Three Philosophies of Life | Peter Kreeft

The cover of Kreeft's Three Philosophies of LifeThis book is one of those rare books worth reading twice.

I bought the book while at Tyndale for a course in Wisdom Literature. I pulled it off the self a few weeks ago as a reference work for a sermon I was writing and couldn’t stop reading. As Kreeft himself wrote (about Wisdom Literature), “a classic is like a cow: it gives fresh milk every morning” (7). This book will pull you in.

Three Philosophies of Life covers three books of the Bible: Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Songs. Kreeft interprets them in sequence.

Ecclesiates

Ecclesiastes is hell. As the first truly existentialist work, the author describes life “under the sun,” apart from a God who loves. Kreeft describes this book as a starting point en route to faith. It is “like the silhouette of the rest of the Bible” (23). The final words of Ecclesiastes (whether appended by a later redactor or not) point us toward Job:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ESV)

Job

Job is purgatory. Kreeft’s footnote on this term demonstrates his sense of humour:

Note to Protestant readers: please do not throw this book away just yet. I am not presupposing or trying to convert anyone to the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. Here I mean by Purgatory any suffering that purges the soul. It begins in this life. If it is completed in the next, you can just as well call it Heaven’s bathroom, if you like. A sanctification by any other name would smell as sweet. (8)

Job followed the advice at the end of Ecclesiastes and suffered greatly. This is still a big spiritual step forward, though, because Job engaged the living God—he didn’t merely philosophize at a distance (cf. Ecclesiastes 5).

Kreeft lays out his theodicy here in logical fashion. He uses Augustine to make the problem clear, “If God were all-good, He would will only good, and if He were all-powerful, He would be able to do all that He wills. But there is evil [as well as good]. Therefore God is either not all-good or not all-powerful, or both” (64).

In the end, Job gained the audience with God he desired. Instead of protesting his innocence, however, he was shut up. This encounter is the transition from the suffering purgatory of Job to …

Song of Songs

Song of Songs is heaven. It is a “double love story, vertical and horizontal, divine and human” (100). As a metaphor, it’s been delved by saints of all ages.

Finally, we’ve reached the point where we understand God as lover and ourselves as beloved. Kreeft reflects on 26 aspects of love, while recognizing that he is only scratching the surface. “For more, both in quantity and quality, go to the saints” (201).

Kreeft’s Three Philosophies will make these three ancient books of Scripture come alive in your life.

—Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1989).

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One Response to Three Philosophies of Life | Peter Kreeft

  1. PhiLiP s. SchMidT May 7, 2016 at 12:21 am #

    A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Stephen!
    I, too, reside in the fair province of Ontario…..
    London, to be exact.
    And I, too, am a decades-long fan of Professor Peter Kreeft…..
    His writings AND his lectures/podcasts.
    Dr. Kreeft has been likened to “C.S. Lewis for the 21st century.”
    I must concur with that sentiment.
    Here is one of my favourite quotations from ‘Three Philosophies of Life’:
    “Compared with the neat little nostrums of comfort-mongering minds who cross our t’s and dot our i’s, Ecclesiastes is as great, as deep, and as terrifying as the ocean.
    “If this philosopher were alive today and knew the reigning philosophy in America – pop psychology, with its positive strokings, OK’s, narcissistic self-befriendings, panderings, patronizings, and bland assurances of ‘Peace! Peace!’ when there is no peace – I think he would quote John Stuart Mill that it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.”

    Thank you, Stephen, for taking the time and effort to write such an intelligent overview of Dr. Kreeft’s book.
    Yours in the Keeper of the Fire and the Wind,
    PhiL {‘•_•’}

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