Recommended Resources

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Book Review - The Unfinished Mission in Thailand by Samuel Kim

Kim, Samuel I., The Unfinished Mission in Thailand: The Uncertain Christian Impact on the Buddhist Heartland, Seoul: East-West Center for Missions Research and Development, 1980

the unfinished mission in thailand sameul kimThere are not too many books on the history of the church in Thailand and my most common go-to books are S.G. McFarland’s Historical Sketch of Protestant Missions 1828-1928 and Alex Smith’s Siamese Gold, which brings the story of the Thai church up to 1982.  Both books, however, do a better job with chronicling earlier Thai church history (pre-WWII) than post-war.  Truth be told, Smith’s book does cover the post-war period, though he provides more information on evangelical missions working apart from the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) than he does the CCT itself. Kenneth Wells’ History of Protestant Work in Thailand, 1828-1958 is somewhat useful if you want an official sanitized version of the American Presbyterian Mission and CCT in the post-war period but if you compare Wells’ book with Samuel Kim’s The Unfinished Mission in Thailand: The Uncertain Christian Impact on the Buddhist Heartland, it becomes immediately obvious that there is a lot of dirty laundry that Wells left out.

Samuel Kim begins his book with a couple of general chapters discussing Thailand, Buddhism, and the history of Christian missions in Thailand up through WWII, most of which you can easily find in the other books I’ve just mentioned.  However, beginning with chapter 3, he begins discussing tensions between the American Presbyterian missionaries and Thai Christians leaders after World War II up through the late 1970s.  It is this second part of the book that is the most valuable and forms Kim’s unique contribution to understanding the history of Christianity in Thailand.

Book Review "Songs of the Lisu Hills: Practicing Christianity in Southwest China" by Aminta Arrington

Aminta Arrington, Songs of the Lisu Hills: Practicing Christianity in Southwest China  (University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvannia State University Press, 2020).

reviewed by Karl Dahlfred


Readers familiar with mission history in East Asia may have heard of J.O. Fraser, the early twentieth century C.I.M. missionary who did pioneer evangelism among the Lisu people of southwest China. His story has been the subject of multiple biographies but many may not know what has become of Lisu Christianity since Fraser. In Songs of the Lisu Hills, Aminta Arrington skillfully fills this gap, recounting the history and development of Lisu Christianity from its early days to the present in a way that puts the Lisu Christians, and not Fraser and other missionaries, at the centre of the story. This book is not a mere history of Lisu Christianity, however, but also the reflective analysis of a participant-observer who weaves together first-hand accounts of modern Lisu Christians and their practices with academic analysis, setting the Lisu Christians in cultural, religious, linguistic, and political context.


Book Review "The Altar Call - Its Origins and Present Usage" by David Bennett

David Bennett, The Altar Call - Its Origins and Present Usage. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2000, 280 pp.

reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

Has the altar call always been a part of Christian evangelism?  If not, where did it come from?  How did it become so popular?  And is it really as effective as is sometimes claimed?  These are the questions that David Bennett sets out to answer in The Altar Call - Its Origins and Present Usage.  Based on his M.Th thesis for the Australian College of Theology, Bennett has put together a thorough, scholarly, and extremely readable book that is vastly informative for anyone who has ever wondered about the legitimacy of the altar call.

Although Bennett has a definite theological bias (which I happen to share), the book reads in a very even-handed manner.  In the first half of the book, Bennett takes up the question of historical origins from the eighteenth century through the end of the nineteenth century.  He has read broadly in the primary sources and is careful to qualify his conclusions where the historical data is ambiguous.  In the second half of the book, the author looks at modern usage and then makes an analysis and assessment of the altar call, drawing upon theology, statistics, and contemporary rationale for use of the altar call.  For those who favor the altar call and would hesitate to read Bennett’s work, respected church historian Mark Noll assures readers in the foreword that “the book should be as stimulating for those who fully embrace use of the altar call as for those (like Bennett) who see real problems in its use.” (vi)

Book Review "When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself" by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself, New Edition ed. (Chicago, IL.: Moody Publishers, 2009)

- reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

Can you help the poor by just giving more money?  Lots of people and churches have tried that route and been burned in the process.  In “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself” authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert have provided a helpful guide for churches and individual Christians to think about the best ways to love the poor in ways that help both parties.

