Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong has taken on a huge project: how to talk theologically about the Holy Spirit, the elusive and mysterious force that Christians believe is the part of the Holy Trinity animating the world today.
Often associated with wind or flame, the Holy Spirit doesn’t lend itself to the rational categories established for discussing theology. “Historically, it’s often associated with groups [such as Pentecostals] that earned heretical labels, with groups troubling orthodoxy,” Yong says.
In The Future of Evangelical Theology: Soundings from the Asian American Diaspora (IVP Academic, Sept.), Yong--professor of theology and mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.--continues his project of bringing a variety of voices, histories, and cultures into a theological tradition that has been largely dominated by European and North American thinkers. With the center of Christianity moving to the global south, and Pentecostals one of the fastest-growing movements, Yong hopes to inject diverse voices into not only religious, but also theological conversations.
After all, when the Holy Spirit descended on the first disciples soon after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, it did not speak in one voice but through a multiplicity of languages and cultures that managed to understand each other, Yong says. Young and old, man and woman, slave and free are integral to the Christian worldview. Yong examines a complex situation: what, for example, does it mean today to be a U.S. Asian, a term denoting a wide group of cultures and ethnicities? This diversity “invites us to think beyond our own in-groups to allow different voices to register,” he says.
Yong himself is a high-energy theologian who has written or edited more than two dozen books covering topics ranging from disability and the church to the interaction of Christianity with Buddhism and science. Two other books by Yong have been released this year: Renewing Christian Theology: Systematics for a Global Christianity (Baylor University Press, Aug.) and The Cambridge Companion to Pentecostalism, which he edited with Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. (Cambridge University Press, July). Yong also was recently appointed director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller.
A hunger for the Holy Spirit cuts across contemporary Christianity, Yong says. That yearning manifests today in an increased focus on spirituality in both mainline Protestant denominations and in the Catholic Church. “There is a primordial desire to engage the spiritual dimension,” says Yong. His work pursues answers to the questions: “How do we understand that theologically? What does it mean to be a person of faith?”