Reading Romans in a globalised, urban world (David W. Smith)

My sense is that in the emerging globalised world we are seeing more and more urban poverty issues. For example, as I highlighted in the past, there are a lot of elderly people living in poverty in Hong Kong, despite the enormous amount of wealth among the rich in the city. (Click here to see the post.)

In his book, The Kindness of God: Christian Witness in our Troubled World (Nottingham, UK: IVP, 2013), David W. Smith insightfully talks about how we may read Romans in our globalised urban world. Here are a few excerpts.

The collapse of Christendom, and the resulting crisis for the churches of the West, the massive growth of Christianity across the Global South, especially . . . in contexts of urban poverty and suffering, and the accelerating expansion of cities, driven by economic and ideological forces which pose similar questions to those we have seen Paul expressing with regard to the Roman imperium, all of these developments in our world presage a new epoch in Christian history. The Hispanic theologian Justo González comments that we are living ‘in time of vast changes in the church’s self-understanding’, and that the consequences of the shifts taking place today ‘will be more drastic than those which took place in the sixteenth century’. The loss of Christendom, González says, should not be lamented since it opens up the possibility that the meaning of Scripture may become clearer to us as truth is seen to consist not in abstract, intellectual concepts, but rather as ‘closely bound with bread and wine, with justice and peace, with a coming Reign of God . . .

González points out that one of the features of the transformation taking place around us is that whole swathes of the human population, taught of their superiors and betters, are today finding their voices. Ethnic minorities, women and children, people who ‘for reasons of class, nationality, sex, . . . , will no longer be silent’. What this suggests is that the most significant insights into Paul’s message are likely to come from below, from people whose socio-economic situations in a globalized world corresponds closely to that of the majority of the original recipients of this letter [that is, Paul’s letter to the Romans] in the slums of the megacity of Rome.

This fact is highlighted by Peter Oakes’ use of archaeological evidence in the ruins of Pompeii to construct an imagined ’house church’ in first-century Rome. Such a group certainly included slaves, including women who were almost routinely subjected to sexual exploitation. How would such followers of Jesus have heard Paul’s letter?

Indeed, in the twenty-first century we must do more than think about this, we must ask our brothers and sisters in the slums of Sao Paulo, Nairobi and Mumbai how they hear this ancient letter and what following Jesus means in practice in their daily lives.


Sources: The references to González above are from Justo González, Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 48, 50. The excerpts from David Smith’s The Kindness of God are from location 1443–1478 in the Kindle version of the book.

Book review: David W. Smith, The Kindness of God

Book review: David W. Smith, The Kindness of God: Christian Witness in our Troubled World (Nottingham, UK: IVP, 2013).

In his book, The Kindness of God, David Smith asks some penetrating questions about how to bear witness in a trouble world. Smith turns his readers’ attention to two things at the beginning of the book. First, he talks about his experience as a speaker at a conference in Jos, Nigeria. Jos is described as a post-colonial city that owes its existence to the expansion of European colonial power, and it sits on the fault line between African Christianity and Islam. Second, Smith refers to the foresight of the well-known missionary and scholar, Leslie Newbigin, that in the coming century there would be three factors that would compete for people’s allegiance: the gospel, the free market, and Islam.

The book then proceeds to discuss many issues concerning the world today: globalisation, urbanisation, market economy, suffering, poverty, violence, and religious tension. Smith argues that we need to translate the gospel for the globalised world in the twenty-first century. He challenges Christians to critique their own understanding of the gospel in light of the Scripture. He skilfully proposes an informed reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans for the urban world. Smith concludes by bringing his readers back to his experience in Jos, Nigeria, as well as Newbigin’s insightful comments about the gospel, the free market, and Islam.

