Urban Christian Spirituality

East Asian and Nordic Perspectives

by Knut Alfsvåg (Volume editor) Thor Strandenæs (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 198 Pages


This book explores some of the challenges presented to church and mission from the contemporary culture of globalization and how this affects Christian spirituality in various ways. The attention is primarily focused on contemporary East Asian urban life, but from the assumption that this may not be all that different from what is experienced in urban contexts in other parts of the world. The authors all share an affiliation with institutions related to the Norwegian Mission Society and its work in East Asia.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part One: Contemporary Urban Spirituality
  • Constructing Christian Spirituality in the City
  • 1. Aim and Approach
  • 2. Characteristics of Metropolitan Culture
  • 3. Fundamental elements in the construction of Christian spirituality
  • 3.1 Bible reading and hymnody
  • 3.2 The Communion of Saints
  • 3.3 Prayer
  • 3.4 Silence and Meditation
  • 3.5 Discipline
  • 4. Constructing a sustainable Christian spirituality for city people
  • Bibliography
  • Internet Sources
  • Christian Spirituality for People in the Metropolitan City: A Concern with Rapid Urbanization in Mainland China
  • What is “Christian Spirituality”?
  • Characteristics of City Life
  • Affluence
  • Busyness
  • Consumerism
  • Christian Spirituality in the City
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Christ the City and the Way of Tea
  • Bibliography
  • Escape and experiment: Perspectives on urban spirituality
  • Introduction
  • Theology and demised place
  • Spiritual consumption and topophobia
  • Return to the place? The ambivalence of experimental sacred space for seekers
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • The spirituality of sin
  • The concept of sin and Japanese Christian spirituality
  • Liturgical reform in Norway: Is confession of sin dispensable?
  • Toward a sinless spirituality?
  • A contextualized spirituality of sin
  • Bibliography
  • Part Two: Case Studies
  • Cultural Affirmation or Innovation? Christian Spirituality in Its Thai Cultural Context
  • Introduction
  • Elements of Thai Buddhist spirituality
  • Relating to the supernatural realm
  • Making merit
  • Elements of Thai Christian spirituality
  • Analysis
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Interviews
  • Secondary sources
  • Folk Religious Spirituality in Hong Kong: Its Relational and Utilitarian Aspects – a Challenge for the Christian Church
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Spirituality in the Folk Religious Context
  • 3. Chinese Folk Religious Spirituality
  • 4. Folk Religious Life in the Chinese Context of Hong Kong
  • 5. The Relationally Based, Utilitarian Spirituality of Chinese Folk Religion
  • 5.1 A Relation Based Spirituality
  • 5.2 A Utilitarian Spirituality
  • The work place
  • The Festival
  • The Temples
  • 6. Conclusions and bearings on Chinese Christianity in Hong Kong
  • 6.1 Conclusions
  • 6.2 Bearings on Hong Kong Chinese Christian Spirituality
  • Bibliography
  • Leisure: Work, Freedom and Spirituality
  • Leisure and spirituality
  • Work-based society
  • Consumption-based society
  • Retrieval of leisure in everyday life
  • Leisure as life-world
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • On Vocation for Single Female Christians in Hong Kong
  • The need for a calling
  • Bibliography
  • Foreigners in the city and Christian Spirituality caring for them. The situation in the cities of Taiwan with special interest on migrant workers in Tao Yuan County
  • Introduction
  • The need for a Spirituality of caring for foreigners from an Old Testament viewpoint
  • The universal love of God
  • The demand for justice for foreigners
  • God called Israel to be a Light to all Nations
  • God shall be worshipped by all nations
  • Conclusion
  • The need of a Spirituality of caring for foreigners from the New Testament viewpoint
  • The situation of foreign people groups in the cities of Northern Taiwan and their need to be cared for
  • The special situation of the City
  • The situation of foreign population groups in the cities of Northern Taiwan
  • Encouraging examples of Christian spirituality caring for the migrant workers in Taiwan
  • The foundation of “Taiwan Expatriate’s Caring Committee” (TECC)
  • Some examples of caring for the foreigners in Tao Yuan county
  • The situation in Tao Yuan county
  • Caring for the Philippines
  • Caring for the Thais
  • The Chia Yi area
  • The Tao Yuan district
  • The Tai Zhong district
  • Effective tools to reach the Thais with the Gospel
  • The Camps for Thai workers in Taiwan
  • Other effective methods
  • The question of social justice
  • Caring for the Vietnamese
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Interviews with
  • Unpublished written material
  • Published Books and articles
  • Internet homepage used
  • Chinese Filial Piety against the Impact of Post-modernity: A Christian Confucian Re-vision
  • Introduction
  • Some Observations on the Origin and Early Development of Filial Piety
  • The Inculcation of Filial Piety in Traditional China
  • The Erosion of Filial Piety by the Force of Postmodernity
  • A Christian Confucian Re-vision of Filial Piety
  • A. Priority
  • B. Spontaneity
  • C. Mutuality
  • D. Solidarity
  • E. Continuity
  • Filial Piety As a Living Value Facing Up to Postmodernity
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Names
  • Authors


We live in a global world where borders related to geography and culture appear to be increasingly porous. This does not cause local variations to vanish, but they appear in a new light; old differences disappear and new ones develop according to different sets of criteria. Travelling to a new culture, one may feel immediately at home in a group with which one shares important beliefs and convictions; the feeling of alienation may be much stronger in relation to the neighbour across the street at home.

