Peter Kreeft

The Gift of Tongues

A crowd praising in tongues at a charismatic worship service

Webmaster's note: The following is a brief excerpt from:

Charisms: Visions, Tongues, Healing, etc. (feat. Dave Nevins) [also in print/eBook]

See also:

Nevins:  Let's talk about specific charismatic gifts, practically.

Tell us about a common gift, a “starter gift” if you will:  the gift of tongues.  

Kreeft:  My opinion is identical with that of the church and St. Paul.  It’s an authentic gift. 

It’s a prayer language that everyone can have.  It should be and can be used for edification. 

Paul had it.  He prays “I wish you all had it.”

Nevins: Ok, right now let's cut to a one-minute excerpt from one of your talks:

Kreeft: [audio excerpt]

If you pray in tongues, if you have the gift of tongues, that’s a wonderful prayer gift, because we’re stupid and we don’t know what to say.  

Paul tells us in Romans when we don’t know what to say, the Holy Spirit speaks for us with sounds that we don’t understand, groanings that are unutterable. 

And the fact that we don’t understand it is good because our unconscious is more powerful than our conscious. 

We have to do something with it; we have to educate it.  And repetition is a great way of educating it.  

And the fact that the conscious, rational, abstract understanding doesn’t get in the way: that’s good.  ‘Nothing wrong with either one of them, but we need both. 

So praying in words that you don’t understand is a way of saying:

“God I trust that you’re the better prayer than I am, so I’d rather use your words than mine, so please pray through me, and for me, and instead of me."

Nevins:  C. S. Lewis said he would be surprised if something like the gift of tongues didn’t exist, because it's something that only makes sense from the perspective of Heaven.

Would you call this a fair description?

Kreeft:  Yeah.  Yeah, I’m not sure about the devil and how much he can read.

Nevins:  I got that from St. Theresa of Avila’s description of her gift of tongues. 

Kreeft:  But I know he doesn’t like it.  He doesn’t like anything that comes from God, and therefore he loves to, not only head you off away from God's gifts, but also misuse them.  

So the more divine a thing is, the more he resents it, and the more he wants to pervert it; which is why you get such scandals in the church.  And you get some religious people who can be much wickeder than secular people, because “the corruption of the best things is the worst things”.

Nevins:  And the best thing, is one of its purposes:  to ignite praise.

Kreeft:  Yeah.

Nevins:  …which is a more powerful form of prayer because it involves:

So tongues is like a trigger for that.   

Kreeft:  And it also makes you humble because you don't understand it, usually. 

So you’re like a baby, and you wanna praise Daddy.  And you just say “Dada, Dada, Dada”.

Nevins:  Don’t over complicate it. ;)   That’s something similar to what Cardinal Suenens said, a chief architect of Vatican II, who described his own experience of getting the gift of tongues as being like entering a low door through a church.  If you can bend low enough, like a humble little kid, you can get access to so much more.

Kreeft:  I'm not sure whether it’s the gift itself that does that or more likely the humility that’s necessary to receive it.

Nevins:  Perhaps both.

Kreeft:  Because it's certainly not a gift that's well understood and popular and public and something that'll make you accepted at fashionable cocktail parties.

Nevins:  Ha—you gotta go to the right parties.

Nevins:  You said in your book The God Who Loves You – one of my favorites – that

and so they’re often paired.  They form a sort of a dialogue. 
Tongues is the question; prophecy is the answer. 

Kreeft:  And this is why Paul says that prophecy is the most important and tongues the least important of the gifts, because when you’re talking to God what you say is far less important than what God says to you.