October 26, 2014

Do Chinese Students Need An American Jesus?

chinesestudents.jpgThis post is important. If you keep up with my journey, read this because what is going on with my ministry to Chinese students is becoming a major chapter in the deconstruction of my American Evangelicalism.

American Christian.

You didn’t like that did you? I don’t like it either. “American Christian” sounds idolatrous. It makes me want to hit the delete key and retype something like “a Christian, who happens to be an American.”

But I’m an American Christian. Whether I like it or not. I live in an American culture that has delivered Christ to me in the swaddling clothes of American religion, American culture, American values, the American imagination, American education, American language, American assumptions and an American view of reality.

To declare myself independent from this is to be purposely ignorant and naively arrogant. Every time I read the New Testament, I am an American reading and interpreting that New Testament. When I go to church, I am an American. When I apply my understanding of the gospel, I do it as an American.

I’m not a blank slate. I don’t supernaturally shed my cultural and intellectual skin when I think “Christianly.”  I am not free from all that came before me, all that surrounds me or all that is within me.

This has nothing to do with the truth and veracity of the gospel. It has everything to do with honestly recognizing that we are thoroughly, deeply and continually swimming in the water of Americanism. It has to do with what I and other American Christians present to the world as the life that follows and obeys Christ.

As most of my readers know, the school where I work, preach and teach the Bible is well-populated with international students. We’ve always had a lot of Africans, but recently we’ve gained a lot of Asians. Currently, we have Japanese, Mongolian, Korean, Thai and Chinese students. Working with these students is, of course, an honor and a privilege, but it is also a revealing and stimulating experience for coming to appreciate the presence of culture in my Christianity.

I am increasingly realizing truths about my own culture as it is contrasted with these Asian and African students. This year, I am learning disturbing lessons about the American Christianity that I believe and present.

For example, it is increasingly clear to me that many of our Asian students obviously find most of our classes to be undemanding, informal and far from rigorous when compared to their own educational experiences in their own countries. From my own experience in American public and private schools, we are certainly above average in rigor, and generally demanding for almost all our American students. The fact is, however, that our school is an American school, and we have shaped what we do around the American Christian culture in which we live.

What is that culture? Our American students are, overwhelmingly, uninterested in education and tolerate it only as a requirement to experience other things. Their “resting state” is one of disrespect and boredom; their major interest is in being entertained. Their thoughts about the future are dominated by cultural myths and fantasies. Our Asian students, with some exceptions, work in class and out, are intense in their devotion to study, and are very competitive and self-disciplined in achieving excellence on the highest level. They approach everything about education differently than 95% of our American students.

A small, but noticeable, difference has to do with appearance. Many of our Asian students are always well-dressed. Their fashion tastes are contemporary and aware of the latest trends, but they are always dressed neatly and nicely (with the occasional eccentricity, I assure you.) Their pants are not sagging. Their shirts do not have offensive or negative messages. Hip Hop and Gangsta culture has almost no discernible appeal to them…unless they have been in the states long enough to begin to be Americanized.

For years, we’ve observed that our internationals have deep devotion to family, respect for adults, natural and appropriate manners, a strong work ethic and a constant position of humility towards others. In any area of our experiences- both positive and negative- our internationals are impressive when compared to American students. (In all fairness, our internationals generally don’t come to us for the same reasons as our American students, but hardly accounts for the differences we see.)

This year, we have been particularly impressed with our communist Chinese students. Name an area of excellence, and they are surpassing it. Having them in class or on the student work program is like having mature 22 year olds in class alongside “kids”. This experience with our 8 Chinese students has been so affecting, that some of us are starting to discuss it.

mao.jpgIt’s impossible to know and talk with these Chinese students without catching their conviction in the superiority of their communist culture. As something of a student of Asian history, I understand how our Chinese students differ from other Asians in their cultural interactions with others. They do have a historical conviction of the superiority of their culture, and they see little need to demonstrate that to outsiders. To the Chinese, there is little doubt that their culture will be proven to be superior to all others.

Further, it is impossible to know these students without seeing that the Chinese communist revolution- with all its many, many failures and evils- is producing a generation of young people who have remarkable values, ethics, loyalty and devotion to their culture. I see little evidence in these students of much for a resistance movement to work with.

