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Monday, December 11, 2006

Tony Campolo on Private Prayer Language

Now that Christmas Break has begun, I decided to start reading my copy of Tony Campolo's latest, Letters To A Young Evangelical. In the chapter, Getting High On Jesus, Campolo touches on the Private Prayer Language debate. He writes...
While I'm not into praying in tongues myself, I fully believe in its validity. However, some other Evangelicals, especially Fundamentalists such as Southern Baptists, disagree with me and strongly oppose the practice. Anti-Pentecostal Fundamentalists believe that praying in tongues is something that was okay in the early church, but that such "gifts of the Holy Spirit" came to an end when the New Testament was completed. They quote I Corinthians 13, which reads, "where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears."

Claiming that the "perfection" referred to in this verse is the text of the New Testament, they say that anything have to do with praying or speaking in togues should have ceased after the church had these writings. Consequently, they say, "the gift of tongues" in these present days is, at best, nothing more than emotionalism - and at worst, a demonic means of diminishing the importance of the New Testament. Personally, I think that this judgment, which relies on a flimsy biblical basis, is stretching things a bit far. But Southern Baptist Fundamentalists will not tolerate anything having to do with tongues in their fellowship. One of the top executives in the Southern Baptist Convention has been severely attacked and has had his job threatened because he admitted to praying in tongues in private.

In the chapter, Why We Witness, Campolo tells a thought-provoking story about salvation....

Then there's the question of people who may know Jesus personally but do not know him by that name. While visiting a Buddhist monastery in China, a friend of mine noticed a monk seated peacefully in deep meditation. My friend felt a strong impulse to disturb the monk and share the Gospel with him. As my friend explained the story of Christ's sacrificial gift of salvation, he noticed that the monk was visibly moved. Then my friend asked the monk the simple question, "Will you surrender to Christ and invite him to be a living presence within you?"

The monk answered with dismay, "Invite him into my life? How can I accept him when he is already within me? I have known him for many years, but I did not know his name. Even as you were telling me about what he did for me, his spirit was prompting me from within to affirm what you told me. Thank you for giving his presence within me a name."

My friend was left with some disturbing questions. Did that monk have a saving relationship with Christ before he ever heard the Gospel story? How essential is it to know the name of Jesus? If experiencing Jesus without knowning him by name is enough, then how are we to take the verse, "for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12)?


Blogger Dr. Danny Chisholm said...

It's really amazing that we were thinking about the same issue today. Glad to see you writing again.

The IMB condemned the private prayer language practice even though president Rankin admitted to doing it. This set up an embarrassing situation for them.

This is shaping up to be the next battleground.

8:40 PM

Blogger D.R. said...

Regarding Campolo's framing of Southern Baptists, I tend to disagree. He paints with far too broad of a brush. He might be right in describing many in the SBC leadership, but I think he is far from accurate when describing the views regarding private prayer language when speaking of the SBC in general. Second, Campolo seems to confuse the arguments for private prayer language with the arguments for cessation in tongues. I reject (as do many charismatics actually) the idea of a private prayer language, yet I also reject the use of 1 Corinthians 13 as a means of argument. I don't think tongues have ceased as a means of original intent, i.e., I don't think God has ceased using tongues in the manner originally intended, which would be for prophecy for a group and, more importantly for today's time, for evangelism. Modern charismatic-leaning scholars like Wayne Grudem, J.I. Packer, and Gordon Fee (and you could even throw in guys like John Piper and C.J. Mahaney into that mix) point out the correct use of tongues and those uses that are minority positions that lack Biblical support, like private prayer language.

The problem in dealing with tongues in the current context is that because the Pentecostal movement has tended to lump all tongues together, so do Evangelicals and so do critics like Campolo. However, discernment must be exercised and criticism must be tempered in order to actually deal with the issues at hand. I particularly don't like Campolo's rhetoric, throwing around terms like "Fundamentalist" and "Anti-Pentecostal" when those terms must be qualified and re-qualified in order not to simply be used as ad hominems against his opponents, which seems to come through, especially in this short passage.

As for his story regarding the monk, I am glad to see Campolo is struggling with this issue rather than actually going the way of most moderates and liberals in this day and age. What Campolo doesn't point out here (though I recognize you probably didn't cite the entirety of his argument) is that inclusivism has the same problem as advocation of homosexuality - it runs contrary to the universal witness of Church History. In fact, any time when inclusivism was introduced in the history of the Church, it was soundly defeated by means of Biblical argumentation (as was the case with Trinitarianism), not simply shouted down or suppressed, as some would have you believe. Inclusivism has a hard time dealing with many texts, but what I find most damning to it is the central doctrines of the faith, such as Christ's Atonement, the Role of Christ in the Trinity, and the Role of the Holy Spirit in salvation, which I wrote a short treatise about entitled, "The Holy Spirit and the Exclusivity of the Gospel." I think it clearly outlines the fact that the job of the Holy Spirit in salvation is to bring glory to Jesus Christ by revealing Him to the hearer in His full glory and then guiding the new convert in an ever-growing knowledge of Christ, so that Jesus is glorified more and more.

8:50 PM

Blogger foxofbama said...

I truly did find your links to Schaeffer and the book on Baylor at BL.com fascinating.
Hoping you can alert Ben Cole and Essick and we can cross blog about it exhaustively in the New Year.
Till Then with the exception of a few extraneous chats
Merry Christmas

12:11 PM

Anonymous Lee said...

I think we are about to see just how many Southern Baptists there are who either 1) accept the validity of a private prayer language in tongues even though they may not have been gifted with it themselves and 2) how many Southern Baptists actually have a private prayer language in tongues.

I agree with Campolo. The Bible clearly does not teach the doctrine of cessation of tongues. It is a sovereign gift of the Holy Spirit given to some Christians for reasons that only God knows.

1:16 PM

Blogger davidcwelker said...

Interesting site, well developed and informative... thx !
I will have to pick up Dr Campolo's latest book, I hadn't heard of it until now.

10:35 AM


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