Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"No Longer Bound"

A Theology of Reading and Preaching
by James H. Harris

Book Link at Amazon

A Short Book Review

James Henry Harris is Professor and Chair of Preaching and Pastoral Theology at Virginia Union University and Senior Minister at the Second Baptist Church, both in Richmond, Virginia. His earlier works include The Forbidden Word (2012), The Word Made Plain (2004), and Preaching Liberation (1996). 

In this book No Longer Bound, as the title implies, Harris is truly free, though limited in a realistic sense, to engage the word of God in a still race-divided society where freedom is shackled, love is superficial, faith is idolatrous, and hope is groundless. No one can do better than he in deftly combining an art of preaching with interpretation theory, ethics, and theology. Harris claims that preaching involves an act of love, not only based on the love of God but also on the love of self and community. 

This book is more than about preaching; it asks what preaching is, why it should be embodied in the world, and how it can be holy and holistic in the preacher's community and beyond. I have never seen a book like this in the field of homiletics; this book has souls of preaching that engage everything. I am reminded by Paul: "Test everything; hold fast to what is good" (1 Thess 5:21). The preacher is no longer bound because of this responsibility; in fact, there is no boundary for the preacher because everything is in his or her radar. Harris argues that everything must be tested and interpreted for the real people today in various communities. 

The last thing I want to point out is how important the preacher's identity or self-understanding is. As a biblical scholar (New Testament) I would like to echo him with a similar note that I often say in my classrooms: "Know who you are even before reading Scripture." This book is a must read for all who preaches and teaches scriptures.

Monday, November 4, 2013

All things change -- zhū háng wú cháng (諸行無常)

Yung Suk Kim

All things change! As nature changes, so do we. A famous Buddhist phrase comes into my mind: zhū háng wú cháng (諸行無常), which means "all things change." Life is a change. Our body cells are replaced every six years. Food changes to energy through metabolism. If there is no change, there is no life. I exist because I change!

To our dismay, our culture hardly accepts this very fact that we are to live with change. We often resist aging and dying, casting an unnecessary fantasy into life beyond this world. We don't need a utopia to escape this world.

How can we live a genuine life of a change without fears about the future? More than that, what would be an ideal character of transformation we love to embrace?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

[new book] Reading Minjung Theology in the Twenty-First Century

Yung Suk Kim

I am glad to share with you that my edited book was published yesterday: Reading Minjung Theology in the Twenty-First Century (Pickwick Publications, 2013).

This edited volume brings Ahn Byung-Mu’s minjung theology into dialogue with twenty-first-century readers. Ahn Byung-Mu was one of the pioneers of Korean minjung theology. The centerpiece of his minjung theology is focused on the Greek word ochlos, understood as the divested, marginalized, powerless people.

Part 1 introduces readers to his life and theological legacy. Part 2 includes four important writings of Ahn Byung-Mu: “The Transmitters of the Jesus-Event Tradition”; “Jesus and Minjung in the Gospel of Mark,” “Minjung Theology from the Perspective of the Gospel of Mark,” and “Minjok, Minjung, and Church.” Part 3 contains a collection of articles from international scholars who evaluate and engage Ahn’s ochlos/minjung theology in their own fields and formulate critical readings of minjung theology. Responses include postcolonial, black-theology, and feminist perspectives.

Who are the ochlos today? What is the primary mission of the historical Jesus and its impact on our global lives today? What can the minjung do? What is the role of community and society? How can we engage in the postcolonial world through the eye ofochlos-minjung theology?

"A fascinating collection exploring the roots and current relevance of Korean "minjung theology" as expressed by one of its founders and most prolific exponents, Ahn Byung-Mu. The writers engage a wide range of social locations revealing both changed circumstances since Ahn's pioneering work and the ongoing importance of his work in our globalized, dominating empire. A great conversation to enter for both those already familiar with this indigenous Korean form of liberation theology and those looking to expand their listening to include voices often silenced." -- Wes Howard-Brook, Seattle University


