10 Troubling Tendencies in Chinese Evangelism

10 Troubling Tendencies in Chinese Evangelism July 16, 2013

The Chinese know how to do multiplication. Evangelism is a trademark of the Chinese church. One cannot help but be encouraged and spurred on by Chinese brothers and sisters.

It’s easy then to forget that even Chinese believers may have certain weaknesses or troubling tendencies. Chinese Christians are famous for their boldness. However, boldness is not the sum total of evangelism.10-troubling-tendencies1

I will list 10 areas of concern that I think we should be aware of when it comes to Chinese evangelism. I’m not ranking them, just listing them in random order.

My purpose is the help us give more concentrated attention to the subject. No one has “perfected” evangelism. But that doesn’t mean we should not strive to improve things.

Today, I’ll just give the list. In the coming days, I’ll offer a few thoughts on each.

Chinese evangelistic presentations tend to . . .

1.  Focus more on the origin of sin than the meaning of sin itself.

2.  Have no awareness that the gospel announces Christ’s kingship.

3.  Highlight Jesus’ benefits more than Jesus himself.

4.  Emphasize legal metaphors even though they have little connection to Chinese culture.

5.  Lack theological depth.

6.  Lack biblical depth.

7.  Suffer from easy-believism.

8.  Stress Jesus’ death over his resurrection

9.  Separate heaven and earth.

10.  Separate this life from the next life

Before leaving angry comments, here are a few quick qualifiers ––

(1) If it made the list, I’m not suggesting that the behavior is entirely wrong. Generally, however, I’m trying to highlight the point that one idea is being emphasized to the loss of a more central idea. The dangers we face are not always between right and wrong. Often, our problem is confusing major and minor points.

(2) These are tendencies as I have seen it.  I’m not suggesting that every Chinese Christian does these things.

(3) I don’t suggest for a moment that these are unique to China. Western missionaries remain a major influence among Chinese believers.

What have you seen?

What would you add to the list?


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  • Most of these could be said for the Thai context too.

    • That does not surprise me. There is a lot of overlap in cultures….plus plenty of western missionary influence (and of course, that is no a criticism. Thank God for Western missionaries willing to go and preach the gospel.)

  • I think for easy believeism the common term is “decisionism”

    • I think you are right—-that may be a better term.

  • XiaoXiong

    I have quite a bit of familiarity with Chinese Christians, and “easy believism” is just the opposite of the problem I have seen. On the contrary, works-righteousness seems to dominate Christianity here.

    • There is “legalism” everywhere. Agree. However, I wouldn’t use that category to describe Chinese evangelism. “Legalism” is more common in more Christianized areas (e.g. southeastern China) because it manifests once someone professes to be Christian. My comments about evangelism are a little different. People don’t often go out saying, “You can earn your salvation.” Rather, they’ll tell people that all one has to do is “say a prayer.” THEN, perhaps the new “Christian” may develop legalistic tendencies, depending on his context. But, I wouldn’t say that dynamic happens at the evangelism level. Thanks for the comment.

      • XiaoXiong

        I see what you’re saying, and undoubtedly you’re right. Perhaps also we are interacting with a different set of Christians. The ones I have acquaintance with typically will require all sorts of “proof” that one has been converted before allowing them to be baptized, and then continue to insist on all sorts of works to validate their commitment. Because of these heavy-handed tactics, the attrition rates in their churches and small groups is quite large.

        • I think the two are interrelated. People tend to preach an oversimplified gospel only to find that there wasn’t true faith in those who professed faith. Consequently, people get suspicious of genuine conversions, which perpetuates the dynamic you mentions— such careful attention to post profession response that one easily errs toward “legalism.”

  • tim

    I found your list stimulating discussion. I have been wondering whether Greek Thought influenced the Chinese Church with dichotomy, or was it Western Missionairies with Greek Thought or was it that Chinese Buddhism or Folk Religion influenced the Greeks. These religions also have strong separation between Heaven and Earth. Any insight on that?

    I was wondering if you could give some examples of the legal terms with no relevance to culture that Chinese Christians are using. I am drawing a blank on what they might be.

    • Thanks for leaving a comments.

      Chinese culture is deeply rooted in pragmatic thinking. I think that drives the dichotomy more than anything. Confucius himself said something to the effect that he didn’t understand this life, so how could he speculate about the next? It’s less philosophical in nature and more a natural consequence of pragmatism.

      Also, “law” is a human category. I don’t want to imply that law is merely “western.” Not true. My comments have more to do with the day to day concerns and ways of thinking of the average Chinese person. People don’t think about going to court to protect their individual rights. In fact, that would be shameful in many peoples eyes. Most don’t care about laws and “absolute standards” as much as face—theirs and their group. There is a Chinese idiom that essentially says law has no power if the masses choose to do otherwise. So, such language has little conscious “existential relevance” compared to other ways of thinking and speaking.

      I really dig into these kind of issues and their relevance of salvation in my book Saving God’s Face.

  • Also Concerned

    I’m thinking…I wouldn’t mind seeing a paragraph explanation on each one of these, and suggestions for remedy. I believe I have seen quite a few of them, and am also concerned, yet in some I don’t know if I’m making the connection the same way you are.

    • The coming posts will give brief comments on each. If you still have questions or want clarifications, then let me know. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  • B

    I’ve lived in China five years and done lots of international student ministry in the States. It seems to me like a lot of Chinese evangelism sets believers up for disappointment and disillusionment. Chinese Christians emphasize the benefits of believing in God and give the impression that the Christian life is just blissful. I think Jesus mentioned that we should count the costs.

    • Agreed. Talking about costs rubs against all human (and especially Chinese) instincts.

  • These are good observations. They are a major reason why I wrote my book, Reaching Chinese Worldwide, which came out a month ago. It tries to address these tendencies in a variety of ways. G. Wright Doyle

    • Thank you for letting me know about your new book. I look forward to seeing it!

    • When do you plan on releasing a Kindle version? I know many people living overseas would be interested.