In the last decade a whole corps of new writers has emerged who, having added eloquence to charisma, have done a masterful job of describing the experience of speaking in tongues.
But the books produce a certain uneasiness too. For example, I toyed with various titles for this chapter such as The Experience Books - True, but Not Honest. But I discarded that because it seemed to impugn my brethren (for they are dear brothers) who have written the experience books. For the same reason I rejected another title also, The Experience Books - True but Not Fair. Eventually I decided that it would have to be The Experience Books - True but Not Complete. However, that's too cumbersome. So I'll settle for the title as it now appears.
Now, what am I trying to get at? Here it is as plainly as I can put it. I have no real reason, for example, to doubt what Pat Boone, or John Sherrill or Frances Gardner Hunter have written. The narrative of the tongues experience which they present is credible. This is what they say.
First, Pat Boone:
The moment had come. George and I were alone in the room. We raised our arms to God, and I prayed. "O Father, this is it - I give up. I yield my life to You. Please take it, Lord, and make of it whatever You want to. Forgive me of every sin, wash me clean; and Jesus, Oh, precious Jesus, be my baptizer. Baptize me right now in Your Spirit, the Spirit of the living God."
Even as I prayed I began to sense the Lord's presence in a remarkable way. I began by simply offering my voice to Jesus and supporting a tone. As I did, a beautiful melody came out, and words began to float in on the melody! It was such a graceful and beautiful thing that I hardly recognized the voice as mine. And the warmth and assurance filled my spirit.
How can I describe such a thing? It was an uplifting, inspiring, joyful experience - the most profound of my life. I had a deep sense of knowing that I was singing a new song to God.1
Now I wish to quote from reporter John Sherrill's book, They Speak with Other Tongues. Mr. Sherrill first quotes the words of a Christian woman:
What's the use of speaking in tongues? The only way I can answer that is to say, "What's the use of a bluebird? What is the use of a sunset?" Just sheer, unmitigated uplift, just joy unspeakable and with it health and peace and rest and release from burdens and tensions.2
John Sherrill also relates his own experience:
The group moved closer around me. It was almost as if they were forming with their bodies a funnel through which was concentrated the flow of the Spirit that was pulsing through that room. It flowed into me as I sat there, listening to the Spirit-song around me. Now the tongues swelled to a crescendo, musical and lovely. I opened my mouth, wondering if I too could join in, but nothing happened.
I felt a numbness in my lips and a constriction in my throat.
And suddenly I had the impression that in order to speak in tongues I had only to look up. But this was a joyful gesture. All my training and inclination was to approach God with head bowed.
Strange that such a simple gesture as lifting the head should become a battleground. And soon - perhaps because I did not obey quick enough - another directive came clear; not only was I to lift my head but I was to lift my hands too, and I was to cry out with all the feeling in me a great shout of praise to God. A hot, angry flush rose and flooded me. It was the thing above all things that I didn't want to do.
Perhaps because it was so very repugnant to me the issue was clearly drawn as one of sheer obedience.
What other possible significance could there be in my raising my hands high and mouthing some words of praise? But that was what I had to do, and I knew it. Foolish as it seemed. Or maybe because it seemed foolish. I heard E. Stanley Jones saying, "I had to become God's fool."
With a sudden burst of will I thrust my hands into the air, turned my face full upward, and at the top of my voice I shouted:
"Praise the Lord!"
It was the floodgate opened. From deep inside me, deeper than I knew voice could go, came a torrent of joyful sound. It was not beautiful, like the tongues around me. I had the impression that it was ugly: explosive and grunting. I didn't care. It was healing, it was forgiveness, it was love too deep for words and it burst from me in wordless sound. After that one shattering effort of will, my will was released, freed to soar into union with Him. No further conscious effort was required of me at all, not even choosing the syllables with which to express my joy. The syllables were all there, ready-formed for my use, more abundant than my earth-bound lips and tongue could give shape to.
It was not that I felt out of control of the situation: I had never felt more truly master of myself, more integrated and at peace with warring factions inside myself. I could stop the tongues at any instant, but who would? I wanted them never to stop.
