Thursday, July 27, 2017

Seminary is not an easy-going place of Hallelujah

Yung Suk Kim

What does it mean to study in a graduate school of theology? Seminary is not an easy-going place of Hallelujah. It is not a place where you can simply strengthen your faith or learn more about it. Rather, it is a seriously demanding journey that you have to examine various subjects very critically, including yourself. 

Often the problem is that you know too much and you think you know enough. But that is exactly the problem. In the seminary, you have to question many things such as the very text (Scripture), interpretations of other people, and reader's ideologies. Seminary is a rare space that you can engage critically with texts, readers, and worldviews. It is a safe space that you can raise any questions that you have not dared to do so.

Apostle Paul reminds us the importance of this kind of a critical spirit as he wrote in 1 Thess 5:21: "Test everything; hold fast to what is good." You don't have to believe someone because of his or her reputation. You have to test everything and tell others what you think is true. Eventually, after the test, you have to bear witness without fear or doubt. That is, "hold fast to what is good."

My hope is that through your seminary journey you will put on clearer lenses through which you will see the world differently. For that matter, the first thing to do is to unlearn what you know. Be open-minded and expect new things! Use your God-given imagination and reason and engage with the Spirit of truth unabashedly. The Spirit will help you in your weakness (Rom 8:26). 

In the end, seminary is not a place of mere renewal of the same as before but a place of rebirth, which is possible through the Spirit of truth. That rebirth is not a kind of once-and-for-all but a continual process of being born again and again from above. Then there will be a new sense of self, neighbor, and the world.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The diversity and complexity of justice

What is justice and why is it important to understand it correctly?

Yung Suk Kim

Justice derives from the concept of fairness. We all want fairness in our lives, personally, communally, and globally. Different schools have different ideas about justice, but I won't deal with those here. As a critical biblical scholar specializing in the New Testament, I come up with the following aspects of justice in our world. As seen below, justice is a term to be understood from the perspective of both diversity and complexity.

1. Theodicy (justice of God)
So to speak, when bad things happen to good people, we all ask, Where is God? Is God fair or just? We still don't know the full answer about this. Job's unspeakable suffering defies any easy answer to the reason why he suffers. The sheer truth is that the reality of darkness and evil never dies out, affecting many lives and communities, locally and globally. Otherwise, we cannot give "immature" counsel to the victim or the suffering one, saying that everything will go right or that there will be a big reward for the patience shown. Or, some say that God disciplines the person through suffering. But this idea is also absurd because God is not such a mean God who torments an innocent person.

2. Attributive justice
Under the normal circumstances, we expect that the more we work, the more we get. Each person needs his or her fair due according to the poured-out work.

3. Retributive justice 
The wrongdoers are to be brought to justice and evil must be checked. Punishment is not the goal of the retributive justice but a means of corrections. There must be also a process of restoration or healing that involves related parties, including all society.

4. Distributive justice (economic justice)
Members of society need the fair share of the income distribution. They all need works to do, expecting a decent income. They all need equal opportunity to work.

5. Social justice
Economic justice is part of this category of social justice, which deals with other social issues such as racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and xenophobia. All are to be treated equally regardless of race, religion, gender, class, sexual orientation, or any other determinants.

6. Restorative justice
Not all people can work properly equally because some of them may be in a position to not work because of their physical or emotional sickness or other preventing conditions. In this situation, they need help from society so that they may fully participate in society after recovery.

7. Procedural justice
Some point out the importance of fairness in the process of decision-making in human business. To expect a fair result of something, we need to make sure about the "fair" procedure.

8. Eco-justice
Ecological justice is also a matter of our concern these days because we depend on climate and environment. The question is, How can we be fair to nature? How can we include animals in this regard?

Friday, July 21, 2017

What is "the body of Christ" and why is it important to understand correctly?

Yung Suk Kim

My academic journey began with a critical examination of the body metaphor, especially "the body of Christ" in 1 Cor 12:27 and elsewhere in Paul's letters. Eventually, my dissertation about this topic was published by Fortress Press in 2008: Christ's Body in Corinth: The Politics of a Metaphor (Fortress, 2008). This book is one of the earliest volumes in the Fortress series Paul in Critical Contexts. Since then, many researchers and theologians have referred to my work. In fact, my reading of "the body of Christ" is unique and sound, as the book was reviewed by some:

Although much has been written on the Pauline notion of the "body of Christ," this contribution by Presbyterian scholar Kim offers a thoughtful and provocative insight worth considering. Kim observes that the Pauline metaphor can be interpreted as setting boundaries or differentiations between the Christian community and those outside. However, if we consider the "body of Christ" as the crucified body of Christ it can be seen as a means of dissolving boundaries and being more inclusive, particularly of those who are pushed to the margins or who suffer. Kim draws out from this key Pauline symbol the implications for the church and society today, particularly in the Gospel call for solidarity with those who are marginalized. --Donald Senior, The Bible Today, 47(2) p.141. (Mar-Apr 2009)

Thanks also for calling attention to your book on the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians. I read the attachment that you sent, and it sounds like your interpretation and ours are very supportive of each other. I do think the body image is about inclusive egalitarianism in the new life in Christ, and not about sharp social boundaries. -- A message from Marcus Borg (May 21, 2009).

I’ll add my own encouragement to it–I was at a clergy meeting last week where the question of “the nature of the church” came up, and someone said “well, we’ve all got to strive for unity because we’re the body of Christ,” and I described your book and said that metaphor meant a lot more than just unity. People had never heard the idea before. I hope it revolutionizes our thinking! -- a Message from Neil Elliott, editor of Fortress Press (May 21, 2009).

Why I wrote this book

The interpretation of the "body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians is a pressing concern in the present context of a diversified global church because its predominant interpretation as an ecclesiological organism characterized by unity and homonoia (concord) serves as a boundary marker that tends to exclude the voices of marginality and diversity. This traditional reading, while plausible, ignores a deeper, ethical meaning of the "body of Christ" as re-imagined through his body crucified, which questions an ideology of hegemonic power in both the Corinthian context and today. From the perspective of a different conception of community and of soma christou in the image of Christ crucified, this metaphor of soma christou becomes a metaphor for a way of living through which the Corinthian community is expected to live as a Christic body, identifying Christ's body with the most vulnerable and broken bodies in the community and in the world, an issue that we are to grapple with and resolve. Read this way, Paul's theology continues the legacy of Jesus tradition in terms of deconstruction (critique of religion and culture) and reconstruction (advocacy of the beloved community for all). Paul's theology should be reclaimed as such so that we might truly appreciate what he lived for. That is why I wrote this book.

Since my first book published in 2008, my academic efforts continued in this direction and more books were published. To help readers to understand what I wanted to communicate with them, I prepared a study-guide for this book. 


Introduction: The Price of Unity

The goal of this chapter is to let readers understand the author’s approach and thesis of this whole book.


1. Why is it important to read the metaphor soma christou (body of Christ) differently than a metaphorical organism in particular? What are some concerns that are raised by the author?

