Saturday, 25 February 2012

Korean Minjung Theological Reading Of The Bible

By: L. Jonah Khongsai


The theological thinking in Asia remains “Western” in its basic shape and message because Christian communities are still continuous with the Western Christian cultures than with the local communities. Thus, religio-cultural contextualization and political liberation were demanded by the national aspirations of the colonized peoples. It is in this context that a new theme for theological reflection appears, that is, “the people in Asia.”[1] A prominent example is seen in the heritage of Korean Christians’ struggle against colonial domination which is deeply intertwined with the secular heritages of Asian national liberation, and this provides an important historical point of reference for Korean theology today.[2] The Minjung Theology of South Korea is one of the creative liberation theologies emerging from the political struggles of Third World people.[3] This theology takes the concept of people who are ruled and dominated but who use the process of history to become free subjects. In this connection, brief study is done on the Korean Minjung theological reading of the Bible in the past and present.

Who are Minjung?

The term ‘minjung’ was first used in 1975, in academic discourse by two scholars, Ahn Byung Mu and Suh Nam-Dong. Younghak Hyun explained the term minjung as ‘underdogs’ with strong historical-political connotations. But, some scholars think that it is not definable because it does not mean ‘Daejung’ (mass). Byung Mu Ahn probed the term ‘Ochlos’ (crowd) in the Gospel according to Mark as a way of understanding minjung.[4] Commonly, the term is used to refer to those who have experienced socio-cultural alienation, economic exploitation, political suppression and gender discrimination.[5] Therefore, a woman is a minjung when she is dominated by a man, by the family or by socio-cultural structures and factors. An ethnic group is a minjung group when it is politically and economically discriminated against by another ethnic group. A race is minjung when it is dominated by another powerful race, as is the case in a colonial situation. When intellectuals are suppressed for using their creative and critical abilities against rulers and the powerful on behalf of the oppressed, then they too belong to the minjung. Workers and farmers are minjung when they are exploited, whether they are aware of it or not. They are minjung when their needs, demands and basic human rights are ignored, and crushed down by ruling powers.[6] They are the central actors, or subjects of history.[7]

The minjung have been robbed of their subjectivity not only in their expressions and actions, buts also in their feelings and thoughts. The consciousness of minjung is determined by the ruling echelon of that particular society at a given time. Thus, they cannot handle their own will and interests; and finally, they are consumed by the sense of habitual frustration. According to Kim Yong-Bock, minjung signifies a living reality which is dynamic. This living reality defines its own existence and generates new acts and dramas in history; and it refuses in principle to be defined conceptually.[8] The definition of minjung can be summarized as follows:

1.      Minjung are the historical subject and the substance of society.
2.   Minjung are the lower-class people who are politically oppressed, economically exploited, and socially alienated.
3.    Minjung include not only the conscious general public (minjung) but also the unenlightened general public (minjung).
4.     Minjung is a dynamic and relative concept. One can have the character of the minjung and the non-minjung at the same time.
5.     The country where the minjung are the subject of a country is a country of justice, equality, freedom
     and peace (where all people are minjung).
6.      Minjung do not equal Messiah as Jesus Christ does, but the minjung perform the roles and functions of the Messiah.[9]
7.      Minjung are the people of God and God always takes the side of the Minjung.[10]

Emergence and Development of Minjung Theology: A Historical Overview

Minjung theology has its roots in the political theology of the early Korean Christian ‘koinonia’[11]. The most important element in the political consciousness of the minjung which appears in the social biography of the oppressed people of Korea is ‘han’.[12] A brief outline of the social consciousness of Korean Christians in the history of the struggle for justice and independence is given below.

(1) The Period of the Acceptance of Christianity (1876-1896): Protestant Christianity was introduced in 1884. The Presbyterian Church was active right from the beginning. During this period, the chief motive was mainly to oppose the social and political oppression of Koreans embracing the Christian faith.

(2) The Formative Period of the Church of the Minjung (1896-1919): 1905 was a fateful year for the Korean people. Korea became the protectorate of Japan. The Christian community was at the bottom of
Korean society. The oppressive social and political conditions drove the people to the new religion to seek relief and liberation or salvation. During this period, the main purpose of Korean Christianity was to achieve independence and human rights for the Korean people. Christianity was accepted by the Korean people in fighting for justice, equality and human rights.

(3) The De-politicization Period (1919-1932): The Korean church did not share the suffering of the farmers, who constituted the majority of the population. It stayed aloof from the anti-Japanese movements of the students. Since missionary Christian orthodoxy prevented the power of the messianic message and its symbolic language from becoming more conscious, the creative interaction between the messianic message of the Gospel and the historical experience of the Korean people took place outside of missionary Christianity and the mission dominated church. Thus, the people’s attitude towards Christianity changed and the first anti-Christian meeting was held in 1926 in Seoul. The church started facing severe crisis.

