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Amos Yong: Beyond the Impasse

Yong is sensitive to the postmodern critique of foundationalism, the Enlightenment idea that there are universal foundations of knowledge recognized by everyone. Thus he proposes a “foundational pneumatology” fired by the “pneumatological imagination a way of seeing God, self, and world that is inspired by the (Christian) experience of the Spirit.” And, since Spirit is the dynamic pole of the Word/Spirit complex, this means that the foundation must be a “shifting foundation” (pp. 63-65). This means that Scripture and experience, thought and practice are mutually informing. “I suggest, on the one hand, that a theology of the Holy Spirit emerges out of Christian experience of God’s presence and activity in the world, even while, on the other hand, it enables us to experience that presence and activity in more precise, intense, and true ways” (p. 65). The flexibility that results from this dynamic Spirit-based approach enables the evangelical to navigate between exclusivism, the idea that only Christianity contains the truth and none of the unevangelized will “make heaven” on the one hand, and pluralism, the idea that all religions are legitimate self-contained paths to salvation, on the other. The resulting “middle ground” is inclusivism, the view that allows for the presence, great or small, of God in other religious traditions while stopping short of affirming that these other traditions mediate salvation. This opens the conversation with other religions and raises the question of how to discern the Spirit of God in these other faiths.

Yong devotes chapter 6 (pp. 129-166) to developing a starting point for developing criteria for discernment. While not dismissing the charismatic gift of discernment of spirits, Yong asserts that the question of discernment is more than this, it is a “hermeneutics of life,” an interpretive grid for approaching lived reality. We start with what we see and, after having understood the perspectives of the representatives of other faiths on their own terms (chapter 7), we evaluate them based upon the shifting foundation or our pneumatological imagination. This at least provides us with a way “beyond the impasse” to ask further questions about the possibility of God’s presence in other faiths rather than just consigning all of their adherents to eternity without Christ right out of the gate.

Again, this book is far too rich in carefully argued and detailed points to have done it justice in such a short review, and I encourage all who are stout of heart and, if they lack a theological vocabulary, are not afraid to use a theological dictionary to delve into this landmark study of a Pentecostal/evangelical approach to theology of religions. It is well-worth the effort and may get the reader beyond his/her own impasses regarding the ever more frequent question of the degree of validity of other religions.

Reviewed by Matthew K. Thompson

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2004

About the Author: Matthew K. Thompson is a PhD student in systematic theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. He holds a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) from Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, MO.

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