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In the thirty-first episode of the “Saturdays at Seven” conversation series, Todd Ream talks with Amos Yong, Professor of Theology and Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary. Yong begins by addressing the contributions theologians from various Asian American backgrounds have made in recent years. As someone from Malaysia and China, Yong adds details concerning his own growth in understanding the critical role of place in theology. Ream and Yong then discuss how Yong’s Pentecostal background contributed to his theological habit of inquiring about the role of the Holy Spirit in a myriad of areas including the relationship shared by theology and science, theology of disability, and theology of higher education. Yong noted that when he completed his Ph.D. in the 1990s, few theologians sought to discern the role of the Holy Spirit in such areas. Such questions, however, are now frequently asked along with a host of others. Ream and Yong then conclude their conversation by expanding upon Yong’s understanding of the relationship the university and the Church share as detailed in Yong’s recent book (with Dale M. Coulter), The Holy Spirit and Higher Education: Renewing the Christian University.       

Todd Ream: Welcome to Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. My name is Todd Ream. I have the privilege of serving as the publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review and as the host for Saturdays at Seven. I also have the privilege of serving on the faculty and the administration at Indiana Wesleyan University. 

Our guest is Amos Yong, Professor of Theology and Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary. Thank you for joining us.

Amos Yong: Glad to be here.

Todd Ream: Born in Malaysia and having lived in each region of the United States, which city or cities do you claim as home? 

Amos Yong: Right now, I’ve been in Pasadena for over 10 years, and it’s really the longest I’ve ever lived in one place. And in that respect, I mean, right now, it’s home. We’ve got three children. They are not in Pasadena, but they are in Southern California. And those three children, two of them have given us six grandchildren. And of course they’re here in Southern California. So right now, there’s no other place to call home, but Pasadena, Southern California. 

But it’s been quite, it’s been quite the journey. I mean, we’ve really had all kinds of experiences. God has taken me personally and now the last 30 some years with my wife to visit four or five different parts of the country, staying in each one of these places five, six, seven, eight years.

And in that respect I resonate a great deal with a lot of the Biblical narratives about journeying, sojourning being migrants. I’m an immigrant to the United States, naturalized now as an American citizen. But yet, there’s a lot of movement, certainly, and that’s certainly been part of my life story from the beginning.

Todd Ream: Well, I believe you said six grandchildren. There’s a reason to stay in Southern California alone so that’s a good retention program for Fuller Seminary then, right there. So yeah, yeah, maybe the best kind of retention program an employer could hope to have, an institution could hope to have. 

Amos Yong: They’d have to bring all six grandkids and three children and their spouses if we’re gonna move anywhere.

Todd Ream: In terms of that resonance then that you mentioned, in what ways, if any, does it impact your sense of vocation? And your sense as a scholar, but also as a clergy person?

Amos Yong: You know, I was born in Malaysia as, as you mentioned, and in that respect have a deeper sense, I guess you could say, of how vast our world is. Although, cosmically speaking, it’s a speck in the galaxy, so to speak, right? 

But yet, the journey that I’ve been on with the Lord and with my family and so on, it’s shaped a way of thinking about our work, our lives as being in quest, so to speak. In some respects, looking for that heavenly city, but yet at the same time, experiencing what that heavenly city promises in the here and now, as God graciously enables and provides and gives us glimpses into.

So in that respect, I think a major part of my own, I mean, you might say restlessness at a certain level, relative to whether it’s theological ideas I’m pursuing, certainly relative to the Church that I belong to, which is of course, Church of Jesus Christ. And it is not reducible to any one nation or tribe or people or language.

And that ecumenical Church, so to speak, that worldwide catholic Church, invites us into ongoing discovery, ongoing conversation, dialogue, ongoing self-discovery within the context of those differences. And so, yes, there’s a certain sense in which each move has invited us into a new, a new normal. Because it’s a new location. It’s a new context with its specificities, it’s particularities that are no less important for being as local as they may or may not be. 

