Power in your mouth- Chapter in a new book (feschrift)

Power in Your Mouth 1 Del Tarr

This essay purports to link two conceptual ideas for the reader:
First, introducing perhaps a little known “spiritual gift” of the person this feschrift honors, the charismatic gift of prophecy in public meetings.
Second, linking prophecy to the topic of the oral/aural world of communication as existed and practiced by the ancient cultures and historical settings of the Bible. Westerners (First-World) peoples of the last two hundred years, especially, know little of the pre-literate world that still exists as the majority population. Our culture of wild digital electronic marvels all but prohibits this understanding.

My administrative position as Dr. Gary McGee’s CEO for many years allowed me to observe and encourage his known capacity as a word smith and teacher, and to observe that added grace of the prophetic oral inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the benefit of student, faculty, and the greater church world. This topic of “oralness” on which this essay is centered would not have been possible for me but for the privilege of having learned and employed in ministry two preliterate vernacular languages of West Africa during a 20-year period. (Mori of Burkina Faso and Eve of Togo).


A visual demonstration of “showing” and auditory “speaking” are equally communicative. An example of this is depicted every time the Table of the Lord is observed in worship and obedience. In essence, when the bread and the cup are displayed and made visible/available in public and observable by anyone and everyone present, the scene represents a visual illustration of God’s loving sacrifice and presence. The visible demonstration of the Eucharist is saying: “This is what our God is like.” “Our creator God who wants to redeem us as well as partner with us…is like this”… ,


The rather magical story of Moses holding up the “rod of the Lord” over his head with the help of Aaron and Hur seems strange until one perceives the symbolism of that piece of wood (rod) in that scene as representing the power of God. “The rod of the Lord” symbolized: This is what our God is like.” (Like the elements of Communion.) The miraculous piece of wood was to become a snake, eat up the other snakes, to be waved in the air to produce lice, flies, frogs and even cause the death angel’s plague to definitively define God’s power to deliver His people from the hand of Pharaoh. In fact, how else can we justify the severe punishment of the Lord on Moses’ latter misuse of that rod when he struck the rock twice instead of speaking to the rock for water in the desert as he was commanded. That surprising punishment deprived him of entering into the land to which he had painfully led the Israelites for over 40 years! Surprising, no? Unless we understand that the Lord must have seen the misuse of the rod as: “This is NOT what your God is like.”


Remember the words of Jesus to Peter in Matt 16? “Blessed are you, son of Jonah…” after he had identified, for the first time from the mouths of the apostles, the true and proper identity of the Messiah. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” I believe we can demonstrate that God loves it when humans properly identify Him – and to the contrary He punishes those who take His name in vain.

Let’s study this closely: When Peter responds for the disciples to answer Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter was saying, “You, Jesus, are not just a man, like were all the prophets. You are the incarnate God-Man like no other!” And perhaps neither the apostles, nor any historian, nor we in this advanced age where knowledge has increased to an unprecedented degree can yet totally comprehend the mystery of the Incarnation!

So what have we seen? Both man’s physical symbols to which he attributes the meaning of words (the elements of communion), OR the old rod of Moses used to symbolize God’s power of deliverance, OR the very spoken words of a man properly describing God’s essence results in blessing and deliverance when true, or punishment when misused.

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)


Gary McGee is known as an author of renown. This feschrift is tribute to his writing and teaching skills. But the reader should know of another “gift” he manifested. The gift of prophecy as defined in the Apostle Paul’s writings to the Corinthian Church (1 Cor. 12-14).
Upon accepting the presidency of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (1990 to 1999) I had come with the intense desire to accelerate the Seminary’s emphasis on a distinctive most other seminaries could not or would not emphasize. This related to the world of Pentecostalism. Upon suggesting the motto of “Knowledge on Fire” to describe AGTS as a theological institution, the faculty was challenged to explore and engage in the Apostle’s challenge: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy”. (1 Cor. 14:1) A number of the faculty did indeed join in my own search and expectation for us all. It was Gary McGee, who in a few months, began to electrify our chapel services from time to time with a growing surrender to the heart of God in both foretelling and forth telling that best describe this gift. I honor McGee for both his gifts of writing and Spirit inspired oralness that seldom are exhibited in one person to the extent we witnessed.

