Handbook of Christian Apologetics

Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli (1994, InterVarisity Press, Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515) ISBN: 0-8308-1774-3, 406 pp.

Like the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Handbook of Christian Apologetics can be described as a "reference text." Both can be used to find out more about specific teachings, for example Jesus' divinity or the correct way of interpreting the Bible. And both can be read from cover to cover; in fact, I would encourage that. However, there are obvious differences. The Catechism is a straightforward exposition of the teachings of the faith and it answers the question, What are the beliefs of a Catholic? For its part the Handbook is "Apologetics" that is, a defense of faith using human reason (not saying one is sorry). In it Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ronald K. Tacelli, S.J. who are philosophy professors at Boston College, give intelligent answers to hundreds of crucial questions about the faith.

They begin with the premise that every criticism of Christianity can be answered on the basis of reason. This would include such assertions as: no one can know if God exists or not, the fact of evil disproves God's existence, the Bible is just made up stories ("myths"), God is only a projection of our desires, Jesus was a good teacher but not God, all miracles have natural explanations, salvation thru Jesus only seems unfair, etc. Kreeft and Tacelli write from within the great Christian tradition, what C.S. Lewis called "Mere Christianity," the central body of doctrines held by the vast majority of Christians throughout the ages. A Baptist, a Pentecostal, an Orthodox, a Methodist as well as a Catholic will be encouraged by the clear, reasoned defense they give of our central beliefs. On the other hand, the person who considers those doctrines outmoded or "up for grabs" will find a strong challenge in this book.

The do not ignore or "explain away" the hard teachings. Perhaps the most difficult for modern man is hell. Without flinching Kreeft and Tacelli lay out the orthodox teaching about eternal separation from God, how it is possible and why it is not a contradiction to God's mercy or his omnipotence. If it has been a while since you have thought about the possibility of damnation, you would be well advised to read that chapter. I also recommend the chapter to pastors who fall into the trap of thinking our main purpose is to help people get along with each other or feel OK about themselves. (I fall into it several times a day on the average, so I am sure I will regularly go back to what K & T say about hell.)

In fact, the entire book, far from being a dry treatise, is really a call to conversion and to meditate on the great mysteries of the faith, in a word to pray. In fact that is clearly the goal because reason by itself can only remove obstacles, not give one faith. It is one thing to know God exists and quite another to believe in Him. The latter involves risking everything. But reason can show it is a good risk, a much better one than for example investing ones life savings in Microsoft ten years ago.

I often find works like Handbook a stronger invitation to prayer than many devotional manuals. I recommend it for Lenten (and Easter) reading. While I am at it, let me also put in a plug for a briefer work by Peter Kreeft, A Shorter Summa which presents in a most readable format key sections from the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas.


Note: If you are looking for a book of Apologetics which goes a step further than the Handbook and explains why the Catholic Church is the one founded by Christ and why it is necessary to be a Catholic, I would recommend the short tract: Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth (cost: $1) from Catholic Answers. It is available both in English and Spanish as well as on audio tape. Their toll free number is 1-888-291-8000 (for credit card orders) or 619-541-1131. Catholic Answers has tracts responding to common questions of Evangelicals such as why we have statues, why we go to confession to a priest, pray to Mary, etc.

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See also: An Eternally Unbridgeable Chasm

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