Book Review “The Barber Who Wanted to Pray” by R.C. Sproul

R.C. Sproul, The Barber Who Wanted to Pray, (Wheaton, Ill., Crossway, 2011)

-reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

How do you put church history, theology, and practical instruction on prayer all together into a children’s book?  You write about Martin Luther getting a haircut, of course!

In “The Barber Who Wanted to Pray”, R.C. Sproul has come up with a clever way to bring down to a children’s level Martin Luther’s occasional tract, “A Simple Way to Pray”. As one would expect from Sproul, the text is weighty and informative, yet written in a clear and simple style.  And to further hold the attention of children (and adults), each page of Sproul’s text is complemented by a beautiful full-page illustration from T. Lively Fluharty.

Book Review “The Creedal Imperative” by Carl Trueman

reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

The Creedal Imperative, by Carl Trueman. (Crossway, 2012, 208pp.)

Within the world of evangelical Protestantism, creeds have fallen on hard times.  They are old, irrelevant, and go into way too much detail about non-essential doctrinal points that just cause conflict.  “Doctrine divides, mission unites,” as they say.  

Therefore, it is a massively difficult task that Carl Trueman has taken on in “The Creedal Imperative”, making the case that not only are creeds helpful, but also essential to the life of the church.  For many people, the whole idea of creeds conjures up words like “dry,” “dusty,” and “academic” but Trueman does a brilliant job of making his case for creeds readable and understandable for those who are not familiar with them, and are not sure whether they should be.

From the very first page, Trueman addresses himself to the popular objections to creeds. His leading example is a pastor who claimed that his church had no creed but the Bible, yet at the same time taught the five points of Calvinism, dispensationalism, and form of church government drawn from the Plymouth Brethren.  Trueman points out that while this pastor’s church claimed “its only creed was the Bible, it actually connected in terms of the details of its life and teaching to almost no other congregation in the history of the church. Clearly, the church did have a creed, a summary view of what the Bible taught on grace, eschatology, and ecclesiology; it was just that nobody ever wrote it down and set it out in public.” (Kindle Locations 119-122)  

Book Review “What is the Mission of the Church?” by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert

Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2011).

Reviewed by James Steer

What is the mission of the Church? That’s the question DeYoung and Gilbert seek to answer in this book. Their motivation for writing is to clarify some of the current confusion within evangelicalism, particularly with regard to what individual Christians and what the Church should be doing. They also seek to elucidate what is God’s work, and what is our work. In the opening chapter they ask “what do we even mean by mission?” before asking several other pertinent questions: “is the mission of the church discipleship or good deeds or both? ... Is the mission of the church distinct from the responsibilities of other Christians? ... What should be the church’s role in pursuing social justice?” (p. 16, italics original).

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.

Book Review: "A History of Thailand" by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit

Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit, A History of Thailand, third ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), Kindle Edition.

Years ago, I read David Wyatt's "Thailand: A Short History" but it was a bit too dry and not too short. I nearly gave up as he went on and on reconstructing the pre-history of Thailand. But Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit's “A History of Thailand” has been a completely different experience. The authors have written a briskly moving narrative that gives you the big picture, highlighting the important people and events in the development of the country without getting bogged down in the details. The first chapter (Before Bangkok) takes you through early history to the founding of Bangkok in 1782. In not too many pages, the authors give a helpful picture of the 15-18th century, the empires of Southeast Asia, the old Thai feudal system, and the steps leading up the founding of the Chakri dynasty. And it is the Chakri dynasty and the last 200 years of Thai history that form the bulk of this book.

As the book unfolds however, tracing the political, cultural, and economic development of the country from Rama 1 (1782) to the pre-coup political climate of March 2014, it becomes obviously that writing a history of “Thailand” is problematic. As it were, there was no “Thailand” per se, until the colonial powers forced the kingdom of Siam to define it borders in response to French and British colonial acquisitions in Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia. In the late 19th century, the kingdom of Siam spread across what is now Central Thailand into Western Cambodia, while the Lao kingdoms and Shan States functioned rather independent of Siam to the north, albeit many of them in a tributary relationship to Siam. The region that constitutes modern day Southern Thailand was also only loosely connected to Bangkok. But as the colonial powers claimed some of these territories and agreed that others belonged to Siam, the government of Siam felt that it was necessary create a sense of unity and nationhood among these different territories and peoples in order to consolidate power and ward off interference from foreign aggression. These reasons, along with the belief that the majority of “Thai” people are passive peasants, led to justifications for a strong state with Bangkok as the center. The strong state was first embodied in the absolute monarchy, but after the revolution of 1932, the strong state re-emerged on-and-off in the form of military dictatorships up through the 1970s and beyond.

