Theology, Ideology, and Education
Outline of the Chapter
Education and Sunday School
and Literature Distribution
Hodge closes the Introduction of his Systematic Theology
with a consideration of the role of the Bible in Protestant
thinking and practice in which he argues that Protestants have
both the right and the duty to study Scriptures for themselves
in light of the church's common understanding of the meaning
of the Bible. He maintains that Protestants must be "diligent"
in their study, but that at the same time there are no impediments
to their obtaining a correct understanding of the Bible's contents.
The Bible itself, he states, enjoins the people of the church
to study it and teach it to their children, and he makes a point
of criticizing the "tyranny" of the Catholic Church
in setting up the parish priest as the "arbiter of the
faith and morals of his people."
Lodged at the beginning of 2,260 pages of theology packed into
three densely argued volumes, Hodge's observations symbolize
the importance of learning and education to Princeton's understanding
of the Christian faith. In The Way of Life, he confirms
that importance by claiming, as we saw in Chapter Three, that
the Holy Spirit works in rational ways, appropriating the usual
educational and evangelistic "agencies" of the church
to work its divine influence on the people of God. These views
provide some indication of the seriousness with which the Old
School and Princeton took education.
Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 185-86.
of Life, 228.
the preceding chapters, we have seen that the Laos Mission frequently,
perhaps even habitually, conducted its work on the basis of
a system of meanings and doctrines that closely paralleled the
Princeton Theology and was quite possibly influenced, to a degree,
by that theology. McGilvary practiced Baconian evangelism. The
mission advocated medical work on patently Baconian grounds.
McGilvary and Wilson, in 1869, pressed for a Princeton-like
observance of the Sabbath and public profession of faith in
spite of clear political risks. That this same pattern holds
true for the Laos Mission's educational work before 1880 should
already be apparent, particularly in the case of the mission's
evangelistic approach. The Laos Mission pursued evangelistic
strategies that were patently educational in nature, including
especially McGilvary's cosmological debates with northern Siam's
educated elite and the mission's use of Western medicine to
undermine the peoples' faith in traditional religious beliefs.
Princetonian perspective, moreover, the nature of the northern
Thai context itself urgently reinforced the importance of education
because of the negative impact "heathenism" is supposed
to have had on both language and cognition. Green discerned
an absolute contrast between those who speak "Christian"
and "pagan" languages in terms of the "ideas
and modes of thought" that they can express linguistically.
He believed that language shapes people's judgment, character,
and feelings to such an extent that, in the case of non-Christian
languages such as Chinese,
An entirely new class of notions
and associations must be waked up within [the Chinese],
different from any they have ever had, and which there
are no terms capable of conveying to them. It requires
a slow process of elaborate training to eradicate or correct
that concatenated system of false notions which is thus
far the only thing that has ever entered their thoughts.
The language needs to be christianized as well as the
people; the work of transformation in the latter cannot
be complete and thorough until the former shall be reached
Green supposed that the Christianization of
languages such as Chinese (and northern Thai, presumably) demands
an elaborate, long-term, and necessary process of education,
with emphasis on the importance of the process. One could not,
apparently, be truly Christian until one has had ones thinking
and speaking reformed to conform to Christian thought.
took biblical Greek as his model. Although classical Greek was
a refined, polished language with its own high literature and
cultivated modes of expression,
As the language of a Pagan people,
however, it needed a thorough purgation. This was effected
by causing it to circulate for centuries in the Jewish
mind, until it was charged with ideas, and breathed a
life drawn from the Old Testament, and from the divine
training to which the people of Israel had been
Green, "Modern Philology," 639.
subjected for ages. The new idiom
thus created by the transfusion of Jewish thoughts into
the tongue of classic Greece, then stamped into uniformity
and permanence by a special literature of its own, was
finally wrought into its New Testament form by the lips
and pens of the apostles, trained by Christ himself in
the new truths which he came to communicate.
The process of translating Hebrew ideas into Greek, thus, transformed
Greek into a language fit for Christian expression.
or not Wilson and McGilvary read Green's 1864 article in the
Princeton Review on "modern philology," just
quoted, they did create a set of educational activities for
the Laos Mission well-adapted to his underlying principle that
the evangelization of non-Christian peoples requires teaching
them to speak and think in new ways. Northern Thai converts
had to learn virtually a new manner of speaking, one based on
new ideas and inculcating a new set of judgments, character
traits, and emotions. The mission aimed at nothing less, as
we will see, than the transformation of nearly every aspect
of the converts' lives, and it established, or attempted to
establish, a range of educational activities to achieve that
end. Those activities divide themselves into three broad categories:
first, church education, including theological education, Sunday
school, and literacy education; second, formal education; and,
third, printing and literature distribution. If we include the
Laos Mission's Baconian evangelism among its educational activities,
it is not too much to say that the mission used educational
activities as the chief engine of its overall program both for
reaching the general populace and for nurturing the emerging
northern Thai church.
Mission's Enlightenment trust in human knowing, the perception
that as a Christian agency it knew the truth, Reformed views
on the total depravity of the heathen, and an understanding
of the Bible as the only source of saving knowledge played,
as we saw in Chapter Five, a key role in the establishment of
the northern Thai church. That Enlightenment-Reformed system
of meanings and doctrines encouraged the mission to challenge
the power of the state by insisting that the converts make public
declaration of their faith and keep the Sabbath. It discouraged
the mission from heeding the converts' advice on conversion
in a northern Thai context and on participation in northern
Thai ritual. That same theological and ideological complex convinced
the mission that it had to retrain its converts in a process
that amounted to a one-way transfer of information, attitudes,
values, and beliefs. An intriguing passing comment
Green, "Modern Philology," 640.
by Wilson symbolizes the
depth of the mission's concern for "one-way" education.
In the mission's annual report for 1879-1880, Wilson emphasized
the pressing need the mission faced in educating its converts,
and he illustrated his point with the example of one convert
who told Wilson that he believed that the Hindu god, Phra In,
is the angel Gabriel. Wilson rejected such apparently fantastical
thinking and called for more teachers for the converts and a
still more long-suffering care of them.
He did not see the convert's ideas as an opportunity for dialogue
or learning, but as an indication that the convert required
more educating and that the mission had to place even more emphasis
on training and oversight. The mission's system of doctrines
and meanings, in short, guided its educational activities as
surely as it determined the mission's evangelistic strategies.
Mission did not initiate a formal program of theological education
until 1889, when it founded its Training School for evangelists
and church workers,
but McGilvary felt a burden for preparing converts for ordained
ministry from the earliest days of the northern Thai church.
In July 1869, he reported that he planned to start up a theological
training class for three of the seven converts as soon as possible;
he wanted to prepare them as assistants with the hope that some
of them would eventually become pastors.
The persecution of September 1869 cut short his plans for that
class. In late 1875, however, when the Chiang Mai Church was
showing signs of renewal, McGilvary informed the Board of Foreign
Missions of his interest in one younger convert, Nan Chai, who
had an educational background that made him well qualified to
become an evangelist and minister. In stating his hopes for
Nan Chai, he avows, "No burden weighs so heavily on my
own mind now as the prayer that God will raise up laborers among
the Laos themselves. From our distant and isolated position
we cannot hope to have a large reinforcement of foreign laborers."
He goes on to state that, “The substantial character of
the Laos as a race will I have no doubt enable more to be accomplished
thru native assistants than in many other heathen lands.”
