Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Friday, July 6, 2012

On the Holy Spirit and Christian Scholarship: An Interview with Amos Yong

What difference does the Holy Spirit make for 'doing Christian scholarship'? In some sense, that is a question that lurks behind Paul Moser's recent paper, "Christ-Shaped Philosophy." To be sure, it is a question that interests self-identified 'pentecostal' and 'non-pentecostal' scholars alike. Moreover, there is not a single take on the issue even within these two broad contexts.

One pentecostal who has thought a lot about this question (and associated issues) is the theologian Amos Yong.

Amos Yong is a professor of theology at Regent University (Virginia Beach, VA) and director of their doctor of philosophy program. He is an accomplished scholar on several fronts, with research interests in global Pentecostalism, theology of disability, Pentecostalism and science, and many other multidisciplinary areas. EPS members will be interested in his recent philosophy of religion article, “Disability and the Love of Wisdom: De-forming, Re-forming, and Per-forming Philosophy of Religion,” Ars Disputandi (2009). Over the years, Amos has also contributed to Philosophia Christi as a book reviewer.

During Spring 2012, Amos was a Fellow at Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought where he did research toward a future book on the significance of the Spirit in Christian scholarship and higher education. This is a question not only of interest to self-identified Pentecostals and Charismatics, but also of interest to evangelicals.

In my interview with Amos, we discuss his own vocation as a scholar, along with how he sees the ‘pentecostal’ contribution to so-called ‘faith-learning integration’ discussions and theology’s work in multidisciplinary contexts. 

Here is a sample:

I want to start off by asking how you view your vocation as a theologian
The first thing I say is that I identify myself as a pentecostal scholar. What does it mean to be a pentecostal scholar? It means not dismissing pentecostal spirituality, pentecostal life, pentecostal practices, pentecostal ways of being in the world, and since there’s sometimes a lot of craziness going on in those ways of being in the world, it makes it a very exciting job!

In other words, as a pentecostal I don’t want to bracket all of that. As a pentecostal, I theologize with all of that, which is very messy. 
As a pentecostal scholar, what in the pentecostal tradition informs the manner in which you do scholarship?
Certainly the role of the Holy Spirit in pentecostal imagination and worldview is prominent. So in that respect, it may be that pentecostals are more attentive to the Holy Spirit.

But as a theologian I also want to step back and say, “let’s also take, for example, the evangelical tradition which may not foreground the work of the Holy Spirit quite that much.” Now here I am asking a theological normative question: For evangelical foregrounding of the Spirit, does it mean that the Holy Spirit isn’t at work just that much? I probably want to say something like No. For the Holy Spirit is at work whether you or I name the Spirit.

But it’s possible that one may not have or use what I call ‘pneumatological language’ to foreground the Spirit’s work. So are we theologizing about the same thing but using different languages? That may be possible. I think what is distinctive is the kind of things we are paying attention to.

My way of looking at the world as a pentecostal may probably mean that I am more comfortable saying that just because there’s a lot of craziness, it doesn’t mean that we want to throw out the baby with the bath water. It does mean that discerning the work of the Holy Spirit will be a lot more complicated and we have to make some very fine distinctions in a particular phenomenon. In other words, to say whether the Holy Spirit is working here or not here seems a little bit artificial, so we will have to cultivate what I have called ‘pneumatological sensitivity.’

Discernment has to be a very precise kind of a thing in terms of how the Spirit is present or not present here, and even when we say that the Spirit is not working here, how then is the Spirit still working redemptively in this very dark scenario?
Can we say, then, that part of your job as a pentecostal theologian is to help draw attention to how God is present in the world, colored by the social imaginary of what it means to be a pentecostal?
I like that. Because I do think at the end of the day, at some fundamental level, all Christians are interested in this question – the question of drawing attention to how God is present – and they all should be.
Is this also a contribution that pentecostal scholars bring, ecumenically, to the broader Christian tradition?
Yes, so I’ve just re-read Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, a well-recognized classic treatment of the subject. A careful reading of it will show that Edwards worked very hard to develop criteria, and to be nuanced, and to be very sensitive about other different ways of discerning things. He doesn’t want to be presumptive. I think this should be something that resonates with pentecostals.

I know Edwards is not a pentecostal in our sense of the term, and as a pastor he’s very concerned about these things. Colonialism is in the background coupled with a kind of bias against enthusiasm. Edwards is attentive to this.

Maybe a pentecostal bias, or “colored” perspective – to use your term – is less suspicious, which opens up a possibility, perhaps  of naming and discerning these materials. Edwards can be very helpful for us. For he still provides a kind of well-received classical way of articulating these things at a certain level of theological respectability. Pentecostals are a little bit used to the messiness of reality, but Edwards is still very helpful. He’s a good conversation partner. And we can help call attention to that. That could be a good starting point.
How does a ‘pneumatological sensitivity’ and a responsiveness to God in doing scholarship lend themselves to particular practices as a scholar?
The tradition hands these issues down to us in a way that is both helpful and unhelpful. In one sense, we speak of “faith and reason.” But sometimes we speak of using earlier terms like “enthusiasm” and “religion within the limit of reason alone” – these are like poles on two sides of a spectrum. I think it’s helpful in some respects like when we’re talking about the left brain and the right brain. There’s day and night, there’s male and female. I do think at one level pentecostalism puts its fingers on those aspects of the human constitution such as the affective, the emotional, the subjective.

But with all of this, I want to say something like this: I want to be sensitive to the lesson we learned from modern liberalism. It’s not a mere return to Schleiermacher’s  kind of pietism, but not returning to that doesn’t mean to not attend to the affective, the pietistic, and the emotive at bodily level.
Perhaps pentecostals might be more sensitive to the fact that reason and cognition can be involved in the affective and emotions?
Yes. I guess being a pentecostal, because of the foregrounding of affective reason and embodiment, affectivity and emotion is not mere emotionalism, mere spiritualism. Some people may think pentecostalism is all about the spiritual, I think as a pentecostal scholar I try to call attention to my own pentecostal friends about the fact that  our spirituality is not much about otherworldliness.

We are very concerned with the material, the affective way of inhabiting this world. As a pentecostal scholar I think it’s very difficult to separate reason from faith, the emotion from the intellect, and the body from the spirit. Maybe pentecostals can help Christians think about all these things in their intertwined, interdependent, and interconstitutive manner. We have a take on it.

I try to encourage my pentecostal scholarly friends to keep helping us all to think about this and maybe perhaps our combined reflection will contribute to the broader Christian discourse, which I think will need a little bit of help in all these points. I would suggest a pentecostal approach that is holistic, paying attention to embodiment and the material dimension. That perspective is a springboard for me to think in interdisciplinary terms. All of this is helpful to think in terms of the embodied and social dimensions of our life. So for me this pneumatological imagination has already been interdisciplinary. 
 To read the full text of the interview, please click here.

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