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Calvinism in China


One thing that I have noticed over the past couple of years is the growing influence of Calvinism among Chinese house church Christians. At a conference I attended in Germany last year, one of the speakers even listed it as a major challenge facing the church in China.

When I was in Shanghai last month, I was talking with a friend about this, trying to figure out why this is an emerging trend. He told me about an article that someone had sent him, which was a detailed analysis of this question. He emailed it to me later in a word document.

Since it had no author listed and no sourcing, I did what anyone in the age of Google does: a search based on the title. That search took me to a Google Books page. The article in question is a chapter in a book called Christianity in Contemporary China: Socio-Cultural Perspectives, edited by Francis Khek Gee Lim.

The entire book looks interesting, but if you want to read this one chapter, written by Fredrik Fllman of Stockholm University, you can do so (partially) on Google Books.

He writes:

Anyone doing field work about Christianity on campuses in China the last ten years cannot have avoided regular discussions about Reformed tradition, and I have myself many times met individuals claiming to belong to "the Reformed church", although often without further explanation.

He then goes on to give the historical background for this development, introduce the prominent voices in China, and analyze its attraction, which, he argues, is partly political.

Writing in his conclusion, he says,

The phenomenon of "New Calvinists" in contemporary China is primarily a development in the big cities of Eastern and Central china, and most people involved are relatively well educated. The most outspoken persons are often well-known cultural figures and elite intellectuals, and some also trained theologians with important pastoral functions. It is a multi-faceted phenomenon, but very much oriented to the elites in society, in that way, resembling the Cultural Christians of the 1980-90's. There is another similarity with the forerunners on the notion of influence. These groups cannot easily gain influence over the majority of Pentecostal and charismatic movements or the CCC/TSPM, but the important thing is to be right, to break the new and correct path.

Whether you think that this growing interest in Calvinism and Reformed Theology is a net positive or a net negative, this chapter is a very interesting read.

Fllman also addressed this issue in the autumn 2013 edition of the ChinaSource Quarterly in an article he wrote titled, "Urge for Faith: Postmodern Beliefs Among Urban Chinese:"

There is a tendency among some of the urban, unregistered churches to adhere to reformed theology, inspired by what in North America is sometimes known as "New Calvinism." The focus is more on Puritan teachings than on John Calvin himself. Such communities draw much interest from young urbanites, and they seem to attract these young people because of their solid stance on moral issues and their non-relative beliefs, contrasting with society at large. Reformed Christianity may also appeal to the subconscious Confucian thought patterns and beliefs that linger among Chinese elite intellectuals in general. As both Christian elders and public intellectuals, the young urban church leaders also assume the traditional role of the intellectual, feeling his responsibility to act and assist when the nation is in danger, this time from moral decline.

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio