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Friday, January 31, 2014

"Have You Eaten And Are You Safe?"


While in Korea recently, I asked one of my Korean hosts why they work so hard. I was curious to know what was behind the extraordinary rise of South Korea from one of the poorest nations on earth to number 9 out of 187 in the United Nations Human Development Index, within a span of 60 years. His answer boiled down to: a drive to survive. South Koreans are highly motivated to never be ruled by another outside power again.

Memories of the 20th Century Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 until the end of World War II, followed by aggression from North Korea, are part of South Korea's “DNA” today.  When friends greet one another, it is not uncommon for them to ask, “Have you eaten, and are you safe?” This custom is rooted in 20th Century suffering.

What effects did the rule of Japan over Korea have upon the burgeoning body of Christ that followed the Great Pyeongyang Revival Movement of 1907? 

Japan was aggressively anti-Christian. Shinto worship was made compulsory in the schools, as well as in churches. Enforced worship of the Emperor led to persecution of Christians who would not comply, with some 2,000 believers being imprisoned, and 200 churches being closed down. In one case, the Japanese burned down a church with the congregation inside—burned alive.

Not all Christians participated in civil disobedience, however, as church leaders were divided on the issue. Dr. Kirsteen Kim, Professor at Leeds Trinity University College (UK), reports that “the missionaries argued for a separation of religion and politics, and discouraged Koreans from resisting the Japanese. They consciously promoted revival activities in order for Koreans to internalize their faith…”
 
This message did not sit well with Korean Christians: “Despite the apolitical message of the missionaries and the hope of a life to come,” writes Dr. Kim, “what Korean believers read in their Bibles was a political message for the here and now…the language of regeneration by the Holy Spirit was directly connected by [Korean leaders of the 1907 Revival] with the restoration of the nation…” 

Professor Kim says early Christianity in Korea was “a revitalizing force that inspired Korean activity toward development.” This was a "public theology" of Christianity. By design or default, it was a ball 19th Century missionaries got rolling. While 20th Century missionaries preached a more privatized Gospel, it fell on deaf ears.

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Dr. Kim's paper, "Christianity's Role in the Modernization and Revitalization of Korean Society in the Twentieth-Century," was published in the International Journal of Public Theology, 2010. Readers interested in the knowing more about the "public theology of Christianity" that motivated early Korean Christians may contact me at overman@biblicalworldview.com for a complimentary copy, courtesy of Professor Kim.

Friday, January 24, 2014

While At The Cemetery

I took this photo of the gravestone of Canadian medical missionary Robert A. Hardie while in South Korea recently. My guide let me know this man made a public confession of sin which started a movement of repentance among Christians in Korea known as the Wonsan repentance movement of 1903. This movement is considered by many to be the starting point of the Great Pyeongyang Revival Movement of 1907.


The Great Pyeongyang Revival Movement of 1907? What's that?

This outpouring of the Spirit began during a 10-day Bible conference for Korean men in Pyongyang (now the capital of North Korea), in January of 1907. Public confession of sin among the nearly 1,500 men at the conference overflowed into a mass movement of spiritual awakening across Korea.

Elmer L. Towns and Douglas Porter, in their book, The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever, report that the Korean 1907 Revival Movement rapidly grew until the number of Protestant church members in 1912 reached about 300,000, in a nation of just 12 million. This was no small thing, considering the Protestant missionary movement didn't really get going in Korea until 1884.

Towns and Porter also report that the revival "had an almost immediate impact in the nation's Christian colleges. Ninety percent of the students at Union Christian College in Pyongyang professed conversion in February 1907." Remember, the Christian schools provided Korean leadership for the next generation.

In addition, they point out that the missionaries required adult Korean converts to learn to read Korean before admitting them to church membership. And to distinguish Christians from collaborators with the Japanese (who had recently invaded and occupied Korea), "the patriots required Christians to recite chapters from the Bible to prove they were Christians. The result was a 100 percent literacy rate among Christians in a largely illiterate nation. Their ability to read made Christians the natural leaders of the Korean society."

