Christianity introduced to Japan

4 04 2010

As promised, I’ve been reading Moffett’s History of Christianity in Asia. In particular, I started with Japan. Looking into the history of a culture clarifies its present.

Francis Xavier (a fascinating figure I should like to write more about) was the first to enter Japan as a missionary in the 1500’s. Yeah, over 500 years ago. Before the founding of the Lost Colony of Roanoke in the New World, a Jesuit priest was contemplating missions strategies for Japan. After his experience in India, where focusing on lower classes resulted in only local effectiveness, Xavier decided to start at the other end. In Japan, he chose to approach the ruling class, the feudal lords, the daimyo.

Personally, I would say that given Japanese culture and its attitude to authority, he couldn’t have had a better approach. Japan is a very top-down, group-focused culture. If you convert the leaders, others will follow. (I’m not sure that would be as effective an approach in American culture, where we tend to be suspicious of leaders and pride ourselves on “independent” thinking.)

The mission had success. In fact, as Moffett points out, there were a higher percentage of Christians in Japan in 1600 than in 2000. But he also points out, rightly, “how little the Christian century [1500’s] affected the subsequent history of Japan.” (pg. 68)

It is indeed astonishing to know that a country which, for its own reasons, welcomed Christianity, was later able to stamp it out, and still remains a mysteriously closed door. I would suggest it has much to do with the nature of Japanese culture and missionaries’ inability to understand and speak into the Japanese context. On the other hand, I would also suggest that when Japan does finally hear the gospel, it will be a powerful and sudden conversion.

So, Xavier departed in 1552, after just 3 yrs in the field. Think about how short 3 yrs is to introduce Christianity to even a single person and give them the knowledge and faith to face a lifetime of following Christ without a mature Christian community! Now realize he did that for an entire people. Of course, Jesus did the same for all of humanity in the same 3 years… so I supposed standards are relative. Anyway, in just 30 years (to 1581), th numbers grew from 800 to 100,000. All of that, by the way, was long before the first successful colonies in America.

So, that’s where I’ll leave the history of Japanese Christianity for the moment. Introduced, spreading like wildfire, but… something went wrong.

Found the Stacks!

23 03 2010

I work at a top university and yet, I’m surprised to discover a library. This week, after 6 months here, I ventured into the depths, or rather heights, of the SNU library. Wonder of wonder! Books! The best part? They’re about 30-50% English (at least in the fields I’m interested in).  I was most impressed to find a basic selection of theological books, so much so, that I proceeded to check out more than I can possibly read in the next month (including Tillich’s Systematic Theology – since when am I interested in pure systematics? And can we all say, “Nerd!”)

Well, this blog was intended to motivate me to keep up with my studies, by being more of an academic pursuit. While that’s clearly not the case, I’ll be doing short summaries & analyses of whatever I do manage to read.

There’s not going to be any order to what I read, just the whim of fancy. I also don’t promise to finish any of the books… so you may get nice summaries of the first half of a book. If I’d been doing that the past few months, there would have been a lot more posts.

The first book I’ll be reading: Christianity in Asia: 1500-1900. I’ll only be reading sections I’m interested in, mainly Japan & Korea, and likely China.  I’ll post on those sections later. But for the moment, I’d like to introduce the author:

Samuel Moffett. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because his father was one of the main missionaries to Korea and bore the same name. Moffett Sr. entered Pyongyang in 1890 as a Presbyterian missionary. He was responsible for founding the first seminary in Korea, and a great moving force in the Korea Christianity. Moffett Jr. was born in Korea, then ended up serving 25 yrs there himself. In other words, the history of Christianity in Korea is inextricably linked to the Moffett family.

After his own 25 yrs on the field, Moffett Jr. returned to the US and became a professor at Princeton. Now he’s in his 90’s (b. 1916). He’s still working on finishing the third and final volume of his The History of Christianity in Asia. I pray he completes this task.