Joseph Fiennes will play Liddell in a new movie filmed in China, co-written and directed by the Hong Kong director Stephen Shin with Canadian director Michael Parker. It will be distributed by the Hong Kong-based Alibaba Pictures, who this morning also announced that they are to back the fifth Mission Impossible film.
Chariots of Fire, which won four Oscars in 1982, starred Ian Charleson as Liddell, a devout Christian who had to choose between his sport and religious beliefs at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Months before the Olympics took place, Liddell had to drop his plans to enter his preferred 100m race because the heats took place on a Sunday. Instead, he trained for the 400m and succeeded in taking the gold medal for Great Britain.
An Unexpected Hero
The Independent reports that the Chinese-born Liddell is regarded as a hero in China, partly for his sporting prowess but also for his actions in the Japanese internship camp where he died aged 43. Liddell was thought to have organised the smuggling of food in to prisoners.
Born in China to missionary parents, he returned to that country after his Olympic victory to continue his parents’ work. [Where the Japanese invasion resulted in his capture.]…
Why the current spiritual awakening on Chinese campuses may offer China with its best hope for a future of peace and prosperity.
If China’s political leaders forswore persecution and instead looked to partner with Christian intellectuals committed to a ‘faithful presence’ theology, the implications for China’s future could be earth-shaking.
While the government has worked hard to erase public memory of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, images of crowds and tanks continue to haunt Chinese officials, especially in light of the global phenomena of social media driven revolution. As reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Political analysts have speculated that the government crackdown is a reaction to the protests across the Middle East, which leaders here fear could encourage similar uprisings.”
Since university students played a key leadership role in those protests, it is only natural to assume that Christian university students are a potential threat to political stability in China. However, as the number of Christians in China begins to surpass the number of communist party members, the broad spiritual awakening on Chinese campuses could actually offer a bright hope for peaceful engagement of Christian intellectuals in the future of Chinese culture-making. (See, Vibrant Faith Among Future Chinese Culture Makers: Christians Now Outnumber Communists, especially on Campuses.)
By working against a new generation of Christian leaders on many of China’s leading universities, the Chinese government may actually be working against the very intellectuals who might become their strongest allies against an Egyptian-style revolution.
A Call for ‘Faithful Presence’ Among Chinese Christian Intellectuals
While some Chinese Christian intellectuals may indeed choose to embrace “power-based” approaches to culture-making, many espouse the “faithful presence” advocated by University of Virginia Christian public intellectual James Davison Hunter. Based upon Jeremiah’s prophesy to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, Hunter calls for Christians to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (See, CT’s excellent interview with James Davidson Hunter below.)
Hunter’s faithful presence approach to culture-making emphasizes cooperation between individuals and institutions in order to make disciples and serve the common good. As Hunter asserts in his Oxford University Press volume To Change the World:
“If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world, it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor.”
While Hunter wrote ‘To Change the World’ for the American cultural context, his ‘faithful presence’ approach to culture-making is clearly applicable to China as well.
The presupposition that the goal of Christian intellectuals is regime change is as mistaken as it is foolish. Christians intellectual leaders primary concern is only that “the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven.” They serve to remind God’s people to follow the scriptural admonitions to: (1) “be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,” and, (2) pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives.”
Do you not need such citizens to make China great?
A Call for Restraint Among China’s Government Officials
Sadly, the current government crackdown could force Christian intellectuals into the unenviable position of choosing revolution over cooperation. As former Wheaton College professor Dennis Ockholm asserts: it is not Christians but governments who force the church to choose between “Christ Against Culture” and “Culture Against Christ” positions.  The last thing the Chinese government should do at this time is force their Christian intellectuals into this a position of cultural opposition.
Instead, I would propose that the Chinese government pursue a different strategy altogether. When Jerusalem’s first century political leaders first faced the powerful social-disruption often caused by Christian spiritual awakening, their initial instinct was a crackdown similar to current events in Beijing–incarceration, inquisition, and threats.
