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How Theological Education in Thailand is Different from the West

If you spend enough time in Thailand, one of the phrases that you’ll hear often is “Same, Same but Different,” meaning that two things are almost exactly the same… but not really.  The difference may (or may not) be substantial, but that depends on your point of view.  A vendor is trying to sell you a wrist watch and you ask if it is a genuine Rolex.  Well, it is same same from the vendor’s perspective. But the buyer’s might view it differently.

When it comes to theological education in Thailand, there is a lot that is same same as theological education in the Western world…but there are significant differences too.  My point is not to say one in genuine and the other is fake, but rather that on the surface the two have many similarities.  But when you dig a bit deeper there are important difference as well.  These differences have an impact on how teachers teach and how student learn.  Therefore, whether you are teaching Bible school students in Bangkok or running a modular leadership training program in Chiang Rai, it is important to have a heads-up on factors to consider if your previous experience of theological education has been primarily in the West.   In this post, I want to briefly consider, in broad brushstrokes, what is the same between Western and Thai theological education, and three things that are different.

seminary class in chapel

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When it is NOT Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

For anyone who has grown up in a culturally-Christian country, it can be a bizarre experience to be in a majority non-Christian country on December 25th.  It is Christmas, but it isn’t.  During one of my first years in Thailand, a Buddhist majority nation, I remember sitting through a school pep rally on Christmas Day at the government college where I was teaching English. It wasn’t about Christmas.  It was just rah-rah-go-team-our-school-is-great.  It was just a normal day for everyone.  Students went to classes.  Teachers taught.  Everybody went to work.  No mention of Christ, or even Santa Claus, although at the end of the pep rally parade there was an odd non-sequitur effigy of Uncle Sam hanging from gallows with IMF written on his chest.  I didn’t quite understand what that had to do with the rest of the parade.  

Meanwhile, in the United States, it would have been looking a lot like Christmas, or least the Western celebration of it.  Carols. Tinsel.  Presents.  Big sales in the stores.  Everyone asking what everyone else was doing for the holiday.  Schools and businesses closed, and people traveling to see family.  Snow, or at least images of snow.  Regardless of whether people are committed Christians or just enjoying a secular holiday of family, food, and gifts, those are the kinds of things that many Westerners think of when they are getting in the “Christmas spirit” or say that it is beginning to look like Christmas.

Tags: Christmas
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How to Publish a Christian Book in Thailand

People often ask me how to get a Christian book translated into Thai and published in Thailand. Most of those people are missionaries, but occasionally a Thai Christian wants to know how to get an English-language book or a Thai-language book that they wrote into print.  I don’t claim to know everything about publishing in Thailand but I have worked part-time as an editorial and theological advisor at a Thai Christian publisher for a number of years, which is probably sufficient for providing some advice for getting starting in publishing a Christian book in Thailand.  With that in mind, what follows is some general guidelines for publication but I make no claims of being comprehensive and the policies/procedures of various publishers and printers may change without notice.

Thailand needs lots of good, biblical literature to support the work of evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and leadership development and I am glad whenever I hear of someone’s desire to publish a good Christian book of that variety.  I assume that anyone who wants to publish a Christian book wants it to make as big an impact as possible, so there are two major issues to consider here:

1) the actual translation and publishing of the book

2) distribution of the book AFTER it is published

I’ll get to distribution later in the post (as well as some FAQs), but please don’t skip that part because distribution is just as important as publication.  In terms of publication, there are 2 primary routes for publishing a Christian book in Thailand:

Tags: Books
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Some Reflections on Visiting Wittenberg on the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

At the end of October 2017, I had the pleasure of visiting Wittenberg, Germany to attend a Reformation 500 conference put on by the World Reformed Fellowship, and to visit some of the famous places associated with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Wittenberg.  In many ways, it was a surreal experience to be in Wittenberg and to walk where Luther walked, to see his house, his table, the Castle church, and to imagine what the village of Wittenberg would have been like 500 years ago.  In this post, I want to share a few of my personal reflections on visiting Wittenberg in order to help all of us to gain some insight into the past and its relevance (or lack thereof) for the present.

1) The Commercialization of Luther

One of the remarkable things about the unremarkable little town of Wittenberg is the marketing of Luther and His image.  This town has one claim to fame, and that’s Luther.  So they are trying to milk Luther for all he is worth.   You can buy anything imaginable with Luther’s image on it.  Luther coffee mugs. Luther plates. Luther socks. Luther pasta. Luther cookie cutters. Luther t-shirts. Luther posters. Luther books. Luther mini-statues. Luther beer. Luther wine. Luther re-imagined as Che Guevara “Viva La Reformation!”   It just seems like too much.  Admittedly, I did buy a couple Luther posters, a mug, and postcards.  And the Luther socks.  They were hilarious.  The calf is emblazoned with “Here I Stand. I Can Do No Other” and it struck my funny bone.  That said, I came away wondering if Luther is more than a marketing opportunity for the residents of Wittenberg.  Do the people selling Luther memorabilia embrace what the Reformer stood for, or is this just a way to make money?

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Academic Shame and the Honor that Really Matters

At some time, most of us have found ourselves in a new situation where we wanted to feel competent and get things right but were afraid of getting it wrong and feeling embarrassed in front of others.   Maybe it was starting a new job or going to a new school.  Maybe it was a parent or romantic interest whom we wanted to impress.  I’ve certainly felt that way many times in life. Most recently, I have moved to a new country and started a doctoral program.  In my new station in life, I’d rather appear as neither an ugly American nor an ignorant fish-out-of-water at the university.  But the reality is that I probably come across as one or the other or both from time to time.

Given my recent move, I was particularly struck by the following story from Mark Baker in “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials.”  I’ve been slowly working my way through this book over several months, and providentially I came across this testimony of Baker’s experience of being a first year Ph.D student at the same time I had just started my own Ph.D studies.  As Baker points out near the end of his story, a lot of people can’t identify with studying for a Ph.D but but all of us have experienced shame at some point and tried to hide the feeling that we just don’t measure up to those around us. 

Tags: Education
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Book Review ~ The Fundamentalist Movement among Protestant Missionaries in China, 1920-1937

Kevin Xiyi Yao, The Fundamentalist Movement among Protestant Missionaries in China, 1920-1937. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2003.

reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

 

Cover "The Fundamentalist Movement Among Protestant Missionaries in China, 1920-1937"Fundamentalism among missionaries in China has been lightly touched upon by scholars of Chinese history, Chinese Christianity, and fundamentalism more broadly but there has been little focused attention dedicated to fundamentalist missionaries in China.  In this published version of his doctoral research, Kevin Xiyi Yao has aimed to fill in this gap with an historical study of the events, people, and institutions associated with fundamentalist Protestant missionaries in China during the years 1920-1937.  As Yao points out in his introductory chapter, such a study is needed because previous scholarship on missionaries in China has almost exclusively focused on the social, cultural, and political impact of missionary activity while neglecting questions of the theological dynamics of missionary motivations and activities.  However, the story of change in China during the first half of the twentieth century is multi-faceted and the role of missionaries in those changes cannot be explained with socio-cultural approaches alone.

The primary goal of Yao’s book is largely historical and explanatory, intended to be a preliminary work upon which other scholars may build in order to investigate fundamentalism in China more precisely.  A secondary goal of the book is to show that fundamentalism in China during the period in question was neither a mere importation of foreign doctrinal disputes onto Chinese soil, nor simply a continuation of the conservative Protestant missionary consensus of the nineteenth century, namely a belief in an inerrant Bible and the necessity of believing in Christ for salvation.