by David Aikman
The book reveals secrets about house churches in China, with names, places and pictures.
Regnery Publishing, One Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001, 2003. 344 pages, $27.95.
—Reviewed by Richard R. Cook, assistant professor of mission history and global Christianity, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.
Did David Aikman disclose too much in Jesus in Beijing? The book reveals secrets about house churches in China, with names, places and pictures. Jesus in Beijing provides an up-close and personal account of the recent phenomenal growth of house churches. Of recent books on house churches, this is the most significant. The author is well known (former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine), and his lucid writing is based on extensive research.
Aikman does not provide a chronological account, but presents a series of short vignettes organized around a major topic for each chapter. His chapters include a look at early missionaries, early Chinese Christians, the older generation of believers still alive today, and key church leaders of the younger generation. Other topics include seminaries, Roman Catholics and persecution. The chapters are logically organized and the book is enjoyable to read. Aikman’s acknowledgments include the names of about one hundred Chinese Christians he interviewed and the Chinese and Western experts he consulted. While familiar to Chinese Christians active in the house churches, much of the book’s material will be new to English readers.
Although Jesus in Beijing covers a lot of material, China and the Chinese churches are large and complex, making it difficult to formulate any generalizations. Aikman’s groundbreaking book can only deal with a small portion of the much larger movement. Further research is needed to examine and verify some of his interpretations. For instance, is Henan province as central to the church in China as it appears to be in this book? If so, what particular factors in Henan—historical, economic, cultural, social, political, etc.—contributed to this growth?
The book’s title is misleading by seeming to promise an analysis of the global implications of Chinese church growth, linking the findings with Philip Jenkins’s The Next Christendom. Rather than dealing with politics and religion in Beijing and Washington, Aikman provides sketches from the house churches. Another book that builds on Jenkins and focuses on the rising influence of Christianity in Beijing and its potential implications for global politics still needs to be written.
Will this book hurt Chinese Christians? Persecution is still a critical issue for Chinese house church Christians. Aikman has told the story of many of these men and women. Will the government now single out these individuals and their churches for persecution? As the basic religious policy in China remains unchanged, this is a legitimate concern. Although danger may exist, I believe the timing may be right for Chinese house church leaders to emerge on the world stage as leaders in the global church and missions. They may also have a pivotal impact on Beijing.
Check these titles:
Cliff, Norman H. 2001. Fierce the Conflict. Dundas. Ontario, Canada: Joshua Press.
Hattaway, Paul and Brother Yun. 2002. The Heavenly Man. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Monarch Books.
Hattaway, Paul. 2003. Back to Jerusalem. Waynesboro, Ga: Gabriel Publishing.
Jenkins, Philip. 2002. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. N.Y.: Oxford University Press.
Madsen, Richard. 1998. China’s Catholics: Tragedy and Hope in an Emerging Civil Society. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press.
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