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Now Blogging Afresh at Ad Orientem 西儒 - The Western Confucian

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Minjung Theology

This past weekend, I went on trip to two very different parts of South Korea. First, I visited the heavily militarized and poverty-stricken areas of Gangwon-do, the province directly south of the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas. Second, I went to the prosperous and ultra-modern Incheon New City, built in the past year or so near the new International Airport, the cornerstone in the South Korean government's plan to make this country the "Hub of Asia."

The contrast was jaring: Gangwon-do's collapsing farming cottages and dusty unpaved roads compared to Incheon's high-rise apartments and wide avenues. The two images reminded me that this is truly a country where First World and Third coexist, which in turn reminded me of the cover of a book about Minjung Theology I had once seen for sale here in Korea.

The cover of the book showed a map of the world with a fish-eye lens focusing on the Korean peninsula, making it look roughly the size of North America. The entire world was either red or some other color, yellow I think. Red indicated the developing world and the rest the developed world. While all of North Korea was red, the South was speckled, giving the impression that it was the country in which the developing and developed worlds were colliding.

That map is a description of the essence of Minjung Theology, a product of Korean Christianity. Minjung is a Korean word of Chinese origin (as are 70% of Korean words) that means the "masses." It is akin to the more widely familar Liberation Theology, except that it is contextualized to the particular realities of the Korean situation of the 1970s when it developed. It's origins are Protestant, but it has many Catholic adherents. In fact, I would say a larger portion of Korean Catholics follow its ideas than do Protestants.

Fundamentally, Minjung Theology sees the world as being divided beween the "haves" and the "have-nots." It asserts that the latters' time is at hand. Minjung Theology maintains that Korea holds a special place and will play an essential role in this global battle of Armageddon that is to occur between the rich and the poor. God's attention, it asserts, is now focused on the Korean peninsula in a very special way.

Many of Minjung Theology's ideas seem to me to be dangerously close to heresy. It is, however, undeniably an interesting development in World Christianity. Here are some sites that explore Minjung Theology in more detail:

Christianity and the Minjung Imaginary by Paul Yunsik Chang
Barth and Newbigin’s Insight for Biblical Contextualization by Dae Ryeong Kim
Asian Theologies in Review by Philip L. Wickeri