Union with God Through a Transformative Homiletics

by Woori Han (Author)
Monographs X, 182 Pages


This book examines the early Korean Pentecostal homiletical approach in its context. In particular, it draws on the writings of French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, which mediate between objectively reconstructing the meaning of a text in its original context and moving to the world "in front of" the text. Author Woori Han also focuses on the homilies on the Song of Songs and other works by twelfth-century French Cistercian mystic and theologian Bernard of Clairvaux, whose writings promote the spiritual formation of the believer. The book encourages a balance between emphasizing the individual’s dynamic experience of encountering the Holy Spirit (divine healings, miracles, speaking in tongues) and the individual’s inner sanctification or purification by the Holy Spirit (union with God in Christ through the Spirit).
This book encourages preachers to deepen their reading of the biblical text and to be open to the possibility of being transformed in the process. The book is especially appropriate for seminary courses on preaching and the history of religion, and for working preachers.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Advance Praise
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: History and Development of Early Korean Pentecostalism
  • Chapter Two: Biblical Hermeneutics of the Classical Pentecostal Tradition
  • Chapter Three: Paul Ricoeur’s Hermeneutical Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning
  • Chapter Four: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux’s Concept of Loving God
  • Chapter Five: A Transformative Engagement with the Scriptures for Contemporary Korean Pentecostals
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:31–32 NRSV)1

As an ordained pastor in the Assemblies of God of Korea, I see my faith community focused on the blessing and enrichment of individuals’ personal lives. I have agonized over how to achieve the proper balance between emphasizing the individual’s dynamic experience of encountering the Holy Spirit (e.g., divine healings, miracles, speaking in tongues) and the individual’s inner sanctification or purification of the Holy Spirit (i.e., union with God in Christ through the Spirit). This book represents my attempt to achieve harmony between these two religious beliefs and practices (outer and inner manifestations) for contemporary believers who have cultivated a critical and nonsimplistic worldview. I believe that the preacher’s efforts to discover the authorial intention and historical context of the text (to gain information) and also to engage in the existential aspect of the text (to be transformed) have the potential to transform both the preacher and their ecclesial community through communion with God in Christ through the Spirit.

←1 | 2→Scholars of the Assemblies of God of Korea (AGK)2 are actively pursuing the relationship between homiletics and biblical hermeneutics and are developing a deeper hermeneutical understanding of the text. These scholarly approaches to the text are not limited to Korean Pentecostals. Rather, a growing worldwide movement within Pentecostalism is developing this perspective. However, this approach has not yet resulted in an academic discourse on the preacher’s role in the transformative reading of Scripture, a role that involves participating in the existential aspect of the text.3 As Kevin J. Vanhoozer articulates, the experiential knowledge of God involves an exercise of one’s intellect, imagination, and spirituality. He highlights that “[t]‌o know God as the author and subject of Scripture requires more than intellectual acknowledgement. To know God is to love and obey him, for the knowledge of God is both restorative and transformative.”4

Furthermore, according to Sandra M. Schneiders, an influential scholar of Christian spirituality, the Scripture is “potentially, and through the process of interpretation, a place of meeting, the locus of encounter and conversation between God and humanity.”5 In other words, the preacher undergoes a mystical, dialogical engagement with the biblical text. In this process of reading the text, the world of ←2 | 3→the preacher is shaped by a prayerful and meditative dialogue with God, who is present sacramentally in the text. To put it more clearly, the preacher can see the Scripture as a sacrament, that is, a means or gateway to the sacred, and interpret it accordingly since the sacred text renders Christ present to us.6 This dialogue with the text means experiencing the love of God and allowing the text to become an event in and for the now. Then, the biblical text can communicate the faith and love of Christ to the reader, who encounters the event projected by their prayerful and meditative reading.7

A Transformative Homiletic

Drawing upon these hermeneutical insights for the further development of the homiletics of Korean Pentecostals, I focus on the writings of French philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005) and French Cistercian mystic theologian Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153). In his treatise titled Interpretation Theory, Ricoeur opens up the possibility of facilitating the reader’s experiential encounter with the text through a tensive dialectical process, one that moves from the first naïveté (a surface semantics) through critical reflection to the second naïveté (a depth semantics).8 The process starts with the reader participating in the world “behind” the text and the world “of” the text from a historical, literary, or sociological criticism point of view and moves to the world “in front of” the text. When this happens, the reader may be transformed by the world the text opens to them.

