God’s Glory and the Problem of Induction

The following short essay was a post I wrote on Facebook in response to a Calvinist discussion group. It is part of a larger discussion I initiated regarding the assertion in the Westminster Confession that the chief end (purpose) of man is to glorify God.

Deduction is a series of premises that, if true, make the conclusion undoubtedly true. For example:
1) A bachelor is an unmarried man (Premise).
2) The Apostle Paul is a bachelor (Premise).
3) Therefore, the Apostle Paul is unamrried (Conclusion).
As you can see, if 1 and 2 are true, then 3 must be true. Like this example, deduction goes from general premises to a specific conclusion.

Induction is a different approach to proving a statement. Induction involves looking at specific examples and forming a general conclusion, and in a sense is the opposite of deduction. Here is an example of induction:
1) Luke traveled with the the Christian Peter and wrote kindly of his ministry.
2) Luke traveled with the Christian Barnabas and wrote kindly of his ministry.
3) Luke traveled with the Christian Paul and wrote kindly of his ministry.
4) Conclusion: Luke was a Christian.
As you no doubt can see, 1, 2 and 3 are evidence that 4 is true, but they do not undoubtedly prove 4. Induction is akin to scientific enquiry. Observations do not prove a hypothesis indubitably, but they are evidence which makes the conclusion more likely to be true. If we find 100 more pieces of evidence that Luke was a Christian, we would have stronger evidence that he was indeed a Christian, though not absolute proof.

Now, God’s glory. I could prove undoubtedly that we exist primarily for the purpose of glorifying God with this argument:
1) God predetermines all events in the creation as He wills (Premise)
2) He wills to be glorified by created beings (Premise).
3) He created man to gratify what He wills/desires (Premise).
4) Conclusion: We exist to gratify God’s desire for glory.
In this deduction, the conclusion must be true if the three premises are true. While there appear to me to be serious questions about premise 1 (another doctrine Calvinists reach through induction which Arminians disagree with), the problem for me is 3. I question whether that is biblical or not, based on God’s attributes of perfection, self-sufficiency, and perhaps immutability. Thus for the non-Calvinist, this deductive argument is not undoubtable.

Finally, let’s consider the inductive argument I hear Calvinists making about man’s chief end:
1) We are commanded to glorify God.
2) all that occurs glorifies God.
3) God works all things to His glory.
4) God wants to be glorified.
5) Even God’s enemies end up glorifying Him.
6) Conclusion: The primary purpose of our existence is to glorify God.
Numbers 1-5 are fully supported by scripture, and with a humble heart I fully agree with and submit to them. The problem is that while they provide evidence for 6, they do not prove it. Induction NEVER absolutely proves a general conclusion. It merely creates an argument with provides evidence for the probability that a general conclusion is true.

Normally, we study the bible and do theology using both deduction and induction. Both have something to offer to hermeneutics. However, my main point is, should we not base the first principle – the central idea – the unifying concept of our entire belief on the purpose of human existence on something undoubtedly scriptural, rather than on something we reach through our own finite, fallible inductions?

Amos Yong’s Theology and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

Yong’s Theology and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

Introduction

One sign of Pentecostalism’s coming of age is its growing contributions to the global theological conversation. What was once limited to self-published booklets about the Holy Spirit and Speaking in Tongues has been transformed in recent years into studied and systematic reflection on the pneumatological root of Pentecostal practice and its theological ramifications for the broader Christian community. Notable Pentecostal theologians such as Amos Yong and Wolfgang Vondey see current theology in crisis. They go so far as to propose Pentecostal theology as a means of counteracting some of the current trends contributing to this crisis.

Yong in particular proposes a reorientation of the relationship between the Holy Spirit, the written Word of God and the community which is inspired to interpret that Word. Unfortunately, this pneumatological methodology, which intends to relieve the theological crisis, is inherently threatening to historic Christian theology and may instead produce the opposite result, intensifying rather than ameliorating theological divisions. However, this threat may be minimized by considering the contemporary Pentecostal methodology as a modification of the Wesleyan quadrilateral.

This essay will outline the emphases Yong’s theological proposal, explain the threat this proposal poses for traditional Christian theology, and show how the Wesleyan quadrilateral allows for an examination of Pentecostal methodology which obviates much of the threat and allows for a clearer consideration of the Pentecostal theological agenda.

Pentecostal Theology

It may be helpful at the outset to define Pentecostalism. For the purposes of this paper, Pentecostal will be used in its broader sense, beginning in the religious movement beginning in early twentieth-century America, and including current offshoots such as Charismatics and Neo-Charismatics. Some of the scholars quoted here may use the term Renewal Theology, which in our context can be considered synonymous with Pentecostal theology.

Pentecostalism as a religious movement was and is primarily interested in the restored role of the Holy Spirit in the practices of the church and lives of believers. Typical of Pentecostal theology is a pneumatological emphasis on doctrine, ritual and praxis. Also common to Pentecostalism is the importance given to the affections and imagination of believers, along with an interest in eschatology. As we will see, these factors combine to produce a unique theological perspective in which Yong, Vondey and others see an inherent potential for theological renewal.

Pentecostal theology has grown over recent decades. Yong observes, “The recent appearance of a variety of pneumatologies from biblical, theological, and other perspectives is a testimony to the fact that the once ‘silent’ and ‘shy’ member of the Trinity is silent and shy no longer.”[1] From the early hodgepodge of Pentecostal books on experiencing the Holy Spirit came more learned and systematic theological texts such as Williams’ Renewal Theology. Now Yong and others attempt to distill from these systematic pneumatological hermeneutics a cohesive Spirit-centered methodology.

Yong offers to explain the particulars which define Pentecostal theology.  “I suggest that a distinctive Pentecostal perspective would highlight a Lukan hermeneutical approach, a pneumatological framework and orientation, and an experiential base.”[2] We see in Yong’s description an emphasis on Luke/Acts as central, in that the scriptures are to be interpreted through the lens of Spirit operating among men. Pentecostals typically seek a restoration of New Testament church practices and spiritual experiences. Therefore it is no surprise to find this emphasis on the restoration of spiritual experience permeating Pentecostal theology. In fact, it becomes the central unifying concept in Yong’s methodology: “The motivation for what follows is to correlate the movement from pneumatology through theology to ontology and metaphysics, always with an eye toward epistemological, hermeneutical and methodological issues.”[3] For Yong and other Pentecostals, the Holy Spirit is the starting point for theology – the study of God.

It is this assertion that the Spirit, rather than the Father or the Son or even the Bible, is the proper and most fruitful starting point for theology, and this idea challenges traditional Christian theological perspectives. Pentecostal theologian Allan Anderson explains the context of this challenge, saying, “The difficulty with some western approaches to theology is a dualistic rationalizing that does not adequately understand a holistic worldview uniting physical and spiritual, and personal and social.”[4] In historical terms, the Pentecostal perspective sees traditional theology as overly indebted to the rationalism of western Enlightenment philosophies. This intellectual basis develops into a prejudicial view of written texts (in particular the Bible and Church Creeds) and rational arguments over spiritual experiences and Spirit revelation.

