Do Southern Baptist Believe in a Private Prayer Language?

Posted: June 2, 2007 in Uncategorized

After perusing LifeWay‘s release of a survey concerning Private Prayer Language and the Gift of Tongues, I have some questions as to the timing of the report and its purpose . It appears that this survey was a result of a Round Table meeting where a letter went out from some pastors requesting such a survey. In the letter was this request;

Therefore, we are requesting that you consider employing the resources of Lifeway to conduct a survey of Southern Baptists, …. to discover where Southern Baptists are on the issue of tongues, private prayer languages, and the acceptability of their use within our denomination.

However, according to Dr. Brad Waggoner, this survey was conducted because “LifeWay Research is committed to studying issues and trends that impact churches. This is an issue that is being discussed throughout the Convention, and we wanted to determine the perceptions and opinions of SBC leaders.” This response brings me to my questioning of the correct findings concerning Southern Baptist.

According to the report there were 403 Southern Baptist Pastors and 602 other Protestant Senior Pastors along with 1004 Protestant Laity. 60% of the Senior Pastors surveyed did not claim to be Southern Baptist. Also, while the laity sample pool is listed as Protestant, it gives the appearance that none of the Laity surveyed claimed to be Southern Baptist. With this being the sample pool for the survey, it would appear that we are not receiving a clear understanding of Southern Baptist. Due to the fact that the entire sample pool consisted of only 20% of people who claim to be Southern Baptist.


I will not get into questioning the methods employed because this is not an area that I consider myself an expert in. I will leave the methods employed to the professionals at LifeWay Research. However, my limited understanding and memory from days taking Statistics in my undergraduate degree, lead me to question the lack of SBC Laity being involved. If, as some have reported, there was a pool of SBC laity, why were they not separated from the Protestant Laity in reporting on the PPL of Southern Baptist.

The low sample of SBC pastors in order to make up an oversampling seems to be inverted. The 20% less of SBC Pastors certainly does not seem adequate if this report is, as it reports to be, a survey of the SBC and what they believe about PPL.


Would anyone in their right mind not agree that the timing of the release of this report is strange? According to the report these surveys were taken between April-May 2007. Therefore the data had to be analyzed, the reports written, and a consensus of the research team had to be together before the report went public. All this was done in 30 days. I am impressed. It does seem that Dr Stetzer’s first official day on the job produced a huge item for him to explain. However, according to the pod cast, Dr. Stetzer was involved in the survey. He was involved even though his first official day was June 1 according to LifeWay’s news release. With the convention about to tackle this issue, and it has been on the burner for the past year, releasing this report now, is the epitome of “getting out the vote”. It seems that I remember hearing Dr. Rainer say at the Baptist Identity Conference that he was about Building Bridges. I believe that is his heart’s desire, but with this report coming now, I must question what bridges he is trying to build.

Cessassionist versus Continuationists

There is an interesting question posed for this survey.

Which one of the following three options best describes your belief about the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues publicly? Do you believe: 1. This gift is still given today to some believers, 2. This gift is still given today to all true believers, or 3. This gift was only given in the days of the Apostles

Dr. Brad Waggoner said

“We generally were surprised by the number of Southern Baptists who believe this gift is still operative today, but I was struck by the number of cessationists. I would not have thought that 41% of our pastors would hold to a strict cessationist view. The middle ground is gone, but you either have a strong belief that it is possible, or a strong belief that it is not possible, if that makes sense.” – Brad Waggoner

In this response, it appears, 50% are continuationist in their theology with 41% being cessassionist. I submit, this result is skewed somewhat in the way it is asked. Brother Robin Foster has clearly demonstrated in his presentation at the Conference on the Holy Spirit, there are more than two views in Southern Baptist life concerning the Spiritual Gift of Tongues. That is something, it appears, the Research Team never took into consideration. You can tell from their ipod interviews, they only believe in either a cessassionists or a continuationists view. The way this question is worded I would have chosen #1 and I am cessassionist in my theology. But, I do believe that God can gift some believers with the gift of tongues today in order to win someone to Christ.


