Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marginality and Christian Theology

Yung Suk Kim

In his book Marginality: The Key to Multicultural Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1995), Jung Young Lee states that his marginal experience is the basis for his contextual theology. Furthermore, Lee affirms that marginality is a new source of power (self-affirmation) in spite of its negative connotations. Lee goes on to argue that Christian theology, the mission of the church, a habit of thinking, personal commitment and all our hearts and minds have to be based in new marginality of self-affirmation. A new marginal person is the one who relentlessly hopes for harmonious justice beyond one's identity, defiantly protesting all abusive systems and evil in the world.

To support his thesis about new marginality, Lee rejects the one-way, classical definition of marginality that emphasizes the negative sides of marginality such as alienation, rejection, and struggles, and so forth. This classical definition is the product of "centrality" according to which marginality is a situation of "got stuck" or "in-between."

But Lee defines marginality from a marginal perspective, which upholds a "both/and" and "in-beyond" approach. For example, Lee declares that he is both an American and an Asian. "Both/and" approach is a self-affirmation of both Asian and American.

He also talks about a new marginality person who stands "in-beyond," which means standing beyond "in-between" and "in-both" (Asian and American).

That is to say, such an "in-beyond" person transcends the current time and space to form a new identity, which is formulated both in "in-between" and "in-both" worlds. Lee states that this kind of "in-beyond" thinking leads to living up to "the harmony of difference," as God's creation itself is of plurality and differences.

Lee continues to explore marginality to the extent that marginality should be the center of Christian theology. For instance, God becomes marginal through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Marginality is God's choice of loving humanity. Jesus was also marginal, being rejected and crucified by the people. In other words, Jesus lived "in-beyond," affirming the world that rejected him.

Likewise, Lee suggests that the church, seminaries, and all our Christian works be a community of marginality that lives up to the love and servanthood of Jesus. The author envisions the whole church and Christian institutions to embraces a holistic "in-beyond" approach.

Lee does an excellent job because he reclaims a Christian theology of marginality. Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Mt. 20:28). As Jesus was a marginal person, so are Christians. Christians' power comes out of serving others. Another strong point is regarding the identity of the minority. Marginal experiences are certainly negative but are not hopeless altogether.

Lee suggests that we transform our marginal experiences to form a new identity of hope and love beyond the current conditions of the world. Lee also made a big contribution to the understanding of multicultural society. Pluralistic, multicultural society needs multiple centers and margins. Lee seems to encourage all of us to play an active role in making a better society.

He also lets us recognize the mystery of creation that reflects diversity, plurality, and differences in our culture. Everyone has his or her own place of margin, because, according to Lee, margins and centers are not fixed; rather, they are dynamic and moving. A multicultural society is a kind of the web that every unit of society has its own connection to one another, modifying its place constantly.

Lee's book greatly has shaped my worldview and understanding of multicultural theology. I became confident about my role as a biblical theologian in the multicultural society. Through my upbringings, education, experiences in Korea and elsewhere (including Latin America and the USA) I came to view the world through the lens of critical diversity or imagination.

When I lived in a small rural village during my childhood, I liked to play with things in nature and grasped the harmony of differences. Not a single thing is the same as the other in nature: Different colors of leaves, different trees, different flowers, different stars, different birds, and so forth.

While we are different with each other, we also share a common humanity. We are still the same human being. In nature, dandelion is different from the rose but it is still a beautiful flower. God made all of us good, including nature. Why do we not maintain such a beautiful world?

Readers should not be confused between two kinds of marginality: a marginality given due to social, cultural determinants and a voluntary marginality. Whereas the marginalized person can affirm his or her identity amid degrading situations, injustices cannot be tolerated.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mystery of life together

Through a little cottage
the bland, uncaring wind blows,
a candle fire wanes,
a baby sits on a sick-bed
breathing a deadly silence of peace
a brisk voice shouts:
“do you love me?”

“Do this for all”
“again, do you love me?”
“do this love for all people”
“do all, sick or healthy,
poor or rich, strong or weak, all”

Sisters and brothers,
Fathers and mothers,
“Nothing can separate us
from the love of God,”
“do you believe this, my son, my daughter?
do this love for all, my companion!”

the melting, sweet wind blows to unfreeze all,
it blows through the seasons,
in the spring —a time to wake up, a time to tell the people
of hope that God breathes into all.
only then we live together,
only then we are resurrection,
only then we find you in our heart,
in our walking,
in our dreaming,
in the desolate winter – a time to wait
for a hope yet to be realized;
a time that we realize we are nothing to be something,
in the summer—a time to sweat for our gardens
a time that we are baptized with waters all over again
a time that toil and sweat never pass away without returns,
in the fall—a time to thank God for our life here together in difference
a time that we see different colors in our gardens, hills, mountains, and forests.

