Magazines 2023 Nov - Dec Christianity: An Asian Religion in Vancouver

Christianity: An Asian Religion in Vancouver

30 October 2023 By Michael Wilkinson

An extended review of this 2023 book by Jason Byassee, Albert Y. S. Chu and Ross A. Lockhart

Wipf and Stock, 2023. 92 pages. $17 (e-book $17)

Note: Our print issue contains a shorter version of this review. Faith Today welcomes your thoughts on any of our reviews. We also welcome suggestions of other Canadian Christian books to review: Contact us.

In the 1990s I was a member of a pastoral team at an urban congregation in Toronto. One of my responsibilities was to provide support for an Ethiopian congregation that rented the facility. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Ethiopian Christians, many who came to Canada from thriving congregations as they tried to make a new way of life in the city. The Ethiopian Christians were busy helping new members find housing and socially connecting new people with the church. They shared meals together, weddings and church events that contributed to the community’s well-being.

At the time there were many conversations among congregational leaders about how new immigrants were possible sources of new growth for dwindling congregations and that local congregations should find ways to evangelize them. Some congregations developed partnerships and shared space. It was a period of major social change as greater numbers of Christians arrived from Africa, Asia and Latin America leading to a cultural transformation of Christianity in Canada. And church leaders knew something was changing.

Fast forward 30 years, and the issues around immigration and Christianity have not gone away. Congregations that are closing or finding they are culturally changing along with the neighbourhoods they are located in are still not sure how to make sense of what is happening. New congregations with members from around the world are asking how they might bring vitality to the aging and largely European-based churches. They ask, How can we evangelize the spiritual but not religious Canadians who do not attend church? What is the future for our children in this new country? How do we engage in important issues like social justice and migration when the rest of the country appears to be divided over cultural issues like marriage and family?

This new book continues the conversation about how Asian Christians are coming to represent the majority of Christians in the city of Vancouver. The main idea that runs throughout the book is the question about secularization – the decline of Christianity in Canada, and what impact Asian Christianity has on this process.

The authors argue Asian Christianity in Vancouver needs to be understood for two reasons. First, Asian Christians and the kind of faith they practice must be recognized as the future face of Christianity. Second, they ask a very important question, one that may be difficult to answer, and that is, What impact does Asian Christianity have on this process of secularization?

The authors believe Asian Christianity has the potential to reverse the flow of people away for Christianity and back into churches. This is a major claim. As a Christian and a sociologist I wonder, Is it possible that the tide of secularization can be reversed?

After all, the latest census shows the population who says they have no religion is at its highest in BC. It is actually the highest in all of North America with more than 50 per cent of people saying they have no religion. These rates are approaching those of some European countries where Christianity is said to be dead.

The book is based on interviews with Asian Christians, observations from local congregations, local histories, and the aspirations of church leaders to flourish and make an impact in Canada. It moves from the historical and sociological to the theological with the hopes for renewal and change that potentially can be brought about by Asian Christians.

The authors see the influence, growth and outreach of Asian congregations in Vancouver as a key indicator of what the future can be. They invite readers to imagine what Christianity can be in a very hard place for Christians who once held prominence in the culture.

Overall the book makes an important contribution for understanding the impact of social change in Canada. It discusses how Asian Christians are transforming Christianity in Vancouver and what Christianity may become in the future. For those reasons, it should be read and discussed among church leaders.

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