Three of the top five universities in Korea today have a Christian foundation. Regrettably, not unlike colleges started by Christians in the USA, the Christian distinctions of those schools have been lost. The same can be said of most of the early "mission schools" started by missionaries of the late 19th and early 20th Century. But a resurgence of distinctively Christian schools in Korea has taken place over the last 20 years.

The Pyeongyang Revival Movement came at a critical time in Korean history. The next four decades were to bring Koreans into a level of suffering few nations have known. I'll continue from here next week.

Meanwhile, below are more photos taken while at the cemetery:

H. B. Hulbert is said to have "loved Korea more than Koreans did."

H. G. Appenzeller established the Pai Chai School, which "produced many capable men who served the Korean people based on the values of the Gospel." Appenzeller founded the Korean Methodist church, and helped with the Korean translation of the Bible.

Another pioneer of Christian education in Korea is William M. Baird. The school he started in his living room grew into a university! Baird also made contributions to the translation of the Old Testament into Korean.

Mrs. M. F. Scranton, a pioneer of education for women in Korea, is described as a "forerunner of modern education for women." She came to Korea at the age of 52, from the USA, and passed on at the age of 76, having dedicated herself to spreading the Gospel and the betterment of Korean women for the last 24 years of her life.


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Friday, January 17, 2014

Players In Public Life



The "Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetary," on a hill in Seoul, Korea, was designated in 1890 as a site for burying foreign missionaries by Emperor Gwangmu, 26th King of the Joseon Dynasty, and the first Emperor of the Korean Empire. [Photo by Matthew Smith, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.]

In the secularist view of development, Christianity is not always seen as a positive contributor to the cause.  That’s because it is often stereotyped as “institutional” rather than community-oriented, and relegated to “private inspiration” rather than viewed as a major player in public life.

The history of Korea, however, tells a different story. In the late 19th Century, Korea was mostly illiterate, without roads or railways, power or sewer systems. At this point in history, Protestant Christian missionaries (Presbyterians and Methodists) came from the USA, England, South Africa, Canada and other nations. 

These missionaries of the late 19th Century and the early 20th Century saw themselves as players in public life, and were embraced as such by many Koreans. Were these missionaries discipling a nation? I'd say so. Today, they occupy a place of honor in Korean history. 

I was privileged to visit the "Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery," as it is called today by its caretaking church, while in South Korea this week. At this cemetery are 145 graves belonging to foreign missionaries and family members. The brochure for the cemetery says: “Abandoning promising careers back home, they came to share the light of the Gospel with ‘Corea’ which was then unknown. The missionaries profoundly influenced Korean society, not only by establishing hospitals and schools, but by affecting its intangible values, thus contributing to the abolition of the class hierarchy in old Korea.” About 231 graves of other foreigners are at the site as well, which is also called the Yanghwajin Foreigners' Cemetery.

The missionaries not only brought the Gospel of salvation, but helped lead Korea into modernization. They did this partly through the establishment of schools. At one point, the number of schools started by missionaries reached 400. It was from these schools that future leaders of Korea came. And this education was not only for males, but for females too, which changed Korea. 

Christianity “caught on” in Korea. They took to the Bible like kids in a candy store. I’m not sure of all the reasons for this, except to say it was a move of the Holy Spirit, beyond human orchestration or control. This was certainly the case with the Wonsan repentance movement of 1903, which led to the Great Pyeongyang Revival Movement, or “Korean Revival” of 1907, viewed by some as the major catalyst for the spiritual-social-cultural transformation of South Korea. 

