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:
1) Formal Publication
This means that a publisher decides to take on a book as part of their regular catalogue and does their own editorial process, and publication and is distributed with their other books. The publisher secures copyright, contracts a translator, does editing, cover art, typesetting, printing, etc. It also provides a second set of eyes (an editor) to iron out and improve oversights on the translator's part. This takes longer to get things published, but provides better visibility and distribution in the end. A formally published book will be held in stock by the publisher who send it to their network of booksellers and will also take care of sales, shipping, receipting, royalties, etc. The funds for this may come from the publisher themselves, or be funded by an outside source.
One challenge in pursuing formal publication is that most Christian publishers in Thailand have a very small staff and budget, and often have a long queue of books awaiting translation and publication. You may have a great book to publish, but it might not be a priority for a publisher who has a whole bunch of other great books that they are working on as well. However, if you really want to get broad distribution of your book and make it known among Thai Christians beyond your personal network, it is worth approaching a Thai Christian publisher and seeing what they say.
There are several Thai Christian publishers but a couple major ones would be Kanok Bannasan (OMF Publishers Thailand) and CED (Christian Education and Development). These publishers are both based in Bangkok.
2) Private Publication
This means that the person/organization who wants to publish a book arranges for their own translation, editing, and secures all necessary copyright permissions and then pays a publisher, printer, or print-on-demand company to publish however many copies they want. The type-setting, formatting, cover art, etc may be done by the publisher for a fee, according to what the person/organization requires. All those books belong to the person/organization who can distribute them however they want (i.e. internal-use only for an organization / contacting bookstores personally to see if they want stock/selling it through a website, etc). If desired, it is sometimes possible for the publisher/printer to sell copies of the book on a consignment basis, and provide some limited distribution and advertising.
There are a number of printers in Thailand but I want to highlight two which serve the Thai Christian and missionary community.
Publish2Day offers print-on-demand and other services for those wanting to publish Christian books (in whatever language) and ActsCo offers a wide range of printing services as well. Both are located in Chiang Mai.
Distribution is the second part of book publication that many people don't think about, and as a result lots of churches/groups/missionaries translate good materials that no one knows about because they don't have any vision or plan for getting these materials out to the broader Thai Christian community. If you want to your book to benefit people, you need to think not only about how to fund translation and publishing, but how to get materials out to people. Although some people publish books to hand out for free rather than for sale, it is not necessary to give stuff away for free in order to reach a broad audience. A small book at a small price is very attractive to many Thai believers if they happen to see the book.
If you are going the formal publication route, you will have a huge advantage in distribution. You’ll still probably want to advertise the book online and get somebody (or a few people) sharing them on Facebook, LINE, etc. to get some good "air-time." If you go with private publication, online advertising will be all the more vital. However, you can’t rely on online advertising alone. Most Thai Christians still buy their books at brick-and-mortar Thai Christian bookshops, not online. A self-distribution plan should include sending samples of your book to Thai Christian bookshops to see if they would like to order more.
Also, it is sometimes possible to ask a publisher like Kanok to hold a portion of your books in stock on consignment for them to advertise via Facebook, website, and within their network of Christian booksellers in Thailand. You would have to, of course, work out a financial arrangement with anyone who takes your books on consignment. It would not be unusual for the publisher/person holding your stock to keep 50% of the cover price as their fee for holding stock, advertising, and processing and shipping orders.
I highly recommend the consignment route for distribution if possible because,
1) A publisher/bookshop can often get the word out to a much larger segment of the Thai Christian & missionary community than you can personally, and
2) You probably don't want to take the time and hassle to receive emails and phone calls for orders for the book(s) and then take the time to package and ship orders.
Translating and Publishing FAQ
How much would a full-time translator cost?
Translators are often hired freelance, per project, rather than on a monthly salary basis. Depending on the book, the translation price would vary according to length, difficulty of material, etc. But just as a rough estimate, a 150-200 page book of medium difficulty would be 20,000-30,000 baht for translation. Don’t hold me to that estimate, however! Prices can vary greatly from translator to translator, and project to project. Generally speaking, the longer the book, and the more difficult/academic it is, the higher the price. If you hired a full-time person on a salary basis, you'd have to come to a careful understanding of how quickly you expect them to work. Otherwise, a translation job could drag on forever. That said, for translators of English to Thai, the most common problem is people translating too wooden-literally and rushing through, rather than taking too long because they are perfectionists.
