Evangelical Secret Agents: Questioning Clandestine Protestant Missions in Contemporary China
AuthorJames, Beau B.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractAdvocates of Chinese Christianity are very interested in the topics of government regulation over the Three Selfs Protestant Church and the growth and persecution of unregistered, so-called ‘underground’ churches. My research aims to shift focus to another potentially influential group in Chinese Christianity, foreign missionaries, and particularly Baptist Protestant missions. Researching missionary work in China is especially difficult, because of the potential threat that missionaries may face in being caught proselytizing in a ‘closed’ country. The assumption is that missionary efforts must remain clandestine in order to avoid persecution by the government for the sake of both missionary and host-national Christians. This study looks at a peculiar counterexample to this presumed narrative. Under the support of the Vision Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, American Baptist missionaries under the name “Project China” have been sending missionaries to work in China for nearly a decade and have openly blogged about their experiences on the World Wide Web. Numerous monthly postings from seven members of the Project China team, as well as separate blogs from their families and a radio blog from the lead pastor at Vision Baptist Church have providing fascinating insight into their Baptist missionary world in China. Three key findings emerge from this research. First, the Project China team’s experience suggests that the perceived need for clandestine missions in China in order to avoid persecution is overestimated. Second, the impact on Chinese Christianity by Protestant missionaries is mixed, while the continued growth in Chinese Christianity seems to favor Charismatic and Pentecostal brands of Christianity. Third, the Project China blogs are an example of an invaluable, digitally-based historical record that is currently being overlooked by historians and missiologists in academia today. There are implications for mission studies and scholars from this work. From a historiographic standpoint, the contribution of online blogs and resources to historical missionary narrative cannot be overlooked, lest those resources disappear before they can be preserved. From a missiological standpoint, this research should challenge missionary sending groups to test the justification for and the impact of clandestine missions. Critical research on long-term missions, their strategies, and their effectiveness should rival the current critique on short-term missions, not only in understanding how well they serve their purpose of spreading their faith, but also how their experiences and environments affect them in return.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
East Asian Studies