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Praying in the Spirit: What They’re Saying Now: Some Non-Charismatics Reevaluate Tongues

Evangelical leader and former editor of Eternity Russell Hitt describes the reason for his posture on the new Pentecostalism:

I have come to the position that it is a spiritual phenomenon, being used of God very dramatically in some quarters. It is plainly bringing new life and virility to denominations long since pronounced dead or apostate by many evangelicals. Thousands have been ushered into the kingdom of God and others have received a new endowment of power, despite the theological question this raises. (p.9)

Harold Lindsell, scholar, Baptist church leader, and former editor of Christianity Today, wrote these words in a 1969 editorial: “We think that speaking in tongues is a truly biblical phenomenon supported both by Scripture and empirical evidence….Tongues can be used personally and devotionally, or congregationally” (p. 27). In a later article, he advised Christians with charismatic leanings to “by all means seek both the baptism and tongues” (1972: 12). And in 1983, Lindsell rebutted an anti-charismatic article that denied the existence of twentieth-century charismatic gifts. In essence he told Christian skeptics to look and see what God is doing, “examine the evidences” (Holy, pp. 192-93).

Popular author and pastor John F. MacArthur, Jr., wrote the best-selling negative critique titled The Charismatics. In the book, MacArthur confesses that “charismatics truly love Jesus and the Scriptures…. I thank God for much that is happening in the Charismatic movement. The gospel is being proclaimed and people are being saved. I also believe that through this movement some Christians are recognizing a certain new reality in Christ and making commitments that they have never made before” (p. 13). For J. I. Packer, the experience that charismatics call the baptism in the Holy Spirit is spiritually valid: It empowers, it sanctifies, it deepens awareness of the Father’s love and the Spirit’s presence (pp. 225-227).


The Biblical Validity of the Experience

Cambridge graduate and New Testament scholar James D. G. Dunn wrote the most respected exegetical refutation of charismatic theology. But even his critique is not without praise. In fact, his findings support the biblical integrity of the charismatic experience. He writes:

Like earlier “enthusiasts” Pentecostals have reacted against both these extremes. Against the mechanical sacramentalism of extreme Catholicism and the dead biblicist orthodoxy of extreme Protestantism they have shifted the focus of attention to the experience of the Spirit. Our examination of the NT evidence has shown that they were wholly justified in this. That the Spirit, and particularly the gift of the Spirit, was a fact of experience in the lives of the earliest Christians has been too obvious to require elaboration….It is a sad commentary on the poverty of our own immediate experience of the Spirit that when we come across language in which the NT writers refer directly to the gift of the Spirit and to their experience of it, either we automatically refer it to the sacraments and can only give it meaning when we do so…, or else we discount the experience described as too subjective and mystical in favour of a faith which is essentially an affirmation of biblical propositions, or else we in effect psychologize the Spirit out of existence.
The Pentecostal attempt to restore the NT emphasis at this point is much to be praised (Baptism in the Holy Spirit, pp. 225-226).

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Category: Spirit, Winter 1999

About the Author: Robert W. Graves, M. A. (Literary Studies, Georgia State University), 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 Christian educator and a former faculty member of Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, and Kennesaw State University (adjunct). He edited and contributed to Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture and is the author of Increasing Your Theological Vocabulary, Praying in the Spirit (1987 and Second Edition, 2017) and The Gospel According to Angels (Chosen Books, 1998).

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