(4) The Period of the ‘Babylonian’ Captivity (1932-1960): The condition of the Church during this period may be summarized as follows:                                                                                                                                  

(i) The Korean Church yielded to the enforcement of worship at the Japanese Shrine (Shintoism); 
(ii) The Korean Church was under the sway of dogma and imported theology;                                                  (iii) The Korean Church became a captive to those who were striving for ecclesiastical authority.

(5) The Awakening Period (1960 to the Present): The students’ Revolution of April 19, 1960 may be understood as the beginning of the period of awakening. There was a military coup d’ etat on May 16, 1961. The Korean National Council of Churches (KNCC) urged the military Government to hand over its power to civilians and objected to the restoration of a relationship between Japan and Korea in 1965.[13]

In 1970, theologians in Korea have been confronted with a different theological agenda. Ordinary people, intellectuals, laborers and even poets have begun to proclaim the message of the Bible in ways that are relevant to the context of Korea. In this situation, scholars have been challenged to provide a biblical perspective for understanding the reality of the minjung (people)-those who are politically oppressed, impoverished, and subjected to insult and contempt. This movement led to the development of The Urban Industrial Mission in Korea during 1968-1973 and the issuance of ‘Theological Declaration of Korean Christians in 1973.[14]  Some other declarations were: ‘The Declaration of Human Rights in Korea’ by KNCC in 1974; ‘The Declaration of Conscience’ by Bishop Daniel Tji in 1974; ‘The Theological Statement of Korean Christians’ was signed by 66 leaders of churches and seminaries; and ‘The Declaration for the Restoration of Democracy’ was signed in 1976 by 12 church leaders.[15]

In the latter part of the 1970s, clearly defined theologies of the minjung, from many perspectives, began to appear in Korea.[16] Minjung theology is a contextual theology that was born in response to the suffering of minjung under Park Chung Hee’s regime in the 1960-70s, and refined even further under President Jeon Du Whan’s regime during the 1980s. As it developed, and as the context changed, later minjung theology focused not only the economic and cultural conditions but also expanded to address political and social concerns that emerged from the minjung movement for democracy. The Korean political environment has been subject to rapidly changing principles during the past decade. Korean society suffers from new economic, social, and cultural crises, resulting from financial crisis and the ensuing intervention of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1997-98. The pressure of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the Korean government for structural reform in the financial and corporate sectors caused President Kim Dae-jung to conform to its demands, which resulted in a sharp rise in the unemployment rate.[17] Because of this imposed structural reform, many workers, both blue and white collar, lost their jobs; today they remain either unemployed or have had to survive through cobbling together part-time employment.

Korea jumped into the global market as well. In the process of a globalization that dominates all aspects of life, the traditional understanding of minjung is no longer evident, despite the fact that the majority of jobless and contingent laborers can certainly be considered as the minjung of the globalized world.[18] Therefore, the task of minjung theology expands even further, to include theological insight that informs the meaning of life in this globalized world.

Definition of Minjung Theology

Minjung Theology is a Korean Theology shaped by the culture and history of the Koreans. Minjung theology explores the social reality of the minjung as the starting point for the formulation of Christian theology. As such it is unique. It is a theology defined by minjung reality. It comes from the socio-political biography of the oppressed minjung, and not from the existential biography of an alienated individual. It is a theology of the ‘underdog’.[19]

On the one hand, minjung theology reflects what Korean Christians in particular, and Asians generally are doing to liberate themselves from the stifling affects of European theology. But on the other hand, minjung theology is more than just a rejection of European theology; it is an affirmation of Korean culture and history, as the context in which Koreans must do theology.[20] Minjung theology is Korean theology; it is a theology that is accountable to the liberating history and culture of the poor people in Korea.

Minjung theology is not born out of the Latin-American Marxist situation, but emerged from the Korean-Asian situational context. This theology discerns both pain and hope and thus it is known as a theology of the Cross and resurrection of Jesus.[21] It is not parochial but universal and ecumenical. Some Koreans believe that the true meaning of Christian evangelism lies in solving the discontent (han) accumulated among the people in their history. This is one of the reasons why minjung theology is often referred to as the ‘theology of han’ in Korea.

Methods for Interpreting the Bible from Minjung Perspective

Minjung theologians employ subsidiary methods of interpreting the Bible from minjung perspective, as given below.

