Who: Denzil (Denny) R. Miller, missionary to Malawi and director of the Acts in Africa Initiative. Miller saw that evangelism was alive and well in Africa, but very few African pastors were being discipled about the filling and gifts Holy Spirit, so this has been his primary ministry focus for some years. He has many books on the Holy Spirit and on Luke-Acts.
Overview: This brief book begins with Miller’s take on early Pentecostal missionaries, who thought that the gift of tongues was for the “regions beyond,” and that when they got to China, they could evangelize using the gift of tongues. Needless to say, they were mistaken; but, Miller says, the thrust of the idea was correct, and we need to return to a missional understanding of the Holy Spirit in general and of the gift of tongues in particular. He writes:
“While the early Pentecostals’ bold experiment with missionary tongues was a failure, they were, I believe, right to place speaking in tongues into missiological categories.” (Loc. 1129)
Meat: I thought that this book would deal primarily with “missionary tongues,” but, after Chapter 1, the rest of the book (six chapters) is about shifting our understanding of tongues and of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. For many Pentecostals, tongues are the “initial physical evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit.” Miller agrees with this, but he adds the following:
- Tongues are confirmatory evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit.
- Tongues are a missional sign that the believer is a Spirit-empowered witness.
- Tongues are a prophetic release for Christians desiring boldness to preach to the unreached.
- Tongues are an empowering element for Christians living in mission.
If we think of tongues only as a confirmatory evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit, we have missed the place of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in God’s global mission. “For Luke tongues were part and parcel of the empowering experience.” (Loc. 971)
Miller quotes Martin Kähler as stating that “mission is the mother of theology” and John V. York on “theology with feet”. He writes that our pneumatology (i.e. doctrine of the Holy Spirit) should be reformed around Scripture to include not just an individualistic edificational tongues (from 1 Cor. 12-14), but also Luke’s empowering tongues.
Interestingly, before the modern Pentecostal movement, the Cambridge Seven (including C. T. Studd) and A. B. Simpson expected a renewal of missional tongues as an accompaniment and empowerment for end-times revival.
After the early Pentecostals’ failed experiment in missional tongues, “the movements’ scholars set themselves to reexamining their stance on the nature and purpose of speaking in tongues . . . [leading to] among other things, the emergence of the ‘initial physical evidence’ construct still held by most Classical Pentecostals today.” (loc. 230)
Miller notes the significane of other forms of prophetic speech accompanying the filling of the Holy Spirit; Acts contains a pattern of speaking in tongues immediately followed by Spirit-inspired speech in the vernacular. Miller uses this as a model when praying with believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Bones: Honestly I could not think of any criticisms. Miller is concise and biblical.
Quotes: “The Classical Pentecostal doctrine of ‘initial physical evidence,’ while true in itself, is an incomplete understanding of Luke’s missional presentation of tongues.” (Loc. 136)
“In Acts Luke presents Spirit baptism as a powerful missions oriented experience accompanied by Spirit-inspired prophetic speech in both unlearned and learned languages.” (Loc. 942)
“This missional empowering takes place, not only when one is first baptized in the Holy Spirit signified by speaking in tongues, it occurs again and again each time the Spirit-filled believer prays in the Spirit.” (Loc. 1001)
Related: The 1:8 Promise of Jesus.