Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: Riverhead Books
I recently heard that you should teach your children the best arguments against what they believe so that they know how to answer them. I was raised with this mantra: know what you believe and why you believe it. The Apostle Peter tells us to be ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks us a reason for the hope that is in us, and to do so with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15-16). I think going into Timothy Keller’s book The Reason For God with this mindset will help you appreciate the text.
To give a little background on the author, provided in the introduction, Keller was a man raised in a family that began in the Lutheran church and then moved to Methodism. He then went through a series of challenges and confrontations to his faith, especially as he went to university and lived through the decades of the 60’s and 70’s and all that went with those years. Even so, at the end of those struggles, both in asking and answering those profound questions we all ponder, he joined the ministry. By the time the 80’s rolled around, he and his family moved to New York and eventually founded a Presbyterian church called Redeemer, and it is there that he continues his ministry.
Keller is somewhat unique in his approach of tackling questions about God and faith in that he is someone who went through the doubts that many face, confronted them, and then told his story. The Reason for God approaches those doubts head-on, and Keller challenges his brethren readers to do the same. As stated in the opening, one should know the strongest arguments against one’s beliefs and know how to defend against them. That is a tenant of apologetics. Keller’s book forces believers to ask the tough questions and unbelievers to face their answers.
While Keller may not hold to all the same doctrines Lutherans believe, The Reason for God is not an evangelizing tool for any one denomination. In fact, he acknowledges denominations are a stumbling block to some seekers. Yet Keller lays out that even though the denominations have differences, there are some fundamental doctrines all Christians believe, including though not limited to the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the Creeds. Thus, this book is edifying to all Christians and is easily accessible to those unfamiliar with any or a particular doctrine.
Keller divides his book into two parts with an “intermission” between the two. The first is called “The Leap of Doubt” and the second “The Reasons for Faith.” While I am sure the reader can imply what each section addresses, allow me to elaborate.
Part One tackles seven of what Keller and many people consider key objections to faith in general and Christianity specifically. Some are likely to be obvious, such as the problems of suffering, evil, and Hell, but the answers are never as simple as some might make them out to be. Or perhaps they really are that straight forward once you take the time to understand them. Either way, Keller recognizes they are legitimate questions to ask. He encourages Christians to understand them and unbelievers to try and really discover the answers. Neither should brush them off as either unanswerable or unimportant.
Keller takes the time to discuss each issue. He even divides the chapters’ question into smaller sections within each chapter to tackle the question from all sides. Some might wish he took a whole book to tackle each doubt—and perhaps that would have been interesting—but each chapter is well researched and each is succinct enough to hold the reader’s attention. Most importantly, Keller takes seriously the questions, doubts, and accusations made against a biblical Christian faith and addresses them “with gentleness and respect.”
In Part Two of his book, Keller dives into the reality of God, the distinctiveness of Christianity, and the glory of grace. Truly, I can see a passion for Christ and the Gospel in Keller’s work. I was pulled into each chapter and onto the next. It all flows together quite nicely.
Hope and joy cover those pages. He explains how Christianity is not about how good we are nor about how our works are what makes us righteous. As he has explained at various points in the book, we cannot save ourselves, though we too often try. Instead, we are saved by Christ. Any other view is self-righteousness. He explains how whatever we base our identity on we deify, and this is often why we struggle so much with doubt about Christ and what He did.
The second part also tackles what some might call proofs for God (though he refers to them as clues) and covers them from multiple bases. Moreover, he pushes the reader, specifically the unbeliever, to acknowledge some crucial truths. He writes:
The other option is to recognize that you live as if beauty and love have meaning, as if there is a meaning in life, as if human beings have inherent dignity – all because you know God exists. It is dishonest to live as if he is there and yet fail to acknowledge the one who has given you all these gifts.
But before he gets to either of these parts, Keller begins by attempting to tear down some walls. He points out there is much hostility between the “sides.” You could fill in the blanks who the competing teams are and I am sure you have in your mind. All too often we view the other as the other, not as one to seek out and love.
Despite the fact that the desire to believe in something and to hold onto some sort of meaning in this world is rapidly growing among all people, not enough people are teaching and loving from the Church. Instead, as Keller states in his introduction, “Each side demands that you not only disagree with but disdain the other as (at best) crazy or (at worst) evil.” This should not be so. Thus, Keller writes this book as a way to tear down those walls and to bridge the gaps between doubt and faith, to end (or at least soften) the hostility.
Now, I did find one point in the book I particularly disagreed with. In general, and in speaking to someone who finds this topic as a great barrier to faith, I probably would not nitpick this. But in his chapter on if science has disproved Christianity, I think he missed an opportunity. I think Keller went too far to dismiss young earth Christian scientists in favor of those who dismiss the creation account and accept secular teachings on origins.
Those teachings, such as evolution and old earth “creation,” were designed to exclude God. Too often when people are confronted with the perceived conflict of science and faith; they jump to the belief that in order to be a rational person, one must accept the secular presuppositions on origins. This is simply not the case. One can be a scientist and hold a vast number of beliefs and still do bad or good scientific research. Unfortunately, those who hold a similar belief as Keller assume you are not an expert if you believe in a young earth creation. This assumption is simply incorrect.
Along this same line, Keller makes the argument—which I find unconvincing—that you can separate the teachings of naturalism and Darwinian evolution from the philosophy behind them. I do not think this is so. As you should not separate the foundation from Christianity—say, the deity of Christ—from the teachings of Jesus, so too would I say you cannot separate the foundation that death and suffering are a part of Darwinian evolution from “general” belief in evolution. They were designed to support each other.
I understand a great many Christians and Christians who are scientists adhere to an old earth teaching and accept evolution as fact. I think it was beneficial for Keller to include that in his book so that he can show science is not a barrier to faith, as I do not believe it is. I think Proverbs 1:7 can be applied here. But his general dismissal of Genesis as a straightforward retelling of Creation and his exclusion of creationist scientists altogether was an issue to me. However, I do not think this takes away from the purpose of the book or ruins its message. Despite my personal annoyance, I found the chapter to be quite interesting. He simply missed an opportunity.
The book is clearly written for believers and unbelievers, and both will be coming at it from a multitude of perspectives. I think it is helpful to remember this book was written for more than the instruction and rebuke of Christians and the instruction and evangelizing of everyone else.
Keller’s The Reason for God speaks about how God came to us to save us because we could not save ourselves. I would likely put this along with other books about reaching the lost or those who walked away from the church, but this one has a far more hopeful message. I will admit, I was many times convicted of my own doubts while reading. But there was always hope.
Keller shows in The Reason for God how Christ radically changed the world. He explains how there are answers to our doubts and questions. It is not that he has them, but our hope, our assurance is found in Christ. In Him we have meaning, in Him we have salvation, in Him we need not to try to do or say anything but only be thankful for His wonderful gifts of mercy and grace and love.
Blessings to you and yours,