One of the things that attracted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Chris Thomas to the Book of Mormon were the many episodes of speaking in tongues. It should be noted that the publication of the Book of Mormon predates the modern Pentecostal movement by about 80 years! How did that get into the book?
Chris: I was really interested in John Turner’s biography. He talked about how Brigham Young often spoke in tongues, which a lot of people don’t know. I had given a talk to the religious education faculty yesterday [at BYU] and got a couple of questions on speaking in tongues and they said, “Well, what would you say to LDS folk about speaking in tongues,” and I said, “Read the freaking Book of Mormon.” That’s what I would say.
Chris: I said, I know you’re embarrassed that Pentecostals speak in tongues, and we’re embarrassed that is in the Book of Mormon. So, okay, so there we are.
GT: (Chuckling) I love that, because that’s another big thing that you’ve noticed is speaking in tongues is really prevalent. In my first interview with Mark Staker, he believes that speaking in tongues started with a former slave, Black Pete, in 1830-1831. He was baptized in December of 1830 and it soon happened, thereafter. For those of you who didn’t follow that interview, why not, first of all? I know it was earlier. I know the sound is bad, but anyway, but the funny thing about it was Joseph Smith came to Kirtland, and he was like, “Yeah, I’m not too on board with this speaking in tongues thing.” Then, some missionaries from Kirtland baptize this guy from Vermont. Some of you may have heard of him, Brigham Young. Brigham comes to Kirtland and starts speaking in tongues. He’s a white guy. “Oh, it’s okay now. A white guy’s doing it.” It’s interesting. The thing that blew me away in that interview was, Mark said, that was the first time he’s ever found any speaking in tongues, and it predates the Pentecostal movement by 70-80 years, something like that. I know that’s something that has really attracted your study. Can you tell us more about that?
Chris: Well, yeah, it’s not uncommon to have people say, this group or that group, tongue speech was present. But, in the cases that I’ve tried to track down, the evidence is all pretty meager. Sometimes it just seems to be one off. Sometimes it seems to be pretty random. I have a Ph.D. student who wrote a book, or has published his thesis called “Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Glossolalia.” He has this extensive appendix that documents the occurrence of people speaking in tongues, from the New Testament forward. The LDS tradition makes it in that in that survey. What’s really interesting to me, is that not only do you have tongues mentioned so often in the Book of Mormon, and you look at Moroni, and the description of what a church service ought to be. The Book of Mormon makes kind of a theological connection between baptism of fire and spirit on the one hand, and speaking in tongues. Now, as far as I know, and I’m not a church historian, nobody makes that connection like that before 1830. That will become a cardinal doctrine of Pentecostals, when the Pentecostal revival takes place between 1900 and 1906. So, I’m wondering, well, where does that come from? I mean, it’s one thing to say Smith may run hot and cold on tongues, but I mean it’s all over the Book of Mormon, which says something.
GT: Well, I know Steve Pynakker, he attended a Bickertonite service in Florida. He said, “I felt right at home.”
Chris: That’s right, and in what I’ve seen, there are a lot of commonalities with Pentecostal worship, which would probably make both groups nervous. Right? But I’d met with a guy, let me see if I can remember his name, back when I was writing the book. So, this would have been pre-2016. I think his name is Richard Lawson, who met with me from the Church of Jesus Christ. We talked about how often the gifts manifest in public worship. I said, “Well, for example, how often in a month, would I hear somebody speaking in tongues?” He said, “Probably every other Sunday,” which is not insignificant. So, yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of interesting stuff about that. Of course, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon is the only thing they accept out of the broader Smith corpus.
Chris: Which makes me wonder if there’s some kind of continuum in that regard. Is the more you buy in, are you less likely to have those kinds of charismatic manifestations in your worship?
GT: That’s interesting, because I remember I talked with a guy named Randy Sheldon at the Temple Lot Church. They’re called the Church of Christ.
GT: He told me that they do have speaking in tongues in their denomination, as well. He says it’s pretty rare. I think Daniel told me he thought it was pretty rare, too. But he [Randy] had seen it happen. Just coincidentally, they don’t accept the Doctrine and Covenants, either, but they do accept the Book of Commandments.
Why do you think speaking in tongues is no longer practiced in the LDS Church?
Should evangelicals be scared of the Book of Mormon? Pentecostal scholar Dr. Christopher Thomas says most of the theology in the Book of Mormon is thoroughly protestant! Does that surprise you?
Chris: Well, aside from the fall, and aside from Jesus appearing so often so early, the Book of Mormon is pretty, kind of, Protestant. I think Campbell was right about all the theological scores it settles. We don’t do infant baptism. We baptize by immersion. People who practice infant baptism, they wouldn’t think it’s generically Protestant, but they would know people. I heard Walter Brueggemann, who’s a great Old Testament scholar, say once, “[Do I] believe in infant baptism? I’ve seen it done.” So, you could find the stream that theologically it fits within. I’ve been working on a presentation and an article for the Journal a Book of Mormon Studies on the study of Book of Mormon theology. In some of those, like a couple of things Terryl Givens has written, he’ll basically say, “It’s not terribly distinctive in that regard.” There are a lot of ways when you’re reading through it with King Benjamin, I’ve been to lots and lots of services that resemble what gets described there and the response and such. For the most part on the theology, it’s not terribly controversial, except for a couple of caveats. There’s a bit of difference here and there on atonement. But, for the most part, it’s rather orthodox, you might say.
GT: Should Protestants be scared of the Book of Mormon? Or should they just say, “Hey, this is what we already believe?”
Chris: Well, I think, yes is the answer to that question. I mean, I think the thing that would be off-putting is the claim of additional scripture, that phenomenon.
GT: Yes, definitely.
Chris: On the other hand, theologically, in some ways, you can make an argument that it’s benign. If you’re not speaking in tongues, anyway, it’s probably not going to convince you to speak in tongues. So, I think people would be surprised. I mean, one of the things that I used to talk to my missionary friends about was how little distinctive LDS teaching is in the Book of Mormon. Of course, what I didn’t realize is these young missionaries, they don’t know anything. They’ve been plucked up, sent to learn a language and put through their paces in terms of the investigators manual or what have you. Of course, many of them are just very surprised by everything they learn. Of course, I had no sense about that. I didn’t know anything about that. But basically, if I said, “Look, baptism for the dead is not in the Book of Mormon, or plural gods,” or what have you, they were like, “It’s not?” Of course, that’s not original to me. But I think that kind of proves the point of just how orthodox it is. Then, of course, different people have tried to figure out if that’s the case, how is it the fullness of the gospel? You get different attempts at trying to figure out what that means. So, I’m not trying to go into that direction at all, just as much to say, it proves the point that it’s not exotic in a lot of ways.
Do you agree that the Book of Mormon is thoroughly protestant theologically?