Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Book Review: The Baptism with the Holy Spirit and the Value of Speaking in Tongues Today by Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts was born in 1918 and is an American leader in the Charismatic movement. He is a televangelist and also started a university that bears his name in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His book The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is basically a defense and explanation of being baptized by the Holy Spirit with an emphasis on the outflowing gift of tongues.

Roberts' theological positions reflect the fact that he is a leader in the Charismatic movement as he tries to prove from the Bible that being baptized with the Holy Spirit takes place after salvation and is accompanied by the gift of speaking in tongues. Using Acts 1:8 he argues that the baptism of the Spirit took place, for the disciples, on the day of Pentecost and should be a normative experience for all believers. Looking into the Greek word dunamis, translated in English as “power”, Roberts claims the word means “dynamite” and proves that “This power of the Holy Ghost is more explosive than the power experienced in salvation” (pp. 6, 9). Because of his understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit being post salvation, being years in his own experience (p. 8), Roberts believes that only after a person has been filled with the Spirit through baptism with the spirit are they able to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16; p. 45). As tongues was the natural evidence of baptism with the Holy Spirit, according to Roberts belief, he claims that the experience of speaking in tongues, “is one of the most revolutionary experiences that can happen to a believer” (p. 15) and is key for “experiencing a new aliveness in Christ” and for having a far more effective witness for Christ (p. 21). Roberts believes instructing believers who are unaware of how the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues works is very beneficial and attempts to do so in his book, instructing believers who have never spoken in tongues with words such as these: “As the welling up comes again to you, open your mouth and submit your tongue to God” (p. 35).

Academically Roberts does a better job in the beginning of the book than at the end. He really seems to be trying to get his ideas from the Word and draw conclusions based on what is in the text. Although his reference to the Greek word dunamis and his claim that it means “dynamite” (pp. 6, 9) cuts negatively into his credibility, being that dynamite didn't exist at the time the New Testament was being written. Roberts' effort to come to his beliefs biblically is commendable, but he seems to contradict this effort at times. Speaking of the process by which he evaluated a certain idea he says, “I immediately began to examine it; first by God's Word, next by the experiences of myself and others” (p. 29). But he seems to ignore this process later when he goes on to build a major argument for how the receive the Holy Spirit by a claiming that Peter's sermon in Acts 2 was “probably an abbreviated form of Peter's sermon” (p. 33), and then goes on to add in details that he feels Peter would have spoken. Beyond this, in a section devoted to explaining what the “gift” that the Paul refers to in 2 Timothy 1:6 was, he has a series of “if” statements and then acts as though he proved his point (pp. 46-47). Logically, his argument does not prove to be very strong.

Personally I was impressed with some of Roberts' statements regarding the priority of the Bible and preaching (p. 20), but overall found most of his arguments hard to buy, being that they were mostly based on experience, not the Word of God. One of the most sobering piece of information Roberts gave this: “Every morning when I waken, the Holy Spirit and I begin the day by praying in tongues” (p. 43). He seems to almost to place himself on the same level of causal power as the Holy Spirit and made me think of the words of Moses, “shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” (Num. 20:10). Roberts seems to be genuine in his desire to know God and in his understanding of his need for a Savior, but it seems that he has let his experience cloud his mind and cause him to interpret the Scripture to fit his own fancies. People can be sincere, and sincerely wrong (a common phrase of Dr. Rosscup one of my professors at TMS).


Ben said...

Seriously. For charismatics, it's speaking in tongues. For catholics, it might be the Eucharist. For protestants, it might be the "exact beliefs". It reminds me of gnosticism ... the whole "secret knowledge" thing. Thank goodness that the mystery has been revealed in Christ: God's love. As he has loved us, so let us love one another. Giving primacy to anything else is a mistake. Is Oral Roberts the school with the interracial dating rule? Or was that Bob Jones? Eck. Naming a university after yourself is another bad sign.

Danny Slavich said...

Interesting. Does he mention his massive hospital for world healing that never got more than two floors of people into it (something like 50 stories, I think)...