2. How is a different reading of this metaphor possible or legitimate?

3. In today’s personal or public experiences in this world, does the use of this metaphor (body of Christ) raise any concerns?


Soma christou (body of Christ) as a metaphor, deliberative rhetoric, organic unity, Paul’s theology, ecclesiological organism, ecclesial-organic, hierarchical unity, homonoia (concord), boundary marker, marginality, belonging, conception of community, power conflicts, member of Christ, the gospel of the cross of Christ, exclusivism, “others,” universalism, differences and diversity, broken human bodies, political control of rhetoric, Stoics, living body, imperialism, neo-colonialism, authority and power, vision of community, the crucified body of Christ, hegemonic discourse, biblical interpretation, deconstruction, ethical responsibility, diversified global community, bodiliness and mortality, social cohesion, multiculturalism, globalism, border identity, solidarity, holistic outlook, text (context, and hermeneutics)

Chapter 1: Community as “Body”

The goal of this chapter is to analyze a variety of conceptions of community. Different scholarly traditions or approaches (theological and historical approaches, sociological or social-scientific approaches, and the approach of the history-of-religions school) have different ideas about the community. The question is, which one is better, or do we need an alternative?


1. What are some criteria for division of various scholarly approaches to the community? Compare and contrast them (use terms such as boundaries, identity, and structure or power relationships).

2. Can you name examples of each approach in today’s life experience (church, school, society and the world) to the conception of the community?

3. What are some hidden ideologies at work in the level of interpreters?

4. Is it possible to have an alternative vision of community than the mentioned other approaches?


The boundary-protected community, the boundaries-overcoming community, the apocalyptic community, universal identity, salvation, holiness, New Perspective, vocation, divisive (hierarchical) boundaries, liberation, messianic kingdom, hegemonic universalism, the Hegelian dialectic, Hellenistic ideal, Judaism, authentic existence, salvation-history, Gentile mission, theological and historical approaches, sociological or social-scientific approaches, metaphorical organism, functionalist sociology, society, individuals, sociology of knowledge, symbolic universe, social norms, sacred canopy, paterfamilias, the history-of-religions school, Hellenistic Christianity, Palestinian Christianity, kyrios, European colonialism, boundaries, social functions or conflicts, love patriarchalism, agency, the marginalized, New Consensus, functionalism, conservative social view, egalitarianism, Christ crucified, hybridity, multiple identity, structure or power relationships, ekklesia, kyriake, intervening space, creative tensions

Chapter 2: Community as the “Body of Christ”

The goal of this chapter is to understand a variety of understandings about the metaphor “the body of Christ” in biblical studies. The question is, which one is better than the other, or do we need an alternative?


1. What are major differences between different approaches to the body of Christ (the approach of “organic unity,” the approach of “corporate solidarity” and “the christological approaches”)? Compare and contrast them.

2. What pros and cons can you find in each approach?

3. Can you name some examples of each approach in today’s life experience?

4. What is an alternative approach or understanding about the body of Christ? How can you
evaluate it?


Organic unity, anti-imperial resistance, the body of Christ and ekklesia, love patriarchalism, social boundary, bounded system, unity and concord (homonoia), boundary marker, ecclesiological organism, corporate solidarity, Christ-Adam typology, a missionary body, Christological approaches, the lordship of Christ, Pauline mysticism, soteriology and ethics, Hellenistic mysticism, a new age, parenesis, multi-voiced textus, ecclesial interests, cross-cultural dialogue, elite discourse, hierarchical unity, minority voices, cruciform reality, Christ’s life and death

Chapter 3: Community “in Christ”

The goal of this chapter is to deconstruct the view of “in Christ” as a boundary marker in 1 Corinthians. The language of “in Christ” in a Corinthian conflicting context can be understood as a cynical rhetoric of Paul’s protest to the hegemonic voice of an “in Christ” group in Corinth.


1. What are various functions of the preposition “in” (dative case) used in Paul’s letters?

2. How does “in Christ” have to do with Paul’s rhetoric that he uses to address the Corinthian problems?

3. Can you find the Greco-Roman parallels to which Paul’s cynical language of “in Christ” might refer (1 Cor 4:10)?

4. Is the modal relation of “dying with Christ” consistent in Paul’s theology or in his letters in general?


The dative construction of en christo, spatial relationships, instrumental relationships, temporal relationships, modal relationships, mystical union, boundary marker, “only in the Lord” (monon en kyrio), ecclesiological organism, universal body, cultural imperialism, melting pot theory of assimilation, creative, struggling space, unilateralism, individualism, the strong and the weak, ideologies, a rhetoric of protest, sarcasm, slaves, the poor, Paul’s theology of “in Christ,” Christ’s life and sacrifice, human suffering and rejection, the slave’s death, a liminal experience, the margins of humanity, dying with Christ, a new space and time

Chapter 4: The Body Politic and the Body of Christ

The goal of this chapter has two parts. One is to take a look at the Greco-Roman and Jewish world in terms of the body politic and to relate to Paul’s body politic through the metaphor “the body of Christ.” The other part is to illustrate cases of disembodiment of Christic body found in 1 Corinthians. The conclusion is that Paul takes the side of the democratic-inclusive body and that the Corinthian problems are criticized and deconstructed by this body politic with an emphasis on the deconstructive power of the cross (Christ crucified).


1. What are some major differences between the hegemonic body politic and the
democratic-inclusive body politic? Point out ideologies (philosophy) that support each body politic.

2. Which side of the body politic do you think Paul takes? Why?

3. What do you think is the central cause of the Corinthian problems mentioned in the letter? (divisions, sexual immorality, eating meat sacrificed to idols, etc).

4. Paul does not claim his rights as an apostle (benefits such as financial support). Does this rejection of financial support reflect his protest to the social system of patron-client in the Greco-Roman world?


Paul’s social world, Stoicism, the body politic, unity and harmony, peace and security, Roman Empire, the hegemonic body, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Augustus, Menenius Agrippa’s speech, hierarchical chain of command, reason (nous), logos, slavery, Virgil’s Aeneid, hierarchical dualism, the democratic-inclusive body, Cynic, Diogenes, parrhesia, free speech, Christ crucified, Varro, Horace, Juvenal, Tacitus, crucifixion of slaves and Jews, the voices of marginality, a radical theology of the cross, social diversity, Christic embodiment, the disembodiment of Christ, Christic body, an attributive genitive, divisions, sexual immorality, a Corinthian slogan, marriage-related matters, eating meat sacrificed to idols, rights of Paul, patronage, the gospel of Christ, women’s head coverings, the Lord’s Supper, love patriarchalism, functionalist, resurrection, enthusiasts, denial of death

Chapter 5: The Life of the “Body of Christ” in First Corinthians

The goal of this chapter is to examine the metaphor of “the body of Christ” in the whole letter with a focus on the discursive figurative structure of the body. One of the central key words is “Christic body” (rendered as an attributive genitive, Christlike body, as we see similarly in Rom 6:6: the body of sin as “sinful body”). There are three movements of body metaphor in this whole letter: body as the cross, the body as community and body as resurrection.


