Who is the Holy Spirit?: A Walk with the Apostles by Amos Yong
(Paraclete Press, 2011, 224 pages)
Amos Yong has written and edited a number of academic books that focus on issues like global Pentecostalism and its interaction with other religious traditions, religion and science, and the role of people with disabilities in the Church. In one sense, Who Is the Holy Spirit? is a bit of a departure for Yong. This book offers a reading of the book of Acts, read closely with the Gospel of Luke, which explores “the public dimensions of the Spirit’s activities in the political, economic, and social domains of the Roman Empire during the first century CE” (189). It is a book of New Testament interpretation written for a popular audience, both firsts for Yong. The book focuses on the way that the Spirit’s empowering of Jesus in Luke and the Spirit’s outpouring on the Church in Acts functioned to form a new society that subverted the ethnic division of Jew and Gentile as well as the economic and political values of the Roman Empire. However, it also touches on how the Spirit’s activity in the church shaped the way that early Christians interacted with people of various religious traditions in the Greco-Roman world and how the Spirit-empowered healings of Acts brought marginalized members of society into a new social order which challenged the ancient world’s dismissal of individuals with disabilities. In this sense, Who Is the Holy Spirit? is very much in keeping with the concerns of some of Yong’s previous publications.
Many popular Christian works on the book of Acts focus primarily on questions of personal piety and spirituality. For Yong, while this way of reading Acts is not unimportant, it is the Church’s task of articulating a Spirit-led public theology which is more fundamental to the concerns of the author of Acts. Yong does an excellent job of drawing out some of the social-political and ethnic assumptions of the New Testament that are easy for contemporary readers to miss altogether. He then shows how the early Church, led by the Spirit, formed a community which offered a new political and ethnic identity based on the sacrificial love displayed by Jesus. Yong consistently calls the contemporary Church to surrender to the Spirit’s leading along these same lines. His investment in inter-religious dialogue draws out aspects of Acts that I had certainly never noticed before, and his concern for the disabled also illuminates some of the ways that Acts challenges our own attitudes and assumptions. Issues of gender equality are also addressed in helpful ways. This book is both well-conceived and well-executed. It should be of interest to anyone with an interest in Christian spirituality, New Testament studies, or the issue of the religious shape of public life.