China’s Urban Christians

Missio Nexus’ leadership thoughtfully summarize books, giving you the Leader’s Edge to help inform, stimulate and provoke profitable discussion.

Leader’s Edge (Missions/Ministry)

China’s Urban Christians: A Light That Cannot Be Hidden

Brent Fulton. Publisher: Pickwick Publications, 2015.

156 pages
ISBN: 978-1625647191


Fulton, who lives in Hong Kong, looks at how massive urbanization is redrawing not only the geographic and social landscape of China, but in the process is transforming China’s growing church as well. The purpose of this book is to explore how Christians in China perceive the challenges posed by their new urban context and to examine their proposed means of responding to these challenges. Although not primarily political in nature, these challenges nonetheless illustrate the complex interplay between China’s Christian community and the Chinese party-state as it comes to terms with the continued growth and increasing prominence of Christianity in modern China.

Best Chapter

The first twelve quotes below are drawn from chapter 2, The Context for Change. They are numerous because there is so much helpful updated information on China in this chapter. Don’t let the title of the book fool you – this book (and specifically this chapter) provides an insightful update on the context of China as a whole.

Best Illustration

“The struggle is essentially a battle for the spiritual vitality and purity of the church over and against the forces of materialism, secularism, and moral decline. In the words of one pastor, ‘At present the main problem facing the church is not government persecution; in fact, this is unimportant to the church. No, the main problem is holiness. If the church is not holy, its witness is destroyed.’” Page 48

Best Idea

“While deeply committed to having an influence on the life of their cities, China’s Christians are able to face opposition precisely because their hope is set, not on the future of the temporal urban community to which they currently belong, but ultimately on the promise of a city yet to come… Yet they know that their vision for urban China is but a faint reflection of their vision of an eternal city. They know that this vision will not be fulfilled on this earth, whether in their lifetimes or in some future era.” Page 139

Best Take Away

“The reality of current cross-cultural efforts emanating from within China’s church speaks of small beginnings inspired by big vision. One urban leader reasons that, since China in the past received a total of about 20,000 missionaries from abroad, Christians in China should be able to send out that many as well. Setting the year 2030 as the target for this goal to be reached, he recommends starting locally by working among ethnic groups within China’s borders while simultaneously preparing to send workers abroad.” Page 98

Our Recommendation

As China continues to aggressively urbanize so does the church. This book provides well-considered, insightful information that helps those of us on the outside looking in to better understand the true state of the present-day church in China. This is a tremendous update that truly informs.

Best Quotes

“No other nation has urbanized as rapidly—or on such a large scale—as China. For millennia an agrarian, rural society, China went from being 20 percent urban to having more than half of its people in cities in the space of 30 years.” Page 6

“What Mao had been unable to achieve in his attack upon traditional family structure through the commune system, urbanization has, in many respects, made it a reality.” Page 7

“One industry group estimates that by the year 2020 Chinese investment in the United States will reach between $100 and $200 billion dollars, accounting for 200,000 to 400,000 American jobs.” Page 7

“Urbanization has both a “push” and a “pull” character. For Chinese the “push” has been the lack of economic development in the countryside as compared with the cities, as well as changes in agriculture that have resulted in excess rural labor. The “pull” has been the promise of employment in the cities, along with access to better services, a higher standard of living, and the possibility of making connections that could lead to permanent relocation or even the opportunity to go abroad.” Page 8

“The ‘one-child’ policy coupled with the traditional preference for male children has also contributed to a skewed gender ratio. For every 100 females born in China, there are 119 boys. In some provinces the ratio is as high as 135:100. As this generation has reached marrying age and beyond, the specter has emerged of as many as 30 million men in China who will be unable to find wives.” Page 13

“Having successfully overseen the development of China as ‘the world’s factory floor,’ enabling the country to enjoy decades of export-led economic growth, China’s leaders now face the even more formidable task of turning the country’s emerging urban consumer class into the nation’s new economic engine.” Page 14

“Exacerbating this economic challenge is the environmental degradation that has accompanied China’s rapid urbanization and headlong pursuit of economic growth. Beijing’s poor air quality, with pollutant levels on some days so high that they cannot be measured, has become legendary and is emblematic of the situation in many Chinese cities. Each year an estimated 1.2 million people in China die prematurely as a result of air pollution.” Page 15

“For the foreseeable future China’s need for imported fuel will continue to increase its global presence, opening the door for potentially greater cooperation with other nations in energy production and delivery but also increasing the likelihood of competition for scarce resources, resulting in new diplomatic and potentially military challenges.” Page 17

“Although officially atheistic, China’s ruling Communist Party has significantly relaxed its grip on ideology since the inauguration of the reform and opening policy in the early 1980s.” Page 18

“Of particular significance for China’s urban Christians is the growth of online religious activity that has accompanied China’s rapid and enthusiastic adoption of the Internet. Despite much talk about China’s ‘great firewall,’ engineered to screen offending content from outside China, a plethora of religious content is being generated domestically.” Page 18

