Published at the end of last year, Brent Fulton’s book China’s Urban Christians: A Light that Cannot be Hidden looks at both the generational and geographical shifts taking place within the Chinese church. Here Brent responds to some frequently asked questions about the book.
1. What is the relevance of China’s urban church for today?
China is an emerging superpower that before long will have the largest Christian population of any country in the world. Christians outside China need to be thinking about how they will collaborate with the Chinese church in the future. The question is not whether this collaboration will occur, but how.
2. What do you see as the role of China’s cities in advancing the gospel in China?
As China has urbanized, the church has gone from being a marginalized peasant phenomenon to an increasingly visible and influential urban movement. Urbanization has enabled greater connectivity among believers across the country, as well as between the Chinese church and the global church. The cities serve as hubs for interaction between China and the outside world and as gateways for new ideas. Through educational institutions and businesses, foreign Christians have had considerable impact. Meanwhile, returnees who have become believers abroad tend to congregate in major cities and serve as bridge-people between the church in China and the global church.
3. What are some of the distinctives of urban congregations in China?
One concern today is how the church relates to society. Traditional theology, influenced by Watchman Nee and the church’s own pietistic roots, saw the church as very separate from the society. Its role was to save people out of the world, not to engage with it. A new generation influenced by reformed theology and the notion of cultural mandate believes that it is essential that the church engage with the society. Some would say that the church’s future depends on its ability to do so.
The church’s place within the society is also changing. Culturally, believers today tend to be better educated, whether they grew up in the society or migrated from the countryside. This has raised their social status. More Christians find themselves in positions of influence, whether in the workplace or elsewhere in society.
The church’s growing influence can be seen in many sectors of society. Christian education has become a major concern among young urban families who don’t want their children to go through the state education system. As a result they’re experimenting with a variety of educational alternatives. Even in politics and law, there is a small but quite vocal group of believers, among them many human rights lawyers. Their faith has moved them to defend those whose rights have been trampled on, and in the last year many of these have paid a heavy price.
For more about the church’s growing influence and the changes brought about by urbanization, listen to the interview with Dr. Fulton on ChinaSource Conversations.