the Crucible

Speaking in Tongues

Speaking or Praying in tongues
gift of tongues n. The ability or phenomenon to utter words or sounds of a language unknown to the speaker, especially as an expression of religious ecstasy. Also called glossolalia, speaking in tongues. [From the Apostles' speaking in tongues in Acts 2:4.].[22
It seems like the most appropriate way to discuss this particular gift from God’s Spirit is through story.  This is a personal account of limited understanding through the eyes of a spiritual nobody.

As a generalization: within the Emerging Church tongues or praying in the Spirit seems to be an unusual spiritual act.  Perhaps it is the broad based thread of those included and their wide array of Spiritual DNA[23] that make up post evangelicals.  But unlike many other gifts from the Spirit, tongues has gone relatively unmentioned without either loaded dispensational dialogue, or fervent Pentecostal passion.  In beginning dialogue about tongues, there are pertinent points to denote about the action of tongues and the individuals who are requesting.

Tongues seem to rely on the physical actions of the individuals who are praying in conjunction with the Spirit[24]To the exercised this wonderful gift is usually imagined as a nuclear blast of the Spirit, which possesses and ratifies itself to the inner core of Nirvanic bliss rendering the individual incapacitated[25] to deliver normative speech.  But from a personal vantage point the aforementioned is the exception and not the norm.  Gauging dialogue, discussion and omission of mention from books currently being suggested by emerging Church leaders, speaking in tongues appears to be an unusual spiritual act.  But again, this is only inference from omission of mention, a difficult criteria measurement for specific determination.

The first time I remember hearing a person speak in tongues, I had just become a follower of Jesus in a community church in Santa Barbara, California.  I was sitting in a pew with some friends, and it was the tradition of this church to have a time of silence reflection and silent prayer.  Since I had my eyes closed and my head down (I pretty much thought this was the proper posture of prayer), I was more or less waiting for the silence to be over.  The place was crowded and from time to time people would get up and pray out loud, or say things that they were thankful for and sit down.  Throughout this time I heard the man sitting next to me about four feet away continually making sounds.[26]  To some degree, the sounds sounded familiar but in another capacity they were completely foreign.  In this particular case, I remember listening intently although it was a very low murmur, and trying to decipher what the man was saying.  At this time, I had no idea he was praying in tongues, and certainly had no theological or experiential paradigm to understand what it was that was transpiring.[27]  But the man kept praying, and praying.

Without glance, I assumed he was from another country and although I wanted to look over and see if I could detect his ethnicity/nationality, I resisted the temptation, and didn’t raise my head.  I remember listening, just listening to the most unusual dialect, I had heard.  Having lived in many countries, having had the opportunity to hear many languages, this one was stumping me.  I couldn’t even get a continental fix on what it was he sounded like. Assumably to most the man was in no way distracting, (because I doubt most could hear him) and in many ways his hush of voice was a lullaby to listening ears.  I could hear in it’s low murmur that he was passionately saying something.  It was obviously a prayer of some sorts, but again his tone or dialect was of no revelation to me.[28]

After that portion of the congregation’s time together I remember being shocked as I looked over to see that man.  He looked like a stereotypical Del Playa[29] surfer.  Bleached blond long hair, a surf t-shirt, shorts and sandals.  I purposely said hi to him trying to [trap] him into revealing where his dialect or accent was from.  To my confusion, he spoke perfect English.  I said “man you speak good English, where are you from originally?”  “Santa Maria”, he replied… “Ah, your south American?” ( I felt absolved) “No Santa Maria California, born and raised”!

I remember just being so confused at that point, I wanted to find out more, but we were asked to return to pews. Comment [2][30]

This experience left me confused, and although I had just witnessed something directly related to pneumatology, without a theological grid, or explanation, I had no idea what it was that I had witnessed.  It wasn’t until about two years later that I had even figured out what it was that happened.  I remembered and figured it out when  I had been attending a Sunday night class taught by John Wimber[31] . I was really enjoying it, especially all the discussion and teaching in a particular series around gifts from the Spirit.  After a brief teaching, John simply said “all you who would like to speak in tongues, please come up front and we will pray for you.”  I think I was the first one up there, scrambling past as many as possible, for some reason in my thinking that if I was nearer the front I would get more or whatever it was the Spirit was giving out.  I ended up standing in the front and off to the side in a cleared area in the front of the gathering room.  A man named Bill Twyman approached me,[32] prayed for me and simply told me to relax.  As I stood there with my eyes closed, I began to pray silently and then very softly out loud, at that moment something wonderfully mystical happened, I began to have a sensation like shivering in my throat and jaw.  As I continued to pray, the words began to sound “shivered” and then scrambled, and then polysyllabic.  It was really funny because all this transpired over about a 15minute period, and it felt like electricity going through my head and hands.  At times it was practically impossible to not laugh because it felt so great. 

