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Beyond the Impasse by Amos Yong – A Book Review

In Beyond the Impasse, in light of our globalized context, Amos Yong presents a pneumatological (Holy Spirit) approach to the theology of religions as the preferable way for Christians to meaningful engage in genuine dialogue with other religions with the ability to discern the Spirit’s presence, activity or absence. He develops his approach by tracing some of the biblical, philosophical and theological approaches to date, recognizing contributions that have been made, as well as identifying present deficiencies. He then addresses the “potential Achilles heal” of this pneumatological approach – the need to develop a theology of discernment which is adept at discerning both the phenomenological and inner workings of all religions, “in ways that enable the religions to be take seriously on their own terms in order to facilitate the emergence of adequate comparative (and therefore discerning) categories” (185). Yong encourages the pneumatological approach to the theology of religions in order to get beyond the impasse of the christological approach, which tends to focus on issues of soteriology (study of salvation) and terminate the dialogue prematurely. While admitting the necessity of addressing the soterological issue, as well as fully recognizing the inter-relatedness of pneumatology (study of Holy Spirit) and christology (study of Christ), he contends that the church in the West needs to reject the Filioque “which was an intrusion into the creed outside the recognized conciliar process” (186), so that we can proceed with a pneumatological approach to the theology of religions, for this approach may “allow for more neutral categories to emerge when attempting to discern the presence and activity of the Spirit in other traditions” (186).

It is clear that Yong has identified his dialogue partners (ecumenical, pentecostal-charismatic, evangelical) for throughout the book he treats these partners with respect, being keenly aware of their concerns (past and potential future ones) addressing them masterfully along the way. One of the many strengths in Yong’s argument is his recognition that the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of God. He reminds us of the Spirit’s role in creation, re-creation and new creation and that God is “universally present and active in the Spirit”, the Spirit gives breath to all humans, and “the religions in the world, like everything else that exists, are providentially sustained by the Spirit of God for divine purposes” (46). He thus demonstrates how the universality of the economy of the Spirit gives hope to get past current roadblocks. His extensive research on this topic allows him to build upon the strengths of what has been developed as well as meaningfully address the weaknesses. By including a metaphysical, biblical and theological approach to spiritual discernment and persistently mentioning the need for the logos and spirit, concrete and spiritual, empirical actuality and inner spirit, of religions and institutions he makes needed contributions. In addition his pneumatological categories of divine presence, “truth, goodness, beauty, and holiness”; divine absence, “destructive, false, evil, ugly, and profane existence of the fallen and demonic world”, and divine activity, “the dynamic and meditational element, calling attention to the fact that things move continuously either to or away from their divinely instituted reason for being” (p. 165), where helpful, as well as his defining the nature of the demonic (138). While applying his theology of discernment to AG’s theological institution, his argument may have been strengthened by applying it to another religion, though the complexity of this could have made it prohibitive.  This book is a vital read in the growing conversation in discerning the best way for Christians to move forward in regard to the theology of religions.

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