Saturday, September 22, 2018

Idolatry of a triumphant approach to text

There was a text.
There were readers.
There were things in the past.
But there is no single method that pierces all of these with one big brush.

There is more than one approach.
There is more than one reader.
There are many things to see in the text as well as in the past.

The Bible is also a text and it is not a single book.
There is no single method to read.
There is no single meaning.
There are many possibilities in the text.
There are many partial readings though not all of them are valid.
There will be always gaps in the text and disputes about interpretation.
If anyone claims that he/she knows the truth from/in the Bible, that is the evidence of ignorance.
Truth is more than, beyond, and not the same as, the Bible.

Historical-critical methods are helpful to some degree, but not the only way to read.
Readers' contexts and insights may be very helpful for encountering some fantastic stuff from the text. But they are also limited. Sometimes, they may not be so helpful.
There are other readers who will see different things in the text.
Structuralism or narrative readings help readers appreciate the power of a text as a story.
But that is also a one way, not the only way we read.
Feminist or womanist readings are helpful to a certain degree, but they are also partial.
Postcolonialist readings or any other readings are also partial.
If anyone claims that his or her method or interpretation is correct or perfect, that is the evidence of ignorance.

Ultimately, it is the reader who must take a stand with responsibility.

Traps and blind spots of identity politics

Identity politics use race, ethnicity, gender or religion as identity markers, to name a few, and set up a defining/dividing boundary with others who don't belong to a particular group. There is a tension between "us" and "them." The positive function of this thinking makes clear who or what is a problem or danger to one's group. Enemies or troubles are easily named and there will be a unified front in which people get to fight others without confusion. 

But the negative side of this approach lies in a dualism that the idea is: "If we are good, they must be wrong." In this view, problems always begin with others. There is neither a mood of self-criticism nor self-transformation. There is not a space for dialogue with others. In fact, the identity marker is not a fixed category. One has the freedom to belong to more than one group or not to belong to anywhere. Therefore, identity politics have their own limitation. The challenge is how to become "world" citizens without sacrificing one's uniqueness and dignity.  

Saturday, September 15, 2018

"The Body is Valuable But Weak": Three Views in the Concept of the Physical Body, the Organic Body, and the Metaphorical Body

Yung Suk Kim

Trillium Lake, Oregon

When we say the body is valuable (precious) and/but weak, we can consider at least three different dimensions of its implication: The sense of the physical body, the organic body, and the metaphorical body.

The Physical Body
The body is valuable but weak. That is a mystery and a puzzle. Why so valuable a body is clothed with weakness? Here the body means frailty and yet is worth living because it is experienced. On the one hand, it is true that if I am an angel, I will not have this physical body as is. Then I won't suffer because I am not a body. But at the same time, that means I won't enjoy all the things that I may have because of this nature of bodiliness. You name it. In some sense, our weakness may or should be a good reminder of how we should live as a creature. That is, we must know our weakness with humbleness. We must realize that we need solidarity with one another because we are weak. We need each other because we are weak. No one can be truly independent or self-sufficient. We are meant to live together because we are weak.

But on the other hand, body weakness means we are so susceptible to evil. Then we must deal with our bodiliness in ways that we "put to death the deeds of the body" by the Spirit if I borrow Paul's language (Rom 8:13).

Do we need a permanent body that does not decay? If there were that kind of body, that is not the body we know of. If that is a kind of body, that is a whole lot different body. While Paul talks about "a spiritual body" in 1 Cor 15, his rhetorical point is not about science but about theological affirmation that God prevails and that our faith in God is not in vain. In fact, "the spiritual body" is an oxymoron because the body is rotten and mortal. How can we understand this oxymoronic phrase? What is true Christian hope about the future?