In 1875, however, McGilvary was not yet in a position to act
on his concern for developing the abilities of northern Thai
Christians to assist in the work of the Laos Mission. The Chiang
Mai Church showed only the first glimmerings of its coming modest
took the mission's first, tentative step towards establishing
a formal system of theological education when he began to tutor
Noi Intachak in theology; we have already met
Wilson to Brethren, [Annual Report], 30 September 1880, v. 4,
Khrischak Muang Nua, 80-4.
the Little Folks,” NCP New Series 3, 107 (19 January
Irving, 1 November 1875, v. 3, BFM.
this young convert in Chapter Five, where his
plans to marry Kam Tip resulted in the Edict of Religious Toleration.
Elected an elder in 1879, he shortly thereafter became McGilvary's
private student. In October 1880, McGilvary reported that he
was a conscientious and reliable student who was making good
progress in his studies. He states that Noi Intachak, "
is a young man of great worth, and bids fair to well repay the
time & expense in teaching him."
He possibly had Noi Intachak in mind when he wrote a few months
earlier that, "Our work here has been progressing as we
have prayed it might, mainly through native agency. In all mission
fields, this should be the one great object, to raise up a native
ministry, particularly in distant fields of difficult access
like ours." McGilvary concludes, "A native ministry
and a working church should be our motto."
comments in 1869, 1875, and 1880, it is clear that he saw the
significance of training converts for ministry and felt anxious
to set the process in motion. In 1883, he founded a more formal
training class that involved four full-time students, stating
in two letters in April 1883 that, "The great work of the
mission is to raise up a native ministry, and I am glad that
I have taken the first step towards it," and, again, that
theological education was "the work that I regard of most
importance just now." The class itself did not work out,
but the effort reinforces our appreciation for the significance
McGilvary attached to educating church workers.
He returned to this same theme in his autobiography, where he
chides the Laos Mission for its failure in theological education;
he writes, "I frankly confess that our greatest mistake
has probably been in doing too much of the work ourselves, instead
of training others to do it, and working through them."
had one clear goal for theological education: to equip northern
Thai converts to complement the missionary force, perhaps with
an eye to their one day supplanting the missionaries entirely.
While he did not make a clear connection between theological
education and his system of meanings and doctrines, such as
he did for evangelism, his alma mater's historical experience
throws light on that connection. We will remember that the Presbyterian
Church established Princeton Theological Seminary in 1812 at
a time when it felt beleaguered by dangerous social and religious
forces. The church intended to use the seminary to train pious
clergy in the defense of the faith, an inherently conservative
and apologetical agenda bent on preserving Reformed orthodoxy.
McGilvary, Rahang Substation Report, 1 October 1880, v. 4, BFM;
and McGilvary to Lowrie, 12 October 1880, v. 4, BFM. See also
Sessional Records, 103.
“Letter from Siam,” NCP New Series 13, 665
(6 October 1880): 1.
Cornelia, 23 April 1883, McGilvary Papers; and McGilvary to Irving,
26 April 1883, v. 4, BFM.
Half Century, 416.
Princeton Seminary, 27ff; and Noll, "Founding of
The Princeton Theology was conservative,
at least in part, because the founders saw the creation
of a seminary as one means to combat cultural chaos. It
was conservative, at least in part, because the spirit
of the founders was preserved with unusual fidelity throughout
most of the century.
For McGilvary, as a Princetonian, theologically
trained northern Thai church leaders offered the mission the
same advantages of a conservative, orthodox church leadership.
The Laos Mission's "heathen" context made the whole
matter of preparing a properly educated leadership even more
pressing. Because of that supposedly godless, immoral context,
they faced a social and cultural situation more potentially
dangerous to the fledgling northern Thai church, if anything,
than the one conservative American Presbyterians faced earlier
in the nineteenth century.
turned out, the Laos Mission failed during its pioneer period
to put into place a program of theological training for potential
church leaders. McGilvary's concern for theological education,
however, still highlights the importance of education for the
work of the Laos Mission. Where some other American evangelical
churches emphasized a sense of calling and piety over formal
theological training, McGilvary adhered to the Old School's
insistence that education is a primary prerequisite for the
Literacy Education and Sunday School
extended his concern for Christian education to include every
member of the church, not just those he hoped would one day
lead it. As a self-conscious Calvinist, he naturally centered
that concern on teaching the converts to know and cherish the
Bible, which, as we have seen, he took to be the authoritative
source of Christian truth and faith. He shared this concern
for biblical education with American orthodox evangelicals generally,
who used public (state) school systems as well as Christian
education to inculcate their values, moral standards, and beliefs
in the whole of American society. They believed that education
actually made people more intelligent as well as more receptive
to Christian truths, so that education became, in orthodox evangelical
hands, a tool for evangelism, apologetics, and social uplift.
Presbyterians gained for themselves a particular reputation
for advocating education, especially higher education, as a
key tool for the advancement of the Christian cause.
During its early years, however, the Laos Mission faced serious
obstacles in its efforts to conduct biblical education because
it had yet to translate the Bible into the distinctive northern
Thai alphabet. When Nan Inta began his intense study of the
Christian faith, he first had to learn to read central Thai
before he could read the Bible or the other Christian literature
that the Protestant missions in Bangkok had
Noll, "Founding of Princeton Seminary," 109.
Heathen People," 138ff.
prepared over the years.
Central Thai literacy education soon developed into one of the
mission's most important educational tasks.
once again took the lead in teaching church members and potential
converts to read central Thai as well as in emphasizing the
importance of a literate membership for the Chiang Mai Church.
He consistently paid attention to the literacy skills of the
converts. He noted, for example, that all three of the young
men who received baptism in the opening months of 1877 had learned
to read central Thai as part of their preparation for church
membership and that more than half of the church's sixteen members
at that date could read central Thai capably. He predicted that
central Thai would eventually become the "Christian dialect"
and, beyond that, the language of all of northern Siam. He also
observed that it was easiest to teach illiterate people to read
central Thai, but the mission still needed to develop a northern
Thai literature for those who were already literate in that
the course of the year 1877, McGilvary had opportunity to teach
central Thai literacy to other new converts and potential converts,
including some in-patients at Cheek's bamboo and thatch hospital
and individuals from outlying communities.
After 1877, he continued to teach central Thai literacy as opportunities
arose, and while at Rahang (modern-day Tak) he even taught English
to the children of government officials.
education, be it in central or northern Thai, remained an important
part of McGilvary's ministry throughout his life. At the time
of his death, Dr. James W. McKean wrote,
No one who has done country evangelistic
work with Dr. McGilvary can ever forget the oft-seen picture
of the gray-haired patriarch seated on the bamboo floor
of a thatch-covered Lao home, teaching some one to read.
Of course, the book faced the pupil, and it was often
said that he had taught so many people in this way that
he could read the Lao character very readily with the
book upside down.
Literacy education, then, did not represent
a passing fancy or expediency for McGilvary. It amounted to
a serious educational commitment based on a system of doctrines
and meanings that emphasized the role of the Bible as a source
of both doctrinal truth and enlightened insights in Christian
nothing symbolized McGilvary's commitment to biblical and literacy
education so much as the establishment of Chiang Mai Church's
first Sunday school. In December 1876, he
McGilvary, Half Century, 98.
Irving, 11 March 1877, v. 4, BFM.
Irving, 10 August 1877, v. 4, BFM; and McGilvary to Irving, 1
October 1877, v. 4, BFM.
