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Yong, Amos. Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity. Baylor University Press, 2007.

Introduction: A sinner under the grace of God can more easily write a book about a life changing conviction. A shipbuilder can write a book about ship building; a pentecostal about the charisma; the poet a poem; however, what gives Yong the right to set such a table as this? I found myself fortunate enough to take a class in my graduate program at seminary dealing with the Bible and Disability where one of Yongs books were used, but it was not until I heard him speak that the full depth of who he was to this field of study that the great passion he has for this area settled in my mind. To understand the context of the person is to better understand the words of a person is a personal principle; it is a principle Yong holds to as well (9). The preface then, perhaps the most widely missed part of any book, is one required to be well read by the reader. Once the reader understands Yong is writing from a unique position, this present work moves from that of a textbook principally for...the Christian theological academy, seminarians and graduate students in theology and religion to that of a modern epistle equal to the theological gold of the Apostles letter to the Christians of the eternal city. This review will contain a chapter-by-chapter synopsis attempting to briefly summarize each chapter without any particular or peculiar engagement. The goal here is to establish the most salient points for the later engagements found in the latter part of this review. Finally, I will close with a conclusion containing an application.


Yong opens up this tome with a simple story from a well-known theologian, social justice advocate, and respected believer, Stanley Hauerwas who, in 1986 wrote of those with an intellectual disability as retard. This is a slap in the face to those of us who embrace a more cultured language, seeking to avoid such ill-filled nuances.1 Yet, perhaps this is the point (see his footnotes to this particular word on p.297). After this startling introduction, Yong begins to explore what those who follow Hegel (even somewhat) will enjoy the phenomenological analysis of disability. His method, not just interdisciplinary, but a transdisciplinary, promises to something of a complex answer to the social and cultural phenomenon of disability, but he readies us for this by laying his aims and the paths forward. The more important points of this chapter are, in fact, the methodology; yet, before this, Yong must contend with the outsider status he has and how this relates does it devalue his own voice and what he has to say here? Will he overstep slowly recognized bounds? to what he proposes to do. He begins by a quick examination of the 20th centurys slow acceptance of the voice of the disabled, first through their parents (i.e., Pearl Buck) and finally through their own voices (Kingsley and Levitz). It is about building narratives; sometimes those narratives are easy to do we just have to listen; at other times, however, the narratives must be built, Yong reminds us, by the parents, caregivers, through pictures, through heartaches, set backs, and victories, experienced through the voice of the audience of the disabled (6-7). The author insists, however, against gazing and eavesdropping as narrative builders, which prevents me from writing

1 People first language is a language developed by the advocates of the disabled. A friend of mine who has become blind enough to be considered disabled was kind enough to share with me this method of speaking. Human words are not powerless things, but can be used to build up and equally so to destroy. I have found that people first language is the shaping of the tongue to show the validation of a person, so when I hear the word retarded, or read it not more than 10 words into the volume, I quickly become sensitive to what is being said and perhaps a little angry. Yongs ability to recognize Hauerwas time and place condemned me because it was I who was ready to burn Hauerwas on the literary stake. It did, however, provide for on the fews times in nay book I felt immediately compelled to read the endnotes.

