Sung-Deuk Oak’s The Making of Korean Christianity is a tremendous contribution to the World Christianity Series and religions scholarship in general. Sketched thematically, Oak surveys a host of letters by Protestant missionaries and emerging indigenous voices. Issues concerning Korean Christianity’s adoption of a shamanistic deity’s name (hananim), changing perspectives of the cross, awareness of spirits and the need for exorcism, funeral memorials, influences from Chinese tracts and messages, and Daoist spirituality and rituals are all considered under Oak’s astute scholarship. Additionally considered are the tumultuous and volatile times Korea had from 1876-1915: Tonghak Rebellion, Russo-Japanese War, Sino-Japanese War, and more. These pressuring forces undoubtedly, at times, prevented and, at other times, encouraged Christianity’s acceptance. Oak is, also, sharp enough to notice the difference between simplistic (and insulting) syncretism and indigenizing Christianity. On the other hand, if ‘syncretism’ is held purely as a neutral descriptor (as this blogger is starting to hold), then the what and how of Korean Christians’ reactions to the Protestant religion can be accurately depicted and affirmed as good indigenization of the Gospel.
Personally, I have found this extremely helpful academically and for my own self-discovery (as a Korean American). But I can understand why some people might feel uneasy about Oak’s ease to associate folk religions’ influence on Korean Christianity. To not feel uneasy, one then must think hard about Christianity’s relations with cultures and come to conclusions of their relationships. For Oak (and I), Christianity is inherently a translatable and (re)contextualizable religion. In other words, Christianity must be indigenized.