Book Review: “Between Heaven and Hell”
Reading this book was my first encounter with the well known apologist Peter Kreeft. Kreeft works as the professor of philosophy at Boston College and at The King’s College. I had originally heard of this book by way of recommendation from one of my professors at FWBBC while we were en route to visit a conference on “The Historical Jesus” at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Here is the premise of the book: As many of us know, 3 historical giants died the same day on November 22 1963. Those three men include: John F. Kennedy, former president of the United States, Aldous Huxley, most well known for his work Brave New World, and C.S. Lewis, best known for his work in Christian Philosophy and Apologetics. Knowing how monumental this coincidence was Kreeft takes this opportunity to present a phenomenal idea. He presents a dialogue of these 3 men, moments after their death, in some type of “transition area” between Earth and the Eternal. Immediately, while in this purgatory as it were, they begin debating their respective worldviews. What follows is a terrific look into philosophy and debate.
Kreeft’s love for Lewis is both the strength and the weakness of the book. Biographers and personal friends of Lewis wrote to Kreeft asking how long he had known Lewis for. Kreeft answered, “never”. It is amazing how well the author gets the persona of C.S. Lewis correct. From his socratic method, to his british manners, Kreeft got Lewis as good as any could. Because of this, Lewis overwhelmingly controls the debate throughout the book. He is the main voice, addressing Kennedy and Huxley respectively. This makes this book into more of a apologetics book rather than a fictional dialogue or anything else. The author admits in the Prologue that he took some liberties with both Kennedy’s and Huxley’s worldviews, as so to present a more balanced debate. He makes Kennedy out to be a Modern Humanist, which is highly believable. He depicts Huxley as a Eastern Pantheist, which goes along with Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy, but may not jive well with his self-acclaimed Gnosticism. Kreeft did a good job of grounding each of the men in their own philosophies, forcing them to hold to them till the end.
As I said, Kreeft’s love for Lewis may have also been the weakness of the book. I got the feeling repeatedly that the book should have been much longer than what it was. There was so much addressed in response to the person of Christ, that the brevity of the book did not allow time enough to evaluate all that was brought up. There was a handful of times throughout the book that the characters would disregard the need to follow the logic out to the end on a given argument, allowing Lewis to control more of the debate than he might have actually done in real life.
Overall, this was a phenomenal book. I read it in an evening and enjoyed it very much. It is short and concise, giving one a good understanding of Socratic Method and Christian Apologetics in a way that is fun and intriguing. I highly recommend this book to anyone that may be interested in sharpening their wit on short afternoon with this book.