THE astonishing growth of Chinese Christianity is increasingly well known around the Christian world today. Less well understood are the huge varieties in the experience and theologies of Chinese Christians. So Paul Hattaway’s new book introducing the history of revivalist Christianity in one of China’s northern provinces is a welcome contribution.
Hattaway is best-known for co-writing The Heavenly Man, the extraordinary life of a Christian evangelist from central China, but his recent books work on a larger scale. As a Christian missionary to China himself, he aims in all his writings to encourage “personal spiritual revival” in his readers.
As readers, we are taken on an exciting, whistlestop tour of 150 years of Christian revival and miracles in Shandong province, famous as the birthplace of Confucius. From the early Protestant missionaries and evangelists who sought converts in the 1860s to contemporary Chinese Christians running billion-dollar companies, the contrasts are often staggering. There is no shortage of inspiring lives and events to choose from.
Among the missionaries covered is the “flying Scot”, Eric Liddle (of Chariots of Fire fame), who followed Olympic glory by teaching in China and dying in a Japanese concentration camp. Less well known, even in China, are the many Chinese evangelists and pastors who laid the foundations of today’s Church. Hattaway introduces the frugal Jesus Family, whose slogan was “sacrifice, abandonment, poverty, suffering and death”.
Another short chapter is devoted to Ding Limei, an evangelist who, after illness curtailed his extraordinary public life, noted down everyone he prayed for on a regular basis. At one point, there were more than 5000 names in his notepad.
Hattaway struggles to link these different episodes together. Perhaps the strongest sequence in the book is the stories from the dark days of China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and ’70s. These reveal how the steadfast witness of many Christians under intense persecution has shaped the attitudes of successive generations of house-church leaders, especially their views concerning suffering and miraculous revival.
Unfortunately, the weakest chapters are the ones concerning the past 20 years. Here, we don’t have the same biographical focus as in the earlier chapters, but short clippings from newsletters and missionary publications. The extraordinary growth in the past two decades, during which Hattaway estimates that the Christians in Shandong have doubled, is only hinted at and never fully explained.
The Revd Lawrence Braschi is assistant curate at St Andrew’s, Plymouth, and formerly director of the China Desk at Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.
Shandong: The revival province
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