Posted by: Tim | August 5, 2008

Book Review: The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Tim Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City / Manhattan. It is a big church of 5000 people that Keller planted 20 or so years ago that is now busy planting other churches all around the city. They are connecting with an urban / sophisticated / young / trendy crowd that is not supposed to be responsive to the gospel, and especially to ‘modern’ apologetic type presentations of the faith. I first heard of Keller when I heard his excellent message from the 2006 Desiring God conference, “The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World”. He has a heart for evangelism and a heart for the city.

All this is to give you a bit of background for his book, The Reason for God (click here to get it at chapters.ca). Keller writes this book for an audience that reflects the people he is reaching in New York City, to invite them to become a Christian through a consideration of the answers to some tough questions, and the evidence for the Christian faith. He fills the book with footnoted quotes ranging from C.S. Lewis to Tolkien to Bono to Darth Vader (“I find your lack of faith…disturbing” – haha). It is a book that is hard to put down and I read it pretty quickly.

The first part of the book, titled “The Leap of Doubt” contains seven chapters that answer common modern objections to Christianity such as:

Chapter 1 “There Can’t Be Just One True Religion”

Chapter 2 “How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?”

Chapter 3 “Christianity Is a Straightjacket”

Chapter 4 “The Church Is Responsible for so Much Injustice”

Chapter 5 “How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?”

Chapter 6 “Science Has Disproved Christianity”

Chapter 7 “You Can’t Take the Bible Literally”

I found Keller to be at his best when he gives variations of the same powerful response to questions that deal with the exclusivity of Christianity. That answer is simply that everyone is a fundamentalist about something, be it racism, murder, secularism is the best for the public square, a certain set of human rights, etc…, and it is hypocritical to claim that Christianity has no right to make exclusive claims when everyone else does it all the time. It’s just that most people don’t realize they are making exclusive claims in their own beliefs, or that their claims are as much faith statements as Christian beliefs.

The second half of the book, titled “The Reasons for Faith”, deals with reasons to believe the Christian faith (as the title suggests!):

Chapter 8 “The Clues of God”

Chapter 9 “The Knowledge of God”

Chapter 10 “The Problem of Sin”

Chapter 11 “Religion and the Gospel”

Chapter 12 “The (True) Story of the Cross”

Chapter 13 “The Reality of the Resurrection”

Chapter 14 “The Dance of God”

I enjoyed Keller’s chapter on the Resurrection, which gave some great apologetic evidence for the reality of these events. I suspect that most people assume these events can only be taken on faith and are lacking in historical support. Keller shows that the historical arguments are actually very compelling. The historical evidence is far better than that for most ancient events, and secular historians come to conclusions in favour of the evidence that I think would surpise many people. (For an excellent book length treatment of this subject, check out Gary Habermas’ and Michael Licona’s book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Click here to order it at chatpers.ca and No, I don’t get any kickbacks from Chapters if you buy it, but I think I should!)

I found Keller a bit frustrating in his philosophical approach to issues such as hell, sin, and forgiveness. While his arguments have philosophical merit, at times I found myself thinking that he had taken me through some good verbal gymnastics, but I wasn’t convinced that the arguments carried the necessary weight. But I don’t want to be too hard on him for it could be just my approach to things. I guess my mind finds some of the seemingly abstract philosophy a little tough to take except in short doses (that’s why I took engineering, not the arts!). Also, I’m not the primary audience, for this book, though I grew up in a large city (Toronto) it was suburbia, not an urban cool zone like Manhattan (Scarborough was kind of urban cool at times…well occassionally…well not too much…not really at all…There was a big park near my house and a mall but that’s about it.)

For example, on forgiveness, he argues that forgiveness always costs us something (ie the pain of not being able to respond in kind, losing the right to stay angry, harbouring the pain inside), and thus it is necessary for God to pay a price for our forgiveness (Christ’s death on the cross). While I agree that forgiveness costs us something, it does not seem comparable to the cost that Christ had to pay on the cross for our forgiveness, in terms of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual torture that he experienced. It seems to me that a better explanation is found in the terrible offense of sin to a holy God. His character is loving and just and forgiveness is not possible without justice, or He would violate His own holy character. This isn’t to say that Keller didn’t allude to this, but it didn’t seem to be the main thrust of his argument.

Also, I should note that his explanation of sin placed less emphasis on the wrongs we do than it did on the self-righteous efforts we make to be moral, which is sin because we are trusting ourselves instead of God. I don’t think it was wrong, I just think it did not do justice to the significance of breaking the laws of God.

The other part that I found a little disappointing was his treatment of Creation. Now I agree with him that when trying to share the gospel with young urban intellectuals, it may not be wise to make a debate about literal creation the make-or-break issue for them coming to Jesus (see the middle paragraph on p94). However, I think he dismisses the literal creation discussion too lightly. Also, many people, who would have laughed off literal creation, find great encouragement when they realize that there are legitmate scientific answers to support a literal creation as described in Genesis 1. (see Answers in Genesis or Creation Ministries International for some fascinating material!)

In summary, I think Keller has accomplished the purpose of the book suggested by the title The Reason for God, in giving a well-presented response to doubts and and well-reasoned explanation of why the Christian faith is rational and reasonable.  It is my hope and prayer that many people will become Christians as a result of Keller’s powerful apologetic for Christianity, found in this book.

If you are reading this review and are ready to approach Christianity with an open mind, you will not be disappointed by Keller’s The Reason for God. (Again, you can order it at chapters.ca by clicking here.)

Recommended!

Keller, Timothy, The Reason for God, Dutton, New York, 2008, 293pages.

PS: I will be away for a couple of days but feel free to post your comments…I will respond if needed, when I get back.

Thanks,

Tim

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Responses

  1. […] The Reason for God by Timothy Keller (click here for the review I did of this book – I expressed some reservations about a few things, but overall, it’s very […]


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