Peter Kreeft. Between One Faith and Another: Engaging Conversations on the World’s Great Religions. IVP Books, 2017. See here to purchase the book.
Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College and is the author of over fifty books. Because Kreeft has written about Christian apologetics and uses rigorous logic in his presentations that I have heard, I was expecting this book to be a critique of non-Christian religions and an argument that Christianity is superior. I was wrong, and pleasantly surprised.
The book is a fictional dialogue among three people, all of whom participate in a religion class. First, there is Thomas Keptic, a student. Thomas is an exclusivist. What that often means in this book is that Thomas believes that the truth claims of the religions are mutually irreconcilable: they cannot all be true. Thomas is not a conservative Christian claiming that Christianity is true, however, but rather is a skeptic (get it, Thomas Ceptic) and an agnostic about religious truth claims. He relies heavily on logic, particularly the law of non-contradiction.
Second, there is Bea Lever, another student. She is an inclusivist, which means that she maintains that the different religions share commonalities in their practices and even, on some level, in their truth claims, and thus they are accessing a common reality. She considers herself a Christian (her name is Bea Lever, as in “believer”), and Thomas often nitpicks her about how she can be a Christian while rejecting the exclusivism (in this case, the claim that one religion is true while others are false) that is promoted in the Bible. Whereas Thomas relies on logic, Bea values intuition.
Third, there is Professor Fesser, who teaches the religion class. He is somewhat of a mediator in the discussions between Thomas and Bea. He points out the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, and he often encourages both to consider the aspects of the religions themselves, rather than continually falling back on the exclusivism-inclusivism debate. He is called a pluralist.
The book explores the question of the definition of religion and the religious sense, and it also discusses specific religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The final chapter is about the question of whether contradictory religions can simultaneously be true. This question recurs throughout the book, but it is the focus of the final chapter.
All three perspectives get their licks in. That does not mean that the book is a long, acrimonious debate (though it occasionally does become heated), but rather that each side boldly defends its beliefs. Conservative Christianity does not mercilessly mow down the other sides, in short. Near the end, I thought that the book would go in that direction, when Professor Fesser encouraged Thomas to seriously consider Pascal’s Wager and the Lord-Liar-Lunatic argument in light of his (Thomas’) logical “either-or” perspective. But Professor Fesser does not dwell on that, and the book ends on an inconclusive note, as if the journey, not the destination, is what is important. In addition, while each side holds its beliefs, they also modify them, on some level: Thomas eventually sees some value in inclusivism, and Bea admits that she is not an absolute inclusivist but draws the line somewhere.
The book does not just dwell on the exclusivism-inclusivism debate, but it also delves into the peculiarities of different religions, and the diversity within them. For example, an intriguing part of the book is when Professor Fesser explains that the co-existence of contradictions, in which prominent aspects of Hinduism believe, makes sense in light of Hindu principles about theology and cosmology.
Although the debate itself does not go in an explicitly conservative Christian direction, Kreeft, in a thoughtful introduction, explains how the three approaches fit into his own understanding of Christianity. Kreeft is an exclusivist in that he believes that Christ is God incarnate, yet he also holds that the Logos/light enlightens everyone who comes into the world (a la John 1:9, though the meaning of that verse has been debated), meaning that non-Christian religions have at least some access to truth. Kreeft also shares where he identifies with the three schools of thought that he addresses, and where he has reservations.
The book is worth reading, particularly on account of its rounded exploration of issues.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!