Ma and Li, “Surviving the State”

9781532634604Christianity is enduring a rough period in the West. But, as many commentators have pointed out, the religion is booming in Africa and Asia. And, in Asia, China provides an excellent example of the growth of Christianity. According to some estimates, by the middle of this century, China will have the world’s largest Christian community. The rise of Chinese Christianity will no doubt affect the course of the religion in ways none of us can now imagine.

A new book from Wipf and Stock, Surviving the State, Remaking the Church: A Sociological Portrait of Christians in Mainland China, by Li Ma and Jin Li, both of Calvin College, documents some of the changes. Here is the publisher’s description:

This sociological portrait presents how Chinese Christians have coped with life under a hostile regime over a span of different historical periods, and how Christian churches as collective entities have been reshaped by ripples of social change. China’s change from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, or from an agrarian society to an urbanizing society, are admittedly significant phenomena worthy of scholarly attention, but real changes are about values and beliefs that give rise to social structures over time. The growth of Christianity has become interwoven with the disintegration or emergence of Chinese cultural beliefs, political ideologies, and commercial values.

Relying mainly on an oral history method for data collection, the authors allow the narratives of Chinese Christians to speak for themselves. Identifying the formative cultural elements, a sociohistorical analysis also helps to lay out a coherent understanding of the complexity of religious experiences for Christians in the Chinese world. This book also serves to bring back scholarly discussions on the habits of the heart as the condition that helps form identities and nurture social morality, whether individuals engage in private or public affairs.