Luis Bush opens by observing that the “great harvest” of new believers in China has come to an end. 2000 marked a “turning point, the dawn of a new era.” So much has changed since his last visit to Beijing ten years ago that he states, “This is indeed a new China in which a new Church has emerged in a new world.” The rest of the book seeks to substantiate that claim.
Since the opening and reform initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, China has been transformed into a major economic power. Urbanization and a rising living standard have combined to create a new middle class. Likewise, the Chinese church has exploded with unprecedented numerical increase. Recently, the center of gravity and growth of the church has moved from countryside to the cities, and its leaders face the challenge of seeking to be “salt and light” in every sector of society and joining the worldwide Christian community in fulfilling the Great Commission.
A NEW CHINA
In 2011, for the first time in its history, China had more than half its population living in cities. Rapid urbanization has created a huge income disparity, along with a “floating population” of 250 peasants. The pace of this massive migration will not lessen; within a few years, more than 80 percent of the population is expected to be living in cities.
A New Urban Under Class
The huge cities which have literally sprung up from empty land have been constructed by laborers from the countryside. “Not only are these urban migrants building the infrastructure of today’s and tomorrow’s cities; they have become integral to the very functioning of urban life.” (8) Nevertheless, despite the vital role they play, they lack legal status and thus access to social services, even as they are looked down upon by more sophisticated urbanites.
Media and Technology Influence
With blinding speed, China has become one of the most technologically connected nations in the world, with more than 500 million Internet users. Cell phones – usually smart phones – are ubiquitous, even among the poor, and are used for personal communication, accessing the Web, and “sounding off” on current issues.
Christians have taken advantage of the Internet to launch thousands of web sites, blogs, online journals, and other platforms for spreading their message, usually without government interference.
Family in Transition and Chaos
Urbanization and the one-child policy have led to shrinking families, with an expanding elderly population depending upon a small number of younger people to support them. Changing values have spawned an epidemic of divorce and infidelity.
Despite being pampered as only children and beneficiaries of China’s new prosperity, today’s young people feel alienated from their parents. More than half have contemplated suicide.
A NEW CHURCH
Though no one knows just how many Christians there are in China, we do know that they belong generally to three groups: The official Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the rural unregistered churches, and the urban unregistered churches. For the most part, they all worship freely. In fact, recent years have seen the emergence of Christian bookstores, schools, conferences, and websites.
Despite widespread perception to the contrary, persecution of Christians has become rare in China. The likelihood of being harassed rises if foreigners are involved, and if the group grows too large to fit into a house, belongs to a large network, or engages in political activity.
The Changing Face of Chinese Christian Leadership
Especially in the new urban churches, leaders include academics and entrepreneurs who have found Christ and seek to serve him in the marketplace. Women serve as pastors in many of the congregations in the countryside, and far more women than men attend church in most regions of the country. This obviously poses numerous problems, such as the scarcity of Christian husbands for dedicated Christian women. Christian leaders are also increasingly seeking to express their faith in public, especially with acts of mercy to those in desperate need.
Alas, hardly any church leaders have the age and experience required to navigate the swiftly changing currents in society; they lack older role models and mature mentors, along with more integration into the world Christian community. They will need great wisdom as society continues to implode as a result of endemic me-centered worship of Mammon and a lack of any vital faith.
More and more, Christians are called upon to help others find their way in this “crisis of faith and morality.” Though still wary of potential political action by believers, some in the government are looking to educated Christians for wisdom and a new pattern of living.
A NEW WORLD
As China’s economy and international influence grow, more than eighteen million Chinese have emigrated to other lands. Some of them are believers in Christ, eager to spread their faith. Others are open to new ideas, including Christianity.
At the same time, Christians in “host” countries must rise to this new opportunity.
“Language learning and much cultural adjustment on all sides will be necessary steps in ensuring that China’s outward migration becomes both a great ingathering as well as a great blessing to the nations to which the Chinese are now going.”
A Clear Mandate for the Global Church
In light of all these developments, the authors call for the worldwide church to mobilize a new generation to take advantages of the incredible opportunities we now face.
“The face of Christianity in China is changing. China’s role in the world is changing. What happens next hinges upon the values, aspirations, and abilities of China’s next generation. The next gen church in China does not feel indebted nor enabled. We must raise up a new generation from the 4/14 Window to transform China and the world. We are left without a choice—only an obligation. This is the time. This is the opportunity.”
The book concludes with a helpful list of practical suggestions, acknowledgment that many Chinese Christian leaders are fully committed to meeting the challenge of the next generation, and an implicit plea for the rest of us to pray for God to enable them to succeed.
Everyone who loves the Chinese should read this book.