Summer 2012, Vol. 9

Book Review

Encounter: Journal for Pentecostal Ministry, Summer 2012, Vol. 9
Book Review
Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue

Tony Richie
(Lexington, KY: Emeth Press, 2011),
356 pages

Reviewed by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Professor of Systematic Theology
Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA

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Amos Yong’s published dissertation, titled Discerning the Spirit(s): A Pentecostal-Charismatic Contribution to Christian Theology of Religions, was the first attempt by a Pentecostal not only to offer a cartography of contemporary developments in the Christian theology of religions, but also to begin some constructive work from a distinctively Pentecostal perspective.  A prolific author, Amos has continued that program in a most distinguished way.

Tony Richie’s published dissertation, Speaking by the Spirit, in many ways continues the line of the earlier work mentioned not only because it similarly provides an up-to-date scrutiny of key orientations in theology of religions, but also in its desire to provide A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue, as the subtitle indicates. All this means nothing less than that Pentecostals have entered the discourse of theology of religions in a most ambitious way academically and have begun to make their mark on the direction of that conversation. The placement of Richie’s book in “Asbury Theological Seminary Series in World Christian Revitalization Movements” is a most fitting locus as it points to the key Pentecostal rationale for engaging the conversation, namely, to make our mission more dynamic and sensitive to the challenges of the pluralistic world in which we live.

The book is divided into three main parts— based on the analogy of constructing a building: (1) laying the foundation, (2) framing the structure, and (3) passing inspection. The first part provides a most useful effort at taking stock of most recent developments of Pentecostal theology of religions in the matrix of the wider theological milieu. Among the many other contributions of Richie’s work is the careful discussion of violence and conflict in the area of interfaith encounters, a topic not duly addressed by Pentecostals even though its urgency is obvious. Yong’s more recent contribution, built on the category of hospitality —a key metaphor in contemporary theological discourse—touches that issue, but does not make it a key theme. Speaking by the Spirit makes good and necessary reading not only for all students of theology and missiology, but also for practicing missionaries and pastors.

The second part of Speaking by the Spirit seeks to offer a constructive proposal that focuses on the relevance and meaning of testimony to Pentecostal theology of religions and understanding of the dialogue. In my estimation, this serves as the primary contribution of Richie’s carefully researched and richly documented study. Surprisingly, the category of testimony has, for the most part, been ignored even by the brightest Pentecostal minds in academia. Hence, Richie’s careful and constructive investigation into the various facets of testimony is in itself a lasting legacy. The highlighting of testimony’s relevance to interfaith dialogue, in particular, is past due. That lacuna is wonderfully filled by the contribution of this work. Add to this Richie’s desire not only to build on, but decidedly go beyond, what Yong and some other non-Pentecostal scholars have done in turning to the Spirit as the key to relating to religious pluralism. His stated goal is to make the Pentecostal turn to the Spirit authentically and robustly dialogical—such that it would fund and facilitate a genuine dialogue based on the most distinctive Pentecostal resource, that is, testimony. I think this is a brilliant move.

The last main part of the book brings some delightful surprises. Before getting into the hands of friendly—and at times less so!—critics, both Pentecostal and others, Richie provides the reader a careful inspection of potential objections to and rebuttals of a Pentecostal proposal of dialogue, including its scriptural basis and whether it compromises some key tenets of Christology or results in waning enthusiasm for mission. Following the discussion of these and other potential objections to his proposal, Richie presents a creative and balanced visioning of what future Pentecostal relating to religions might and should look like.

As a wonderful communicator, Richie’s “homiletic” fashioning of the structure and topics of discussion does not compromise the academic strictures of the work. On the contrary, I believe that a person who knows his or her subject deeply, even a complicated and complex one, should be able to tell it to others in an understandable way.

It is difficult to find serious liabilities in the book, which—as an academic assignment—has been inspected most thoroughly by experts. Not so much a weakness, but rather a more general observation of the book, is that even after the detailed discussion of various aspects of the constructive proposal, the proposal remains at a quite abstract and general level. What I mean is this: theology of religions can only get us so far. In order to make the discussion more “practical”—and certainly more complicated—one should move to the comparative theology discourse. That conversation does not treat religions as one big “thing,” but rather looks at some definite Christian themes in relation to some specific teachings of another particular religious tradition. Hence, a further task for Richie’s continuing scholarship would be to take the Pentecostal resource of testimony and relate it to some specific Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu traditions.

Amos Yong, “Discerning the Spirit(s): A Pentecostal-Charismatic Contribution to Christian Theology of Religions (Sheffield: Sheffield University Press, 2000).

Amos Yong, Hospitality and the Other: Pentecost, Christian Practices, and the Neighbor (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008).

A useful, shorter listing of objections can already be found in the first chapter, pages 26–29.


Updated: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 9:22 AM