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The Idol of Busyness

If you ask many people today, “How are you doing?”, it is extremely common to get an answer along the lines of “I’m really busy.”  It seems that everybody is busy.  Everybody is tired.  In fact, it is almost expected that people will be busy and that any answer other than “I’m really busy” is unacceptable.

But is it socially acceptable to NOT be busy?

Imagine with me that someone asks you, “How are you doing?” and you reply, “I’m doing well. I don’t have a lot going on.”  Is that an acceptable answer?  If you answer like that, will people think you are lazy?  If we don’t claim to be busy, will people think we have no ambition and no goals in life?

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Book Notes ~ May 2016

In May, I wrapped up a couple long books left over from April and "read" my first whole book from a Puritan author (besides John Bunyan).  I am still working on figuring out a research topic in Thai church history in order to apply for Ph.D studies, which is reflected in this month's titles.

How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity

This was a fascinating read from sociologist of religion Rodney Stark.  In short, he advances the thesis that there were distinctive factors that have contributed to the development and prosperity of Western nations that were not present in other cultures around the world.  The West, for example, developed democracy and modern science because of beliefs in progress and the value of innovation.  As in many of his other books, Stark seeks to overturn popular misconceptions and self-loathing critiques about Western civilization, namely that European nations gained ascendancy by merely being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of other cultures for their own advancement. He does not try to hide the flaws and evils of the West, but does want to bring balance to the overstated critiques of recent years.  The longer I live in Asia, and the longer I study history, the more I see that although there are many beautiful and worthy aspect of non-Western cultures, there are many aspects of Western culture that are better than other places in the world (commitments to democracy, equality, progress, and innovation).  That may sound like any old colonial attitude but I’d rather think of this position as a realistic view which finds a middle ground between white guilt and white man’s burden.  From this short description of the book, you may not be convinced of Stark’s thesis so I would encourage you to read the book for yourself.  It is well written and worth your time.

 

 

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Introducing the Thai Christian Catechism

Thai Christian CatechismFor the past couple of years, I have been working together with Dr. Natee Tanchanpongs (pastor, Grace City Bangkok church) and Mr. Chaiyasit Suebthayat (elder, New City Fellowship Church in eastern Bangkok) to write a new catechism in Thai for Thai Christians.  The three of us have written a new Thai Christian Catechism from the ground up, borrowing from the Westminster Shorter Catechism at times, but organizing the catechism differently and covering slightly different ground in terms of what is included or not included, and how it is expressed.  

Why a New Catechism?

While Reformation era catechisms like Heidelberg and Westminster are superb for English speakers, especially for native speakers in a culturally Western context, translations of these catechisms end up sounding clunky and unnatural in Thai.  The truth in them is sound but it is difficult to maintain accuracy to the original without sacrificing readability.  Also, the questions and issues of Europeans hundreds of years ago are not always the same as contemporary Thai believers.  Surely there is a vast amount of overlap because the duty of all Christians is to preserve “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3).  However, we wanted a biblically faithful catechism that is readable and accessible for modern Thai Christians, addressing issues of faith that are both essential and current for Thai churches.  I hope we have accomplished that.

The catechism has been privately published with professional assistance in layout, design, and printing from Kanok Bannasan (OMF Publishers Thailand).  Dr. Natee will be teaching through the new catechism over the next several months at our church, Grace City Bangkok, and videos of each session to be posted on YouTube.  The catechism will also be available for purchase through Kanok Bannasan (OMF Publishers Thailand), and we hope that other churches will find it useful in giving their church members a solid foundation in the Christian faith.

In the remainder of this post, I want to give you a brief peak inside the catechism, share some question and answer pairs that show how we have written this for the Thai context, and provide a link for you to download a PDF of the introduction and first chapter.  Currently we do not have a full English translation of the catechism, but that will probably be coming eventually.