저자 : 김영석 (편저)
편저자 김영석(YUNG SUK KIM)은 경북대학교 무역학과, 맥코믹 신학대학원을 거쳐, 밴더빌트 대학에서 신약학 박사학위를 받았다. 현재는 미국 버지니아 유니온 대학에서 초기 기독교와 신약성서신학 분야의 교수로 재직하고 있다. 영문 단행본 저서로 『고린도서에 나타난 그리스도의 몸CHRIST’S BODY IN CORINTH』(2008), 『바울서신에 관한 신학적 입문A THEOLOGICAL INTRODUCTION TO PAUL’S LETTERS』(2011) 등이 있고, 특히 최근에는 『성서해석: 이론, 과정, 규준BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION: THEORY, PROCESS, AND CRITERIA』(2013), 『성서에 관한 변혁적 독해A TRANSFORMATIVE READING OF THE BIBLE』(2013), 『진리, 증언, 변혁TRUTH, TESTIMONY, AND TRANSFORMATION』(2013)과 같이 건전한 성서해석학 이론과 인간변혁을 주제로 한 책들을 연이어 출간했다. 2011~2012년에는 릴리 재단으로부터 릴리 신학연구기금 지원(LILLY THEOLOGICAL SCHOLARS GRANT)를 받아 요한복음의 로고스 신학에 대한 연구를 진행했으며, 고린도전후서에 관한 책의 편집자로 참여한 바 있다. 현재 미국 성서학회(SBL)의 분과위원이자, 『성서와 인간 변혁JOURNAL OF BIBLE AND HUMAN TRANSFORMATION』의 편집위원으로 활동 중이다.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Truth, Testimony, and Transformation

 Yung Suk Kim

 A New Study of the "I Am" Sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel
 (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014)

Book description
Investigating various contexts of the "I am" sayings in Jewish and Hellenistic traditions, including the immediate context of the Johannine community, this book seeks to explore the themes and structure of the "I am" sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel and looks into the aspects of transformation in the Johannine community.

“For many who turn away from the Gospel of John because of its exclusivism, this deceptively slim volume can be—as its title hints—transformational. Plunging directly to the “I am” sayings, and to John 14:6 in particular, Kim sketches a new “way” to truth and life by reading John metaphorically and historically in a Jewish context and showing how the meaning of the “I am” sayings changes when they are read functionally, as descriptions of Jesus’ work. The result is a serious challenge to traditional views of Johannine theology.”
-- R. Alan Culpepper, Dean of McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University

"Yung Suk Kim’s fresh reading of the “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel in the pluralistic context of America today is characterized by an exceptional combination of methodological creativity and exegetical rigor.  Yung Suk Kim courageously engages the Gospel of John, from which interpreters have traditionally derived proof-texts for Christian claims to exclusive possession of the truth.  Building upon earlier reconstructions of the socio-cultural context of the Johannine community, Yung Suk Kim establishes that the audience addressed by John’s gospel was struggling with a crisis of identity precipitated by expulsion from the synagogue, with the attendant experiences of isolation and marginalization.  Read in this context, the “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel are revealed as affirmations of a new subjectivity among the marginalized, a subjectivity capable of including others in the embrace of divine love. 
         This extraordinarily fresh reading of the communal psychology of the self in John’s Gospel is mediated by Yung Suk Kim’s engagement with recent work in the field of “psycho-theology.” Yung Suk Kim conveys the social and ethical implications of his reading by appropriating the insights of political theology.  In his capacity to synthesize critical theory and to apply the results to the biblical text, Yung Suk Kim has few peers among contemporary New Testament scholars.  Yung Suk Kim deploys the most challenging philosophical frameworks with facility, and communicates the results simply and clearly.  Throughout, Yung Suk Kim keeps his focus on the real-life struggles of Christian readers in a pluralistic context." 
--Laurence Welborn, Professor of New Testament, Fordham University

This book would be worth reading just for the critical interrogation of numerous cherished assumptions in Johannine interpretation, including: a high Christology where Jesus is God; penal substitutionary atonement in which Jesus’ death is vicarious; the Fourth Gospel as inevitably supporting exclusivism; and salvation construed as primarily personal. Kim challenges them all but, in addition, offers a constructive theological interpretation that sets Jesus squarely in his own historical Jewish context; attends to the nuanced ways the text transforms the reader; and commissions the reader to live abundantly in a globally, radically inclusive way.
--Jaime Clark-Soles, Associate Professor of New Testament, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

