Peter Kreeft is one of the most prolific, respected, and influential Catholic writers of the last fifty years. He is the author of nearly a hundred books (he doesn’t keep count, but says it’s somewhere around there), more than forty of which have been published by Ignatius Press—with more coming along all the time.
He has written books on Catholic apologetics and pro-life philosophy, refuting relativism and teaching prayer, surfing and Scripture, holiness and heaven, angels and demons, the history of philosophy, Aquinas and Augustine, Socratic dialogues, imaginative conversations between monumental figures of the 20th century, and more. His oeuvre in its entirety could provide one with a foundation and working knowledge of the complexities of philosophy, as well as the teachings of the Catholic Church. If one were to read nothing but Peter Kreeft, he would be strengthened in the faith and ready to preach it and defend it.
A new volume entitled Wisdom and Wonder: How Peter Kreeft Shaped the Next Generation of Catholics (Ignatius Press, 2021) chronicles the tremendous influence Kreeft has played in teaching a new generation of Catholics about their faith. It features contributions by Brandon Vogt, Trent Horn, Tyler Blanski, Jackie Angel, Matthew Warner, Douglas Beaumont, and several more. These contributions are not hagiographical; rather, they explain and present the impact Kreeft has had on these younger Catholic writers, teachers, and preachers.
Brandon Vogt, Content Director at Word on Fire, served as editor of the book. Vogt recently corresponded with Catholic World Report about the book and Kreeft’s influence.
Catholic World Report: Tell us about your personal introduction to the work of Peter Kreeft.
Brandon Vogt: I first discovered Peter Kreeft in college. I was studying mechanical engineering and physics. After a few years of religious ambivalence, my faith was reawakened by a Protestant campus ministry and I was hungry for God. However, like many math and science majors, I wasn’t satisfied with warm religious experiences. I wanted more than dim lights and emotive praise and worship music. I craved tight, rational arguments for my faith.
That’s when someone passed me two books written by a philosophy professor from Boston College named Peter Kreeft (which I later learned is pronounced “krayft,” not “kreft”). The two books were his Handbook of Catholic Apologetics and Catholic Christianity. I started with the Handbook and was immediately stunned. The first page of the introduction promised what I longed for: a clear, rational summary of all the major arguments for all the major Christian teachings challenged by unbelievers, things such as God’s existence, the resurrection of Jesus, the problem of evil, miracles, and heaven and hell.
And it delivered. I remember finishing the Handbook and thinking, “My goodness, this is all true—all of it. Christianity is rational and logical. Any smart person can get behind this and defend it.” The Handbook’s two co-authors, Kreeft and fellow Boston College professor Fr. Ronald Tacelli, made such crisp and forceful arguments, even articulating the best objections before swiftly dismantling them, that it put to rest the idea that Christianity is just mindless fantasy. Finishing that book gave me a surge of confidence that Christianity was true and could withstand even the strongest challenges from my smart engineering friends.
From there I engorged myself on all his other books. I read about Jesus, philosophy, surfing, beauty, Lewis and Tolkien, the Bible, Socratic dialogues, and more. Kreeft has written over 85 books in over a dozen genres, so you never get bored. He’s an inexhaustible treasure.
CWR: Have you had the chance to spend time with him in person?
Vogt: Yes! Several years ago we shared a stage at Franciscan University, both speaking at an apologetics conference. It was a quick meeting, though, and I doubt he remembers it. More recently, however, I had the joy of spending a whole day with him in Boston. We met in his office at Boston College where he greeted me and said, “Would you like to play ping pong or chess? At the beginning of each school year I tell each of my students that if they can beat me at both ping pong and chess, they get an automatic ‘A’ in my class. In nearly six decades, only one student has succeeded, but it didn’t matter because he already had an ‘A.’”
From there, we hopped in Peter’s car and he toured us all around Boston. We visited Nahant, an idyllic island off the Boston coast, his favorite surfing spot and the setting for his only novel, An Ocean Full of Angels. We then visited a real French Gothic castle built in the 1920s on Boston’s north shore, complete with a drawbridge, cavernous great hall, rose window, and even a bishop’s cathedra. Though in his eighties, Peter walked around like a kid in Cair Paravel.
I’ve been warned many times, “Don’t meet your heroes.” The experience can often be deflating. You discover your hero is actually arrogant, hypocritical, or just plain underwhelming. But the opposite is true when meeting Peter. He’s even funnier and wittier in person than in his books. When touring the castle or gazing on the waves, when speaking about beauty or sharing Aquinas, I met an old man wise and wondrous, the closest I’ve ever encountered to Gandalf or Dumbledore.
CWR: How did this book come about?
Vogt: It struck me that while millions of Catholics know and read Peter Kreeft, he isn’t celebrated as much as he deserves. He’s arguably the most influential Catholic apologist of the last few decades, yet until now, there has not been any book and few articles celebrating his work. I suspect most of that is because he stays behind the scenes. Peter is not a self-promoter. He’s very self-deprecating. He does not post photos or videos online, and has no social media accounts. He’s not an “influencer” in the digital sense.
