missionary

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Book Review: “Thomas Cochrane and the Dragon Throne” by Andrew Adam

A while ago, I read a fascinating duology of graphic novels about the Boxer Rebellion that showed it from both the side of missionaries and from the side of the Boxers. They were entitled Boxers and Saints and moved me very deeply. I still think about them qutie a bit, and how the interplay of mission work, thoughtful Christianity, colonialism, imperialism, and more all got jumbled together in a mess that makes it difficult to discern any goodness at all. When I saw Thomas Cochrane and the Dragon Throne, I knew I wanted to read it to learn more about this fascinating, awful time. 

The book is largely biographical, following the time Thomas Cochrane spent in China as a doctor and a missionary, which overlapped with the Boxer Rebellion and other key developments in Peking. It also features a large amount of fantastic background information for anyone who wants to learn about many different topics. For example, there’s a lot here about the medical practices in China in the early 20th century. There’s also no small amount of discussions of how colonialism from European powers combined with political maneuvering on the part of the Empress Dowager Cixi and others. And, of course, there are more historical details about the Boxer Rebellion. The book is not always for the faint of heart. Both medical information and historical information about the Boxer Rebellion is conveyed in an almost matter-of-fact style that includes graphic descriptions of things like foot binding, torture, and castration. These are all extremely important details, but, again, readers should be aware that they’re not glossed over.

Thomas Cochrane ended up in China at a young age with his wife, Grace, after being inspired by Dwight Moody to become a missionary. He wanted to go where he was needed most, and he truly had a passion for healing the sick, providing his service free of charge and, eventually, delivering a top of the line medical school to help train doctors in modern medicine in China. Throughout the section of his life outlined in this biography, he repeatedly felt like a failure as various ventures collapsed, but it is hard to see his work as not having a deeply positive impact on those with whom he lived. As he worked to both heal and convert people, the Boxer Rebellion broke out, and the Cochrane family was forced to flee. Adam reports this and other harrowing episodes with fascinating details that show the reality of the situation, both from Cochrane’s own writings and from his own firsthand knowledge as the son of Thomas Cochrane’s stepdaughter. 

Eventually, Cochrane confronted a cholera epidemic in the Imperial City, managing to gain allies in court as he did so. This opened up new avenues and even allowed him to get help from the chief eunuch and the Empress Dowager. This, in turn, lead to his establishment of the Union Medical College in Peking, China. His vision was for this school to churn out doctors who also would be able to spread knowledge of Christ across the interior of China, but although the school became immensely prestigious, it ultimately became a major graduate school that departed from his vision. Cochrane’s legacy, like that of mission work in general, is complex. It would be hard to question whether his heart was in the right place, and fascinating details like how Cochrane adapted biblical stories to Chinese contexts show his avoidance of the major pitfalls of colonialism (see p. 47, for example, and how Cochrane added Chinese details to biblical stories). Adam has presented a portrait of a man who made a difference in many people’s lives, both temporal and eternal. 

Andrew Adam has written a fascinating biography/historical piece that helps shed light on a terrible piece of history. I very highly recommend Thomas Cochrane and the Dragon Throne to any reader. It’s of interest to those who like history, want to learn about Christianity, are interested in China, in medicine, in politics, and more. It’s fantastic. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Original Monotheism and the Rebuttal from Missionaries

ibg-wcOne of the strongest pieces of evidence for original monotheism is the presence within many cultures of an early belief in a “Great Spirit” or a single high god. Often, belief in this deity continues, but that deity is seen as far off and largely uninterested in the affairs of people due to some great sin in the past or present (readers should note that I am generalizing to an extreme degree here and are encouraged to read the book discussed herein for more and better details). Oddly, anthropologists and others have persisted in alleging that this belief is itself a product of missionary activity rather than a reflection of history.

Winfried Corduan, in his recent book In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheismaddresses this claim head on. The claim continues to be found in text books noting that, for example, “Christian ideas had evidently spread from tribe to tribe in advance of the missionaries…” (Spencer, Jennings, et al. Native Americans, 366, cited in Corduan, 204, full citation below).

Think about this claim for a moment, though. Suppose Westerners make their first contact with a native tribe. This tribe demonstrates a belief in a high god who has grown angry over sin and thus remains distant. Now, the claim is made that instead of this being a belief the tribe has retained over time, it has actually come from Christian missionaries and spread, like a game of telephone, from tribe to tribe ahead of the missionaries themselves.

Corduan notes a major difficulty with this. Apart from being a wholly “a priori declaration,” this claim runs counter to findings of how cultural diffusion works. “If these supreme beings were inconsistent with the rest of these cultures, if in some tribes they never received any worship…. it makes no sense that all of these tribes picked [monotheistic beliefs] up instantaneously. It is utterly implausible, which may just be the reason there is no evidence for it” (204).

Realistically, this “rebuttal from missionaries” makes little sense of the data at hand. Historically, however, it gained credence through a general bias against anything a Christian missionary might report. “The dogma that no Christians, particularly no missionaries, could be trusted for anything they reported, except, of course, when it happened to suit what the academicians in power were advocating, was deeply ingrained in the universities of Europe at the time…” (90). One must realize how true this statement is. The very people who were studying anthropology and coming to conclusions about how any reports of original monotheism must be due to missionary activity or bias were themselves using those same reports–which, remember, were so full of biased they could not be trusted to describe beliefs accurately–to generate their own theories of the origins and spread of religion.

