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Amos Yong: Discerning the Spirit(s)

Dr. Yong has written a distinctively Pentecostal Christian theology of religions. Progress in theology of religions often halts because of apparently irresolvable issues regarding the person of Jesus Christ. Yong wishes to by-pass this Christological impasse by re-directing attention to pneumatology. He does not deny that this is only a temporary tactic. He himself insists on the necessity and desirability of a robust trinitarian theology of religions developing the ancient idea of the Son and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father (pp. 311, 315-16). But setting aside Christology, even temporarily, may be a sticking point for some Pentecostals. Viewing Christ as divine particularity (historic) and the Spirit as divine universality (cosmic) doubtless has much to offer Pentecostal theology of religions. An artificial isolation, however, of Christology and pneumatology may be neither plausible nor possible. For one thing, Christology is not without universality (cf. John 1:1) and pneumatology is not without particularity (cf. Rom 8: 11). More importantly, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Gal 4:6). Any attempt to separate or isolate Christ and the Spirit is doomed to distortion. Yong’s complaint about the lacuna in theology of religions regarding pneumatology is certainly legitimate. (The imbalance applies to many other areas as well!) His concept of pneumatological imagination is an exceedingly helpful corrective. But though Yong is himself absolutely orthodox, his isolationist approach may open up unwarranted and unwanted unorthodoxies breezily by-passing Christ altogether. Better than either isolating Christology, an obvious majority mistake of the past, or isolating pneumatology, a possible Pentecostal mistake of the present, is a simultaneous, systematic exegesis and exploration of both Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit in relation to the religions. Though this might not erase the Christological impasse, it may indeed show surprising results as the old, lop-sided Christology with its longstanding pneumatological lacuna is replaced with a more complete, comprehensive trinitarian perspective.

The goal is to realize that in some sense the Spirit “is at work in the religions, shaping and re-shaping them, or else mollifying their resisting spirits”, and to challenge us to follow the Spirit’s “lead and work with him to do the same” (p. 324). I heartily agree. More awareness of the Spirit’s work in the world and in the world’s religions has extremely important implications for Christian theology of religions. Yong is not unaware of or ambiguous about possible dangers in this project. As a spiritual safeguard, and in top Pentecostal style, he develops a practical doctrine of discernment of God’s presence or absence and also of the presence of the demonic in religions (pp. 312-15, 321-22). He does not stop with telling us the Spirit may be found working throughout the world, which is, after all, God’s creation, or even in the midst of non-Christian religions, with their mixture of the divine, human, and demonic. He goes on to help us identify when and where the Spirit is present and active, or not, and when and where demonic presence and activity occurs. His is not a naïve or nostalgic theology of religions but a practical, workable, and fully Pentecostal approach.

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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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