(1) Historical-critical Method: The historical-critical method began in the period of the Enlightenment in the 18th century and reached its climax in the middle of the 20th century. This method has made an epoch-making contribution to the interpretation of the Bible and opened the possibility of breaking away from the yoke of the doctrines and traditions of the church. However, this method is confusing because different complicated views emerged even on the same matters among biblical scholars themselves. Historical-critical method even leads believers to the extent of making biblical theology a “presupposition science”[22]. Gerhard Maier has pointed out four errors of the method: (a) the long attempt to seek “the Canon of the Canon” ended in failure; (b) the method distinguished the secondary sources from the primary sources and devalued the secondary source as an impropriety. As a result the canonical value of the Bible was depreciated; (c) It obstructed the evangelical work which is proclaimed in the gospel of the Bible from being carried out actively; and (d) the period of the historical-critical is considered over. Therefore, considering all these arguments, it is viewed that the historical-critical method may be next to impossible for minjung to use.[23]

(2) Holistic Reading of the Canon: B. S. Childs advocated a new biblical theology that, “the Canon of the church is the standard of biblical interpretation”. He emphasized the Canon and talked about the necessity to newly activate the inspiration theory of the early church because it is valid for a responsible theological interpretation in our day as well. Childs asserted that: (a) every theory which opposed the inspiration theory of the Bible must be rejected; (b) the authority and holiness of the Bible must be preserved; and (c) the importance of the Holy Spirit’s role in biblical interpretation must be admitted.

The minjung are unaware of reading of the Pentateuch by dividing it into J, E, D or P sources, or the Gospel into Q, Mark, Mathew or Luke sources. They know only the present Canon which is a final form of the Bible.[24] Thus, the ‘Holistic Reading of the Canon’ according to its present form is regarded as an acceptable way to read the Bible for the minjung.

(3) Socio-economic-historical Method: The people in the Bible are concerned with the religious, social, economic, cultural and political aspects of life. So, in order to have a right understanding of the people in the Bible and their beliefs, comprehension of all realms of life is required. The method of biblical interpretation which helps us to read the Bible in a way that is inclusive is the socio-economic-historical method. Using this method Suh Nam-Dong and Ahn Byung-Mu began minjung theology in 1970s.[25] By the use of this method, minjung theologians noticed the situation of the minjung who were oppressed and exploited and further started realizing the realities of the minjung in the world, particularly in Korea.

(4) Reading the Bible through the Eyes of the Minjung: Although supporting methods are used without the minjung approach, it is possible to reach an entirely different and contrary result. Therefore, in order to rightly interpret the Bible from the perspective of minjung theology four considerations must be made: (a) minjung as the people of God; (b) God as God of the minjung and Jesus as Jesus of the minjung; (c) Reading the Bible from below; and (d) Reading the Bible with a view to practice.[26]

Contextual Use of the Bible: Korean Minjung Theological Interpretation of the Bible

Minjung theology does not start from doctrines or the Bible itself but from the very life of minjung, sharing their struggles, pains, sufferings, aspirations, success, and failures and envisioning hope for a new heaven and earth. Therefore, the sources for minjung theology are not limited to the Bible but also include their life story, tradition, and history. The Bible is used as a reference, not as the norm, of minjung theology. However, many minjung biblical scholars find paradigms of the minjung movement of liberation in the Bible.

(1) Biblical Terms which designate the Minjung: There are terms used in the Bible to designate the minjung and those are briefly explained in the following.

(a) The Orphan (yatom): Orphans were commonly fatherless (Lam.5:3). The orphans were poor, oppressed, exploited and were classified among the weak along with the widow and the aliens (Deut.14: 29; 26: 12). God chose for himself the role as the “helper of the fatherless” (Ps.10: 14). The Prophets such as Isaiah (1:17-23), Jeremiah (7: 22, 23), Ezekiel (22:7) and Zechariah (7:10) and also prophesied concerning the protection of the interests of the fatherless.

(b) The Widow (‘almana): Widows were those whose husbands had passed away and they had no one to look after them. God defended the cause of the widow (Deut. 10: 18). God commanded them to protect the widow and take responsibility in place of the deceased husband. The widow could participate and eat in the feasts like the feast of weeks and the feast of harvest (Deut. 16: 11, 14).

(c) The Alien (ger) and Temporary Resident (toshab):  The aliens were those who left their homeland and settled down in a foreign land for economic, political or some other reason. They were not given the special rights or privileges which the natives enjoyed. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses were all aliens in foreign lands. God required the Israelites to let them have the remainder of the harvest (Lev. 19: 10; Deut. 24: 19-21) and what the land yielded during the Sabbath year (Lev. 25: 6-7). [27]  

The toshab were those who sojourned in a foreign land without citizenship but were given the benefit of the social security system like the hired farm worker, manservant or maidservant (Lev. 25: 6, 35). The concept of toshab is not strictly differentiated from that of the alien (Gen. 23: 4; Lev. 25: 23; Ps. 39: 12).

(d) The Daily Wage Worker (sakir): The sakir were not slaves but free men who earned wages for their labor (Deut. 24: 14). Some of them even worked on a one-year contract (Lev. 25: 50; Isa. 16:14). It seems to have been a frequent occurrence that they were not being paid by their masters (Jer. 22: 13), and therefore a law was made to pay the sakir his/her wages each day before sunset in order to protect him/her (Lev.19: 13; Deut. 24: 15).

