Tag Archives | Amos Yong

Christian Salvation | Amos Yong

Amos YongChristian salvation includes both the transformation of human beings into the image of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit and the transformation of all creation into the new heavens and new earth by the triune God.

—Amos Yong in Mark J. Cartledge, The Mediation of the Spirit: Interventions in Practical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 152.

Spirit, Love, and Grace | Paul Tillich

Paul TillichTheologically speaking, Spirit, love, and grace are one and the same reality in different aspects. Spirit is the creative power; love is its creation; grace is the effective presence of love in man.

—Paul Tillich in Amos Yong, Spirit of Love: A Trinitarian Theology of Grace (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012), 79-80.

Spirit of Love | Amos Yong

Yong's Spirit of LovePentecostals face a theological problem. We are comfortable with a language of power. With our roots sunk deep into the Luke-Acts “canon within a canon” (93), we proudly proclaim, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8 ESV). So far so good. The problem comes when we emphasize power at the expense of love. Did you know that the book of Acts does not even contain the word “love”?

Do Pentecostals have anything to say about a theology of love?

In Johannine literature we find two similarly constructed phrases:

  1. “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16)
  2. “God is spirit” (John 4:24)

While John doesn’t go so far as to say that “The Spirit is love,” the relationship of the Spirit to love is important and worth exploring. This is what Yong accomplishes in Spirit of Love. Here’s his thesis:

Pentecostal understandings of the Spirit of God can shed new light on God as love and loving, and on what it means for creation as a whole and for human beings in particular to receive the love of God who gives graciously. (x)

Yong explores various fields of research to make his point. He looks at the science of altruism and the history of the Pentecostal movement before diving exegetically into the Lukan, Johannine, and Pauline writings.

The relationship between God’s love and the history of the Pentecostal movement is particularly enlightening. Yong describes the racial unity (and subsequent disunity) in the early days of the pentecostal outpouring as well as the movement’s explicit pacifism (and subsequent follow-your-conscience theory). I cannot think of two more critical love-based issues than racial integration and non-violence!

Yong makes every written page count—even the 44 pages of fine-print notes that followed the 164 pages of main text were interesting! A work like this has the potential not only to challenge one-sided Pentecostal theologies of power but also to remind us of our close connection to the Wesleyan tradition, which emphasizes love more explicitly.

—Amos Yong, Spirit of Love: A Trinitarian Theology of Grace (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012).

The Uncontrolling Love of God | Thomas Jay Oord

The cover of Oord's The Uncontrolling Love of GodThe problem of pain plagues believers. Put most simply, if God is love then he would want to stop meaningless suffering. If God is all powerful, then he is able to stop meaningless suffering. Meaningless suffering still exists, so which premise is incorrect?

Thomas Jay Oord offers a new way through this theological quandary by leveraging the implications of open theism.

For Oord, Christians have misunderstood God by putting Greek-style omnipotence (unlimited power) ahead of God’s love. For Oord, love comes first. God is love. And love cannot coerce—it cannot “control entirely” (183).

Imagine a relationship between two humans. A loving person allows the partner freedom to make choices and respond in answering love. A controlling partner is the antithesis of love.

Essential Kenosis

There are many models of God’s providence (Oord lists seven) which run the spectrum from God as the all-controlling “omnicause” (83) to God as the completely incomprehensible wholly other. Oord locates his view, essential kenosis, in the middle of this spectrum.

Here is the one paragraph form of his model:

God’s eternal nature is uncontrolling love. Because of love, God necessarily provides freedom/agency to creatures, and God works by empowering and inspiring creation toward well-being. God also necessarily upholds the regularities of the universe because those regularities derive from God’s eternal nature of love. Randomness in the world and creaturely free will are genuine, and God is not a dictator mysteriously pulling the strings. God never controls others. But God sometimes acts miraculously, in noncoercive ways. God providentially guides and calls all creation toward love and beauty. (94)

This view of providence is jarring to Christians raised on classic systematic theologies. To understand this requires a massive shift that prioritizes love over power. Is this not what the cross emphasizes?

Miracles

Let’s return to the syllogism we started with:

  • God is all-powerful
  • God is love
  • Therefore God should prevent meaningless suffering

At first glance, essential kenosis appears to deny the first premise. Essential Kenosis states that God cannot utterly control his creation. How, then, can God be called Almighty in any meaningful sense? How do we deal with miracles?

An essentially kenotic God is still Almighty in at least three ways (189):

  1. God is “mightier than all others.”
  2. God is “the only One who exerts might upon all that exists.”
  3. God is “the ultimate source of might for all others.

This Almighty God can still work miracles, albeit in cooperation with creation. God does not arbitrarily break eternal laws that he set in order. God works from the inside, persuading his creation at all levels of existence to work towards shalom.

I struggle with this understanding of miracle. Oord’s description of God “calling upon free agents to act in ways that fit well with what God foreknows with a high probability will occur among systems of nature or inanimate objects” (210) feels like a semantic distinction. How does a “free agent” resist the persuading love of God? Does God have a scale gauged to the creature in question which tells him just how far he is able to persuade before persuasion becomes control?

The radical outbreak of God’s power in the life of Jesus—the confirming signs and wonders that accompanied the last days—also call the persuasive model of miracles into question. Do we attribute the increase of divine activity in and around the life of Jesus and the early church to an increasing of God’s persuasive power? If God is at times more or less persuasive in reducing suffering then we are back to the same issue essential kenosis avoids: God picks and chooses when to relieve suffering.

I enjoy struggling with these ideas. The Uncontrolling Love of God has wormed its way into my mind. Its greatest strength is how it recentralizes love as the defining characteristic of God. As Amos Yong wrote on the back cover, “this book secures Oord’s legacy as the theologian of love.” I find myself reflecting on Oord’s arguments often as I pray and minister.

I’ll close this review with Oords most memorable analogy:

Mermaids cannot run marathons, and a kenotic God cannot coerce. A controlling God of love is fictional. (181)

—Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015).

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