After my review of chapter seven of John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire, I wanted to post titles I would suggest for further study on the issue of speaking in tongues. I will post books that are both for and against speaking in tongues.
Pentecostal-Charismatic Books on Speaking in Tongues
1. Glossolalia Phenomenon edited by Wade Horton. A classical Pentecostal study of speaking in tongues from Church of God (Cleveland, TN) perspective. While dated, it is useful.
2. Spiritual Gifts: A Fresh Look by David Lim. A scholarly look at spiritual gifts from a classical Pentecostal perspective.
3. What Meaneth This? by Carl Brumback. An early Pentecostal work on speaking in tongues. While dated, it is worth reading to see the desire to be scholarly in their approach to the issue.
4. 1 & 2 Corinthians: A Logion Press Commentary by Stanley Horton. Dr. Horton is a top scholar. This work examines 1 and 2 Corinthians but also Horton spends time on the issue of spiritual gifts and speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14.
5. What the Bible Says about the Holy Spirit by Stanley Horton. This work, while primarily focused on the Person of the Holy Spirit, does deal with spiritual gifts and speaking in tongues.
6. The Beauty of Spiritual Language by Jack Hayford. This book focuses on speaking in tongues in regard to prayer.
7. The Glory Within: The Interior Life and the Power of Speaking in Tongues by Corey Russell. I have not read this work. I only include it based on the title.
Books That Differ With The Pentecostal-Charismatic View
1. The Speaking in Tongues Controversy by Rick Walston. I read this book years ago and it was a very well written book. Dr. Walston is a former Assemblies of God pastor who is not angry with the movement at all but writes with a sincere desire to communicate the truth. I highly recommend this work.
2. New Testament Teaching on Tongues: A Biblical and Historical Survey by Merrill Unger. The late Dr. Unger wrote this book that surveys speaking in tongues. While dated, it is worth reading.
3. The Corinthian Catastrophe by George Gardiner. Gardiner was a Pentecostal who was stranded during WWII and decided to take his Bible and study the issue of tongues. His conclusion was that the Pentecostal movement was wrong on the issue of tongues. While dated, it is worth reading.
4. Perspectives of Pentecost by Richard Gaffin. This well written book is a book that, while against the Pentecostal movement, is fair and loving. Gaffin believes that many charismatics do love the Lord but they are wrong on the issue of Pentecost. I enjoyed this book.
5. To Be Continued? Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? by Samuel Waldron. I have not read this book but have heard Waldron speak. He is loving and gentle with those whom he disagrees.
6. Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-examination of the New Testament on the Gift of the Spirit by James Dunn. This is the standard work that most evangelicals follow though they do not know it. This book is the standard view that the baptism in the Spirit occurs at salvation and Dunn’s conclusion is that the Pentecostal movement is wrong on this vital issue while leads to other errors.
Chapter seven is the one chapter that most Pentecostals and godly charismatics would find to be the chapter they disagree with MacArthur the most on. In this chapter, MacArthur examines speaking in tongues. He begins by pointing to the ridiculous Facebook post by charismatic Juanita Bynum that was supposedly written in tongues. MacArthur concludes that such gibberish is the typical “language” that charismatics are speaking. It is most certainly not biblical tongues or a foreign tongue that people are speaking in when claiming to be speaking in tongues. MacArthur points out that modern linguistic researchers have long concluded that speaking in tongues is not speaking in a known foreign tongue nor does it even sound like a true language. MacArthur also points out that skeptics of Christianity have used glossolalia as proof against Christianity since the “language” is not a known language but gibberish. MacArthur also quotes various charismatics who admit that their “prayer language” sounds like gibberish to them.
MacArthur believes that speaking in tongues today is “deceptive and dangerous, offering a pretense of genuine spirituality” (p. 136). Further, MacArthur believes that the charismatic emphasis on glossolalia has produced nothing in their lives. Holiness is not produced by speaking in tongues. He believes that the modern gift of tongues is “a counterfeit that by every measure falls short of the gift of tongues described in the New Testament” (p. 137). He points out that even unsaved people and pagans have had experiences of speaking in tongues. Hindus, for example, claim to speak in tongues.
