Global Renewal, Religious Pluralism, and the Great Commission

By: Brandon Kertson
Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Global Renewal, Religious Pluralism, and the Great Commission : Towards a Renewal Theology of Mission and Interreligious Encounter. Asbury Theological Seminary Series in Christian Revitalization Pentecostal/Charismatic Section. Lexington, Ky.: Emeth Press, 2011.

In the last century, renewal Christianity has exploded around the globe, particularly in the global South. In many countries experiencing the greatest growth, however, Christianity is not the dominant religion. Despite its rapid numerical growth resulting from intense evangelism and mission, little theological reflection has been done as to how the burgeoning movements should live and minister in the midst of such a pluralist world. Global Renewal, Religious Pluralism, and the Great Commission, edited by Amos Yong and Clifton Clarke, contains a series of papers presented and refined at a symposium held at Regent University in February of 2010 to address just this, the nature of the Christian mission in a religiously plural world from a renewal perspective.

The first set of three chapters covers the more theoretical issues involved in such a discussion. Clifton Clarke opens the book by addressing the issue of interreligious dialogue from a global renewal viewpoint. He is right to frame such a discourse within the postmodern context that has created a “greater openness and mutual acceptance” and necessitates such conversation (p.18). He also frames the renewal aspect within Yong’s pneumatological approach, which can help renewalists go beyond the traditional categories of a Christocentric paradigm that is stuck in exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism. Building on his past work and experience with African Christianity, Clarke proposes three avenues to develop a contextual pneumatology that can provide more effective interreligious dialogue:  integrated worldviews, communicative symbolism, and discursive orality. Working on such a fundamental level with worldviews and symbols could certainly open up possibilities for fresh interreligious dialogue and allow for more common ground than working on a modernist and dogmatic level.

Tony Richie is more direct about his move toward inclusivism that emphasizes both evangelism and dialogue through developing a “balanced” pneumatological approach emphasizing the relationship between the Spirit and Christ. He does this in dialogue with the great Catholic theologian of the Spirit Yves Congar. In Richie’s view, the spirit-empowered church is a sacrament extended to all creation into which the Spirit’s work overflows. Studebaker also takes a pneumatological approach to the task showing how the Spirit of Pentecost is one of both creation and  redemption whose scope is universal. In this way, the Spirit is at work even in non-Christian religious thought, which can also be conduits of the Spirit. Importantly, these three chapters all move toward the pneumatological by expanding the work of the Spirit beyond the confines of the church and even Christianity thereby making interreligious dialogue meaningful.

The authors in the three chapters, which constitute the second part of the book, focus more on concrete intersections between renewal Christianity and religions around the world. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, is exemplary among these three chapters in developing a Christian theology of suffering to interact with the Theravada Buddhism he experienced as a missionary and professor in Thailand. Theravada sees suffering as central to life experience yet overcoming that suffering as the ultimate goal. In this light, he develops ideas of redemptive suffering, integrative suffering, and healing suffering. These show first that suffering is also a part of the Christian life, but that redemption can actually come through our common experience of suffering rather than in spite of it. Kärkkäinen gives a fantastic example of respectful and constructive dialogue between two neighbor religions in Southeast Asia and the resources a renewal theology has to offer. Kirsteen Kim then expounds on the Dalit situation in India dialoguing with Samartha’s pneumatology of dialogue as growing out of a wider work of the Spirit present through life, truth and creativity even where Christ is not explicitly named. Cephas Omenyo ends the section by calling for a middle ground between African mainline churches who water down the gospel for dialogue’s sake but do little to witness, and Pentecostals who are vitriolic seeing no room for religious diversity or dialogue.

Yong concludes the book by drawing these various themes together into a call for a new people of God beyond the historical divisions that have separated humanity. The question the book poses to renewalists is whether they will move beyond the old constricting ways of demonizing other religions and recover the primary renewal resource of the Spirit who works everywhere, including in the religions. Each of these chapters has done this, though only provisionally in that they are beginning an important conversation that must continue into the future.

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Brandon Kertson
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One Response to “Global Renewal, Religious Pluralism, and the Great Commission”

  1. Christopher Wilson says:

    Although I have been too busy to read this text, I did hear it summarized during residency and I do think that it does touches on a very important topic; taking the gospel into an environment of religious pluralism. If we critically ask what are the absolute essentials of the Christian faith I think that we should be left with a very small list indeed. I think for me the list would probably just include an acceptance of Christ as savior.

    Once we realize that outside of these handful of essentials everything else in the Christian experience is essentially up for grabs, and that most of what we consider should be included in a Christian life/ experience is made up of nonessentials to the faith this realization should enable us to radically reframe our theology, ecclesiology and goals/ methods of evangelizing. I think that provoking such questions is the real value of the text.

    Your brother in Christ,

    Chris