Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Problem of Joseph's dream

To be blunt, I don't like Joseph's dream in Genesis 37 because it is naive and aimless. His dream is basically about his greatness in the future. According to his dream, his parents and brothers gather around him because of his greatness. This dream is not sound in terms of communal well-being. His dream is ambitious yet lacking ethics of solidarity. It is impossible for his brothers to love his dream. Jacob, his father, added fuel to the fire through his favoritism of Joseph. Indeed, dreaming itself can be dangerous unless it involves sound philosophy that embraces communities and other people in the world. Self-centered dream must be shunned. Dreaming high without ethics would be naught if not dangerous.

Joseph's greatness is not in his dream but in his perseverance in Egypt after being sold to Egyptian merchants. Perhaps he became awakened to his real self, not based on his earlier aimless dream but based on his unexpected ordeal. He also learned the importance of family when in a foreign country. When he arose to the rank of top official in the Egyptian palace, he did not revenge his brothers' mean act toward him. That is the sign that he became a new person; he did not become a good person by his earlier selfish dream but by his faith in God. This is the reason that we admire Joseph. Otherwise, Joseph's greatness is not because he dreamed high. His reckless dream rather provoked unnecessary reactions from his brothers.

Therefore we have to critique Joseph's earlier dream focused on his greatness. We have to dream a good dream that seeks well-being of all human beings. Otherwise, dreaming can be none other than sectarian ideology that thrives at the sacrifice of others. I don't like a saying like "be ambitious" or "have a dream." The real key to the dream is its content and ethics.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

To stimulate conversation about atonement of Jesus' death

This is a short response to Michael Gorman's book, "The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement" (Cascade, 2014), in terms of his interview at Crux Sola.

The purpose of writing this response is to generate further conversation about atonement. Otherwise, I appreciate the author's great work.

I do agree with and like Gorman's participatory atonement of Jesus' death which we need most desperately in our day. But as a critical scholar myself, I have to say that not all books in the NT can be read with a single view of atonement. Whereas the so-called Paul's seven undisputed letters can be grasped in such a direction, Deutero-Pauline letters, Pastoral letters, and especially Hebrews, do not share such a view of participatory atonement. Rather, these later books emphasize "static" atonement of Jesus' death (in the sense that Jesus' death is understood as a penal substitution, for example). There are plenty of references or theology about such a static atonement. So much so, in these books there is an emphasis on believers' faith in Jesus, which is quite different from Paul's seven undisputed letters.

Now when it comes to the gospels, Jesus' death is not needed for the forgiveness of sins or for salvation since baptism and repentance of people are enough for such purposes. If we follow the logic of the gospels, Jesus' death is a result of his costly preaching about God's rule in an unjust, hostile world. In other words, if people had accepted his challenging message about God's rule, he would have not been executed on a cross. So overall, the NT does not give us one view of atonement nor one reason of his death. What we as critical readers need is how to explain and explore Jesus' life, teaching, and death in his context, in the early church's context, and in our day. In the end, the reader's essential task is discernment: what to accept in what way and what to reject why.

If you wonder about my view of atonement and biblical interpretation, please go and see a list of my works at my web site, especially "Christ's Body in Corinth," "A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters," and "Biblical Interpretation."

See also my small article, "Jesus' death in context," published in Living Pulpit 2007 (available through ATLA Religion database).


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ask why; a mere obedience or obeisance is not the answer

A most recent tragedy of the Korean ferry Sewol has left unforgettable scars on the minds and souls of Korean people, which won't go away easily or any time soon. This seems an unprecedented case for a total failure of the government and private sectors. More than 470 passengers were on board and most of them were high school students at their teens for their school trip to a remote southern island Jeju. Only 174 passengers exited the boat and were saved. All others were confirmed dead or still missing. Sadly, all things worked together (negatively) to get things worst ever. First of all, this ferry company called Chungjin Haewoon violated several laws and regulations about safety codes (overloading containers and cargo, adding more space by rebuilding the boat, not providing adequate safety training for its crew members, ignoring boat repair requests from its staff, hiring a temporary captain to run the boat on the day, and etc). It is so shameful to hear all these ugly things about the company and its greedy owner as well as other interest groups.