However, Gamaliel—a wise and honored leader—proposed a different strategy: let the Christians alone.He said in essence, “If the Christians are wrong, then their movement will eventually collapse on its own. However, if they are right and we persecute them, then we may not only find ourselves on the wrong side of history, we will be the ones who lose in the long run.” Sadly, Gamaliel’s counsel prevailed only the briefest season when Jerusalem’s leaders quickly returned to their reign of terror—a reign that only served to strengthen and spread Christianity across the Roman world. Still, Gamaliel’s counsel is very much in keeping with the wisdom of China’s ancient tradition of the responsibility of each regime to act virtuously toward their citizens lest they lose their Mandate of Heaven to rule.
Two hundred years of Christianity in China have only proven the wisdom of Gamaliel’s counsel concerning Christianity in China. When Mao Zedong made it his personal mission to eradicate the one million Christians in the Middle Kingdom, the intense persecution he sponsored only served to strengthen and scatter Christianity throughout China. Today there are no less than 87 million Protestant and Catholic Christians in China, and no reason to believe that their numbers won’t continue to grow.
A Partnership for Peace and Prosperity
If China’s political leaders forswore persecution and instead looked to partner with Christian intellectuals committed to a ‘faithful presence’ theology, the implications for China’s future could be earth-shaking. Under-girding Communist egalitarianism and Confucianism ethics with the soul-strengthening power of authentic Christian spirituality could result in exactly the kind of revolutionary society the communist party first envisioned when it came to power.
Such a synthesis might even form the foundation for the same kind of greatness that supported American society in its earliest days. The United States was not founded as a ‘Christian nation,’ so much as an unusual fusion of Christian ideals and Enlightenment intellectualism. America’s Christian/Intellectual synthesis (now nearly completely abandoned) helped form one of the strongest nations in history.
Might a similar synthesis be key to China’s future peace and prosperity?.
The World’s Next Great Nation
Western civilization is cracking under the weight of a rampant materialism made possible by our own failure to produce Christian citizens. It is a moral failure we invited upon ourselves by jettisoning our own Christian/Intellectual synthesis. And it is the same materialism that now threatens to devour China’s youth as well.
Yet in your very midst is the one community who might yet possess the key for a different future for China. Don’t destroy them. Embrace them. Foster an ongoing dialogue between government leaders and Christian intellectuals. Trust will be hard-won on both sides. But with so much at stake, it is trust that simply must be forged. Perhaps invitations to include top international Christian intellectuals might eventually enrich the conversation. 
No matter who the conversation partners might be, they need to listen carefully to one another in order to find the peace and prosperity so desperately desired by Christians and Communists alike. Who knows what fruit such a conversation might bear?
Who knows what a great nation might emerge from such a partnership?
James Davison Hunter says our strategies to transform culture are ineffective, and the goal itself is misguided.
Over two decades have passed since Allan Bloom’s famous polemic, The Closing of the American Mind, shook up the American academy. The time is ripe for another shakeup. Enter James Davison Hunter, whose latest contribution, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World(Oxford), promises to shake up American Christianity. An endorsement for Bloom’s book applies just as well to Hunter’s: It “will be savagely attacked. And, indeed, it deserves it, as this is the destiny of all important books … Reading it will make many people indignant, but leave nobody indifferent.”
Hunter, professor of religion, culture, and social theory at the University of Virginia, is author of Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America and The Death of Character: On the Moral Education of America’s Children.
To Change the World comprises three essays. The first examines the common view of “culture as ideas,” espoused by thinkers like Chuck Colson, and the corrective view of “culture as artifacts,” as recently argued by Andy Crouch in Culture Making. Both views, argues Hunter, are characterized by idealism, individualism, and pietism.