David Smith's The Kindness of God

David Smith is well versed in the history of mission, missiology, and the Bible. This is demonstrated by his familiarity with the works of Justo González, Walter Brueggemann, Kevin Vanhoozer, Robert Jewett, and Leslie Newbigin. His competence in these areas allows him to provide a lucid, insightful, and informed discussion on Christian witness in a world of racial conflicts and religious tensions. His book helps its readers to understand the historical and present inter-relationships between faith, the free market, globalisation, and urbanisation. This, in turn, assists Christians to assess the way they face the challenges that lie ahead of them.

The book contains many perceptive uses of Scripture. Smith refers to the Bible frequently, with one chapter focussing on Romans and its implications for the urban churches today. He argues that in church history there were times when Christians interpreted the same Scripture in opposite manners. He then suggests that in our troubled world nowadays Christians still read the Bible differently, resulting in opposing interpretations and applications for the same issues. Smith calls for a faithful reading of Scripture in our troubled world—one that is in line with our allegiance to the crucified and risen Christ rather than human idolatrous desires.

The book is not for those looking for a self-help book that simply tells people what to believe in. But if you want to read a book that invites you to think carefully and respond thoughtfully about Christian witness in the world, then The Kindness of God is for you. Smith does not go into convoluted theological arguments. He is, however, a passionate and persuasive writer. The book is engaging, full of insights, and challenging. It will leave the reader with plenty to ponder.

Finally, it is worth citing an excerpt of the endorsement by Jonathan Lamb, Director, Langham Preaching.

[The book provokes] us to think freshly not only about the missiological challenges out there . . . but also the challenges at home that we so easily neglect — a church shaped by materialism, a gospel distorted by secular culture, a proclamation of the cross without the experience of its weakness and power. In this troubled world, he urges us to rediscover the fullness of the gospel . . . and to listen to the voices of compassion from the underside of globalisation . . . this book provokes reflection on the hope which flows from the kindness of God. It is an urgent, prophetic and compassionate book that is rooted in our broken world but lifts our eyes to see God’s purposes for his global church.

A quick reflection on reading Romans missionally

I spoke at a mission event recently. Here is a thought I shared, based on Romans 8:3–4, 29; 12:2, 9, 13.

A missional reading of Romans urges us to see God’s purpose of creating a Christ-community that has given its allegiance to Jesus because of his self-sacrificing death. This community seeks to be conformed to the image of the Son, so that it may be transformed into a Christ-centred, love-motivated and stranger-loving missional church.

New book Suffering in Romans (Foreword by Todd Still and written by Siu Fung Wu) is now available

The new book, Suffering in Romans, is now available for order. (Click here to go to the publisher’s website.)

Draft Book Cover—Front

Book description.

Most of the Jesus-followers in Rome would have been familiar with socioeconomic hardship. Suffering was a daily reality either for themselves or for someone they knew. Many lived below or just above subsistence level. Some were slaves, homeless, or chronically sick. Followers of Christ might have experienced persecution because of their refusal to take part in the local religious festivals. Suffering is, of course, a significant theme in Rom 5:1–11 and 8:17, 18–39. Paul mentions various types of afflictions many times in these texts. How might Paul’s audience have understood them? In Suffering in Romans Siu Fung Wu argues that Paul speaks of the vocation of the Jesus-fllowers to participate in Christ’s suffering, with the purpose that they may be glorified with him. Indeed, their identification with Christ’s suffering is an integral part of God’s project of transforming humanity and renewing creation. It is in their faithful suffering that Christ-followers participate in God’s triumph over evil. This is counter-intuitive, because most people think that victory is won by power and strength. Yet the children of God partake in his cosmic victory by their suffering, aided by the Spirit and the hope of glory.

An excerpt from Professor Todd Still can be found here.

Endorsement by Tim Gombis can be found by clicking here. Endorsements by Keith DyerGeorge M. Wieland, and Sean Winter can be found here.

Tim Gombis’ endorsement for the new book Suffering in Romans

In a previous post I mentioned the new book Suffering in Romans, which will be released soon. Here is Tim Gombis’ endorsement for it. (For more information about the book, click here.)

