Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Do We Listen?

Written by: on February 14, 2019

When I picked up When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God by T.M. Luhrmann I was expecting a hit job on evangelicals. Not sure why, just was. What I found was a deeply thought out discussion of the implications of hearing God speak.

Luhrmann discusses her experiences within The Vineyard denomination, which, to my embarrassment, I had never heard of until last year when I began the LGP program. I enjoyed the historical trip through the beginnings of The Vineyard as a denomination. I also enjoyed Luhrmann’s use of real world examples in what it means to hear from God. The first thing one needs to do in this discussion about hearing from God is to define what one means by hearing. There are several options but Luhrmann focuses on an actual audible hearing, and the inner voice directing.

I grew up in many different church settings, Methodist and Episcopalian were the two that dominated most. My mom also took a swim through charismatic churches where speaking in tongues and ecstatic speech and motion where common place, I will be honest with you, for a 10 year old boy, they scared the crap out of me. They made me not want anything to do with Christianity growing up. The funny thing is, there is scriptural precedence for speaking in tongues, yet, those whose churches eschew speaking in tongues would call those who do at best misinformed. In a 2005 article from the Baptist Standard reads, “The International Mission Board no longer will appoint Southern Baptist missionaries who use a “private prayer language”–a controversial practice related to speaking in tongues and previously practiced by board President Jerry Rankin.” [1] They had already blocked people from serving who spoke in tongues publicly using the secessionist argument but now they attacked those who did it in private. They even brought people off the field who refused to sign the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 which said tongues were no longer used. This caused quite a fight within Baptist circles, pitting pastor against pastor. The church I was interning at had several leaders leave the church over this fight. This went on for 10 years, and then in 2015 there was a change. “After decade-long resistance, the Southern Baptist Convention will admit missionary candidates who speak in tongues, a practice associated with Pentecostal and charismatic churches.” [2] They still will not affirm that speaking in tongues is a prerequisite for being a believer but allow it now. In fact a survey of SBC pastors showed 50% believe that tongues is still is practiced. [3] While the percentage versus Non-SBC Protestant Pastors, there is a trending up of those who believe in it.

I know that is a rabbit trail that I chased, but it is part of my path I have traveled in listening to God. I do not speak in tongues, I have never been given that gift. I do hear God speak, in many different ways though. I have heard the audible voice (I admit it scared me the first time) and he has spoken to me through his word, he has spoken to me through others and in a still small voice on the inside. The first time this happened I wondered if I was going crazy. I had just become a Christian and audibly heard God one day while I was driving to go to Seminary. It startled me because I heard it while no one else was in the car (I don’t believe in ghosts). It was clear as day, “turn here and seek what I have planed”. That is why I was intrigued by Lurhmann’s chapter “But Are They Crazy”. In her book Luhrmann states “To many people, hearing a voice when no one is there is a sign not of God but of mental illness. So does it follow that actively try to hear God’s voice might lead the way to madness?”[4] She goes on to line out the difference between hearing voices/schizophrenia et al. and hearing from God. The biggest differentiator is hearing voices is a “continuous..the disturbance persist for at least six months.” [5] and has destructive qualities versus hearing from God is the voice is not destructive, there is not a loss of control and “congregants are acutely aware of what their audience might think of their experience.” [6] I rarely discuss hearing God’s voice, but I do rely on hearing from him in other ways. God has used circumstances, other Christians and his word to speak to me.

I love what Luhrmann wrote at the end, “the very features that seem so irrational to skeptical observers–God’s right-here immediacy, the insistence that the worshipper should pray specifically and that God will answer every prayer…actually help Christians to manage their own doubts”[7]. To me, as a Christ follower, I am not above doubting some times. Not that God exists but what he is trying to tell me. That seems to me the cornerstone of my relationship with God. The doubt is part of my eyes opening to what he has called me to be and to do.

[1] Marus, Robert. “International Mission Board Seeks to Tie Tongues.” Baptist Standard. December 02, 2005. Accessed February 13, 2019. https://www.baptiststandard.com/archives/2005-archives/international-mission-board-seeks-to-tie-tongues/.

