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"Gospel and Culture" in a grafting Process in Kore
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"Gospel and Culture" in a grafting Process in Korea

Theological Department at Hanshin Univ.

1. Introduction

  In this short paper I would like to describe what has been happening regarding with the interrelationship between Gospel and Korean culture since Christianity was landed at Korea  peninsular in 1784. Although the Church history of Korean Christianity is only 220 years, rather young in comparison  with the mother church of the west, Korean Christianity itself is, metaphorically speaking, in a grafting process  in which gospel has been incarnated into the 'flesh' of Korean culture, of the rich,multi-layered soil of the East-Asian culture which consist of Mahayana Buddhism,Confusianism, Taoism, and dynamic Shamanism. As we read in the preeceedings of WARC Seoul Council in 1989, "there is no 'flesh' that is not nourished by a culture, and also no 'word' can be heard that is not the language of a culture". In other words, since a principle of the hermeneutical circulation is effecive in the encounter between the gospel and culture, it is true that not only the gospel illuminates and transforms the Korean culture, but also Korean culture illunminates  and transforms the understanding of the gospel.
 My main concern in this paper lies in asserting that evangelical mission is successfully  happened only through the creative process of  grafting between the biblical gospel and the traditional culture, the modes of human existence in a concrete living situation: how we live-believe-understand-valuate-struggle-and die. The metaphor of grafting trees in Romans 11(Rom.11:17-27) has some bearing on the Christian mission. The essential characteristic of the grafting metaphor is the creative transformation of life through the jointing of two living realities. This is the meeting of a subject and subject  in terms of co-subjectivity in order to bear a more abundant life beyond the tolerance or antagonism.

II. The misiological analysis unto the causes for the rapid growth of Korea Protestantism

 Korea is a typical religio-plural society like as a final stoppage-lake into which various streams of world religios has flowed. And one of the characteristics of Korean history of religions is that the controlling main religion has been shifted by the political powers change of generations. In the period of ancient city states Shamanism was the major religion, which has worked as the hidden 'centrosphere' of Korean religious mind.   From the 4th century on, Mahayana Buddhism was introduced from India via China and showed its supremacy and established a fine Buddhist culture for over 1,000 years. Up to date, Korean Buddhism is statically the largest religious community of eleven milions devotee in south Korea, and is a well intended rival of Korean Christianity in very spot of the mission. From the 14th century, the Chosun Dynasty of Korea was founded on Neo-Confucianism, and from that time, more than 500 years, Confucianism has influenced on Korean minds morally as well as religiously. In the 18th century, Roman Catholic Church was transmitted into this calm-morning country and the first Catholic Church was founded in 1784 by Catholic Lay People before any missionary bishop came into this peninsular.In 1885 Protestant missionaries arrived in Seoul for diaconial mission.
 Now statiscally 25 % of the whole population, approximately ten million believers are numbered Christians. The causes of this success story for Christian mission  could be explained from different perspectives:
  First of all, from the politico-social perspective,the Christian gospel worked among and was received by Korean people as a 'liberating gospel' for the people who has been shakeled under the conservative-stiffen Confucianism in 18-19th century. And also in the beginning of 20th century the prophetic Christian message worked effectively for the Korean people as the gospel breaking the chain of Japanese colonialism. This socio-political situation of Korea at that time is basic different condition from that of the other Asian countries that had some kinds of suffering experiences caused by  colonization of western Christian countries.  
 Second, from the mission strategy perspective, the immense success of the Korean Protestant Church  was grounded on the translation of the Bible quickly into Korean language, and its successful distribution to populace, and its arduous study for quenching their spiritual thirst. In contrast to the Confucian classics as well as Buddhist canons written by Chinese characters, Bible was translated into Korean characters to be learned and read easily by populace. For Korean culture, the productive result of translation of the Bible into Korean characters was nothing less than that of Martin Luther's translating work of Latin Bible into the german language.
 Finally, third cause for the Korean mission success is to be researched from the religio-cultural perspective. The spiritual soil of Korea, which is a part of East-Asian Cultural region, was very rich and ready to receive the gospel. As the gospel seed were sown on the fertile ground of Korean mind and the evangelical scion branch has been grafted into the religious stock of Korean religious traditions.
   Unfortunately, Korean Christians, even Korean theologians do not recognize yet this fact  consciously because the orthodoxy theology did not give the open horizon to see this hermeneutical process of inculturation of the gospel in terms of 'fusion of horizon'.
  With regarding the theological stance for the encounter of the gospel with the traditional culture of Korean religions, we can find three models. I would like to label these three models the sowing model, the yeast model, and the grafting model. I shall review these three models one by one and evaluate their theological significance for Korean mission from the hermeneutical perspective.