The more I prayed the more the words seemed to go through a metamorphosis into another language.[33]  The wildest part is that I was praying in my mind in English, but what was coming out was something totally different. In other words, I was completely aware of what I was saying.[34]  The words that my mind was creating seemed to be on verbal steroids- prayers that were being created faster than I could have spoken in English. It seems that tongues is a shorthand version of praying that is able to encapsulate paragraphs of thoughts in only a few sounds/syllables or words. 

That night I started up front at around 8:00pm and stayed up there until about 10:15, I was sweating like a marathoner and my arms were so tired from holding up my hands in thankfulness that I literally was too exhausted to hold them up anymore. Bill stood by me the whole time and at times, helped me hold my arms up.  The experience[35] is still fresh in my mind as a moment when I first felt like I had heard from God, and God had heard me.  It was wild.[36]

When I arrived home that night, I really thought that I could speak a new language… looking back I see humor in the guilelessness of it all.  Not really having any theological paradigm or worldview that understood the night in anyway, I was completely convinced that I was speaking a language and had been supernaturally[37] given this ability to speak.  In my mind, I thought  it was perhaps a tongue indigenous to some eastern block country. I completely envisioned myself going there on some missionary journey and not having to learn the dialect in any text.   Rather I would just “turn on” my magic new gift and wham-mo I would be an instant interpreter.  That night when I arrived home very late I remember tape-recording speaking in tongues because I was so impressed with myself.  I would than play it back again and again and just be blown away.  [I was so excited about a new way to worship God...] Not really at all understanding,  the next day I decided that I would find out exactly what language it was.  There were a couple of kids at the college I was attending who were from Eastern Europe.  So I just went up to them and began speaking in tongues to them, much to my dismay though; they didn’t understand what I was saying.  It was so clear to me what I was saying I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t to them… [At that time I mentally determined that I just hadn’t found the right nationality yet.]  A genuine thought that went through my mind was maybe its a specific dialect, and I would be the chosen one, sent to convert the whole tribe… seriously I was thinking this stuff.   Although it is really laughable now,  at the time I felt a tremendous responsibility.  I really thought there was a possibility that I was the sole person that might be able to understand some lost tribe[38] and I would be used in their discipleship and eventual conversion-really goofy and mostly self absorbed/immature. 

As the week cont’d I began to read up on all that I could about the gift, which was very little.[39]  Because I didn’t really know anyone else who had experienced this I was struggling for answers.  I continued to practice praying in this way, and found that it was a really useful tool.  For sort of the first time I had begun to experience God.  Tongues was a catalyst for this.  Although I understand now that it is  certainly not a medal of honor, or badge of citizenship in God’s new heaven or earth, there is something about it that boosts confidence a ‘security’, that encourages and allows an individual to be more tuned into God.  It is a  prayer prayed by us, but inspired narrated/illustrated by spirit.[40]

Almost without exception, tongues is a really good way to begin to center and focus on what it is God is doing in the midst of mayhem.[41]  It doesn’t have to be showy, flashy or even out loud, more typically its the focus of prayers that turns into something mystically spiritual.  It is a  pneumatological expression that somehow gets converted by God Himself from thoughts of a citizen in his kingdom into prayers of a Saint.  What a wonderful occurrence- and one that I long to see more predominant in the Emerging Church..[42]



