The Reason for God (Book Review)

There are a lot of books on the topic of Christian apologetics that are published every year.  Many of them are good, but Tim Keller’s The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism is in a class by itself.  Keller’s reasons for Christianity set this book apart from the rest of the pack in a number of ways.

First, Keller’s audience is the sophisticated unbeliever.  Nothing unique about that—but Keller has an unusual respect for the worldview of the skeptic of Christianity (and religion in general).  If you are curious about Christianity, a hardened skeptic, or a believer who struggles with faith in a world surrounded by plausible unbelief, then understand that Keller understands you.  Keller not only articulates the arguments against the God of the Bible in such a way that the unbeliever will acknowledge are accurate, but he sympathizes with those who doubt the claims of the Bible about God and Jesus.  The author doesn’t leave the reader there, as he is deft as bringing his audience slowly along the path to a reasonable belief in God, but he is always respectful of honest doubts.  In a word, Keller is missional.

Second, Keller has done his homework by identifying the Big Seven: the most potent defeater beliefs that restrain thinking people from belief in Jesus.  As a pastor in Manhattan, New York, he utilized his vantage point from one of the elite intellectual centers of contemporary culture by polling his neighbors regarding their problems with belief in God.  Therefore he avoids the “smoke screen” objections that people casually throw around to derail honest conversations about God.  He found that more often than any other objections, he heard:

  1. There Can’t Be Just One True Religion (the problem of Exclusivity)
  2. How Could a Good God Allow Suffering? (the problem of Suffering)
  3. Christianity is a Straitjacket (the problem of Liberty)
  4. The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice (the problem of Hypocrisy)
  5. How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell? (the problem of Judgment)
  6. Science Has Disproved Christianity (the problem of Science)
  7. You Can’t Take the Bible Literally (the problem of Interpretation)

Third, Keller gently dismantles each objection by “turning the tables” on the person raising the objection.  Christian apologists call this the presuppositional method of giving reasonable answers for the faith.  Over and over again, Keller carefully takes the roof off the defeater belief, reveals what is really inside (but what so many of us fail to see), and shows the reader that the values motivating his objections consistently lead to faith in Jesus, not away from Jesus into the morass of doubt.

Fourth, the Reason for God is a case for the truth of Christianity’s claims that appeals to sources, scholars, and experts that the non-Christian generally views as respectable.  Keller is obviously well-read, and his reading is broader and more engaged with the secular culture compared to most Christian apologists.  He quotes the NY Times, the New Yorker magazine, C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, secular sociologists, books published by university presses, lawyers, respected scientists, and Christians along the entire spectrum of belief.  Keller does not avoid quoting conservative Christian authors, but he doesn’t rely on them to do all his heavy intellectual lifting.

Fifth, Keller writes not merely as an apologist trying to win the debate, but as a pastor.  He is certainly trying to change your mind to repent and believe the gospel, but underlying it all the reader senses that Keller’s main motivation is to please his Lord Jesus Christ.  Tim Keller respects the freedom of the reader to make up his own mind whether Christianity is worth believing and Jesus worth worshiping, but he works hard to get the reader to catch a glimpse of not only the truth of Jesus, but the goodness and beauty of Christ as well.  Keller is in love with his Savior, and he wants you to experience that same love too.

After addressing the Big Seven objections, Keller proceeds to set forth a positive case for God.  These chapters will by their titles reveal Keller’s path to defend the Bible is well-trodden, but don’t let that fool you.  The perspective and reasoning is a fresh application of Christian apologetics that will surely cause you to ponder the solid foundations of the faith.  Chapter headings in this second half of the book are:

  • The Clues of God (evidence for God’s existence)
  • The Knowledge of God (morality points to God’s existence)
  • The Problem of Sin (the world is broken, the Bible explains this as sin)
  • Religion and the Gospel (Christianity destroys the premise of religion)
  • The (True) Story of the Cross (the love of God in forgiveness)
  • The Reality of the Resurrection (the historical event we cannot deny)
  • The Dance of God (God’s plan and purpose for the world)

Keller proposal is that we should look at doubt in a radically new way.  We should doubt our doubts!  Jesus respected and loved doubters, but he challenged them in their doubts.  Keller says,

When Jesus confronted “doubting Thomas” he challenged him not to acquiesce in doubt (“believe!”) and yet responded to his request for more evidence.  In another incident, Jesus meets a man who confesses that he is filled with doubts (Mark 9:24), who says to Jesus, “Help thou my unbelief”—help me with my doubts!  In response to this honest admission, Jesus blesses him and heals his son.  Whether you consider yourself a believer or a skeptic, I invite you to seek the same kind of honesty and to grow in an understanding of the nature of your own doubts.  The result will exceed anything you can imagine. [pp. ix-xx]

Are you a doubter of Jesus and the Bible that reveals the salvation he brings to the world?  Then it’s time to be honest with yourself, to doubt your doubts, and read Tim Keller’s The Reason for God with an open mind.

Here is a video of Keller speaking to a (presumably) mostly non-Christian audience at Google on the question “Why Believe in God?”

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