But the point is that every locality has a kind of not just unique but maximal importance for that time, for that space. And then attending to that locality is part of the call here at Fuller, in that respect, at this point in time. And yet, navigating each local space within, if you will, as a theologian, as a church person in ecumenical context, global, and otherwise.

And certainly then also with some, not some, but you know, a good deal of realization that there is, a lot more, not just in the Church, but around the world in which all local decisions have reverberations and, and interactions beyond that, that specificity. 

So that keeps us on our toes, I think. It invites us to keep, keep attending to the local while always being aware that there are wide occurrences that we’re all navigating, navigating together.

Todd Ream: Thank you. 

In 2014, you published The Future of Evangelical Theology: Soundings from the Asian American Diaspora. What are some of the critical contributions, in your estimation, that Asian American theologians have made to the Church?

Amos Yong: I think we’re in sort of a very beginning stage of that discussion. 

So yeah, you’re right. 2014, I think I finally, at that point, it was a 10-year journey to get to that book in terms of when the ideas first began to germinate. I was trained here in the United States, did my doctoral work in the nineties, had a powerful sort of global academic context within which to do my thinking.

But it wasn’t until probably about 2004, 2005 that I began to take that part of my own specificity this Chinese-Malaysian side of me more seriously or, or began a journey of thinking more theologically about who I was as a Chinese, Malaysian-born , American naturalized global immigrant, so to speak.

And so that was a 10-year journey of sort of beginning to sort through that part of my theological biography. So if all theology is biographical, then this strand or that book captures my own awakening to this what we now call Asian American, Chinese-American dimension of who I was and, and, and the impact of that.

So 2014 sort of marked one kind of output or one definitive marker of that in terms of the book. And I’ve continued on a journey relative to continuing to think about not just my own Asian American identity, but now in conversation with our children.

I’m married to a Mexican-American woman and our children are of course multiracial. My son’s a practical theologian and he does multiracial this and that, and so we have wonderful conversations and I continue to think about that with him. But I think in 2014, while there had been a number of, in a number of different contexts Korean-Americans, Chinese-Americans, and maybe others, beginning to write theologically, a lot more of that work was focused on theology in Asia, theology, you know Asian context in theology.

This whole idea of an Asian American site for theological reflection, I think, was still right on the cusp of that. And I think in the last decade, since my book, there’s been a growing ownership of Asian American theologians in the United States that have also begun to think more intentionally about our Asian American perspective.

And you’ll notice in my book as well, the Asian American is in the subtitle, whereas the main title is how do we think evangelically about theology? And then what does the Asian American perspective have to contribute to that? So in that respect there, I at least hope that it was not just a matter of Asian Americans speaking to ourselves but entering into a broader conversation, which is always, there’s risk, right?

Because to what degree do you translate your perspective into another dominant discourse that it sort of mutes what those tongues might be able to bear witness to. And that’s part of the journey, I think, for Asian American theologians or other theologians of color in this particular time and place.

But I’m very heartened. And now, there’s a lot more, a good number more of Asian American theologians, as I mentioned. And, and so I think our ability to bear a more collective and yet diverse— Because again, the word Asian covers a broad spectrum of ethnicities, nationalities, immigrant backgrounds, countries and even within groups within countries and so on. So, while important, I think we’re still barely beginning to unpack what all that means for Asians, Asian Americans, Americans, and the Church.

Todd Ream: In terms of those emerging efforts then as you’re tracking them and thinking about the contributions that they’re making, in what ways, if any, does country of origin perhaps make a difference? 

You talked about Asian as a broad reference for Korea all the way across the Pacific Rim to Malaysia, Singapore, etc… But in what ways does country of origin, if any, impact the questions perhaps theologians are grappling with?

Amos Yong: Well, I think they will impact the questions and they will impact it to the degree that theologians attend to those questions. 

