Introduction: Postcolonial Possibilities
Peter Goodwin Heltzel and Kay Higuera Smith
The theology of transformative love presented in Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s book, Embracing the Other: The Transformative Power of Love, is warmly welcomed in the aftermath of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Trump’s divisive rhetoric has illustrated a way of constructing stark social binaries, unveiling how socially violent they can be. For example, Trump said that “Mexicans were murderers and rapists” as a rhetorical strategy to foster the politics of resentment among white conservative Americans who think that Mexican immigrants are threatening their well-being and taking the jobs of “real Americans.” Yet the fact of the matter is that Mexicans were living in America long before white Europeans came to the Americas, with advent of European settler colonialism in the fifteenth century. Trump’s racial and gender generalizations reveal a form of identity construction in exclusively binary terms—black and white, immigrant and native—that work to maintain his white, male power and the social hierarchy that sustains it. Kim courageously questions the ideal of white masculinity in the United States and Canada, as well as the binaries that legitimate and perpetuate its ideological and institutional hegemony, arguing that all humans share the Spirit of God, the breath of life. She challenges us to breathe for love, breathe for peace, and breathe for God’s justice in the world through lives surrendered to working for a more justice, equitable, and sustainable future.
Kim’s book reads, in some ways, like a new form of Holy Ghost revival. After years of being reduced in popular theology to a subordinate role to the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is breaking forth in constructive theology today. The Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles that was ignited in 1906 by African American preacher Rev. William Seymour gave birth to the global Pentecostal movement. As a Pentecostal Presbyterian, Kim explores the Holy Spirit as a source of Chi and the dynamic energy that empowers the growing faith-rooted justice movement. Too often in the Reformed tradition, Christian monotheism has been deployed on behalf of patriarchy and white supremacy. We might add that sexism and racism have been present across the denominational spectrum, including Arminian Methodist, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox constructions of theology. Nevertheless, as a Canadian Korean Presbyterian feminist, Kim resists racism and sexism through a Spirit-led theology of transformation and hope.
Kim focuses her attention on the gender divide in our world and in the church today. Since the Holy Spirit “fell on all flesh” (Joel 2:28–29; Acts 2), why does male leadership continue to be dominant in the church, academy, and society? As a Canadian Korean, Kim is honest that the problem of patriarchy is equally problematic in Korean culture. Kim explores the ways that both religious and cultural sources and symbols are used to legitimize and perpetuate male power. Throughout her book she is searching for a way to heal the break in shalom between women and men that was shattered through patriarchal interpretations of the garden of Eden and continues in patriarchal patterns of church order and governance today.
The restoration of relationship between women and men must also go through the crucible of race, class, ethnicity, and ability. Kim begins by sharing a story of her own experiences of racism in South Africa and is critical of the role that Reformed theology had in apartheid. Since Christian theology has played a critical role in the invention and perpetration of race during and since the colonial period, constructive theology must find new ways to conceptualize God, humanity, and creation today in light of that history. For Kim, it is the Holy Spirit.
Kim reimagines the Holy Trinity through the lens of Pneumatology. Too long, she argues, Christian theology has privileged Christology in our conceptualizing of the Trinity. Shaped by her earlier discussions of wisdom Christology and “Chi pneumatology,” the present volume offers a constructive doctrine of God that she names “Spirit God.” All cultures have a notion of the Spirit, so Spirit God names the mystery of the divine in a way that destabilizes “European anthropomorphic” theologies (10) and speaks to people across the lines of race, culture, gender, and even religion.
Building on her constructive Sophia Christology in The Grace of Sophia and her Chi-pneumatology in The Holy Spirit, Chi and the Other, Kim develops a Trinitarian synthesis in Embracing the Other.1 Russian Orthodox theologian Sergei Bulgakov’s conception of Sophia as a window into the communion of love in the Holy Trinity provides a pathway for Kim to unite Sophia-Son and Spirit-Chi in a Trinitarian theology of transformative love (149–51).2 Given the ways that Christocentric theology of the West has been deployed in racist and sexist ways, Kim challenges constructive theology today to lead with the Holy Spirit.
