Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
Ecstasy and Tongue Speaking: A Corrective Note
Daniel A. Tappeiner
John Wesley College
From: JASA 26 (September 1974): 131.
The so-called tongues issue is very much alive within evangelical circles, as
can be seen by a quick perusal of articles recently published in many popular
and scholarly publications. Often in these articles there is a recurring point
which, as yet, seems to have been inadequately dealt with. This point
with the nature of the tongues experience as it is found among those involved
in the present day charismatic renewal. With almost predictable regularity the
word "ecstatic" is used in conjunction with descriptions of
It is not difficult to understand how such a connection is made. The contexts in which glossnialic phenomena have been observed and studied promote it quite strongly. Both the theory and the practice of traditional Pentecostals lend themselves to an interpretation of tongue-speaking as an ecstatic experience. I would like to submit, however, the following thesis which introduces a refining distinction much needed for an accurate interpretation of the nature of tonguespeaking. The experience of tongue-speaking, as found among those in the current charismatic renewal, is a purely voluntary verbal behavior which is neither ecstatic nor emotional in nature. A distinction must be made between the experience itself and the cultural and responsive patterns which occur with it.
Note carefully the following points contained in this proposition. First, tongue-speaking is purely voluntary. The typical comment on this by those in the present movement is along these lines: "I can pray in tongues anytime I want and I can atop when I want also." There is no sense of compulsion, although the desire to pray in tongues may be stronger at some times then at others even as in prayer with the mind. There is no question of "possession", whether by the Holy Spirit or any other spirit, involved in tongue-speaking. Any experience which is at all suggestive of spirit possession is suspect and rejected by modern charismatics.
Second, tongue-speaking as an experience is not essentially ecstatic or even emotional. This may seem surprising to many in view of the testimonies often given and the observable phenomena in some contexts. There is often, after all, a context of joy, shouting, clapping, falling down, lifted arms, tears and other such evidences of ecstasy and deep emotion. Again, however, the typical experience and comment by those in the movement is "When I pray in tongues I am aware of where I am and what I am doing. Why, I can even drive a car and pray in tongues!" Larry Christenson, a prominent leader in the renewal, makes this point in these wordsl: "I do not pray in tongues because it gives me a continual thrill . . . . Regardless of what I feel or don't feel, the Bible tells me plainly that the exercise of this gift will have positive results. I believe the Word!" In other words speaking in tongues may or may not be accompanied by emotion or any unusual state.
The third point to note is that, though there is nothing inherently ecstatic or emotional in the experience of speaking in tongues, there is often a personal response to this deeply spiritual experience-a response which is relative to the psychological structure of the individual and to his cultural expectations. Emotion is responsive. In this case the emotional response is to an experience which is interpreted as being a supernatural and deeply spiritual one. Further, the psychological effects of praying in tongues are integrative and liberating. It produces changes in the individual which allow him more readily to recognize and to express emotional responses.
Precisely which types and levels of expression are found is a matter of the individual's basic personality structure and also of the ethos and expectations of the Christian community within which the individual is functioning. Here the influences of the social and educational background of the person are evident. The traditional Pentecostals have developed behavioral patterns suggested by their theoretical understanding of their experience and conditiond by their cultural background. The same is true of the new charismatics. Mainline theology and a higher degree of educational and social sophistication have produced an ethos of behavior and response which is as different from the traditional Pentecostals as it is from the typical forms of the mainline Churches from which the new charismatics come.
One further note should be made. Because of the deep spiritual and psychological changes which follow from the regular practice of praying in tongues a new dimension of experience is often opened up. An enhanced openness, expressiveness and sensitivity to spiritual realities can lead to experiences which have been generally associated with the mystical tradition. Unusual and significant dreams, visions, and the spontaneous overflow of emotions, whether of joy or compassion, are more likely to be found as a result of the tongues experience, especially if it is continued regularly and in community. Thus, though tongue-speaking itself is neither ecstatic nor emotional, it may open levels which are.
If persons on both sides of the tongues issue accept and keep in view these simple points a profitable service toward clarity and accuracy will have been accomplished.
1Larry Christenson, Speaking in Tongues, Dimension Books, Minneapolis 1968, p. 132.