Speaking in Tongues (Studies in Pentecostal and Charismatic Issues) (Studies in Pentecostal and Charismatic Issues) Review

Speaking in Tongues (Studies in Pentecostal and Charismatic Issues) (Studies in Pentecostal and Charismatic Issues)
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Speaking in Tongues (Studies in Pentecostal and Charismatic Issues) (Studies in Pentecostal and Charismatic Issues) ReviewHistorically tongues speech (glossolalia) has been the sine qua non of Pentecostalism both as an essential part of the individual's and Church's corporate life and as the initial evidence that one has received the Baptism in/of the Holy Spirit; that was certainly my experience and, while I do not mix in Pentecostal/Charismatic (P/C) circles still do, on occasion, pray in tongues.
However, tongues is a phenomenon that is according recent research by sociologists such as Margaret Poloma on the decline. My own experience of attending a P/C theological college would seem to attest as much: a fair proportion of P/C ministerial candidates do not (and often have never) spoken in tongues. As the subtitle to Cartledge's edited volume indicates this book while, so far as I know, written entirely by Christians - I would have liked to see a more critical edge - presents a multidisciplinary perspective of Christian tongues speech. As with all edited volumes the essays vary in quality and interest but I thought I would briefly highlight what I think were the three most interesting ( I have added the full list of essays at the end of the post).
I was introduced to the academic study of Pentecostal history by the author of the first essay I want to comment on during my time at theological college and retain a fascination with it. Hudson's contribution to this collection while formally an early history of tongues in British Pentecostalism (which was a more middle class phenomenon than in the US) also serves as a history of early British Pentecostalism prior to the formation of the pentecostal denominations (AC, Elim and AOG). As such Hudson's essay focuses on characters such as the Anglican minister A A Boddy. Boddy, like many early British Pentecostals saw Pentecostalism as a ecumenical movement and while tongues were a major feature of the Pentecostal movement in the UK the emphasis on their being the initial evidence of Spirit-Baptism was less pronounced than it would be with the birth of the Pentecostal denominations.
The second essay was the reason I actually purchased the book, this is James K A Smith's `Tongues as Resistance Discourse'. Smith is the prize contributor to this edited collection being well known outside the Pentecostal academy for his work on wider philosophical and theological research - I am not sure the same can be said for the rest of the contributors, including Max Turner. Smith attempts to present a philosophical understanding of tongues-speech which is done through a dialogue with Husserl's idea of the expressiveness of language. Smith later powerfully uses Speech-Act theory to see tongues as transcending the idea of language as conveyer of facts but rather recognise "the multifaceted, embodied, communal, and performative elements of language" (p. 101). Smith takes this theoretical position to suggest the the Pentecostal use of tongues amounts to a "linguistic surrealism" that acts as a resistance discourse. In an interesting aside Smith closes with a hypothesis which in addition to suggesting that Pentecostalism needs to re-capture the public use of tongues also goes some way to capturing his idea regarding the social potency of tongues-speech: "I would venture a hypothesis which is admittedly anecdotal: as Pentecostal denominations (such as the Assemblies of God in the USA) climb the ladder of social class (John Ashcroft, former Attorney General in the USA is an A/G member), the practice of tongues-speech in congregational worship context decreases. This, I would suggest, is precisely because such a `strange' practice does not conform to the rationality (reality principle) of capitalist logic; and insofar as such upwardly mobile congregations are seeking to advance by capitalist logic, they eschew the language of resistance (p. 110 n. 76)."
Frank Macchia has however produced the most interesting contribution. In popular Pentecostalism the Babel narrative with its multiplicity of language is reversed in the gift of tongues (albeit tongues are of themselves unintelligible!). Macchia takes this Pentecostal self-understanding as the basis and in the course offers a superb analysis of unity and multiplicity of Pentecostalism. As Macchia notes drawing on Bonino in particular and Liberation Theology in general, the imposition of a language on a people is a classic imperialist strategy and the reversal of theBabel may not be such a wonderful idea. Rather than summarise Macchia, I will quote him: "Pentecost only reverses the threat that arose from the event of Babel but not its promise. The peoples who dispersed faced the threat of an enduring fragmentation but, as Acts 17 shows, God had other plans. The diverse tongues of Pentecost seem symbolic of the fact that the movement of the Spirit and the proclamation of the gospel were the means by which the divine intention behind the scattering was to be fully realised among the peoples of the world who had been dispersed originally by the confusion of tongues ... But the scattering of Babel also held out a promise that humanity might rediscover a unity that does not dissolve but rather embraces the diversity of idioms, backgrounds and stories that God willed to providentially release in history. The unity of Pentecost is thus not [or at least should not be] abstract and absolute but rather concrete and pluralistic (p. 45)."
Speaking in Tongues is a very interesting collection of essays on the contemporary understandings of glossolalia. On the sociological, psychological, and linguistic level the essays by Hilborn, Kay and Poloma will present the reader with an up to date survey of contemporary research on the subject. In my opinion however where the book shines is in the theological reading of tongues speech as social practice that speaks as much of the world outside the church as the world within.
Speaking in Tongues (Studies in Pentecostal and Charismatic Issues) (Studies in Pentecostal and Charismatic Issues) OverviewFascinating new light on the gift of tongues from Christian theologians, historians, psychologists, sociologists, linguists and philosophers. Christian scholars from diverse academic disciplines bring to bear the insights of their own specialist area to shed new light on the practice of speaking in tongues. The disciplines include New Testament Studies (Max Turner), Theology (Frank Macchia), History (Neil Hudson), Philosophy (James Smith), Linguistics (David Hilborn), Sociology (Margaret Poloma) and Psychology (William Kay). Mark Cartledge seeks to show how all of these perspectives can work together and enrich a Christian appreciation of the gift of tongues.

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