The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth by Amos Yong

By: Doc Hughes
Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Amos Yong, ed. The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth: Pentecostal Forays in Science and Theology of Creation. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2009. 246 pp. $30.00.

Readers of Yong’s work will find a consistent pattern in most of his pieces, the desire to bridge gaps dealing with controversial issues (see for example Beyond the Impasse or Theology and Down Syndrome). The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth is no exception, as Yong combines fourteen articles from multiple authors who wrote for the thirty-eighth annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal studies (2008, Duke University). The collection is impressive, not for its size, but for its pluralistic approach, one that includes scientists, professors, administrators, a counselor, and a PhD student, as well as the representation of four continents. As such, the pentecostal encounter with science in the twentieth century and beyond is explored from scientific, theological, psychological, and other perspectives covering a wide range of expertise.

The book is informative, challenging and open-ended. From the outset, Yong admits the anti-intellectual attitude of pentecostals throughout the twentieth century (especially early to mid) and gives reasons for such perspectives. Yet Yong also stresses the contemporary push for the intermingling of science and theology within pentecostal camps, or at least the desire for consistent dialogue that presents a more balanced approach toward studies of creation, nature and the Spirit. This push, adhering to Yong’s previous claim to always begin with the Spirit (see especially Yong’s The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh and Spirit-Word-Community), starts with the Spirit (experientially and theologically) and “from that vantage point seeks to engage, interact with, and perhaps even include scientific perspectives in attempting to comprehend the natural world” (xix).

In order to demonstrate the tone of the book, the following is a summary of and response to Shane Clifton’s article, where he boldly assesses that pentecostals (historically) have not included an ecological component in their fourfold (fivefold?) doctrinal beliefs, and therefore fall short of preaching a “full gospel.” In fact, Clifton considers it a “failure” that pentecostals have not developed an environmental ethos, and in terms of divine healing, he claims that rarely has healing focused on social concerns (117–134). While Clifton’s point is well noted and certainly received as a challenge for contemporary pentecostals, he neglects two important facts. One, the establishment of the fourfold (fivefold?) doctrinal emphasis was in reaction to heavy persecution from outside forces, many of whom were other Christians, and thus the attempt was made to define pentecostal beliefs based on issues that were relevant at the time. Not until recent trends with scientific claims, such as global warming or holes in the ozone layer, has environmental welfare been a major doctrinal concern for any Christian sect (Protestant, Catholic, etc.).

Furthermore, the chief instrument understood to preserve the environment has never been the church; rather, local or global concerns over pollution and the like have always been generated through political and economic means. The point is not that pentecostals have “failed” in their doctrinal approach, it is that the pentecostal charge, until recently, has always and foremost adopted a scriptural ethos in aggressive evangelism while confronting allegations of false doctrine, which rarely entailed a prescription for addressing Mother Earth. While Clifton makes an excellent assertion that pentecostals need to be more concerned with scientific discoveries, his comparison of a contemporary and cultural affair with environmental preservation and the pentecostal emphasis in the fourfold (fivefold?) gospel is an exercise in eisegetical trickery. With this mode of thinking, Luther and Calvin for example should be held responsible for not implementing historical-critical methodologies in their hermeneutics.

In addition, the disputed beginnings of the twentieth century pentecostal movement in North America appealed to the poverty stricken, to those who were the social issue itself, as is still much the trend around the world. Respect for land and water was heavily ingratiated into the minds of those who did not see the environment as something to be preserved, but as something that sustains life. Prayers for healthy soil, insect free vegetation, short winters and long summers were the constant meditation upon many pentecostal lips. Truly, pentecostals have succumbed to some erroneous ways of thinking and attitudes, but Clifton’s pronouncement of “failure” in the fourfold (fivefold?) gospel because the environment is not mentioned embraces an unrealistic viewpoint that “fails” to empathize with the underlying twentieth century pentecostal context.       

