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Three Philosophies of Life: Ecclesiastes--Life as Vanity, Job--Life as… (1989)

von Peter Kreeft

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"I've been a philosopher for all my adult life and the three most profound books of philosophy that I have ever read are Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Songs." These are the opening lines of Kreeft's Three Philosophies of Life.
  StFrancisofAssisi | Nov 16, 2020 |
In these three books Kreeft shows how we have Dante's great epic The Divine Comedy played out, from Hell to Purgatory to Heaven. But it is an epic played out in our hearts and lives, here and now. Just as there is movement in Dante's epic, so there is movement in these books, from Ecclesiates to Job, from Job to Song of Songs. Love is the final answer to Ecclesiastes' quest, the alternative to vanity, and the true meaning of life. Finally, Kreeft sees in these books the epitome of theological virtues of faith, hope and love and "an essential summary of the spiritual history of the world."
  StFrancisofAssisi | Mar 12, 2020 |
This 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.


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 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. ( )
  StephenBarkley | Jun 13, 2014 |
Kreeft's premise is that there are only three philosophies in life, and each is best illustrated by three books of the Old Testament. The three books are known as wisdom books (aptly named) and are Ecclesiastes--life as vanity, Job--life as suffering, and Song of Songs--life as love. These parallel closely to hell, purgatory, and heaven. (Please do not be turned off by the theological term of purgatory. As Kreeft explains, it is a time full of hope, of transformation, a building of deep faith.)

This book is not an explanation or analysis of these Scriptures. It dwells on the summum bonum question--what is the meaning of life, why are we here, what is the point of it all? Each of these three books attempt to answer it in their own way. And as a result, they are linked together as stepping stones or phases on the path to seeking the answers for ourselves, in seeking God.

Everyone has had experiences of these three areas in their lives in some measure. As I read through each section, I felt my mood change as I found myself identifying deeply with the vanity and purposelessness the Preacher finds in Ecclesiastes, with the loss, doubt, questioning, and hope of Job, and with the love and desire of the lovers in Song of Songs.

Kreeft does a marvelous job throughout the whole book. He manages to tie philosophy, theology, and especially the mystery of God's love (mysticism) in a beautiful tapestry that will warm a seeking soul. ( )
2 abstimmen CowPi | Dec 1, 2006 |
There's a dangerous place in Seattle and it's called Harvest Logos bookstore. To me, it's a Christian bookstore done right--it gives more shelf space to books on theology than on self-help or fiction. In short, it offers a lot of good things to read. But it's run by a dangerous man named Michael. Michael will take an active interest in what you are browsing for and offer suggestions as to good things to read. And since there are good books for him to suggest and since his suggestions are sound, I spend more money there than I plan on. Anyway, on one visit, Michael directed my attention to a collection of books by Peter Kreeft, a philosphy professor who had just been in town for a lecture. I politely looked at the collection and noticed his book Three Philosophies of Life, which is an overview of the Biblical books of Ecclesiastes, Job and Song of Songs. I was planning to study Job, and on last minute impulse I grabbed the book. Once again I was not disappointed. Three Philosophies of Life is not a commentary, where the Bible is dissected and analyzed, but rather a contemplation of the three books, a look at the whole refracted through the lens of our modern culture and the human heart. Professor Kreeft sees the three biblical books as an expression of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, respectively. Ecclesiastes is "Life as Vanity", or life without God -- an empty existence under the sun. Job is "Life as Suffering", a life that also is missing the presence of our Heavenly Father but one that actively seeks, and hopes, for Him. Song of Songs is "Life as Love", the romance fulfilled and celebrated. As Kreeft studies these three outlooks on life, his own love for God pours through and entices the reader to come along and discover the our own love affair with God. This book is on my shelf, without a doubt. Unfortunately, it's not the only book written by Kreeft and Michael had a nice booklist of all the other things Professor Kreeft has written. Oh, well, who needs money anyway....
--J. ( )
  Hamburgerclan | Sep 16, 2006 |
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