Those of you who have followed this blog for any length of time know that I am not in favor of the new IMB policy passed about a year ago eliminating from consideration for missionary service those who admit to having a “private prayer language.” As I have also stated here previously, I personally do not have a “private prayer language.” I do, however, believe in the continued validity, until the return of Christ, of all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament. This includes the possibility of a legitimate “private prayer language,” which may be something other than a “known human language.”
A stereotype exists in the minds of certain Christians, leading them to suppose that those who claim to find Scriptural warrant for the continuation of all of the spiritual gifts do so out of a need to justify their personal experience of “speaking in tongues.” I can assure you that is not the case with me.
Since my youth, I have been interested in the topic of spiritual gifts, especially as manifested in the Charismatic Renewal movement, both because I have seen how different views on this subject have divided conservative evangelical believers who are in agreement on practically every other issue, as well as because of the great impact Christians who believe in and practice miraculous gifts have made towards world evangelization. This interest has led me to do a thorough study on this topic, with the intention of being as objective as possible in my interpretation of Scripture. I have read many books and articles on both (and sometimes more than two) sides of the various issues involved. I have carefully studied the texts of the Bible that are related in one way or another to this topic. Although I will be the first to admit that my understanding of Scripture is far from infallible, I have no problem in affirming, on the basis of my investigation, my belief in the continuation of all of the spiritual gifts, not only as a possibility, but as a reality today.
I do not, however, consider myself to be either Charismatic or Pentecostal in my theology. I do not believe that all Christians should seek for the gift of tongues. I do not believe that speaking in tongues is the sign of a supposed post-conversion “baptism in the Spirit.” I do share some doctrinal views with what many have termed the “Third Wave” movement, yet, at the same time, feel uncomfortable with many of the extreme practices that have sometimes accompanied this movement.
Up until the announcement of the new policy last year, “private prayer language” was not a major item on my “radar screen.” Perhaps my understanding of Scripture has led me to be somewhat more open to fellowship with some on the more Charismatic/Pentecostal/Third Wave side of the spectrum than some of my other colleagues in the IMB, or others in the SBC at large. Beyond this, however, I consider myself to be very much in the “mainstream” of current conservative evangelical Southern Baptist life. I have never sensed my views on this topic to have caused any conflict whatsoever with my missionary colleagues.
However, my conviction on the biblical soundness of my beliefs in this area, as well as my concern over the negative effect of this new policy, have led me to speak out more and more on this issue. In addition to the various posts on this blog (here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) related in one way or another, I have also commented frequently on several other blogs, several of which take positions in support of the new policy and against a bibical interpretation that allows for the continued practice of a “private prayer language” in today’s Church. These include Brad Reynolds, Jerry Corbaley, Baptist Theologue, and Bart Barber (here, here, here, and here). Rob Westbrook, on whose blog I also commented, takes a different view. Many of my personal views based on my study of Scripture can be found on my comments on these posts.
I have not yet taken the time to write a thorough biblical defense of my view. However, of the many different people writing on this topic on the blogosphere, one person stands out in my mind as doing an extremely admirable job of representing a position that, to date, is almost exactly, if not exactly, the view that I hold. That person is Alan Cross.
Alan is currently working on a series of posts that gives a more thorough, systematic defense of the view I, and others like me, hold. I strongly recommend that you read Alan’s first three posts that are available here, here, and here, and continue reading as he posts more information in the coming days.
I also think Dwight McKissic does an excellent job of presenting essentially the same view (with the exception that he actually claims to have a "private prayer language") here and here.
In case this post sparks anyone’s interest in doing a more in-depth study of this question, I recommend the book The Kingdom and the Power, edited by Gary S. Greig and Kevin N. Springer. I do not agree with every single thing written here, but it does give a more in-depth review of various issues associated with the Third Wave movement from a more scholarly perspective than many other books on the subject.
What is the purpose of this post? To lead you to seek after a "private prayer language"? No. I believe that is entirely between you and God. To convince you of the continualist interpretation? Not so much as to at least convince you that the continualist interpretation is not incompatible with a high view of biblical authority, nor with continued participation in Southern Baptist life, and service with the International Mission Board. If after giving an honest, objective study of these questions, you come down on the side of not accepting the legitimacy of "private prayer language," I can respect that, and have no problem working together with you to help see the Great Commission fulfilled, as long as you can respect those who hold the same view as me, and work together with us. Another purpose is I would like to see as many people as possible read Alan Cross's posts.