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Kreeft on Heaven

Hi Friends -Peter Kreeft has some interesting answers to 35 questions about heaven from Christianity Today. Read them here.Among thethoughts I found most intriguing were:

13. Will we all be equal in Heaven?

We will be as we are now: equal in worth and dignity, equal in being loved by God. But will we be equal in the sense of the same? God forbid! One of the chief pleasures of this life, as of the next, is the mutual sharing of different excellences, the pleasure of looking up to someone who is better than we are at something and learning from him or her. The resentment expressed in saying, "I'm just as good as you are" is hellish, not heavenly. (By the way, that is one sentence that always means the opposite of what it says. No one who says it believes it.)


18. Will we be able to perform magic and miracles?

I think so. Powers that are now largely denied us, for our own safety, will be restored to us when we have learned to use them well. When our souls follow the will of God like orchestra players follow the baton of their conductor, then we will play in harmony. But just imagine what havoc God would allow if he gave us preternatural powers over nature in our fallen condition!

And the ever present

34. Is Jesus the only way? (Or can good pagans, Hindus, et cetera get to Heaven too?)

The first part of the question is clear, and the answer is clear: Unless Jesus is the victim of grandiose self-delusion or deliberate, blasphemous lying, he is the only way, for he says exactly that (John 14:6). But the second part of the question is not clear. People who have never heard of Christ, and thus have neither consciously accepted him nor consciously rejected him, must also get to Heaven through Christ, for there is no other way. That much is clear from Christ's own words. But it is not clear what is going on in the unconscious depths of the souls of such people. Only God knows. Perhaps they know and love him in the obscure form of a deep, unconscious desire and love.

The game of heavenly population statistics is one that Christ discouraged his disciples from playing. When they asked him, "Are many saved?" he answered neither yes nor no but said, "Strive to enter in" (Luke 13:24). In other words, mind your own business, your own salvation, rather than speculating about others and statistics. God has not told us the answer to this question, for his own good reasons, just as he has not told us when the world will end, another question about which we love to speculate. I think that in both cases we can see the wisdom of not telling us. If we knew when the world would end, we would not be ready at all times for the thief who comes in the night, unexpectedly. If we knew that most were not saved, we would tend to despair; if we knew that most were saved, we would tend to presumption.

What we do know is that Christ the Savior is not only a 33-year-old, 6-foot-high Jewish man, but also the eternal God, the Logos that enlightens every individual (John 1:9). Thus everyone has a fair chance to accept him or reject him, whether implicitly (for all light of truth and goodness is from him) or explicitly. We are not saved by how explicit our knowledge is; we are saved by him. Faith is the glue that holds him fast (or, more accurately, the glue by which he holds us fast, for faith is also his gift).

This is a traditional, mainline Christian position, from the time of Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria to the time of C. S. Lewis. It is halfway between the liberal view that one can be saved in other ways than Christ (for example, by good intentions) and the frequent fundamentalist view that it takes an explicit knowledge of Christ to be saved.

The middle view does not detract from the infinite seriousness of missionary work, as the liberal view does. For if we do not know how many children will fall through a hole in the ice and drown, we feel just as much urgency in shouting warnings (and in putting our words into action) as we would if we knew exactly who would die and who would not.

Regarding the equality question, I would hope that there is more political equality in heaven than there is now though I suppose in a divine sense, we are all equal in God's love.


About the Author

Marianne L. Tierney is a PhD student in theology at Boston College.



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A standard move in the rise of contemporary atheism is that theists have entirely abandoned rationality; instead, they are happy to believe whatever they wish. What elements of these conclusions regarding heaven could be called rational?I guess if one had a belief that the scriptures were historically accurate one could conclude as Kreeft does that the only option short of believing that Jesus is the only way to heaven for those who have heard of him is that Jesus was a "victim of grandiose self-delusion or deliberate, blasphemous lying." However, if one does not believe that the words of scripture are necessarily the words of Jesus, the options increase considerably.

This may be a little off the topic, but I just finishe a book on Revelations, by Wilfred Harrington O.P. In his summary he discusses the them of universal salvation and limited salvation. I think he leans toward universal salvation. I was wondering what are the thoughts on this topic.

Well, this isn't going to be to everyone's taste, but I suggest reading Mark Twain's "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven" in which he satirizes the literalist nonsense that was fashionable in his time regarding what heaven is like. seems to me that a lot of that self-serving nonsense is still rampant.