Great post. Forces me to remember my first experience — in a small Episcopal church at a small group prayer meeting. There were about 10 of us plus the Rector. In a silent prayer moment, someone spoke in tongues. I had never experienced it before and it sort of freaked me out. (the person speaking was someone I knew and trusted for years, so it wasn’t a bad freaked out, just weird.) The leader prayed for translation, and it came through ME! I didn’t believe it at first, so we waited for about 5 awkward minutes, the Holy Spirit stronger and stronger until I couldn’t bear not to speak. It blew my mind. I sat on that one for a while, and didn’t have another experience like that until Vineyard about 5 years later. Looking backward, it marked the beginning of a bizarre journey for me personally….Thanks for jogging the old memory…
kimj • 2/25/04; 12:21:26 AM

I find it interesting that I’m always coming across ‘Christians’ who say “I don’t have to speak in tongues, it’s not a requirement etc…” and I feel like screaming “why wouldn’t you want all that God wants to throw your way?” And then I come across someone like Jackie Pullinger who says that all the people in Hong Kong – who have come to follow Jesus through the work that she’s involved with – speak tongues. Jonathan Morgan • 2/27/04; 10:34:17 AM keck, i dare you to blog in tongues.
kennyp • 2/27/04; 1:02:12 PM

shouldhaveboughtahonda gottawearabowtie
Rickard • 2/27/04; 1:17:44 PM

eric thanks for posting this very personal experience you had. it helps me better understand a very subject many people are uncomfortable talking about. jonathan i have to admit i do take some exception to your question, “why wouldn’t you want all that God wants to throw your way?” i do want all that God wants to throw my way. i have asked for the gift of tounges, but never recieved it.

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.”
jonathon please let me know if i misunderstood what you meant.
miah • 2/27/04; 5:07:54 PM

Ditto to Miah’s first line–I was thinking the same thing. This is a difficult subject to discuss because it is so very personal, and any difference in understanding and approach feels like personal attack.

Eric, I appreciated your post–it helped me understand a little better an “inside view” of one tongues-speaker, and know *all the more* that I DO have all that God has to offer, even though I do not speak in tongues. My experience in prayer is often similar–sort of a sense that God and I are one, and completely understand one another, without words. God has affirmed to me that I am fully His–exercising the gifts He has given me with His divine power.

Jonathan, I hope you can understand this–I know you meant well by your remark, but it was very distressing to me in my Spirit, and Miah is right. There are different gifts, as GOD determines–He will not be used to pander to our wishes.  A lot could be discussed on this issue, and greater understanding and acceptance of one another is imperative, but this discussion is too often pushed aside due to awkwardness and its very personal nature.

I feel like I’m sticking my neck out here, but Eric, your last couple of posts has made me fear you are trying to pursuade others that we all need this experience. I don’t really think this is the case (or perhaps I hope not), but perhaps you could clarify your reasons for sharing these experiences?
Laurie • 2/27/04; 9:18:46 PM

not at all trying to convince anyone, just thought i would share my experience, i am begining to think through some of this stuff for some coursework, so i am just trying to recollect how it happened for me. in no way do i think this is “the model”. my bad if it came off that way, im merely trying to start some framework, and encourage others to not write it off or dismiss it as something that isn’t or won’t ever happen to them.

however, i do wish that all could have the experience just because it has been such a blessing in my life, but just as i would hope all would be able to experience, seeing a child be born, hitting 100mph on a motorcycle and doing a back flip on a trampoline- i think they are cool life experiences. to me speaking in tounges is sort of along the same lines, really fun, really encouraging, and really a great way to spiritually focus. does that clarify?
eric keck • 2/27/04; 11:08:01 PM

Yeah, thanks. That’s what I had hoped your motivation was, but I was a bit unclear.Never had a baby or gone 100mph or done a back flip either. :) (I’m laughing…)

But gee…now that you mention it, sometimes when people talk about their experience of having a baby or watching their wife have a baby, I really, really feel like I’ve missed out on something God allows most people to enjoy. Maybe it’s kinda the same thing…. God gives different kinds of surprises to different people.
Laurie • 2/27/04; 11:45:13 PM

Hey guys, I certainly didn’t mean to put down people who are genuinely open to receiving the gift and simply hadn’t. I’m sorry to have upset you – to be honest I wrote my comment without really thinking about those in your situation who might read it.  The people I was talking about are those who find any excuse not to open themselves up to the holy spirit at all. Perhaps they’ve come from a background which is trinitarian in doctrine and ‘bi-tarian’ in practice or whatever. Or maybe they’re just skeptics. Because opening myself up to receive from the HS has been such a life changing experience I find it difficult when I come across people who are less open to this stuff than someone who isn’t a follower. Once again, Miah and Laurie, I’m sorry that I had not accounted for your position in my first comment. Jonathan Morgan • 2/28/04; 4:48:18 AM

