When I was finishing my postdoctoral fellowship in China, a friend of mine who was affiliated with the TSPM asked if I had read much of Wang Weifan 汪维藩 (1927-2015). As I had researched and written much about the TSPM, I had come across his name a few times but was not very familiar with his thinking. She gave me one of the volumes of his collected writings and told me how much Wang Weifan, as an evangelical loved for his preaching and devotional writings and poetry, has left a major imprint on the Protestant church in China. Since then, I have asked many pastors and leaders of the TSPM and the CCC about Wang Weifan, and I often heard the same thing: 他是我的老师 (he is my teacher).1
As I was busy with other things at the time that my friend gave me a copy of that book, it sat on my shelf for a few months before I had to start packing to leave the country. It was just a few weeks before I left China when I was asked by another friend, Marina Wang based in Hong Kong, if I would be willing to be involved in a project writing about Wang Weifan’s theology, which would eventually lead to the publication of a volume recounting his thoughts and contributions.
Remembering what my other friend had said, and not knowing much more about Wang Weifan, I obliged. Then, I read. Then, I was humbled. In many ways, I was very moved by the theological thinking and the pastoral concerns of this man who I had never met. I read about him losing his father at a young age and the hardships experienced by his mother, who would sacrifice much for her son during wartime. I was drawn to his upbringing in a non-Christian home, nurtured in Chinese traditional thought and religiosity, and the shift later in life as he came to faith and committed his life to the Christian ministry. Then he was declared a ‘rightist’ and attacked during the Anti-Rightist movement, which would be followed by the Cultural Revolution.
As I have said elsewhere, the vast majority of the Protestant church today – both the TSPM and the house churches – theologically traces itself back to the fundamentalist-evangelical tradition of the early-20th century. After religious worship was allowed once again in China, Wang Weifan would provide an able interpreter of Chinese evangelicalism for Bishop K. H. Ting 丁光训 as the latter led the reinstated TSPM. Wang was well-loved, I think, because his heart was to be a Christian minister, and his work involved pastoring and training the next generation of pastors of the TSPM.
Wang’s writings in the 1980s and 1990s showed the marks of a life which experienced much and wanted to give out more. My own essay in the collected volume focused on how his religious upbringing shaped his concern for Christian engagement with China’s traditional religiosity, providing a significant contribution to a Chinese Christianity which needed to reckon with the religious fever 宗教热 happening in all sectors of Chinese society. While that article was published in Chinese, I wanted to also publish something in English, so the wider Anglophone world could have access to some of his thoughts. I was very happy to hear earlier this week that my article on Wang Weifan’s Christology, an evangelical ‘cosmic Christology’, has just been published online (it should be in print later this year).2
As my first essay was being prepared for publication and my second essay was being peer reviewed, Wang Weifan passed away in September 2015. There was a possibility I could have visited him in his home in 2014, but I couldn’t make the trip for various reasons. I am sorry now that I had not taken up that opportunity. Wang Weifan has left an important legacy which continues in many TSPM pastors and church leaders today. I have learned a great deal from his writings, and I hope more inside and outside of China can learn from him and his contributions to the Chinese church.