Archive for the ‘Articles by our mentor at ASCM, Daniel Tappeiner’ Category

by Daniel A. Tappeiner

Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, January 1, 1999

The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement generally interprets itself as a great, new and final movement of God in the end times. Some classical Pentecostals speak of their movement as the “latter rain,” the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit prior to the apocalyptic return of Jesus Christ. Tentative evaluations of this movement from an historical perspective might speak in terms of a new Reformation, comparing it in importance to the great Reformation of the sixteenth century under Luther, Calvin and the Reformers.

This movement, however, is not simply a matter of experience, which would only be an historical phenomenon to be interpreted psychologically, sociologically and culturally. It is also a relatively new understanding of the meaning of the experience and teaching of the New Testament in relation to the Holy Spirit and especially to the matter of baptism in the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.

Immediately a series of questions arise in the minds of Evangelicals, those who already hold the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” What right does this new understanding of scripture have to exist? Is a new normative revelation from God being claimed, as in Mormonism or Christian Science? Is there a danger of going beyond the Jesus of the New Testament to a “spirit” of experience and immediacy? What of all the generations of saints, martyrs and common believers prior to this new movement and new understanding? Were they all deficient? Did they miss the real depth of Christian life?

For a person who is without the perspective of church history such questions may seem irrelevant. The de novo quality of their experience seems enough for the present. There is, however, a real need that such questions be faced and some justification be given. The need is three-fold. First, it is necessary to avoid errors of self-misinterpretation and the attendant dangers of spiritual pride. Second, if unbiblical subjectivism is to be avoided, it is necessary to see continuity with the past as a well as newness in the present. Third, such a justification is necessary in terms of communication with those who know the finality of Jesus Christ and are all too aware of the confusion which comes when the vagaries of the human spirit are uncritically equated with the action of the Holy Spirit.

The approach to such issues and questions must not be narrow. It cannot consist in glib quotes from scripture and the telling of some modern day experience to clinch the point. The approach must be large enough in scope to take into account all the relevant data. It must show continuity with the Spirit’s activity in the church from the time of the New Testament church to the present. It must ask why the new interpretation and present experience are not clearly discoverable in the records of the early church. It must speak to the fact of periodic manifestations of such Spirit-movements in the history of the church. The approach must give an explication of the fact of such past Spirit-movements, but it must also explain why the present movement is unique and significant beyond these earlier movements. It must also deal with the issue of fanaticism, mere emotionalism and doctrinal heterodoxy, which often accompanied such “Spirit movements” in the past. The problem of discernment of spirits and testing must be faced.

To do that is a task of no little difficulty! It must, however, be attempted. It is a legitimate demand upon those who support the present day Pentecostal/Charismatic renewal and who seek to integrate it to the larger world of Christian faith and life. Indeed, it is a demand internally implied in the truth that the impulse to gnosis is embedded in true biblical pistis. St. Anselm’s prayer, “I believe that I might understand” is the only legitimate attitude in the task of theological reflection.

What is required, then, is an adequate theology of church history. The promise of Jesus, that when the Spirit of truth comes He will guide us into all truth (John 16:13), must be properly related to the emergence of any new understanding and movement in the church. I propose to develop a theology of church history based upon the work of Philip Schaff, the Evangelical giant and church historian of the last century. In particular on the approach which he enunciated in his treatment of the issue of the rise of the Oxford movement in England under the leadership of men like John Henry Newman. A proper theology of church history will prove an adequate and solid platform to support and justify the possibility of the new kind of theological understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit embodied in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

Anyone acquainted with Schaff will know his encyclopedic perspective, his concern for true continuity in the church and his sensitive and balanced approach. He himself was not one to take lightly the past or to overrate the present understanding of his own “enlightened era.” He expressed his attitude on this point in the following words of trenchant irony:

O, thou light of the nineteenth century! How hast thou tarried with thy rising, hiding thyself for a thousand years behind the clouds, in cowardly fear of those dying men, the popes! Come now, ye poor unfortunate children of darkness – ye Leos and Gregorys, ye Emperors… Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura and Bernard of Clairvaux, Dante Alighieri and Petrarch…Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, Francis of Assisi and Thomas à Kempis — come forth from your graves and be illuminated by the light that now reigns; learn how to govern church and state from our synods, consistories and advocates; study philosophy and theology at Andover and New Haven; practice poetry, church building, and painting amid the encouragement that is given to the arts in practical, money-loving America; take lessons in piety from the camp meetings… But they have no desire to come back the mighty dead. With a compassionate smile, they point our dwarfish race to their own imperishable giant works and exclaim: “Be humble and learn that nothing becomes you so well.”

The application to the present situation is clear enough.

Yet this man, who so powerfully speaks to our necessity for historical perspective, was also in the vanguard of those who looked for the point at which the Spirit of truth was teaching the church and leading it into all truth. Even in 1844 Schaff looked forward to the next development of the Spirit which he called “Protestant Catholicism.”

In Schaff’s inaugural address as professor of biblical literature and ecclesiastical history at the seminary at Mercersburg, he spelled out his views on the church, the principle of Protestantism and an assessment of the contemporary condition of the church in his time. From this can be extracted a theology of church history which contains the principles needed for the present task of justifying the current Pentecostal/ Charismatic movement as a legitimate possibility, reflecting the work of the Holy Spirit of leading into “all truth.” Schaff summarized his views of the development of the church in his time with a series of 111 theses. I will select out those theses which will provide a framework of understanding to deal with the issues of historical continuity and the possibility of genuine advancement in the area of theological understanding and experience.


Schaff’s first thesis will serve as the starting point for our exposition of a theology of church history:

Every period of the church and of theology has its particular problem to solve; and every doctrine, in a measure every book also of the Bible, has its classic age in which it first comes to be fully understood and appropriated by the consciousness of the Christian world.

The church is a living, supernaturally constituted organism, not a mere mechanism or phenomenon of psychology and culture. As such it has its own life history, its own processes of growth and its developmental crises. As in any living organism, the church, in its initial constitution, contained, through the work of the Holy Spirit, all the elements necessary for its functioning in God’s purpose and plan. Through the new life of the age to come (deriving from the resurrection of Jesus) and the new power of the age to come (deriving from the ascension and Pentecost) the church was plenarily endowed to fulfill its worldwide mission of kerygmatic proclamation and the charismatic ministry of wholeness. The fullness and completeness of divine teaching was also given through apostolic figures to establish the base for normative life and understanding of divine things.

There is, however, a correlation in the history of the church between three basic elements and every advance in the theological development of the church. First, the church has its own developmental needs and readiness for learning. Second, it has a relationship to its own age, with its Zeitgeist, peculiar concerns and pressures. Third, there is that aspect of Scripture which is most alive and meaningful to the church at a particular point in its development toward the fullness of the stature of Christ, to the aner teleios, of Eph 4:13. Therefore, in fact, the historical and theological development of the church can be analyzed as a series of encounters among all three elements – readiness, context and scripture – in which a particular problem is tackled, solved and developed in the explicit understanding of the church and in so doing, certain books of the Bible and key passages receive their classical expositions.

A review of the development of church doctrine suggests the following skeletal outline which will indicate the fact of development — the leading of the Spirit of truth into all truth. Within the New Testament itself it is clear that the major theological tasks included an integration of the Christ event with the Old Testament tradition, the consequent universalization of Christianity into a religion of world-wide scope, the relation of Christian reality to pagan religions and life-styles and an inner struggle with it own eschatological expectations.

In the following centuries the Gnostics raised the issue of the relation of God to the created order. The trinitarian struggle worked with the relation of God to the person of Jesus Christ. The christological controversies sought to explore the relation of Jesus Christ to humanity. The Pelagian controversy developed the doctrines of sin and grace and the nature of man. In the Medieval period the unique features of the Roman Catholic Church began to emerge, built upon previous advances and developing a complex system in which a sacramental conception of the church as mysticus corporis was the central feature. The Reformation represents an epochal advance in the church’s grasp of the meaning of the Pauline teaching of justification and the re-establishment of the formal authority of Scripture. Recent history is more difficult to assess, but in the late 18th and the 19th centuries the missionary task of the church gained its clearest explicit expression for the time and in the last one hundred years the nature of the church has been extensively explored and expounded in the interests of ecumenicity.

The relevance of all of this to the present day movement of the Holy Spirit is obvious. The church is now ready, both in its own development and in relation to the climate of the age, to wrestle with the reality of the Holy Spirit in the life and experience of the church in a new way. The time has come for a definite exposition of the theology of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit Himself, in executing the sovereign plan of God, is leading the church into a condition which has resulted in the renewed experience of the Spirit in the form found in the New Testament and the theological reflection of the church which naturally follows upon such experience.


If the developmental interpretation of the history of the church is correct it is imperative that the precise nature of this process be stated explicitly in terms of its limits, possibility and specific character. It is at this point that questions of superceding Jesus Christ become most insistent. The very legitimate concern exists that in speaking of “development” it may be interpreted to mean leaving behind, as “mere objectivity,” the Jesus of history and the inspired apostolic witness, for a religious experience of the spirit of Jesus separated from Jesus. Schaff was much aware of that very danger as it inhered in the theological reconstructions of Schleiermacher and in the whole dynamic of German liberalism. He therefore states theses, which established very clearly the limits, possibility and nature of the development of the church both in its experiences and doctrine.

He first deals with the issue of the limits to development. In thesis 13 he states very succinctly: “Christianity in itself is the absolute religion, and in this view unsusceptible to improvement.” Jesus Christ is the full final and perfect revelation both of God and humankind. There is nothing beyond Jesus Christ. He is the center of all. In Him the triune God is perfectly revealed. In Him all things in the created order unite in a cosmic “recapitulation.” There is no revelation to follow save the final open manifestation of the glory of God in Jesus Christ and His church in the eschaton. There is no “age of the Spirit” succeeding the “age of the Son” in which the Son is replaced at the center by another reality. Rather, Jesus is both the center and the circumference of Christian experience and truth. He is the limit, the boundary of all legitimate development.

The apostolic writers everywhere assume this fact and they also state it explicitly at times. Jude speaks of contending “for the faith which was once for all (hapax) delivered to the saints” (v. 3). Here “faith” is used to refer to the content of faith, not its usual sense of the experience of supernatural trust based on divine revelation. Paul clearly means the same thing when he speaks of Jesus Christ as the foundation upon which all future ministry is built (1 Cor 3:10-15), or as the chief corner stone, along with the other foundational elements of apostles and prophets, in the holy temple of the Lord (Eph 2:20-22).

