Korean Christianity scholar visits McCormick


By Juhyun Jang (Third year in MDiv)

Recently Dr. Tongh-Shik Ryu visited several Chicago seminaries for the “Christ and Korean Culture” lecture series.  Korean students in Chicago were excited to hear lectures of Tongh- Shik Ryu at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, Chicago Theological Seminary and at McCormick.  Dr. Ryu is one of the world’s leading scholars on the study of Korean Christianity.  He delivered lectures on “The Gospel and Phungruedo” at Garrett, "The Historical commitment of the Korean Culture" at CTS and “Cultural Prospect toward the Third Millennium" at McCormick.

In “The Gospel and Phungruedo,” he asserted that “Phungruedo is a form of Korean spirituality, embracing  encompass Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. The essence of Confucianism lies in overcoming oneself in order to return to one’s heavenly nature; the essence of Buddhism lies in abandoning all attachments in order to return to Buddha nature; and the essence of Taoism lies on abandoning all that is human-made and follow the way of great nature.” The common concept of all these is ‘denying the ego’ that is attached to the world and returning to the heaven-given nature, thereby becoming true human being. He depicted this notion is in the same line with the Christian Gospel. For example, by participating in Christ’s cross, one dies to the self and the world, and by participating in Christ’s resurrection, one becomes a new creatures. Through this insight, Koreans could accept Christianity naturally. Moreover, Phungruedo is related to Hwarang institution during Silla period. Hwarang institution’s purpose was to nourish Phungruedo: life, art, and nature. It should be harmony in spirituality. He emphasized that the encounter of Pungruedo and Christianity plays important role to shape and transform Korean Christianity.

Next, he focused on the concept of the light of the East in “The Historical commitment of the Korean Culture.” He related  Christianity and Confucianism through the word of bodhisattva (Bosal in Korean pronunciation) in Buddhism. This means enlightened existence or "enlightenment-being".  Another translation is "Wisdom-Being.” While  we can define Buddhism as a way of becoming wisdom or being awakened, Confucianism is one of the ways of  becoming peace. Christianity is a way of  becoming love.

Finally, at McCormick in “Cultural Prospect toward the Third Millennium" he interpreted  Christianity using the metaphor of a rose of Sharon, the national flower of Korea. The Rose of Sharon (mugunghwa "endless flower") is the historical symbol of the present. This flower blossoms in the early morning and fades in the evening. However, there are 2,000-5,000 bunches of blossoms per year that bloom daily.  It represents the righteousness of our people who have overcome repeated difficulties and hardships. Also, this flower is referred to in Hebrew bible. (Song of Songs 2:1). Dr. Ryu suggested that Gospel should be endless, like a rose of Sharon.

Thus, Dr. Tongh-Shik Ryu unfolded how the Christian Gospel has been shaped and transformed in its proper form in Korea through Korean religion and culture.  One of Dr. Ryu's major studies was on Korean indigenous religion, especially Shamanism, for which he holds  positive appreciation. With an emphatic  missiological concern, he sought to understand traditional Korean religions from the perspective of the Gospel in order to promote and enhance  the contextualization of Christianity.  He wrote extensively on Shamanism and Korean folk religions and on their relationship to Christianity, on Korean culture and church history, and on feminist theology and the Korean church. 

Dr. Ryu graduated from Korea Methodist Theological Seminary, studied at the Boston School of Theology (USA), the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland, and received his doctoral degree from Kokagaku Daigaku in Japan.  He taught theology at Korea Methodist Seminary and Yonsei University School of Theology until his retirement in 1987. Now he is Ameritus Professor of Yonsei University