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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 include Fundamentals of the Faith (Ignatius), How To Win the Culture War (InterVarsity Press), C.S. 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. Patrick’s 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 Cross’s 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 Newman’s 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 presence—as most Protestants did—for a thousand years (until Berengar of Tours, I think).

You’ve 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. That’s 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 don’t believe in the supernatural; among postmodernists, who hate reason and don’t 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 don’t 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 “ain’t cool.”)

Most popular Catholic apologetics today focuses on refuting Protestant arguments and addressing groups such as Mormons, Jehovah’s 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 don’t canvass the field, so I don’t 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 don’t canvas the waterfront, so I can’t 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 theologically—see Gamaliel’s 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 didn’t 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.

You’ve 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 weaknesses?

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 it’s a good, God-ordained thing to do.

B. Do it because it’s 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 in purgatory.

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 Lord’s 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.)

Peter Kreeft's IgnatiusInsight Author's Page | Kreeft's personal web site | Excerpts of Kreeft's writing


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