The Organic Body
The body is one, but it comprises of many parts, just as the human body does. Many parts are connected with one another and work together for the common cause of life together. That is an organism in that we see the body is one but has many parts. The organic body is beautiful because of that working together. It is also valuable because of that. One cannot exist without parts. But at the same time because of that union in the body, all parts have the same fate. This means the body as an organism is weak. It may collapse by the abrupt shock to certain parts. In sum, working together in the body (or in the union) is good and valuable; yet because of that, the body is weak. Perhaps that is why Paul realized from the Corinthian church that the community as a body is a hard thing to deal with (see 1 Cor 12).

The Metaphorical Body
We can use the body as a metaphor referring to a community or to a way of life (like "the Christic body"). When the body is associated with a community, the primary use in the Greco-Roman culture is a metaphorical organism in that unity or hierarchy is emphasized. In this sense, the body is not perceived as a system of mutual equality or respect. Rather, the body is understood as a hierarchical unity just as the Roman society is understood that way (this is the view of Stoicism). In this view, when we say the body is valuable and weak, the implication is a whole different from the above organic body or the physical body. From the perspective of rulers or elites, it means that their bodies are valuable and their society is valuable while ignoring or uncaring about the other bodies. They also think their bodies are not weak. Those who are weak are those who do not have. But from the perspective of slaves or other marginalized, the implication is different. They think their bodies are valuable but not taken care of. The realize their bodies are so vulnerable and weak. They think it is wrong. It is not normal.

Even in this metaphorical organism sense, Paul's thinking is different from Stoicism. He does not consider the body as a hierarchical system, rather as a mutually supporting system in that mutual respect is given to all parts. The body is one not because it is a dominant system to which all parts are subsumed under the head, but because all parts work together for the common cause of a good life together. Thus here when he says the body is valuable but weak, the meaning is very different from the Stoics. He means that the body must be a status of the "respectful" union in that all parts work together for the common good. It is valuable because of that union (not unity). At the same time, the body is weak because if one part hurts, the whole body suffers (see 1 Cor 12:12-27).

The alternative use of the body as a metaphor for a way of life is found in my book, Christ's Body in Corinth: The Politics of a Metaphor (Fortress, 2008). Here the body means a life or things that are done by, or resulted from, it. When Paul says that "you are the body of Christ and individually members of it," he means that the Corinthians must live out Christ and they constitute that Christ as a body. They are the Christic body (like the use of "the sinful or sin-ruled body in Rom 6:6). In this understanding of the body as a metaphor, the body is valuable because it shows a way of life. Words are one thing but the body is a real thing that shows the power of the words. Yet the bodily life that carries the truth is a hard thing. In other words, the body is weak. We, humans, tend not to do difficult things. That is, the body wants easy things. It is like an ongoing fight between the spirit and the body, as conveyed in Rom 7.


Yung Suk Kim

What is atonement? It is indeed a very complex term. Many people for so long a time have understood it one way or another. However, in my view, I am not satisfied with most views of the atonement theories. I see the need for a new alternative understanding of atonement based on the significance of Jesus's work of God and his moral sacrifice. Atonement means "at-one-ment" (16th c. term). This term presupposes the need for right relationships with God. But the questions to be asked are: What was the cause of the estrangement from God? How can the restoration of such a relationship happen?

Christian theology applies Jesus's death to atonement to resolve this issue. There are different approaches to it. For more about atonement, refer to Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity edited by Daniel Patte (Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 81.

By the way, there are a number of references about the significance of Jesus's sacrificial death and its relation to atonement:

  • Mk 14:24: "“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."
  • 1 Cor 5:7: "Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed."
  • Matt 26:28: "for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
  • c.f. Matt 8:17: "This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
  • 2 Cor 5:21: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
  • Rom 3:25: "whom God put forward as 'hilasterion' by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed"
  • Rom 5:6-10: "6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.9Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life."
  • Gal 1:4: "who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,"
  • Heb 7–10: too long to put those chapters here
  • 1 Jn 2:2: "and he is 'the atoning sacrifice' (hilasmos) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."
  • 1 Jn 4:10: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be 'the atoning sacrifice' (hilasmos) for our sins."
  • 1 Pet 2:23-24: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed."

