Christ and Chess: An Interview with Dr. Kreeft


Wednesday’s Logic class had just ended and, as usual, a few students were challenging Dr. Peter Kreeft in his weekly games of chess. While observing the game, I took my recorder in hand and an inquiry on Dr. Kreeft’s Catholic beliefs began.

“What were your feelings towards Protestantism while you were growing up?” I asked.

“I had no problems, or crisis of faith. My conversion is not dependent on being dissatisfied with my Evangelical background. I still believe everything I used; I just believe more,” Kreeft responded.

Not to be deterred by the cryptic answer, I pressed on. The professor’s pawns on the chessboard were in jagged diagonals. One peak of the line was taller than the rest; he was probably going to Castle at some point in the game.

“Professor Kreeft, what exactly is that 'more,' and how did you come to believe it?”

Eyes never leaving the checkered playing mat, Kreeft began to explain how his interest first grew at Calvin College, but he wrote it off as a temptation.

“I wanted to prove that the Church was Protestant and became Catholic; Jesus established a Protestant church. I didn’t know for sure if I should be Protestant or Catholic. I just knew I had to be a Christian, and wherever Jesus led me, I’d follow. I didn’t want to be a Catholic; it was very inconvenient.”

At Calvin College, a professor in Church History told a young Kreeft that his Catholic friends would feel more at home as First Century Protestants than First Century Catholics.

“So I said to myself, ‘Good, all I have to do is read church history to find out how Protestant the early church fathers were, and that will convince me that I’m in the right church.’ So in an amateur sort of way I read a lot of the early Christian doctrines and church history, and I convinced myself the opposite.”

As the professor began moving in on his chess opponent, I pressed further with my questioning, “So what exactly is the ‘more’ that you believe in now?”

Kreeft started, “The basic theological principle that distinguishes Protestants from Catholics I believe is Sola Scriptura. That is, Protestants believe that the only things you can be absolutely sure of, the only thing with Divine authority, is anything explicitly in scripture."

[Here he interrupted himself and explained to his opponent how she had just won his knight.]

"Catholics believe also that the Church has the authority to teach in Jesus’s name," Kreeft continued. "Jesus said to His apostles, ‘He who hears you hears Me.’ [Luke 10:16] So the Living Church also has authority and that authority can be infallible when it’s based on the uniform traditions that go back to the beginning. So Catholics believe more than Protestants believe, just as Christians believe more than what Jews believe.”

At this point Kreeft moved from check by some clever Castling.

“Professor, do you have any philosophical thoughts or mind-benders on Catholicism to leave the student body with?” I asked.

Kreeft thought for a moment – it wasn’t clear whether about the game or the question.

“The oldest and most important apologetic argument is the one C.S Lewis made famous to prove Christ’s divinity: He’s either a God or a bad man. If He’s not God then He’s a liar or a lunatic. He made claims much more outrageous than any other human did in the history of the world, and they are either true or false. If they are false, He is very, very bad. Well, the Catholic Church makes claims much greater than any Protestant church. So if they are wrong, the Catholic Church is very arrogant, idolatrous, bad and the old fashioned-anti-Catholicism is right. But if the claims are true, then everybody should be a Catholic. So that makes one uncomfortable.”

Less than three minutes after the interview was over Professor Kreeft was congratulating his opponent on a game well played, and eyeing the Student Lounge for a new challenger.