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Book Review: "A History of Thailand" by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit

Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit, A History of Thailand, third ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), Kindle Edition.

Years ago, I read David Wyatt's "Thailand: A Short History" but it was a bit too dry and not too short. I nearly gave up as he went on and on reconstructing the pre-history of Thailand. But Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit's “A History of Thailand” has been a completely different experience. The authors have written a briskly moving narrative that gives you the big picture, highlighting the important people and events in the development of the country without getting bogged down in the details. The first chapter (Before Bangkok) takes you through early history to the founding of Bangkok in 1782. In not too many pages, the authors give a helpful picture of the 15-18th century, the empires of Southeast Asia, the old Thai feudal system, and the steps leading up the founding of the Chakri dynasty. And it is the Chakri dynasty and the last 200 years of Thai history that form the bulk of this book.

As the book unfolds however, tracing the political, cultural, and economic development of the country from Rama 1 (1782) to the pre-coup political climate of March 2014, it becomes obviously that writing a history of “Thailand” is problematic. As it were, there was no “Thailand” per se, until the colonial powers forced the kingdom of Siam to define it borders in response to French and British colonial acquisitions in Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia. In the late 19th century, the kingdom of Siam spread across what is now Central Thailand into Western Cambodia, while the Lao kingdoms and Shan States functioned rather independent of Siam to the north, albeit many of them in a tributary relationship to Siam. The region that constitutes modern day Southern Thailand was also only loosely connected to Bangkok. But as the colonial powers claimed some of these territories and agreed that others belonged to Siam, the government of Siam felt that it was necessary create a sense of unity and nationhood among these different territories and peoples in order to consolidate power and ward off interference from foreign aggression. These reasons, along with the belief that the majority of “Thai” people are passive peasants, led to justifications for a strong state with Bangkok as the center. The strong state was first embodied in the absolute monarchy, but after the revolution of 1932, the strong state re-emerged on-and-off in the form of military dictatorships up through the 1970s and beyond.

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You know you're a pioneer missionary when...

I can identify with a number of these indications that you you are pioneer missionary from Forrest McPhail’s book, “Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings” (read my review here).  Perhaps some of my fellow missionaries can as well.  Forrest writes…

You know you're a pioneer missionary when:

  • Your neighbor thinks that you have magical powers as a holy man
  • You suddenly come across a little girl in the countryside and, screaming, she runs away from the foreigner
  • You apply passages of the Bible referring to food offered to idols to actual food-offered-to-idols scenarios
  • Almost every believer you know is a first-generation Christian
  • You wonder whether a bag of rice given to someone in compassion might obscure the Gospel
  • Many of the new believers confess to having seen demons, even after conversion
  • You can quote Genesis 1:1 in a foreign language before you can remember how to quote John 3:16 in English
  • When you present the Gospel, you have to address the issue of persecution

Source: Forrest McPhail. Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings (Kindle Locations 165-171).

 

 

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When the Blood of the Martyrs Is Not the Seed of the Church

When Western Christians hear about the persecution of believers in other parts of the world, their response sometimes comes from behind rose colored glasses that diminish the depth of the tragedy that is playing out on the other side of the globe.

1) The first misperception that occurs is the assumption that those believers who are being persecuted are heroic, and must have much stronger faith than the well-off person reading about their plight on the newest model iPhone.  I suspect that there is an semi-unconscious train of thought that goes something like, “Oh, they are so brave to face this persecution.  I could never face that.  But since they are so brave and spiritual, they’ll be fine despite the persecution.”  Of course, there are brave and heroic believers who stand up for Christ and the Gospel in many parts of the world.  Praise God for their bold testimony!  But there are also many normal believers, immature Christians, and nominal church goers who bear the brunt of anti-Christian violence.  They don't all stand up to the threats very well.  Their story flashes across global media like a shooting star and then disappears, but they still struggle and live in fear and anxiety long after you’ve clicked “Share.”  And sometimes the intimidation works.  They stay silent about their faith, compromise, or flee.   And that brings me to my second point.

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Book Review: “Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings” by Forrest McPhail

Forrest McPhail, “Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings”, 2014, 148 pages.

I don’t read a whole lot of missions and church planting books, partly because I have read a lot in the past, and partly because many do a poor job of combining a high view of Scripture and church, with a practical understanding of the realities of church planting on the mission field.  Forrest McPhail’s book, “Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings” is different.  

In this short book (150 pages), McPhail is thinking biblically and theologically, but also very practically.    Some church planting books are theologically sound, but don’t do anything to address non-Western contexts or pioneer mission fields.  Other church planting books focus on majority world contexts, but seem to have forgotten that there is more to theology than telling people to mine the book of Acts for methodical insights.  McPhail is able to straddle the great divide and apply Scriptural truths to a distinctively non-Western church planting context, in his case rural Cambodia.

In this book review, I want to briefly summarize the basic contents of the book, together with some of my own commentary, so that potential readers can decide whether they want to read it.  And I hope that people do read it because this is a great little book about missionary church planting.

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How to Protect Yourself from Moral Failure on the Mission Field

A frustrated and depressed man holds his head in his handWhen I recently read an article about four common characteristics among pastors who experienced moral failure (infidelity), it struck me that the lessons to be learned from their failure are very applicable to missionaries as well.  The issues that pastors and missionaries face are not exactly the same but there is a lot of crossover. You can read the whole article here

In this post, I have listed the four characteristics and drawn out what lessons missionaries can learn in order to protect themselves from moral compromise.  The warnings here are mostly for men, but I am sure that many women will be able to find value in these observations as well, if not for themselves directly, then at least for the men in their lives.

In a study of 246 men in full-time ministry who experienced moral failure in a given two years period, Dr. Howard Hendricks found the following four common characteristics:

1. None of the men were involved in any kind of real personal accountability.

2. Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer, Bible reading, and worship.

3. Over 80% of the men became sexually involved with the other woman after spending significant time with her, often in counseling situations.

4. Without exception, each of the 246 had been convinced that sort of fall “would never happen to me.”

Now let me offer some comments on each of these in order to help missionaries (especially male missionaries) to think about how to avoid ending up in this kind of disaster.

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Putting the Prosperity Gospel on the Radar

I am glad that Benny Hinn came to Thailand in 2012.  Really, I am.  He is a false teacher and a false prophet who will probably end up with a millstone around his neck in the final judgment.  But I am glad he came because he provided the opportunity to make the prosperity gospel into a live issue among Thai churches.

The prosperity gospel has been in Thailand for many years but prior to Hinn’s visit, it was not a topic of controversy.   Various teachers, both foreign and domestic, have put on big shows, made outrageous claims and promises, and generally given people false hope while taking away their money and/or their hope.  Some churches are into that kind of thing, and others aren’t.  But Thai people are generally polite and don’t like to stir up controversy.  The Christian community in Thailand is small, people know each other, and it seems more important to affirm each other in light of the Buddhist majority, rather than cause problems.  So while prosperity preachers and self-appointed prophets came and went, barely anyone said much about this form of false teaching even as it has continued to spread and work its way into a larger number of churches through big, exciting “revival” meetings, translated books, and YouTube videos.