such profound works, but as with as he has set in the audience, he does have a more insider view. Thus, he has justified his permission to write this volume. Yongs second chapter is a sickening account of the enlightened people in our own faith and intellectual tradition. Yes, there are saints who serve as protectors of the disabled, but then there are those who would drown the malformed (Luther), cast their souls into hell (Locke; or did they even have souls?), and wonder if they could approach the Lords table (Calvin). The list of Protestant names should give us pause, especially today, in approaching those we deem unclean; however, Yong ends the chapter with a bold declaration following some of the most ardent and backwards medieval thinking that yes, the disabled are Gods plan (38). However, they are his plan because, unlike the reasons given by previous thinkers, Yong affirms that God is perfect in his creation. This declaration then leads us to consider the disables endurance as well as the churchs role (39-40). How are we to approach the weakest among us?2 Part II is composed of three chapters, each answering a different aspect of the modern debate about intellectual disability. Chapter three examines the modern medical approach to Down Syndrome, again repeating the history of the Reformation and previous times but this time mixed with the Western efficiency of that polite term of euthanasia. How often we forget that at the turn of the twentieth century, the path of the United States bore an eerily similar one to that of 1930s Germany.3 The fourth chapter moves to deconstruct our notions of disability and then reconstruct them, a practice that must be employed more often in every classroom or educational space. This
2 One of the most troubling aspects here for those who would use this as a text book are those names included in these pages. In one seminary class, we read of Martin Luther as the great man of God who challenged Rome and saved Christianity; in another class, we would read of a Martin Luther who would drown an innocent child because of his personal superstition. In our high school or undergraduate civic courses, we read of John Locke, the great intellectual forefather of Thomas Jefferson, defending the rights of the individual against the encroachment of the State. Yet, here, Yong does not destroy the worldview, but causes us to consider the moral society Locke has in mind if he believes the intellectually disabled could be counted as soulless vessels waiting to be filled by the devil. I will never have a disagreement with the avenues of deconstruction, regardless of how troublesome they may be. 3 3 This path is still felt today with litigation still ongoing in States such as North Carolina, a state practicing forced sterilization of people deemed unworthy (due to intellectual disabilities) to reproduce.

chapter compares the social model (something Mary Douglas helps to illuminate) to the medical model, ending the discourse with a question as to which is kinder (115). His conclusion, at this point, will trouble a few agnostics; yet, this is a theological work, after all, and theology does require some measure of a belief in God. The fifth chapter examines disability in modern world cultures as well as hermeneutics (feminism). The third part of his book contains four chapters dedicated to the reimagining and renewing theology in our own time and place. This part is a miniature systematic theology for disability. Chapter six begins our treatises when it tackles the very difficult subject of imago dei. Once the image of God is confirmed for the disabled, Yong moves to renew ecclesiology disability in the community. Following this, in chapter eight, is the push to renew soteriology while chapter nine speaks to disability in the Resurrection. Perhaps I have made it too light of a thing when I suggest Yongs arrangement is akin to a systematic theology; if this is the case, I do not intend it as such; however, Yongs arrangement in Part III gets to the heart of the theologian, or the theologian at heart, so that once the author begins to deconstruction Christian theology, we are able to follow him more closely, taught to pay more attention to him as a systematic theologian because we know the system he is following. This arrangement is purposely and magnificent. Because of this, everything in the previous two parts fit nicely, as with each chapter does with each chapter in this particular part.4 Engagement: In the first chapter, Yong briefly replays his idea of pneumatological imagination. He has explored this idea in previous works but here, he uses it to highlight the need to grow our theology

4 The legend surrounding the composition of Vergils Aeneid has it that the Latin poet would spend days constructing each line of the stanza. Given the clarity and almost cadence-like move of the book, I would wonder if Yong has not taken the same time and consideration with his own composition.

to encompass the changing the views on disability in society (11-14).5 As one who was one time convinced of the end of revelation at the end of Revelation (22.21), this view of tradition as one that is progressive and thus able to discover the love of God previously hidden, is the theological foundation for the entirety of this book.6 If indeed the Gospel message is universal as Acts 2 would have us to believe, then as our universe, our reality, changes, the still unchanging Gospel will bring to light those receptions of the Gospel we must endeavor to change. This imagination of Yongs has guided this book, and his subsequent work on the topic of the theology of disability, and so too shows us in application the value of this theory. The role of the theologian is often misunderstood, I believe, as is the role of the educator. Both seem to have taken on the aspect of delivering to the receiver only that which fits their world view and nothing more, as if it is some blasphemy or another to challenge those in line at the reception. Thus, a chapter on deconstruction is necessary, and perhaps somewhat controversial (although I would reserve that word for Yongs examination of the New Testaments reception of disability as well as the Churchs). What may be controversial about this chapter is Yongs insistence on the social model. The author uses words more settled readers may recoil at modern and postmodern. The reader who approaches such a work without first a course in the way we shape our reality through reception may find it difficult to understand the role in which our standing in a certain time and place contributes to our overall worldview. Those who have set themselves, even unwillingly, under that concept derogatorily called revisionism will find it difficult in this chapter, as well as Part II, to fully grasp just where we have come from, and were