Other insightful articles include those by Robbie Waddell and Scott Ellington, both of whom highlight the regenerative and creative potential of the Spirit. The last chapter, by Michael Tenneson and Steve Badger, serves as a helpful teaching tool for those interested in connecting theology and creation. Although the authors of the book as a whole could improve their work by providing a more detailed and praxis-oriented guideline for incorporating a more environmentally friendly protocol, perhaps Yong’s upcomingThe Spirit, Creation and New Creation (2010) will address specific questions pertaining to the exact role pentecostals can play on a global level. It would also be helpful to include more scholars who claim creational science as their first priority over theological studies. Finally, no women are included in the fray of authors, which presents an ironic scenario of male scholars writing regarding the Holy Spirit, a name often rooted in feminine qualities, all the while promoting an anti-patriarchal and anti-hierarchical exegesis of the word “dominance,” often misinterpreted in the Genesis account of creation. However, reference is made to feminine scholarship and one author refers to the Spirit as “It” in order to avoid pronoun confusion. Perhaps the point here is that hopefully scholarship has outgrown former days of exclusion associated with race or gender. In any case, Yong exemplifies a global determination in his theological projects and this collection follows suit.  The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth is a groundbreaking project for discovery and possibility between scientists, theologians and psychologists. Yong’s scholarly burden is to bridge gaps dealing with controversial issues in theology from a pentecostal perspective, and in this respect the book does not disappoint.

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Doc Hughes
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3 Responses to “The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth by Amos Yong”

  1. Amos Yong Amos Yong says:

    Thanks, Doc! I’ll leave it to some of the authors of the book to respond to your criticisms. In the meanwhile, readers who are interested in this book will also be interested in another forthcoming volume that I have co-edited with James K. A. Smith: http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=348701.

  2. In questioning your critique of the role of the church in a global enviromental system… could the so called “Seperation of Church and State” be foundational in this level of thinking that the church doesn’t get involved?

    Perhaps we can learn much from Francis of Assisi and could it be said that if Calvin and Luther were transposed into our modern world today they would have said much about the churches role in caring for the environment?

  3. Doc Hughes says:

    I appreciate Clifton’s response and I’ll make my comments brief.
    1. I believe we differ in our use of the term “failure.” This seems like a strong word if Clifton’s intentions are simply to use the pentecostal motif as “a point of reference.” If Clifton is giving “a point of reference,” what exactly then is the “failure” unless he is casting contemporary concerns into past methodologies? In other words, because the fourfold (fivefold?) gospel is a way of thinking about the gospel that excludes environmental concerns–and because this way of thinking still influences pentecostals today–does not mean there is a pentecostal “failure” somewhere in the mix. It simply means that pentecostal methods need to strive toward and include a more eco-friendly ethos, which is exactly what scholars such as Yong, Waddell and Clifton are trying to achieve.
    But there is no “failure” here, not unless Clifton also wants to hold the patristics responsible for not including concerns of air pollution in their doctrinal conditions of the trinity. Clifton suggests that I feel that he “should not be critiquing Pentecostals for failing to develop an ecotheology when concerns about environmental issues…” Yet this was not my intention; my emphasis is upon Clifton’s use of “failure,” not the critique in general. I say critique away; the pentecostals need it.

    2. Clifton is correct when he says the early 20th century pentecostal movement heavily incorporated the role of women in ministry. Scholars such as Cheryl Bridges Johns, Karen Carroll Mundy, Estrelda Alexander and David Roebuck are much more adequate to advance this line of discussion; however, Clifton “fails” in his assessment of pentecostal foresight “to be ahead of the public attitudes on gender, advancing the place of women in ministry when society and most other churches had not yet addressed the issue.” The role of women in early pentecostalism had nothing to do with foresight, as in the implications made here, whereby there was a calculated effort against societal norms or public attitudes. Women preached, evangelized, led ministries, etc., because they were deemed “filled with the Spirit.” It had nothing to do with any sort of evaluation, but more so to do with “I’m saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost, therefore I can minister.” It was a pre-fundamental attitude, the idea that anyone, regardless of race, gender, status, etc., could lead, as long as that person led according to scripture being “baptized in the Holy Ghost.”
    Therefore, while I appreciate Clifton’s boost of the early pentecostal mentality–and certainly a mentality that perhaps needs further attention in regards to women and their role in ministry–Clifton’s comparison of the pentecostal insight into the role of women with the pentecostal “failure” of an eco-friendly emphasis is moot. I struggle to see the relationship between the two, but perhaps these are issues more defined in Clifton’s anticipated and upcoming work.