Second, there were no immediate, organized responses of the government to this disaster. Sea police for example was so senseless that it did not know what to do. It could save a lot of them if they acted fast enough. There were no adequate manual and saving equipment or personnel. Even emergency control or watch in the sea failed completely.

Third, the crew members (except for service crew such as Park Ji-Young and another man who did not escape the boat but saved other passengers at the risk of their lives) left the boat for their lives without doing anything to evacuate hundreds of passengers, who were told by the boat broadcasting to stay calm in their place. There is a suspicion that the ferry company may have ordered its crew members (captain and others) to sink the boat with passengers inside, in which case she could receive lots of insurance money along with life insurance compensation. This must be investigated. Otherwise, some suggest that the behavior of the crew members are hardly explainable, because they had to time to issue an emergency sign before they left the boat.

Actually, if passengers had been told to come out with jackets worn and move to the deck of the boat, they could have been saved. Because of this broadcasting, many students waited in their cabins or rooms even though the boat began to sink. They simply believed in the announcement that says "stay where you are." Even at this dire moment our students had a chat and took pictures and looked very playful. They were acting like they were dying, leaving a few words to their parents. They seemed unaware of their impending deaths. In this dangerous time they believed that they would be saved because they trusted in the repeated announcement that they stay where they are.

At several points when they heard this same announcement, they said "yes." One student in the room of the boat video-recorded all of this, using his smartphone. This student who took pictures and recorded was found dead and his body was recovered with his smartphone. His father recovered his son's smartphone memory chip and sent it to the news agency. That is how I saw the video and pictures taken at the very moment they got stuck inside. What a painful video this is! Before the ferry was completely submerged, as this video indicates, they had been alive and waited in the boat to be rescued. This makes me utterly sad. These students were too good and followed what they heard: "stay in."

In Korean society obeisance is highly emphasized, and so some students didn't seem to learn to disagree to or disobey certain things. At a critical time such as that, students may have had to ask: "Why should we stay inside when the boat began to sink? Why should we believe what you said?" I know this seems not easy. Mere obedience can be horrible otherwise. If obeisance is a virtue, so is suspicion.
*For more, see the previous posting on this tragedy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Total Shock and Shame from the Korean Ferry Sewol Tragedy

For a few days now my mind cannot find rest and sinks again and again and over again. 476 passengers were on board when the Sewol departed from Inchon to Jeju Island in Korea. Among them more than 370 were high school students who were en route to that island as part of their school trip. So far about 170 passengers were rescued (actually, they exited the boat) and more than 181 bodies were found so far, still missing 121; most of them are young high school students at their teens. Despite the desperate rescuing efforts, their survival is yet to be heard. While I am weeping, I am shocked to find the following information about this tragedy from various sources of news report.

1. This ferry was imported from a Japanese shipping company in 2012 and it had been already running for 18 years in the sea of Japan. It could retire there. Before 2012, the official retiring age for a ferry boat in Korea was 20 years old. But this age limit was changed under the Lee Myungbak government of Korea, allowing for a 30-year old ferry boat running. This must be crazy. In this regard Lee is to blame since he was a promoter of new capitalism with deregulation policies during his presidency. Because of this law change, the current ferry was imported in 2012 as a used one, which had run 18 years already. Alas! I am very angry because of this law change by the senseless government and the Sewol's decision to import such an aging ferry for Korean passengers.

2. Now this ferry boat is said to have been rebuilt adding more space and capacity for passengers after imported. This rebuilding has to be checked whether this was done according to safety law codes. Along with this, there must be a special investigation about the ferry's technical issues; the official inspection agency of the government also must be investigated.