1. Does this outline of the discursive figurative structure in 1 Corinthians show distinctive issues and message in the Corinthian situation?

2. Compare and contrast various genitive cases applied to the body of Christ? Namely, between 1) the objective genitive (a body belonging to Christ as an organism metaphor), 2) the subjective genitive (Christ’s own body as physical), 3) the attributive genitive (Christlike or Christic body).

3. Do inverted parallelisms in the analysis of the whole letter work in supporting the argument of the chapter and thesis of the whole book?

4. How can you account for the possible transformative relationship, if any, between the metaphor of the body of Christ, Paul, and the Corinthian community?

5. What do you think about the difference between Paul's use of the metaphor of "the body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians and the later use by the authors of the so called Deutero-Pauline letters such as Ephesians and Colossians?

6. Does Paul distinguish between soma christou ("body of Christ") and ekklesia (church) in 1 Corinthians? If he does so, why is it important to distinguish each other in the Corinthian context?


Paul’s own letters, the Deutero-Pauline letters, language for “the body” in 1 Cor, an ethic of the Christic body, one-step ethic, two-step ethic, figure, discursive structure, inverted parallelism, Paul’s theology and ethics, the cross as God’s power, the Corinthians’ failure to embody Christ crucified, the Corinthian body as Christic embodiment, a new body, three thematic parts (the cross, the community, transformation), image of body figures, theology of body figures, love as a divine gift, love as a command, love as a radical challenge, love as interpersonal faith, a loving community (ekklesia), the raised body of Christ, the confession of hope, God’s mystery and power, Paul’s “yes” to the world, Christ crucified as a symbol of God’s justice

Chapter 6: Practicing the Diversity of Christ’s Body

The goal of this chapter is to contemplate on the diversity of Christ’s body. The central question is, How can we practice the metaphor of Christ’s body, not as a boundary marker but as a living metaphor of Christic body in a diverse, conflicted world today. This chapter leaves more questions than answers regarding the idea of diversity. That is where the book ends because it is our job to continue to work together.


1. What are true diversity and its conditions? How does the body of Christ have to do with the idea of diversity?

2. How is different, if any, between the notion of differences and of diversity?

3. Is it possible to have a phrase like “critical diversity”? If possible, how can we get there?


Diversity, biblical interpretation, differences or complexities in our life, “otherness,” a hermeneutical lens, discernment, balance, multiculturalism, the gospel of Christ, God’s solidarity, Christ’s death, self-critical awareness.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Roots of Individualism

Yung Suk Kim

One of the dominant characteristics of modern culture is individualism, which prevails not only in the United States but elsewhere. It is not easy to define because as a phenomenon it is complex and varied. According to Elwood Johnson, individualism can be defined as “any mode of thought based on the faith that person may become in himself a prime cause; he may, in fact, act his way out of his own history.” [1] Similarly, Emil Brunner sees individualism as a “Robinson Crusoe affair” in which the individual is solely important considering his own personality. [2]  In this view, society is a coalescence of individuals. In this paper, individualism is defined in a way that an individual is capable of anything apart from community, and precedes community or society as a whole. What I am thinking about individualism is well expressed by Bellah: “Such folk owe no man anything and hardly expect anything from anybody. They form the habit of thinking of themselves in isolation and imagine that their whole destiny is in their hands.” [3] The aspects of individualism are so varied and the reasons for this individualism are also so complex that we cannot deal here with the whole spectrum of individualism. Here in this small paper, I will try to trace the roots of religious individualism from a Christian perspective.

            Throughout the history of Christianity, where can we find the most significant moments or elements to cause individualism to arise and flourish? I find those roots in multiple places such as in philosophical and doctrinal views, in the Reformation, in the Enlightenment, and in modern culture’s new way of living: communication and information. The root of individualism can be traced back to Plato, about 2,500 years ago. His main idea lies in dualism and intellectual positivism. Especially, dualism was a crucial element that affected Christianity. Under the influence of this philosophy, this world of reality is just a shadow of real being – the pure ideal world. As a result, human existence in earthly life is ignored. That is, “living together” in this world was somehow less important because people were more concerned to get to the other world or utopia. In this way, people are more concerned with spiritual or reasonable matters rather than practical ordinary daily life. John Bunyan's great work, Pilgrim’s Progress, might be an example of this influence in the sense that “my” spirit’s journey is an individualistic quest for heaven, which does not need help from others. In this way, a personal journey is overemphasized over community life.

            Gnosticism was another Platonic development whose root was dualism. Gnosticism’s impact on Christianity cannot be underestimated because still today its influence recurs in mysticism and various cultic groups. They believe that the only meaningful life is in the spirit because the spirit is immortal and is going to the perfect world – the world of spirits. But flesh is just a shadow and a failure of God’s creation. Another element can be found in one of the most important doctrines of the Reformation: justification by faith. When Luther emphasized faith in opposition to the work of the law (when he interpreted Romans), he thought that only faith, not the work, sufficed for humans to be justified by God through grace. In Luther’s mind, there was no room to see work as necessary for justification. This thinking represented Luther’s psychological, existential struggle with the sinfulness of himself. In this way, he seemed to overlook the context of Paul and the Old Testament when he interpreted Romans 1:17: “The righteous shall live by faith.” Most scholars suggest that “faith," in Romans 1:17 and Hab. 2:4, can be better understood as “being faithful” to God’s covenant. God’s people should live faithfully to the covenant and promise. In other words, the real context of these verses is of the people’s faith that has to do with justice: living together, loving together. Faith is not just a quality but a dynamic action word that cannot be done individually. Rather, it is a progressive, relational word. So, in its character, faith cannot be separated from the action that is involved in the community. In this sense, whether Luther intended it or not, his doctrine contributed to Christian individualism.

            In the “Predestination” doctrine which Calvinists formed, some additional roots of individualism can be found. The notion of predestination grace was, in an essential way, a phenomenon of personal religious experience. [4] This is not a general phenomenon. The sixteenth and seventeenth century’s people seem to have been very worried by the problem of “assurance and certainty.” [5] This notion of self-confidence about personal predestination underlies a deep conviction that “I” am saved but “you” are not. In other words, implicitly or explicitly, it is easy to judge people according to expressed personal faith without seeing lifelong endurance toward salvation. Predestination is a surprisingly ‘inward and spiritual’ doctrine, in which persons are judged based on their belief and destined to good or bad place: heaven or hell. [6] Also, it is hard to conceive of any community focus in this doctrine because predestination is done at an individual level, not at a community level. As a result, for these people who believe in predestination, the only important thing in one’s personal life is “my” salvation rather than the “community’s” salvation.

