On the surface, Amos Yong would seem a study in contradictions—an inclusivist Pentecostal minister who teaches at a Baptist college and embraces Buddhism. But that’s not the case. Yong is a native of West Malaysia, but his family moved to the United States where his parents worked as missionaries among the Chinese people of California. Yong has lived and worked on both coasts, is now on the faculty of Bethel College in St. Paul, Minn., and this fall serves as the Edward B. Brueggeman chair in theology and dialogue.
Explain a bit about the Christian Pentecostal tradition.
Pentecostals came out of the Fundamentalist and Holiness movement at the turn of the 20th century in reaction to two things: liberalism and an intra-fundamentalist struggle. Both Pentecostals and Fundamentalists are fairly literalist in how they look at scripture. But Fundamentalists think certain gifts of Holy Spirit and miracles are limited to the apostolic age. Pentecostals are experientialist insofar as they think that these things continue. Fundamentalists say Pentecostals are liberal.
How do you tie together the various theological elements in your background?
I’m not sure I do. A good Pentecostal analogy is that on the day of Pentecost there was a diversity of languages, but a kind of unity. I sort of blame the Holy Spirit for all this. My interest in Buddhism is part of a lifelong interest in Asian religious traditions. As I’m getting older, I want to learn more about my cultural history. So it’s partly a self-journey for me, but because I’m a theologian, it raises those issues as well.
What led you to accept the Brueggeman chair?
My interest is in the theology of religions, and I was familiar with the work of [professor emeritus] Paul Knitter. I saw this as an opportunity for someone who’s not only Pentecostal but moves in Evangelical circles to build some bridges with the broader Christian communities, in particular the Catholic, Jesuit community.
Bachelor of Arts in ministry from Bethany College, Santa Cruz, Calif., 1987
Master of Arts in historical theology from Western Evangelical Seminary, Portland, 1993
Master of Arts in history of philosophy from Portland State University, Portland, 1995
Doctorate in religion and theology from Boston University, Boston, 1999