid-Nineteenth Century China
Author: Ralph R. Covell


W. A. P. Martin And The Presbyterian Message In Mid-Nineteenth Century China

Ralph R. Covell

Scholars have devoted considerable attention to the Western missionary as an interpreter of Western civilization to China. Jessie Lutz has observed that

along with the teachings of Jesus, Chinese converts were often asked to accept other ideals and customs from the West; sanitation practices, concepts about the role of women and relations of the sexes, abstinence from alcoholic drink, individualism, standards of medical care ….1

Far less frequently has anyone made an effort to analyze the Christian Gospel preached in China, to trace its roots in the sending culture, and to show the nature of its relationship to the “secular” message. They have apparently assumed that readers are so familiar with this that no elaboration is required. Some examples have been given of missionaries explaining to Christian audiences what they preach to the unconverted. Unfortunately, significant differences may have existed between these explanations and what was actually communicated to the non-Christian Chinese.2

A far more satisfactory methodology is to analyze an actual Chinese publication by an American missionary to determine the method and content of its religious communication in China. One of the best extant works to use for this is Evidences of Christianity, written by William A. P. Martin who spent nearly seventy years in China. In his famous work Martin apparently had two goals: (1) to give the Chinese a detailed understanding

of the Christian faith as understood in his Presbyterian heritage, and (2) to contextualize his communication to fit the unique situation of his Chinese audience. We shall seek to evaluate how well he achieved these two goals with particular attention being given to the source, development, application, and accommodation of his theological concepts.3

William Alexander Parsons Martin, son of a pioneer Presbyterian preacher on the American frontier, received his first training at an academy run by his father in Livonia, Indiana. After studying at Indiana University from 1842 to 1846, he received his theological education at New Albany Theological Seminary. The call of home missions in the expanding West was strong, but Martin rejected this in favor of going to China in 1850 with the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church. His first field of service was the south China city of Ningpo, one of the five treaty ports opened to foreign residence by the Treaty of N...

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