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Amos Yong: Discerning the Spirit(s)


Amos Yong, Discerning the Spirit(s): A Pentecostal-Charismatic Contribution to Christian Theology of Religions, Journal of Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series 20 (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 392 pages.

Amos Yong is a leading Pentecostal/charismatic theologian. This book helps explain why. There are a number of reasons why I think pastors, church leaders, missionaries, teachers, and students should read it. First, it skillfully grapples with one of the most important issues of our day: a theology regarding rival religions. Do you not agree that post 9/11 Christianity has a responsibility to address the issue of religions as a contemporary priority? Second, the missiological and evangelistic impulse and experience of a burgeoning and blossoming Pentecostalism demands sound biblical and theological underpinnings in order to increase depth and effectiveness. Third, globalization and modernization of contemporary society, making the world our neighbor, confronts Christianity with an unprecedented opportunity to apply the Golden Rule of Christ (Matt 7:12), an application that cannot occur without understanding ourselves in relation to religious others.

Dr. Yong, the son of first generation converts from Buddhism to Pentecostal Christianity, has perhaps been providentially prepared to help Pentecostalism develop a viable theology of religions. His work in an undeniably difficult area, a virtual theological minefield, is instructive and inspiring. A creative combination of testimony, history, philosophy, and theology, Discerning the Spirit(s) is at times challenging and stretching reading but always rewarding and worthwhile. Personal narratives show that theology of religions is not an abstract intellectual exercise for Amos Yong, but a burning personal passion. That spiritual passion is communicated through this writing and can be contagious to the reader!

Yong work wrestles with issues raised by implications for Pentecostal theology by the “primal spirituality” thesis of Harvard theologian Harvey Cox in Fire From Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (NY: Addison-Wesley, 1995). Yong approaches theology of religions pneumatologically without trying to “untangle the christological debates” (p. 25). He suggests that the generally negative rhetoric of Pentecostals against other religions belies an underlying attitude of openness. Yong’s own adventurous attitude shows when this work is said to set forth a “pneumatology of quest” (p. 32). He sketches the history of Christian theological reflection on non-Christian religions in light of the reality of contemporary religious pluralism, calling attention to tensions between competing truth claims in the context of universality and particularity issues raised regarding Jesus Christ. He suggests pneumatological approaches to theology of religions have an advantage in perceiving the Holy Spirit as cosmic divine presence, but argues that the problem of discernment becomes paramount. He then advances his idea of “pneumatological imagination,” or a Pentecostal/charismatic experience of and orientation toward the Holy Spirit. Yong describes the Pentecostal/charismatic movement and its historical responses to religions, and argues why Pentecostals need and should desire a theology of religions. He revises Cox’s primal spirituality categories to lift up religious experience, utility, and cosmology. A dialogical case study between Pentecostalism and Brazilian Umbanda religion is a bold application of Yong’s pneumatological approach. Finally, he expounds some important supportive theses for Pentecostal/charismatic theology of religions, sets forth some provisional theological implications arising from this study, and offers recommendations for further research. Throughout, Yong relies on a wide ranging grasp of a massive amount of relevant material as well as his own Christian experience of the Spirit and respect for the teachings and traditions of the Pentecostal/charismatic community of faith.

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Category: Fall 2005, In Depth

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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