Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Review of Speaking in Tongues, vol. 1, The Modern Redefinition of Tongues, by Fr. Titus Kieninger

Fr. Titus Klieninger, of the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross (ORC), has written a generous review of vol. 1 of our historical study of SPEAKING IN TONGUES. Fr. Klieninger used to live in Michigan but is now working in Brazil. Although he speaks both English and Portuguese, his native language is German. Please keep that in mind as you read his review, published in Recensões de Livros:
Philip E. BLOSSER & Charles A. SULLIVAN, Speaking in Tongues. A critical Historical Examination. Vol. 1: The Modern Redefinition of Tongues, Forewords by Dale M. Coulter and James Likoudis, Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 2022. Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-6667-9761-9, US $50; Paperback ISBN: 978-1-6667-3777-6, US $35; E-book ISBN: 978-1-6667-9762-6; US $35.

In a time, when the Church puts in the mouth of her Bishops at the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation the phrase: Hodie adventus Spiritus Sancti dono linguarum non amplius declaratur ("In our day the coming of the Holy Spirit in confirmation is no longer marked by the gift of tongues”), the phenomenon of speaking in tongues” [is] widely called [to our] attention, and people are confused by it. For this reason the study of Prof. Blosser and Mr. Sullivan is so valuable. It is a study three volumes which of itself indicates the seriousness of the work.

The biographical notes on the two authors awake confidence in this “ecumenical venture”: Charles Sullivan “is a Protestant” and “has been involved in the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement for over thirty years” and Professor Blosser, “was born in China and raised in Japan by Protestant missionary parents … and is a Catholic since 1993” (cf. p. 7-10).

The fact that they found “that the current Pentecostal-Charismatic practice of speaking, praying, and singing in tongues is a historical novelty with no antecedents in Church history before the nineteenth century” (p. 6) raises interest. Among the “over half a billion adherents” of “the Charismatic movement … and combined with the world’s Pentecostal Christians” (p. 43; cf. p. 182), many manifestations (cf. p. 41) “present a dizzying and seemingly endless variety of subdivisions and sub-movements” (p. 43). These are “the point of departure for our investigation”, but require a “much needed larger framework” (p. 41). This is then the purpose of this study: the search for the causes and roots.” The present study is structured after the model of an archeological excavation or ‘dig’. Starting at the surface level with the current state of affairs … digging down … down through Church history to the New Testament; then even deeper …” (p. 10).

Still more interesting are the many questions right away in the first chapter of this volume (cf. pp. 16, 18, 22, 39, 40 …) which show the authors’ familiarity with the theme and its understanding in depth. The calm and sober approach, with “caution and circumspection” (p. 27), having listened to many, permits the authors to distinguish all the different understandings of the subject, but also points to danger “under the ambiguities of various words which attempt to introduce their errors” (Francisco Suarez, p. 39). The discussion revolves around the biblical references (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12-14; Eph 4 and 1 Pet 4). The first step is the clarification of the term, subject of the first chapter: Are we dealing with speaking or just hearing and understanding? Is it something natural or preternatural? … (p. 16-39). They continue with the “Contemporary Charismatic Culture, from 1994 back to 1967”, the third of the three waves in the twenties century (p. 40-61), followed by “The Pentecostal Crisis and Its Background, from 1906 back to 1830” (p. 62-94) which lead to the origin of “the word glossolalia” by the “German Higher Critics” in the 19th century (cf. p. 95-140).

This detailed search for historical facets and roots of the phenomena of the last two centuries shows it to be something arbitrary which leads them to find deceptions. For example, the “father of the doctrine of tongues” (p. 76), Parham, who started in 1901 in Topeka, USA (p. 64-71) pointed out to Ed. Irving in England (+ 1834; p. 77-84). Who, to justify the apparent gift of the Holy Spirit, changed the identification of “tongues”, first as unknown foreign language, to a “heavenly language unknown on earth” (p. 83). The end, what it is, remains obscure, so that people walked away from “the verge of bottomless abysses of Madness” (p. 80; Irving ”was defrocked”, p. 83).

The study of “glossolalia” is unique: “The story of glossolalia” is shown with an astonishing accuracy: “The word glossolalia is nowhere in the Bible” (p. 96). “The new interpretation of the ‘gift of tongues’ as glossolalia was first introduced in Germany around 1830” (p. 110) by “German Protestant theologians” (p. 97). A strong contribution came through “F. Schleiermacher (1768-1834), often called the ‘father of the modern liberal theology’” (p. 102) and through various disciples of his, some very influential such as F. Baur, “the celebrated professor at the Tübinger School of Theology” (p. 102), with his “new approach to biblical interpretation that purposely avoided the trappings of traditional, ecclesiastically-authorized interpretations of biblical texts” (p. 101)”. The term glossolalia found not “its way into English publications until Farrar introduced it in 1879” (p. 110).

The rich documentation of def enders and opposers (“early objections”, p. 121-124) of the new theory as “unintelligible tongues” (p. 101), “ecstatic tongues” (p. 103) or “heavenly language” (p. 111), just demanded the authors’ serious confrontation of this “virtually unquestionable dogma” with “primary, secondary, and even tertiary source books from this period,” including the examination of“translations of the Bible” (p. 120; 185-187),the consultation of many “Dictionaries before 1879” in Syriac, Greek, Latin and of modern languages and it’s just partial acceptance after 1879 until the present day (p.110-120); they humbly indicate where still further studies would be appropriated (p. 112, 120).