What should I look for in a translator?
There are a handful of Thai Christians who could do a decent translation job and may be available. The problem that some people run into is that paying on a per-project basis results in translators plowing through the job to get it done and move on to the next project. That is not universally the case, but it is not uncommon.
If you pay per-project, the translator is motivated to get it done quickly rather than drag it out. That is good for getting things moving, but it can be bad because translators sometimes don't take the time to really work through difficult to translate parts, and just write something down to get it done. Therefore, idiomatic or Western cultural expressions are sometimes slaughtered in translation, and theological concepts are rendered poorly in Thai. In hiring a translator, you also need to think about their knowledge of Bible and theology. If they don't "get" the biblical concepts that they are translating, they may not translate them correctly. Materials that are stories, history, or personal/devotional in nature, are easier to translate and less subject to error. The more biblical/theological the concepts, the more challenging it is to get a good translation. This is a big reason why you MUST have someone who knows both languages proofread and/or edit the Thai translation that you have outsourced to a translator.
How do I estimate publication costs for my book project?
If you are working up a budget estimate in order fundraise or apply for project funds, I suggest developing an estimate for publication rather than just printing. What's the difference?
Printing means sending your finalized PDF (with text layout, fonts, cover art, etc) to the printer to physically print the book.
Publishing includes the cost not only for physically printing the book, but all the cost for someone to take your plain vanilla MS Word doc and do the text formatting and book layout, work up some cover art, etc. Unless you and your team have awesome expertise in book layout and graphic design, it much better just to hire someone (like Kanok, or CED, or Publish2Day, or ActsCo) to do the formatting, layout, and cover art rather than mess around with it yourself. The end product will have a polished professional look to it. Trying to do that stuff yourself will take much more time and not come out as well, so it is better to leave it to the professionals.
It is nearly impossible to estimate a general printing cost for a book without knowing what book it is and what is necessary (such as interior art or not? are there graphics that need to be redone to work with Thai?). So here is what you'd need to do to get a cost estimate for a given book:
- for book XYZ, get a quote for translation from a freelance editor
- then get a quote from a freelance editor to read through and make corrections on the translation (could just be a different translator who you hire to only edit/proofread)
- get a quote from a publisher/printer on what it would cost for them to do layout, cover art, etc. and print X number of copies of book XYZ
When you have those 3 numbers, you can put together a quote for publication of book XYZ. An initial print run for a Thai Christian book averages 1500-2000 books.
Should I budget for an outside editor to look over the translated work?
Yes, absolutely. Do not just get something translated and then go straight to publication. Good books are rendered virtually useless through a lack of editing, and it can come back to bite you later if the Thai doesn't correspond to the English sufficiently, or if the translation is so clunky that nobody wants to read it.
If a translation is done well, the editor's job is easy because not many changes need to be made. But if the translation was a rush job and doesn't read very well, the editor's job can be a nightmare and take a long time to massage and edit the translation into something accurate and readable. The quality of the initial translation factors into the time and cost that it will require to have an editor review the translation.
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?
2) Wittenberg is SMALL
I had read that Wittenberg was a small town but I didn’t realize how small. Given the fact that it isn’t very big today, I can only imagine what a sleepy little village it was in 1517. I stayed at the Luther Hotel in the older section of town which consists of two cobblestone roads running east-west. At the east end is the former Augustin monastery that became the Luther family’s home. Right next door to Luther lived his friend and right-hand man Philip Melanchthon. From Lutherhaus, walk 5 minutes west and you arrive at St. Mary’s Church where Luther preached regularly. A couple minutes walk south of there are Cranach’s house and workshop, as well as some buildings that used to belong to the University of Wittenberg where Luther and Melanchthon taught. Walk 5 more minutes to the west and you reach the end of the old town and the Castle Church where Luther posted his 95 theses. And that seems to be the entire old town. Wittenberg has grown and expanded over the years so I am sure it is bigger than when Luther lived there, but from looking at the architecture and location of the historical sites, it would seem that Luther’s whole world in Wittenberg was walkable in about 15 minutes, end-to-end.
3) Luther at Home
The former Augustin monastery that Martin and Katy Luther called home has been turned into a splendid museum where you can see not only many 16th century copies of works by Luther and associates but also several displays about Luther’s home life. While I loved seeing all the old books (as well as an actual indulgence chest), it was equally fascinating to learn about Luther’s kitchen, farm animals, fish pond, and property purchases. From the exhibits, it was obvious that his wife Katy must have been a highly competent household manager. There were many people living at Luther’s house besides Martin, Katy, and the kids and they did so on a minimal budget, at least at first. Lots of guests and activity.
The Lutherhaus was filled with many notable quotes from Luther but one in particular caught my attention. He was writing to a merchant in the next town because his wife wanted him to do so, and he told the merchant as much. She wanted a particular type of chest without iron fittings on the inside so that the clean laundry wouldn’t get dirty when put inside. Discovering that Luther did this type of mundane correspondence for the sake of his wife reminded me of the emails and other tasks that my wife asks me to do. Luther had a “honey-do” list as well. Realizing that Luther didn’t do theology 24/7 brings him a little bit closer to home, and makes him more human. Yes, he was a great Reformer, even the most famous Protestant Reformer, but he still had stuff that he needed to do at home. Not too different from you or me.
4) The Importance of Friends
I already knew that Philip Melanchthon was Luther’s right-hand man but I didn’t know that they were next door neighbors. The Lutherhaus museum and the Melanchthonhaus museum are right next to each other and I visited one right after the other. I can easily imagine Luther and Melanchthon popping in to each other’s homes on a regular basis as need or whim arose. It makes me want to learn more about their relationship. In a similar vein, there was a whole room in the Melanchthonhaus museum dedicated to Melanchthon’s friendship with Joachim Camerarius. Even though they didn’t live in the same town, they maintained a lifelong friendship which was very important to Melanchthon, as testified to by a massive amount of personal correspondence from Melanchthon to Camerarius. Melanchthon must have meant a lot to Camerarius too because when Melanchthon’s wife died, Camerarius rode 400 kilometers to tell him in person (Melanchthon was traveling at the time). The Reformation did not run on theological writing and preaching alone, but also on the grace and love of God expressed in personal friendships.
5) The Reformation Has Moved On
Before going there, my entire frame of reference for Wittenberg was historical. I knew that modern Wittenberg would not be the same as it was in Luther’s day but now that I have seen the modern town, I realized that Wittenberg in my mind was frozen in the 16th century. Things like shopping malls and cars seemed incongruous. But of course, life moves on.
Visiting modern Wittenberg reminded me that the Reformation has moved on. For Wittenberg residents, and probably Germans more generally, the Reformation is historical and a source of national pride, but not much more. There were few people in the town during the time I was there although German tourists did start to arrive in greater numbers on October 30th as I was leaving. Wittenberg may have been the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation and an important center for reform in the 16th century but it is no longer. God is moving in the world today in many places, especially in the non-Western world, but Wittenberg has already had its 15 minutes of fame.
It is great to visit historical places, especially those associated with the work of God in the past, but we shouldn’t become overly attached to them or view them as sacred. We should cherish, but not cling to people, places, and things from the past. The world is indebted to what God did through the Protestant Reformers and we should remember and thank God appropriately. But we must not engage in Protestant saint worship. The pastor who said the opening prayer at the Reformation 500 conference I attended set the right tone when he said, “We are not here, Lord, to glorify Martin Luther or John Calvin or any other Reformer. We are not here to glorify the Protestant Reformation, but we are here to glorify You."
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.
What do we do in those situations? When we experience shame and embarrassment, where do we find hope? Where do we look for honor? Who are we trying to impress anyway?
As you read the following story, give some thought to your own situation. Where do you look for honor and recognition? Whose approval are you looking for?
In 1992 I (Mark) transitioned from ministry in Honduras to doctoral studies at Duke University. To enter the world of a doctoral program at a major university is, like in many jobs and professions, to enter into a situation where one feels constant pressure to improve one’s status among the scholars of the field. Those who have already achieved their degrees seek status by giving papers at conferences and publishing books and articles. Other scholars measure them not only by how much they have published but also by which publishers and journals publish their work. Not yet at that level, graduate students hope that impressing a renowned professor with a great paper will help them move off the bottom rungs as they begin to climb the academic ladder to success. On a day-to-day basis they feel the pressure to impress others by comments they make in seminars.