Such images clearly mean that all genuine spiritual development in the future must be fully in accord with the “sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness” (1 Tim 6:3), that is, with Jesus Himself and the apostolic witness and teaching. In other words, all teaching and all experience must be evaluated by the authoritative norm of Jesus and the apostolic message. Any experience or teaching which does not sustain the test of the limit and norm of Jesus Christ is false and to be rejected.


At this point a question is often raised, by those who seek and accept this finality of Jesus Christ, in relation to the often-repeated references by those in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, to receiving “revelations” in the Spirit. An example of such a claim to “revelation” can be seen in the book written by David Wilkerson, a popular Pentecostal figure, which purports to be a prophetic visionary revelation from God for the whole church today relative to the near future.

Pauline “Revelation”

Notice must also be taken here of the Pauline references to “revelation” (apokalypsis) in the “charismatic liturgy” of the early church (1 Cor 14:26, 30). This charismatic liturgy is taken seriously in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement and such revelation is both expected and received in the context of corporate worship. What is the relation of these charismatic revelations to the hapax revelation of Jesus Christ?

The answer can best be framed in terms of the function of such charismatic revelations in comparison with and contrast to the function of the revelation in Jesus Christ and apostolic witness.

A review of the Pauline usage of the concept “revelation” indicates a three-fold thrust. There are ecstatic revelations (2 Cor 12:1, 7), which are personal in nature. There are charismatic revelations which are corporate and local. There are apostolic-prophetic revelations, which are universal and normative (Eph 3:5). Paul himself experienced the “traditional” ecstatic revelations characteristic of the apocalyptic writers and devotees of the mystery religions. He writes of receiving an abundance of visions (optasia) and revelations in terms which clearly indicate ecstasy and altered states of consciousness (“Whether in the body or out of the body I do not know,” “caught up into paradise,” and “heard things which cannot be told”, 2 Cor 2:1-10). This type of experience was strictly personal in nature, related to God’s purpose for his life and his own spiritual and psychological makeup. This is evident from the fact that his whole ministry began with such a sovereign revelational experience on the road to Damascus (see Gal 1:15, 16), from the very personal way in which the glorified Lord counterbalanced these ecstatic revelatory experiences by allowing “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7), and from the fact that they were not intended for public proclamation to the church (2 Cor 12:4). Paul gives explicit warning against such experiences when they are made the basis for new doctrine or practice outside the context of apostolic teaching and fellowship (Col 2:18).

Paul also speaks of and promotes, as an expected part of the charismatic liturgy, another form of revelation with another purpose (1 Cor 14:26, 30) In charismatic revelation the form is not ecstatic and it takes place in orderly fashion in the context of worship in the Spirit. That this type of revelation is not ecstatic is indicated by the general principle that “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor 14:32), by the orderliness expected by Paul and by the close connection of such revelation to the manifestation of prophecy (1 Cor 14:29, 30).

The purpose of such revelations is clearly tied to the corporate context. The general Pauline rule for all charismatic manifestations of the Spirit is “let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor 14:26; see also 1 Cor 12:7; 14:12). This principle governs charismatic revelations whose purpose must be the upbuilding of the church. The purpose is strictly local and always related to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This can most clearly be seen in its connection with prophecy which is local and of the moment, for those gathered in worship (1 Cor 14:38; Gal 2:2). In two places it is explicitly stated that such revelation is given by the Holy Spirit from God that we might “understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor 2:12) or that Christians might know their hope, inheritance and power in and through Jesus Christ (Eph 1:17ff). In other words, the nature of this type of charismatic revelation is a divine illumination of the definitive revelation in Jesus Christ, which makes that revelation especially alive and suited to upbuilding the church through a corporate proclamation of it and an appropriate testing by the church.

Paul also writes of apostolic-prophetic revelation which is universal and normative for the church. His own message he claims to be the direct result of revelation (Gal 1:11) and he specifically rejects any “revelation” which is contrary to the Gospel of the Jesus of history (Gal 1:18). He writes to the churches in Asia Minor of the “mystery of Christ”, — the gospel, given by revelation through the apostles and prophets (Eph 3:3-5). Here “prophets” refer to the New Testament prophets. This normative revelation is always in connection with the Old Testament prophetic expectations (Rom 16:25, 26), with the historic person of Jesus Christ (Gal 3:23) and with the foundational, and therefore final and unrepeatable, revelation through the New Testament apostles and prophets (Eph 2:21, 22).

It is only charismatic revelation which is part of the present Pentecostal/Charismatic movement as a normative part of the church’s functioning. Ecstatic revelations are accepted as possible and actual but only personal in significance. Normative revelation is restricted to apostolic teaching and practice and is used as the canon by which charismatic revelations are to be weighed by the gathered church (1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thess 5:19-21).

Johannine Theology of Development

The same dialectic, between the absoluteness of Jesus Christ and developmental leading of the church “into all truth,” is also clearly evident in the Johannine materials. Two passages in the Farewell Discourse (John 14:25; 16:12-15) indicate a delicate balance between the permanent, normative significance of the Jesus of history and the further revelations to come by the Spirit of truth. In both passages it is stated or implied that Jesus’ teachings are incomplete prior to his glorification in the cross and ascension. In the first passage Jesus says “these things” (and no more) I have spoken to you while I am still with you” (v. 25). But – there is more to come – the “all things” which Jesus wants to say to the disciples which they were unable to assimilate (bastazein) in their present spiritual state. Once again reference is made to the coming Spirit of truth who will guide them into all truth.

In these same passages, however, which point to further teachings and revelations from Jesus to be given by the Paraclete, it is clear that they are really from him and will refer back to him. The Paraclete will bring to remembrance all that Jesus had said to them (14:26), he will not speak on his own authority, independent of Jesus (16:12) but will disclose (anangelei) the things which are coming. At the same time the Holy Spirit will also be taking from “the things” of Jesus, i.e., content which comes from Jesus and which points to Jesus, and declaring them so that, in this guiding activity of the Spirit of truth, Jesus will be glorified.

This same balance between the on-going, post-Pentecostal activity of the Spirit and the normative meaning of the history and teaching of Jesus is seen in 1 John 5:6-8. Here the Spirit, “who is the truth,” is a witness to the Jesus of history. The Spirit is united with the witness of the “water and blood” which refer to the historical events of Jesus’ baptism in water at the Jordan and his baptism in blood at the cross.

From this discussion it is clear that there must not be any attempt to go beyond the Jesus of apostolic witness to another gospel or another spirit which is not the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7), whose proper task is to interpret to the church in a living way the hapax of Jesus Christ Himself. Any such attempt is unbiblical and must be guarded against.

The other side of the matter, however, must also be taken seriously, namely, that without the continued activity of the Spirit, of taking of the things of Jesus and declaring them to the church, there is no real gospel any more. Without the living, leading voice of the Spirit of truth the gospel becomes mere dead letter. Once we have laid to rest the specter of further normative revelations being claimed, there should, then, be the positive expectation – indeed demand, for continued charismatic revelations in the church, in order that the body of Christ might be fully built up in the one faith of absolute dependence upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ and in a further grasp of the content of faith, the faith once for all delivered to the saints.


Schaff makes very clear the way in which development is actually possible in the church in thesis 13:

We must not confound with this (absoluteness of Jesus Christ), however, the apprehension and appropriation of Christianity in the consciousness of mankind. This is a progressive process of development that will reach its close only with the Second Coming of the Lord.

The key categories which must be used, if the biblical balance between normative apostolic revelation and the continuing activity of the Spirit leading the church into all truth is to be maintained, are those of “consciousness” and “apprehension.” The distinction between the once-for-all givenness of normative revelation and the active appropriation and apprehension of that revelation in the living, corporate (and then individual) consciousness of the church, makes it very clear how progress and development are possible within the limits of the apostolic hapax. Development does not consist in going beyond Jesus Christ and the apostolic witness, because there is nothing beyond. Going “beyond” could, in fact, only be a reversion to mere human religion, whether it be to the legalistic misunderstanding of Judaism or the multiple forms of religious error found among the other families of humankind. Rather, true development, led by the Spirit of truth, is a matter of drawing ever more deeply upon the treasury of God’s reality and grace as it is found in Jesus Christ. Development can only be an increase of genuine life in Christ and an ever more precise explication, in cognitive categories, of the truth which is in Jesus Christ.

In the Colossian epistle, both increased participation in the material principle of Jesus Christ and in the formal principle are held before those who were being wooed to an advance “beyond Christ”, which was really a falling back into a mixture of heathen and Jewish religious notions and practices. The formal principle is Jesus Christ Himself “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). But He is also then the material principle, for it is from this treasury that “all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery” may be drawn (Col 2:3). The apostle sums up this whole point in these words: “As, therefore, you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith…” (Col 2:6). It is one thing to have a treasure of “assured understanding,” it is another to appropriate it personally, in consciousness, in explicit form. The situation is much like having a valuable book in your library without having read any more than the table of contents. The value is in the text, not outside of it. What is required is a real interaction with the contents.

The category “consciousness” suggests its opposite, which is “unconscious” or “implicit.” The domain in which development takes place, then, is that of consciousness not content. Therefore it is evident that this change is a shift from implicit to explicit. The Spirit’s role is the explication, in the consciousness of the church, of that which the church previously had lived upon only implicitly but which is now called forth according to the developmental readiness of the church as a living, growing organism and by the pressures experienced externally from the Zeitgeist and internally from the dynamic which urges pistis to seek gnosis. As Schaff goes on to say in thesis 16:

It is possible for the church to be in possession of a truth and live upon it, before it has come to be discerned in her consciousness…. Thus the child eats and drinks long before it has the knowledge of food, and walks before it is aware of the fact, much less how it walks.


The theology of church history which we have extracted from Schaff’s “theses for the times” serves quite well in providing the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement with a rationale for the possibility of “newness” and development, while maintaining a senses of historical perspective and connectedness. It does not, of course, answer all of the specific questions which can be raised exegetically or historically. But it does point in a direction which would be more acceptable to the larger Evangelical world, to which Pentecostals and Charismatics could and should be positively related. In the specific matter of the nature of “revelation” and the danger of going beyond Jesus Christ, it is clear that neither Paul nor John allows it, nor do Pentecostal/Charismatics intend it.

