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Joel Beeke in Korea – Part 1

Category Articles
Date October 10, 2002


"I can’t get enough of Reformed theology," he said. "I’m convinced it’s biblical and is the right answer for the shallow Christianity I find in my congregation."

September 25, 2002

We have had a wonderful trip to Korea. Here is a brief summary of our itinerary. Bracketed parts [ ] are written by my dear wife.

September 5-6

Our flights from Grand Rapids to Detroit to Tokyo to Seoul, Korea all went smoothly. Traveling with the sun all the way, we were afforded beautiful views of the Canadian Rockies and Alaska. "O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens" (Ps. 8:1).

During the 13-hour flight from Detroit to Tokyo, we spoke with a friendly couple who were on their way to China to adopt a baby. How sad we were to find out that they were not married. I also visited at length with a 30-year-old Assembly of God pastor from Orlando, Florida, whose suitcase was stuffed with Bibles which he hoped to smuggle into China. He initiated the conversation by asking me what I was proofreading. I told him that it was a book on Spiritual Abandonment by Gisbertus Voetius and Johannes Hoornbeeck, and explained who these Dutch Second Reformation divines were. That generated a fascinating conversation about Reformed theology. This young minister is becoming increasingly Reformed in theology, has moved away from speaking in tongues, and has been calling his congregation to more self-examination throughout the summer. His changed emphasis in preaching has borne fruits. "Many in the congregation are under conviction of sin," he said.

He asked numerous questions about our seminary, then said that he was never trained properly and wanted to buy some of our seminary classes on tape. He was excited, too, that we offered Reformed books at discount prices, and said he would definitely order as many books as he could afford. "I can’t get enough of Reformed theology," he said. "I’m convinced it’s biblical and is the right answer for the shallow Christianity I find in my congregation." How we take our rich Reformed, experiential heritage for granted!

"Christian books" was my response to the customs agent in Seoul who asked what was in the "big box." "Christian books?" she paused—"…go ahead." Rev. Changwon Shu and his wife (Myoung Jah Yoo—Korean wives never take over the name of their husbands), and a church worker met us at the airport, presenting both my wife and Mrs. Lois Mol with a large bouquet of flowers.

On the way to the Olympia Hotel Seoul (famous for hosting delegations of North Koreans in recent decades as they met with South Korea delegations) we passed scores of lighted red crosses placed on tops of buildings. At times we could see more than a dozen red crosses at once. Rev. Shu explained, "Each cross is a Protestant church. There are 10,000 Protestant churches in Seoul alone, and 40,000 in our country. In this city of ten million people, 21% of the people adhere to some form of Christianity, of which the majority are Protestants. Buddhists represent 23% of the Seoul population, but are declining in number, whereas professing Christians are increasing in number."

September 7

We toured Seoul with Myoung Jah Yoo, working our way out of jet lag. Heavy, congested traffic abounded. In the morning, we visited the Seoul Foreigners’ Cemetery where numerous American and British missionaries are buried. After lunch, we visited the Deoksugung Palace, home to various Korean kings and leaders dating back to the Middle Ages. As is traditional of early weekends, numerous brides- and grooms-to-be were being photographed on the grounds in their nuptial splendor. We also witnessed the Royal Guard Changing Ceremony, parallel to the British version.

Korea has been frequently invaded throughout the centuries, which has fostered Korean national pride and a strong sense of culture and independency. They are a self-driven, hard-working, class-conscious people. Most Koreans work 80+ hour work weeks. The children go to school six days a week, until 4:30 on Monday-Friday, and 1:00 on Saturdays. Many junior high and high school students attend "extra school" in the evening, hoping to gain entrance into a university. Students that don’t succeed — and the competition is tough — are, unfortunately, usually looked down on.

In the afternoon, we took a cable car up to the city’s most famous landmark, the Seoul tower on Namsan (South Mountain). Being a clear day, the view from the tower was breathtaking in all directions. Multiple-storied buildings abound everywhere. Mountains surround the city and large hills are sprinkled throughout the city. Ten million souls for eternity lay, as it were, at one’s feet!

Late in the afternoon, Rev. Shu joined us for supper and for a tour of the largest Presbyterian church (50,000 members) in Seoul. The church is solidly evangelical though not experientially Reformed.

