Beyond the Impasse: Toward a Pneumatological Theology of Religions

Article excerpt

Beyond the Impasse: Toward a Pneumatological Theology of Religions. By Amos Yong. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003, 205 pp., $17.99 paper.

Amos Yong, associate professor of Christian theology at Bethel College, joins a growing number of "evangelical" scholars (e.g. Clark Pinnock, Harold Netland, Millard Erickson, Terrance Tiessen, Vinoth Ramachandra, S. Mark Heim) who are contributing to the formulation of a Christian theology of religions. This work is both a revision and extension of a proposal first made by the author in his doctoral dissertation at Boston University (1998) under the supervision of Robert Cummings Neville. It also contains material that Yong has presented in several published articles.

Yong is convinced that evangelicals are at an impasse on this subject because previous theological proposals have assumed an exclusivist, inclusivist, or pluralist perspective concerning the salvation of non-Christians. The author, while committed personally to soteriological inclusivism, believes that a genuine theology of religions must move beyond issues that are strictly soteriological in nature towards adoption of a pneumatological perspective that will assist the church in discovering where the Holy Spirit works within the framework of non-Christian religious practices. This pneumatological approach "may open up new lines of dialogue and engagement with the religious other so that returning to the soteriological question later may mean returning to a different set of questions with a different framework" (p. 22).

Yong, as a Pentecostal theologian, not only affirms the comprehensive presence of the Holy Spirit in the world but also emphasizes the need for Christians to exercise proper discernment concerning the activity of the Spirit (or Spirits) in other faith traditions. While some Christians may receive the spiritual gift of discernment, the author believes that such discernment in the broadest sense should be understood as a "hermeneutics of life" that is "both a divine gift and human activity aimed at reading correctly the inner processes of all things-persons, institutions, events, rites, experiences, and so on" (p. 129). The author maintains that proper discernment is developed through three particular stages-the metaphysical, the biblical, and the theological and practical.

The theological framework for Yong's pneumatological model is guided by three controlling axioms. The first affirms that God is universally present and active in the Spirit (p. 44). This means one must investigate the ways the triune God is present in the cosmos, in nature, in human history, and human experience. It is the trinitarian framework of the pneumatological model that makes this theology of religions, according to Yong, distinctively Christian. The second axiom states that God's Spirit is the life-breath of the imago Dei in every human being and the presupposition of all human relationships and communities (p. 45). This means "all human engagements with the 'other'-whether that other be human others, the world, or the divine-are pneumatologically mediated." Human beings, therefore, think, communicate, and relate as "spirit-beings" whose "quest for ultimate reality" proceeds from being individuals-in-communities. In other words, religious quests occur within a communal context. The third axiom affirms that the religions of the world, like everything else that exists, are providentially sustained by the Spirit of God for divine purposes (p. 46). Yong dismisses the a priori assumption that religions other than Christianity are devoid of divine presence and activity. Even if the practices of many religions reflect human endeavor to reach the ultimate, these practices serve "divine purposes centered around the full revelation of Jesus Christ and the impending kingdom of God."

The author calls for the establishment of a foundational pneumatology in formulating a theology of religions. He does so in light of postmodernism's rejection of traditional Cartesian foundationalism, a move that Yong views as mostly positive. …