- Korean Protestantism in the Age of “Surplus of Positivity: ”: A Socio-cultural Analysis of Church Defaults in South Korea*
- Seoul Journal of Korean Studies
- The Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies
- Volume 30, Number 2, December 2017
- pp. 217-238
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- Additional Information
In this paper the author not only analyzes the considerable number of Korean Protestant churches that are in default, but also attempts to apply the theoretical framework of Han Byung-Chul’s cultural criticism to the status quo situation of Korean Protestantism. Regarding the extent of the church defaults, one notices diverse factors impacting the situation, including a growth-oriented attitude among many senior pastors as well as other church leaders, moral hazards related to financial deals and the socio-cultural components of Korean Protestantism (such as excessive competition between denominations), a preference for bigger churches, the culture of ch’emyŏn (face), and church privatization. According to Han, the twenty-first century is an era of neurosis, wherein surplus positivity prompts a series of tendencies such as self-exploitation and depression. The Korean people have been over-worked and over-stressed, and both these factors have contributed to the nation’s suicide rate, which since 2003 has been the highest among the OECD member nations. The phenomenon of the “healing craze” (K. hilling yŏlp’ung) emerged under such conditions in Korea. Despite these factors, in many cases, emphasis is still placed on a growth-oriented strategy in Korean Protestantism, resulting in a burnout syndrome within congregations, which leads many believers to stop attending church (the so-called Kanaan sŏngdo, or Canaan congregation). Meanwhile, the “Small Church Movement” has recently been initiated by some Korean Christian leaders. This phenomenon can be interpreted as an attempt to re-consider the importance and role of small churches, and to emphasize spiritual maturity over numerical growth.