Author, apologist, professor, and philosopher, Peter
Kreeft has been one of the most prolific and beloved Catholic writers
of the last two decades. He has written over forty books, many of
them apologetic in nature, aimed at explaining Christianity and Catholic
teaching to a popular audience. Several other books reflect his love for
philosophy, especially the thought of Socrates.
Notable titles by the longtime professor of philosophy at Boston College
of the Faith (Ignatius), How To Win the Culture War (InterVarsity
Lewis for the Third Millennium (Ignatius), and A
Refutation of Moral Relativism (Ignatius). He has also co-authored
the Handbook of Catholic Apologetics (InterVarsity Press) with
Fr. Ronald K. Tacelli, a colleague at Boston College.
In this recent interview Dr. Kreeft and asked for his thoughts about his
journey to the Catholic Church as a young adult, his writing, and the
current state of Catholic apologetics.
You entered the Catholic Church as a young adult, having been raised
in a Reformed/Calvinist home. What initially attracted you to the Catholic
Faith and what was at the heart of your decision to become Catholic?
Kreeft: What initially attracted me to the Catholic Church was,
first, stepping inside St. Patricks Cathedral in New York at about
age twelve, feeling like I was in heaven (I had never been in a cathedral
before), and wondering why, if Catholics got everything else wrong, as
I had been taught, they got beauty so right. How could falsehood and evil
be so beautiful?
Secondly, a few years later, it was reading St. John of the Crosss
Ascent of Mount Carmel, out of curiosity, not understanding him,
but knowing that here was a mountain, something so massively real it had
to be true.
Then, at Calvin College, reading Catholic stuff and trying to exorcise
the temptation to like it more than I was supposed to by taking a course
in church history to prove to myself how Protestant the early Church was.
I knew one thing for sure: whether I was going to stay Protestant or become
Catholic had to be decided not by me but by Christ, so I had to know what
kind of Church He left us. If you read John Henry Newmans The
Development of Christian Doctrine, you know the rest of the story.
The doctrine that bowled me over was the Eucharist: not a single Christian
doubted the real presenceas most Protestants didfor a thousand
years (until Berengar of Tours, I think).
Youve written over forty books, and many of them are apologetic
in nature. What attracted you to apologetics? Does your interest in apologetics
go back to your time as a Protestant?
Kreeft: My interest in apologetics goes back to my interest in
philosophy and in the use of reason and argument as a way of finding truth.
Thats no more Protestant than Catholic, or vice versa.
It is somewhat unusual for an accomplished academic to write popular
works of apologetics, especially since apologetic writing has a generally
poor reputation in academic circles. Why do you think apologetics
has that reputation at the college and university level? Can anything
be done to change it?
Kreeft: I am not an accomplished academic, i.e., a
scholar. I write popular books because I enjoy reading them, whereas I
do not enjoy reading most scholarly books. They seem addressed to promotion
committees instead of real people.
Traditional apologetics has a bad reputation among modernists, who hate
tradition and dont believe in the supernatural; among postmodernists,
who hate reason and dont believe in the natural; and among nice
Catholics who are too busy being apologetic to be apologetical. Most theology
departments in Catholic colleges have not done apologetics
for decades and are proud of it; they dont want to be divisive
by suggesting that there might be such a thing as objective truth, so
that some people (other than fundamentalists) could be wrong.
Ooh, how they hate that word! (Like Fonzie on Happy Days:
it aint cool.)
Most popular Catholic apologetics today focuses on refuting Protestant
arguments and addressing groups such as Mormons, Jehovahs Witnesses,
and other sects. Your work is oriented toward refuting secularism, relativism,
and skepticism. Is there a need for more work in this area? Is there an
imbalance or weakness in this regard in popular Catholic apologetics?