Much work remains to be carried out in detail, within this Christian consciousness model for the theology of church history. A series of further question arise which must be dealt with if all of the data of the history of the church are to be properly placed within the developmental framework we have presented as one which will justify the claims of the Pentecostal/Charismatic to be a significant work of the Holy Spirit and one which represents a further dialectic advance in the consciousness of the church.


  1. This is not to say that such statements are an approval in any way of the doctrines and practices of, say, the Latter Rain Assemblies of South Africa in the late 1920s, which were generally repudiated by most classical Pentecostals. It is simply an “eschatologizing” of a familiar biblical metaphor. See Walter J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972), pp. 140-48.

2. The necessity of “justifying” a new theological understanding is, of course, an issue for any kind of theological development. A recent example of this in Evangelical circles is related to the matter of the “secret rapture of the saints” associated with the rise of dispensationalism since the mid-1800s. George Ladd raised the historical/developmental issue in his book The Blessed Hope (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, l956), p. 19: “If the Blessed Hope is in fact a pretribulation rapture, then the church has never known that hope through most of its history, for the idea of a pretribulation rapture did not appear in prophetic interpretation until the nineteenth century. Pretribulationists are reluctant to admit this.” In reply, John F. Walvrood, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957), p. 192 writes: “The detailed development of pretribulational truth during the past few centuries does not prove that the doctrine is new or novel. Its development is similar to that of other major doctrines in the history of the church.” He also deals with this matter in more detail earlier in the book, pp. 52, 53.

3. Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1964), p. 177.

4. Schaff, p. 230, thesis 83.

5. Schaff, p. 219.

6. Obviously there are a number of other tasks which might be mentioned such as the early trinitarian reflections implicit in the Johannine Farewell Discourses or the incipient Gnosticism reflected in the Pauline letters.

7. Cf., Irenaeus’ concept. See Adolf Harnack, History of Dogma, trans. Neil Buchanan (New York: Dover, l961), II, p. 238.

8. David Wilkerson, The Vision (Grand Rapids: Revel, l973). The contents of this vision are quite in line with what might be expected from a pre-tribulation Pentecostal with some negative feelings about the Roman Catholic Church.

9. This review is restricted to an analysis of Pauline usage of apocalypsis in relation to charismatic manifestation. It excludes the more general usages and such issues as “general revelation.” Of course it is understood that the basic etymological meaning of “unveiling” stands behind all of its uses and points to perception of the hidden reality of spiritual things. For an exhaustive treatment of the broader background see Albrecht Oepke, ” ,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, tran. G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), III, pp. 563-92.

10. The meaning taken here is that reflected in the RSV “taking his stand on visions,” literally “upon that which he has seen (ha heoramen) puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.”

11. See the perceptive discussion of this in an excellent book by James Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (London: SCM, 1975), pp. 350-53.

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Asian Seminary of Christian Ministries

1. Caldwell’s Call to Ethnohermeneutics

Recently Professor Larry Caldwell blew the trumpet in the hallowed halls of academic Zion, in the Philippines, on behalf of what he calls the new discipline of ethnohermeneutics. He did this in his paper to the AGST Annual Theological Conference. This paper was subsequently published in the maiden number of the Journal of Asian Mission.1 The full title of his paper indicates his intention to question the relevancy of Western hermeneutical methods in the Asian context.

From a missiological perspective he raises a very important and serious issue as to the effectiveness of the present and past educational efforts of seminaries in the critical area of biblical interpretation. He states that “the overarching purpose of theological education is, at its very core, a missiological purpose: to help equip others to better understand and communicate the truths of the Bible to a lost and dying world.”2 Within that fundamental missiological mandate to seminary education he also notes that “training others to correctly interpret God’s word, is the heart of theological education, whatever the individual discipline.”3

He therefore urges all who are involved in seminary education in the multi-cultural “stew” of Asia to be explicitly concerned with teaching effective methods of biblical interpretation in such a setting.

“There is a need,” Caldwell says, “to further explore hermeneutics directed specifically towards how to interpret the Bible from one culture to the next, from one people group, or ethnic group, to another.”4 In particular he states, “We no longer have the luxury to assume that our way is the best way or the only way…There may indeed be other valid interpretation methods available to us….”5

Caldwell then goes on to explore the relevance of western hermeneutical methods in non-western settings, and the need to use what he calls “receptor-oriented” hermeneutical methods. He then gives a kind of example of what he means by such a term along the way.

Finally he points to the significance of the Reformation doctrines of Sola Scriptura and the priesthood of believers as a justification for the search for indigenous hermeneutical methods. He ends his trumpet call with suggestions to those in areas of biblical studies, systematic theology and practical theology on how to rearrange their material in light of the emergence of this new discipline of ethnohermeneutics.

2. A Theologian’s Response to the Call

Being a theologian-missionary in the Asian context, I was very interested in the educational and missiological issues that Caldwell raised in his paper. From the perspective of missions I am committed to changing lives, both in my teaching ministry in the seminary and in my direct ministry in the churches and other non-church settings. For me theology is taking the Bible seriously, thinking God’s thoughts after him, faith seeking understanding and doctrine that in accord with godliness.

In the Asian setting it has been a challenge for me to discover how I might effectively translate the theological reality passed on to me by my own theological mentors, to those who come from a very different intellectual, linguistic and cultural background. I found the kind of content and the methods they used began to change immediately. There was also a shift from my focus on the content of my theological lectures, to methods of effective communication of that content to my students. I sought methodology that would really change them personally and allow them to bring the supra-cultural truth of God’s word to those to whom they were called to minister.

Very early, I came to an inner conviction, quite similar to that which Caldwell expressed, concerning the real needs of the students.

He notes, with an undercurrent of frustration, “And yes, our students will need to be aware of some of the complexities of the biblical text and consequently will need a basic familiarity with the tools that can help address those complexities. But the bottom line question comes down to this: how many and how much?”6 I strongly sympathize with his answer to that question, “Yes, a small percentage of our students will need to learn a lot of this information. But not everyone; in fact, not many at all.”7

He goes on to conclude, and with this I heartily agree, “What everyone really needs, and this is crucially important in our Asian context, are the tools, resources and training that will equip them to relevantly interpret the Bible in the complicated context that is Asia.”8

By all means we really do need, as Caldwell says, to “equip Asians to be able to discover and apply the truths of the Bible to their daily lives without having to rely upon either the interpretational dogma of Protestant scholars and/or upon a scholarly priesthood trained to interpret the Bible for them.”9

3. The “Sour Note” in the Trumpet Call

Unfortunately, much as I appreciated the urgent concern of Caldwell’s trumpet call to question the relevancy of western hermeneutical methods in non-western contexts and to begin to take ethnohermeneutics seriously in our missiological/educational task, my theological “ears” detected a “sour note.” That sour note concerns Caldwell’s apparent position that there can be more than one valid method of interpreting what the biblical text “meant.” The classical position has been “Interpretation, one; applications, many!” Or, perhaps more to the point, “Interpretation, one; cultural contextualization, many!”

If Caldwell’s trumpet call to ethnohermeneutics were only a matter of communication, there would be no sour note. If he were only concerned with taking “what it meant” and using local, indigenous “hermeneutical methods” better to communicate “what it means,” he would be safely inside the boundaries of Evangelical missiological theory and practice. It is my position as a systematic theologian, that hermeneutics, as elucidating first of all “what it meant,” is governed by the nature of human thought and its literary forms of communication, not by ethnohermeneutic, indigenous, culturally conditioned methods of interpretation.

Caldwell is clearly aware of this issue. In a footnote, seeking to protect his position, he states, “…I am not advocating a pluralistic approach to interpreting the Bible….”10 The bulk of the paper, however, is meant to explain why the heart of ethnohermeneutics is its search for “receptor-oriented hermeneutical methods.”11 His “Figure 2” is meant exactly to represent such a pluralism. He urges members of Asia Graduate School of Theology to “re-examine their dependency upon western hermeneutical methods and look instead for Asian methods….”12

Before I can answer the trumpet call, I must first be satisfied on this key point. The issue before us is exactly parallel to the desire for a so-called “genuine” Asian theology — not “Banana theology” but “Mango theology.”13 Just as I must reject the notion of a pluralism of “theologies,” so I must reject the notion of a pluralism of hermeneutical methods. In both of cases, if we are only concerned with “contextualization” and cross-cultural communication, then there is only one theology (one supra-cultural truth), but many ways, culturally sensitive, in which to expound and communicate that one theology. In that case there is no “sour note” in either trumpet call.

Can there really be a Filipino hermeneutic, a Chinese hermeneutic, or a German hermeneutic? Is the western hermeneutic really “western” in the merely cultural sense or is it actually “human” or “universal” in the ultimate scientific sense? Is Caldwell correct when he says, “western hermeneutical methods themselves are ethnohermeneutical methods for westerners”?14

When Caldwell discusses the way in which New Testament writers interpreted the Old Testament, he correctly states that “no one hermeneutical method is inspired.”15 Does that properly justify the fundamental assumption on which ethnohermeneutics rests? That is, “that God not only works through culture, hence the need to communicate the truths of scripture in culturally relevant forms, [with which we fully agree] but, correspondingly, that God also works through the hermeneutical processes inherent in each culture”?16 If by “works through” Caldwell means only that contextualizing is useful in the missiological task, he is on solid ground. If he means to say that God uses ethnohermeneutics to discover “what it meant,” he has established hermeneutical pluralism.

In his review of the history of hermeneutics Caldwell notes that “there were a multiplicity of hermeneutical methods used in Bible interpretation” during the last two thousand years, including the allegorical method.17 He expresses the opinion that that method somehow helped “to bring gospel truth to largely illiterate cultures” and “may again prove to be an appropriate method for the non-reading masses of today.”18

From his own assumptions and the development of his argument as we have shown, it seems clear that, in fact, though perhaps not in intention, Caldwell is espousing a pluralistic hermeneutic. His position seems to be that ethnohermeneutics is useful in the missiological task of properly contextualizing the supra-cultural truth of God’s word, with which we might all agree. However, he also seems to suggest ethnohermeneutics is a replacement for the “western” hermeneutic of grammatical/historical method, which I find unacceptable for the reasons stated in this response.