Our four respondents take up Kim’s challenge and offer insightful implications and reflections that will engage Christians who seek serious models to address the systemic racism and patriarchy within Western Christianity that Kim so aptly identifies.
Marion Grau (MF Norwegian School of Theology) seeks greater clarification of the concept of Chi and suggests a broader set of theological interlocutors with which Kim might engage intellectually. She appreciates the honesty of Kim’s struggle with multiple dislocations; however, she ultimately is unsatisfied with what she perceives as a lost opportunity to develop responses to key questions related to Kim’s Spirit-Pneumatology. Grau argues that before any other issues can be addressed, Kim’s challenge is to present a fully orbed and historically informed analysis of how Chi is defined and functions in Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. How then, she infers, can the reader address the larger questions of diaspora existence for Asian women without expanding upon this fundamental concept? While Kim has treated the Asian religious roots of Chi extensively in her earlier works, Grau points to a postcolonial nostalgia in Kim’s project, a longing for Asian language, pattern, past, and place that Kim never fully finds.
Grau also notes the difficulty that Kim herself displays in constructing a theology that is not beholden to the long tradition of white supremacy within which theology is implicated. Western theology continues to provide the primary intellectual categories with which, ironically, Kim engages in constructing a critical non-Western theology. This is not unique to Kim, however, as many postcolonial and contextual theologians often must unmask uniquely Western assumptions in order to identify their situated and contextual nature and to offer alternatives.
In like manner, Grau pushes Kim to explore even more intimately the hybrid spaces of her existence in a way that challenges the dualisms still present in Kim’s representations. So for instance, she asks, if Kim had employed a more nuanced notion of hybridity would she then even be able to use phrases such as “foreign woman”? Such a phrase, suggests Grau, reinscribes the very binary identity construction from which Kim seeks to escape. In this context, then, Spirit-Chi does nothing more than reinforce the binary of foreigner/native that Kim is challenging. More importantly, it cloaks the manners in which these purportedly “foreign women” in the Hebrew Bible employ the powers of the weak to enfranchise themselves and shape the future of the insider group which they have joined. Grau points out that Kim does not explore this kind of complex hybridity—that of both adapting to and transforming social identity on the part of the immigrant and also the immigrant’s newly adopted social group itself. Note, however, that in this critique, Grau does not acknowledge Kim’s employment of the term “foreign women” in order to abandon it in favor of more intersectional models of identity construction.
The Holy Spirit, concludes Grau, is characterized as one who occupies the complex, rhizomatic spaces of culture—the “third spaces,” as she calls them. Perhaps, then, Grau suggests, as we expand our own theological social mapping, we might discover a Spirit-Chi that offers the kind of intersectional, complex embrace of difference and alterity that Kim herself so clearly adumbrates.
Kurt Anders Richardson (University of Toronto / Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics) considers the theological implications of Kim’s pneumatology and does so in the service of rethinking his own Christology. Richardson places Kim’s work in the category of Minjung theology. He sees her work as a constructive theology that is important in challenging the ideological underpinnings of racism worldwide.
Richardson employs Kim’s work as a springboard for his own reflection on the life-giving work and activity of the Holy Spirit in the world. At first accepting Kim’s challenge to move from the more common christological lens to a pneumatological lens, Richardson reflects on the power of the same Spirit who sustained and resurrected Jesus to work in our lives. This Spirit liberates us from systems of hierarchy and empire and brings us to worship together in a kind of unity that does not occlude and overshadow but that celebrates and values our radical otherness. Ironically, however, perhaps because of his own heritage in the Western theological canon, Richardson turns Kim’s reading back to a christological reading, in some sense demonstrating precisely what Kim is pushing back against: her claim of the West’s persistence, even in spite of ourselves at times, to privilege Christology over Pneumatology. Nevertheless, Richardson’s treatment is fair and sympathetic, drawing insights from her work for his own prophetic Baptist theological vision.
