Book Review, Church History

Book Review: “Jesus in Beijing” by David Aikman

David Aikman has combined thorough research and an engaging writing style in his narration of the development of Christianity in China through the years. Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power has truly demonstrated that Jesus is actively at work in Beijing and in all of China.

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Summary

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the state of Christianity in China. Despite Communism, the Gospel is advancing and Christianity is growing. Christians are found in the business world, politics, academia, entertainment, and even within the People’s Liberation Army. Furthermore, Chinese believers are having a significant impact on Gospel advancement in the Middle East.

In chapter 2, Aikman records the early witnesses of Christianity in China. The earliest is perhaps the Nestorian Christians, whose Nestorian Tablet, found in China, dates back to AD 635. Christianity—including both Catholic and Protestants—has had an influence in China ever since. In the early 1800s, many English and American missionaries entered China with the good news of the Gospel, including Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission. By 1925, more than 8,000 Protestant missionaries were in China.

Chapter 3 was about the contribution and testimony of the older generation of Christian leaders in China. These men stood for the Gospel and suffered at least two decades in prison. Chapter 4 narrates the story of three main house church networks in China. These networks were led by Zhang Rongliang, Feng Jianguo, and Peter Xu. The role of women in Gospel advancement is the focus of chapter 5. Sister Ding was an influential evangelist, and sister Ruth was the “Fanny Crosby” of China.

Chapter 6 narrates the role and function of seminaries in China. Hundreds of underground Protestant Christian seminaries are scattered throughout China, in both the provinces and urban cities. Ji Tai, a former professor at Union Theological Seminary with biblical language training from Germany, left the state-approved Three-Self seminary to pastor underground churches and train men for the ministry.

Chapter 7 introduces the state church, which is the government-approved church in China. The key leader of the state church is also the president of the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, Bishop Ding Guangxun. The main quarrel of house churches against the state church is the fact that Bishop Ding is not even a Christian. According to the leaders of house churches, Bishop Ding doesn’t believe the gospel, but he merely teaches moralism. Chapter 8 chronicles the state of Christianity after the Cultural Revolution. The Religious Affairs Bureau reopened on January 1979, only to create restrictions and control over the house churches. Bishop Ding comes to the center stage as the elected president of the China Christian Council. Aikman, in subtle ways, exposes the hypocrisy and untrustworthiness of the state church.

Chapter 9 focuses on the Chinese Christians from Wenzhou. These Wenzhou Christian merchants started churches and schools in many large cities in China and even overseas. In chapter 10, Aikman narrates the Chinese zeal and burden for missions, not just in the provinces of China (including Xinjiang and Tibet), but also to the Middle East—Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Palestine. One of the Chinese Christian leaders, Zhang Rongliang, says that “Chinese people are more suitable than Americans to go to the Muslim world. Muslims prefer Chinese to Americans. They don’t like Americans very much.”

Chapter 11 features the Catholic Christianity in China. The Vatican, in the early beginnings of Catholicism in China, had strong contentions with the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, rivaling in authority over Chinese Catholics. Despite these contentions, Catholicism seems to be growing in the cities of China.

Chapter 12 is about persecution. China’s “Policy of Freedom of Religious Beliefs” seems to imply religious tolerance. The fine print of the document, however, qualifies the scope of religious freedom to be limited to “normal religious activities” on “special religious sites.” Such vague language and caveat led to various kinds of persecution among Christians. Various Christian groups and “cults” were treated harshly by the Chinese government.

Chapter 13 speaks of artists, writers, and academics who have greatly influenced Christianity in China. Yuan Zhiming, co-produced a documentary, River Elegy, to criticize Chinese emblems as symbols of captivity. He escaped authorities in China, went to the U.S., became a Christian, and attended Reformed Theological Seminary in Mississippi. “Cultural Christians,” like Yuan, tried new approaches to introduce Christianity to China. Liu Xiaofeng, a scholar, wrote several books to influence Chinese young people to Christianity. Other gifted Chinese were Yu Jiade, a remarkable artist, and Su Wenxing, a musician.

Chapter 14 highlights the role of foreigners to Christianity in China. Even after the Communist takeover in 1949, missionaries to China have not given up. Doug Sutphen broadcast NT readings in Mandarin through radio during the Cultural Revolution. He helped in printing small New Testaments to be distributed in China. Project Pearl was launched to smuggle Bibles in China. Dennis Balcombe was influential in the Charismatic movement in China. Jonathan Chao, a Chinese-American, made regular trips to China, strengthening the house churches. One of the greatest influences in China today are the 3,000 English teachers and those who build and manage orphanages. What is the future of Christianity in China? This question is explored in chapter 15, and chapter 16 lists several developments in China since 2003.

Analysis

Jesus in Beijing illustrates several truths. First, it shows that Christ is actively working and growing His church through persecution, tyranny, and other political obstacles. Second, in the story of Gospel advancement, seeds planted sometimes may not bear fruit until years later. This encourages believers to remain faithful in evangelism and discipleship. Lastly, Jesus in Beijing opens one’s eyes to the fact that Christianity is global. God is doing amazing work in saving people to Himself that we just don’t hear or know about around the world. One weakness of Jesus in Beijing is that it doesn’t clarify what the Gospel is and what biblical Christianity truly means. Confusion about the Gospel may result due to the inclusion of various radical groups and Catholicism. Despite this weakness, Jesus in Beijing encourages one’s heart, cultivates Gospel gratefulness, and inspires one for evangelism and discipleship.

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