Contemporary Pentecostal scholars have taken different approaches to incorporating a fuller consideration of the Spirit in regards to Biblical interpretation. For example, Pinnock assuages traditional concerns over the primacy of scripture, yet injecting a pneumatological element to hermeneutics when he writes, “Scripture as the Spirit’s text enjoys a privileged position…Every other claim to revelation and development of doctrine is tested by it and must be shown to be included in it…The Spirit intends not only what was understood by the inspired authors but also the truth toward which their witness is pointing. Therefore we attend not only to original meanings but also to understandings that arise from subsequent reflection. God is at work in the history of salvation, illuminating as well as inspiring.”[5] Pinnock walks a fine line here between the rationalistic, scripture centered theology of traditional Christianity and the pneumatological emphasis of Pentecostal thought.

James Smith, in his criticism of modern theology, aptly encapsulates the weaknesses of western rationalism in his comments on Descartes. “Such construals of worldview belie an understanding of Christian faith that is dualistic and thus reductionistic: It reduces Christian faith primarily to a set of ideas, principles, claims, and propositions that are known and believed…this makes it sound as if we are essentially the sorts of things Descartes described us to be: thinking things that are containers for ideas…containers for our minds.”[6] Thus we see the modern fruit borne by Descartes cogito ergo sum. If “I think therefore I am” is taken ontologically, we are left with two conclusions. Man is thought, and thought is an individual, rather than communal, endeavor. These are exactly the philosophical biases Yong and others are attempting to challenge and renew through Pentecostal insights and experiences.

Pentecostals should not expect to label current theology in crisis and offer solutions radically diverging from tradition without experiencing significant resistance. Pentecostal theology already suffers marginalization due to historic biases against experientialism and emotionalism in ecclesial praxis. The new pneumatological emphasis in theological method and hermeneutics being professed in Pentecostal academic circles is already making waves and drawing critical evaluation. For example, Merrick rightly sees in Yong’s work on inter-religious dialog the following: “Clearly Yong believes that in order to understand the religions seriously on their own terms, a pneumatological approach to theology of religions must equally understand the Spirit on his own terms, that is, terms that are not shaped by Christology….Thus his project hinges on freeing pneumatology from the influence of Christology.”[7] He goes on, “I wonder whether this current in Yong’s proposal, despite his best intentions, is like a dangerous undertow, threatening to suck Christian theology of religions out into a sea of pluralism and to dilute pneumatology from its soteriological potency.”[8] These strong words are matched by Hunt when he says of Vondey’s synopsis of Yong, “By separating or ‘bracketing’ Christology from pneumatology, Yong’s pneumatology appears sub-Christian.”[9] Even Peterson’s positive review of Vondey’s contribution to theological method frames Pentecostal theology in confrontational terms: “If engaged, these resources function as a catalyst that will empower Pentecostals to move beyond their own boundaries to unify and energize the theological enterprise of Christianity as a whole.”[10] Moving beyond their own boundaries implies invading the territory of others. In this case, resistance from traditional Christian theology will likely increase before Pentecostal thinkers can hope to merge with the academic mainstream and renew the theological enterprise of Christianity as a whole.

Keeping in mind this critical evaluation of modern theological methods and the strife this is causing and will continue to cause in traditional Christian theological circles, this essay will examine some of the specific assertions of Pentecostal theology, note its specific challenges to traditional theology, and consider the usefulness of Wesleyan methodology for calming these challenges. However, before proceeding, we must first explain Wesley’s theological method, the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

 The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

Though John Wesley wrote no systematic theology or theological method, his pastoral writings, particularly sermons and letters, are so numerous that one can reasonably deduce his systematic approach to Christian thought. The term ‘quadrilateral’ was coined by Albert Outler[11], and is not found in Wesley’s own writings. Bevins describes the Quadrilateral as, “…a theological method that John Wesley used in order to understand the work and Word of God.”[12] He continues, “In the Quadrilateral, the Scriptures stand first while ‘Christian Antiquity’, reason, and Christian experience are used as interpretive means for understanding scripture.”[13] Thus Wesley allowed for the four-sided shape of theological method, particularly in regards to biblical interpretation: Scripture as the base, reason at the head, all bounded on both sides by tradition and human experience.

One immediately notices Wesley’s theological position in relation to the wider Christian theological landscape. The primacy of scripture will set well with Protestant theologians. The necessity of reason in scriptural reflection and interpretation harmonizes with post-Enlightenment trends. The use of traditional creeds, confessions and theological works as normalizing controls fits with traditional methods. Finally, Wesley’s unusual inclusion of experience in the theological and hermeneutical process may be surprising to some of his contemporaries, but it was consistent with his overarching doctrine of the ‘witness of the Spirit’ in individual and corporate Christian life.

Wesley’s emphasis on the Spirit in Christian experience attracted moderate theological, as well as ecclesial criticism. However, insofar as, “John Wesley primarily appealed to the Holy Scriptures for all doctrinal authority”[14], he was able to circumvent many of his critics. The contemporary theological scene would pose as much or more of a challenge for Wesley, were he preaching today. Consider Kister’s comments as editor for Christian leaders such as John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul: “The battle for the Bible has been raging since the beginning of time…Romanists add tradition to what is written in Scripture, and place it on an equal plane with Scripture…Many [Pentecostals] and evangelicals place their personal experience on a par with Scripture, thereby adding to God’s written revelation…Scripture is complete. God has said everything necessary for us to live the holy life to which He calls us. Nothing further needs to be added to what God has already revealed in His written Word.”[15] These words would have challenged Wesley’s method were he teaching it today. Further, these are clearly not the words of theologians who see themselves mired in the theological crisis described by Yong and his compatriots.

So we see Wesley as challenging his own theological culture, emphasizing reason, tradition and spiritual experience as aids in biblical interpretation. Yet this challenge to theological method, by recognizing the primacy of scripture, was able to stand up to its critics and to some extent renew Christian theology. Similarly, Pentecostals are challenging the rationalism and Biblicism of Christian theology, suggesting as a solution a pneumatological perspective on method. Perhaps a Wesleyan approach to posing the Pentecostal challenge may alleviate some of the criticism and allow a similar theological renewal. In pursuit of this goal, we turn to Yong’s pneumatological theological method as seen as a reorientation of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

Comparison of Yong’s Spirit-Word-Community Method with Wesley’s Theology

Yong poses the trialectic of Holy Spirit, Written Word and Christian Community, wherein the Spirit encapsulates the act of interpretation, the Word the object of interpretation, and the Community as the context of interpretation. At its simplest, Yong states, “My thesis is that theological interpretation is the continuous interplay of Spirit, Word and community.”[16] One might say that Yong considers Spirit the subjective element of theology, Word the objective, and community the purpose behind theology.

Spirit: Yong’s central methodological assertion is that theology and biblical interpretation begin with the subjective, or with the Spirit. “Only a pneumatological rationality is sufficiently dynamic, historical and eschatological to drive the dialectical movement of thought.”[17] Thus we see that Spirit for Yong denotes more that the third person of the Trinity. His argument from Spirit-Word-Community encompasses a pneumatology which spans metaphysics and epistemology as well as theology. For example, “…the Holy Spirit is the divine mind that illuminates the rationality of the world to human minds.”[18] Further, “The Spirit is the transcendental condition of the human experience of God.”[19] With these broad assertions about the centrality of the Spirit, not only in spiritual revelation or biblical hermeneutics, but in the hermeneutic of rationality itself, Yong presents an epistemology with a truly unique Spirit orientation.

