The story of John Song is fairly well-known within the history of Chinese Christianity. In 1920, he left China to study chemistry in the United States, completing a bachelor’s degree in three years and a master’s degree and a doctorate in another three years. He then turned to theology and enrolled in America’s leading institution of liberal Christianity, Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He had an evangelical conversion experience—but seminary authorities thought he was mad and sent him to an asylum. After his release in 1927, Song boarded a ship headed back to China and committed his life to preaching the gospel message.
But there is another side to the story, one fleshed out in a new biography from Boston University global Christianity scholar Daryl R. Ireland. John Song: Modern Chinese Christianity and the Making of a New Man presents a brilliant student living with schizophrenia—one who saw visions, spoke as a prophet of a new age, and decoded divine messages in New York Times crossword puzzles and through “radio schematics” in the four Gospels. At one point, he supposedly fell in love with a supernatural being and married her in the presence of 7,000 honorary queens.
Ireland’s access to previously un-available materials—Song’s student files at Union and some 6,000 pages of personal diaries—enables him to paint a very complex picture. From this basis, Ireland argues that the seemingly divergent accounts of Song’s American background converge into one: the making of China’s greatest evangelist. They are the origin stories of a new man.
When Song returned to China, he was disgraced by his expulsion from Union and his hospitalization ...1
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