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

In his second lecture, Yong explained the historical contributions of Pietism to the church, responded to the challenges identified in his first lecture, and proposed opportunities that Pietistic-Pentecostalism has to positively influence the church today. First, Pietism has brought about a restoration of heart religion, a nurturing of a communal life and witness, an evangelistic and missionary impulse fed by relational orientation, a missionary exemplarity, a spiritual vitality, and an appeal to the masses. Love of God and neighbor, a central biblical theme, is clearly emphasized in these points. Yong suggested that Christians often domesticate these ideas of love and lose sight of the amazing fact that finite creatures can respond to God and neighbor in love by God’s grace. Reflecting on this should cause us to stand in awe of God because of the grace he gives us to make possible what is impossible by our own strength.

This implies that our lives should be lived in communion with God and others, which also leads to a concern for missions. Yong noted that there is no space or time that is not claimed by God or to which his redemptive word does not resound. Hence, part of the Pentecostal gift is to listen to this redemptive word echoing throughout the world and to ensure it continues to echo into its furthest corners. Furthermore, spiritual vitality is intrinsic to the kind of oral culture that permeates Pentecostal movements and provides a response to those hungering for spirituality. Because of this oral culture and the emphasis on love, community, missions, and spirituality, Pietist-Pentecostals are able to connect with all kinds of people on a deeper level.

Finally, Yong provided a response to the challenges he shared in the first lecture. In short, the best way to guard against the negative tendencies of Pietistic-Pentecostalism is to view orthopraxy, orthopathos, and orthodoxy as interrelated and to view the life of loving in the power of the Spirit as the same life as that of the mind. In other words, Yong called for a more holistic understanding of one’s life as a Christian: a material, rational, and spiritual being who cares about submitting behavior, feelings, and thinking to the lordship of Christ.

Amos Yong: A primitivist is primitive enough to believe that the God who spoke before speaks today.

In light of these challenges and opportunities, Yong explored what Pietistic-Pentecostalism can contribute to the church today by looking at what its philosophy or theology of Christian higher education could look like. A Pietistic-Pentecostal historiographical method would 1) view history as subjective (rather than purely objective, something that is impossible for a context-bound humanity to do) and 2) to explore history from the perspective and through the oral traditions of the masses (rather than just the written-record of the elites). Furthermore, a Pietistic-Pentecostal biblical hermeneutic would be restorationist, Christ-centered, gospel-centered, and apostolic. Yong defined “restorationism” as viewing the word of God not just as a historical account of the past but as something that invites us to live in those past events now. While the term “primitivist” has been used as a derogatory term for this approach to scripture, Yong cleverly stated, “a primitivist is primitive enough to believe that the God who spoke before speaks today.” Consequently, being Christ-centered and gospel-centered is not just about what we think Jesus did in the past but is also about what the living Christ does in us now. In the gospel of Luke, Christ is presented as a prototype for the apostles and, therefore, we are to follow in their footsteps as well as Christ’s. Their lives teach us that Christ meets us by his Spirit wherever we are and continues along our journey with us as we change and grow. A Pietistic-Pentecostal theological method would be relational, experiential, spiritually-orientated, charismatic, and fully Trinitarian. In other words, theology is to be done in an encounter of loving God and neighbor (which makes theology more difficult than if one was to do it alone, answering only to oneself), as a work of the mind influenced by the work of the Spirit, and as an exercise that makes vital truths like the Trinity come to life (because of the Pietistic-Pentecostal emphasis on relationship) rather than being an abstract and lifeless doctrine on a page.

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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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