I’ve edited a book a bit more recently, probably out now the last three years. It’s open access, by the way, with Claremont Press. And I think the title is something like From Kuala Lumpur to the Ends of the Earth. And maybe it’s something like Biblical and Theological Reflections from Malaysia and the Malaysian diaspora.

And in that book we do foreground sort of the Malaysian experience, so to speak, and then the Malaysian diasporic experience. And how does that history, that is part of my story and other Malaysian diaspora theologians, including, and again, we had some of them that were contributors to the book who were Malaysian, Malaysian residents who had always lived there and so on and so forth. 

And their voices were also included in that volume, but I think the point would be something like any location can be a generative site for theological reflection. It’s just that it’s only been more recently that there’s even been at least a tolerance for, if not an invitation to that kind of more specific geographic and the geography is a placeholder for the historicity, the economics, the politics, the sociality, the, the experience of the Church. Right? 

More and more, I think, we are being attentive to how place is so important for who we are as human beings and then how we think and then how we encounter God. And so even new approaches to sort of place theological hermeneutics in Scripture, trying to follow how different places prompted different experiences and, and therefore questions, theological questions and otherwise along the way.

Todd Ream: Where, if any places do you see sort of the greatest promise if I may. Are there individuals who whose contributions sort of rise to the level that you would encourage us to pay greater attention to what they’re offering, not only in terms of the, the voices that they represent, but also the ways that they can help the Church grow into being what the Church is called to be, the Body of Christ? 

Amos Yong: Well, that’s a big question. I think in response to that, I come from a Pentecostal background and maybe we’ll talk a bit more about that along the way here. But Acts 2, I think, gives us a wonderful image of both the promise and the problems, if you will, of I think aspects of the question that you just asked. I think if I may rephrase it, how do we nurture, lift up, and listen to and be shaped by voices that come from any particular site or locus, right? 

And when I think about the Pentecost narrative Luke mentions that there were Jews from every nation under heaven in Jerusalem. And he names some of those places. He names some of those places geographically. He names some of those places in terms of, he says, residents from, and then he runs a list of about half a dozen places or so. And then he names even people groups Cretans and Arabs, he mentions, right? 

So there’s different ways in which Luke talks about, if you will, places. You know Phrygia is a place but Arabs are a people group. And residence focuses less on the place than on the experience, the diasporic experience in that place. So those are already different ways in which places can be accounted for and do shape our witnesses, so to speak, right? And I think the big challenge of Pentecost was a kind of on the one hand, kind of a valorization of, or exoticization, so to speak of, huh, we’re hearing all these— that’s kind of wonderful, but what does this mean? And we’re, we’re also liable to slough it off and say, they’re just talking, they’re drinking, they’re whatever. Right? 

And so there’s both a kind of an initial amazement, but then there’s a bewilderment. In fact, both of those are English translations, in part of Acts 2. And I do think that’s both the opportunity and the challenge for, if you will, global theologies, right? Theologies in different languages, theologies from different locations, theology from different nations. And I think the big question that relates to the question you’re asking is how do we get folks to say, what does this mean?

And how do we get folks to then say, well, what do we need to do? You know, those were a couple of questions that the crowd listening to what was going on, were asking. And in my mind, it seems to me that the miracle of Pentecost, both is the miracle in which dissonance becomes a medium on the one hand. 

It’s the dissonance of the experience that brings forth the question, right? So how do we introduce dissonance into the conversation, but not in ways that people will walk away, but they’ll walk away, they’ll follow up with a question. So I think that’s one sort of tension that is navigated, right? 

It comes back to what I was saying earlier: if I translate too much of my own experience into the dominant cultural idiom, then my own experience gets muted and, and you’re going to hear what— I’m using you as a placeholder for the dominant culture, right? But the dominant culture is going to hear what it wants to hear on its terms. And I can speak that language. I’ve learned how to do that because I’ve been thoroughly Westernized in my own upbringing and so on and so forth. 

And yet at the same time, how do I introduce a bit of dissonance that causes the dominant culture to slow down and take notice, maybe to ask a follow up question and then continue then in that line of both some scholars discussing Lukes-Acts talk about this as. Incomprehensible comprehensibility or comprehensible incomprehensibility, or something along these lines, right? 