4. An Alternative “Note” for the Trumpet Call

Hermeneutics is usually defined as a two step process in modern times. The first step is concerned with what the writer of the text “meant” by what he wrote. The second step is concerned with what it “means,” here and now in our various cultures and stages of human consciousness. We have come to describe the inter-relation between these two steps as the “hermeneutical spiral, or helix.” It is a complex process of refinement, allowing human beings to grasp more and more accurately, what an ancient text meant, in its own terms and what it now means to humankind in its present state of consciousness.

The grammatical/historical method of interpretation has been a gradual development from the beginning of the church to the present.

Its most explicit, early representatives are those of the “Alexandrine school,” represented by Lucian of Antioch, Theodore of Mopsuestia and St. John Chrysostom.19 But as Caldwell noted, the allegorical method by and large dominated the writings of the teachers of the church up to the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation. From that time to this, a confluence of various forces has converged to produce what we now call the grammatical/historical method of hermeneutics.

How are we to characterize this method? Is it, as Caldwell says, by a western ethnohermeneutic for westerners? Or is it really the grand result of a developmental process, under the general leading of the Spirit of truth, in which the implicit laws of proper and valid interpretation of an ancient text became explicit? If, as historical review suggests, it is the latter, it is quite clear that the grammatical/historical method is not “western” or “ethnohermeneutical,” but objective and universally human.

In any proper hermeneutic the text is “king,” i.e., “what it meant” is fundamental, foundational and indispensable to a proper understanding of “what it means” now. If the method used to determine “what it meant” is not valid, the normativeness of the biblical text is lost to us.20

During the history of the church, as it developed its present understanding of the text, various methods were indeed used. It can, however, be argued — I think successfully — that in fact the only permanently valuable understanding of “what it meant” resulted from the implicit, and sometimes explicit, use of the basic rules of the grammatical/historical method. It is these results which underlie the authoritative and permanent value of the developing Christian consciousness which we now share with our forefathers in the faith, not the invalid results of the fanciful, arbitrary allegorical method.

There is an objective, scientific reason for this. There really is only one valid way in which “what it meant” can be discovered. The grammatical/historical method is simply the developmental result of a process of discovering explicitly, the laws which govern the proper and valid recovery of “what it meant.” The laws of human thought, though conditioned by culture and language, are actually universal. This is so because all human beings share the same basic “hardware” for thinking—the human brain. And, as Imago Dei, they also participate in the Logos structure of created reality through reason. Therefore the grammatical/historical method is not “western,” but “human” and “universal.” It is true that God sovereignly used western culture and its preferred thought processes to develop explicitly the laws of valid interpretation of “what it meant.” That does not, however, make it “western” or “ethnohermeneutical” any more than the conclusions of Nicea or Chalcedon are “western” simply because they use the most accurate and precise language available to them—Greek.

Could the application of an Asian ethnohermeneutic method produce a result that would differ substantively from Nicea or Chalcedon? Such methods may ask other questions of the text and therefore develop some new, illuminating and interesting results to enrich Christian consciousness. However, this comes from the “what it means” part of the hermeneutical helix, not the “what it meant” task.

Now there are, it would seem, two fundamental types of universal thinking modes available to human beings, the so-called “left brain” and “right brain” forms.21 Historically, it turns out, that the development of “left brain” thinking has been most advanced in the human family from the West. The “right brain” type of thought has been more typically used in the East. Each type of thought has its use.

Each is valid for its own purposes. However, concerning the laws by which it is possible to discover what ancient documents “meant”, there really is only one valid method. That method is rooted and grounded in the universal nature of human thought processes as they are committed to literary form and which can only be articulated usefully by means of “left brain” thinking.

Caldwell used the Reformation concept of the priesthood of believers in dealing with the very practical danger of taking the Bible away from Asians because of the complex grammatical/historical method and the expensive books often involved. Since, in my judgment, ethnohermeneutics cannot properly be used to replace the grammatical/historical method without the loss of access to the supracultural truth of God’s word, what is to be done?

At this point the additional Reformation doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture must come to the rescue. The Westminster Confession states it clearly and classically in Chapter I, Article VII in these words:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

By “ordinary means” the Westminster Divines simply meant the basic rules of a common sense grammatical/historical method, based on the objective structure of the text, on the nature of the human thought process and the way thoughts are expressed in literary form. This author agrees that the more advanced methods of the grammatical/historical method, especially as they have been developed in the last two centuries, are not absolutely necessary to useful, Spiritempowered ministry. This is true for all cultures. Only those called to a ministry of advanced teaching and theological thought need to interact with such materials.

5. Final Response

The “sour note” in Caldwell’s trumpet call to ethnohermeneutics seems to result from some kind of confusion between the missiological task of contextualizing the supra-cultural truth to various cultures, and the theological task of determining the content of that supracultural truth and its significance for today. In his missiological approach to the hermeneutical task he does not seem to make a sharp distinction between the two tasks involved in the hermeneutical helix. He does not seem to be concerned sufficiently with the theological task of protecting the supra-cultural truth of Scripture from invalid methods and, therefore, invalid results.

Professor Caldwell’s trumpet call to ethnohermeneutics is appreciated for its concerns about a very important issue. We look forward to further clarification of his position in his up-coming book on the subject.

1 “Towards the New Discipline of Ethnohermeneutics: Questioning the Relevancy of Western Hermeneutical Methods in the Asian Context,” Journal of Asian Mission 1:1 (1999), pp. 21-43.

2 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 22.

3 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 22.

4 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 23.

5 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 25.

6 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 41.

7 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 41.

8 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 41.

9 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 40.

10 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 25 n. 5.

11 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 38.

12 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 4. Italics mine.

13 See Amos Yong, “Review of Kosuke Koyama: A Model for Intercultural Theology and Mangoes or Bananas? The Quest for an Authentic Asian Christian Theology,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 2:1 (l999), pp. 153-57.

14 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 38.

15 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 32. Of course no one would contend that the grammatical/historical method is inspired! That is not the issue.

16 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” p. 32. Italics are Caldwell’s

17 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” pp. 32-33.

18 Caldwell, “Toward the New Discipline,” pp. 32-33. Anyone familiar with the way in which the allegorical method functions and who holds to the grammatical/historical method, will certainly be surprised at such a possibility. Philo used that method to read Plato out of Moses. Swedenborg used that method to read a strange theosophy out of Scripture. The allegorical method is geared to discovering one’s own thoughts in the text of another. It is not capable of discovering what the text meant. Allegory is an acceptable method of interpretation, if and only if, the writer of the text has given objective clues in the form and structure of the text indicating that it was to be interpreted in such a way. Modern examples of this would be Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress or, more recently, Hannah Hurnard’s popular allegories such as Hinds’ Feet on High Places (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1977).

19 Philip Schaff describes the characteristic features of the Antiochine “school” as “attention to the revision of the text, a close adherence to the plain, natural meaning according to the use of language and the condition of the writer, and justice to the human factor.” In other words, its exegesis is grammatical and historical, in distinction from the allegorical method of the “Alexandrian School,” History of the Christian Church, 8 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), II, p. 816.

20 In saying that the “text is king” in any valid hermeneutic, what I mean is that the text itself as object, by its very nature, is determinative of the laws necessary to discovering “what it meant.” It is not culture but the object itself which determines what a valid hermeneutic is.

21 For a more extensive discussion of what I call “ruach perception”(right brain) and “dabar perception” (left brain) and how they inter-relate, especially in theological understanding, see my article “Creation: Pattern, God and Man,” Journal of the Scientific American 21:2 (1977), pp. 58-60.

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Melodyland School of Theology
Anaheim, California 92806

From: JASA 29 (June 1977): 58-64.

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.” Ps. 33:6
“For from him and through him end to him are all things, to him be glory for ever. Amen.” Rom. 11:36


The task of theology is “to think God’s thoughts after Him.” To do this requires humble submission to the leading of the Spirit of Truth and careful study of God’s authoritative revelation in Holy Scripture. Without the Spirit the Word becomes mere words to us. Without the Word the Spirit becomes human fantasy and imagination. This combination of Word and Spirit, so necessary to the theological task is, as we shall see, no accident. It is based upon the fundamental biblical pattern in creation itself-the pattern of Ruach-Dahar, of Pneuma-Logos, of Spirit and Word.

There are many ways in which a theologian might look at creation. Typically there is an analytic approach in which logic, reasoning and implication are used. This is the method of the scientist and the scholastic theologian. There is, however, another method-that of poet and seer, mystic and dreamer. Here the first task is to “see”, in an holistic way, in a state of passive perception, the reality to be described and discussed. It is an effort, in and through careful analysis of Logos structure, however it may present itself, to penetrate to the reality symbolically represented to us in words and categories. It is usually the purpose of the poet and mystic to speak in ways which will evoke an awareness of the “reality” itself. It is the purpose of scientists and theologians to construct an adequate representation of that reality in terms which can be weighed and tested in the community of committed, concerned and capable persons who occupy themselves with such matters.

Both approaches seem necessary. High vision and careful exposition are needed if the living word of God is to exercise its proper authority over our lives and thought. Prior to the writing of this paper there has been some attempt to “see” the majestic mystery of creation originally perceived by Scripture writers. The paper itself will reflect this by its method. Under three basic rubrics, “Creation and Pattern”, “Creation and God”, “Creation and Man”, a series of propositions will he given which are crystallizations of perceptions of the reality of creation. The purpose is not to prove but to expound a vision of creation which, it is hoped, is both biblically adequate and theologically illuminating.

Before proceeding, the following definition of creation is provided as containing the basic elements which must he treated in a discussion of creation which is biblically, theologically and philosophically complete:
Creation is

-an act of God alone by which he
-of his own free will
-in a progressive sequence of actions fanned all things, visible and invisible
ex nihilo
-from the depths of his being as pneuma
-by the Word of God
-through the agency of the Spirit
-for the manifestation of his glory (doxophany),
-the benefit of man,
-and all very good.


THESIS I. The basic biblical pattern in creation is the majestic and mysterious co-ordination of Ruach and Dabar, Pneuma and Logos, Spirit and Ward. In the biblical materials the emphasis falls on Dabar-Hochma, Logos-Suphia (Word and Wisdom) as providing order, coherence, structure and teleology in creation.

