“The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China”
Christianity and China—what an excellent mix of topics for a guy like me! Someone recommended God is Red to me several years ago as describing the “growing and persecuted church in China,” though they failed to mention one key aspect that would have downgraded my interest level by several points: Liao YiWu is simply a journalist and not himself a believer. Now I have nothing particular against journalists (or unbelieving authors, for that matter), but entrusting a Chinese unbeliever with the task of gaining an “insider’s look” into the Chinese underground church is about as ridiculous as hiring a Syrian refugee to write an “authentic Jewish cuisine” cookbook.
Similar to how I felt while reading Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler, I found no reason to continue reading this “spiritual” book written by an unapologetic unbeliever, a “search for God” that doesn’t ultimately result in a life given over to Jesus Christ. Life is too short and my reading hours too few for me to waste more hours reading the musings of the “condemned” (John 3:36), of those “yet in their sins” (1Cor 15:17). I meet with unbelievers and talk with individuals searching for God every single day, so I don’t need lengthy treatises by a few to understand how the majority think. Reading at length the ponderings of one lost soul cannot give me much insight into the tendencies of them all, anyway, or at least no more than I could get from real-life conversations. Believers using such an excuse for why they continue feasting on skepticism and agnosticism simply aren’t engaging the real world enough.
One of the main troubles I had with this book and the 75 pages that I read was Liao’s inability to discern true faith from non. To him, virtually all underground churches were created equal, in that no matter what they believe, they all have good and faithful hearts, though they may suffer to different degrees. If as a researcher and Christian I wanted to know how the true believers of China endured their persecution, I’d be much wiser to read from a true believer with the Power living inside him to discern true faith from non, rather than this outsider who views all the persecuted (churches and cults included) as one giant mass of similar beliefs.
I hit my ecumenical limit at about page 74 when I wrote in the margins of my copy: “In many of these so-called conversion experiences there is little-to-no mention of Jesus Christ, let alone His saving work. Any version of God without Christ just isn’t God, no matter the flare with which people enjoy whatever transformation they’ve conjured up. Experiences and dreams aside, many will one day say to Christ, ‘Lord, Lord!’ but He will say, ‘I never knew you.'”
Then on page 75, I read this description from Liao about a “church” service, and just had to put the book down: “They were true storytellers. I was a meager scribbler compared with their gift. Each time a story ended, the audience would respond with ‘Amen.’ The fellowship meeting lasted about ninety minutes—an incomparable piece of theater quite unlike anything that might have been staged or contrived. Then came the ‘curtain call’ and everyone stood: ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.'” (75) I wrote in the margins: “That is church!? Bible-less stories of experience capped by a rote shout-out to Jesus? This isn’t inspirational, its sad.”
That God is Red describes the painful and yet faith-inspiring testimonies of some Christ-honoring churches in China is certainly intriguing, but again, to what end? Should we true believers draw our Christ-exalting inspiration from those who merely “taste of the heavenly gift” (Hebrews 6:4-6) yet ultimately deny it? Should we draw our insights into the unbeliever’s understanding of Christianity by merely reading about it, or should we instead actually engage such people in meaningful, relationship-based conversations? My own opinion is obvious, which is why I must relegate this book to my “I Give Up Files.”