Monday, August 22, 2016

The essence of wisdom in the Dao De Jing (by Laozi)

I found the essence of wisdom in the Dao De Jing written by Laozi.

"to see small is wisdom"
"to keep softness is strength"
"to know oneself is wisdom"
"to conquer oneself is strength"

For more about Laozi's wisdom, please read my translation book.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

New Testament as Story: What or How Should I Tell?

It is no question that the New Testament is full of stories, whether its content is more historical or theological. Because of this aspect of the New Testament, I see myself as a performer of New Testament stories that derive from Jesus and the early Christian communities.

My storytelling is based on the New Testament; however, it is my storytelling which reflects my critical interpretation of texts from my perspectives. I also like to talk about Jesus and Paul, who embodied God’s truth in their ways and with their genuine faith.

I also talk about how Jesus, Paul, and early Christian communities dealt with the world’s cacophony, coupled with many entangled issues. At times I am indignant about Jesus’ innocent suffering caused by the political and religious powers that needed God’s judgment. In such moments my voice turns dull and cumbersome because justice was not served in the world.

I also wonder about Jesus’ life-risking will and action for God’s good news and God’s rule. At other times I talk about Paul’s passion for including gentiles into the people of God. However, I need no perfect Paul to tell a story about him.

Paul was a great minister-theologian who dealt with everyday issues as best as he could, given his personality and conviction. Paul also showed his human weaknesses. I love Paul because of this that he was not a perfect person.

For post-Pauline letters (Deutero-Pauline letters and Pastoral letters), the landscape I walk is complex with more hills and thorns there to navigate. These later churches abandoned Paul’s legacy of egalitarianism and accepted the social convention of gendered hierarchy. Women were to be subordinate, and slaves were taken for granted. While Paul promoted a community of equality in Christ (Gal 3:28), later congregations became conservative.

While tons of stories can be told from the New Testament through the reader’s diverse interpretive methods or perspectives, not all the stories told are sound. So the question is how to interpret many stories in the New Testament and how to retell them in our tongue. We need to engage various stories about faith that seeks freedom and transformation in the New Testament and to communicate them with our world today.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Reading biblical characters through the eyes of weakness


We can reinterpret familiar biblical characters through the eyes of weakness, as we have explored in the case of the historical Jesus. For that purpose, we will briefly look into their personal and communal environment concerning weakness and see how they respond to what they experience, positively or negatively. In this study we limit ourselves to the following characters in the Hebrew Bible (because we dealt with Jesus and Paul): (1) Abraham, (2) Sarah and Hagar, (3) Esau and Jacob, (4) Joseph, (5) Naomi and Ruth, (6) Hannah, (7) Elijah, and (8) Job. With the special reading lens of weakness explored in this book, the familiar stories about these characters will be better or clearer understood in terms of their character or ethics that involves an understanding of weakness and strength.
(1) Abraham is the most important character in the Hebrew Bible since he is the beginning of the covenant made between God and Israel. Indeed, he becomes a model of faith by Paul in his letters (Romans and Galatians). In Genesis 12, Abraham is called out of nowhere and nobody; he is weak and old. His hometown is remote in Ur of Chaldea. His ancestors were meager and involved in idol worship. Abraham cannot be hopeful of his future. He cannot dream of it by himself. He does not have his posterity either. He is an archetype of a miserable person. He left his hometown in Ur and settled in Haran, which is still a hard place to live. All this describes his social human condition that is so weak that he cannot hope for any good thing. All of sudden, as far as we know from Genesis, we have to say God’s call is sudden. Abraham is called perhaps because he is ready for God’s call. But we do not know. The point is that he is called by God and is given a new mission that he has to leave for the unknown place of hope. Abraham listens to God and trusts him as he moves forward with new hope. But in fact, Abraham’s faith is not always consistently strong. At one point, his sense of justice for the people in community is so strong that he argues with God, demanding God’s justice for the people in Sodom and Gomorrah. But at other points, like when God asks for the sacrifice of his son Isaac, Abraham is timid or passive about his attitude toward God. If he were caring father, he had to ask God: “What is the purpose of asking me to do this?” But in Genesis 21 readers are not told anything about Abraham’s justice voice. He even lied to his son and did not tell him about what he was going to do. That is a horrible father. He does not care about his son. Where is his fatherhood? Where is his justice voice as he raised issues in Sodom and Gomorrah? Is his son less than people in Sodom and Gomorrah? He is so weak that he falls in fear. Perhaps this father has now blinded faith that cannot discern the will of God. Even if God asks such a nonsensical thing, he had to engage with God and had to say that it is not good. Blind faith is dangerous in that Isaac would have been sacrificed if not for the sudden call from heaven. Abraham followed the order with blind timid faith without engaging with God. Perhaps from the beginning God did not want Abraham to kill his son and offer him as a sacrifice, but only wanted to test him whether he had a faith of discernment or engagement.
What we can learn from Abraham’s long journey of faith is this: He was weak and strong. He never gained faith once and for all. He was weak and called by God; he was strong enough. Nevertheless, he was so weak in his faith that he moved away from earlier strength. His life is made up of ups and downs, turns and twists. That is why I like Abraham. If he was perfect, I would not be able to imitate him and he would not be a model of faith. The important thing is to live a life of faith in the long run. Abraham’s weakness became his strength when he was called by God. His hope or strength was not maintained well as he moved along with his journey. At the end of his journey, he was given a small lot as a burial place. That is not the end of glory. That is the reality we can follow. A great person of faith, in the end, is buried in small lot of land. But his faith life is remembered in both good and bad ways.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention (2016)