Kreeft: I dont canvass the field, so I dont know how
many Catholics are arguing with Protestants, Mormons, secularists, Muslims,
etc. I do think we are called to identify the major enemies first and
turn most of our firepower on them; and if we do, I think we will find
much more in common with our civil war enemies (i.e., heretics)
and less with the world war enemies, the secularists. You
can read more about this in my book, Ecumenical
Jihad. At least heretics love their (wrong) religion; secularists
hate all religion.
Evangelical Protestants are producing some excellent books refuting
agnosticism, atheism, and skepticism. Are they doing a better job, overall
,than Catholics in this area? If so, why? What can we learn from them?
Kreeft: Again, I dont canvas the waterfront, so I cant
compare the job Protestants and Catholics are doing. But here as in many
other areas the Evangelicals are doing a lot of really good work, and
that has got to be interpreted not just sociologically but theologicallysee
Gamaliels advice to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5.
What is the greater challenge today to the Catholic Faith: secularism
or fundamentalism? Or are they two sides of the same coin?
Kreeft: This is a very surprising question. Why would any Catholic
think for even a minute that a fundamentalist, who believes in God, the
divinity of Christ, the physical resurrection, creation, the Fall, original
sin, the need for salvation, repentance, a real moral law, miracles, heaven
and hell, would be more of a problem to the Catholic Faith than a secularist
who believes in none of these things?
No matter how stupid, bigoted, and angry the fundamentalist person may
be, and no matter how sweet, open, honest, personable, and loving the
secularist person may be, if we are comparing beliefs rather than personalities,
we are comparing a 3/4full glass with an empty one.
A few years ago I had lunch with a fairly famous Catholic writer (I forget
his name), who said he liked one of my books about heaven; but I got the
distinct impression that he didnt want to distinguish between believing
and not believing anything. I remember asking him a simple question like
Do you believe that there really is a heaven and a hell? and
getting a Clintonesque answer (Basically, It all depends on what
you mean by is.)
I then went to my office and was confronted by a Fundamentalist evangelist
who tried to convert me away from the Whore of Babylon because he had
a burden for my salvation. I could not convince
him that Catholics were Christians. When he left, I thought to myself,
I feel closer to this poor stupid man than I do to the famous writer,
because at least the fundamentalist believes there is a heaven and a hell,
and at least he cares enough about me to want to save me from hell.
Youve published several books that defend and articulate, for lack
of a better term, mere Christianity. What is the strength
of this notion, (popularized by C.S. Lewis) and what are its potential
Kreeft: I wrote a dialogue about that once in one of my books (sorry,
I forget which one), between Martin Luther and Thomas Aquinas.
Reread what Lewis says in the preface to Mere Christianity. I find nothing
objectionable in it. He answers most of the objections that have come
his way since.
If you had a couple of pieces of advice for those interested in,
or working in, the realm of popular apologetics, what would they be?
Kreeft: A. Do it because you love doing it, not just because its
a good, God-ordained thing to do.
B. Do it because its a good, God-ordained thing to do, not just
because you love doing it.
What are your current writing projects?
Kreeft: 1. A series of Socratic dialogues introducing philosophy
students to the Great Books by having Socrates interview their authors
2. The Philosophy of Tolkien, a way of introducing the big questions
of philosophy via The Lord of the Rings.
3. The Most Powerful Prayer in the World, on the Lords Prayer,
and as an alternative to The Prayer of Jabez.
4. A novel of spiritual warfare, fate, dead Vikings, philosophical Muslim
surfers, sassy Black feminist social workers, armless nature mystics,
angels in disguise, postabortion trauma, the lure of the sea, the demon
Hurricano, the doom of the Boston Red Sox, two and a half dead popes,
the end of the world, the sexual revolution, Catholic theology departments
in crisis, fat Jewish mother substitutes, the Palestinian intifadah, the
possibility of Victorian romance, the sea serpent, and Jesus Christ.
(This article has been modified from a piece that
appeared in volume 7.3 of Envoy
Magazine. Used with permission from Envoy Magazine.)
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