Wu’s analysis of Romans 5–8 represents an original contribution to the study of Paul’s great letter . . . Against the backdrop of his social reconstruction, Wu elucidates Paul’s argument regarding the creation of a new humanity in Christ and its vocation to suffer in anticipation of sharing in Christ’s glory. Deftly drawing together several lines of inquiry —Scriptural echoes, the Greco-Roman religio-political matrix—Wu engages a wide rang of scholarship to provide a sound exegetical study.

Timothy G. Gombis, Associate Professor of New Testament, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary

Draft Book Cover—Front

New book on Suffering in Romans (Foreword by Professor Todd Still)

A new book Suffering in Romans will be released soon.

This is from the Foreword.

Dr Wu treated with clarity and care the theme of suffering in Romans 5–8 with special reference to 5:1–11 and 8:14–39 and persuasively demonstrated the centrality of the subject in that pivotal portion of Paul’s magisterial letter to Roman believers . . . Herein you will find a serious, scholarly study that offers salient insight into a long-neglected topic in an oft-interpreted text. Indeed, it is the most comprehensive and persuasive treatment to date.

Todd D. Still, DeLancey Dean and Hinson Professor, Baylor University, Truett Seminary

More endorsements of the book can be found by clicking here.

Draft Book Cover—Front

Suffering transforms us, according to a student

One of the blessings of being a lecturer of Scripture is that you see the growth of students over time. As they learn more to interpret the Bible with diligence, they discover more about the God they love and serve.

I was grading an undergraduate exegetical paper yesterday, and the following is a nice reflection by a student [with minor corrections] after she has worked on Romans 5:1–11.

This passage is at complete disparity with the contemporary culture. Paul’s concept of perseverance and endurance of suffering resulting in character and hope is inconceivable to the current society; a society that avoids suffering at all costs. Paul’s teaching reveals a pathway to knowing, understanding and depending upon God. It is through suffering that an individual is made aware of the corruption of humankind, the frivolousness of life apart from God and the complete lack of control they have over their lives. It is through this realization and grasping of God’s truth that character is formed. Paul’s teaching in Romans 5:1-11 could be described as a transformative understanding of suffering. (Used with permission)

One may debate the fine details of her theology. But her reflection calls all of us to reconsider what it means to be followers of Jesus in our world today.


Story of Adam, Eastern Orthodoxy and the arc of the Bible’s story

Joel Willitts has posted a great blog post (8th Dec 2013) about what Andrew Louth, Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, says about one theological aspect of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Here is a quote from Willitts’ post.

Orthodox theology begins its doctrine of sin with the story of Adam, as you would expect. Louth sets Orthodoxy apart by beginning his discussion addressing two problems with non-Orthodox approaches to the story of the “Fall” in Genesis 3. First, Louth makes the point that this theology expressed through the telling of stories. Storytelling he says “is fundamental to how we humans come to understand ourselves.” Louth wishes to stress the storied nature of our theology of sin because he is concerned about an approach that is anxious about whether we are to take the stories in Genesis “literarily”. He writes, “It seems that they were neither taken at a simply literal level [by the Fathers], nor at a level that dispensed altogether with a literal interpretation” (68-69). Second, he observes that many “objectify” the “Fall”. “The Fathers simply do not talk about ‘the Fall’ as some objective event” (69). They don’t even use the term “Fall” when telling the story. Instead the Fathers, according to Louth, just describe what Adam did: he sinned, he was disobedient, he turned away from God (69). The consequences were disastrous of course, but they are pictured differently for Orthodox theology, or at least the emphasis is differently placed. The world of harmony that God created and intended of the cosmos was destroyed. Harmony was taken away and elements that should fit together for blessing disintegrate and fragmented and became opposed to one another. Louth talks about this as a process. And consequently not an objective complete event. (Emphasis added)

In many ways I came to similar conclusions independently when I did some research on Romans 5 and 8 (and Genesis 1–3).

Willitts also highlights another theology aspect of Orthodoxy from Louth’s book. Here is the citation from Louth’s book (from Willittts’ blog post here).