Obama's last night speech at the Democratic Convention evokes the importance of philosophy, politics, and people. His speech is clear, convincing, and deeply soul-searching, making a distinction between obscure divisive politics and edifying constructive politics based on real philosophy for real people. He is the first politician I contributed some dollars to his campaign some 8 years ago. I am so proud of him and feel great. Now as a citizen, I can vote this November and will strike a big chord on an American ideal of "perfect" union. What makes our perfect union other than standing in solidarity with the poor and the marginalized? I am also reminded of the Apostle Paul's idea of perfect union in Christ. Many people misunderstand his idea of union in 1 Corinthians. It is not a unity-driven oneness ideology but a diversity-driven justice ideology because of Christ's life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tips for writing a strong academic paper (thinking of theological students)

1. What are your topic and thesis?
You must present a strong thesis, signaling the paper's direction early in the introduction. Do not attempt to cover too many things in one paper. Keep your topic focused throughout. 

2. Why do you write and what do you want to achieve?

You need to ask why you write a paper firsthand. Is there a new argument that you want to make or is there an area that you can improve the existing arguments? What are some implications for a future scholarship or our lives?

3. How is your paper argued?

Your paper would be a noisy gong unless supported by the reasonable material or evidence. You can use all critical methods to make a strong argument. Also, you must engage other researchers/scholars in the field. Do not use empty words or jargons and write clearly with the best choice of vocabulary.

*See also my writing philosophy:

Friday, July 8, 2016

My teaching philosophy

I foster and teach to engage in the knowledge of who we are in this world in which we see each other as diverse and different. 

Diversity is not a given but a source of critical engagement with one another. 

I value both a critical and self-critical stance toward any claim of the knowledge, the truth, and the reality. 

I emphasize the following as pedagogical goals: learning from others, challenging one another, affirming who we are, and working for common humanity through differences. 

In my teaching, all in all, I aim to communicate critical diversity and transformative identity in a variety of life contexts. 

This is also found on my website: 

My writing philosophy

Life is short, and writing is long.

By profession, I am a biblical scholar with expertise in New Testament study. In retrospect, all books and articles that I have written reflect my philosophy of writing characterized by the three adjectives: critical, short, and practical. 


Because texts come with many aspects of human life-- political, economic, social, cultural, psychological, I try to interpret them from all possible perspectives. Facts are different from my belief, and my job is to understand various aspects of the text. Through critical study, I can learn from the biblical texts not because they are infallible or morally superior to other scriptures but because there are biblical characters (real humans) who experienced the divine. Jesus can be studied with the same rigor that we apply to other historical figures. Paul is not an exception. All the Gospels and early Christian communities will receive the same critical treatment. Also, as a critical reader, I have to acknowledge my own limits as a human. So I must be critical and self-critical toward anything I see or discuss.


My idea of a short book has a range of 100 and 200 pages. The reason is realistic. People have little time to read a long book full of repetitions or jargons. 
There are already millions of books out there. I always think why I want to write another book. 


I do not write merely argue for a new idea or theory that does not have implications for our lives. Eventually, as a writer, my job is to take a stand and to communicate my findings with the larger audience.

*See also: To become a prolific writer?

*Tips for strong academic papers