Monday, March 08, 2010

Cryptic language in glossolalia

In chapter 2 of his Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition, Simon Chan argues that glossolalia, as the most significant divinely given symbol, is the 'initial evidence' revealing the realness of God through the life-long sanctifying Spirit-driven lives of the believers. (72)

“Glossolalia mirrors the most important characteristic of the divine life. It is a life of love and self-giving between the Father and the Son, in which the Father initiates and the Son yields in humble obedience by the power of the Spirit” (52) A good point. However, there are many expressions such as prioritise the urgent physical needs of others that mirror such a life of love and self-giving. If the Son’s self-giving is ultimately an extension of grace to the inferior, then meeting an urgent need of the unfortunate mirrors better the divine life as compared to glossolalia.

Simon Chan emphasizes on the cryptic-ness of glossolalia functions as “symbol of a spiritual reality and is not just an arbitrary sign.” (53) He endorses Frank Macchia’s view that, “[T]ongues as a cryptic language revealed the unfathomable depth and ultimate eschatological fulfilment of all prophetic speech, pointing to both the limits and the meaning of the language of faith.” (52)

However, a perspective on revelation hardly provides allowance for the act of glossolalia and the cryptic-ness in that act to have such a central attention in their theological construct. This is especially so when glossolalia is seen under the category of prophetic speech. The very idea of revelation itself, the incarnation of the Son – the ultimate example of all prophetic speech as God’s own speech – suggests that ‘cryptic-ness’ is not the most characteristic of divine speech. Neither the act itself mirrors best the divine life, as shown in the second paragraph. The incarnation as the definitive divine speech is sufficiently intelligible and not cryptic to those who have responded positively to it, though we acknowledge that its full implication is still being grasped by the believing community.


Alex Tang said...

Glossolalia is not unique to the Christians only. It is present in many Mystery religions.

Sze Zeng,

Do you know where I may purchase a copy of this monograph? Does TTC bookstore have a copy? I have been trying to get a copy for some time.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Alex,

I'm still waiting for Simon's reply where to get a copy of his book besides ordering online. Will inform you when I get a reply.

Besides, do you have references to the practice of unintelligible tongues in other religions? I wanted to source for it but couldn't find it even on wikipedia.

Alex Tang said...

Of hand, I will refer you to the Oracle at Delphi which held sway over much of Greek and Roman civilisations and is the concern of Paul at Corinths.

Will look up the references for you.

Sze Zeng said...

Thank you for the reference and for looking up.


reasonable said...

Given the presence of "speaking in tongues" in other religions, and the centrality of intelligible revelation in the Christian worldview, the priority of love (the whole point of transformation of creation is the creation of a community of love to co-exist with Love), Dr Simon Chan might have over-valued the place of glossolalia.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

I get that impression too. However, I have emailed Dr. Chan my comment and waiting for his reply.

blogpastor said...

Here is a link to several essays written by an Asian theology lecturer, a Pentecostal himself, with all the various references you are asking for:

You will definitely find interesting stuff to lead you into heightened ecstasy.

Rahula said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

You told me you was born into a family that follow Chinese folks religion.

If this is so, then you must be aware of glossolalia practice in Chinese folks religion.

Try seraching "glossolalia" in google, you would find plenty of resources. In fact, in wikipedia itself, there are plenty of references.

In addition, I wouild like to point you to an article:

A Survey of Glossolalia and Related Phenomena in NonChristian Religions
L. Carlyle May
American Anthropologist (1956), Volume 58, Issue 1 (p 75-96)


Alex Tang said...

Thanks Blogpastor and Rahula for your links. May I add the following?

Glossolalia in the United Pentecostal Church International: language as a relationship
Council of Societies for the Study of Religion Bulletin 37 no 3 S 2008, p 64-6;

Reflective speech: glossolalia and the image of God
Pneuma 28 no 2 2006, p 189-201.

The experience of glossolalia and the spirit's empathy: Romans 8:26 revisited
Pneuma 25 no 1 Spr 2003, p 54-65.

Early Ecstatic Utterances and Glossolalia.
Perspectives in Religious Studies 24 no 1 Spr 1997, p 29-40.

Sundén's role theory and glossolalia.
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 26 no 3 S 1987, p 383-389.

Religious glossolalia : a longitudinal study of personality changes.
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 16 no 4 D 1977, p 383-393.

Nature of Corinthian glossolalia : possible options.
Westminster Theological Journal 40 no 1 Fall 1977, p 130-135.

Phonetic analysis of glossolalia in four cultural settings.
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 8 no 2 Fall 1969, p 227-239.

Glossolalia in the New Testament.
Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 7 no 2 Spr 1964, p 59-68.

Roberto said...

What's so divine about glossolalia? The actual descriptions of the gift of tongues in the New Testament correspond to xenoglossy which is actually speaking in previously unknown languages.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Roberto,

Thank you for the comment. You should pick Simon Chan's Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition.

In chapter two, he argues that glossolalia "makes the best sense when it is understood as signifying a reality which configures gracious and powerful affections in a distinctively Pentecostal way. Its truth must finally be seen in terms of transformed persons and communities." (p.41)

Simon also allude glossolalia to Karl Rahner's "primordial words" that "link us to primal reality which do not need further explanation." (51)

Overall, Simon gave a solid theological treatment on glossolalia which I have never encounter. It is worthwhile to look into it for those who are interested to see how glossolalia can be theologically comprehended.