Hope and HopefulnessMarch 5, 2007
Sam Pearson - China (former missionary)
From a religious perspective, one of the most remarkable facts about contemporary China is the rapid growth of religious interest and commitment. This is especially true with regard to Christianity. Over the past quarter century, the number of Christians in China, Protestant and Catholic, has increased from less than four million to about sixty million. Observers have marveled at this rapid growth in church membership and in an equally obvious growth of interest in Christianity among the Chinese people.Explanations for this resurgence of interest in Christianity vary; but a crucial dimension, in my judgment, is the profound cultural shift that has occurred in China over the past generation. A new spirit of hope pervades people's thoughts and expectations. One can see it not only in the booming entrepreneurial economy, the audacious urban architecture, and the flamboyant style of urban people. One also witnesses this hopefulness in talking with Chinese businessmen, university students, seminarians, academics, and church leaders. Hope and hopefulness do not spell the absence of significant problems, but they do indicate a profound shift in the thinking of the Chinese people. This shift is a very positive one for Chinese society generally and also for the Chinese church in particular. One need only think back to the nineteenth century, to the all but universal poverty of that land and to the widespread opium addiction throughout the society to sense the magnitude of this shift from despair and lethargy to hope.
In the realm of religion, this dramatic shift toward a culture of hope helps to explain the enormous interest in spirituality and especially in Christianity that is being expressed in contemporary China. Christianity is grounded in a theology of hope. Christians believe that the God of creation who was revealed to us in the person of Jesus is with us still, and this conviction that God is with us is a constant source of hope even in the bleakest circumstances. This same conviction reminds Christians that our hope is rooted in God, not in material prosperity. In a vigorous society with a new-found sense of hope, it is scarcely surprising that the Churches are multiplying and church membership is growing by leaps and bounds. Chinese today are searching for the spiritual and philosophical underpinnings and meanings of their cultural transformation, and the Chinese church stands as a beacon for them in their quest.
Through its cooperation with the China Christian Council and the Amity Foundation, Global Ministries is contributing to the education of leaders for the Church in China and assisting the Chinese Church in its ministry to its land and people.
Samuel Pearson worked with Nanjing Theological Seminary, Nanjing, China. He served as a professor of Church History.
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