Noel Piper and I spotted the little Christian bookstore across the street from the church in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, and decided to pop in to see what was available. Ok, I will admit it; we were specifically looking to see if the store was carrying the translation of her husband’s book The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, which is now available in China. As soon as we walked in, we spotted the book displayed on the table by the doorway. I introduced Noel to the shop owner, saying she was the wife of the author, which led to smiles and photos all around, and even the purchase of the book by two women who happened to be in the shop. This was just one of several Christian bookstores we visited where we found the book for sale during our travels in Sichuan in March.
During our trip, which was for a wholly different purpose, we had the privilege of visiting several Three-self churches and learning more about their situations—-the hopes and dreams they have for their congregations as well as the challenges.
One of the challenges facing the church in China (both in the registered and the unregistered churches) is the shortage of solid theological resources for pastors and lay leaders. Fortunately, in recent years, with the loosening of restrictions on the publication of religious materials, more and more resources are being made available through legal channels (as opposed to being smuggled in). Recent articles in World Magazine and Christianity Today have chronicled the rise of Christian publishing and media in China, noting that books such as The Legacy of Sovereign Joy are also available in secular bookstores because of their appeals to intellectuals.
In China there is a common saying that “everything is possible but nothing is easy,” which is a perfect description of the three-year process of getting this book approved for publishing in China. But by God’s grace and God’s timing (and a lot of work on the part of many people), the book was approved for publication in November 2011 and is now available in Christian bookstores all over China, as well as from numerous online sellers such as Good News in China and Taobao.
Having grown out of the biographical sketches that Piper delivers annually at the Desiring God Pastors Conference, this book is really directed at pastors. The funds that were so quickly raised for this project will be used to purchase 4,000 copies for use in training programs for Three-self pastors in various regions in China. This project was launched in response to a request from a partner involved in this training. Some of the books will also be distributed to seminaries in China, where access to sound theological resources has also been limited.
Sticking to Religion
The landscape of the Chinese church is diverse and complex. It is official and unofficial (Three-self and house church); rural and urban; old and young; charismatic and reformed. Regarding the Three-self church (official church) there is a common misconception that pastors are restricted in what they can preach and teach. While this may have been the case 20 years ago, it is not so today. In fact, a pastor friend of mine related to me that they are now encouraged to “stick to religion, and stay out of politics.”
Government statistics indicate there are 23 million Christians in official churches, which means these pastors have an immense responsibility. We have a tendency to focus on the structures and restrictions of the Three-self church and forget that there are thousands of Bible-believing pastors and lay leaders in these churches striving to preach the whole counsel of God and to shepherd their flocks well. They want nothing more than to see the gospel run and be glorified in their country.
Providing The Legacy of Sovereign Joy to them in their heart language will help them do that. In one sense, given the immensity of the need, one book by one author is just a drop in the bucket. But this book, with its steady drops of God-centered theology, can fill pastors with hope and joy in God’s sovereignty, which will in turn spill over into their congregations.
I have several friends who are pastors or lay leaders in Three-self churches who have read the book and commented on its helpfulness and their hope that more pastors and lay leaders will have a chance to read it. I am grateful to God in using TGC International Outreach to make help make this book available to even more pastors.