chapter  9
The emergence of Christian subcultures in China: beginnings of an inculturation from the grassroots?
Pages 15

Introduction Alongside the numerical growth of Chinese Protestant Christianity, qualitative changes are happening within the Christian population. Gone are the days when elderly, barely literate women would constitute the majority of church members in any given congregation. Today, Chinese Protestants come from a variety of social and economic backgrounds. In addition to the flourishing of the church proper, a number of intellectuals have emerged who conduct research on Christianity from different disciplinary angles, including theology, history, philosophy, and literature. This ongoing social diversification of the Christian population (in the widest sense of the word) has not only diversified existing congregations. Different types of Christian communities have emerged which differ both in terms of their believers’ social profiles and in the way they interpret the gospel. In this chapter, I argue that these groups constitute Christian subcultures, meaning congregations or clusters of congregations made up of believers of similar social backgrounds whose interpretation of the gospel via particular frames differs from the Chinese Protestant mainstream. Among these groups are the Wenzhou ‘boss Christians’ with their emphasis on entrepreneurism, the ‘healing Christians’ with their quest for health, and urban ‘culture Christians’ with their reading of Christianity as a value system. In each of these subcultures, Christians develop their own understanding of the gospel, be it its ‘healing’ qualities, its ‘enlightening’ function, or its ‘enriching’ nature. Following, I offer a brief description of each group, highlighting why it constitutes a subculture in the Chinese Christian context. In a second step, I explore for each subculture how far its appropriation of Christianity can be seen as an act of theological inculturation. The emergence of a number of distinct theologies, however uncodified at this point, seems to mark the beginnings of a process of inculturation from the grassroots. This contrasts with perceptions by official Protestant leaders, who maintain that China has not brought forth any indigenized theologies yet, and who urge church related theologians to engage in efforts for ‘theological reconstruction’ (shenxue sixiang jianshe).