Sunday, August 27, 2017

John 14:6 as Engagement, Embodiment, and Empowerment

Yung Suk Kim

Excerpts from Yung Suk KimTruth, Testimony, and Transformation: A New Reading of the I am sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (Cascade, 2014)
When Jesus says in the Fourth Gospel, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," does he mean that Christianity is the only true religion, or did he mean something else? As we know, Jesus did not found a new religion nor did he pave a new way to salvation or truth. Rather, Jesus worked for God, by showing the way of God, testifying to the truth, and engaging in the work of liberation. Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, like Moses, is sent by God to liberate people from darkness. Unlike today's triumphant Christianity, the Johannine community was a small, marginalized, expelled community that struggled because of their faith. It will be very interesting to see how this struggling community was transformed into a loving community, following the model of Jesus.
I wrote this book out of my hope that the Fourth Gospel and John 14:6, in particular, could be the scripture of engagement, embodiment, and empowerment for Christian readers. I hope this book will help the reader rethink the role of the Logos or the "I am" sayings in the Fourth Gospel. In a pluralistic society, the focus of the gospel shifts from conversion or theological doctrine to the 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. 


This book would be worth reading just for the critical interrogation of numerous cherished assumptions in Johannine interpretation. . . . 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, Southern Methodist University

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, 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, Mercer University

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. Kim deploys the most challenging philosophical frameworks with facility, and communicates the results simply and clearly, keeping his focus on the real-life struggles of Christian readers in a pluralistic context. 
--Laurence Welborn, Fordham 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, Chicago Theological Seminary

*Yung Suk Kim's website

Monday, August 21, 2017

Often I forget where I live (after the solar eclipse)

Yung Suk Kim

During the solar eclipse, even though I did not see it myself, I could feel something going on in the sky, happening beyond and bigger than me. Gradually, a gloomy darkness covered the whole area. It did not last long. Gradually, it became bright just like any other afternoon.

Then, I went out to give a walk in the neighborhood. All of a sudden, I realized that I live on the beautiful planet earth. The sun is beautiful, making me live every single day. I am a beneficiary of the solar system. What a blessing!

When I am weary because of day's work, I may look up the night sky full of named and unnamed stars near and farther. I feel good, falling in love with them. I am not lonely anymore because I am precious. When there is a full darkness in the night, I may enter a deep sleep of love and comfort. Often I forget where I live and who I am.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Education is a repetition

Yung Suk Kim

Education derives from two different Latin roots: (1) "educare," which means "to train or to mold"; (2) "educere," which means "to lead out." In either case, to be a person of education, what is essentially needed is repetition. I never assume that I already know enough. Likewise, I never assume that my students know something already or correctly enough. In fact, we know in part or through the crooked mind. Only through a repetitive critical reflection on what we know or what we do, we may be better educated.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Reader-response questions on Luke 5:1-11

YungSuk Kim

Luke 5:1-11 (NRSV):
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
The following is a list of reader-response questions that I think is important to our consideration: 
  • Why does Jesus stand at the lakeside?
  • Why are the crowds thirsty for the word of God? What is the word of God that Jesus preaches?
  • Why does Jesus use boats to teach them?
  • Why does Jesus use Peter's boat?
  • Why does Jesus ask Peter to go to the deep water and let down the nets? (deep water as a difficult place or as an abundant place?)
  • Why is there an irony between the success of many fish and the crisis that boats begin to sink?
  • Why does Peter say that "I am a sinful man!"? (Is he saying that 'I am nothing'?)
  • What would be Peter's response to Jesus' word: "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people"?
  • What causes Jesus' disciples to leave everything and follow him? To do what? Compare this with the crowd's need.
You must come up with your own list of questions!!!
Then the text will be alive to you and do something to you.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Forgetting history without thorough investigation is another form of evil

Lessons from Kwangju, South Korea
Yung Suk Kim

Today is May 18, 2018. 
38 years ago today, I was a protesting student against Chun's military rule. Remember Gwangju.
Whenever I think about that day or those days when Chun Doo-hwan demolished democratic voices, my blood erupts again. 

I remember watching a violent video showing deadly cruel attacks on innocent young protesters at Gwangju, South Korea, in 1980, who were against the military Coup whose leader was Chun Doo-hwan. I was a college student at that time in another region and saw all the violent scenes through the video on campus. Some students gathered together in campus and watched the video together. I was also actively participating in anti-government protests in and outside the campus. Even though I was not there in Kwangju when hundreds of innocent protesters were killed and thousands of people were injured, my soul was severely damaged. My blood seemed to erupt reversely.  

In fact, a few weeks ago, a movie called Taxi Driver, which deals with this Gwangju event, was started to play and is being watched by millions of Koreans now. Chun was tried and imprisoned after the democratic government was established in the early 1990s. But he was too easily and fast pardoned by the civilian government. That was too bad. Forgetting history without thorough investigation and justice is another form of evil.

Now Kwangju became a holy site and symbol of Korean democracy. But many people were killed and injured and still many people suffer from it. I want to put below some old pictures that show such horrible scenes of violence and death. Actually, for years these pictures were kept on my hard drive. Justice shouts. No justice, no peace.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What does it mean to be a good writer and how is it possible?

