Systematic Theology around the Globe

The Works of T. C. Chao, 5 vols.

A number of years ago, I presented a paper at a learned society for the study of religion about Sino-Christian theology. The first question I was asked was, ‘So, are Chinese now able to produce their own theology?’ I was taken aback by this question. On the one hand, it seemed as though the questioner had not paid attention to my 20min paper that focused on the ingenuities of a scholarly movement in the 1990s in offering theological approaches to China’s sociopolitical concerns. (I didn’t think I was that boring!) On the other hand, it was as though this person was not aware that, since the early 20th century, there has been a very fruitful development of Christian theology in China. One of the greats, of course, was T. C. Chao (or Zhao Zichen 趙紫宸, 1888–1979), whose five-volume collected works were published a few years earlier, and who was elected as one of the six presidents of the World Council of Churches in 1948. Yet, why should I expect him to know about a figure like Chao—such an esoteric figure. At the same time, there are many theologians in Europe and North America who are likewise esoteric, but no less important.

In an attempt to redress some of this—and to highlight the point that theology has been produced in many parts of the world, I have decided to offer a selected bibliography of works on systematic theology by individuals informed by the majority world. Alongside general treatments, I have broken the list along some classical theological loci. This can be problematic by itself, given that this approach to dogmatics is somewhat ‘Western’. (Andrew Louth has explained that even the great dogmatic work An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, by John of Damascus, was scholasticised when it was translated into Latin.) But I have done so because it gives us a starting point for discussing theology across contexts.

A caveat worth raising is that I have focused on English monographs. It presumes, of course, that authors are writing in English as opposed to a person’s own language, or have been deemed important enough to be translated into English. Looking at T. C. Chao again, it is noteworthy that four of the volumes of his collected works were written in Chinese. Though Chao received further education in the United States and published articles in English, this is limited to a selection of his writings composed for primarily non-Chinese audiences.

Furthermore, the whole notion of writing monographs is not all that common in many contexts. T. C. Chao, here, is perhaps an exception. His edited volumes include a number of his ‘monographs’, such as his Life of Jesus (Yesu zhuan 耶穌傳) and Life of Saint Paul (Sheng Baoluo zhuan 聖保羅傳). But these works do not follow the pattern of argument found in modern academic monographs today. According to Chloë F. Starr, they follow a more traditional, Chinese writing style—an alternative genre of theological writing. For many theological thinkers I have encountered, their writings are much more situational and limited to essays and speeches, or maybe found in storytelling, hymns, and poems. They are no less rich in theological content.

One last point is that I try to limit the number of ‘secondary sources’. How does one define a secondary source, and when does a secondary source become a primary source? I admit that this is a bit arbitrary. Alas, nothing is perfect.

I submit to you a list that is by no means comprehensive. I am happy to receive further recommendations. But if you are ever asked or maybe asking yourself about theological ideas from around the globe—and, dare I say, wonder if it may have implications on your own theology—you can take a gander at my humble list.