Friday, March 31, 2017

Green Seminary Initiatives and John's Gospel: Logos and God's Creation

Yung Suk Kim

I was asked to give my opinion about New Testament insights into good creation. The one who asked me about this is one of my colleagues, and she is committed to the Green Seminary Initiatives. I visited this website and found the philosophy of the Initiative as follows:

The Green Seminary Initiative is premised on two convictions: The first is that the religious community has a unique and significant calling to turn back human-caused environmental destruction and to participate in bringing all of creation into health and wholeness. The second conviction is that theological schools should provide clergy and religious leaders with the tools necessary for them to lead their congregations, communities and organizations in meeting their unique call to protect and restore creation.

The Green Seminary Initiative fosters efforts by theological schools and seminaries to incorporate care for creation into the identity and mission of the institution, such that it becomes a foundational part of the academic program and an integral part of the ethos of the whole institution.

Then I reflected on the New Testament themes and came up with John's Gospel, which is the gospel of the Logos (Reason or Word of God). In the Johannine prologue and throughout the gospel, the pivotal theme is "life and light." The Johannine Logos provides "life and light" to the world of corruption and darkness. Thus Jesus comes to the world as the Logos incarnate to testify to the truth of God (John 1:14; 18:37). "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son ... " (3:16).

Jesus's mission is to embody and deliver God's word (which is the Logos) and restore God's creation full of life and light. John was written to a community of separation and a world of darkness so that people may have life and light (20:31). For example, the man born blind recovered his sight (John 9) and became a new person. Abundant life and light come from God.

God's creation must be vibrant and dynamic, and it must be fully recovered. When people follow the work of Jesus, as he is the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), they can help restore the broken systems of God's world. People live in darkness because they participate in the destruction and misuse of God's creation. What they need is to abide in God and also in Jesus. This means that they have to keep Jesus's teaching (8:31-32). When they follow the way that Jesus lived, which is none other than to restore life and light to people in need, including God's creation as a whole. Even after Jesus is gone, he promises to send the Paraclete to the world so that his work of the Logos may continue in it.

In John, the world (kosmos) is not a place to leave but to transform through the love of God. For example, Jesus prays to the father in his long prayer before he goes to the father: "I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one" (17:15). His disciples must stay in the world even if the world will hate them. If Jesus prayed otherwise, he must be a Gnostic Christ. In fact, Jesus finished his work and now asks his disciples to continue his work. He prays like this: "As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world" (17:18).

A few years ago, I wrote a small book on John's Gospel, titled Truth, Testimony, and Transformation. In it, I claimed that Jesus embodies the Logos in a hostile, lifeless, lightless world. The implication is that when people follow the way of God, this world will become a healthy, sustainable place.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Paul meets Laozi: "a still more excellent WAY" (1 Cor 12:31-13:8)

Yung Suk Kim

Paul talks about "a more excellent way" in Christian life. Earlier, he talked about various gifts of God: for example, speaking in tongue or prophesying. The Corinthians were divided over the issue of which gift is greater or who are more gifted. But ultimately, all gifts should be informed by love, which is a more excellent way, according to Paul. Thus he says in 1 Cor 12:31-13:3:

But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Cor 12:31-13:3).

        "The way" in Greek is hodos . Paul says that the most important way of life is love, which is expressed concretely in a real life situation. It is an action verb, as he continues to say in 1 Cor 13:4-8:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end (1 Cor 13:4-8).

        I cannot help but think about Laozi, who wrote the Dao De Jing, a classical wisdom book, which means "the book of the way and virtue." In a way, Paul meets this ancient sage through his thought. Both of them talk about "the way." For Laozi, "the way" (dao) is a fundamental way of life that seeks the way of nature, which is the way of heaven. Like Paul, he seeks to explore a most excellent way of life through his short book. For example, Laozi says: "The way of heaven reduces what is excessive and supplements what is insufficient. The humanistic way is different. It reduces the insufficient and increases the excessive."

