This book gets its name from Harvey Cox’s “Fire from Heaven,” which is an analysis of Pentecostal spirituality and it’s shaping of religion in the 21st century. Playing on that title, this work however focuses on the history of Christianity in China, with the central thesis being that three factors play an important role in the growth of the Christian church in China: Dispenational premillennialism, Penecostalism and indigenous Chinese leaders. Readers should be prepared to find that the book is not all rosy and covers cults, immorality and sins of the famous and not so famous (and the infamous). For instance, one will read about Nee’s hypocrisy.
The strength of the book is its interesting historical tidbits and things that makes you go “I didn’t know that!” or “Wow, providence!” One of the better moments in the book is a discussion about the Norwegian missionary Marie Monsen who served in China in the 1930s. I like the author’s observation: “Monsen had found the key, one that was soon used by many others, both missionaries and Chinese, to unlock the doors of private emotions for the rusth of mass revivalism among converts. Leslie T. Lyall later credited Monsen as becoming ‘the handmaiden upon whom the Spirit was first poured out…Her surgical skill in exposing the sin hidden with the Church and lurking behind the smiling exterior of many a trusted Christian…and her quiet insistence of a clear-cut experience of the new birth set pattern for others to follow’” (97). Talk about a testimony of the effective use of the law to convict sinners! The most fascinating part of the book is the description of Watchman Nee’s confrontation of the Liberal preacher/professor Frosdick on pages 139-141. Frosdick dismisses Nee as just crazy.
Author’s discussion of the Bible itself is not that strong, for instance he states that Greek philosophy influenced the formation of the book of Daniel and Revelation (233). I think the influence of these works is more of a Jewish prophetic influence and not Greek philosophy.
The author at times also offers naturalistic explanations of things and even quotes Richard Dawkins rather uncritically (234).
It seems when the author speaks about areas outside of his area, he might not be as reliable; for instance, he claims that when Christianity became an established recognized religion, “spontaneous “ecstasies also faded out of the church” (234), which presupposes the early church had such unruly ecstasies, one that the author will have a hard time proving, or at least with proving that it was normative and acceptable. He mentions the second century Montanus, but it is not enough to cite this minority group to prove his point. In fact, the majority of the Church’s opposition to Montanus’ followers seems to suggest the reality was otherwise.