Report of North Laos Mission for the year ending Sept. 30th 1879,"
30 September 1879, v. 4, BFM; and McGilvary to Lowrie, 12 October
1880, v. 4, BFM.
Quoted in Arthur
J. Brown, "Appreciation," in McGilvary, Half Century,
reported that he had found the task of teaching
new converts and a few others to read a burden, and he organized
a Sunday school that met after worship to assist him in that
work. He recruited several literate members of the church to
teach those members who could not yet read and write; they used
the “Shorter Catechism,” one of the classic statements
of Presbyterian doctrine, as their text.
This Sunday school seems to have remained generally informal
until 1880, when the other members of the mission put it on
a more regular footing by organizing a set of classes. Dr. Cheek
served as the superintendent and took charge of a boys' class.
Sarah Cheek taught a women's literacy class, Cole and Campbell
conducted a class for younger women, and three older girls from
their school supervised an infant class. Wilson taught a Bible
class, and two Christian men taught two men's literacy classes.
Wilson reported an average attendance of about eighty.
the small size of the mission and the church in 1880, the reorganized
Sunday school represented a major programmatic development involving
all of the missionaries. In spite of its new format, however,
it did nothing more than recapitulate the theological, biblical,
and literacy education emphases of earlier years. The expanded
Sunday school also embodied, yet again, the mission's overall
strategy of importing Western forms and strategies to accomplish
its ends in northern Siam. Seymour notes that during the last
four decades of the nineteenth century, the international Sunday
school movement reached its "heyday" in the United
States and other English-speaking nations. After 1860, that
movement experienced rapid growth, the establishment of an international
organization, the development of a widely used international
curriculum, and the emergence of many different training programs
for Sunday school teachers.
In the United States, evangelical churches of all stripes established
Sunday schools as one of a set of key programs aimed at transforming
local churches into complex institutions.
Orthodox evangelicals in both the United States and Chiang Mai,
in sum, found the Sunday school movement especially important
as an embodiment of their central concern for education.
sense, the Laos Mission's educational work up to 1880 does not
seem to amount to much. McGilvary took on one young man as a
theological student. He spent an indeterminate amount of time
teaching an unknown number of people to read central Thai. He
set up a Sunday school, which his colleagues later expanded
and reorganized. When viewed from the
McGilvary to Irving, 4 December 1876, v. 3, BFM.
Wilson to Irving,
12 February 1880, v. 4, BFM; and Wilson to Brethren, 30 September
1880, v. 4.
Jack L. Seymour,
From Sunday School to Church School: Continuities in Protestant
Church Education in the United States, 1860-1929 (Latham,
Maryland: University Press of America, 1982), 55.
to Civil War, 13-4.
difficult situation the mission faced in the
1860s and 1870s, however, when for long periods McGilvary was
the only healthy missionary able to work full time, his efforts
take on much greater importance. The Laos Mission's commitment
to theological, literacy, and local church educational programs
symbolizes, furthermore, the importance of placing the Princeton
Theology's relationship to the mission in a broad context. For,
as Johnson points out, orthodox evangelicals from several denominations
and traditions grounded their educational concerns, as did the
Princetonians, in their traditional Protestant emphasis on the
Scriptures as the sole source authority over Christian faith.
Johnson observes of the orthodox evangelicals that,
Given their belief that God spoke
only through the written word, formal [orthodox] evangelicals
saw it as their duty to spread institutions of literacy,
which made it possible for common folk to read and understand
the Word of God. These believers were also committed to
an orderly, productive, and modernizing society and saw
themselves, the best-educated evangelicals in the land,
as arbiters of the new order.
Princeton and the Laos Mission comprised two
overlapping circles enveloped by this larger American orthodox
evangelical context, Princeton best articulating what we might
call "evangelical scholasticism" on paper and the
mission in programs.
the considerable amount of its limited time and resources that
the Laos Mission invested in educational activities, it may
not be overstating the case to argue that the mission looked
upon itself and on the Chiang Mai Church as being, first and
foremost, educational agencies. McGilvary, at key moments in
the church's early history, sought to institute rudimentary
programs for the theological education of its leadership. The
whole mission concerned itself with literacy education and the
instruction of new members, especially in the Bible. In keeping
with its conservative American evangelical heritage, then, the
mission invested a great deal in the process of education as
the best way to establish a strong, intelligent church. It also
relied on education as yet another tool for evangelistic outreach,
and from nearly the beginning aimed at the establishment of
formal educational institutions to the end that it could reach
northern Thai society with Christian and Western learning. It
believed, we will remember, that Western learning must inevitably
drive out traditional knowledge just as the Christian religion
must necessarily drive out traditional religion.
years up to 1880, the Laos Mission made two major efforts at
establishing a school. The first one, undertaken in 1871, failed.
The second attempt succeeded, leading not
Johnson, Road to Civil War, 23-4. See also, Marsden,
Evangelical Mind, 30.
only to the establishment of the mission's
first school but also to the beginnings of formal women's education
in northern Siam.
The Burman School
last day of 1870, McGilvary reported to the Board that some
princes wanted the mission to open a school to educate a number
of the princes' followers and that the mission hoped to respond
in the near future. He also asserted, as an inarguable principle,
the statement that the mission could not build up the church
without the aid of schools.
McGilvary did not see the projected school simply as a way of
influencing the larger society or for gaining converts, but
he also saw it, specifically, as a tool necessary for "building
up" the church. In the end, however, this first school
did not live up to the mission's hopes for it, and we have almost
no information about it. It appears to have lasted for roughly
one year, from some time early in 1871 until either late 1871
or early 1872. The school had only a few students, most of them
evidently children of "Burman" parents, although a
few northern Thai students also attended. Wilson took charge
of the school, and the mission hired a young Burmese who spoke
English to teach, hoping that the prospect of learning English
would entice more northern Thai students to enroll. They did
not, and eventually some or all of the students themselves withdrew
from the school, leaving the mission no choice but to close
it. As far as McGilvary and Wilson could tell, parents of students
and potential students were reluctant to become associated too
closely with the missionaries, fearing official displeasure
and possible retaliation.
Wilson later observed that Chao Intanon, Chao Bunthawong, and
other top political leaders saw no need for education or for
Western-style schools and Wilson asked, rhetorically, “Unable
to read themselves why should they wish the common people to
know the advantages of a school?”
from official indifference, the Laos Mission failed to establish
a school in 1871 because it lacked a Christian constituency
as the core around which a school could coalesce. The mission
also lacked the staff and the educational resources necessary
to take advantage of what seemed to be an opportunity for mission
outreach. Premature as it was, however, the mission's eagerness
to grasp this opportunity to initiate formal educational work
suggests how close education was to the missionary heart. Over
the course of the next few years, the Laos Mission continued
to work towards the founding of a school, and in the larger
scale of things, it did not take long for it to attain that
McGilvary to Irving, 31 December 1870, v. 3, BFM.
Wilson to Irving,
24 October 1871, v. 3, BFM; McGilvary to Irving, 5 February 1872,
v. 3, BFM; and Wilson, undated letter, FM 31, 10 (March
1873): 307-08. See also, McGilvary, Half Century, 177.