Yung Suk Kim's Truth, Testimony, and Transformation strikes a delicate balance between genuine piety and rigorous biblical scholarship according to the conventions of the academic discipline.  Such faithful, accessible exposition makes the Fourth Gospel sayings much more useful as an instrument for empowering devotion rather than as a tool of empire.  This work is lyrical in its tone and liberative in its scope.  
--JoAnne Marie Terrell, Associate Professor of Ethics, Theology, and the Arts, Chicago Theological Seminary

Key Scriptures

  • 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)


PREFACE was taken from the book

1. Is John's Gospel close to the historical Jesus? How can we compare with the Synoptics?

2. Who are the Johannine Christians? Why was this Gospel written?

3. How is Jesus portrayed in the Gospel? What is his primary work to do? 
For example, Jesus never claims that he is God. The oppostie is obvious. What does he say that his work is? Look what he says: “If I don’t do the works of my Father, don’t believe me. But if I do them, and you don’t believe me, believe the works so that you can know and recognize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:37–38, Common English Bible).

4. What is Jesus' relationship to the Father?
He seems like a new Moses! In what sense?

5. What relation is there between Jesus and the Logos in the Prologue and in the entire Gospel?
The prologue does not say that Jesus is the Logos. Then, what does he have to do with the Logos? What is the Logos? Can we say the Logos is God's?

6. How can we understand incarnation theology in 1:14: “The Logos became flesh”?
John 1:14 must be understood through metaphoric sense. What does flesh represent?

7. How can we understand the “I am” sayings of Jesus?
There are seven "I am" sayings of Jesus with the predicate.

8. Does John 14:6 exclude other religions?

9. In what sense is Jesus the way, the truth, and the life?

10. How is spiritual birth different from physical birth?

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. More importantly, by extending the horizons of biblical theology to aspects of psycho-theology and political theology, theological education can be more holistic and fruitful.

Likewise, I hope this book will inform the life of the church so that Christians can be ethically more sensitive to others and/or other views of life by focusing on Jesus’ embodiment. Other religious people should not be the target of the Christian mission but partners in dialogue through mutual challenge and encouragement because of the divine presence in the world. As a result, Christian life or discipleship is more focused on the embodiment of the divine presence manifest in Jesus.

Certainly, I hope this book will develop a greater public voice for theology in society in that a just, livable, lovable society is more important than the mere theology of divine identity. Understood in this way, Christian theology is not different from Christian ethics because theology can engage in the real world. This congruence of theology and ethics is possible because the “I am” sayings are Jesus’ embodiment of God’s love at all costs. That is how the Johannine Christians understood the Logos and applied it to their lives. This idea offers new perspectives on Christianity in a pluralistic setting because now the “I am” sayings are no longer exclusive; rather, they may serve as a stimulus for interracial, intercultural, and interreligious dialogue. As Jesus embodied the divine presence through the “I am” saying of God, Christians need to embody the “I am” sayings of Jesus. When this happens, there is a true dialogue, mutual understanding, and ethical sensitivity to others. The more important thing is not a mere personal identity but an actual living of the Logos. This means that belief in Jesus is not enough. Accepting Jesus as the Logos incarnate means risking one’s life; only then, Christians are given the power of becoming the children of God (John 1:12).

Monday, March 18, 2013

The problem of certain knowledge

Yung Suk Kim

In Luke 4:16-30, Jesus preaches that God's prophets such as Elijah and Elisha were sent to the foreign land first to heal a leper called Naaman, a general of the Syrian army, and to save the widow at Zarephath, even though there were many widows and lepers in the land of Israel. So his hometown people get angry and attempt to hurl him off the cliff. This happens because they think God's love is for them first. In their eyes, Jesus is nothing but a rural man with a poor family. 

In John 9, the Pharisees also say to a man born blind who now sees: "Only we are disciples of Moses." In their eyes, all who work outside of the traditional Jewish school is not supposed to come from God. Ironically, their knowledge about God prevents them from seeing his work, which is done through Jesus.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book review of "Santa Biblia"

Yung Suk Kim

Book review of SANTA BIBLIA

In his book Santa Biblia, Gonzalez claims that interpretation of the Bible should be balanced in terms of variety of perspectives. Thus the Bible cannot be interpreted unilaterally by the so-called center group (the dominant culture, middle-class, academic circle etc.); Rather, it is to be the source of hope and strength for the powerless and the poor by reading the text interactively (true dialogue between reader and the text). In other words, the Bible should be read with a perspective; the text speaks to the reader but also the reader speaks to the text. The text should address us where we are: our contexts. Thus, reading of the Bible should be contextual (Gonzalez 16, 17).

