- Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies Frederick J. Streng Book Award 2015
I found Amos Yong’s 2015 Streng Award winner for excellence in Buddhist-Christian Studies, The Cosmic Breath: Spirit and Nature in the Christianity-Buddhism-Science Trialogue (Brill, 2012), nothing short of breathtaking—no apologies for the pun. As one who has spent a career crisscrossing the theological and cultural worlds of Japan and North America, this book is the most refreshing, hopeful, globally relevant, and potentially groundbreaking theological proposal I have encountered in years. As I made my way through Yong’s reasoned and impassioned “pneumatological theology of nature,” I was moved again and again by the scope and generosity of the undertaking, which leads theology into new, unchartered territory beyond its classical loci. Though I am not a Pentecostal, I found myself intoning “wows,” “ahas,” and “amens” at every turn. Scholars, teachers, students, and practitioners engaged in comparative theology, Buddhist-Christian studies and dialogue, science and religion/theology, and [End Page 209] interreligious study and witness more generally will be rewarded by the depth and breadth of research, thought, and spiritual passion that went into this volume.
I fully expect and indeed hope Yong’s approach will engender some anxiety and critical reflection among Christian theologians who are still laboring in the long shadow cast by Karl Barth (1886–1968). Ours is an age characterized by a succession of Trinitarian and Christocentric projects that, to this intercultural and interreligious sojourner, often seem to lack the vitality and cutting edge of the crisis theologian’s own missional engagements with the pressing issues of his own culture and time. If I may offer an example of the problem of Barthian scholasticism, the tiny minority Japanese Protestant churches in the Reformed tradition have long been occupied with the translation, reception, and interpretation of Barth’s weighty legacy. Yet, while seminarians there still learn that highly nuanced theological language forged in the furnace of mid-twentieth-century Europe, the future existence of their own churches is under threat—not only because Japan is a rapidly aging society—but because pastors lack a theological vision that can positively engage Japanese religious and philosophical traditions, modern science, and pressing social issues.
Yong’s work opens a way beyond this kind of impasse. Neither disparaging Barth nor feeling obliged to situate his project within the post-Barthinan enterprise, Yong has turned his gaze to the Spirit, that much neglected third Person of the Trinity, opening up new territory for creative and mutually enriching engagements with science and religious traditions that offer “other lights” on the universal questions of spirit and nature. This book is a witness to theological humility and a call for well-informed interdisciplinary and interreligious engagements. In my view, Yong delivers on his claim that “A Christian theology of nature can and must learn from the sciences and other religious traditions, including Buddhism.”
Readers will welcome Yong’s clear prose, all the more remarkable because of the complexity and range of the disparate interlocutors and ideas he dares to take on board. In articulating his proposal for a “Christianity-Buddhism-science trialogue,” he carefully presents, compares, contrasts, contemplates, and weighs relevant positions from all three partners, striving to allow each voice be heard without sacrificing its unique resonance or harmonizing it with the others. While most of the book is devoted to the theoretical spadework that supports Yong’s basic proposal, he helpfully “road tests” his trialogue in a concluding chapter on the pressing global issue of the environmental threat. At heart, The Cosmic Breath is driven by Yong’s aspiration to offer a positive, self-critical, public, and concrete Christian theological response to religious pluralism and science, as well as pressing ethical issues that impact all sentient beings. [End Page 210]