For the Christian church, which from the outset understood herself as a gathering of people from every nation and all tribes and languages, the challenges posed by this process are both old and new. They are old, because the challenge of bridging cultural differences had already presented itself for the generation who wrote the New Testament. Then also new, because this challenge appears in a new light when geographical and cultural borders disappear, only to be replaced by others and probably less familiar ones. The culture of globalization is therefore for the church both a familiar territory and a field which requires us to newly orient ourselves.

This book is an attempt at exploring some of the challenges posed by this situation. The attention is primarily focused on contemporary East Asian urban life, but this is done working from the assumption that what is experienced, both by Christians and adherents of other faiths in this particular context, may not necessarily be all that different from what is experienced in urban contexts in other parts of the world. Apart from a common interest in the spirituality of Asian city life, the authors presented here also share an affiliation with institutions related to the Norwegian Mission Society and its work in East Asia. This should allow for enough of a common perspective to give the book a kind of unity, while still allowing for the amount of difference that opens new perspectives and stimulates discussion.

The first part of the book explores some basic issues related to contemporary urban spirituality. In his article, Thor Strandenæs investigates how the common key denominators of contemporary urban life can be included in a Christian spirituality. In order to do that, he has to identify some of the basic elements of Christian spirituality, which in his view are Bible reading, hymn singing, prayer, silence and meditation. These universal elements must be retained to prevent the Christian fellowships from being estranged from their roots. At the same time, Christians must be contextually sensitive. The elements of their spirituality ← 7 | 8 → that are not determined by the church’s ecumenical heritage must therefore be consciously related to the local culture. They must fit into each individual’s daily lives and use tangible aids to help concentration. There is also a call for creativity in terms of how the the time of the week is used, so that in addition to the Sunday morning service it is made possible to participate in weekday services. In this way, Strandenæs argues, it will be possible to build a contemporary urban Christian spirituality that is both contextually sensitive and ecumenically relevant.

Ekman Tam defines spirituality as a way of life filled with the breath of God, and Christian spirituality as a way of life imbued with the breath of Jesus. This spirituality must be embodied and is therefore related to person and context. The experience of growing urbanization, such as, in modern China, therefore also has implications for spirituality, and Tam investigates some of these as related to affluence, busyness and consumerism. He finds these implications to be largely negative, and discusses strategies to counter this negative influence.

Shuji Sumikawa explores the relation between city and spirituality from a somewhat different angle, arguing that the city is a place where the church should feel particularly at home. His starting point is Charles William’s observation that city life is the best image one can have of God; like the persons of the Trinity are related to each other and dwell in each other, people in cities are all ontologically connected. Exchange and substitution take place constantly. When we reject this and want to live for ourselves, life becomes tragic. Faith is then the movement toward the original union, a rebuilding of the city. And since this occurs through Christ’s redemptive act, Christ is meaningfully conceived as the archetypical city. He renews the city while leaving the scars of old. According to the author, this double image is meaningfully captured in the customs attached to tea as has been practiced in Japan for centuries.

There is a somewhat related emphasis in Bård Mæland’s article, though it is approached from quite a different angle. Taking his point of orientation not in the city, but in the even more basic observation of the significance of place for the Christian faith, founded as it is on events that took place in ways that are very carefully located, he calls us to question what implication an altered orientation might have; one which has moved away from place in the present era of globalization and the internet. In a Christian context, we find a parallel movement in modern consumer oriented ways of gathering for worship, motivated by a need to avoid what is conceived as the boredom of more traditional ways of worshipping. But in the Christian tradition, boredom is not necessarily negative; it has a great capacity for initiating motion. The modern phenomenon of topophobia (‘fear of the place’) might therefore inform contemporary spirituality in ways ← 8 | 9 → that are potentially counterproductive, and Mæland explores how this this tendency might be probed in ways that are both critical and constructive.

Both Sumikawa and Mæland are interested in how disturbing experiences can be integrated in Christian spirituality in constructive ways. This is also the subject of the article by Knut Alfsvåg, which explores the significance of the concept of sin in both Western and Asian contemporary contexts. The Christian idea of sin has always been felt to be alien in the context of indigenous Japanese spirituality; due to some of the same tendencies that are the subject of Mæland’s article, this is increasingly felt to be the case even in the Western context. But whereas the traditional approach to the challenge for the Japanese Churches has been to emphasize the idea of human sinfulness in their liturgies, the Western approach, as exemplified by recent liturgy reform in the Church of Norway, has been to weaken or eliminate it. It is this that forms the starting point for exploring the different understandings of contextualization that these differences reveal.