Wilson to Irving,
15 March 1875, v. 3, BFM.
the initial effort at founding a mission school wound its way
to a dismal end, McGilvary wrote to the Board in late 1872 concerning
yet another of his dreams and schemes, namely the appointment
of single women to the mission. He cited the fact that women
were nearly the equals of men in northern Thai society and the
political influence of Chao Mae Tip Keson, the "Princess"
of Chiang Mai, as evidence that "enlightened Christian
women" could exert great influence over northern Thai women.
McGilvary did not mention the possibility of a girls' school,
but whether he had such an eventuality in mind at the time,
his letter anticipated events of just seven years later. In
the mission's annual report for 1874, in the meantime, Wilson
noted that Chao Intanon's son had visited Burma and came back
to Chiang Mai impressed with the Baptist missionary schools
he saw there; his enthusiasm inspired a brief flurry of educational
interest in the palace that soon died down. Chao Intanon and
Chao Bunthawong remained completely indifferent and unsupportive.
Five, we saw that the Chiang Mai Church did not begin to recover
from the persecution of 1869 or win any number of new converts
until 1875. The church's modest renewal that began in that year
and gained momentum in the following years created the conditions
that made it possible for the mission to start its first permanent
school. Although the exact date is uncertain, Sophia McGilvary
took the first step in that direction at some point during the
year 1875 when she gathered a small group of Christian girls
into what we might today consider a tutoring center. The six
to eight students involved lived with the McGilvarys, and Sophia
gave them as much time as her health and family responsibilities
allowed. She apparently worked with the students individually
as much as in a class and, at the beginning at least, she taught
them primarily to read, presumably in central Thai. By September
1876, the mission was laying firm plans to start a girl's school
and applied to the Board for two women missionary teachers for
records for roughly the next two years are silent about developments
in Sophia's tutoring class, but then in later 1878 her husband
reported to the readers of the North Carolina Presbyterian
that, “More has been done than ever towards a school.
We have the nucleus of a girls' school of ten pupils, started
in part to educate the children of the church and preparatory
to the teachers who have been promised to carry it on a larger
All the mission lacked was the promised teachers, and that problem
was soon remedied.
McGilvary to Irving, 4 December 1872, v. 3, BFM.
Wilson to Executive
Committee, 30 September 1874, v. 3, BFM.
“For the Family,” NCP New Series 9, 417 (7
January 1876): 4; McGilvary, Laos Mission Annual Report, 1 October
1875 to 1 October 1876, v. 3, BFM; and McGilvary, Half Century,
“For the Little Folks,” NCP New Series 12,
579 (12 February 1879): 1.
we recall the time Daniel McGilvary devoted to literacy work
and his Sunday school, by 1876 he and Sophia together were investing
considerable effort in educational activities. During most of
this period, the Wilsons were on furlough and Dr. Cheek tended
to spend large blocks of time in Bangkok, leaving only the McGilvarys
to carry out the work in Chiang Mai. Where other missionaries
in other evangelical missions devoted their time to literature
distribution, house-to-house visitation, and public evangelistic
campaigns, Daniel McGilvary gave an important part of his attention
to teaching people to read, tutoring a potential theological
student, and organizing a Sunday school. Sophia McGilvary tutored
young girls. Even when McGilvary distributed medicines, he ultimately
hoped that the local citizenry would learn to trust Western
science and religion. He was still educating the people.
The Girls' School
from his own furlough, Wilson escorted Edna Cole and Mary Campbell
on their trip from the United States through Bangkok to Chiang
Mai, the party finally arriving there in April 1879, after a
trip of four and one-half months. Cole and Campbell, we will
remember, had just graduated from Western Female Seminary, Oxford,
Ohio, where, in the grip of an intense religious revival, they
each decided, separately, to respond to the Laos Mission's call
for single women missionaries. Cole was 25 and Campbell 21 years'
old—young, dedicated women filled with a deep sense of
their calling to serve God and their students, "their girls,"
in Chiang Mai.
The new missionaries' educational efforts met with immediate
success. They took over Sophia's class and within a week doubled
the number of students from six to twelve; they counted among
their students Kam Tip, whose wedding plans had led to the Edict
of Religious Toleration just the year before. They also had
an assistant teacher, Chantah. Cole and Campbell entered into
their work enthusiastically and experienced an immediate love
for their students.
By September 1879, they had 18 girls living and studying with
them full time, plus another 11 students who studied at home
but spent some time each day at the girls' school. Cole and
Campbell anticipated another one or two full time day students,
making a total of 30 or 31 students under their care. Wilson
insisted on turning his home over to the school, and he moved
into a temporary bamboo house.
wrote home that most days she and Cole had numerous visitors
who came to observe both how the two young missionaries lived
personally and how they conducted their
Mary Margaretta Campbell, 16ff; McGilvary, Half Century,
221-22; Cole, letter dated 25 January 1872, WWW 9, 6
(June 1879): 205-06; and Campbell, letter dated 19 April 1879,
WWW 9, 11 (November 1879): 389-91.
Mary Margaretta Campbell, 26; and Campbell, undated letter,
WWW 9, 12 (December 1879): 424-25.
Margaretta Campbell, 28-9.
educational work, recalling the McGilvarys
and Wilsons' experience of the 1860s. She claimed that these
visitors were especially taken with the students' singing, which
had become quite good and which impressed them with the abilities
of their own people. She further noted that the singing at Chiang
Mai Church's worship also improved under the influence of the
girls. The two young missionary teachers exercised a decided
influence over their students, introducing to them the same
evangelical, revivalist piety that they themselves had experienced
as students. By the end of 1879, several of the girls had begun
to seek membership in the church. The first of them to be received
was among the ten who joined the church on the last Sunday in
December of that year.
In a letter to Mary's parents written in 1881, McGilvary praised
both Campbell and Cole for the astonishing success they experienced
in such a brief period. He wrote of the students that, "Many
of their pupils are already recorded on the church’s roll,
and give evidence of a new heart by a new life."
We will remember from Chapter Two the emphasis both Princeton
generally and McGilvary in particular placed on the importance
of reaching the heart through the mind. The new girls' school
became one of the mission's chief agencies for achieving that
the pioneer members of the Laos Mission, as we also saw in Chapter
Two, were more thoroughly evangelical in their revivalist fervor
than Cole and Campbell. Campbell captured the depth of that
evangelical ardor in a letter she wrote about their trip up
to Chiang Mai; along the way, their party set a small brush
fire "after the fashion of the Siamese." In her letter,
she exclaims, "How we long to see the spiritual fire spread
as rapidly, sweeping every thing before it."
Reflecting the more critical side of their fervor, Cole complained,
while still in Bangkok, that, "We have seen so much of
heathenism since coming here that our hearts are sick and we
long for the time when our Lord shall come and claim this kingdom."
There is nothing to distinguish these sentiments, positive and
negative, from the outlook of millions of American evangelicals
of all stripes and sects, but what does capture our attention
is the manner in which the Laos Mission took two zealous young
evangelicals and "stuck" them in a formal educational
setting. No one in the mission, including Campbell and Cole
themselves, seems to have felt it a strange or inappropriate
place for them. On the contrary, these Old School Presbyterians—heirs
to Reformed "scholasticism" and the Scottish Enlightenment—would
have argued that in a "heathen land" a school was
the very best place the mission could have placed them. In a
school, they could educate the minds and prepare the hearts
of their students in that blend of evangelical piety and Old
School intellection exemplified by the Princeton Theology. It
might be argued
Peabody, Mary Margaretta Campbell, 29-32.
Margaretta Campbell, 49.