Hi everyone! First-time poster here. . . I’ve been hugely encouraged to pray in tongues more since a book I read by David Roberson describing the effect the gift of tongues has had on his ministry and, in fact, on his whole life. This also reminded me of Jackie Pullinger and David Wilkerson, both of which have seen incredible stuff happen through tongues. That said, for one Christian to put down another because they can’t do it (yet) is seriously opposed to the character of Christ revealed in the Gospels (I can see that Jonathan didn’t intend this). One of my regrets is that I’ve been able to pray in tongues for over three years, but have mostly not bothered, due to lack of understanding, discomfort with controversy, and simple laziness. I can still remember lying on my bed at university trying to pray in tongues and feeling really embarassed for some reason. Sometimes, we have to wait for the time God thinks is best for us to receive our gifts. Maranatha (not tongues, I think it’s Aramaic!)
Rowland Webb • 2/28/04; 9:47:30 AM

Fantastic. My first thought was “I gotta get me some of that!” It’s something I’ve prayed about for years and not got anywhere with, but would love that to change – just not too sure me wanting it to will make much difference – hoping that when God wants to give me that gift, He will – I certainly want to receive it.
Tom • 3/2/04; 2:42:44 PM

I may actually respond substantively later. Pax vobiscum. For now, I’ll say these two words: Catechism and Rites. + Alan • 4/16/04; 9:54:57 AM

i’ve had the same thoughts for a couple of years now. i’m totally wasted out on the 4 spiritual laws and ray comfort – why is the best way to “evangelize” always guilting them into heaven? something about that just feels so wrong, so un-Godlike. there’s a new paradigm out there that’s really an old paradigm, something where we live and walk and talk in relationship with Jesus, and that makes a diff in the people around us. people need to say yes to Jesus, yes i want to know Him – not just yes I don’t want hell…. somewhere in there is the way Jesus really spoke. no more prooftexting, and maybe we’ll find it…maybe not.
rick • 4/16/04; 7:34:41 PM

Hate to respond with a book but why not: Ancient/Future Evangelism by Bob Webber. Don’t know if it would help but it’s a stab in the dark. I have a feeling all of you are travelling the same road that Peter Gillquist and those guys from Campus Crusade travelled years ago. The paralells seem stirking. A return to the roots is what is called for. No easy answers. I agree that we need liturgy, but I have no clean answer on ‘doing’ evangelism.
joel w • 4/16/04; 9:46:36 PM

I guess my earlier post didn’t make it – I read this entry on my pda phone while at an alpha seminar :-) May God speak to ALL of us about what he intends to do next!
Pat Loughery • 4/17/04; 1:51:38 AM

that’s the problem of living in this “inbetween” time we call postmodernism. i don’t think we will know what evangelism “looks like” for awhile. i think the quote “Good is the enemy of great” applies to the modern/established church’s approach to evangelism. they get results in the form of “conversions” which has little to do with discipleship and everything to do with getting into heaven.

i long to see some holistic way of thinking about this..
miah • 4/17/04; 4:06:30 AM

I posted this on another blog and thought maybe it applies here? Just a thought: Paul said, “perhaps something more transitional needs to happen” Maybe that is what is happening already? What I mean is maybe the leadership that you are envisioning Hamo is just that = transitional? Maybe that is the whole point of all of this. That we are always between now and not yet. I think if we ARRIVE at the “not yet” then we begin to die and rest on our accomplishments. And we become people who begin to “build a temple” for Father to live in. But then again I may just be a madman! hehehe!
george • 4/17/04; 7:06:36 AM

