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Amos Yong: The Dialogical Spirit

Amos Yong, The Dialogical Spirit: Christian Reason and Theological Method in the Third Millennium (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014), 352 ages.

Amos Yong’s The Dialogical Spirit contains a series of essays written within the past two decades that demonstrates not only thoughtful theological engagement with a variety of critical issues and a host of interlocutors, but also the spirit of dialogue at the heart of its message. That is, Yong reflects his own willingness to posture himself as a learner among many voices. Yong’s interactions are funded by a Trinitarian stance with emphasis on pneumatological intuitions, especially that of the trialectic dynamic of the Spirit. That dynamic is the resolution to binary or dualistic impulses and funds a Spirit-oriented hermeneutic while also energizing a dialogical approach to theological inquiry. According to Yong, the benefits of a pneumatological lens do not require the diminishing of Christian commitments but will, on the other hand, promote a deeper understanding of contextual underpinnings of all theologies and a more effective global Christian witness (Ebook loc. 125).

Yong’s conversation partners are positioned in light of the situational and theological challenges that their respective contributions can address. To begin with, Yong asserts that Christian theology today finds itself situated within a postfoundational, post-Christendom, postsecular, postmodern, and pluralistic world (loc. 125, 7096). Following the introduction, his text is divided into four sections. The first discusses a way forward through the demise of foundationalism, and the second features the role of pneumatological intuitions and those voicing them in this post-Christendom era. The issue of plurality is addressed in the third and fourth sections, the first dealing with science in dialogue with spirituality, highlighting specifically the gains in this direction made by Buddhist theologians and the implications for Christian theology. The fourth and last section explores relational and participative methods in interreligious dialogue.

In the first half of the text, Yong offers a turn away from Cartesian influences and toward an experiential epistemology via C.S. Peirce’s semiotic theory, the neo-pragmatism of Richard Rorty that accentuates “the interrelatedness of all things” (loc. 1352), and the foundational pneumatology of Donald J. Gelpi (loc. 1954). To address the viability of Christianity among other voices, Yong introduces the “baptist vision” of James William McClendon, Jr., a vision that resonates with what Yong refers to as “the broad theological anthropology of Wesleyanism and the pneumatological anthropology of pentecostalism” (loc. 2931). McClendon’s approach is ecumenical and eschatological while at the same time sensitive to the need to listen to the story of others (loc. 2920). In conversation with Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen and James K.A. Smith, both writing intentionally from their theological and philosophical journeys in the pentecostal and charismatic movements, Yong encourages bolder strides toward engagement with the world and other religions. In Kärkkäinen’s case, Yong suggests he cultivate even deeper contact with other religions in order to develop himself as a world theologian (loc. 3517). For Smith, Yong offers a “pneumatological assist” toward a “more cohesive Christian theology of cultural and interreligious engagement for our time” (loc. 3960). This assist highlights the Spirit already in the world in accordance with “the Spirit poured out on all flesh” and turns away from “out-narrating other mythoi” and toward an intuitiveness regarding the presence of the church in the world (loc. 3960, 3826, 3999).

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Category: In Depth, Summer 2018

About the Author: Anna M. Droll, M. Div. (Fuller Theological Seminary), is ordained with the Assemblies of God and is a district-appointed missionary, having founded Kairos Global Missions in 2012 with her husband Raymond. Her ministry is focused in Africa where she also served as Communications Coordinator for Global Teen Challenge Africa. She is adjunct professor of Evangelism and Missions at Southeastern University and adjunct professor of Old Testament at Northwest University. She is finishing her PhD work with advisor, Amos Yong, exploring dreams and visions in African Pentecostal spirituality. A forthcoming publication will be articles to be presented in the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the Global South on Christianity in the West African countries of Togo and Benin. Facebook

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