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Another Look at John L. Sherrill’s book, ‘They Speak with Other Tongues’

By Roscoe Barnes III, PhD
Author, F.F. Bosworth: The Man Behind “Christ the Healer”
Copyright © 2022

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When you read a book that you haven't read in decades, you tend to see things that you didn't see on your first reading. That happened to me recently when I came across the late John L. Sherill's book, They Speak with Other Tongues (Pyramid Books, 1964). The book is a first-person account of a reporter, John L. Sherill, who set out to investigate the growing phenomenon of speaking in tongues in the early 1960s. In the process of his research, his own life became part of the story he was investigating -- and was transformed when, to his surprise, he began to speak in tongues.


My first reading of this book occurred in the mid-70s, when I was a teenager. At the time, I was a new believer and knew nothing about Pentecostals and charismatics. I was also clueless about the who's who of Pentecostalism and the various names highlighted in the book. There was much, to be honest, that simply did not resonate with me.
Now 45 years later, I am quite familiar with those leaders who spoke with other tongues. Today, as I flip through the pages, I see names and experiences that speak to me in new ways. It's as if I'm reading the book for the first time.
As I pore over the pages, I see a number of stories that stand out. The first one that caught my eye was the connection of Norman Vincent Peale, and his wife, Ruth Stafford Peale’s, connection to the charismatic movement. Norman is known for his bestselling book, The Power of Positive Thinking. He and Ruth also published Guidepost magazine. Sherrill was one of their writers. According to Sherrill, it was Ruth who introduced him to Harald Bredesen. She was genuinely interested in the phenomenon of speaking tongues. She and Norman had sat “spell-bound for two hours” listening to Bredesen’s testimony over dinner. “Well,” she said. “I for one want to know more about it.”
Tongues recognized as Polish
Sherrill initially planned to write a story about the experience, but after meeting Bredesen, he realized the issue was much bigger than an article: it would take a book to do the story justice.
They Speak with Other Tongues recounts numerous cases where the tongues turned out to be actual languages that were understood by people in the audience. For example, when Bredesen received the baptism in the Spirit, he reportedly spoke to an old man in Polish. Bredesen did not know Polish, but the man did, and he tried to talk to Bredesen in that language. The man was surprised to learn later that Bredesen did not know the language.

Another story that stood out to me was the testimony of David J. Du Plessis aka Mr. Pentecost. He was one of many Pentecostal leaders interviewed by Sherrill. In addition to talking to Sherill about tongues, Du Plessis spoke of a car accident that had a profound impact on his life. Said Sherill: “The accident had a profound effect on him, on his ministry, and ultimately on the entire Pentecostal movement.” Du Plessis believed the Lord used the accident, including his injuries, to prepare hm for his global ministry in ecumenism.

Difference between Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals
Du Plessis also shared a colorful story about the difference between those who speak in tongues and those who do not. In a meeting at the headquarters of the Episcopal church, a priest asked, “Mr. du Plessis, are you telling us that you Pentecostals have the truth, and we other churches do not?” Du Plessis prayed for wisdom and responded as follows:
“We both have the truth,” he said. “You know, when my wife and I moved to America we bought a marvelous device called a deep freeze, and there we keep some rather fine Texas beef.
“Now my wife can take one of those steaks out and lay it, froze solid, on the table. It’s steak, all right, no question of that. You and I can sit around and analyze it: we can discuss its lineage, its age, what part of the steer it comes form. We can weigh it and list its nutritive values.
“But if my wife puts that steak on the fire, something different begins to happen. My little boy smells it from way out in the yard and come shouting: “’Gee, Mom, that smells good! I want some!’
“Gentlemen,” said David, “that is the difference between our ways of handling the same truth. You have yours on ice; we have ours on fire.”

‘Bible days are here again’

Interestingly, a number of striking comments came from unexpected sources. For instance, Dr. Henry Pitney Van Dusen, then-president of Union Theological Seminary in New York, uttered words that were surprisingly similar to the prophecies and claims made by Pentecostal evangelists and scholars. After visiting Pentecostal churches, he concluded: “I do believe that Peter and Barnabas and Paul would find themselves more at home in a good Pentecostal service than in the formalized and ritualized worship of most of our modern churches.”

He further stated: “I have come to feel that the Pentecostal movement with its emphasis upon the Holy Spirit, is more than just another revival. It is a revolution in our day. It is a revolution comparable in importance with the establishment of the original Apostolic Church and with the Protestant Reformation.”

This reminded me of F.F. Bosworth and Gordon Lindsay, and others, who said in their time, “Bible days are here again.” Van Dusen described the movement as "a third, mighty arm of Christendom." He viewed it, writes Sherrill, as "standing boldly alongside the Catholic and Protestant arms. And at the hard center core of this third force was the Pentecostal revival."

Sherill mentions many other names that would be easily recognized by students of church history. He writes about Charles Parham, William Seymour, Paul Walker, Dennis Bennett, Charles W. Conn, Catherine Marshall Lesourd, H.B. Garlock, Larry Christenson, T.J. McCrossan, Howard Ervin, Lydia Maxam, and Demos Shakarian, among others. Speaking of Wilkerson, he said the young preacher prayed in tongues daily to prepare for his ministry on the dangerous streets of New York. Sherill writes of revivals breaking out among students on the campus of Yale University. He also notes the move of the Spirit among Catholics and Lutherans and other groups.

Billy Graham's endorsement


The book includes an endorsement by Billy Graham and other church leaders in the form of a blurb. Graham said, “I believe the time has come to give the Holy Spirit His rightful place in our churches. We need to learn once again what it means to be Baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Graham was right, and what he said then, is undoubtedly true today. Even though the experience of speaking in tongues is better understood and more popular today than it was in the 1960s, I believe there is much more to learn about the baptism in the Spirit and the gifts that the Spirit bestows on the church.

They Speak with Other Tongues is a good read. It is entertaining, conversational, and inspiring. It uses elements of suspense, dialogue, and colorful descriptions -- the things you’d see in a good novel. It presents its message without preaching. History and theology are covered, but the delivery is not heavy-handed or “in your face.” If you can find a copy that’s still in print, pick it up. Grab a cup of coffee (or tea). Step back in time and enjoy the journey.


Note: My book, F.F. Bosworth: The Man Behind "Christ the Healer," can be purchased here with a 25% discount. Use the discount code (all caps): BOSWORTH25.

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Visit the F.F. Bosworth page here. Questions about the research and commentary on F.F. Bosworth may be directed to Roscoe Barnes III, Ph.D., via email at or For updates on F.F. Bosworth history, simply follow this blog or @bosworth_fred and @Roscoebarnes3 on Twitter. #ChristTheHealer #BosworthMention #BosworthMatters