Margaretta Campbell, 21-2
dated 25 January 1879, WWW 9, 6 (June 1879): 205-06.
that nineteenth-century American thinking concerning
the place of women limited the work Cole and Campbell could
do to education. The Laos Mission, nonetheless, went out of
its way to recruit them specifically to that work, still seeing
no contradiction between it and their revivalistic inclinations.
said, as we have already seen, that one best reaches the heart
through the mind. It is important in the context of the Laos
Mission's educational program, however, to emphasize the manner
in which the Princetonians made that point by clothing this
essentially scholastic approach to religious conversion in evangelical
garb. Hodge states in his celebrated, widely read treatise,
The Way of Life, that faith is a gift from God and
that, "The evidence indeed is presented to all, or there
would be no obligation to believe; but men are morally blind,
and therefore the eyes of their understanding must be opened
that they may understand the things which are freely given to
them of God." He goes on to state that, "believers
are the recipients of an influence, an unction, from the Holy
One, which convinces them of the truth, makes them see and know
that it is truth."
The whole process of conversion, that is, begins for Hodge with
the presentation of evidence. Although he would have disagreed
in theory, in practice it seems as if God did not enter into
the process of conversion until the potential convert received
information through one agency or another. Later in The
Way of Life, Hodge argues that those in search of faith
must assent to certain facts and integrate that assent into
their very consciousness. The search for faith requires, he
says, a certain "state of mind," and he writes, "Whatever
may be the particular occasion, the mind is led to fix itself
on its responsibility to God and the conviction of its guilt
becomes settled and confirmed." Hodge insisted that the
human heart resists this process and rises up against the very
idea that it stands under God's condemnation. Only strict adherence
to the truth can change the heart, which means that pious judgment
and sentiment must conform themselves to the objective truths
revealed in the Bible.
At each turn, Hodge grounds all other aspects of the Christian
life in the process of receiving and understanding data and
integrating that data into one's consciousness.
scholastic approach to the Christian life and the point already
made in this chapter that he believed that one acquires faith
through normal means and agencies take on added significance
in light of Cole and Campbell's educational approach to the
evangelization of the northern Thai. In The Way of Life,
Hodge states explicitly that religious knowledge and experience
do not come by way of some mysterious, extra-mundane means.
He writes, "What has been said hitherto is designed to
illustrate the nature of saving faith, as it is represented
in the Scriptures. It differs from all other acts of the mind
to which the term faith is applied, mainly on
Hodge, Way of Life, 62.
of Life, 108-10, 113.
account of the nature of
the evidence on which it is founded." He also states that,
"There is one general truth in relation to this point which
is clearly taught in the Bible; and that is, that all true repentance
springs from right views of God." He concludes, as was
quoted more fully above, "The in-dwelling of the Spirit,
therefore, in the people of God, does not supersede their own
Faith, in sum, differs from other forms of knowledge primarily
in terms of the data it draws upon, data taken from the Bible
and orthodox theological doctrines. The Holy Spirit does not
appear (to Old School Presbyterians, at any rate) in the midst
of wild, ecstatic frenzy or deep mystical experiences, but it
appropriates, rather, the normal processes of learning to its
own spiritual ends. McGilvary made the same point in the first
of his series of articles on missionary medicine, cited in Chapter
Four. He observes that Jesus and the apostles relied upon miraculous
powers of teaching and healing that have since been withdrawn
from the church. The nineteenth-century church therefore had
to rely upon less spectacular methods, for, as he states, "…the
extraordinary and temporary have given place to the permanent
and ordinary means which God has ordained to employ and bless
for the temporal and spiritual welfare of man."
and Cole themselves relished the prospect of engaging in educational
work. They could not wait to get to Chiang Mai and take up founding
the girls' school. After they had been at the task for six months,
Campbell told the Board how Christ had "claimed" three
of their students "for his own," and she enthused,
"Oh, how we thank Him and pray that he will not leave us
until all are His!" She prayed that God would be their
strength, wisdom, and source of guidance and blessing.
In December 1879, she reported still greater results from their
first year's efforts, writing,
But I have not told you how the Saviour
is still with us, calling our girls to Himself. Last Sabbath,
five presented themselves to be received into the church
with two of our day scholars. We have sufficient evidence
for believing that part have really given their hearts
to the Saviour, but it was thought best to give them another
month, until our next communion, and if at that time they
still wish to publicly confess Him, we can hesitate no
longer. In other hearts there is the quiet, deep working
of the Spirit. Oh, how unworthy we are of all our Saviour
is doing for us! Pray that we may be brought nearer, and
work more earnestly for Him.
Her words contain a full measure of revivalist
ardor, but subsuming her evangelical piety were the grand Reformed
themes most clearly articulated for Old School American Presbyterians
Hodge, Way of Life, 159-60, 167, 228.
"Medical Missions and Missionary Physicians - No. I,"
Irving, 20 October 1879, v. 4, BFM.
Margaretta Campbell, 31-2.
Princeton: God's activity, election, the quiet
and orderly working of the Holy Spirit, the unworthiness of
the worker, and the deep sense of God's grace in Christ.
or not, furthermore, we can demonstrate a clear connection between
Hodge's theology and Campbell and Cole's perception of their
work, the two new missionaries shared his reliance on knowledge,
under the guidance of the Spirit, to bring the unconverted to
Christ. Commenting in a letter written at the very end of July
1880 concerning the admission to the church of still more of
her students, Campbell writes, "Oh, for a tongue to teach
them more of the Saviour they have confessed, for they are such
babes in their knowledge." The problem was not merely with
the students, however. She continues, "We understand enough
of the language to teach the story of Genesis, but are often
puzzled to convey the spiritual meaning."
Campbell, the deeply committed evangelical teacher, had begun
to wrestle with the pedagogical issues involved in transferring
her knowledge and understanding of the Christian faith to her
students. Although baptized Christians, her students still knew
too little about that faith and lacked vital spiritual information,
while she and Cole found it difficult to convey the Bible's
deeper meanings to northern Thai students in the medium of their
own language. Later, after Mary Campbell's death in the muddy
waters of the Chao Phraya River, Cole struggled on alone and
felt even more keenly how truly difficult it was for her students
to understand the Christian faith. In an undated letter published
in December 1882, she reported that another five girls' school
students would join the church. She felt, however, that they
still did not understand the fact of their own evil natures
or God's plan of salvation. She writes, "I want to see
a thorough repentance for sin and a real longing for the new
life in Jesus. They have a little life; they move and breathe;
but oh, for real life in Jesus!" In another letter, published
in March 1883, Cole seems to have felt somewhat more optimistic,
but still troubled. She had been teaching the Bible to eight
of her students and reported that she sometimes felt encouraged
by their answers to her questions; those answers showed a degree
of thoughtfulness and "awakening." Still, heathenism's
ignorance appeared to infect them and all of the converts. They
did not understand the "vital points" of the Christian
faith. She concluded that the situation would improve if the
Laos Mission could translate, publish, and distribute northern
the epistemological deficiencies of her students depressed Cole,
her correspondence contains no similar criticisms of their behavior,
the depth of their affection for her, or their
See also, Cole, undated letter, WWW 9, 12 (December 1879):
425-26; and Campbell, letter dated 18 December 1879, WWW
10, 6 (June 1880): 210-11.
Margaretta Campbell, 32-3.
letter, WWW 12, 12 (December 1882): 411; and Cole, undated letter,
WWW 13, 3 (March 1883): 83.
level of commitment to their new faith.
