The Language of Heaven - A Review
A Review by John Lathrop in Pneuma Review
October 17, 2019
Sam Storms has served the Lord in a number of different capacities. He is a pastor and has served as an associate professor of theology at a major Christian college. These experiences show that he has served the church in both the practical “grass roots” expression of Christianity in the local church and in the academic setting, where he has helped train people for Christian service. In addition, he has authored a number of books. Some of his previous works have dealt with the subject of spiritual gifts.
For example, he wrote The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts (Bethany House, 2013), Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist (Enjoying God Ministries, 2005), and Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Your Life (Zondervan, 2017). But this current volume is focused on the New Testament gift of speaking in tongues. As the author deals with this controversial subject, he brings pastoral sensitivity and theological precision to the task.
He dedicated this book to Jackie Pullinger, an English missionary, who has spent over fifty years in Hong Kong ministering to gang members, drug addicts, and prostitutes. The dedication of this volume to her is appropriate because Pullinger saw a dramatic change in her ministry when she began to pray in tongues on a daily basis. Before we look at the contents of the book, I would like to mention that Sam Storms does speak in tongues.
The Language of Heaven consists of an introduction and fourteen chapters. In these chapters Storms answers thirty questions that people often have about speaking in tongues. Some of the questions that he addresses are: “Does the gift of tongues always and invariably follow Spirit baptism as its initial physical evidence?”, “Are tongues always human languages previously unlearned by the speaker? If not, what kind of language is speaking in tongues?”, “Is tongues-speech primarily directed to men or to God?”, “Can a person pray for another person in uninterpreted tongues?”, and “If I don’t have the gift of tongues but want it, what should I do?”
In view of the fact that speaking in tongues is a controversial subject not everyone will agree with everything that Storms has written. For example, Storms believes that all Christians are baptized in the Holy Spirit when they are converted (page 13). Some Pentecostals may not share this view because they see the baptism in the Spirit as an experience received subsequent to salvation. I should note here that Storms does not think that this is something that Christians should divide about if they differ on this point (page 13).
Another thing that may surprise some Pentecostals and Charismatics is what the author says about the gift of tongues when it is used in the public assembly with the accompanying gift of the interpretation of tongues. He notes that the words Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 14 with regard to speaking in tongues are: pray, praise, and thanksgiving (pages 130-131). All of these are things that we address to God. We pray to God, we give praise to God, and we offer thanksgiving to God. So when tongues and the companion gift of the interpretation of tongues are used in the public assembly the “message” that comes forth should be a word to God, not a word from God. In my experience in various churches when the gifts of tongues and interpretation have been in operation, the “message” has typically been a word from God. What Storms has written will challenge the way that these gifts seem to function in some churches. Though we might be tempted to resist what Storms has written on this point, we need to remember that Scripture, not experience or tradition, should determine the practice of the church.