All of these students are atheists, and none are familiar with Christianity, but when we do talk about the area of core beliefs, they are quick to witness to the influence of their families and their country. They want to return to China and live for the benefit of their families and country. They are endlessly grateful to their country and, unlike some internationals, have no reluctance to say where they want to return and live.

I’ve concluded that Mao may have been a poor communist, but he was a brilliant Confucian. Our Chinese students demonstrate so many of the virtues of Confucius, and are clearly bemused at what they see in our American culture. No longer are they in awe of the capitalism of our country. Our students come from strongly capitalistic areas. (I took one student to a sub shop, and he said the sandwich was good, but far too expensive.) They want to make major contributions to their society and to find materialistic success, but they are not enamored with the vices and immaturities of their peers in the declining youth culture of America.

In many ways, these Chinese students are a revelation of American decline and a preview of future Chinese cultural success. China may not be our military equal, and their government may be repressive, but the products of a culture are an indication of where things are going. These 8 Chinese students will not go to college and run up credit cards, wreck the car, stay drunk, fail classes and waste their time. They will soon be engineers, pilots, doctors and scientists; leaders in their field.

And I doubt, very seriously, that they will be Christians. Not because I haven’t tried to live, teach and preach the Gospel. I have, and will continue to do so as will all of the Christians on our campus.

I doubt they will become Christians because they are seeing American Christianity, and it’s far more American than Christian. They’ve helped me to see my own cultural religion, and it’s been a disturbing revelation.

When they attend chapel, they frequently hear moralistic preaching. Their own Confucian and Maoist culture gives them morals and moralism, and produces a far more moral person than their typical American peer. They hear sermons on being a good person, staying off drugs, not having sex and staying in school. They were doing all this when they came here and will do it when they leave.

They see American Christians without a Bible most of the time. We have few spiritual disciplines and are hungry and thirsty for the things our culture values more than the gifts and callings of Christ. They hear us talk about Jesus, but the Jesus we talk about is not compelling enough to cause us to live truly sacrificial or revolutionary lives. I’ve noticed this with other Asians as well. When they hear us talking about our religion, they expect to see the same holiness and devotion they see in Buddhist monks, but in American Christians they simply see another American, with a slightly different set of consumer interests. Same American. Different t-shirt slogan. Our spirituality is clearly inferior.

My Chinese students are probably put off- or just bored silly- by most of what we call worship, because I doubt that it is anywhere near as focused and relevant as their own cultural parallels. Our worship songs are frequently romantic and self-serving. We have little genuineness and little mystery. We talk and talk and talk and talk, but have little to show for it in our lives.

Don’t get me wrong. Our students have received many acts of kindness and generosity from Christians on our campus. They’ve received Bibles, gifts, food and hospitality. We’ve loved them and given all we can to them. They love us and I have no doubt they’ve seen Christ many times in many Christians.

But they have also seen American Christianity up close. They see it through the filter of their own cultural lenses and presuppositions, but I believe most of what is there to be seen is American culture and not the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought, lived and taught. We are American Christians, and we’re practicing an anemic, weak, flaccid form of Christianity that, for our Chinese students, makes Mao look like the superior savior and Chinese virtues as the superior way.

Recently, my students wrote essays on lessons from the life of Joseph. Now Joseph is a story that has tremendous middle eastern and asian appeal because of its relation to wisdom literature, and it is a story where God is more in the background than in most of the Pentateuchal narratives. My Chinese student wrote a long essay, entirely interpreting the story as an example of Confucian virtues. His rare mentions of God were only in reference to Joseph’s being different from the Egyptians.

I believe this is much of what my Chinese students are experiencing. They are interpreting their American experience through the grid of their own worldview. Where the God of the Bible should intrude into that worldview, they simply don’t see him at all. They see no compelling reason to question what they have been taught in their own culture, and little compelling reason to consider the “revolutionary” Jesus they see and hear about from their American friends. What revolution? What superiority and alternative culture?

resurrection-chinese.jpgThe Holy Spirit has brought tens of millions to faith in China. There is a spiritual hunger in that country and God is at work there. But I can understand why that is happening in China, and not happening here in the west. The Chinese church is unafraid to suffer. It does not express itself by embracing the worst of a consumer culture and calling it discipleship. It is a church with intensity, contrast and a true witness to its culture. It is completely unlike the church in America and the west. Jesus is at home in his church in China. Here, he must become a suburban, American Jesus that allows us to be American Christians.