(e) The Destitute/Beggar (‘ebyon): Ebyon was the name of the landless and the poor. God is the God of the ebyon who hears their earnest plea (Ps. 35: 12-14; 86: 1). Prophets like Amos (2: 6; 4: 1), Jeremiah (5: 28; 22: 16) and Ezekiel (18: 12) took the side of the ebyon without exception.

(f) The Weak (dal): Dal which means “small, weak” stems from the verb dalal. The word dal is used to indicate a scrawny and lean cow (Gen. 41: 19). They were the object of oppression, exploitation by the powerful and the rich. The prophets stood by them by being their spokespersons (Amos 5: 11; Isa. 10: 1-2; Zeph. 3: 12). God is the God of the dal (Prov. 14: 31).[28]

(g) The Poor (‘ani, rash)[29]: Ani stems from the verb anah which means “bent, crooked, pressed down, oppressed”. The word designates people who are economically or materially poor (Ex. 22: 25; Lev. 19: 10) and also those who are spiritually modest and pious (Ps. 34: 6; 74: 21). Rash stems from the verb rush, which means ‘poor’. It indicates those who are poor and powerless (2 Sam. 12: 1-4) and is found often in wisdom literature (Prov. 14: 20; 18: 13; 22: 7). They were losers in the struggle for survival and belonged to the lower class of society.

(h) The Servants (‘ebed, shiphah, and ‘amah): In the Old Testament, menservants were called ‘ebed and maidservants, shiphah or ‘amah. A person can become servant by becoming prisoner of war or by selling themselves (Lev. 25: 39) or being offsprings of servants (Ex. 21: 7-11) or because of poverty and debt (Amos 2: 6). There were personal servants, national servants and temple servants (Ezra 2: 43-54; Neh. 7: 46-56). Servants were considered the property of their master and could be freely traded. It was stipulated in the code laws to set the enslaved Israelite free in the year of release, Sabbath or Jubilee (Ex. 21: 2-11; Deut. 15: 1-18; Lev. 25: 39-55).[30]

(2) Examples of Bible Interpretation from the Perspective of Minjung Theology: Some of the most important examples and references for minjung theology in the Bible, as introduced by minjung theologians are given below.

(a) YHWH: YHWH is the God of Hebrews, namely of the weak and slaves. He affirmed and restored the personal rights of the weak, who were treated unfairly. However, later on, YHWH was turned into a ruling and protective God by the rulers to justify and rationalize the ruling ideologies of the rulers including David. According to the interpretation of Moon Ik-Whan, Yahweh was one of many gods that were worshipped by the Hebrews.[31] All other gods made the people forget their pain by pacification or taught the people to follow loosely and to eke out their living. But Yahweh was different that, as God of liberation He taught the way to eternal liberty. Moon Ik-Whan believes that it was for this reason the Israelites left their pseudo gods and made covenant with only Yahweh.[32] Suh Nam-Dong states that God is self-actualized in and through the historical process and historical events. For him, "God works through history... History itself is God".[33] Here, history is not limited to Christian history, but includes all human history. In this construct, God is considered as "immanent within minjung, and is equal to minjung."

(b) The Hebrews (Habirus): They were the lowest people like beggars, who were devoid of their rights. Though they were not initially from the same race, while wandering from place to place, they became linked together as Israelites. The Israelites in Egypt were just Hebrews who worked as a construction crew, trampled down and always in need of liberation.

(c) The Exodus Event: The Exodus is a historical liberation event of the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt. The biblical references to minjung theology have their roots in this historical reality. Therefore, Suh Nam-Dong criticizes the interpretation of the Exodus by the church as a spiritual-religious event but emphasizes the reality of the historical-political liberation event.[34] The context or the nature of minjung's social reality is different from what is perceived as the norm. However, the minjung experience or belief in a God who delivered the oppressed from social-political bondage in biblical times will inform and invite the Korean minjung into the Bible, believing the same God will deliver the oppressed in the present as well. The past experience provides hope for the present; the present experience confirms the God of the past, creating a unity of past and present, history and reality. Thus, in a socio-economic or socio-political sense, the biblical liberating events are clear paradigms for God's intervention in history, and such intervention takes place in the socio-economic arena today.

(d) The Decalogue[35]: In the Old Testament the Ten Commandments appear twice: in Exodus 20: 2-17, which is in the “Covenant of Sinai” which Moses received from God on Mount Sinai, and in Deuteronomy 5: 6-21 which is in the context of Moses’ preaching to the Israelites on the plains of Moab in retrospect of their life in the wilderness during the past forty years.[36] The Decalogue is divided into two parts: the first to fourth commandments are related to love of God and the fifth to tenth commandments are related to love between human. The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20: 3; Deut. 5: 7). Minjung theologians are of the view that it is an exclusive demand that minjung must serve Yahweh alone because He is the actual liberation in the world. The phrase “other gods” means not only supernatural gods but also the deification of man. So, as taught by the first commandment, the absolute authority of humans and worshipping other gods must not be tolerated. Regarding the second commandment, “You shall not make an idol… not bow down to them…” (Ex. 20: 4-5; Deut. 5: 8-9), the minjung theologians explain that idolatry is not limited to serving a material image but also greed (Col. 3: 5), love of money, honor, authority (Matt. 10: 37). Besides, the second commandment along with the third, instructs us that God is not a Being that we can manage as we wish. The fourth commandment is about keeping of Sabbath (Ex. 20: 8-11; Deut. 5: 12-15). The primary purpose of the Sabbath is to release aliens, slaves and minjung who are harassed by the masters from labor. The second purpose of the Sabbath is to worship God, the Lord of Creation.[37]