That keeps the conversation going, that invites a further question. What do we need to do? How do we understand this? I think that’s part of the opportunity and challenge that we have as theologians, certainly.

Todd Ream: I want to transition now to ask you about some biographic details. So first, a little bit of that journey, at least, as it took place in the United States. You earned an undergraduate degree from Santa Cruz, California’s Bethany College, graduate degrees from Portland State and Western Evangelical, now, Portland Seminary, and then out to Boston and earned a PhD at Boston University. 

Would you please describe your calling to the ministry? And then also, and you mentioned earlier, your identity as a Pentecostal theologian, your calling as a Pentecostal theologian, too.

Amos Yong: My parents are pastors, Assembly of God pastors, so I grew up a Pentecostal preacher’s kid, a Pentecostal missionary kid. Now as a missiologist, I was also a reverse Pentecostal missionary kid reverse missions, where folks from Asia, Africa, Latin America come to the West to do ministry and mission work. I didn’t know that I was a reverse missionary nor did my parents in the 70s, in the mid-70s when we came, but that’s what the literature now calls folks like my parents and so on. 

So um, there’s a sense in which I didn’t want to be going to the ministry like I saw what my parents experienced, given incredible challenges that they faced as, again, in the second half of life in their 40s coming to the United States with three young children in a totally foreign culture. 

They were called to do ministry amongst Chinese speaking immigrants in Northern California, mainly from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Southern China. And again, this is the mid-seventies, after 1965 when the United States Immigration Act reopened the possibilities for Asian immigration across the Pacific Rim.

And so, I saw my parents struggle with the culture. You know, by all measures they weren’t very effective. Their church never grew. They never developed a megachurch so those are the standards of success. They were not very successful and I didn’t feel like I wanted to go into the ministry.

And yet, when I was a junior in high school, because I was the oldest son in my family and because the young people needed somebody to do it, to help lead some Bible studies here and there, I ended up being the pastor’s kid doing that. I ended up going to Bethany and I got a pastoral ministry bachelor’s degree.

But met my wife, a Mexican-American. First year was a real challenge, cross-cultural marriage relationship. Nothing prepared me for that. I thank God I’m still married. We’re still married three decades plus later, but we ended up starting in a Caucasian white majority church as youth pastors, again, while trying to learn about what it meant to be married.

And that was just such a difficult year that I basically said, you know what, I’m not sure we can do this pastoral stuff right now. And uh, I ended up going to seminary because at least I knew how to study. And it was really at seminary that you know, at Bethany it was Assemblies of God undergraduate college.

You know, we learned a lot more ministry skills. It was more focused on the spiritual life. I don’t think I was really intellectually challenged in my undergraduate studies, but in my seminary studies I was and that’s what began then the journey toward a more academic, a more formal study of theology.

I’ve retained credentials with the Assemblies and now with the Foursquare ever since graduation, so I continue to pulpit supply, preach fairly regularly and different, as invitation opportunities arise. And yet at the same time, it has been also the journey of bringing together sort of the theological dimension with the practical. And that’s been an ongoing part of vocation for me.

Todd Ream: You’ve served on the faculty then at Bethel University in St. Paul, Regent University Divinity School in Virginia Beach, and now at Fuller Seminary. In what ways did those institutions, if any, impact your calling as a clergy person and theologian? 

Amos Yong: They’ve been I think very important relative to my own recognition of these evangelical sites. You know, there were moments in my journey when I looked at the possibility of landing in other kinds of spaces, more mainline Protestant spaces in one or two instances, a Catholic institution at one point. 

I’ll look back on it and simply put it this way as the Lord leads and, and, and guides and certain doors open and others don’t, so this has been the path I’ve been on and given these evangelical sites, I’ve been conscious about then doing theology as an evangelical. 