On this basis of contextualization, the writer affirms that the Hispanic perspective can give the Christian community a new insight to the reading of the Bible. The new insight will be the importance of a variety of views by which the wholeness of the church (universal church) can be seen better than each group of perspective sees. Furthermore, he reclaims the true gospel message's transforming power in a way that marginal paradigms (marginality, poverty, mestizaje, exile and aliens and solidarity) should play a role in the Christian community. In this approach, he eventually tries to solve the problem of marginality by reaffirming the power of marginality which has been embedded in the Bible stories. The writer's wish is that the Bible be the source of hope and strength to all who want to live out the true gospel in solidarity with the marginalized.

Gonzalez supports his claim about the importance of Hispanic paradigms in several ways. First, he believes that there is no such an objective knowledge that can illumine the truth (15). The marginal view is another angle to be reclaimed. In this way, many distortions about biblical interpretations can be corrected, and the overlooked things are reclaimed: for instance, when Jesus' parables and the Sabbath law of the Ten Commandment are viewed from "the perspective of the poor," they have a new meaning: reversal of society's justice like "give and take," thereby reclaiming deeper level of justice by giving due return to all (58). Likewise, he points to the right to work and justice of God: fair distribution to people who need for their lives (61-64).

Second, the author takes examples of marginal stories in the Bible. To take a few of them: Abraham's call, Ruth's choice, Joseph's life in Egypt, and Paul's gentile mission. The history of Israel began with the call of Abraham. He had to leave for an unknown land as an alien but with faith in God and with hope for the unseen future. Since then, God has remembered the aliens and strangers and moved them toward a more inclusive community (89). Gonzalez affirms that the Bible itself is the story of people of the voiceless but with voices. Their voices were calling God's name. In the midst of difficulties and despair, God was with them. Their powerlessness was their opportunity to call God. In return, God gives them hope and energy to overcome hardships.

Finally, Gonzalez leads us to the very history of Christianity and Jesus. He states that the history of Christianity is "the conversion of Christianity" as suggested in the encounter of Peter with Cornelius (51). The center, Peter realized a new meaning of the gospel through his encounter with the marginalized person, Cornelius. In other words, he insists on the so-called "border approach" - the encounter of "two cultures and two worldviews" (86). At this point, the writer even portrays Jesus as mestizo Jesus (90). In a sense, he seems to state that to be a good Christian implies that each has to live out "mestizaje" in one's daily life, in ways that on one hand, each lives in solidarity with the poor, the powerless and the marginalized, on the other hand, each needs to reaffirm one's own "mestizaje" in the very being of Christian (87).

This book gave me new insights to the biblical interpretation that the process of interpretation involves a perspective that can contribute to the larger community of faith. There is the one universal church as one body of Christ, but there are many members in it with many perspectives and many different stories. But diversity is the essential factor in enriching others and the whole church by opening ourselves to listen to other views. In this sense, communication among Christians and ecumenical efforts toward the more inclusive communities is crucial.

Another insight is the need to strike a balance between theology and practice. Being disciples means living out the Christian gospel - good news to everybody - by seeking good news from the Bible and living it out in everyday life.

The last insight is that mission takes place at the borders. Mutual interaction in those places is very important. This border mission implies that we all need to seek out those who occupy a different place on Christian landscape and be ready to change ourselves as the new understanding of our faith challenges us. Gospel or good news is permeated through this border area because God is closer to the people of struggle who desperately need help and hope for the future. New history and new beginning take place at the border. I need to participate in that border in solidarity with the marginalized. I have a strong conviction that my "sitz-im-leben" - the similar experiences as the latinos/latinas - will be used for making my border mission happen.

I have to point out small weaknesses in this book, though. It is the danger of relativism. If all theologies are perspectival and contextual, all are good in their contexts. What is the central place or criteria to affirm a kind of universal truth in the world? Human perspectives are emphasized too much. This being the case, the question is where does God stand? My question is about God's place in our different perspectives. Had Gonzalez developed this point of divine initiative, he would have avoided this problem of his overemphasis on human perspective. That is to say, the Holy Spirit's work through our ministry should have been elaborated in order that each perspective can be valid.

