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?
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.
Kevin Xiyi Yao, The Fundamentalist Movement among Protestant Missionaries in China, 1920-1937. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2003.
reviewed by Karl Dahlfred
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.
During the course of our home assignment in the States, I gave the same Thailand presentation at so many churches that our oldest son Joshua (11 years old) started to raise his hand and tell everybody parts of my talk that I hadn’t gotten to yet, or volunteer other details that he thought people should know. He did this so many times, I suggested that he do his own presentation some time. He must have thought I was only joking because his jaw nearly hit the floor when I told him I had arranged for him to share with the all the kids at a partner church we were planning to visit in Northern California. After getting over his initial shock, we helped him prepare his presentation. Some slides were borrowed from my presentation, but other slides were completely his own idea. When the big day came, his presentation went so well that when asked how it went, Joshua replied, “I think I could do that again sometime.” Therefore, I arranged for him to do it again at another church.
In the video below you’ll see Joshua's full presentation to the kids at Grace Presbyterian Church in Yorba Linda, California, followed by still images of the powerpoint slides he used. I included those at the end because they are kind of hard to see in the video.
We keep telling the kids that God has called our whole family to the mission field, and that they are an important part of what we are doing. Therefore, we were really pleased to see Joshua's interest in getting involved as our family has been on the deputation trail visiting churches. I believe this has also been a good opportunity for one of our kids to give voice to his experiences in Thailand because it is not only Sun and I who are experiencing life overseas, but our kids too.
guest post by Larry Dinkins
Growing up, I enjoyed a TV program called, “Kid’s Say the Darndest Things” hosted by Art Linkletter. A few of my favorites are:
What do we learn from the story of Jesus turning water into wine?
The more wine we get, the better the wedding is.
When God punished Eve, what did he make her become?
What ever happened to Adam and Eve?
God sent them to Hell and then transferred them to Los Angeles
Recently I read an article called “25 Really Strange Things Members Said to Their Pastors” on churchleaders.com. It made me think of strange things that I’ve been asked during my 37 years as a missionary to Thai people. During my mission career, church members have come up to me saying they have been following my ministry for years and would like to ask me some questions. I am pleased, of course, but many questions are so clueless that I am thinking of making a large laminated FAQ sheet with answers printed on it so I can simply point to the answers (a few of the following questions are fictitious, but most are questions I’ve been asked in all sincerity):