Understanding the Ecumenism of Peter Kreeft

Introduction

As a fundamentalist evangelical do you often find yourself getting aggravated when Christians say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Are you thoroughly confused when you see posts on social media of Christian women wearing the hijab out of solidarity with their “Muslim sisters”? How about interfaith dialogue? Should Christians be having interfaith dialogue with Muslims? Why are Catholics and Reformed churches, especially the Reformed Church of America (RCA), more likely to take a liberal stance on these issues? What is their theological justification for doing so? In this article we will examine theological arguments made by Dr. Peter Kreeft – one the biggest proponents of ecumenism in the Christian community – to help us understand what is being taught in the pulpits of RCA and Catholic churches.

Peter Kreeft: The Philosopher

Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and The King’s College.1 He converted to Roman Catholicism from a Calvinist Reformed Church of America background, 2 and is the author of over eighty books including one entitled Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War. Kreeft took his AB at Calvin College (1959) and an MA at Forham University (1961). He completed his doctoral studies in 1965, also at Fordham, and briefly did post-graduate studies at Yale University3. Since his conversion to Catholicism he has endorsed the Catholic Church’s ecumenical movement by writing prolifically in support of it. In the following sections I will explain why I think his philosophy is flawed and very dangerous.

The Impact of Ecumenism

In July of 2019 I attended the 80th Annual Tekakwitha Conference in Sharonville, OH, which is about 35 minutes south of Dayton on the way to Cincinnati. The conference website states it is a “Catholic 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to advocacy & evangelization on behalf of the many communities of indigenous people across North America and for all who desire to walk humbly with God.” It is named in honor of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, who in 1676 became one of the first American Indians to be baptized into the Catholic Church and in 2012 became the first declared a saint by the Pope. 4 The primary focus of the conference is to encourage American Indian Catholics to meld their native culture in with their Catholicism as well as to campaign for the canonization of other indigenous Catholics. 

Each day of the conference they had a liturgy service that was led by a regional priest or bishop. The first day’s liturgy was led by Reverend Nelson J. Perez, Bishop of Cleveland. His sermon was focused on why the Catholic Church has a separate conference for the indigenous peoples of North America. Below is word for word what he said in his sermon. I recorded each session of the conference in case something strange was said that I needed clarified. You can listen to the sermon yourself by following this link: 

www.bit.ly/2019TekakwithaConf_NJPerez_18July 

“We want to celebrate our faith and we want to celebrate our culture. Our faith and culture can’t be separated. If we don’t understand culture we can’t understand our faith. Did you know Jesus was a Palestinian? To understand Jesus you have to understand his culture – to understand what he said, why he said it, and the images he used – because the Word became incarnate at a (specific) time, place, and culture. . . So those of us who are not of Islamic background need to learn he encountered us through a culture.”

Reverend Nelson J. Perez, Bishop of Cleveland

So what is wrong with the bishop’s statement? First off, Jesus was a Jew, not an Arab, and “Palestine” didn’t even exist at the time of Jesus. According to Jim Fletcher of the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel, and Prophecy Matters. . . 

“ ‘Palestine’ was the name of a region in the Middle East for almost 1,900 years. When the Romans expelled large numbers of Jews from what was known as Judea (originally, Canaan) in the second century, they renamed the area ‘Palestina,’ a reference to the ancient Phoenicians. The aim was to erase any reference to the Jews.

Since the modern state of Israel was established in 1948, the Arabs have worked to convince a (shockingly) naïve West that the Jewish presence in the Middle East, down through history, was either sparse or non-existent. This was a favorite lie of Yasser Arafat, who used to say out loud in front of President Clinton that there never was a Temple in Jerusalem. He would even allege that the Temple had stood in Hebron! 5

Question! If there was never a temple in Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is never mentioned in the Quran, then why are Muslims so obsessed with having to control the city?  

In essence, Bishop Perez was unintentionally affirming Islam by stating that “Palestine” and the religion of Islam existed during Jesus’ life. What he does not realize is that Islam bases its entire faith on the belief that Islam has always existed, and that Judaism and Christianity, including the Roman Catholic Church, corrupted the one true message of God. Muslims believe this despite the fact there is not one shred of evidence to support it. There is no archeological evidence supporting it – or any of Islam for that matter – and there is no textual evidence outside of the Quran and Hadith. Muslims got many of their flawed ideas about Christianity and Judaism from texts like The Gospel of Barnabas, a gnostic text that has been shown to be historically unreliable. This is all in stark contrast to the overwhelming archeological and extra-biblical textual evidence of Jews being present in the land well before Muhammed came on the scene in c.570. 

