A Life Shaped and Sent: Interview with Alumni Toni and Walter Kim (Part One)
Regent Alumni Toni and Walter Kim studied here between 1993–1998, and life has taken them many places since: Harvard, pastoral ministry, parenthood. Today, they live in Virginia, where Walter was recently elected President of the National Association of Evangelicals. This spring, we sat down with the Kims to discuss the life-long impact Regent had on their lives, as well as their deep hopes for evangelical faith in North America. Read part one of their interview below!
Tell me a bit about your time at Regent. How does this season of life stand out in your memory?
Walter: As I was looking into seminaries, one of the things that tipped me towards Regent was Walt Wright, the president of Regent at the time, who made a personal phone call to me after I applied. I was so impressed at his accessibility, and what that signalled to me about the community life at Regent. That phone call was really all it took. I thought, “Regent must be an extraordinary place where the faculty would have such a particular concern for engaging with the student body.” Not only was I not disappointed when I arrived, but my expectations for community life were actually exceeded.
Toni: Walter and I were dating when he moved off to Regent. We were engaged in his first year and married in 1994, when I joined him at Regent to complete my MCS, doing a double concentration in Interdisciplinary Studies and Biblical Languages. I wrote my MA thesis on what the Bible says about shame, and how that impacts Asian-American ministry. Being newlyweds in Vancouver was the ideal way to begin a marriage. We took classes together, made friends together, served at a local church, picnicked at the beach. It was a great season of our lives.
That sounds magical! Toni, your research interests are compelling. I’m curious how your MA thesis research has borne itself out in your life and ministry thus far after Regent?
Toni: Honour and shame are things that are very innate to the Asian culture as well as the biblical culture. When I was writing my thesis 20 years ago, we were talking more about shame in the Asian-American context. But what has happened in the Western content—which is a law-guilt society—is that the more people jettison law, and consider it antiquated, the Western world is also moving towards a shame mentality. So we’re finding that even Americans without an Asian background deal more with questions about shame: “If the things I’m doing aren’t wrong, why do I still feel shame? Why do I feel like something’s wrong with me?” The gospel is good news to people who are struggling with these questions because of shame. When sin entered the world, shame entered. But through the work of Jesus we have been clothed with Christ and have been made new and that’s truly good news no matter what culture you come from.
In particular, how did Regent shape your character—both as individuals and in your marriage?
Walter: The bonding that we had—studying together, learning together, serving together—really established that we were partners in ministry. All of our life at Regent contributed to our shared life in Christ, laying a ground for common experience of spiritual formation. Because Regent’s ethos is so community-oriented, and so strong in its orientation to contemplation, it really did invite us both as individuals and as a married couple to consider the foundational questions of life and God. It gave us the space to consider vocation in all of our life, whether as clergy or laity. It was so deeply formative as to how we understand our individual as well as married life in Christ.
Toni: Very early on in our time at Regent we did our first silent retreat with Jan and Eugene Peterson, and that really helped shape the context of how we went about our life at Regent and our life in general. There was a sense in which we were almost frenetic in our desires to get the most out of life, and the Petersons taught us to rest—because God is active, and we don’t have to be frenetic about things. We can learn what it means to walk with God for the long haul, in all life’s twists and turns.
Walter: My conversion to faith was very radical and emotive in nature. After that conversion in high school, I was on a long, slow journey to have my mind catch up with my spirit and heart. It was at Regent where my mind finally opened up in ways that were expansive. After Regent, I went on to do a PhD at Harvard in Near-Eastern civilizations and languages, with a thought that I would teach at a secular research university as an expression of ministry, which would not have been possible for me to consider before my time at Regent, which gave me this generous, expansive view of what it means to have a vocation and be on mission for Christ. During my PhD, I sensed the Lord calling me back into church ministry, but I came back into church ministry with a much more holistic view of what that means. And Regent was instrumental in opening up this whole new dimension of God and my own life and gifting and interest.
Sounds like a rich season of foundation: the spiritual friendship, vocational discernment, and all the other ways you were formed.
Toni: It was pretty magical.
Today, you’re both very involved in the American evangelical church, whether through pastoral ministry or otherwise. Walter, you’ve just been appointed a crucial leadership role in the National Association of Evangelicals. I’m curious to hear what makes you both hopeful for evangelical faith in America today.
Walter: My hope remains in God. The good news is still the good news, and that’s what makes me hopeful for evangelical faith in America. Because Jesus Christ still is the good news. The challenges that early Christianity faced in the proclamation of the good news were daunting, and it is absolutely inconceivable that, apart from the Spirit’s work, this handful of followers of Jesus would have such an astounding, transformational impact throughout the Roman Empire. When I think about the great movements of God's Spirit in church history, what makes me hopeful about evangelical faith is its commitment to the good news—the euangelion. As long as we remain good news people, the hope is there. Because Christ remains the hope of the world.
That is a simple but robust answer.
Walter: We need to have the discourse changed from one of the politicization of evangelicalism in America, which the media has more broadly embraced, missing that the heart of evangelicalism has always been about the good news. It’s been a theological and spiritual renewal movement. And that renewal is still very powerful. So I’m extremely hopeful! Because, not to be trite, but, my hope is built on nothing less.
Want to read part two of this interview? Click here.