Linda Thomas (Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago) challenges Kim to rethink the entire scope and nature of doing theology in light of Kim’s desire to turn away from embedded traditions of racism and sexism. Thomas offers a Womanist reading of Kim’s work, employing what she calls “a hermeneutic of plurality.” This hermeneutic recognizes the “tension and complexity” that inheres in meaning and interpretation. Thomas celebrates Kim’s task of focusing our gaze on the Holy Spirit, in reference to whom she employs the female pronoun—for which she has good grammatical and liturgical grounds, by the way. However, she never elaborates on those grammatical or liturgical grounds, which, in this context, would be a welcome addition to the conversation. For much is at stake in considering the female nature of ruach (“spirit”) as did, for instance the ancient Syriac liturgies.3
That said, Thomas is not optimistic that Kim’s theological construct of the Spirit will be adequate to overcome the systemic and wide-ranging reach of racism and patriarchy. To be sure, she argues, new theological formulations represent a start. But without faith-rooted organizing that reaches out beyond the boundaries of communities of faith to others who also experience the “othering” of racism and patriarchy—often at the hands of those who claim Christian faith for themselves—theologizing alone will not bring about the desired changes.4 Thomas also suggests that Kim would have benefited by engaging Womanist theologians who also are reflecting on racism and patriarchy. Such an engagement, she argues, will inevitably move beyond the theological onto the public spaces, such as in the forty-day Fast of Embodied Solidarity that Thomas and others carried out for Wheaton College’s Dr. Larycia Hawkins, who was suspended for wearing hijab in solidarity with Muslim women.5 The Black Lives Matter movement is another example of public theology, in which Womanists are working alongside other women of the African diaspora for the very kind of liberation Kim envisions. These alternate models of public theological engagement that Thomas suggests are especially trenchant in light of Grau’s challenge to Kim regarding Kim’s intellectual engagement primarily with white male theologians. Thomas’s point is well taken. If Kim’s “Spirit God” theology is to deliver on its promises, it must result, first, in looking beyond the traditional European canon for a richer and more complex set of theological questions to address (which Kim indeed attempts to do), and second, in rejecting the European theological guild’s penchant for disembodied, de-historicized theorizing. For Thomas, critical theology that is not on the street betrays its perpetuation as a discipline beholden to forces that reinforce the very racism and patriarchy that Kim decries.
Jessica Wong (Azusa Pacific University) offers a challenge to the fundamental claims of Kim’s Pneumatology, suggesting an alternate Pneumatology which Wong suggests might even more effectively address the racism and patriarchy that is endemic in Western Christianity. Wong affirms Kim’s analysis of Western Christianity and her explanation of how it has become implicated in sexist and racist systems. Like Grau and Thomas, however, she too offers critical observations. She also notes the irony in Kim’s singling out for criticism Western Enlightenment conceptions while at the same time offering alternate models that draw from those same Western Enlightenment conceptions. Like them, she challenges Kim to expand her interlocutors farther beyond the Western canon.
But Wong highlights Kim’s proposal of religious diversity as variations on the same theme, or as all reflecting the same divine Spirit. Kim’s standpoint, claims Wong, occludes what Wong sees as what is good about particularism. For example, Wong perceives an occlusion of Christian particularism in both Pneumatology and Christology in Kim’s argument for effacing ontological distinctions between creature and Creator. By collapsing creature into Creator, claims Wong, Kim is missing the opportunity to affirm a creature/Creator otherness that models a kind of fellowship between ontologically distinct Others that is nevertheless life-giving and liberatory. Even the incarnation itself, which is a Spirit-induced event, argues Wong, loses its particularity in the kinds of universalizing claims that Kim makes.
Despite this, Wong appreciates Kim’s challenge to the Western Christian tradition’s overly dualistic metaphysics. However, for Wong, the Spirit-enabled incarnation is an “inbreaking” into creation of the Spirit’s work to make human/divine engagement possible. It is the embodiment of the call to embrace the Other—whether human or divine—despite our inability to master or fully discover the nature of the Other. For this is precisely what sexism and patriarchy seek to do—to master and control the Other employing a variety of coercive forces, including military, political, economic, rhetorical, and discursive. In this way, Wong offers an alternative to Kim’s panentheist Pneumatology while preserving Kim’s rejection of dualism in favor of a relational Pneumatology/theology.