Another problem is that Gonzalez did not explicitly show the importance of community in his development of the perspectival view of the Hispanic paradigms. Though he posed general Hispanic paradigms from the whole Hispanic community, one thing he overlooked is how each perspective can be checked and filtered through the larger communities. In other words, it is about how Hispanic view can be balanced among the universal church. What other perspectives are available to see a complete picture of the landscape, and how can we get closer to them? Even though he suggested the contrasting and dominating views in the discussion of the Hispanic paradigms, if he had elaborated about other views which could show the other part of the landscape the Hispanic lens could easily miss, I would have had the more sense of balance in this book.

*NOTE:  Biblical Interpretation: Theory, Process, and Criteria.

Book review of "Jesus: a New Vision"

Yung Suk Kim

Review of Marcus Borg, Jesus: a New Vision

In his book Jesus: A New Vision, Borg advocates a new image of Jesus: a person filled with the Spirit who sought to transform the social world of first-century Palestine by the politics of compassion (an alternative consciousness) against culture's conventional wisdom and the politics of holiness.

Borg's scholarly study and reflection on the historical Jesus began with rejecting the two dominant images of Jesus. The first, popular image of Jesus is a divine being who came to the world to die for the redemption of sinners and then ascended to the heaven. The second image is the eschatological prophet, who mistakenly predicted the end of the world in his own time. Borg rejects the first image because it portrays Jesus through the faith lens of post-Easter Christians. Such portrayal is distant from the historical Jesus' life and death. He also refuses to take the second image of skepticism about the historical Jesus because it depicts Jesus only as the eschatological prophet -- who failed to bring about the end of the world. Against these two images, Borg emphasizes the importance of the historical Jesus viewed from a new angle of knowing what Jesus was: a Spirit-filled person in the charismatic stream of Judaism.

To support his thesis that Jesus was a Spirit-filled person who sought to change the religious social world of first-century Palestine, Borg works on the two organizing principles: Spirit and culture. Borg claims that the world of the Spirit is real and Jesus had deep, intimate relationships with the Spirit. The author does not stop here but relates this reality of the Spirit with culture. That is to say, a Spirit-filled person could not remove himself from the culture in which he lived.

In discussing the world of the Spirit, the author states that the reality of the Spirit has been present not only in the biblical tradition and but also in the social, scientific studies of paranormal experiences (universal primordial tradition). In the biblical tradition, Israel's story itself was the story of the interaction between the world of the Spirit and the world of ordinary experiences. The Spirit of the world became part of their lives. Moses and the prophets were also Spirit-filled mediators. In social, scientific studies of paranormal experiences, cross-culturally, the world of Spirit has been also accessed by the charismatic who entered it and experienced the world of the Spirit.

Borg says that the biblical tradition of Spirit-filled mediators is very significant to understanding the historical Jesus. The reality of the another world (the invisible world of the Spirit) was not unusual to those people of the ancient world, unlike the modern people who disregard the reality of the invisible world simply because it seems to be unscientific, superstitious, or psychotic.

Borg also argues that Jesus stood in the ecstatic, mystical tradition of biblical and Jewish religion. He lists the examples of this trait demonstrated by his internal life: his prayer life, the visions he experienced, his sense of intimacy with God. All his life was full of ecstatic, mystical experiences with the Spirit. He was a person of the Spirit. A corollary was that Jesus as a Spirit-filled person evidenced his life of the Spirit by the mighty deeds of exorcisms and healing. Exorcism and healing are good examples which demonstrate his charismatic power that flowed out of his deep encounter with the Spirit.

In discussing Jesus' relation to the culture, Borg shows a contrast between the politics of holiness and the politics of compassion. The social world of first-century Palestine was under the pressure of Roman occupation and was operated by the politics of holiness, which separated the pure from the impure, and insiders from outsiders. But Jesus challenged with the politics of compassion, this prevailing holiness-ridden culture and the conventional wisdom of that social world, which centers around "family, wealth, honor, and virtue, all shaped by a religious framework" (81). This self-oriented culture was a focus of transformation. Jesus was filled with God?s compassion to change his social world into a transforming community of compassion filled with love, acceptance, and inclusiveness.