When the Bible speaks about the mouth and tongue, it almost always refers to ORAL speech (language), not written words. Speech used to mean something much more powerful than it means in our “literate” world. Because of Gutenberg’s printing marvel which changed the world as significantly as any invention until the computer, oral speech has become downgraded to “hearsay.” Today, we don’t just want someone’s word, we want it in print and hopefully signed and witnessed by a notary public!! But when Jesus said: “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:37), He was referring to the gravity of oral speech. A man’s words used to be his bond, often sealed with a handshake. The thesis of this essay is that God’s Word (oral and sometimes later written) should be seen from the context of the world in which it was spoken and later compiled. God’s Word was first heard as oral speech (inspiration), seldom, if ever, read from a manuscript or book until later. There is a strong predisposition to what is oral/aural in the Bible relating to a prophet’s inspiration in God’s dealings with mankind. This paper submits that hyper-literate, textual societies and cultures have lost, by default, the very idea of oralness since the predominance of what is written has displaced God’s use of both oral and written means of communication. That is not because He discredits things in print – no. He even commanded that certain things be written down (Ex. 17:14; Deut. 17:18; Jer. 30:2, etc.). Rather, it’s because the majority of the people living in the culture of biblical inspiration were basically illiterate (our definition), AND even more importantly, God has always wanted His people to have fresh, extemporaneous, non-textbook contemporary inspiration even when they HAVE written texts available, which I hope to show below. Is it possible God still lays more importance on speech than we do today?
Modern Communication Theory and the prophetic gifts of the Spirit as spoken by the prophet Isaiah give us insight and biblical precision to our thesis.
“As for me, this is my covenant (promise) with them, says the Lord. My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 59:21)
For the ancient pre-literate world, the mouth was understood to be the source of social power because human speech is at the top of the communication chain. In every culture from time immemorial, a clan’s spokesperson or “wordsmith,” whose speech could not be ignored, was recognized as one of the most powerful individuals and often to be feared. Every African chief or Indian Mogul had his “interlocuteur” that demanded the attention of the masses. The “mouth person” spoke for the titular head of the clan or city or state. Even if the political leader was a good speaker, he deferred to the expert because of his command of the language that exploited every idiom and nuance of the words he chose. The prophecy above from Isaiah is about a covenant from God to oralness and speech. It is something superior in its communicative power by its extemporaneous directness.
One must not relegate this covenant to just an Old Testament dispensation and therefore disregard it in today’s world and theological era called “grace” of the New Testament. How is that? Because this is the indisputable scriptural essence that the apostle Peter cited in the New Testament on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:17-18; 39. He was standing in the temple witnessing God’s miracle, exactly as Jesus had recently predicted noticing that people’s mouths were being very busy! “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call,” relating to the “in your mouth and mouths of your children, and from this time on and forever, says the Lord ” of the Isaiah passage.2 Theologians in the early middle ages and the Reformed Theologians after them, rejected an important prophecy and thus refused to embrace the second half of John the Baptist’s duel prophetic pronouncement in John’s gospel chapter one:
First: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” ( John 1:29)
Second: “…He is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit,” John 1:33 (“and with fire” Luke 3:16). Why has the Christian world largely embraced the first prophetic words and neglected the second? (He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.)
A major part of the answer, I submit, is related to oral communication sometimes inspired by God’s Spirit, and sometimes via the memory banks of the human mind and sometimes both, in timing and context.
Bible times, like today’s “two-thirds world”, had vast areas where illiterate people outnumbered those who could read and write. Our “first world” culture now has five centuries of print literacy (since Guttenberg) in the West that blinds us to a cultural orientation of the Bible. (It’s amazing how many valuable texts on hermeneutics ignore this fact.) The ancient Hebrew world, during the time of the Old Testament writings, was not literate like we know today. It was only slightly better during New Testament times. (A “scribe” was someone of rare and unusual skills who made his living by writing for those who could not read or write.)
Oral communication and written communication are quite dissimilar in some respects, even when they originate from the same person! I’m not talking about grammar or punctuation – obviously, but something much more significant and powerfully important. Mono-linguistic people (like Anglos in the USA), who know no pre-literate people or their languages may perceive this contrasting dimension of reality with difficulty. We are today an expanding “textual,” “literate,” people of books, newspapers, street signs, magazines, Kindles, smart phones, and, in spite of the recent electronic media of all descriptions we are still dependent on reading. Our 500 years of “print literacy” is a very different world than the culture of the Bible.
Before the marvels of communicating by electronics, the available channels of communication besides oral speech, were drums, smoke signals, reflecting mirrors, cannon shots, lantern signals, etc. and were subject to severe limitations. In The Responsive Chord, Tony Schwartz speaks of the problem of communications by a pre-technological society as we know it today. Napoleon established a network of 224 line-of-sight semaphore stations spanning over 1000 miles. The coded message using flags had to be repeated accurately at each station for the correct message to get through. The chance of an error was quite high.3
THE WEST IGNORES ORAL-EDUCATION LITERACY (What difference does it make?)
North Americans assume that print-literacy is the only definition of the term “literate” and the idea of “oral-literacy” (competency in speech) seems an oxymoron. It’s because they confuse literacy with being educated in the Western model. Only that which is “in print” is the highest form of communication. We invest heavily in schools, books, and written records. We marginalize the non-literate. Those who insist on “literacy” over everything, find it difficult to accept the truth that people do not need to be literate before they can become Christian.4
In a chapter on “Cultural Assumptions of Western Missionaries,” anthropologist Paul Heibert 5 describes how hundreds of years of print literacy makes us unconscious of how the other half of the world communicates. We assume they are like us. When we do, it affects the way we study the Word of God and the way we share it.
“We think that our studies of the Bible are unbiased, that our own interpretations of the Scriptures are the only true ones. It disturbs us, therefore, when we begin to discover that theologies are also influenced by culture…All human theologies are only partial understandings of Theology as God sees it. We see through a glass darkly.” 6