But the above texts need careful examination within their literary context. In other words, they should not be easily read as supporting the traditional atonement theories such as ransom theory, satisfaction theory, and penal substitution theory. What follows is a brief review of different approaches to atonement.

1. "Ransom and redemption from bondage" (the term from CDC 81): the cause of the estrangement is bondage to sin and captive status by the devil. Jesus's death is a ransom price for releasing a captive from the grip of the devil. *Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine ("imputed righteousness"). But the weakness of this view: why God needs to pay the ransom price to the devil?

Derivatively, in Eastern Orthodox Churches, what is expected is healing from sin-caused disease.

In liberation theology or related hermeneutics, the issue is "structures of evil that hold people in bondage"(CDC 81).

2. "Honor and juridical satisfaction" (the term from CDC 81): the causes of the estrangement are two kinds: God's honor is offended by human sins (owing God an infinite debt of honor); God's wrath due to human sins.

Regarding the former, Anselm's satisfaction theory was forged: Jesus' sinless sacrifice as a representative of humanity meets God's honor or satisfaction. The problem is we put God in a very rigid legal box that requires an innocent death. Morally, it is unacceptable. In fact, the forgiveness of sins occurs through repentance, not requiring Jesus's death.

Regarding the latter, Luther ("imparted righteousness") and Calvin focused on this issue of God's wrath. Punishment is due to the sinful humanity. But Jesus made a substitutionary sin-sacrifice (sin-offering). We may call this understanding of atonement "penal-substitution." This view seems naive or shallow because Jesus is considered no more than a substitute for the sinful humanity. We must remember that Paul says that because Christ died for all, all also have died (2 Cor 5:14).

This idea of penal substitution is similar to the concept of propitiation in Greek culture in that people comfort angry gods by offering gifts.

Derivatively, the idea of expiation belongs to the above category ("honor and juridical satisfaction") because expiation means to cover the cost of the broken relationship.

As a modest revisionary approach, some scholars emphasize God's suffering or identifying with sufferers.

*Excursus: Thomas Aquinas thinks Jesus's atonement is for the whole humanity. But Calvinist tradition says it is limited to the elect.

3. "Moral transformation" (the term from CDC 81): the cause of the estrangement is a lack of love for God and the world. Jesus's cross is an ultimate expression of God's love for sinful humanity. This idea is based on Peter Abelard (French theologian from 12th c.). This view is vague and does not explore Jesus's work of God for justice. In other words, how can we ignore his moral sacrifice for proclaiming God's good news, not Rome's good news?

ALL THESE ABOVE VIEWS of atonement do not consider seriously the question of why Jesus was put to death other than finding theological justification for his death in one way or another. By the way, we must remember Jesus's death is not a natural one but a horrendous tragic form of death called crucifixion. Therefore, there should be another approach to Jesus's death and its significance to atonement. That is why I am working on this issue by focusing on Rom 3:25. There is a way. There is a better way to deal with this issue.

(Photo: Jeonju Chimyungjasan Martyrs' shrines in Korea)

Friday, September 14, 2018

[Poem] Like a stream, 흐르는 물처럼

흐르는 시냇물처럼

Like a Stream

Yung Suk Kim

흐르는 시냇물은
막히면 잠시 머뭇거리다
돌아가든지 돌파한다.
나도 그러하다.
막히면 잠시 머뭇거릴 뿐
아무도 나를 붙잡지 못하고
아무 것도 나를 영원히 막지 못한다.
나의 길을 갈 뿐이다.
가다 보면 간간히 막히더라도
막히면 잠시 머뭇거리겠지 잠시 어색하겠지
잠시 당황하겠지.
이내 조금 숨을 돌리고 다시 가려한다.
왜냐하면 일어나 갈 힘이 이미 내게 있으므로.
목적지를 모르고 떠났던 아브라함처럼.
그 끝이 어디든지 몰라도 가려한다.
막히면 돌아서 가든지 통하여 가자.
그러면 길이 아닌 길이 없고
가지 못할 곳이 없다.

