Chinese Evangelism: Telling Only Half the Story?

Being half right also means being half wrong.

Few people are eager to live in a half-way home or be half-dead. So, why would we be OK with telling half the story when it comes to gospel truth?

I’ve been discussing ten troubling tendencies in Chinese evangelism. Here are my comments on the last three I listed.

chinese evangelism 8Chinese emphatically and dramatically lay stress on the death of Christ at the expense of the resurrection. If the resurrection is mentioned, it is referenced in passing. As I have discussed in previous posts, the resurrection is treated as another argument in the apologetics tool kit. Rhetorically, focusing on his death carries emotional weight.

Just the other day, a local brother commented that an important goal for Chinese evangelists is to stir up pity for this man who endured such severe pain on their behalf.

We have to keep in mind that Jesus’ death in itself is not the victory that we proclaim. His death is the apparent defeat of Jesus by his enemies. It is the resurrection that vindicates Jesus. In 1 Cor 15, Paul makes this point rather clear: Without Jesus’ resurrection, Christians should be pitied. We might as well eat, drink, and be merry. If Jesus died but there is not resurrection, death has won.

Check out the sermons in Acts. Overwhelmingly, the apostles focused their gospel presentations on the resurrection. Sometimes, the death is never explicitly mentioned, except by implication via the resurrection. (I of course affirm the critical importance of Jesus’ death for salvation. Nothing I’ve said denies that point.)

Why the neglect?

I think there are probably two main causes.

First, Protestants overwhelmingly highlight Jesus’ atoning death in their evangelistic presentations. It is only natural that Chinese would pick up this emphasis in the process. Just this past week, a group of missionaries in town gave gospel presentations and consistently left out the resurrection.

Second, talking about the resurrection would bring up all kinds of apologetic objections. It would sound foolish and irrational to the average listener. They may not know how to defend the claim. Not only that, but it’s a much better “sale” to appeal to people’s compassion.

A few weeks ago, I taught a group of pastors. When discussing the gospel, one person said, “We can’t talk about the resurrection. They’ll never believe!” To this I replied, “Well then, they are not Christians.”

chinese evangelism 9In a typical gospel presentation, heaven––as distinct from earth––is the goal of salvation. This is only half-true. We must not forget the grand vision of Scripture––God will recreate heaven and earth (Rev 21:1; cf. Isa 65:17; 66:22). In terms of biblical imagery, heaven is the throne room of God. Heaven will come to earth. I like N.T. Wright’s witty remark, “Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world.”

Why does it matter? The biblical ideal is not a separation of body and spirit. As Wright puts it, if there is no resurrection of the body, the death wins. Having no physical body is at the essence of what it means to die.

Some people have the conception that we shouldn’t care about this world because “it’s going to going to hell in a hand basket.” Therefore, they reason, we can’t be worrying about social ministries. We just have to preach the gospel message that says we can get off this rock and live some disembodied existence somewhere in “heaven.” As I mentioned in the resurrection posts, the sharp separation between the physical and the spiritual subtly undermines Christ’s victory. If the dead are not raised, then death has actually won, not Jesus.

chinese evangelism 10To paraphrase, Confucius once said, “Why should I worry about heaven and spirits? I haven’t yet figured out this life.”

Chinese are already bent towards pragmatism. The key question is simply, “What works?” In Chinese history, religion has always been subordinate to the state. Religions were supposed to bring harmony to society.

Sadly, Chinese evangelists lay so much stress on the next life with little to nothing to say about the present life. Consequently, the gospel message sounds like something that people only need to worry about “later,” just before they die. One of the most common responses people have to an evangelistic message is “What does that have to do with me?” (和我有什么关系?) Or, they will say, “I have no time to become a Christian. I have to work.”

I personally like to reply by asking, “Do you have time to eat? Go to the bathroom?….Then you have time to be a Christian.” I have 1 Cor 10:31 in mind—whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it to the glory of God.

These negative responses from Chinese people are the natural consequence if salvation is explained in an unbalanced way or if the kingship of Christ is not stressed.

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