Anyone acquainted with the biblical materials becomes aware that such a co-ordination of Ruach and Dabar exists. The opening chapter of Genesis clearly indicates this. Creation, which proceeds through a series of majestic and almighty “fiats” is preceded by a mysterious and deeply significant reference to the Ruach-Elohini which “broods” over the face of the unformed void. No exposition of this fact is given in the inspired record, but reference to the Spirit here must be taken into account. A two-fold significance suggests itself. First it points to the depths of God’s own being as the source of his creative activity. The infinite inwardness of God as roach is the source of this creative activity. Second, it points to the agency of the Spirit of God in the execution of the divine fiat. It is evident in Gen. 1.2 that Ruach-Elohisn is clearly distinguishable from the fiat. It is also evident that the “uttering” of the fiat is not possible without roach both as preceding and fulfilling the word “uttered”. In this way a basic pattern of mach-dabar-ruach emerges as the pattern of creative activity.

It is very clear however, that in the biblical materials prominence is given to dabar, rather than to roach. Speaking theologically it is evident that emphasis is placed upon the eternal Logos as the agent of creation rather than on Pncuma as source or agency in creation. (John 1:1-3; Heb, 1:2,3; Col. 1:16,17, I Cor. 8:6). Dabar is the outward manifestation of the inwardness of God. It accurately portrays that inwardness and expresses in the categories of finite, created space-time, the order and coherence, structure and purposefulness of that inwardness. Dean Inge has expressed this point very perceptively in the following words: “the world is the poem of the Word to the glory of the Father: in it and by means of it, He displays in time all the riches which God has eternally put within him.”1

THESIS II. In the order Ruach-Dahar emphasis must be placed upon the mystery of creative activity as proceeding from the depths of God Who is not only the “thinking God” but is also the living God, the
God Who, in personal self-determination, acts spon-taneously for the fulfilment of personal purposes.

Here it is necessary to see with the eye of the seer. Here it is necessary to join the unending chorus of worship and praise to God-“worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for

This combination of Word and Spirit, so necessary to the theological task, is based upon the fundamental biblical pattern in creation itself.

thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.” (Rev. 4:11) Perhaps the deepest puzzlement of man as philosopher, is over the fact that anything is. That there should be anything is a great mystery-matched only by the greater mystery of the selfexistent, personal reality of God. It is very necessary to recognize the utterly free and totally self-determined nature of God’s creative activity. Creation, in relation to the divine freedom, as proceeding from God as ruach, means that it is an act of volition on the part of God, not a necessary (non-volitional) outworking of the divine essence independent of the divine personae of the Godhead. The ascity of God and the divine simplicity do not allow the separation of essence and existence in God. Creation is not simply the overflow of the infinite richness of the divine inwardness but is an absolutely unique, free and profound activity.

Yet it is an expression of this infinite richness. When, with seer’s eye, we perceive this incredible richness in God as expressed in creation, we can but cry out with St. Paul, “0, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rum. 11:33), A marvelous modern expression of this perception is found in C. S. Lewis’ “The Great Dance” described so eloquently and skillfully in Perelandra:2

Never did He make two things the same; never did He utter one word twice. After earths, not hatter earths hot beasts; after beasts, not hatter beasts but spirits. After falling, not a recovery hot a new creation. Out of the new creation, not a third but the mode of change itself is changed for ever. Blessed be He!

THESIS III. The fact that Ruach is part of the divine pattern of creation along with Dabar means that there is an inexhaustible richness and elusive mystery underlying Logos-structure which snakes creation forever beyond the total ordering of man’s finite application of Logos to the Logos-structure.

This is simply a call to humility to the busy reasonings of man, a call which itself proceeds from a proper application of Logos to the Logos-structure. Pascal aptly and epigrammatically enunciated this insight in his famous words “the heart has its reasons which reason does not know.”3

It is only in the deceitful grasp of “tinker toy reason”, that man struts proudly about proclaiming a kind of omniscience and capability for his own ability to know. The deeper call of reason points beyond itself to a reality fully coherent yet ever beyond the limits of man’s knowing.

Unfortunately such a midget attitude quite often prevails among us as Evangelicals who profess to be in true submission to the authority of the word and yet presume to confuse our own understanding with the word itself!

THESIS IV. The fact that Ruach is pan of the divine pattern of creation along with Dabar also means that all genuine activity of divine Ruach fulfills Logos structure, rather than destroys it.

This is the other side of the previous thesis. Just as it is necessary to avoid the danger of squeezing the “juice” out of the inexhaustible richness and mystery of creation, so it is needful to avoid any separation of Ruach and Dabar which would destroy our capability for the recognition of reality as it is in itself. It is only demonic ruach which destroys Logos-structure. Ruach divorced from Dabar is at best man’s subjective fantasy and at worst the delusion of demonic power. This means that though we recognize our limits and the depth of mystery and power implied in Ruach, yet we always assert a fundamental orderliness and coherence in created reality itself. There must be neither metaphysical nor epistemological dualism here.

All of this points to the necessity of keeping clearly and definitely before us the distinction of Ruach and
Dahar and therefore the diversity of purpose between ruach-perception and dabar-perception 4, as well as the indivisible coordination of the two elements in the basic pattern of creation which allows the fruitful interplay of Ruach and Dabar in man’s own limited, yet correct, perception of created reality.5

THESIS V. Man, who creates relatively, knows the experience of the emergence of powerful insights into the structure of created reality through the holistic mode of perception (Ruachperception) which is associated with the depths of man’s being (the unconscious dimension in psychology and “spirit” in religious experience). This experience of the dimension of depth, mystery, meaning and power, in short the experience of Ruach, provides a model for our understanding of the divine creative activity as it relates to the order of Ruach-Dabar in the pattern of creative activity.

In this thesis the distinction, dialectic and unity of Ruach and Dabar in man’s experience is used to shed some light on the basic pattern in creation. Man experiences a two-foldness in his perception and in his creative efforts in science and art. There is a dialectic which takes place between Ruach-perception and Debar-perception. Man as Imago Dci seeks dominion over created reality in accord both with his nature and with the Divine mandate (Gen. 1:26,27). As he seeks, he uses Dabar-perception to classify, analyze, organize and manipulate creaturely reality. This is the raw material which must then be contemplated deeply and passively-with Ruach-perception. Then there emerges from the depths of man’s being a new insight into the nature of created reality, insight which cannot be derived from the mode of Dabar-perception, but which must be subjected to that mode for clarification, testing, purifying, and conceptualizing. The history of art and science is replete with such dynamic and often dramatic interplay of Ruach and Dabar in man. It is the Ruach which provides the incredible richness, depth and perpetual value of creative art or science. But it is Dabar which supplies articulation and adequate expression for the insight of Ruach. Ruach insight without Dabar is only a fleeting thing unavailable to the whole family of man for its continued benefit. Dabar without Ruach is simply a lifeless game of empty symbols-much like the formalisms of symbolic logic. The distinction and unity of Ruach and Dabar in man’s experience is but a reflection of the pattern of Divine creation.

We must not suppose, however, that such a separation of Ruach and Dabar as we experience in our relative creation, is to be found in God. There is no unconscious in God! God is, as the older theologians were wont to say, actus purrisimus, “absolute actuality”. As such there can be no distinction within the Godhead between God as Ruach, (personal, self-determined infinitely rich life) and God as Dabar (coherent, structured, ordered). The inner divine “activities” which are forever beyond our capacity to grasp as they are in themselves, are opera essentiaiia et personalia experienced and executed in the marvelous unity of God which is higher and more intensely one by virtue of the richness of oneness of essence and threeness of person.

THESIS VI. The order Dabar-Ruach points to the fact that in the execution of creation Ruach is in the service of Dabar as agency to agent.

We are now on more familiar territory. Most of the biblical evidence emphasizes the role of Dabar in the creation, with Ruach perceived as the instrumentality of Debar. In the Genesis account, which is so profoundly explicated in the Fourth Gospel in terms of Logos-Christology, it is God’s activity as “speaking” which is the dramatic focus. The repetition of “God said-and there was” portrays a “majestic instaney” of divine purpose and power culminating in the creation of man and the Divine sabbath. B. B. Warfield expresses this significance of the order Dabar-Ruach with his usual insight when he comments on the role of the Spirit in Genesis 1 through 6:

To the voice of God in heaven saying, Let there he light! the energy of the Spirit of God brooding upon the face of the waters responded, and lo! there was light . . . God’s thought and will and word take effect in the world, because God is not only over the world, thinking and willing and commanding, but also in the world as the principle of all activity, executing…

It is important to note here that in the order Dabar-Ruach, Ruach is conceived in terms of the dyanmic
power of God immanent, in terms of the opera personalia of the Holy Spirit, rather than as the depths of richness and mystery in divine freedom as it appears in the order Ruach-Dabar.

Creation is through Debar, by Ruach. The classical passage on Hochma (Prov. 8), which has come to be identified with the person of Jesus Christ in Christological discussion, indicates the agency of Hochma in God’s creative activity.7

The Fourth Gospel makes the identification between Debar-Logos and Jesus Christ explicit. St. Paul and the writer to the Hebrews also make this quite clear. (I Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16, 17; Heb. 1:2, 3).

The significance of this is that strong emphasis is placed on creation as a personal effect, coherent, ordered and knowable. This has profound implications for man as worshiper and scientist which will be touched upon more fully in another thesis. In this order of Dabar-Ruach the unity and fundamental harmony of Debar and Ruach is highlighted. This provides a sense of boundary and norm for all authentic insights into the created order of Logos-structure.


Much has already been stated concerning the relation of creation and God in treating the basic biblical/theological speculative pattern of creation as Ruach-Dahar-Ruach. A few further points are important.

THESIS VII. Creation is a personal activity of God.

It has already been asserted that creation is personal rather than unconscious or necessary (coerced). This is evident by the meanings of the words Ruach and Dabar themselves: Ruach, as indicating self-conscious inwardness, and Dahar as indicating knowledge, purpose and order. Only that which is personal speaks. Creation is not the overflow of the divine richness in an unconscious or unintentional way. There can be no conflict in God between opera essentialia and opera personalia. All that God does is done according to his own self-determined essence and through the personal will of God.

At this point the Trinitarian formulae should be brought forth. Creation is always said (and this is agreeable to Scripture) to be from the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. Thus the theological axiom: Opera ad extra sunt indivisa sea omnibus personis communia.8 Yet creation is specially the work of the Father as fons Trinitatis even as redemption is uniquely of the Son and sanctification is of the Holy Spirit. Yet nothing is done without the whole Godhead.

THESIS VIII. Creation is a powerful activity of God.