For hundreds of years up until now, anyone who was not “literate” according to this definition was the object of discrimination. This increased the way our society valued the linear process.7 Our linear bias, I contend, makes it difficult to understand people from preliterate auditory cultures where the spoken word is still the only word. This is an issue few Bible scholars address.
Print literacy encourages an emphasis on systems. To organize (systematize, create retrieval engines and databases) requires systems. This in turn fosters rational thought by divorcing ideas from feelings! Oral societies live with a constant direct tie to information and the emotional content of those they interact with. No printed page carries the emotional impact of an oral presentation because of the lack of the non-verbal elements of communication, which accompanies the oral medium (such as vocalics – the impact of the voice on meaning; kinesics – the part that gestures and facial expression play on the total package; occulesics – the vivid effect of the use of the eyes in face-to-face dialogue; haptics – the communication of touch; proxemics – the communication of the use and abuse of personal space, etc. ) 8 Almost NONE of these elements are available in written communication. In fact, the experts in human communication tell us that 65 percent of what we communicate in a dialogue is not related to words!9
The difference is simple: Not understanding oralness restricts our understanding of the Charismata, prejudices the illiterate oral peoples of the world (more than half), and distorts our receptivity to one of the important ways of how God wants to interact with us, His children! IS THAT IMPORTANT OR WHAT?— YOU THINK?!
Paul Hiebert quotes Walter Ong explaining how this Western emphasis on a visual/print world has its roots in Greek philosophy:
“Plato’s ideas launched the new world, the opposite of the old, which his attacks on the poets proscribed. The old [oral] world had made much of man’s activities and of human struggle as the focus or axis of all reality. Where the old world had been warm and human, Plato’s “ideas” or “forms”… were cold and abstract. The world had been mobile, and event-full, and its oral narrative was a swirl of exciting activity. In contrast, Plato’s new ideas were motionless, a-historical; where the old view had held all knowledge in a concrete human setting, the new traced everything to the abstract, the other-worldly, the totally objective, the fixed, modeled on an immobile figure visualized on a motionless field.”10

