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
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.
How to Train Your Dragon
From time to time, I read one of the books that my 9 year old son is reading in order to get a better idea of what he is reading, and to be able to talk with him about it. This book was around 200 pages but it was a quick read, with larger font, and a comical plot line about a nerdy Viking boy named Hiccup who must pass his tribe’s initiation rite by successfully training a baby dragon. Despite the odds being against him, and being ridiculed by the older boys, Hiccup succeeds in proving himself by using his brains instead of his brawn to defeat a large sea dragon that it is threatening the island. This is not a deep book, but it has a likable underdog character as the protagonist and plenty of silly names, mild action and adventure, and gross-outs that boys like. There are 9 books in the box set that we borrowed from the library and my son is trying to convince me to read the other 8 that he has already consumed.
The Mighty Weakness of John Knox
After a summary of the life of the John Knox, author Douglas Bond provides several chapters highlighting the humility of the great Scottish reformer in various areas of his life. Each chapter gives greater insight into the life of Knox, often correcting the popular idea that Knox was a mean-spirited curmudgeon who hated women. This book was a good overview of the life of Knox, and I was impressed by his devotion to Christ and the cause of reforming the church. However, when I finished the book, I was left wanting to read a fuller, more comprehensive biography of Knox.
History of Protestant Work in Thailand, 1828-1958
The first part of this book summarizes the first hundred years of Protestant missions (and church work) in Thailand which had been previously recorded in G.B. McFarland’s “Historical Sketch of Protestant Missions in Siam 1828-1928”. The later part of the book covers the time period from 1928 to 1958, the year in which the American Presbyterian Mission to Thailand was dissolved. I have read previously about the pre-1900 history so I was most interested in the narrative of what happened in the first half of the 20th century. However, I was largely disappointed in what I found. Author Kenneth Wells, himself a missionary with the American Presbyterian Mission, arriving in Thailand in 1927, wrote this book to bring the history of Protestant work in Thailand up to the time of his writing, 1958. In terms of historical data about what happened between 1900 and 1958, this book was heavy on names and dates, largely emphasizing which missionaries worked where, which was mostly schools and hospitals. All the names and dates got very tedious and I was reminded of why some people hate history. The overall narrative that Wells tells about the early 20th century is a story of progressive ecumenical success, heavily emphasizing the role of missionaries in helping establish a national church in Thailand. Events that were left out include the John Sung revivals in the 1930s, the resentment of Thai nationals at missionary presumption in resuming leadership after WWII, and CCT pastors and churches that left the denomination because of theological liberalism. Ninety-nine percent of the book is about the American Presbyterians but the final chapter briefly covers other missions that came in after World War II. Almost zero critique or analysis. Perhaps the author was too close to the subject he was writing about. This book could have been much better.