, , , , , ,

I love this review of Spirit Life by Rev. Brian Fraser.

Spirit Life is my 21st book and it is part of DLT’s My Theology Book Series. Please read Spirit Life and all the other books in this wonderful series.

Book Review by Rev. Brian Fraser:

Grace Ji-Sun Kim is a phenom among Canadian-raised Presbyterian theologians. She is a woman, was born in Korea, raised in London, Ontario, did her degrees in theology at the Toronto School of Theology, and has gained distinction as a social activist academic based at Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Indiana. This is her 21st book.

If you have not read any of her work, this is the place to start engaging her in a provocative conversation about the church and its missioning. Its part of a wonderful series being published in North America by Fortress Press called “My Theology.” To be included in this series is a great honour for her and richly deserved. Kim’s witness touches on so many of the crucial issues that face the church today. This little volume of 96 pages introduces you to the voice that has given her such positive visibility in so many of the progressive networks of Christian reform and revitalization.

It is not an easy voice to hear and ponder. It is a voice that makes visible a holy outrage arising from the traumatic turmoil of the racism and sexism that plague churches in North America. She is a prophet for righteousness, in the biblical sense of cultivating right relations with God, among peoples, and among the multiple identities we each have within us. Though not easy, listening with respect to her voice is, God being our helper, transformative at both an institutional and a personal level.

The series of books from Fortress promises to introduce us to “the principal tenets” of the faith of the authors chosen. Kim’s is the first in the series that I have read. I know her work best of all the theologians currently published. In her case, the introduction is superb.

The first chapter summarizes her deep critique of the racism and sexism of what she describes as “White Christianity” based on the theological insights that arise from her reflections on her biography. The form of the faith against which she protests finds its frames of reference exclusively in Euro-centric males who seek to control the theological conversations that co-create the dominant culture in church and nation. Many describe it as “Christendom,” but Kim’s take on it highlights the depth of trauma experienced by those marginalized through the dynamics of this system of tyrannical power. In this seminal sense, she carries with her the core principle of the Canadian Presbyterian polity within which her witness was developed – “to take away all occasion of tyranny” by ensuring full participation that enables full responsibility. She is articulate and direct in naming the dysfunctions that have arisen because we have ignored or rejected this principle. She has been resilient in finding rays of light in the midst of this darkness that she has reformulated into a more faithful, wise, and effective praxis of Christianity.

The second chapter explores the hybridity of networks and influences that have shaped her current appropriation of the Christian faith. In the origins of the faith and throughout its history, she has found a mixing of ideas and practices that runs counter to a common narrative in Western Christianity that a straight line of orthodoxy runs from Jesus to whoever is claiming to be the authoritative source of truth in their particular time and place. She describes the academic discussions of hybridity with concise clarity and shows how they reveal a different way of understanding the dynamics of faith formation through conversations among people with differing experiences and differing ways of comprehending their lives. It is in the intersectional dialogues in those conversations that a working faith, grounded in the forgiving and reconciling love of our triune Creator, is recognized, accepted, and applied. The empowerment and creativity that emerges from these conversations in which everyone involved is heard with respect is evidence for Kim of the continuing redemptive activity of the Holy Spirit. It is in that transforming influence that she finds the most powerful link to her Asian heritage and notices how the concept of a life-giving energy underlies so many other views of divine activity in this world.

The third chapter outlines her understanding of “Spirit-Chi Theology” as it has developed since her first book, The Grace of Sophia (2002). There she explored Jesus as Sophia Christ, a feminine wisdom figure as a counter to the patriarchal power figure so common in Euro-centric theologies. Here’s how she summarized her journey of recognition:

The concept of Spirit is a welcoming entry point of discourse which will pave the way for further dialogue, acceptance, and love for one another. As a result, I never wrote another book on Sophia Christology. Instead, I began writing on the Spirit and the majority of my twenty published books are focused on the Spirit. (73-74)

The way she connects the Hebrew concept of ruach, the Greek concept of pneuma, the German concept of geist, and the Asian concept of chi, is a model for an imaginative conversation that generates a forgiving, reconciling, and liberating recognition of the divine Presence working throughout all of creation to care for its flourishing. This is hybridity at work.

Had Grace been ordained in her home denomination, The Presbyterian Church in Canada (she was ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA), she would have vowed to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit in reformulating the faith on the basis of new inspiration and instruction provided by the Creator’s breath, voice, and vibration working in and through the networks that are the church gathered and dispersed. This book shows how faithful she is being to this praxis of traditioned innovation.


Rev. Brian Fraser is a minister of Brentwood Presbyterian Church, Burnaby, BC.