Book Review: China’s Reforming Churches (Bruce Baugus, Editor)

As I was reading China’s Reforming Churches I was struck by how ignorant I am regarding the history of the body of Christ in China, and how uninformed I am regarding the present state of Christianity there. My personal politics and very limited one and two person removed exposure to China has created a caricatured view of the country, the culture and the state of the church in this largest of all nations on earth. China’s Reforming Churches offers three wonderful challenges to readers who, like me, have been guilty of unintentional bigotry.

First, the Introduction and first three chapters offer a very detailed history of the Presbyterian and Reformed movement in China over the last 200 years. There is some overlap in the details covered, which I didn’t enjoy, but the coverage is comprehensive and lays a foundation for a more well rounded view of the contemporary Chinese church.

Next, many of the contributing authors are Chinese pastors, and several chapters compiled by North Americans, are posts and articles written by Chinese Christians or interviews of local Chinese pastors and elders. Reading their words, and their thoughts about their own culture can quickly dismantle one’s muddle of misconceptions.

Finally, there is no way to read about the contemporary church in China without coming to the conclusion that while the book is titled “China’s Reforming Churches” it should really just be titled “Reforming Churches.” So much of what is written about the church in China could, with the change of only geographical reference, be said about the churches in Canada, or the United Kingdom, or Australia, or the United States. I was startled at how familiar the struggles were, and how universal the answers should be. While this book is written about China, it is a book about how to maintain and grow healthy churches, and how to effectively train pastors and how to engage within culture. The answers are as true in my home church as they are around the world, in China.

While almost all of the book was fantastic, Chapter 9 was a red herring. The discussion of one and two kingdom theology is complex, and universal. It is surely a matter of great discussion in China, as it is across Western reformed Christianity, but VanDrumen’s chapter was irrelevant to the rest of the subject matter. I was disappointed in its inclusion in an otherwise helpful book.

China’s Reforming Churches  is a wonderful book. It is an intensive read, and won’t be consumed in an afternoon by the pool, but it is worth the time and effort to gain a more accurate view of our brothers and sisters in China, and to reflect on the global needs of the Universal church.

I received no compensation for this post. I was provided an electronic copy for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one.


An Ethical Debate or Two

Well, it’s been a while since I ruffled feathers and stirred up controversy here at the blog, so I’m about due, don’t you think? In the last 24 hours I’ve come face to face with not one, but two ethical dilemmas that illustrate to me the inconsistencies, not only in Western culture, but also in my own life.

Yesterday we took our school to see Bodies: the Exhibition in Atlanta.  Two years ago we attended the exhibit with the school, so I was looking forward to seeing again the reminder of how fearfully and wonderfully made we are.  Two years ago, the introdcution to the event included the information that all of the bodies used in the process were voluntarily donated to science for the purpose of research and teaching.  This year all the introduction said was: “The bodies are donated and dissected in China before being shipped to exhibits around the world.”

Wait: China?  Here is the official statement from the Bodies website:

The full body specimens are persons who lived in China and died from natural causes.  After the bodies were unclaimed at death, pursuant to Chinese law, they were delivered to a medical school for education and research. . . . (BODIES site, FAQ #7)

In light of that, consider this paragraph from USA Today:

[China has] executed more than four times as many convicts as the rest of the world combined last year  [and]is slowly phasing out public executions by firing squad in favor of lethal injections. . . .

China’s critics contend that the transition from firing squads to injections in death vans facilitates an illegal trade in prisoners’ organs.

Injections leave the whole body intact and require participation of doctors. Organs can “be extracted in a speedier and more effective way than if the prisoner is shot,” says Mark Allison, East Asia researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. “We have gathered strong evidence suggesting the involvement of (Chinese) police, courts and hospitals in the organ trade.”

Executions in death vans are recorded on video and audio that is played live to local law enforcement authorities — a measure intended to ensure they are carried out legally.

China’s refusal to give outsiders access to the bodies of executed prisoners has added to suspicions about what happens afterward: Corpses are typically driven to a crematorium and burned before relatives or independent witnesses can view them. (Calum MacLeod; “China makes ultimate punishment mobile”, USA Today, June 15, 2006)

To find that information took me three minutes of Googling “facts about China’s execution policies” and reading through a couple of articles.  I have very clear memories of learning about the atrocities of the Nazi Holocaust, and saying, along with my fellow naive classmates, that I would never have kept my mouth shut if I lived in a country that did those things.  But here I am, paying money, twice, to participate in an exhibition of questionable history.

Our culture considers that a scientist now who uses data collected by Nazis more than 50 years ago is complicit in the crimes against humanity committed to collect that data.  Why don’t we have that same attitude toward atrocities being commited in our very own life times?  Rather than being the subject of a few doctor’s concern, why aren’t we asking what is China doing with their executed bodies, and with the bodies of men and women who die “from natural causes” like starvation and hypothermia in forced work camps for crimes against the state like being a Christian, or a Buddhist?  Like western nations in 1939, are we turning a blind eye, and even condoning financially and scientifically, things that we claim to abhor?

While I was in the midst of that debate, I came across this article: Medical Board Revokes License of Abortion Doctor.  An abortion clinic schedule an abortion, but instead of performing a legally sanctioned murder, they allowed a woman to deliver a live baby, then scooped the baby, placenta and cord into a bio-hazard bag, and disposed of it.  Now, the entire idea of murdering a living human should make us outraged, but if you’re okay with murdering a baby while it’s in the womb, why should the murder of it seconds after birth raise an uproar, complete with revocation of a license?  It’s another example of the considerable ethical inconsistencies that arise in our culture as we abandon the inherently consistent laws of God.