When considering of Yong’s definition of Spirit from the Quadrilateral perspective, we are forced to make connections between Wesley’s fairly orthodox methodology and the categories of Divine Spirit, the rational principle, and the subjective imagination of man. While this is not a straightforward task, there are some immediate points of similarity between Wesley and Yong. Wesley’s well known Aldersgate experience, his heart being ‘strangely warmed’, provided a subjective existential metaphysic grounded in what he later termed the ‘witness of the Spirit’. Wesley also appears to hold a proto-pneumatological epistemology, at least in part. Carter expounds on Wesley’s epistemology, stating, “Someday we will see how foolish it was to limit knowledge to what can be empirically verified or falsified…when the method of scientific investigation, wholly appropriate to the empirical sciences, is improperly used in the dimensions of the human spirit.”[20] Oden supports this statement, adding, “And till you have these internal senses, till the eyes of your understanding have been opened, you can have no apprehension of divine things.”[21] Yong and Wesley agree in part on the basic Spirit grounding of reason itself – at least as reason interprets theological knowledge.

Unlike Yong, we see that Wesley limits the role of the Spirit in theology through soteriology: “If the eternal God is to be known, He must set the conditions. And God has clearly done this as is recorded in the history of His self-disclosure; the history of His self-revelation is the history of salvation.”[22] So, though Yong and Wesley both elevate the role of the Spirit in metaphysics and epistemology, Wesley’s method is tied to Christ as incarnate Savior, whereas Yong is criticized for divorcing pneumatology from a grounding Christology. Wesley ties his subjective epistemology directly to the objective Word, whereas Yong follows in the steps of Barth and von Balthasar as they denote Spirit in more existential terms, “…the Spirit is the transcendental condition of the human experience of God.”[23] In this sense, Yong may been seen as expanding the breadth of Wesley’s Spirit emphasis to the broader human experience rather than tying Spirit to Christology and thus strictly theology.

Word: Yong’s term ‘Word’ includes three objective sources of theological information, namely the Word of God and theological tradition. Here Yong departs from orthodox Protestantism by veering away from a tangible sola scriptura, instead expanding the Word of God, again in Barthian manner, asserting the voice of God is received through the scriptures, not as the scriptures. However, Yong’s contribution is that he suggests a mutuality of spoken and written Word not found in Barth: “It is therefore better said that there is a mutual subordination of the living Word of God (Jesus as the incarnate Logos) to the spoken Word of God (the Spirit) and vice versa, with both, in the end, being eschatologically subordinate to God the Father. Word defines Spirit, and Spirit defines Word.)[24] This fascinating reciprocity between Jesus and Holy Spirit, or Word and Spirit, clearly transcends Wesley and the Reformation theologians in their conception of Word as Bible. Yet Yong’s seemingly inextricable cooperation between Word and Spirit goes far to silence those who would oppose him for His seeming de-emphasis on Christology in his method. On the surface, Yong seems to be submerging the primacy of scripture into subjective experience and tradition. For Wesley says, “I allow no other rule, whether of faith or practice, than the Holy Scriptures”,[25] while Yong speaks of hearing the Word of Jesus through the words of scripture. Thus Yong ties Jesus to scripture, with the caveat that scripture is interpreted through Spirit.

Of tradition, Wesley show his approval by saying, “The Church Fathers are the most authentic commentators on Scripture, as being both nearest the fountain and eminently endued with the Spirit by whom all Scripture was given.”[26] Yong also asserts the importance of tradition in theological methodology. First, Yong locates tradition as a source of theology. While the scriptures form the ground of source material, Yong sees Christian tradition as a valuable pluralizing force. Vondey explains: “The conceptual separation of church and creed has contributed to an isolation of the faith from the praxis of the Christian community…the creeds are no longer proclaimed by the ‘we’ of the church but are preserved as an ‘it’ of faith.”[27] Thus theological tradition as communicated through creeds must straddle the categories of object of theology and context of community to achieve goal of promoting orthodoxy and unity.

Liturgy too contributes to the role of tradition in Yong’s theological model. While Pentecostals are not typically associated with liturgical forms of worship, the Pentecostal theme of integrating spirituality with intellect can be seen in many traditional liturgical rituals. Caldecott explains the roots of our need for liturgy as a vehicle for tradition as he explains the roots of the modern crisis of theological imagination, stating, “The modern person feels himself to be disengaged from the world around him, rather than intrinsically related to it (by family, tribe, birthplace, vocation, and so forth)…this prepared the ground for the Reformation, which emphasized individual conscience and pared away the fabric of traditions and sacrament by which the self had been embedded in a social cosmos.”[28] Yong agrees that liturgy serves to shape tradition, saying, “Christian liturgical rites can be understood as premeditated structures designed to cultivate and nurture the Christian life.”[29] For Wesley, liturgies operate as means of grace: “By means of grace I understand outward signs, words or actions ordained by God, appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby He might convey to men, preventing, justifying or sanctifying grace.”[30] Therefore, while Yong emphasizes the communal and catholic aspect of liturgy, both he and Wesley that liturgy effects the transmission of divine grace and life to humanity.

Community: Finally, Yong locates the context of theological reflection staunchly within the context of Christian community. “My argument here is that theological interpretation proceeds by the church and for the church, and as such is directed toward discerning ecclesial praxis.”[31] Yong goes on to describe theology as the practice of Christian communities in response to cultural and eschatological pressures. Engaging with Pentecostal and Liberation theologies, Yong explores the formulation of historical theologies and ecclesial dogmas as they serve to direct the Christian church in its interaction with itself and with the non-Christian world. In particular, the posture of Pentecostalism has long been one of marginalization, and so Yong’s emphasis in theological community is the upholding of the socially subaltern.

Yong’s community concepts align strongly with Wesley’s practical theology. Methodism was known as a strong force for social justice and charity. Wesley preached, “A peace maker is one that, as he hath opportunity, ‘doeth good unto all men;’ one that, being filled with the love of God and of all mankind, cannot confine the expressions of it to his own family, or friends, or acquaintance, or party, or to those of his own opinions – no, nor those who are partakers of like precious faith; but steps over all these narrow bounds, that he may do good to every man…and manifest his love to neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies.”[32] The pragmatic nature of Wesley’s religious movement and its posture of marginalization, coupled with its charity toward others, even non-Christians, mark its strong similarity to Yong’s concept of community in theology.

Yong’s Spirit-Word-Community as a Modified Quadrilateral

Wesley’s Quadrilateral begins with the primacy of scripture, interpreted through reason bounded by tradition and experience. Wesley moved from the highly cognitive and Biblicist trends of Reformation theology toward a more holistic approach to Christian life by including experience in theological methodology.

Yong’s Spirit-Word-Community methodology may be seen as a reorganization of the Quadrilateral, based upon Pentecostal emphases.

Yong’s reorganizes Wesley’s Quadrilateral as follows: Wesley begins with scripture (Word) and relates reason, tradition and experience as interpretive voices through which scripture may speak. Yong begins with Spirit as an ontological ground, and then establishes a dialectic between Spirit (the subjective) and Word (the objective) which operates in the context of Community (the church in society). As one can see from this diagram and explanation, Yong is not elevating the Holy Spirit above the Son of God, Pneumatology above Christology, or subjective spiritual experience above scripture, as some of his critics may fear. Just as Spirit and Son enjoy a Trinitarian relationship of individuality, yet interpenetrating unity, so Yong’s categories of Spirit and Word are equal, distinct, and yet unified. While Wesley does not include the concept of community in the Quadrilateral, his preaching and practice strongly mirrors Yong’s emphases on theology as focused on the church’s role in sharing God’s love with society at large, and so Yong can be considered true to Wesley’s social gospel.

