The Future of Evangelical Theology: Soundings from the Asian American Diaspora. By Amos Yong. Downers Grove, IL, USA, IVP Academic 2014. Pp. 255. $25.00.
In 2009, Soong-Chan Rah published a book with IVP entitled The Next Evangelicalism as his manifesto for the North American evangelical church to realise that it, like the global church, was becoming more and more ethnically diverse and needed to free itself from what he calls the ‘White Babylonian captivity’.1 The book currently under review by Amos Yong tackles a similar subject. However, instead of a battlecry, this recent publication by IVP is an investigation into what the future holds for North American evangelical theology, broadly understood, as it necessarily engages with the growing phenomenon of Asian American evangelicalism and its theological concerns.
Yong does not claim to speak for all Asian Americans; rather he speaks from his own biographical vantage point as an Asian American pent-evangelical (his shorthand for pentecostal-evangelical). To provide context, the first two chapters focus on how the growth in Asian and Asian American evangelicalisms are providing opportunities and challenges to the global and the North American churches, respectively.
Chapter three shifts the tone by asking why the growth in Asian American evangelicalism has not actually resulted in any unique Asian American evangelical theology. One culprit he names is the conservatism of North American evangelicalism and its tendency towards fundamentalism and a ‘Christ against culture’ disposition. Another culprit comes from East Asia – namely, a Confucian cultural conservatism. Hence, while some Asian and Asian American theologians have brought up important theological considerations such as understandings of sin in terms of shame rather than only guilt,2 ‘Asian Americans are both too shameful and too shy to even consider asking about these matters’ (pg. 114).
Chapter four continues down this thread and discusses pentecostalism as promoting conservatism and providing a willingness to engage ‘divinely ordered diversity and pluralism’. Yong writes:
Building on this idea, I have gone on to argue at length that the many tongues of Pentecost signify and anticipate not only the multilingual and multicultural character of the reign of God, but also the potential and possibility of the many cultural and perhaps even religious aspects of traditions around the world being caught up in the redemptive work of God in the eschatological long run. (pg. 136)
The next two chapters engage more practical concerns of Asian immigrants in America – particularly the need for a theology of im/migration and a spirit of Jubilee with regards to undocumented immigration. Both of these chapters, of course, have wider consideration than for just the Asian American situation.
Chapter seven concludes the book by first speaking to Asian Americans. ‘The challenge for descendants of immigrants’, he soberly writes, ‘is avoidance of either ethnic ghettoization… or uncritical assimilation into the wider American milieu’ (pg. 220). For the global church, Yong argues that evangelicals need ‘positive apologetics’ – a constructive theology that ‘includes, rather than ignores or excludes, whatever truths, goodness and beauty are witnessed to by other traditions’ (pg. 231).
As he points out, some may find being both Asian and American as debilitating (pg. 239). Instead, Amos Yong challenges Asian American evangelicals to see their hybridity as a significant resource for the global church. Overall, the theologically rich reflections of this book are an important read for all thoughtful evangelicals – Asian American and otherwise.
Thanks to IVP Academic for providing me a review copy of this book.
- Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism: Releasing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009). The title and theme of the book was trying to build a parallel with Philip Jenkins’ important work, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). ↩
- Though the book was published too close to the publication of this book for Yong to consider, this is a theme also found in Simon Chan’s recent book, Grassroots Asian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014). See my comments here. ↩