Linguistic and Sociological Analyses of Modern Tongues-Speaking: Their Contributions and Limitations -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress
Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 42:2 (Spring 1980)
Article: Linguistic and Sociological Analyses of Modern Tongues-Speaking: Their Contributions and Limitations
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress
WTJ 42:2 (Spr 1980) p. 367
Linguistic and Sociological Analyses of Modern Tongues-Speaking:
Their Contributions and Limitations
A significant body of professional linguistic, psychological, and sociological analysis of modern tongues-speaking (glossolalia) has now accumulated.1 Some of it attributes a generally positive value to speaking in tongues; some of it is quite negative. All of it agrees in treating glossolalia as at root a nonmiraculous phenomenon. The work of these social scientists has a valuable contribution to make in the formation of our pastoral approach to the ecclesiastical problems of tongues. We may know the Bible very well, but we cannot address ourselves effectively to an ecclesiastical problem unless we are well acquainted with the actual dimensions of the problem. The Reformed churches have typically been quite strong in theology but less strong in understanding full-bloodedly what is going on.
On the other hand, I believe that the linguistic and sociological approaches have distinct limitations, not always recognized by the practitioners. Scientists have sometimes drawn conclusions beyond the bounds of their presuppositions and their methods. My exploration of tongues-speaking will point out some of these limitations.
First, we might ask whether appeal to scientific research on
WTJ 42:2 (Spr 1980) p. 368
tongues is legitimate. Some might feel that, if tongues-speaking is a “supernatural” phenomenon of some kind, research into it is illicit. However, God invites inspection of and meditation on his miraculous works (John 10:32, 37–38; 20:20, 27; Matt 28:6; Luke 24:39). Such inspection is wrong only when it occurs with a disrespectful or unbelieving attitude. Modern tongues, of course, might be “supernatural” in some broader sense, without being on the same exalted level as the miraculous works of Jesus’ earthly life. But, by analogy, we could still argue that similar principles would apply to inspection of tongues as would apply to the “more exalted miracles.” It is then easy to conclude that scientific research on tongues is legitimate. We should also note that much of the research on tongues-speaking has been made possible by the cooperation of charismatics who consent to be observed, to have their speech recorded, and otherwise to participate in behavioral science experiments.2
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