Why is This Important?

Understanding the impacts of ecumenism is vital because I believe statements like the ones made by Bishop Perez are extremely dangerous as they impact America’s view on Israel. Genesis 12:3 clearly states “I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you.” (NKJV)  Some Christians argue that this is just in reference to the Jewish people in general and not to the Zionists. This argument gets to the foundation of our problem – proper Hermeneutics. It is important to read the Bible in its proper literal/plain , historical, and grammatical context – I will explain why in the section of this article entitled Kreeft’s RCA Background and Covenant Theology. When reading Zechariah 12:3 literally, it states that all the nations of the world will come against Israel in the last days. Therefore, this specifically means the actual nation of Israel and not just the Jewish people. Take for instance Bernie Sanders, despite the fact that he is Jewish ethnically, he is very much against Zionism. How will all the nations of the world go against people like Bernie, when they clearly agree with his stance on the nation of Israel? A literal/plain reading of scripture makes for a more coherent understanding of prophecy.

The ecumenical movement suggests that Christians can use special manmade techniques to get people out of false religions and atheism; however, the result of this has been the creation of false history, false prophecy, and dangerous political policy. In the following sections I will explain in detail what Peter Kreeft believes and how his arguments are theologically incorrect and even more dangerous than what Bishop Perez said at the Tekawitha Conference. 

Understanding Kreeft’s Philosophy of Biblical Interpretation

In his book Handbook of Catholic Apologetics – which he co-wrote with Father Ronald K. Tacelli, S.J. – Kreeft states that Catholics do not read the Bible literally and that they actually believe the Bible contains scientific and mathematical errors as well as grammatical errors.6 Yet, Kreeft argues that the Bible is still somehow infallible despite these supposed scientific and mathematical errors. If scripture is “god-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16) or superintended by God as Ryrie suggests, then how can it have errors? 7 Kreeft argues that the Bible is not inerrant because it was written by men.Grammar is one thing, but I think God knows how He made His universe and understands the mathematical scientific principles required for doing so. Did Thomas Aquinas not say in the Summa Theologiae: “In this it is evident that something false can never be [contained] under the literal sense of Sacred Scripture.”9

Kreeft also states that he embraces the “historical-critical method”, which means that all historical and cultural analysis needs to be included into Biblical interpretation.10 Perhaps this is why Bishop Perez had his history wrong and inadvertently affirmed Islam over Catholicism by stating that Jesus lived in an Islamic culture. Dr. Kreeft’s embrace of the “historical-critical method” is in direct conflict with the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) Statements on Inerrancy (1978) and Hermeneutics (1982). According to Dr. David Farnell, the former Academic Dean at Southeastern Seminary (1994-1997), and now pastor at Grace Bible Church, Ventura County, California; the proper hermeneutic to scripture is the “grammatico-historical method.”

The ICBI developers knew that historical criticism dehistoricizes the plain, normal reading of the text.  

Article XVIII reads:

“We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.”

In contrast, the goal of the grammatico-historical method is to find the meaning which the authors of Scripture intended to convey and the meaning comprehended by the recipients.  Special allowance/provision is made for (1) inspiration, (2) the Holy Spirit, and (3) inerrancy. It may be understood as the study of inspired Scripture designed to discover under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the meaning of a text dictated by the principles of grammar and the facts of history.

“Grammatico-historical” criticism, advocated by the both the Reformers as well as the signers of the ICBI statements of 1978 and 1982, allows the Bible to say what it naturally says plainly and normally without an a priori agenda as with historical-critical ideologies. 11

Kreeft argues that The Church is infallible, because the Bible is infallible.12 Really? If the Pope’s interpretation of scripture is infallible then how could Bishop Perez have gotten his interpretation of scripture so wrong? Wouldn’t his interpretation have been based upon the writings of recent popes? We can’t interpret scripture via an Islamic culture, especially when there is no evidence to support there being an Islamic culture at the time of Christ. Kreeft’s embrace of the historical-critical method is an embrace of humanism over the Holy Spirit.