The fifth commandment is “Honor your father and mother” (Ex. 20: 12; Deut. 5: 16). The law states that children must honor parents because they are the minjung (old and weak). This commandment is never limited to one’s own parents but is a command to honor all senior members in society. The sixth commandment, “You shall not kill” (Ex. 20: 13; Deut. 5: 17) is a warning against the tendency to despise life by murder, abortion, suicide, etc. Inherent in this is the aim to protect the weak, the minjung, from being killed by the strong. The seventh commandment is “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20: 16; Deut. 5: 18). The purpose is to preserve the sanctity of married life. Its main concern is to protect the women and the weak that are most badly affected by sexual corruption. The eighth commandment, “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20: 15; Deut. 5: 19), makes human and material objects as focus. Stealing means to take something which is not one’s own or to snatch another’s property. The manna story in the wilderness (Ex. 16: 14-20) teaches this lesson very well. This law is made to protect the minjung who have their share stolen by the strong. The eighth commandment is to express the ideal of equality within the Israelite community. The ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” is a law to remove falsehood in order to realize a just society. The law orders us not to indulge in improper acts even when the powerful unfairly impute their crimes to the weak and minjung who are not guilty. The tenth commandment is “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house or wife or slave or ox…” (Ex. 20: 17; Deut. 5: 21). Everyone is greedy but if the powerful covet minjung’s share, they gain it at any cost and nothing can stop them.[38] Therefore, this law is particularly a warning against the greed of the strong.

(e) The Tradition of Witnesses to Faith: Hebrews chapter 11 states the tradition of witnesses to faith which include Adam, Eve, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, Jephthah, Samuel, etc. Minjung theologians argue that these people are none other than minjung and therefore consider the tradition of witnesses to faith as the genealogical line of the minjung movement.

(f) The Settlement of Canaan: When the Hebrew army made an inroad into Canaan, the Habirus of Canaan saw the Hebrews carry about the ark of YHWH and triumph here and there. The Habirus of Canaan united with the Hebrews to attack the ruling class of Canaan from inside. As a result, new social order emerged, called ‘the confederation of the twelve tribes’.

(g) The Period of the Judges: The Covenant Code in Exodus 20: 22-23: 33 reflects the social system during the period of the Judges which is based on equity and justice. It mentions that if a person lends money, he/she shall not charge the lenders interest because the ones who borrow money are the poor. The Sabbath was made for the worker who actually labored and to restore their land that they lost due to poverty or disease. The tithe was for the poor Levite, the orphan and the widow. This period was neither a royal rule nor a centralized government but rather a democratic system of government.[39]

(h) The Unification of Israel by the Chronicler: Much against the viewpoint of western theologians, Yim Taesoo asserts that the Chronicler was adopting a critical and rejecting attitude towards the ruling classes but towards the minjung of North Israel and Samaria an attitude of tolerance and brotherly love was adopted. Therefore, the Chronicler is a unifier of the North and South.

(i) The Deuteronomist stands on the side of the Minjung: The Deuteronomist evaluated the Kings who were pro-minjung affirmatively, but evaluated the kings who were anti-minjung negatively. He evaluated the Kings of Israel not only by the standard of religion alone but also on how the Kings dealt with minjung.[40]

(j) The Poor and the Rich in Proverbs: Minjung theologians examine the inner (personal) and outer (social) factors of poverty and wealth sociologically (by social factors like oppression and exploitation by the powerful) from the viewpoint of minjung theology.

(k) Minjung-solidarist, Minjung-leader: Minjung-solidarist means a person who takes part and expresses solidarity with the sufferings of the minjung from among the non-minjung and anti-minjung. Yim has included Joseph, Moses, Esther, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul and Cornelius among the minjung-solidarists. The minjung-leader is a leader who takes root in the minjung, acts in response to the minjung and leads minjung movement. Some of the minjung-leaders are Moses, Gideon, Jephthah, Jeroboam and Jesus. Among historical persons Ambedkar, Martin Luther King Jr. and others like them can be considered as minjung-leaders.[41]

(l) The Doctrine of Salvation: Ahn Byung-Mu brought forward a revolutionary “theory of self-salvation of the minjung” which overturned the traditional protestant theory of salvation based on “Justification by faith ‘alone’[42]” (Romans 1: 17; 3: 28). He advocated that minjung are redeemed by participating in the struggle for their liberation and not by the blood of Jesus. Non-minjung are also redeemed not by faith in Jesus but by taking part in the minjung movement for liberation. The “theory of self-salvation of the minjung” by Ahn is thoroughly “salvation by works.” Suh Nam-Dong advocated a doctrine of self-salvation but is different from Ahn’s theory. The salvation from outside i.e., salvation by the blood of Jesus through atonement that operates legally, automatically, magically and chemically is not accepted by Suh Nam-Dong. According to him salvation is acquired by one’s choice and decision and that is made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit.[43] That is why his synergistic doctrine of salvation is called the “theory of salvation by Holy Spirit.”