Book Review: "Church Planting Movements" by David Garrison

reviewed by Jackson Wu

David Garrison, Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World. Midlothian, VA: Wigtake, 2004.

David Garrison’s Church Planting Movements examines many of the common features and practices that have led hundreds of thousands of people across the world to profess a faith in Jesus. In the book, he characterizes a CPM (“Church Planting Movements”), as “. . . a rapid multiplication of indigenous church planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment” (21). More than a mere study, the book’s triumphal tone conveys the intention to promote the idea that right vision and methodology make this God-sized work not only possible but perhaps even probable since, it is implied, CPMs are “God’s ideal” (297).

Positively, Garrison recounts a number of characteristics that have shaped CPMs across diverse cultures outside the Western world. Although resembling one another, he helpfully distinguishes CPM thinking from the Church Growth Movement (24–25). Accordingly, readers can better sort out what is empirically and theoretically descriptive of CPMs versus other kinds of methodologies. One strength of the book is that it offers a range of anecdotes from around the globe that represent the type of strategies and responses people have had where mass movements have taken place. Therefore, missiologists can assess the patterns that emerge since CPMs essentially act as large sample cases.

Book Review: "From Buddha to Jesus" by Steve Cioccolanti

From Buddha to Jesus: An Insider’s View of Buddhism & Christianity, by Steve Cioccolanti (Sweet Life International, 2007, 240pp.)

—reviewed by Larry Dinkins

You wouldn’t expect a pastor of an International Church in Melbourne, Australia with a name like “Cioccolanti” (Italian for “chocolate”) to claim an inside track to the mind and worldview of Buddhists. However, his claim to an insider’s view of Buddhism is substantiated by his Thai upbringing and exposure to a very religiously diverse extended family. Besides his Thai Buddhist roots, Steve has added to that a broad education in America and Europe which allows him to address Buddhist issues from both an oriental and occidental viewpoint.

Book Review: "Keep in Step with the Spirit" by J.I. Packer

J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God, Second Revised Enlarged Edition. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2005, 256 pp.

reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

There are a number of books that provide a theology of the work of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, there are also a number of books that critique the charismatic movement, pointing out its excesses and disputing its biblical foundation.  However, it is rare to find a book that both affirms that God is at work in the charismatic movement and also rejects the major claims of that very same movement.  But in “Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in our Walk with God”, J.I. Packer has done just that.  In just 200 pages or so, Packer lays out a positive theology of the work of the Holy Spirit and issues challenges to both cessationists and charismatics.  So what will you find inside?  Let me give you an overview.

Book Review: "Love Wins" by Rob Bell

Rob Bell, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” (New York, Harper One, 2011)

reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

When the controversy over Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” exploded on the blogosphere prior to its release, I quickly realized two things, 1) This is going to be big, and 2) I need to read this for myself.  A lot of what I heard about “Love Wins” made me concerned.  But I wanted to make my own evaluation rather than rely solely on the judgment of others. 

So I read the book. 

My goal was to listen to what Bell is actually saying and make a balanced assessment of both the good and the bad.  There are lots of other reviews out there, some of which give much more analysis than I do here.  But for the sake of those who have not read the book, the goal of this brief review is twofold - to give a summary the most significant points, and provide a brief evaluation of those points.

Book Review: "Truth that Sticks" by Avery Willis

“Truth that Sticks: How to Communicate Velcro Truth in a Teflon World” by Avery Willis and Mark Snowden (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2010)

reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

As I have been learning and reading about oral Bible storying, one of the questions that has come up in my mind is, “To what extent can storying be used?  Don’t we need to use other methods too in order to bring people all the way in discipleship and leadership?”  In “Truth that Sticks”, Avery Willis and Mark Snowden have not only laid out a vision for biblical storying but have also explained how it connects with discipleship, leadership, and church growth.

