The Missiological Spirit: Christian Mission Theology in the Third Millennium Global Context

Written by Amos Yong Reviewed By Christopher Flanders

Amos Yong is an extraordinarily productive author, with more than twenty published and edited works to his name. He is Professor of Theology and Mission and Director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California. Perhaps more importantly than his prodigiousness and energy in publication, Yong is arguably one of the most creative minds in 21st century missiology. This compendium of twelve previously published essays demonstrates clearly how this is the case. The book is divided into four main sections. Yong, originally trained in systematic theology, arranges these sections and essays in an autobiographical fashion to illustrate his own personal engagement with the issues of mission, theology, Pentecostal faith, and religious pluralism.

Section 1 (“Reluctant Missiology: Indirect Missiological Reflection”) provides three essays that reflect in various ways on how, as Yong notes, his “theological imagination kept getting interrupted by missiological interventions” (p. 5). All essays in this section serve as important reminders of the essentially missional quality of all theological reflection. In section 2 (“Pentecostal Missiology: Missiological Praxis”), Yong extends the trajectory of section 1 with a decidedly Pentecostal flavor. These three chapters are provocative as they lay out an agenda of reframing traditional Pentecostal postures toward witness and interreligious engagement. Yong here argues eloquently and persuasively for a theology of religion that is pneumatologically grounded in distinctly Pentecostal commitments. Thus, he affirms that the Spirit poured out on all flesh that creates a space for hospitality, a Pentecostal inclusivism, and a move beyond aggressive and inflammatory types of evangelism and various practices of “spiritual warfare” that often demonize the other to a form of witness that maintains central commitments but views others as lesser opponents to defeat and more as friends to invite into transformation).

In section 3, titled “North American Missiology: Theology of Mission Post-Christendom,” Yong considers how to rethink missions in the North American context (i.e., post-Christian, post-Constantinian, postcolonial). Particularly important in this section is chapter 9, which draws upon the work of Stuart Murray, Stanley Hauerwas, and John Howard Yoder. Yong argues for a shift from a colonial missiology to a colony missiology, one that is more clearly in tension with the surrounding dominant culture. This is a critical challenge to Christianity in emerging contexts, which are just beginning to struggle with issues of institutional and cultural power. The volume ends with section 4 (“Systematic Missiology: Notes for a Christian Missiological Theology”), detailing a Trinitarian missiology with special attention to how a pneumatologically driven approach engages issues of Christology, Trinity, and theology of religions. Of these chapters, chapter 10 (“Primed for the Spirit”) helpfully lays out a succinct pneumatological foundation for mission.

This volume is ecumenical, Pentecostal, evangelical, and global. One claim that is foundational for the entire book is that “Pentecostal spirituality and experience generates a distinctive hermeneutic, method, and imagination revolving around encountering the living God of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, and this spirituality of encounter has the potential to revitalize and renew Christian theology for the third millennium” (pp. 3–4). Yong certainly demonstrates how this is the case.

I do have questions, however, regarding Yong’s pneumatologically-grounded approach to religious encounter, dialogue, and ecumenism. Yong argues that his robust pneumatology is both christological and Trinitarian, a robust pneumatologically-driven theology both points to the particularity of Jesus Christ on the one hand and to the eschatological horizon of the kingdom of God on the other. This is excellent in theory, but in practice how should we navigate this theological tension? Such presents one of the overarching challenges of the entire collection of essays. As Yong notes, his pneumatologically driven approach authorizes both proclamation of Jesus as Lord and a robust dialogue. I wish Yong had provided more details on how to carry this out in practice. This is because it seems to me a challenge to Pentecostal theology in general and Yong’s pneumatologically-grounded missiology in particular, to navigate successfully this theological tension in practice. Yong does not make clear how to keep a strong christological commitment and norm (the Holy Spirit’s work of pointing to the particularity and centrality of Christ) in the midst of the work of the Spirit, present at some level in other religious traditions, and bringing about a shared grounding for dialogue and interreligious encounter. If Christians in the past (and non-Pentecostals in the present!) have tended to downplay the role of the Holy Spirit in the work of the Trinity in the church and the world, one wonders if it is possible to overplay the Holy Spirit “card” to counteract the unfortunate functional binitarianism of much traditional theology.

Despite this question, Yong represents, along with other leading Pentecostal scholars such as Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, the emerging power of Pentecostal scholarship for the broader missiological world. With publication of The Missiological Spirit, Yong clearly demonstrates how Pentecostal missiology demands a hearing and a central place at the global missiological table.

Christopher Flanders

Christopher Flanders
Abilene Christian University
Abilene, Texas, USA

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