Saturday, April 09, 2016

Singapore Church History: John Sung and revival

The revivalist John Sung is a big name in the early 20th century East Asian (Chinese) Christian scene. A Chinese by ethnicity, Sung was used mightily to reach many Chinese with the Gospel in the East Asian region.

John Sung was someone passionately devoted to the Gospel after a disastrous season of studying at the liberal Union Theological Seminary in the US. The liberal attack on the Christian faith nearly destroyed him, until he turned back to the faith of his youth. Union Seminary had him confined to an asylum after he began calling for his professors to repent of their heresy, and he was only released after the intervention of the Chinese consulate (Sng, 174).

Sung returned to China in 1927 fired up for God and the Gospel. He was so passionate he threw away most of his academic accolades in his trip back to China, resolved to live only for Christ (p. 174).

Back in China, Sung threw himself into the work of an evangelist. Almost single-handedly, he brought in the greatest revival (a true old-school revival, as opposed to Charles Finney's so-called revival) within Chinese churches both in China and in the dispora. His arrival in Singapore resulted in the conversions of many, as Sung preached Law and Gospel calling people to repentance for their sin. To say that Sung turned the Chinese community upside down is probably not too much of a stretch.

As someone who has been burned on liberal theology, Sung is most resolutely against liberalism of any sort. Unfortunately, without a viable intellectual alternative, Sung veered towards some form of pietistic anti-intellectualism, which is where conservative Chinese Christianity has been left. As a revivalist, Sung is focused on evangelism, which means other aspects of theology is left undeveloped, leaving the default anti institutionalism alone.

These sort of mixed blessings will attend to subsequent renewal movements, namely the New-Evangelical renewal following the emergence of the evangelical parachurch organizations (Youth for Christ, Varsity Christian Fellowship, Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ in the 1960s) (pp. 262-3) and the Billy Graham crusade in 1978 (p. 277-83), the Charismatic renewal of the 1980s, and (perhaps) the current wave of revivalism promoted by organizations such as the Love Singapore movement.