One peculiar phenomenon in the Korean Protestant churches today is that most churches, regardless of their size and denomination, assert that they are “evangelical.” By claiming to be evangelical, they want to display not simply their conservative theological stance but also continuity with their tradition. Self-acclaimed evangelical churches generally believe that the early Korean church in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was also evangelical, and hence they are its true heirs. Moreover, in the mind of the self-consciously evangelical Korean Christians, “Puritanism” is something to be admired, a lost glory of which evangelicalism is the closest contemporary replica. A few progressive churches would distance themselves from this general tendency, but these churches are more often than not far smaller and less appealing to the average Christian. World-class megachurches and nearly all rank-and-file churches in Korea are “evangelical” churches. The matter in Korean Protestantism is more who is “really” evangelical rather than a competition between evangelicals and non-evangelicals.
Dae Young Ryu is an associate professor of history and religion at Handong University in South Korea.