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The power of poetic imagination: "Stream and waters" (Amos 5:24)

Yung Suk Kim

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:21-24).

Amos uses his poetic imagination to challenge Israelites to live by justice and righteousness. Justice must run like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Justice must sound bigger than any other thing. The prophet says that God does not want festivals, burnt offerings, or noisy music. Rather, God wants to hear a big sound of justice rolling like a river. Justice must be heard everywhere and it requires a fair distribution of wealth, economic justice for all. Waters symbolizes the vibrant, dynamic power of justice effective to all.

         Then, the prophet gives us another poetic image of the stream and relates it to righteousness. A stream lies in the lowest valley and flows steadily and quietly. And the source of a stream is rain from above. With this image of a stream, "flowing like an ever-flowing stream" must mean that we must be humble before God and others because who we are is possible because of God's grace. In this regard, righteousness is relational language that seeks God's way in everyday life as in a never-drying stream.

         In the end, the prophet says we need both waters and stream in our life. We need big waters of justice in society. Yet a big river is not made on its own. It is the result of many streams. But even a stream is not possible without rain from above. Thus a justice without righteousness would be noisy music.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Letter to President Trump

Yung Suk Kim
Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity
Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology
Virginia Union University, in Richmond, Virginia

March 14, 2017

Dear President Trump, Vice President Pence, Members of the Trump Administration and 115th Congress,

        I love this country, my new home, and about a year ago all my family members became US citizens. That was our glad choice to join millions of immigrants who already became the citizens of this great country---the place of opportunities and cultural diversity as well as high moral values embodying more justice and freedom for all people. But recently, I and others feel uncertain about this joyful expectation about our country’s ideals and achievements. I see and hear that diversity and otherness are seen suspicious and checked at many corners of this country. Though there is a long way to go, our country has made conscious efforts to embrace more of diversity, free thought, and human dignity. There are many colors on earth, named or unnamed; but all of them are beautiful. There are many flowers in the world, named or unnamed; no question that all are splendid. All of them are flowers, small or big, short or tall. The flower is the flower. There are many people of color on our globe, documented or undocumented; all of them are God’s masterpiece. Yellow is color, black is color, and white is also color. All races are colored and cultured. Some are more distinctive than others. Yet all represent a colorful representation of God’s world where different thoughts and lifestyles coexist.

        As a biblical scholar, author, and professor teaching at a graduate theological school, in Richmond, Virginia, my vocation is to communicate the love of God to all, advocating diversity in our lives. I believe that diversity is the way that the world exists and prospers. Differences, whether personally or culturally, are not wrong by themselves but can be a moment of engagement with one another through the love of God. In God’s creation, there are many colors, many races, many cultures, many stories, and many histories. One cannot represent all. It is the imperial culture that does not embrace diversity. 


Yung Suk Kim
Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity
Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology
Virginia Union University, in Richmond, Virginia

Friday, March 3, 2017

Critical biblical interpretation

Yung Suk Kim

Overall, the purpose of biblical studies is to raise critical awareness of biblical texts and help students to engage them critically and faithfully.

The Bible did not fall from the sky, and therefore, we must examine it in its social, historical contexts. This does not mean that there is a single meaning or a single approach. The bottom line is that any reading that ignores the historical context is a naive interpretation.

In addition, biblical texts are literary, theological products that have a role to play in religious communities. We have to see faith struggles and transformative experiences of biblical communities.

Also, we must recognize and celebrate the diverse ways of reading the text. Texts inspire readers to do new things and challenge them to do things differently. But at the same time, we must be careful that nothing in the text is taken for granted. We should be able to name oppressive or abusive texts. At other times, we need to unlearn what we know. Sometimes, the problem is we know too much about the Bible.

Therefore, readers need critical, self-critical, and faithful stance toward biblical texts. They must know where they are from and what they are up to. They should also take responsibility for their interpretation.