MacArthur goes on to teach on what he believes the Bible teaches about the gift of tongues and about glossolalia (pp. 140-154). In short, MacArthur believes that this sign gift has ceased since its purpose was to make known the gospel in a foreign tongue. He believes that 1 Corinthians 14:40 actually forbids modern tongues rather than endorsing it. He concludes that both the New Testament and Church History itself show that the gift of tongues is not for us today.
By far, speaking in tongues is the most controversial aspect of the modern Pentecostal movement. Even among Pentecostals it is debated. Most Pentecostal churches have historically held that speaking in tongues was the “initial, physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.” I know of many Pentecostals both as members and as pastors who now reject that teaching. In many ways, speaking in tongues has grown cold in the charismatic movement. This is not to say that it is not there but I would say that speaking in tongues is not the issue of the movement these days. That, of course, is just one man’s opinion.
That said, I did take exception with MacArthur in this chapter. For one, he writes that the purpose of speaking in tongues is for the proclamation of the gospel. Yet when we read Acts or 1 Corinthians 12-14, we find nothing to suggest that. The only reference we have toward this view is Acts 2 where the Apostles spoke in tongues and the people understood them (Acts 2:8). But Acts 2:11 tells us what they heard and it was not the gospel but rather they heard “the mighty deeds of God” (NASB). The gospel was preached in Acts 2:14-39. The Bible does not say that Peter, at this point, was speaking in tongues to preach to the Jews.
In Acts 10:44-48 we read of another example of tongues but again nothing is said that they were preaching the gospel. In fact, Luke records that they were “speaking with tongues and exalting God” (Acts 10:46 NASB). Since the gospel had been preached to them in Acts 10:34-43, this example of tongues would not fit with MacArthur’s notion that tongues was for preaching the gospel.
Lastly, we have Acts 19:6 where the disciples of John the Baptist are baptized into Christ. Paul lays hands on them and they speak in tongues and prophesy. Again, the view that speaking in tongues was for the gospel does not fit well into this verse.
1 Corinthians 12-14 also does not fit the idea that speaking in tongues is for the gospel. No where in these three chapters does Paul say that speaking in tongues is for the gospel. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 14:2 he says that the one who speaks in tongues does not speak to men but to God. How can that be preaching the gospel? To God? In 1 Corinthians 14:6-12 Paul speaks about clarity and edification toward the church. Dr. David Lim, in his masterpiece work Spiritual Gifts: A Fresh Look, states that Paul gives five “if-then” propositions in 1 Corinthian 14:6-12. Lim concludes that Paul was emphasizing the need for communication in the understood language for without clarity the result would be confusion. The point of spiritual gifts is edification of the church (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
I highly recommend Dr. Lim’s work and commentary on 1 Corinthians 12-14 as a reply to MacArthur.
The notion that speaking in tongues must be for gospel preaching is simply not a view that I find in the New Testament. I remember going on a missions trip when I was a young believer and I wanted God to give me this gift but of course I didn’t receive it. MacArthur takes Mark 16:17 and concludes that speaking in tongues must be for the gospel message.
In regard to a private prayer language, in the New Testament tongues are primarily directed to God. Whether praise (Acts 2:11), mysteries (1 Corinthians 14:2), prayer (1 Corinthians 14:15), or thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 14:16-17). Dr. Lim writes about tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:
Paul shows the relative effectiveness of tongues in four areas: They excel in worship, in functioning as a sign, and in body ministry with guidelines (1 Corinthians 14:26-28), faltering only in the area of teaching.