Another major difficulty with the “rebuttal from missionaries” is that it flies in the face of observed behavior. For example, many of the tribes encountered kept their belief in such a supreme being secret: “almost invariably women, children, and the uninitiated were uninformed about the supreme being” (101). This, of course, begs the question: “Why would the initiated, having learned about God from the missionaries, subsequently keep that knowledge secret from the people who taught it to them just a few years earlier?” (ibid).

Thus, it seems that the allegation that any purported belief in original monotheism must have been due to missionary influence is an extremely flawed notion. Not only does it fly in the face of the way cultural diffusion works, but it also doesn’t make sense of the observed behavior of the peoples involved. Those who wish to explore more should check out Corduan’s In the Beginning God. I have clearly derived the argument here from that book, and I’d like to credit his phenomenal piece (I reviewed it here).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Review: “In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism” by Winfried Corduan– I review Corduan’s book and touch on only a few of the many interesting topics contained therein.

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?– I analyze some of Corduan’s comments regarding Sigmund Freud’s theorizing about the origin of religion.

Sunday Quote!- Is Monotheism from Egypt?– I provide a brief quote from Corduan’s book and note how it may interface with some theories related to the source of monotheism.

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “To the Ends of the Earth” by Michael Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson Sr.

tee-haykin-robinsonThe question of “Why evangelize?” is one which is often leveled against Calvinism. After all, it is reasoned, if people are fore-ordained to be elect or one of the damned, then why bother to go out and evangelize them? Interestingly, this is a charge which I think may be leveled against virtually any view of foreknowledge, so the Calvinist answers given in To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy have relevance for those of other backgrounds (like me, a Lutheran).

Contents

The book begins with a survey of the arguments made to suggest that Calvinism would not endorse evangelism or makes evangelism pointless. Clearly, the charge has come from many fronts throughout the history of the church. Then, Haykin and Robinson introduce the primary reason for others’ concerns about Calvinism’s evangelical prospects: that Calvin believed God had ordained some to be elect, and others to be damned, before the foundations of the world.

The authors defend the doctrine, taking on many of the key “all” passages which some argue make explicit the openness of salvation to all individual people. Calvin is brought to his own defense alongside a number of modern Calvinist theologians, ably presenting the Calvinist case for exegesis of these key passages, which basically is that when “all” or “world” is used, it is referring to the breaking open of salvation for all tribes and nations as opposed to merely the chosen people of Israel. The book goes beyond these basics and also outlines how other passages might be understood in this context.

Next, the authors turn to an exposition of Calvin’s theology of missions. Part of this theology was the notion that a Christian life lived was a profound witness to the Gospel. Word and deed were central to Calvin’s missions theology. This missional activity was to be for all people (Kindle location 993). Prayer was also central to Calvin’s theology, as he believed that it might be used by God to bring about change in persons (rather than change in God).

Historical Reformed missions are surveyed in the next sections. Calvin taught many going into France and certain torture and death if discovered, and even made significant efforts towards (ultimately failing) missions into Brazil. These efforts showed that through his actions, Calvin himself valued global missions.

Later Calvinist traditions and persons also demonstrated the urge to missions that the Reformer’s theology compelled. The Puritans sought to evangelize and frequently prayed for the same, though they may not have had the success of other contemporaries. Calvinist Baptists in England feverishly evangelized and planted churches, while also demonstrating concern for global evangelism (Kindle loc. 1420ff). Jonathan Edwards, contrary to some opinions, was also focused on missions by developing his own missional theology and also going on a mission to Native Americans himself.

The book closes with thoughts on “developing missional passion” through observations about Samuel Pearce, a theologian known in his time for fervent prayer and love of missions. Central to Pearce’s theology was the cross; Christ crucified was “his darling theme from first to last”; while the other primary theme of his life was a “passion for the salvation of his fellow human beings” (Kindle loc. 1978).

Evaluation

To the Ends of the Earth is a great, pithy read on a topic that should be of interest to many from a diverse array of backgrounds. It has appeal which goes beyond Calvinism in the way it demonstrates missions ought to be of central importance and also in its justification of missions even in light of the notion that there really do exist an elect people. Of course, the thrust of the book is to demonstrate that Calvinist theology does not undermine the need or motivation for missions. Those interested in that topic will find the most to benefit from the book. Regardless of one’s level of interest, however, the book generates its own avenues for exploration by introducing several little-known figures and historical events for further reading. It is short enough to enjoy in a single afternoon (as I did), yet deep enough to keep one’s mind occupied for some time afterwards.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of the book, however, is its length in that there is little ultimate exposition of the counter-arguments to those who would fault Calvinism with lack of evangelical fervor. That is, readers are often left to tie the arguments off themselves instead of having them drawn out and defended. This, however, is a minor fault in what is an otherwise excellent book, regardless of one’s position on the arguments made therein. It was well worth the read, in my humble opinion.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Michael Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson, Sr., To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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