I recently read The Chinese Puzzle, by Mike Falkenstine. This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in China missions. Few writers, if any, give a balanced picture of what the present-day Chinese church is really like. In The Chinese Puzzle, Mike Falkenstine has done so.
The book begins with a well-researched but concise look at the history of Christianity in China that is designed to help the reader understand how China’s critical attitude toward Christianity came about. This is followed by an exposition of current trends in China, including recent developments in the government’s stance on religious issues, the explosive growth of both open churches and house churches, and the rapid emergence of previously unheard-of opportunities for Western Christians to serve the church in China openly.
The third chapter is short but, in my opinion, the most important. In it, Falkenstine reveals an unflattering picture of Western missionaries as they appear to Chinese pastors — often as arrogant, controlling, and generally not very helpful. The chapter then examines just what Western missionaries have been doing wrong and concludes with invaluable advice on what they ought to do in order to be of greater service to the church in China (or other countries).
The fourth chapter, called “The Persecution Myth and Why it Survives” gives several examples of persecution stories published by major Christian organizations and news agencies in the West that were later debunked. In one case, Falkenstine was able to trace the story to its source—where the pastor of a church that had been bulldozed by the government excitedly took him to see the newer, bigger church the government had built to replace it. Falkenstine shows how the “persecution myth”—the false belief that persecution is the norm and that Christians in China can only practice their faith under cover and at great personal risk—is perpetuated largely by Western Christian organizations that depend on persecution stories for fundraising. He also makes it clear that the propagation of this myth actually hurts the church in China.
The final three chapters describe in more detail the sorts of groundbreaking ministries that are being carried out openly by Western Christian organizations in China; the ways Chinese view themselves and the future of their country; and the ministry that Falkenstine himself is involved in.
The content of the book is revealing and important enough (to those interested in China missions) that I think it deserves five stars. On a more personal note, I lived in China for five years and worked with the church there, and in my opinion American Christians need to be exposed to the balanced view presented in this book.
[Note: I wrote this review back in 2008. I just ran across it again and noticed that a second edition of The Chinese Puzzle has been released, so I thought it appropriate to post the review again here. I made a few minor modifications to the original version (which can be found on Amazon.com).]