In three posts I will review Amos Yong’s recent piece, Spirit of Love: a Trinitarian Theology of Grace.  I received this book as a review copy from Baylor University Press. Many thanks to all of you over there! 


Spirit of Love

Amos Yong’s book is divided into three parts: 1) God is Love: The Theology and Science of Love, 2) God is Spirt: Pentecostalism, The Spirit’s Gifts, and the Resources of Love, and 3) God is Spirit, God is Love: The Gift of the Spirit and the Gift of Love. I will write a review on each part and will include concluding thoughts in the last post. I want to note that these reviews will not be exhaustive, but will highlight only some of the content. If you want to purchase this book (which I recommend you do), click here.

Part One

            In part one, Yong explores the theology and science of love. The point of this section is to see what prominent theologians and scientists (hard and soft scientists) have said about love. Much of what he surveys he uses for the development of a Pentecostal theology of love. For the purposes of this review, it is pertinent to note that Yong’s defines love as the “affective disposition toward an intentional activity that benefits others.”[1]

Chapter one is titled, “The Spirit of Charity: Toward a Theology of Love.” Yong discusses the work of three former and prominent theologians. The first of these is Augustine, the second is Thomas Aquinas, and the third is Paul Tillich. In the beginning of this chapter, Yong asserts that Augustine, Aquinas, and Tillich can, with warrant, be labeled “pneumatologian[s] of love.”[2] Yong contends that for each of these theologians, pneumatology and love go hand-in-hand; he writes, “in each case, theology of love has been intimately connected with theology of the Spirit (pneumatology).” After a review of each ‘pneumatologian of love’, Yong slightly critiques the work of each theologian.

Yong surveys Augustine’s De Trinitate and homilies on 1 John. He makes note of Augustine’s belief that the gift of the Spirit is the gift of divine love.[3] He writes, “God’s love is given through God’s gift of the Spirit—no other than divinity itself.”[4]

After Augustine, he shifts to Aquinas. Yong shows that Aquinas – similar to Augustine – affirms that, “Love is a proper name of the Holy Spirit and that Gift is also a personal and proper name of the Spirit.”[5] He examines Aquinas’ belief that humans are graced “in the love of the Spirit as creatures made in the image of God.”[6] Albeit initially graced, human beings are “potentially open to being gradually caught up by the Spirit into the divine love and, if responsive to the specifically theological graces of the Spirit, are also enabled to enjoy the ultimate happiness that brings.”[7]

Lastly, Yong brings Tillich into conversation. Tillich understood God as the ground of all being and the power of the Spiritual presence.[8] Yong explicates on Tillich by remarking, “love is the power of the New Being and of the Spiritual Presence at work in overcoming the alienation that marks finite existence among human creatures, so that the unambiguous life can be realized.”[9]

While Yong demurs with each of these at different points, Yong agrees with them on the belief that the Spirit and theology of love are closely connected.

Chapter two is titled, “Science and the Altruistic Spirit: Empirical Understandings of Benevolent Love.”[10] In this chapter, Yong begins with soft science (sociology) and then moves to the hard sciences. Yong reviews, and will later build off the groundbreaking work of the late Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin. Sorokin did his Ph.D in sociology at the University of St. Petersburg and thereafter taught at the University of Minnesota and Harvard.[11] Sorokin’s work in sociology focused on love within human-to-human and human-to-divine relationships. For Sorokin, “on the social plane love is a meaningful interaction—or relationship—between two or more persons where the aspirations and aims of one person are shared and helped in their realization by other persons.”[12] He found that “the intensity and duration of love were dependent on an ‘inflow of love from outside the loving individual that replenishes his great expenditures of intense love energy.’”[13] Basically, in order to give love, one must have a source – other than oneself – where one receives love. Interestingly enough, Sorokin argued that some humans did not have an inflow from other humans. Sorokin believed that some humans, while despised by other humans, nevertheless act in altruistic ways. Who or what was their source of love? According to Sorokin, their source of love would be best identified as a deity or the soul of the universe.[14] Sorokin notes that such people were “Jesus, Al Hallaj, Damien the Leper, or Gandhi.” Sorokin further believed that if one could show universal altruism – altruism towards people or groups outside their own tribe – then this could “undermine the human tendency to hostility, violence, and war.”[15]

Subsequent to Sorokin, Yong wades through the thicket of biological studies on altruism, addressing the work of Richard Dawkins, Matt Ridley, and Jeffrey Schloss.[16] He lastly surveys what neuroscience is saying about altruism.[17]

Chapter Three is titled “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”[18] In this chapter, Yong discusses the notion of Pentecostal power  and love within the Classical Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God. The Assemblies of God has primarily understood baptism in the Holy Spirit to  be for the purposes of power and proclamation.[19]

While I think this is evident in Luke/Acts, still a question must be asked: if the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love, then shouldn’t we also see talk about love flowing from peoples who claim to be immersed or “baptized” in the Spirit? Yong argues that while there isn’t as much talk about love as a direct result of Spirit baptism (at least in the AG – this isn’t the case with the Church of God or Church of God in Christ), love and benevolence still results from such experience. In order to exemplify this, he introduces us to the groundbreaking research that resulted from the Godly Love project (initiated by Matthew T. Lee). To my knowledge, the Godly Love project was significantly influenced by Sorokin’s work. If, as Sorokin would say, people act lovingly as the result of an inflow of love – Divine or human – then this should be measurable in the lives of people who claim to experience God’s love. In order to show this, Yong draws upon the work of sociologist Margaret Poloma. Poloma’s research has been a part of the Godly Love project. In her project on the Assemblies of God she has revealed that, “glossolalics, more than nonglossolalics, were more likely ‘to report feeling God’s love as the greatest power of the universe.’”[20] She further shows that religious experience positively influences one’s actions towards congregational benevolence.[21] Yong writes, “the following thesis appears to have sociological validation: ‘Central to the revitalizing process is Godly Love, a dynamic that is rooted in perceived experiences of the divine that deepen a person’s love for God and in turn empowers acts of benevolence.”[22]  Thus, there seems to be a direct link between experience of the Spirit within Pentecostal congregations and benevolence.

If God is love and acts benevolently, should experience of this God result in benevolent action? What do you think? How should this affect our understanding of experience? 

[1] Amos Yong, Spirit of Love: a Trinitarian Theology of Grace (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2012), preface xi.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] Ibid., 8.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 9.

[6] Ibid., 13.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 17.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 21.

[11] Ibid., 23

[12] Ibid., 24

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 25.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 27-31.

[17] Ibid., 31-36.

[18] Ibid., 39.

[19] Ibid., 40-42.

[20] Ibid., 48.

[21] Ibid., 50.

[22] Ibid.