In treating the question of sin and death and destruction, it seems to me that the theology of the Fathers never lost sight of a more important consideration; that the world had been created to be able to draw close to God and bring into being a union of wills . . . if what God wants is a loving union between himself and the being that he has created primarily the human beings he has made, then these beings need to learn to love. They cannot be created knowing what that emans: it is something that comes form experience, either innocent experience or (as it turned out to be the case) an experience that has to learn by its mistakes. God created human beings that need to learn to love; he created a beginning that needed to move towards fulfillment (page 69).

Since I do not share the same Eastern Orthodox faith background as Louth, I don’t think I can fully appreciate this. But my reading of Romans 8 is that we are to share in Christ’s suffering and glorification (8:17), and that we are being conformed to the image of the Son (8:29). I think these are important verses in Paul’s letter.

Finally, Willitts says the following regarding Louth’s observation.

The greater arc of the story of the Bible is not “fall to redemption” (this is a “lesser arc”), but from “creation to deification”.

Much to ponder!

A summary of Paul’s letter to the Romans

I will be teaching Romans tonight for the subject New Testament Introduction. I find it hard to study Romans. The academic debates are endless. But here is my attempt to summarise Romans.

It seems that Romans is a pastoral letter to exhort the Jew-Gentile house churches to participate in God’s saving purpose of gathering a worldwide Spirit-empowered Christ-community that displays God’s glory through their faithful conformity to the image of the Son. On the one hand, the salvation of the community is based on the work of the Messiah, whose suffering, atoning death and resurrection constitute the fulfilment of the covenantal faithfulness of God. On the other hand, this Christ-community is to be a missional community, bearing witness to Christ by their love-filled communal life, non-violent relationship with outsiders, and support of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.

Paul wrote to the urban poor in Rome

In N T (Tom) Wright’s Paul for Everyone – Romans Part 1, he aptly describes the type of people his audience would consist of. I think this provides useful information for us to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans, and what the gospel (literally means “good news”) means for Paul’s audience.

In ancient Rome as today, of course, the rich people lived up in the hills, the famous seven hills on which the city stands. The original imperial palace, where the Emperor Augustus lived at the time when Jesus was born, occupies most of one of them. Nero was emperor when Paul was writing this letter; his spectacular palace is on another hill, the other side of the Forum. But then as now the poorer people lived in the areas around the river; not least, in the area just across the river from the main city centre. And that is where most of the first Roman Christians lived. The chances are that the first time this great letter was read aloud it was in a crowded room in someone’s house in the low-lying poorer district, just across the river from the seat of power. (page 6; emphasis added)

A life-giving world-changing community envisioned by Paul (Part 3)

[This following is the second part of the series of posts about the community Paul envisioned. The last post can be found here.]

Modern and ancient perspectives

Reading this passage from our perspective in Australia can be misleading, because the majority of us are not poor. Many of us have sufficient resources (in terms of income, skill set and intellectual ability) to flourish in life. The reverse was true for Paul’s audience. Those with ample resources were the minority. Often we don’t have to spend time with the poor. But it was highly likely that in every house church in Rome there were slaves, unskilled workers and homeless people.

For us, showing honour to people living in poverty would mean something like not looking down on those living in the slums in Asia or Africa. To put into practice “crying with them” would be to give financially, like sponsoring a child through a Christian organisation. But for Paul’s audience it would be totally different. If they were to love without pretence, those with better financial resources would find themselves sharing their wealth sacrificially with the community. If they want to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, they would be compelled to help someone on the verge of selling himself/herself into slavery. For them, to associate with people with no status meant to eat with them, allow their children to play with them, and share their menial tasks whenever they gathered together.

What does a Jesus-community look like in Melbourne?

What would this Jesus-community look like in Australia? I live in a suburb in Melbourne about 20km east of CBD. But God led me to a little inner-city Christian community some years ago. It is there that I have come to realise that a measure of Paul’s vision can be realised in Australia.

