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Ricky Roberts: The Gift of Tongues Examined


Ricky Roberts, The Gift of Tongues Examined (Lake Mary, FL: Creation House, 2003), 132 pages.

Roberts intends with this book to defend the practice of speaking in tongues. This in turn necessitates an exposition of its purpose and nature in the apostolic and post-apostolic church. He usually argues for traditional classical Pentecostal views on baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues (subsequence, initial evidence), though his exegesis sometimes leads into odd avenues (such as claiming God covered up the true meaning of Isaiah 28:11-13; p. 5). He aggressively opposes cessationism or anti-supernaturalism leading to denial of the continuing validity of speaking in tongues. One is sympathetic to his motive even if not always to his method.

The awkward, disjointed structure of this book may be explained by the author’s confession he tried to combine two different writing projects, a study manual and a simpler introduction and overview. Frequently the book just does not “flow.” Although Roberts was apparently healed of learning disorder and has seven doctorates (no institutions are identified), he does not offer substantiation from other scholars. Consequently, scholars, except perhaps exegetes, will find little of use. His extensive use of Greek and Hebrew (not to mention occasional use of Jewish Apocrypha and Greek poets and philosophers), however, goes beyond most laity and is perhaps aimed at clergy. Probably those who will most benefit from this book are preachers.

A glaring weakness of the work is that it utterly fails to engage the research of others. Roberts not only suggests we should avoid all works by anyone not affirming speaking in tongues (p. x), but he even ignores those that are Pentecostal and Charismatic. He does, however, do quite a bit of original exegesis and word studies, the main strength of this study. But a lot of “prooftexting” occurs with this, though. Often Roberts assumes he only has to make a statement and then list a long line of biblical quotes and his point is proven. For example, the entire eighth chapter, “Purposes for the Gift of Tongues,” is literally a numbered list of twenty-four short, single sentence statements and multiple scripture references. Roberts’s familiarity with and fondness for patristic writers, however, is refreshing. Sometimes he argues from silence but often he backs up his beliefs with appeals to explicit quotes from solid patristic sources.

Roberts is perhaps overly polemical in this book, always on the attack. He throws terms like “blasphemous” and “heresy” around entirely too freely for my taste—and I am on his side. He lumps together all those that are not likeminded on the subject of tongues into a spiritual category “void of any true substance” (p. ix). Better to hold out the benefits of Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues than to blast those who have not yet been so blessed. My preacher father taught me to “disagree without being disagreeable.” Roberts also tends to overstate his case. For just one example, he says, “Without correctly understanding Mark 16:17, it is impossible to correctly understand the gift of tongues and the phenomenon of speaking in tongues” (pp. 20-21). He thus makes one passage carry far too much weight. This forces him into a distracting defense of the authenticity of the “longer ending” of Mark. He would have been better served to put less pressure on a single passage. Perhaps he just tends toward hyperbole, but he ends up with an exegetical “house of cards”: pull one text out and everything falls apart. Critics can attack at one point and possibly defeat his entire argument. They do not even have to prove him outright wrong, but only that the passage will not carry the weight he places on it. And even some Pentecostal scholars do not think the content of Mark 16:17 can carry so much (see Jerry Camery-Hoggatt, “Mark,” Full Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament: An International Commentary for Spirit-Filled Christians (eds. French L. Arrington & Roger Stronstad, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999,pp. 255-74, esp. pp. 372-73). Better to deliver more than one promises than to promise more than one delivers.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2006

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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