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A broader view of “charismology” or theology of charismata is also advocated by Yong. He suggests: (1) Abandoning an overemphasis on natural versus supernatural categories as “fallacious dualisms”; (2) Affirming manifestation of the charismata as a sign of the “interpenetration divine and the orders of creation” such as is most obviously also evident in the Incarnation; (3) Acknowledging that the charismata can be cultivated and developed as “Walking in and after the Spirit sharpens our capacity to discern and imitate the Spirit’s ways”; (4) Eliminating tendencies toward self-aggrandizement in operation of charismata; and, (5) Emphasizing the constant need for discernment with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ serving as “the supreme Christian norm” (pp. 294-96). Yong integrates biblical, theological, philosophical, and pastoral insights in an attempt to achieve an advanced approach to spiritual gifts that conserves charismatic values and vitality, conditions pneumatic practice more openly, and confines all-too-common excesses or abuses. Taken seriously, his suggestions can revolutionize the understanding and operation of the charismata. Yong’s charismology has considerable ability on one hand to elevate our understanding of the gifts of the Spirit to a more sublime level, while, on the other hand, to offer a less elitist, more inclusive operation of spiritual gifts throughout the corporate Body of Christ. In my own opinion, two equal and opposite errors, as C. S. Lewis loved to say, regarding the charismata have to do with either over divinizing until the human element is diminished or destroyed or over humanizing until the divine element is diminished or destroyed. In either case, God’s people cease to be partners with God’s Spirit. And if anything at all ought to be stressed about reception and operation of spiritual gifts it is that they involve God’s people and God’s Spirit in holy partnership.3

One of Yong’s strengths is his skillful use of comparative theology. He is a master synthesizer. He is particularly adept at taking apparently disparate views and demonstrating, without denying their real differences, ways they might appreciate, inform, and enhance one another. Results are never merely condescending or compromising, but always truly creative. He employes this process surprisingly successfully with Christians and non-Christians, Pentecostal Christians and non-Pentecostal Christians, various “liberal/post-liberal” and “conservative” ideologies, Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, and political-sociological agendas and spiritual-individual experiences, and others. Along this line his discussion of Trinitarian and Oneness Pentecostal theology is especially intriguing. Potentially cross-fertilizing concepts of unity and plurality are creatively explored. One suggestion I question, however, is Yong’s admittedly “ambivalent” discussion of possibilities in Oneness theology as points of contact with non-Christian radical monotheists (see pp. 227-31, 264). The idea is that since Jews, Muslims, and Oneness Pentecostals share some form of unitarian monotheism then dialogue on that basis might stimulate better relations. I am cautious here on the basis of two considerations, one practical and the other theological. Before listing them, I should mention that my own extended family has for several years suffered painful and permanent splits centering on controversies over the Godhead. Trinitarian myself by choice rather than by tradition, I have close family and friends in both camps. Undeniably devout persons exist on both sides of the divide. Yet the debate cannot be easily by-passed even from an academic perspective for ideological purposes. My overall sympathy is nonetheless for Amos Yong’s ecumenical and inter-religious objectives.

 

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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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