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It is November 22, 1963. Three luminaries—John F. Kennedy, Aldous Huxley, and Clive Staples Lewis—have just died and will soon commence a great debate about issues of ultimate significance. In the first line of Peter Kreeft's classic 1982 book, Between Heaven and Hell, JFK asks, "Where the hell are we?" Reading the prolific Boston College philosophy professor's latest work, Between Allah and Jesus: What Christians Can Learn from Muslims, I had a similar reaction.
This book seems to stand the earlier one on its head—or at least its spine. In Between Heaven and Hell, Lewis the Christian apologist asks penetrating questions and steers his nominal Catholic and liberal intellectual compatriots toward the truth of Christ. In Between Allah and Jesus, however, it is the Muslim protagonist who serves as the primary light-bearer in religious matters, who usually gets the last word and exposes the prejudices and logical fallacies of the Christians around him.
This character's name is 'Isa (the Muslim name for Jesus). Just as Lewis the Oxford don served as a representative for Christ, so 'Isa the college student can be seen as one of "the least of these," a stand-in for the Lord. In several instances, 'Isa even claims to be a better Christian than his Christian foils. Further, 'Isa's nickname is Jack, which of course happened to be Lewis's nickname, too.
So, where are we with Between Allah and Jesus? More important, where is Kreeft headed?
Like Kreeft's Lewis, the Muslim "Jack" is a voice of reasoned religious debate—even presenting a variation on the famous "trilemma" argument for Muhammad. He passionately discusses submission to God, the evils of abortion, and other issues with a cast of less well-formed Christian characters. There's Libby, the liberal Christian; Evan, the intelligent but emotionally cold fundamentalist evangelist; Father Heerema, the Jesuit professor who seems to come closest to speaking for Kreeft; and Father Fesser, the liberal priest.