Christianity in Contemporary China #1

So today I went to the first day of Christianity in Contemporary China: Socio-cultural Perspectives hosted by the school of Humanities & Social Sciences in NTU. It was fantastic! I learnt so much from the speakers on recent trends about Christianity in China. Some highlights:

1. Sociologists know and take notice about the 10/40 window.

2. There is a discussion about Back to Jerusalem movement, Yuan Zhi Ming’s China’s Confession (which is similar with, in Singapore, Kong Hee’s God in Ancient China), and other similar millenarian movements, which tried to make sense about the recent exponential growth of Christians in China: What’s the role of Chinese Christians in the salvation history?

3. A speaker presented a paper entitled ‘Calvin, culture and Christ? Developments of faith among Chinese intellectuals.’ Basically, the New Calvinism phenomenon found in the US (e.g., trends in the Southern Baptist Convention) has its brother in China. And, I should add, in South East Asia as well, for example the Reformed Evangelical movement led by Stephen Tong. The speaker highlights aspects of Calvin which were given more emphasis by these Chinese Neo-Calvinists. A similar sociological research should be done on the Reformed Evangelical movement, I guess, which operated with similar social phenomena: grew in large cities, attracted middle to upper class with higher education (socially and economically elite) and tried to evangelize culture so that their respective cities could be transformed into New Geneva.

4. Paul Woods (lecturer at SBC, keynote speaker at this year’s FES National Conference) presented a paper on models of church-state relationship in the West, Singapore, and China: permissive, prescriptive (we allow  you to play the game, but we determine the rules of the game), and restrictive. He said that the Western model was not applicable to China, but, he argued that the Singapore model might be, since they have similar political system: one-party system (Singapore’s is de facto and not de jure) and an interventionist government. He then asked the question whether the independent churches are ready to engage the society if they are given the opportunity to do so in this prescriptive model (the Singapore model, by the way, is shaped by the Confucian social harmony model).

5. The rapid growth of Christianity in China fills the spiritual vacuum left by the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s (competing with materialism?).

6. Carsten Vela, a political scientist at Loyola University, gave a helpful model to understand the political theology of the Chinese Communist Party. China is one body, so patriotism means loyalty not only to the nation, but also to the land, the state, and the party. The churches without state sanction are a problem because their disobedient existence implies another (political) body. Similar problem with Tibet, I suppose.

7. I learnt more about the Three Self Patriotic Movement, the state-recognized Protestant body in China. Vela argued that the TSPM will go wherever the regime goes. If it collapses (gasp!), the TSPM might lose its legitimacy as well.

8. I just knew about Wenzhou, the so-called “Chinese Jerusalem”, and the “boss Christians” (laoban jidutu), where Christianity is driven by the Christian managers of factories who promoted Christianity to their workers, as they believed Christians would be more honest and obedient and hence it would lead to larger factory output. The government would be happy about this since it promoted economic development, the present telos of China. So I guess in the end pragmatism wins: any means to achieve the same goal are blessed.

9. Sometimes I wonder whether the Western interest on Christians in China is due to their religious commitment or simply due to the political resistance symbolized by these Chinese Christians who supposedly embodied the Western ideal of liberalism.

10. That’s all for today. Tomorrow will be another full day of sessions! And, by the way, I think I was the only one in the room who can’t speak Chinese, despite of all those Caucasian speakers (their command of Chinese is superb!). Alamak.

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