This past March, I had the joy of attending the ISAE conference held this year at the irenic Duke University campus. I heard several tremendous presentations given by some of the top scholars in Christianity, particularly as it relates to the History of Christian Missions. I have a feeling the papers presented at this conference will soon be published as part of the prestigious Studies in the History of Christian Missions Series by Eerdmans, or in some other grand volume. I can’t wait to own a copy, either way.
One of the scholars making a presentation was Dr. Xi Lian, Professor of History at Hanover College, and author of two excellent, and award winning, books on the the history of Christianity in China: The Conversion of Missionaries and Redeemed by Fire. He has also authored several articles on similar subjects. Since he writes on the period of Chinese history that piques my scholarly interest, I was eager for his presentation.
Lian presented on the more recent history of China, on a group of Chinese intellectuals cum lawyers who sought to mine Christianity for its legal and political contributions in the wake of the Tiananmen Democracy movement of the late 1980s. While these elites plumbed the depths of a Christian worldview, they found themselves being converted to Christianity. He affectionately calls them “cultural Christians.” Lian traces the burgeoning influence of this group of lawyers, in particular, during the first decade of the 21st century. As much as I would like to recount all that was stated during that presentation, I believe it would be more honoring to the author to allow his article to reach publication and speak for itself. However, please allow me to share a small tidbit that make whet your appetite for the main course.
Lian reminded us throughout the lecture that the jury is still out on the contributions of this group. It is uncertain if the government would seek to totally squash their efforts. Still, this group of lawyers, called the Christian Human Rights Lawyers of China as part of the Rights Defense Movement, have sought means within the Chinese legal system to challenge the totalitarianism Christianity in China has routinely faced since 1949. He finds that whereas unregistered churches had hithertofore accepted persecution as a way of life, with numerous house church pastors gladly accepting jail time as a sign of the times, after the CHRLC “wrote the manual” on how to peacefully challenge the government by rule of law, unregistered churches have been more bold in the face of prosecution.
I can’t wait for the full article. He gives a more detailed historical outline, traces the influence of this group on Christianity in China, including some of the key differences between the “cultural Christians” and the more fundamentalist Chinese House Churches. It will be very interesting to see how each of these groups affects the future of Christianity in China, especially given the popular notion among some who have lived in China, that the country is ready to open up and lead the world, not only economically, but spiritually. China has the great potential to be the UK of the late 18th century or the US of the early 20th–one of the main centers of vitality and vigor of global Christianity.