When a flowing water hits obstacles, 
it seems to hesitate a bit. 
But it goes around them or through those that prevent it. 
It never stops for good. 
At times I may be kept from moving forward. 
I may falter a bit, feel awkward or hesitate a bit.
But nothing gets in my way forever.
I walk the way to be myself.
On my way, I know there are downhills.
I may be stopped for a while. 
I may be disappointed a bit. 
But soon I know that sufficient energy rests in what I am.
I will go to the place without knowing where to go, 
as Abraham did once upon a time.
When storms hit me, I may feel enervated for a while or even die.
But nothing will separate me from the love of God.
I will go around or through the tempest. 
There is no way that is not the way.
There is no place that I cannot take.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Preaching the New Testament Again (a peek at a new book forthcoming)

Preaching the New Testament Again
Faith, Freedom, and Transformation

(2018 forthcoming by Cascade Books)

This book combines critical New Testament scholarship with homiletic concerns. Every Sunday or every important occasion pastors preach something in or from the NT. But oftentimes their take on the NT seems naive or shallow. As a critical NT scholar who engages in the real world, it is very hard to pass it by. That is why I came up with this book idea. The first thing I have to say to the reader is the NT does not have a single voice or perspective or teaching about us or the world. Sometimes there are competing voices in the NT, not to mention conflicting views. Therefore, caution is necessary for reading the NT.

I attempt to unravel complexities of the most prominent themes in the New Testament such as faith, freedom, and transformation and brings them into dialogue with modern preaching contexts, ranging from personal identity to social justice to global issues.

This book invites readers to reinterpret the most familiar themes that have not been thoroughly explored in scholarship and to make an informed choice about what to preach to whom in what context.

If we read the NT critically, it will naturally bring forth lots of preaching ideas having a good appeal to a modern world. 

Faith, Freedom, and Transformation

Copyright © 2018 Yung Suk Kim. All rights reserved. Except for brief
quotations in critical publications or reviews, no part of this book may
be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from
the publisher. Write: Permissions, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 199 W. 8th
Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401.

Cascade Books
An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers
199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3
Eugene, OR 97401

paperback isbn: 978-1-5326-5250-9
hardcover isbn: 978-1-5326-5251-6
ebook isbn: 978-1-5326-0182-8

Cataloging-in-Publication data:
Names: Kim, Yung Suk, author
Title: Preaching the New Testament again: faith, freedom, and transformation
/by Yung Suk Kim.

Description: Eugene, OR : Cascade Books, 2018 | Includes bibliographical

Identifiers: ISBN 978-1-5326-5250-9 (paperback) | ISBN 978-1-5326-5251-
6 (hardcover) | ISBN 978-1-5326-5252-3 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Bible. New Testament—Homiletical use. | Bible. New
Testament—Criticism, interpretation, etc.
Classification: LCC BS2392 K4 2018 (print) | LCC BS2392 (ebook)
Manufactured in the U.S.A.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Don't complain

Don't complain. Sometimes it is okay to mumble a bit, but never remain stick to a grudge. No matter what, do what you can. Don't focus on what you cannot do right now. 

I often say to myself: "Nothing or nobody can block me forever from what I am supposed to do." Sometimes I may be faltering or fainting a bit in life's turmoil, but that is not what I am supposed to be like forever. There is a purpose in my life. I don't know what that is all about, but I have to believe it. So I say I live because I believe. 

You can decide what is the best for you. No one will tell you what to do. You can be true to yourself and listen to your inside. You may feel awkward a bit about yourself and the people outside. But remember always you are the key to yourself. The world is a reference to you. 

You don't have to have the burden that you must be perfect. If you think that way, that may be a deception because perfection is not that which is achievable in this world. We see things imperfect and make little efforts to improve them a bit. We may achieve something because we are not perfect. If we are perfect, perhaps we will not make efforts in our lives, and thus we may lose times to celebrate our achievements, smaller or not. Maybe our lives would be boring or monotonous. 

Don't waste your time, which is not yours. Ultimately, the sheer truth is you are not yours. Do what you can do now and today. Tomorrow is in the divine.