Born Again

Born Again: Evangelicalism in Korea

Copyright Date: 2010
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Born Again
    Book Description:

    Known as Asia's "evangelical superpower," South Korea today has some of the largest and most dynamic churches in the world and is second only to the United States in the number of missionaries it dispatches abroad. Understanding its evangelicalism is crucial to grasping the course of its modernization, the rise of nationalism and anticommunism, and the relationship between Christians and other religionists within the country.

    Born Againis the first book in a Western language to consider the introduction, development, and character of evangelicalism in Korea-from its humble beginnings at the end of the nineteenth century to claiming one out of every five South Koreans as an adherent at the end of the twentieth. In this thoughtful and thorough study, Timothy S. Lee argues that the phenomenal rise of this particular species of Christianity can be attributed to several factors. As a religion of salvation, evangelicalism appealed powerfully to multitudes of Koreans, arriving at a time when the country was engulfed in unprecedented crises that discredited established social structures and traditional attitudes. Evangelicalism attracted and empowered Koreans by offering them a more compelling worldview and a more meaningful basis for association. Another factor is evangelicalisms positive connection to Korean nationalism and South Korean anticommunism. It shared in the aspirations and hardships of Koreans during the Japanese occupation and was legitimated again during and after the Korean conflict as South Koreans experienced the trauma of the war. Equally important was evangelicals' relentless proselytization efforts throughout the twentieth century.

    Lee explores the beliefs and practices that have become the hallmarks of Korean evangelicalism:kibok(this-worldly blessing),saebyok kido(daybreak prayer), andkumsik kido(fasting prayer). He concludes that Korean evangelicalism is distinguishable from other forms of evangelicalism by its intensely practical and devotional bent. He reveals how, after a long period of impressive expansion, including the mammoth campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s that drew millions to its revivals, the 1990s was a decade of ambiguity for the faith. On the one hand, it had become South Korea's most influential religion, affecting politics, the economy, and civil society. On the other, it found itself beleaguered by a stalemate in growth, the shortcomings of its leaders, and conflicts with other religions. Evangelicalism had not only risen in South Korean society; it had also, for better or worse, become part of the establishment.

    Despite this significance, Korean evangelicalism has not received adequate treatment from scholars outside Korea.Born Againwill therefore find an eager audience among English-speaking historians of modern Korea, scholars of comparative religion and world Christianity, and practitioners of the faith.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3760-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    In 1907, two years after it became a Japanese protectorate and three years before it was forcibly annexed to Japan, Korea was known in the West as a hermit nation, a backward and introverted country, unwilling to be assimilated into modernity.¹ For Korean Protestants, however, 1907 was a watershed year in which a great nationwide revival, under the auspices of foreign missionaries, swept through their churches, indelibly defining their religion’s character.²

    Eighty-one years later, something of a coming-out took place in Korea—South Korea—as it sponsored the twenty-fourth Summer Olympics, with the motto “Seoul to the World, the World...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Breakthrough for a New Moral Order, 1885–1919
    (pp. 1-45)

    From a century or so before 1885, when Protestant evangelism began in earnest in Korea, till the demise of the Chosŏn dynasty in 1910, Korea experienced cultural distortion.¹ The roots of this distortion were varied and cumulative. In part, it was caused by famines and epidemics that had devastated the country with unusual frequency in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.² The distortion was also caused by—and reflected in—the corruption in the Chosŏn government, which rendered the government in most Koreans’ eyes more nearly an instrument of exploitation than an agent of just order. In the midst...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Conflict, Introversion, and a Tradition of Korean Revivalists, 1920–1953
    (pp. 46-83)

    Though the March First Movement failed to bring national independence to Koreans, it did bring an end to the so-called Dark Period of the Japanese rule in Korea.¹ For evangelicalism and Korean people in general, however, this did not mean that the remainder of the Japanese rule would change for the better. Indeed, perhaps except for Saitō Makoto’s governor-generalship from 1920 to 1925, known as Cultural Rule, the remainder of the Japanese rule in Korea was, if anything, harsher. The introduction of a new land tenure system that caused hundreds of thousands of Korean farmers to lose their livelihoods, compelling...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Evangelicalism Takes Off in South Korea, 1953–1988
    (pp. 84-114)

    From the great revival of 1907 till the onset of Japanese repression, the rapid growth of evangelicalism in Korea had continually elicited enthusiasm from the international Protestant community. The first non-Koreans to express such enthusiasm were the Korea missionaries themselves, whose success could rarely be matched by other missionaries anywhere, anytime. Thus if David Brainerd, an eighteenth-missionary to Native Americans—in his moment of anguish for lack of success—could not refrain from belittling the Indians as “brutishly stupid and ignorant of divine things,” James S. Gale, a Northern Presbyterian missionary and one of Brainerd’s spiritual descendants in Korea, incisively...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Intensely Practical and Devotional Character of Korean Evangelicalism
    (pp. 115-138)

    In 1990 Harold L. Willmington, vice president of the fundamentalist Liberty University in Virginia, visited South Korea. During his visit, Willmington observed various aspects of the Korean Protestant Church. Apparently impressed by what he saw, he lauded the church for the central role it plays in its adherents’ lives, the strong leadership of its ministers, and especially the ardent prayer life of its laypersons and their diligent participation in church activities.¹

    Willmington’s observations provide a starting place for delineating the character of Korean evangelicalism. They allude to two important points that can be made about it. The first, indirectly attested...

  9. Epilogue The Beleaguered Success of Korean Evangelicalism in the 1990s
    (pp. 139-152)

    At the beginning of the twentieth century, Christians constituted less than 1 percent of the Korean population.¹ Near the end of the century, according to a 1995 survey by the South Korean National Statistics Office, Christians constituted 26.3 percent of the population, surpassing Buddhists, the next-largest religious group, with 23.3 percent of the population. Among the Christians, Protestants predominated, accounting for 75 percent of the entire Christian population (and 19.7 percent of the general population), and Catholics constituted the remainder, save two to three thousand Eastern Orthodox Christians.² These numbers reveal that Christianity—especially Protestantism—rose to the status of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 153-198)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-220)
  12. Index
    (pp. 221-230)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-233)