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Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China.

Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China.

By Lian Xi. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2010. Pp. xv, 333. $45.

This is truly a landmark book. I believe it will become one of a handful of must-read books for anyone interested in the church in China in the twentieth century and today.

So why is the book so important? It is not just because it is meticulously researched, or because its main ideas are presented cogently and persuasively, or that it is written in an elegant style that makes it a pleasure to read. Indeed it is all of those things. But its real importance lies in the new ideas it conveys in our understanding of Chinese Protestant Christianity in the twentieth century, including the decades down to the very recent past. Essentially, Lian Xi describes sectarian, apocalyptic, and millenarian characteristics deriving both from the missionary movement of the early twentieth century and, more important, from the well-established Chinese religious inventory of traditional popular religious movements.

Lian covers all the groups that should be touched on from the early 1900s on: the True Jesus Church, the Jesus Family, the "spiritual gifts" movement, the major conservative evangelists such as Wang Mingdao and John Sung, always setting them in context, especially comparing them with the missionary-led sector of Protestantism. He is especially perceptive on Watchman Nee and the local church (or Little Flock). His hypothesis is that all of these tapped into the potent, and potentially antigovernment, millenarian traditions of native popular religions to fashion creatively powerful movements that resonated deeply with Chinese dynamics already present on the popular scene.

In the last part of the book Lian brings the continuation of these popular movements right down to the early twenty-first century. He establishes conclusively that the Watchman Nee tradition was the source of practically all of the "evil cults" that have bedeviled both government and the Three-Self movement. The popular appeal of these cults (e.g., the "Shouters," "Established King," and "Three Grades of Servant") is striking. This book is truly essential for understanding China today.

Daniel H. Bays, a contributing editor, is Professor of History and Director of the Asian Studies Program at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is working on a history of Christianity in China from the beginning to the present.
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Author:Bays, Daniel H.
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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