Borg, then, using four social, religious types, portrays Jesus, as sage, revitalization movement founder, prophet, and challenge. First of all, Jesus, as sage, was both radical and subversive. Jesus critiqued the conventional wisdom of the Jewish social world by asking his people to turn to God rather than to their religion of holiness politics. Spirit-filled Jesus called his people to center themselves on God and to change their hearts and minds so that they see things in a new way: the narrow way, the way of "dying to the self" in place of the broad way that seeks wealth, power, honor, and this-worldly securities.

Second, as revitalization movement founder, Jesus focused on the renewal of Israel rather than creating a new religion, in the midst of a crisis in the Jewish social world: "the growing internal division within Jewish society, and the deepening of the conflict with Rome" (142). Jesus? renewal movement is summarized by his "alternative community with an alternative consciousness" rooted in the Spirit (142). His alternative consciousness is to reverse the dominant consciousness of conventional wisdom through his vision of transforming Israel. Jesus calls his people to change their consciousness of holiness politics. Borg states that revitalization movement stayed in the frame of Judaism. He put this rightly: "Jesus remained deeply Jewish, even as he radicalized Judaism" (141).

Third, as a prophet, Jesus similarly assumes the job of traditional prophets who indict, threaten, and call to change. Borg points out that "the purpose of the prophets was not to reveal the future but to change it" (154). The author also points out that Jesus was not really speaking about the final judgment or about the kingdom of God that would come very soon. But Jesus' concern was just to change the present lives of his people by speaking out prophetic utterances to bring about the real change of heart to God-centered.
Finally, Borg picture Jesus as a challenge; Jesus risked his life and went to Jerusalem to issue the call to change, and "to make a final appeal" to his people at the center of their national and religious life (172). Borg states that the death of Jesus would be the result of his sojourn in Jerusalem, not the purpose of his journey. Jesus was killed because he sought to transform his own culture, in the power of the Spirit.

This book sheds a fresh light on the understanding of the historical Jesus. A new image of Jesus as a Spirit-filled person is very relevant to the contemporary church and moderns as well. The first significance or relevance is that the reality of another dimension (the world of the Spirit) is real beyond the visible world. Moderns are so caught up with the first dimension of the material world that they cannot consider things to be real if they do not see them. They are so boastful of the power of human reason. In fact, modern technology and science force us not to believe in the power of the Spirit because human reason is so elevated. But the realization of another dimension of the world gives rise to a new understanding of humanity, who was supposed to have genuine encounters with the Spirit. In the mainstream church where I belong, this reality of the unseen but powerful world of the Spirit is not fully recognized. I think we need to grasp the importance of personal encounter with the Spirit one way or another in our church. In this way, we can strike a balance between the bodily and spiritual life.

Another relevance to today's church is that the real spirituality is not distant from compassion with which society can be changed to the culture. In other words, the Spirit-filled person should work for the sake of a community to transform the dominant way of culture in which Christians are called into to live out Jesus' life (Spirit-filled life with compassion). Unfortunately, however, many Christians think of spirituality as the subjective reality of experiences that has nothing to do with compassion to change the social world of our time and culture.

Still another relevance to our churches is the distinction between knowing about God and knowing God. Knowing God through experiences can be a living reality. A Christian life can be enriched by the actual living relationship with God (the Spirit). Knowing about God is not sufficient to living out the life of Spirit-filled compassion. A compassionate work can be done in a personal, intimate relationship with the Spirit.

If I find a small weakness of this book, Borg could have dealt with the elements of culture or Judaism as to how they shaped Jesus' identity. The other small weakness is that Jesus' humanity is not much addressed because of too much focus on the world of the Spirit. If Borg had had a balance between the Spirit and the humanity of Jesus, the picture of Jesus would have been more realistic or appealing to us.

*NOTE: This review was written when I was an M.Div student in late 1990s. I am now a professor of the New Testament and early Christianity. My recent book: Truth, Testimony, and Transformation: A New Reading of the I AM sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What is biblical interpretation?