I’ll say more next week.
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Friday, January 10, 2014

Culture-Shaping Vision


As today's post goes out, I'm in South Korea. I have spent the week teaching at the Asian Center for Theological Studies and Mission, focusing on the intersection between wholistic Christian education, theology of work, and human flourishing. Prayer would be appreciated, as tomorrow I meet with division heads of E-land, the largest fashion and retail company (by revenues) in Korea, sharing on the integration of wholistic Christian faith and work, then speaking on Sunday at the Suwon Central Baptist Church, and on Monday and Tuesday at a convention of the Korean division of the Association of Christian Schools International. They're working me hard over here, but I'm happy to speak as long as somebody will listen. (Apparently somebody wants to hear something, as this is my third speaking invitation to this country in the past six years.)

In last week's post, I asked why some parts of the world that have been "Christianized" and "churched," such as sub-Saharan Africa, have not experienced the kind of developmental outcomes that Puritan-spawned America experienced for 350 years. The history of South Korea is markedly different.  

When a ceasefire was called between North and South Korea in 1953 (technically, the war is not over, and North Korea seems bent on reminding the South of this now and then), both the North and the South were in shambles. They were among the poorest nations on the planet. Yet in 2013, South Korea ranked 9 among 187 countries in the 2013 Human Development Index published by the United Nations.

The chart below shows the UN rankings since 1980 among the 38 nations that make up the top 20% of the Development Index. [Norway is currently #1 and the US is #3.] What is particularly noteworthy, is the stellar rise of South Korea.

Some have wondered to what degree Christianity, directly or indirectly, has played a role in the development of South Korea. While cause-and-effect factors are often impossible to quantify [correlation is not the same as causation], the culture-shaping vision of Christian educators, civil servants, health workers, and business leaders in Korea is an important story to tell. It reads like a Dickens novel.

I'll say more next week.

The United Nations Human Development Index measures development by combining indicators of life expectancy, education attainment, and income. Each line in the above chart represents a specific nation. This chart shows the highest ranked 38 countries, which is the top 20% of tne 187 countries measured. The highlighted nation above is South Korea. (Click the image once to enlarge it.)





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Friday, January 3, 2014

Larger Than The Soul


The Puritan Gift was hailed by the Financial Times as one of the Top Ten Business Books of the Year in 2007. In this acclaimed book, British authors Kenneth and William Hopper (brothers) maintain that early American Puritans, such as John Winthrop, provided a foundation for the best of American business practice up until 1970. The results, until then, were positively staggering. 

But why did Christianity have such a positive affect on America's development, yet not in some other places of the world where Christianity has been introduced? As my friend Lowell Bakke once remarked, "Why are some cities that have been Christianized and churched, like Lagos, Nigeria, still full of poverty and corruption?"

Part of the answer lies in the terms Christianized and churched. In the case of America, Puritans saw no separation between "a man's shop and his chapel." They embraced a wholistic form of Christianity that saw fish farming and shoe making as God's work. 

In some parts of the world, "Christianization" has produced a withdrawal of Christians from business, arts and politics. A personalized and privatized Gospel has produced Christians with little or no interest in the way business is done, or how civil affairs are managed.

As Dr. Darrell Furgason observed: “In places like Africa...Western missionaries generally brought the Gospel in the way they learned it, as a purely soul-saving faith, with no real bearing on anything else—religion was a mostly personal matter, nothing to do with things like politics, science, law, economics….African people were given the Gospel, but not how to build a righteous nation, how to apply Christianity to everything."

As one African friend of mine put it: "Africans have understood the Gospel of Salvation, but not the Gospel of the Kingdom." Yes, the "Gospel of Salvation" points people to becoming born-again through faith in Christ's shed blood. Through this door we enter into a relationship with Jesus, and this is the beginning.

But the Gospel of the Kingdom helps us understand what salvation is for. We are not just saved from something, but for something. Personal salvation is a part of the Gospel of the Kingdom, but not the whole. The Kingdom is larger than the soul. 

One of the best descriptions I've heard on this topic is by Paul Stevens, in an interview I did with him several years ago at Regent College:


Or click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VitIItMXKc0.

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