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The Speaking in Tongues Controversy: A Narrative-Critical Response, Part 1

Differing with Walston, classical Pentecostal Robert Graves writes that the doctrine of initial evidence and the subsequence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit are taught by scripture.

 Editor Introduction


Rick Walston, The Speaking in Tongues Controversy: The Initial, Physical Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Fairfax, VA: Xulon Press, 2003), 235 pages.

The thrust of Rick Walston’s book The Speaking in Tongues Controversy: The Initial, Physical Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is that the two major distinctive doctrines of Pentecostal theology—the initial evidence of tongues and the separability/subsequence of Spirit-baptism—are wrong. In his own words, Walston is “attempting to lead the reader to the obvious conclusion that Luke does not intend to establish tongues-as-evidence as a doctrine or as a paradigm” (85); the same can be said for the doctrine of separability and subsequence, though he devotes a scant eight paragraphs to it (141-144).

Walston’s endeavor to disprove these aspects of Pentecostal theology relies on a number of strategies. First, he attempts to show that whereas Pentecostals believe Luke’s theology is predominantly pneumatological, it is in fact more soteriological. For Walston, this entails (1) accepting Acts 2:38-41 as the paradigmatic passage of Acts, (2) statistically comparing the occurrences of pneumatological and soteriological passages in Acts, and (3) redefining the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a salvific event. Second, he constructs an anti-Pentecostal interpretation of Acts using the hermeneutical principle of authorial intent as a singular, over-arching, controlling interpretive canon. This entails building a massive construct upon what Luke does not say at opportune times.

“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’

And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”

— Acts 2:38-41 NKJV

Before examining Walston’s success in developing his argumentation, it should be noted that the work, as a whole, is written in a popular style. There is nothing wrong with this; we need writers who can translate biblical truths into common language. However, in this case, there seems to have been a severe oversight of the most recent scholarship in the relevant fields. When I pick up a book on the charismatic/Pentecostal elements of Luke-Acts, one of the first things I do to determine the extent of its scholarship and, thus, its academic value, is turn to its bibliography. If key authors are missing, the work’s integrity is immediately suspect. On the subject at hand, I would expect to find several entries by James D. G. Dunn, Howard M. Ervin, Robert P. Menzies, and Max Turner, to name a few. These are missing from Walston’s work. (There is a passage [47-48] referencing Dunn but only in that he was the stimulus of a response from a Pentecostal theologian.) In that Walston’s work was published in 2003 and the others’ earlier, the omission of interaction with these authors is inexcusable and misrepresentative, leaving the reader with thoughts of either unfair or unprofessional source selectivity; it is an extreme case of stacking the deck. Furthermore, Walston’s heavy reliance upon a single source to bolster his arguments, in this case Gordon D. Fee, leaving the work of other influential scholars virtually unmentioned, is incredible.

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Category: Fall 2005, Spirit

About the Author: Robert W. Graves is the author of Increasing Your Theological Vocabulary, Praying in the Spirit (Chosen, 1987) and The Gospel According to Angels (Chosen Books, 1998). He is a Christian educator and a former faculty member of Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, and Kennesaw State University (adjunct). Graves currently heads a real estate consulting firm in Woodstock, Georgia. He is the co-founder and president of The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship, Inc., a non-profit organization supporting Pentecostal scholarship through research grants. He is a member of the Society for Pentecostal Studies.

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