Hunter develops an alternative view of culture, one that assigns roles not only to ideas and artifacts but also to “elites, networks, technology, and new institutions.” American Christians—mainline Protestant, Catholic, and evangelical—will not and cannot change the world through evangelism, political action, and social reform because of the working theory that undergirds their strategies. This theory says that “the essence of culture is found in the hearts and minds of individuals—in what are typically called ‘values.’ ” According to Hunter, social science and history prove that many popular ideas, such as “transformed people transform cultures” (Colson) and “in one generation, you change the whole culture” (James Dobson), are “deeply flawed.”
The second essay argues that “the public witness of the church today has become a political witness.” Hunter critiques the political theologies of the Christian Right, Christian Left, and neo-Anabaptists, showing that unlikely bedfellows—James Dobson, Jim Wallis, and Stanley Hauerwas—are all “functional Nietzscheans” insofar as their resentment fuels a will to power, which perpetuates rather than heals “the dark nihilisms of the modern age.”
The third essay offers a different paradigm for cultural engagement, one Hunter calls “faithful presence.” Faithful presence is not about changing culture, let alone the world, but instead emphasizes cooperation between individuals and institutions in order to make disciples and serve the common good. “If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world,” Hunter writes, “it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor.”
Christopher Benson, a writer and teacher in Denver, Colorado, spoke with Hunter about To Change the World. Benson’s work has appeared in The Weekly Standard, Books & Culture, Christian Scholar’s Review, Image, and The City. Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today, assisted in the interview…
CT: How does your paradigm of cultural engagement differ from the others?
JDH: All the paradigms speak to authentic biblical concerns. Yet the desire to be relevant to the world has come at the cost of abandoning distinctiveness. The desire to be defensive against the world is rooted in a desire to retain distinctiveness, but this has been manifested in ways that are, on one hand, aggressive and confrontational, and, on the other, culturally trivial and inconsequential. And the desire to be pure from the world entails a withdrawal from active presence in huge areas of social life. In contrast to these paradigms, the desire for faithful presence in the world calls on the entire laity, in all vocations—ordinary and extraordinary, “common” and rarefied—to enact the shalom of God in the world.
Christians need to abandon talk about “redeeming the culture,” “advancing the kingdom,” and “changing the world.” Such talk carries too much weight, implying conquest and domination. If there is a possibility for human flourishing in our world, it does not begin when we win the culture wars but when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, reaching every sphere of social life. When faithful presence existed in church history, it manifested itself in the creation of hospitals and the flourishing of art, the best scholarship, the most profound and world-changing kind of service and care—again, not only for the household of faith but for everyone. Faithful presence isn’t new; it’s just something we need to recover.
After simmering in the countryside for decades, Chinese churches are exploding among young urban college educated professionals. Chinese Christians now outnumber Communist party members. What’s an atheist state to do?
“Christianity is hard to control in China and getting harder all the time. It is spreading rapidly, and infiltrating the party’s own ranks. The line is blurring between house churches and official ones, and Christians are starting to emerge from hiding to play a more active part in society. The Communist Party has to find a new way to deal with all this.” -The Economist
I was privileged recently to attend a conference on Marxism and Christianity in China. The venue was Tiantan University, close to the birthplace of Mao Zedong in Hunan province. More than ninety papers were given by philosophers and comparative literature scholars from universities all over China; of the eight “keynote” speakers, four were Chinese academics, four Western.
Strikingly, the Chinese intellectuals presented papers with a more distinctly favorable view of historically normative Christian theology than did some of the Westerners. There were a large number of similarly positive presentations also in the concurrent sessions. In the keynote sessions, I was struck not only by the clarity of theological command and crisp formal argument but also by the warmth and vigor of response engendered from the floor.
Each of the Chinese speakers addressed Christianity as a comprehensive intellectual system, a body of knowledge grounded in theological convictions with inescapable metaphysical as well ethical entailments. Most presenters showed extensive familiarity with Christian intellectual works from the patristic period through to the present, often quoting from Chinese translations of works as ancient as those of Augustine and as current as Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), Hans Urs von Balthasar, John Paul II, John Macquarrie, Alister McGrath, and Charles Taylor. More frequently adduced were contemporary philosophical and theological writings of important Chinese intellectuals such as are represented in Yang Huilin and Daniel Yeung’s Sino-Christian Studies in China.