Book Review: "Worship and Mission After Christendom" by Alan and Eleanor Kreider

Alan and Eleanor Kreider, Worship and Mission After Christendom.  Scottsdale, Ariz.: Herald Press, 2011, 322 pp.

reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

Are worship and mission doomed to be in never-ending competition for the time and resources of the church?  Must we choose between looking inward and looking outward?  In “Worship and Mission After Christendom”, Alan and Eleanor Kreider give a resounding “NO”, pointing readers to a third way of looking at the relationship between worship and mission in light of the demise of Christendom in the West.

Raised on the mission field in Asia, Alan and Eleanor Kreider served as Mennonite missionary teachers in England for thirty years before returning to the United States, where they continue their work teaching, speaking and writing about issues of worship, church history, and peace making.  In “Worship and Mission After Christendom”, the Kreiders bring together the results of their studies in these areas, together with personal experience to present an alternative vision of the relationship between worship and mission.  

Book Review: “Filling up the Afflictions of Christ" by John Piper

John Piper, Filling up the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, John Paton, and Adoniram Judson (The Swans Are Not Silent).  Wheaton, Ill., Crossway Books, 2009, pp.128.

It usually takes me forever to finish a book.  Not because I don’t like reading.  But because I am a slow reader.  So I was shocked when I picked up “Filling up the Afflictions of Christ” and finished it in less than three days.  I couldn’t put it down.  And this after I had been warned by another missionary that it was a scary book.

Book Review: “Orality and Literacy” by Walter Ong

A few years back, Nicholas Carr wrote an article entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, arguing that the nature of reading online alters the way that people think.  Reading on the internet is different than reading a printed page in that the online environment pushes us to scan, skim, and hurry through our reading material.  We are impatient to get to the point quickly so that we can move on to something else.  The result is that people who regularly get their information online not only have less patience but also less ability to understand sustained and detailed argumentation.  Google is, in fact, making us stupid.  Our ability to think and reason is being impaired.  Carr’s research and insights were eye-opening and disturbing for myself and many others because we as human beings often embrace technology without realizing the effect that it is having on us.  Only in retrospect do we see how our tools have changed us.  And those changes are not always good.  Because the advent of the Internet is near enough to us in history for many people to remember what it was like without it, Carr’s article created a sense of sorrow for what we are losing in a digital age.  Namely, the ability to think.  

However, there also is another technological shift that dramatically altered our thinking ability.  But nobody talks about it.  Nobody knows.  Nobody remembers.  Except perhaps Walter Ong.

Book Review: “Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings” by Forrest McPhail

Forrest McPhail, “Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings”, 2014, 148 pages.

I don’t read a whole lot of missions and church planting books, partly because I have read a lot in the past, and partly because many do a poor job of combining a high view of Scripture and church, with a practical understanding of the realities of church planting on the mission field.  Forrest McPhail’s book, “Pioneer Missions: Meet the Challenges, Share the Blessings” is different.  

In this short book (150 pages), McPhail is thinking biblically and theologically, but also very practically.    Some church planting books are theologically sound, but don’t do anything to address non-Western contexts or pioneer mission fields.  Other church planting books focus on majority world contexts, but seem to have forgotten that there is more to theology than telling people to mine the book of Acts for methodical insights.  McPhail is able to straddle the great divide and apply Scriptural truths to a distinctively non-Western church planting context, in his case rural Cambodia.

In this book review, I want to briefly summarize the basic contents of the book, together with some of my own commentary, so that potential readers can decide whether they want to read it.  And I hope that people do read it because this is a great little book about missionary church planting.

Book Review: “Risk is Right” by John Piper

Book Review: John Piper, “Risk is Right”, Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2013, 64 pages

Reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

I love the title of this little book. “Risk is Right.” Why do I love it?  Because so many voices today say that risk is wrong.  It is irresponsible.  It is reckless.  It is bad stewardship.  It is unloving.  And I often hear my own voice saying, ‘It is not worth it.  My time, energy, and money are too valuable to risk it on doing that. I don’t want to make that investment and have it come to nothing.”  That’s the voice that I am battling, and that’s why I decided to read this book.

