We Got Spirit, Yes We Do: a book review

Every year Wheaton college hosts their annual Theology Conference. These gatherings host scholars discussing pertinent theological topics. While Wheaton and its conference are broadly evangelical, they gather an impressive range of scholars from various biblical, historical or theological disciplines and church traditions. The 2014 conference, The Spirit of God: Christian Renewal in the Community of Faithhas just been published by IVP Academic (edited by Jeffrey Barbeau and Beth Felker Jones). In it, you will find historic, fresh and challenging perspectives on the Holy Spirit and his work in the church and world.

Part one of the book, explores biblical and historical perspectives on the Holy Spirit. In chapter two Sandra Richter gives a ‘bird’s-eye-view’ of the work of the Holy Spirit through out Scripture. In chapter three, Gregory Lee compares the pneumatology of Basil of Caesarea and Augustine of Hippo, representative voices from East and West, discovering a great deal of commonality. In chapter four, Mattew Levering examines Thomas Aquainas’s theology regarding the Filoque clause that was added to the Western version of the Nicaea-Constantinople creed. In chapter five, Jeffrey Barbeau recovers the pneumatological insights implicit in Charles Wesley’s conversion (on Pentecost, May 21, 1738–a few days before John Wesley’s famous Aldersgate conversion). In chapter six, Oliver Crisp describes the insights of Reformed Pneumatology. Chapters seven and eight describe the Pentecostal movement. Allan Heaton Anderson profiles the global Pentecostal movement, Estrelda Alexander focuses on the African American Pentecostal experience.

Part two explores doctrinal and practical perspectives on the Holy Spirit. Chapter nine wrestles with the role of the Spirit in hermeneutics. Here, Kevin Vanhoozer expertly untangles the lack of pneumatology in many approaches to biblical interpretation and presents the crucial, formative role the Spirit has. In chapter ten Amos Yong explores the Spirit’s role in creation and Michael Welker does the same for salvation in chapter eleven. Geoffrey Wainwright presents the Spirit’s role in the liturgy of the church (chapter twelve). Doug Petersen talks about Pentecostals and social justice (chapter thirteen). In chapter fourteen, Timothy George explores the Spirit’s role in Christian Unity. The concluding essay (by Barbeau and Beth Felker Jones) argues three basic premises: (1) The Christian life should reflect our worship of the Triune God, (2) Christian theology is fully pneumatological and (3) Christian practice should be characterized by love.

Like all multi-author works, there are some stand out essays. Barbeau’s essay about Methodism and Charles Wesley’s contributions to pneumatology is quite good. As is Vanhoozer’s recovery of the Holy Spirit for hermeneutics. I found both of these chapters insightful–the first for offering an anatomy of conversion with an eye toward the Spirit’s work, the second for making hermeneutics spiritual. Yet my favorite chapter is Crisp’s presentation on Reformed pneumatology. Crisp hones in on the Spirit’s role in uniting us to God (and the Reformed, dogmatic presentation of that), and he offers two principles. The first is the Trinitarian Appropriation Principle (TAP) which posits that where one person of the Trinity is at work, all members are likewise at work (99-100). The Intentional Application Principle (IAP) claims that the aim at every Divine action is the telos, our union with God and the transformation of creation at the end of  the age (101). The second principle names the peculiar pneumatelogical dimension to God’s work. While Crisp extrapolates from the Reformed Tradition (Calvin and Brunner, and the various confessions), these are insights appropriate for the whole church. Beyond these three chapters, the essays are generally still quite good.

Unity in diversity is especially important in a volume devoted to the  Holy Spirit’s work. Of the fourteen contributors to this volume, three are people of color and three are women. The ecclesial diversity is somewhat greater. One of the contributors is Catholic, there are Pentecostals, Reformed, Methodists, and a Baptist (this book may be more ecclesially diverse than this, I am not sure of everyone’s denominational affiliation). Lacking is a Greek Orthodox perspective on pneumatology, though at least a couple of essays present on and interact with Orthodox perspectives (see especially Lee and Levering’s chapters). There also is not a Mennonite pneumatology here. I’m not sure what the specific Mennonite contribution would be, but since that tradition has helped shape my Christology and ethics I am curious about what Anabaptism may bring to the discussion.So certainly this group may have been more diverse, but it still does a fairly good job of presenting a good cross section of theological perspectives.

