Takeaway: The Christian world outside the US is much more important than what we usually acknowledge
Christian biography and autobiography is an important part of any spiritual growth. Whether you are a reader or not, you need to hear about what others have lived before you. This does not need to be in book form; movies, radio interviews, podcasts, conversations all can be part of the way that we hear from other Christians about their own spiritual lives.
Christian autobiography from non-western Christians is desperately needed to round out a vision of the church that is concerned with more than small bits of theological difference or differences in cultural engagement. Christians around the world right now are being imprisoned for their faith.
I first heard about Brother Yun (as I have about so many good books) from John Armstrong’s blog and I went back and read them as I finished up this book. It has been nearly 4 years since I first heard about the book, but I just recently got round to reading it. I should have read it much earlier.
This is a biography unlike I have read. It is reminiscent of the autobiography of Brother Andrew (the bible smuggler) I first read as a comic book as pre-teen. Brother Yun, starting when he first became a Christian at 16, was fervent in prayer. He prayed and fasted for 100 days to receive a bible (illegal and very rare in the early 1970s in China) and after 100 days a man brought him a bible. He did not just read it, he memorized large passages of scripture. Within months of receiving the bible he was asked to come preach to a nearby village. He went, but did not know what to say, so he just recited the whole book of Matthew and then the parts of Acts that he had started memorizing.
His story proceeds to tell of how he became a preacher in the underground church movement of China and how he was repeatedly imprisoned, tortured and eventually escaped out of China. Brother Yun now lives in Germany with his family and works to support the church in China.
There are several main complaints that I have read about Heavenly Man. The largest is that the book is full (and I do mean full) of miracles. There is page after page of miraculous activity. I am not actually bothered by any of this. I cannot verify any of it beyond what is in the book and beyond what others verify. For me, the issue really is not did these miracles happen (although I believe that they are most likely all true), but could the God I believe in do miracles like these if He chose. The problem with much of the criticism of the miracles in this book is that many of the critics do not seem to believe that God can do these miracles. (There is another group that believes that God can do miracles like these, but according to their reading of scripture God has chosen to no longer do miracles like these.) With either response it seems to me that we have to discount any modern miracles and I am unwilling to do that. I have seen things that I believe to be miraculous. Not to the level of seeing a prisoner miraculously walk out of prison, but the size of the miracle does not seem to really matter. Either God can or God cannot. (On the other hand, I am more skeptical about scripture miracles, not because God could not do them, but because some Christians require belief in them as part of some theological line in the sand. I believe that is placing one Christian’s interpretation above another’s Christianity and I am opposed to that.)
Another issue that I have seen is that several people object to Yun’s use of scripture. He seems to take scripture out of context and use it in ways that the original authors did not intend. To which I would refer those critics to Peter Enn’s book Inspiration and Incarnation. Yun seems to use scripture in exactly the way that many New Testament authors (and many other since) used it. I am not placing Yun on the level of an author of scripture, but merely noting that he is following in hermeneutical line with what other Christians have done for millennia.
A third issue I have seen raised is the way that the book is put together. It is intentionally written in a way that reflects the book of Acts and other scriptural stories. Yun and Hattaway intentionally are telling Yun’s story as a modern reflection of what God did in the first century. That may be overly zealous, but it is not trying to mis-represent the real things that happened, it is a story telling method. Some see it as sacrilegious or ‘proof’ that the book is not real. But that seems to say more about those reader’s understanding on communication theory than this book itself.
The last few days I have read blog post after blog post about how Christians should talk about sex (if you are unaware of the current controversies, count yourself blessed). That is important and just because Christians around the world are suffering for the sake of Christ does not mean that we should stop thinking through theological issues of our own culture. But I do think it should help us place an order of importance on those local theological issues that we spend our time and effort discussing.
I am sure I would disagree with Brother Yun about a number of theological issues. But those issues pale in comparison because I believe that he is attempting to follow God’s direction. I am not Yun’s Holy Spirit. There are many Christians that are attempting to follow God by doing things I disagree with. There are times when I believe it is appropriate to confront other Christians that are doing things that I believe are inappropriate. But Yun is a good reminder that in spite of disagreements, we are are still to submit wholly to Christ as our Lord and King. It doesn’t really matter if I am theologically right, if I am not also submitted to and following Christ.
An audiobook was provided by christianaudio.com for purposes of review.