Skip to content ↓

Three Things to Look For in the 2018 Winter Olympics

As we come to Opening Ceremonies of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, I am sharing what will be the first of several articles by Joel Kim, President of Westminster Seminary California. Kim is a Korean-American who was born in South Korea before immigrating to America, and has a special interest in Korean Christianity, both its history and its current form. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, he will be providing some insights into the country that is hosting the games, as well as its people, its religion, and its future. So with no further ado, I turn it over to Rev. Kim.

Like many around the world, I am looking forward to the official beginning of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games tonight. As an avid fan of sports, the Olympic games provide an opportunity to immerse myself in obscure sporting events that I am unable to enjoy most other times. I particularly enjoy short-track speed skating, an exciting sport that combines unbelievable speed and risky strategy. As a fan of travel, the Olympic games also offer a front-row view of countries and destinations often unfamiliar to me, increasing my exposure to and knowledge of places around the world that I hope to visit one day.

But the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games feel different to me. Perhaps because I am a Korean-American who was born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States, this Olympic Games feel much more personal and interesting as the whole world focuses on South Korea. In what ways, you ask?

First, I am interested in the way the story of South Korea is shared. On the one hand, the focus will be on the way the Koreans present themselves, especially during the opening ceremonies. Called “majestic” and “very Korean” by South Korean reporters who attended the dress rehearsal, the opening ceremony will attempt to tell a story of Korea with the title “Peace in Motion” that highlights the traditional theme of “harmony” and the modern concept of “fusion” that the producers believe characterize modern Korea. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see how Korea is characterized by the world, especially by North American media. South Korea is more than just Samsung electronics, Hyundai cars, and North-South relations, and how the cameras and reporters highlight Korea will be interesting to watch.

Second, I intend to follow closely the unfolding public relationship between North and South Korea. It is difficult to forget that the Olympic Games are being held less than one-hour away from the most militarized border in the world. The discussions about whether North Korea will send a delegation or whether the two nations will march together in the opening ceremony and under what flag betray not only a volatile political environment but the complex relationship between the two nations that are neighbors who share the same heritage and enemies who are still technically at war. The Korean War looms large for most Korean families when over 1.3 million South Koreans and over 500,000 North Koreans were killed, leaving generations of families broken and scarred. South Korean children of my generation grew up singing a song with the words “my only hope is reunification,” an expression of collective pain and hope.

Finally, as a Christian, the role and place of Christianity in South Korea intrigues me. As the map of Christianity continues to shift from Europe and North America to Asia and the global south, South Korea is often viewed as a symbol of the changing Christian landscape. This is undeniable in some ways. South Korea has seven of the ten biggest churches in the world, is second only to the US in the number cross-cultural missionaries produced, and offers an awe-inspiring view of bright-lit crosses on top of church buildings, a sight to see when one flies into South Korea at night. Yet despite the visible signs of success and growth of Christianity, South Korea remains a country struggling with the influences traditional religions, such as shamanism, Confucianism, Buddhism, ancestral worship, and others, and its moral and intellectual culture is quickly moving beyond Christianity like the US. The role and engagement of churches in the midst of a global event like the Olympic Games will offer an interesting glimpse of the state of Christianity in South Korea.

These are some things that interest me as the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games begin. What about the upcoming Olympic Games interests you?


  • Do Not Envy the Wicked

    Do You Envy the Wicked?

    It takes a long time for sinful instincts to become pure, for tendencies toward what is evil to be transformed into tendencies toward what is good, lovely, and pleasing to God. The man who quits drugs will still react when he catches a whiff and the woman who gave up alcoholism will still struggle when…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (June 19)

    A La Carte: The golden rule for hard conversations / Seven reasons you shouldn’t ignore beauty / The early church on entertainment / The uselessness of prayer / A thousand wheels of providence / Impossible, hard, and easy / and more.

  • Our Salvation Through Christ

    This week the blog is sponsored by Moody Publishers and this post is adapted from The Kindness of God by Nate Pickowicz (© 2024). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission. Just like the Old Testament, the New Testament teaches that this wonderful salvation is extended to us as a kindness. Paul opens his letter…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (June 18)

    A La Carte: The pursuit of (which) happiness? / Don’t hastily choose elders / The evangelistic nature of awe / What you read builds who you are / Till he was strong / A father’s threads of living faith / Logos deals / and more.

  • Lets Hear It For the Second Parents

    Let’s Hear It For the Second Parents

    While today we tend to associate step-parents with divorce, in previous centuries they were almost exclusively associated with death and with either widow- or widowerhood. In an era in which lifespans were shorter and, therefore, a greater number of parents died while their children were still young, there was a distinct and honored role for…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (June 17)

    A La Carte: Honor good fathers and bad fathers alike? / Don’t give up, dad / How I respond to pride month / 5 myths about the pro-life movement / A seminar on biblical counseling / How do I know if I’m one of the elect? / Kindle deals / and more.