The Theology of Amos Yong
Amos Yong may be the most influential Pentecostal theologian alive today. If he’s not foremost, he’s at least one of the top five.
Part of the reason Yong has been so influential is that he has been so prolific. Although only a middle-aged man (50?), he has published more than 20 books, many of them monographs. He’s written more than 100 articles and essays, publishing them in a wide array of journals.
Yong is also influential because he’s interested in so many subjects. He explores and publishes on science, biblical interpretation, ecumenical and interreligious dialogues (especially Buddhism), disability, systematic theology, love, philosophy, missiology, Evangelicalism, and, of course, pneumatology. In his work on these subjects and many more, Yong expands understanding of what it means to do a theology of the spirit.
A new collection of essays, The Theology of Amos Yong and the New Face of Pentecostal Scholarship: Passion for the Spirit, explores many facets of Yong’s work. The book’s editors, Wolfgang Vondey and Martin William Mittelstadt, rightly say “few other figures stand out with more clarity than Amos Yong” (1). The introduction describes how Yong’s leadership and publishing have been widely influential. His writing is often the first exposure many have to Pentecostal scholarship.
Yong represents a generation of scholars who together formulate a new rationale for the vitality and future of Pentecostal scholarship, say the editors. This scholarship overcomes many tensions between Pentecostal spirituality and science, for instance.
The introduction to the edited collection not only speaks of Yong’s contributions. It also offers a history of the overall rationale of Pentecostal scholarship today. I found this aspect of the book especially helpful.
Essays in the book are carefully ordered. They begin by exploring Yong’s work in light of biblical, hermeneutical and theological discussions. Thereafter, essayists look at various contemporary conversations, such as the issues of theology and disability, contemporary culture and film, wider world religions, Trinitarian discussions, and more.
In addition to asking Pentecostal scholars to explore the fruitfulness of Yong’s theological research, editors invited outsiders to the Pentecostal tradition to reflect on Yong’s work. Evangelical, Eastern orthodox, Anglican, and Roman Catholic perspectives were provided. This demonstrates not only wisdom on the editors’ part, but it also what represents the spirit of Yong’s own efforts to engage ecumenical families both within the Christian tradition and outside it. Yong’s circle of conversation partners is immense!
Although the breadth of the book’s topics is wide, not all topics I would have liked to have seen addressed were included. For instance, Yong’s work on issues of love, systematic theology, and political theology were not represented well in the essays. His world-wide reach is also not well represented among contributors, but to do so would require a much larger book.
I found all essays in this book strong. Rather than reflecting on each, I will comment on two that particularly interested me.
SCIENCE AND THEOLOGY
Wolfgang Vondey explores Yong’s work in the science and religion dialogue. Yong’s work in this discussion emerges out of his concern to engage modern and postmodern habits of life shaped by science and technology. Yong also believes credibility of Christian theology today requires engagement with a scientific worldview. And he believes the Pentecostal methodology that emphasizes experience is a natural bridge to the empirical sciences.
In Yong’s work, we discover that Pentecostal hermeneutics, with its emphasis upon pneumatology, offers flexible ways to speak about God’s work in the world of science. Vondey shows that a Pentecostal hermeneutic provides a way of thinking about creation that compliments scientific explanations without undermining them.
Yong’s use of C. S. Peirce’s philosophy has been helpful as a framework for his science and theology research. Peirce’s metaphysical project offers an openness to both science and a defense against scientism. As Yong sees it, Peircian metaphysics allows for a teleological view of the laws of nature, including an emphasis upon indeterminacy, spontaneity, and chance. This approach to the natural world fits well with Pentecostal theology, in which the spirit is active throughout and empowering creatures to move in the presence of God.
The creation theology Yong offers suggests we live in a spirit-filled cosmos. This cosmos includes divine, human, and other spiritual realities. Yong’s work to distinguish the capacities and nature of these realities provides a responsible Pentecostal framework for discussion of science and religion issues.
Mark Mann wrote the other chapter that I found particularly compelling. Mann wonders how Yong fits in the Evangelical world. He concludes that Yong is an evangelical of the reformist variety. For instance, Yong’s response to postmodernity has challenged the epistemic foundationalism typical of modernity and modern Evangelicalism. Mann sees Yong’s work as having affinity with post-liberal theology. Here again, C. S. Peirce’s metaphysics is noted as helpful and influential for understanding Yong’s work.
Mann also addresses Yong’s pneumatological turn. As a Pentecostal, Yong emphasizes the Holy Spirit’s work in the church and the world. This allows him to converse not only with others in the Christian tradition but those outside it. Mann concludes by arguing that in Yong’s theology, “we find a call to and method for fidelity to the triune God whose Holy Spirit speaks in many tongues and who blows, like the wind, wherever it will” (220). If Evangelicalism is to have a future, argues Mann, people like Amos Yong must chart its course forward.
One of the nice features of this book is the epilogue provided by the editors. In it, they acknowledge that the relationship between scholarship and the general Pentecostal movement is complex and sometimes difficult. One finds pockets of intellectual sophistication as well as strong anti-intellectualism within Pentecostalism.
Amos Yong represents one who both affirms Pentecostal piety and the full intellectualization of the Pentecostal movement. To date, his influence has been felt most deeply in academia. From Yong’s perspective, say the editors, Pentecostal scholarship “cannot afford to disengage from any scholarly conversation without running the risk to appear lifeless, disinterested, secluded, and irrelevant” (271).
Essays in this book make it clear that Yong’s influence is deep. And yet as impressive as Yong’s work has been to date, it may be that even greater things are still to come.
YONG’S NEW VENTURE
In recent weeks, Amos Yong has taken a new position. Effective July 1, he will join Fuller Theological Seminary as professor fo theology and mission, as well as Director of Center for Missiological Research.
As Yong begins the second half of his career, I anticipate great things from a Pentecostal theologian whose influence has already been great!As Amos Yong begins the 2nd half of life, I anticipate great things from one whose influence has already been great! Click To Tweet