Since the understanding of salvation by Suh and Ahn (fathers of minjung theology) leads to a one-sided accentuation of works, ‘dialectical unity of faith and works’ is advocated by Yim Taesoo. According to Yim, faith and works are not mutually contradictory; rather they are mutually complementary and inseparable to each other. For Jesus, faith entails works and vice versa (Matt. 7: 21-27) James says that faith without works is dead (Jas. 2: 14-24). In this connection, Yim asserts that works without faith can be merely a matter of arrogance. Moreover, the minjung cannot be justified through faith in Jesus alone but also play a role of Messiah. In the role of Messiah, they have to play both the passive role (they should join in solidarity with the suffering of other minjung and non-minjung) and active role (they should take the lead in the social change, in realizing God’s will in the world).[44] Therefore, Yim comes to the conclusion that both ‘faith and works’ is the core of salvation in the Bible and they should be the framework of salvation for minjung theology.

(3) Interpretation of the Bible as a Whole from the Minjung Perspective: By reading the whole Old Testament from minjung perspective Kim Jeong Joon sees the Bible as a book of the Israelites' confession of God who saves them throughout history. Kim starts his interpretation with the ancient Credo (Deut 26:5-9) which at its core is the Exodus event. From the Exodus event, he examines Deuteronomist history, the Prophets, and Psalms and Wisdom Literature. He emphasizes the social reality of those who confess the credo in Deuteronomy 26:5-9. They are those who "wander," "are politically oppressed," and "suffered with overloaded labor" and thus "out cried." The motivation of God's salvation history is, in fact, the social reality of minjung, the outcasts, the oppressed, and the exploited.

Despite the fact that it is a history of powerful Israelite Kings, the Deuteronomist history connects with the social reality of minjung as seen in the story of the Widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:12-16) and in the story of Naboth's vineyard. These stories emphasize the fulfillment of justice in the life of the minjung. Kim identifies the social reality of minjung by using terms that refer to the people who are the main concern of the Hebrew prophets. Terms such as the "needy" (`ebony; Amos 2:6, 4:1, 5:12, 8:4, and elsewhere), the "poor" (dalim; Amos 2:7, 4:1, 5:11, 8:6), and the "afflicted" (`anawim; 2:7, 8:4) in Amos are examples. Kim interprets the prophet Amos as the advocate for minjung's human right and for economic justice.

Minjung theologians purport that the Psalms are songs and poems that originally emerged from the life of minjung or people from the grass roots, which were later adapted to worship. For example, the psalms of lamentation are seen as the exclamation of minjung that expresses their sorrow, agony, and grief. In examining the psalms of lamentation, suffering has been categorized into four areas: poverty, political oppression, victims of social sin, and physical and psychological pain. Minjung theologians suggest reading the book of Job as minjung literature rather than as a book of the rich or book of theodicy. For them, Job represents those who are entirely and suddenly deprived of their life without reason. Job's suffering is the suffering of minjung. They perceive that Proverbs include not only the life wisdom and morals of the rulers, but also sayings, riddles, and proverbs that have been derived from minjung's daily life. The book of Proverbs considers poverty not simply as a result of oppression, but also as a result of laziness or foolishness. Scholars also see the possibilities of using the book of Proverbs as a guide book for the life of minjung after they are able to recover their human rights. Thus, wisdom literature can be taken as a positive biblical resource for minjung life, expanding the concerns of minjung theology.

Kim Jeong Joon's view on wisdom literature is distinctive and insightful in explaining the life of minjung in the era of globalization that experiences sudden financial collapse and abandonment by the family. One must note that, even more than ever, transnational capital, in the form of transnational corporations and speculative financial capital, has seeped and encroached into the life of the people, causing impoverishment at unprecedented levels.[45] The suffering of minjung is now multi-dimensional.