So can one pray in tongues? Is there a biblical notion of a prayer language? Pentecostals point to 1 Corinthians 14:2, 4, 13-19. In 1 Corinthians 14:17 Paul commends the Corinthians and says they are giving thanks well enough (NASB). F.F. Bruce, in his commentary on Romans, suggests that Romans 8:26-27, while not mentioning speaking in tongues, perhaps has tongues praying in mind. While others would disagree (and I see nothing in Romans 8:26-27 to suggest this view), it is well worth noting that Bruce was a top scholar who was not Pentecostal but did not negate this view.
Others point to Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20 as two more passages that perhaps show that one can pray in tongues (in the Spirit). I believe this is not found in those texts. To make speaking in tongues as “praying in the Spirit” is stretching these texts.
Interestingly, Adam Clarke wrote that the “unknown tongues” (an unfortunate translation of the KJV) was perhaps the old Hebrew that had been lost on the Jews during the time of the Apostles but the Holy Spirit gave them understanding of this “unknown tongue” again so that they could teach properly the things of the Lord. Clarke also suggested in his commentary that the unknown tongue of Hebrew was the focus of 1 Corinthians 14. He suggests that some thought they were spiritual by speaking in a language that the Gentiles clearly did not understand but what was the point? Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:18, tells the Corinthians that he too is skilled in languages (Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, and Latin) but he wanted the church to be edified so he did not focus on those languages nor should the Corinthians who were speaking in this “unknown tongue” of Hebrew.
In conclusion, I disagree with both MacArthur and Clarke here. Both are looking for something that is not there. I am no where the scholar these men are but even a cursory reading of Acts or 1 Corinthians 12-14 does not suggest that tongues is for evangelism or speaking in Hebrew. Clarke has no basis for this view in my estimation.
I commend the work of David Lim and also would suggest reading Jack Hayford work on speaking in tongues. While Lim’s is more scholarly than Hayford’s work, both are worth reading about this subject even if you oppose tongues speaking. I remain neutral on this issue. My point is not to side with the Pentecostals here or against them. I believe this subject should be debated.
Yet let me state one point before I end. I have known many people who thought (as MacArthur suggests) that speaking in tongues made them spiritual. They would come together with the saints and speak in tongues but their lives were full of sin during the week. This led some to conclude they were okay because they were speaking in tongues. Tongues is not holiness (as MacArthur rightfully points out). Tongues does not mean you are saved. Tongues does not mean that you are closer to God. 1 Peter 1:15-16 tells us to be holy in all our conduct. Ephesians 4:29-30 tells us that no unwholesome word is to proceed from our mouths but only such a word as is good for edification (NASB). Just because you speak in tongues proves nothing. It does not prove you are saved or full of the Spirit. To be full of the Spirit is to walk in the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-21; cf. Galatians 5:16-17). To claim to be Spirit-filled but to abide in sin shows you need to repent and go back to the Lord Jesus for forgiveness of your sins (1 John 2:3-6; 3:4-10). I don’t care what experience you claim you have, if you are abiding in sin you are not living the Spirit-filled life (Romans 8:9-17). To be Spirit-filled is to Spirit-controlled.
I wanted to write toward traditional pastors who perhaps are considering leaving the full-time ministry. How do you begin to do this?
I read a statistic today that 80% of traditional pastors are discouraged and 50% would leave the ministry if they could. I am one of those who has left the ministry. I have not left Jesus. I have not left true ministry (and I am actually doing more now for the kingdom of God than when I was a full-time traditional minister). I strongly believe in the fundamentals of the gospel and I would stand with my traditional pastor friends in defending orthodoxy. I believe that we all need to be biblical disciples who love the Word of God and test all things (including our traditions) by the Word of God (1 John 4:1-2).
For now, let me state some basics for leaving the ministry. Let me begin by pointing out that I am not talking about walking away from Jesus nor from the Church. I am talking about moving out of dependence on the money of the church toward a “secular” job and away from working in a traditional church. Let me offer my own insights.
