by David Lyle Jeffrey
Jesus in Beijing
Yesterday I participated in an interview of a candidate for a teaching position in World Religion. The erudite new Ph.D. (from a premier North American university) was in command of three languages and four Asian religious traditions. While he had grown up the child of illiterate peasants in a village north of Shanghai, his Christian faith was now central to a remarkably deep intellectual life. Concisely, he epitomizes a transformation now taking place that could well turn China into the world's most powerful Christian nation-state.
One point of connection between us was that we had both read David Aikman's new book, Jesus in Beijing (Regnery). Aikman, the former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine, charts admirably the fascinating, mercurial, and sometimes sadly instructive history of the Christian evangelization of China. It is a story of remarkable men and women: heroes, martyrs, eccentrics, and, yes—as elsewhere—dismal, even disgraceful heretics and apostates.
The Nestorian Christians—whose descendents are the Assyrian churches of Iraq— arrived in A.D. 635. Aikman traverses the subsequent history, ending with an analysis of the startling missionary vision of millions of Chinese Christians of the 21st century: to wend their way along the old Silk Road, gathering in the churches, converting the Muslims as they go, and then at last "to preach the gospel in Jerusalem." He includes superb mini-biographies of some of the most important historical figures and house-church leaders of the past half-century, as well as of dynamic current leadership.
Aikman's Chinese interlocutors say (and from my own experience in China I am inclined to concur) that the character as well as the spread of the Gospel in China "is just like that in the Apostles' time." First, it has been initially regional, spreading out from widely distributed centers of intense activity such as Wenzhou ("China's Antioch," as its inhabitants now say) into far-flung areas to which its tent-maker merchants disperse. ...