My prayer, every day, is that these students will not accept American Christianity, but will be “seeded” by the Spirit to come to faith in Jesus Christ in the context that will cause them to live for Christ the rest of their lives. I want them to come to Christ and be prepared for the hard way of resisting the powerful, dominant, confident revolution of Mao. I am praying they follow the Lord Jesus into the church in China, and if that means they don’t buy the American Jesus at all, so be it.

The true revolutionary is Jesus, and the true revolution is his Kingdom. The Spirit opens eyes and hearts to those transforming realities. My Chinese experience this year shows me the desperate need for reformation and revival in American Christianity. Is there any hope for us? Should there be? Should we be praying that the torch will pass to a church that knows what it is to be in the world, but not of the world?

This opportunity to evangelize Chinese students may last one year, or many more. The Spirit has already blessed me through it. I pray that the Spirit is working in my Chinese friends as well.

Comments

  1. I completely agree with your basic premise here – but sometimes I wonder if the American church has idealized Christianity in countries like China (in much the same way we have idealized the early church) in order to confirm our hopes that it really can be done better than we’re doing it. In an article written by a Chinese believer for an evangelistic agency, the author said: “It is often said that the problem with the Chinese is that, instead of combining and working together against a common adversary, Chinese attack one another. Sadly, as Paul had to say to the Cretans concerning their laziness, I think that this saying concerning the Chinese tendency for internal fighting is also often true (Titus 1:12-13). The Chinese people, and unfortunately the Chinese church, are noted for internal conflict.”

    None of that is to denigrate the problem of the American church or cast aspersions on the faithful among Chinese Christians – but I do wonder how much our eschatalogical hopes color reports of Christianity we hear from afar.

  2. Pretty convicting stuff.

  3. Of course, your Chinese students would also frown on your lack of pride in your country, even as they agreed with you. ; )

  4. I’m not sure where a lack of pride in my country was discernible. I’m talking about idolatrous Christianity.

  5. Um…to the Chinese I’ve know, ‘lack of pride in one’s country’ would include the slightest criticism or misgiving about the culture as a whole.

  6. Michael,

    Excellent observations. The problem with most American Christians is that they have no reference point. They have no real exposure to a different culture.

    Most haven’t examined what they believe and practice to make sure that it is truly Christian and not just cultural. They don’t even see that there is a difference.

    I also appreciate your tone. You are prophetic without being obnoxious.

    Keep up the good work,

    Rod

  7. I believe that is a fairly good description of a young contemporary Chinese person. What you did not hit upon is why they may embrace a “Chinese Jesus” instead of an American one.

    Christians in China are viewed as counter-revolutionaries. They have rejected a fair amount of ther “cultural” values for the sake of the kingdom. Why else would they need to be underground or at least highly monitored? Jesus is dangerous where ever or whenever you happen to live on earth. It is when they can fully realize the danger and take the plunge in China (or Japan, or Indonesia) is when they have met God.

    Anna

  8. Your point is painfully honest and reflects the lessons you’ve learned by your interaction with Christians from all over the world. Given enough time and money, they will form their own brand of culturized Christianity. The issue is are we aware of what you’ve shared and do we war against it?

    A Chinese Christian once returned to China after a visit to America. His fellow believers asked him what impressed him the most about the American church. He replied, “How much American Christians can accomplish without God”.

    Ouch.

  9. How do these students respond to the Law? Are they aware of sin? Do they believe in the coming judgement?

    Thanks,
    Ned

  10. Your observations are at the same time interesting and flawed. They are stereotypes based on a small sample size. In other words, you are generalizing from observations of a small (only 8 students)and probably unrepresentative sample of students from China. Is it possible that the Chinese students are in your school for a reason?

    TheBlueRaja is on the money. It is easy to idealize the church in China (especially the underground) because by its nature, little is known about it. I wonder if it, on closer inspection, is beset by the same problems as American Christians.

    Furthermore, perhaps the reason the church in China is growing is because there is alot of room to grow. An analogy can be made with the Chinese economy. When you start out low, it is easy to see big increases.

  11. They have no idea what religion is other than as an academic subject. They do not reference the Christian worldview at all. As I said, they have Confucian morality and Chinese patriotism.

  12. >Is it possible that the Chinese students are in your school for a reason?

    Yes. We’re inexpensive and teach ESL.

