, , , , , , , , ,

My book, The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other has been reviewed by Rev. Dr. Steve Simmons in the Journal of World Christianity.

“If, theologically speaking, we have just emerged from
a Christological century, we are surely entering a pneumatological one.  With the flowering of serious, mature, engaged Pentecostal theology (as in the work of Amos Yong), and the attention it has drawn from such mainstream theologians as Harvey Cox and Jurgen Moltmann, the time for contemporary theologies of the Spirit has definitely arrived.  The question immediately arises, however (and it is a question that may account for the suspicion that Pentecostals themselves have frequently shown toward the theological enterprise): Just what is the object under consideration? The Holy Spirit, to be sure; and herein, of course, lies the problem.

To objectify the Spirit is to falsify it/her/him (we’re in trouble already), for the Spirit is notoriously and irreducibly elusive, blowing where it wills.  Attempts to think of the Spirit in either personalistic or impersonal terms seem to cry out for some third category, or none.  Likewise, efforts to present the Spirit pictorially or metaphorically inevitably catch in a freeze frame what can only be thought of, as it were, on the fly (one thinks of Thomas Torrance’s observation that theology, properly speaking, should be neither kataphatic nor apophatic, but “kataleptic”).

It is at this point that Grace Kim, Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, advances her proposal that a truly adequate pneumatology calls for an expansion beyond typically Western habits of thought – especially its tendency to think by way of abstractions, hierarchies, dichotomies, and essences – and to incorporate the Eastern concept of Chi, the life energy which is the source of being and which flows through all things.  Chi defies categorization, being, as it were, both material and spiritual, the fundamental “betweenness” that orders all things, holding them in dynamic balance (although Dr. Kim does not pursue this line of thought, it would be interesting, advancing the program laid out by works like Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters and Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics, to think of Chi in terms of current scientific theories of information and self-organization).

In contrast to Western notions of order and causality, Chi operates, speaking in Buddhist terms, by way of spontaneous co-origination; and it is precisely this fluidity, dynamism, and spontaneity that Dr. Kim sees as vital in formulating a theology for the 21st century, one that can speak to both West and East, privileging neither one nor the other, and that is truly suited to a postcolonial, hybridized, endlessly self-transforming world. Like Keiji Nishitani’s suggestion, some years back, that a spiritually exhausted West could avoid falling into an existentialistic nihilism only by adopting the more generative Buddhist conception of the void/emptiness (sunyata), Dr. Kim’s proposal that “Spirit-Chi” offers a way to navigate our present cultural moment suggests modes of thinking about Self and Self-in-relation that succumb neither to the kind of monolithic identity politics against which Amartya Sen has recently warned us, nor to mere fragmentation, alienation, and anomie.

Beyond simply noting suggestive parallels between Western theology and Eastern thought, Dr. Kim makes a serious attempt to “think with” Spirit-Chi in tackling the issues that confront a world that is at once increasingly connected and increasingly hybridized.  After an extensive introduction to both biblical descriptions of the Spirit and Eastern ideas about Chi, Dr. Kim discusses ways in which a robust understanding of “Spirit-Chi” can help us navigate our way through a world that is being increasingly colonized by hegemonic economic forces, on the one hand, and increasingly differentiated by recombinant forms of cultural adaptation, on the other.  It is in the latter that she finds the stirrings of the Spirit and, so, genuine hope for human liberation and flourishing, noting that

Many people live in the in-between space of different cultures, which is not a set space but an unbounded place that is porous and in which we can move freely. Nothing is monolithic, but all things are dynamic and multidimensional.  It is in this in-between space that we find divine existence.  The reign of God is built on the spaces between us and therefore that space becomes sacred ground. (143)

It is, finally, in recognizing the multiplicity and dynamism of one’s own identity, and in a corresponding refusal to reify the “Other,” that one can join with others in creative freedom (it is no coincidence, by the way, that Dr. Kim connects this to the classical theological doctrine of perichoresis, the ongoing “dance” among the three persons of the Trinity).  Similarly, it is in recognizing that salvation, thought of as the work of Christ in and for us through Spirit-Chi, involves body and spirit, nature and culture, matter and energy, individual and society, identity and hybridity (and here, incidentally, one finds an interesting extension of Tillich’s “ontological elements” of individualization and participation, dynamics and form, and freedom and destiny, transposed into a less idealistic key), that Christians can work with other people of good will to foster a truly just and sustainable world.  It is in her concluding discussion of these ideas in relation to issues of globalization and postcolonialism that the book makes its most distinctive and significant contribution.

Inevitably, a book of this length that covers so much territory will be somewhat programmatic in nature; but it is in taking just such a wide angle view of its subject, and doing it with considerable attention to detail, that The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other maps out a rich landscape for further exploration. It will be an excellent resource for students and teachers, and a very helpful point of departure for scholars in theology, religious studies, and social and cultural criticism.

For the journal link, click here. (You will have to create an account to view).

[read also:  Jon Rinnander’s Review]


Rev. Dr. Stephen Simmons, Adjunct Professor of Theology and Director of Continuing Education, Moravian Theological Seminary.