Being familiar with John Piper from other writings and sermons, I had an idea of where he was probably going from the outset, and I was not disappointed.  In just a few hours (did I mention that this is a short book?), Piper defined risk, blew up the myth of safety, provided biblical examples of risk, and set forth the hope and motivation that should compel us to take risks for God’s glory.

After a foreword by David Platt, Piper starts out by defining risk as “an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury” (Kindle Locations 132-133).  That definition encapsulates well why we wouldn’t want to take risks.  Who wants to experience loss or injury?  I certainly don’t.  But I have no choice.  Piper points out that the only one who never risks anything is God because He is the only one who knows the future.  Everyone else must take risks regularly because we don’t know the future.  We can plan, pray, assess, and weigh options but at the end of the day we have no guarantee about the results of our choices.  For that reason, the idea of safety is a myth, says Piper.  That’s not to say that there aren’t better choices and worse choices, or bigger risks and smaller risks.  But in the final analysis, the idea that we can make a “safe” choice is pure fiction.  There are always risks. The desire to make a “safe” choice can have a devastating effect however.  Piper writes,

The futility of finding a risk-free place to stand has paralyzed many of us. I have tasted this in my own pastoral leadership. There are decisions to be made, but I can’t see which decision is best. There are so many unknowns. The temptation is to run away— if not physically, emotionally. Just think about something else. Put it off. Procrastinate. Hope the problem goes away. But it doesn’t. And our paralysis is serving no one. The paralyzing fear of making a decision serves no one. It is cowardly. Risk is the only way forward. (Kindle Locations 160-163).

Piper goes on to illustrate the “rightness” of taking risks from the Old Testament, and then the New Testament.  A particular example that stands out is the risk of entering the Promised Land in spite of intimidating enemies.  Joshua and Caleb urged the people of God to take the risk of entering the land, trusting God’s promise to give them victory.  But the people thought that this risk was too great, so they failed to trust God and move forward.  Humanly speaking, the people didn’t see how this would turn out well, but Joshua and Caleb saw with the eyes of faith.

Now, of course, it could be pointed out that Joshua and Caleb had God’s promise about how their risk would turn out.  But Piper provides other examples of people of faith who didn’t know what would happen when they chose to obey God.  For example, listen to the words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who refused to bow down to the Nebuchadnezzar’s idol:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16–18)

They were ignorant of how things would turn out but they decided to follow God anyhow, even if their risk resulted in death.

One of the most helpful and challenging parts of this book was Piper’s consideration of why we should take risks even if it is likely that harm or injury will result.  Whether we would willingly put ourselves in a situation where suffering is likely all depends upon what we value.  Do we value God’s glory?  Is our hope set on the joy everlasting that lies beyond death more than the comfort of this world?  This is where the rubber meets the road and the reader must decide whether he will move on without thinking too much about this, or stop and really examine his own heart. What am I willing to risk?  Why do I not risk sometimes?  Am I valuing something more than God that prevents me from taking risks?  Am I forgetting the hope of everlasting joy that I have in Christ and therefore clinging to the lesser joys and comforts of this world?  Am I so attached to these lesser things that I am failing to risk for God?

These are the questions that came up for me as I read, “Risk is Right.”  Maybe the questions you ask yourself will be slightly different, but either way, this is a book that takes much longer to process and apply than it does to read.  I have read it twice so far and found it challenging both times.  I still think that I don’t risk enough.  I value my own comfort, reputation, time, money, energy, and honor more than God and his glory.   But even as I write this review, I pray that that would change.

This world needs more people who are willing to continually fix their hope on God’s glory and the blessed hope of joy in Him, both now and after death so that we can truly live for God and use our lives well…even if that includes risk, loss, and injury.  Read this book, make highlights and notes as your read, and stop and pray along the way.  Let it sink in and when you face decisions, remind yourself that risk for the sake of God’s glory and the joy of His people is right, normal, and to be expected, regardless of what the world may say.  Or, as Piper says in his conclusion

“At the end of every other road— secure and risk-free— we will put our face in our hands and say, “I’ve wasted it!” But at the end of the road of risk, taken in reliance on the blood-bought promises of God, there will be fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore” (Kindle Locations 464-466).