We conclude from this analysis that Yong’s Pneumatological theological methodology is consistent with orthodox Wesleyan theology. As Wesley reasonably evolved from Reformation theology, Yong’s Pentecostal theology is a reasonable evolution of Wesleyanism, and should be considered another phase of Christian theology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Anderson, Allan. An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity. Cambridge, U.K. ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Bevins, Winfield H. “A Pentecostal Appropriation of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 14, no. 2 (April 1, 2006): 229–46.

Caldecott, Stratford. Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-Enchantment of Education. 1 edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009.

Carter, Charles W. A Contemporary Wesleyan Theology: Biblical, Systematic, and Practical. Grand Rapids, Mich: Francis Asbury Press, 1983.

Horton, Michael, Robert Godfrey, James White, R. C. Sproul, John Armstrong, John MacArthur, Sinclair Ferguson, Joel Beeke, and Ray Lanning. Sola Scriptura!: The Protestant Position on the Bible. Edited by Don Kistler. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 2003.

Hunt, Stephen. “Beyond Pentecostalism: The Crisis of Global Christianity and the Renewal of the Theological Agenda.” Modern Believing 53, no. 4 (October 1, 2012): 426–29.

John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity [Paperback] [1994] (Author) Thomas C. Oden. Zondervan, 1994.

Merrick, James R A. “The Spirit of Truth as Agent in False Religions? A Critique of Amos Yong’s Pneumatological Theology of Religions with Reference to Current Trends.” Trinity Journal 29, no. 1 (March 1, 2008): 107–25.

Outler, Albert C. “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral in John Wesley.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 20, no. 1 (1985): 7–18.

Petersen, Douglas. “Beyond Pentecostalism: The Crisis of Global Christianity and the Renewal of the Theological Agenda.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 35, no. 4 (October 1, 2011): 230–31.

Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2009.

Vondey, Wolfgang. Beyond Pentecostalism: The Crisis of Global Christianity and the Renewal of the Theological Agenda. First Edition edition. Grand Rapids, Mich: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010.

Wesley, John, and Nathan Burwash. Wesley’s 52 Standard Sermons. Schmul Publishing Company, 1967.

Yong, Amos. Spirit, Word, Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2006.

———. The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology. Edition Unstated edition. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2005.

[1] Yong, Spirit, Word, Community, 28.

[2] Yong, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh, 29.

[3] Yong, Spirit, Word, Community, 50.

[4] Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism, 198.

[5] Pinnock, Flame of Love, 229.

[6] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 32.

[7] Merrick, “The Spirit of Truth as Agent in False Religions?,” 111.

[8] Ibid., 115.

[9] Hunt, “Beyond Pentecostalism,” 429.

[10] Petersen, “Beyond Pentecostalism,” 231.

[11] Outler, “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral in John Wesley,” 7–18.

[12] Bevins, “A Pentecostal Appropriation of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” 232.

[13] Ibid., 234.

[14] Ibid., 233.

[15] Horton et al., Sola Scriptura!, 277–278.

[16] Yong, Spirit, Word, Community, 245.

[17] Ibid., 104.

[18] Ibid., 123.

[19] Ibid., 228.

[20] Carter, A Contemporary Wesleyan Theology, 110.

[21] John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity [Paperback] [1994] (Author) Thomas C. Oden, 85.

[22] Carter, A Contemporary Wesleyan Theology, 110.

[23] Yong, Spirit, Word, Community, 228.

[24] Ibid., 258.

[25] John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity [Paperback] [1994] (Author) Thomas C. Oden, 56.

[26] Ibid., 66.

[27] Vondey, Beyond Pentecostalism, 83.

[28] Caldecott, Beauty for Truth’s Sake, 124.

[29] Yong, Spirit, Word, Community, 249.

[30] Wesley and Burwash, Wesley’s 52 Standard Sermons, 152.

[31] Yong, Spirit, Word, Community, 276.

[32] Wesley and Burwash, Wesley’s 52 Standard Sermons, 232.

Book Review: Spirit, Word, Community By: Amos Yong

Review of Spirit – Word – Community – by: Amos Yong

Yong, A., Spirit – Word – Community. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002.

Introduction

Spirit-Word-Community is an ambitious attempt to formulate a philosophical and theological pneumatology from the ground up. Yong’s philosophic pneumatology works at establishing a solid Metaphysic and epistemology of the Spirit. Upon this foundation Yong then proceeds to build a hermeneutic of the Spirit in the context of ecclesial praxis. Recent Pentecostal theology has focused on the interplay of Christology and Pneumatology, questioning the relative weight of each. Further, Pentecostal theologians have been exploring the role of the Spirit in interdenominational and even inter-religious conversation. Yong’s text seems geared toward a general strengthening of Pentecostal theological foundations in philosophy and hermeneutics, as well as a providing an ontological ground for considering a true Spirit Christology.

Yong’s text bespeaks the exciting times in Pentecostal theology, as core beliefs and new horizons of application surface for exploration. However, changing times attract disapproving voices. Yong’s brilliant work here, though philosophically and theologically groundbreaking, provides ample room for criticism.

Overview

The thesis of Yong’s text is that theology ought to take place within the trialectic of Spirit, Word and Community. He states, “My biblical exegesis and pneumatological reflections are structured toward the development of a systematic or holistic vision of interpretation. More specifically, I am interested in how pneumatology informs and relates to the ‘object’ of theological knowledge, broadly considered, i.e., God-self-world.” (p 8) He goes on to build an argument for acceding to a pneumatological perspective on life and knowledge framed in the subjective act of knowing (Spirit), the object of theological knowledge (Word), and the practical ecclesial context for theology (Community).

Yong begins with a brief look at some historical perspectives on the relation between Son and Spirit. After defining the Spirit with the categories of relationality, rationality and dynamism, he rejects the filoque, focusing instead on Irenaeus’ conception of Spirit and Son as the two hands of the Father, and finally Augustine’s Spirit as bond of love between Father and Son. Yong admits, “Such a pneumatologically shaped (read: robustly Trinitarian) metaphysics has been in the making for some time now.” (p 79) However, Yong moves this metaphysic forward when he suggests we accept the relational nature of the Spirit as foundational to human existence. “Reality, because of its relationality, rationality (understood inter-personally), and dynamism, can be characterized communally. Sociality and community are, after all, brought about by the Spirit, the mutual love of the Father and Son…this relationality extends to the world which comes forth from God and exists in communal relationship with God, even if such relationship is fractured in some respects.” (p 79) Thus Yong’s metaphysic is one of Spirit penetrating both the Trinity and creation, bringing with Him a fundamental relationality between God and men.

Yong has attempted to prove that reality is essentially spiritual. This contrasts with typical theological foundations, which see reality as essentially rational. Instead of the sharp dualism seen in most Christian theology, such as matter/spirit, faith/reason, or objective/subjective, Yong seeks the holistic epistemology available through pneumatology. “…a robust pneumatological theology brings vagueness and generality together with the distinctiveness, particularity, and individuality of concrete actualities. Here the subject-object distinction or difference is not only preserved but insisted upon, yet not in a Cartesian sense of re-asserting a metaphysical dualism between the knower and the known…the logic of pneumatology resists all forms of totalism: absorbing the other into oneself…abusing the other as not valuable according to standards established by oneself.” (p 104) It is clear that Yong’s epistemology attempts to admit the fallibility of human knowing while allowing the Spirit to bring His relationality to competing beliefs.

