Rethinking Tongues: An Appeal to St. Augustine?

Whose side was St. Augustine really on?  Since the times of St. Augustine, it seems like everyone appeals to him for some kind of approval as they engage Christian theology: the Roman Catholics, Calvinists/Reformed, Amillennialists, and now aCharismatics/Cessationists.

In his case against Charismatics, C. Michael Patton finds himself quoting St. Augustine especially against tongues:

“In the earliest time the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spoke with tongues which they had not learned ‘as the Spirit gave them utterance.’ These were signs adapted to the time. For it was proper for the Holy Spirit to evidence Himself in all tongues, and to show that the Gospel of God had come to all tongues [languages] over the whole earth. The thing was done for an authentication and it passed away.” (Ten Homilies on the first Epistle of John VI, 10).  Source…

But St. Augustine was also amillennianial (in fact, he was the one who really got the position going).  But get this: C. Michael Patton is dispensationalist.  You see what is happening here: Mr. Patton has appealed to St. Augustine conveniently.

St. Augustine should have been left alone.

By appealing to St. Augustine against Charismatic, Mr. C. Michael Patton has done himself and his case a great disservice.

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35 Responses to Rethinking Tongues: An Appeal to St. Augustine?

  1. Brian LePort says:

    I don’t mind Patton using Augustine to show that there may have been prominent Christian theologians in the past who understood the gifts as he does. Such a use needs to be seen for what it is though. It is an appeal to authority to justify the plausibility that one can affirm this position respectably within the Christian tradition. In other words, he is showing he is not alone, batty, or heretical.

    What it does not do is prove anything further. As you noted, Augustine’s eschatology amongst other things can be used for the same thing but it proves very little regarding the right or wrong of the matter. Augustine was wrong about plenty of things.

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    • T.C. R says:

      Brian,

      Perhaps if Patton had cited how Augustine wrestled with a few texts to come to his acharismatic conclusion, then, I believe, the quote would have commended itself.

      What then should be made of this appeal to Augustine since “it proves very little regarding the right or wrong of the matter”?

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  4. Marc Cortez says:

    Brian, it may be that Patton was merely trying to show that his position was not without support in the early church. But the implicit rhetorical thrust of appealing to a theologian of Augustine’s stature is to show that he’s on Patton’s side. And, that’s where the problem comes in. Since a theological claim like this is nested within the broader fabric of a person’s theology, we shouldn’t simply pull out one strand like this and wield it selectively. And, since Patton and Augustine are operating with quite different theological frameworks, he needs to exercise due diligence to make sure that he is handling Augustine’s theology carefully. Just using the same words does not entail theological agreement.

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  5. T.C. R says:

    Marc Cortez :

    But the implicit rhetorical thrust of appealing to a theologian of Augustine’s stature is to show that he’s on Patton’s side. And, that’s where the problem comes in. Since a theological claim like this is nested within the broader fabric of a person’s theology, we shouldn’t simply pull out one strand like this and wield it selectively. And, since Patton and Augustine are operating with quite different theological frameworks, he needs to exercise due diligence to make sure that he is handling Augustine’s theology carefully. Just using the same words does not entail theological agreement.

    Marc,

    Thanks for this. It reveals how problematic this quote really is.

    Like

  6. Brad says:

    My Views on Cessationist Teachings:

    I speak in tongues on a regular basis, and I’m not crazy.

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  7. Pingback: Michael Patton on Why He Is Not a Charismatic « To Be Continued…

  8. Why, apparently did the gifts fall of the radar screen in the post New Testament era? Can it all be attributed to Roman institutionalism?

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    • ScottL says:

      Kyle – This is a possibility, and I also think this could possibly be why women were cut out of a lot of ministry/leadership. But there are plenty of church fathers who believed in the continuation of the charismata of 1 Corinthians 12. Here is a recent article I posted quoting five well-known church fathers.

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  9. Pingback: Michael Patton on Why He Is Not a Charismatic « The Prodigal Thought

  10. ScottL says:

    I’m not sure if it is inherently wrong to appeal to one person for his pneumatology, but not for his eschatology. I find certain people very helpful in some areas and not so helpful in others. I think it ok.

    Still, interestingly enough, Augustine had changed ‘sides’ by the end of his life, moving more into continuationism as he could testify of great miracles in the latter years of his life. I don’t have the quote on me this moment, but hopefully tomorrow I can post some interesting words of Augustine.

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  11. Steve Skinner says:

    I wonder how many of us would cease reading Stott because he is an Annihilationist? We must not succumb to the temptation of devaluing whole doctrinal systems because we do not agree with one aspect of said persons belief.

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  12. T.C. R says:

    Steve,

    Good point. Perhaps that’s why it’s better to engage purely at the biblical level on these matters.

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  13. Bryan says:

    Hmm. In all due respect, I don’t think your argument holds up… that would be saying that I can never quote a premillenial theologian because I’m amill…you need to show that Augustine’s amill beliefs -lead- to his cessationist position. As it is, the argument is a fallacy called “guilt by association.”

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    • T.C. R says:

      Bryan,

      In all due respect, if Patton had demonstrated through sound biblical exegesis, and had shown the same in Augustine, then, yes. But he simply appeals to Augustine as some authority a priori. That is my contention.

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      • Bryan says:

        Yes, and as Brian pointed out above, that’s an appeal to authority. Which is Mr. Patton’s fallacy. But as you phrase it, your argument is grounded in Augustine’s millennial view. Because Augustine believes A (amillennial) and B (cessationism), and Mr. Patton agrees with B, but believes A’ instead of A, we should reject his argument.