Book Review: “Telling God’s Stories with Power” by Paul Koehler

Paul F. Koehler, “Telling God’s Stories with Power: Biblical Storytelling in Oral Cultures” (William Carey Library, 2010)

reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

In "Telling God’s Stories with Power: Biblical Storytelling in Oral Cultures,” Paul Koehler identifies and presents a solution to a problem that continues to plague many missionaries and national Christians worldwide.  In short, traditional modes of Gospel communication in many so-called developing nations don’t seem to be working.  Bible schools are churning out graduates and these graduates are preaching and teaching the Gospel but people are tuning them out.  Converts are few. Discipleship and church growth are stunted.  What’s gone wrong?

Book Review: “The Deputation Manual for Missionaries” by Austin Gardner and Tony Howeth

W. Austin Garder and Tony Howeth, “The Deputation Manual for Missionaries,” BCWE Publisher, Inc., 2006. Kindle Edition

- reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

“How do you get so many supporting churches?!”  

This was my question to a missionary friend who kept posting Facebook and Twitter updates about all his new supporters and new supporting churches from around the U.S.  Five new churches here, four new supporters there, and more than a thousand people following his Facebook page... and he hasn’t even been to the field yet.  Since my wife and I were at the end of our home assignment and needing to get our financial support back up, I wanted to know how he was doing it.  He sent me the link to this book: “The Deputation Manual for Missionaries” by Austin Gardner and Tony Howeth.

Our own support seemed to be slow in coming in, so I was open to suggestions.  And since it was a Kindle book for only $0.99, I downloaded it right away and dove in.  

Book Review: Living in God's Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture, by David VanDrunen (Crossway Books, 2010, 208pp.)

----- reviewed by Karl Dahlfred

Should Christians be transforming the culture?  Is there a specifically Christian way of being a teacher, politician, or businessman? Is there a difference between what individual Christians are called to do, and what the church is called to do as an institution?  What is the “kingdom of God” and what does it mean to do “kingdom work”?  These are some of the questions that drive David VanDrunen’s recent book on two kingdoms theology.  

The term “two kingdoms” is unfortunately not very well known outside Reformed and Lutheran circles.  This is a real shame because I found the two kingdoms, as VanDrunen lays it out, to be a helpful and Biblical framework for understanding the relationship between Christianity and culture.  And the world of evangelical Christianity certainly needs more thoughtful reflection on how to approach culture as a whole.

In the first chapter, VanDrunen lays out his argument in brief and states who he believes he is writing to, in particular those who talk about “picking up Adam’s cultural mandate” (multiply & rule - Gen 1:28) in order to “redeem the culture” and thereby participate in God’s redeeming the world, thus ushering in the new heavens and the new earth. After laying out the argument of the other side, VanDrunen clearly states (rightly I believe) that Adam’s cultural mandate was fulfilled in Christ (the Second Adam) - a point which he develops in more detail in chapters two and three.  Periodically throughout the book, VanDrunen emphatically states that Christians do NOT contribute anything to God’s redemption of the world, and sees that assertion as inconsistent with the doctrine of justification.  I have never heard anyone who talks about “cultural transformation” also talk about contributing something to their own justification or salvation, but I can see how such thinking, if followed out to its logical conclusion, could bring one to such a mindset.

The discussion of what Adam did and what Christ has done is important to the two kingdoms framework because if Christ did not fulfill the cultural mandate given to Adam, then it would be imperative that Christians engage themselves in all areas of human activity in an effort to control and transform all institutions of society in the lead up to the kingdom of God fully expressed in the new heavens and the new earth.  A two kingdoms understanding of Scripture, however, does not lead to a Christian triumphalism that attempts to control and dominate society at large.

So, how should Christians be engaged in the society in which they live?  VanDrunen’s answer lies in the thesis that Christians live in two kingdoms, a common kingdom and a redemptive kingdom.  Or, in plain English, the world and the church. All people are part of the common kingdom by virtue of the covenant that God made with Noah and all mankind after the flood in Genesis 9.  At that time, God formally established the preservation of human cultural activities and institutions until they are done away with at the time of the new heavens and the new earth.  Government, education, family, and so forth are valuable human activities common to all people, and Christians share these activities in common with non-believers even though their religious and spiritual values are very different, even hostile to one another.

