During Lent, I received a copy of Peter Kreeft’s new book Between Allah and Jesus: What Christians Can Learn From Muslims courtesy of the publisher, IVP Books.
I had become acquainted with Peter Kreeft through an interview on the Mars Hill Audio Journal last year. I was interested in his thinking and was intrigued by this book, hoping to find a constructive dialogue about the shared tenets of Islam and Christianity.
That isn’t at all what I received. I’m still not sure how I feel about this frustrated expectation. Given Dr. Kreeft’s academic CV I was expecting a philosophical analysis between the two faiths. When I began reading the first page of the introduction I read the following with some trepidation: “My medium is not essays but fictional dialogues between a pious Muslim and various Christians. For my strategy is indirect rather than direct, showing rather than telling.” (9)
Even given that caveat at the beginning I found myself getting ‘stuck’ and frustrated in the air of brinksmanship in the dialogues between some of the characters that Dr. Kreeft builds in the book. Dr. Kreeft has published this piece as a precursor to the novel An Ocean Full of Angels that he’s crafting with the same characters. He further is good about owning some of the problems I found with this work up front: “Without the novel to frame them, the characters in this book are bound to be somewhat thin and flat, even stereotyped.” (14)
I understand the need for clarity and the polarities that Kreeft is laying out here, but some of the dialogue seemed to me to be caricatured and did not fall on my ears as objectively as the author says he intended it to. I’ll own that this is likely because I find myself toward the ‘liberal’ side of the Christian dialogue as he describes it.
That being said, I have to admit I continue to be uncomfortable with Kreeft’s ‘Liberal’ conversation partner in the dialogues. Libby Rawls is described by the author as a “sarcastic, sassy, Black feminist ‘liberal'” (13). Contrast is necessary but Libby comes off as reactionary, unthoughtful, morally flawed, emotional and (apparently worst of all for Kreeft and the other characters) illogical.
I don’t disagree that those points of view are an integral part of the project here and are likely necessary to provide the contrast that Dr. Kreeft is trying to draw. I found it disconcerting that they wound up all in one person who represented any number of stereotypes and groups of Christians. All this being said, ‘Isa Ben Adam, Fr. Heerema, Libby Rawls, Evan Jellema and Fr. Fesser take us on a ride that can be frustrating and unsatisfying to the nth degree.
I was tempted to give up before the end and write this review. I’m glad I didn’t. I beg you don’t give up until ‘Mother’ has the last word in this rollicking, rhetorical set of dialogues.
We have a lot to learn from each other.