In my first days in graduate school I was not so much reaching for a higher rung on the ladder as trying to figure out how to demonstrate to others that I was even on the ladder. In a variety of ways I perceived myself as being at the bottom of the group of first-year students. I longed to show that I could speak intelligently about theology, but I lived in fear of saying something that would confirm what I already felt— I was not really in the same league as the other students. Usually the fear of shame won out and I sat quietly in seminars.
One particular moment portrays well the way I felt and acted my first semester. It was midsemester and I had not said anything in one particular seminar. The professor mentioned something that reminded me of a certain theologian. Part of me wanted to seize this opportunity and demonstrate I was “well-read,” but my shame-driven habit of silence seemed to push a mute button. I said the name in a whisper, but the professor, perhaps reading my lips, repeated the name and affirmed the connection.
In contrast to the seminar room the atmosphere at lunchtime in the student lounge was of course more relaxed. I talked with other students, but still there was a sense that I was hiding. At times I said some things as a way of covering up and at other times did not say things for fear of what they would think of me.
Then one day in a seminar the guest speaker said something that so disturbed me that I spoke out before the image-protecting part of me could hit the mute button. It was not a statement that was calculated to impress anyone; I simply reacted. Everyone remained silent after I spoke. I immediately assumed that what I had said was so dumb that people did not even know how to respond. To make matters worse all the theology professors attended this seminar. I wanted to crawl under the table. In a moment someone made another comment and the discussion went off in another direction.
After the seminar I went, not to the student lounge, but out into the parking lot— fleeing my shame. But I started praying. I thought about the cross and the extreme shame Jesus experienced. I continued praying with the confidence that God understood what I was feeling, and I sought to rest in God’s love for me. That allowed me to be compassionate to myself, but also to reflect honestly about my drive to impress others and hide my perceived weaknesses. Why was I feeling ashamed? Was my academic reputation a false idol? Those moments of prayer did not give me a permanent freedom from the pressures I felt. I was still reserved in most seminars, and I prayed similar prayers many times in the remaining three and a half years in graduate school, but one thing did change. Sensing God’s love overcoming my shame, I felt enough security to begin speaking honestly with other students. As I told them how I felt, I was surprised to find that they experienced similar doubts and fears. In moments of vulnerability the suffering and scared part of me connected with the suffering and scared part of others, forming community and friendships of deep solidarity.
The contrasting image is a person who, in the words of Frederick Herzog, “seeks security in external things . . . [and] has built a wall between his true self and the pseudoself he displays.” Wearing masks and presenting a pseudoself means one is not in open relationship with others. It is a counterfeit community of one pseudoself talking to another pseudoself.
The context of my story, a graduate studies program in a renowned university, may be foreign to many readers of this book, but I am sure my experience of shame, the act of wearing masks and presenting a pseudoself is not foreign to most readers. It is certainly not unique to doctoral students.
Christian spirituality entails much more than a couple graduate students standing in the hall sharing their fears about seminars. But my experience demonstrates the link between a person experiencing peace with God, dropping his mask, and having richer relationships and more authentic community. As we come into God’s family, we possess an honorable identity that leads to peace and reconciliation with other people."
The above story may be found in Jayson Georges and Mark Baker. Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016), Kindle Locations 2305-2343.
Photo credit: Alex E. Proimos
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.
In order to accomplish these goals, Yao sets out a largely chronological account of fundamentalist activity in China over the course of nearly twenty years. After an introductory chapter explaining his study’s raison d'être and another chapter giving brief summaries of Chinese history, Protestant missions, and rising modernist trends and their reception by theological conservatives, Yao presents the substance of his study in five chapters.
Chapter three narrates the origin and course of the Bible Union of China, a loose coalition of fundamentalists and other theologically conservative missionaries formed in response to concerns about the influence of theological modernism among missionaries in China and Chinese churches. Missionaries sympathetic towards modernism regarded the Bible Union members as divisive troublemakers even while Bible Union participants themselves did not always agree upon the best approach to modernism: a positive and constructive emphasis upon the traditional Gospel message and evangelism or a verbal assault upon modernist errors? In this chapter, Yao begins to draw out a theme that will appear throughout the rest of the book, namely the tension between fundamentalists who prefered direct, public confrontation with modernism and moderates who shared the same theological beliefs as fundamentalists but prefered a less combative, more conciliatory approach to differences among professing Christians.
