Learning Theology

Tracking the Spirit of Christian Faith

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Amos Yong
  • Louisville, KY: 
    Westminster John Knox Press
    , August
     2018.
     176 pages.
     $30.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780664263966.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

A stunning and well-structured book, Learning Theology: Tracking the Spirit of Christian faith, is a clear reflection on the work of the Holy Spirit in the process of doing theology, from prospective theological candidate to professional theologian. In this volume, Amos Yong emphasizes that “theological learning is a spiritual exercise” (91). Hence, he argues “the fullness of the Spirit is essential to the Christian life of the mind. The work of the Spirit is crucial to the task of Christian theologizing” (62). He further states that “the Christian life of the mind is or ought to be inseparable from life in the Spirit” (96). In a nutshell, Yong is of the view that doing theology is part and parcel of being a Christian (10), and this process is as a result of the effective work of the Holy Spirit.

In order to bring the motif home, Yong starts by introducing the book with three distinct outlooks of a theologian. Analyzing the personalities and theological thoughts of St. Macrina (a lay theologian), Thomas Aquinas (a classical or professional theologian), and John Wesley (a pastoral and practical theologian), the author leads us to a proposition that a theologian is a person who holistically embraces, as led by the Holy Spirit, theological reflection and teaching like Macrina, expansive and rational vision like Aquinas, and response to everyday life’s needs like Wesley.

Yong then develops this proposition in two parts. His argument in the first is that the process of theological reflection in a particular milieu emanates from sources of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, and this is possible through the enabling work of the Holy Spirit. He concludes in this part with an emphasis that “Christian theology can and ought to draw experientially from scriptural consideration, traditioned participation, and reasoned (and reasonable) deliberation” (63).

In the second part, he simply claims that the expression of life in the Spirit is realized through theologizing practices in personal, ecclesial, and educational or scholarly contexts. In doing theology through these spheres, Christians practically understand and participate in the triune God’s saving work in Christ as enabled and expressed by the trinitarian love through the Holy Spirit (107).

Yong raises two important and insightful points which are cardinal for contemporary theologians. Firstly, he metaphorically invites all theologians to consider doing theology “not just after Easter but also after Pentecost,” which eventually ought to culminate in “an ever more fully and intentionally Trinitarian theology” (101). This is crucial, and needs to be kept vividly in the minds of contemporary theologians. Even if the basis of theological inquiry ought to be the risen Christ and the ensuing of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity still remains and ought to remain the bedrock of any authentic Christian theologizing.

Secondly, he affirms, “As long as the wind of God blows through our bodies, there will always be a next moment to ponder, to deliberate, and to theologize. That is our call and gift as theologians, which may be frustrating at times but also is part of what gives life meaning and satisfaction” (108). This is an essential insight because contemporary theologians need to realize that even though theological inquiry tends to be strenuous at times and a task which involves wrestling for the solutions to current challenges, it is also a joyous and satisfying process of continual discovery of new ideas. In short, both the trinitarian basis and the nature of doing theology are fascinating in that they remind contemporary theologians to be mindful that theological inquiry is a calling and at its core is the Holy Trinity.

Although one would appreciate Yong’s pentecostal and pneumatological running thread as one among the many perspectives of doing theology, it leaves one to wonder whether this perspective is not overstretched. It is exciting and commendable that Yong is making his theological arguments with a pentecostal and pneumatological pair of spectacles, because he is cautious of and influenced by his religious tradition. However, even if Yong is considerate of trinitarian theology, as cited earlier, it seems this is not the central theme of the book. Wouldn’t be more enriching if a trinitarian perspective had taken a center stage in this book? Another insight worth reflecting on is the use of Wesleyan quadrilateral approach of sources of theology. It is an undeniable fact that scripture, tradition, reason, and experience are reliable sources of theology.

Nevertheless, this seems to give an impression, especially to novice theologians, that these sources are the sole sources for doing theology. What about the contemporary social, political and cultural contexts; can’t one draw some insights for theology from such? Moreover, the practices of theology at personal, ecclesial, and educational contexts seem to leave out other important spheres, such as a community or society. Perhaps it would also broaden the contextual horizon by considering such a dimension as well. This would be more appealing to some cultural contexts like the African society, which is more communal than individualistic in its orientation and practice. This is so because in such contexts (at least in Africa), theology takes into consideration communal cultural practices and norms.

Nonetheless, despite the cited “gaps,” the book remains a splendid, insightful, easy-to-read and qualitative volume. It is a vital contribution to academia, especially in the theological discipline, and indeed an inspirational work to both potential and professional theologians; it is a useful tool for both undergraduates and graduates, and every seminary library will do well to acquire a copy.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Lameck Banda is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Ethics, and African Theology in the School of Theology and Religion at Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, Zambia.

Date of Review: 
May 21, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Amos Yong is Professor of Theology and Mission and Director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

Keywords: 

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