Calvin Goes to China? A Look at How New Calvinism Is Spreading in China


Time magazine provoked evangelical paroxysms back in 2009 when the publication unveiled its list of “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” According to Time, New Calvinism was the number three idea at work reshaping America. (Don’t know what New Calvinism is? See here) Calvinism China New Calvinism

Five years on, New Calvinism is still going strong, so strong, in fact, that the New York Times has now taken notice of its growth. This New York Times article points to the rise of New Calvinism at evangelical conferences and in several denominations across the U.S., including Presbyterians and Baptists. The article points out that nearly one-third of Southern Baptist churches self-identify as “Calvinistic.”

The article points out also that the New Calvinist movement has more than a few detractors. Rather than engaging that debate, I have a different question to ponder. Is New Calvinism spreading beyond America and Europe? Specifically, are there Calvinists in the eastern world? Have Communists in China discovered predestination? Is Calvinism now spreading through the world’s most populated nation?

A review of recent literature demands an affirmative response: “Yes, there are Calvinists in China, and they seem to be spreading.”  Fredrick Fallman of Stockholm University has done a good bit of research on this question. He has a chapter titled “Calvin, Culture, and Christ,” in the book, Christianity in Contemporary China: Socio-cultural Perspectives. In his chapter on Calvinism, Fallman makes a strong case for the New Calvinism in China to be the product of universities and networks of highly educated elites. Here is how Fallman says it:

There is a tendency among some of the urban, unregistered churches to adhere to reformed theology, inspired by what in North America is sometimes known as “New Calvinism.” The focus is more on Puritan teachings than on John Calvin himself. Such communities draw much interest from young urbanites, and they seem to attract these young people because of their solid stance on moral issues and their non-relative beliefs, contrasting with society at large. Reformed Christianity may also appeal to the subconscious Confucian thought patterns and beliefs that linger among Chinese elite intellectuals in general. As both Christian elders and public intellectuals, the young urban church leaders also assume the traditional role of the intellectual, feeling his responsibility to act and assist when the nation is in danger, this time from moral decline.

No doubt, many in the cities and in the university are well-educated and, most likely, exposed to Calvinism through books and conversations in academic settings.  Likewise, I have no doubt that the certitude provided by reformed theology offers much-needed antidotes to the less desirable aspects of the brand of Communism which has run its course through China in the last 5-plus decades. Nevertheless, from mere instincts and from personal experience, I have the feeling that something more is happening.

I, for one, will not be at all surprised to discover a much broader base of support for New Calvinism in China. While Calvinism is gaining traction among the educated and the elite, it may be appealing to more than the upper crust of Chinese citizens. My guess is that there are plenty of “Calvinists” in the lower classes and in the rural areas of China as well. Here are three reasons I make this assertion.

First, Christianity in China blossomed and bore the majority of its present fruit through intense persecution. Stories of faithful saints like Samuel Lamb, Allen Yuan, and Li Ying reverberate with strong chords of God’s sovereignty. I’m not arguing that those who suffered intense persecution were by definition part of the New Calvinist movement. Instead, I am simply saying (in accord with the book of Revelation, for instance) that intense persecution demands a sovereign Christ. Thus, when the biblical and doctrinal support for such high thoughts of Christ arrives in Calvinistic form, it resonates with many grassroots-level saints.

The Sovereign Lord of Revelation has eyes of flaming fire and will return mounted for war to bring justice to His suffering saints.  Chinese Christians have suffered long bouts of persecution. They are not interested in anemic, pseudo-Freudian portraits of Jesus. The “New Calvinists” offer a Jesus of worthwhile authority making claims of eternal dominion.

Second, the New Calvinism movement in America has had a strong missionary impulse from the beginning. Many would consider John Piper one of PiperMissions New Calvinism Chinathe “fathers” of the movement. His missionary zeal is legendary. His website mentions about 4 dozen languages around the world where his books have been translated. In addition, conferences and conventions within the movement have included pastors, laymen, missionaries, and teachers from around the world. Congregations in remote parts of Africa were livestreaming the recent Together for the Gospel (T4G) event in Louisville, KY. I know also that people living in the remote northwest portion of China were in attendance at the first T4G event eight years ago.

The endurance of Christianity is at least partially the result of those receiving truth sharing it unsparingly. Obviously, none of this proves anything. It is, to be sure, anecdotal. One could easily assert that those who attend such events or read such books would also be from the affluent, educated classes of China’s citizens. I’m simply guessing that some of them are not.

And even if those who have attended the conferences and have read the New Calvinism literature have all been from the affluent, elite strata of China society, they have undoubtedly not been silent. They have been leveraging their influence for the sake of good theology. Thus, I’m guessing their teaching is spreading.

Finally, Piper is not the only one publishing “New Calvinist” literature in China. Other publishers are legally publishing reformed literature in China. Again, this literature may first go to the educated in easy-to-reach urban centers. But it will not end there. Perhaps it already has spread beyond the urban areas and further into the heart of China. It may well be the case—as with Calvinism in America; and as with the house church movement in China—that the strong roots of fervent Christianity are already quite strong in Communist China. The New York Times caught up with New Calvinism 5 years behind Time. So, what  do you think will be the report on Calvinism coming out of China in 2019?  What do you hope is the report?

Where Are John Piper and Rick Warren on Persecution?


English: Official Congressional portrait of Co...

English: Official Congressional portrait of Congressman Frank Wolf. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thank you, Representative Frank Wolf. A long-time advocate for religious freedom, Representative Wolf (R- VA) is now crying out for Christians in America to advocate on behalf of suffering Christians around the world.