In chapters four and five, Yao provides two related case studies about the priority that the fundamentalists put upon maintaining the theological educational institutions that taught orthodox doctrine. Chapter four recalls the conflict between the North Jiangsu mission of the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States and the leadership of Nanjing Theological Seminary, an interdenominational institution. The conservative members of the North Jiangsu mission wanted assurance that all the faculty and textbooks were theologically sound, and they conducted investigations to that end. Ultimately, the board of the seminary were not able to satisfy the members of the North Jiangsu mission who withdrew their support for the school. Chapter five provides the account of another group of theological conservatives, both missionary and Chinese, who similarly withdrew from an interdenominational union institution, Shandong Christian University, and went on to form North China Theological Seminary (NCTS). This new institution bore the distinction of being not only a bastion for theologically orthodox pastoral training in the subsequent pre-war years, but also an example of Chinese leadership and investment in a theological school for their own people.
In chapter six, Yao chronicles the efforts of Protestants in China to unite their various mission and church bodies into the National Christian Council and the Church of Christ in China. The responses of various liberal and conservative parties to the union movement reveals the complex relationships between them. In principle, all interested parties wanted Christian unity and to have a unified witness to Christ in the midst of a non-Christian Chinese society. The question that introduced tension and division was the basis upon which that unity was to be had. Liberal-minded missionaries and Chinese believers were content with no more than a broad and vague commitment by member parties to Christ and doing good in His name. On the other end of the spectrum, fundamentalists desired church and organizational unity only upon a firm doctrinal basis of core orthodox Christian teaching. In practice, this meant an emphasis on the inerrancy of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ, and the supernatural nature of the Gospel and the miracles of Christ. Contrary to some who have erroneously concluded that fundamentalists were opposed to all church union, Yao specifies that fundamentalists did in fact promote and practice church and mission unity and co-operation between denominations, often setting aside differences in eschatology, polity, and other secondary issues. That notwithstanding, fundamentalists came into conflict with not only modernists, but also with theological conservatives who had a higher tolerance level for doctrinal ambiguity in union institutions than did their fundamentalist brethren. The question of whether theological conservatives could be part of the same organization or church denomination alongside modernists became a flashpoint for conflict between fundamentalists and moderates, the former accusing the later of facilitating modernist compromise by failing to confront and separate from modernist error.
Chapter seven provides a collection of brief overviews of additional fundamentalist-modernist conflicts in the 1930s prior to the start of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The first major fundamentalist controversy of the 1930s was the World Sunday School Association’s disassociation of the China Sunday School Union after the later organization refused to change its working policy to allow more room for modernistic teaching and emphases. The other major controversies recounted in this chapter are closely related to each other: the Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry which criticized traditional missionary activity in favor of modernist-minded social services and inter-faith dialogue, Presbyterian missionary and renowned novelist Pearl Buck’s condemnation of the traditional missionary enterprise, and the formation of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions by J. Gresham Machen. These later three controversies brought the fundamentalist warnings about encroaching modernism into the public view, whereas previous to this time evidence of alleged modernism on the mission field often came via the reports of fundamentalists rather than from the mouths of modernists themselves.
The final concluding chapter summarizes Yao’s previous points under three headings: the nature, character, and diversity of fundamentalist movement, the missionary fundamentalist movement’s Chinese roots and North American connections, and the missionary fundamentalist movements connection with indigenous conservative Protestants.
Throughout the book, Yao demonstrates familiarity with the fundamentalist missionaries’ own writing and self-understanding, as well as that of their critics and other theological conservatives, both in China and the United States. Through careful documentation, he avoids fundamentalist stereotypes and allows diverse viewpoints among theologically conservative missionaries and denominational representatives to be heard. These are significant strengths of his research and make a positive contribution to scholarship on a movement that is often characterized negatively and one-dimensionally. Unfortunately, it is not difficult to find people both inside and outside the church and the academy who use the terms fundamentalist, evangelical, and (theological) conservative somewhat interchangeably to denote a vague monolithic group somewhere on the far right of the religious spectrum. Attentive readers of Yao’s research will discover, however, that although theological conservatives have often shared similar theological beliefs, their approach to promote their beliefs can vary greatly. Relying upon previous work by Ernest Sandeen, George Marsden and Joel Carpenter, Yao regularly reminds readers that it was militancy, not theology, that set fundamentalists apart from other conservatives.