I have been immensely blessed by people whose circumstances are exceedingly difficult. I have met asylum seekers who have spent months or years in detention centres. Their stories break my heart. I have come to know refugees who were persecuted because of their Christian faith. But their determination to overcome obstacles is amazing. I have heard stories of people living with a disability when they are bullied at work or treated unjustly by the society at large. But I have come to understand that they are people full of dignity. Their tenacity is inspiring. Their ability to look to God in the worst of times is extraordinary.

I now know that Paul’s command to honour one another is a mutually enriching experience for everyone. Both the rich and the poor benefit from it. Those at the lower end of the social ladder receive the rare honour that they would not otherwise get. But it is in honouring others that those at the upper end of the social hierarchy learn that indeed everyone deserves their respect. The faith and resilience of the marginalised and disadvantaged are profound.

In fact, there is no such a thing as the rich helping the poor in the Christian community that we are part of. It is true that the well-to-do may assist others financially in private. But we all know that this community is about mutual giving, for the haves and have-nots are equally generous. Some years ago we provided accommodation for about a dozen asylum seekers. These folks held temporary visas that did not allow them to work, even though they wanted to. They did not have their families with them and would not know when they would be reunited with their loved ones. Then Victoria experienced the worst bush fire in memory a few years ago. On hearing this, these socially disadvantaged and financially poor people showed us their exceptional generosity. They ran a fund-raising dinner to support our church’s effort to assist the victims of the bush fire. Those who suffer are often the ones who love most.

My experience in our community has convinced me that sharing lives with the poor and marginalised will help us come to a better understanding of the Scripture and God’s heart. Paul’s vision is that we will associate with the lowly – the outcast, the poor and needy (Romans 12:16). It is not about the rich reaching down to the poor. Instead, it is about learning from them and realising the grace of God that has been poured out into their lives. It is about crying with them and standing in solidarity with them.

Paul’s mission and ours

I wonder what a Jesus-community in Taiwan would look like? Without being there myself I hesitate to comment. But here is my imagination of what a church in my home country looks like. People from all walks life gather regularly to worship God. Both the educated and unlearned partake in discussing the biblical stories when the Scripture is read aloud in their gatherings. Outreach programs are organised to welcome new migrants from rural areas. The elderly do not feel lonely or abandoned. The factory workers do not feel that they are second-class members of the church because of their lack of education or economic resources.

Where did Paul get his vision of the church from? I suspect that he has been inspired by the love of God that is found in the sacrificial death of his Son (Romans 8:3, 31-39). In his letters Paul repeatedly talks about the grace of God that has been accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ (e.g. Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 1:22-24; 15:1-8). He urges us to participate in his suffering, death, resurrection and glorification, so that we may be conformed to the image of the Son (Romans 6:1-11; 8:17, 29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). The outworking of this renewed image-bearing is that we, as a Jesus-community, should love one another (Romans 12:1-15:13). Likewise, in the Book of Acts we find that Paul proclaims Christ with great perseverance despite immense persecution and danger (e.g. Acts 26:19-23). Importantly, wherever the gospel is preached, he establishes Jesus-communities and exhorts them to follow Christ wholeheartedly (e.g. Acts 20:13-38).

I believe that Paul reckons that his mission is to proclaim Christ and form Christ-centred, love-filled and life-transforming communities everywhere in the Roman Empire, for that is God’s way of turning the world upside-down. May our lives be so transformed by the life-giving gospel that we will give our lives totally to participating in God’s community-forming project. [e]

[e] Parts of this article appeared previously in Sight Magazine. See

A life-giving world-changing community envisioned by Paul (Part 2)

[This following is the second part of the series of posts about the community Paul envisioned. The last post can be found here.]