3. In this ferry there were two inexperienced ferry crew members (one in controlling the ferry and the other in navigating) who had an experience of less than a year. They were in charge when the ferry sunk hopelessly. The captain in charge was Lee Joonsuk, 69 years old, left them for a while and asking them to take charge. Somehow they took a swift turn with unknown reasons and the ferry tilted suddenly toward the left side and began to sink. We even don't know how much shipload (containers and cars) was carried and whether they were secured and fastened tighten. By the way, we are told that lots of containers fell when the ferry tilted sharply. We are also told that Lee was a replacement for a regular captain who was on his vacation. Worse comes after worse.

4. The most terrible thing happened for 90 minutes when the ferry began to tilt and sink almost. If Lee had made a right decision that all passengers are to leave the ship immediately he felt something wrong about the ferry (there was a big roaring sound), most passengers could have been saved. This critical time of 90 minutes were wasted because the crew members repeatedly told the passengers to stay calm and stay inside of the ferry (meaning stay in where they were). Most students apparently stayed in! They trusted in vain. Why did the captain not ask all the passengers to immediately wear life-saving jackets and prepare life-saving boats for evacuation? One report says no life-saving boats were working except for just two. We don't know whether there were enough life jackets. Without remaining at the helm there to help, instead the captain Lee and the other crew left or abandoned the ferry and passengers in danger for their lives. They were among the first group of people rescued by the rescue team. Even after being rescued, Lee tried to hide his identity, acting like one of the passengers. I am so sick and hurt of this.

5. However, the only exception is one young lady Ms. Park Ji-Young at her early twenty, who was a crew member (for passengers), and helped young students to get out of the sinking ship, while making no success in rescuing her own life. Her story makes me cry again.

Park Ji-Young, a 22-year-old crew, who lost her life while saving others

6. Now the high school of these students is also to blame because it put their students in harm's way. There should have been a careful examination about this ferry trip. In fact, this ferry boat left for the destination several hours late due to the weather condition. By the way I am sorry to hear that the vice-principal of this high school has hanged himself on a pine tree due to the pressure and guilt he had; he was a leader of this trip and was rescued.

7. Overall, the government's emergency response and rescue efforts are very disappointing. There are lots of worries, inefficiencies, and complaints about this rescue operation. I know nothing is easy in an emergency. But how much can we learn from the past tragedies? The current government's leadership is questioned. There were enough lessons in the past; but do we learn and put them in practice today? My mind sinks again and over again. I keep all affected due to this senseless tragedy in my thoughts and prayers.

8. Conclusion
This tragic accident could have been avoided or many could have been saved. This accident is human error, terribly wrong and morally failing. There is a system failure involving multiple parties: the government (former and the current) and its overseeing agencies that did not do their job properly, the ferry company's importing of an aging ferry and renovating by adding more space and careless management, and unpreparedness of its crew members in emergency.

*Last-minute text messages sent by students trapped in the sinking ferry:

*memorial place:
photo: courtesy of Newsis.

Friday, April 4, 2014

What is Paul's gospel?

I intended to leave blanks in the following so that you may wonder why.
  • Paul's gospel is about not how I am (           ) but how we become (         ) of God.
  • Paul's gospel is not a law-free gospel but a (          ) gospel.
  • Paul's gospel is about not an individual justification by faith in (        ) but the individual/communal participation in (           ) faith and life because of God's righteousness.
  • Paul's gospel begins with not (          ) but God's gospel (Rom 1:1) which concerns his Son.
  • Paul's gospel declares that what matters is not an individual faith or righteousness but God's (           ) that is revealed through Christ's faith and for all who have faith (Rom 3:22).