My daughter!
Do you feel this power of ever-new, ever-fresh dews?
My son!
Do you feel this joy of the loving wind –
in the past, present and future seamlessly
flowing into our heart of spring,
whispering that we are one and different.

In seasons like this we feel
seasonal beauty embedded in our souls and bodies,
a sense of solidarity and diversity,
in the same glaring sun rising in Panama and in Korea,
in the same azure ocean of the Pacific in Fiji and in America,
it is the mystery of life together
the mystery of love and peace so vulnerable,
the mystery of ever-challenging differences,
the mystery of this life,
the mystery of you and me in the world.

Around the circle of bonfire
we feel it, we live it -
only then we say it enough;
enough is all, for all creation;
only then, doves and eagles fly in their sky,
together, we fly into the same sky;
only then, we feel the power of mystery of God everyday,
today and tomorrow, yesterday and today,
like an ever-flowing river we too blow.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Saturday, September 3, 2011

On Truth

As for me, truth is deeply experiential, confessional, and contextual. It should be engaged in a community that he or she lives, embodied in a world beyond his or her immediate community, and testified at all costs because of the love of God for all people. Bellah also comments on the mistaken view of truth: “The mistake arises when we take language which is deeply contextual, that is confessional, and in the case of Paul probably also liturgical, and turn it into objective assertions of a quasi-scientific form that give us information about the eternal fate of non-Christians.” Robert Bellah, “At home and not at home: Religious pluralism and religious truth” Christian Century, April 1995.

Monday, August 1, 2011

History of faith

What is faith? Or what kind of faith do we talk about when we deal with matters of faith in Christianity? The answer will be neither easy nor simple. But we have to consider complexities involved with the concept of faith because no word or concept is made out of context. When I wrote my book, A Theological Introduction to Paul’s Letters: Exploring a Threefold Theology of Paul (Cascade Books, 2011), one of my concerns has to do with the familiar notion of faith. The following is an excerpt from my book, page 64:

Excursus: “History of Faith”
“The Hebrew word for faith is emunah (for example, Hab 2:4: “The one who is righteous shall live by faith”), whose basic meaning has to do with faithful­ness, fidelity, or steadfastness. All of these involve a person’s cost and time, as Abraham paid such a price in living his lifelong journey of steadfastness to God. In the New Testament, the Greek word for faith is pistis, whose ba­sic meaning also has to do with faithfulness, fidelity, or commitment. … One of the problems in English translation is that there is no equivalent English verb for the Greek verb pisteuo, whose noun is pistis (faith). The closest thing in English might be a form like “faithize.” … …

For more, read A Theological Introduction to Paul’s Letters: Exploring a Threefold Theology of Paul (Cascade Books, 2011), p. 64. Visit the book information page too.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reconstructing Paul's theology

Why is it crucial to understand Paul's theology in terms of a God-centered ecclesiology? 
For Paul, the church is God's, never Christ's. In order to reconstruct Paul's theology, we must put him in both Jewish tradition and the Greco-Roman world. Paul's theology is thoroughly theocentric, and Jesus as the Jewish Messiah serves God. For more information or discussion, please visit my web page.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Three questions to ask to become a "good" preacher

This morning I sat down in the pew and listened to a sermon. At times I learn from a counter-example of things that I appreciate most. Moments later, driving to a nearby coffee shop, the sermon that I heard caused me to rethink about the rationale or quality of preaching; I liked some part but didn't like other parts. Drinking coffee, I came up with certain clarifications about the sermon, along with a set of critiques and new ideas. To become a good preacher, I think, the following three questions should be asked and answered: 1) Are you a good theologian?; 2) How do you read the text?; 3) Do you know how to communicate with the audience? Let me explain one by one.