The slaughter of thousands of Christians in Syria at the hands of Sunni Muslims and the killing of thousands more Coptic Christians in Egypt has Representative Wolf calling out famous Christian pastors like John Piper and Rick Warren. Having been taught much by the former, I can vouch for Dr. Piper’s concern for the persecuted. A search of the Desiring God website will deliver hundreds of messages related to Christian persecution.

Nevertheless, Wolf’s cry rings true.  Will it be effective, or will it go the way of the tornado test siren, which gets our attention for only a second before we conclude nothing really serious is underway?  Let us pray that Piper, Warren, and many others will hear the siren call and be stirred into action on behalf of suffering Christians.

Representative Wolf made his challenge to Christian leaders on the Janet Mefferd Show: “The church in the West is relatively silent,” He then asked, “Where’s Rick Warren? Where’s John Piper? Where are the people? Why aren’t they speaking out on this? I just have a hard time wondering why more in the West are not speaking out.”

The problem is greater than one which can be solved by Rick Warren or John Piper. The entire Christian Church in America and around the world needs immediately to wake up to the suffering bride of Christ.  Cedar Grove Baptist Church founded Project 13:3 for the sole purpose of helping Christians to remember the persecuted church. It is an urgent need and high priority for Christ Himself.

Thank you, Representative Wolf, for your work. For anyone interested in being part of the growing movement on behalf of persecuted Christians, you can join us from anywhere this Sunday, November 11.

Prayer and Fasting 1


Our church has just begun a three-week prayer and fasting campaign for our community. We long to see Christ exalted in our county.  We are hungry for souls captured in sin to be set free.  We are not blind to our own shortcomings either.  So, in weakness, we submit ourselves before the Almighty in the hope of his all-sufficient supply to empower us.

Prayer:

Why are we praying? We are praying because the living God is real.  We make no religious pretense about

Christians Praying for the Persecuted

prayer. We join no cultural cliché when we announce to someone, “I am praying for you.” What we mean by that line is nothing less than the fact that we have an audience with the king of the universe. Further, we mean that when we are granted access to his presence and even offered permission to speak to him, we will be sure to speak to him about their cause.

Imagine what we are saying when we say that we will pray.  Have you ever met a very famous person?  Typically, we live our lives and never get alone in a room with the people we admire most. How hard would it be to gain access to Peyton Manning, President Obama, or Sarah Palin?  (I understand you may not want to have access to some or all of these, but stick with the point).  It would be quite difficult for us to demand an audience with any of them, or with any of our evangelical leaders. Could we call John Piper or R. C. Sproul on the phone at any hour?  Important people offer very limited access.

How much more important than any of these—or than all of these combined—is the God who created them and who sustains their every breath?  If you were to speak with any of these mentioned (or with your own favorite person of fame), what would you say?  You finally get alone in a room with them, and what will you ask?

I remember I once ended up in a bookstore with John Piper. I hated to interrupt him, knowing that alone time in public is probably a rarity for him.  Yet I also knew that I would never be alone with John Piper again.  So, I had to make the most of the opportunity. I decided I had to learn something from him. I had to gain wisdom from him in this instant, providential encounter. So, what would I ask him?

I asked him what I should do about people in the church who have no joy.  Without being callous, his reply was simply that I had to outlast them.  His point was that joy will spread, but it will also be opposed. Some folks are born as wet blankets, and they are very good at fighting fires. Their gifts are useful when the burning fire is destroying kingdom work, but their gifts are harmful when the burning fire is fueling kingdom labors.  So, Piper’s counsel was that I had to maintain an unshakable joy that would eventually come to characterize the congregation.  I remember he told me that leaven works both ways and that a little leaven (of joy) will eventually leaven the whole loaf.

Back to the point of this post, I have remained encouraged by the wonder-filled encounter I had with John Piper that day.  When I gained his attention, I cherished it. I was determined to extract the sweetest nectar of truth from it.  Yet, who is John Piper that I should be so in awe of his wisdom?  He is a great man, but I already possess greater access than any chance encounter Dr. Piper could match.  I have access to the living God through Jesus Christ.  I have a great high priest who intercedes for me.  I have been raised up and seated with him so that I can have an audience with Almighty Holiness.  What will I say in His presence?

I will give over this awesome privilege to plead with him to show mercy to a few people with whom I intend to share Christ.  These are not wealthy people. These are not influential people.  These are not people who will enrich the kingdom or enhance the marketing image for kingdom advertisements (if there were such awful things).  These are people no better than I am.  These are people who have, in fact, rebelled against God.  These are people with whom He is rightfully angry.

And yet, I am asking God not to be angry with them any longer. I am asking him to inject faith into their hearts to believe Jesus Christ.  I am asking God to be gracious to them and not condemn them along with the rest of the world (which is condemned already).  Why should God listen to me? Why should he give a care about my concerns? Why should he hear me and turn from his anger against them?

He shouldn’t. There is no reason I can think of which would explain why God should hear me on behalf of other sinners.  And yet, I have his word that he will in fact hear me for Christ’s sake. I have his word that I can make my requests known to him and know that he cares for me as a father cares for his child.  I have gotten word from him that I can call him “Abba,” or “Dad.”

And so, We now pray to him, as Jesus taught us, “Our Father in Heaven, your name alone is to be honored as holy…”  We approach His Holiness as Our Father.  Let us approach with trembling joy, making the most of our opportunity and being quite eager to get the most out of it–especially for unbelievers living without hope.

Piper for Free


Piper’s ministry, Desiring God, has a great section which allows visitors access to 46 of his books… for Free!  There are 46 John Piper books in pdf format available for you, free, just click here.