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


 When Jesus says in the Fourth Gospel, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," does he mean that Christianity is the only true religion, or did he mean something else? As we know, Jesus did not found a new religion nor did he pave a new way to salvation or truth. Rather, Jesus worked for God, by showing the way of God, testifying to the truth, and engaging in the work of liberation. Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, like Moses, is sent by God to liberate people from darkness. Unlike today's triumphant Christianity, the Johannine community was a small, marginalized, expelled community that struggled because of their faith. It will be very interesting to see how this struggling community was transformed into a loving community, following the model of Jesus.

       I wrote this book out of my hope that the Fourth Gospel and John 14:6 in particular could be the scripture of engagement, embodiment, and empowerment for Christian readers. I hope this book will help the reader rethink the role of the Logos or the "I am" sayings in the Fourth Gospel. In a pluralistic society, the focus of the gospel shifts from conversion or theological doctrine to empowerment of people. I dream that this book will contribute to theological education in that the "I am" sayings of the Fourth Gospel give a voice of inclusivism rather than exclusivism, solidarity rather than marginalization, and liberation rather than oppression. In the pluralistic life contexts of America today, the theology that accepts others as friends is very important; it engages others on the basis of God's love and justice. With a focus on the language of embodiment and empowerment, theological education can be more inclusive to others and help students to reorient their attention to the present life in the world. -from the preface of the book.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Misunderstandings about Freedom

 Yung Suk Kim

Often we think that Jesus brought to humanity complete freedom from sins (or Sin) by his work or death. However, we know by experience that such a reality is yet to come. Our world still has a mixture of light and darkness. People still struggle with everyday life issues. No Christians are free from sins. From the outset, it must be said that freedom is not the result of Jesus’ death or of believing in him; rather, it is the result of Christian participation in his death or in the truth of God. This kind of understanding is manifest at least in Paul’s teaching and John’s Gospel. According to Paul, freedom is possible only when people put to death the deeds of the body -- all kinds of evil thought and action. Notice here the agents of freedom are very people although they need help. Paul seems to say like this: “You can be free as long as you put to death evil thoughts or desires.” Otherwise, he is not naive enough to say that Jesus’ death made complete human freedom or salvation. Rather, his advice is “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). For this kind of reading in Paul’s letters, see A Theological Introduction to Paul’s Letters: Exploring a Threefold Theology of Paul.

Similarly, according to John’s Gospel, freedom is possible only when people participate in the truth of God. Notice here the truth is God’s. Otherwise, it is not given once and for all. Freedom is also a future tense. See what Jesus says, “If you remain faithful to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31–32). Freedom needs our involvement in God’s work and Jesus’ faithful teaching; see below for more about this. [For more about freedom in John’s Gospel, see Truth, Testimony, and Transformation: A New Reading of the “I am” Sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.]

1. Remain to Jesus’ teaching
Jesus’ teaching is about God’s word (Logos) or God’s truth for all. Jesus fought for freedom because there was no freedom in the world. He testified to the truth of God that all are worthy to live fully in the world and before God. God is truth not simply because God is almighty but because God cares for all people so that they may live with light. People need to abide by Jesus’ teaching about God’s work.

2. Become true disciples of Jesus
True disciples are not those who believe something or merely follow Jesus but those who remain faithful to his teaching. “Remaining” is an ongoing process of the faithful journey with Jesus. Discipleship is not complete until the end of one’s life.

3. Know the truth (of God)
Knowing is a future tense (“you will know the truth”). This knowledge is the result of your remaining faithful to Jesus’ teaching. As long as you abide by his teaching and live as his disciples, you will know the truth. This knowledge is not gained once and for all. Rather, it is an experiential and engaging knowledge. Also, this knowledge is holistic; there is no separation between knowing and acting. As a result, the truth will make you free! Notice here the subject of freedom is the truth of God and that the tense is future. This means as long as we know and participate in the truth of God, we shall be free.

If you remain faithful to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; and
you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free
(John 8:31–32)

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except
through me
(John 14:6)

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into
the world, so I have sent them into the world
(John 17:17–18)

I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the
truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice (John 18:37)