Response: Grace Ji-Sun Kim
In responding to Marion Grau, Kim acknowledges that, while she has developed her concept of Chi more thoroughly in previous works, here her focus is much more on connecting a metaphysics of Chi with Christian Pneumatology specifically. In response to Grau’s critique about Kim’s employment of the phrase “foreign women,” Kim contends that it is a category that Asian women do not embrace but must contend with because it is so often applied to them by white Westerners. Thus the term itself marks a binary that Kim herself seeks to reimagine in more intersectional ways.
Kim responds to Kurt Anders Richardson by showing appreciation for his clear understanding of her concept of Chi and its significance for cross-cultural interaction. Yet she too remarks on Richardson’s efforts to steer the conversation back to Christology, a move that Kim has been keen to challenge in her book. For her, it is Pneumatology, and not Christology, that will yield the kind of fruitful dialogue across social and religious boundaries that she advocates.
In her response to Linda E. Thomas, Kim recognizes that Asian American feminist and Womanist need to work more intentionally for constructive theological collaboration. She acknowledges the tensions between the two cultures and contends that dialogue that focuses on Pneumatology is a critical and urgent task. She acknowledges that she has not advocated for the kind of embodied, justice-oriented acts of theologically informed engagement that Thomas calls for. Yet in her recognition of the need for greater dialogue, perhaps the wisdom of Womanist traditions can carry forward the important implications of Kim’s non-dualistic, embodied Spirit-God Pneumatology into such embodied, liberatory theo-praxis.
Finally, Kim responds to Jessica Wong, who presses Kim’s pneumatological panentheism to give an account of the particularity of the incarnation in light of the transcendent mystery of the Triune God. While affirming the uniqueness of Jesus’ messianic identity, Kim strategically develops the indwelling of the Spirit as a potent, non-dual metaphor of divine presence in our intercultural, interreligious global late-modern world. While Wong herself does not argue for the kind of radical dualism against which Kim defines her Pneumatology, nevertheless, Wong provides Kim an opportunity to refine her own language in order to clarify specifically what kinds of dualisms she challenges. For instance, Kim notes that the Enlightenment model as described in Edward Said’s Orientalism is one more example of how dualistic thinking within Christian tradition results in “othering” and knowledge construction that has the effect of moving entire social worlds to the discursive periphery.6 Wong’s response also prompts Kim to clarify how her notion of panentheism might be consistent with an understanding of the uniqueness of Jesus in the event of the incarnation. Further clarification on this matter, in conjunction with greater engagement of non-Western thinkers, will strengthen and undergird Kim’s arguments.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim, The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 2002); Kim, The Holy Spirit, Chi and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).↩
Sergei Bulgakov, Sophia: The Wisdom of God, an Outline of Sophiology (New York: Paisley, 1937).↩
See Megan K. DeFranza and John R. Franke, “Canon and Catholicity in Postcolonial Perspective,” in Evangelical Postcolonial Conversations: Global Awakenings in Theology and Praxis, edited by Kay Higuera Smith et al., 166–78 (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014).↩
For an introduction to faith-rooted organizing, see Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2013).↩
Manya Brachear Pashman, “Wheaton College Students, Alumni Plan Solidarity Fast,” Chicago Tribune, February 10, 2016, http://home/163979.cloudwaysapps.com/esbfrbwtsm/public_html.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-wheaton-college-professor-students-fast-met-20160209-story.html. Ruth Graham, “The Professor Wore a Hajib in Solidarity—Then Lost Her Job,” New York Times, October 13, 2016, http://home/163979.cloudwaysapps.com/esbfrbwtsm/public_html.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/magazine/the-professor-wore-a-hijab-in-solidarity-then-lost-her-job.html?_r=0↩
Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1979).↩