Speaking in Tongues: Everyday Experience and Practice

Randall Holm, Martin Tampier


Speaking in tongues is arguably one of the controversial and life-impacting experiences for Christian believers. Notably, it is a powerful experience often interpreted as a direct encounter with God when it first occurs. Despite the assumption by some Pentecostal-charismatic groups that they have a monopoly on it, the experience of speaking in tongues has remained sporadic, at the least, throughout Christian history, and has found recent entrance into various denominations. Yet although it is practiced by probably hundreds of millions of people worldwide, the phenomenon remains an elusive and under-researched field.

We have conducted a series of interviews with tongue speakers to gauge how, at and after the initial event (usually called the Baptism in the Spirit), tongues continue to be experienced. We wanted to know what happens when people first speak in tongues; how, and how often, is speaking in tongues being practiced; what are the supposed benefits or effects of praying in tongues; what are reasons and applications for praying in tongues; is tongues used in private or also in public - possibly with interpretation? Does it perform in ways that perhaps conventional collective or individual prayer does not? Based on a questionnaire with several sets of questions grouped around the topics 1) initial experience; 2) subsequent usage; 3) personal experience; and 4) particular questions (e.g., theology, opinions), we interviewed 75 tongues speakers.

The results demonstrate that for many Christians speaking in tongues continues to be an important part of their lives. Many report that praying in tongues has positive effects, such as enhancing their prayer lives or helping them pray for aspects they feel inadequate to address in their own language. Tongues empowers, calms, gives peace and is experienced as a form of prayer substantially different from praying in one’s own language. As such, we conclude that the practice is there to stay due to its perceived benefits


Pentecostalism, Tongues

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