Rather than accepting the classic dichotomy of mind versus spirit, or head versus heart, Yong sees both integrated in the pneumatology of imagination. As he puts it, “The pneumatological imagination is seen to function integratively…the affective, the volitional, the spiritual are thereby integrated so as to enable a more holistic and healthy posture toward the world…this integrated imagination is the means through which humans engage with and relate to the world.” (p 137) Yong’s holism insists on somehow combining the head and heart, rather than separating them into competing categories. He suggests the metaphor of Son and Holy Spirit as the two hands of the Father to accomplish this.

Yong’s synopsis of epistemology ends with his attempt to unite head and heart, the rational with the imaginative. “The economic work of the Spirit thereby involves interpreting the world (the Word of the Father) ontologically and epistemically. The latter means, for human cognition, that all interpretation, justification, and reasoning are nothing less than pneumatically inspired efforts to correlate our understanding of the whole with the whole.” (p 174) Thus the Spirit provides the means to understand reality through His relationship to the Creator of reality and we the creation. Truth (Word) is therefore known through Spirit, and this knowing involves the whole community of knowers.

Spirit-Word-Community

Yong describes Spirit as the subjective act of interpretation, be it of scripture, theology or life, while Word is the objects of interpretation, and Community is the context of interpretation. This is where we see Yong apply his pneumatological metaphysic and hermeneutic to Christian belief and practice.

We will begin by examining Yong’s concept of Community. This is perhaps one of Yong’s most insightful and practical results of his pneumatologic method. He says, “My argument here is that theological interpretation proceeds, in part, by the Church and for the Church, and as such is directed toward discerning ecclesial praxis.” (p 277) Thus it is the purpose, needs and experience of the Christian community that shapes the agenda and methods of theological investigation. He goes on to describe the importance of a pneumatologic perspective when defining the identity and boundaries of the Christian Community. This perspective forms the metaphysical basis for some of Yong’s more controversial ruminations, such as the possibility of seeing the workings of the Spirit in other faiths. However, critique of such is outside the purview of this review.

Regarding Spirit, we see Yong building on von Balthasar’s conceptualization of, “…Spirit as the transcendental condition of the human experience of God” (p 228), Yong adds to this, “It is important not to exalt the human imagination as an autonomous faculty or human freedom as an autonomous capacity. In fact, as contingent creatures capable of engaging the transcendent, human beings are also fully dependent on and related to God, or, for our purposes, the Spirit of God.” (p 229) Here we see the intersection of Yong’s metaphysic and hermeneutic of the Spirit. He opens the door to Spirit engaged imagination and spiritual revelation while grounding Spirit in God. This is essentially a Kantian move toward providing an objective ground for human subjective perception.

Yong denotes Word as those experiences which provide the objects of our spiritual reflection and interpretation. In centering his argument in experience rather than the traditional objective theological sources, such as scripture or creed, Yong enters an epistemological quagmire. He specifies his meaning of experience, saying, “Theological reflection thus aims at its subject matter – God, self, world, etc. – but needs to recognize such always as second order interpretations. Scripture itself is interpreted experience…Similarly, tradition is available to us only as historically reconstructed. Further, we do not interpret either Scripture or tradition directly, but rather interpret our experience of reading scripture and tradition.” (p 247) We see Yong siding firmly with Kant in his existential epistemological assertions, which have evolved into the contemporary postmodern skepticism concerning the objectivity of human knowing.

Critique

It is here that we are forced to question Yong’s theological model. He succeeds in building a truly pneumatological metaphysic, but his epistemology of Spirit lacks substantial grounding in Word, or in reality if you will. He may claim Word as objective, but his description of objective experience is fundamentally subjective. While he maintains the ontology of Spirit, he undermines his own ontologic assertions regarding Word, and we are left to wonder if there is an objective foundation more reliable that human interpretive experiences.

Unquestionably, Yong’s critics will question his elevation of Spirit at the cost of sacrificing the objectivity of Word. I have seen this myself, in the reaction of academic audiences, as Amos Yong has lectured and explained the primacy of pneumatology in Christian thought. His emphasis on pneumatology communicates a de-emphasis on Christology, and while Yong may be attempting to align Spirit and Christ as the two hands of the Father, a de-emphasis of Word is a challenge to the objective sources of Christian theology. For example, if theology is limited to subjective reflection on subjective interpretations of Word, is there any standard for epistemic justification.

Unfortunately, Yong does not offer concrete examples of theological reflection approached through the model of Spirit-Word-Community, so we are unable to critique his application of his method. However, his concept of Word would typically include scripture, written tradition, and Jesus Himself as the embodiment of God’s Word and ultimate revelation of God to man. While Yong does not suggest we abandon Word to subjectivity, he attempts to synthesize the postmodern critique of epistemology with the Christian tradition of truth as revealed Word. In his attempt to acknowledge postmodern contributions, the new relationship between Spirit and Word, between the subjective and objective in theological method is unclear. Only examples of the Spirit-Word-Community model put to use will show whether Yong has succeeded in creating a true Spirit-Word hermeneutic, or if he has merely thrust the pendulum of theological method toward pneumatology but away from Christ.

Book Review: Beyond Pentecostalism – By Wolfgang Vondey

Review of Beyond Pentecostalism – by: Wolfgang Vondey

Vondey, W., Beyond Pentecostalism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2010.

Introduction

Wolfgang Vondey titles his text Beyond Pentecostalism in a playful attempt to unsettle Pentecostal sensibilities and at the same time introduce Pentecostals to trends in global Christian theology. Vondey argues that contemporary theology has reached, “…what has been called the late modern or postmodern theological crisis.” (p 2) His text aptly outlines the history and elements of this crisis and asserts the distinctives of Pentecostalism as a way forward toward a global solution. He argues that Pentecostalism may serve as a catalyst for the renewal of the global theological agenda.

Vondey begins with an outline of the current crisis in Christian theology. “Theology has become a largely academic, philosophical, speculative and secular exercise.” (p. 3) He will move forward by examining this crisis as it exists as a lack of cultural imagination, a stagnant view of revelation, and the failures of creed, ritual and church to combat the dominant influence of modernism in Christian thought.

The author, however, does not leave the reader to despair over declining Christianity, but sees the metaphor of play as an antidote. Pentecostalism, as an inherently playful mode of Christianity, thus becomes Vondey’s agent of change in global theological circles. His book is arranged with each chapter outlining an aspect of the current theological crisis and an explanation of Pentecostal play as it might act as remedy.

Crisis of Imagination

“The crisis of global Christianity is at its foundation a crisis of the imagination that has come to its climax in the late modern world.” (p 17) Vondey traces the subordination of the imagination to the intellect back to Plato. Platonic thought locates the imagination in the sensible world, unable to penetrate the realm of truth. This elevation of intellect over imagination, or mind over heart if you will, gains further momentum through Descartes’ rationalism, and reaches its fruition in the philosophies proceeding from the Enlightenment. In the modern context, “…the path beyond idealism became an attempt to reconcile the imagination with scientific reasoning that ultimately dissolved both into nothing.” (p 24) Vondey goes on to explain, “In the late modern world, the imagination found itself finally at the heart of a full blown crisis. As Richard Kearney remarks in his account of postmodern culture, ‘across the spectrum of structuralist, post-structuralist and desonstructionist thinking, one notes a common concern to dismantle the very notion of imagination.’” (p 24) Imagination has been deconstructed into mere unstructured language. In other words, both science and postmodern linguistics have killed imagination.

