Ahn, The Story of Minjung Theology, pp. 87—185.

See: Moon Dong-Hwan, '21st Century and Minjung Theology', Shinhack Sasang (Summer 2000), pp. 30—54; Na Young-Hwan, 'Minjung Theology from the Evangelical Perspective', Mockhea ywa Sinhack (Aug. 1992), 40—50. For a hermeneutical critique of minjung theology, see Im Tae-Soo, Minjung Theology towards the Second Reformation (Seoul: The Christian Literature Society of Korea, 2002).

became minjung.21 However, when we come to the second generation in the 1980s, this claim is not so firmly founded. The issue for the former was mainly the socio-economic problem of poor workers and farmers, and for the latter it was political and ideological tensions in relation to democracy. At least the first generation identified with and mobilized the 'mass' of workers and farmers over against the employers and landowners. But the second generation of minjung theologians had only minority support because they rather uncritically adopted a Marxist ideology in theologizing. Particularly after the Kwangju massacre in 1980 by a military-backed government, minjung theologians shifted their attention to ideological issues, taking a socialist-communist line, favouring North Korea, and confronting what they perceived as the illegitimate government of the South, which was in association with the USA. This caused a large gap between the minjung who were not prepared to be on the side of the North and those who tried to integrate minjung theology into their ideological combat.22

The second question of the identity of the minjung is a more difficult one. The term minjung, which is a Chinese word for 'ordinary people' or 'citizens', was quite a new and unfamiliar one for contemporary South Koreans. In addition, people found it difficult to identify themselves with this heavily loaded term without definite or immediate benefits. In a rapidly changing society like contemporary Korea, people were not prepared to commit themselves to such a static concept as minjung and for the cause of the minjung, but in contrast they rather wished to rise out of the minjung.23 The fact that many articles were devoted to defining the minjung indicates that, unlike black theology, feminist theology and dalit theology, minjung theologians had difficulties identifying this term with a concrete and tangible group.

Nevertheless, in spite of these problems, minjung theology has made a vital contribution to the identity of the minjung and encouraged them to stand and speak. Though Latin American liberation theology made the point that the poor and oppressed are the ones who need to be liberated, minjung theology further asserted that the minjung are the subjects of this liberation as well as the subjects of the history and culture of their particular

Baek Nak-Chung, 'Who are Minjung?' in Essays on Minjung (Seoul: Korea Theological Study

Kim Sun-Jae, 'Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow of Minjung Theology', Shinhack Sasang (Spring

Park Sung-Jun, 'Reflection on Minjung Theology in the Context of 21st Century', Shinhack Sasang (Summer 2000), 70—89.

contexts. This led to the idea of 'Jesus as the minjung and the minjung as Jesus' - the former is acceptable to most theologians but the latter is a problem for many.24 But minjung theologians, particularly the third generation of the 1990s, asserted that the minjung have to be understood as an experiential entity identified with the event of Jesus in his life and words, especially in the Cross. 'The minjung as Jesus' does not mean for them an ontological identification, but that by participating in the life and death of Jesus the minjung are part of the Jesus event. It does not mean that they are equal with him in an ontological sense, but that they are experiencing the Jesus event and therefore able to be in Jesus and part of his mission in this world. This has further consequences: that being minjung requires being in Christ for others - it is being part of God's transformation for others.25 On the whole, minjung theology has been a major instrument of the minjung or civil movement that challenged both the church and society to deal with the problems of socio-economic and political injustice, brought democracy to Korea in the late 1980s, and certainly played a 'prophetic' role in Korean history.


In its history Korea has known a succession of religions, which have been closely associated with rulers or the dominant class as state religions. Accordingly, the religions that are out of favour have suffered unfavourable treatment and even persecution by the state. Contemporary South Korea guarantees freedom of religion; the state does not favour any particular religion, but this is almost unique in Korean history. The dominant belief system in ancient Korea was shamanistic. Shamans were intermediaries who contacted the ancestors, who, with the spirits and demons, were regarded as present in every object in the world, seen and unseen. With the introduction of Buddhism and Confucianism, shamanism faded away from the public domain, but the beliefs were assimilated into the organized religions and became deeply rooted in the religiosity of Koreans.

Buddhism was introduced in AD 327. It soon became the state religion of the three kingdoms and was regarded as giving spiritual endorsement to the authorities. During the Koryeo dynasty in particular, Buddhism

4 Ahn Byung-Mu, 'Jesus and Minjung' in Kim Yong Bock (ed.), Minjung Theology: People as the ^^ Subjects of History (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1983), pp. 138-51.

See: Choi Hyeung-Mook, 'Some Issues of Minjung Theology in the 1990s', Sidae wa Minjung Theology (1998), 345-69.

received strong support from the monarchy and the aristocrats and produced rich art, literature and architecture. Though Buddhism suffered under the hands of the policies of the Confucian leaders of the Choson (Yi) dynasty and was forced to the periphery of the political and urban life of the people, it has remained the dominant religion for Koreans. In more recent years, Buddhism has been experiencing a revival among the younger generation.

Although Confucianism was introduced to Korea as early as the Three Kingdoms period, it became the official ideology only during the Choson dynasty, which developed a Confucian system of education, public ceremonies and civil administration. Toward the end of the dynasty there was criticism of the close integration of government officials and Confucian scholars, which was contributing to corruption, and of the internal rivalry between different schools, which hampered the smooth operation of government. However, Confucianism, with its philosophical and cultural vigour, has recently been reintroduced into the modern and diverse society of South Korea.

