Resources for Apologetics in the Thai Context
A number of people have asked me for apologetics resources in Thai, so I thought I would assemble a list of what is available. You’ll find that list down below but before you go get the goods, there are few things that need to be understood about apologetics in the Thai context.
Apologetic Issues in Thailand are Different than in the West
Apologetics resources in the English language are intended to meet the challenges to the Christian faith in the English speaking world. For various cultural, historical, and religious reasons, not all of those issues are applicable to a Thai-speaking audience and thus do not need much attention (if any) when teaching on apologetics in Thailand. Issues that the vast majority of Thai Christians are not dealing with include higher criticism, secular humanism, the historicity of Adam, the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, atheism, and postmodernism. Those are Western issues that grew out of historical and cultural forces in the West stemming from the Enlightenment, Rationalism, and the Fundamentalist / Modernist controversy. For the most part, Thailand did not experience those movements in Western thought. To the degree to which Thailand has experienced those movements, it has only been peripheral and mostly confined to the more educated upper-classes who have lived abroad or received a Western education.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that the issues I’ve listed above don’t matter or are not important. They are important. They do matter. But the the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible are not being called into question in Thai churches, so why mount an apologetic defense against an enemy that your listeners haven’t met (and probably won’t meet) in their context?
Besides needing to skip Western issues that are irrelevant for Thailand, there is also the need to address issues that are relevant to Thailand... even though they are mostly irrelevant for the Western secular context. Issues that are particularly relevant to the Thai folk Buddhist context include spirits and demons, idols, participation in community and family activities that involve Buddhism and/or animism, Chinese ancestor worship, karma, reincarnation, amulets & charms, and Buddhist philosophy.
In addition to the particularly Thai issues, there are a also myriad of apologetic issues that are relevant in both the West and in Thailand, such as the sufficiency of Scripture, creation/evolution, prosperity gospel/word of faith, and cults like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. While a Westerner newly arrived to Thailand might not be able to properly address issues particular to the Thai context, they can certainly address these more universal issues that are applicable in both places.
Thai People Think Differently
Most Western apologetics are constructed on the basis of analytical reason, logic, and critical thinking. The arguments assume the ability of the listener to analyze and weigh arguments. But the Thai education system simply doesn’t train people to think in such a way, and many Western rational arguments for the faith simply go over the head of the average Thai person, or they are found to be unconvincing (as in the case of Mr. Mon, for example). That’s not to say that Thai people are not smart. Many are. There are some very accomplished Thai people, far more intelligent and skilled than a great number of Westerners, in many areas. However, the majority of Thai are oral-preferred learners who think concretely, not conceptually. They have great difficultly starting with abstract propositions and concepts, and then fleshing out the practical implications. For that reason, the philosophy and logic driven apologetics that are common in the West are not that useful in Thailand.
A better approach to apologetics in the Thai context will use key Bible stories that bring home the point at hand to both the head and heart. For the person trained in Western apologetics, it may seem like dumbing down their material to throw out the philosophy and to put in more stories, but is your goal to merely transfer knowledge or equip the saints to meet the real world challenges to the Christian faith in their context? If it is the later, then you need stories. And you need the ability to discuss these stories with people, to help them to see God’s truth within the story, and how it relates to the apologetic issue at hand.
Of course, that is not to say that logical reasoning or presenting evidence need to be completely thrown out in discussing the faith in the Thai context. Some measure of logic and reasoning can be useful, but it takes time (and a grasp of Thai language and culture), to figure out what types of reasoning work best in the Thai context. And different Thai people have different questions and capacities for processing material and decision making, so there are no one-size-fits-all apologetics approaches for Thai people. As a general rule though, you are probably going to make more headway with presuppositional apologetics than with evidential apologetics. (What's the difference?) And truth be told, Bible stories will probably get you further in communicating Christian truth than either presuppositional or evidential apologetics because many Thai people don't like debating or other forms of intellectual discussion. In Thailand, conflict is distasteful, and keeping the peace is more highly valued than discovering the truth.
Thai Buddhism is Not Monolithic
It can be tempting to lump all Thai people together, saying, “Thai Buddhists think like this, and do this.” But it is not true. What we can do is speak in general terms and try to understand the different types of Thai Buddhists:
1) Folk Buddhists
These are people who are most interested in the power aspects of animistic (or folk) Buddhists. Amulets, idols, shrines, and monks renowned for their occult powers are seen are potential sources of blessings and power to help with daily life. The philosophical and ethic aspects of Buddhism are not very important (or even understood) by most folk Buddhists. However, if they become aware of a source of power that can help them (whether it be called Buddha, Jesus, or whatever) then their interest is piqued.