Play and Imagination

Vondey offers the metaphor of play as the solution to recapturing the imagination, be it in theology, other academic disciplines, or culture in general. “In this sense, play demonstrates the freedom of the imagination to leave purely pragmatic, instrumental, and purpose-oriented attitudes that suffocate play for the sake of joy, curiosity, spontaneity, risk, and dreams, all of which are neither meaningless nor dangerous.” (p 41) Play is practice which takes us out of ourselves and allows exploration of imaginative situations. Play necessarily exists for its own sake, but results in the renewal of imagination.

The Pentecostal Renewal of Imagination

Vondey asserts that the current crisis of imagination infects theology as much as any other discipline, and offers the playfulness of Pentecostalism as the means to renew the global theological task. Why? If the crisis in theology is an overemphasis on the head at the expense of the heart, then, “…a solution to the crisis of the imagination goes beyond the realm of conceptualization, formalization, systematization, analysis or synthesis…In the play of the imagination, theology expands to the realm of the good, the holy, and the beautiful that enter the world through visions, dreams, and prophecies – habits of Orthopathy that are the objective, relational, and dispositional operations of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life.” (p 45) It is Pentecostalism, according to Vondey, which practices these ‘objective operations of the Holy Spirit’, and thus can bring to the theological table a level of imaginative play unavailable to other Christian theological voices.

Pentecostalism draws its imaginative inspiration from its spiritual practices, particularly speaking in tongues, its historic theological emphasis on holiness, and its eschatological vision. For the Pentecostal, says Vondey, spirituality is inherently playful and imaginative. The spontaneity and joy of Pentecostal practices coupled with their vivid expectation of End Time events lends to an inherently playful theology. It is this openness to the new and unexpected which Vondey believes offers the wider theological field the possibility of restored imagination and vibrant insight into God.

Pentecostalism’s Imaginative Resources for Theology

Vondey attempts to apply his assertion that Pentecostalism can renew theology to the areas of revelation, doctrine, liturgy, and church. In each of these sections he aptly outlines the current crisis in that area, and then shows an aspect of Pentecostalism which he believes may remedy the problem.

Revelation, Vondey says, has reached a crisis due to the modern distinction between scriptural form and content. He demonstrates that Luther’s principle of sola scriptura was, “…a complex relationship of Jesus Christ, the biblical texts, and the proclamation of the gospel, all of which can be designated as ‘Word’ without contradiction and form but one Word of God in different dimensions.” (p 49) This model of revelation through Word has devolved into a radical Biblicism. The revival of Aristotlelian metaphysics and the tension between the modern modes of rationalism and positivism has led to, what Vondey judges, as a dead end in the attempt to reconcile, “…the identity of Scripture as a formal principle of doctrine with the material content of Scripture.” (p 53) Theology, rather than praxis, has become the stage for scriptural interpretation and application; a concept foreign to both Luther and presumably the biblical authors themselves.

Pentecostalism has traditionally viewed the scriptures as both literally authoritative, particularly in matters of regulating practice, and a living and active agency through which the revelation of the Spirit operates. This pneumatological dimension, blatantly absent in much of modern Christian hermeneutics, is Pentecostalism’s contribution of the imaginary which may serve to renew the crisis of revelation. Further, the acceptability of an expanded range of revelatory forms, such as prophecy, visions, and other charismata stretch the theological imagination away from an overly rationalistic approach to revelation. This coupling of a strong literal attachment to the scriptures and a variety of pneumatologic revelatory avenues makes Pentecostal theology a challenge to traditional theological paradigms.

Moving on to doctrine, Vondey situates the modern crisis of Christian doctrine amidst an over-reliance on creeds. “The crisis of global Christianity is also a crisis of the creedal tradition.” (p 78) Using the historic filoque controversy between Western and Eastern churches, Vondey concludes that the communal and performative functions of the creeds have been sacrificed for an emphasis on doctrine-building. As Vondey puts it, “The historical witness to the detachment of the creeds from the catechumenate therefore raises serious questions about the use of creedal statements as foundations for the theological enterprise, since theological statements presuppose other, nonperformative arguments” (p 81) This shift from creed as communal and performative to strictly cognitive and doctrinal generates a crisis of doctrine, wherein the doctrines of the church have less and less to do with the actual lives of the members, and more to do with fine theological distinctions generally unrelated to ecclesial life.

Vondey uses Oneness Pentecostalism as an example of anti-creedal theology, where the creeds no longer act as ‘fences or a test of fellowship’. Instead, Pentecostals are open to a pneumatic test of fellowship, the ‘unity of the Spirit’. This natural eccumenicism in Pentecostalism may offer itself to the theological community at large as an opportunity to disregard traditional doctrinal boundaries and open a theological dialog helpful to all.

Liturgical practices also appear to be in a modern crisis. Vondey observes traditional ecclesial practices, “…resist improvisation, imagination and creativity. In other words, the crisis of global Christianity is most tangible as a crisis of the liturgy.” (p 109) In this section, Vondey sees contemporary liturgies as constituting drama rather than play. Liturgies tend to aim at telling a story or making a theological point more rationally understandable, and in this sense they have fallen into the role of drama. Drama is innately self-conscious, structured, and performance oriented. These are exactly the traits which play defies. When in the midst of play, one is not conscious of self but of the game. Play operates by artificial rules which change from game to game. Further, play is not performance, but involvement. One loses oneself in play, and the imagination takes charge from the rational self. Liturgy, once an interactive and affective aspect of church life, has become dramatic performance, and thus stifles rather than inspires imagination and inspiration.

The youthfulness of Pentecostalism and its initial non-denominational, ‘outsider’ relation to established Christianity, has embedded in its practices a non-liturgical bent, at least in the sense of liturgy as drama. Instead, Pentecostalism is vibrantly participatory. Pentecostal rituals tend toward spontaneity and liberty. Early Pentecostalism was strongly influenced by African American spirituality, and so, “This orientation toward the ultimate freedom of life in the Spirit profoundly shaped the early African American liturgy”, and Pentecostalism along with it. (p 121) Thus liturgy is considered the playfulness of God’s children before Him, and this contrast against traditional liturgical forms may lead to the renewal of ecclesial practices.

Finally, Vondey considers the role of the church itself, both in spiritual life and the broader culture, to be in crisis. “…despite the collapse of the institutional structures of Christendom, contemporary ecclesiology has conceptually remained within those structures.” (p 142) Here we are told that the church has failed in general to accept its new role in a post-Christian culture. We are in, “…the modern struggle of Christianity to express itself meaningfully and coherently in a world no longer dominated by the structures of Christianity.” (p 145) As the church has lost its authoritative voice in society, it must now learn new ways to speak its message to a society which no longer understands the traditional language and symbols of Christian truth.

Vondey observes that the roots of Pentecostalism lay in a subservient and marginalized position relative to the church at large. Thus Pentecostalism has the experience to shape its message and practices for the ears of a culture from which it has largely been excluded. Theologically, Pentecostals bring with them into the broader religious conversation a natural inclination to change and adapt. “As a movement, Pentecostals understood themselves as carriers of the transformation and change brought about by the biblical ‘Pentecost’ – a watchword that referred at once to the historical events recorded in Acts 2…and the continual outpouring of the Spirit in Christian history.” (p 153) If the theological and ecclesial community are indeed in crisis, then radical change may be required, and Pentecostalism is synonymous with change.

Reflection

First, Vondey has collated in highly persuasive form an overview of the theological challenges faced by the church in modern and postmodern society. He offers a well researched diagnosis of the problems of rationalism, pragmatism, and traditionalism which have distanced the church and masked her voice from her surrounding culture. Further, Vondey shows the deeply rooted historical trends in Christianity which make these problems both acute and resistant to simple repair.

