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The Coming of Pietistic-Pentecostalism: Summary and Reflection on Amos Yong’s 2015 Downey Lectures

This is the kind of Christianity that is sweeping the world. Not only have Pietists sent missionaries (largely out of Europe and North America in the nineteenth-century missionary movements) but, because of their deep influence in diverse contexts, the Pietist-Pentecostals have been affected by reverse-mission initiatives (largely out of Africa, Asia, and Latin America). The “Pentacostalization” of Global Christianity is a documented trend. Although some may not identify as a Pietistic-Pentecostal (understanding themselves to be part of an independent or indigenous movement, or even an established denomination, such as the Roman Catholicism), the spirituality of many individuals who identify as Christians and are a part of these growing churches contain the defining features of Pietisitic-Pentacostalism.

Amos Yong urges the church to recover a biblical and historical sense of what the Spirit’s presence in our world means.

Yong asserted that the three challenges that this expression of Christianity faces are its tendencies towards anti-intellectualism, ongoing fragmentation, and the “prosperity gospel.” Since Pietism emerged as a response to a perceived over-intellectualized form of Christianity (for example, scholasticism and higher criticism), it is no surprise that their perspective is in danger of swinging to the opposite side of the spectrum and, in fact, becoming anti-intellectual. They are suspicious about the life of the mind because, from their perspective, disciplines like higher criticism cause one to ask unanswerable questions and lead one’s heart away from Jesus. While these suspicions may be warranted, this perspective is at risk of emphasizing orthopraxis and orthopathos detached from orthodoxy (evolving into non-orthopraxis and non-orthopathos). Consequently, this can lead to “new revelations” and excessive manifestations of the Spirit supported solely by subjective experience.

Second, ongoing fragmentation is a current concern in Pentecostalism. Just as Pentecostals can use subjective experiences to justify anti-intellectualism, so can they use subjective experiences to justify breaking with their past. While such breaks do not always displease God, they still may. This attitude has led to an emphasis on “apostolic” networks and lone charismatic personalities rather than on confessions and creeds.

Third, this expression of Christianity is at risk of overemphasizing prosperity to an unbiblical degree. While prosperity is not necessarily evil, “prosperity gospels” are heretical. According to the apostle Paul, there is only one gospel, and it is not the “prosperity gospel.” This overemphasis on prosperity can lead to a blurring of distinctions between consumerism and the gospel which, Yong asserted, clearly profanes the true gospel.

Amos Yong asserts that an overemphasis on prosperity can lead to a blurring of distinctions between consumerism and the gospel, something that clearly profanes the true gospel.

At the end of the opening lecture, the audience was invited to interact with Dr. Yong. A number of people wanted to pursue what he had to say about the relationship between the mind, body, and Spirit. According to Yong, modernity’s chasm between the spiritual and material or intellectual has snuck into our perspective of the Christian life. As a result, Yong urged the church to recover a biblical and historical sense of what the Spirit’s presence in our world means. The Spirit meets us as who we are (that is, contextual beings) and, thus, the life of the Spirit and the life of the mind and the body are not opposed to each other but work together in the whole beings that we are.

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2015

About the Author: Jenny-Lyn de Klerk has a BA in Christian Studies and an MA in Biblical and Theological Studies from Ambrose Seminary (Calgary, AB, Canada) and works at Tsawwassen Alliance Church (Delta, BC, Canada).

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