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On Fire and Up to Date

 

Close to the heart of Yong’s endeavor is conceptualizing Spirit baptism as a broad metaphor for a dynamic and eschatological pneumatological soteriology characterized by less rigidity and more fluidity.1  Accordingly, it could encompass all experience of the Holy Spirit in Christ. In a carefully qualified sense, therefore, Spirit baptism would include initial conversion (justification/new birth), ongoing and entire sanctification (holiness), and charismatic endowment and vocational empowerment through spiritual gifts. Drawing on John Wesley, Yong argues more for a “via salutis” (way of salvation) than an “ordo salutis” (order of salvation) (p. 104). Through an overarching rubric of Spirit baptism salvation can be conceived as a conversionary process of ever intensifying transformation including multiple bilateral (nonhierarchical) stages of spiritual experience on a journey culminating in glory. Salvation as process means, “I was saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved” (p. 118). With this move Yong hopes to avoid stalemate debates about unconditional eternal security, without sacrificing Pentecostal experiences of the Spirit. Not entirely without precedent (cf. “pentecostal pioneer David Wesley Myland”, p. 99 fn. 46), this nevertheless represents an innovative and irenic attempt to take Pentecostal pneumatological soteriology beyond conventional categories. It implies that in different ways at the same time both Pentecostals and their detractors have been both right and wrong on key points! It also affects other interrelated areas in somewhat surprising ways (e.g., a less symbolic, more pneumatic sacramental theology). Questions arise. Have Pentecostals overly dogmatized about dynamic experiences and thereby at least partially undermined their own testimonial purposes? Is any single metaphor broad enough to encompass all Christian experience? What are the possibilities and pitfalls here? Will Pentecostals and the wider Christian community gain ground together? Or do Pentecostals end up giving up hard won land our forefathers and foremothers fought for so sacrificially? Whichever track is taken, wrestling with these issues seems sure to enliven and enrich Pentecostal theology for some time to come.

Many Pentecostals will perhaps wonder how Yong’s dynamic pneumatological theology addresses traditional teachings on subsequence and initial evidence or even the Evangelical litmus test of biblical inerrancy. On inerrancy and initial evidence Yong specifically suggests that his system allows room for faithfully more nuanced understandings and applications but argues that in order to avoid “the letter of a dead law” (p. 297) focus should be fixed more on the Holy Spirit and life in the Spirit rather than legalistic formulations. The doctrine of subsequence receives similar treatment in his idea of ever intensifying multiple experiences in a conversionary process (see above). Yong consciously struggles to consistently maintain continuity with historic classical Pentecostalism even while aiming at creativity in constructs for contemporary contexts. Many Pentecostals for years have testified that Pentecost is not primarily about tongues or doctrine but about experiencing the Holy Spirit. In this Yong agrees. Yet tongues and doctrine are important. Again, Yong agrees. Working out the interrelatedness of such issues is part of his purpose in these avowedly “programmatic essays” (p. 29). We could wish he would already be more explicit, but an implicit promise of more to come is encouraging. I have called The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh “on fire and up to date” because it retains the spiritual fervor of traditional Pentecostalism while it reaches toward enhanced relevance in today’s context. Striking just the right note will require some working out over time by both Yong and his dialogue partners.2  Is it possible to interpret the sacred tongues of Pentecostalism in language that can be heard and understood by today’s listeners? Yong thinks so. I do too.

 

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Category: In Depth, Winter 2007

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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