Scholar’s research to help Japanese Church stand firm
Also known as the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan is a global giant in technological innovation, and has one of the world’s largest economies and most educated populaces. Despite the country’s high living standards, Japan faces troubling suicide rates and a declining workforce, as many young people choose to remain single or childless.
Nearly 80% of Japan’s 127 million people practice some form of folk Shinto, which features prominently in traditional Japanese culture and festivals. Another 35% practice Buddhism, and although Jesuit missionaries introduced Christianity to the island nation in the mid-1500s, only 1-2% of the Japanese population are Christians today.
Kei Hiramatsu is being funded by the Langham Scholars Programme to pursue a PhD in New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. His research on “Christian Suffering in Conformity to Christ in 2 Corinthians 11-12” will guide and encourage Japanese believers who often face intense social pressures and ostracism for Jesus’ sake.
Faith and suffering
When Kei graduates, he will be the first Japanese faculty member with a PhD in Biblical Studies at Central Bible College in Tokyo. Last year, following the release of Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Kei reflected on faith and suffering in his poignant InSights Essay, The Silence of God: Beyond Triumphalism.
Kei shares the following message:
In spite of the rigorous efforts of ministers and missionaries over many years, Japanese Christianity has not grown like in other Asian countries: only 0.3% are Evangelical Christians, making Japanese people the second largest unreached people group in the world.
Although there was a time when Christians were severely persecuted in the past, there is no violent persecution today and we have freedom of religion. However, many Christians are socially, emotionally, and economically marginalised, and many believers go through emotional isolation from family, society, and community. One statistic shows that Japanese Christians usually leave their faith within three years of their conversion due to social and emotional marginalisation.
Christians in Japan are marginalised and “weak” in society. Thus, I am researching the Pauline teaching of weakness in 2 Corinthians. Paul repeatedly emphasises that weakness is the locus from which God’s power is manifested (e.g., 2 Cor. 12:9). My desire is that my research will encourage believers and churches going through persecution, challenges, and weaknesses, so they can stand firm on their faith and know that their weaknesses are indeed God’s strength.
1) That I will be able to successfully complete my studies, and my research will be helpful and useful for the Japanese Church.
2) For my wife Saki and our two daughters, Hanaka and Kaho.
3) That a new generation of pastors and Christian leaders will arise and serve the Church. Japan is the fastest-aging society in the world and around 90% of pastors are over 50 years old (2% are 30-40 years old; 8% are 40-50 years old; 18% are 50-60 years old; 24% are 60-70 years old; 29% are 70-80 years old; and 18% are 80 years old and above, according to OMF).
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