In line, I think, with the above comments, I'd say that universality is a must. It seems to me that short of this, religion becomes a notion of privatized personal reward where ultimately it's all about me and mine getting what we want. And for those fond of contemplating hell, also about others getting what we think they probably deserve...If religion doesn't help us transcend our lesser selves then I'm really not sure what it's for...Paul -

Heaven help us if Kreeft is correct. In his view heaven is little more than what I hope it will be. We can all answer our own 35 questions accordingly. If heaven means being in the presence of the beatific vision, how can a soul be conscious of anything else there or on earth? As Paul says in 1 Corinthians the resurrected body is different from the physical body; it is a spiritual body. Does Kreeft really hold the literalist interpretation of the metaphorical resurrection accounts of Jesus' body? I won't drone on.

I have on occasion thought of picking up one of Peter Kreeft's books. Thank goodness I haven't, if this is a representative sample of his thinking. I have seen deeper thinking in articles on how to lose that 10 pounds before it's time to go to the beach.Kreeft quotes quotes C.S. Lewis a number of times, but he never quotes anything like this, from A Grief Observed:

Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.Unless, of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions 'on the further shore', pictured in entirely earthly terms. But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs. There's not a word of it in the Bible. And it rings false. We know it couldn't be like that. Reality never repeats. The exact same thing is never taken away and given back. How well the Spiritualists bait their hook! 'Thing on this side are not so different after all.' There are cigars in Heaven. For that is what we should all like. The happy past restored.

"Eye hath not seen nor ear heard what God has in store for those who love him."This is about as accurate as we can get. We can guess and fantasize and people will opt for their tastes and inclinations. We believe, hope and trust in God's mercy that it will be the best we can imagine.

Maybe he's been to heaven and back himself. Check out this website: It's really quite amazing.How did he get the letters of his name to appear over the waves like that?

Does anyone else think this is weird? "Magic and miracles" in heaven?? My view is that if there is a heaven and an afterlife, then it's perfectly natural and in no need of magic or miracle and certainly doesn't provide us with powers to yield with our new-found heavenly wisdom. I was chatting with a priest from India the other day about the de-mythologyzing of the Bible. He said, "Yes, but this is a very sophisticated level of understand that most people cannot attain." Is that true? Is it really unintelligible to the world's people that, "we do not die into nothingness, annihilation,- we die into God." On a not-quite-related note, always keep in mind that reactionaries in the Church are, above all, suffering from a crisis of PHILOSOPHY. Theories of knowledge and the natural world that have been eclipsed are crowding out the Gospel, which most of them want to accept sincerely. It's the fault of the Church leadership, of course, that has fostered zombie theology by refusing to acknowledge progress in human thought. I don't think that this is an unrelated coincidence. Philosophy, while liberating, is, as classically formulated, a despotic science, freezing the world into forms and concepts. Unlike natural science, which has reinvented itself many times over, which has demonstrated itself to be 'human understanding on the move' many times, philosophy, on the other hand, has, in the West, come to be the frozen tool with which the authority of the Church defined the Faith in God. I no longer believe the classic formulation of Aquinas, that "philosophy is the Handmaiden of the theology." Allan Bloom once looked at the 20th century trends in religion, especially the Second Vatican Council and said something like "religion is euthanizing itself". No, Bloom was merely witnessing the completion and eclipse of philosophy. What's the new handmaiden of theology? I would say, authentic experience. After all, objectivity was always a kind of authentic subjectivity.

"How did he get the letters of his name to appear over the waves like that?"Two possible answers. a) it's a miracle b) he's good a really good web designer or perhaps c) All of the above. Seriously, Peter Kreeft (and what kind of philosophy does he teach, I wonder?) seems pretty thoroughly to buy into the vision of an anthropomorphized heaven. Life in heaven will be much like life on earth, stripped of its less fortunate aspects.I wonder, too, if he's ever read the Paradiso, and if so, what he makes of that vision of heaven.

"After all, objectivity was always a kind of authentic subjectivity."The Truth is objective. Christ said, "IAM", not IAM who you think IAM.

There are cigars in Heaven.Here I think Lewis is inadvertently getting at another problem with too-literal notions of the afterlife -- the trappings of that sort of paradise are totally subjective. For me, the presence of cigars would make heaven hell!