            The Reformation as a historical movement also influenced individualism. Through and after the Reformation, reformers emphasized only the Bible as an authority rather than the Bible and the tradition. After Reformation, the Bible was distributed to many people, and individuals were free to interpret scriptures, not necessarily filtering faith through the community. Likewise, “the priesthood of all believers” can be problematic because, in this way, faith can be privatized, and consciousness of community can be weakened. [7] In contrast, the medieval church’s focus was on community, for example, her emphasis on sacraments as a community event and on the church as an institution. I do not mean that the medieval church functioned well, because, certainly, there were problems like hierarchical rule over believers. But, a good part of Christian tradition, such as this community focus, was overlooked by this Reformation movement. I think this is also one of the distortions of Christian faith.

            The Renaissance in the sixteenth and seventeenth century has also affected individualism because ‘humanism’ played a key role in uplifting a human being to a sacred position, contrasting with the church’s role as God’s institution for all people. In medieval society, the individual was a component part of set functions and the social whole was central. [8] The Renaissance movement arose to recover human dignity, opposing the hierarchical control of the church. But the result was such a noticeable thing that a shift was made from a community focus to individuals. This was a seed of the Enlightenment that took place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

            The Enlightenment thinkers viewed reality atomistically and heralded values of freedom, privacy, self-sufficiency, dignity, and self-determination. [9] The atomistic view was influenced by the contemporary physics that developed atomistic physics. According to this view, the most important foundation is an individual, who has an intrinsic capability and freedom to “dare to know” as a responsible being. [10] Similarly, Andre Vachet stated that in this movement, “autosuficiencia humana” and “los derechos naturales del individuo significan que cada hombre representa un valor absoluto frente a la sociedad y la vida politica” and “igualidad y libertad” were key values in this time. [11]  As we see above, individuals have an ultimate authority and value for human existence. Thus, society as a whole is just a composite of such individuals. This is another big shift from the community focus to the individual focus. This root of individualism is the deepest one because it is still affecting our thought and behavior.

          Individual self-interest was validated in such a way that Adam Smith wrote a book called “The Wealth of Nations”, in which he beautified self-interest as a driving force to an ideal society and emphasized an invisible hand (price’s role in supply and demand) in a free economy. In this connection with the Enlightenment, capitalism is the epitome of individualism. The result is, not surprisingly, that the total wealth of nations increased together with special classes’ wealth (for instance, capital owners) but most individuals sacrificed themselves for their wealth. This was not even the result that Enlightenment thinkers expected because they strongly believed that individual freedom and the free economy would lead to the most idealistic society.

            Since the Enlightenment, we have lived under its influence. For example, the main idea of the Declaration of Independence in the United States was borrowed from the Enlightenment: Personal rights and freedom were keys in it. Yes, we need personal freedom and rights with human dignity. But the problem is the imbalance between private and public life. To put it another way, frequently, the responsibilities of freedom within a wider community such as a local community, nation and so forth, were simply forgotten.

           One of the effects of the Enlightenment can be found in Puritanism in America. Part of Puritanism’s focus was in an individual discipline, thrift, hard work, and personal success. As seen from the previous section, the Enlightenment’s focus lies in human positivism in a sense that “I” can do anything based on the philosophy of self-reliance and personal freedom. Likewise, from the Frontier mentality in the time of “Westward expansion,” we can find a clue that they had to live in such a way in order to survive. What would they have seen in the wilderness on the way to the West? Probably, they might have thought about their destinies, facing opportunities and obstacles before them. Opportunities maybe were seen in building a new kingdom of their race by driving out Indians. Obstacles were more inward matters, facing physical and mental loneliness plus the risk of life in the midst of Frontier wars. The possible option they could take was to have a belief that “I” can do anything in the name of God. Again, their minds were half filled with a spirit of Enlightenment and the others half filled with a Christian theology of providence (America).

            During the second half of the twentieth century, we are experiencing a new way of life, that is, a highly information-based society with the increasing use of the Internet. Modern complex culture, characterized by consumerism and dreadful capitalism, is one of the places where we can find the root of individualism. In this highly efficient capitalistic society, self-interest is the basis of the economy. [12] The modern individual is moved by self-interest, as are communities and nations. Self is a real criterion in deciding an important policy in internal and foreign affairs. As I mentioned previously about Adam Smith’s book, self-interest is treated as valid and sacred in every place. Why is self-interest popular in this society? Maybe a clue can be found in the idea of “liberty," which was one of the important values of Enlightenment. Today liberty means the spirit of enterprise and the right to multiply wealth and power for oneself. [13] Rational individuals are concerned about their own welfare which characterizes Enlightenment thought. [14]

            In a commercial culture, religion is a product in the market. [15] People are as free to choose a religion as any product on the market. Like commercial business, the marketing strategy is used by some churches, for example, by using mass media, advertising church programs, and sermons, researching “customers’” needs, and solving “customers’” claims. Some approach a niche market, targeting a specific customer group to secure profit and maintain business. Their marketing strategy focuses on customers’ needs, rather than asking whether the needs are really good for customers or not. For example, a certain church is marketing a health product (focusing on and developing a program about mental and physical health because modern men and women are very concerned about their health), while another church is marketing a new project of building a huge hospital. [16]

           In this culture of individualism, I ask myself, “What is the church?” Now it is evident that where we should go to correct the distortions of individualism. The church is an institution to foster community life in the body of Christ. It is urgent to recover our memory of the community. [17] A community is a whole, more than the sum of individuals. A community has its own story and tradition which cannot suddenly be replaced by any logical doctrine. “A community and a tradition are capable of sustaining genuine individuality and nurturing both public and private lives." [18] When God created man and woman, what was God’s will? God wanted humans to live in a community, respecting each other and helping one another. God made human beings in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). What is the image of God with humanity?  Or what is the essence of the image of God? The divine love is the cause of human existence. So, we are asked to live in a community, loving one another without claiming our individual rights all the time. To build up a community in the love of Jesus Christ, Christians need to suspend their freedom for the weak. 

[1] Dennis P. Hollinger, Individualism and Social Ethics (Boston: University Press of America, 1983), 15.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Robert BellahHabits of the Heart (New York: Harper & Row, 1985), 37.
[4] Dewey D. Wallace, Jr., Puritans and Predestination (North Carolina: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), 193.
[5] Ibid., 195.
[6] Ibid., 193.
[7] Ibid., 21.
[8] Ibid., 20.
[9] Ibid., 22.
[10] Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Rise of Modern Paganism (New York: Vintage Books, 1966), 3.
[11] Andre Vachet, “La Ideologia Liberal 2.” Translated by Pablo Fernandez Albaladejo, Valentine, and Manuel, (Madrid, Spain: Editorial Fundamentos, 1973), 111, 131, 132.
[12] Robert N. Bellah, 35.
[13] Ibid., 28.
[14] Ibid., 35.
[15] R. Laurence Moore, Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 6, 136.
[16]   Ibid.
[17] Robert Bellah, 153.
[18] Ibid.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Shamanism and Christianity in Korea

Yung Suk Kim

Shamanism and exclusivism represent a typical form of conservative, fundamentalist Christianity in Korea. Yonggi Cho, founding pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church and now retired, along with fundamental pastors, stands out in this direction. He delivered a rare speech at the Buddhist Graduate School of Dongguk University, Seoul, Korea. As I hear him, his story begins and ends with a form of shamanism. After his speech, he said that each religion matters and functions on its own with a message of salvation. But later, he reversed his statement because of the pressures coming from his church.