    What are you suggesting?

  13. Michael, if the students are immigrants from China, then they could be a self-selected population. Perhaps, their parents are educated and came here to work or learn. Or perhaps, they are not educated and came to the U.S. to find a better life for their children, and value their children’s education. In other words, how likely is the child of an uneducated laborer in China, who does not value the education of the children, to show up in your classroom? On the other hand, the child of the uneducated laborer from China who makes the huge effort to immigrate to the U.S. for the sake of his child’s future may show up in your classroom.

  14. DWang,

    These are not immigrants. I make that clear in the essay. They are permanent residents of communist China, here to get English and American diplomas/college. Their families are all in China. All are middle class to well off.

    I have many immigrants, both asian and african. They are americanized. These students are not.

  15. Very nice work here Michael. I think you’re onto something many in the American Christian community are feeling but do not know how to express!

    Blessings…
    Dennis
    http://www.mayberrychurch.com

  16. Rachel Robinson says:

    Michael,
    I would say that your view of Chinese students is a little off because of your small sampling, however your view of their impression of Christianity is probably more then correct. I think “American Christianity” is one of the major turn offs for all the unsaved people in America whether foreign on not.
    As you know I just spent the summer in china teaching English and telling the story of Jesus. I saw students of all kinds from very poor to very rich. I believe that your students though they may appear to be only middle class would all be considered rich in China since the cost of an airplane ticket is much greater then the average yearly wage for a “middle class student’s family”. Getting a visa to study in the USA is really only open to superior students with money.
    I worked part of the time at a small private boarding school that has 900 students (6-16) and most of the students were in class 10-12 hours a day. They do homework and their laundry(by hand, in cold water) in their “free time”. They get half a day off on Sunday. Most of the teachers are very harsh.
    In May I plan(hope) to go back with a friends College fraternity and build a playground for the young students since the only recreational opportunity now is two basketball courts and the older students won’t let the young ones use it.
    The College and high school students I worked with discussed this kind of unkindness and the lessons in ethics that all students receive from a very young age and their response was that they understood what was right but really only practiced it when it was to their benefit(ie. someone in authority was watching)
    hmmm …..that last sentence sounds like something I could say about many American “Christians”

  17. dpaultaylor57 says:

    Interesting observations. One thought that occurred to me was simply the difference in views on authority between the Chinese and American students. We’re a pretty independent people in attitude, literally to a fault. Would that alone help to explain some of the contrasts?

    I dated (and nearly married) a Chinese-American woman in college. The one thing that I remember vividly is how strong parental authority operated in her family (Christian family, btw). It could have been anomalous, but my impression from other contacts is that the dilution of authority that is so prevalent in American culture hasn’t happened to the same extent among Chinese-Americans, suggesting that it’s a more deeply held belief.

  18. Ultra-convicting, Michael.

    Your post drives home a few points:

    1. American Christianity is more rooted in economics than we wish to admit.

    2. Discipline, discipline, discipline…and we Americans don’t have it anymore. That also reflects in our lack of spiritual discipline.

    3. This is why the Chinese Church is praying for the American Church to undergo persecution.

    4. The disciplined prevail. The next time, the Chinese sub sinks the American carrier with a couple well-placed torpedoes.

  19. Maybe they are seeing what “real America” looks like and I too cringe at the weakness of our Christian practice. But it is equally sad that these kids will never know the truth about their glorious revolution which includes the starvation of an estimated 8-10 million Chinese during the the height of Mao’s tyranny.

    They are still being propagandized and brainwashed in China and the whole world is about to get a taste of Soviet style “tourlandia” as Beijing prepares to host the 2008 Olympics.

    While the media gushes over how modern and progressive China has become, we should all be asking one thing: how many McDonalds have to open in China before they start freeing their political prisoners?

  20. Every few months I reread an essay written by Virginia Yip, a Chinese Christian here in the states who got a masters at Westminster, Philly and is currently at Baylor doing more work. Her essay is called “The American Civil Religion: A Foe, Not a Friend To Christianity”. I found it through Jon Zens and Cliff Bjork’s website. Unfortunately, the article is no longer available online. However, I still have a hard copy and a Word doc version available. It shook my world when I read it. It still does. Thanks Michael for writing this. You reminded me again of which kingdom I belong to.

