- Pneumatology and the Christian-Buddhist Dialogue: Does the Spirit Blow Through the Middle Way? by Amos Yong
Amos Yong is the J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology at Regent University School of Divinity and a major theologian in the Pentecostal tradition (Assemblies of [End Page 227] God). This distinguished profile is interesting, but the kind of information that need not make it into a book review. In this case, however, Yong’s location as scholar and church figure makes his Pneumatology and the Christian-Buddhist Dialogue all the more notable and remarkable. It is a mature and refined comparative theological study, a notable engagement with Buddhist thought from a Christian perspective, and also a significant contribution to a Pentecostal Christian pneumatology and demonology and even incipient theology of religions. Yong locates himself right at the start:
Having been raised as a Pentecostal preacher’s kid (in the Assemblies of God), my elitist and exclusivist perspective regarding other Christian groups and denominations was shaken through this experience [of a wider education]. I was confronted for the first time not only with the possibility that non-Pentecostals like Wesleyans, evangelicals, other mainline Protestants, and even Roman Catholics had the Holy Spirit in some measure, but also that they were in a real sense Christians like me … And if that was true, then what was the line separating these persons from others like Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus? Might it be possible that the Holy Spirit was present and active in some sense perhaps even in their lives and communities?(p. xi)
His productive combination of zeal and intellectual curiosity prompts him to embark on the extraordinary quest underlying this book. Each of the book’s three major parts is in itself a competent and careful comparative study, addressing sequentially three large themes: “Spirit and Emptiness: Divine Presence, Human Nature, and the Middle Way,” “Spirit, Salvation, and the Eightfold Path: Divine Activity and Liberation Along the Middle Way,” and “The Satan and Mara: Divine Absence and the Demonic Threatening the Middle Way.” Each of these is meticulous and erudite, and again and again Yong travels the familiar ground of biblical and Christian theology (though his excursion in part 2 into Eastern Orthodoxy covers even some new Christian ground). He also takes up in some depth several aspects of Buddhism. Part 1 argues that “a pneumatological theology opens up to a relational cosmology that invites comparative dialogue with Buddhist views regarding the interrelatedness and interdependence of all things” (p. 23). Part 2 argues that “a pneumatological perspective on Orthodox spirituality and its theosis soteriology enables a sympathetic understanding of Theravadin beliefs and practices even if there are divergent convictions about where these two paths lead to ultimately” (p. 24). Each part is a substantive study, and indeed each might in itself have formed the core of an independent book.
But the first two parts are also preparatory to part 3, the climax to which the book builds. It is here that Yong engages his own Pentecostal tradition most directly and draws on its deep pneumatological instincts and commitments for the sake of an encounter with Buddhism that promises to make most sense from that Pentecostal perspective. He takes up the phenomenon of divine absence, not in this case as an advanced mystical state, but as the more bitter darkness of sin, “the demonic,” in regard to which we can ponder “what happens when the divine is (sensed as) neither [End Page 228] present nor active.” Yet in Yong’s plan, it is also a site not for Christian triumphalism but for a more sober dialogue: “If the symbol of divine absence ultimately points to that which resists and retards God’s salvific intents for the world in the Christian perspective, this urges comparative focus on similar symbols operating in the Buddhist cosmology and understanding” (p. 24). In other words, the book becomes an all the more remarkable comparative study as it takes hold of a key area of Yong’s...