Book Review: Letters To An Atheist

Letters To An Atheist:  Wrestling With Faith, by Peter Kreeft

As someone who has written many letters over the course of my life [1] and someone who has a strong interest in apologetics [2], this book is the sort of effort that I have imagined doing in different contexts, and one whose approach I appreciate.  Now, having read a few books by the author already [3], this book bears at least some cautions.  The author follows at least some of his familiar tricks–creating at least one side of a fictionalized dialogue that takes place in letters.  In many ways this book, or at least the half of the material that we are able to read, the rest which has to be inferred from what is included, is the sort of ideal conversation that a thoughtful person of faith would have to an honest and intelligent skeptic.  Here, as is fairly typical in Kreeft’s work, we see the dialogue between some types of skeptics and some types of believers as a conversation.  To be sure, this is a somewhat awkward and tense conversation, but many of us are no strangers to the danger of misunderstanding or the presence of intense awkwardness, and this book does a good job at presenting a solid case for faith.

The form this book takes is exceptionally simple and even something approaching organic.  I wonder, honestly, how far Kreeft wrote out the other side of the dialogue that we do not see as a way of framing his response, or the extent that he actually did engage in apologetic conversations with people like the fictional “Michael” of this book.  The book consists of forty-five letters that move gradually from a hesitant beginning where the author supposedly gets to know the recipient of the letters through his believing sister “Martha.”  The letters themselves dance around questions of definitions, as the author and his fictional correspondent seek to define their terms like any good philosopher would, and wrestle with various arguments for and against faith, and come to a fairly friendly banter that ends with an invitation by the author to leave aside the letters and talk face to face like a friend.  This book carries with it a sense of the real, a sense that this is the sort of interaction that could actually happen in some realistic universe.

This book is one that brings to mind two somewhat paradoxical truths about engaging in dialogue.  One of them is that the dialogue between believers and skeptics, at least certain types of each, can be conducted in a warm and friendly and polite and respectful and productive manner as occurs here.  Both the author and his correspondent appear to be full of politeness and a fair degree of intellect and, perhaps more importantly, a willingness to communicate and engage what the other is thinking and feeling.  This undertone of respect and civility makes this excellent discourse possible.  That said, the discourse in the book is far from salvation, since neither of the people involved is a believer in the biblical God.  Both engage in a philosophical discussion, but it amounts to cerebral word games, conducted with warmth and generosity of spirit, to be sure, but still word games.  One can, through a look at logical consistency, come to a believe that is deist or theist in nature, but to become a believer on the road to salvation requires a divine invitation.  This book does not quite do the trick, but it provides a worthwhile model for increasing civility in discussion among people with different religious and philosophical worldviews, and that is something at least.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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10 Responses to Book Review: Letters To An Atheist

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I heard Kreeft speak a couple of times. He came across as a no-nonsense man who presented philosophical arguments and drew out logical implications of what people were saying.

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