Book Notes ~ September 2016

I read 2 books this month, both of which were very good, but in very different ways.  One was a fascnating historical / theological read, and the other one very encouraging if you can get into Puritan turns of phrases.

The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism

Covering post-WWII to the present, “The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism” presents a panorama view of how evangelicalism has grown and changed from a largely Western, North Atlantic movement to a broader, more diverse global movement.  I greatly appreciated the scope of this book, providing balanced coverage of not only North American, but also British and Commonwealth evangelicalism, as well as other places in the world where English is used in Christian discourse.  This was a pleasant change from many books about evangelicalism that are American-centric. 
I learned in greater depth about later 20th century leaders and authors that I had only heard about in passing, and was not very familiar with.  I particularly enjoyed reading about 1) how evangelicalism developed differently in Britain compared to the United States, 2) the watershed significance of the 1974 Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism, and 3) the tension between evangelicals (largely from the U.S.) who sought a narrow focus on “soul-winning” and those (largely from Latin America) who sought a more holistic definition of mission as applied to other areas of life and society. 
An important theme which the author discusses at various points in the book, especially in relation to the hugely significant Pentecostal-charismatic movement, is the increasingly divergent streams of evangelicalism in the early 21st century that bring into question whether it is still possible (if it ever was) to identify a common core of beliefs which define evangelicals.   As regards evangelical identity, there is a big question mark as to whether or not the authority of the Bible (sola scriptura) will continue to be a hallmark of evangelicalism.  There are strong movements in many places around the world where following the leading of the Spirit as mediated through personal experience is prioritized over Scripture, and in many cases syncretized with an emphasis on this worldly health, wealth, and blessing as the core of the Christian life.  This is true particularly in areas of Asia and Africa where animism has an important role in the background and worldview of Christian adherents.  However, the author believes that reports of evangelicalism’s demise are premature and the movement as a whole has displayed an historical resilience and ability to redefine and refocus its center over the course of different eras.  It is difficult to say where evangelicalism is headed, but this book provides a good overview of where evangelicalism has been during the last 70 years. 
“The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism” is book 5 in is a series on the "History of Evangelicalism: People, Movements and Ideas in the English-Speaking World"  



Book Notes ~ August 2016

I read 3 books this past month, the first of which was a real page turner.  I couldn't put it down.  If you want a great biography, check out the "The Girl in the Picture".  The third book had lots of timely reminders so that I don't get too run down.  I had hoped to finish a fourth book but I was pre-occupied for most of August with writing and refining a research proposal in preparation for applying for a doctoral program.

The Girl in the Picture

"The Girl in the Picture” is about a girl and her family caught in the midst of the war in Vietnam. The girl, Kim Phuc, was the subject of the famous war-time photo of a young girl running naked out of a village that had been hit by napalm.  It is a riveting, page-turning, biography, and gives a good window into what life was like for a normal family before, during, and after the war in Vietnam (not to mention an interesting picture of life in Castro's Cuba). I learned many details about the Vietnam War that I had previously just heard in passing but not really understood (such as the significance of the Tet Offensive).  Interestingly, when Kim grows up she becomes a Christian through a church in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), although this part of her experience makes up only a minor part of the narrative.  This book is a biography as well as a cultural and political history, and author Denise Chong gives a sympathetic and well-written account of Kim Phuc’s life and the global events in which she became an unexpected participant.  You definitely learn about Cold War politics in this book, but the author seems to do a good job of telling the facts without turning the book into a political statement.  It is Kim’s story, rather than a political agenda, that drives the narrative. 





Today in Thai Church History (August 23): Gutzlaff and Tomlin Arrive in Bangkok

The history of Chrisitan and missionary work in every country has a beginning, and August 23, 1828 marks the beginning of Protestant work in Thailand (formerly Siam).  On that day, German doctor Karl Gutzlaff and Jacob Tomlin of the London Missionary Society arrived in Bangkok.  They are remembered as the first resident Protestant missionaries to work in the country, although small numbers of Roman Catholics had been in Thailand for many years.  
Early Missionaries in Bangkok: The Journals of Tomlin, Gutzlaff, and Abeel, 1828-1832 book coverGutzlaff and Tomlin's ship arrived in Bangkok on a Saturday evening, and they went on shore the following day.  I always find it fascinating to hear someone's first impressions of a place and have included below Jacob Tomlin's account of their first two days in Thailand, drawn from his personal journal, as found in Anthony Farrington, ed. Early Missionaries in Bangkok: The Journals of Tomlin, Gutzlaff, and Abeel, 1828-1832. Bangkok, Thailand: White Lotus Press, 2001, p.8-10.
Saturday August 23rd, 1828. In the afternoon run up to Bangkok before a fresh breeze. Opened the city suddenly at 2 or 3 miles distance. In approaching the capital the scenery and dwellings on each side become more varied and beautiful. A temple somewhat like a village church standing on the bank with a few light elegant houses, half shaded by the foliage of trees, has a very rural and lovely appearance. Canals or small rivers branch off from the river at intervals running into the country, each opening a beautiful vista with its grassy banks and bamboos waving over the stream. A lively busy scene appears now on the river — hundreds of boats of all sizes moving in every direction. A long line of junks on the left side just on entering the city, with a range of Chinese smiths' and carpenters' shops, behind a splendid pagoda literally blazing in gold, the Romish Episcopal Chapel standing close by in a rural sequestered situation. Our crew being now hailed by their friends on board another junk ringing a gong, one of our men mounted the poop and returned a merry salute, which was repeated several times, each responding to the other till we got well into the city.

