Review of my book in EMQ

Last weekend I came across another review of my book Becoming Native to Win the Natives. It was written in the January 2017 edition of the missions journal Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ).

You can read the review below, written by Dr. Ed Scheuerman, professor at Lancaster Bible College:

 

—Reviewed by Ed Scheuerman, professor of intercultural studies, Lancaster Bible College

Living among nationals is not enough to accomplish the goal of gaining acceptance in order to share the gospel. The missionary needs to seek to ‘become native.’ Drawing upon his ten years of living in China, Tabor Laughlin’s primer highlights the challenge of crossing the line from being among to living with those God calls the missionary to serve. He additionally calls the reader to “build deep relationships with them and to be intentional to share with them the gospel” (p. 8).

This short book (just 71 pages) is in three sections: (1) principles, (2) practices, and (3) take away. Each of the seven chapters ends with a few practical questions. The primary benefit of this book is its practical suggestions in such areas as language learning, food, dress, and identity among the local community. Laughlin wisely stresses the need for integrity in areas such as one’s visa.

The author seeks a level of acceptance where, “They will no longer see us as an outsider” (p. 37). But I don’t know that this will be entirely possible. Personally, one of the best days of my life in China was when I was told that I was “just like a Chinese.” I knew that this was a statement of acceptance but that I would never truly be Chinese.

Another slight concern is when Laughlin writes, “In such instances, when we realize that it’s actually our home culture that does things weird, not the new culture, maybe we should consider adopting the local custom” (p. 42). Neither needs to be “weird,” just different. We need to guard against making value statements (in either cultural direction) when customs are simply different. But the main point of adopting local customs is advisable.

Referencing Romans 14, the author wisely exhorts the reader to consult local believers when seeking to decide what would be a potential stumbling block for both believers and unbelievers in the local culture. “May the Lord grant you his wisdom in such cases,” he writes (p. 43). Laughlin similarly makes strong value judgements about children’s education and a wife’s language learning. “For her, studying the language should never be a higher priority than taking care of her family” (p. 58). I understand his intent here, but I would caution against imposing a Western value—in this case, of how one prioritizes family life. While I would not advocate imitating the family life of William Carey, I also don’t want to impose my Western understanding of family uniformly on everyone. The concern here, as with attempting to follow presumed “biblical standards,” is the need to recognize that how we interpret the Bible is also done with a cultural lens.

This book will serve well as an introduction for those about to get on the airplane to go overseas. But it can also serve as a challenge for all Christians to increasingly and appropriately seek to be in the culture in which God has placed them, regardless of their here and now.

Western vs. Chinese Theology

In my “Teaching across Cultures” class this week with Dr. Craig Ott, he had us read a book by Richard Nisbett from 2003. The crux of the book is that Westerners and Asians think differently because of their different ancient roots. Westerners were most highly influenced by the ancient Greek mindset, which is to make laws and formations for everything around them. Whereas, the Asians were most influenced by the ideas of Confucius, which do not put so much emphasis on making laws or explaining everything with air-tight rules.

Within the realm of theology, Western theologians always need to have air-tight explanations and arguments to explain everything from the Bible. Whereas, most non-Westerners (Asians, Africans, Middle Easterners, Hispanics) are not as concerned to make air-tight theological laws, but are able to accept the mysterious and paradoxical parts of the Bible (i.e. Calvinism vs. Free Will).

Thinking about these factors interested me greatly. I think about my best Chinese pastor friend, who leads a small house church in NW China. He knows all parts of the Bible incredibly well, as well as any Chinese person I know. However, he has never been one who is interested to discuss more debated theological topics that may be normal for Westerners to discuss. These debates just are not important for him.

A New Semester Starting…

Tomorrow morning I begin my summer semester.

It will be a busy summer semester, as I take 3 classes. For the 12 weeks of summer, for 6 of the 12 weeks I’ll have 3-4 hour intensive classes from 8:30-12, from Monday through Friday. So it’s gonna be busy.

As goes with the beginning of any semester, I have mixed feelings. I’m anxious about having such a big load and weary from school in general. I’m anxious about how my classes will go and how I will interact with my classmates and professors. I wonder if I will be able to handle another busy semester.

At the same time, I’m excited for the friendships that I develop through my classes. I’ll become close with some people I have never met up to this point. And of course I will learn a lot from my classes. These things may be valuable for me in the future, whether it helps me as a missions organization leader in China, or it helps me in just having a greater understanding of God and His people.

This semester my classes are:

Teaching across Cultures – Craig Ott

History of the Expansion of Christianity – Alice Ott

Anthropology for Mission and Evangelism – Darrell Whiteman [visiting prof]

 

I think of Ezra’s words: “Because the hand of the Lord was on me, I took courage and…” (Ezra 7:28)

A Busy Semester now Finished

This semester has been incredibly busy.

I’ve taken a large load of classes at TEDS, as well as co-teaching a Master’s class at TEDS for almost 2 months.