My initial response to the survey was surprise. I really could not believe that Southern Baptist believed this way. While it appears to be a survey that places Southern Baptist in a position as those that believe in a Private Prayer Language, I personally believe the results are skewed. They are skewed for the simple reason the survey involved 80% more Non-Southern Baptist than Southern Baptist.

There are some questions that I would like to see the Research Team report answers to. How many of those recent graduates in the survey pool are in Southern Baptist Churches now and how many are Protestant? If the purpose of this survey was to find what Southern Baptist believe about the Spiritual Gift of Tongues, why were only 400 Southern Baptist Pastors surveyed? Also, if we are looking for pew sitting Southern Baptist, were there any surveyed? If there were pew sitting Southern Baptist Surveyed, why were they not identified in the sampling?



  1. Tim G says:

    Wonderful work!!

  2. volfan007 says:


    how do i put links to other people’s blogs at the side like you have? should i ask you, or do i need to ask wes? :)


  3. Andy Atkins says:


    As a student in the Billy Graham School at Southern Seminary, I am learning quickly that good research is all about asking the right people the right question in the right way. I don’t think that ANY of the questions on this survey were worded well, let alone the demographics of the research pool. With LifeWay Research’s (and Dr. Rainer’s ) credibility on the line, one would think that a research project of this caliber would produce better results. I guess I ought to qualify “better results” by saying that I really can’t pack myself into only one of the responses offered in some parts of the survey.

    Thanks for blogging about this. As to the timing of the survey, I’m not going to try to second-guess that one.

    Keep it up!

    – Andy

  4. Tim,

    Good post.


    Great comment.

  5. Robin Foster says:

    Thanks for the plug. :-)

    You have given a humble observation over the matter. Great Job!

  6. micah says:


    Thanks for the observations. They, along with the other’s I have read have helped me understand “the other view” in regards to this survey.

    I am curious, however, about the comment that you made and that the others I have read have made about 400 pastors being an insufficient number to properly gauge accurate SBC response. I went back and took a look at other surveys done by LifeWay Research and they all number between 400-1000 responses. In fact, Gallup and Barna use the same numbers. It seems to me that these are appropriate numbers given their relative acceptance until this point?

    Again, I’m not being argumentative, intentionally anyway, but I’m curious why the problem now?

  7. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Micah,

    It seems that if we are truly trying to find results 400 is the bare minimum. I believe if you will ask Barna they will tell you the closer they are to 1000 the more accurate they can state their findings. My concern does not only rest in the low number of Pastors and the apparent lack of SBC Laity, but the blatant openness of consulting with bloggers during the survey.

    Also, some have asked how I say I trust those in leadership but question this survey. That is a simple answer for me. I want to trust the Research. I honestly have to state I am disappointed in the findings. They certainly are not what I expected. However, my trust of LifeWay is still there. I still question the appropriateness of releasing this survey results at this time. If the results are to be trusted, then the votes at the convention would reveal it. With the release of the results now, any vote taken will be called into question much like the news media releasing exit polls before polls closed on the west coast.

    LifeWay Research is a reputable organization. I just feel that with the questions all of this has raised they would have made certain there would be no hint of bias.

    Also, I respect the leadership of a BoT because we are speaking about issues coming to the forefront of the entire board. Lifeway research involves fewer people who operate under the desired direction of a supervisor. There is no clear consensus only the desired direction of 2 or 3 people.

    Concerning former surveys, are you saying they only interviewed 400 people to arrive at their conclusion for the reason of people coming back to church? As far as the Calvinism research, I do not believe I have ever commented on that. The first time I realized there was one was when Brother Ben called it to my attention. As I looked at it, they appear to have only interviewed 400 SBC pastors. Look at the difference in the questions. Nothing but clear cut straight forward questions. Brother David Worley has already point out a question on the PPL survey that calls that into question. I could have answered the question with a positive and I hold a open but cautious cessassionists point of view.


  8. Jim Champion says:

    Do you all realize that Brad Waggoner was the dean of the school of education at SBTS until a year or two ago? Dr Waggoner taught students how to do statistical research for their Phd dissertations. I believe that he is well aware how to write and analyze a statistical survey with the best of them – or the PhDs at SBTS from the school of education would not be worth much!