The Bible itself was clearly regarded as an important philosophical as well as theological resource in these papers, and engaged with respect and understanding reflected also in conference conversations both in and out of the formal sessions…
I highly recommend it for anyone wishing to delve deeper into the culture-making power of spiritual awakening.
Brandon O’Brien’s review below.
Book Review: A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir
By Brandon O’Brien editor at large for Leadership.
For me, the word “revival” usually brings to mind sweating, red-faced evangelists berating sweet old church ladies for letting their spiritual fires fizzle. …With A God-sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir(Zondervan), Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge restored my image of revival… (W)hat I found most interesting were stories of spiritual awakening worldwide, in places like East Africa, China, India, Wales, and Korea.
One of the authors’ great accomplishments, then, is correcting what may be a common stereotype of “revivalism” for many Americans. If they’re right, revival looks different in different places. For businessmen in North America in the mid-nineteenth century, revival began not with tents and sawdust trails, but with lunch-hour prayer meetings. In Korea, the movement of the Spirit ignited with the confession of sins—big ones, like adultery and murder—and brought missionaries of different denominations together for the gospel. In India, it began when Hindu convert PanditaRamabai provided room, board, and education for helpless Indian women and orphans and encouraged them to pray for a mighty work of God.
I don’t hear many people talking about revival these days. You might think, then, that the topic is interesting but ultimately irrelevant. Not so. Although the authors don’t make the connections explicit, A God-sized Vision intersects with and informs several important contemporary issues.
First, at a time when we Western Christians are increasingly aware that we should pay more attention to Christian traditions in other places on the planet, Hansen and Woodbridge introduce us to some important players and events in global Christian history in the last 100 years…
Second, there has been a division between the “head” and “heart” in American Christianity for almost as long as there have been Christians in America. A God-sized Vision challenges this easy distinction…
Third, in light of the renewed interest in social justice among American evangelicals, the authors do a great job pointing out the social benefits of revival, especially in other countries…
by Rodney Stark, Byron Johnson, and Carson Mencken inFirst Things. (Used by permission.)
Through much of the twentieth century, it was widely believed among Western intellectuals that the Chinese were immune to religion—an immunity that long preceded the communist rise to power. When, in 1934, Edgar Snow quipped that “in China, opium is the religion of the people,” many academic and media experts smiled in agreement and dismissed the million Chinese claimed as converts by Christian missionaries as nothing but “rice Christians”—cynical souls who had frequented the missions for the benefits they provided. Then, in 1949, Mao Zedong came to power. Religion was outlawed, and it was widely agreed among social scientists that China soon would be a model of the fully secularized, post-religious society.
But it wasn’t to be. Instead, belief in a coming post-religious China turned out to be the opium of Western intellectuals. The Chinese Christians of 1949—those ridiculed in the West as rice Christians—were so “insincere” that they endured decades of bloody repression during which their numbers grew.
(A)s official repression has weakened, Christianity has been growing at an astonishing rate in China. Despite many years of dramatic religious persecution, we now have empirical evidence of the resiliency of Christianity in China and the remarkable trajectory of growth it continues to experience.
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of disagreement over just how astonishing the growth has been… (Now) At last it is possible to make a relatively accurate estimate of the total number of Christians in China… sixteen and older to 64.3 million. Of course, this total is for 2007. Obviously the total is higher now. It seems entirely credible to estimate that there are about 70 million Chinese Christians in 2011…
Contrary to standard sociological wisdom, some observers have suggested that Christianity is spreading more rapidly among the more privileged Chinese. In fact, the data support that view: When Communist Party and Youth League members are excluded (since they are clustered among those with higher incomes), the higher their income, the more likely Chinese are to be Christians.