Edgar Krentz, favorable to the “historical-critical method”, readily admits in his book The Historical-Critical Method that “Historical method is the child of the Enlightenment” – i.e. humanism.13 Now I firmly believe that Thomas Aquinas ­– a Christian humanist – was right and that man can use his God-given capability to reason in order to understand God – for Scripture calls us to reason with one another (Isa 1:18) – but this does not mean we can understand God outside of the guidance of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:14 and 2 Pet 1:20) God gave us our ability to reason, but not to interpret scripture as we see fit – as in the case of “the historical-critical method” – but rather to ensure that we can understand His law, which is written on our hearts and available to us regardless of whether we have access to scripture or not (Rom 2:15). 

Hodge and Patterson define Secular Humanism as “a broad religious view that encompasses all religions that use human ideas rather than God and His Word as the foundation of truth. . .  an umbrella term that covers various movements claiming to be free of religious dogma”14, and yet these movements have no way to prove their beliefs via the standard they hold for Christianity – they have simply created new religious dogma. Kreeft would probably call himself a Christian humanist – not a secular Humanist – similar to that of Thomas Aquinas, but would Aquinas say that human reason is not completely dependent upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that Christians should accept “all historical and cultural analysis and explanation of the Bible”? I don’t think so; therefore, where is Kreeft getting the idea that all historical and cultural analysis needs to be included in Biblical interpretation? Perhaps an examination of his background in Covenant Theology will shine light on this issue.

Kreeft’s RCA Background and Covenant Theology

“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.”
 John 17:11 (NKJV)
 
“ that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
 John 17:21 (NKJV)

Most authorities date the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement to the Edinburgh (Scotland) World Missionary Conference of 1910, but what is the underlying theological belief that is driving the ecumenical movement? Kreeft grew up in a Calvinist Reformed Church of America church,15 thus denying the Catholic belief in a priestly class; however, John Calvin still believed in sacramental liturgy, a single unified faith, and the church’s sole authority in interpreting scripture.16 In addition to these commonalities, both the Reformed and Catholic Church believe in Covenant Theology. When you take all this, it is not a stretch for someone who grew up in a Calvinist church to take the next step and embrace Catholicism completely. As a result of this background Kreeft interprets John 17 through the lens of Covenant Theology and thus does not believe that this passage was directed at the disciples alone – as the literalist dispensationalists would believe – but rather at the church as a whole. 17

As a Covenant Theologian Kreeft believes the church has always existed; whereas, dispensationalists believe that the church did not begin until the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost. This is where so many of our disconnects begin within the church on issues ranging from ecumenism to social justice and intersectionality. If Jesus was talking to the church as a whole, then there can be a case made – albeit a weak one in my opinion – to say that we need to embrace the “historical-critical method” as our approach to the interpretation of scripture. Some argue that if we do not contextualize scripture based upon culture how can we ever expect to be a united church? The question then is how far do we take this contextualization? Do we equate the God of the Bible – who saved Isaac from being sacrificed by his father, Abraham – to pagan gods like the Aztec god of Creation, Tezcatlipoca, who fed off a constant diet of human sacrifice? 18 Some extreme ecumenical Catholics believe we should19 – why then are they wrong? Who determines where that line should be drawn?

Yet even here, an “ecumenical jihad” is possible and is called for, for the simple and strong reason that Muslims and Christians preach and practice the same First Commandment: Islam, total surrender, submission of the human will to the divine will. We fight side by side not only because we face a common enemy but above all because we serve and worship the same divine Commander.20

Peter Kreeft – Ecumenical Jihad

Christian ecumenism is one thing, but how can we have interfaith dialogue with systems of faith so vastly different than our own? Why does Kreeft and so many ecumenical adherents believe that we worship the same God as the Muslims when Islam teaches that Jesus isn’t God? Kreeft claims that we can create coalitions with Muslims to combat atheism and abortion. God may use non-believers for His glory – as he did with Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, etc. – but the power of God is reserved for those who believe in Christ Jesus as Lord (Rom 1:16).