And we started getting involved with our church here, which we committed to in January. The church is Holy Trinity Church, located in downtown Chicago. The lead pastor is Jon Dennis, who leads our downtown congregation. We’ve really enjoyed going to the church, though it’s a bit far away from where we are in Deerfield. But we love the church and also the weekly small group we’ve been involved with the past several months.

And most recently, our son Charles was born. He was born 7 weeks early, so he had to stay in the NICU at the hospital for 4 weeks. And then nearly 4 weeks ago, we were able to bring him home. Just this week he passed his due date and is no longer premature status. And he’s gaining weight and eating well.

Praise God for carrying us through such a busy time & giving us strength in what He has for us each day!

Birth of our Son this Week

The main update recently has been the birth of our son this week, Charles.

Praise God for this special gift! He was born March 30th around 2 am, weighing 4 lbs 10 ounces. A few days before then my wife’s water broke and she was put on bed rest at the hospital till the baby came, which ended up being a few days later. The name “Charles” is one that we liked the sound of it and I liked the name because of the connection to Charles Spurgeon.

Because Charles was born 7 weeks early, he needs to stay at the hospital in the NICU for another month or so before he can come home. They’re taking good care of him there & use an incubator or feeding tube if they need. Please pray the Lord may strengthen his body at this time and he’d be able to eat on his own & gain weight. My wife is feeling well & has come back home after a week in the hospital. She & I need prayer as we take many trips to the hospital throughout the week for Charles & feed him. My wife’s mom graciously drove here from Oklahoma earlier this week to help out in our time of need.

Chinese Students Bold in Evangelism

Originally in my March 12th, 2007 Journal [my 2nd year teaching at a univ. in eastern China]

This afternoon, a few students came over. We prayed together & gave them Bibles & then they headed out to the Education College [another university across the city]. They returned two hours later & again we met & prayed. They shared stories about the people they had talked to & given Bibles to. Good stuff.

my first full seminary class teaching

Today I finished my last co-teaching with Dr. Priest at TEDS for MDiv students.

Dr. Priest was out of town today so I taught the whole 3 hours 20 minutes class by myself. The previous 6 weeks I would lecture about 40 minutes each week. I tried to balance the students having discussion and me doing lecture. And I think that ended up happening.

What I covered during the last class was:
a) priority of missions<– also, how they can be involved in reaching the unreached now
b) discussion on Dr. Priest’s articles on short-term missions & other things about short-term missions
c) discussion on how churches use missions budget
d) challenges missionaries face
e) in small groups they chose people groups from joshuaproject.net & spent time reading their info & praying for them
f) reading & discussion about how they can minister in the most needy places in the U.S. & abroad: Quoted something I heard while at Southern Seminary: “80% of seminary graduates will minister in a place within 100 miles of where the wife’s parents live”

I was thankful for the opportunity to co-teach with Dr. Priest. The Lord pulled me through and I learned much from it.

Cramming Seminary Well

A couple days ago I did a guest blog post on the website Servants of Grace.

The article is titled ‘Cramming Seminary Well’. You can view the article here.

 

Or you can read the article here:

Certainly only through the Lord’s strength and grace to me, during one whole school year on-campus at Southern Seminary, I took a whopping 61 credit hours of class! How is this possible?

Still, now, I have no idea how all that happened. God’s mercy pulled me through.

During my first six months at Southern Seminary, I crammed seminary very poorly, which I go into detail more in an article on Desiring God. The first six months at Southern were one of the hardest periods in my life, which seemed like it would never end. But the second half of the school year, the Lord graciously guided me on how to cram seminary better. I didn’t slow down my course pace at any point but actually did better in my classes while still taking a huge load.

So why did I need to “cram” seminary at all in the first place? Before going to Louisville, KY for the ’13-’14 school year, we’d only planned to stay one year as a so-called seminary “break” from serving in China. I’d done some classes online beforehand and planned to take a light load at Southern for that year since I was doing a shorter Master’s degree [only 48 credit hours]. But during the summer before moving to Southern, I changed my mind and decided to do the M.DIV [94 total credit hours – usually spanning 3 or more years] instead of the M.A., so I knew I needed to cram tons of classes into that one year on-campus at Southern.

There were many painful points throughout the “cramming,” but here are some very valuable tips I learned along the way on how to “cram” better:

1) It’s important to take breaks in your life. Initially, I was studying Monday through Sunday, seven days a week, from 7 am – 10 pm each day. Don’t do that. You’ll just beat yourself to the ground. Thankfully I eventually adjusted from that brutal schedule to a much more manageable one – 7 am–5 pm, only Monday through Friday. I stopped studying at all on weekends or on weeknights. Taking rests is a way we refresh ourselves. If we don’t have such time for rest, we are constantly consumed by whatever we’re doing all the time, whether it’s schoolwork or work or something else. That means that thing becomes much greater to us than God, family, friends or our church.