5 Yong, Amos. Spirit-Word-Community: Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2001. 6 6 I am drawn here to a quote by Jaroslav Pelikan regarding tradition: Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name (Pelikan, Professor Jaroslav. The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities. Yale University Press, 1986. 65)

we are in danger of going, even to the point of objectifying others by the over-amplification of our voice over theirs.7 From the fourth chapter let me step back to the third, a chapter that cannot be casually glanced over. This chapter fulfills the demand of alertness to our reactions to the disabled. Do we protect them? Speak for them? Do we, as Luther suggested, murder the most malformed? Enshrined in my personal theology is the idea that everyone has some form of good in them. Luther was not a murderous mad man; he believed it was the devil and to protect others, he no doubt believed that drowning the child was the only course of action. Our evolutionary progression has not yet moved us past the need to protect ourselves or our community. On the other hand are those, while not comparable to the eugenicists of the past, who determine themselves as the protectors of the weak, a misdemeanor at the very least if they are considered an outsider. On one end are those who seek to speak for the disabled, passively preventing their humanity from flourishing while at the end of this spectrum are those who believe that it is necessary for the human species, the family, the mother, and the child if such children were not born. Both are usurpers of the individual narrative by every disabled Person. There is no single part of this book that is better than another; yet, some parts do lend itself more easily to an engagement. For instance, his discussion of the Fall in chapter six, as part of his renewing motivation. He relies on dogmatic consensus as found in the historical Christian communions to begin his theological highway (158). As such, nearly all theologies begin with the Fall. It is pleasant, nevertheless, to read the more accurate version of Christian theology, especially regarding the Fall (160-1). Yong, in a move that will be troubling to more evangeli-

7 I draw my thought here from Yongs discussion of Joseph Merrick (83). The authors words on gazing and eavesdropping must be considered as well. If we who are abled and, unlike Yong, have no real association, with the disabled, pretend to overly care for the disabled, we are robbing them of their experience as much as those who robbed Merrick of his humanity by the dialogic display (displayer and viewer) of the circus.

cal theologians, relies on science (something he promised to in the introduction to Part III) to move us beyond the idea of an Augustinian notion of such an event, albeit a notion that has shaped too much of Western Christianity. In all of this, the author is building a case that the disabled is no less a person, no less limited to human flourishing, than the abled, a concept that would seem to be easy to grasp, but as out own practices have shown, is something continuing to bog us down. While he does somewhat redefine the Fall, or perhaps he renews it, he does so to call for a reexamination of the usual belief that such a primordial event led to the disfiguration of humanity sin, sickness and even disability. In this, even the abled should find something to apply to their own existence. The final engagement with Yongs systematic theology must be where our story will always begin, with the Resurrection. This is covered in the ninth chapter, the chapter of last things. I would dare say that this is another particular theological viewpoint that must be deconstructed. With the advent of works by N.T. Wright and others who have turned many Christians away from the 19th century view of heaven to the theology of the New Creation, such a full examination of what the Person may be in the Life After may be necessary. Until then, however, Yong calls us to answer the question about the Life After of the disabled. If they are every bit a Person in Gods eyes, a creature of the Creator, and a perfect part of Gods plan, then do we really expect them to be healed of the disability?8 Will the blind see? The intellectually disabled suddenly become physicists? Yong begins his reconstruction of our theology here by deconstructing what we think we have always believed. In what will be a shock to many readers, no doubt, the Resurrection was