The make-up of house churches in Rome

But I find hope and comfort in Romans 12:9-16. In this passage Paul shows us his vision for the house churches in ancient Rome. To understand this passage we need to first take a look at what life was like for the Christians there. The Roman society was strongly hierarchical. People’s social status determined their identity, place in the society, and their prospect of life. Within such a social system, economic exploitation and social oppression were common. The vast majority of Rome’s inhabitants were non-elites. Slaves consisted of around one third of the population. Children of slaves and female slaves were often subject to sexual abuse. Many residents were war-captives or their descendants.

Homeless people were not uncommon in Rome, and many others lived in crowded apartment blocks or even slums. Bruce Longenecker estimates that roughly 65% of Christians in Paul’s churches lived at or below subsistence level. [b] Just under half of them would be struggling significantly because they are the unskilled day labourers, widows, orphans or people with a disability. About 25% of Christians would have “some minimal economic resources,” but they “would clearly have been conscious of their economic vulnerability and their proximity to poverty.” People like Priscilla and Aquila would probably belong to this group. It does not, however, mean that the followers of Jesus in Rome were all destitute. Longenecker estimates that about 10% in the Christ-community would have “moderate surplus”, although not without economic risk.

In a separate study Peter Oakes provides us with an informative analysis of the social make-up in Rome. Using the archaeological findings in Pompeii, Oakes carefully constructs a hypothetical social description of a house church. [c] It might have about 30 people. There might be a craftworker who rents a fairly large workshop, with accommodation for his wife, children, a small number of slaves and perhaps one dependent relative. There would be other householders who could afford to rent, but with less space for their families, slaves and dependents. In the same house church there would be a couple of slaves from other households, a few free or freed people, and a couple of homeless people. It is remarkable how this social make-up fits into Longenecker’s economic profile. The craftworker and other householders would have moderate surplus. Not a few others, especially the householders, would have reasonable resources to make ends meet. Others, including skilled and unskilled workers, widows and beggars, would be living at or below subsistence level, with various degrees of vulnerability.

Paul’s vision for the Christ-Community

It is to Christians in house churches like this that Paul outlines his vision for them in Romans 12:9-16, which says,

Let love be sincere. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be heartfelt in your love to one another, like members of your family. In honour, go ahead of one another. In zeal, do not be lazy. Be set on fire by the Spirit. Serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope. Bear up under tribulation. Be devoted to prayer. Participate in meeting the needs of the saints. Pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Think the same thing toward one another. Do not think highly of yourself, but associate with the lowly. Do not become proud in your own estimation. [d]

This passage speaks of some amazing characteristics of a Jesus-community. It is a love-filled fellowship where people share life together. They love without pretence (12:9). They rejoice and cry together (12:15). There is profound healing power when a community shares their joy and sorrow in sincere love. They welcome strangers into their homes (12:13; CEB), which is immensely life-giving for a city with lonely people needing shelter and love.

It is also a life-transforming community, where people are honoured regardless of their social standing. They show honour to one another (12:10). They consider everyone as equal, and associate with people who have no status (12:16; CEB). One can imagine that in this community the relatively well-to-do craft-worker embraces the slaves and homeless. Generosity is a by-product of genuine affection for one’s siblings in Christ, rather than simply an act of goodwill. People can be a leader or minister by virtue of their God-given gifts, regardless of their social or economic positions (cf. 12:3-8). This community is most countercultural – and at the same time life-giving – in an intensely hierarchical society where slaves are not honoured and unskilled workers are despised. Thus Paul envisages a community that practises status-reversal and hence redefines people’s identity according to their intrinsic value in Christ.


[b] References for the following discussion can be found in Bruce Longenecker, Remember the Poor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), pp. 57, 246-9, 295.

[c] Peter Oakes, Reading Romans in Pompeii (London: SPCK, 2009), p. 96.

[d] This follows the translation by Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), pp. 796-70, with some changes to the punctuations. I have also changed the first half of Rom 12:10 from “In brotherly love, be heartfelt in your love to one another” to “Be heartfelt in your love to one another, like members of your family”.

[To be continued here.]