  21. I’m more curious in the pratical application of the Law. I’ve found that appeals to the conscience cross cultural boundaries.

    Do they believe in absolute right and wrong (that their should be punishment for crimes like rape and murder)? Can they see that God has requirements far above our own? That His justice calls for us all to be punished?

    Thanks!

  22. There are parallels to “Heavenly Man” Brother Yun’s comments on America and American churches. Have you read this book? I would be interested in your thoughts.

  23. By the way, Brother Spencer, the Chinese don’t need an American Jesus. They need a Republican, American Jesus!

  24. nedbrek: Not to answer for iMonk (I look forward to his response when he returns from his blog-sabbatical), but I think you’re missing an important part of the story: the Chinese (like the Soviets, and those in other Communist countries) are trained from a very young age that atheism is truth, and religion is merely ignorant superstition. If one doesn’t believe that God exists, one doesn’t care what someone says he/she/it thinks.

    As I understand it, a person raised in that sort of culture would first have to accept the idea of God before they can receive the Law. Sadly, there is no way to rationally convince a person that any god exists, or if one does, that he/she/it looks like God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    As I’ve heard said before, “the best argument for Christianity is a changed life.” In other words, if we want people to move towards Christianity, they need to see that we have something they don’t. If they see nothing in us to compel them to view our religion/culture as better than theirs, they have no reason to even consider it.

    Sadly, many of us (myself included) act as an argument against Christianity for people like the Chinese more often than an argument for it.

  25. PetrKovarik says:

    Michael, thanks for drawing me out from my lurking status. I have appreciated your blog for quite some time now. Thank you and God bless you for being a voice in the technological wilderness.

    This post hits close to home for me. To give some background…I attend a church in Eugene, OR that is passionate about world missions and personal discipleship on the home front. We sent out a missionary family 4 years ago to China. They have spent the last few years serving in a city of 800,000, which is mostly middle class people (big difference between Chinese middle class and American middle class).

    I was privileged to go over there on a short term outreach to refresh the family and to minister with our team. It was my first mission trip in a decade, and the first when my walk with Christ is really strong. In relation to this post, two things really stood out to me.

    First of all, the Chinese people are intensely patriotic and believe their culture is dominant. We were at an ESL class and talking about a variety of subjects. My engineering background came out and the questions started. We chatted for quite awhile about the sanitation and water systems in this town. They were amazed that we found it lacking (sanitation system cannot handle toilet paper and the water cannot be drunk by Westerners). However, they were interested in what our thoughts were and I could see that they wanted to make their city a better place (and China as a whole). And like your observations, they took pride in themselves (neatly dressed, articulate, respectful, and intelligent). They showed respect to us and their fellow students. By the time I left China, I felt that I didn’t deserve the respect they showed.

    I felt that the people in China were aware of their government’s stance on certain human rights violations, but they either viewed that as a necessary evil from the Revolution, or as a characteristic that will be eventually changed. Either way, they had no hesitancy when it came answering to the superiority of their culture and country.

    The second thing I witnessed was the underground church. I am no means even close to an expert, but what I saw amazed me… First of all, the faith shown in the faces and actions of the Chinese Christians is amazing. They truly rely on God for their protection, well-being, and supply. Their faith convicted me and continues to convict me. I will echo cd’s comments on “The Heavenly Man” by Brother Yun…truly amazing the depths of their faith. However, like TheBlueRaja mentioned, there is a great deal of internal conflict.

    The Chinese pastor we worked with was dealing with the issue of several men wanting to either take over as pastor or start their own church. There is apparently a lot of that going on. This, ironically, is also mentioned in “The Heavenly Man” as a result of the intense persecution during the 70’s and 80’s. Also, the general people do not have the best understanding of the Word, and that is a catalyst for a lot of the conflicts they face internally.

    I remain convicted by what I saw there and that where the Church in China is truly flourishing (due to persecution), the Church in American (for the most part) is rotting on the vines. I concur entirely with what danedelen wrote on that.

    irenicum, any way you could e-mail me that DOC file? I would love to read it! My e-mail is petrkovarik@yahoo.com.