The redemptive kingdom, on the other hand, has entirely to do with Christians gathered together into the community of the church.  Making a covenant with Abraham, God established a special people for Himself, a redemptive kingdom of those whom God has called out to live a religious life of worship that is distinct from that of the world.  While there are certain requirements that God places on mankind in general (justice, kindness, fairness), there is separate set of requirements that God places on His people in particular (worship of God alone, Sabbath observance, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, prayer, obedience to God’s special revelation in Scripture, etc.)

VanDrunen emphasizes time and again that it is important to keep in mind the distinction between these two kingdoms because depending on what kingdom you are operating in, different things may be required of you.  For example, in discussing the Sermon on the Mount (p.112-116), VanDrunen points out that Jesus is giving an ethical code for the church community, not for the world in general.  These are rules of living for the church.  They are not tips for good living that everyone in the world is expected to obey.  And “Why not?”, you may ask.  Because if the government turned the other cheek (Matt 5:39) towards criminals and practiced a policy of forgiving people as Christians are expected to do, then society would descend into chaos.  Civil government, as part of the common kingdom, has been established by God to preserve order in society (Romans 13).  “If the state wishes to operate according to the ways of the redemptive kingdom as revealed by Jesus then it must forsake the sword -- the very thing that Paul says it must not do.” (p.122)

Positively, if you know into what kingdom a certain activity falls, then you know who is responsible for it.  The church is responsible for preaching the Word of God and the state is responsible for criminal prosecutions and setting economic policy, not vice versa.  Negatively, if you don’t know into what kingdom a certain activity falls, then there is confusion and conflict.  If the state starts regulating the methods or content of religious worship, or if the church comes down on a particular side of a political policy issue not clearly stated in God’s Word (and most aren’t), then big problems ensue.  And knowing the difference of who’s responsible for what brings us into the cash value part of the book.

There is a crisis today regarding defining the mission of the church (redemptive kingdom), and the degree to which the church should be involved in education, business, and politics (among other institutions belonging the common kingdom).  After two helpful chapters on Old Testament sojourners (ch.4) and New Testament sojourners (ch.5), living in the two kingdoms, VanDrunen concludes his book with a section on the the nature and mission of the church (ch.6) and another on the Christian’s approach to education, vocation, and politics (ch.7).  

Regarding the church, VanDrunen helpfully points out that the church (redemptive kingdom) is limited in its authority to areas and tasks specifically spelled out in the Bible.  Therefore, the church should focus on the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, prayer, Sabbath observance, and other religious aspects of the life of God’s people.  Conversely, the church has no authority to speak on issues that the word of God does not talk about.  Therefore, if the church tries to speak or act authoritatively in areas that properly belong to the common kingdom (education, politics, vocation, etc.), then the church has acted presumptuously.  I found this point extremely helpful as I hear Christians talking about the need to be involved in “kingdom work”, i.e. social needs ministries, community development, the arts and other areas that don’t directly have to do with worship, the central task of the church (cf. p.134-135).  VanDrunen has helped me to understand that while Christians MAY come together to engage in mercy ministries, there is no Biblical requirement that such ministries are necessary as a formal program of the church.  

Christians individually have freedom of conscience to work out the implications of Biblical commands to do justice and show mercy, but the church as an institution can not bind the conscience of individual believers to work out these principle in a specific way.  There is a limited set of activities that church as a body must do, and to require church members to do more than that is an imposition on their Christian liberty (p.157). His application of this point to the use skits and liturgical dance in worship was also instructive (p.156-7), as he points out that the value of such worship practices are a matter of personal judgment, not Scriptural command. Thus to use them in corporate worship is to infringe upon the Christian liberty of those in the congregation who would judge such creative worship activities to be unhelpful.

As an aid to churches deciding whether to take on a particular ministry or activity, VanDrunen recommends that a church asks itself the following question “about each thing that it does: is this its own proper work, or did God entrust this work to another, nonecclesiastical institution?” (p.151 emphasis original).  If this question alone were rigorously asked in elders meetings, deacons meetings, and pastoral staff meetings, then I think we would see a widespread sharpening of focus as to the identity and purpose of the local church.

