Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

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.


4 Responses to Beyond the Impasse by Amos Yong – A Book Review

  1. Dan Ebert says:

    Thanks for highlighting Amos Young’s book; I heard him speak at the Wheaton Conference this year on global theology. It is a real challenge to hold Christ, Spirit, and Church together when entering serious interfaith dialogue or when trying to develop an evangelical theology of religions. Do you think this work succeeds on this score? Blessings.

  2. JR Woodward says:

    Dan,

    Yeah, I met Amos a couple of months ago and I was struck by his authenticity, his joy and through this book his theological rigor. I do think that he succeeds in moving the conversation forward well in the areas that you mention. I emailed him to let him know I reviewed his book, and he tells me that he thinks his book, “Hospitality & the Other” is a better sequel to “Beyond the Impasse”. I thought Beyond the Impasse was amazing, so now I need to make time to read this sequel.

  3. CO Fines says:

    JR, can’t think where I first ran across the concept of Word and Spirit as the two hands of God but it was one of those instant recognition of truth moments for me in my quest Back to Basics. Yong would appear to rephrase this as Son and Spirit, by your account, which brings in unnecessary dogma and division in my view, especially with regard to other world religions. The spoken concept with Word and Breath of “Let there be Light!” starting off the whole shebang as well as the sharing of Bread and Wine in fellowship both seem much bigger than specifically Christian doctrine.

    “The need to develop a theology of discernment” makes me a little nervous. I don’t think you need a divinity degree to know whether God was in attendance at a particular function but obviously perceptions differ. I once spoke with an inspector at work and in chatting we incidentally discovered we both had been visiting churches and had settled on one in the last year, I at a Lutheran, she at a Kingdom Hall.

    I asked out of curiosity why she had gone with the Jehovah Witnesses and she said that the people were friendly and the Holy Spirit was there. I replied that this was why I stayed with the Lutherans. There really wasn’t anything else to say about it and we parted as brother and sister. I know many Evangelicals would have been horrified.

    I guess I’m going to have to read this book. So far we don’t seem able to talk amongst ourselves, nevermind with someone in another tradition. Getting rid of the filioque has seemed like a good idea to me for many years but I’m not holding my breath on that one. Maybe if I make enough noise about getting rid of the Nicene Creed altogether, deleting the filioque would seem less of a problem.

  4. Len says:

    Irenaeus ” the Son and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father in the world.”

    Wouldn’t it be odd if the solution to this problem – and it is a thorny one – is to simply become more Trinitarian? The other point, and I know Yong makes it somewhere, perhaps in his article in the earlier collection (“NO Other Gods Before Me” ed. Stackhouse) is that ontology may be key here. So, back to the IMAGO — the Word uniquely imaged by the Spirit in every person (see – Son and Spirit in creation…)

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