A life-giving world-changing community envisioned by Paul (Part 1)

[The article below was originally published in Zadok Perspectives, Spring, 2012, pages 19–21. I will post the article as a series in this blog. The article is used with permission from the editor of Zadok Perspectives. I have slightly edited the article.]


I love the Scripture. I also believe that God loves the poor and that we are called to proclaim Christ as the king and Lord of the cosmos. For nearly seven years I worked in an overseas relief and development organisation. My job was to engage with Australian Christians about issues of poverty and injustice. To be honest, I found it a very difficult job. There are two main reasons. The first is that theologically there seems to be a polarisation of views between those who put emphasis on evangelism and those who believe in social justice. The second reason is that socially many Christians have little contact with the poor and it is hard for them to understand what it means to be living in poverty.

I have come to realise that it is far better to use real examples to illustrate what poverty and mission look like in practice. In this article I will first outline a contemporary mission challenge in Taiwan. I will then share stories about my own personal experience in poverty overseas and what I have learned in an inner-city community in Melbourne. It is also vital to study the Scripture and allow the biblical texts to speak to us, rather than allowing polarised theological presuppositions to dominate the discussion. I have, therefore, selected Romans 12:9–16 for our discussion below. In doing so I will draw our attention to some recent research on the social condition of early Christianity, and see how it may bring fresh insights into Paul’s theology and mission.

Working class in Asia

My involvement in mission has alerted me to a phenomenon in Taiwan. The working class in Taiwan makes up two thirds of the population. They are factory workers, taxi drivers, shop workers and small business owners. They are mostly uneducated. Most of them are involved in Taoism, Buddhism, ancestor worship and other folk religions. Despite more than 100 years of missionary activities in Taiwan, less than 0.5% of the working-class people are Christians. But there are many churches in Taiwan, except that their members are typically middle-class and educated. It is recognised that working-class people find it hard to fit into these churches. About 2.6% of the overall population in Taiwan are Protestants, and 1.3% Catholics. This means that not a few non-working-class people are Christians. Realising the needs of the working class in Taiwan, missionaries from organisations like OMF live among them, seek to identify with their struggles, and endeavour to reach out to the most marginalised people in their midst. [a]

I have not undertaken research into why there are few churches among the working class in Taiwan. But the situation reminds me of my own working-class background in another Asian country. I was born in a relatively poor urban neighbourhood. As a child I had to work in a factory so that we could make ends meet. Everyone in the family worked long hours in order to survive. We didn’t have a bedroom and the whole family slept in one bed. I find that people can understand these facts intellectually, but it is harder to recognise the anxiety and fear that are associated with these living conditions.

Working long hours for the sake of survival is not only tiring but also emotionally draining. When children have to work they don’t have time to play with their friends, and are deprived of a normal childhood experience. When a teenage girl has no bedroom she doesn’t have any privacy. Then there is the constant fear that the whole family will go further into the downward spiral of poverty. Indeed life in that situation is very stressful. Depression, mental illness and family breakdowns are all too common. I can say from my own experience that it was a life that I would rather forget, for it brings back horrifying memories.

[To be continued here.]

[a] Source: (accessed on 10th June 2012).

Timothy Gombis on Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Tim Gombis has written a series of blog posts on Romans. He reads Romans as a pastoral letter. I think his reading is insightful. Click on the links below to have a look.

What sort of text is Romans?

Paul’s ‘Gospel’ ministry in Romans

Paul’s ministry of mutuality

Paul’s apostleship and God’s mission

Paul’s confidence in the gospel

Paul, Habakkuk and faithful improvisation

No one has an inside track with God

Justification and the unity of God’s people

Faithful readings of the law foster unity

God’s universal sovereignty and church unity

Ephesians, not Romans, represents Paul’s theology

Body language in Romans, Part 1

Body language in Romans, Part 2

Body language in Romans, Part 3

Paul sends Abraham to Rome

Justifying the “ungodly”

Scripture behaving badly in Rome

The law’s return to Rome