Two points of significance are noted here. First, creation was not deficiency motivated. Having declared creation as a personal and free activity of God it will not do to speak of it as an expression of God’s need for a love-object. To put it thus would be to make creation an action of weakness rather than of power. The inner Trinitarian relations within the Godhead preclude such a dependent view of God in creation. God is eternal agape as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The eternal moving of self-giving love is found above all in the self-communication of the Father to the Son and the relation of the eternal Son to the Father by the Holy Spirit.

The second point concerns the absolute independence of God in relation to any antecedent reality outside or independent of God who alone is self-existent. Here the expression creatio ex nihilo must be used. Negatively this means a denial of emanation theories (Gnostic or pantheistic) or dualistic theories as in the Greek doctrine of primordial hale which conditioned the divine execution of perfection in the creative activity of God. Positively it expresses the absolute independence of God in relation to the created order and the absolute dependence of creation upon the will of God. The phrase does not mean that no cause is posited for creation or that “nothing” is the material out of which all else was made. Rather, it asserts the almightiness of God’s power and that the setting of the divine will in Logos-structure was in no way antecedently conditioned by anything external to God Himself.9 This fact has very great significance practically to man as religious and scientific. A point which will be taken up later.


“In the beginning”, long before all worlds
Or flaming stars or whirling galaxies,
Before that first “big bang”, if such it was,
Or earlier contraction; back and back
Beyond all time or co-related space
And all that is and all that ever was
And all that yet will be; Source of the whole,
“In the beginning was the Word” of God.
The Word of God; Reason, Design and Form,
Intelligence, Whose workshop spans the stars
Expressed within the Cosmos and alike
In what seems chaos; He Who works as much
In randomness as order, Who to make
Man in His image scorns not to create
By patient evolution on a scale
Of craft divine which dwarfs a million years.
Who is this God, that bows Himself to see
The puny wanders of this little speck
Of cosmic dust that we have named our Earth,
The toy volcanoes and the restless sea
That splashes from His bucket like a drop
And still a captive to the circling Moan
Flaws and recedes, purging polluted shares
Or sending tidal torrents up the Severn?
Who is this God, that circles either pole
With fluorescent light-an arctic dawn,
Whose rain makes little sparks and tiny cracks
That we call thunder storms, this Gad Whose plan
So shapes the atoms that they must combine
To give dust life and then to teed that dust
With inorganic substance to create
By DNA a pattern like its own?
Who is this God and can this God be known
Within the confines of a human skull,
A litre and a half of mortal brain
Whose interlinking neurones must depend
On chemistry and physics in the end
For all that Man can know or comprehend?
Can Man know God eternally enthroned
Throughout all space and in the great beyond?
The mystery of being, still unsolved
By all our science and philosophy,
Fills me with breathless wander, and the God
From Whom it all continually proceeds
Calls forth my worship and shall worship have.
But love in incarnation draws my soul
To humble adoration of a Babe;
“In this was manifest the love of God”.
Still Jesus comes to those who seek for God
And still He answers as He did of old,
“I’ve been with you so long, how can you say
‘I don’t know Cad, oh show me God today’?
When you’ve met Me you’ve seen the eternal God
Met Him as Father too, as He Who cares
And loves and longs far men as 1 myself.
I am the Christian message. God has come.”

Reprinted from Faith and Thought, publication of the Victoria Institute of Philosophical Society of Great Britain, Vol. 102, 182 (1975).

THESIS IX. Creation is a purposeful activity of God.

Teleology is implied in the previous theses. Creation as personal activity and as executed through almighty fiat ex nihilo clearly point to a purpose in creation. Scripture in many places indicates not only that creation is purposeful but also what the purpose is.10 That purpose is clearly the revelation of the glory of God-doxophany. There are, of course, many less ultimate purposes which might be noted from Scripture but doxophany sums up the final purpose of God in creation. It is only as we come to understand the doctrine of creation in terms of the fundamental biblical framework of eschatology that the meaning of creation attains its widest scope and richest significance. The “final cause” of anything is the ultimate category of interpretation, the point of reference for all else. Doxophany, the full manifestation of divine glory is the final cause for the unfolding drama of creation, salvation history and consummation. St. Paul’s doxological outburst in Rom. 11:36 puts this point in short form: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” The song of the twenty-four elders worshiping before God’s throne expresses it eloquently: “Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor, and power, for thou didst creative all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.” (Rev. 4:11). The final vision of the New Jerusalem presents it this way: “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light and the lamp is the Lamb.” (Rev. 21:23)

All of this is in fulfilment of the ancient promises of God “all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (No. 14:21), or more fully “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hah. 2:14. See also Isa. 11:9). Isaiah, the prophet of glory, speaks of the final purpose of God’s gracious redeeming activity in these words “that he might be glorified” (Isa. 61:3; 60:19).

Creation and Man

The significance of the doctrine of creation to man can hardly be overstated. In particular it strikes fundamental chords in man as scientist and man as worshiper.

THESIS X. The fact of divine creation implies that the created order hears the marks of divine character (Logos-structure) and is therefore knowable to man (Imago Dci); and forms an adequate ontological basis for genuine but conditioned knowledge both of created reality and of the transcendent reality of God who, in Himself, is incomprehensible to man.

This is the epistemological significance of the doctrine of creation. A kind of “critical realism” follows from the fact of creation, which establishes the reality of the created order in relation to God, the ultimate Reality. This is philosophical realism. As an “artifact” of God, creation is in the pattern of Dabar-Ruach and thus has a structure independent of man’s consciousness. Order is not imposed upon sense data (as the positivists would have it) but is rather to be discerned by man the observer. Man as Imago Dei participates in Logos-structure as personal, knowing substance and therefore is equipped to discuss, according to the limits of his finite structure, the corresponding Logos-structure in created reality. In this way skepticism is avoided in view of the ontological basis for genuine knowledge, and healthy humility is inculcated in view of the distinction between subject and object and the clear recognition of the dependence of perception upon the created categories of Logos-structure in man as imago Dei.

THESIS XI. Logos-structure in created reality is the foundation for man’s mandate to have dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26, 27) and for the scientific and technological activity of man (even as fallen) in fulfilling that mandate.

The fact of creation provides the basis not only for the possibility of scientific activity but also the Magna
Charta for men’s duty and right to scientific activity, especially in view of man as Imago Dei. Man has the capacity, and is in relation to God as vicegerent on earth, to exercise Dabar-perception with its attendant technological results. Religious man must not limit the natural quest for scientific understanding of, and thus dominion over, creation. Religious authority must not be applied to man’s scientific activity in a way which will stop it from fulfilling its proper method and function. Mao, however, is fallen and therefore does require, as scientist, light from divine revelation to protect him from misuse of his God-like ability for such dominion. The “Book of Creation” must be linked to the “Book of Special Revelation” in a fundamental complementary harmony.

THESIS XII. The biblical view of creation, belonging as it does to the sphere of the transcendent and revelation, logically supercedes the legitimate sphere of scientific methodology which can never penetrate the mystery of the origin of the causal sequences which constitute the sub/eat matter of its investigations and theorizing. All statements about first or final causes cease to be scientific thereby and are immediately in the realm of metaphysics and philosophical presupposition.

Theology was once recognized as the “Queen of the Sciences”. Some of us still recognize it to be so. It is necessary to keep before us the limits and nature of the diverse methodologies of science and theology. The proper sphere of theology encompasses all of reality and therefore all science is to he regarded as a “subset” of theology. This does not mean, however, that theology dictates method and result to science. It simply means that science, in its proper form, is not large enough to interpret the ultimate meaning of its results. This task requires that the scientific endeavor be implicated in a larger, non-scientific (philosophical), pattern.

It is necessary to recognize that scientific description and analysis is within the system of the causal nexus itself and therefore by its very nature cannot speak directly to the meaning of creation or to its metaphysical nature. Any attempt to do so by a scientist immediately removes him from his role as scientist into the role of philosopher-at which exchange the scientist loses the positive results of science as uniquely his own and joins in the competitive task of interpreting science in a larger framework along with all other philosophers and theologians.

On the other hand, the scientist, as scientist, must not be censured for his inability to discern the ultimate causality of God in the causal nexus! There is quite properly a hiddenness of God in relation to creaturely causality. God is not simply another cause in the chain of natural causes, but, as the doctrine of creation ex nihilo implies, is a “cause” of a wholly transcendent order. Therefore it is not obvious that God created the universe unless the observer steps back from the limited perspective offered by scientific methodology to the larger perspectives of philosophy and theology. This is further complicated by man’s fallenness so that there are inner spiritual and moral conditions upon the interpreter of creation before he can, with the Psalmist, affirm “The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” (Ps. 19.1).

THESIS XIII. The mystery of creation, as proceeding from the depths of God as Ruach, is in the transcendence of God as not part of the created order; therefore his activity in creation is forever beyond man and can be spoken about only in metaphor, myth and analogy.

Here we touch upon an epistemological issue more general than the previous points concerned with scientific method. The issue now concerns human limitation to space-time categories in describing any perception of transcendent reality (the Kantian noumenal). Ruachperception, which penetrates to the noumenal realm, is dependent upon dabar-expression in articulating its perceptions. At this point we agree with Bultmann and Tillich in noting the essentially symbolic or “mythical” nature of all description of transcendent, spiritual realities. This does not, however, imply that the Genesis revelation, for example, is simply a human description in space-time categories of transcendent realities. “Symbolic” and “historic” are not necessarily antithetical. The “facticity” of the Genesis narrative can (I think must) he maintained even though its symbolic quality can at the same time (I think must) be acknowledged.

It is correct, with theologians who discuss religious assertions from the point of view of linguistic analysis, to examine the nature, form and functions of religious and theological language and to point to the oddity (as Ian T. Ramsey does) of such language in relation to ordinary discourse. But it must also be recognized that all who have been committed to genuine biblical views, speak as “critical realists” when speaking religiously or theologically. No biblicist merely intends to speak of his own existential situation or his own values. There is always the intention to assert something which has objective significance, to describe “the way it really is” even if, in principle, such assertions are beyond the methods of science to verify or to falsify.

THESIS XIV. The significance of creation to man as worshiper is that it establishes the total propriety of man’s creaturely sense of absolute dependence upon God.