The emphasis on the significance of place as shared by a number of the authors in the first part of the book is then explored by the locally connected case studies in the second part. In her article, Kari Storstein Haug asks how Protestant Christian spirituality in Thailand is informed by its Buddhist context. Buddhist spirituality is partly related to supernatural powers, trying to maintain the benevolence of the local guardian spirit, and partly related to the practice of making merit, through which one improves one’s karma by doing good works. This influences Christian spirituality without being adopted uncritically; Christians do not pray to the guardian spirits, but ask God for protection in everyday life; they try to live good lives, but do not engage in activities closely connected to Buddhist merit-making. One could thus argue that Thai Christians to a certain extent accept the principles underlying Buddhist spirituality while transforming them according to the specific emphases of the Christian faith.

Applying a similar approach to the folk religious spirituality in Hong Kong, Thor Strandenæs focuses on its relational and utilitarian dimensions, related as it is to the family and the deities the family considers important, and to the gods that are found to be essential for communal life. In addition to the family, the work place and the temples have a spiritual significance. In Strandenæs’ view, one comes closer to the essential elements of folk religions in Hong Kong by this particular focus than through the more traditional route of investigating the particularities of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. This relational and utilitarian spirituality also informs church life in Hong Kong. Christians tend to understand the congregation as extended family, emphasizing both the relational aspect and need for the Christian ritual to maintain its relevance in relation to ← 9 | 10 → the challenges of everyday life. There therefore seem to be interesting parallels between the way Christians in Thailand and Hong Kong relate to the utilitarian aspects of their polytheistic environments.

In his article, Lap Yan Kung reflects on another aspect of Hong Kong society and its implications for spirituality. Taking as his starting point the observation that working hours in Hong Kong are consistently longer than in the Western world, he explores the idea of leisure, which he finds to be related to spirituality in that both concepts encapsulate a mentality which stands as opposed to the meaninglessness of work and life. For this reason, he advocates a retrieval of spirituality that can help leisure to nurture our being. In a work-centered society like Hong Kong, work becomes the most important source of self-esteem and dignity, and leisure becomes an extension of work, dominated by the same values. This is taken even further in a consumption-based society, where the goal of consumption is to stimulate the economy. The solution, according to Kung, is to regain an understanding of leisure as freedom to see, imagine and create; in this way, leisure is what gives direction and meaning. He finds a similar understanding of leisure in both Aristotle and Chinese thinkers, and compares it to the idea of communicative rationality in Habermas.

Differing from what has been the case in many other Protestant mission enterprises, mission in the Chinese context is targeted at individual, not tribal conversion. The majority of conversions, however, occur among women. This creates an imbalance between men and women in Chinese Christian congregations, the investigation of which is the topic of Jochen Teuffel’s contribution. Since for various reasons marrying a non-Christian may not be an option, this creates a quite large group of unmarried women in the Chinese congregations, a group whose particular challenges according to Teuffel should be taken more seriously than is ordinarily the case. There was, however, a similar situation in the early church, and Teuffel argues that the particular attention paid to the situation of single Christian women in that context could actually be helpful even in relation to the challenges posed by the contemporary Chinese context.

One of the characteristic features of large cities is the existence of foreign minorities. In his article, Immanuel Scharrer first investigates the need for a spirituality based on caring for foreigners as is emphasized in the Bible. He then applies his findings on the situation in the cities in Northern Taiwan, where there are quite a number of foreigners, and where there also are examples of Christian ministries caring for them, and some of these are presented in some detail in order to give examples of a Christian spirituality caring for migrant workers in Taiwan. ← 10 | 11 →

In the final article of this volume, Thomas Yu investigates the significance of the idea of filial piety in Chinese culture and how its significance has been eroded by some recent developments. According to Yu, this has been the case both in mainland China and in Taiwan, but for quite different reasons. However, the Christian faith has resources for restoring the idea of filial piety. In this way, Christianity may by the Chinese culture not as something foreign, but as a way of recapturing central elements in the culture which have been weakened in the contemporary society. In this way, Yu’s article brings out a perspective shared by all authors of this volume; the understanding that the particular perspective of the Christian faith transcends cultural borders in a way that makes it culturally relevant both in the contemporary Asian and the global context, as long as its adherents can apply their faith with integrity and cultural sensitivity. To contribute to the ongoing debate of how this is to be done is the intention of this book.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
Volksreligion Missiologie Spiritualität städtische Kultur
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 198 pp.

Biographical notes

Knut Alfsvåg (Volume editor) Thor Strandenæs (Volume editor)

Knut Alfsvåg is a professor of systematic theology at the School of Mission and Theology at Stavanger (Norway). Formerly, he was a missionary to Japan. Thor Strandenæs is a professor emeritus of missiology at the School of Mission and Theology at Stavanger (Norway). Formerly, he was a missionary to Hong Kong.


Title: Urban Christian Spirituality
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