In the letter published in March 1883, mentioned just above,
she noted with a hint of pride the substantial sacrifices converts
had to make when they became Christians. She fixed, however,
on the supposedly plain fact of their ignorance of the key doctrines
of the Christian faith and seems to have assumed that true faith
is dependent upon understanding the meaning of those doctrines.
We will recollect from earlier chapters that Princeton had a
relatively broad conception of "understanding" that
included spiritual insight as well as the accumulation of factual
knowledge. Cole and Campbell, from what we have said of them
so far here and in Chapter Two, shared that broad understanding
and sought to teach their students a vital way of living as
much as to instruct them in any particular set of facts. Cole,
in particular however, also shared the Princetonians' concern
for the objective, factual base on which both she and they believed
all faithful Christians must ground their faith. A student once
came to Cole to consult with her about a difficult home situation
in which the girl's family rejected her new religion; she was
afraid and uncertain. Cole told her about Jesus' suffering in
this world. She described how Jesus now resides in heaven and
intercedes for Christians. Cole then told her to go home and
face the problems there, hoping that her student had understood
the lessons she taught her and would take her strength only
Cole rested her counsel on the premise that, if her student
understood what Jesus had done on earth and who he is now, she
would gain the ability to withstand the problems she faced in
her home. In her simple, loving wish for the well being of her
student lay what we can only call a scholastic evangelicalism:
know, she enjoined this student, and from that knowledge take
strength in Jesus, the personal Saviour. Edna Cole's evangelical
and scholastic instincts, that is, paralleled Princeton's: know,
and in that knowing, believe.
Campbell's approach to their missionary tasks, when compared
to that of Wilson and McGilvary, reveals a somewhat different
juxtaposition of the confessional, commonsensical, and evangelical
elements that informed all of the missionaries' systems of doctrines
and meanings. Without denying the influence of evangelical piety
on their thinking and behavior, McGilvary and Wilson demonstrated
a strong reliance on the grand doctrines of the Reformed faith
and a strong inclination towards Common Sense Realism. They
were what we might term "classical scholastics" in
that they drew their emphasis on the importance of the mind
as the channel for reaching the heart from post-Reformation
orthodoxy and the Scottish Enlightenment. Evangelical piety
appears to take something of a "backseat" to these
other elements, particularly in McGilvary's writings. Cole and
Campbell, as we have already seen in Chapter Two, represented
a less classical, more evangelical approach, one that fully
valued an educa-
See, for example, Cole to Irving, 1 October 1880, v. 4, BFM.
letter, WWW 11, 7 (July 1881): 224-26.
tional approach but grounded that approach
in a warmer, more exuberant piety. Their writings reveal much
less of a Reformed base and the direct influences of Common
Sense Philosophy, although substantial traces remain once one
knows to look for them. A number of factors contributed to these
differing emphases. Campbell and Cole were young and they were
new to the field; one expects a certain amount of exuberant
piety from them, almost as a matter of course. The two senior
missionaries, moreover, had theological training, which they
received at the hands of several key representatives of the
Princeton Theology. Campbell and Cole did not have formal theological
training as such. In the end, however, one suspects that these
two sets of missionaries, one older and one younger, simply
represented two different eras. Wilson and McGilvary grew up
during the Antebellum, a time when the engines of Reformed and
Scottish Enlightenment thinking still pulled great weight on
the American scene. The split between radical and conservative
evangelicals was only gradually narrowing. The Old School was
a separate denomination and had a distinct identity of its own.
Cole and Campbell grew up in a much different social and theological
climate. The Old School merged with the New School while they
were still children. The distinction between radical and conservative
evangelicals, meanwhile, counted for less, and the drift away
from interest in formal systems of theology was accelerating.
Different times and training led to different emphases, but
in spite of these differences both sets of missionaries, senior
and junior, shared a profound commitment to education as the
way to convert the northern Thai people to Christianity.
comments on the differences between McGilvary and Wilson in
comparison with Cole and Campbell reinforce our sense that it
is impossible to claim that the Princeton Theology had a profound
impact on the work of the Laos Mission during its pioneer period.
The sources of missionary behavior are too dependent on a variety
of factors, including age, background, and theological training,
to allow the easy assertion of any direct links of significance.
At the same time, even Campbell and Cole acted like
Princetonians would act and their correspondence contains a
nascent, unsystematic theology something like the Princeton
school proved itself a dead end. The girls' school was an immediate
success, and in spite of having to face many future obstacles
eventually evolved, under the name of Dara Academy, into one
of the two premier Christian educational institutions of northern
Siam. The Laos Mission, more generally, invested a large portion
of its time, personnel, and resources in the establishment of
an elaborate educational system that placed boarding schools
in all of its stations and, after 1900, inspired the emergence
of numerous local church parochial schools. In the process,
the mission played a substantial role in women's education and
fostering of new social roles for northern
Thai women. Mission schools also produced many of the first
teachers for the Bangkok government schools in the North and
otherwise provided models for government educational efforts.
As the years passed, meanwhile, the mission itself depended
more and more on its schools to train church leaders and provide
resources for church life.
The "scholastic," "enlightened," and institutional
approach to church life and evangelistic outreach remained thus
a key mark of the mission's life throughout its history. Like
the Earth's molten core, the mission's Reformed, Enlightened,
and Evangelical system of doctrines and meanings lay deep within
everything its members wrote and did.
Printing and Literature
one, as we have already observed, went through a process of
evaluation and planning in anticipation of the founding of a
new mission in northern Siam. Later, during the Laos Mission's
pioneer era, the missionaries never instituted a formal, or
even informal, process for evaluating the lessons they could
learn from their early experience in Chiang Mai. The McGilvarys
and Wilsons came with a clear set of cognitive blueprints already
in place, ones that included a large place for Baconian evangelism
and medicine, churches founded along the lines of Presbyterian
congregations in America, the establishment of key American
Presbyterian liturgical and pietistic practices, and the creation
of Western educational institutions. The theological and ideological
assumptions the pioneer members of the mission brought with
them preclude the necessity of "thinking through"
the use of Western, American, and Presbyterian methods and forms.
They knew the truth of their religion. They understood the evils
of heathenism. They believed God inspired them and their methods.
They discerned the presence of the Holy Spirit carrying them
forward even under the most trying circumstances. Given this
set of meanings and doctrines, the mission felt no motivation
to rethink any aspect of its work.
as the Wilsons and McGilvarys could see, then, their system
of doctrines and meanings provided them with a clear plan of
action for Chiang Mai, one involving the usual set of evangelistic,
educational, and medical activities. Printing took its place
on this list of unquestioned, assumed activities as having a
special importance in the missionaries' drive to re-educate
the northern Thai. As early as 1864, McGilvary ranked the establishment
of a printing press high on the list of the future Laos Mission's
priorities, and, under his leadership, the Siam Mission formed
a committee to acquire northern Thai script type.
The Laos Mission had to wait until the 1870s, however, before
it took its first concrete steps towards setting up a printing
See, Swanson, "Advocate and Partner," 299-301; Vachara,
"Modern Education," 125, passim.; and Herbert
R. Swanson, "A New Generation: Missionary Education and Changes
in Women's Roles in Traditional Northern Thai Society," Sojourn
3, 2 (August 1988): 187-206.
