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Strangers To Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture, reviewed by Tony Richie

Now what might it mean theologically to think of speaking tongues in terms of transposition? Would it suggest that glossolalia is a particularly robust representation of the ways of God in and with the world of humanity? Could this help explain why critics of the practice seem to be fixated on the embarrassing or even humiliating aspects of people jabbering in unknown, and for them, nonsensical sounds with the outlandish claim this is a heavenly language? Does this help explain why devotees tend to focus on the profound and powerful mystical elements that they find so uplifting and edifying? Is it possible that speaking in tongues is an entry point into a present dimension of embodied spirituality representing a rapturous union of the divine and the human foreshadowing the contours of eternal bliss? In the meanwhile, what if the humble, even humiliating, elements of tongues speech exemplify the deep humility of relationship with the transcendent in immanent encounter? Does a perspective on tongues characterized by the category of transposition offer suggestive solutions for understanding the categories of natural and supernatural realities? What can we learn from glossolalia about the psychological, spiritual, and social aspects of a robust theoanthropology? Could it be the case that speaking in tongues, far from being some wild, weird behavior, or perhaps better, in part at least, that through this obviously wild and weird behavior experienced as transcendent and transformative encounter and offered as reverent doxology something of the same mystery at work in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ or the inspiration of Holy Scripture is demonstrated in the most mundane and ordinary lives being elevated to indescribable places in Christ?

Thus if we’re really to answer our critics well, then perhaps we ought not to spend as much time and energy defending against outdated and worn out arguments, such as JFM carelessly tosses around, as in demonstrating the authentic fecundity of Pentecostal spirituality and theology. This seems to me to be a more positive and, potentially, a more productive approach. In addition to serving as an apologetic it might also serve as a stimulant for those ardently seeking an experience with God that is both profound and positive. Accordingly, I suggest Strangers to Fire would’ve been a stronger work with this kind of progressive theological development included.

Finally, although it’s impractical to survey every contribution in this large collection, a few case studies, so to speak, might be helpful nonetheless. In my mind, the actual contributions are the most important asset of Strangers to Fire. Unfortunately, I can only mention a few more or less at random. Yet I trust this sampling will suffice to encourage readers of this review essay to read Strangers to Fire as well. J. Lee Grady, former editor and continuing contributor to Charisma, opens up well with a Foreword calling for Christian love and understanding without conceding spiritual truth and power. To a large extent, Grady sets the tone for this text. Although apologetic and at times polemical, it comes across with a much kinder, gentler tone than JFM’s diatribe against those represented in this book. However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t get straight and stern here and there—as can sometimes be discerned in the Editor’s notably clear and concise Introduction as well as elsewhere.

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Category: Fall 2014, Spirit

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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