Of course, even if Chinese Christians total 70 million, they still make up only slightly more than 5 percent of the population, although they are about as numerous as are members of the Chinese Communist Party. Thus, it may be vital for the safety of the Christian community that Christians are clustered among the more affluent and are not concentrated in rural areas.
Indeed, American visitors to leading Chinese universities are struck by the Christian climate that often prevails in contrast even with most American church-supported campuses…
The explosive growth of the church in China is one of the most remarkable stories of the 20th Century. When Mao Zedong came to power in 1949 there were less than 1 million Christians in all of China. By the time he finished his near genocidal persecution of the Chinese church, less than 250,000 remained.
Instead of wavering in their faith, Chinese Christians chose to follow Paul’s example of “delighting in their persecutions.” In doing so they proved the truth of the Apostle’s declaration: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)
Today, the Chinese government estimates that the total number of Christians in China might be as high as 130 million total. In the midst of tremendous persecution, the Chinese church has grown into one of the most vital and dynamic Christian movements on the planet. Now comprising as much as 10% of the Chinese population, these believers could be key to 21st Century culture making in what is rapidly becoming the most influential nation on earth. But it will not be easy.
Over the past month governmental fears of an Egyptian-style revolution have caused a significant crackdown on freedoms–especially in public meetings. Memories of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests of 1989 are never far from the Chinese government’s mind. On Sunday’s arrest over 150 worshippers from a single church for participating in an “unsanctioned” outdoor worship service could be a harbinger of increased persecution.
Sue and I developed a deep love for the Chinese people during our three summers studying Mandarin in Beijing and Shanghai. We witnessed first-hand the beauty of the Chinese church and the tremendous tension that exists in the three-way relationship between the Chinese government, government sanctioned “registered” churches, and non-sanctioned “underground” churches.
The three articles below explore events and issues in China. As you read them, please pray for the worshippers still in custody, and for cooler heads to prevail in the Chinese government.
More than 100 Chinese Christians have been detained after they worshiped outdoors. One Chinese state-run newspaper called the meeting “illegal” and a “public disturbance,” and accused Christians of trying to politicize religion.
This comes just days after the U.S. expressed serious concerns at a growing crackdown across China. Beijing has defended itself, saying the U.S. is using human rights as a political instrument to defame other nations.
This confrontation had been brewing for weeks. With a congregation of about 1,000 people, Shouwang church is one of Beijing’s biggest unregistered or “house” churches. It had been allowed to operate, but the church has been unable to find a space to meet, a fact they blame on government pressure.
Beijing police on Sunday detained dozens of worshipers from an unapproved Christian church who were trying to hold services in a public space after they were evicted from their usual place of worship, a parishioner said.
Leaders of the unregistered Shouwang church had told members to gather at an open-air venue in Beijing for Sunday morning services, but police, apparently alerted to their plans, taped off the area and took away people who showed up to take part.
China’s Communist government allows worship only in state-approved churches, but many Christians belong to unregistered congregations. Such “house churches” are subjected to varying degrees of harassment by authorities.
More than 60 million Christians are believed to worship in China’s independent churches, compared with about 20 million who worship in the state church, according to scholars and church activists. [Chinese government estimates go as high as 130 million total Christians.]
BEIJING — The police detained more than 100 members of an underground Protestant church on Sunday after the congregation tried to pray in a public plaza in the north of the capital.
The raid on the church, which sought to pray outside after it was evicted from its building under government pressure, was part of a broad crackdown on dissent over the last seven weeks. The campaign has led to the jailing of scores of rights lawyers, writers and activists, as well as the repression of unauthorized worship.
The authorities have also clamped down on less obvious threats, canceling events as diverse as a St. Patrick’s Day parade and a collegiate debate tournament this weekend.
The Protestant church, Shouwang, was evicted last week from the space it was renting after the government pressured the landlord not to renew the lease. The congregation, whose 1,000 members make it one of the largest unregistered churches in China, has been seeking legal recognition since 2006.