Freedom to Be Outrageous

An Interview with Heup Young Kim, 2009 Alum of the Year

Heup Young KimCongratulations! How does it feel to receive this award?
Thank you. There are four things I would like to say. Number one is humility. There are people more able and intelligent than I. Second is gratitude. I thank God, my family, my teachers, and GTU. Thirdly, relief. Exactly three decades ago God appeared very suddenly in my life, also becoming my biggest problem. Thirty years later, this is a message from God saying “What you have done so far is okay.” The last is responsibility. This award is not the end, but the beginning of a further mission, an expanding horizon.

The Alum of the Year Award recognizes your rich and illustrious career. Of all the things you are involved in, what piques your interest and involves you the most?
My family has been Confucian for one and a half millennia. I came to the U.S. and became a Christian. Immediately, I had a problem with my own culture. Born a Confucian Korean, but theologically 100% “Made in the USA”. Since then I have been building bridges between these two worlds, East meets West. You could also say I am creating theological space for East Asian Christians.

What about your work now is most engaging/most important to you? Why?
I’m trying to construct a theology of the Tao or “Theo-Tao”. The current dualistic way of thinking of the West consists of theo-logos or theology, which is primarily doctrinal, and its counterpart theo-praxis, or action. I try and bring in the Tao, the embodiment of the cosmic way in our historical existence. If you know Tao, you cannot divide knowing and acting. Theo-Tao provides a new paradigm for this millennium characterized by dialogue.

What do you hope your students will take away from their work with you?
That there is a need, there is value for East Asian Christians and theological thinking. That people will develop an attitude to listen to our voice. So far my work has been rhetorical, debatable, controversial, and provocative, but the people after me would ideally be masters of both traditions, Western and Eastern, and be able to build up their own theologies to be both local and global.

Is there something unique to you about the GTU? Looking back on your experience here, what first arises in your mind?
Freedom to be outrageous and courage to be yourself. You can’t do that in other programs. Other schools will try and fit you into their particular box. Here at GTU you can create your own program, make your own path, study what fits you. It’s the best merit of GTU.

Does the GTU build and nurture leaders?
Yes, it does, as long as GTU maintains its unique tradition of encouraging men and women to be themselves. I do not believe it is effective or efficient to promote only one product, one type of scholar. If you do, you won’t have a creative one.

What do you hope for the future of the GTU?
GTU might become the cutting edge, the frontier to make new paradigms for theology and theological education for the coming age. It will be the kind of place for connecting East and West.