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Korean scholar takes home new understandings

Mary E. Klassen

January 29, 2013

AMBS students Sara Erb (left) and Rod Miller (right) along with Dr. Won-Bum Chung listen to a presentation in the AMBS course

AMBS students Sara Erb (left) and Rod Miller (right) along with Dr. Won-Bum Chung listen to a presentation in the AMBS course "Economic justice and Christian conscience."

Won-bum Chung, Th.D., professor of Christian theology and ethics in South Korea, has returned to that role after spending three months as a visiting scholar at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He’s taking with him new understandings of Anabaptism and Mennonites.

Chung is a Presbyterian pastor and a professor at Daejeon Theological College and Seminary, a position he has held since 1987. “I wanted to learn about the Mennonite tradition, because I believe it has strengths in peace studies,” Chung said. “I am very interested in knowing more about the ethics and spirituality of Mennonite churches, and especially Mennonite views of peace and justice.”

From early October through early January, Chung audited classes and met with a numerous people who addressed his questions about Mennonite beliefs. “The most important experience to me was that I met so many wonderful scholars,” Chung said. He valued significant interactions with Alan and Eleanor Kreider, retired Mennonite mission workers and teachers; Willard Swartley, well-known scholar of peace and the New Testament and professor emeritus of AMBS; and current professors at AMBS.

“The purpose of my research is to help Korean churches be sound churches,” Chung said. “I believe contemporary Korean churches are faced with crisis.” In addition to declining as a portion of the Korean population, “Korean churches have lost public trust. They have an important task to recover the authenticity and social responsibility of the Christian church. I hope that I can contribute to Korean churches’ renewal through my research at the seminary.”

The gift Chung gave to AMBS was enthusiasm for what he was discovering. Rebecca Slough, AMBS academic dean, said, “From his perspective as a scholar in the Presbyterian tradition, Dr. Chung reflected back to us the unique contributions that Anabaptist thought offers the Christian church. He challenged us to claim our heritage of discipleship and to live into the practices that have shaped Anabaptist ethics.”

Swartley noted that Chung wants to write a book in Korean about spirituality, peacemaking and justice. “His being here was a joyful opportunity,” Swartley said and hopes there may be ways they can work together in articulating the subjects in which Chung is interested.

The two courses that Chung audited at AMBS were the Theological Legacy of John Howard Yoder, taught by Gayle Gerber Koontz; and Economic Justice and Christian Conscience, taught by Ted Koontz.

Ted Koontz noted, “Dr. Chung seemed eager to find ways of having a Christian witness and influence in society that does not focus solely on personal conversion or on gaining political power. He was happy to learn of the many engagements with social and economic issues that he observed while he was with us and of the emphasis on the church as an alternative community.”

Chung also met with Nelson Krabill, president emeritus of AMBS who is a pastor at Prairie Street Mennonite Church; Christian Peacemaker Teams worker Rich Meyer; and Goshen College professors Steve Nolt, Joe Liechty and John Roth. Immersion in the seminary and surrounding communities included worshipping both on campus and in area congregations and enjoying the hospitality of students and professors.

The time at AMBS changed some of Chung’s views about Mennonites. Before coming, he said he thought of the Mennonite church as a sectarian group, mostly focused inward. “But after experiencing AMBS and Mennonite churches, I realized that Mennonites are very concerned about social justice and social ethics.

“I think that the Mennonite tradition, which emphasizes discipleship, community and pacifism, will be very helpful to Korean churches, because Korean churches focus on church growth and material blessings in many cases.”

Chung is author or coauthor of a number of books, all focused on the work of the church and ethical issues in the 21st century: Christian Ethics and Reality; Catholic Social Ethics and Human Dignity; An introduction to Christian Ethics; Trends of Contemporary Christian Ethics; and Challenges of 21st Century and Christian Culture.