Lowrie, 10 May 1864, v. 2, BFM; and McGilvary to Brethren, 5 December
1864, v. 2, BFM.
establishment. At some point before the end
of 1870, it acquired a lithographic press but then faced the
serious obstacle of carting its large and extremely heavy containers
upriver from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Boat captains refused to
undertake the task, and it was some time before the mission
finally got the press up to Chiang Mai. There is no record of
when it actually reached the city, and we only hear about it
again when McGilvary informed the Board in February 1872 that
Wilson had closed the Burman school and planned to begin working
on the press instead. Wilson himself reported that he had opened
the boxes the press arrived in and begun to set it up.
After this hopeful beginning, however, the reality of trying
to run a press in Chiang Mai set in. The lithographic press
itself seemed to be in fine working condition, but Wilson found
it impossible to make good impressions using the ink that came
with it. He tried to read the machine's German manual, but could
not understand enough to solve the ink problem. He even tried
to make a substitute ink himself, but he eventually informed
the Board that the mission lacked both the materials and expertise
needed to operate the press successfully. In his 1873 annual
report to the Board, Wilson also observed that he simply did
not have the time or the physical strength to invest in the
press when there was so much else to be done.
Several years later, in 1877, McGilvary admitted to the Board
that the lithographic press was a "dead loss" that
had wasted $400 to $500.
McGilvary looked in other directions for a solution to the problem
of how to set up a press in Chiang Mai. While on furlough, he
had asked the American Bible Society (ABS) for financial assistance
in obtaining a northern Thai font. Although the ABS granted
him the funds, he was unable to make use of them because he
had made no progress towards getting that type font made. In
May 1875, after his return to Chiang Mai, McGilvary alerted
the Board of Foreign Missions that he still wanted to obtain
a font of type if possible. He suggested that his brother-in-law
in the United States, Cornelius Bradley, might be willing to
help. Bradley knew central Thai well and had a scholarly bent
of mind, and his father, Dr. Bradley, had trained him as a printer.
McGilvary sent along with his letter to the Board samples taken
from well-known northern Thai scribes, including Chao Tamalangka,
reputed to be the best scribe in the North.
of their repeated failures, then, both Wilson and McGilvary
had not changed their mind about the necessity of establishing
a working press in Chiang Mai; and while all of this talk of
stones and ink seems to be far removed from the mission's "system
of doctrines and
McGilvary to Irving, 7 October 1870, v. 3, BFM; McGilvary to Irving,
31 December 1870, v. 3, BFM; McGilvary to Irving, 5 February 1872,
v. 3, BFM; and Wilson to Irving, 8 February 1872, v. 3, BFM.
Wilson to Irving,
28 September 1872, v. 3, BFM; and Wilson, “Annual Report
of the North Laos Mission,” 30 September 1873, v. 3, BFM.
Irving, 11 March 1877, v. 4, BFM.
Irving, 2 May 1875, v. 3, BFM.
meanings," in reality Wilson and McGilvary
pursued the establishment of a printing press for largely theological
reasons. Cole made that point when she claimed, above, that
printed northern Thai Bibles offered the best hope for teaching
the northern Thai converts to understand the Christian faith.
The mission wanted a press so it could create a northern Thai
Christian literature and especially so it could publish a northern
Thai Bible. Translation work, however, was also not progressing
very rapidly. McGilvary reported in May 1875 that he had not
been able to revise his preliminary translation of the Gospel
of Matthew because of the press of other work. Thus, he could
not send it to be printed as soon as a font was available. Nine
months later McGilvary was still struggling to finish the revision
of Matthew. At that time he acknowledged that even his revision
was of limited quality because he lacked the critical and linguistic
tools needed, such as a Greek text of the New Testament as well
as access to the latest in textual criticism.
The two senior missionaries, nonetheless, remained committed
to a press.
own admission, both McGilvary and Wilson confessed that they
lacked the time, tools, and skills to put a printing establishment
into place and the time and tools to carry out translation work;
in spite of these facts, they persevered. Dr. Cheek, meanwhile,
had growing doubts about the wisdom of the whole printing venture.
He informed the Board in 1875 that setting up a press in Chiang
Mai would be an expensive task, and he doubted that the benefits
would justify that expense. Cheek advised the Board that it
would be better to use the Siam Mission’s press in Bangkok
for printing northern Thai materials and invest the money saved
in other, more worthwhile ventures. He also correctly predicted
that it would take many years to translate the Bible.
Events over the next five years generally confirmed his skepticism.
In 1876, Wilson returned to the United States on furlough with
plans to acquire a northern Thai font, but nothing seems to
have come of those plans. Four years later, in 1880, the mission
did succeed in acquiring a font, but part of it was lost in
shipping. Wilson, meanwhile, continued to lament the technical
obstacles he faced in setting up a functioning press, complaining
to the Board that he felt "outside" the world. McGilvary
made some progress on his translation of Matthew during the
last years of the pioneer era, but still had to ask the Board
to send him some very basic translation helps.
Meanwhile, the other 65 books of the Bible awaited translation.
In the years after 1880, the Laos Mission continued to struggle
with the profound difficulties involved in trying to import
a completely new modern technology in the face of nearly insurmountable
technical and transportation obstacles. It finally did succeed
in 1893, and eventually the Chiang Mai Mission Press developed
into a major printing establishment, printing millions
to Irving, 2 May 1875, v. 3, BFM; and McGilvary to Irving, 22
February 1876, v. 3, BFM.
Cheek to Ellinwood,
21 August 1875, v. 3, BFM.
Irving, 1 November 1875, v. 3, BFM; McGilvary to Irving, 22 February
1876, v. 3, BFM; McGilvary to Irving, 15 April 1876, v. 3, BFM;
and Wilson to Irving, 5 October 1880, v. 4, BFM
of pages of religious literature and "secular"
job work each year. Although by 1914 the mission managed to
publish a complete northern Thai New Testament, it only finished
translations of 34 books of the whole Bible and never did manage
to put a complete northern Thai Bible in the church's hands.
of the fact that Cheek surely gave a more realistic assessment
from a strictly business point of view of the impracticability
of setting up a press in Chiang Mai, Wilson and McGilvary never
wavered in their determination to achieve that goal. They would
have rejected any suggestion that they themselves were unrealistic
and surely would have argued that Cheek failed to see the urgency
of translating and publishing the Bible for the sake of the
mission's work. Relying on the Siam Mission's press, located
weeks and weeks away from the North, simply would not do. Cheek,
presumably, accepted the premise that publishing comprised an
important adjunct to the mission's overall strategy, but his
comments suggest a more "hard-headed" approach to
the matter. Cheek accepted the Old School system of meanings
and doctrines only in a general, somewhat indifferent manner
and, as we saw in Chapter Two, eventually withdrew from the
mission entirely to pursue his private business ventures. The
two senior missionaries took a far more serious view of the
question of doctrine, while also accepting whole-heartedly the
meanings implied in the Old School theological system they studied
at Princeton. Faith in the Bible as the literal, unquestioned
Word of God comprised an important element of that system for
the mission as well as the seminary, as we saw in both Chapters
Two and Three.