The crowning achievement of this predisposition was print literacy and, consequently, the attachment to the written word – whether in education, politics, law, or the religious world. Soon after Gutenberg’s printing press changed the world, orality became suspect by the industrialized world. However, the majority of the world’s population, even in the twenty-first century, is “illiterate” and live in oral societies where what happens (real events) are the grist of cognition and social communicative interaction. This fact is hidden from North Americans in general. As a people, we have “bought into” the myth that literacy makes us superior people – a part of our extreme ethnocentricity.
ATTENTION: I do not suggest that the oral extemporaneous Gifts of the Spirit replace or depreciate God’s written Word! God wants and needs both. THE CHURCH (bishops, priests, pastors, leaders) cut off the in breaking of the Spirit because He was too dangerous!! They couldn’t predict and control the charismata – they couldn’t fit the Spirit into the bulletin (!) THEY wanted control.
Oral societies are highly organized (surprise!) but in ways we can hardly fathom with the textual/literate mind. All peoples have similar building blocks to cognition, but they prioritize those blocks differently. The mode is highly interactive between speaker and listener. One can’t talk to a book (and expect a response) but one can interact with concrete human experiences told verbally and in one’s “hearing.” (Today we call this “real time.”) Communication in oral societies is not in abstractions, or in a monologue between reader and the printed page, but in dialogue form – consequentially so much more personal. Writing divorces a message from the messenger. Why is that? We read and trust even if we know nothing about the author/writer. Thus we use abstractions to form ideas and formulate dogma, independent of whether he/she who wrote the words is worthy of our trust. This happens rarely in oral societies where what is uttered is compared with the speaker’s known personality and reputation. North Americans value print and assume it is the highest form of literacy.
And here lies one of the problems with “tongues and prophecy” and some other charismata. They are not literate! They are oral expressions in communication under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. A modern society fixated on literacy has great difficulty accepting their legitimacy. A literate society encourages rational thought even at the expense of feelings – in fact, feelings are generally seen as suspect and should be divorced from ideas. This is why Jesus hit the scribes with John 5:37-39.
“…His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen; and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent. You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me…”
They had the velum manuscripts which they “searched,” but they had abandoned and killed the prophets and resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51-52). Priests never have liked prophets! It only took 300 years after the resurrection before the apostolic church, too, no longer had “God putting words in their mouths, or their children’s mouths” – even though God never wanted it to stop.
Look what Plato and Aristotle, and subsequently Thomas Aquinas, have done to the New Testament model of life in the Spirit which was almost totally oral/aural oriented.
Listen to a missionary of a very conservative Evangelical denomination working with a remote African tribe who after 20 years has only one congregation of 120 members which he pastors himself. He writes to “scold” his Pentecostal sister in America. “Lorraine, I hope you won’t be offended by what I’m going to say next:”
“We believe God has made it clear that all prophesies are contained in the Bible.
There are no more ‘new prophesies’ or ‘words from the Lord’ coming to people
today. When we say we received ‘messages from God’ we have by-passed His
appointed means of communicating to us, the Bible alone.” (From a Sept 3,
2010 Facebook exchange. The personalities omitted for obvious reasons.)
How sad to see that this good brother who is working in a country where a sister Pentecostal church is working and is training African pastors who together have a constituency of over 200,000 believers, in less than 20 years. This Evangelical cessationist believes he is protecting the Scriptures, in fact he is choking them!
Paul the apostle said “not to put out the Spirit’s fire” (I Thess. 5:19). Interesting this “fire” metaphor and how often it is repeated in the New Testament. Harvey Cox shows a good diversification between Evangelical Fundamentalists and Pentecostals relating to the issue of the “literate” mind:
“I also learned that it is a serious mistake to equate Pentecostals with Fundamentalists. They are not the same. Fundamentalists attach such unique authority to the letter of the verbally inspired Scripture that they are suspicious of the Pentecostals’ stress on the immediate experience of the Spirit of God. This should not be surprising. Text-oriented believers in any religion tend to be scared of mystics. However, this does not mean that Pentecostalism does not embody a complex of religious ideas and insights. It does. The difference is that while the beliefs of the Fundamentalists, and of many other religious groups, are enshrined in formal theological systems, those of Pentecostalism are imbedded in testimonies, ecstatic speech, and bodily movement. But it is a theology, a full-blown religious cosmos, an intricate system of symbols that respond to the perennial questions of human meaning and value. The difference is that, historically, Pentecostals have felt more at home singing their theology, or putting it in pamphlets for distribution on street corners. Only recently have they begun writing books about it.”11