I translated Cho's speech and interview (Q & A) because it gives us an opportunity to examine shamanism and exclusive Christianity in Korea. His speech centered on his conversion experience and the history of his church planting. After the speech, he had a time of Q & A. Someone asked: "Do you believe that Jesus or Christianity is the only way to salvation and that other religions are not true?" His answer was shocking to his fellow conservative Christians since he said Buddhism has its own message of salvation. Furthermore, he said, "We (Christians and Buddhists) need to coexist." Soon I heard that he corrected his position because of the pressures from his church.

1) Cho's distinct theology of the threefold blessing was well marked in his lecture. As you might understand, his theology is just like saying like this: "hope, hope! blessing and blessing! now and tomorrow!" Otherwise, there is no mention of the gospel of justice or the cost of discipleship. It is a typical example of charismatic/shamanistically driven faith. But his message appealed to many poor. He told a story about one woman who says: "Here is a hell already I live now. Show me a little bit of heaven now..."

2) He also made bold statements about other religions in his lecture, especially during the interview after the lecture. He said, religion is equal and Buddhism has its own concept of salvation and therefore it should be properly recognized.

Discussion questions:
Where is his theology rooted? What are some socio-political implications of his theology? Is he a shaman? How is his theology different from Shamanism? How does a shaman play in the contemporary religion or culture? Is Jesus a shaman for him?

Yonggi Cho's Speech: "My Life and Faith"

Yonggi Cho, Yoido Full Gospel Church, delivered this speech at the Buddhist Graduate School of Top Management, Dongguk University, Seoul, Korea, on May 18, 2004

Translated by Yung-Suk Kim

I am very glad to be here to speak to you. Actually, I was a bit hesitating with Dr. Han’s invitation because, as you know, I am not a professional executive or a trained scholar. As an ordinary pastor, I was not sure what I would have to say to the distinguished audience like you, but I made up my mind to come; I believe my speech would deepen our mutual understanding of different faiths. Often, debates aim at winning over the other party, but dialogue through a mutual recognition of differences serves as a good opportunity for a better understanding of each other. I believe that we can make a better society if we work together through reconciliation and cooperation among Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists.
I take this opportunity to share my theology based on the essence of Christianity. Presently, I am serving as a pastor of 750,000-members Yoido Full Gospel Church- a member church of a larger ecclesial body of Kidokkyo Daehan Hananim Sunghwe, which has 2,000 churches along with its 1.5 million members. Worldwide, we are part of 50 million members of the Assembly of God. Roughly, 200 million people worldwide share a similar faith with us.
Born into Buddhist culture, I did not grow up in a Christian atmosphere. It was not a coincidence that our house was surrounded by the Buddhist temples such as SunnamTemple to the north and Bulguk Temple down the road, and Tongdo Temple toward Busan. I went to bed listening to the bells in the temples and woke up with the same sound in the morning. My grandmother, as a devoted member of the Tongdo Temple, had Buddhist name heaven-flower and studied Zen Buddhism for her life. As the first son in my family, I used to have Buddhist meditations. Often, my father said to me, “heart is Buddha; Buddha is not somewhere else but in your heart; if you are enlightened in your heart, Buddha is there.” He also told me about “kae-you-bool-sung" which means that everything (all) has Buddhist mind." I grew up with this kind of Buddhist teaching.
Then at the age of 17 toward the end of the Korean War in 1953, I collapsed due to an aggravated lung disease. Terminally ill, I vomited a large amount of blood. Because of the Korean War, our people massively suffered from poverty and hunger; our family fled to Busan to seek a refuge, leaving behind the burnt house attacked by the communists. While in Busan, even with hard work, our daily condition did not improve at all. I came down with malnutrition with blood-vomiting continued. Later days at a hospital, I found the right side of my lung failed. Then a chief doctor told me that my life would soon end within 6 months. At that time a large scale surgery could be performed only in Norway, but I could not afford it. I felt much fear and hopelessness, with an understanding that my life soon dies out. I said to myself, “Hey, man! From a long-term perspective, what makes difference between dying at teens and dying at the nineties? Don’t worry about your death. It is eventually the same thing whether you die now or late.” I lied down on the floor of the rugged card-boarded house, and looked up the roof; I could not resist bitterness of my destiny, sadness, and hopelessness despite my own justification for an impending death. 

Deep down in my heart, however, I had a yearning for living longer even though I did not know what to do given my condition of rough breathing with blood vomiting. In this darkest moment of my life, my father came to pray for me in a Buddhist way: “being born-aging-sickening-dying is a matter of the heart. Transcend it.” At such a young age, however, I could not get over it despite my father's urge that I have Buddhist meditation. I cried one day, “I don’t care whoever will save me. It could be a Buddha, a Jesus or a Mary. If anyone makes me alive, I will dedicate my life to the Savior until I die. Help me to live. I do not want to die now at the age of 17. Please give me another chance.” I made a last desperate shout in the midst of the gravest suffering. 

A few days later, a friend of my sister's, a devoted Christian, visited my sick bed and asked me to have faith in Jesus Christ. With my father’s opposition to her visit, I received a Bible but did not feel good because I grew up with Buddhist way. Upon her request, I began to read the books of Matthew, Mark, and John and found that they were a very different kind of story books; until that time I read only Zen magazines for a long time that were published in Japan. In the Zen magazines, there is a vast amount of in-depth philosophy and logic - a level that defies our verbal expressions. I felt that this Bible seemed to lack philosophy, logic, and profundity of the story. 

However, the Bible's story touched my soul and body. Because I was a dying person with no hope of finding a cure by the contemporary medical advancement. I was indeed a person whom doctors and my family gave up. I needed a miracle. I needed this story of miracles because I searched for a person who would make me alive now here on earth, not a person who will lead me to the other world of the spirits after death. In the story books of the Bible, I found such a figure Jesus who expelled demons, healed the sick, erected dead persons, fed the five thousand people with the miracle of two fishes and five loaves of bread, and who himself arose from the grave three days after his death. From the eyes of Buddhism with logical thoughts, the biblical stories seemed very foolish and unpractical, but for me, they were much-needed stories in my hopeless situation. 

As a person of desperate hopelessness, I could not live by logic or theory but needed a supernatural miracle. My father’s teaching was a transcendence of the deadly situation; it is true that a living person dies; separation of life and death is evident. Nevertheless, in reality, I could not live with the transcendental spirit of Buddhism; rather, I was full of desires to live with. Such desires matched the Bible of Christ. Before this time, I never attended a church nor read the Bible. Then I thought to myself, “If Christ is alive today as in the Bible, I can live.” So I knelt down and prayed: “If you let me live, I would be a monk for you, Jesus. So let me live.” Fearing my father’s scolding or opposition, I prayed by myself without being noticed. I thought, my in-youn (Buddhist term, close to the meaning of karma or fate) was connected with Jesus. Before this prayer, fear and terror of death bombarded me like the spiraling whirlwind hitting my head, but after this prayer, peace of mind visited me. I got an unthinkable conviction that I can live; it is not a psychological peace. 