[2] Horton, Greg, and Yomat Shimron. “Southern Baptists to Open Their Ranks to Missionaries Who Speak in Tongues.” The Washington Post. May 14, 2015. Accessed February 13, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/southern-baptists-to-open-their-ranks-to-missionaries-who-speak-in-tongues/2015/05/14/1fddd28a-fa7e-11e4-a47c-e56f4db884ed_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6958dc9aca98.

[3] Lovelace, Libby. “LifeWay Releases Prayer Language Study.” Baptist Press. June 01, 2007. Accessed February 13, 2019. http://www.bpnews.net/25765.

[4] Luhrmann, T.M. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2012. 227.

[5] Ibid. 229.

[6] Ibid. 232.

[7] Ibid. 301.

About the Author

Jason Turbeville

A pastor, husband and father who loves to be around others. These are the things that describe me. I was a youth minister for 15 years but God changed the calling on my life. I love to travel and see where God takes me in my life.

6 responses to “Do We Listen?”

  1. Good post, Jason!

    Wow! I’m amazed at how differently you saw this text from me. It’s refreshing to read your interpretation and gain a different view.

    As I read the assigned text this week, I couldn’t help but see it through the lens of my VERY diversified background. I got saved in a Baptist church, learned how to love worship in a Pentecostal church, grew to love the Word of God in a Calvary Chapel and resonated with the theological leanings in a Methodist church. I wonder if all of us saw this book from varied ways based upon our denominational background.

    You mention, “In a 2005 article from the Baptist Standard reads, ‘The International Mission Board no longer will appoint Southern Baptist missionaries who use a “private prayer language”–a controversial practice related to speaking in tongues and previously practiced by board President Jerry Rankin.’” [1] This was interesting to know! One of my frustrations with Luhrmann was her generalized interpretation of God’s voice. Is the SBC painting the same view for pastors and missionaries? Are they dictating how God is supposed to speak to men and women personally based upon denominational affiliation?

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      We definitely are painted by our experiences and it will color how we view God. I was only exposed in general to a very austere and reverent form of worship until I was in my 30’s and it has been a journey to find new ways. The SBC made the ruling they did because as a general rule of thumb at that point the leadership was of the mind that tongues had ceased, then in 2015 they changed their view because of the leadership evolving to a younger group of individuals. I will admit I do not know where I stand vis a vi tongues except to say I believe it still happens but I am not sure all of it is in line biblically. But as all things, this does not mean I am right, it is just my reading of scripture.


  2. M Webb says:

    I went into the blog list to find you. I had the same problem, I think when we posted we could not access the LGP8 Tag, but I found you!
    Thanks for your review and personal background with the whole speaking in tongues and charismatic practices movements. I have been in cross-cultural churches when there was a lot of non-translatable languages and noises going on where I felt the Spirit moving, but nobody was translating, and it was confusing and uncomfortable for most Westerners. Esoteric themes in evangelicalism is a dangerous and slippery slope that I chose to avoid. I take scripture literally and without error, so yes, I believe in the Pentecostal version of speaking in other languages. I observed it in person between my wife and an Afghan man while we were on mission in the Central Asia. It was a miraculous event. I could understand her, but not him, but could tell he could understand her, and she understand him using their own languages.
    Can we hear from God, of course. He created us! Yet I believe each communication event to His created beings is unique, individual, and as specific as our DNA that He formed before time. If we have the Holy Spirit in us, as believers in Christ, then the communication is very exciting. Good post my friend.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      I have been in similar situations in Thailand where I know tongues was used but I have never been the user or translator. I wonder if we here in the US have tuned our ears not to hear from God because we have removed so much of the spiritual influences from our lives, where as in many parts of the world the dark and light are overt in their battle.


  3. Jason,

    A fascinating post; thank you!

    I also liked this book, and was heartened by the journey I perceived in the author as she became part of the community.

    I was once friends with a Southern Baptist minister who while we were friends had charismatic experiences including tongues, dreams, visions, etc. He really struggled as at that time he could not become a missionary with the denomination as his theology had changed. He ended up going into the Army and became a chaplain. It’s good to see the SBs loosening up a bit.

  4. Yes, I liked the book too. I appreciate your focus on unity in the Body rather than focusing on doctrines that pit individuals against each other. This is my heart as well.

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