By any standard this book is a theological landmark. Its author is an eminent and prolific Asian-American Evangelical theologian and professor of theology at the Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, whose many writings on interreligious dialogue and pneumatology opened new ways for Evangelicals to respond positively to the challenges of cultural and religious pluralism.
This book on theology and Down Syndrome, and physical and intellectual disabilities in general is one of its kind. To my knowledge, beside Thomas Reynolds’ Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality (2008), it is the most comprehensive and thorough proposal to rethink Christian theology of disabilities. Down Syndrome is not a mere theoretical issue for Yong. Rather the seeds of his theological reflections were sown in 1975 his youngest brother Mark was born with Down Syndrome.
Yong is extremely sensitive to the methodological problem of writing about Down Syndrome and physical disabilities in general when he himself is not suffering from them. In whose voice and for whom is he writing, he asks. In addition the theme requires an inter-, multi-, and transdisciplinary approach as disability is a concern not only in matters of education, health, and housing but also in economic, political and political spheres. Appealing to what he calls a “pneumatological imagination,” Yong exhorts his fellow Evangelicals to heed the fact that on Pentecost the apostles’ preaching was heard by each in his or her own language (Acts 2:4-11). The new languages in which the Gospel is heard today include those of the academic discourses and scientific disciplines, and of course, of the people suffering from disabilities themselves.
Yong divides his book in three parts comprising nine chapters. The first chapter introduces the theme of Down Syndrome and physical and intellectual disabilities and the method of “pneumatological imagination.” The second chapter gives an overview of how the biblical images of disability—the blind, the lame, the deaf—have been used in Western theology to marginalize persons with disability from full participation in community life. Part Two, with three chapters, studies how Down Syndrome and disability was treated in medical sciences, how the medical discourses of disability characterizing the disabled as idiot, moron, feebleminded, mongoloid, retard, developmentally disabled, cognitively disabled, intellectually disabled have been destabilized by postmodern thought, and how the theological discourse on disability can be expanded and enriched by being placed in the global context of feminism.
The Part III offers a reconstruction of the main loci of Christian theology to meet the challenges of disabilities. In four chapters Yong reimagines the doctrines of creation, providence, imago Dei, ecclesiology, soteriology, and eschatology. Yong’s proposals are wide-ranging and yet well-focused, and in spite of his enormous scholarship in several fields, readers never get lost in the maze of Yong’s sophisticated arguments. They are gently and expertly guided toward not simply new understandings but also practical actions. Yong amply fulfills his promise of offering “a performative theology that informs, shapes, and guides the practices of the church” (13). After perusing this book, one can no longer looks at disabled people in the same way. Yong’s final questions keep haunting: “I now ask you: will you repent of your complicity in discriminating against people with disabilities? And following from that, what will you do with the gifts God has given you to renew the world?” (295). The best book on theology of disabilities so far, Theology and Down Syndrome is most enthusiastically recommended not only to theologians but also to all those engaged in “emancipatory advocacy” (9) for people with disabilities.