Though I vomited blood with coughing and received the doctor’s declaration of impending death, I could get the stronger belief that I could live. The Bible was accepted deep in my heart even though seemingly nonsensical through the mind’s eye. With this conviction that I do not die, I told my family members that I won't die because of my faith in Jesus. Then all my family members wept, thinking that my last day came near. In other words, they thought that I became confused or schizophrenic. My mother prayed (to Buddha) that in the next incarnation I would be born into a rich family with a happy life because in this life I suffered a lot. But I said, “don’t say that. I will live.” I wanted to sing songs even though I did not know any Christian songs; I felt peace and joy in the midst of hopelessness. Then I got up and sang a song “O, Night of Shilla, Hear the Bell of the Bulguk Temple” (note: this song is a popular folk song in Korea). My loud singing shook my house. 

Gradually, my fever and blood-vomiting disappeared. I began recovering taste of the food. In six months, my breathing became normal. Finally, I recovered completely in a year. What a great belief (conviction) – something that cannot be accomplished by humans – that changed me! A great peace came to me even when I could not see, hear and capture anything with my eyes, my ears, and with my hands, or when my way ahead was so dark like black. The heaven (the kingdom of God) came into my heart, as it is said in the Bible that the kingdom of God (or heaven) is in one’s heart, not here or there.

With my surprise, however, nobody came to my church. They did not listen to me and my efforts of evangelism failed. They were the people of the poorest, making a bare living day by day. With this absolute poverty, what abounds was alcoholics, the vulgarly or thieves. Then, a turning point came to my life. A couple with their nine sons moved from Bukcheong, North Korea. The husband had become an alcoholic for the past ten years, drinking from morning to evening. This father of nine sons would take out some money from his sons who brought it home by hard working at the shoe polishing shops and used to buy alcohols. The wife was very weak and had the heart and stomach diseases. I knocked on the door of this family. She asked, “Who are you?” I answered, “I am an evangelist working at a tent church up the village. Let us go to heaven by believing in Jesus.” Then, staring at me angrily, she said to me, “I won’t go to heaven. You all religionists are liars!” I answered, “I did not tell a lie.” The woman continued to say, “If at death such a beautiful heaven is given, why it is not possible to have a little bit of heaven here and now on earth? In our home heaven is not an expensive thing.” “Heaven at our home is like this: we need a piece of the blanket with which my kids can sleep; rice to eat day after day so that they might go to school; the cure of my husband from an alcoholic. How on heaven can God lie if he cannot make this kind of small things for us now? I do not need a beautiful heaven after death. You, religionists, are tricksters who make money by giving the poor a psychological relief.” 

This woman was a well-educated person from North Korea. I was shocked and dumbfounded. It was not I but she who evangelized me. She said: “Right? If there is a heaven up there, the place we go after death, why can you not show a little bit of such heaven here and now, and save us out of this miserable situation?” 

Nevertheless, I still insisted, “you go to hell if you don’t believe.” Then, this woman, laughingly answered, “the hell? Wake up, man! Here is the hell we live now. We, eleven family members, live in the small square-feet room, and we are worse off than dogs or pigs. For the past ten years, we never have eaten white rice but flour. With no shoes, clothing, or hospitals to go, we have here a living hell, hotter than any other thing, no matter what you say about the hell. I have pains in my neck because of my nine sons. What can your religion provide for us?” I returned to my tent church without saying further. 

This woman’s saying sounded a bang to my ear: “If there is a heaven, we need a heaven now, not the one after death. Heaven now!” Then, my father’s Buddhist teaching also whispered to my ears: “Heart is thus a Buddha. Buddha is not only in the paradise but also in my heart.” Wherever Buddha is, there is a Christian heaven/paradise, or a Buddhist paradise. If one lives now the living hell and go to heaven only after death, can such a thing not be an actual lie? The heaven must come here as she insists. In fact, she lives now in hell. Then what should I say to her?

Therefore, the simple message is that whoever believes in him will receive the three-fold blessing: souls are well; all things go well; you can live a healthy life. That is why we call this holistic salvation, which is not just about the soul but also about the spirit (soul), the body (flesh) and the present life. Such a holistic message of salvation is central in our Christianity. Our Christianity sometimes teaches that we have to keep the commandments rather than to believe in Jesus. Though some churches incessantly teach that we have to keep the law and the commandments, I believe that by the simple faith and God’s grace we are forgiven from sin; being free from curses; receiving the blessings of God; healed from diseases; being saved.

Furthermore, a new house was built through the help of this church. This story appears to prove my preaching about the hopes. This woman, within three months of believing in Jesus, saw the manifestation of the Christian message such a way that “your soul is blessed with health, and everything works together.” I felt good about this message of great hope – the threefold blessing, and the holistic salvation. Through preaching about hopes, our church grew fast to the membership of 500 in three years since I worked in this village. With much enthusiasm of these newly hope-full members, through their prayers and dedication, our church grew faster and made another big move to Seodaemoon, Seoul in 1961. Many people laughed at me when I started a church there because there were already big established churches such as Independence Church, Ahyun Methodist Church, Jungdong Church, and Saemoonan Chruch in the region of our church. They had reasons to say that because I, a 26-year-old young person, entered that established region without fear.

They thought that I was crazy. But I knew one thing. In the 1960s, Korea began to take a process of modernization. President JungHee Park launched Saemaeul (New Village) Movement and ambitious economic development programs. As a result, many people from Jullado and Kyungsangdo came to Seoul to find a job and lived in the boarded house of the poor among the poor, on the top mountain of Ahyundong. They used charcoals for heating and cooking day and night, sometimes putting them inside a room. They were gassed. They were not allowed to take their lives in the midst of this suffering and miserable incidents. At times, the wind blew into the poor houses, with people half-killed. They survived only to suffer more.

I preached hopes to these people living on the margins. I did not teach the commandments or the law. I did not teach about religion. I did not preach about Christianity but about hopes through which one can get the holistic salvation in Jesus Christ. I continued to preach the message of hopes in spite of many accusations from every corner of other denominations and church leaders. However, in fact, so many people came to our church to find hopes and slept at our church to listen to the message of hopes.
People of our church were often blamed for praying aloud with unspeakable gestures or shouting. They say, “Church must be quiet, solemn, and holy. How come they are praying with noises, weeping, and clapping?” It is right that middle/upper-class people of intellectuals did not have to weep or clap. But these people had to cry because they didn’t have a background, education, family fame, money, and life. That’s why they cried aloud listening to the message of hope at the church. One has to cry to live in this situation. Otherwise, one cannot live due to the depression. I, therefore, told the members of my church to cry. They were told to feel like children who have a father and to pray aloud crying like kids. Our church was like a funeral house because of victims or the oppressed, all kinds of miserable people came to pray with shouts. After this crying and shouting, I asked them to sing aloud like children before their father to be rejoicing. Praying aloud in unison, and singing with hands, people experienced healing and spiritual salvation, with their stress washed away, and with their heart calmed down. With this faith and experience, they find God to help them. Moreover, they help each other. 

