The Center for Public Theology is the latest initiative from the China Evangelical Seminary North America, with a focus to move Chinese Christians out of the Church and into society.
“We want to encourage Chinese Christians to think outside of the Church and be concerned about issues that affect the community, and not just Church life,” explains Dr. Agnes Chiu, who has served as director of the center since January 2022.
“That concern has traditionally lagged for Chinese churches,” says Chiu, noting what tends to be the highly privatized nature of the Church in China.
“This is an example of how students will understand public theology”
The center, empowered by a Lilly Endowment Pathways for Tomorrow grant, will work with seminarians – which include students in North America and those in mainland China who enroll in distance-learning classes and comprise approximately one quarter of the student body. The center will also engage pastors, “so they can see there is a need to seek shalom and care about the community,” says Chiu, who acknowledges the risks faced by Christians in China engaging in unprecedented levels of public theology.
“Although the government policy doesn’t allow them to speak up, we will encourage them in the mandate to participate; it doesn’t go away because you’re in mainland China with government restrictions. We will encourage students to seek ways to engage in the community.”
Engagement can include mobilizing church members to form their own organizations and initiatives to “care about the needs of people in society,” says Chiu. “You can’t operate in the traditional North American way of church-led ministries; religious policies restrict churches from doing it. So, instead of the churches operating an organization, we are encouraging individual Christians to do it. This is a example of how students will understand public theology.
“We need to engage. We will continue to guide them and encourage them. We hope and believe it can happen.”