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Del Tarr: The Foolishness of God

The “oral” immediate “word” of God revealed by the Spirit and spoken directly into our hearts, and out again from our mouth, has the great advantage of expressing God’s very presence in our bodies, addressing, at the most appropriate moment, the exact needs of our soul. “Speaking in the Spirit” “builds up” the speaker, while our mind is “unfruitful” even as our spirit (or Spirit) is praying mysteries (1Cor 14:4,14; Rom 8:26). Against earlier academics who tended to pathologize glossolalia, recent, more rigorous investigations have confirmed the restorative, healing power of tongues speaking . So Tarr insists that despite the growth of Pentecostalism (tongue speakers) in the last 100 years to perhaps the largest active group in Christendom, “my desire is less to defend tongues than to show how this humbling experience can open the door to empowerment.” Dr. Del Tarr, the linguist/theologian, has offered an original, biblical, profound, and convincing explanation for “the mystery of tongues”: God’s “foolish” revelation to mankind.

Throughout much of Foolishness of God, however, I found myself squirming with frustration: Why not develop the climax of the Pentecost sermon, the fulfillment of the New Covenant citing Isa 59:21, with its constant repetition of the “words” in the “mouth,” delivered by Peter in the midst of glossolalia all around him? In this connection, why no discussion of 2 Cor 3—a perfect support to explain the normative transition from the written covenant to the oral covenant, communicated directly into the heart? Similarly, the central point of Hebrews: the primacy of Word (orality) “upholding the universe by his word of power “—is also presented as the climactic warning to “not refuse the One who is speaking” (12:25) when “today you hear God’s voice” (3:7,15; 4:7). In his treatment of tongues as obnoxious, there is no explanation of why Paul forbade its use in public meetings that included the “uninitiated or unbelievers” (1 Cor 14:21-23) in reference to Isa 28:11 (listed in the index, but not cited as indicated) as a sign designed to harden the disbeliever in unbelief. There is so much here to support the book’s thesis. To be fair, however, he did not claim to develop a centrally biblical case, but to explain tongues speaking from a communications perspective.

Del Tarr’s work offers a substantial bibliography (pp. 419-33) that reflects his engagement with a broad range of scholarship. His significant contribution, however, derives from his expertise as a linguist, practically applied as a highly successful missionary in West Africa, his background in communications theory and his insight that tongues speech represents, yes, a stumbling stone, but in that stigma, tongues represents another example of God’s power revealed in a “foolish” weakness—the pattern of the cross itself. The Foolishness of God deserves a prominent place in the nascent but growing and increasingly rigorous field of Pentecostal/charismatic theology and as a reference to balance our rationalistic, textualized religious education.

Reviewed by Jon Ruthven

 

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2014

About the Author: Jon M. Ruthven, Ph.D., passed away April 11, 2022. He spent his entire adult life in ministry, starting with David Wilkerson in Boston and New York City in the mid-60s. After spending a dozen years pastoring, a couple a years as a missionary in Africa as President and Dean of Pan Africa Christian College in Nairobi, Kenya, he ended up teaching theology in seminary for 18 years. Always interested in training and discipleship, Jon sought to develop a radically biblical approach to ministry training that seeks to replicate the discipling mission of Jesus in both content and method. Jon wrote numerous scholarly papers and books including On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Postbiblical Miracles (1993 and 2009) and What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology? Tradition vs. Biblical Emphasis (2013). He emphasized the biblical grounding for a practical ministry of healing, signs and wonders in the power of the Spirit. Facebook.

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