2) Practicing Buddhists
These are folks who are concerned about doing good, making merit, being ethical, meditating. They want to improve their life and focus on the ethical teachings and moral philosophy of Buddhism as a way to accomplish that. Some of them really know their Buddhism and have ready answers to retort a simple Gospel presentation, by contradicting it with Buddhist wisdom and philosophy.
3) State Buddhists
These are Buddhists who go through the motions of Buddhism in order to conform with the expectations of community and government leaders, teachers, and employers for the sake of maintaning social harmony. Their practice of Buddhism is not deeply felt on a personal level perhaps, but Buddhism is still highly valued by them as an aspect of being Thai, and loving country and family.
In addition to understanding the different types of Buddhists in Thailand, it needs to be said that on a weekend you’ll find more Thai people worshipping at the shopping mall than the Buddhist temple. Many Thai Buddhist leaders (like their Christian counterparts in the West) lament the creeping effects of materialism that pull people away from religion and into the search of self-fulfillment through entertainment and comfortable living.
List of Apologetic Resources in Thai
Did you skip straight to this section without reading my intro? No? That’s good, because if you did, you’d have a hard time sorting out what is important and useful from what is not important in the list of resources I’m going to give you. Not everything on this list is equally helpful and I haven’t had a chance to read through all the materials here. However, these are the apologetics resources that are available in Thai at the present time. I will add more to the list as they are published and become available.
"Christianity and the Cults" (รู้เท่าทัน)
This book provides an introduction to various groups, to their histories, distinctives, and teachings. For each group, there is a point-by-point explanation of what they teach and how it compares to the teaching of the Bible. Read an English overview of the book here and order the book from Kanok Bannasan here.
“Answering the Unanswerable Questions: A Christian Dialogue with Buddhism” (ตอบคำถามคาใจ บทสนทนาของคริสเตียนในเรื่องพุทธศาสนา) by Kelly Hilderbrand
Written by a missionary to Thailand, this book covers topics relevant to Buddhist-Christian interaction including, life, death, cosmology, the difference and similarity between religions, etc. You can read the table of contents of the English version by using the "Look Inside" option on Amazon. The Thai version is currently available as an eBook and the author has told me that the Thai print edition should be coming out shortly. Thai title: ตอบคำถามคาใจ บทสนทนาของคริสเตียนในเรื่องพุทธศาสนา
Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible เหตุผลว่าทำไม คุณจึงสามารถเชื่อถือพระคัมภีร์ได้
This is an article answering why the Bible is reliable, giving historical background information and evidence. It is posted on www.everythaistudent.com, which seems to have a number of other articles answering commonly asked questions. I haven't had a chance to go through the site yet to tell you all of what they cover.
Searching Issues (เปิดประเด็นดัง) by Nicky Gumbel
Nicky Gumbel discusses 7 common objections to the Christian faith. Searching Issues is for those seeking insights into some of the most difficult and complex questions surrounding Christianity. This book is also for those interested in bringing their friends to Christ, for personal or small group use. Thai edition available from Kanok Bannasan. English edition available on Amazon.
A Case for Intelligent Design ใบปลิวแมว
This is a (very) small tract that is written in an engaging manner, including cartoons. From the publisher: "With the help of a cat and a keyboard, the writer comically makes a strong case for Intelligent design of the Universe. It is a pre-evangelistic tool to get Buddhists of all backgrounds thinking. This tract can be offered as “Something worth thinking about”. Available from Kanok Bannasan.
Is it True? จริงหรือ (Easter)
A short booklet of apologetics for the Resurrection. The author (a Thai pastor) cites 10 supporting events and refutes 5 arguments against it. Available from Kanok Bannasan.
By This Name (ความจริงที่โลกต้องรู้) by John Cross
From the publisher: "By This Name was written to give to or teach people who come from a polytheistic or pantheistic background. It is also geared for those who don't believe in absolute truth, or say things like "That's true for you but not for me." Thai edition available from Good Seed. English edition available on Amazon.
"From Buddha to Jesus: An Insider’s View of Buddhism & Christianity" (จากตถาคต ถึง พระเยซู) by Steve Cioccolanti
If you are sharing the Gospel and doing apologetics in the Thai context, you should at least be aware of this book. It has been rather controversial and has been criticized by a number of Buddhists. However, there are also many insights about popular level Buddhism that people have found helpful. You can read Larry Dinkins' review of the book here. The English edition is available on Amazon. The Thai edition is called "จากตถาคต ถึง พระเยซู". I'm not sure where to buy it, although I imagine if you asked around at some Christian bookshops in Thailand, somebody would have it.
If you are aware of more apologetics resources in Thai that I have missed, please let me know, either by email or in the comments section below. As more items become available, I will add them to the list above.