Positive, creative thinking and attitude change their life. If one has a negative, hopeless, destructive and pessimistic attitude of life, it does harm to the self and the others as well. Norman Vincent Bill, a famous American, wrote a best seller book Positive Thinking. One day a shabby person, visited Dr. Bill and said, “Dr. Bill, I am broke, and I am nothing. Do I have any hope? If I don’t find hope after listening to you, I am going to die” Bill then asked this poor man to write on the blank sheets of paper, “write down what I asked you to write”: “First of all, do you have a wife? Yes, I have. Even though I am not good enough, she is still with me. Second, do you have children? Yes, I have. Though I do not educate them well, they are good.

Third, do you have friends? Yes, I have some good friends. Fourth, do you have tastes? Yes, I have. I can eat well if any. You can eat whatever you wish whereas a sick millionaire cannot eat at all. Fifth, do you have good sleep? Yes, I sleep well though I don’t make good money. You are blessed because famous persons have a hard time to sleep. And are you healthy now? Yes, I am.” Then this poor man read what he wrote: I have my wife, children, friends, tastes, good sleep, and health. Dr. Bill said, “Why did you tell a lie? Entering my office, you told me you don’t have anything with you. See how much you have. Why do you see what you don’t have without seeing what you have? This man nodded and said, “I didn’t know that I had this much. I thought I didn’t have anything when I came to you. But now I see I have many.” This man, changing his attitude for life, went out with confidence and got a job. I feel my job is to give hopes and dreams to the people who need them. If one has hopes and dreams, one can go anywhere. I have traveled the entire globe as much of 80 rounds of the earth and wherever I went, Africa, North America, Europe, and South America, I found a common want of people: they search for the hopes and the dreams. One and half million people gathered in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I told them to find a hope and a dream in Christ. 

We work throughout the world to give hopes and dreams. We founded Hansedae, Gukminilbo, Ellim (social agency) to train the unfortunate young, Bethesda College in the USA, and Good Samaritans and others in Africa and Asia and North Korea. For me what matters in life is to find hopes and dreams by believing in Jesus Christ. Buddhism, Christianity, and Muslim are equal as religion. I, as a pastor who grew up in a Buddhist home, find much commonness between Christianity and Zen Buddhism: “Buddha is in your heart” is similar to Jesus’ saying that the kingdom of heaven (or God) is not said to be here or there; Jesus is in your heart. “Buddhist paradise is accomplished here in your heart, not after death.” Likewise, Jesus’ teaching goes hand in hand with a Buddhist teaching; the kingdom of heaven must be here in your heart. Don’t look forward to the heaven after death. Law and commandments reveal your sins but faith in Jesus and salvific life automatically bring forth energy or capacity with which to keep the law or the commandments. That is why I like the thought of Wonhyo, a Buddhist monk, who emphasized simple salvation that can be available to all through reciting the four letters of na-moo-ami-tabul. Then people are able to keep the rules. All these parallel teachings show the common character of faith in both religions.

I like a Buddhist TV channel. I benefit from this channel, and feel the peace of my mind when I watch and listen to the lecture of this TV program; I feel at home with Buddhism. So I listened to the whole series of lecture by Professor Byungjo Jung. I find, however, others’ lectures hard to follow because of their complex, philosophical contents. I consumed his TV lecture series and books as well. I like him because his lecture is easy to understand. Why do I listen to Buddhist lectures often? Because of those lectures, I was able to deepen my faith of Christianity. In that respect, I realize the necessity of inter-religious dialogue.
I went to a foreign missionary because I swore that I would live for Jesus as a monk if I were recovered. With the guidance of that missionary, I came to Seoul, and studied theology and graduated in 1958. I bought a piece of 24-persons-tent at the Namdaemoon market and pitched it as a church at one of the poorest villages in Seoul. Many poor people coming from Kyungsangdo and Jellado lived on the top of the mountain at Bulkwang village and temporarily built boarded houses. I had my tent pitched there to evangelize people. I said, “Go to heaven with faith in Jesus and if you don’t, you will go to hell. Repent by believing in Jesus.”
Christianity considers it important to give hopes to the needy. How is Christianity the religion of hope? In the doctrine of Christianity, God created heaven and earth and made the Garden of Eden in which God put Adam and Eve to live joyfully. But they rebelled against God and fell into sin. As a result, three disasters were brought in. The first disaster is this: humans became slaves of the devil after sinning. All kinds of injustice, evil, and corruption took place. The second disaster: Because of the curse of the environment, earth produced thorns and thistles, and humans had to work hard with sweats to live. The third one: Humans become old, sick, die and return to earth. All humankind from their birth lives in these three disasters, sinning, becoming slaves of the devil, living and dying with the suffering of hunger, sickness, and poverty. Christ came to save us from these three disasters. Christ came not to teach ethics or religion. He is the Lord who came to redeem us. Such is the principle truth taught by the Bible.
Doctrines or commandments come after Jesus Christ, who came to rescue us from his death and who took all our burdens of sins, curses, sickness, and death. Therefore, whoever believes in Jesus, male or female, young or old, poor or rich, is saved. I was reminded of my father’s teaching of WonHyo, a great Buddhist monk in Korean history. WonHyo says: “There are too many commandments, but a person can be saved not by keeping all of them but by reciting ‘namooami-tabul.’ Likewise, Jesus Christ, with the blood on the cross, atoned for our sins and took instead of us the curses, death, and infirmities. 
I have been connected with Jesus Christ because of this hope. Out of the complete hopelessness, I read the Bible and found a great pillar of the fire of hope. I realized that what this woman needs are hopes, not heaven or hell that people go after death, or by keeping the law. So I went to see that lady again. She said, “Why did you come back? I don’t have anything to give you.” Then, I replied, “No, won’t you change your destiny?” This lady retorted back, “What can you do to change my life?” “I know a person who will change your lot. If you turn to him, you will have your husband back with no more alcohol addiction, have food to eat, have free education for your children, and have a good house with sanitary facilities,” I said. This woman asked, “Who is he? Where?” I said, “Follow me and I will let you meet him.” She followed me with sandals on her feet. This was a surprise to me. She did not listen to me when I tried to win her through the law and the commandments of the gospel. In fact, she resisted my efforts of evangelization. But now she follows me when I talk about hopes.
Arriving at my tent church on the field, where the floor was covered with straw mattresses, she asked, “Where is your church?” I said, “Here is my church.” Looking around the tent church, she roared with a big laughter, pulling her stomach, “What are you talking about? You and I have the same lot of poverty.” I said, “You are right. The life of you and me is equally poor, but we are hopeful in Jesus Christ. Let us believe in him so that we are spiritually saved, materialistically blessed, freed from curses, lived healthily, cured of sickness, and we gain an everlasting life of resurrection.” She was not angry about my talks about hope. She began to come to my tent church and did almost every day. We talked about hopes and prayed together. Amazing things happened. This woman, with this kind of hope, began to rejoice, smile, sing praises, and finally, her psychologically driven diseases (related to the stomach or heart diseases) were cured. Then after three months of prayer for her husband, her husband began to attend our church after stopping alcohols. With the help of North Korea Refugees Association, this family managed to live with rice and got a job. Gradually, the nerves of this broken family began to move toward normality. Kids could go to school. Thank you.

