My Years as a Tongues Speaker

Chapter 8

Prior to 2 a.m. on a winter night late in 1968 at Soul Inn (the story of which is yet to come), I had consigned anything to do with Pentecostalism to the nether regions, meaning that I thought such was error or even outright demonic. After that night, I was a tongues speaker until 1975. When I ceased speaking in tongues, I continued to hold to its validity, as well as the validity of all the other charismatic gifts. It is simply that I stopped speaking in tongues, a ceasing I cannot explain.

I am not a “cessationist,” defined as someone who believes that the charismatic gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12—at least the “power gifts” like speaking in tongues, prophecy, and miracles—are no longer operative and are also unnecessary after the publication of the Bible. I never bought that idea, because I did not clearly see it in Scripture. I was tempted to advocate it, however, when distortions of the charismatic gifts, especially prophecy, became all too flagrant.

On the other hand, neither am I a “continuationist.” I am better described, at the present time, as a “semi-cessationist” and a “semi-continuationist” and all at once, but I reserve the right to change my mind. What I mean is that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit are operative, but mostly in awakenings, and during “normal” times they recede. My position is based on two things. One, this was my experience with the JPM, and I am not the only piece of evidence; rather, I have found that my tongue speaking, and the definite beginning and ending thereof, is characteristic of many. Two, I have found in my research into awakenings in America and elsewhere that the same may be observed in some of them.

Early on in the Jesus Movement (a designation originating from where, I do not know), we called ourselves “Street Christians.” Our fields of labor were the streets of the big cities. For me it was San Francisco, specifically the Haight-Ashbury District, where the young and restless were looking to expand their minds and explore esoteric spiritualities, and where sex and dope could be found in abundance. Sex and dope went hand in hand and likely became motivators for the majority, but there were definitely those who wanted to find God and assumed He was not to be found in the American churches. The causes for this are beyond the scope of this piece, but to identify with a “church” was not the thing to do then.

I was a Baptist, but I mentioned this to very few people. For a while, I avoided the term “Christian” as well. “A follower of Jesus” is how I described myself. Eastern religions were big, Buddhism more than Hinduism, but there was the Hare Krishna thing, and the Beatles made TM (Transcendental Meditation) popular for a time (One day I ran into George Harrison of the Beatles. He was wearing glasses with thick red heart shaped lenses. I said hello and noticing the glasses wondered how he could even see through them. I learned later that day that he had visited the devotees at the Hare Krishna Temple.) There were many “isms” vying for attention, and all of them were foreign and new to me. During 1967, I received so many rejections, beatings, and threats, that I felt like giving up and concentrating my efforts in Byron, but I remained sure that God had called me; I did not discourage easily.

Sometime in 1968 news coverage circulated of what was going on. Some reporter used the phrase “Jesus Freak,” a tag I did not appreciate and rejected in favor of “Street Christian.” A more friendly term, “Jesus People,” was coined along the way, and I more gladly adopted that one. Later on, the whole awakening thing going on across the country was termed the ‘Jesus People Movement’ or JPM. This worked for almost everyone.

It is not clear to me when I realized that what I had been involved in was unusual. During my seminary years the great revivals of religion were taught, but I had no idea that the JPM was actually one of those. It was only in looking back at it that I realized that the JPM was an awakening like the great awakenings America had previously experienced, and this realization came primarily through reading the
books of David Martin Lloyd-Jones and, above all, Iain Murray.

In my book, Awakenings in America and the Jesus People Movement, I attempt to demonstrate that the JPM meets the requirements for inclusion in America’s great awakenings (see

“Jesus freak” was not a term of derision, as it turned out. Everyone who sought after more than could be found on main street USA was a freak of some sort, even if it did not involve sex, dope, or far out religion. Artist, poet, musician, writer, occultist, astrologer, psychic, Satanist, monk, wanderer—these and more were considered part of the freakiness that seemed to offer more. I was not really one of these, as I had already found what I had not even been looking for. The fact is that I was a babe in the woods when it came to the hip lifestyle. I was too old to be a “teeny bopper” and felt out of place at times. I was closer to a would-be beatnik, but I soon learned how the hippie life worked.

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