The reader’s participation in the existential aspect of the text through the process of a transformative engagement with the Scripture is often unfamiliar to Pentecostal Christians, even though God invites the reader to experience the real presence of Christ veiled in the outer sacrament of the Scriptures. In other words, the text produces a surplus of meaning that allows the reader to engage with the deeper meaning of the text through metaphors and symbols and thus opens the reader to the possibility of encountering God’s presence by participating in a communicative event of the Bible. Biblical scholar Jeannine K. Brown highlights that “Scripture begins a conversation that is interpersonal and potentially life changing, because it is God who initiates the dialogue.”9

←3 | 4→The fundamental questions I address in my reflection on Ricoeur’s interpretive method are as follows. How did he develop the concept of the dynamic relationship between the world of the text and of the interpreter? Why did he concentrate on a semantic approach to the examination of language when most contemporary linguists presumed that the meaning of a sentence was reducible to its structure of signs and words? How do Ricoeur’s hermeneutical insights enable preachers to hear a fresh word and gain a new perspective on the world of the text by appropriating the sense and reference of the text for the benefit of their congregations?

I focus for a different reason on the homilies on the biblical text Song of Songs written by French Cistercian abbot and theologian Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153). Bernard’s homilies provide rich expressions of the significance of a transformative engagement with the text in the act of reading the text. In relation to the communicative nature of the Bible, he provides detailed descriptions of a mystical and dialogical engagement with a text that reveals a surplus of meaning. Bernard has been viewed as a master of prayerful reading of Scripture and as a mystic who reached union with the divine, based on God’s love, through his transformative reading of Scripture. A prayerful and meditative reading of the biblical text helps the preacher enter into the mystery of God, and this mystery becomes present to the preacher as a reader of the text and thus to the gathered community.

Kathleen Norris, a key voice in Christian spirituality, regards prayer as mystery, saying, “Prayer is not doing, but being. It is not words but the beyond-words experience of coming into the presence of something much greater than oneself. It is an invitation to recognize holiness, and to utter simple words—Holy, Holy, Holy—in response.”10 The prayerful and meditative reading of Scripture draws the reader into the mystery of a close relationship with God, with God inviting the reader to take off their shoes and stand on holy ground (Exod. 3:5). For Bernard, the mystical and dialogical engagement with Scripture is regarded as the core value of the faithful’s love toward union with God in Christ through the Spirit.11 Bernard emphasizes that the world of the reader is shaped by encounters with God that are contemplated and mediated by the Word. He considers the Bible the pure and perennial source of the spiritual maturity of the believer.

Bernard’s homilies on the Song of Songs illustrate how the reader’s spirituality matures through their transformative reading of Scripture when engaging in mutual union with the divine based on God’s love. In other words, Bernard aims to expand the reader’s ability to engage in a prayerful and meditative reading of ←4 | 5→the biblical texts. Bernard’s way of reading Scripture helps contemporary readers understand what he means by an experiential encounter with the text. In addition, his account of his union with the divine invites readers to seek both the objective of biblical study (information) and also to enter into the existential aspect of the text (transformation).

A key contributor to the contemporary discussion on Christian spirituality, Thomas Merton, expresses the significance to the preacher of participating in the existential aspect of the text through their prayerful reading of Scripture. For Merton, “[T]‌he most important need in the Christian world today is this inner truth of God’s love nourished by a Spirit of contemplation: the praise and love of God, the longing for the coming of Christ, the thirst for the manifestation of God’s glory, truth, justice, Kingdom in the world.”12

The act of contemplating God draws the preacher into the unfathomable abyss of God’s beauty, truth, and goodness. The preacher then leaves the abyss and conveys to others what they have smelled, heard, tasted, touched, and seen through the contemplation of God’s glory (1 John 1:1–4). At this time, the message is not merely about delivering biblical interpretation based on facts, which spring from the author’s intended meaning inscribed in the text and historical or scientific hermeneutical methodologies. It is also about sharing the mystery that conveys God’s love to both the preacher and the hearers.13

Finally, through this transformative reading of the biblical text, preachers who have encountered the loving God hope that their congregants will experience this love through their preaching. Preachers are also being shaped sacramentally through the Spirit by the community’s experience of the holy encounter. This reciprocity between the preacher and the gathered community enhances the union of the people of God in Christ with God through the working of the Holy Spirit, who is present sacramentally in them. This is what I call a transformative homiletic, and I consider it an essential element of the spiritual formation of the both the preacher and the congregation. This type of homiletic builds up the body of Christ. Thus, to paraphrase St. Ignatius of Loyola, the love of the Spirit propels both the preacher and the congregation to see more clearly, to love more dearly, and to follow God more nearly. In sum, the transformation of the preacher’s life by their encounter with God changes the lives of others, and this supports the ←5 | 6→transformation of the faithful into the image of God through the works of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).


X, 182
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (November)
Bernard of Clairvaux Biblical hermeneutics Hermeneutics Homiletics Paul Ricoeur Theology of Preaching Preacher’s Spirituality Iconic Preaching Union with God through a Transformative Homiletic Woori Han
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2023. X, 182 pp., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Woori Han (Author)

Woori Han has a PhD in practical theology from the Graduate Theological Union, an STM degree from Boston University, and an MDiv from Hansei University and is an adjunct professor in Practical Theology at International Theological Seminary.


Title: Union with God Through a Transformative Homiletics