Second, Vondey effectively describes Pentecostalism itself in terms of imagination and play. No one who has been involved in Pentecostal worship can dispute the characteristics of spontaneity and playfulness involved. It is clear that Pentecostals dance to a different tune than much of traditional Christianity.

Third, one cannot help but notice that Vondey is attempting to insert Pentecostalism, a largely non-academic and affective religious system, into the theological academy, and doing so in very rational terms. His text itself is a highly rational and finely structured argument against the theological environment of overly structured rationality. The reader is left to wonder if Vondey’s vision of global theological renewal through Pentecostal influence is feasible. Is he trying to pour water into oil, hoping to create a mixture of the two?

Lastly, Vondey offers no clear path forward for the playful integration of traditional and Pentecostal theology. Perhaps he himself recognizes this when he concludes his text by saying, “The contours of the crisis of global Christianity I have presented mark only the introduction to succeeding movements, a small selection of motifs and rhythms that recur throughout the entire discussion, an improvisation that anticipates the joining of other voices and rhythms.” (p 203) We are left to wonder on what stage and with what instruments these other voices and rhythms will perform. Lacking concrete examples of Pentecostalism’s current renewal within theological trends, Vondey invites the theological community to come play, but fails to specify the game or the rules. Hopefully he and other theological voices will devise the imaginative games necessary for Christian theological renewal.

Book Review: Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed – By: Paul Allen

Review of Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed – By: Paul L. Allen

Allen, P., Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed. New York, NY: T&T Clark International, 2012.

Paul Allen illuminates the shadowy realm of theological methodology through an insightful analysis its historical development. Using the methodological categories of Bernard Lonergan, Allen unpacks the methods of influential theologians, from the apostle Paul to modern-day thinkers, in order to show the reader the evolution and growing emphasis on theological method.

Allen summarizes each theologian’s methodology in the context of five fundamental questions:

  1. The role of philosophy and related epistemological and metaphysical presuppositions in theology.
  2. The coherence of individual criteria that serve as theological starting points.
  3. How one emphasizes various sources of theology such as the Bible.
  4. The nature of the theological task, such as the conception of critical correlation with other disciplines.
  5. Procedure for doing theology, e.g. Lonergan’s functional specialties.

As Allen moves chronologically from one theologian to the next, he explains which of these five fundamental topics were significant for each, and how these questions were answered. Allen demonstrates his intellectual agility in avoiding ensnarement in doctrinal or dogmatic specifics, focusing instead on the methodological moves behind the specifics. The actual beliefs of the theologians are examined only insofar as they shed light on the five fundamental questions.

Allen shares Lonergan’s definition of method: “For Lonergan, method is ‘a normative pattern of recurrent and related operations yielding cumulative and progressive results’”. (Allen, p 8)  It should be mentioned here that many past theologians had either no clearly developed method to their work or only a partially developed methodology. Since most of the theologians Allen examines have left no explicit record of their methods, he is forced to reach methodological conclusions based upon theological writings – an inductive process which is inherently subjective. Therefore, Allen’s conclusions of each theologian’s methodology is highly interpretive. He fails to allow for the possibility that his conclusions are subjective readings into the work of other thinkers, and thus potentially incorrect. Though he is very convincing in his interpretations of the methods of the theologians he examines, one must keep Allen’s own methodology in mind and judge each theologian’s writings for oneself. With this qualifier in place, we will proceed to briefly summarize Allen’s analysis of each theologian’s methods, and the picture thus painted of the evolution of theological methodology.

Allen begins with an examination of the apostle Paul. He interprets Paul’s method as that of a student of the Jewish scriptures who has had a vital encounter with the risen Christ. “…[Paul’s] experience of Christ and his interpretation of the Hebrew Bible are unique, partly because of the fusion of distinctive Jewish elements with his Christian faith.” (Allen, p 24) Thus for Paul, his beliefs draw upon two primary sources, his Jewish religious training and his religious experience with Christ. These two sources operate coherently, in that Paul’s Christology compels him to reinterpret the Old Testament in light of Jesus the Messiah. Allen draws from this coherence the motivation behind Paul’s emphases on justification by faith, original sin, the Trinity and his ethical teachings in the Epistles. Allen concludes that Paul’s methodology of experience informed hermeneutics sets the biblical groundwork for theological advances in relation to ecclesial praxis, such as lex orandi est lex credendi – ‘the rule of prayer becomes the rule of belief’. Here the reader should also notice Allen’s affection for the New Perspective on Paul when he says, “…this perspective provides a helpful, and perhaps necessary, corrective to the older, traditional view of Paul’s view of justification.” (Allen, p 30) Allen apparently embraces the New Perspective emphasis on Jewish thought over Greek philosophy in Paul’s methodology. This may be further influencing his implication that Paul values experience over reason, as well as shaping Allen’s narrative in which later theologians prefer spiritual experience to philosophy.

Allen moves on to discuss the methods of the Patristic era, specifically Irenaeus, Origin and Athanasius. During this era we see the birth of tradition as source of theological authority. This was the result of the use of theology as a means of defining orthodoxy and resisting the growth of heretical groups. Methodologically, the Patristics were therefore required to systematize and homogenize their doctrines to be used by the church at large as tools of ecclesial law. Building on Paul’s application of Christology to interpreting the Old Testament, the Patristics developed an allegorical hermeneutic, wherein Christ could be found as the theme throughout the scriptures. This led to Irenaeus’ famous recapitulation hermeneutic. “Recapitulation for Irenaeus is a term that captures the summing up of scripture and history in the headship of Christ in contrast to that of Adam.” (Allen, p 56) Origen goes further in his method, searching the scriptures through allegory for a tri-part – historical, moral, and spiritual – meaning. However, the speculative nature of the allegorical reading of scripture leads Origen to distinguish between necessary and optional doctrines, molding the definition of orthodoxy and shaping the methods of future theologians.

Augustine is awarded his own chapter in Allen’s text, due to his profound influence on Christian theology and method. Augustine’s most important contribution to theological method regards the interpretation of scripture. Allen asserts that Augustine balances the excesses of allegorical interpretation by his attention to the meaning of the biblical languages. Quoting Jeanrond, Allen says, “The semiotic dimension of Augustine’s interpretation theory frees the reader of biblical texts both from any crude literalism and from the dangers of arbitrary allegorization.” (Allen, p 75) This further opens the field of acceptable theological sources by allowing, “…Christians to interpret the Bible with the insistence of secular disciplines, specifically the trivium and the quadrivium.” (Allen, p 75) Augustine’s hermeneutic is therefore cognizant of both internal textual factors as well as external social contributions to understanding. This is important for Augustine, as his methodology assumed the possibility of multiple meanings of a passage of scripture, as long as none of those meanings contradicted the whole of the Bible. Allen concludes of Augustine, “…his various hermeneutical rules – the theme of love, God’s revelation in and through the human heart, and the rule of interpreting the difficult passages through clearer ones – together constitute a single hermeneutical vision, a theological method.” (Allen, p 81)

Allen moves on from the Patristics to cover the methodological innovations of notable medieval theologians such as Pseudo-Dionysus, Anselm, and Aquinas. During this period Allen traces the growing confluence of philosophy with theological methodology. Pseudo-Dionysus embraces Neo-Platonism’s concept of God as essentially unknowable. Anselm further attempts to fuse philosophy with theology, “…a movement away from a reverential approach to sources to an approach in which disputation and interdisciplinary collaboration are formally incorporated into the teaching and writing of theology.” (Allen, p 96) Anselm incorporates philosophy by coining the phrase ‘fides quearens intellectum’ – ‘faith seeking understanding’. Thus, “For Anselm, the church’s faith is conceived as a rule by which the fruits of philosophical reasoning can be measured.” (Allen, p 97) Later, Allen will show the reversal of this position, where theology lays in submission to philosophy. Before this reversal, however, Aquinas undertakes his tremendous systematization of Christian doctrine, wherein he clearly looks to revelation as the source of doctrine while allowing that revelation does not oppose reason. This juxtaposition of revelation and reason can be seen in Aquinas’ natural theology. His famous ‘Five Ways’ begins with the revelation of God as Creator, and uses philosophy to bolster the revelation with rational evidences. Also of great importance is Aquinas’ development of theological language. “At a time when church doctrines become more numerous and complex, the forging of a distinct language of systematic theology is crucial for the development of theological method.” (Allen, p 116) This accounts for Aquinas’ fundamental theological influence beyond the Protestant Reformation until today.

