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Ronald Baxter: Charismatic Gift of Tongues, reviewed by Tony Richie

 

Pastor-scholar Tony Richie takes on a cessationist critic of glossolalia.

 

Ronald E. Baxter, Charismatic Gift of Tongues (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1981), 149 pages.

I can think of only two reasons why anyone would want to read this book: as an unavoidable assignment for a book review or to shore up shallow prejudice against Pentecostals and Charismatics. As a blatant example of pseudo-scholarship Baxter’s Charismatic Gift of Tongues indulges in eisegesis rather than engaging in exegesis. Although a show of studying original biblical languages and surveying historical and theological material is made, no serious grappling with the subject of speaking in tongues or its proponents is honestly attempted. The author admits his “longing” that “we shall be saved from the chaos, confusion and myths spread abroad in the [Pentecostal/Charismatic] movement.” He begins with this bias and repeatedly presses it home hard. My problem with Baxter is not just that I disagree with his worn-out repetitions of all the old cessationist tirades that have been debunked and refuted time and time again not only by P/Cs but even by other honest-hearted scholars (e.g., Chad Owen Brand, Perspectives on Spirit Baptism, Broadman and Holman, 2004), but with his totally one-sided and uneven treatment of the entire topic.

Baxter displays appreciation for alliteration with chapters titled “The Recurrence of Tongues in the Bible,” “The Relation of Tongues to Spirit Baptism,” “The Regulation of Tongues at Corinth,” “The Reason for Tongues was a Sign,” “The Removal of Tongues by Maturity,” “The Return of Tongues: Its Source,” “The Relation of Tongues to Interpretation,” “The Record of Tongues is Perilous History,” and “The Result of Tongues is Counterfeit Unity.” The titles are pretty well indicative of content too. For example, Baxter argues that Pentecost was a non-repeatable event never intended to reoccur. That, of course, raises the problem of biblical repetitions of Pentecostal experience after Acts 2. But for Baxter, in a decidedly circular argument, since Pentecost is by definition non-repeatable, then these are considered exceptions that prove the rule, so to speak, rather than patterns for reproducible behavior. Contemporary tongues are therefore, again by advance definition, counterfeit.

In Charismatic Gift of Tongues, Baxter is adamantly opposing Scripture and spiritual experience.

Baxter attempts to avoid the Apostle Paul’s admonition against prohibiting speaking in tongues by begging the question. He states that if “the purpose for tongues has been fulfilled,” and “tongues have ceased,” then, quite opposite to Paul’s actual biblical prohibition, the most biblical position today is not only to “forbid speaking in tongues as an un-biblical aberration but as an extra-biblical phenomenon.” Yet the unsettled issue at hand is precisely whether the purpose of tongues has been fulfilled and they have therefore ceased! Again, Baxter says modern day tongues speakers are at best psychologically unstable and at worst demonically influenced. But he admits many tongues speakers are in “intense earnestness.” In reaching this innately contradictory conclusion, he marshals examples from Mormonism, the occult, ancient mystery religions, abnormal psychology, and so on, and compares these to his reading of P/C experiences before convicting P/Cs of guilt by association. He seems not to see that his blanket condemnation of tongues speakers would also cover biblical proponents in whom, even in his opinion, the practice was authentically enacted.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2007

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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