And so I’ll often use the label of Pentecostal theologian. Although I these are all schools within the evangelical tradition, broadly defined. And in that respect, working in these places has also, as I mentioned earlier, invited me to be more intentional about being attentive to evangelical issues, evangelical opportunities and challenges.

And in that respect, again, I mean, my book, The Future of Evangelical Theology was also exactly in that vein. One of the few books with the word evangelical in the title for the books I’ve published, but nevertheless, again, part of how I think these institutional spaces have given me a trajectory for my own journey, theologically.

Todd Ream: In addition to serving as a faculty member, you’ve also accepted a variety of administrative responsibilities, including serving as the dean of Regent’s divinity school and Fuller’s School of Theology and School of Intercultural Studies.

Would you please describe for us the discernment process you went through when determining whether to accept those administrative responsibilities and how they relate to your calling as a scholar and a theologian and a clergy person? 

Amos Yong: My primary advisor for my PhD studies at Boston University was Robert Cummings Neville, who was also at the time when I matriculated and had been for a number of years up to then the Dean of the School of Theology at Boston University. Neville was also quite, I mean, he was primarily a metaphysician, a philosopher, very prolific, but had invested a good deal of energy studying himself, East Asian traditions and doing philosophy in global context in conversation with East Asian traditions. 

One of his books, for instance, was called Boston Confucianism. So he had for three decades up to that time, been engaged with philosophically Confucian traditions, contemporary Confucian philosophers and philosophy. Again, the invitation was to think and philosophize in a global context, and therefore with multiple philosophical traditions, not just European ones.

Part of that led Neville in maybe his third or fourth book, a book entitled Soldier, Sage, and Saint and these were philosophical exemplars, and the sage, of course, was drawn from the Confucian tradition.

And so one of the reasons why I was attracted to Neville was because of the breadth of his philosophical scope and horizon, including the East Asian cultures, Confucian, Taoist Buddhist strands in his thinking. And the Confucian sage, had therefore in the back of my mind always been a kind of allure, so to speak, right?

I mean, so here I am as a Chinese-American growing philosopher, developing philosopher, developing theologian, being introduced to the Confucian sage, the Confucian scholar leader, right? So the Confucian sage is not just an accomplished theoretician, but the Confucian sage is oftentimes administrator.

Neville himself lived out, if you will, in an exemplary way the contemporary Confucian sagacious mind in his writing as a philosopher on the one hand, but yet for maybe 10 or 15 years, Dean of the School of Theology. 

And so in that respect, he was being one of his students from the very beginning, invited me to always be open to the possibility that there may be opportunities to serve institutions to administer to administrate in a variety of contexts and and in that respect, when when those opportunities emerge and they have been they’ve been emergent in the variety of you might say, existentially demanding time, so to speak. One might you know, for those of us that are familiar with the fortunes of higher education the last decade plus and of course, going even into the future.

So I’ve recognized in terms of the discernment process, I recognize that, yeah, these are existentially challenging and demanding times for our education. Perhaps I might, at least for a few moments, be able to shepherd things along for a season. 

For many people once you cross over that administration line, there’s a sort of a no return back in the other direction. I’ve, I’ve now accomplished that return twice but I’ve also seen that again, the administrative roles that I’ve played have been very specific to contexts and times in the life of specific institutions within the broader landscape of what’s happening higher educationally. 

So it’s really been the discernment of the occasion, the discernment of the context, the discernment of the opportunities and challenges for those moments. And then when those are done, we’ll need to step back and we’ll see how the Lord leads from here on out.

Todd Ream: Fortunately, there are a couple of others who have also joined you and have escaped to tell, in terms of administrative work. Not many, perhaps but there are a couple others out there. 

I want to turn our attention now, if I may, to talk about your scholarly work in a little greater detail. And this is where I’m probably going to need your assistance in the greatest fashion here of all the questions I’m going to ask you today. Because I’ve searched for a word that I could use to describe your work as a theologian, and I think I may have found one finally. And I’m going to go with vast. That’s the one word I could come up with because I’ll admit now I’m risking considerable oversimplification here because your interests and expertise include pneumatology, missiology, theology and disability, theology and science, and the global Church, just to name a few. 

