Healing Our Broken Humanity:
Practices for Revitalizing the Church and Renewing the World
Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Graham Hill
- Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic Press, August 2018. 208 pages. $17.00. Paperback. ISBN 9780830845415. For other formats: Link to Publisher’s Website.
I woke last night shortly after 1:00 a.m. in a shivering sweat. The vaccination I received the morning before at Morning Star Baptist, a Black church in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood, was at work in my body. In my weakening, new life was born. For my health and the renewal of longed for connections, there was first a necessary suffering through which I chose to pass. Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill, authors of Healing Our Broken Humanity, know that for the body of Christ to find healing from the sicknesses that have plagued it since it became a breeding ground of the diseases of coloniality and whiteness, the church too must choose a path of healing which passes through the dark night. Like a broken bone fused at the wrong angle which must be rebroken to heal properly, the heart of the church must be broken open once again to heal from the warped shapes it assumed.
The authors teach us it is only by letting go and allowing our identities to be restored in Christ can Christians rediscover how to be ambassadors of peace and justice to a wounded world. As Willie Jennings says in the forward, Kim and Hill offer an invitation to embrace life in the truth of our God-given weakness which “points to the very shape of creaturely life. We are created for deep and intimate communion with the divine life” (1). Graciously, as only the most pastoral of prophets can do, Kim and Hill invite us into the journey of relinquishment in the hope of resurrection. Joy comes in the morning!
What are the means of transformation in Christ toward new creation? Beneath doctrine, this book seeks to point its readers toward the communal practices that constitute Christian life and through which disciples are formed. For them, the church is meant to become “the new humanity in Jesus Christ . . . [who] shows the world God’s perfect design for humanity, which is a reconciled, unified, whole, multiethnic, peaceful, and loving life together” (12). However, an honest assessment of the church—particularly visible to both Christian and non-Christian Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color—reveals a people distorted by whiteness and formed more by the tastes of Western consumer capitalism than the longings of God. The result is a “diseased posture [which] stops Christians from forming habits of humility, fluidity, embodiment, and engagement, which lead to transformation” (13).
To be reformed, to become “wounded healers” as Henri Nouwen once put it, Kim and Hill point toward nine practices. Together, these form a proposal for a practical ecclesiology that could detoxify the church of its violent colonial and modern inebriation and begin to imbibe afresh from the Spirit who draws all things through justice into loving communion. These practices are: reimagine church, renew lament, repent together, relinquish power, restore justice, reactivate hospitality, reinforce agency, reconcile relationships, and recover life together. With each, the goal is to provide actionable steps that local churches and small groups can put to work.
The reimagined church described centers on oneness and is expressed in twelve modes ranging from one Messiah, to one politic, to one love. This first practice attempts to offer a popular level alternative to the supersessionist, racialized Christian imagination now famously described by Jennings. This oneness is a rejection of the fears of difference and a growing tendency among some Christians to withdraw from a supposedly pluralizing and secularizing culture. In place of an imagination which leads to separateness, enclosure, exclusion, and hoarding, Kim and Hill call the church to remember itself as the living body of Christ in and for the world, called to pour itself out in service and solidarity for the peace, justice, and restoration of all.
The church must reject forced unity and reconciliation, the authors remind us, which reproduces injustice. Lament opens a community to remember historical suffering and empathize with the marginalized. Kim and Hill offer an excellent outline for reweaving lament into personal and collective spirituality. They turn next to the work of repentance that lament should produce in those who share responsibility for social sins like individualism, sexism, racism, nationalism, lust for power, wealth and status, and the sanctioning of violence. The fourth practice, “relinquish power,” completes the kenotic trajectory and provides an occasion for both authors to open up their own journeys through vulnerable and effective stories.
As a faith-rooted community developer and organizer, I found “restore justice” the weakest practice. A lack of clarity on the relationship between the church’s political life and the political economy in which a Christian lives makes their definition and approach to justice work imprecise. In what social forms do the authors believe justice manifests? What tactics or theory of change should a Christian adopt to help love be made public as justice? More is needed.
Kim and Hill return to top form in their calls for hospitality and reinforced agency—both of which are framed to form a church liberated from Western cultural captivity while creating space for the voice and power of the marginalized. The closing two practices seek to draw formerly alienated peoples back into thriving relationship. “Reconciliation,” the authors emphasize for members of dominant culture and identities, “is only possible after lamenting the past, repenting of complicity, seeking forgiveness, relinquishing power, restoring justice, relishing diversity, and reinforcing agency” (140). The excellent final chapter explores what restored life together actually looks like through a meditative journey through the sermon on the mount. It unpacks the mannerisms of a welcoming community freed from fear, sin, and death to live the rhythms of generosity, grace, and love.
It is exceedingly rare to find accessible and actionable resources that squarely face the church’s legacy of colonialism and our wounding wounds of patriarchy, whiteness, and greed. For those longing to be healed in Christ and offered as a source of healing to the world, Kim and Hill are more than adequate guides. The world waits for the church they describe.
About the Reviewer(s):
Nathan Davis Hunt is lead organizer-entrepreneur at the Community Purchasing Cooperative of Massachusetts.Date of Review: May 31, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s):
Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. She is author or editor of thirteen books, including Embracing the Other, Christian Doctrines for Global Gender Justice, and Intercultural Ministry. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church.
Graham Hill teaches applied theology at Morling College in Sydney, Australia. A former church planter and pastor, he is the founding director of theglobalchurchproject.com. He is also the author of GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches.