Apr 12, 08
Read in March, 2008
Fewer adjectives probably describe the present age better than polarized. Nowhere is this more evident than the struggle between secular modernism and traditional Christian faith. There are probably fewer people who have more understanding of the depth of that struggle and the difficulties in communicating across that polarized gap than Timothy Keller. Reason for God takes the approach that you communicate not between believers and unbelievers, but between believers and skeptics, for he argues everyone believes in something. In short, he wants believers and skeptics to look at doubt in two different ways. He urges believers to struggle and come to grips with their doubts, so that an accepted faith is not just passively agreed upon, but plausible and understandable. And he urges skeptics to doubt their skepticism and compare their belief system with what they oppose, and to see just how solid their skepticism is.
So Keller writes like a pastor as much as he does an apologist for the Christian faith. The church the helped to found 20 years ago, and where he serves as senior minister, Redeemer Presbyterian (PCA) in New York City has sought to address doubts and skepticism seriously and winsomely, within the context of traditional, Reformed Protestant Christianity. Much of this book is obviously based on discussions held during counsel or during his well-known after worship service question and answer periods, so the book represents fresh attempts to communicate with a modern, urban culture.
Keller writes that two large influences in his life are the 18th century pastor Jonathan Edwards and the British professor CS Lewis, and that show up well. He presents afresh, much of the doctrines about God and man, as taught by Jonathan Edwards, and he holds a fresh grip on the reasoning style of CS Lewis. Yet he also makes good use of presuppositional apologetics, where he doesn't try to argue people into the Kingdom of God, but rather challenges people to see where what the suppose comes from and where it is going.
This is a literate, smart, witty, well-written, and winsome book, accessible and challenging to Christian and non Christian alike. The author makes good use sources ranging from Flannery O'Connor to U2's front man Bono to make his case. Again, going back to the premise of the work, of trying to communicate calmly between portions of a polarized world, you find an author that actually likes and enjoys the skeptics he encounters and learns a lot from them. But what he presents, and challenges his readers with is a full embrace of traditional Christian faith. Other writers might just stop with a basic, "Apostles Creed" faith, but it can best be said that Keller argues for an "Apostles Creed" plus faith, or fleshing out a more fuller faith; for example, he presents a great argument for what is known as the doctrine of penal substitution and the necessity of growing in an individual faith within a community of other believers (something sorely needed to be taught to believer and skeptic alike).
The book is divided into two sections, the Leap of Doubt and the Reasons for Faith, with an intermediary chapter between. The first section is an examination of what quite a few skeptics in this age presuppose, the second is a fresh appeal to traditional Christian faith. His section on the knowledge of God is exceptionally strong. He argues that no one is really relativistic, as many in the culture world might argue for, but instead, again drawing on Edwards (with help from play write Arthur Miller), that men know God, they just suppress what they know. He cannot prove that God exists, for everyone already acknowledges that he is there.
Not everyone will agree with all that Keller has to say. Some will say that he is too strong on some points, and too weak on others, or would prefer a more fleshed out thought on some issues; but this work should at least get conversation started; which appears to be his goal as much as anything.
This book cannot be more highly recommend to believers and skeptics alike, especially those active in the early 21st century, globalized world, with all its strains. Time will tell how it will age, for it does dialogue with many of the issues of our time with traditional truth in a fresh way.