Minjung Theological Interpretation of the Bible in the Era of Globalization

(1)Challenges of Globalization: Globalization is a new form of colonialism. The transnational and multinational corporations based in Western Christian countries are dominating the World market for the most part. In the process, the so-called third world and the erstwhile communist countries are becoming the victims.[46] Traditional contradictions between classes, races, genders, and other conflicts are not only intensified but become violent.[47] National social welfare and security systems are being dismantled in the process of the global marketization, and they are being integrated into the market. The political economy of globalization may be stated briefly as follows:

(a)    An economy of subtly disguised exploitation and theft.
(b)   An economy of Monopoly: the rich becomes richer and the poor becomes poorer.
(c)    An economy of the Jungle: only the strongest survives.
But, the political economy of the reign of God is a Minjung economy which is based on God’s covenant that appears in the Bible, can be stated as follows:
(a)    An economy of Justice: People do not squeeze out or steal others’ property. (Ex. 20:17)
(b)   An economy of Sharing: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.” (Ex. 16: 18; Acts 2: 42-45; Jas. 2:1-9)
(c)    An economy of Service: People look after socially weak persons. (Deut. 14: 28-29)[48]

If minjung movements have been struggling for social justice, they now struggle for social rights and life at all levels and in all places. The search for the meaning of life becomes the central focus of theology in the era of globalization. The vision of a good and full life, the transformation of the conditions of life, or rather of death, for a new, just, and peaceful life, and the ways to form new koinonia together are the concerns of biblical minjung hermeneutics. It is believed that the task of biblical interpretation in minjung theology is to find biblical references for articulating a vision of life, analyzing the conditions of life, and developing praxis for life.[49] In the context of globalization, the focus of minjung theology must be to liberate life from the forces of systemic destruction, with a clear commitment to the struggle for a just society.[50]

(2) Finding a Life-Affirming and Empowering Theological Motif in the Bible: The social reality of minjung in the era of globalization requires biblical studies of minjung theology to seek biblical metaphors or motifs that affirm life. The emphasis of the liberating forces of God as a warrior or a revolutionary figure who delivers the oppressed from trouble is powerful and dynamic. Yet the understanding is also destructive and violent. I believe that the presentation of God as creator is an alternative and more fitting image of God in the era of globalization. The motif of creation should not be seen as ancillary to redemption or the backdrop for redemption, but rather as a motif in its own right, as exhibited particularly by Second Isaiah and the Priestly Writer. For example, the creation motif in Second Isaiah is introduced through birth imagery. Also, Isaiah 45:9-10 utilizes the figures of a potter and a begetting father to illustrate the creating action of God.

Deuteronomy 32:18 employs the image of a travailing woman to refer to the first formation of Israel as the people of God: “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” In each line, the words of ‘birth’ describe the divine action of creation or salvation as giving birth to Israel. As the childbirth imagery here refers to the first formation of Israel as the people of God, the same imagery is used to describe the restoration of the people of God in Isaiah 66:7-9. Isaiah 66:7-9 is more radical than the previous presentation of the first birth of Israel because it is not God but Zion who gives birth to the people; radically, God simply and strongly plays a midwife. At the same time, the text clarifies that it is God who ultimately makes the birth possible.

The description of creation through the birth metaphor is insightful to the construction of minjung theology, as given below:

(a)First, the creator God, like a woman in labor, does not appear as a removed, omniscient, all-controlling super power, but as a creative source of life. God endures labor pains in order to bring forth a new people, rather than supervising the life of people from above. Here, God is seen as the imminent force in the life of minjung, a creative, present power.

(b) Second, the understanding of creation through a birth metaphor is related to salvation, a labor of new life. The divine behavior of creation "like a woman in labor" indicates neither panic nor fear, but rather God's powerful behavior and its awesome effects. God endures birth-pangs in order to bring forth new hope and life.

(c) Third, the understanding of creation through the birth metaphor does not present the suffering of minjung as miserable or hopeless, but it perceives the suffering of minjung as hopeful, connecting to a creative power within it. The suffering will eventually be transformed into joy because God who suffers with the people is the God of new creation.

(d) Fourth, the understanding of creation through the birth metaphor depicts salvation and creation not as a one-time event, but as a continual process of which the goal is to create a new heaven and earth in the present reality. As a mother continues nurturing her just-born baby until she grows up and knows how to share that love with others, God and humans continue to take care of the new creation until humanity is able to recover wholeness and mutuality in this world. God is the meaning of life when God is encountered in the midst of the life and suffering of minjung, as seen in the whirlwind of Job 38.[51]


Biblical stories have their full meaning when they are re-embodied in and through the minjung's own praxis of current socio-political liberation. Minjung themselves become the bridge connecting the hermeneutical gap between the liberating events of the Bible and events of today. The story that the Korean people bear is the shape of the historical consciousness in a given time. It is through such experiences that each new generation mobilizes wisdom from the past traditions throughout human history, and it is through the creation of new stories that the people move into a new future.

