Amos Yong,Learning Theology: Tracking the Spirit of Christian Faith(Louisville,KY:
Westminster John Knox Press, 2018). 137 pp. $18.81 paperback.
Amos Yong is Professor of Theology and Mission and Director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California and is passionate about theology. His passion is apparent as although he wrote the book for first-year theology students, he extends his audience to include under- graduate students in Christian colleges and those affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and also those enrolled in tertiary programs of study at institutions historically affiliated with mainline Protestant denomi- nations (xi). Yong widens the net even further to include first-year seminarians including those without any theological background and lay reading groups in local churches, congregations or communities. As a Pentecostal theologian, his purpose is to analyze the sources and practices of the theological endeavor as they relate to life in the Spirit and His empowerment in the pursuit and devel- opment of the life of the mind (xi) which he seeks to do in two parts.
Part One addresses sources of theology while Part Two focuses on practices of theology. Each part has four sections. The book’s structure follows the Wes- leyan quadrilateral of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience with each chapter title in Part One containing a reference to the Spirit in keeping with the book’s subtitle.Yong asks the question: How can God be studied? He answers by giving snapshots of the lives of three theologians namely Macrina (lay theolo- gian), Thomas Aquinas (professional theologian), and John Wesley (practical theologian).
Chapter one explores the importance of hermeneutics. Yong looks at the importance of the world behind the text, the world of the text and the world in front of the text. In discovering the world behind the text, he utilizes three methodologies: the historical method, historical and grammatical analysis, and canonical criticism. To discover the world of the text, Yong demonstrates how Scripture interprets Scripture, and so intertextual criticism will lead towards lit- erary criticism. Lastly, in discovering the world in front of the text, he discusses the importance of how a text has been received, understood, interpreted and debated by later readers. He concludes the chapter by reminding the reader that not only does the Spirit inspire the text, but also links the world behind the text to the world of the text and through illuminating the meaning of the text to readers and subsequently applying it to their lives, the Spirit is working in front of the text.
Chapter two looks at tradition and the reader is reminded of the ongoing work of the Spirit together with the premise that Scripture-tradition-reason- experience is related. Yong examines the theological tradition in the Eastern
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Orthodox and Roman churches. The Eastern Orthodox tradition is manifest in worship and gives place to the Spirit in the liturgy through the prayers of epicle- sis. By contrast, a magisterium overseeing its doctrines and teachings charac- terizes the Roman Catholic Church. He considers what it means to do theology in dialogue with the church’s tradition in today’s world and cites examples such as eastern forms of the Christian tradition such as Coptic and Orthodox mis- sionaries. He rightly argues that Scripture and tradition go together reminding the reader that tradition provides the lens through which one reads, interprets, understands, and applies Scripture (36) and cites the example of the tradition of Scripture itself appealing to traditions of the Torah.
Chapter three examines paradigms of reasoning such as Neoplatonism, the Aristotelian revival and liturgical rationality in the Orthodox tradition (39). Although Yong lists these philosophical movements in the glossary, it might have been helpful to provide more information about them, given that the book’s wider audience includes those who are thinking about majoring in the- ology and lay reading groups. He does, however, state that the middle parts of this chapter will be difficult for beginning theologians because of the nature of the material and the speed in which he covers it.
Part One concludes by considering the role of experience and reminds the reader that theologizing presumes a Christian experience. Yong cites examples of church traditions which shape one’s experience and concludes the chapter by appropriately bringing the facets of the quadrilateral together. He demon- strates that tradition mediates Scripture and together they shape Christian rationality and how that “Scripture, tradition, and reason are received expe- rientially and formed through Christian conversion and discipleship” (62).
Part Two comprises Christian practices beginning with one’s personal life, followed byTheology as Ecclesial practice,Theology as a scholarly practice, and lastly theology as Charismatic practice. In addressing scholarly practice, Yong provides practical steps in writing a theological paper and also researching and studying. He is a Pentecostal theologian and the last chapter is part autobio- graphical as well as considering “the theological picture behind the practices in our personal, ecclesial, and educational lives” (101). The book concludes with a very helpful appendix which provides pastoral help in helping to discern if one is called to be a professional theologian and also practical steps and exercises to advance one’s curriculum vitae.
Yong has accomplished his purpose in writing this book. Additionally, he hopes that the book will alert us to our identity as “Pentecostal theologians who attempt to think God’s thoughts” and “orient us toward the truth of the one God who has revealed Himself in Christ by the Spirit” (106). The use of discussion questions and further reading materials will significantly benefit the reader.
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Additionally, the glossary will also stand one in good stead. What a potential reader might expect to find in this book that isn’t there, are references to bib- lical, systematic and pastoral theology, as well as common doctrinal terms, but such is not in the remit of the author’s purpose. This book contains substantial material and references in 137 pages which will provide a springboard for fur- ther study in specific areas which the author mentions, and will be a resource which one undoubtedly will refer to periodically.
Kings Evangelical Divinity School, Broadstairs, United Kingdom email@example.com
Pneuma 41 (2019) 535–603