I found that the most efficient studying for me was when I took regular breaks in my life. Even though I was studying much less than previously, I got as good of grades as before, although I was spending 15 or so fewer hours each week on schoolwork. A good practice we started doing is setting aside Saturdays as Family Days. We’d have a full, undistracted day together as a family, going out to parks or other places in the city. Even for the single folks, it’s good to have a few long breaks each week, to be doing something else than what you do all week.

2) On your holidays, be intentional not to study if possible. Take a small trip out of the city, or do something special with family or friends. Even if you decide to study during the break, make sure that you have as many days as you can in a row without any studies. When I studied at Southern, I didn’t have too long of a break in between the Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer terms. But even then, it’s good to take a few days off completely from schoolwork, and longer if possible.

3) Don’t try to work ahead significantly. I found that trying to do reading too far ahead of time doesn’t work out well. By the time I have that class a few weeks later, I will have forgotten most of what I tried to read in advance. Then I have to reread everything I already read. Or I end up failing a quiz about the material because I didn’t remember anything about it. And certainly, don’t try to begin coursework in one semester for a class in another semester. It was helpful for me not to have any of my coursework overlap from one semester to another semester. Have a clear end to one semester, take a break for as long as you can, and then begin the next semester.

4) Learn to speed-read. At least at Southern Seminary, Professors and Seminary Department heads themselves told us not to read every word of every page. This can save you tons of time. This is not valuable for just seminary, but just life in general. I found this especially true when I engaged in speed-reading as I was able to retain a much better idea long-term about the main things from the book. If you read every word meticulously, you may lose sight of the main points of the book. But there may be a few books that are of particular importance to you that you can read slower. These should be the exception, not the norm.

5) Plan your classes well. Do your best always to monitor which classes are offered when. Be on the ball with your classes. I’d suggest making an Excel chart showing all your classes for your degree, and then mark a checkmark under the semester you took that class. If you want to cram lots of courses into a short period, you have to each semester prioritize which classes are required that you need to take. And then think about electives you want to take if you’ve still got time in your schedule. You don’t want to be in a situation where you realize you need a class, but you didn’t take it when it was offered the year or two earlier, and it won’t be offered again before you had hoped to graduate. This can unnecessarily extend your seminary stay an extra semester.

6) Physical exercise. Make sure to have some regular physical exercise. This could be running a few times a week, or playing basketball, or swimming. It could be something as easy as a 20-minute daily pushups and sit-ups workout in your home. Even when the weather may be too cold to exercise outside, still have some way to continue exercising regularly [more than once a week] throughout the year. This will help your mind work better, it’ll also give you more energy, you’ll be able to sleep better, and you will physically be healthier and in better shape.

A couple of things to note in conclusion. During the year on-campus in Louisville, I didn’t have any job. My wife worked full-time, and my mother-in-law watched our daughter full-time. For those of you who work at all, it may be a different dynamic for you. But still many of these main principles still apply.

Also, many of these principles would not be useful just for seminary students, but also a high school or college student.

Review of my Book in Southern Seminary Journal

There was a review of my book Becoming Native to Win the Natives in the Southern Seminary journal Towers last summer. I actually didn’t know this review was written & nobody told me about it. I just stumbled upon it earlier this week when browsing the Southern Seminary site.

 

Or you can read it below:

Review by Annie Corser

In Becoming Native to Win the Natives, SBTS alumnus Tabor Laughlin (pseudonym) speaks to Christians about missions in other cultures and nations. The book’s biblical foundation pulls from the Great Commission’s call to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth and make disciples, and Revelation’s display showing that heaven will be filled with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

“This book is not about how to preach the gospel in a cross-cultural environment, nor how to build deep relationships with those around you. It is just about the aspect of becoming like the native in all other aspects of life,” writes Laughlin.

Laughlin focuses on the characteristic traits needed for successful ministry: humility, service, love, and a burden for those you serve. With practical advice, he explains how to adopt cultural traditions not contrary to the Bible, like language, hobbies, and appearance.

Praying about Life after College Graduation

Originally in my February 2nd, 2004 Journal [my junior year of college]

Thursday night I went to Bible study, & I was able to stray Mike off the beaten path & ask him some questions about free will. He had very good answers. He said that God naturally made us to follow our emotions & mind, leading us to our decisions, making it our will. On the other hand, God has still predestined the saved souls. He plants the seed in their heart that makes them come to Jesus (Holy Spirit, if you will). He doesn’t choose everyone to receive this movement towards Jesus. So, our day to day decisions are our own. We can follow a path that is not God’s will. We are not the deciding factor for others’ salvation. Out of our love & excitement for Jesus we should spread the gospel. That is still our calling.

From all this I have had a major re-evaluation of what I want to do with my life. A life of service to Jesus is a life I could never regret. It begins now. Each decision I make should be targeted towards glorifying God. I’ve been researching some summer missions options. Spending my summer doing missions would be worse professionally than interning in Philly, but do I really want to spend my life doing engineering? The decision begins now. I pray for God to open & close doors in a way that his will for me may be fulfilled.