  26. coder:
    Thank you for your reply. I agree that a person must acknowledge God during a witness encounter. There are no guarantees, but there are many ways to approach this. I won’t go into them all here (see the Way of the Master for an excellent treatment).
    I’m not sure how good a witness a changed life is. I’ve never had someone walk up to me and say, “What is the reason for the hope that lies within you?”…
    Is Christianity a get rich quick scheme? Or a 12 step plan for self-improvement? Or do we hold the one way to God? A gift we must give away.
    Also, the Bible explicitly says we will be tested, as by fire. Things may get worse, and that is no reason to abandon faith.

    Thanks again!

  27. I thought your description of American Christianity was on the mark. But a good friend of mine is a missionary in China, and he had these words to say: –Jason

    I found the article interesting but grossly myopic & misinformed on the areas where he’s guessing but much more valid on the areas (American Christianity) that he knows. He’s seen 8 students and thinks he understands a country with 4 times the population of the US. While Chinese culture lends itself more readily to generalization than others he’s still looking at too small of a data sample and doesn’t understand the ways there are different from the average college student here who is certainly not the average person. He’s dealing with the elite of the elite. There are now 21 million college students in this country up from less then 5 million ten years ago. And on having anything good to say about Mao… (Okay, he hit a button) Mao was a hypocritical communist and NOT a Confucian though he did study Confucian classics. He set families against families, neighbors against each other and turned this country upside down & inside out for the 10 years of the cultural revolution (‘66-’76), that was after orchestrating 3 years of the worst famine this country has every seen and that during years with sufficient rain through his arrogant megalomania. Through his arrogance and pride he killed somewhere between 30 & 70 million Chinese while he set about destroying the Chinese culture which he hated. Chinese culture is & has long been very materialistic. Chinese (Mainland and Expat) love money more then even Americans do. Students writ large are driven by a desire for material success so they can stand higher then their peers. They do waste time and drink too much but not the ones that make it overseas ‘cause the competitions way too stiff.

    I guess reading it hit a button. ;-) I totally agree on the need for us Western Christians to actually be Christian and not just American.

  28. “I totally agree on the need for us Western Christians to actually be Christian and not just American”

    Actually, Zapman449, that’s fairly easy. You just have to be a Westerner that is not American (European, for instance).

    Michael,

    Your post brought several thoughts to my mind. First, is it really abnormal that you are an American Christian? I mean, after all, you grew up in Kentucky and went to Southern Baptist churches. That looks fairly American to me, and I do not see any problem there.
    Where did we get this idea that the Gospel was ever preached, received and lived in a culturally neutral context? Faith is always fleshed out in an environement shaped by historical, sociological and cultural influences. It’s maybe because it has to do with humans, and, well, we are largely what our culture makes of us.

    Did the fact I was born in Huguenot farm country shaped my view of what Christianity is? Yes, certainly. Was it necessarly negative? I do not think so. I just think it maybe limited my awareness of some parts of the Biblical message, and I am glad I could after that live my faith in a more multi-cultural environement.

    The only problem I can see is when some Christians come to consider their cultural expression of Christianity as the norm. Do American Evangelicals do that? Yes,indeed. But the problem will not be solved by moving from self-glorification to self-depreciation (something you guys do very well).
    What’s at stake is establishing, in all our churches, a real sense of Catholicity that will bring us to celebrate the unity in diversity of the Body of Christ.

    I am a Christian because I believe Jesus is the Son of God and my Savior. I am not an Evangelical, because it’s an American thing, and I am not American, but I consider all US Evangelicals as my dear brothers and sisters in the faith. And I love Chinese Christians too.

  29. I don’t share your confidence that American Christians can so easily see what is culture and what is Christ. In fact, even as I type that sentence, I’m stunned at the idea. Almost all I see in American evangelicalism is American idolatries: individualism, success, materialism. What is Joel Osteen if not the high priest of American Idolatry? Evangelicalism is a multi billion dollar industry…..who know that the difference between the Gospel and the American dream?

    Sorry. I can’t join your optimism on that count.