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Book Notes ~ April 2016

I was disappointed that I only finished 2 books this month, and one of them was rather short, at that.   However, at month end, I had 3 other books read up to the 75% mark, which will show up on next month’s book notes.  The two I did finish however, were both very good, although very different types of books.  Here’s my synopsis:

Towards a Clean Church: A Case Study in Nineteenth-Century Thai Church History

This was a fascinating case study about what went wrong in the growth of the church in Petchaburi, Thailand in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Relying on many primary source materials, author Herb Swanson shows how the church grew and thrived under the leadership of missionary Eugene Dunlap, who had a gracious and forgiving attitude towards moral failings and problems in the Petchaburi church, and showed good pastoral care and a willingness to give practical help to church members.  However, after Dunlap left, a newer, younger group of missionaries cycled in and out of the Petchaburi church, pursuing an agenda of cleansing the church of unconverted and wrongly-motivated converts.  They were highly suspicious of “rice Christians” who were only at church for financial or practical help, and were strong on church discipline.  The result is that the church floundered and almost died.  Swanson advances the thesis that the Thai Christians and the newer group of missionaries had very different expectations of church membership, and neither group was able to understand or appreciate the expectations of the other.  I found the cultural and social analysis intriguing, and I was given pause to think about patron-client relationships and what attitude missionaries and church leaders should have towards church members who are probably at church for mixed motives.  The major short-coming of this short book (only 70 pages) was a lack of biblical analysis of how to think about the nature of conversion and church discipline.  However, it would take a more evangelical author to delve into such subjects. 

I found a hard copy of this out-of-print title in the seminary library, but you can

Download the PDF for free

 

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Book Notes ~ March 2016

I have begun to get serious about coming up with a good research question to apply for a Ph.D program, so you'll notice that books about Thai church history and missions will come up more frequently in coming months.  But it is good to have diversity too, so Scotland and Vikings also feature in this month's book round-up. 

Khrischak Muang Nua: A Study in Northern Thai Church History

Khrischak Muang Nua book cover

When I opened this book, I anticipated a simple summary of the activities of 19th missionaries in Northern Thailand, bravely overcoming difficulties, and planting the first churches in the region. Instead, I discovered a scathing critique of the early American Presbyterian missionaries of the Laos Mission (present-day Northern Thailand), showing how they failed to 1) provide pastoral leadership and 2) train pastors for the church. They failed to do these things because they overemphasized evangelism / expansion, poured a lot of time into building schools and hospitals, and thought that local Christians were childlike and not ready for leadership. I found page after page of disturbing things about these early missionaries that made me shake my head. I wish many of them were not true but author Herb Swanson has done a thorough job of scouring the archives of Payap University, providing copious primary source documentation for his critique, which I found myself largely agreeing with. From the outset, the author is honest about his particular perspective (which could be fairly called "theologically liberal") and this perspective certainly influences his evaluation of the missionaries' policy of "expansionism" (as he calls it) and their attitude towards Buddhism. However, he has done his homework and his critique should be read and seriously considered by all missionaries in Thailand today.

  Read FREE online

 

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Sola Scriptura vs Sola Experientia

Horace Vernet, Jeremiah on the ruins of Jerusalem (1844)
Many Christians today use human reason to determine the meaning of their personal experiences more than they use the Bible.  Many who do so would deny that they are doing so, and often times they are aided in that claim by pastors and preachers who have torn some Bible verses out-of-context in order to “prove” that a certain experience should be validly interpreted in a certain way.  In response to this trend towards forming beliefs based on experience rather than Scripture, some other Christians raise the cry of “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone), harkening back to the return to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible which was championed at the time of the Protestant Reformation.

But sadly, this call to “Sola Scriptura” is often misunderstood to mean that experience has no place in the Christian life.  That is blatantly false.  Both today and in the Scripture, experience is an essential and valid part of the Christian life.  But the value and meaning of experience all depends on what we use to interpret our experience.