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Mark Cartledge: Charismatic Glossolalia

 

Mark J. Cartledge, Charismatic Glossolalia: An Empirical-Theological Study (Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2002), 253 + xvi pages.

Among the proliferation of books aimed at the study of glossolalia (i.e., speaking in tongues) that have been published in the last few decades, I found this new volume to be an interesting addition. While most of the studies that have been done have focused on either biblical, sociological, or linguistic issues, Cartledge’s book takes on the task of empirical theology—that is, theology derived from “the faith and practice of [the] people concerned” (p. 7).

Cartledge’s aim when he prepared his study (which began as a doctoral dissertation) was to use empirical and statistical methods to determine the nature and function of glossolalia. He deals within the context of the New Church movement in Great Britain, with an eye towards other Pentecostal and charismatic assemblies. In order to do so, he began with a survey of one particular independent Charismatic church in Liverpool, England, and then moved on to a more expansive survey of 633 individuals from twenty-nine churches. The survey included general preliminary questions such as gender, age, marital status, and occupation, and from there moved on to more particular questions such as “How do you understand the phrase ‘speaking in tongues,’” “What is the aim of speaking in tongues,” and “What emotions do you feel (if any) when you speak in tongues.”

As I began reading Charismatic Glossolalia, I will admit that I began to grow skeptical about the basic premise of the book. I believed that any serious study of “the nature and purpose of glossolalia”—at least from a Christian perspective—should not try to formulate its theological conclusions from a study of people’s practice and individual beliefs about glossolalia, but rather that the Bible alone should be the sole source of theological development.

However, as I continued to read, I began to understand the idea that Cartledge is presenting. He is not attempting to base our beliefs and theology about glossolalia on our experiences; rather, he is attempting to gain an understanding of how our beliefs and theology affect our experiences and our attitudes. To that end, he included a comprehensive survey of New Testament studies of glossolalia, as well as theological, sociological, psychological, and linguistic studies.

Our experience and attitudes as Christians should always line up with God’s Word, and this equally applies to the practice and understanding of glossolalia. The wonderful thing about this book is that Cartledge didn’t do this survey for the survey’s sake; rather, he took the results, compared them to the scriptural revelation, and pointed out (both to us and to those who participated in his survey) where they do not match up—i.e., where beliefs, experiences, and attitudes needed adjusting. This is indeed the aim of true theology—transformation.

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2003

About the Author: Michael J. Knowles earned his Bachelor of Theology degree at Summit Pacific College in Abbotsford, BC, Canada, and has published numerous articles and book reviews. He and his family currently live in Washington state, where he teaches health education at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, and also works as a pharmacy technician in Bellingham.

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