        But that doesn’t hold. Just because Augustine believes A does not mean he is wrong in B, unless his belief in A leads to his belief in B. Mr. Patton disagrees with his belief in A, but because there is no link between A and B, he is free to agree in B.

        In the end, the fact that it’s an appeal to authority is evident, and that should be the grounds of disagreement with his argument as stated.

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  14. “amillennianial”???

    What strange eschatological position of old is this that Saint Augustine held?
    Was it part of the authentication that passed away?

    Just teasing, TC. Good post. You can’t pick and choose in your appeal. But, perhaps Patton has other good reasons for his views, but here he is simply trying to broaden his support base. If that’s the case, I don’t think that’s too horrible. If you had a position that you felt you had proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and then added, “and by the way, even St. Augustine who was not Pre-Mill agrees with me on the issue,” that wouldn’t be totally out of line. You follow me?

    Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

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    • T.C. R says:

      Mailman,

      But Patton hadn’t “proven beyond a reasonable doubt” his position and then added, “…”

      He should have deferred his use of St. Augustine until such time. ;-)

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  15. Kevin Sam says:

    If Patton quotes Augustine to back up his cessationist point of view, he is being very selective. Maybe he ought to quote what Tertullian has to say about the spiritual gifts too? Tertullian was once part of the Montanist sect that practiced the spiritual gifts of prophecy.

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  16. ScottL says:

    T.C. –

    You should read City of God, Book 22, Chapter 8. The link takes you to the book via the early church father’s posted online at http://www.ccel.org/fathers.html.

    Just a word before reading Augustine’s words. He does refer to miracles and healings via relics. That might be challenging to many evangelicals. I am not closed to such, knowing how things of biblical times were not always done within our prescribed framework: Jesus had a spitting ministry at times with healing, Isaiah walked around naked for quite a while, Elijah’s bones raised a man, handkerchiefs and aprons for healing. But it is interesting to read Augustine’s testimony in those words near the latter years of his life.

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  17. Richard says:

    What I would suspect Patton is trying to say is that if by the time of St. Augustine tongues had ceased then it adds strength to the cessationist position. I think his is more an historical argument than theological. I know that when I appeal to the Church Fathers on this it is to say, “Look they did not find it happening during their time hence it must have ceased”. They are then not being cited as an authority but an historical witness to the fact that tongues had ceased by 400 AD at the latest. Indeed, if one reads the commentaries of the Reformers not one take the Charismatic position, why? Because there were no tongues being used at the time.

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    • T.C. R says:

      Kevin,

      That is why I found Patton’s quote problematic.

      ScottL,

      Thanks for the links. Perhaps we should quit trying to box God in through our neat propositions. ;-)

      Richard,

      I’m sure you’re aware that John Calvin writes of tongues in his times.

      But I do appreciate a quote being “historal witness” rather than a theological argument.

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      • Kohlberg says:

        “Thanks for the links. Perhaps we should quit trying to box God in through our neat propositions.” :)

        That will be the day! We have so much trouble simply letting God be God.

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  18. ScottL says:

    Richard –

    Yes, you are right. Patton was looking more at an historical argument here than a biblical argument.

    The thing is that Augustine had changed his mind by the end of his life, for he had seen some 70 miracles and healings take place over a period of 2 years. You can see this in his City of God, Book 22, ch.8, which I left a link in the comment above.

    Also, there are plenty of early church fathers that referenced miracles, healings, prophecies, and other gifts of the Spirit, as I point out in this article at my blog.

    Finally, a good resource to consider is Ronald Kydd’s Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church.

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  19. Chris Stiles says:

    One problem with charismata is that it’s hard to verify that the gifts as seen today are in fact the gifts as described in Acts and Paul’s Epistles.

    This is compounded in the case of tongues as their contemporary presence appears to be identical to the universal phenomanae of glossalalia – which additionally appears to be a skill it’s possible to learn.

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  21. Marc Cortez says:

    Richard, you may well be right that this was intended as more of a historical argument. If that’s the case, hen it definitely functions with a different kind of logic.

    But I think some of the other comments here missed the thrust of the criticism. If Patton is using this as a theological argument (i.e. Augustine’s on my side), then T.C. is right to ask about whether he’s doing justice to the theological framework within which Augustine makes the claim. The point isn’t that you can’t agree with one part of a person’s theology and disagree with some other part, we do that all the time. The point is that before you do this, you need to make sure that you’ve understood both issues within the person’s overall theology. Only then can you be sure that you’ve understood either claim adequately enough to agree/disagree with it or use it in a theological argument.

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  23. Marc Cortez says:

    In case you’re interested, I’ve tried to unpack my argument a bit more here.

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    • T.C. R says:

      Chris,

      It’s that verification that is so challenge, hence, Patton’s appeal to his own experience.

      Marc,

      Precisely my point on the matter.

      But perhaps Patton wasn’t too clear on his use of Augustine. ;-)

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  26. Craig Benno says:

    Interesting issue about Augustine in the city of God is that he makes a case for the full manisfestation of all the gifts of the spirit being used in his day. Healings, deliverance, prophecy, etc…and that it was the lay people and not the clergy using those gifts.
    Augustine says that he has a low opinion of tongues, not that he dismisses them.
    What makes me cringe more is those cessationists who will use Augustine to make the point against tongues, but not acknowledge his experiential stance regarding the other gifts.

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