Encountering China: the evolution of Timothy Richard’s missionary thought (1870-1891)
Kaiser, Andrew Terry
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In pursuit of the conversion of others, cross-cultural missionaries often experience their own “conversions.” This thesis explores the ways in which one particular missionary, the Welshman Timothy Richard (1845–1919), was transformed by his encounter with China. Focusing specifically on the evolution of his understanding and practice of Christian mission during the first half of his career with the Baptist Missionary Society, the study is structured chronologically in order to capture the important ways in which Richard’s experiences shaped his adaptations in mission. Each of Richard’s adaptations is examined within its appropriate historical and cultural context through analysis of his published and unpublished writings—all while paying careful attention to Richard’s identity as a Welsh Baptist missionary. This approach reveals that rather than softening his commitment to conversion in response to his encounters with China, Richard was driven by his persistent evangelical convictions to adapt his missionary methods in pursuit of greater results. When his experiences in Shandong and Shanxi provinces convinced him that Christianity fulfilled China’s own religious past and that God’s Kingdom promised blessings for souls in this life as well as in the next, Richard widened his theological horizons to incorporate these ideas without abandoning his essential understanding of the Christian gospel. As Richard adjusted to the realities of mission in the Chinese context, his growing empathy for Chinese people and their culture increasingly shaped his adaptations, ultimately leading him to advocate methods and emphases on the moral evidences for Christianity that were unacceptable to some of his missionary colleagues and to leaders in other missions, notably James Hudson Taylor. As the first critical work of length to focus on the early half of Richard’s missionary career, this thesis fills a gap in current scholarship on Victorian Protestant missions in China, offering a challenge to the simplistic conservative/liberal dichotomies often used to categorize missionaries. The revised picture of Richard that emerges reveals his original understanding of “the worthy” in Matthew 10, his indebtedness to Chinese sectarian religion, his early application of indigenous principles, his integration of evangelism and famine relief work, his relative unimportance in the China Inland Mission “Shanxi spirit” controversies of the 1880s, and—most significantly—his instrumental rather than evangelistic interest in the scholar-officials of China. By highlighting the priority of the Chinese (religious) context for Richard’s transformation, this thesis also contributes to the growing volume of historiography on Christianity in modern China that emphasizes the multidirectional influences present in the encounters between Christianity and Chinese culture and religion. Finally, connections between Richard’s evolution and changes taking place within the larger missionary community are also explored, situating Richard within wider discussions of accommodationism in mission, the rise of social Christianity, and evangelistic precursors to fulfillment theology.