Yung Suk Kim

Writing is a hard work. It does not occur in one day or overnight. I want to share my experience of a good writing habit that you may consider adopting. The first step is to check your interest or your inner voice. That is, ask yourself where you are interested. What is something that really puzzles you or engages you to go deeper to write something? Hear your voice and walk to think. Rest on a bench and rethink what you do. Ask again what you want to deal with and why. Even without reading anything, read yourself. In a way, writing begins with yourself. Check your voice entrenched in your daily life experience with your community. Also, realize that you are not the only one who goes through a similar life experience. Check who you are in a larger nexus of society and the global village. What kind of a voice do you want to make to the world?

The second step is to read the related core literature for your interest. Talk with the trusted individuals who may give you a list of essential books to fit your research. Talk with a librarian at your school too. Closely and slowly read one or two most important books for your research. You may spend a whole day reading one page or even one sentence. Make your free notes on the margins of the pages. Write down your questions, emotions, puzzles, or excitements right on the pages that you read over. Use color pens and highlight the words you want to revisit later. In reading, you can compare your initial thoughts about the topic with your reading and engage scholarly voices. You can change your view or reformulate your initial idea.

The third step is to brainstorm with your close, critical reading. At this time, you need only a pen and blank note. Review what you have read. Ask what you want to do. What thesis do you want to make? Why is it persuasive? How will you explain it? These three elements (thesis, theory, and method) are very important to the process of writing at a later time.

The fourth step is to outline your writing. You can make a detailed outline, considering the above three elements (thesis, theory, and method). 

The fifth and final step is to write. Follow the planned outline as much as you can. Obviously, you can revise it if you have a better or clearer idea. The best writing has a seamless structure in which the thesis is clear and the supporting evidence (theory) is convincing. In my view, there are 6 characteristics in every good writing: critical, clear, consistent, coherent, contextual, and creative. A good writing formula can be expressed like this: 2W1H+6C. 2W=What, Why. 1H=How. 6C=above 6C's. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Isn't Peter reckless (Matt 14:22-33)?

Yung Suk Kim

Isn't Peter reckless? (Matt 14:22-33)
How do you respond to the story of Matt 14:22-33?

Matt 14:22-23
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." 28 Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

Reader-response questions and comments:

1. Jesus does not ask Peter to come out of the boat and walk on the water. It is Peter who asks Jesus for his walking on the water. Why does he want such a thing?

2. In fact, the sea is not a place on which to walk. It is a place of danger. The boat must be a safe place. Thus he has to wait there. Isn't he reckless?

3. There are other disciples in the boat who are in fear and wait to be saved. What is his thought about them?

4. Once he was on the water, he walked with faith but soon failed. Why?

5. The wind ceased when Jesus and Peter got into the boat, which is a safe place. What does this imply to the readers?

In John's Gospel, Jesus is compared to Moses

Yung Suk Kim

In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is better compared to Moses than to God. While in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus appears as a great teacher like Moses, in the Fourth Gospel, he appears as a great liberator/leader like Moses. Moses is sent to Pharoah like God (Exod 7:1; c.f., 3:10-11). His mission is to liberate the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. For this purpose, he is given power and authorities. He is thoroughly an emissary sent by God.

Interestingly, in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus almost always emphasizes that he is sent by God to do the work of God, which is none other than to bring the life and light to people in a chaotic world. He is given power and authorities to do this mission. Otherwise, he never claims that he is equal to God. The opposite is true. He says that God is greater than he (John 14:28). At other times, he says that "The father and I are one" (John 10:30). What he means is that he does the work of God; they are united with the common work. This is not the language of mutual equality, as commonly misunderstood. If I say that my family is one, I do not mean that all members are the same or equal. I mean that all are united in a family, loving and working together. Jesus's relationship with God is similar.

The conclusion is that the Fourth Gospel does not portray Jesus as God. Rather, he is better compared to Moses, who is sent by God to Pharaoh to deliver the Israelites from their bondage to Egypt. Jesus is also sent by God to do God's work in a dark world: to bring life and light to the world that God loved so much. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah who came to testify to the truth of God (John 18:37).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Be who you are and be ready to change!

Yung Suk Kim

We have been long captives of the Western logic of binary oppositions. That is, if A is correct, B must be wrong. There are evil people out there, and there are good people over here. But in reality, we cannot draw a clear line between them. So to speak, good and evil reside in me too. Beyond this logic, we have to develop a thought of multiple coexistences among otherwise disparate things.

One example of the case is: "Be who you are (A) and be ready to change (B)." In a traditional Western thought, these two, A and B, seem incompatible with each other because A means to stay with one's being or to not change one's view and B means to change it. But if we understand them rightly, they are not necessarily conflicting with each other. These two can stand complementing each other. One's identity or confidence is important, and yet it needs to embrace various changes in his/her life.

In fact, everything changes. That is science and reality. The universe is expanding endlessly without limits. There is not something essential or permanent in us that does not change.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is that we need a sense of uniqueness individually, embracing tensions and changes in our human life. Be who you are! "I am that I am." No one can speak for you. Yet, you are not permanent. Embrace changes necessary to your life. There are many changes that we have to study and make them part of our life. We don't know all of them. But remember that without a proper understanding of change or living through it, our living will continue to be baseless or futile.