the economic success stories of Asia, such as South Korea and Singapore, have proved to be vulnerable to cyclical downturns. Asia also shared colonial and post-colonial experiences in the sense that even those countries that had never been politically part of western empires were dominated by the economic influence of the West. Thus another major reality was the poor. If Christianity was not good news for the poor, it would not be good news for anyone.
This was the context for both dalit theology in India and minjung theology in Korea. The term 'dalit' refers to those often previously referred to as 'untouchables', the lowest rank in the Indian caste system. The earliest western missionary efforts in India were usually directed at the upper castes, with relatively limited success. Christian evangelization among the Dalits took the form of mass conversions in various parts of India in the mid to late nineteenth century, and became really significant in the 'mass movements' in the 1920s and 1930s.14 After independence the Indian government, and more particularly the state governments in certain states, supported the maintenance of caste distinctions either for reasons of principle or political expediency. From the same period, in part also due to political independence, there was an increasing emphasis on the experience of Dalits as most authentically representing those to whom Jesus brought good news.15
Minjung theology in Korea emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, with an agenda closely tied to the achievement of human rights, democracy and social and economic justice. It assimilated Marxist insights (an example of another western influence) and was also opposed to the alliance between Korea, Japan and the USA.16 But it did not die when some of the political goals of democratization in Korea were achieved; if anything, it was emphasized as a more universal insight affecting not only Asia but the world. Thus Kim Yong Bock wrote, 'It is a central understanding of biblical wisdom that the life of victims, the minjung (the poor, oppressed, outcast and alienated, orphans and widows etc.) has pride of place in the sharing of the gospel. The life of the minjung has been the parable of the whole of cosmic life.'17 From this he drew seven missiological affirmations, the common feature of which is an opposition to economic
4 A brief account may be found in J. C. B. Webster, The Dalit Christians: A History (Delhi: ISPCK,
There is a comprehensive collection of examples in V. Devasahayam (ed.), Frontiers of Dalit
16 Theology (Delhi: ISPCK, 1997). Abraham, Third World Theologies, pp. 27—8.
Kim Yong Bock, 'Sharing the Gospel among the Minjung in the 21st Century' in P. L. Wickeri, The People of God among all God's Peoples: Frontiers in Christian Mission (Hong Kong and London: CWM, 2000), p. 116.
globalization. It is significant that the Presbyterian Church of Korea, in its response to the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission's Statement on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, pointed out that 'the church has a mission not only to offer salvation to sinners (all humankind), but especially liberation to oppressed people'.18 The Theology Committee of the National Council of Churches in Korea was even more trenchant:
The document [Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry] does not speak to the desperate realities of the third world, nor indicate the responsiveness of the first-world churches to the rest of the world. It seems that the document is mainly concerned with doctrinal differences, and therefore shows very little concern about the divided and suffering world to which the church is to minister... The third-world theology has risen as a movement of liberation for the poor and oppressed from their suffering in the unjust and oppressive structures. Spiritually and culturally, the movement of third-world theology was born out of the struggle for rediscovery of self-identity; self-identity which was crushed by the domineering Western religions and cultural influences. it should be pointed out that the document does not address these genuine, meaningful struggles of the theologians and the people of God in the third world.19
A third striking feature of the Asian context is the presence of other world faiths. Whereas in Africa and Latin America it may be claimed that the majority of people are Christian, in Asia Christians are the lowest proportion of the population in any continent. Only in the Philippines do Christians constitute a majority of the population; and only there and in Korea is there a significant Protestant presence.20 Although Christianity has been present in Asia from the beginning of the Christian era and has a long history in India and China, it is the Christianity planted by western missionaries which has dominated in the twentieth century. Moreover in various ways other Asian world faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism have undergone renewal as a result of being confronted with a missionary Christianity. Political independence for many former western colonies has also led to a change in the status of Christianity in many countries. Asian Christians have therefore sought to understand all world faiths as being in some way vehicles of God's self-revelation: in this respect they asked questions similar to those asked by western missionaries.21 Almost inevitably this
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