Pentecostals and Charismatics believe the renewal of the gifts of the Spirit in religious worship and mission is a return to the oralness of the original New Testament model. What part of that rejection is related to a misunderstanding about oralness by literate minded churchmen and women, even today?
No one would question the value of “fixating” communication in written form where it can be stored, compared unchanged after hundreds of years, while oralness may quite easily be redefined or shifted in content. (But let’s be serious – written accounts of anything can and are often changed by political [read religious] “editors.”) Yes, literacy is extremely valuable – we can’t go back. But we can examine what it has done to a valuable language system, the part of human communication still used by the majority of the world’s peoples. And we might look at how our literary predisposition may have produced a built-in bias against spontaneous prayer language found in Acts 2, 9, 11, and I Corinthians 12-14, plus many other accounts in the New Testament record. I argue in my recent book: The Foolishness of God 12 that cessationist Evangelicals are trapped when seeing through the lens of modern textual logic by making the Lord a totally reasonable God as in the words of John Stott stating that “it’s illogical to believe that He would continue glossolalia past the age of the apostles.” 13
I believe there is a better way, the way our honoree found by running against the stream of our textual dominated system.
Pentecostals might do better to simply embrace the paradoxical nature of tongues-speech says Rybarczyk:
“Praying with tongues is both very non-rational and non-linear…Something vibrant, authentic, and Spirit-inspired has been sacrificed over the near-century long attempt to explain and define the paradox of tongues as a rational and indeed ‘normal’ Christian phenomenon. It is not normal, anymore than was Jesus’ death on a cross. And we should add, that is a good thing!…In their rabid rush to become rational Evangelicals, Pentecostals have forsaken the implications that a theology of tongues could have for the Church universal. In their historical debates with other Christians, Pentecostals have processed and re-processed glossolalia mostly as a lone element in Christian spirituality.”14

“Right on!” says James Smith:
“In this essay, I will argue that the early Christian community was a charismatic community which placed emphasis on hearing not reading. As such, early Christianity was not a religion of the Book, though it was certainly a religion of the Word. It was a community centered, not around scribes but prophets. In the history of the Christian community, a shift occurred whereby text received a privileged status and the original oral/aural and charismatic way of being was suppressed and oppressed and gradually declared to be defunct. This emphasis on writing(s) (or the privileged status of writings) confined revelation to a past epoch; ‘scribalism’ – the emphasis on the letter – planted the seeds which killed and quenched the ongoing revelatory ministry of the Spirit by silencing the prophets with the Canon … realized nearly two thousand years later in Protestant fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism—textual communities par excellence (emphasis Smith’s).”15

The early Apostolic Church was a prophetic community. It was also a predominately oral/aural community. “Faith,” Paul would insist, “comes by hearing” (Rom. 10:17). He also asks: “How shall they call upon this one whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing?” (Note, he didn’t say reading). “Nor did he say ‘How can they preach without a text?’”16
During the 30 years we lived in and associated with West Africa, we saw the destructive forces of French colonialism and their language on the rich oralness of the Mossi and Ewe of Burkina Faso and Togo. In I Corinthians 1, Paul asks: “Where is the scribe?” Evidently not in the Church, as time and again the early Christians were reviled for being illiterate (agrammatos) and ignorant (idiotes, Acts 4:13) as was Jesus Himself (John 7:15). But this lack of scribes only signaled the fact that for the Christian community, faith was hearing the Word, which is not only about Christ but is Christ. “It is precisely this oral way of being which, I would propose, has been recaptured in the contemporary charismatic communities …Perhaps the oral nature of Pentecostalism is best captured in the emphasis on glossolalia, which cannot be written nor can it be repeated).17

