A 21st Century Convert from Buddhism and a 19th Century Scottish Preacher

This past summer, at my denomination’s General Assembly meetings in St. Louis, I enjoyed getting to know a Korean brother who was a committed Buddhist until he came to Christ at 55 years old. As he tells it, he wasn't a nominal or cultural Buddhist either, but was dedicated to meditation and studying Buddhism in Chinese. I asked him what finally brought about the change in his life. "The grace of God!" was his reply. I said "Amen!” to that but pressed him further. What was it that attracted him to Christ? It is no small thing, after all, to be dedicated to one religious faith your whole adult life and then suddenly change.
 
He said that he ultimately found Buddhism to be incomplete and unsatisfactory. In Buddhist meditation, which he practiced often, he sought to empty his mind. According to Buddhism, it is thought that all suffering is caused by desire. Thus, if you want to be free from suffering, you need to be free from desire. Do not want anything or be attached to anything, whether good or bad. Emptying your mind is a way of detaching oneself from the world and its desires. However, he said it was very hard to do because when he tried to not think about anything, all sorts of other thoughts immediately flooded in... or he fell asleep because he had been trying to meditate too long.

Conservative in Theology, Liberal in Spirit: Modernism and the American Presbyterian Mission in Thailand, 1891-1941 (PhD thesis – PDF free download)

As an outgrowth of teaching church history in Bangkok, in 2020 I completed a Ph.D. in World Christianity at Centre for the Study of World Christianity at The University of Edinburgh. 

The thesis title is "Conservative in Theology, Liberal in Spirit: Modernism and the American Presbyterian Mission in Thailand, 1891-1941" and a full-text PDF is now available for free download at

https://era.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/37847

It is my hope that this piece of research will be both interesting and informative for both Thai Christians, missionaries to Thailand, and others who want to see the Gospel advance in Thailand and around the world.  Hopefully, this thesis will at some point appear (in modified form) as a published book.

Podcast Interview - Called to Missions Without a Clear Call

This past month I was interviewed by Mike Falkensine for the One Eight Catalyst podcast.  We discussed my testimony and my journey into missionary service, including the fact that I stepped into the whole world of long-term missions without a crystal clear call.  A lot of people seem to think that God's call to missions is somehow distinctly different than the way people end up in other lines of work.  Do I need to hear an audible voice?  have a vision of a particular country? experience a strong tug on my heart towards a particular people group?  I am convinced that the way that God normally leads people into missionary service is not nearly that mystical. You can listen to the podcast here or by clicking on the image below.

 

Book Review: “Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents” by Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, (Sentinel: New York, 2020), 256 pages.

reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

Rod Dreher’s latest book has a compelling origin: people who lived under communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe told Dreher that some trends in the West remind them of the practices of the totalitarian regimes under which they suffered. Dreher sees a type of “soft” totalitarianism emerging in the West and believes that Western Christians would do well to learn from those lived through the evils of Soviet-style communism.

Western countries claim to value freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, but they are becoming increasingly unliberal as people who disagree with progressive ideologies of race, sexuality, etc. are finding themselves losing jobs, de-platformed, censored, and having to hide their religious and political views lest they be branded as bigots, racists, homophobes and so forth. Conservative objections that such actions represent a danger to democracy fall on deaf ears. However, those who actually lived under totalitarian regimes think differently and it is to them that Dreher turns the microphone in order to learn how Christians can prepare themselves to live in an increasingly hostile environment.

Dreher’s book is divided into two parts. In part one, Dreher emphasizes the importance of recognizing and preparing for increasing totalitarianism in the West. The first chapter illustrates this point through the story of a Jesuit priest name Kolakovic who studied in the Soviet Union and subsequentially dedicated himself to warning and preparing the Catholic community of post-World War II Czechoslovakia for the coming Soviet puppet regime that would take over the country. Kolakovic founded a lay movement among Catholics, establishing cells of believers for prayer, bible study, and fellowship.  His motto was “See, Judge, Act”, meaning one must observe the realities around you, judge those realities in light of what you know to be true, and then act in order to resist evil. Kolakovic’s warnings turned out to be prophetic when a harsh communist regime came to power, and many believers were enabled to endure persecution because of how Kolakovic had prepared them. With this story about the importance of preparation in mind, Dreher spends the remainder of part one in a brisk analysis of Western culture, especially American culture, with chapter titles like “Our Pre-Totalitarian Culture”, “Progressivism as Religion”, and “Capitalism, Woke and Watchful.” His analysis is insightful but not overly academic as he combines warnings about what’s happening in America with stories of what actually happened under Soviet regimes. Dreher wants to make sure his readers recognize that hard times are coming. The “soft totalitarianism” that is coming to the U.S. won’t look the same as the “hard totalitarianism” of Soviet Russia, but there will be a severe testing of our faith all the same. We must be ready. Dreher thinks that the emerging soft totalitarianism in the West will bear more resemblance to Huxley’s Brave New World, where people’s desire for truth was smothered by worldly pleasures, than Orwell’s 1984, where a Big Brother police state kept people from truth by the threat of force.

A New Challenge to the Christian Faith in Thailand?

In the early 20th century, not a few missionaries believed that Buddhism in Thailand was a religion in decline that would soon crumble under the superiority of Christianity and American culture.[1]  However, as the century wore on, it became evident that those predictions were entirely premature. Buddhism has shown incredible resilience in the face of the challenges of the modern world. Contrary to secularization theory which posits that as a society becomes more educated and developed, it also becomes more secular (as evidenced in Europe), religious beliefs and modern, scientific learning have long dwelt side by side in Thai society, with little evidence of the so-called “science vs. religion” divide that has wedged itself into the thinking of many Westerners. As recently as 1990, Thai researcher Suntaree Komin found no significant difference in religious attitudes among Thai people of varying educational levels.  Her research showed that “the highly educated sought out fortune-telling as often as the uneducated” and “even Western-educated Thai Ph.D. scientists refused to fathom the scientific and religious conflict, and would behaviorally never forget to wear their charms and amulets when traveling.”[2]

The Apostle Paul in Lockdown

Do you think the Apostle Paul ever felt “stuck”? Did he ever feel frustrated at not being able to obey God’s call on his life because of external circumstances? If I found myself in his shoes, I might have. 

This past year, a lot of people (including myself) have felt stuck and hindered by external circumstances, largely as a result of government restrictions in response to COVID-19.  Plans have been frustrated and new plans were also frustrated, and then the most gingerly held and tentative plans were also frustrated.  “Surely, by such-and-such a time, things should be getting back to normal” was in the thoughts and on the lips of many of us, but that confidence that it would only be a bit longer was continually upended.  

But what does the train wreck of 2020 (and 2021?) have to do with the Apostle Paul?

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