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In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism and Political Theology

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011 by Paul Palma

Amos Yong. In the Days of Caesar: Pentecostalism and Political Theology. Sacra Doctrina: Christian Theology for a Postmodern Age Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010). xx + 377 pp.

Over the past decade, Amos Yong has emerged as a leading theologian of the Pentecostal movement. In the Days of Caesar is his evaluation of the intersection between Pentecostalism and the authoritative societal structures of a post-Christendom world. He contends for a political theology in which Pentecostalism, together with the ecumenical Church at large, discerningly confronts and participates in the public spheres of our world today. This position involves taking a critical stance towards dominant cultural, economic, and civic-societal trends, while at the same time modeling a way of life commensurate with the messianic message of peace. Pentecostalism, he argues, has an essential role to play in political theology, and the “concrete politics and public presence and activity of pentecostalism have much to contribute to the church ecumenical in terms not only of beliefs but also of practices” (pp. 360-61).

The book is divided into two parts. The first three chapters set forth the conceptual framework of the work. Chapter one provides an overview of the politics surrounding Pentecostal Christianity. Yong argues in favor of an alternative, progressive political theology over against an apolitical, sectarian, or conservative stance. Chapter two assesses the history of political theology, highlighting developments across the early Christian, medieval, and Reformation periods. The contemporary scene of political theology is then illuminated, viewed particularly in light of Carl Schmitt’s magnum opus of 1922. Chapter three presents the main thesis of the book that Pentecostalism’s “many tongues” provides a unique and strategic platform for engaging the plurality of political theologies that impact our world today.

Part two appropriates the thesis of  a political theology of “many tongues” to the Fivefold Pentecostal Gospel. Pentecostal salvation is conceived as deliverance from the principalities, powers, and political theologies of the demonic (chapter four). Yong suggests that the biblical language of deliverance extends to the political, economic, and social realms. This is understood in light of Abraham Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty model. In chapter five Pentecostal sanctification (or holiness) is depicted aesthetically, as the Spirit of beauty. Yong argues that a politics of many cultures, on the one hand maintains the kind of Christian marginality associated with John Howard Yoder’s political ecclesiology, Stanley Hauerwas’ colony of Resident Aliens, and the New Monasticism. On the other hand, he states, it encourages a new form of political theology, a “Christian leavening, if not explicit cultural engagement” (p. 201).

Chapter six identifies the function of Spirit-baptism with the Pentecostal power emergent among the plurality of civilian practices. The many tongues of Pentecostalism are especially applicable to the global south, where Radical Orthodoxy, and the Anglo-Catholic leanings of a John Milbank for instance, fall short. In chapter seven, Yong presents Jesus the healer as the “shalom” of peace, justice, and righteousness (p. 310). This provides an alternative healthcare, economics, and way of life, without separatism. For sacramental traditions this means the Eucharist is a time for sharing in community and the formation of the soul. Chapter eight envisions Pentecostal hope as the product of the eschatological imagination. Against the backdrop of St. Augustine’s model of the two cities, the Earthly city can, by reforming their lives, proleptically anticipate and experience the in-breaking of the Heavenly city.

Yong maintains that early Pentecostalism, in the tradition of the first apostles, can be compared to Monastic and other revival movements. Such movements offer an alternative way of life and contrast sharply with the cultural, economic, and social forms of the prevailing world order. Eventually, however, they begin to merge with the larger Christian tradition. That said, the current surge of Pentecostalism brings its own set of problems including charges of apoliticism. Yong suggests that Pentecostalism’s many tongues, and therefore many political practices, provide a contextual approach in which the Spirit can be seen as actively and presently working in the public spheres. The resultant shalom is the eschatological hope of the kingdom of God for many tongues, tribes, and nations.

The author provides a comprehensive and prescriptive political theology with relevance beyond Pentecostal Christianity. His method covers a range of political traditions, through the early Church to present times, effectively integrating a history of church-state relations into a contemporary theological model. It could be argued that Yong’s method reaches too far; however the global applicability of a Pentecostal Christian political theology is also the work’s greatest strength. The position articulated is deliberately exhaustive, because the Pentecostal movement has world-wide representation. The hope and cry of a political theology for a post-Christendom world must have the same applicability.