There are books which contribute small aspects to a topic, there are books which offer nuances to arguments much made, there are books which summarize other books, there are books which occupy the shelves among many other books saying pretty much the same thing. Then there are books which are groundbreaking, thrusting themselves into the conversation, and as such become necessary reading for any interested in contemporary discussions of the topic.
In the Days of Caesar is a great example of this latter type of book. Amos Yong has already established himself as one of the leading theologians of his generation, and one of the key theologians contributing to a new wave of Pentecostal academic thought, so it is not surprising he has worthwhile thoughts on the subject of political theology. He does not, however, simply rest upon his reputation nor merely offer simple reflections on the relevant topics. Rather, this book is a tour de force in both research and constructive formulation that, in my estimation, offers an extremely helpful paradigm for political and cultural action not only for Pentecostals but also for the wider church in our era.
Yong begins his book by giving a brief overview of both Pentecostalism and then Political Theology as they have developed. While relatively short compared to what might, and has been, written on each of these topics, Yong’s concise, tight writing style offers what are, even apart from his later chapters, very worthwhile surveys of these two areas of study. Having built these foundations, Yong then turns to create a new approach for political theology in light of Pentecostal priorities and values. At the core of his contribution is his theme “many voices, many approaches” which comes out of the Pentecostal experience of tongues. As an expression of the work of the Spirit, the gift of tongues does not establish a single practice in every situation, but gives contextual expression of the wide work of the Spirit, who calls each person, in every context, to be full of Christ, resonating Christ into their own contexts. This frees expression from being rigid, and is expressed in a multitude of ways, always dependent on the Spirit who is working.
In the same way, our political interaction, as expressed in our many different modes of public interaction, takes on a contextual expression that responds to the particular instances in light of the work of Christ. With this in mind, then, a Pentecostal political theology does not mandate a specific response that must be applied in all settings, but rather builds a framework of values and priorities which give freedom to those in each setting. This framework is not a wishy-washy approach, suggesting that whatever is done is always baptized in the Spirit, but instead offers freedom within the context of responsibility. We who are Christians, who seek to participate in this world in the power of the Spirit, do so in light of Christ’s own calling, and it is as such that Yong formulates his constructive theology.
After establishing his core method and approach to such in chapter three, Yong moves on to develop a political theology based on the historic Pentecostal understanding of the five-fold Gospel. In the context of politics and power, Yong emphasizes the place of Jesus as Savior. In the context of culture, Yong emphasizes Jesus as sanctifier. In the context of prophetic civil action, Yong emphasizes Jesus as Spirit baptizer. In the context of economics, Yong emphasizes Jesus as healer. And in history and where society is headed, Yong emphasizes the role of Jesus as Coming King. In each of these chapters, Yong masterfully blends very thorough research with a insightful, and passionate, Pentecostal understanding.
Yong is also quite worthwhile because he is very intentional about this book not being simply a text reflecting US experiences, but rather we find a global emphasis throughout this text, offering insights and examples from a wide variety of settings. He places this global approach in the context of a historical and contemporary expression that draws deeply from the well of both historical and contemporary theology, while always keeping sharply focused on the goal. His style is highly succinct and very approachable, even as he is writing fairly complex ideas, which he is able to do by making sure to help the reader along by being clear about his outlines, goals, theses, and such along the way.
One slight critique is that Yong is, perhaps, far too gracious along the way in his analysis and discussion of both popular Pentecostal expressions and other formulations of political theology. Yet, as the book progressed, my eagerness to see Yong sharply repudiate some of what I see as aberrant expressions of faith (such as the extreme Health/Wealth preaching) was stilled, and I learned not only from Yong’s great content but also his gracious method. His goal is not to establish himself by knocking others aside, but to comprehensively explore the contexts so as to better understand the core motives, yearnings, and responses others have offered, learning from these and in doing this offering a constructive political theology that is not only a coherent system, but which has a deep integrity with global Pentecostal priorities and lived experiences. A great example of this comes after he examines the contributions of one very popular preacher who has come under attack by many others both for reasons of practice and theology. Yong does not attack him, offering what at first seems a sympathetic perspective, writing however, “My goal is not to defend [him] — any humanly conceived program can be criticized — but to understand his achievements within the larger matrix of changes that have taken place” in the discussed tradition in general and as it is particularly expressed in Pentecostalism. Yong seeks to understand the motives, drives, responses, and in understanding these to help focus the overall Pentecostal theology to be even more true to itself and to its calling in this world.
Overall, this book is extremely worthwhile to any Christian interested ways to approach engaging the broader society. This sanctified approach rejects a narrow rigidity and celebrates the imaginative work of the Spirit, who draws all to Christ in creative expressions that does not make all people the same, but gives to each a sanctified voice in their particular contexts. Yong has produced a comprehensive study that can serve as a great survey of political theology or a great overview of Pentecostal theology. Its greatest contribution, however, is as a constructive and substantive text that helps frame involvement in this world in creative, refreshing ways that prioritize the calling of Christ in our lives for the sake of resonating the Gospel in this world.
I personally learned a great deal through his wonderful interaction with a multitude of sources and find myself continuing to reflect on both his method and his theses. He has stirred the debate and contributed what I think should be necessary reading to any interested in political theology, Pentecostal theology, or theology and culture.