Knowing I failed to do justice to your efforts, how would you describe your work? And in what key areas might you say it falls? We’ve talked about a couple maybe today, but how would you sort of size it up and think about it in that sense? 

Amos Yong: Well, I appreciate your efforts there, Todd, relative to what you’ve just said. I suppose maybe the only thing I might add would be that I was shaped and formed in my graduate studies as a theologian and I went into my PhD, again, having been sparked with the possibility of thinking about the question: what would a Pentecostal perspective have to contribute to the question about the plurality of religions in the world? 

So this was in the mid 1990s, and there were a number of difficult aspects to that question that was my PhD topic. First, what in the world does a Pentecostal theological perspective have to say about anything? Nobody knew what Pentecostal theology was in the mid-1990s. And secondly, how do we grapple with religious plurality? I mean, that’s a big question, regardless of whether you’re Pentecostal or whatever you are from a Christian point of view. 

And so my answers that I produced for my dissertation were really the seeds of my life’s work, which has been that in my doctoral program, my advisor gave me all kinds of permission to explore these questions as a Pentecostal. And it was then realizing that here we were, here I was, by the time I finished my PhD in 1998, on the cusp of a whole new theological world, the possibility of a Pentecostal theology, whatever that was.

And so in that respect you could say that all of my work has been, in one way or another, a commentary on that question . What is this? How do we think about this? How do we explore it? And related to that, deeply related to that, the possibility of a Pentecostal theology also invited me to think seriously about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in the Pentecostal Church, in the Church at large, in the world.

Another way to look at the work that I’ve done is, almost all of my books have been a commentary on how we respond to that set of questions. Who is the Holy Spirit? What is the Holy Spirit doing in the world today? How does thinking about the work of the Holy Spirit shed new light on, take your pick: the plurality of religions, or some of the topics that you mentioned, disability, or interreligious dialogue, or science, or higher education.

So, you could say something along the lines that those two lines of approaches, you might call them the bifocal lenses that Amos Yong has been wearing for 25 years now, were underdeveloped at best or absent completely in the late nineties when I began my theological work. In other words, again, the question of Pentecostal theology had barely begun to be put on the table. So you could take any theological topic and a Pentecostal theological response was open. 

It was open to be engaged or you could also take any theological topic and you could ask the question now, what if we foregrounded the work of the Spirit in this, for this theological question? How does that illuminate this question further? How does that help us to think differently about this particular question? 

So, in that respect, you could say that my interests have been quite divergent in a variety of different directions, in part because all of these areas provide us with important questions for our contemporary existence in the world, in the Church. And in each case I’ve always been led to ask how might a Pentecostal theological response be crafted on the one hand, and on the other hand, and oftentimes together what might the Holy Spirit be wanting to teach us in and through this?

How might we think differently and act differently with regard to this topic if we were to follow the leading of the Spirit? And what does that mean? What does it mean for us to follow the leading of the Spirit in this space? I think those are the questions that have driven my work fairly consistently. And in that respect, they’ll probably continue to, to shape what I do.

Todd Ream: In terms of those responses and the work that you have offered you’re the author of 26 books and the editor of another 33 books. And for those of our guests who are playing at home, I got out a piece of paper and a pencil, added it up, and it came to 59.

So I assume that there’s a book number 60 that’s there that perhaps we could get you to share in brief synopsis with us, or perhaps one on the horizon.

Amos Yong: I’m currently directly working on two books. One of them is my own work. It’s a kind of a missiology, it’s a theology of evangelism and conversion. I’m about halfway through it, and so we’ll see how that works. 

Another one is a collection of essays I’m editing with a colleague, a missiologist, on Pentecostal missiology in the environment, thinking about, again the earth climate change, ecological degradation, and how we think missiologically and Pentecostally about these matters. So, those are at least a couple of things in the works, and there’s a few others, but enough for the moment.