Why is Islam expanding so spectacularly? Sociologists and psychologists and historians and economists and demographers and politicians are quick to explain this growth with “expert” worldly wisdom from each of their specialties; but to any Christian familiar with the Bible, the answer is obvious: because God keeps His promises and blesses those who obey His laws and fear Him and punishes those who do not.21

Peter Kreeft, Ecumenical Jihad

Are Muslims really being blessed by God for obeying His law? Romans 2:10 does say that glory, honor, and peace will come to everyone who works for what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. But Paul also says in the following chapter that we are unable to lead such a life on our own outside the Holy Spirit. Everyone of us, by nature, will turn away from God and become worthless (Romans 3:12). Not even the Jews, who had the law, were able to keep it so how did they find favor with God? Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. It was not their rituals and their following of the law that pleased God – as Abraham did not even have the law and yet was favored by God – but rather it was their faith in God alone that saved them. The law was not their path to salvation, but rather a way to realize that they needed salvation. Therefore, are we doing a disservice to our Muslim friends and neighbors by teaching them that God is blessing them despite their lack of faith? God may use Muslims for His glory, but he does not give glory to those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 

Conclusion

Kreeft may not consider himself a secular humanist, but his background in the more liberal RCA church has opened his mind to embracing the secular humanist philosophy of the “historical-critical method” as a means to interpret scripture. This, along with his interpretation of John 17 via the lens of Covenant Theology, is leading to a belief that we must contextualize scripture to reach Muslims and people of other religions. But what this has really led to is false history, false prophecy, and dangerous political policy. And more importantly, it has led to the development of an evangelization process that leads Muslims to believe God is blessing them despite their treatment of Israel and their lack of faith in Him. Millions of Muslims around the world will die never knowing Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior because of the dangerous philosophy of Peter Kreeft.

Bibliography and Notes

1. Wikipedia, Peter Kreeft, last updated 16 March 2020, accessed 29 April 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Kreeft.

2. Kreeft, Peter, Dr. Peter Kreeft’s conversion to Catholicism – Part 1, copyright 2013, accessed 29 April 2020, https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/apologetics/dr-peter-kreeft-s-conversion-to-catholicism-part-1.html.

3. Wikipedia, Peter Kreeft

4. Tekakwitha Conference, accessed 29 April 2020, https://tekconf.org.

5. Fletcher, Jim, Calling Rand McNally, 8 February 2010, accessed 29 April 2020, https://www.bibleprophecyblog.com/2010/02/calling-rand-mcnally.html

6. Kreeft, Peter, et. al, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics, (San Fransisco, Ignatius Press, 2009), 443

7. Ryrie, Charles C., The Holy Spirit, (Chicago, Moody Press, 1997), 42, Kindle Edition.

8. Kreeft, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics, 444

9. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, cited by David P. Bolin, On the Inerrancy of Scripture, 62,https://thomasaquinas.edu/pdfs/aquinas-review/2001/2001-bolin.pdf

10. Kreeft, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics, 443

11. Farnell, David, The “Magic” of Historical Criticism in Biblical Criticism, 27 October 2014, accessed 29 April 2020, http://www.worldviewweekend.com/news/article/magic-historical-criticism-biblical-criticism

12. Kreeft, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics, 443

13. Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method, cited by Farnell, The “Magic” of Historical Criticism in Biblical Criticism.

14. Hodge, Bodie, et. al, World Religions and Cults Part 3: Atheistic and Humanistic Religions, (Green Forest, Master Books, 1995). 64

15. Kreeft, Peter, Dr. Peter Kreeft’s conversion to Catholicism – Part 1

16. Anders, David, How John Calvin Made me a Catholic , 1 June 2010, accessed 29 April 2020, https://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/how-john-calvin-made-me-a-catholic/

17. Kreeft, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics, 453

18. Charles Phillips, Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Aztec and Maya (Leicestershire: Anness Press, 2012), 74-5.

19. This information was derived via conversations I had with Cornelius Ian (Scott) McCarthy, a priest with the Diocese of Monterrey, California; at the Saint Kateri Tekawitha Conference in 2019. He is the author of several books on Christian ecumenism with indigenous peoples. His books are available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Scott-McCarthy/e/B001K8K9NY?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1588210330&sr=8-1

20. Kreeft, Peter, Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War (St. Augustine’s Press, 2019), 34, Kindle Edition.

21.) Ibid., 42

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