This is not a scholarly monograph but a collection of essays (originally lectures). The authors do not agree on every point, in either theology or historical detail. Still books like this give you a taste of various perspectives. I thouroughly enjoyed this romp through (mostly) Evangelical pneumatology. I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Soundings from the Asian Diaspora: a book review

My own theology and faith has been shaped by Asian-Americans. I half-grew up in Hawaii, so feel at home in an Asian culture, but I can also point to key Asian-American mentors who invested in my spiritual formation. They taught me the Bible, mentored me,  prayed for me and helped me confront my own blind spots and white privilege. I was also blessed to have a number of Asian friends at seminary which challenged me to see theology from the margins, when the curriculum was largely a Western story. [My graduate school prided itself on being an international Christian graduate school and had a number of Asian students. But I can remember sitting at a table with a group of Asian American students who pointed to a large painting  which only depicted Europe and North American. There is still more work to be done on including our Asian sisters and brothers!].

Amos Young is perhaps the preeminent Pentecostal theologian in America and is a Chinese-American (by way of Malaysia). He has taught theology at Regent University and currently professor of theology and the dircetor of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary. Yong begins The Futrue of Evangelical Theology: Soundings from the Asian American Diaspora  by examining the effects of globalization and the shift of Christianity’s center to the South and East. He then looks at Asian theology  and Asian-American theology (chapter two before honing in on the contribution of Asian American evangelicals (chapter three) and Pentecostals (chapter four). Chapter five and six explore Asian American Pentecostal/Evangelical contributions to im/migration and in the final chapter, Yong lays out some ‘next steps for Asian-Americans, Evangelicals and Christian theologians.

As the subtitle of this book indicates, this book records ‘soundings’ from the Asian-American diaspora and is not an exhaustive treatment on Asian theology (as if such a work were even possible). Yong is good at naming distinctives and trends in theology.  As an Asian-American, Yong speaks of his own experience of immigration, generational tension, and navigating the tensions between East and West. Asian-Americans who read this book will be encouraged and inspired to reflect theologically on their experience (especially in his introduction and epilogue). He proposes ‘local theologies’ from an Asian American perspective.

But this book was not just written for Asian Americans. It was written for the Church (specifically the church in America, but this will be pertinent to Canadian friends as well). Yong focuses on the Asian-American experience because he knows that their theological reflection enriches the whole of Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. Specifically, Asian American theology helps the church reflect and converse well in the realm of culture, economics and inter-religious dialogue.  Asian American theologians can inform our public theology and we are impoverished if we ignore their contributions.  Yong writes:

Asian Americans who live betwixt-and-between Asia and the United States can bring more existential and interrelational resources to bear on the transnational and globaliing dynamics of the present time. (118).

While my own reading of Asian American theologies is limited (I’ve read some Yong and a couple of others that he cites), I  think Yong illustrates well their contribution to the wider Evangelical discourse.  Specifically, Asian American voices are ignored to our peril if we fail to wrestle with their perspectives on immigration and Jubilee.  I highly recommend this book for anyone who cares about theology and race (and if you care about neither you ought to read it anyway). Asian American friends will appreciate Yong’s thoughtful survey and encouragement to let their cultural perspective inform their work. I give this book an enthusiastic five stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to InterVarsity Academic for providing me a copy of this book for the purposes of review.

The Spirit You Didn’t Know: A Book Review of Who is the Holy Spirit? A Walk with the Apostles

Who is the Holy Spirit? YongThis is my fourth review of Paraclete Press‘s series of guides on the Holy Spirit. The other books I reviewed, each of the authors seek to articulate their understanding of the Holy Spirit from their own theological tradition (Jewish, Orthodox and Protestant). While the author of Who is the Holy Spirit?, Amos Yong, is deeply formed by the Charismatic and evangelical tradition this book examines the Holy Spirit by providing a close reading of the book of Acts and supplemented by material from Luke. The effect is that Yong is able to draw out some of the social and political implications of who the Spirit is and his activity in the world.

Right now, some of you may be saying, “the Holy Spirit I know, but who is Amos Yong? Why do I need to read this book?” Amos Yong is one of the most well-known and respected Pentecostal scholars working today. He is the J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach (as a graduate of Regent College, we call this the other Regent). Because Regent University was founded by Pat Robertson some may be tempted to write it off as a ‘right-wing institution’ but Yong’s analysis has implications for people on both the right and the left (note: I actually have no idea what Yong’s politics are, I just want to make sure you don’t think you know what he’s gonna say before you read the book).

