May 2, 2017

Against the Tide: The Story of Watchman Nee

Author: Angus Kinnear

First Published: 1972

“Christ is the son of God. He died as the redeemer for human beings and was raised from the dead after three days. This is the biggest thing in the universe. I shall die for believing in Christ.”

This was the note found under Watchman Nee’s pillow after he died in prison. Nee spent the last 20 years of his life in forced labor prison camp, suffering physical ailments and torture at the hands of Chinese prison guards. Despite this, he found joy in the simple truth of the Gospel and would write letters to his family rejoicing in the Lord.

Nee’s legacy would echo on throughout China in the decades to follow. His published works would bring thousands back to a simple Biblical understanding of how to live as a Christian. The work he did in China would continue there despite an oppressive government. Christianity would move more underground, and a house church movement would be started. Today, Christianity is spreading like wildfire in China, and millions are being lead to Christ. This was borne on the backs of martyrs like Watchman Nee, who never wavered in their commitment to to Christ even in the face of ultimate persecution and suffering.

Angus Kinnear’s biography of Watchman Nee is a fitting tribute to a life well lived. He covers his life from his birth in 1903, to his conversion, his ministry, and ultimately to his martyrdom at the hands of Communist China. It is one of the most inspiring testimonies I have ever read.

Nee is considered one of the greatest Christian leaders to ever emerge in China. He helped plant hundreds of churches throughout his ministry, and helped re-focus many Chinese Christian’s perspectives on the normal Christian life. The life of a Christian was encompassed by the death and resurrection of Christ according to Nee. Understanding these deep truths lead to greater intimacy with God. Many of his sermon outlines would later form the basis for some of the most landmark Christian books of the 20th century, including the Normal Christian Life and Sit, Walk, Stand.

Kinnear paints a faithful picture of Watchman Nee that includes his triumphs in addition to his failings. Nee, like all of us, was not a perfect man. He fell prey to the faulty thinking of “Localism” – the idea that each city should have only one united church. This idea made it incredibly easy for Chinese communist Leader Mao Zedong to target churches in each city for persecution. Christianity is flourishing in China today by working more or less underground.

Nee’s contributions far outweigh any of his failings. I found his example to be hugely beneficial in my own life. Without spoiling the book, here are the major convictions I came away with:

  1. Be a cheerful giver in good times and in bad. Nee always found ways to give even during the economic troubles of Japanese occupation of China during World War II.
  2. God is active in the modern age and is capable of the most astonishing miracles. God intervened supernaturally in Nee’s life several times and in the most incredible ways.
  3. You can find joy in Christ even in the most dire of circumstances. Nee and his wife were in prison at the same time, but not together. Yet, Nee’s prison life was still characterized by joy.
  4. Be prepared to count the cost of being a disciple of Christ. Nee’s life was not easy, but he never had any illusions that it would be. He never compromised.
  5. Commit scripture to memory. Nee’s deep knowledge of the Bible carried him through his imprisonment even when he didn’t have access to one.

Against the Tide is a must-read. You can buy it on Amazon. I recommend getting the latest edition that includes more details on Nee’s legacy and ministry after his death.


  • Great review and take-aways, Kyle. I agree this book is a must-read. Nee is very inspiring, and it’s always helpful to see an example of faith in a different context. It’s easy to think we have the “best way” to do things but that might not apply elsewhere. I agree that his localism was a weakness, though.

    His joy is truly remarkable. What a powerful testimony to the truth of the gospel when he was able to rejoice even in intense persecution and imprisonment.

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