The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology
The title of this book is a bit deceptive. Yes, Grace Kim, a Korean American theologian who teaches at Moravian Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, does present the global and intercultural pneumatology suggested in the volume sub-title. However, she does much more than this, in effect proposing via a pneumatological springboard nothing less than a global and intercultural theology. The fi rst two chapters and the last twenty pages are explicitly pneumatological, at least in the broad and generic senses of the notion of spirit. Discussions of chi and the Holy Spirit, take up, respectively, the initial chapters, and the argument concludes at the end with the call for a “Spirit-chi” or new pneumatology that is liberative, inclusive, holistic, and empowering for an intercultural Christianity. But the middle of the book, about seventy pages worth, provides the telos for Kim’s global pneumatology.
What she is after is a set of theological categories that can fund a postcolonial, postpatriarchal, and post-racialized Christian discourse and way of life. This involves an embrace of otherness, one in which a particularly Western Christianity is invited to be open to the riches of the Eastern world. Here is where Kim’s comparative Spirit-chi pneumatology comes in: the similarities-in-difference – or, perhaps more accurately stated regarding Kim’s formulation, the differences-in-similarities (an important rephrasing for reasons that I will return to momentarily) – between these two notions invite such a hybrid reconstruction. Such a theological reorientation, invigorated by Spirit-chi reflection and hybrid articulation, overcomes the marginalizating tendencies of a Eurocentric theological tradition by opening up space for a hyphenated, inbetween, and interstitial way of thinking and living. Thus does Kim’s intercultural pneumatology model what she calls a “third space” between West and East.
Theologically, Kim’s global pneumatology arguably attempts to build on what can be understood as the logic of monotheism, albeit in this case applied in an Eastern direction. What I mean can be best comprehended in terms of how Christians have wrestled theologically within a monotheistic context. Arguments have been and continue to be made that at a theological level, if Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the God who has created the world, then insofar as there is only one world, they must therefore refer to the same God. This is how I see the logic of monotheism being exploited for interreligious dialogue among the Abrahamic traditions. One way to understand Kim’s accomplishment here is as developing this monotheistic logic pneumatologically in dialogue with Eastern traditions. This is a brilliant move since, although the East Asian context lacks supreme divine beings, the notion of chi is widespread.
This volume argues that if Christians understand the Holy Spirit as the breath of life, and if East Asians understand chi also as the breath of life, then they can only be referring to the same reality. At this ontological-theological level of abstraction, the argument holds. But the same challenges persist since, whether the logic of monotheism is applied East or West, it only goes as far as disputants or dialogue partners are willing to leave Jesus out of the center of the discussion. When Jesus is factored in, then the similarities between God and Allah break down. In Kim’s case, introducing Jesus into the discussion raises the question whether we can think of chi particularly as the Spirit of Jesus.
Epistemologically, however, the argument in this book will be persuasive only
insofar as we not only agree but also embrace as normative what Kim calls Asian modes of thought, which “stresses balance and harmony as compared to Western thinking, which is based in contrasts and separations” (pp. 131-32). At one level, such a generalization is eminently contestable. But let’s grant this for a moment, not necessarily agreeing about the Eastern or Western provenance of these habits of thinking, but as alternative options for theological refl ection. In other words, let’s say that we could opt theologically to either emphasize similarities or differences. The latter strategy might be willing to begin by acknowledging similarities across religious and cultural traditions, but in the end, will highlight the differences.
Kim, on the other hand, has clearly opted for the former approach. While she does grant that there are differences between East Asian notions of chi and Western Christian views of the Holy Spirit, she fi nds that these are ultimately less important than the similarities. This is why, as I mentioned above, her presentation is one of differences in- similarities, rather than one of similarities-in-differences (as might be urged by evangelical theologians, for instance). These epistemological sensibilities will lead either to the kind of hybrid and synthesizing theology that Kim proposes here or to emphases on what is distinctive and particular about each tradition (whether for Easterners or Westerners).
If one stayed at this theological and epistemological level, however, then one
misses the point of Kim’s work. What she is after is a theological vision that can
enable healing the wounds of a violent world, that can welcome strangers, and
that can be hospitable even to those who we might not be able to agree with. So is it possible for readers to affirm Kim’s quest for reconciliation across cultures and around the world but not necessarily accept her new pneumatology? Possibly. Yet one might also wonder if it is possible for such a global, intercultural, and synthesizing pneumatological-theology to resist the colonialism, patriarchialism, and racism that Kim is determined to oppose. This question emerges since, if differences are inevitably subordinated to similarities, how can these –isms ultimately be rejected as “other”? Kim might respond that only a Spirit-chi pneumatological theology is capable of redeeming these fallen aspects of the human condition so that what is good is carried forward and preserved.
Whether one agrees ultimately with Kim, The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other
does the hard work of bringing Christian theology into dialogue with Eastern
traditions. In an increasingly shrinking global village, Christians can no longer avoid doing theology only with Western resources. Kim provides one model of how this essential work is to be done. May many others take up this important task.
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[Read also: Steve Simmon's review]
Amos Yong is J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and director of their PhD in Renewal Studies program. His graduate education includes degrees in theology, history, and religious studies from Western Evangelical Seminary and Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, and Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, and an undergraduate degree from Bethany University of the Assemblies of God. He has authored or edited two dozen volumes (for a full list of publications, see http://www.regent.edu/acad/schdiv/faculty_staff/faculty/yong.cfm). He and his wife, Alma, have three children – Aizaiah (married to Neddy), on the pastoral team at New Life Church in Renton Washington; Alyssa, a junior at Vanguard University (Costa Mesa, California); and Annalisa, a senior in high school in Chesapeake, Virginia. Click here for his amazon book page.