A Transformative Reading of the Bible

Explorations of Holistic Human Transformation

(Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013)


In A Transformative Reading of the Bible Yung Suk Kim raises critical questions about human transformation in biblical studies. What is transformation? How are we transformed when we read biblical stories? Are all transformative aspects equally valid? What kind of relationships exists between self, neighbor, and God if transformation is involved in these three? Who or what is being changed, or who or what are we changing? What degree of change might be considered "transformative"?

Kim explores a dynamic, cyclical process of human transformation and argues that healthy transformation involves three kinds of transformation: psycho-theological, ontological-theological, and political-theological transformation. With insights gained from phenomenological studies, political theology, and psychotheology, Kim proposes a new model for how to read the Bible transformatively, as he dares to read Hannah, Psalm 13, the Gospel of Mark, and Paul as stories of transformation. The author invites Christian readers, theological educators, and scholars to reexamine the idea of transformation and to engage biblical stories from the perspective of holistic human transformation.

"I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
(Jeremiah 31:33)

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect."
(Romans 12:2)

The term “transformation” has become a kind of buzzword in Christian discourse. We are all sure that we are in favor of it but we are not altogether sure what “it” is. Yung Suk Kim not only gives clear content to the familiar term, he shows us how an imaginative reading of the Bible can be an instrument of positive transformation. At the same time he provides suggestive links among different strategies of biblical scholarship and between biblical studies and practical theologies in ways that will help students in both fields and pastors who can profit from this synthesis.
–David Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary and Lantz Professor of Preaching Emeritus at Yale Divinity School

A Transformative Reading of the Bible is an insightful and intriguing interdisciplinary study about human transformation theory and how it can contribute to holistic transformative biblical interpretation. True transformation is circular and perpetual and impacts every aspects of one’s human existence. Dr. Kim’s holistic approach considers the complexity of human experience. This little but impactful book should be read by biblical scholars, graduate students and anyone interested in a holistic transformative approach to reading scripture.
Mitzi J. Smith, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Studies, Ashland Theological Seminary/Detroit Center

This book offers a rare contribution. Lots of biblical scholars dabble in theology or spirituality, but Yung Suk Kim sets forth a holistic understanding of human transformation along with a series of focused studies that embody his approach in enlightening ways.
Greg Carey, Professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary

In my book Biblical Interpretation: Theory, Process, and Criteria (2013), I affirmed the plausibility and legitimacy of the multiple interpretations because the text is read from the diverse perspectives of human life. In that book I also raised issues of the criteria for biblical interpretation because not all readings are equally helpful or valid. This book, while continuing the spirit of the previous one, focuses on aspects of human transformation when we read the Bible. Since biblical interpretation involves change in our lives, one of the crucial tasks is to read the Bible transformatively and to determine what kind of change (transformation) is desirable. This book explores those issues. It is my conviction that the ideal self or transformation of the self is not complete without involving neighbors and God. Therefore, in this book I will examine theories of human transformation drawn from theological and philosophical traditions and explore the desirable aspects of human transformation that balances between the three kinds of transformation: a personal transformation (relation to self), a communal transformation (relation to neighbor), and a theological transformation (relation to God).

I hope this small book will invite readers to reexamine the role of the Bible in relation to the change of human life, including a change of the self and the community. I believe Paul’s advice for human transformation still strikes a strong chord for our lives today: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2). ----- from the preface of the book

Holistic human transformation is (an excerpt from Introduction in the book):
• not a status change of one kind to another—a linear change of, for example, from a caterpillar to a butterfly—but a constant, dynamic, cyclical change of human attitude and sense of identity, which makes holistic transformation possible;
• not an overcoming or escaping of “dark” experience, mortality, or weakness but a making of it as part of the transformative cycle;
• not an individual, psychological change of “inside” only (a traditional psychotherapy) but an inseparable dynamic change involving self, neighbor, and God, between inside and outside of self;
• not the transcendence of time and space but the immanent transcendence in the midst of life;
• not like managed plants and trees but thriving plants and trees in a wildlife refuge that contains three moments of life, which are comparable to three modes of human attitude: 1) merciless storms making fertile soil—a mode of I am no-one; 2) the sunny breezing days good for growing plants—a mode of I am some-one; and 3) the warm spring joys of giving abundant life for visiting fish and birds for food—a mode of I am one-for-others. These three modes of human attitude can be identified in some biblical stories—especially difficult life stories such as Hannah’s story.

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created: 4/19/2013