Theory, Process, and Criteria

Yung Suk Kim asks important questions in Biblical Interpretation: Why do we care about the Bible and biblical interpretation? How do we know which interpretation is better? He expertly brings to the fore the essential elements of interpretation—the reader, the text, and the reading lens—and attempts to explore a set of criteria for solid interpretation. While celebrating the diversity of biblical interpretation, Kim warns that not all interpretations are valid, legitimate, or healthy because interpretation involves the complex process of what he calls critical contextual biblical interpretation. He suggests that readers engage with the text by asking important questions of their own: Why do we read? How do we read? and What do we read?

Unique features
This book explains the process and nature of biblical interpretation that covers a wide array of interpretive approaches at work today. Each chapter is followed by questions for further reflection or discussion. The last chapter has a test case of critical contextual biblical interpretation, using the texts that have a theme of “the kingdom of God” in the Bible. Readers will have time to engage these related texts and theme of the kingdom, being aware of a critical process of interpretation and a set of criteria for sound interpretation in mind.

Why did I write this book?
The current biblical scholarship has tensions between a traditional, historical approach and a non-traditional, contextual, ideological approach. I wrote this book to address various issues of fragmentary biblical scholarship and to suggest an overall reading paradigm or a strategy of interpretation that considers both a critical and contextual nature of biblical interpretation. The nature and goal of biblical interpretation is not merely to decode ancient texts on their own but to engage them both in ancient and contemporary contexts so that we may find ourselves deeply challenged toward a transformation of the self, neighbors, and the world.

What do colleagues say about this book? (Endorsement)
Kim analyzes the process of biblical interpretation, with provocative accent. While acknowledging the value of historical-critical and literary-narrative contributions, Kim privileges the reader-response dimension. His contribution is distinctive in its depth analysis of the interplay between the interpreter and the text.  He takes account of the expected diversity of interpretation, given the diverse storied-life experiences of interpreters.  He draws on numerous contemporary theorists (Gadamer, Lacan, Foucault, Palmer), to blend theory with what, why, and how “real readers” understand Scripture differently.  But he also speaks of “good” and “bad” interpretation, and here his judgments deal with how interpreters understand key biblical motifs such as kingdom of God, atonement, subordination, and mutuality.  The book is an enriching collateral resource for graduate-level courses on biblical interpretation.
—Willard Swartley, Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

In this compelling introduction to the dynamics of Biblical interpretation Yung Suk Kim builds on established methods of interpretation to promote new strategies of reading in which the question of what the text means is bound together with questions about the identity and circumstances of readers. With sensitivity to the ethics of interpretation and the values of solidarity and diversity, this book opens a way to focus on timely interpretations of the Biblical text for today that engage with but are not limited to an original meaning complex. 
Ray Pickett, Professor of New Testament at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

At last, I have found that brief introduction to biblical interpretation I’ve been looking for! Kim clearly and succinctly lays out the issues and options, and, to encourage the reader to go deeper, he includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter. I look forward to using this book in class! I could also see it being used in upper-level undergraduate religion courses and even in church study groups. May this gem have a long and well-traveled life!
Michael Willett Newheart, Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Howard University School of Divinity

Yung Suk Kim in his book Biblical Interpretation provides a taut and exciting analysis of various approaches to biblical interpretation that have moved to the forefront of textuality and postmodern criticism. This book provides a comprehensive, hopeful, and practical vision to the reader, scholar, and preacher for understanding biblical texts in more critical and egalitarian ways.  Yung Suk Kim's vision is to bring many new, and heretofore unheard voices, to the table in an effort to understand and interpret biblical texts in fresh and creative ways--ways that will make pulpit preaching a direct beneficiary of the entire process.  In this sense, he contributes to the liberation of all peoples and advances the art of reading and interpretation as a necessary and powerful contextual event.
James Henry Harris, Professor of preaching and practical theology at the Graduate School of Theology, Virginia Union University

Questions for further reflection or discussion


1. What is biblical authority? How do we know which authority we
should follow? Who decides?
2. What is the relation between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New
Testament? Is there continuity or discontinuity between them? Explain
in each case.
3. What is textual criticism? Why are there so many variant readings in
manuscript traditions? What do they reveal?
4. Why does translation matter? Compare the following texts of the two
translation versions (NRSV and NIV): Rom 3:21–26. What are major
differences between these two versions? On other occasions, translation
of a particular word (Greek or Hebrew) is critical. Look at the
following Greek words and compare the translation of each word in
different English versions: erga nomou (Gal 2:16) and katalambano
(John 1:5).
5. Why does interpretation matter? What is the role of the reader? Explain
the importance of interpretation using erga nomou (Gal 2:16).
6. Using John 14:6 (“I am the way”), discuss various ways of interpreting
“the way.” What are the three elements of interpretation?


1. Think about the idea of text. Is it fixed or open?
2. What does the text refer to? Who is the author? Single or collective?
3. Is the Bible different from the other sacred books? In what ways? Is
there similarity or difference?
4. How are individual texts authoritative or sacred? Who decides?
5. Are all the books of the Bible equally valid and important or selectively
authoritative? Why?
6. List various ways of reading texts. Why are there many ways? Is the
diversity of textual methods good or dangerous?
7. Evaluate the statement “texts do not mean, but we mean with texts.”


1. What is the concept of context or contextuality? Is it limited to the
reader or to the text?
2. Why is there diversity of life contexts in which people read the Bible?
3. Are ancient readers of the texts also contextual? Here ancient readers
refer to the members of the religious community for whom particular
texts are produced or read.
4. Is it possible that modern readers can communicate with ancient
readers? What is the condition for such a communication and what
does it mean to communicate in this context?
5. Why is the contextuality of modern readers important in interpreting
texts? Is a contextual reading an eisegesis in the sense that it is a willynilly
reading? What is the condition to avoid an eisegesis?
6. Does a text address all life contexts that we may need to be resolved?
7. What is the particular role of the reader when he or she engages the


1. What is engagement of the text and the reader? Is it possible to interpret
the text without engaging? What difference is there between an
engaged reading and disengaged reading?
2. Think about the three elements of biblical interpretation: the reader,
theological lens, and the text. Does this three-element-interpretation
make sense? Why or why not?
3. Talk about the needs of the reader. Explain the relation between the
reader’s needs and the text’s role. Does the text address all issues of
the reader?
4. What is a theological lens? How do theological concepts of vocabulary
affect the reader? Also, talk about the role of text.
5. Think about atonement as you read the idea of “Christ died for us”
in Rom 5:8, Gal 1:4, 1 Thess 5:6–10, and Mark 10:45. How many
concepts of atonement are possible? Which view of atonement is the
better one? Why?
6. What is the role of the reader in deciding the right interpretation?


1. What is bad interpretation? What are some symptoms of it? Be specific
and take an example from your experience.
2. Why are bad interpretations not checked? What motivation is behind
3. What do you think the best criteria for biblical interpretation will be?
List all of them and compare with others.
4. Discuss the suggested criteria for solid interpretation in this chapter:
critical diversity and solidarity, congruence, and balance.
5. Interpret John 14:1–21 and develop your own set of criteria for solid
interpretation. Explain them to others. This topic may be a group

CHAPTER 6                         

1. In your view, what are the most important issues facing humanity or
Christians in particular, as you contemplate on the kingdom of God?
2. Read the two accounts of creation in Gen 1–2, and discuss meaning
of human beings in terms of the purpose of human life in the world.
3. How do we understand human suffering or vulnerability of human
lives as we think of the kingdom of God?
4. A mega-church can be evidence of failure of a mission started by Jesus.
Do you agree?
5. When and why is the kingdom (malkuth in Hebrew) introduced and
emphasized in the Hebrew Scriptures? Include times of prosperity
and suffering.
6. Does the New Testament continue the tradition of the kingdom of
God portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures? Talk about some aspects of
continuity and some aspects of discontinuity.
7. Discuss the different uses of the kingdom of God in the New Testament.
How is each Gospel different? Compare with Paul’s letters. How
is the kingdom of God in Paul’s letters different from the so-called
Deutero-Pauline and Pastorals?
8. Compare the historical Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God. Is
his teaching continued in the canonical Gospels? If different, what is
his primary teaching about it?
9. Is the historical Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God primarily
apocalyptic or sapiential?
10. What is the kingdom of God for you? Address specific issues about
the kingdom of God. Discuss pros and cons of a few readings of the
kingdom of God: God’s reign of justice as the kingdom of God, apocalyptic
reality of a new world as the kingdom of God, the church as
the kingdom of God, and personal experience of God’s grace as the
kingdom of God.
11. How can you relate Jesus’ death to the kingdom of God? Relationships?