THE TEXUALIZATION OF OUR FAITH (Now we’re getting serious!)
James K.A. Smith, a POAC scholar from Canada, asks the following pertinent question: “Is Christianity a religion of the book? That is, were the early Christians a people of the book or rather a people of the Spirit? Was the early Christian community a literate/textual/book community or rather an oral/aural community?” Smith argues that the early Christian community was a Charismatic community, which placed emphasis on hearing not reading. It was a community centered not on scribes but on prophets. He argues that our literary bias has facilitated our acceptance of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism’s predisposition to consider the text and Canon of the Scriptures so important that it crowds out the necessity (or possibility) for God to supernaturally talk to us by His in-breaking gifts of the Spirit. He calls this exaggerated emphasis on that which is in print: The Textualization of our faith.18
“’Speaking in Tongues’… is a practice which paradigmatically and dramatically underscores the oral-narrative character of Pentecostalism. Glossolalia became an integral element of Pentecostal ‘oral-narrative liturgy’ because that which is most characteristically human and constitutive of human community (i.e., language) required a new speech incapable of being co-opted by the routinizing of church bureaucracies or worldly regimes.”19

The paradigm shift in world-view impacted by a change from orality to literacy as a social value brought about momentous implications. In the historical study of how folks communicated a thousand years ago, texts were not authoritative texts because the authority rested with the oral word of the emperor or sovereign. Even though texts existed, their status was derivative. Texts were reminders of the power of the presence of the king. About the eleventh century, states Smith, communities became “textualized” (Smith’s term to describe what occurs in the shift from an oral/aural worldview to a literate/textual mode).20
This difference totally gutted the power of an eight hundred year social system of the Moro Nabas (emperors) of the Mossi in Burkina Faso, West Africa. The French colonialists came with the insistence of the superiority of their language to all others. (This exists to this day.) By the time I personally witnessed the power of “l’alphabetisation” it was 1960. Although only six percent of the whole population was “literate,” that small group had all the political power and had systematically deposed the real power structure of 800 years of emperor, paramount chiefs, sub-chiefs and a great amount of the social place of elders. They didn’t do this with guns, but with prejudicially distorted French educational values.
Dr. Jack Deere, a former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and one time proponent of ultra-dispensationalism, speaks of his own discovery of this “textualization” in his own life.
“In the process of getting theologically trained and becoming a seminary professor, I developed an intense passion for studying God’s Word. I found myself loving the Bible more than I loved the author of the Bible. I was caught in this trap for more years than I would like to remember … It took me too long to learn that knowing the Bible is not the same thing as knowing God, loving the Bible is not the same thing as loving God, and reading the Bible is not the same thing as hearing God.”21