  30. As someone who has worked at a college in China and done ministry in China and Japan and has worked with international students in a context that is 90% asian, I have to take issue with a little bit of your portrait of Chinese students. You really are dealing with the best and the brightest when you see Chinese students in America. A very small percentage of the students in China can affort college (even though it is highly subsidized.) Among those that are able to go to college, most cannot make it to a foreign country, especially not America. If the student is truly a middle class Chinese, they will likely have to expend not only their immediate family’s, but also their extended family’s savings to go to America. The cost of the colleges is high, the cost of living is high, the cost of travelling is high and to go to a foreign country, often the student will have to pay off all of the government subsidies for their education up to the point they leave the country. There is an extreme price for Chinese to study in America and it is the limiting factor for most. That is one of the reasons that Chinese are so studious; they have the expectations of all of their family bearing down on their shoulders. (note: this is also true for most of the college students from the lower classes that study in Chinese colleges.)
    Regarding the students being exceedingly mature; this is part of the system in China. From, at the latest, junior high school, Chinese schools are competitive. They will have number one schools on down. Most of the top ranked schools are boarding schools. Students must leave home very young and be virtually on their own. It forces a level of maturity on them. But much of it is also the deeply seeded confucianism that is present in the culture and greatly moderates their behavior.
    As to students in China, I taught at the number two normal (teachers) university in my area. A certain percentage of the students worked very hard, but a large percentage would spend all evening in internet bars playing Counter Strike or various other games. Alcoholism is rampant as well as laziness. They are not on the same level as American colleges, but the reality in China is not what most people imagine. Chinese teenagers are still just that, teenagers.
    As far as American Christianity goes, it is pretty awful. But Christianity, there’s another story. When Chinese see Christianity expressed within communities of believers close up, they are often struck to the core. That is true even when they are in America.
    China is a country that is very close and dear to my heart. I will pray for you and your ministry among your 8 chinese friends as well as the other internationals at your school.
    Blessings,
    todd

  31. I have taught Chinese Christians in grad school for the past 12 years. Several observations: first, you are indeed going with a stereotype. We find that the Chinese students do well in “book work” but when they finish with their Ph.D.’s they have not generally doing better work than others. The strong focus on memorization in their education system leaves them a little behind in creativity, lab work, and general visual-spatial ability (“modeling things in your head”). Some do well, others less so. Second, I have seen several communist Chinese come to Christ, including a personal friend, and I don’t see them as less open to the Gospel, actually probably more open than others. What I have found is that an intellectual apologetic approach works well– especially things like books on intelligent design of the universe, general apologetics like C.S. Lewis, systematic theologies like J.I. Packer, etc. They all say they have been taught for years that Christian belief is irrational and unscientific, and feel a disconnect when what appeals to their heart seems to contradict what they are told is intelligent.
    Last, it seems a uniquely American trait to want to “blame America first”, to roll in guilt about our Americanness. I have lived in several countries and I can tell you the churches in other countries are quite immature in many ways. Infighting, dead orthodoxy, anti-intellectualism, prejudice against other cultures, etc. are all there. Yes, you can’t separate your Americanness from your faith, so stop apologizing for it already. Americans tend to shoot low, intellectually, but also are uniquely hospitable and open to new people, and those are powerful gifts for spreading the Gospel in a world full of pride and prejudice.

  32. Critquing American evangelicalism is not “blaming America” and it’s not saying other cultural expressions of Christianity are trouble free. But the differences in materialism and the willingness to suffer are stark.

  33. If I could add on to your response Michael:
    As “American” Christians we are responsible for the exporting of American Christianity thrughout the world. In that way we have hid Christ and failed to proclaim the Gospel. It is only right and proper for Michael to point out these flaws that we might remove the plank so to speak. I disagree that it is “uniquely American”. There is a proper desire for Godliness and humility in self criticism.
    Though I do agree with your point about Communist Chinese availibility to the Gospel, sometimes even at the cost of their family relationships, which inspires me in my faith.

  34. I think we all admire those who suffer for their faith. But this, again, is a mixed picture. Some Chinese I know are quite materialistic and keep their faith secret because they don’t want to jeopardize their jobs. Not too different from here. I do agree that there has been a change in the past ten years, that the students now all say they want to go back to China, while before most wanted to stay here.
    I generally have a problem with running down any part of Christ’s Body, including American Christians. There is much that testifies of Christ here. One can of course call people to change on specific points, but worrying about whether we are too “American” is pointless.
    Here is one point for Chinese evangelism. They rarely respond to attempts to make them feel guilty. The communists did this. They are most interested in a) whether God really exists, objectively, and b) relationship and community, i.e. finding a place where competition does not drive everything. If they conclude God is real, their guilt feelings will be awakened, but I wouldn’t start there.
    Interestingly, my friend who became a Christian avoided the local Chinese church for years. She said they put too much pressure on her. She liked our church where she could just come and not feel she had to make a decision too early. So American Chinese may not be the best evangelists for mainline Chinese.

