The asian continent has been the scene of some of Christianity’s most spectacular gains and losses. Mainland China, where Christian workers scored a remarkable missionary penetration, today is emerging as a mighty Communist force aligned on the side of public atheism. But South Korea and Indonesia—and they are not alone—dramatically exemplify an ongoing Christian vitality and initiative in Asia. One might also mention gratifying Christian evangelistic successes in India, and the fact that a third of the graduates of Singapore University are evangelical Chinese Christians, many of them awakening to new concern for implications of the Christian world-life view.

The growing awareness of the significance of revealed religion not only for personal evangelism but also for the whole arena of life commitments, including the highest intellectual concerns, is a timely development. The great Asian cities will face mounting intellectual pressure from the secular naturalism of the West and the dialectical materialism of Russia and China. In the face of these two atheistic mythologies, devotees of non-Christian religions present these religions as authentically Asian alternatives to materialism on the grounds that Christianity is a Western religion. This claim is, of course, propagandistic and baseless. Not only does the biblical drama have its geographical setting in Asia, but, as noted by Dr. Samuel H. Moffett (who has begun work on a history of the Christian Church in Asia), it gained missionary momentum in Asia even while the early apostles were carrying the Gospel into Europe.

As evangelical strength has increased in Asia, Christian leaders have increasingly felt the need for training centers to equip an intellectual task force to do battle for the Asian mind. Union Biblical Seminary in Yeotmal, India, now under the presidency of Dr. Saphir Athyal, is being strengthened as a base for doctoral studies in western Asia. Another base is now being established in eastern Asia in the new Asian Center for Theological Studies and Mission, located in Seoul, South Korea, with Dr. Moffet as acting director and Dr. Chul-Ha Han as dean.

The choice of Seoul, tenth largest city in the world, as the site for this international theological center is based on sound reasons. While Indonesia has Asia’s largest Christian population (the proportion of people committed to Christ in that land is between 4 and 5 per cent of the 116 million inhabitants), the Indonesian church still functions mainly at the evangelistic level. To provide pastoral leadership for the harvest of converts, the evangelical seminaries there have moved beyond their fixed campuses to a theological extension ministry, since all students serve congregations and many senior students minister to more than half a dozen churches.

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In South Korea, however, 10 per cent of the 32 million people are Christian—with Protestants outnumbering Catholics five to one—and believers have long been sacrificially involved on both evangelistic and educational levels. South Korea has a striking percentage of all the Christians in Asia (who make up less than 2 per cent of the continent’s inhabitants), and national Christian leadership increasingly senses its responsibility as a sending nation.

Korean Christians have shown their ability to carry out evangelistic and educational goals, having pioneered in women’s education as well as in education for the lower class. The three largest Protestant seminaries in Asia, all having student bodies of more than 400, are in Seoul. South Korea, in fact, has more than 8,500 seminary and Bible school students—more than in all the rest of Asia—and many are eager for the highest theological training in an Asian rather than American context. All too often Asian divinity students studying in America have become too infatuated with American culture to return, even where they have escaped infection by non-evangelical theology.

The Asian Center for Theological Studies and Mission began functioning this year as an institute offering special seminars and research study, in expectation of early approval by national authorities as an independent graduate school of theology offering the doctoral degree.

The launching of such a center would have been impossible without a new spirit of cooperation among South Korean evangelicals. World Vision has had a unifying ministry in Korea ever since it first helped the widows of evangelical pastors martyred during Communist aggression twenty-one years ago. Despite an appropriate cutback of its orphange work as South Koreans are themselves increasingly able to share in this work, it still ministers to more than 17,000 needy children, half of them in babies’ homes and day-care centers, medical centers, crippled children’s homes, vocational training schools, schools for the blind, deaf, and mute, and resettlement villages. Its Bible correspondence course enrolls 77,426 laymen, including many soldiers and prisoners, and its pastors’ seminars have drawn together Christian workers for cooperative effort across denominational lines.

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The 1973 Billy Graham crusade promoted a widening spirit of cooperation among conservatives, who have been split much along American party-lines as well as by divisions of their own. The spectacle of half a million persons gathered nightly for the preaching of the Gospel, with 1.1 million assembled for the closing service (North Korea claimed that the South Korean government compelled the people to attend), was a clear sign of divine blessing on cooperative engagement when mutual suspicions are overcome. The response—85,000 signed decision cards, 25 per cent already having come into church membership—prepared the way for the Explo 74 effort to reach college and university students on the evangelistic level.

Even ACTS, as the new Asian Center is called, must overcome denominational, geographical, and personality rivalries to achieve its full potential as a pan-Asian evangelical thought center. American Christians have generously assisted the venture’s beginnings. World Vision made the headquarters site and buildings available at a $25,000 saving and sponsored my own participation as first visiting lecturer. An American layman gave $150,000 to purchase the property, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has promised $100,000 for library purposes. Korean and other churches have begun to share in equipment and other needs, including scholarships for students from various Asian countries.

In a day when the strategic significance of Third World missions is increasing, it becomes all the more important that Third World missionaries have the intellectual and spiritual qualifications to carry the Gospel effectively to their fellow Asians. The saturation of Asia with less than competent missionaries could only be self-defeating.

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