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Amos Yong: The Dialogical Spirit

Within the last selection of essays, dialogue is taken up with the sciences and Buddhist philosophy. First, Yong presents the work of physicist-theologian John Polkinghorne for the insights that his interdisciplinary perspective brings to thinking about other faith traditions. Polkinghorne’s emphasis on a “bottom-up,” experientially (or empirically) informed approach to theology reiterates the need for evangelical theology to take seriously the practices of the religious other. Also, Yong finds Polkinghorne’s assertion that the Spirit’s claim to creation should influence Christians positively toward other religious faiths important to the discussion (loc. 4395). The subsequent essays discuss the interaction between the Dalai Lama and Western science as documented in the Mind and Life Dialogues, along with the perspective of scholar B. Alan Wallace on the relationship between modern science and Buddhist philosophy. Yong points to the interactions as noteworthy for how they model dialogical bridge building, for example, in terms of recognizing the convergence of quantum mechanical sciences with the practices of the lamas (loc. 5378). One of the last essays describes the fairly recent work of the Jesuit priest Francis X. Clooney on the readings of Hindu texts alongside of Scripture. Clooney is the most interactive of interreligious thinkers since he proposes an approach to understanding Hinduism and other faith traditions that requires involving oneself in their religious practices. Yong presents this as “dual religious belonging” and explores the questions and tensions involved in this stance. The discussion of Clooney’s work is followed with the last essay on the methodological ludism of anthropologist André Droogers. The concept of a “ludic posture” for students of religions employs the natural human capacity to “play” in terms of “living and performing simultaneously” in more than one “world” or “reality,” in essence, developing a “double awareness” (loc. 6478). Yong describes the method as “interreligious crossover and return” and suggests that the lucid posture be considered as a way around the usual “reductionism, religionism, or agnosticism” since “subjunctive engagement across religious lines is imperative for contemporary scholarship in these arenas” (loc. 6596, 6659, 6647).

This review of Yong’s text offers a closing observation. Yong writes that evangelical theology should be concerned with the actualities of religious practice (“to speak in the tongues and languages of others” à la Clooney, loc. 376) when seeking to understand the religious other, albeit, he underscores that “the challenges should not be underestimated” (loc. 365). One such challenge will likely arise for Christians in non-Western contexts and point to differing pneumatological intuitions. That is because, as one of the “multiplicity of starting points” for dialogical encounter between religions (faiths), the pneumatological imagination in many contexts operates from a powers/liberation motif (loc. 148). That motif is at the core of certain pentecostalisms grounded in complex cosmologies, for example, Pentecostalism in certain African contexts. The motif represents an understanding of embodied spirituality as connected to interrelational causality between the visible and invisible realms. The boundaries between the visible and invisible are permeable, and spirit manifestations are both positive (Holy Spirit) and negative (spirits of other types). The strong emphasis on liberation from local deities/powers would therefore likely generate the question: to what extent does engagement with the practices and liturgy of other faiths for the sake of understanding result in engagement with deities, and are the practices innocuous to those of Christian faith? From this standpoint, safety from evil forces registers higher on the valuation scale than perhaps in the West.

Reviewed by Anna Droll


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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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