The main contribution of Yao’s work consists primarily in providing a broad overview of the theological aspect of a significant movement in Chinese missions history that has not received attention from other scholars. This primary task he has done well and hopefully other scholars will look deeper into the various aspects of the movement that he has surveyed.
Although the nature of Yao’s research is that of an overview, there are some areas that the author could have expanded upon or given more attention. Yao seeks to make the point that the fundamentalist movement in China was not only the result of foreign theological conflict invading Chinese shores, but also arose from the convictions and cultural context of China itself. To this end, the author describes the ascendant popularity of scientific and rationalistic ideas, and Communist ideology, among the Chinese intelligentsia as a backdrop for understanding conservative response. Some attention is also given to the Chinese church leaders who stood alongside their conservative missionary counterparts, or even asserted independence from them while maintaining similar theology. But the reader rarely hears the voices of these Chinese Christians amidst the missionary narrative. One wonders whether these Chinese leaders did not leave sufficient written records to cite or if the author made an intentional decision to devote the majority of ink to the writings of foreign missionaries. The title of the work would favor the later explanation. That notwithstanding, the reader wishes that Yao had better developed the narrative from the standpoint of Chinese Christians, allowing one to understand the fundamentalist-modernist conflicts through their eyes. Similarly, there were few direct citations from the modernists whom the fundamentalists critiqued. This later absence might be due to the book’s focus upon the fundamentalist side of the controversies but it still remains that more liberal voices would serve to broaden the understanding of the conflict in the minds of readers.
Although Yao’s work focuses upon the fundamentalist movement among Protestant missionaries in China, his findings may also prove relevant for the study of fundamentalist and modernist movements among Protestant missionaries in other countries during the same time period. To that end, several pertinent points stand out to this reviewer.
Citing the work of William Hutchison in Errand to the World: American Protestant Thought and Foreign Missions, Yao highlights the marks of theological modernism as they manifested themselves on the mission field, namely 1) an indirect denial of the exclusivity of Christ and a desire for inter-religious dialogue, 2) lack of attention to the Second Coming of Christ and direct evangelism, and 3) a focus on building of the Kingdom of God on earth and commitment to social service ministries. In addition to these above marks, modernists also displayed a proclivity for large scale projects and building institutions like schools and hospitals. In contrast, conservatives were more cautious in building institutions and bureaucracies. Modernists also generally favored union institutions whereas conservatives were more cautious, or even hostile to such endeavors because they tended to downplay doctrine by their very nature.
In terms of tracking modernist and fundamentalists’ influence, it might be important to note that fundamentalist missionaries in Yao’s study pointed their finger at newer missionaries from the West who had imbibed modernist ideas at colleges and universities they attended. Examining a missionary’s educational background could in some instances give indication of their likely theological leanings towards conservative or liberal theology.
A final point of relevance for the study of fundamentalism and modernism in non-Western mission fields is worthy of mention. In the midst of his discussion of conflict among missionaries, Yao observes that Chinese Christians were not always concerned about the same theological issues as those dividing foreign missionaries and their Western church denominations. While there was certainly much overlap between the theological beliefs of Chinese and foreign Christians, the concerns of these two groups were not identical. One example Yao specifically cites is the greater value Chinese Christians placed on unity over Western denominational differences, or questions of eschatology or church polity. This is an important factor to keep in mind for any study of theological movements across cultural and linguistic contexts. The categories and divisions that describe one group well may have less direct applicability to groups in other contexts.
In sum, Yao has written an eminently helpful overview of the fundamentalist movement among Protestant missionaries in China prior to the Second World War. His prose is accessible for both scholars and general readers, and the historical groundwork that he has laid should prove fertile ground for subsequent inquirers to delve deeper into a fascinating and colorful period of church and mission history in China.
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.