Due to an unsolid biblical reference, the “theological Higher Critics discovered an alternative way of explaining the idea, … the ancient ecstatic utterances of the Oracle of Delphi” (p. 99). However, our authors submitted “The Delphic Oracles and Christian Tongues” (p. 124-131) to their study. Capable of reading in the ancient languages, they analyzed the “major sources” and came to the conclusion: “The works of Herodotus, Aristophanes, Plato, Virgil, Lucan, Plutarch, Strabo, Michael Psellos, and Erwin Rhode demonstrate no viable connection between the ancient Greek prophetesses of Delphi and the modern revisionist Christian doctrine of ‘tongues’.” (p. 130): These oracles “spoke clearly in classic hexameter verse… nothing remotely like glossolalic tongues’-speech” (p.125).

The authors also “offer a critical examination of” “the bizarre babblings of the Montanists (a heretical Christian sect” (p. 99 and 131-140), with “three primary sources: Eusebius of Caesarea, Epiphanius of Salamis, and Tertullian, who was himself a Montanist” (p. 131). Finding “arguments on both sides,” having found “the issue requires a closer look” (p. 135), they went to more sources like Serapion of Thumris or examined “the issue in light of both classical Greek and ecclesiastical literature” (p. 136), including their interpretations (cf. p. 137-139). The result is: that “the Montanists were not exercising the Christian gift of tongues” so that “the modern Pentecostal-Charismatic attempt to connect Christian tongues-speaking with Montanism, in the light of these facts, is a non-starter” (p. 139-140).

Another claim of the founders of the movements with the gift of tongues is their affirmation that after the time of the apostles the gift of tongues was not granted anymore, but is [granted] now once again through them, the Pentecostals and Charismatics of today. This led Blosser and Sullivan to study what is called “Cessationism, the belief that miraculous gifts ceased in apostolic times” (p. 141–183). It “arose as a Protestant response to what was perceived as an excessive and misguided Catholic preoccupation with miracles and the veneration of miracle-working saints” (p. 143), and “developed as a counterargument against Catholics” (p. 144). The authors took it as a serious historical fact, and studied the “medieval” (p. 145-151) and “Patristic Background” (p. 152-156) and then its “Protestant beginnings” with Luther, Calvin and the development with the Puritans, Presbyterians … and Deists (cf. 156-171), first on the British Island, then its “later developments in England and the United States” (p. 171-183). What they discovered and show is the “adjective ‘unknown’ or ‘other’ or ‘strange’ as a modifier of the word ‘tongues’ in Protestant translations of the Bible” (p. 183; not something yet in Luther's translation!) [was intended] “to win the Reformation debate against Rome” (p. 183), because the Catholic Church continued to believe in miracles. “Most Charismatic and Pentecostal leaders today are unaware of the history of the ‘other tongues’ interpolation and its root in the Protestant Reformation.” (p. 184) But since 1534, including the King James Bible since 1611 (cf. p. 185f; 7 times in 1 Cor 14), the adjectives “found their way into English Bible translation, (and) became key aids in facilitating their reappraisal of the gift of tongues” (p. 184). As an example, they give: “the Baptist old world tradition was Cessationist” (p. 175); “on May 13, 2015, however, the Southern Baptist Convention changed its traditional policy and the denomination’s International Mission Board now admits missionary applicants who identify as speaking in tongues” (p. 176).

This shows one reason for the necessity of the “investigation into the origins and development of the other tongues doctrine” (p. 185). Another reason is ignorance of the rich “ecclesiastical literature through Church history” (p. 152). The entire contemporary discussion about the “speaking in tongues” seems not to be about the objective truth; this however [is] what is of interest of our authors. Consequently, what we have seen so far provoked them to go still deeper in the second volume, to see through a solid study on “how ‘speaking in tongues’ was understood through Church history”. In the third volume, they look at the biblical references themselves, and see them in their cultural and historical framework (cf. p. 12-13).

This book is written in a colloquial style, easy reading. It clears up much of what one wants to know about this current topic. And yet it is a dense and deep study that offers a very wide spectrum of information, which might rarely be found anywhere else. The authors documented everything with first sources (see the rich bibliography, p 201-217). Here, digging deeper and deeper in history, the importance of the knowledge of many ancient languages becomes clear (cf. pp. 7-9). One example is the access to “a visual survey of half the volumes of Migne’s Patrologia Graeca conducted between 1993-2003” (161 volumes, in Greek with some translations in Latin). The authors approach is sober and neutral, follows the necessary sources and still does not hesitate to declare what is sufficiently justified and what is rather just based on good faith. It is acknowledged from the Catholic and Protestant side. The authors do not dispense, themselves or the reader, from a critical attitude (“I look back and think… How I thought…”, p. 46; “this claim is debatable”, “this still does not explain …”, p. 60).

The “conclusion” of this first part summarizes, in a very simple and clear way, seven “black-and-white historical facts” which “cannot be reasonably denied” (cf. p. 193-196). “At the conclusion of the present volume, we can say with certainty that the understanding and practice of ‘speaking in tongues’ found in the Pentecostal-Charismatic tradition today is based on a nineteenth-century theory of glossolalia and a twentieth-century redefinition of ‘tongues’ that are complete historical novelties. … In this respect, we may paraphrase John Henry Newman and say, ‘To go deep into history is to cease to accept the Pentecostal-Charismatic understanding of tongues’.” (p. 199). May God help the authors to complete the work started. It brings the necessary light into the obscurity of a religious “zeal for God, but that lacks discernment” (Rom 10:2). It brings clarity to those who seek the truth and want to serve and worship God according to his will, “in Spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24).

Titus Kieninger ORC

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