  35. Amen, amen, and amen. American Christians are weak and are unwilling to suffer. It seems now we are focused more on “Getting America back to God” or “Returning to our Christian Culture as a Christian nation” than proclaiming the gospel and the greatness of Jesus Christ to the nations. God has blessed you richly for what you are doing, and He will continue to do so. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom in this matter.

  36. First, perhaps the simplest difference between the west and the vast majority of Christianity in the 2/3 world is poverty. Chinese Christianity adds to that equation the prospect of government repression, and possible imprisonment. The veneer of materialism, and love of leisure that stultifies many western people,is much thinner in places where praying for your daily bread is literal.

    Christianity in South America, Africa, India and China is fraught with the weaknesses that come from lack of access to theological foundations. From my perspective this is directly connected to the Western Churches declining generosity, and stewardship of the great abundance of wealth concentrated in the US. Because the American church is so spiritually dead it has little extra with which to come along side the nations to offer the two things we actually can bring to the table: theological depth and money. I am involved (with many others) in a movement of prayer seeking to call out to God for a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this generation of the American Church. I see no other hope.

  37. Gregpaul49 says:

    The majority of Buddist do not act like Buddist monks. Why do Chinese students expect the majority of Christians to act like Christian monks?

  38. Heisthatheis says:

    Two books well worth reading on this subject

    TRUE SON OF HEAVEN: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture by David Marshall

    GODS PROMISE TO THE CHINESE:by Dr. Ethel Nelson, Richard E. Broadberry, & Dr. Ginger Tong Chock

    Overview of the book
    http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v20/i3/china.asp

    Read the reviews on this one
    http://www.amazon.com/True-Son-Heaven-Fulfills-Chinese/dp/0970227817

  39. I certainly don’t want to offend anyone – but there were several things I noted in the article and in the responses that I would comment on. I must state from the beginning that I do not believe at all that any foreigner can in anyway justify breaking the law of China to preach or teach in China unless his entry is for that purpose.

    1. Your description of American Students compared to Chinese, is the converse of my experiences with the Chinese over the last 5 years. Spoiled, nasty, childish, lazy would adequately describe the lower end of the scale (which can sometimes be very weighty). On the high side, the Chinese students are as you describe them. It must be stated that economics also plays a large part in the attitudes I see on a daily basis. Many students did not do well in Primary and High school and so have very bad attitudes at College.

    2. Patriotism – while true – is also a charade. To understand Chinese culture and express it in English succinctly – they are extremely ‘politically correct’. Love of the motherland is not always love of the motherland but ‘saying what I must say because I am Chinese’. To hear the otherside of the story is always an eye opener. Most students end up being straighforward with me because I know their true thoughts and tell them so.

    3. I have had whole classes of ‘Christians’ for the want of a better word – Tianzhu jiao and Jidu jiao (catholic and christian) who thought nothing of talking about religion and God – but at the moment, my students are aghast if I ask if there are any Christians or Muslims in the class. ‘Of course not!’

    4. Your self-enlightment in relation to ‘American Christian’ goes further than Christianity. I am not American but have the same reservations that Asians do about Americans. (I am a white Australian). As you point out, the Chinese believe in the superiority of their 5000 years of glorious history, AS MUCH AS Americans believe in the superiority of everything American. Though it may not be in the conscious mind, it is nevertheless there, and it does come across. As one reply indicated – the slightest offence or misconception can offend the Chinese. One should never offend the Chinese person’s feelings.

    5. In my opinion there is little that is stereotypical about the Chinese because they as a nation and people are undergoing vast changes and they are all at different levels of ‘enlightenment’, education and economic standing.

    6. As I understand the Bible (OT/NT) the basic message is that people are ‘chosen or called out by God’. The Chinese are already the culturally chosen ones. The Christian message is always about the Love of Jesus or Hellfire. If there is one thing I do know about the Chinese, it is that for all their dedication to Family and duty, so many never FEEL love. They know love – but don’t feel love, and the amount of depression and loneliness I have witness in the last 5 years tells me that if you want to truly bring the light of the gospel to the Chinese, then show them what ‘love is’ – SHOW THEM – not tell them.

    These are just my observations. We all have different experiences and encounter different people and we all see the world through our own worldview.