Born Again: Evangelicalism in Korea
248pp. December 2009
Born Again: Evangelicalism in Korea
Author: Lee, Timothy S.;
Known as Asia’s "evangelical superpower," South Korea today has some of the largest and most dynamic churches in the world and is second only to the United States in the number of missionaries it dispatches abroad. Understanding its evangelicalism is crucial to grasping the course of its modernization, the rise of nationalism and anticommunism, and the relationship between Christians and other religionists within the country.

Born Again is the first book in a Western language to consider the introduction, development, and character of evangelicalism in Korea—from its humble beginnings at the end of the nineteenth century to claiming one out of every five South Koreans as an adherent at the end of the twentieth. In this thoughtful and thorough study, Timothy S. Lee argues that the phenomenal rise of this particular species of Christianity can be attributed to several factors. As a religion of salvation, evangelicalism appealed powerfully to multitudes of Koreans, arriving at a time when the country was engulfed in unprecedented crises that discredited established social structures and traditional attitudes. Evangelicalism attracted and empowered Koreans by offering them a more compelling worldview and a more meaningful basis for association. Another factor is evangelicalisms positive connection to Korean nationalism and South Korean anticommunism. It shared in the aspirations and hardships of Koreans during the Japanese occupation and was legitimated again during and after the Korean conflict as South Koreans experienced the trauma of the war. Equally important was evangelicals’ relentless proselytization efforts throughout the twentieth century.

Lee explores the beliefs and practices that have become the hallmarks of Korean evangelicalism: kibok (this-worldly blessing), saebyok kido (daybreak prayer), and kumsik kido (fasting prayer). He concludes that Korean evangelicalism is distinguishable from other forms of evangelicalism by its intensely practical and devotional bent. He reveals how, after a long period of impressive expansion, including the mammoth campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s that drew millions to its revivals, the 1990s was a decade of ambiguity for the faith. On the one hand, it had become South Korea’s most influential religion, affecting politics, the economy, and civil society. On the other, it found itself beleaguered by a stalemate in growth, the shortcomings of its leaders, and conflicts with other religions. Evangelicalism had not only risen in South Korean society; it had also, for better or worse, become part of the establishment.

Despite this significance, Korean evangelicalism has not received adequate treatment from scholars outside Korea. Born Again will therefore find an eager audience among English-speaking historians of modern Korea, scholars of comparative religion and world Christianity, and practitioners of the faith.

"The best published narrative of Evangelical Protestantism in Korea." —Choice (July 2010)

"An excellent, concise introduction to the Protestant Church in Korea providing a balanced assessment of the course of the history of the Church and as such may be read with profit by people interested in the history of theworld church, Korean church history, and the history of modern Korea." —Acta Koreana (13:1, June 2010)

"This book is important because Christianity in Korea is important. Korea is the most Protestant nation in Asia; Korean Christians are behind only Americans in the number of missionaries they dispatch abroad; and the number of Korean Christian churches established in North America has grown large enough to begin to influence Christianity on this side of the Pacific. In this accessible and clearly argued study of evangelical Christianity in Korea, Timothy Lee provides an explanation both of why Christianity has been successful in Korea and why evangelical Christianity has been more successful than other forms. He has mined materials in Korean and English that no one else has used in the same way and presents his findings in a manner that will appeal to scholars of Korean studies and religious studies as well as to laypeople seeking to understand a phenomenon that has grown so visible on the world stage." —Don Baker, University of British Columbia

"The place of Protestant Christianity in Korean society is changing. Christian churches, while very strong in the aggregate, face significant challenges. Nobody knows what the circumstances will be in the future, but in this excellent study Timothy Lee suggests that a new kind of appeal will be necessary to maintain the vitality of the church in the twenty-first century. In terms of scope and integration of history, politics, nationalism, and the story of the church, Born Again is head and shoulders above anything written in English—and more readable." —Donald N. Clark, Trinity University

Author: Lee, Timothy S.;
Timothy S. Lee is assistant professor of the history of Christianity at Brite Divinity School (Texas Christian University) and director of the Asian (Korean) Church Studies Program at Brite.
Read the introduction (PDF).


1. Breakthrough for a New Moral Order, 1885–1919

2. Conflict, Introversion, and a Tradition of Korean Revivalists, 1920–1953

3. Evangelicalism Takes Off in South Korea, 1953–1988

4. The Intensely Practical and Devotional Character of Korean Evangelicalism

Epilogue: The Beleaguered Success of Korean Evangelicalism in the 1990s