In the final chapter, VanDrunen takes on education, vocation, and politics but not to commend a specific Christian way to do each of these, but to say that there usually isn’t a Christian way to do any of these.  Of course, Christians are called to do all things to the glory of God and to conduct themselves ethically and with integrity, but is there really a Christian way to fix a car?  Isn’t the way that a believer and a non-believer would fix a car be the same?  I found his point on this matter to be a helpful corrective to the excessive labeling of things like diet plans or child raising techniques as Christian (as if the particular method being advocated is the ONLY Christian way to do the task at hand).  I also appreciated the fact that VanDrunen tries to lay down an approach for Christians to think about their engagement with cultural activities and institutions of the common kingdom, but does not proscribe how we are to go about them, other than the general commands of Scripture.  

In summary, VanDrunen’s “Living in God’s Two Kingdoms” is of great value for any Christian who wants to understand how they should approach culture. It is both theological and practical.  But it is not for the faint of heart. Those who want easy reading or prepackaged answers for the Christian’s response to culture should look elsewhere.  That is not to say that VanDrunen is obscure, for he repeatedly tells you where he is going, why he is going there, and where he has been.  His writing style is very readable but because his topic requires a lot of explanation and qualification, I found that I really needed to concentrate to understand his points.  But it is well worth the effort and I now feel like I have a better framework for thinking about the nature, purpose, and calling of the church (and the individual Christian) and their place in their relationship to the other cultural institutions and activities of the world.

Sermon: "Trusting Christ in an Age of Fear" (Mark 4:35-41)

Sermon title: "Trusting Christ in an Age of Fear"

Bible text: Mark 4:35-41

Preacher: Rev.Dr. Karl Dahlfred

Location: First Chinese Baptist Church of Fountain Valley (Fountain Valley, California, USA)

Date: November 28, 2021



Click here to watch this sermon on Youtube

Sermon: Acts 9:1-19 How God Calls People


The Conversion of Saul

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said,“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying,12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.

Sermon: Philippians 2:1-11 "The Beauty of Humility"

I was invited to fill the pulpit at Inland Church English Ministry, while my friend and former seminary hallmate Pastor Daevid Yoon was away. This recording is from the worship service on July 16, 2017.  I am preaching on Philippians 2:1-11, on the 1) the goal of humility, 2) the necessity of humility, and 3) the practice of humility.

Click here to watch on YouTube

คำเทศนา ความรักของพระเจ้า (โฮเชยา 1-2)

ขอฝากคำเทศนาให้เป็นพระพรแก่ผู้ฟัง  วีดีโอนี้ถูกถ่ายในช่วงนมัสการ (chapel) ที่พระคริสตธรรมกรุงเทพ (Bangkok Bible Seminary) วันที่ 20 ก.พ. 2014 


คลิกที่นี้เพื่อดูที่ youtube ครับ

คำเทศนา: การพิพากษาและพระคุณในเรื่องของโนอาห์ (ปฐมกาล 6-8)

เทศนาที่คริสต์จักร Grace City Bangkok ในวันที่ 3 พฤศจิกายน 2013

ปฐมกาล 6:5-22

5 องค์พระผู้เป็นเจ้าทรงเห็นว่าความชั่วร้ายของมนุษย์ในโลกทวีมากยิ่งขึ้น และความคิดจิตใจของเขาก็โน้มเอียงไปในทางชั่วอยู่เสมอ 6 องค์พระผู้เป็นเจ้าจึงทรงเสียพระทัยยิ่งนักที่ได้ทรงสร้างมนุษย์ขึ้นมาในโลก และพระองค์ทรงปวดร้าวพระทัย 7 ดังนั้นองค์พระผู้เป็นเจ้าจึงตรัสว่า “เราจะกวาดล้างมนุษยชาติที่เราได้สร้างขึ้นออกจากผืนแผ่นดิน ทั้งมนุษย์และสัตว์ทั้งปวง สัตว์ที่เลื้อยคลาน และนกในอากาศ เพราะเราเสียใจที่ได้สร้างพวกนี้ขึ้นมา” 8 แต่โนอาห์เป็นที่โปรดปรานในสายพระเนตรขององค์พระผู้เป็นเจ้า

9 นี่คือเรื่องราวเชื้อสายของโนอาห์

โนอาห์เป็นคนชอบธรรม เป็นคนดีพร้อมเมื่อเทียบกับคนในยุคของเขาและดำเนินชีวิตไปกับพระเจ้า 10 โนอาห์มีบุตรชายสามคนคือ เชม ฮาม และยาเฟท

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