Matthew Kim and Daniel Wong’s ‘Finding Our Voice’ – A Book Review

Finding Our Voice: A Vision for Asian North American Preaching.  By Matthew D. Kim and Daniel L. Wong. Bellingham, WA, USA, Lexham Press 2020. Pp. 187. $17.99.

The first class I ever took in seminary was entitled the ‘Ministry of God’s Word’. I was instructed to preach mindful of Karl Barth who said that we are to hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The course proceeded to discuss the biblical precedence of preaching and what was to be expected in our continued ministry of God’s word. I very much appreciated that class. But, in hindsight, I realise that the tools I was trained in were much more focused on properly holding the Bible than in holding the newspaper—the present situations the congregation was facing.

It has been two decades since taking that class and the majority of my sermons have been delivered in Chinese communities in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. I have read a number of books, with envy, which address other communities such as Cleophus LaRue’s The Heart of Black Preaching (WJK 2000) and Justo González and Pablo Jiménez’s Púlpito: An Introduction to Hispanic Preaching (Abingdon 2005). So I was excited to see the publication of a book that’s authors read a similar ‘newspaper’ as I do—Matthew Kim and Daniel Wong’s Finding Our Voice: A Vision for Asian North American Preaching (Lexham 2020).

The book employs the phrase ‘Asian North American’ (ANA)—one which has been increasingly used in the academy to discuss those of Asian descent living on both sides of the US-Canadian border. Current ANA scholarship tends to also highlight the plurality of ‘Asianness’ in North America—Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino/a, Indian, etc. But the book is mainly concerned with those of Chinese and Korean descent, the most populous of ANA Protestants and the backgrounds of the book’s two authors.

As the first book of its kind, the beginning four chapters focus on the state of affairs of ANA experience, hermeneutics, theology, and congregational preaching. This is incredibly helpful, especially for those who have no or little awareness of the literature in the field.

I found Chapter 2 particularly useful in discussing ANA hermeneutics. It first outlines the dominant approaches North American seminaries train ANA preachers in, namely ‘redemptive-historic’ and ‘law/gospel’ hermeneutics. For the latter, Kim laments:

Growing up in a very conservative and, at times, legalistic Korean American Presbyterian church environment, I heard countless sermons with an overemphasis on the law and our disobedience to it. We often heard shame-laden sermons with only occasional sprinkles of grace. (pp. 55–56)

Sadly, I have heard too many of those sermons. The chapter further identifies four ‘Eastern’ hermeneutics—Confucian, pilgrimage/marginalisation/liberation, postcolonial, and blessing. Anecdotally, I am more familiar with the first two, as I suspect the latter two (or two and a third, as I would have grouped ‘liberation’ with ‘postcolonial’) have more history within Korean communities.1

Chapter 3 acknowledged the plurality of ANA theologies and highlighted Daniel Lee’s Asian American Quadrilateral: Asian heritage, migration experience, American culture, and racialisation. The chapter also tried to navigate the important tension in what it termed the ‘dual nature’ of being Asian and North American. However, I was uncomfortable that this was argued on the basis of Christ’s dual nature (pp. 92–99). The power of the Incarnation is found in the humbling of the greatness of Divinity to the lowliness of humanity (Philippians 2). I think we have to be a little careful here, since the two ‘natures’ of Christ are qualitatively different from the two ‘natures’ of the Asian North American; this may lead to a view that elevates ‘Asian’ or ‘North American’ as greater than the other.

Chapter 4 moves on to give a flavour of what ANA preaching looks like today. It highlights the various ANA ecclesial models which have developed, and highlighted some of the themes ANA sermons often consider, such as the generational and gendered dynamics related to ANA church leadership, familial relationships, and questions related to culture and identity. The great strength of this chapter (alongside sections like the appendix of sample sermons) is in the practical examples of how ANA preachers have read the Bible alongside the newspaper.

While I wanted to see a little more critical assessment of the state of affairs, the final Chapter 5 helpfully casts a vision for the future of ANA preaching. It rightly highlighted five key areas which ANA preaching and lived theology need to develop: a prophetic voice on issues of social justice (esp. for other ethnic minorities), the changing dynamics from ANA to multiethnic/multicultural congregations, the relationship between ANA preaching and ANA worship services and song, the potential bridge beyond the limits of ANA identity, and the ‘possible selves’ of ANA fears, hopes, and expectations.

Matthew Kim and Daniel Wong have offered us a fantastic primer on preaching in an Asian North American context. It is a must-read for seminarians and seasoned preachers, of Asian and non-Asian backgrounds, as the future of the North American (and British) church is increasingly being reshaped by a gravitational shift of Christians whose heritage comes from the non-Western World.

Thanks to Lexham Press for providing me a review copy of this book.

  1. For the history of these South Korean theological developments, see Sebastian Kim’s ‘The Problem of Poverty in Post-War Korean Christianity: Kibock Sinang or Minjung Theology?’, Transformation 24/1 (January 2007), 43-50. DOI 10.1177/026537880702400107