Sam Kim – A Holy Haunting [Q/A]


A Holy HauntingWe recently had the opportunity to ask Sam Kim a few questions about his new book:

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

Sam Kim

Paperback: Morgan James Faith, 2023
Buy Now: [ BookShop ] [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
ERB: Before you were a pastor, you worked in biomedical ethics, in close conversation with scientists and medical researchers. It’s clear from your book that you have a deep appreciation for science. Can you tell us a little bit about why you think that science and evidence are crucial to communicating the Christian faith to a secular audience in today’s world?

SK: From conversations across many years, with friends within the ivy tower and seekers sharing their difficulties in taking Christianity seriously, I realized this difficulty was mainly because faith seemed so anti-science. These friends found it difficult to reconcile their opinion of faith as anecdotal with their understanding of science as empirical. They saw the latter buoyed by evidence and the former entrenched in archaic superstition.

I therefore think science and evidence are crucial when communicating the Christian faith to a secular audience, if we want to be taken seriously. In short, it really comes to a matter of trust. I think there are two fundamental questions we have to ask ourselves: does it really come down to a matter of trust? And how can seekers trust us with life’s biggest questions if they can’t trust us with life’s most basic ones?

ERB: I deeply appreciated that the book was written with a sense of epistemic humility, that is, with humility and honesty about what we as humans can and cannot know. Tell us why such humility is vital in communicating our faith in the public square, and what potential dangers await us if we veer away from this humble posture?

SK: Untold collateral damage has been done in the world and to the witness of the church whenever the church, in a moment of hubris, has substituted epistemic humility with absolute certainty.

There have been many iterations of this this type of hubris throughout church history, but the single common thread that runs through the medieval inquisition, the crusades, and the Salem witch trials, for example, is that the perpetrators all believed with absolute certainty they were doing God’s work.

As another example, remember that hyper-Zionism preceded American Christian nationalism. Way before the existence of MAGA, the apostles collectively lobbied Jesus with a MIGA Campaign – Make Israel Great Again! Honestly, I am not certain which is more tone-deaf, but it also nonetheless gives me hope for the future. It tells me that all the shenanigans we are witnessing today might feel novel but are in fact cyclical. Maybe Mark Twain was right, history doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes. Or perhaps it isn’t history that repeats itself, but rather human nature.

The inconvenient truth is that the early church was just as messy as ours is today. Yet through the power of the Holy Spirit, these tone-deaf witnesses were transformed and became the vehicle God used to bring his shalom to the world. The church was never perfect. Not then, not now, nor ever. It was never meant to be. It will always be a work in progress. Although it may feel very bleak at times, I still believe the gates of hell will not prevail against the church and that God’s kingdom will prevail. How can I be so sure? Well, because Jesus promised, and if I am certain of anything, it is his word.

ERB: In my review of your book, I mentioned a few of the differences between my own context (midwestern city) and yours (NYC). Why does our context– that is, our location and the community of people who surround us– matter in our journeys of exploring and embodying our faith?  

SK: Research in organizational theory shows that organizations become obsolete in their surrounding context when they fail to scan and analyze that environment accurately.

Gospel contextualization was not optional for the apostles or the early church; they were all in essence cultural architects who studied deeply and grasped the complexity of their context with great sophistication. In short, no matter our sociopolitical location, the church is not able to bring gospel renewal (and add value) without astute cultural exegesis of its external environment.

At the same time, astute cultural exegesis is never one size fits all. Clearly, our gospel witness in major cities in the Northeast will differ from that in the Midwest or the South. Again, the key emphasis here is a call to be astute in our reading of the situation. In my book I offer an evangelistic model that can help identify where anyone is on the faith spectrum. I identify three categories based on people’s proximity to faith; close, far, or somewhere in between.

In my overall experience in ministering in the Northeast, most who have come to faith in our community were folks who did not grow up in the church. On the faith spectrum, their proximity to God was distant. Such seekers had prejudices and were somewhat skeptical, but they did not have a list of grievances against the church. Quite honestly, they didn’t care enough to be disappointed.

In your review of my book, Chris, you shared that from your experience, the major impediment to faith for the next generation in Indianapolis is tied to the witness of the church and to its complicity in systemic injustices toward often-marginalized groups. The late Rachel Held Evans articulated this sense of disillusionment well in her NYT bestselling memoir, Searching For Sunday. Yet again, her faith experience was embedded in the South and the Midwest, where the dominant culture’s proximity to the Christian faith can be largely described as close.

For those in the Northeast, the major impediments to faith from my experience are not disillusionment, but pride, prejudice, and perhaps indifference. The dominant culture in the Northeast primarily views faith as a blind leap on a whim, and science as empirical and buoyed by evidence. Science and faith are seen as competing, even adversarial worldviews.

Chris, you and I have both observed that the plight and impediments to faith that the next generation face in our respective cities are determined by psychosocial factors that are unique to our different external environments.

ERB: In an email conversation, you mentioned that as you were writing the book, you considered writing an additional chapter on “The alarming question: Why is the church such a mess?” This question resonated with me, as it seems to get at a major impediment to faith for many of the people I encounter. Can you name a couple of key points that you might have included in this chapter?

In the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Huck faces a moral dilemma after he realizes that the conman he has been working for has sold his friend Jim – a runway slave from Mississippi – for 40 dollars. Huck is furious and shocked that anyone could subject his friend to captivity again, especially after all the dirty work he and Jim have done for the man!

Yet, as Huck ponders what can be done to save Jim, his conscience continues to bother him. He cannot help but feel guilty about assisting Jim, because he was taught aiding a slave is against the teachings of the Bible. After trying to pray for resolution, Huck writes a letter detailing where Jim is, but then quickly tears it up. He decides he can no longer in good conscience go along with what he has been taught by the church.

In one of the most poignant monologues in English literature, we find Huck grappling internally with what he inherently knows to be right against what he has been taught. Mark Twain writes:

I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.” – and tore it up. 

The genius of Twain here is that he shows us how someone who is a Bible-believing Christian can find himself in profound cultural captivity to a system that is completely antithetical to heart of God and the word God. Why is the church such a mess? In short, many believers today are tragically unaware that one can be a born again Christian and yet still find themselves in profound cultural captivity to systems that are unjust, demonic or both.




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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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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