Due to the close association of a particular religion with the political authority in any given historical period, there has been relatively little interaction and conflict between the different religious communities in Korea. Furthermore, the majority of Korean Protestant Christians, due to their evangelical and conservative orientation, have had very little experience of interacting with and expressing interest in other religions — although as we have seen they are subconsciously influenced by Confucianism, Buddhism and shamanism in their beliefs and practices. There have been various theological explorations by progressive theologians to relate Christianity to other religions, or to translate the Christian message into the concepts of other religions, but their theologies have not made much impact on the life of the church or have been harshly rejected by the majority of Christians.

Choi Byeung Hyeun was a pioneer of the indigenization of the Christian message in Korean religious traditions, especially Confucianism and Buddhism. He tried to explain how Christianity could be expressed in the religious frame of Koreans in his series of articles on comparative religions in the academic journal Sinhak Sekae between 1916 and 1920. His sources were Eastern philosophies, the Bible and the Wesleyan tradition, and his theological emphasis was on the fall of the human race and salvation through Christ. He distinguished Christ from Christianity because, he reasoned, a religion has continuity with other religions and therefore cannot claim absolute truth. But he saw a clear discontinuity between the gospel of Christ and other religions and concluded that Christ was the fulfilment of all religious aspirations. He was not asserting the dogma of the Christian message over against other religions, nor on the other hand did his apologetics hold the position of modern relativism. But he wished to introduce the Christian message for the salvation of people and social reform.

The integration of Christianity and Korean religiosity was much discussed in the 1960s; the two foremost theologians in this field were Ryu Dong-Shik and Yoon Sung-Bum. Ryu in his thesis on 'Tao and Logos' suggested that the use of the Eastern philosophy of the Way is necessary for conveying the message of the Christian gospel in Asia. According to him, Koreans have maintained in their ancient culture and religiosity the three aspects of han (oneness), mot (beauty) and sam (life), which are essential to the Korean spirit. These were integrated in the classical philosophy of pungnyu-do in the sixth century, from which he takes his pungnyu theology. Pungnyu literally means 'wind and flow', evoking the inspiration of Korean thinkers through creative retreat in the fresh air and by the pure streams of the beautiful mountains. Ryu suggests that Korean theology has diverged in three directions according to this paradigm: conservative fundamentalist theology (han), which affirms the authority and greatness of the one in heaven and develops the inner sanctification of personal faith and revival movements; cultural liberal theology (mot), which is interested in the harmony of nature and various traditions and the indigenization of any new thought brought into Korea; and progressive social involvement theology (sam), which tries to overcome the present sufferings by actively participating in the affairs of this world.26 He also describes the dynamics of the development of Korean theology as the result of a constant interaction between paternal and maternal movements of the Holy Spirit, where the former is rooted in the Confucian tradition and leads to the conservative and hierarchical aspects of Korean church life, and the latter embraces a shamanistic approach to the faith and is closely related to the revival movements and Pentecostal churches in Korea.27

Yoon Sung-Bum believed that Korean theology would blossom through a creative exploration of the religious meaning of the Tankun myth — the story of the origin of the Korean people from the union of the

Ryu, The Mineral Veins of Korean Theology, pp. 14—35.

Ryu, The Mineral Veins of Korean Theology, pp. 414—26. For a comprehensive evaluation of Ryu's approach, see Kirsteen Kim, 'Holy Spirit Movements in Korea — Paternal or Maternal? Reflections on the Analysis of Ryu Tong-Shik (Yu Tong-Shik)', Exchange (35/2, 2006), 147—68.

son of heaven and a female bear - in the light of Christianity.28 He then further argued that there are elements of the Trinity in the myth because there are three figures referred to in the story. He insisted that Confucianism provided the background for Korean thinking, and so was an indispensable tool for Korean theology. In his 'theology of sincerity', the Chinese word 'seong refers to a combination of word and deed. He regarded sincerity as having the meaning of logos or revelation. He argued that sincerity could integrate dichotomic concepts in traditional theology, such as law and gospel, sacred and secular.29

There are various other approaches to the interaction of Christian theology with the different religions in Korea.30 One of the most dramatic and creative was the incorporation of Korean shamanism into Christian theology in the presentation by Chung Hyun Kyung at the Canberra Assembly of the WCC (1991), which evoked varied responses. As she invoked the Holy Spirit, Chung also called on the spirits of people in the past and even the spirits of nature. For Chung, the work of the Holy Spirit is carried out through the spirits: 'They [the spirits] are the icons of the Holy Spirit who became tangible and visible to us. Because of them we can feel, touch and taste the concrete bodily historical presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst.' Chung's method is a combination of liberative political action and spiritual exorcism (after the manner of a Korean shamanist) to release the oppressed spirits and set the creation free. She called participants at Canberra to welcome the Spirit and dance with her, 'letting ourselves go in her wild rhythm of life'.31 Chung has opened a creative possibility of exploring Korean religiosity in Christian theology but she has also drawn much criticism from within Korea and thus demonstrated the difficulties of dealing with the issue of religious pluralism in the Korean context.

Folk Christianity employs Korean traditional religions in order to make sense of Christian theology in Korea. Although much creative thinking and theology have been suggested by progressive theologians in the interests of the indigenization of the Christian message, their radical

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