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Book Reviews

Bob Davey: The Power to Save: A History of the Gospel in China; Daniel Bays: A New History of Christianity in China; Samuel Moffett: A History of Christianity in Asia Volume II 1500-1900.

The Power to Save: A History of the Gospel in China. Bob Davey. EP Books, 2011. ISBN 9780852347430

A New History of Christianity in China. Daniel H Bays. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. ISBN 9781405159555

A History of Christianity in Asia Volume II 1500-1900. Samuel Hugh Moffett. Orbis Books 2005. ISBN 9781570757013

This Review was first published in Essentials Spring 2015

China continues to be in the news for many reasons. Not least because of the growth of the Christian church there. A growth symbolised perhaps by Amity Press which, by the time of the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury in June 2015, had printed 135,602,476 copies of the Bible.

The existence of Amity Press is a remarkable political, religious and spiritual reality. The story of The Heavenly Man is perhaps better known to modern western Christians. Some will also know of the work of Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission. And of other famous names such as Watchman Nee and Gladys Aylward. Beyond that not much is known.

Unfortunately. The story of the gospel in China goes back to Nestorian times. Around 1625, in the west of Xi'an a three metre high marble stele was unearthed. In Chinese characters and Syriac a Christian monk named Jingjing, writing in 781, tells of the history of Nestorian Christianity in China which started back in 635. It seems the gospel came via the Old Silk Road.

 

That church didn't prosper too long. Later Jesuit missions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries made significant inroads against strong opposition, led in the early days by the amazing Matteo Ricci who nurtured the Three Pillars of the Chinese church of the time, Paul Hsu, Michael Yang and Leon Li. The story of the Jesuit mission is worth studying. It practised many of the principles that Hudson Taylor was later to adopt. It provided a kind of mission training that modern ordination programs could learn from.

The story is told well in Daniel Bays book which is a brief academic study. Moffett's larger book contains very valuable chapters on China and is in some ways more thorough. All three books cover the period from the 19th century onwards. It should be noted that there is much more to the story than the amazing CIM. Bays and Davey give pretty up to date and detailed accounts of the 20th century. Bringing the story back to the Old Silk Road and the Back to Jerusalem mission.

Davey's book is written for the broader audience. Bays is more detailed with lots of end notes but very readable. Moffett's is probably more detailed and of course ranges over the whole of Asia. The good thing about all three books is that they all show a heart for the gospel. The more academic books are not dry and detached but as much taken with the wonders of the gospel as Davey's is. Moffett concludes his book with a story of an unnamed Baptist deacon in Burma. Christian Karens in the hills were starving after rats had eaten their crops. They were reduced to eating the rats. The deacon brought ten rupees (5 dollars) to the missionaries from his church for the mission among the Ka-Khyen, a tribe further north. The missionaries said, no, you must use this for your needs. You are starving. The deacon shook his head. “Yes, but we can live on rats. The Ka-Khen cannot live without the gospel.”

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