Are you a "good" theologian?
It is a big misunderstanding if we think that all preachers have a blank mind, getting all preaching insights from the Bible. In fact, the Bible does not speak, but the reader makes sense out of it. Furthermore, there is no clear, single voice or theology in it. Most of the time people read what they want to read from the text. On one hand, this kind of "contextual" reading helps those who need particular helps in their lives. But on the other hand, it can be naive, or even dangerous to others if applied without discerning the implications or ramifications of a particular reading. Often preachers love to say, "The Bible says." But if the Bible says, there must be many things. Unless a preacher explains in which way the Bible speaks, the Bible is hollow. All I am saying is this: "Even before you preach, you have to be a good theologian. In other words, your theological lens or perspective is a basic starting point." Otherwise, people always preach the text naively regardless of which text they read. Why does this happen? It is because they preach the texts with the same naive theology all the time. It is a miracle how some preachers preach often contradicting, difficult texts harmoniously without tensions with other texts. Whichever texts they read, the conclusion is always the same, something like this: "Jesus is the way; Jesus saved you because he died for your sins." Therefore, the most important first step for a better preaching is not to begin reading the text but to begin reading your perspective or theological lens.

How do you read the text (the Bible)?
Each text can be read on its own without being harmonized with other texts or being reduced to one particular meaning. Even though all texts, written or living texts (life), are inter-textual, it does not mean that all texts can be mingled without careful discernment. An example helps. If the difficulties of innocent human suffering or problem of theodicy is a focus of preaching with a text chosen from the book of Job, by and large, preaching should stay with that particular concerns that people need to tackle. If a preacher adds a Jesus-talk in the middle of a sermon saying, "Jesus suffered for you and your tears will be wiped out eventually," he or she confuses listeners (at least for me) because the main issue of theodicy or innocent suffering in Job is lost. In other words, there must be tensions intact throughout, thorny issues regarding God's character or innocent human suffering without giving an easy answer. Obviously, Jesus did not remove the suffering of people today. Jesus' suffering on a cross did not eliminate the suffering of people today. But still, preachers do the same preaching again and over again. I guess people in the pew listening to the same sermon again and over again. Then, what? Does this help? Is this sermon a panacea for all kinds of disease? Or is it opium that gives people oblivion about their lives?

Do you know the basic skills of preaching?
Whichever sermon we hear, we expect something of a life lesson or a moral challenge, or some sort of spiritual comfort or encouragement. This means the entire sermon needs to get focused on a particular need or issue. But the real sermon is a far cry from this. Some preachers are almost writing a book when preaching. I mean he or she uses big theological vocabularies without clarity or elaboration, much less with a real-life connection. Some are explaining theological doctrines without life lessons in real life contexts that the audience needs to tackle. Others are doing a very good job in the beginning; there is a nice introduction with possible topics and thesis promised. However, soon my expectation collapses when the preacher suddenly incorporates a particular view of atonement when talking about the innocent suffering of humanity (as mentioned before). I still don't know how Job's suffering is related to Jesus'. There can be a connection between them. But there must be a clear explanation about that. Otherwise, that is a moment of an anticlimax.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters

A Theological Introduction to Paul's Letters: Exploring a Threefold Theology of Paul (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011)

The book informational page

Sample syllabus

  • A new wave of Pauline theology characterized by the threefold participation of God, Christ, and the believer
  • An extensive, insightful, original research on key themes of Paul’s texts and contexts
  • Engaging Paul for today: Convergence of theology and ethics

Author information
Yung Suk Kim is Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, Virginia Union University, in Richmond, Virginia. Kim is the author of Christ’s Body in Corinth: The Politics of a Metaphor(Fortress, 2008), and editor of the Journal of Bible and Human Transformation (Sopher Press).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Music and theology (written in 2000)

Music and theology basically deal with human experiences, which involve our whole sphere of life interacting with the world, people, and God. Music is composed, based on a composer’s self-reflections on the world and meaning of life. Theology is not very different. Sad or merry, lucky or unfortunate, mundane or religious, private or public, light or serious events can be expressed, interpreted or reinterpreted by the theologian. In fact, many classic music pieces have been written through the religious spirit. Maybe it would be impossible for us to think of Beethoven and Mozart without religion or theology. Their faith with life stories was expressed through music that delivers messages, feelings, and mysterious sound. Likewise, theology is a response to a life, based on reflections on our lives: happy or sad events, mysterious experiences, inexplicable life moments, etc. A theologian uses religious language, symbols, metaphors, and all forms of story to do theology.