Todd Ream: I think we’re all pretty confident you’ll hit number 60 if not plus so we’ll look forward to those. In terms of when you look back at your work, is there a particular title that you would say is sort of more definitive of your thinking or say more definitive of a contribution that you believed you were called to make to the Church?

Amos Yong: This probably will make sense given some of the comments I’ve already made relative to some of the questions you’ve asked, but in 2005, I published a book entitled The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology. And it’s probably been one of my most cited works, especially among Pentecostal theologians.

And you might be able to recognize that that’s a direct, if you will, English translation quotation from Acts chapter 2. Peter’s response, or at least Luke’s record of Peter’s response to the crowd when they asked, what does this mean citing from the prophet Joel, but also adjusting it a bit, but the Spirit poured out on all flesh. In the last days, the Lord says, I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh. 

I’ve been grateful that others of the growing number of Pentecostals who are studying theology have found that to have been helpful and inspiring. And opening up horizons for the global Pentecostal Church, which is a global Church, right? Literally on across every continent how that includes all of the promise, but also all the challenges for Christianity in the 21st century in, in global context, in majority world context, where the center of gravity of the Christian faith has shifted from the West to the majority world, right? Asia, Africa, Latin America. 

So, I think the next generation of theologians, or of theology even, regardless of whether or not one is in a Pentecostal denominational church, but as we know and my book makes a lot of this you know, the growing churches in Asia, Africa, Latin America could be Anglican, could be Methodist, could be Presbyterian, could be Lutheran. But they’re all Pentecostal. They’re Luther-Costal, they’re Presby-Costal, they’re Method-Costal, they’re Angli-Costal, right? 

And Pentecostal is less a denomination than it is a description of the kind of spirituality that dominates world Christianity. Again, with all of the promise, but with all of the challenges that such Pentecost such spirituality entails. So in that respect, it’s a, it’s a more academic piece, but yet I think with a lot of relevance to how the Church and how pastors and so on and all of us we’ll continue to be attempting to navigate, the challenges of our times as Christians and as people of ecclesial faith.

Todd Ream: I appreciate that. As our time unfortunately begins to get short, I want to ask you about the space in which this work is done and your efforts in relation to institutions of higher education but also theological education. In 2023, you and Dale Coulter published The Holy Spirit and Higher Education: Renewing the Christian University.

Would you please define what the two of you mean by renewal? And in what ways can that be of service to the Christian university as it grapples with the growing list of challenges, those existential challenges that you noted a few minutes ago?

Amos Yong: Well, the Holy Spirit in the Christian university again, consistent with some of what I’ve shared with you and some of the other questions in this case— and by the way, I wanted to also thank you for the work that you’ve done as a scholar of Christian higher education in the variety of works that you’ve contributed as an author and as an editor in that space.

I’m not sure if this is going to be part of the interview, but I at least want to mention it now that we’re on the topic. Probably our relationship goes back 10 or 15 years in which I would first reach out to you to say, hey, I noticed this book of yours on this topic or that book of yours on this topic. And I’m wanting to write a review essay on some books on Christian higher education. 

That was again, part of that journey of me sort of beginning to sort out. This is an important topic I want to begin thinking about. And of course, how would I think about it? Well, I want to think about it as what would the Holy Spirit invite us to do and think relative to this context?

So the word renewal in this context really functions as, again, a central aspect of what I think the work of the Spirit does, which is to renew. Dale, my coauthor, and I like the word renew, in part because it signifies both a bringing forward of something and yet a reconfiguring or a doing with a difference, a difference that is new, right? 

So it’s not just a repetition, but it’s a repetition with the difference. How does the Spirit continue to bring forth, if you will, new things out of old. So Pentecost being again a wonderful window into the bringing forward of a prophecy from of old, so to speak, and yet being able to receive that in a new way in some new times. So we I think that that’s in part what the Spirit does, is the Spirit renews, roots us in, but yet allows for the flourishing of difference from, from the past, right? 

