Studies in the Theology of the Korean Presbyterian Church: An Historical Outline: Part II -- By: Harvie M. Conn

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 29:2 (May 1967)
Article: Studies in the Theology of the Korean Presbyterian Church: An Historical Outline: Part II
Author: Harvie M. Conn

Studies in the Theology of the Korean Presbyterian Church:
An Historical Outline:
Part II

Harvie M. Conn

II. Liberal Theology in the Korean Church—to 1945

In 1904, Mrs. Lillian Underwood, wife of the first long-term resident Presbyterian missionary in Korea, was commenting on “The Present Status of Missions in Korea”. In her remarks she turned to the question of theology. “One of the men of the New Theology asked me anxiously whether we ‘were teaching the Koreans a theology that would soon need revising.’ Thank God the theology the Koreans are being taught is not man made or man revised. Thank God He is vindicating the ‘old time religion,’ the old time theology, the old time Bible, as good enough for Korea, powerful to the pulling down of heathen strongholds, powerful to change wicked men into good men, heathen communities into righteous, pure and good ones. Unto Higher Critics—a stumbling block, unto liberal New Theologians—foolishness, but to those who take Him simply as little children and His Word—the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation.”1 In 1938, Mrs. Underwood could not have written those words. By 1938 liberalism, as a theological stream in the church, had attained sufficient strength to try to dominate the church and its government. Its presence has been greatly minimized in western literature.2 But it was most certainly a force in early Korean Presbyterianism, especially in the years from 1938 to 1945. During that time, its hushed whispers turned to vocal leadership.

A. Liberalism Before 1938

1. Its Sources

Just as we must trace the conservative, evangelical character of the Korean Presbyterian Church to the early missionaries, so must we credit them with the introduction of liberalism.

Chun Sung Chun finds traces of that influence as early as the beginnings of the Presbyterian Council in Korea.3 In particular, he notes the theological divergencies between the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the Presbyterian Church of Canada, which had opened its mission to Korea in 1898. “From 1898 to 1907 especially, two outstanding tendencies revealed themselves in all the Presbyterian Councils in Korea. Theology was narrow and administration broad. To protect a narrow theology the Council had to exclude those more liberal workers from voicing their opinions. The Presbyterian U.S.A. Mission which was in ascendancy on the Council was an example of the most conservative bent. Although the Canadian Presbyterians were more liberal, they

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