Is There More Demonic Activity in the Non-Western World?

I have never encountered a demon (that I know of), but from people who have, I have heard that there are ways to distinguish demonic activity from other things, such as epilepsy, bi-polar disorder, etc... although sometimes it is not easy .  People whom I consider reliable have told me stories that sound legitimate.  However, many stories that I have heard or read about second-hand sound like the product of an overactive imagination.
In the life of Jesus, there are numerous accounts of demonic possession.  But there are extremely few reports of demon possession in the United States (or other Western countries).  Why is that? Some more charismatically-minded Christians might suggest that demonic activity in the West is just as prevalent as it is in other places around the world, but many Western Christians are blind to that because they are influenced by secularism and are not open to that possibility.  There is probably some validity to that perspective, but I wonder if there are less reports of demonic activity in the West because the Devil knows that that attack strategy doesn’t work very well in the Western context, given the fact that the scientific-rational culture dismisses such manifestations as having other natural causes.  Therefore the Devil uses other tactics to decieve and destroy (secular humanism, atheism, religious pluralism, etc).
But in Thailand (and many other non-Western nations), I think we probably hear about demonic and/or supernatual activity more because
  1. Many people have a supernatural / animistic worldview already, therefore they over-report spiritual activity, and
  2. There is actually more genuine overt demonic activity in those places because it is a working strategy for Satan to keep people away from the true God. 
The Devil is a pragmatist, and since fear of spirits and supernatural power work in many contexts, that’s one of the winning strategies that he often employs. 
Tags: Evil Spirits

Ben-Hur, a Reflection on the Novel and Upcoming Movie

guest post by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I decided to read Ben-Hur this year, not knowing that a remake would be in theaters on Aug. 12. I had seen the original classic in the 1959 version as a boy, which was mesmerizing, but going through the entire novel slowly as an adult impacted me at a much deeper level as I saw it afresh on the backdrop of the Bible narrative.  One passage that really hit home personally and for which I wrote about in a prayer letter to supporters on March 30, 2016 (5 years to the day from the passing of my wife due to cancer in 2011) was the following:  “In a recent reading of the novel, Ben Hur, I came upon a section where the Arab chieftan, Simonides asks his daughter what day it was…she affirmed it to be the anniversary of her mother’s death: "True, most true, my daughter!" he said, without looking up. "Today, five years ago, my Rachel, thy mother, fell down and died. They brought me home broken as thou seest me, and we found her dead of grief. Oh, to me she was a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of En-Gedi! I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey. We laid her away in a lonely place--in a tomb cut in the mountain; no one near her. Yet in the darkness she left me a little light, which the years have increased to a brightness of morning." He raised his hand and rested it upon his daughter's head. "Dear Lord, I thank thee that now in my Esther my lost Rachel liveth again!"

Five years ago this very day, my cluster of camphire, Paula, was received into glory. It is easy to identify with Simonides as he reflects on those five years with his daughter. Today I had the opportunity to reflect with my daughter, Amber, concerning this significant day. Amber reflects so many of the lovely traits that I saw in her mother. So, after talking with Amber I read afresh the words of Simonide, but changed them a bit, “Yet in the darkness she left me a little light, which the years have increased to a brightness of morning…Dear Lord, I thank thee that now in my ‘Amber’ my lost ‘Paula’ liveth again!"



Book Notes ~ July 2016

July was a rather poor month for me in terms of book reading, only finishing 2 books out of the needed 4 in order to stay on target to reach my goal of 50 books in 2016.  But I would particularly commend to you the second of the two books I read, about revival in Thailand.

The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution 

I have mixed feelings about this book because I started reading it in order to better understand the course of the American Revolution. And eventually, in the last third of the book, the author did delve into the final stage of the war where Washington defeated Cornwallis at Yorktown. However, the majority of the book consisted of a detailed account of the European conflicts and naval histories of the 17th and 18th century in order to set the context for the American conflict. I learned more than I ever intended to learn about the Dutch fight for independence from Spain and the internal politics of the British Royal Navy. I nearly put the book down before I got half way through but I kept hoping that the author would eventually get into the American Revolution in earnest. My patience was rewarded but I came away with the feeling that it was not necessary to get into such gory detail about the conflicts between the European nations in order to understand the American Revolution. In the end though, I learned that perhaps the primary reason why the Americans won the war was because the British were arrogant, lethargic, incompetent, and internally divided.