Allen tackles the development of theological methodology by next examining the Reformers Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin. The theme of sola scriptura is traced to Augustine’s influence, but with a distinct Reformed twist. “Take Martin Luther’s approach towards reason, for instance…his characterization of reason is hostile to say the least.” (Allen, p 118) Reason is fallen and sinful, and so must be fully submitted to revelation in scripture alone. Nevertheless, Luther is adept in his use of reason and rhetoric when developing and spreading his primary doctrine of justification by faith. Methodologically, we see in Luther an anthropocentric theology. The Bible is the story of man falling into sin and being saved by God. Revelation trumps reason repeatedly in Luther’s thought. For instance, God is revealed to be just, and so His justice is not to be questioned when considering His treatment of unbelieving men. In respect to scriptural sources, Luther goes so far as to question the canonicity of James and Hebrews when they seem to contradict his theory of justification. So while Luther intends to annul the medieval union of theology with philosophy, we find him resorting to philosophical reason to support his theological assertions.

Moving forward into the early modern era, Allen characterizes this time period as one of theological unrest, due to the rising influence of Enlightenment secular thought. In response to the growing emphasis on method in science, theological methodology becomes more explicit in the writings of theologians such as Schleiermacher, Newman and Ritschl. In Particular, Schleiermacher developed principles for the inclusion of personal experience in theological reflection. “The label of foundationalism is applied because Schleiermacher conceptualizes religious experience rather than particular ideas or doctrines as the basis for constructing theological claims.” (Allen, p 146) Methodologically, Schleiermacher downplays the role of scripture, while exalting philosophy and experience in theology. Schleiermacher, “…lauds the role of dialectic and hermeneutics as key to the theological method…the importance of hermeneutics is due to the practical demands of pastoral ministry, the demand for adequate preaching, for instance.” (Allen, p 150) This approach to the interpretation and application of scripture is a precursor to postmodern theology, since, “For Schleiermacher there is no pure experience apart from language.” (Allen, p 150) The biblical text must therefore be read in light of both the intention of the author as well as the historical-cultural context of the reader. These principles lead critics to judge Schleiermacher’s theology as potentially pantheistic, or wholly unable to speak meaningfully about the biblical God.

Correlation and anti-correlation form the theme of Allen’s next section, which focuses on the methods of Bultmann, Barth and Tillich. Bultmann’s significance to the evolution of theological method is drawn from his de-mythologization of the biblical narrative. Of this method, Allen observes, “His outlook is one of the first explicit attempts to correlate the core insights and themes of Christian theology with that of modern learning and modern science.” (Allen, p 169) Bultmann’s further significance is in his attempt to situate theology in man’s existential encounter with God, rather than through the narratives of scripture, obscured as it is by the mythical language of the biblical writers.

Barth takes an opposing approach to Schleiermacher and Bultmann, embracing an anti-correlationist view that denies the ability of human speech to describe a spiritual God. Instead, for Barth, “The criterion for good theology is not epistemological per se, but strictly in terms of whether it allows God’s own revelation to be clarified. The criterion for theology is the event of the Word of God.” (Allen, p 175) Thus Barth rejects the shaping of theological method along scientific lines, for he describes God as inherently incomprehensible to human understanding, outside His own self-revelation. From this position, Barth is clearly denouncing the use of human philosophy in theology, as well as rejecting practices such as categorizing doctrines into fundamental and non-fundamental groupings – a practice of scientific method. Further, “Barth reiterates that it is the church that produces theology. Theology, therefore is a collective enterprise, one that is ecclesial in character and thrust.” (Allen, p 179) Therefore, we see in Barth a rejection of philosophy, including hermeneutical and theological methods which attempt to impose human philosophy on the Word of God, as revealed in the person of Christ.

Diametrically opposed to Barth is Tillich, who Allen describes as, “…the most methodologically attentive theologian of the twentieth century…and characteristic of twentieth-century theology’s love affair with philosophy.” (Allen, p 182) Tillich is best known for his emphasis on ‘correlational method’, which, “…came to express theological method as the correlation of the questions of modern persons, on the one hand, and the answers of Christian revelation on the other hand. The goal is always to render the Christian faith meaningful to contemporary people.” (Allen, p 182) Allen concludes by noting of both Tillich and Bultmann that, “…we see a tight correlation between the synamics of subject and object, of human and divine action, so tight as to force the reader to wonder…whether Tillich is promoting a form of self-understanding in place of a more genuine notion of religious faith.” (Allen, p 186)

Allen concludes his examination of the historical development of theological method with a brief look at several contemporary theological movements, such as Radical Orthodoxy, Post Liberalism and Liberation Theology. He sees in each of these groups, “…that contemporary theology is increasingly wedded to a fusion of methodical concerns with a clearer theological identity.” (Allen, p 207) Rather than exclusive theological approaches such as traditionalism or correlationism, contemporary theology is attempting to fuse theological method with contextual identity. For example, Allen notes the similarity between post-liberal and post-colonial theology. While the two differ significantly in content, these disparate groups share a method which, “…thinks about God through an explicit recourse to narrative, including the narrative of biblical text, human experience, and especially, both of these together.” (Allen, p 207)

Allen summarizes his exploration of theological methodology by boiling the issues down to five fundamental questions:

  1. the role of philosophy and related epistemological and metaphysical presuppositions in theology
  2. the coherence of individual criteria that serve as theological starting points (e.g. Barth’s Word of God)
  3. how one emphasizes various sources of theology such as the Bible
  4. the nature of the theological task (e.g. Tillich’s critical correlation)
  5. procedure (e.g. Lonergan’s functional specialties)

Each of the theologians Allen unpacks for the reader describes how one or more of these questions bear on the theological enterprise. Allen convincingly outlines the changing roles of scripture, philosophy and human experience in theological method. Unfortunately, while Allen mention’s Lonergan repeatedly in the text, we are never given any specific information about Lonergan’s contributions to theological method. His functional specialties are left undefined, and the reader is left to wonder how Lonergan serves as a coalescing principle for understanding methodology as it has developed through the centuries. Though Allen’s subtitle, ‘A Guide for the Perplexed’, suggests the reader ought to have some knowledge of the subject at hand, without the inclusion of a clear explanation of Lonergan’s concepts, we are left with some perplexity on the subject. However, Allen’s overview of theological method does answer many questions and provides a valuable outline for the student of theology to direct his or her further studies.