III. The Three models of mission theology in Korean Church

 The sowing model is based on an analogy with seed and soil in parable of the sower(MK 4;1-32). In the history of Christian mission of Korea,the sowing model has emphasized the absolute stance of the life-giving power of the seed as gospel. In contrast with the seed, the soil has been regarded as relatively neutral, barren, or desolate. The religious tradition of Korea, whether  it was Shamanism or the world religions of Buddhism or Confucianism, has been regarded as weeds and thistles to be negated and conquered by the Christian Gospel. However, the exclusive stance of the sowing model has been surpported by the main stream of Korean protestant Churches which were influenced by the fundamentalist missionaries came to Korea from America during the period of "great Mission Centuries" 19th-20th century. With the theological conviction of the infallibility of the Bible, the exclusive theologians and Christians accepting this sowing model  treat the traditional culture and religions of Korea as an entity to be conquered by the Christian gospel, and so do not allow any interfaith dialogue or even cooperation with other religions.  Since the sowing model comprises the main theological trend in the Korean Protestant Church, the  Protestantism is not yet inculturated into the traditional cultural soil of the land. Still now, the Korea Protestantism is looked on as an 'outside religion' that is not incarnated into the flesh of Korean culture, and is in conflict with the traditional culture.
 The yeast model is based on an analogy found in the parable of the dough(Mt.13:33,LK13:20-21). The gospel is like the yeast which penetrates inside the dough, and the dough is the life-situation of the cultural and social entity. The characteristic of the yeast analogy is that the yeast as gospel stronly influence and transform the dough as culture. The yeast model which has been surported by the Korean ecumenical-line Churches, more inclusive as well as more participatory in missio dei, emphasize the transforming power of the gospel in traditional culture. The yeast model recognizes that "in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, the entire human family has been united to God in an irrevocable bond and covenant. The saving presence of God's activity in all creation and human history comes to its focal point in the event of Christ."(The Baar Stament)
  The Korean  open-minded Christians who accept the yeast model acknowledge Korean religions before Christianity not so much as an obstacle to be overcome, but rather as an opportunity for deepening our encounter with God as well as the understanding of the gospel. The surporters of the yeast model affirm that God the Holy Spirit has been at work in the living faith  and the humanizing activities of Korea religions before Christianity. The yeast model recognizes that sometimes gospel affirms and empowers the traditional Korean culture, somtimes it criticizes,challenges, and transforms the Korean religio-cultural heritages. In other words, the yeast model is well  aware  that the gospel should be both embodied in Korean culture and at the same time transcends it.
 The grafting model borrows its analogy from the illustration of grafting trees in Romans by St. Paul(Rom.11:17-27). The emphasize of the grafting is laid on the interaction, interdependence, mutual illumination, and mutual transformation in encounter of the  gospel and cultures. According the grafting model, Gospel and culture illuminate each other and they empower each other. In so far as the gospel takes on the form of the particular-concretre  culture, the gospel becomes the life giving bread and water as the incarnated Word. The  minority theologians among the Korean Church have been interested in this grafting model with sinserity. Since the Minjung Theology appeared in the middle of 1970, this grafting model grows year by year among the youth egenration and theologians.
 Grafting takes place by inserting a branch with scion into the another  tree with roots. In this metaphor, the branch with scion symbolizes Christian gospel and another tree with roots stands for the non-Christian socio-cultural realities. From the grafting paradigm perspective, the indigenous culture or traditional religions are in the consideration of not as  being neglected , destroyed, or transformed , rather as an active agent working in receiving the gospel and in understanding or believing it.
 From a hermeneutical point of view, the grafting model has more points corresponding to universal hermeneutic principles than the sowing model and the yeast model.The grafting model demands that the theological pre-eminence of Western mission theology be reconsidered. This should not be confused with the rise of nationalism in the third world, or with localistic or racial chauvinism. As the grafting model is rooted its theoretical foundation on the hermeneutical principles, it should not be misunderstood as the misplaced zeal of nationalism against cultural imperialism. The grafting model is rooted in realistic life experience of human history.

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