8 In some way, this particular chapter is connected to the loss of voice mentioned in the previous engagements. If the disability is every bit a part of the person as my eyesight is to me, then does it need to be healed? What then are the consequences but the tenor of the voice changed? If the person is to be healed in the Resurrection, then does not God become the one who usurps the narrative?

much discussed from the time before Paul to Augustine, the latter as one who so warped our view that it has taken centuries to reconfigure.9 The theology of the Resurrection developed, as Young demonstrates, including along the way the modification of views to whereby the slow would be included, although they were always healed of their infirmities.10 So then, how are we to understand the Resurrection if every one is healed except the disabled? Yong reaches into what he calls emergentist anthropology, connecting a science, once again, to theology, and perhaps, best of all, he uses Gregory of Nyssa to do it. Using the Wesleyan sounding everlasting progress as his structure, Yong begins to construct a theology whereby Scripture is not broken, where 1 Corinthians 13.12 testifies to the continued existence of the soul as the Person.11

Conclusion: Amos Yongs book is the perfect textbook, but not just for a theology of the disabled. The most striking feature is Yongs (com)passion for his subject. Second is the way he progresses revelation through theology. Third, the author calls us to be better attendants not just to the weakest among us, but equally to one another. His discourse on intellectual disability IQs, limitations, and perhaps intellectual displacements should force the reader to question what intellect truly is. Each part fits as a puzzle piece between the previous parts, leaving the entire book to fit as a missing link into the hands of the Church. Finally, let me conclude by calling attention to something else. This book is really a series of books, interlaid as plaid clothe, so that one cannot tell if it is several books or one. Yes, there
9 To be fair to Augustine, is concern extended into those who died early and to those who died old. Everyone would suddenly have an aesthetically pleasing body. Often, the problem with Augustine is not Augustine as it were but our interpretations of Augustine sans proper context. 10 1 Note the disparity between Aquinas and Wesley, for instance (264-5). 11 1 This idea of continued groweth is best explained by Yongs analogy of the deceased infant who is not immediately born into heaven as an adult, fully knowing. Instead the infant is reborn in the community of heavenly saints where she will continue to grow. In this, we see the best example of a continuity. The Resurrection is not perfecting, but perfecting so that we will the Person is recognizable, but freed from imprisonments (282-3).

is the underlying theological framework. Yes, there is the application of how to properly treat a theology for the disabled. But, there is the rather blatant autobiographical sketches found at the beginning of each chapter. Yongs brother Mark has Down Syndrome, and we are introduced to him in a rather profound way. I cannot, nor should any reader attempt too, think that we know Mark, or Yong, or Mom and Dad, but there is a narrative here that the reader eavesdrop on, setting this beside the words of the theologian Yong. Like Martin Luthers father, or Calvins, and Augustines mother, Yongs family relationships have produced a theologian of the highest caliber, showing that it is not just intellect that makes a person, but so too his experiences, his loves, his passions.

Postscript: The precept of pneumatological imagination is a driving force in this book as is the emergenist anthropology. The sum total of this book is this: The Spirit of God has moved us to consider the personhood therefore the theological value of the disabled. We ask questions, and our theology gives us answers. Yet, I have to wonder if we could take something of this and apply it to others. I was somewhat disheartened to read what Otto, bishop of Freising, said regarding the affliction of color and the Life After for the Ethiopian (264); however, having grown up in the Deep South, I have heard such things wondered aloud. It then becomes the question of are we the perfect ones. What if the white color is one of absence and should be healed in the Resurrection. What of human wisdom, something no easily cherished with a plain sense reading of Holy Scripture, is the disability in the Resurrection? The quotes, the stories, and the analogies

Yong used from the disabled show me a picture of God that I would like to draw myself. I would not become disabled, and rather enjoy my able bodied-ness. Yet, in the matters of Christian perfection if the matter is that we should focus only on Christ, the example of Mark Yong is one that leaves the rest of us scrambling to explain our own intellectual deficits. Finally, I have to wonder if the same theology of Personhood developed here would apply to the homosexual?