Off-The-Radar Reviews

Sam D. Kim – A Holy Haunting [Off-the-Radar Review]

A Holy HauntingNot Your Father’s Apologetics Book

A Review of

A Holy Haunting: Why Faith Isn’t a Leap but a Series of Staggers from One Safe Place to Another
Sam D. Kim

Paperback: Morgan James Publishing, 2023
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Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith

For a variety of reasons, I don’t read many Christian books in the genre often called apologetics. But recently, Sam D. Kim’s book, A Holy Haunting: Why Faith Isn’t a Leap but a Series of Staggers from One Safe Place to Another ended up on my desk, and after meeting the author at Urbana last December, I was compelled to read it. Kim is a pastor, a Harvard-trained ethicist, and co-founder of 180church in New York City, and this book is a smart invitation to the Christian faith – exactly the sort of work that one would expect from a writer with these credentials.

A Holy Haunting is a book that I’d recommend for younger folks who are new to – or curious about – the Christian faith. Kim’s church is comprised largely of younger Christians, in their 20s or early 30s, and this context has helped him be acutely attentive to contemporary culture, which is reflected in the style of his writing. Although Kim writes in a manner conversant with younger readers, this is not a lightweight, trendy book that is short on substance. One of the most resonant facets of A Holy Haunting was its sympathetic treatment of contemporary science that drew heavily upon the work of the BioLogos foundation. As a former PhD student in philosophy of science, who has long been interested in the dialogue between faith and science, I appreciated the way in which Kim articulated a Christian faith that was highly, if not wholly, compatible with contemporary science. I grew up in the 1980s, and many apologetics books of that era were inclined to take a much more combative tone toward science. A Holy Haunting, it seems, represents a new generation of apologetics, one that pursues similar ends in articulating the Christian faith, but that does so in a more nuanced manner.

Another compelling thread that runs through Sam Kim’s book, is its resistance to “an unhealthy dependency on certainty that leaves little room for ambiguity” (6). This comfort with ambiguity and openness to questions and doubts is another marker that distinguishes Kim’s work from earlier generations of modern apologists.  To this reader at least, the tone of Kim’s work seems to reflect the person and character of Jesus better and more gracefully than earlier generations of apologists did.

The final section of the book addresses significant questions related to impediments to faith that many seekers might have, including:

  • Did God really create the world?
  • Did Jesus of Nazareth actually exist?
  • Is the New Testament reliable?
  • Does God still speak today?

While these are undoubtedly important questions, in my experience talking to people of younger generations, these questions of theology and intellect are not the primary impediments to faith. Perhaps my experience in a Midwestern city with people who are starting out in careers in business or nonprofits, exposes me to a different cross-section of young people than Kim knows in NYC or on East coast college campuses? But the major impediments to faith that I hear confessed by people in their 20s and 30s are experientially related to the witness of the church and to its complicity in systemic injustices toward women, people of color, the LGBT community, and other often-marginalized groups. The questions that they are asking are ones like:

  • Why are narcissism, sexual abuse, and a lust for power so prominent among Christian communities?
  • How will churches in United States lament and repent of their deep history of racism?
  • Why do churches not actively love and receive their flesh-and-blood neighbors in a manner that reflects the character of Jesus?

I wish Kim would have addressed questions of this sort about the embodied witness of contemporary Christianity, alongside the primarily intellectual questions that he does address in the latter part of the book.

Regardless, A Holy Haunting is a particularly helpful resource, and one that I pray will help to edify and energize the faith of new Christians or not-yet-Christians.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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