November 17, 2008
Thomists in the Revival Tent
In leafing through my collection of Academic Alerts, I found the following piece in Volume 3, Number 2 (Spring 1994). It’s announcing Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli’s Handbook of Christian Apologetics. I was the editor for that book, and I recall wanting to approach my Alert assignment from a different angle and have some fun with it. Here’s how it played out:
Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, S.J., are colleagues in the philosophy department of Boston College, and they have both gone to school under Aquinas. Their Handbook of Christian Apologetics is conceived as a Summa Apologetica, a carefully organized mini-encyclopedia of condensed, succinctly explained arguments for Christian truth.
Don’t get the idea that this is a dull, regimented marshaling of arguments on the parade ground of reason. Imagine instead a protracted apologetic revival played out under the canopy of truth, with Aquinas dressed up as a Finney or Fulton J. Sheen. Reason reigns over emotion in this tent, but wit, charm, verbal sparkle and rhetorical mischief run down the aisles and between the benches. We see nods of agreement, nudging of neighbors, frowns, chuckles—but no dozing.
Here’s a camp favorite. After 16 arguments for the existence of God, with objections and responses all ramified and set out in loving order, we come to The Argument from Aesthetic Experience: There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Therefore there must be a God. You either see this one or you don’t.
Someone whispers in her neighbor’s ear, “Are we to assume that the music of Garth Brooks is incompatible with the unstated premise . . . and would lead to a different conclusion?”
Night after night the revival rocks on, with Kreeft and Tacelli wielding their best arguments and taking on all detractors with the whipcords of reason. Step outside and read the placard: Faith and Reason, Proofs of the Existence of God, The Nature of God, Four Problems of Cosmology, The Problem of Evil, The Divinity of Christ, The Resurrection, The Bible: Myth or History?, Life After Death, Heaven, Hell, Salvation, Christianity and Other Religions, Objective Truth.
But back in the tent the sawdust trail leads to the mourner’s bench (or, should we say, the confessional?). C. S. Lewis mounts the platform and in Oxonian diction delivers the final invitation, “Man or Rabbit?” And the prodigal moderns file forward.
Seriously, if we must, this is a book destined for many uses. But we think it will find a long life in the classroom, whether in philosophy, theology or apologetics. The chapters are clearly organized, fully outlined, fitted with study questions, and there is an annotated bibliography keyed to each chapter.
This book has sold remarkably well over the years. In fact, it’s been one of our top performers with well over 100,000 copies in print. And I doubt any real measure of that success was due to my piece in the Alert. But it was fun, and maybe it helped give it a bit of a kick start.