Mind the (Bible) gap

China's Bible gapDan Edelen and I have had a very constructive exchange in the comments to my previous post. We’re not in 100% agreement by any means (I still think the EM/IM terminology is seriously mistaken), but I certainly understand (and sympathise) with Dan’s position a lot more than I did, and I hope Dan feels likewise about my concerns. Thanks, Dan, for taking the time to respond to what I appreciate was a strongly-worded post.

One of Dan’s comments concerned the effects of taking away the Bible from a culture, and a timely post from Couldn’t Help Noticing reminds us that this is far from a hypothetical state of affairs for millions of Christians around the world. The graphic demonstrates the growing gap (in absolute terms) affecting China’s rapidly-increasing Christian population – and let’s just pause for a moment to consider what a miracle of grace it is to be able to type those last few words! – but as CHN points out, many other Christians around the world (e.g. in Africa) are in the same plight.

CHN provides links to a couple of Australian organisations supplying Bibles to China and other Word-deprived areas of the world. I’m aware of the work of the Bible Society in the UK, though I don’t know if their work includes China (they’d probably keep it fairly quiet if it did, for obvious reasons). As one way of supporting this work, I’m going to start a list after the fold of selected organisations engaged in this work from different countries. Please put any suggestions in the comments, and I’ll add a selection to the list in the post itself.

United Kingdom


Any further suggestions are welcome!

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10 Responses to Mind the (Bible) gap

  1. JS Bangs says:

    The graph you have here actually shows that the Bible gap is closing–assuming that we look at percentages and not raw numbers (which seems fair). In 1989 the Bible:believer ratio is 1:4, but in 2006 it’s only 1:2.3.

  2. John H says:

    JS: Notice I said, “(in absolute terms)”. There were 30 million Chinese Christians without a Bible, now there are 45 million Chinese Christians without a Bible. Improving our statistical interpretation doesn’t do much to rectify that situation. 😉

  3. Chris Stiles says:

    John —

    Do we know why the gap exists? Is it solely down to legalities? Or is it mainly financial?

    I only ask because I recently listened to a lecture that Mark Noll gave last year about Christianity in the Global South – where he indicated that there was a certain level of support for Christianity in China from some parts of the government. One example he sited was students from China being sponsored by their government to go abroad and study Christian ethics.

    The lecture is linked off here, if you want a listen:


  4. John H says:

    Chris: I’d guess the reason in China is largely political, in Africa largely financial. In other countries the lack of translations is the problem.

    As for Chinese attitudes towards Christianity: I get the impression the Communist Party values the stability and moral integrity of Christians, but wants to keep a tight control on what is taught by the churches.

    This applies to external mission workers too: Christians can find ready employment as English teachers in China precisely because they are Christians. The Chinese have found that unbelieving westerners are too… raucous. But the actual mission work done by those western mission workers has to be “under the radar” to a large extent.

    Thanks for the Mark Noll link. Will transfer it to my iPod and have a listen.

  5. Phil Walker says:

    I could mention a few mission organisations who do that sort of work in China, but then I’d have to kill you…

    Nah. 😀 OMF [1] of course *were* involved in China historically, and, well, I’d not be giving much away if I suggested that their website shows a continuing concern for the country, including arranging opportunities to be involved in professional teams assisting ventures like English and medical courses. I’m quite surprised how much information they’ve got on their site, actually, given the sensitivites involved (last year, they weren’t talking about working in China at all). Also, the catchily-named AM/CCSM [2] run teams into China. Among those teams are “courier teams”. Luggage allowances are always used creatively. Ahem.

    So I dunno if either of those is useful to know about. The situation regarding Bibles in China is an odd one. I was in China over last summer [3] on a team teaching English (let the reader put two and two together) and one of the girls on the team bought, for one of the national Christian girls, a Bible in Chinese, from a perfectly legal Christian bookshop. I even saw an Old Testament on sale in the “English literature” section of a secular bookshop. So to answer Chris’ question: it’s mostly a combination of both. The Chinese government has, if I understood what the girls were saying correctly, placed certain obstacles in the way of Christians who want a Bible (although if you just want an OT, that’s evidently fine); not insurmountable, but sufficient to make it a choice. And the cost is a real factor for a lot of people.

    [1] http://www.omf.org/uk/
    [2] http://www.am-ccsm.org/index.htm
    [3] http://www.theopedia.com/User:Wooster/China_2006

  6. John H says:

    Phil: thanks for this. OMF – of course, how could I forget? Splendid organisation, based not very far from where I live too. And any organisation that has given the world Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour is OK with me. 😉

  7. Phil Walker says:

    Also Facing a task unfinished, if memory serves.

  8. John H says:

    Yes, that’s good, too. But “Thou who was rich” is something else.

  9. Chris Stiles says:

    The reason for the particular direction to my question was this: Assuming it’s mostly financial rather than legal/political (which could obviously change rapidly as soon as millions of bibles ‘appear), perhaps it would be better solved by providing books on the importance of the bible to a few Chinese Christians who have the will and means to provide a solution themselves). Fixing this from abroad might not be the right – or even most efficient – way to do it, especially if you consider the unfortunate associations such a programme would have.

    I note that there is a Chinese Bible CD available – how difficult would it be to take this material and transfer it into a form that could be used by a printing press?

  10. John H says:

    Chris: do you have any evidence that Chinese Christians lack a sense of the Bible’s importance? Or that they consider there to be anything “unfortunate” in the efforts made by Christians outside China to get Bibles into the country for their use?

    And “transferring it into a form that could be used by a printing press” is all very well, but when the printing presses are all in the control of the Communist authorities, that becomes more of a problem.

    I can understand if you have desire to avoid inculcating a “dependency culture” among Chinese Christians. However, that doesn’t seem to be the immediate problem.

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