and Chiang Mai's shared faith in the Christian Scriptures also
was grounded in their larger Old School system of doctrines
and meanings. Marsden points out that Antebellum American evangelicals
of all persuasions, furthermore, shared an unquestioning reverence
for the Bible founded on two Western intellectual and epistemological
assumptions: first, the Bible can be clearly and correctly understood
by all individuals; second, all truth is one. He then highlights
the important role Common Sense Philosophy played in reinforcing
evangelical faith in the Bible by providing evangelicals with
a sure defense against speculative philosophies and any interpretations
of the Bible that did not accord with their own theological
views. Common Sense Philosophy assured them that humanity shares
a common consciousness, that the Bible reflects and addresses
that consciousness, and that it transcends cultural or social
differences. It communicates God's commonsensical truths with
equal facility in all languages and settings. American evangelicals
also affirmed that the Bible speaks to the heart as
See Herbert R. Swanson, "This Seed: Missionary Printing and
Literature as Agents of Change in Northern Siam, 1892-1926,"
in Changes in Northern Thailand and the Shan States 1886-1940,
ed. Prakai Nontawasee (Singapore: Southeast Asian Studies Program,
much as the mind and that the Holy Spirit confirmed
objective biblical truth. Marsden argues that Antebellum evangelicals
combined romantic emotionalism and subjectivism with Baconian,
scientific objectivism to create an integrated view of the Scriptures.
on this evangelical, commonsensical, Reformed heritage, Hodge's
Systematic Theology outlines the rationale for emphasizing
the Scriptures as an indispensable tool for the Christian life.
He equates the "word of God" with the Bible and then
issues two key theological maxims than virtually mandate obligatory
Bible study. He states, "The word of God, so far as adults
are concerned, is an indispensable means of salvation. True
religion never has existed, and never can exist, where the truths
revealed in the Bible are unknown." He goes on to write,
"The word of God is not only necessary to salvation, but
it is also divinely efficacious to the accomplishment of that
Hodge also addresses the particular condition of the heathen,
asserting that, "…it remains a fact patent to all
eyes that the nations where the Bible is unknown sit in darkness.
The absence of the Bible is just as distinctly discernible as
the absence of the sun." He elaborates, "a second
fact on which the testimony of experience is equally clear is,
that true Christianity flourishes just in proportion to the
degree in which the Bible is known, and its truths are diffused
among the people." Finally, he claims, "A third important
fact equally well established is, that true religion prevails
in any community, in proportion to the degree in which the young
are instructed in the facts and indoctrinated in the truths
of the Bible."
Hodge had not yet published these thoughts when McGilvary first
proposed the need of a press, in 1864, for the future Chiang
Mai mission, and it would strain credulity in the extreme to
believe that he or Wilson thumbed through their old Princeton
lecture notes seeking a rationale for their persistent quest
for a mission press. Hodge, on the other hand, does reveal the
issues at stake in that quest and provides some insight into
why McGilvary and Wilson stayed the course in establishing a
mission press as well as why the mission emphasized literacy
and education as key activities and commitments. There was a
great deal at stake. Hodge's views suggest that if the missionaries
failed to provide northern Thai society and the northern Thai
church with the Bible, they could not hope for lasting success.
If they did not train the church to the use of the Bible and,
in the process, provide their members with literacy skills,
the mission had little hope for the future. Northern Thai society
would remain in darkness. The church would not flourish. Christianity
would not prevail.
George M. Marsden, "Every One's Own Interpreter? The Bible,
Science, and Authority in Mid-Nine-teenth-Century America,"
in The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History, ed.
Nathan O. Hatch and Mark A. Noll (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1982), 79-94. See Hodge, Systematic Theology,
vol. 1, 15-6.
Theology, vol. 3, 466-67.
Theology, vol. 3, 469-70.
comments also tie the Laos Mission's emphasis on printing and
translation back into its inherited system of meanings and doctrines.
He articulated a rigidly dualistic epistemology, based on the
asserted truism that spiritual truth is found only in Christianity
and known only to faithful Christians. In keeping with his dualism,
Hodge believed that salvation is found in Christianity alone and
contained exclusively in the Bible, the word of God. He seasoned
his exclusivist dualism with a strong dash of Scottish Enlightenment
universalism, holding that his principles apply to every community
in every condition. When taken together as an interlocking system,
Hodge's principles concerning the centrality of the Bible in Protestant
life virtually demanded precisely the emphasis on translating
and printing the Scriptures, as well as teaching reading and writing,
found in the mission's records from the 1860s onwards.
Kosoke Koyama could have addressed his question concerning whether
the people of Chiang Mai understood what the mission was attempting
to teach them directly to McGilvary and his colleagues (see
the Introduction), they quite possibly would have answered,
"No, they do not understand, but they will. They must,
if they are to be saved." Even before 1880, the mission
invested a substantial portion of its limited time and resources
to the end that they would understand, and by that year, it
had embarked on a formal educational enterprise that would make
it the leader in modern education in northern Siam for decades
to come. Aside from the girls' school, the pioneer members of
the mission invested themselves in literacy education, theological
education, and several unsuccessful attempts to introduce printing
technologies into Chiang Mai. The Laos Mission, that is, made
a concerted effort to communicate Western learning, including
its system of doctrines and meanings, to the people of Chiang
early 1880s, as we saw, however, Edna Cole fretted over the
inability of the converts to grasp the heart of the mission's
religious message to the satisfaction of the missionaries. Some
thirty-five years later, in 1915, several members of the mission
continued to complain that the northern Thai lacked intellectual
skills, administrative ability, and ambition. They painted an
especially dismal picture of the administrative and cognitive
ability of northern Thai church leadership and argued that the
missionaries would have to remain in charge of the northern
Thai church for years to come. Leaders and local church members
had only a limited understanding of the Christian faith.
McGilvary himself, in later years, regretted the fact that the
vast majority of Buddhist monks refused to engage him in theological
discussion and debate, thus preventing him from finding openings
to convince them of the truth of the Christian relig-
Speer, Report of Deputation, 86-7, 104ff.
Which is to say, the Laos Mission's emphasis on educational
activities and a cognitive approach to religious life seemed,
as far as the missionaries themselves could tell, to have achieved
few results. Northern Thai church members still struck them
as being ignorant of the Christian faith. Northern Thai Buddhists,
furthermore, showed little inclination to enter into intellectual
debate on religious subjects with the missionaries. The Laos
Mission, however, continued to pursue the course charted for
it by McGilvary and his colleagues in the 1860s and 1870s, one
that sought to transfer saving information through Western forms
and thought ways.
Mission's sense of educational failure brings us full circle
to the mission's Old School Presbyterian and American evangelical
system of doctrines and meanings and the role of the Princeton
Theology in clarifying that system. By 1883, as we noted above,
Cole felt that the converts were not receiving the religious
message the mission was sending them, at least not fully. Even
earlier, Cheek alerted the Board to the massive obstacles the
Laos Mission faced in setting up a press; he warned that the
cost of such a press would far outweigh its benefits, even if
they succeeded. Why, in the face of many discouraging circumstances
did the mission initiate these activities and why, in the face
of apparent programmatic failures, did it persist in pursuing
them long after 1880? This is precisely the question we started
with at the beginning of this study. The answer, however, is
clearer than before. The Laos Mission depended upon a system
of doctrines and meanings that influenced every significant
facet of its work up to and well beyond 1880. Where a hardheaded
realist, such as Cheek, thought McGilvary and Wilson's vision
for a Chiang Mai press an expensive, impractical dream, the
two senior missionaries never once wavered in their determination
to see the Bible translated, printed, and accompanied by a substantial
pious and printed literature. They were as hardheaded and realistic
as Cheek. They simply looked at reality in a different manner.
McGilvary, "The Buddha or Christ," LN 1, 4
(October 1904): 109.