Is it possible to hear from God apart from His Word? Many say no. An even larger percentage of believers today say yes. However, those who say yes quickly affirm that when God speaks today, He speaks to confirm Scripture or gives inspiration that agrees with, but never contradicts the Word of God as known in the Canon. In 1 Corinthians 12-14 there is a description of the expectations of a normal worship service in Corinth. In that context, the role of prophets was a part of that expectation, an important part. Those with verbal gifts (tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, words of wisdom and knowledge) played an essential role in the community, which waited to hear the Lord speak from the mouths of the participants under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (all under the examination and judgment of the body of believers). Orality, then, as in much of the world today, was what the New Testament community practiced. This oral culture in which our Scriptures were first given by word of mouth and subsequently written down (sometimes scores of years later) is a world unknown to us and has been for hundreds of years.22
In the history of the Christian community, a shift occurred whereby texts (reading/writing/literature) received a privileged status and the original oral/aural and charismatic way of being was suppressed where the new emphasis was on the letter. Carthage and Smith believe the seeds of literalism were the seeds that killed and quenched the ongoing revelatory ministry of the Spirit by silencing the prophets with the Canon. “Protestant fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism are textual communities par excellence.”23
The authors go even farther when they state: “It is precisely this textualism of evangelical theology which undermines the Pentecostal experience of continuing revelation.”24
The more textual a society, the less its people can tolerate the high amount of indirection and ambiguity with which the Bible is so replete. I had to learn a “non-textual” vernacular language to discover this truth. If we had the space here, we could examine the linguistic etymology of the power of words from the chief or emperor in traditional Mossi culture where the word “nore”, symbolized by a sharp knife, is the same word for mouth and authority/power.25 With that perception, can you imagine the poignant symbolism for these believers internalizing John the Revelator’s vision of the triumphant KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS? “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations!” (Rev. 19:15).
James Smith, drawing on Brian Stock, avows that our “literal” world and its high priority on print literacy has “stolen,” by substitution, much of the authority (“mouth”) that exists in the Bible and transferred it all to the written text of the Bible which he defines as “textualization.” 26
This is what the French changed in Burkina Faso. Only now, those who had power of written word were those who had understanding of knowledge as pieces of information in a printed fixed form with squiggles of ink following one another, left to right, on lines that proceed down a page. In this shift, texts are no longer understood as records but as “sites” where facts are “embodied” rather than simply recorded.27 As in West Africa and over 50 percent of the world, when textualization happens, the non-literate become illiterate. And as literacy becomes identical with rationality, the illiterate become the irrational. All of life becomes a text, the oral/aural is pressed into service by writing…viewed through the lens of a text.28
Now, texts become the authority instead of the words of the king! The people love the written ‘laws’ more than the earlier authoritative words of the ruler. Stock, makes a final clarification:
“Texuality, then is something different than literacy; that is, a community may possess and use texts but not yet be a textual community … the issue is not one of use but one of status. A textual community is one that accords primary status to texts and the lens through which all of life is viewed.29

Smith here submits that evangelicalism (via evangelical theology) is a textual community and, as such, marginalizes and suppresses the orality of the Pentecostal tradition. A Pentecostal evangelical theology is a house divided against itself. He claims the Bible is a testimony that the King is alive and is a magnificent reminder of the imperial presence, not a substitute for it. Smith believes …that the evangelical world’s need for “textualization” has frozen God’s revelation in time.30
Looking through the lens of Communications Theory, I submit God still wants to use humankind in the incarnational model of His part/Our part. Today’s minister/preacher/prophet or simple layperson who understands this delicate incarnational balance can mature in the Spirit to have singular power in his/her mouth!
Dr. McGee grew to not only believe this, but practiced it and blessed the Body of Christ.
My individual world has been impacted by two preliterate vernacular languages. If revelation can only come from a “text,” then a whole people (in particular the Mossi and the Ewe – and untold hundreds of others) are excluded from revelation until they can read in their own mother tongue (or heaven forbid – they are taught a “sacred language” like Latin or Arabic or Ge’ez or English). Think how parochial is that thought! I feel sad for many of my brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ who are stuck in an evolved print-literacy bias. They want no part of a Holy Spirit they can’t predict and control. Thank God for this age of Holy Spirit renewal sweeping so many into the Spirit’s fullness that previously denied this potential empowerment! Like Jack Hayford puts it: “Jesus prophesied it, the Father intended it, the Holy Spirit enabled it, and the Church received it.”31
Many tribes on the West African savannah still use drums to communicate with each other. This writer has spent many hours conversing with drummers about their craft. I came to an amazing and disturbing discovery. I could not understand “drum talk” until I could shift my mind away from the literal, linear, print organized orientation of my European languages (English and French). I chafed at the drummer’s inability to drum according to my rules. I found it non-precise in the extreme. I concentrated on the specifics and missed the essence of the message. I had made the same mistake of the disciples of Jesus when they took too literally the words of Jesus in (Mark 8:14-21). L. M. Hussy describes the disciples’ fault and, at the same time, defines much of Western man’s weakness in understanding the realm of the Spirit of God.
“The disciples set about to torture a literal significance from phrases first coined to blast utterly a literal intent.”32
Drum talk is a lot like speaking a language under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. And both are like using a piece of smoked glass to safely view an eclipse of the sun.
It conceals in order to reveal. I’ve slowly and painfully discovered that God loves ambiguity because it’s intimately related to our journey of faith He prefers for us… At least for me.