David N., thanks for that C.S. Lewis quote. He's always like a brisk slap on a cold day, and sometimes we need that.People like to speculate about heaven, I think, because they're afraid it won't be good enough.I think God doesn't tell us more about heaven, because he doesn't want to distract us from the work (and joys) we are to experience here. So, like Julian of Norwich, I prefer to leave heaven to the Almighty and assume that "all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

Hello All,I have some rather strong opinions about Professor Kreeft that may be of group interest. I have studied several of his books in some depth, and confess I really don't want to read more Kreeft. (Though I did read the article via the link Mollie has given us.)I appreciate Professor Kreeft's willingness to defend a number of traditionalist Catholic positions, including some that are not popular even among many Catholics. I think his writing style is likely and some of his books are engaging for people who are brand new to philosophy. I also appreciate his willingness to debate publicly with others on sensitive and controversial matters, illustrated with his recent exchange with Professor David Boonin over the moral question of abortion on the campus of the University of Colorado.That said, as a philosopher I'm afraid I rate Kreeft's arguments altogether unoriginal and his scholarship incompetent. I have on occasion used some of Kreeft's books in introductory classes because they address questions that are of concern to students new to philosophy. But I am careful to inform my people that nothing they will find in Kreeft has not been done before, though Kreeft is admittedly quite accessible. I have also carefully avoided using anything by Kreeft where he discusses any philosopher other than Aquinas. I think Kreeft's most substantial contribution is his fine abridgment of Aquinas' longer Summa, titled "Summa of the Summa". There Kreeft did a fine job of selecting the parts of Summa Theologiae that will be of most interest to newcomers to Aquinas' thought. And his extensive footnotes in this abridgement are very helpful so long as Kreeft sticks to discussing Aquinas. However, when I refer students to "Summa of the Summa" I warn them not to take anything Kreeft says about any philosophers other than Aquinas at face value. He misinterprets every philosopher he mentions other than Aquinas in ways so elementary that he would have no chance of getting a grade higher than a C in one of my classes for turning in such bad scholarship, and he's a philosophy professor at quite a fine institution.

Me again all, I apologize, I should have said "Marianne" and not "Mollie" - I mixed up the names of our two fine moderators.

Peter, I can't take credit for this one -- it's Marianne's link. (Edit: and you caught yourself before I even replied!) Thanks for mentioning the "Summa of the Summa." We have it on our bookshelf at home, which must be why Kreeft's name sounds familiar to me. I will keep your warning in mind if I ever get around to picking it up!

Hello Mollie (and All),Believe it or not I reviewed "Summa of the Summa" on Amazon (on March 7, 2002). Perhaps you and others may find it of interest: one of Kreeft's former students who is also one of Kreeft's ardent admirers thought my revue was fair.(Hmmm, now how is that for shameless self-promotion Peter V.?)

I began reading Peter Kreeft in high school and continued reading him through my early college years. He is a clear and accessible writer. I enjoyed his "Socrates meets..." series, where he would create dialogues between Socrates and random historical figures (e.g. Marx, Macchiavelli, an abortionist, generic Jesus-seminar type Bible scholars, etc.). My two favorite books of his are Making Sense Out of Suffering (his version of C.S. Lewis's Problem of Pain)and Between Heaven and Hell (and imagined dialogue about Jesus between JFK, Aldous Huxley, and C.S. Lewis in the afterlife; all 3 died on the same day in '63).I will admit that I do not read him anymore. I studied philosophy as an undergrad, and theology in grad school, and, as such, I don't need him anymore. His writings come off as simplistic. But he is good for people without the philosophy or theology backgrounds who want a quick introduction to these topics from a believing Christian perspective.

I have found that the more of Peter Kreeft that I read -- or listen to -- the more I want (and the more I am drawn deeply into seeing Jesus Christ in the world and the more in love with Him I fall).His writings in particular on heaven -- especially in his book "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven, but Never Dreamed of Asking" -- seem remarkably rooted in Scripture, Christian thought and the lives of the saints. His musings on heaven do not so much make it an "enhanced earth" but makes it real, makes it tangible, makes it incarnate. It helps one to understand how heaven descends into the lives of the holy on earth and begins in this life as we seek Christian perfection. I am grateful that there are thinkers like Peter Kreeft to ponder these deep mysteries with the joy and creativity of a child -- thinking outside the box of sterile modern thought but well inside the gigantic box of Christian possibility.I also think that he would take charges of being simplistic and unoriginal as very high compliments. (Though in his intentional quest to be simplistic and unoriginal I would charge that he has tapped into deep reservoirs of Christian thought and shown great uniqueness).

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