But the more I spoke to friends and fellow converts and apologists, the more I became convinced of Peter’s massive legacy. The number of people who attribute their conversion or reversion to his work is incalculable. Add to that the swell of people who have been led to Socrates, Augustine, Pascal, Chesterton, Lewis, or Tolkien through his pen, and the influence grows.
As he nears his eighty-fifth birthday, I wanted to celebrate that legacy and draw even more people to his great work. So, I pitched the idea of this volume to Ignatius Press and to the other contributors, and everyone joyously accepted.
CWR: How did you go about choosing the contributors?
Vogt: The contributors represent a broad range of Catholics who have been converted, shaped, or influenced by Peter Kreeft. Most of the contributors are millennials, which I wanted to specially emphasize. It’s through these young apologists, priests, theologians, philosophers, parents, and teachers that Kreeft’s influence will ripple across the coming century. One of the contributions is from a father, sharing a dialogue with his young son about Kreeft’s writings. Two other (married) contributors claim, as their chapter title puts it, “Dr. Kreeft is Part of Our Love Story.”
Like many philosophers, Kreeft could have stayed in the ivory tower of academia. But instead, he poured himself into thousands of students and hundreds of thousands of readers. I wanted the contributors to be a sampling of that vast community of disciples.
CWR: In your introduction to the book, you talk about how Kreeft taught you how to think. Why is this important?
Vogt: Because clear thinking is liberating. It’s the key that unlocks everything else. When you think clearly and rationally, you can finally open the door to truth and avoid the dead ends of error and indoctrination. You become free.
Plato famously posited an image of a man driving a chariot pulled by two winged horses (an allegory I first discovered in one of Kreeft’s books, by the way, before reading Plato myself.) The charioteer represents the intellect, our power to think, while the horses represent our wild passions. The feral horses make it difficult to steer down the right path, which is why the charioteer needs to be strong and in control. That’s the role of our intellect. Our reason must govern our passions, as the charioteer must govern the stallions. A simple way to describe Peter Kreeft is to say, “He helps us become better charioteers.”
CWR: What is it about Peter Kreeft’s writing that makes him so influential? He has played a prominent role in countless conversions over the last several decades. Why is that?
Vogt: I lack hard data on this, but from the perspective of someone connected to hundreds of Catholic converts, I think it’s hard to find another figure in American Catholicism who influenced more conversions to the Church over the last three decades than Peter Kreeft. If he’s not this generation’s premier Catholic convert-maker, he’s certainly among the top two or three. Throughout the 1990s, the Church welcomed a significant wave of converts from Protestantism, influenced by apologists such as Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid, and Karl Keating, who aimed to show Protestants the biblical basis for the Catholic faith. Then throughout the 2000s and 2010s, there was another wave of converts, coming from more secular backgrounds, influenced by thinkers such as Bishop Robert Barron, Fr. Robert Spitzer, and Dr. Edward Feser. Often raised in non-religious homes, these second-wave converts weren’t immediately swayed by Biblical apologetics (since they didn’t believe in the Bible), but by strong arguments for God, meaning, and objective morality.
But the one overlapping influence in both waves, it seems to me, was Peter Kreeft. Converts from the 1990s often reminisce, “Yeah, I read Scott Hahn and Peter Kreeft, then decided to become Catholic.” More recent converts, from the 2000s and 2010s, will often explain, “I watched Bishop Barron videos, then read some Peter Kreeft books, and finally entered the Church.”
Of course, even more people mention Kreeft as the solitary or main figure who drew them to the Church. Yet Kreeft seems to be the one figure sitting atop both conversion waves over the last thirty years, both the Protestant-to-Catholic wave and the secularist-to-Catholic wave, mainly because he offers help and resources to all types of converts: to Protestants he offers a clear defense of Catholicism, to atheists strong reasons to believe in God, and to agnostics encouragement to hop down from the fence of indecision and try Pascal’s famous wager (Kreeft is primarily responsible for the revival of interest in Pascal’s apologetics.)
Kreeft is like G.K. Chesterton, the great convert-maker of the twentieth century. Many people came into the Church through Chesterton’s direct influence, but his indirect influence produced even more conversions. For example, Chesterton’s book The Everlasting Man helped C.S. Lewis to believe in God, and Chesterton shaped Fulton Sheen’s writing more than any other figure. So, think of the millions of people evangelized by Lewis and Sheen, and then trace those conversions, in part, back to Chesterton. For every person who counts Lewis or Sheen as their father in faith, their spiritual grandfather is Chesterton.
The same holds in this century for Kreeft. He’s the fountainhead of more than one wave of conversions. After teaching and writing for over 60 years, he has shaped multiple generations of converts who themselves are drawing others to Christ and the Church (many of those converts are featured in this book.) Kreeft is a spiritual father to hundreds, a spiritual grandfather to thousands, and will soon become a spiritual great-grandfather to many more.
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