American evangelicals are moving away from orthodox understandings of God and Scripture. This year’s State of Theology survey revealed the top five misconceptions that US evangelicals hold, as follows:
- Jesus isn’t the only way to God.
- Jesus was created by God.
- Jesus is not God.
- The Holy Spirit is not a personal being.
- Humans aren’t sinful by nature.
CT polled five Christian leaders in China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan to find out whether these modern heresies are also widespread in their respective regions, how believers can address them, and what heresies may be more common in their contexts.
Aaron Chau (name changed for security reasons), a house church pastor in Hubei, China
Heresies in China are quite different from America. Based on this study, American evangelical heresies are greatly influenced by liberalism. In contrast, Chinese heresies are greatly influenced by fundamentalism and superstition.
Most Chinese Christians will accept the authority of the Bible, but some will accept it to the point that they have turned the Reformation motto sola Scriptura into “Read the Bible alone.” Unlike how American evangelicals do not believe the Bible is literally true, some Chinese Christians are too devoted to the belief that the Bible is indeed so.
American heresies arise because Christians are highly educated. Chinese heresies occur due to a lack of theological education, which is why heresies are more widespread in rural areas than in cities.
The most influential Chinese Christian heresy is the belief that Christ was born in China and his second coming has literally happened. Eastern Lightning is the cult that created this heresy based on their reading of Matthew 24:27. Another popular heresy, “Two taels of bread,” is based on skewed readings of John 6:1–14 and 1 Kings 17:1–16 and maintains that rice or flour in a Christian’s home will not be depleted even if you eat it daily.
Kin Yip Louie, professor of theological studies at the China Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong
Most Chinese Christians in Hong Kong would nominally agree with the historical creeds but often twist the practical implications of those doctrines.
Hong Kong Christians will readily admit that Scripture is literally the Word of God and that we should obey all the commands in the Bible. Yet when it comes to application, they often ignore the social context of a passage and turn it into a moral teaching or an allegory of our personal relationship with God.
For example, the story of Exodus is read purely as a personal journey into experiencing God’s promises, and its concern for justice and the marginalized is ignored. Or Revelation is read purely as a prediction of end-time events without recognizing its critique of political and economic exploitation.
Thus, individualistic moralism may be the most prevalent form of heresy among Hong Kong Christians. Though most will agree that we are saved by grace alone, they often reduce their understanding of spirituality to inhibiting certain practices, such as smoking or gambling, and committing to other practices, like attending Sunday worship punctually. Practically, it is unclear whether they put their trust in Christ or in their own good behavior.
Asako Hirohashi, director of translation at church planting network City to City in Chiba, Japan
“Jesus isn’t the only way to God” is the most common heresy in Japanese evangelical churches. However, its presence and influence are very subtle.
While most evangelical public confessions of faith agree that salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone, many churchgoers function as if their salvation depends on how much they serve God in obvious ways. Some churches place greater emphasis on the importance of full-time ministry to the extent that all the other occupations are considered “secular” or “unholy” work.
One reason for this susceptibility toward heretical beliefs is that evangelicals are religious minorities in Japan. They have had to adapt their faith to accommodate the surrounding Japanese culture, which places a strong emphasis on living harmoniously with others in society.
Another reason is due to our patriarchal and authoritarian cultural background. Congregations often accept what a church leader teaches from the pulpit without much consideration or questioning.
Meehyun Chung, professor of systematic theology at Yonsei University’s United Graduate School of Theology in Seoul, South Korea
I am cautious about using the term heresies because certain leaders or movements in the development of Christianity, like Czech Reformer Jan Hus and the Waldensians in Italy, were branded as such and experienced unjust judgment.
Korean Christianity has similar phenomena as American evangelicalism. But the most common heresy in Korea is the Gnostic concept of dualism between the body and soul.
Korean shamanism is based on this dualistic perception. Shamans function as a “channel” between the spiritual world and the human world as their souls can enter the spirit realm or their bodies become “hosts” for a spirit or deity. More recent developments, like the field of artificial intelligence (AI), is also influenced by Gnosticism as it discounts the physical body. These Gnostic views impact how the Christian ethos is lived out in Korea, as concrete engagements with society are not a big concern for many Korean believers.
Moreover, the most problematic heresies in Korea are the ones created by religious sects, which often develop a cult following around their founders or leaders.
Tim Wang, a pastor at Chung Hsiao Road Presbyterian Church in Taichung, Taiwan
Although the top five heresies in American evangelicalism most likely apply to numerous Christians in Taiwan, the more prevalent heretical beliefs I have seen during my seven years of ministering inside the Taiwanese church are dualism and the privatization of the Christian faith.
Many Taiwanese Christians emphasize saving souls, sanctification, and the hope of spending eternity in heaven. This one-sided emphasis on the immaterial naturally draws believers to view the body and the material world as unfavorable and something to escape from.
Taiwanese Christians also privatize their faith by generally staying out of politics and rarely speaking up on matters relating to injustice, racism, and other systemic evils in society and culture. They are willing to pray about these problems, but few take action or become personally involved with these issues.
Pastors and leaders not only need to have good theology. They also need to disciple their congregations—a calling many have forsaken. As 2 Timothy 3:16 (CSB) says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” Many teach, but few put in the time and effort to rebuke, correct, and train believers in righteousness.