What More Could a Committed Evangelical Want?
Aaron T. Hale
April 9th, 2017
Jesus in Beijing, what more could a committed evangelical want? In China, however, that is not a simple matter. Going all the way back to the early AD. missionaries in China have met with mixed results and entered with mixed tactics. David Aikman sets out to make an account of Christianity in China over the centuries and show how the Christian worldview is slowly shaping China. Some say that Aikman is too optimistic in his analysis (Holtrop, 2005). Others say he is unbalanced in approach; he gives too much praise to the house churches, Wang says (Wang, 2010). But even his critics say that the information in his book is some of the best research done on Chinese Christianity. It is clear from reading the book that Aikman was on to something and enjoyed access that not many could achieve to parts of China that not many foreigners are able to go. Aikman’s book was written in 2003 and the Chinese landscape is not significantly freer from state coercion. Churches are still demolished, Christians are still beaten, and crosses are still removed; however, through it all the real church though not always visible will always be there (Li, 2014, Johnson, 2016). On the other hand the churches in western countries have experienced very little persecution and this has left more than some of them impotent and bloated with annual meetings and social strategies. The lethargy will be shaken off however as the advancing liberal moral revolution collides with Christian values.
In China, history has shown that the volatile nature of Christianity mixing with Chinese culture can produce unpredictable results, however, through ebb and flow China has always had some Christians since the first missionaries came to China just 4 – 6 hundred years after Christ. Aikman takes his reader into Chinese history as he begins his story with the Nestorian Christians that in the 600’s entered China and brought word to the emperor of the savior in the west and how Nestorian Christianity spread across China. Aikman tells how following the Nestorians were the Jesuits who craftily won the emperor’s favor by excellence in academics and language. Following the Jesuits were the Benedictines that refused to court the high class and instead focused on the lay person. Following the Benedictines Aikman recounts of the great protestant names to enter China, names like Hudson Taylor. The closer Aikman got in his account to modern times the more he focused on particular people. For example, Aikman spent much time on the person and actions of Bishop Ding and how many pointed to Ding being a communist party member who Aikman quotes as saying that “… socialism is the best social system… ” (Aikman, 2003, p. 175). Aikman’s goal with the book seems to be to point out the many differences between the house Churches and the Three-Self state run churches. He himself says that his interests was journalistic with his journalistic background and working the Time Magazine Beijing desk he certainly had the position to accomplish his research. As Wang put it in his review, “… Aikman enjoys certain advantages in composing this project” (Wang 2010). The critics of Aikman’s book points mainly to two things. First that Aikman seems to favour the house churches over the Three-Self state churches in his analysis (Wang, 2010). Second, is that Aikman’s analysis of how many Christians will be in China and how China will react to those Christians might be a little overstated considering China’s volatile past (Holtrop, 2005).
The history is the best guide, and though persecution is still intense in China, Aikman’s prediction of Christian Growth in China has come true as some sources estimate over 65 million Chinese Christians today (Liu, 2011). However, Aikman’s dream of freedom in China and China joining the US as a superpower enforcing peace and friendly relation with Israel has not happened. Since 2003, when Aikman’s book was published, CNN has reported on churches being torn down in Wenzhou the very Provence of China that Aikman touted as having the least persecution (Li,2014). Though it is not all down stories as China for the first time in 60 years allowed the Pope to fly over the country on his way to South Korea (Li, 2014). The numbers may have changed but the culture of China and the persecution of Christians remains largely the same from the outline Aikman published in 2003.
One thing that is clear, and the communist party in China seems to know it, is that Christianity will not be driven out of China by persecution. Matter of fact it seems, as has been the case with Christianity around the world, the more the persecution the more Christianity takes root. Jesus predicted the persecution of his people, he comforted them with hope for a future that was beyond this mortal world. That is why believers like the ones in China will always hold on even tighter when persecution comes. Their hope is not in this world.
The most dangerous thing to Christianity is actually the opposite of persecution. Lethargy seems to breed in Christian communities that do not face challenges. In a sermon Spurgeon said, when speaking of Christians that face trials, “They feel that they are well-cared for, they know that the storm has a bit in its mouth, and that God holds it in, and nothing can hurt them; nothing can happen to them but what God permits” (Fant, & Pinson, 1979). Without these blessed trials the Christian community often loses luster. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on perspective, there is a moral revolution going on in the west that will come into direct confrontation with Christianity and may stir the sleeping giant that is the western church out of its slumber.
There are several conclusions to be drawn from the data. First, Christianity in China is not going anywhere. God’s people will endure to the end. Second, is that for any missionary to China, understanding how the people of China see missionaries and how historically missions have worked in China is a must. Three the danger to the western church is just as great as the Chinese church, lethargy is just as dangerous, if not more, an enemy as persecution is. The good thing is that God’s people will endure. Finally that Aikman’s book is worth reading for anyone that wants to understand the dynamics of Christianity in China and all can hope for the same outcomes in China that Aikman hoped for.
Aikman, D. (2003). Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is transforming China and changing the global balance of power. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc.
Fant, C. E., & Pinson, W. M. (1979). 20 centuries of great preaching: an encyclopedia of preaching. Waco, TX: Word Books.
Holtrop, P. C. (2005). On simplicity, balance, and wearing spectacles: a discussion of David Aikman’s Jesus in Beijing. Calvin Theological Journal, 40(1), 108-118.\
Johnson, I. (2016). Decapitated Churches in China’s Christian Heartland. Retrieved April 10, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/22/world/asia/china-christians-zhejiang.html?_r=0
Wang, P. C. (2010). Jesus in Beijing: how Christianity is transforming China and changing the global balance of power. Nova Religio, 13(3), 132-134.
Li, Z. (2014). China denies persecution of Christians. Retrieved April 10, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/01/world/asia/china-church-demolished/
Li, Z. (2014). The future of Christianity in China. Retrieved April 10, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/15/world/asia/china-christianity/
Liu, J. (2011). Regional Distribution of Christians. Retrieved April 10, 2017, from http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-regions/