The Two Holy Ghostwriters Behind American Christianity’s Charismatic Turn

Church life was booming in the 1950s. But where was the Spirit?

It started with an innocent-enough question: “Have you ever heard of the expression speaking in tongues?”

For the magazine editor who asked it, it was just a story idea. But it turned into a journalistic investigation that changed a reporter’s spiritual life, brought many Christians into a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit, and blew through evangelicalism with a strong charismatic wind. They Speak with Other Tongues, the compelling 1964 account of John Sherrill’s journey from skeptical reporter to ecstatic, tongues-speaking spiritual autobiographer, has had a profound impact.

As I have researched and written my new book, Age of the Spirit, I’ve thought a lot about the kinds of people who brought charismatic renewal to Anglo-world Christianity. There were preachers, teachers, and evangelists; businessmen, hippies, and housewives; professors, faith healers, frauds, and lots of everyday people who just wanted more of whatever God had to give them. The vehicle for many of these people to experience the Spirit was through the “personal witness story,” and the authors of so many of these stories in the 1960s and 1970s were John and his wife, Elizabeth “Tib” Sherrill.

It’s been almost 60 years since they wrote They Speak with Other Tongues, and both authors have now passed—Elizabeth died earlier this year. But for those of us who live in a world where people sometimes pray in a language they do not understand, where God still speaks to individuals, and where the faithful expect to see the Spirit at work in their daily lives, it’s the world the Sherrills built.

The Sherrills’ books provided a “charismatic catechesis,” preparing readers …

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