Book Write-Up: How to Be Pentecostal Without Speaking in Tongues

Tony Campolo.  How to Be Pentecostal Without Speaking in Tongues.  Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991.  See here to buy the book.

Tony Campolo is a preacher and a sociologist, and he was a spiritual adviser to President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  Campolo is an evangelical Christian, but he holds a number of progressive political positions that are sensitive towards the poor, so he is considered to be a leader of the Evangelical Left.

How to Be Pentecostal Without Speaking in Tongues is about Pentecostalism, but it is also about the work of the Holy Spirit and spiritual warfare against demons.  According to Campolo, the Holy Spirit guides Christians and encourages them.  For Campolo, those who want a more intimate relationship with God through the Holy Spirit can personally throw their sin and negativity onto Christ, who absorbed it at the cross, and Christ will replace the bad within them with good.  They should also confess and apologize for sins they have committed against others and become a part of a community, however small, in which they can share, pray for each other, and hold each other accountable on living the Christian life.  Campolo also contends that those who are spirit-filled are committed to social justice and environmental preservation.

Regarding spiritual warfare, Campolo talks about the demonic in culture and institutions.  Campolo does not reject rock music, for he mentions rock musicians whose concerts have a positive effect on people, one that uplifts people and engenders within them a spirit of love and peace.  But he also contends that certain negative forms of rock music have had a negative effect on the young, one that makes them sullen, depressed, and rebellious.  In addition, Campolo discusses the involvement of young people in certain forms of witchcraft, as they attempt to gain power in a society in which they feel powerless, victimized, and rejected.  Campolo also focuses on world events and how demons encourage conflict and resentment, and that, according to Campolo, is why being a peacemaker is such an essential aspect of spiritual warfare.

The book contains a number of interesting stories and insights.  Campolo tells a story at the beginning of the book about Pentecostalism in an area of Latin America and how it was encouraging morality and a better life, as people formed co-ops that served themselves economically.  Campolo later tells a story about how he and other religious leftists challenged a corporation about its policies regarding the Dominican Republic, only to learn that their accusations were not entirely fair.  The corporation invited them to propose policies that it could enact to help the poor in the Dominican Republic, and Campolo learned from this the possibility of principalities and powers doing good rather than evil.  Campolo also talks about Billy Graham and how there is a power in Graham’s preaching that encourages people to accept Christ.  It is not because Graham is presenting anything earthshakingly original, and some people who accept Christ in response to Graham’s preaching report that they cannot even remember anything specific that Graham said; but they were still moved to go forward and accept Christ.

Campolo distinguishes between the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit.  For Campolo, the fruit of the Spirit is character that emerges as a result of the Spirit and the Christian’s participation in discipleship, including social justice.  The gifts are gifts of service in Christian ministry.  They include preaching, but they can also include making sure that the church runs smoothly (the gift of helps in I Corinthians 12:28).  According to Campolo, one can have gifts of the Spirit without having fruit, and one can have fruit of the Spirit without being successful in the gifts.  Campolo tells the story of a preacher who was having an affair with an organist, yet his preaching brought a lot of people to God.

There were areas in which Campolo seemed to contradict himself.  He appeared to imply that everyone who is saved and is a child of God experiences the tangible ministry of the Holy Spirit, and yet, in discussing the people in Acts 19 who repented and were baptized yet were unaware of the Holy Spirit, Campolo seemed to believe that they were saved and forgiven even before Paul laid his hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.  Campolo in one place depicts interaction with the Holy Spirit as something that can be done in solitude, and he relates that he does so while lying in bed at night.  Later, however, he says that Christianity is not about seeking God in solitude but in community, for the Spirit shows up when believers are together.  Appealing to Matthew 5:23-24, Campolo says that Christians should not meet God until they have made amends to those against whom they have sinned, and he critiques the idea that reconciliation with God must precede reconciliation with others, saying that Jesus appears to teach the opposite.  Later in the book, though, Campolo praises the Psalms as examples of people honestly venting before God about the people in their lives.

Some of Campolo’s interpretations of Scripture were rather interesting.  Romans 8:19 says: “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God” (KJV).  I have long seen that as eschatological—-as something that will occur after Christ comes back—-but Campolo applies it to Christians doing works of social justice and contributing to the healing of creation in the here and now.  I am not sure if I agree with Campolo’s interpretation, but I do agree with his point, for, so often, the Spirit in the Bible inspires people to be concerned for the poor.

Because Campolo presents the Spirit as tangibly guiding believers, one may wonder if that means that we cannot question anyone who says God is speaking to him or her.  Campolo does express skepticism about some claims.  He talks about a woman who said that God told her to tell Campolo to read certain anti-feminist books, after Campolo had delivered a pro-feminist message, and Campolo was skeptical that God told her this, since he had already read the books.  Campolo also notes that there are many who claim to be speaking under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, yet they focus on end-time scenarios rather than what the Bible focuses on, such as the poor.  In one chapter, Campolo criticizes the excesses within Pentecostalism (i.e., preachers interested in money, people coming up with off-the-wall ideas and attributing them to the Spirit), preferring the Anglican and Catholic varieties that honor tradition and thus weed out the excesses.

This was an enjoyable book to read, and there was so much more in the book that I did not mention.  I struggle with some things that Campolo says.  His point about the importance of reconciliation before meeting with God challenges me, as one who has difficulty with this, and yet that does not mean that this standard is entirely wrong.  There are many Christians who do not experience God in a tangible way, but who may rely on the Bible or experience God as aloof, and I wonder how Campolo would account for that.  I am also not sure if I agree with him about God blessing preachers who are immoral and lack the fruit of the Spirit: on some level, it makes sense, since we can see that there are immoral preachers who are successful in gaining converts, and moral preachers who are not as successful.  And yet, I Timothy 3 and II Timothy 2 emphasize that good character is a criterion for those who want to be spiritual leaders in the community, so why would God honor an immoral preacher?

Surprisingly, Campolo’s description of his own small group did not particularly scare me, as one who is socially anxious and who cringes at the word “accountability” because it sounds cultish.  Campolo describes his group as three people gathering together, sharing, and praying the Psalms.  It’s rather simple, and yet, as Campolo states, the Spirit meets them.

Overall, this book helped me to appreciate the Holy Spirit, as one who encourages Christians personally and communally while bringing forth good into the world.  Reading this book made me want to read more by Tony Campolo.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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1 Response to Book Write-Up: How to Be Pentecostal Without Speaking in Tongues

  1. A lovely book review James 🙂


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