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

What is going on with Brother Baxter? Why can he not see past his own anti-Pentecostal bias? A hint emerges from a resounding chorus in Charismatic Gift of Tongues adamantly opposing Scripture and spiritual experience. For Baxter, respect for the Bible and reception of spiritual experience are mutually exclusive. He says we must seek “objective truth” not “subjective experience.” Though he insists that he is merely trying to verify experience in the light of Scripture, his repeated tactic is rather to nullify experience based on a reductionist and propositionalist approach to biblical truth. Baxter’s paranoia regarding spiritual experience shows when he argues for two different and divergent methods of determining whether tongues have ceased: by experience and by Scripture. He insists we choose between these two diametrically opposed options as the basis of our decision on tongues. And, of course, experience is unreliable and unacceptable. He never even entertains any idea that Spirit-inspired Scripture and Spirit-inspired experience may be complementary or corroboratory. No, experience and Scripture are irrevocably arrayed against each other—according to Baxter. An advertisement in the back of the book for another Baxter work that promises to be equally unappealing confirms suspicion of his rampant paranoia on experience. Gifts of the Spirit aims to counteract “the many theological myths [that] have sprung up from the fertile ground of experience.” We are told that “in a day of much emphasis on experience or feeling,” it is “a true, Biblical perspective on the gifts of the Spirit.” Note the mutually exclusive juxtaposition of Scripture and experience. C. S. Lewis argued that both subjective experience and objective intellect are essential for knowing truth. Yet Baxter sets up a phony battle between the Bible and experience and then claims anyone who affirms experience invalidates Scripture. Quite to the contrary, the Scriptures themselves suggest reception of the Word is authentically accompanied by such experiences as burning or penetrated hearts (Lu 24:32; Acts 2:37) and the sudden dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit in power (Acts 10:44). John Wesley, “a man of one book” and of a “heart strangely warmed,” exemplifies both elements.

Ronald Baxter, a graduate of Luther Rice Seminary and Baptist pastor, is implacably biased in his position on speaking in tongues. Before boiling over against Baptists, however, Pentecostals should note Baxter wrote Charismatic Gift of Tongues nearly thirty years ago. Fortunately, many former foes have become more Pentecostal-friendly. Leading Baptist and Evangelical theologians such as Millard Erickson and Clark Pinnock espouse less dogmatic, more optimistic views on spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues. I suppose Baxter’s book may be best judged today as an extreme example of an out of date and ultimately ineffective anti-Pentecostalism polemic. Readers should keep this in mind for accurately assessing its contents and avoiding overreactions to its conclusions. But I do not really recommend reading it.

Reviewed by Tony Richie

 

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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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