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The Work of the Holy Spirit in Korean Spiritual Formation
I was honored to be invited to be a keynote speaker at Fuller’s Korean Studies Center Symposium. I gave a talk on “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Korean Spiritual Formation”. Parts of my talk was drawn from my book, Reimagining Spirit. Below is a portion of my talk which will later be published in a book.
The Work of the Holy Spirit in Korean Spiritual Formation
Korean Spiritual formation is an important aspect in Korean Christianity as it is a lived component of Christianity. Spiritual formation occurs through the work of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit regenerates and builds us into the image of Christ. The Spirit lives in us and empowers us to work for the building of the kin-dom of God in this world and helps us to work towards justice. Koreans have a deep sense of spirituality from their own long history of different religious and spiritual practices which have long been part of their culture, identity, and society. Korean spirituality has existed long before the White missionaries came to the peninsula to evangelize.
Korean Christianity emerged and continues to be heavily influenced by white Western European missionaries. Whiteness was already embedded into Korean Christianity and into their understanding of the Holy Spirit as it was a White version of Christianity that was brought to them by the missionaries. It is necessary to acknowledge this whiteness as it has infiltrated Christianity that has been transported to Africa, South America, Latin America, and all over the world.
It is vital to study Korea’s own deep religious spirituality in order to define and work towards a deeper sense of spiritual formation which can arise from Korea’s own context. One of the important concepts found within Korean religions and culture is the concept of Chi. Chi is part of the vernacular as people may comment on your Chi if it is too low or high. This concept of Chi can help us in developing a Korean spiritual formation as we combine Chi and the Holy Spirit together to create a hybrid understanding of the Spirit. Furthermore, the biblical perspective of the Spirit as wind, breath, light and vibration provides insight into a deeper understanding of the Spirit. These various ways of perceiving the Spirit of God will deepen and inform Korean spirituality and spiritual formation.
Spiritual formation is a popular term in today’s context and society as many desire to be identified as “spiritual and not religious”. This has become a new fad and the younger generation feel that it gives them more freedom to be who they want to be rather than associating themselves with a specific religion or denomination which appears inflexible and constraining. There is less rigidity being spiritual as people have a freedom of expression to their spirituality. They are not confined to the restrictions found within religious structure and teachings.
Spiritual formation refers to the various facets of spiritual growth journey of believers, resulting in different concepts and constructs for its definition. Some view spiritual formation as a restoration to the spiritual disciplines and practices of the early church desert fathers whereas others approach it as discipleship. Discipleship is a process that believers must be part of and engage in to grow in their faith. Spiritual formation helps bring genuine life changes within the Body of Christ and helps build up one’s sense of discipleship. Discipleship becomes an important aspect to becoming followers and disciples of Christ. Spiritual formation is a process that Christians want to engage in to help themselves in their daily life to understand God. It also helps in understanding the presence of God and provides meaning in their life as it becomes a form of discipline within their lives.
There are variations among world religions in how one practices and lives out their religion as not everyone practices the same way. These different practices accordingly affect one’s understanding and view of spirituality. Spirituality is a religious process of orienting oneself to the image of God. Spirituality is about living a life which is positioned towards the Holy Spirit and the movement of the Holy Spirit. World religions that place the highest value on the individual, such as Christianity and Islam, have a tendency to place more emphasis on theology rather than on ethics and action. As a result, religions like Christianity and Islam believe that God is the fountainhead of ethical obligations and therefore, the relationship between the individual and God is more important than the relationship between an individual to the other. It really emphasizes the vertical relationship between us and God rather than the horizontal relationship or actions between each other and communities.
Such individualistic religions focus on the personal consequences of fidelity to, or violation of, God’s commands. This means that concepts such as heaven and hell become highly important as they exist to reward or punish individuals posthumously for what they did while they were alive. Questions of obedience to God and filial piety towards God will determine how one will be rewarded after death. Individualistic religion tends to portray spiritual struggle to promote good and resist evil as a battle which happens between the material world we live in, and the immaterial realm of God and the rewards God promises the righteous after death. In such individualistic religions, spirituality becomes a practice to gain a reward rather than as a gift in and of itself. In this form of spirituality, it values individuality and gives that individuality an immaterial foundation (ex. an individual soul). Belief in an immaterial individual soul allows them to blame material existence for keeping them where they are now and keeping them from where they are meant to be, in paradise with God. The individualistic religion focuses too much on the inward and not enough on the outward society and communal life. As a result, spirituality becomes a very personal exercise for private gain rather than helping in furthering the good of the community. In these instances, theology without ethics can sometimes be reduced to a philosophical exercise without any praxis or any component of doing good for society and community.
The traditional religions of Korea are on the opposite side of the spectrum of the individualistic religions as they emphasize and prioritize ethics over theology. Due to Korea’s religions’ primary concern for the group or the community rather than the individual, the moral codes that govern interaction within the group are given higher priority and emphasis over theology. Any individual’s particular relationship with a supernatural being is important primarily for the impact it has on the cohesiveness and the goodness of the group or community. Traditional Korean forms of spirituality place less focus on the personal rewards after death than on the effect an individual’s behavior can have on that person’s family, village, or society. Both the individual and the community of which they are a part are composed of matter. This means there is less interest in overcoming the limitations of the material world and more concerns in connections within the material world. Such connections are valuable and crucial as they provide a way to overcome the limitations of isolated individuality. This form of spirituality provides insight on how Christianity can deepen its own sense of spirituality and spiritual formation by focusing less on theology and more on ethics. It reminds us that the community is important and that individuals become people due to the community.
 Wilson Teo, “Christian Spiritual Formation” in Emerging Leadership Journeys 1(10): 2017.
 Don Baker, Korean Spirituality, (Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2008), 9.
 Ibid., 9, 10.
Below is a video recording of my talk, response and Q&A
1. Join me at the Wild Goose Festival. Use discount code “Madang” to get 50.00 off registration.
2. Join Homebrewed Christianity’s online class, “The Nones” on May 23rd. It is free, but donations are welcomed.