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Neither Bang Nor Whimper: THe End of a Missionary Era in China.

George Hood, author of Mission Accomplished? The English Presbyterian Mission in Lingtung, South China (1988), brings a wealth of credentials to this work. He was missionary for twenty-seven years in South China, Malaysia, and Singapore; one-time secretary for the Council for World Mission (U.K.); and missiologist and historian.

The title is misleading. This is not a historical account for the end of the missionary era in China; rather, it is an account and appraisal of the end of British Protestant mission work in China and is based largely on the records of British Protestant mission societies and leaders in the years following 1949. This is made clear in the author's preface (p. ix). Since, by the author's own statistics, there were only 14 British mission societies out of a total of 109 at work in China (and this does not include Catholic missions, which had more than twice as many missionary priests in 1949 as ordained Protestant missionaries), this book is only a piece of the picture.

One feels the constraints of the narrow focus set by the author. Important ecumerical study groups and conferences on China that were convened both inside and outside Britain, but with the cooperation and participation of persons from Britain during the period covered by this book, are omitted or barely mentioned. Organized efforts and publications by North Americans and Europeans that paralleled the British studies, appraisals, and projects go unmentioned. As it did for the secular community of China scholars, so for the missionary community the "China debacle" (p. 199) generated the greatest burst of analysis and introspection ever undertaken.

George Hood's work is comprehensive and detailed. Chapters 1 and 2 briefly set the historical stage for Protestant missions in China, leading into the main sections, which deal with the response of British mission boards to the termination of mission efforts in China, the redeployment of British missionaries, and the lessons to be learned. His sources, drawn largely from British mission board files, include reports of staff meetings, China study groups, position papers by board executives, and writings by former China missionaries.

Prominent among the last item are works by the late David Paton, respected among church-related sinophiles worldwide. Among the two camps (conservatives and liberals), he took the position "God is at work" rather than "the Lord will overrule." Paton's various writings, and particularly his Christian Missions and the Judgment of God (SCM Press, 1953), guided many former China missionaries to a broader theological and missiological understanding of what had happened, paving the way for a whole new understanding of the "three-self" concept and principles of indigeneity now universally accepted.

Perhaps one important lesson learned was the need for ecumenical sharing. Hood tells of the short-lived China Study Group of the IMC Research Department, which held a final meeting in London in 1959, adjourning after failing to agree on the format for a China study book. One group member later wrote of the "crying need for an inexpensive book [on] Protestant Christianity in China" (p. 222). At precisely the same time, Francis P. Jones, an eminent American missionary-scholar, was preparing just such a book, The Church in Communist China, which was published in 1962 by the Friendship Press. The 176-page book was used as a major study resource by North American churches that year and remains today an important reference book.
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Author:MacInnis, Donald
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Words:559
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