Based on years of experience as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, Wayne Ten Harmsel presents a fascinating study of The Registered Church in China: Flourishing in a Challenging Environment (Pickwick). As conditions for Christians become harsher in that country and official pressures toward Sinicization become more aggressive, the word challenging sounds ever more like a euphemism.
The greatest contribution of Ten Harmsel’s crisp and sympathetic study is to give readers a sense of the ordinary realities of lived faith in those churches. Outsiders might be tempted to dismiss the church leaders and members as compromisers, or even sellouts, but they are nothing of the sort. Much like the “border” people Hanciles describes, these people are struggling constantly to balance two competing identities: that of a loyal Chinese citizen, subject to the control of a one-party state, and that of a Christian who has no earthly commonwealth. These believers walk a delicate path as they try to live Christian lives without compromising their faith.
Let me conclude with an introduction. Over the past quarter century, plenty of authors have offered broad surveys of the rapidly changing state of global Christianity, and some have been impressive. One new work that really stands out for its scope and accessibility is World Christianity and the Unfinished Task: A Very Short Introduction (Cascade) by F. Lionel Young III. This book does an excellent job of compression, while at the same time succeeding fully in sketching recent trends and identifying pressing issues. Part of that success lies in Young’s ability to incorporate personal observations and stories, and so effectively.