The doctrine of creation ex nihilo clearly establishes the reality of our sense of absolute dependence upon God. As St. Paul put it in quoting the Greek poets “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). It is certain that apart from God’s continued willing of our existence we would fall instantly into “non-being”. An awareness of this

God is not simply another cause in the chain of natural causes, but, as the doctrine of creation ex nihilo implies, is a “cause” of a wholly transcendent order.

dependence Schleiermaeher correctly identified as the universal which is uniquely characteristic of man as creature and so as worshiper. To this general positive essence of religious experience the biblical record of salvation history adds the specific essence of all genuine Christian faith and experience which is an absolute dependence upon God as revealed in Jesus Christ – a dependence not simply of nature, of creaturehood, but of grace.

THESIS XV. The final significance of creation to man as worshiper is that it provides the ultimate meaning to his existence as creature: to answer with doxology to the doxophany of God’s self-revelation in creation.

This is the other side of the fact that God is purposeful in creation. St. Paul gave us the maxim which sums it up: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” The deepest heart cry of all creation and especially redeemed creation is Soli Deo gloria! To God alone be the glory! “Not unto us, 0 Lord, not unto us, but to thy name give glory!” (Ps. 115:1). The meaning of creaturehood for man is both doxophany and doxology. First doxophany as manifesting the infinite richness of the glory of the Godhead. Then doxology as calling forth the response of prostration and praise to God’s glory revealed in creation and supremely in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The eschaton most clearly points to this dual theme of doxophany and doxology. All of reality will be filled with the Spirit of glory. The end of all things is a Spirit-filled creation transposed from the present categories of history and space-time into a mode of existence flooded by the glory of God. (Hab. 2:14; Nu. 14:21). And the only proper response of man here and now as well as in the esehaton is the response of doxology-prostration before Him “who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light” (I Tim. 6:16), praise, worship, adoration, a joyous acknowledgment of God as the source of all that is good and beautiful and true; as the ground for purpose and plan in life, as the good of all things. Stauffer so eloquently summarized this point in these glowing and insightful words;13 “The antiphony of universal history leads into a symphonic doxology. At last God has attained the telos of his ways: the revelation of the gloria Dei achieves its end in the hallowing of his name.”

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is foil of his glory. (isa. 6:3), Who shall’not fear and glorify thy name, 0 Lord, for thon alone art holy. (Rev. 15:4) Amen!


1W, R. Inge, “Christian Mysticism”, in Classics of Protestantism, ed. by Vergihos Ferm, Philosophical Library, New York, 1959., p. 466. Given the meaning of the Creek word poiema, Dean Inge’a use of the word poem is
especially apt. In the interests of greater precision from a Trinitarian point of view the last phrase might better he written “in it and by means of it, He displays all the riches which God the Father has eternally communicated to Him in the mysterious eternal generation of the son.”
2C. S. Lewis, Perelondra, The MacMillan Co., New York, 1972, p. 214. This exquisite expression of the mystic vision of the nature, meaning and movement of creation is worthy of careful study and exposition in its own right. It is theological poetry.
3Blaise Pascal, Pensees, No. 277
4“Ruoch-perception” and “Dobor-perception” simply refer to the distinction of method and approach already referred to in the Introduction to this paper.
5This is analogically related to the mystery of our Lord’s person as expressed in Chalcedonian Christology “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”
6B. B. Warfield, “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament” in Biblical and Theological Studies, p. 134. It is important to note here that in the order Dabar-Ruach, Ruach is conceived in terms of the dynamic power of God immanent, in terms of the opera personalia of the Holy Spirit, rather than as the depths of richness and mystery in divine freedom as it appears in the order Ruacch-Dober.
7It is curious that Irenaeus identifies Hochmo in Proverbs 8 with the Holy Spirit rather than with Christ. “. . . the Son was always with the Father. And God tells us, through the mouth of Solomon, that wisdom, that is the Spirit, was with him before the whole creation (Prov. 3:19; 8:22ft)” Ad Haer, iv. xx. 3. quoted in The Early Christian Fathers, pp. 116, 117.
8“All the works external (to God) are indivisible (among the three persons of the Godhead) because they are common to the three persons”. See Heppe, p. 134.
9Ian T. Ramsey has a very useful and illuminating discussion of the linguistic oddity and the real theological significance of this phrase in his excellent book, Religious Language: An Empirical Placing of Theological Phrases,
pp. 80-85. The biblical basis for such a phrase is found in the “fiats” of Gen. 1; in Ps. 33:9, “He spoke and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth”; and in Rom, 4:17 “God .,, who calls into existence the things that do not exist.”
10Two classic works dealing with this matter of the final telos of creation are Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards and B. F. Westcott’s essay “The Gospel of Creation” in The Epistles of St. John, MacMillan and Co., London, 1886, pp. 285-330. , pp. 285-330. Ethelbert Stauffer provides a stirring review of this theme in his New Testament Theology, chapter 19, “The Final Glory of God”, though it is marred by an unbiblical conclusion of apokatostasis.

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Daniel A. Tappeiner
John Wesley College
Owosso, Michigan

From: JASA 26 (September 1974): 131.

The so-called tongues issue is very much alive within evangelical circles, as can be seen by a quick perusal of articles recently published in many popular and scholarly publications. Often in these articles there is a recurring point which, as yet, seems to have been inadequately dealt with. This point is concerned with the nature of the tongues experience as it is found among those involved in the present day charismatic renewal. With almost predictable regularity the word “ecstatic” is used in conjunction with descriptions of tongue-speaking.

It is not difficult to understand how such a connection is made. The contexts in which glossnialic phenomena have been observed and studied promote it quite strongly. Both the theory and the practice of traditional Pentecostals lend themselves to an interpretation of tongue-speaking as an ecstatic experience. I would like to submit, however, the following thesis which introduces a refining distinction much needed for an accurate interpretation of the nature of tonguespeaking. The experience of tongue-speaking, as found among those in the current charismatic renewal, is a purely voluntary verbal behavior which is neither ecstatic nor emotional in nature. A distinction must be made between the experience itself and the cultural and responsive patterns which occur with it.

Note carefully the following points contained in this proposition. First, tongue-speaking is purely voluntary. The typical comment on this by those in the present movement is along these lines: “I can pray in tongues anytime I want and I can atop when I want also.” There is no sense of compulsion, although the desire to pray in tongues may be stronger at some times then at others even as in prayer with the mind. There is no question of “possession”, whether by the Holy Spirit or any other spirit, involved in tongue-speaking. Any experience which is at all suggestive of spirit possession is suspect and rejected by modern charismatics.

Second, tongue-speaking as an experience is not essentially ecstatic or even emotional. This may seem surprising to many in view of the testimonies often given and the observable phenomena in some contexts. There is often, after all, a context of joy, shouting, clapping, falling down, lifted arms, tears and other such evidences of ecstasy and deep emotion. Again, however, the typical experience and comment by those in the movement is “When I pray in tongues I am aware of where I am and what I am doing. Why, I can even drive a car and pray in tongues!” Larry Christenson, a prominent leader in the renewal, makes this point in these wordsl: “I do not pray in tongues because it gives me a continual thrill . . . . Regardless of what I feel or don’t feel, the Bible tells me plainly that the exercise of this gift will have positive results. I believe the Word!” In other words speaking in tongues may or may not be accompanied by emotion or any unusual state.

The third point to note is that, though there is nothing inherently ecstatic or emotional in the experience of speaking in tongues, there is often a personal response to this deeply spiritual experience-a response which is relative to the psychological structure of the individual and to his cultural expectations. Emotion is responsive. In this case the emotional response is to an experience which is interpreted as being a supernatural and deeply spiritual one. Further, the psychological effects of praying in tongues are integrative and liberating. It produces changes in the individual which allow him more readily to recognize and to express emotional responses.
Precisely which types and levels of expression are found is a matter of the individual’s basic personality structure and also of the ethos and expectations of the Christian community within which the individual is functioning. Here the influences of the social and educational background of the person are evident. The traditional Pentecostals have developed behavioral patterns suggested by their theoretical understanding of their experience and conditioned by their cultural background. The same is true of the new charismatics. Mainline theology and a higher degree of educational and social sophistication have produced an ethos of behavior and response which is as different from the traditional Pentecostals as it is from the typical forms of the mainline Churches from which the new charismatics come.

One further note should be made. Because of the deep spiritual and psychological changes which follow from the regular practice of praying in tongues a new dimension of experience is often opened up. An enhanced openness, expressiveness and sensitivity to spiritual realities can lead to experiences which have been generally associated with the mystical tradition. Unusual and significant dreams, visions, and the spontaneous overflow of emotions, whether of joy or compassion, are more likely to be found as a result of the tongues experience, especially if it is continued regularly and in community. Thus, though tongue-speaking itself is neither ecstatic nor emotional, it may open levels which are.
If persons on both sides of the tongues issue accept and keep in view these simple points a profitable service toward clarity and accuracy will have been accomplished.

1Larry Christenson, Speaking in Tongues, Dimension Books, Minneapolis 1968, p. 132.

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John Wesley College
Owosso, Michigan
From: JASA 26 (March 1974): 29-32

A Psycho-Theological Model


Paul states the fundamental proposition concerning the function of tongues for the individual in these words: “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself…” (I Cor. 14:4). In this article we will he concerned with a psycho-theological model for interpreting the function of tongues for the individual who practices tongue-speaking in his private life. Note that we are not concerned with the exegetical and historical questions concerning the problem of identity between the present day phenomena and that mentioned in the New Testament. We simply assume that they are the same for the present purpose of developing a model. We will proceed therefore to the propositions concerning the function of tongues for the individual in terms of biblical, psychological, and theological categories.

The Function Biblically Described

Biblically the function of tongues for the individual may he described as the spiritual upbuilding of the person by means of prayer to God concerning the mysteries of his own spirit.

This proposition sums up the Biblical evidence found in the Pauline discussion. In addition to the text already given above, which establishes the upbuilding function as fundamental, we may add the following texts: “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the spirit.” (I Cor. 14:2). “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.” (I Cor. 14:14). “But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silence in church and speak to himself and to God.” (I Cor. 14:28).

This proposition involves three things. The first is that of spiritual upbuilding. In general terms this is to be understood as the establishing more fully of the individual in the depth and reality of the Christian life as it centers in Jesus Christ. Perhaps Col. 2:6, 7 states it as well as we could want: “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding with thanksgiving.”

The Christian Gospel involves the total man; therefore all levels of his functioning must he renewed if the Gospel is to be totally effective. There is a process in the Christian life as well as an initial contact with Jesus Christ. There is sanctification as well as regeneration. The process of being more fully and functionally related to Jesus Christ in a living way is the spiritual upbuilding meant here.

