[The following is taken from my Church Newsletter, so its style is representative of that format.]
“People who blithely go through life too busy or ind[The following is taken from my Church Newsletter, so its style is representative of that format.]
“People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experiences of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should be discarded only after long reflection.” So, writes Dr. Timothy Keller in the introduction of this month’s volume from my bookshelf The Reason for God.
Keller is Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan which he started in 1989. When he told others that he planned on planting a conservative Christian church in the middle of Manhattan, “a land of skeptics, critics, and cynics”, they scoffed. Most thought that a church that upheld the plenary inspiration of the Bible, miracles, the doctrines of sin, grace, justification, and the physical resurrection of the dead among other orthodox doctrines was a recipe for failure in the big city. Keller found quite the opposite. By 2007 his Sunday worship services combined had more than 5,000 attendees. This is because Keller addressed the criticisms of the skeptics and the doubts of the faithful alike. He found out many in Manhattan were hungry for a church that did not water-down or adapt the Christian message for the culture, but rather engaged the culture’s questions with solid Biblical answers. This is not to say everyone is converting. In fact Keller believes that our culture is becoming more polarized with secular skepticism and religious faith both equally on the rise.
If I were to describe this book in a single sentence I would put it this way: Keller’s The Reason for God is for the 21st Century what Lewis’ Mere Christianity was for the 20th. Of course one would have to have some familiarity with C.S. Lewis’ work to know what that means, but believe me that if you’re not familiar with Mere Christianity this is high praise for Keller’s work.
I have compared this work to Lewis’ Mere Christianity because Lewis also produced his work “for the skeptics and Christians who love them” (as Publisher’s Weekly puts it). Keller is deeply influenced by Lewis and many other great Christian thinkers such as Martin Luther among others. Like Lewis (who was an atheist at one time), Keller had serious doubts about his Christian faith and by the time he entered college he was agnostic. During that period he began to study his questions about the Christian faith. What he found was something provocative in our age when criticism of absolute truth claims and doubts about religious faith are on the rise. He discovered that all doubts, no matter how skeptical or cynical they are, are really an alternate system of beliefs. His point is that behind every doubt or question is a web of presuppositions and truth claims which are every bit as dogmatic as any religion. Once he realized this and discovered that the conclusions of skeptics were much less intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally satifisfying than Jesus Christ he became convinced that orthodox Christianity was the answer. Keller brought this experience with him to New York and now for two decades has talked with skeptics and struggled with hard questions of his own. This book is the fruit of those years of experience. In the first seven chapters Keller discusses the seven most common objections of skeptics which include:
1. There Can’t Be Just One True Religion 2. How Could a Good God Allow Suffering? 3. Christianity is a Straitjacket 4. The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice 5. How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell? 6. Science has Disproved Christianity 7. You Can’t Take the Bible Literally
He then follows up the second half of the book with seven reasons to believe Christianity:
1. The Clue of God 2. The Knowledge of God 3. The Problem of Sin 4. Religion and the Gospel 5. The True Story of the Cross 6. The Reality of the Resurrection 7. The Dance of God
In each chapter Keller draws from an array of disciplines such as literature, philosophy, anthropology, psychology and of course Biblical theology to make his case that Jesus Christ is the most intellectually and spiritually compelling answer to the problems we face in the world. His writing style is accessible and often reads more like a lively living room chat than a classroom lecture. Do I agree one hundred percent with everything he says? No, of course not. As Missouri-Synod Lutherans many of us will struggle with his openness to theistic evolution. We also will find that his final chapter on how to become a Christian is wanting with its lack of focus on the Sacraments. But, the aim of this book is broad in its desire to communicate the common teachings of Reformation Christian theology to a skeptical audience. Christians who read this will find this book both devotionally beneficial as well as helpful in talking to their neighbors and friends about the only hope which can satisfy the soul that longs for peace, Jesus alone. ...more