1. Part of this essay is drawn from the Author’s book: The Foolishness of God: A Linguist Looks at the Mystery of Tongues (Springfield, MO: Access Publishers, 2010), Chapter 4.

2. For a full explanation of this theme, see Jon Ruthven, What’s Wrong With Protestant Theology? (Tulsa, OK: Word and Spirit Press, 2013).

3. Tony Schwartz, The Responsive Chord (Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Double Day 1973)
p. 3.

4. Paul Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 135.

5. Ibid., pp. 134-5.

6. Ibid., Hiebert, (1985), p.198. See also Del Tarr, Double Image: Biblical Insights from African Parables, (Mahwah, NJ.: Paulist Press 1994).

7. Tony Schwartz, op. cit., (1973), 10.

8. For an interesting and informative expose of this theory, see: F. S. C. Northrup, The Meeting of East and West (1953) and F. H. Smith in Edmund Perry, The Gospel in Dispute (1958), 99-106. Oralness leads to concrete relational thinking as a first order. Plato and Aristotle set the West on a course of conceptual thinking as a priority. Oral thinkers organize their world of communication on proverbs, aphorisms, allegory and folk tales. (See Del Tarr, Double Image: Biblical Insights from African Parables, 1994), pp. 11-15.

9. See Del Tarr, The Foolishness of God, op.cit., (2010) Appendix 1, pp. 397-8 for a list of some of the experts in Non-Verbal Communications.

10. Walter Ong, “World as View and World as Event,” American Anthropologist 71, (1969): 642.
11. Harvey Cox, Fire From Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (Reading, MS: Persus Books, 1995), 15.

12. Del Tarr, op. cit., (2010) p.53.

13. John R.W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1975), 113.

14. Edmund Rybarczyk, “Expressing the Inexpressible: Tongues as Apophatic Speech” Society of Pentecostal Studies, 31st annual meeting, Lakeland, FL, (2002).

15. James K.A. Smith, “The Closing of The Book: Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and the Sacred Writings,” JPT 11. (1997), 49-71,

16. Ibid., p. 50

17. M .H. Cartledge, “Charismatic Prophecy: A Definition and Description,” JPT 5, (1994), 100, Emphasis mine.

18. Smith, op. cit. pp. 53ff. I’m greatly indebted to James Smith’s article and his research.

19. Steven Land, Pentecostal Spirituality, A Passion for the Kingdo, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press 1993) 26

20. Smith, op. cit. p. 55

21. Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1993), 187.

22. See Del Tarr, Double Image: (1994), 151-152, for an example of how oral speech, like drum-talk, can instruct us on this vital issue.

23. M. H. Cartledge, “Charismatic Prophecy: A Definition and Description,” JPT 5, (1994), 62.

24. Smith, op. cit. p.58.

25. For a more detailed exposure of this principle see: Del Tarr, Double Image, op. cit. Chapter 6. Remember, the Mossi were totally “orally educated-literate” before the arrival of the French colonialists. I also know for the purist, to say one is “orally-educated literate” is an oxymoron because for them education cannot exist without reading/writing. I use it in the connotative sense of speech as a social skill highly valued, just like reading and writing is in a text-literate society. One must not naively believe that all who can speak are equal in an oral society, any more than all who can read and write are equal.

26. Smith gives credit to Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. (1983) 29-87.

27. Smith, op. cit., (1997) 56.

28. Ibid. p. 57.

29. Brian Stock, op. cit. (1983) 62.

30. Smith, op. cit. (1997) 58-59

31. Jack Hayford, The Beauty of Spiritual Language, A Journey Toward the Heart of God, (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1992).

32. L. M. Hussey, “The Wit of the Carpenter,” The American Mercury. Vol. 5, 329-336.

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