Drawing on new archival resources, and opening up an entirely new research agenda in the field, David Woodbridge
has written an outstanding new book. Missionary Primitivism and Chinese Modernity: The Brethren in Twentieth-Century China
(Brill, 2019) focuses on a small but very significant evangelical community, the so-called Plymouth Brethren, and documents the attempts made by their missionaries in China during the first half of the twentieth century to balance their theological commitment to primitivism – the belief that contemporary church practice should be aligned as closely as possible with that of the New Testament – with their responsibility to engage with a very politicised and rapidly changing social and cultural environment. Woodbridge shows how difficult this task could be, and how Brethren missionaries remained susceptible to criticisms made by some of their Chinese converts that they were never primitivist enough.
Crawford Gribben is a professor of history at Queen’s University Belfast. His research interests focus on the history of puritanism and evangelicalism, and he is the author most recently of
John Owen and English Puritanism (Oxford University Press, 2016).