1. Be Willing To Work
I was not afraid of “getting my hands dirty” when I left the traditional ministry. I was ready and willing to work any job to provide for my family. I am the type of man who will do whatever it takes to provide for my wife and children. Obviously, I am not saying that a man should be sinful in work to provide (selling drugs for example or compromising the gospel to earn money) but I am advocating willing to do any job to provide. Don’t be so smug as to think that because you went to Bible college or seminary, you shouldn’t have to work at a fast food restaurant or drive a truck for a living. Be willing to do all things to the glory of God (Colossians 3:17) including dirty jobs.
2. Be Willing To Wait
My first job out of the ministry was with Coca-Cola. I had no clue when I got that job that it would open the door for other truck driving jobs. I left Coke to work for Pepsi (I know they are competitors but it cut my personal vehicle driving in half!). I left Pepsi to work for US Foodservice. I left US Foodservice to work for Golden State Foods (GSF). Along that way was years of waiting. I would work my jobs (and some with pain more than pleasure) and wait on the Lord to open the next door. In each case He faithfully guided me and led me every step of the way. I struggled at times to know His plan or His ways but I trusted Him. Several times along the way I tried to make jobs work out on my own but the Lord closed those doors each time (I tried to buy a Fed Ex Ground truck route and tried to get a Little Debbie route but failed at both). I praise God for His faithfulness and for His providence in leading us.
3. Be Willing To Worship.
No matter where you find yourself after leaving the traditional ministry, be willing to worship God. We are not saved by going to Bible college or by preaching or by reading theology books or blogs. We are saved through a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9; James 2:14-26). I have found that my prayer life is now stronger because I don’t carry the burdens of the church. My Bible study is stronger because I am reading and studying the Bible with an eye on the Lord and not on me or the people. My witnessing is better because I am not always surrounded by disciples but now with unbelievers. I feel I am a better man, a better husband, a better father, and a stronger disciple of Christ after leaving the ministry. I like to say that I left the ministry for the true ministry of the Lord.
However, wherever you find yourself in life, be willing to worship God. Be willing to worship Him when you have no money and times are hard. Be willing to worship Him when you get that job promotion and the Lord opens the door for success. Be willing to worship God in whatever state you find yourself (Philippians 4:11-13). Worship Him when you feel discouraged. Worship Him when others doubt your decisions to leave the ministry. Worship Him when others ridicule your faith in God. Worship Him when you are struggling to just make ends meet.
4. Be Willing To Wrestle.
By wrestle I don’t mean physical but spiritual. Be willing to wrestle in prayer. Leaving the ministry was the best decision I ever made. But at first I had to pray a lot. I had to just pray for food (Matthew 6:11) which was a good thing as I look back. I had to pray for the Lord to open doors for jobs. I had to pray for money to come through. Yet I rejoice that the Lord was using my struggles to help me learn to pray (Luke 11:1).
So often when leaving the ministry, men try to make things work on their own. Don’t do that. Depend on the Lord. Show this in prayer. Praise Him for the small victories and for His leading. Pray to Him who knows what you have need of before you ask Him (Matthew 6:8). I prayed for many things after leaving the ministry including Him moving us away from the area we were in. He did this and more. I prayed for Him to open doors for us and close doors for us and He did. It was not always as I dreamed it would be but He was faithful every step of the way. Don’t be afraid to pray to our sovereign God and trust Him through it all (Matthew 7:7-11).
I have spent some time pondering what is the most difficult Christian doctrine. For some it would be hell. For others it would be end times. Others would debate perhaps election and predestination or God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Others would say that it is the hypostatic union in the Person of the Lord Jesus.
For me, the most difficult doctrine is the Trinity. It’s not that I am going to confess here that I am abandoning this doctrine. I am not. I affirm along with 2000 years of Christian history that the Bible teaches the Trinity. I affirm this truth but that doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with it.
Theopedia defines the Trinity as follows:
The Trinity is the Christian doctrine that deals with and describes the nature of God. The doctrine asserts the following:
There is one and only one God.
God eternally exists in three distinct persons.
The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Father is not the Spirit, etc.
