Princeton Seminary President on the China Bible Exhibit

The Bible Ministry Exhibition of the Church in China held the last opening service for its three-city U.S. tour on Monday in New York. Dr. Iain R. Torrance, the sixth president of Princeton Theological Seminary and a member of the Exhibit’s advisory committee, attended the ceremony at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

Dr. Torrance spoke to The Christian Post on Tuesday about his interest in Christianity in China and about his personal experience working there.

CP: How did you decide to accept the invitation to be on the advisory committee of the Bible Ministry Exhibition of the Church in China?

Torrance: There are two main reasons. One reason is that two years ago I was the moderator for the Church of Scotland and in that capacity I was the first moderator of the Church of Scotland to go visit the church in China. I met a number of Chinese officials during that visit that was in April 2004.

The second reason is that in 1890 my grandfather – my father’s father – went to Chengdu in western China, where for more than 40 years he was the agent of the American Bible Society. And my father who is now 92, was born in Chengdu and lived there until he was 14 so on that account I have a tremendous interest in the growth of Christianity in China.

Thirdly, the seminaries of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. have been among those who sponsored this exhibition. We contributed to the cost and I agreed to act as an advisor.

CP: Do you have any personal experience working with Chinese Christians in China?

Torrance: When I went to China in April 2004 I visited church leaders in Shanghai and Nanjing. I lectured at the seminary in Nanjing and also at the seminary in Chengdu. The people there introduced us to local Christians and I spoke in churches. I also visited the Amity Printing Press in Nanjing where they produce the Bible.

CP: How do you foresee this exhibit impacting or changing the relationship between American and Chinese churches?

Torrance: The exhibit is celebrating the fact that 40 million Bibles have been printed within the last 25 years. Now where there are Bibles there are readers, and the printing of the Bible inexpensively in Chinese undoubtedly will increase the strength of the church and its number. I think that is what we’ll see.

CP: There are American Christian leaders who are serving as honorary chair or on the advisory committee that have praised the exhibit but also pointed out the need to improve religious freedom and human rights in China. How do you feel about this issue?

Torrance: China and the United States have the highest rate for the death penalty in the world. Both China and America need to pay attention to the rate at which they execute people. And both China and America need to ask themselves seriously about the use of the death penalty.

I probably don’t have enough knowledge to make definitive remarks about religious freedom in China.

There are five official religions in China, and Protestant Christianity [is one] and Roman Catholicism is another; so out of the five official religions, Christianity has two places.

We (the seminary and I) take tremendous interest in the growth of the church in China. It is a church that has been through a long period of suffering. It has learnt to be patient, it has learnt to adapt to change, it has learnt how to keep its people together. Chinese Christian leaders are examples and witnesses of the changing shape of Christianity across the world.