Book Review by Sarah H. Lu, Chinese Christian Scholar
As a Chinese Christian scholar, I should say that even Chinese Christians are greatly indebted to Paul Hattaway for his book series which provide the only access to in-depth history of contemporary Christianity in China. Hattaway’s project is absolutely an invaluable one given that information on similar issues is officially banned in China today.
Henan was given the name of “The Galilee of China”, not because it has larger Christian populations than any other provinces in China, but because it has been sending evangelists to other regions both at home and abroad as part of the Back to Jerusalem initiative. The rural house churches in Henan have been showing an amazing missionary zeal.
Paul Hattaway deepens his research by tracing the local history of Henan, the land of the Chinese Jews, then Nestorian missionaries in AD 635, Catholic missionaries in the late 16th century, and Protestant missionaries in the second half of 19th century that included the China Inland Mission, the Lutherans, the Mennonites, and other denominations. The blood and sweat of missionaries in the past explain why it is Henan rather than other places that has become the home of the largest Christian population in China.
The book offers a comprehensive and lively picture about the Protestant house churches as well as other sects of Christianity in Henan, including Catholics, Three-Self churches, and some ‘cults’ which are rejected by both the government and house churches. Meanwhile, the book gives fair attention to the outreach of social caring by Three-Self churches.
The most impressive part of the book is, no doubt, the section where the author describes how the house churches have gone through all kinds of tortures and persecutions since 1970. The author devotes half of the book to this section, with the first hand interviews and lots of precious photographs. Nobody could read the book without being touched by the simple, rough, rural Christians and their moving stories.
Nevertheless, it is not a book simply for sentimental tears; the author has not avoided the problems in Henan house churches, particularly their struggles for unity and the threat of mammon they are facing. The development of house churches in Henan not only has irritated the local government, but also has generated criticism from within. The government worries the chaotic situation which may be caused by the churches with a cohesive structure and the missionaries over other regions. Many China house leaders are quite suspicious about the authenticity of the so-called “charismatic experiences” and thus were unsatisfied with the exaggerated or even false information about China house churches that has been transmitted oversea via Henan house church leaders.
Today in China the urban house churches have been playing a more and more important role since 1990s whereas in Henan, the rural house churches are facing the great challenge of immigration and urbanization. How to preach the gospel without deteriorating the relationship with the government, and how to nurture the believers and help them accommodate the modern urban lives remain crucial questions.
Hattaway’s book shows that the author has done a great job in investigating cases and collecting valuable data. I wish someday the book series could be published in China so that Chinese Christians would benefit from it.