And so what does it mean for us to do Christian higher education in the 2020s? Well, they’re going to be continuities with the 2010s and the 1990s and so on and so forth, but they’re going to be some new things. And then how do we think about these new things relative to some of the older things or some of the other things that are in greater continuity and so on and so forth. 

And I think that the newness, in part, certainly has to do with the fact that times have changed. New spaces, new times, new challenges, new opportunities. And so from that perspective, we hope that our book is helpful to folks working in higher education, but also for those who realize that we do need to rethink higher education. Renew higher education given all the challenges that all the problems that we know exist. 

But at the end of the day, as a theologian, how do we do that with a degree of theological faithfulness but also the resources for theological innovation that are needed for any response that is one of renewal rather than just repetition?

Todd Ream: In what ways would you and Dale then argue that that sense of renewal would impact the relationship that the Church shares with the university and vice versa?

Amos Yong: Well, that’s a great question. In many parts, in the West, in particular the space of the university is not necessarily, it’s understood at least as being distinct from ecclesial spaces.

Seminaries I think are of a little bit of a different order. I mean, I think that there are, there’s a greater degree of understanding in which seminaries and churches are partners in the task. And that partnership is less clear, certainly, with regard to universities and the Church. 

On the other hand, the Christian university is a space in which Christian faith, I believe is intentionally involved, engaged, interfaced, informs the work of higher education. And so in that respect, the questions I think involve, at least an ongoing conversation between how do we think theologically about these things in ways that are also meaningfully informed by, as well as inform the Church.

In that respect, it’s less a direct link, but certainly an indirect connection between how we think theologically for the university, but how does that theological set of sensibilities, informed by Christian faithfulness, which then that question becomes an ecclesial question.

Todd Ream: Thank you. Our last set of questions for us today is, if I may ask you to offer your sense of understanding of what defines the Christian academic vocation, perhaps for you as a theologian or as you think about it maybe even more broadly? 

Amos Yong: I’ll say two things and they’re interrelated certainly. You might not be surprised the Spirit leads us into all truth. Certainly that truth is first and foremost a Christological one, relative to the context in which now those claims are being made, right? 

And yet the Christological sort of horizon of John’s Gospel, and certainly of Scripture itself includes the world. Through Him, all things were created, and by Him all things come into being. And so in that respect the Spirit leads us into all truth, I think, invites us to that academic vocation, that theological vocation, what does it mean to follow the Spirit in pursuit of the truth?

Finally in Jesus Christ, or first and last in Jesus Christ, but yet all along the way, everything else is caught up in that truth, the creation and so on, right? So there’s that part of it. And secondly, and related to that is, the truth still sets you free. Is this just intellectual freedom? It’s at least that. But certainly in the Johannine context that freedom is both spiritual and, and Christological truth that frees. Therefore, frees us and the world to God so loved the world that He gave, right?

And so the invitation is to journey into the truth and allow the truth to set free, which means then how do we live out that truth? And at one point, at different points in our lives, you know it’s the questions that are the most important. Other points, it’s the implications of the answers to those questions that become important.

But I think both of those should animate the life of any theology, theologian, or Christian academic for as long as we’re breathing and working.

Todd Ream: Thank you, thank you, Amos, very much appreciate it. 

Our guest has been Amos Yong, Professor of Theology and Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and wisdom with us.

Thank you for joining us for Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. We invite you to join us again next week for Saturdays at Seven. 

Todd C. Ream

Indiana Wesleyan University
Todd C. Ream is Honors Professor of Humanities and Executive Director of Faculty Research and Scholarship at Indiana Wesleyan University, Senior Fellow for Public Engagement for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Senior Fellow for Programming for the Lumen Research Institute, and Publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review.  He is the author and editor of numerous books including (with Jerry Pattengale) The Anxious Middle: Planning for the Future of the Christian College (Baylor University Press, September 15, 2023).