  9. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Jim,

    No one has questioned any persons credentials. I am sure Dr. Waggoner is a scholar of scholars. I know Dr. Setzer is also. What is questioned is the timing of the release, the multiple surveys in one survey, and the unclear questions that force people to accept answers that are not theirs. Also, did you realize that this research included an alcohol survey? It is this mixing of the issues that clearly presents a perceived problem. Besides these men know SB life and they knew this release of information would cause a stir in the SBC.

    Go and listen to the podcast. There were bloggers they were working closely with to form this survey. Only pro-PPL bloggers have been identified as those that worked with them. When one blogger was asked about it, his response was he sources were protected under the 1st Amendment. Go figure what that means.


  10. Derek says:

    I am a mathematics student who stumbled upon this post while doing statistics research. In reading Lifeway’s research methodology from thier article it seems that they not only wanted to find out what Southern Bpatist thought, but also what other Prodestant leaders thought as well. Of the subset of 405 SBC leaders 50% do believe in that gift. They also determined that the 600 non-SBC leaders were more likely to belive in this gift. What the one of the previous posters stated about needing 1000 people to determine statistical significance is incorrect. Statisticaly speaking you need a minumum of only 30 poeple to determine a normality curve, from which you can make very good scientific assumptions about a population. Abviously the more people surveyed the better your interpretation of data would be, but 400 is quite a lot to make some very valid statsitcical assumptions from.

  11. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Derek,

    Contact me at my email address. I do want to speak with you about something.


  12. Angie says:

    I happened across this post today and would like to tell briefly our experiences. We recently left a church that we were attending for the last several years. The issue of “tongues” is part of the doctrine of the church. The church believes that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is somehow separate from the indwelling, the second of work of grace if you will, and that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of being Baptized in the Holy Spirit. They support their position by stating in their 16 doctrinal “truths” that those who do not believe this are “afraid” of the “Spirit”…Our personal experience was quite different. Initially we did not speak in tongues when we were saved and Born Again. It is very difficult to convince someone that speaking in tongues is somehow associated with the “power” of the Holy Spirit when your personal experience proves otherwise. Time and again in the Bible “tongues” had a specific purpose…whether it fulfilled prophecy, or some other reason. Does that mean that I think tongues are not for today…no. Quite frankly and very respectfully speaking…it really doesn’t matter…it isn’t an important issue yet churches base their doctrine on “tongues”, whether it exists or doesn’t exist today and the power you somehow receive by speaking in tongues. I know some tongue talking people who are rude, self-centered, self-absorbed, walk by you as if you don’t exist, even publicly saying that if they don’t “like” someone they will ignore them as they go by…but they speak in tongues. The Bible said that someday tongues will cease, that day has not come, but when it does all that will be left is “love”…we need the “love” now. If we cannot walk through the halls of a church and “love” others in the congregation how do we reach out to the unsaved in love?
    The Bible is clear, very clear, about the issue of tongues. I really don’t see how anyone could be confused. Tongues exist today, just as they did before. It is a “gift” that God gives to whom He chooses. “It” is not something that every Believer receives…thus the word “gift”…Salvation is a gift…not all receive the gift of salvation. The Bible is very clear on that point also. So if not all receive the gift of salvation what makes anyone think that everyone receives the “gift” of tongues? A gift is a gift. A gift is not something you ask for, it is not something you buy, it is something you are given, whether you deserve it or not. Some believe that somehow speaking in tongues is the “Spirit” and the power and the evidence….of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit…no tongues=no power!?!
    The Bible says that the same Power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead lives inside of us…when was that…I think we must agree that is when we receive the “gift of salvation”…we have the fullness of the Holy Spirit from the moment we are Saved, and what could be more powerful than that? The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead lives inside of us and we concern ourselves with whether or not we believe in “tongues”.
    Why is it so necessary to prove we have received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, as some would like to call it, instead of what it really is, the “gift” of speaking in tongues? Why do we spend so much time in the church and outside of the church talking about something that will not get you into heaven or keep you out of heaven. Let’s just concentrate on the most important things…salvation…let’s do what Christ has commanded us to do… He said to go and make disciples…and not by telling people about tongues, but by telling people about HIM…
    Paul said it is the least of all the “gifts”…I agree.