And so I prayed on, laughing and free, while the setting sun shone through the window, and the stars came out.3
Finally, I quote from the best-selling author Frances Gardner Hunter:
There was no one in the room but Jesus and me, but the power and the presence of God was as real as it had ever been in my life. I softly whispered a very simple little prayer, "God, if it's genuine, if it's real, if it's of you, and it's for me, then make the water hard, or in my case, make the air solid under the sound of my voice, and Jesus, I ask you to baptize me with the Holy Spirit."
In that moment of yielding to God of my mind, my soul, my spirit, my tongue, my brain, I gave just one or two little sounds, and instantly I was baptized with the Holy Spirit. The room was filled with the most beautiful glow you could ever imagine. I had to close my eyes! The splendor of the Lord was there! The entire room seemed bathed with the love of God. I thought surely I must be in heaven. Never have I felt such a helplessness before God as I did in that moment of yielding. Gone were the barriers I had built up ever since I became a Christian about the matter of praying in tongues. Out of my own mouth flowed the most beautiful, soft "love" language in the world. I knew I was praising and loving God just like the 120 did on the day of Pentecost.
I have never felt closer to God, more loved by God, more protected by Him, more sheltered by Him, or more full of love and praise for Him then in those moments. My cup was running over! I couldn't understand a word I was saying, but I knew God could. My heart knew that in my overflowing with love for the One who had so changed my life, I was praising His Holy Name, and I wasn't cluttering up the praise with some of my own inadequate words, but was using the special "love" language which He had given to me. Jesus speaking of this had said, "Out of your innermost being shall flow rivers of living water." 4
I find the accounts fascinating. But what is left unsaid? Why is the message, as I suggested earlier, incomplete?
Experience alone within Christianity is not an adequate base for conviction and doctrine. The experience books are probably true. These things happened. And we should not be so sour as to refuse to praise God for everything He has done, if indeed the experiences have been from Him.
It is never spelled out in words, but the experience books generally leave the impression that speaking in tongues is the key to the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
We must also admit that experience is a very important factor in Christianity. "Once I was blind, but now I see." It is hard to argue with it. Facts are facts, you know.
But there is a dangerous lack of balance. Other experiences need to be placed alongside the experience books. In fact, this book is in a way an experience book too.
Other entertainers like Pat Boone have had a revolutionary encounter with Christ apart from the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. Authors like John Sherrill have found abundant life in Christ apart from glossolalia.
New converts such as Frances Hunter have come into the experience of the fullness of the Holy Spirit and great fruitfulness apart from the charismatic movement.
The Experience Books are injurious in that they do not say these things.
Worse, there are other equally reliable and sincere Christian people who can recount cases where demonic tongues have had to be cast out. And if we are in the realm of experience, it is possible to find instances of genuine tongues in the life of a person who remains subjected to the occult. Personally, I know of two such cases. (For a discussion of the question, can a Christian be controlled by a demon?, see Appendix A.)
Experience, then, is a shaky base upon which to build doctrine. And though I have seen an undeniably divine tongue functioning in a demonized person, that is not a proper basis for declaring that tongues cannot be the proof of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. If I say at all that tongues is not the only evidence of the fullness of the Holy Spirit that conviction must be based upon the Word of God. Experiences which do not confirm the Word of God must be questioned. And certainly no experience with supernatural manifestations should ever be made a base for doctrine.
A general observation, which has exceptions of course, is that the less grounded on the Bible a group or an individual may be, the more easily the charismatic movement penetrates. The mainline churches which have reduced their view of the Scriptures, the Roman Catholics who elevate tradition to the level of Scripture, and immature Christians who have not received an extensive knowledge of the Bible all respond readily to an experiential approach.
But in these pages our final and only court of appeal must be the Scriptures, which I take to be inerrant and verbally inspired as originally given. If the Bible will support the position taken, fine. But if it does not support a given position, then the view needs to be changed. Lacking a wide biblical base, an experience book can be harmful, even destructive. In my view the experience books have been harmful because of what has been left unsaid and what is implied.