The second matter involved in this proposition is that of prayer. Prayer, in its deepest sense, is the communication in relation of the individual with God. The nature of tongues is relational. It is an addressing, on a deep personal level, guided by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26), of God. Thus tongues have an inherent meaning. It is not mere gibberish or ecstatic ravings. It is a communication with God on a level more profound than that of the rational and cognitive.
The third aspect of this proposition is that the contents of this upbuilding prayer are described as “mysteries of the spirit.” Here we take the “mysteries” as deep concerns of the man’s own spirit, but which concerns are so uttered is guided totally by the Holy Spirit. The precise contents will vary from person to person according to his situation, need and concerns even as we find it to be so in prayer with the mind. The word “mystery” is not in its usual Pauline sense here of previously hidden divine revelation now made known. Rather it signifies the fact that no one save God knows the meaning of the communication.

The Function Psychologically Described

Psychologically the function of tongues for the individual may be described as increased integration of the total personality.

If we take our cue from the biblical category of “upbuilding” we can see that being more “rooted and built tip” in Jesus Christ suggests a more total integrating of the whole person in the life of Jesus Christ. From the perspective of modern psychology and psychiatric theory and practice it is clear both that man as psyche has many levels of functioning and that change in the functioning of the psyche involves cognitive and affective components.

Man is a complex being. The conscious and rational elements, so critical to human experience, are not the totality of man. Rather they are the perceptible pinnacle of function of a vastly greater and more profound psycho-biological structure. Personality is deeply rooted in unconscious processes. Further, these processes are very powerful by virtue of their closeness to the inmost principle of life as it functions in man. The theological axiom that a man acts according to what he is, is well substantiated in a psychological sense.

These deep levels of personality involve many diverse elements related to the basic needs of human life and their satisfaction, but they are also related to the higher needs of the human psyche, such as coherence, value and meaning. Already in Karen Homey’s writings there is a recognition of a positive impulse of the inner self to develop in a definite, individual and authentic manner. This point has been picked up and developed very fruitfully in the last decade or so in the psychagogic psychology of Maslow, Jourard and Mowrer among others.

The focus of these theorists is not on what can he learned by an analysis of mast’s illness but on what can 1e learned from an analysis of those who are identified as functioning fully and in a “healthy” way. Maslow describes his “self -actualizers” very well in his book Motivation and Personality, Chapter 12. The picture given there is of an efficiently functioning person, highly integrated within, positively and creatively related to others and to the environment, whose subjective experience is characterized by such words as freedom, satisfaction, joy, meaning, value and the like. A truly healthy person is one whose basic experience and action are organically rooted in the deepest impulses of the life. There is nothing superficial or artificial about such persons. They are truly persons in the deepest sense.

But not only are there deep levels of functioning of the human psyche. We also know that changes in the functioning of this deeply rooted structure of personality require conditions which involve the total person both cognitively and affectively. It is especially noteworthy that, because the roots of personality are so deep, the personal structure cannot be directly altered by “taking thought”. Psychiatry and psychotherapy have amply demonstrated that mere cognitive perception of one’s problem or neurotic structure is therapeutically worthless if not a positive hinderance. What is required for effective therapy is a balanced combination of cognitive and affective components which constitutes a therapeutic insight. In this situation “kinks” in the psychic structure are eliminated and the deepest inner impulses of the life are able to operate more fully. Inner conflict is reduced and positive integration of the conscious and unconscious levels is furthered.

The function of spiritual upbuilding which our proposition attributes to the exercise of tongues can be easily related to the psychological paradigm of health and also to the psychological conditions required for personality change and integration. This is so especially in the light of the kind of effects most often mentioned in modern accounts by those who have entered into this experience.

The Christian Gospel involves the total man; therefore all levels of his functioning must be renewed if the Gospel is to be totally effective.

After surveying the various psychological theories concerning the cause and nature of tongues, Virginia lime concludes that a functional interpretation of tongues seems most probable. She states her conclusions on this matter in the following words1

Through a functional approach to the phenomenon we have come to assess glossotalia as a non-pathological linguistic behavior which functions . . . . as one component in the generation of commitment . . . . it operates in personal change, providing powerful motivation for attitudinal and behaviorial changes in the direction of group ideals.

Hine itemizes her findings concerning the subjective correlation of tongues thus2:

Forty percent mentioned increased capacity for love toward, sensitivity to, or concern for others. Thirty seven percent mentioned the “fruits of the spirit,” such as love, patience, kindness, gentleness, etc. The remaining nineteen percent described an increase in sellenofidenre and the “power to witness”, an active attempt to influence others.

In sum she states3: “Attitudinal changes were generally described in terms of greater capacity for love toward others, a sense of tranquility and joy, and more confidence in their beliefs.”

In his recent comprehensive, objective and sympathetic examination of tongue speaking, Morton T. Kelsey quotes with approval4:

Speaking with tongues is one evidence of the Spirit of God working in the unconscious and bringing one to a new wholeness, a new integration of the total psyche, a process which the Church has tradionally called sanctification.

We might point out here that it is possible to view tongues not only as an evidence but as a means to the ends described.

The human psyche is complex and needs to be integrated on all levels of function properly. One of the key conditions for such an integration is an experiential mode of being in which the psychic structure is loosened and opened so that the “kinks” can he removed and the genuine life impulses can replace them throughout the whole spectrum of psychic levels. From the psychological evidence it seems clear that tongues are suited to serve just such a purpose. The tongues experience would then be understood to involve a state in which the unconscious level of personality is allowed operation along with the conscious, concerned with the mysteries of one’s own spirit, but guided by the Holy Spirit, in a state of psychic openness best described as “faith-receptivity”. Our theological proposition on this point will make this clearer.

The Function Theologically Described

Theologically the function of tongues for the individual may he described as the “Opening” of the higher levels of the total person (unconscious, conscious) to the life of the incarnate and ascended Lord. This influx of life from Jesus Christ from within is formed in the character according to its own nature which is fixed by the light of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ as recorded in the written, normative Word of God.

This proposition is simply the transposition of realistic Eucharistic theology into the context of the charismatic life of the Body of Christ, the Church. To understand this proposition it is necessary first to indicate in outline form the theological structure underlying the Church doctrine of union with Christ in its ontological aspect. This we summarize thus:

1. Man is to be understood as an organic unity of life encompassing the total person, even to the inclusion of the body. This organic unity is brought about by the activity of the life-principle at the deepest level of personal existence.
2. By the Incarnation of the Eternal Son, along with His subsequent death, resurrection and ascension, we find that the organic principle of human life has been perfectly and fully expressed. The one true Man, the highest possible form of human life in union with God, is now a reality effected by divine action.

Because the roots of personality are so deep, the personal structure cannot be directly altered by “taking thought.”

3. In redemption applied to the individual, regeneration, which is the beginning point of that application, means and is the replacement of the original life principle received from Adam by the principle of the New Humanity, the glorified life-principle of Jesus Christ.

4. Objectively the communication of this life principle to the individual is only by the action of the Holy Spirit.

5. Subjectively the rule for the effectual operation of this life-principle at the level of character (attitude and behavior) is that of faith understood as a combination of notitia, assensus and fiducia, with the stress falling on fiducia as the total response of the person in an experiential mode, of openness and receptivity. Both “He who on the basis of faith is just shall live” and “The just shall live by faith” are proper biblical and theological keys to Christian existence. Our new relationship to God is established by faith and our new life in God functions by faith.

With this conception of the Christian life in mind we are now able to make the connection between the well established theological understanding of union with Christ and the historically underdeveloped understanding of the function of tongues for the individual.

Theologically tongues function for the individual as an occasion and means by which the Holy Spirit carries out His work of sanctification, of conforming the total person as a functional reality to the image of Jesus Christ. The specifically unique and significant role of tongues here is to he understood in terms of achieving, maintaining and increasing the person’s inner openness of faith-receptivity to the life of Jesus Christ within as it is “brought” there by the uniting and incorporating work of the Holy Spirit.

In terms of the Gospel images it might be understood as an unblocking and widening of the connection between the Vine and the branch. Or in terms of feeding upon the body and blood of Jesus, which is absolutely essential to eternal life, tongues function as a means by which, in a somewhat osmotic manner, the life-principle of Jesus Christ enters into the unconscious and conscious aspects of the person so that the person’s character is progressively being altered according to the impulse of the new life-principle which corresponds to the objective norm of Scripture.

In this way the Holy Spirit is able to treat various spiritual “kinks” in the person’s inner structure and at the same time to reform, at a deep and lasting level, that same inner structure according to the life principle of Jesus Christ.


If the function of tongues for the individual is as indicated in our propositions it is not difficult to see that tongues can be highly regarded by those who experience it, especially if faith, prior to the initial experience, has been weak or non-existent in the one receiving. To avoid an unbalanced over-reaction at this point it is well to end our discussion by putting this whole matter in perspective.

Positively tongues have something for our tendency to reduce man to a rational and an creature. “All we need is more knowledge, modern ethical clearer principles and all will he well”-so runs this error. And we certainly do need these. But they are not enough. We need to incorporate them into the real roots of our personality. And it is just the conditions necessary to such incorporation which we systematically suppress and eschew. We need, both in the Christian life and in corporate worship, to foster an atmosphere of openness, of receptivity, an atmosphere in which the experiential mode is promoted. Tongues, acting as a channel and means of increasing the experiential mode, certainly make the person exercising them more open to the knowledge and insight which we stress in our reduction of man to auditor and stimulus-response mechanism.

Negatively, tongues need to he seen in the context of other means by which openness and integration can be fostered-preaching, singing, praying, community,

Theologically tongues function for the individual as an occasion and means by which the Holy Spirit carries out His work of sanctification.

action. Tongues are not the only means to the end of sanctification. The whole history of the Church shows this. This gift is not an end in itself because the gifts of the Spirit aim at the fruit of the Spirit. And with tongues as with other means there is no automatic road to attaining the end of the Christian life, likeness to Jesus Christ. To make too much of tongues as a means is an understandable error-to ignore tongues is an unfortunate one.


1Virginia H. Hine, “Pentecostal Glossolalia: Toward a Functional Interpretation”, Journal For the Scientific Study of Religion, VIII, (No. 2), p. 225.
2Ibid, p. 216.
3Ibid., p. 222.
4Morton T. Kelsey, Tongue Speaking, Doubleday & Company, Inc., New York, 1968, p. 222.

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