Dear Praying Friends:

In my recently-published book, Reaching Chinese Worldwide, I mention a few points of contact between Chinese culture and Christianity. One of these is Christianity in America.

A Puzzling Contrast

On the one hand, Chinese are aware that Christians have made a profound impact on American society. The Pilgrims, various Christian presidents, the influence of Christians on policy, and the presence of believers in all sectors of society are not unknown to many educated Chinese.

Indeed, some of them have become convinced that the immense and apparently intractable problems in Chinese society can only be countered by a powerful moral transformation, and that can only come through religious faith. More and more of China’s intellectuals have decided that Christianity alone can provide the answer for China’s deepest needs.

On the other hand, America’s manifold faults and failings are all too obvious. Pornography, divorce, crude and debased popular media, corrupt politics and business, racial conflict, profligate spending, endemic obesity, drug abuse – all these, and more, raise the question, How can a “Christian” nation be plagued with so many egregious weaknesses?

Explaining the Contrast

Christianity in America: Triumph and Tragedy was written to address this contrast. Just published by Wipf & Stock, this 400-page book traces the history of Christianity in America, from the settlement of Jamestown in 1607 to the presidential elections of 2012. In the process, I try to make two points:

Salt and Light

When Christians have attempted to glorify God by being “salt and light” in society, they have made countless positive contributions to their community and their country. Examples abound.

The Pilgrims lived simply, sought religious freedom, and maintained friendly relations with the native Americans who kindly welcomed them. Their faith in God enabled them to endure manifold hardships with firm resolve.

The Puritans who followed them in great numbers and eventually dominated much of New England sought to build a holy commonwealth, a “city on a hill” that would embody the teachings of the Bible in all aspects of life. They applied Scriptural principles to the family, education, care for the poor, philosophy, economics, government, and much else, laying a foundation which still supports many features of our culture and society.

After the War for Independence and the failure of the Articles of Confederation to fashion a government that could overcome internal conflicts and external threats, the Constitutional Convention produced a document that exhibits a great dependence upon Christian ideas. For example: People are created in the image of God, and so must be given freedom to flourish and express their divinely-endowed capacities. We are also fundamentally flawed by sin, however, and thus must not be given too much power, lest we abuse it.

For the next two hundred years and more, Christians have exerted enormous influence for good in almost every domain of life, producing a country that still attracts millions of immigrants.

“Savior and Lord”

Alas, there is another side to this story. When Christians have sought to be “savior and lord,” and especially when they have lunged for political power in an effort to build God’s kingdom on earth, both at home and abroad, they have wreaked enormous damage.

Almost everyone is going to be offended by something in this book, for in more than twenty years of reading I began to see how Americans who profess to follow Christ have, all too often, failed to obey his teachings or imitate his example. Some of my most cherished idols have had to be abandoned.

Enter the Chinese

An earlier and much shorter version was published in Chinese a few years ago, and received a warm welcome from those who both admired America and recoiled at its blemishes. Lectures based on my research have met with appreciation in Chinese universities.

Why? Because they see how Christianity can indeed bring great blessings to a nation, and at the same time how Christians, by succumbing to the spirit of the age, can themselves be part of the problem. At the very least, they allow themselves to be manipulated by clever politicians.

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May I ask you to pray that God will use this book to equip Christians to share the gospel more effectively with Chinese?

Your fellow pilgrim,