“China’s cities have long been key to its policy of opening to the outside world, serving as centers for commerce, education, and cultural exchange. Special Economic Zones such as Shenzhen in the south provided laboratories for new policies that would eventually be implemented nationwide.” Page 18

“With the emergence of an increasingly cosmopolitan urban Christian community as well as the influx of hundreds of thousands of overseas Chinese, who often play a ‘bridge’ function between local Chinese and non-Chinese in China, interaction of Christians between the indigenous church and the global Christian community has become frequent and multidimensional.” Pages 19

“significant differences exist between various types of churches found in China’s cities. In their study of Beijing churches, Ying, Yuan, and Lao documented four distinct types: those affiliated with the TSPM, those composed of believers from the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou, migrant churches, and urban professional churches.” Page 23

“With the influx of teaching from outside China, the church is also undergoing a theological shift that affects how believers view their involvement. Mainstream Chinese theology, much of it heavily influenced by indigenous church leader and theologian Watchman Nee, traditionally emphasized personal piety and the individual devotional life, giving rise to a privatized faith.” Page 28

“While the trend toward greater participation bodes well for the future vitality of the urban church, a lack of concrete procedures for participatory management and of relevant role models of servant leadership leave the church groping haltingly in its efforts to move forward.” Page 29

“According to this younger pastor, these success factors now inhibit the further development of the urban church. In addition to requiring significant resources for their ongoing operations, large churches do not allow for the development of intimate relationships among believers. Their structures perpetuate the top-down hierarchical style of leadership that stifled the development of younger leadership in the traditional rural networks.” Page 33

“This tension is particularly acute in areas of church life where Reformed practices run counter to traditional Chinese church culture. Concerning church governance, for example, while it is true that a new generation is developing a more collegial style of leadership, the accountability that comes with having a plurality of elders may still be threatening in a strong authoritarian culture where leadership requires maintaining ‘face’ among one’s peers.” Page 39

“Christians commonly pay for various types of training and seminars, from marriage conferences to seminary-level courses and even trips to the Holy Land. They are willing to purchase books and other resources, in contrast to a previous generation of Christians who believed that ‘if it is for ministry, then it should be free,’ and who relied on generous overseas donors for supplies of Bibles and training materials.” Page 41

“Postmodernism and the rise of the market economy have combined in urban China to create ‘religious consumerism,’ whereby believers choose experiences based on whether these meet their personal needs…As a result, pastors lament that it is difficult to exert spiritual authority among believers, who are increasingly mistrustful of their pastors. Whereas rural church life was characterized by a spirit of sacrifice, many urban Christians view the church as a service provider and have come to have high expectations for what they will receive in return for their attendance and offerings.” Pages 54-55

“China’s urban Christians, many of them relatively new believers, find themselves torn between biblical teaching about relationships and the social pressure to find a mate. The Bible clearly instructs that believers are to remain sexually pure before marriage, and that the marriage relationship is not merely an economic arrangement or a means of finding personal fulfillment, but a spiritual union with Christ as the head. For many Chinese Christian women, the tension is exacerbated by the relatively high ratio of women to men in Chinese churches, posing the dilemma of whether it is better to marry a nonbeliever or to remain single.” Page 57

“In the past decade the church in China has begun its move from the margins of society toward the center. Many would trace the beginnings of the church’s journey away from the margins to May 2008, when the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan province galvanized a groundswell of volunteer activity unprecedented in recent Chinese history. Among those who responded were Christians from more than 15 cities across China. The year 2008 is commonly referred to as the dawn of volunteerism in China; Christians in China would point to 2008 as the year that the church moved off the sidelines and onto the stage of social engagement.” Pages 67-68

“Although Christian writers have yet to achieve this level of recognition online, the overall amount of Christian activity on the Internet within China is significant. Thousands of web sites deliver Christian news, sermons, worship music, dating services, and a variety of virtual training courses—including full seminary courses offered by recognized theological institutions overseas.” Page 84

“China’s urban Christians are more likely than their rural counterparts to have traveled overseas, studied or worked with individuals from outside China (perhaps even joining a foreign company or organization), or to have learned another language. As such they are thus more cognizant of the larger world beyond China’s borders. With the Christian community in China becoming increasingly global in its outlook and better connected relationally (if not organizationally) to the global church, its leaders are seriously considering their role in the task of world evangelization. This cross-cultural vision is not new, either for the Chinese church globally or for China’s church; however, the resources, connections and capabilities of the urban church are now making possible the emergence of a new missions movement from within China.” Page 95

“As new ways of relating to one another have become possible, China’s urban Christians have identified unity as a key concern. The motivations for this unity are complex and interrelated, rooted not only in pragmatic concerns but also in the biblical teaching that they should ‘all be one’ in Jesus Christ, and that the quality of their Christian witness is a direct function of this unity.” Page 112

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