Hey, I read the whole post, and I have to say… You’re shorter than some of my own. Without sounding all spiritual and mysterious, this is a part of the wrestle that will is unavoidable, but a very necessary part of your journey. It’s good to hear somebody willing to say that many of us pomergent people seem to have forgotten about “evangelism” — while it may need re-defining and less gimmicks, it still has to happen or we’re only deceiving ourselves. Had a great conversation last night with some people I met at the bar where our band was playing about church, permanence, sustainability, what’s the real mission of the church, etc. They’d even visited my blog! And they’re not even Christians — yet. A good friend of mine here in Winnipeg wrote recently: “First, there are the many new books theorizing on what postmodern ministry and church looks like. If you’ve read one of these, you’ve read them all. They are saying the same thing over and over again… I have yet to see something that actually reaches postmoderns, who don’t already have a church background.” Postmodernism may have been helpful in critiquing modernism (and modernistic churches) but I think we’re going to have to abandon postmodernism for answers, and build on a different foundation, while relating to a postmodern world in a missionary role, as “aliens and strangers” (but not arrogant self-righteous judgers) of the world.  Am I making sense? Or just rambling? :) robbymac • 4/17/04; 10:06:21 AM

right robbie, in evangelism, if the goal is showing people i get an B, if its telling people i get an F, if its seeing them come into a kingdom understanding, i get a C-, if its saying the prayer so when they die, i get a F-, if its wanting, waiting, expecting that they will walk up to me and spontanously convert, i get an A+ … my expectations are dysfunctional… i sucketh
eric keck • 4/17/04; 10:41:43 AM

Okay Eric, I read the whole post too and I have some of the same concerns….Does being missional mean we do the best labyrinths, stations of the cross, artistic worship? Didn’t Jesus say that his mission was this: to seek and save the lost? I think there is a sociological basis for the paradox…People sold out to God, wanting to serve him with their whole heart, willing to mess up their lives, move, change, do whatever, but in the process not being able to contextualize the gospel in a way that is inviting…. Brian McLaren has some good stuff to say in More Ready than You Realize, about conversations versus conversions, yet, let’s face it, he is the pastor of a “traditional” church…If you wrestle enough I think you will have an ah-ha moment about the sociological thing….Would love to wrestle through this with you some evening over a six-pack of adult beverages, but, sigh, distance will probably prevent this….Blessings, Charlie
Charlie Wear • 4/17/04; 2:01:10 PM

It is a legit dilemma. My gut tells me that it has to be something like Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Implicit in that notion is that someone will cross some kind of line but its not about crossing the line. Most of us would be hesitant, to say the least, to say this. “Walk with me as I follow Christ.” might be even better for us. There are some who will walk with you Mr Keck. Give it time. We may need to lay down our Great Awakening type expectations of success in this arena. Would it be ok if one or two people turned to follow Jesus because of me? ( I use the word ‘because’ very loosely.)  I want my medal.
bill • 4/18/04; 4:12:48 PM

I think Bill’s onto something about “one or two people” — it reminds me of The Master Plan of Evangelism. We want disciples, not conversions.
Jon Reid • 4/19/04; 12:44:22 PM


[23] Fee, The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.

[24] Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence (Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1994).

[25] Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence (Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1994).

[26] Fee, God’s Empowering Presence; The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.

[27] Fee, God’s Empowering Presence; The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.

[28] Fee, God’s Empowering Presence; The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.

[29]  Santa Barbara Surfing, Weblog, Spring 2004, Santat Barbara Surfing <>.

[30]  Eric Keck. The Crucible of My Heart Spring 2004 Comments 2004 <>.

[31] Christy Wimber, “Doing the Stuff.”

[32]  Chad Estes, Http://Www.Vineyardusa.Org/About/Leadership/Bill_twyman.Htm. Web Page Directory, spring 2004, VineyardUsa <>.

[33] Fee, God’s Empowering Presence; The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.

[34] Fee, God’s Empowering Presence; The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.

[35] John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984 3rd edtion).

[36] Nicholas P. Spanos, Multiple Identities and False Memories: A Sociocognitive Perspective (Washington, D.C.: (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1996)., 1996).

[37] Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence (Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1994).

[38] Joe Nickell, Looking for a Miracle:  Weeping Icons, Relics, Stigmata,  Visions and Healing Cures (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1993).

[39] David G. Benner, Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varstiy Press, 2002).

[40]  Eric Keck. The Crucible of My Heart Spring 2004 Comments 2004 <>.

[41] Fee, The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.

[42] Fee, The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.

[43] Campolo and Mclaren, How the Culture-Controlled Church Neuteed the Gospel.

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