Q & A follows:

Q: What is your hope now? Do not take it too seriously.

Cho: Religion is a foundation to intellectual, cultural life. As an understanding of Christianity is essential to know the West, so to know Korea it is also essential to understand about Buddhism and Confucianism. But now Korean situation is chaotic because there is no central, dominating religion to put order; Young people are very confused because of the existence of communists, pleasure-seeking practice.
I think we can solve this problem by creating a dominating religion under which ethical, moral, practical, philosophical worldview and life will be established. Therefore, Buddhism or Christianity should be stronger in this country. Because there is no such powerful dominating religion, even excellent government policies will not be implemented or accepted to the public. 
For this reason, I hope that Buddhism/Christianity would be flourishing and also that Buddhist-Christian dialogue would take place. If I live a longer life, I would like to go overseas to preach the gospel and also to contribute to making a space for dialogical culture, because I believe that through the recognition of mutual differences and dialogue we will have an opportunity to work together aiming at reconciliation. I am considering inviting Dr. Han to a Christian meeting. For example, the mercy of Buddha or the love of God is not different from each other as seen from its practice. I like to spend more time working on this business of mutual cooperation.

Q: About twenty years ago, one student insisted that there is no salvation except through Jesus. I told him/her to check with his/her pastor and come back to me. However, he/she repeats the same answer.
Cho: That is right. Buddhism is an elder religion as a religion of Korea for a long time. What if Buddhism goes to exclude all other religions without recognizing differences? Because pastors think exclusively repeating the absoluteness of Christianity, not recognizing the differences and distinctiveness of other religions, there might be a danger of conflicts. After retiring, I think I need to work on this reconciliation through dialogue. Religions are equal.

Q: I know there is no other way of salvation except through Christ. Based on your sayings today, may I think that there are other ways of salvation than Christianity, Jesus or God?

Cho: There are differences with each other. Buddhism has its own message of salvation. Likewise, Christianity has its own message of salvation. No one religion can transcend the limit of each; that is why I suggested a mutual dialogue with the recognition of the mutual differences. We can not criticize what Buddhism says. We don’t have such rights to do so. We have to respect each religion as they are formulating salvation. My point is that we should live together with the common ground of religion, that is to say, with respect for the differences. Within my family side and relatives, there are still Buddhists, but I don’t feel any resistance from them because we recognize mutual differences. My brother is confident about his salvation through Buddhism and I acknowledge it. Though I am a Christian pastor, I cannot insist that only Christianity is true and that salvation is possible only through it. We cannot gain a principle of mutual living if one thinks, “I have to kill you and I would live.” That is not something that Buddha or Jesus wants. It is a violation of the principle of the mercy (of Buddha) or the love (of God).

Q: You are leading the biggest church in Korea. You said that the smallest unit of the Church is a 15-member church, in which sense you said, “I am a pastor of the smallest church.” What do you mean by it?

Cho: I once fainted during the sermon because of over-work in 1964. My doctor at the hospital recommended me to stop working as pastor of four or five thousand members’ church because my body and mind were so much ruined. I got stuck in my hospital bed for a while. So I could not continue to preach, counsel, or visit members and I realized this: Why should only pastor work in ministry? I could train lay persons, who can take a responsibility of five or ten homes for this each trained lay leader. They could counsel, visit with comfort; then I could save my burden. I, therefore, began to train lay persons. The five-homes-bound unit functioned like a church where they study the Bible, pray together, and evangelize people. As a result, the church membership grew to like the snowball. We have about 50,000 unit leaders now. By this unit organization, we certainly have an advantage that more genuine and comfortable fellowship is taking place in the homes where they meet. This way our total members of 700,000 are being cared of. I cannot take care of all these people. We also use the internet as an important tool for our ministry efficiency. 700,000 listen to my preaching every Sunday and 5000,000 people get access to the internet preaching of mine. These days’ young people do not attend the church services. They have internet service at home and send offerings via the internet too. Each cell leader or members send questions via the internet and I answer them through the internet. Now is a time of dialogue, and I cannot deliver sermon unilaterally. Sunday preaching must be careful because people ask preachers through online, which is a great contrast to the old way of preaching, one-way delivery. The church can make use of this internet for its benefits. In a cyberspace, people gather, pray, worship and send questions to me and I send back my own answers to them. This is how our church functions with 700,000 members.
Q: In modern medicine, mind/heart is reacted or caused by the play of the brain. Do you think that heart/mind is in the area of the brain or outside of it? You said, “let us find Christ in the heart.” Is heart within or without?
Cho: According to a materialistic or evolutionary view, humans are mere materials. But I am sure that from a religious point of view heart resides in our brain. And the brain is a tool for the heart. In my ministry experiences, I used to observe persons who had mysterious experiences. A staff pastor in our church died from the heart attack. A death certificate was issued and in three days a corpse was put in a coffin. Then suddenly he arose and lived. He told us his spiritual journey after death. It is sure evidence that body and spirit were separated. In our religious life with deep meditation, we often experience an enormous journey into our heart without going through the brain. I also through meditation experience such mysterious feelings, whose world transcends time and space, and it is an eternal world of peace. This kind of mysterious experience cannot be made by the brain only. Heart resides in me and myself is the heart. In other words, my heart owns my flesh.
Q: The ultimate hope is to overcome death in Christianity, and thus resurrection is at the center of the Christian message. We are going to ask you about this next semester. This age is at danger of the environmental crisis. Arnold Toynbee suggested that the root cause of this ecological crisis lies in Christian thought. What do you think about this? Based on Genesis 1:27, 29.  

Cho: A materialistic perspective poses human-centered dominance of nature, resulting in the destruction of the environment. Taking care of nature has nothing to do with its merciless destruction. From another angle, divinity resides in everything in the creation of God; God created all. Therefore, if there is divinity in all things, we should rule all things with God’s presence, not for our own selfish purposes. Like Buddhist teaching, one cannot kill even a small insect because Buddha is kind and merciful. God in Christianity care about all things and resides in all, and at the same time going beyond them. God resides in all creation and therefore in grass and insects as well. Therefore, we cannot do harm to nature. Ecology is important from God’s perspective.