I affirm that there is but one God (Deut. 4:39; 6:4; 32:39; 2 Samuel 7:22; 1 Chronicles 17:20; Psalm 83:18; 86:10; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6; 45:18; Mark 12:29; 1 Corinthians 8:4; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5) yet I affirm that the Father is God (Psalm 68:5; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Matthew 6:9; 7:11; Romans 8:15; 1 Peter 1:17). I affirm that the Son is God (John 1:1, 14, 18; 10:30; 12:45; 16:15; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 19:16). Even the Father bore witness to the divinity of the Son (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; John 8:18; 1 John 5:9). I also affirm the divinity of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20; John 14:26; Acts 5:3-4; 7:51; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Holy Spirit can be sinned against (Isaiah 63:10; Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29) and He can depart from people (Genesis 6:3; 1 Samuel 16:14; Psalm 51:11). This does not happen to a mist or a force but to a Person. Further, the Spirit speaks (Acts 13:2) and He forbids to speak (Acts 16:6).
I could go on and on giving you Scripture after Scripture that affirms the full deity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. I affirm the Trinity.
But my mind still can’t grasp this God. I love that. You see the cults bring God down to their level. The Jehovah’s Witnesses can explain their god to me. They can give me verse after verse to prove their belief in their god, their belief in Jesus as Michael the archangel, their belief that the “faithful” will inherit the earth and only 144,000 will be sealed in eternity (and those alone are “born again”) and so forth. They have no mystery to their god. Their god can be understood and explained.
Not so with Yahweh. I can’t explain how the Trinity can be understood. I have heard all the analogies to try to explain Him. I have heard the egg analogy. I have heard the water analogy. I have heard the trichotomy analogy from humanity. I have seen the Trinity involved in the work of redemption. I have read how our own salvation experience demonstrates the Trinity (and it does!).
Yet I still don’t fully grasp the Trinity. There are passages that make me ponder this such as the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17) where all three persons of the Trinity are present but separate. There are the passages of Jesus such as John 17:3 or passages that speak of His role as our redeemer and subjection before the Father which will end (1 Corinthians 15:26-28). I read in Revelation 4:2 that there is one on the throne. And yet in the book of Revelation we read that the Lamb is there (Revelation 7:10; 21:22-23). We also read that the Holy Spirit is there (Revelation 22:17).
I am not doubting the Word of God here at all. I am affirming what I read. I love God. I love that He is a mystery to me. I love that I can’t put my finite mind around His infiniteness. I love that He is bigger than I am. I suppose that even in eternity I will always wonder about this God, about His rule and reign. I will though fall down and worship Him and declare that He alone is God and that there is no other god (or gods). All of humanity will declare this same truth (Philippians 2:5-11). We must all stand before the judgment seat of God Almighty (Hebrews 9:27-28). I praise the Lord that He has saved me by His grace and that I stand before Him even now forgiven and bound for glory.
I do know that when we reject the doctrine of the Trinity, this leads to many unanswered questions and to troubling ends. Typically the Lord Jesus takes the biggest hit. He is rejected as God and this leads to people not praising Him nor worshiping Him nor declaring how we can read about His preexistence, His miracles, His virgin birth, His authority, His sinlessness, His vicarious atonement, His resurrection, His ascension and His role as our high priest and yet deny His full deity. The Holy Spirit likewise is reduced to a force (in JW theology) or a strange mist. Passage after passage must be explained away in the New Testament regarding the Trinity such as the baptism of Jesus, Jesus speaking about the Father and also His affirmation of His equality with the Father, the role Jesus plays now in heaven or even in our salvation.
Simply put, I affirm the Trinity though I do not fully understand it and yet to reject it would lead to more problems than affirming it. I am fully monotheistic while rejecting strict monotheism (like Islam for example). However, to reject the Trinity would only lead to modalism (oneness Pentecostals) or Arianism (Jehovah’s Witness again). Therefore, I praise this God whom I cannot grasp and I trust the Word of God that affirms that there is one God and three persons in the one Godhead or as I say to my sons, “One What and three Who’s.”