Music and theology is a public act, because they touch on other people. Any music piece or theological work must be played out in public to make effect on the audience. There is responsibility entailing of course. Any theological work should be shared with others so that there might be further theological conversations. Theology must be practiced and rewritten accordingly because there is new discussion and engagement among people. These days I feel a great responsibility that I have to take my theology to the public and listen to other people. My audience is never a silent multitude.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

JSNT book review of Christ's Body in Corinth

"This book questions the usual understanding of ‘the body of Christ’ in Paul’s writings. Most scholars see it as an idea describing and emphasizing the unity of the church; Kim argues that it has more to do with diversity and with ‘collective participation in Christ crucified’. The traditional understanding, he says, is not satisfying in today’s diverse world; it operates with exclusive boundaries, and is often used in oppressive and colonial ways. On the other hand, ‘the image of Christ crucified deconstructs the conception of the community based on powers of wealth, status, and identity, and reconstructs the community based on sacrificial love and solidarity with those who are broken in society. This power of the cross … makes possible a new formation of the community of all in diversity’ (p.21)."
-- an excerpt from a book review of Christ's Body in Corinth (David Wenham, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 32.5 (2010): 94-97.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Meditate day and night

I. Meditate day and night
Nobody can live skipping eating or breathing. No one big meal or deep breathing can be sufficient to the entire life span. Literally, repetition makes life continue. But ironically when it comes to the study, people often do not repeat their reading, thinking or learning. There are many good books or thoughts out there; but they do not take time to read and digest them. Some people think that they mastered them, or others simply do not want to take them. So the primary tip for success in transformative study is nothing other than meditating on thought items digested. According to Psalm 1:2, blessed are those who meditate on the Torah (teaching) of the Lord day and night. The Torah (teaching or instruction) must be mediated in everyday life so that the whole life will be a field of God’s teaching. God also speaks through day and night so we should be ready to receive a revelation day and night. In fact, life is too short to meditate only on days. Sometimes we need sleepless nights with turns and twists. That is a time of revelation. So we need night. In addition, metaphorically, day and night represent a bright side and a dark side of our lives, respectively. That is our life; we know day follows night, and vice versa. Fundamentally, our study, transformative in nature, should be patterned something like this never-ending process of meditation, a work of day and night.

II. Summarize what you know after some time in your own words
No matter what book or essay you read, you should be able to summarize it in a few sentences (a paragraph) in your own words. Embody or digest material so that it can be part of you.

III. Have a big picture and perspective
Begin with a big picture when you write or think after a process of meditation and summing up. Paul's letter to the Romans is a good example. Read the first few verses. Look at Paul’s self-description of "a slave of Christ" and apostle, his view of God, the holy scriptures, the gospel of God, the gospel concerning his Son. He begins with big words very tersely yet clearly. Paul begins with a big picture of his ministry and his thought in the beginning of the letter. How can you relate these subjects with each other?

IV. Then prove or defend your point with persuasive methods
This process also engages other readings. Compare and contrast with other readings. *Romans is an excellent example for this. Paul defends and argues for his big picture of ministry and thought spending the rest of the letter. Analyze the letter for your purpose.

V. Balance between the whole and parts
The truth is that even with a good big picture, you still have to provide details by focusing on the central ideas or key themes that you think the most important. Test whether both the whole (a big picture) and parts cohere and help one another. *example: like building a house, we need a good master plan and detailed works.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Exegetical (Interpretive) Steps in Matt 13:44-50

Yung Suk Kim

The following is a quick note of my reflections on Matthew 13:44-50. How can we teach these texts or what do we learn? Below are the interpretive steps that I suggest to take. Compare with yours. *Note: Exegesis simply means interpretation that engages both the reader and the text.

Matt 13:44-50:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.

So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (the New Revised Standard Version).

1. Read these verses many times and take notes on your own. What comes to your mind? Write down any questions, troubles, insights, and anything that you consider important.

2. With all notes and studies on the above texts, now read Matthew as a whole through the theme of "the kingdom of God."

3. See whether your understanding about Matt 13:44-50 is clearer.

4. What is your primary focus on these verses? What are most important verses?

5. What is the primary or preliminary meaning of these texts?

Then, go through the detailed questions as follows:

1) What is the kingdom of heaven? Is it different from the kingdom of God?

2) What is the Matthean vision of the kingdom of God? Who can enter? When and/or how? What is nature of the kingdom of God? The best translation?

3) What is the primary metaphoric import in each parable (treasure in a field; a merchant in search of fine pearls; a net was thrown into the sea)?

4) How do these metaphors and parables help to strengthen intended discipleship in Matthew? Relate them to Jesus' overall message in Matthew and to the entire Gospel.

Then think back and forth about what you pulled out. Take some time and walk and meditate day and night.

5) What is the most important point of learning (knowledge, ethical exhortation, identity formation, motivational insight or force, etc) that you want to communicate with other people in a particular life context?

*References about biblical interpretation: Biblical Interpretation: Theory, Process, and Criteria. click on this.