"What is this babbler trying to say?" Acts 17:18

Monday, June 22, 2009

Between Heaven and Hell

The fictional dialogue is an ancient way of conveying hard topics in a reader-friendly way. Plato placed Socrates in conversation with other philosophers of ancient Greece and the literary technique of the Socratic Dialogue was born. The imitators of Plato have been holding little chats ever since. The most recent writer to come to my attention who has found the fictional Socratic Dialogue to be useful is Peter Kreeft. His book, Between Heaven and Hell, brings together John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley for what the subtitle explains is “A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death.

The setting for such a dialog makes use of the remarkable death of all three men on the same day in 1963. Kreeft lifts the curtain on the dialogue with one of the dead men asking: “Where the Hell are we?” This initial question may not be answered satisfactorily for each of the three men but, because it is a question that many still on earth have asked, it is a relevant starting point for a philosophical dialog of interest to both the living and (in this case) the dead. The three speakers soon move on to other questions; questions about knowledge, truth, and, ultimately, the truth of Jesus' divinity.

Proving the divinity of Jesus, the core of the Christian apologetic, is Kreeft's goal and, despite some important detours, the dialog constantly returns to this pivotal point. Once prove that Jesus is God and all other questions are answered. Kreeft has the character of Lewis call it,

“the skeleton key principle: it opens all other doctrinal doors.”

Kennedy: “You mean once you believe that, anything goes?”

Lewis: “No, anything he [Jesus] says goes” (35).

In the argument for the divinity of Jesus, Kreeft extensively develops Lewis's famous “lier, lunatic, or Lord” argument. He shows that the ubiquitous “good moral teacher” idea cannot apply to a lier or a lunatic. Because Jesus claimed to be God (and was crucified for this very reason) the only conclusion we can draw is aut deus aut homo malus: “either God or a bad man” (37-38). Clearly, those who crucified him thought he was a blasphemous bad man. Is anyone really willing to go that far today? But Kreeft and Lewis point out that the only alternative is to accept what he called himself: the Great I AM, God.

PS. Normally I spell “dialogue” with a “ue” ending but I have noticed that “dialog” is very common. Imagine the time before dictionaries when nearly every word could be spelled (spelt) at the whim of the individual author! In facsimile copies of old books published long before the time of Webster or Johnson I have seen the same word spelled two different ways on the very same page. There is a sort of horror at this lack of rules but also a certain empowering freedom in this variability. I've indulged myself in this post by using both spellings. (Actually, I heard somewhere that the variations in spelling, particularly the extra “e” on the end of some words was added by old-time typesetters so that the right-hand margin would look straight.)

Peter Kreeft, Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death With john F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois. 1982.


David Haddon said...

Brian, were you practicing empowerment when you twice spelled "liar" as "lier" in this otherwise somewhat intriguing appreciation of Kreeft's apologetic?

Brian Carpentier said...

Ha, ha! I suppose so... Actually I think "lyer" is an even better way ("y" is cool; it must be because all the old dead white guys added "y" to lots of words). But truly, I don't recall ever having claimed to know how to spell. Right now I'm going to lie down and read a book (which will make me a truly honest-to-goodness lier).