September 8

I preached three times, twice on Genesis 32:31 in the morning at Samyang Presbyterian Church (with Rev. Shu as translator) and in the afternoon on 2 Kings 4:26 at SungBok JoongAng Presbyterian Church (with Dr. Sungkyun Nah as translator). Rev. Shu attended seminary in Britain and Dr. Nah received his Ph.D. in theology from Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia), so both men, happily, were able translators.

September 9

On Monday morning, the KIRP’s (Korean Institute for Reformed Preaching) Tenth Anniversary Conference began. The KIRP, chaired by Rev. Shu, seeks to promote conservative Reformed-Puritan preaching through annual conferences, the translation of sound literature (such as Gospel Worship by Jeremiah Burroughs and other Puritans, Hebrews by A.W. Pink, and books by Martyn Lloyd-Jones), and the publication of a bimonthly periodical called the Banner of Truth. Seventy per cent of the articles are translated from the United Kingdom Banner of Truth associated with Banner of Truth Trust and the remainder of the articles are contributed by Rev. Shu and other Korean pastors.

Before I lectured I was handed a book, which contained all my addresses in Korean, as well as the two other lectures given by Rev. Shu and Dr. Hwang (entitled Calvinistic Theology and Preaching). To whatever seminaries we went, Rev. Shu would bring along 100-200 copies of this book and sell them. Now I understood why he wanted my lectures written out in full ahead of time—not only to prepare for translation but to print them! Happily, my addresses differed considerably from the printed book and, of course, were much shorter due to the time constraints that translation imposes.

I began the conference with two lectures on Historical and Doctrinal Calvinism. In the afternoon, Rev. Shu spoke on using Psalms for singing in worship and Dr. Hwang spoke on John Knox. In the evening, I preached about the church’s present need for mature faith from the history of Christ’s dealings with the Canaanitish woman (Matt. 15:21-28).

September 10

In the morning, I gave a two-hour lecture on Reformed experiential preaching. In the afternoon, two hours were devoted to commemorating the KIRP’s Tenth Anniversary. Several important Korean theological leaders, including the founder of the KIRP and the president of the Korean Calvin University (Dr. Eui Hwan Kim), spoke some congratulatory words. Some pastors also testified of what the KIRP’s ministries had meant to them. Rev. Shu spoke movingly, with tears, about how the Lord had carried the KIRP through rough days to the present hour. In the early years, he gave 2/3 of his income for this ministry, and lived with his family nearly on a poverty level. Many times he was tempted to abandon the work, but time and again the Lord encouraged him with letters and phone calls of support. Though the financial needs remain substantial, God has graciously granted all that is needful, including growth, and has enabled Rev. Shu to continue to lead this movement until now. In the evening I preached from Hebrews 12:3 on how to live through affliction focused on Christ.

September 11

In the morning I gave two hours of lectures on the subject of family worship at the close of the conference. Following lunch, I was interviewed for 75 minutes by an editor of the "Ministry and Theology" magazine, who also requested me to write an article for this periodical. "Ministry and Theology" is the most widely-read Christian journal in Korea, and thus is a good venue through which thousands of Korean pastors and lay people may be reached.

The editor first asked me to tell how I was converted and what made me become a Calvinist. He had interviewed a number of conference attendees and said that most of the talk was about the addresses on Reformed experiential preaching. He wanted me to explain exactly what experiential preaching was. Needless to say, I was happy to oblige! He also—mistakenly!—thought I was an expert on Calvin, so asked me a number of questions on various aspects of Calvin and Calvinism.

Throughout the conference, a number of professors, pastors, and young men expressed an interest in our seminary. One young man in particular, who told me that God has called him irresistibly to the pastoral ministry, is desirous to come but first will learn English better. The Korean and English languages are so very different from each other. Many Korean students find English to be a great impediment. Once they overcome that hurdle even to a minimal degree, they often become avid students of theology.

My greatest disappointment throughout the conference was to hear from the lips of many of these godly, conservative men that the great Korean revivals of the 20th century have waned and been largely replaced by a shallower brand of Christianity. Apparently, evangelistic crusades and the influence of American televangelists and various forms of contemporary worship have negatively impacted the Korean churches. As in America, those pastors who embrace Reformed experiential Christianity are now a minority. On an encouraging note, a number of younger men have recently cast their lot in with this minority.


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