The Theology of Amos Yong and the New Face of Pentecostal Scholarship

By: John Sylvest
Monday, July 29th, 2013

yongWolfgang Vondey and Martin William Mittelstadt (eds.). The Theology of Amos Yong and the New Face of Pentecostal Scholarship: Passion for the Spirit. Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies 14. Leiden: Brill, 2013. ISBN: 9789004251748. $141.00.

In The Theology of Amos Yong and the New Face of Pentecostal Scholarship, an inspired group of authors have interpreted his hermeneutic. Most succinctly, in essence, what they have proposed is that Yong’s leit motif suggests that pneumatology models phenomenology. For Yong, it appears, this is really the very same premise as John Polkinghorne’s epistemology models ontology. Yong’s extensive oeuvre suggests that the amplified epistemic risks that are entailed in taking this pneumatological turn, epistemologically, are warranted by the augmented values to be realized, axiologically. This is no vulgar pragmatism but is, instead, grounded in a fallibilist realism, one that requires a rather rigorous discernment process. The major thesis is that a pneumatological imagination can better engage science, religion, philosophy and culture, mining those resources and bringing their gifts - not anxiously, but – urgently, to a world in need. In discerning the truth, then, we journey – not always directly, but – inexorably, guided – not always by the robustly truth-conducive, but, rather – by the weakly truth-indicative, overcoming such weaknesses by sharing our success stories and, as a discerning eye must surely see, the greatest story ever told

Alas, I’m getting ahead of myself. All of our great traditions have success stories, real triumphs, but no too few tragedies, as the voices of prophetic protest have self-critically proclaimed. In the densest prose, we are suggesting an epistemological leveraging of the pneumatological imagination toward the eucharistic realization of reality’s donative nature. We are suggesting that the anthropo-phenomenological and practically & speculatively theological are mediated by the epistemo-methodological to effect the axiological. In a more engaging poetic fugue, we are merely suggesting that truth and unity are mediated by goodness to effect beauty! Philosophically, Yong’s Peircean formula recognizes that the descriptive and interpretive are mediated by the normative to effect the evaluative, as the actual and possible are mediated by the probable to effect the desirable. This represents an optimistic theological anthropology, but a cautious optimism. This also represents an epistemic humility that retreats from the apodictic metaphysical certainty that once asserted that the actual and possible are mediated by the necessary to effect the mandatory.

To the extent that epistemology does model ontology, then, this also suggests a retreat from an ontological specificity into a vagueness, perhaps reflecting, also, a theological reality, a self-shrinking Creator making room for a creation, introducing a creaturely freedom, gently coaxing reality through a tacit, telic dimension that, however unobtrusive and ineluctable, is utterly efficacious. One master root metaphor for God’s creative act of shrinking in the service of freedom toward the end of authentic love might be replication variation.  This dynamic would account for vagueness as reality presents in degrees, as a moving target. Neither a mistake nor a felix culpa, a pervasively emergent reality harnesses what we needn’t necessarily interpret as imperfections but might otherwise view through a telic lens as something else or novelty or re-creation.

Science recognizes such downward causations with no apparent violations of physical causal closure via its own paradigms of emergence. Semiotic science recognizes creative ambiguities as we harness metaphors and symbols (semiotic replication variations) in the service of ever deeper meanings. Biological sciences recognize the adaptive significance of mutations (genetic replication variations) in the service of the ever greater ontological densities we encounter through evolution. Religion employs its analogical imagination to envision a transcendent hierarchy that might envelop physical reality, influencing it similarly. Theological science, indeed, recognizes an imago Dei, creation’s incarnational  replication variation, in the service of love. This replication variation fugue pervades reality and countless examples could be provided all the way up and down the Great Chain of Being with obvious neoplatonic implications for the analogically imaginative and co-creative implications for the pneumatologically imaginative. Through this emergence metanarrative, ongoing description and interpretation are mediated, normatively, by reality’s gentle coaxings (and harsh shoves) to effect, bring to realization, what we value. That’s a scientific observation as well as a philosophical method and theological stance, all with enormous socioeconomic-politico-cultural implications.

Let’s explore some examples.

Yong: the word and community are mediated by the spirit to effect love

Pentecostal: glossolalia and gathering are mediated by baptism in the spirit to effect the gifts of the spirit

Eucharistic: reality’s gifted-givens and thanksgiving to the giver are mediated by receiving to effect the gifts

Theological Anthropology: the anthropo-phenomenological (gifted-givens) and theological (thanksgiving re: practical theology and giver re: speculative theology) are mediated by the epistemo-methodological (receiving) to effect the axiological (gifts)

Religious: being-seeing (mysticism) and belonging (faith community) are mediated by behaving-believing (responsivity to spirit) to effect desirings (oneness)

5-fold Christology: orientations and empowerments are mediated by sanctifications to effect healings and salvation

Secular, implicitly & Sacred, explicitly: the historical-eschatological and social-ecclesiological are mediated by the economic-pneumatological to effect the cultural-soteriological

The Great Traditions: creed and community are mediated by codifications to effect cult-ivations

Biblical Hermeneutics: the literal and allegorical are mediated by the tropological to effect the anagogical

For me, this replication variation-emergent fugue is the key to deciphering and systematizing all of Amos Yong’s work in all of the categories addressed in The Theology of Amos Yong. Each contributor to the volume got that, addressing it whether explicitly or implicitly, aware or unawares. One could write a LOT about MANY different things if one could grasp this fugue. The Pentecostal community has always tasted this rubric. Now that this volume has fostered its seeing, we look forward to an explosion of Pentecostal scholarship, whether through formal academic pursuits or informal coffee klatches. Apply this four-fold lens of how word and community are mediated by spirit to yield reality’s gifts in all the places we live and move and enjoy our being, in science, religion, philosophy and culture. And then share your stories, however simple or sublime, and this book will have accomplished its mission.

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John Sylvest
This entry was posted by on Monday, July 29th, 2013 at 8:09 am and is filed under Book Reviews, Renewal Studies, Theology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “The Theology of Amos Yong and the New Face of Pentecostal Scholarship”

  1. Tom Sylvest says:

    Having observed with a tentative view the march of Pentecostalism for decades, having been touched by it in adulthood by my own experience,
    the Yong volume provides the most succinct description of the dynamics I have observed, experienced, and anticipated in my lifelong attempt to discover the Spirit, be immersed in it, and flow with it in the Body, hopefully, on my journey to my ultimate desire for total unity, becoming Total Unity. Love,
    Tom Sylvest