Christianity first arrived in Korea not through foreign missionaries but through a Korean scholar. In the eighteenth century Lee Seng-Hoon went to China to study, where he met a Jesuit missionary. Lee eventually became a Christian and was baptized in Peking in 1784. He returned to Korea and started to share his Christian faith, which led to many conversions. In i789, when Jesuit missionaries first entered Korea, they discovered that there were already about four thousand Catholic Christians on the Korean peninsula. The Catholic Church grew rapidly, but between 1801 and 1867 it faced great persecution because ofthe refusal ofChristians to practise ancestor veneration or worship, which was regarded as essential for national stability, and because of accusations that the Christians were in contact with European imperial powers. The persecution of 1866 was especially severe; about eight thousand Christians were martyred, and almost the same number later starved to death when they fled to the mountains. The country remained closed to the outside world until the Japanese imposed a trade agreement in i876.

While the Korean peninsula was still closed, several Protestant missionaries who were working in China became interested in Korea. In i832 K. A. Gutzlaff briefly visited Korea, as did Robert Thomas in 1865 and i866 (suffering martyrdom on his latter visit). The reports of their encounters drew the attention of other missionaries, who ventured into this hidden kingdom. The first official Protestant missionaries came to Korea in 1885 from North America and were soon followed by others. As they started work in many different parts of Korea, together with Korean evangelists, the church began to grow through a series of revivals, the most significant of which was the great revival in Pyeungyang in i907.

Christians suffered persecutions again during the latter part of the period when Korea was under Japanese rule (i9i0-45). The Japanese authorities imposed worship at Shinto shrines, persecuted the Christians who refused, and burned down many churches. After independence in 1945, the Korean church had to face yet another persecution, this time by the Communists. During the Korean War (1950—53), Christians in Communist-held areas were accused of being pro-American or capitalist, and many were persecuted by the Communist army and local militias.

After the war the churches in South Korea, both Catholic and Protestant, grew very rapidly through their engagement in evangelism and church planting. According to the 2005 census, 29.2 per cent of the population are Christians (Protestants, 18.3 per cent; Roman Catholics, 10.9 per cent). Christianity has become a major religion, not only in numbers, but also in its influence on society in terms of education, medical work and social reform. The majority of Protestants are Presbyterians, but there is also a strong presence of Methodist, Baptist and Holiness churches; altogether there are 230 different denominations and groups. The Sunday morning worship services in most denominations of Protestant churches are quite formal, structured and male-led, whereas the rest of the services on Sundays and other days are either conducted in the form of scripture exposition or various activities involving the whole congregation.

The aim of this chapter1 is to discuss the major characteristics of Korean Protestant theology, but not to provide a comprehensive survey of Korean theologians, as this has already been done by others.2 For the purposes of clarity, I divide it into five major strands: the initial establishment of Korean Christianity as 'Bible Christianity' by the early Protestants; 'revival Christianity' in the 1950—60s; 'liberation Christianity' in the 1960—80s; 'folk Christianity' in the 1970—90s; and 'reconciling Christianity' in the 1990s. Though these theological strands are most prominent in particular eras, they are not exclusively limited to that particular period but continue to form distinctive strands of contemporary Korean theological thought patterns.


Among many modes of missionary activity, the translation and distribution of the Bible was a central concern for Protestant missionaries in

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