This book came to fruition when the acquisitions editor at Paraclete Press read an article by Roger Olson in Christianity Today entitled, “A Wind that Swirls Everywhere: Amos Yong Thinks He Sees the Holy Spirit Working in Other Religions Too (note: the back of the book mistakenly attributes the article to Yong, but it is an article about Yong).” In response to this idea, Amos Yong went to work on exploring the material on the Spirit in Luke and Acts for a Sunday School class at his church. Who is the Holy Spirit? is divided into 39 chapters covering all of Acts and selections from Luke, and a discussion guide for each chapter.

Acts has been fertile ground for Charismatic reflection. Personally I have read through Acts to see evidence of the Spirit, miracles, to discover how to do (be) the church and to explore missional implications. What sets Yong’s book apart is that he focuses not only on where the Spirit is invoked, but what the Spirit evokes. He doesn’t just point out the Spirit’s presence but he asks us to open our eyes to discover that the scope of the Spirit’s work is bigger, more inclusive than we sometimes imagine. Yong writes:

I now believe that the Spirit is at work not just at the level of the individual but also at the level of society and its various political and economic structures; not just the otherworldly, spiritual level but also at the this-worldly level of the material and concrete domains of our lives; not just in and through the church but also in and through wider institutional, cultural and religious realities. In other words, I now think the world of the Holy Spirit is much wider than I’d guessed, and that the work of the Spirit is to redeem and transform our world as a whole along with all of its interconnected parts, systems and structures (x).

And so, Yong sets out to answer the question of Who is the Holy Spirit? not by giving us doctrinal formula and propositional truth, but by paying careful attention to the narrative of Luke-Acts and showing us the Spirit’s work. He explores how the Spirit brings and is bringing about the full promise of the Kingdom of God, how the Spirit overcomes divisions of language, ethnicity, nationality, gender and class, and how the Spirit brings about new freedom and liberation. This isn’t a denial of the Spirit’s individual and personal work within the human soul, but he probes the narrative also for wider socio-political implications. Acts provides rich fodder for reflection as he explores how the church is born through the Spirit’s work in overcoming divisions of language and culture at Pentecost and the Spirit keeps impelling their witness outward from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Each chapter explores a text (or set of texts), discovers what it is saying, the implications of the Spirit’s work, and explores the implications for our own context.

I found this book refreshing! Too often confessional scholars examine spiritual realities in the text while critical scholarship focuses on the political aspects of the early church. It is exciting to read a Bible study which explores both of these poles. Yong’s bibliography, while only showing the references he deems ‘accessible,’ displays his willingness to tackle the issue and draw on a wide range of scholarship. As this is not a scholarly book, there are no footnotes. Most people probably like this better, but I missed them and my reading would have been enriched by knowing where he drew various aspects from and being able to chase things back. But lucky for me, this isn’t the only thing Yong has written on the topic, and I will get my chance.

Yong’s critics (even Olson) point out that his views weaken the need for evangelism by de-emphasizing Christian particularity and paving the way for pluralism and syncretism. This seems hardly fair. By rooting his reflections in the book of Acts, Yong is able to affirm both the continuities and discontinuities between other religions and the gospel. Yong says:

If the work of the Spirit brought about renewal, restoration and re-appropriation of all that was good and true in the social, cultural, and religious spheres of human life, it could also be seen from another perspective that the coming of the Spirit turned the world upside down in each of these domains of human endeavor. Continuity or discontinuity, when and how? These are questions that require ongoing discernment of the Spirit’s presence and activity(160)

This has implications for how we engage in mission. We do not dismiss other religions out of hand as utterly false; we do look for evidence of where the Spirit is at work (like Paul in the Aeropagus).

This book would be great for personal reflection, or as a curriculum for a small group Bible Study. I certainly think it would inspire a rich discussion of the Spirit’s role, presence and work in our lives and in the church. I am not sure that Yong answers, or intends to give us a firm answer to the question: Who is the Holy Spirit?. Instead through his calling to attention the widening scope of the Spirit’s work, he helps us to see that the Spirit is bigger and more wonderful than we have previously imagined.

Thank you to Paraclete press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.