[1] There are those who regard the term “people” in a socialist perspective; and there are others who view the term as a broader political concept: the oppressed, the poor and those exploited by the powerful.
[2] Douglas J. Elwood, ed., Asian Christian Theology: Emerging Themes (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1980), 315-316.
[3] S. Batumalai, An Introduction to Asian Theology: An Asian Story from a Malaysian Eye for Asian Neighbourology (New Delhi: ISPCK, 1991), 25.
[4] Jong-Sun Noh, Liberating God for Minjung (South Korea: Hanul Academy,1994), 20.
[5] (13 September, 2010).
[6] David Kwang-sun Suh, The Korean Minjung in Christ (Hongkong: Christian Conference of Asia, 1991), 25.
[7] John C. England, ed., Living Theology in Asia (London:SCM Press Limited, 1981), 26.
[8] S. Batumalai, op. cit., 29.
[9] Yim Taesoo, Minjung Theology towards a Second Reformation (Christian Conference of Asia, 2006), 62-63.
[10] Ibid., 75.
[11] By ‘Koinonia’ Kim Yong-Bok means the paradigmatic community which since the March 1st Movement (1919) has worked for the transformation of Korean society through their Christian witness to the cross and the resurrection of Christ. In the early 1970s, Christian koinonias (mission groups like the Urban Industrial Mission groups) emerged as a new thrust in the Korean Christian ecumenical movement. These Christian koinonias engaged in mission work to protect the human rights of the workers, the farmers, and the urban poor, and to fight for the justice and freedom of writers and university teachers.
[12]Han’ is a term that denotes the feeling of the suffering of a person who has been repressed either by himself or through the oppression of others.
[13] S. Batumalai, op. cit., 26-28.
[14] The “Korean Christian Declaration of 1973” was made by leading clergymen of the Korean Church. The conclusion part of the declaration states: “Jesus the Messiah, our Lord, lived and dwelt among the oppressed, poverty-stricken, and sick in Judea. He boldly confronted Pontius Pilate, a representative of the Roman Empire, and he was crucified while witnessing to the truth…”
[15] S. Batumalai, op. cit., 28.
[16] Ibid., 29.
[17] Kwon, Jin-Kwan, “Contextual Theology and Theological Education: Korea,” in Charting the Future of Theology and Theological Education in Asian Contexts. Ed. by David Kwang-sun Suh et al., (New Delhi: ISPCK, 2004), 87.
[18] (13 September, 2010).
[19] S. Batumalai, op. cit., 29.
[20] Ibid., 25.
[21] Ibid., 30.
[22] B. S. Childs used the term “presupposition science” to mean that something is considered true in advance without having any proof.
[23] Yim Taesoo, op. cit., 55-56.
[24] Ibid., 58-60.
[25] Ibid., 60-61.
[26] Ibid., 61-64.
[27] Ibid., 25-26.
[28] Ibid., 27-28.
[29] The terms ‘ebyon, dal, ‘ani and rash have different meanings to some extent, but are not fundamentally different. So, in the Old Testament, these four terms are used almost synonymously and can be interchanged. In LXX, they are translated with similar words.
[30] Yim Taesoo, op. cit., 29.
[31] There were many gods worshipped by the Hebrews such as, Moloch who was served by the Hebrews of Ammon, Chemosh that was served by the Hebrews of Moab, Dagon (Dagan) was served by the Hebrews of Philistine, Baal and Ashtaroth (Asherah) that were served by the Hebrews of Canaan, and so on.
[32] Yim Taesoo, op. cit., 70-71.
[33] Suh Nam-Dong, In Search of Minjung Theology (Seoul: Hangilsa, 1983), 171.
[34]Yim Taesoo, op. cit., 66-67.
[35] The English word, “Decalogue” is derived from the Greek deka logoi, which means “ten words”. The term “ten words” is taken from Exodus 34: 28; Deut. 4: 13; 10: 4, used in connection with Exodus 20: 2-17 (from Elohistic source in the 8th  century)  and Deuteronomy 5: 6-21 (from Deuteronomistic source in the 7th century).
[36] Yim Taesoo, op. cit., 76-77.
[37] Ibid., 79-81
[38] Ibid., 82-84.
[39] Ibid., 66-68.
[40] Ibid., 72-73.
[41] Ibid., 73-74.
[42] Minjung theologians opine that Paul’s “justification through faith” was replaced with “justification through faith ‘alone’ (monon/sola)” by Luther in order to ensure maximum effect on the Reformation. But this exaggeration of Paul’s theory of justification is considered to have brought about a negative side effect.
[43] Yim Taesoo, op. cit., 192-196.
[44] Ibid., 208-210.
[45] (13 September, 2010).
[46] Yim Taesoo, op. cit., 217.
[47] Globalization makes the rich top 20% of the population richer by turning the remaining 80% into paupers. This distinction between the rich and the poor resulted into massive violence. For example, the direct and indirect cause of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 was neo-colonialism and globalization.
[48] Yim Taesoo, op. cit., 218. See also Yim Taesoo, “The Meaning of Jubilee and its modern application,” in Old Testament and Minjung (Seoul: Korea Theological Study Institute, 1994), 360-381.
[49] (13 September, 2010).
[50] theology.aspx#3-10101:Liberation Theology-full (20 June, 2010).
[51] (13 September, 2010).

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