Keller Argues the Case for God
Timothy Keller. 2008. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
An old saw goes: “you can’t argue someone out of something that they weren’t argued into”. Many people adopt illogical positions that suit their needs. A common argument goes: I want to control my own life, therefore God must not exist. The banality of such arguments helps explain my attraction to apologetics—the use of logic to the defense of the faith.
In his book, The Reason for God, Keller notes an interesting statistic:
“10-25 percent of all the teachers and professors of philosophy in the country [U.S.] are orthodox Christians, up from less than 1 percent just thirty years ago.” (x)
Perhaps I am not the only one tired of incoherent arguments. In his efforts to organize Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan New York, Keller observed that while many people are leaving the church today, many inner-city young professionals are attracted to orthodox believing churches that offer strong arguments for faith (xiv). These are people who base their faith not on where their parents attended church but on carefully considering the alternatives. Keller notes: “You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B.” (xvii) Jesus himself respected those who honestly admit and struggle with their doubts to come to faith (Mark 9:24; xxiii)
Orthodox Believing Church Defined
What does an orthodox believing church look like? Keller writes:
“The new, fast-spreading multiethnic orthodox Christianity in the cities is much more concerned about the poor and social justice than Republicans have been, and at the same time much more concerned about upholding classic Christian moral and sexual ethics than Democrats have been.” (xx)
Who is Timothy Keller?
The jacket on his book says that he was raised in Pennsylvania. His seminary education took him to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA) and later to Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS; Philadelphia). WTS is the flagship seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
Keller lays out his book in 14 chapters divided into 2 parts (Leap of Doubt/The Reasons for Faith). The chapters are:
Part 1: Leap of Doubt
- There Can’t Be Just One True Religion
- How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
- Christianity is a Straitjacket
- The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice
- How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
- Science has Disproved Christianity
- You Can’t Take the Bible Literally
Part 2: The Reasons for Faith
- The Clues of God
- The Knowledge of God
- The Problem of Sin
- Religion and the Gospel
- The (True) Story of the Cross
- The Reality of the Resurrection
- The Dance of God (vii-viii)
These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue, acknowledgments, notes, and an index.
Keller’s approach in apologetics is to provide a detailed list of arguments and counterarguments consistent with traditional apologetics. This approach makes sense because frequently people struggling with their faith get hung up on particular stumbling blocks which, once removed, allows them a more normal journey of faith to proceed.
An important stumbling block for many people is the question of human suffering. The classic argument offered by atheists is: how could an all-powerful, loving God allow suffering? Either God is not all-powerful or God is not loving. Keller notes the story of Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, but ends up prime minister of Egypt. Keller asks: what was the role of suffering in Joseph’s life? (24). He also notes that atheists have a curious agenda in posing this question about God’s attributes because natural selection, taken in the process of evolution, depends directly on death, destruction, and suffering of weaker individuals. Holding such a detestable theory so close to heart, how then can the atheist suddenly have standing to question God’s fairness and goodness? (26)
For me, The Dance of God proved. most memorable. Keller asks: “What does it mean…that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit glorify each other?” He goes on to write: “The life of the Trinity is characterized not by self-centeredness but by mutually self-giving love. When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center on the interests and desires of the other. That creates a dance…The early leaders of the Greek church had a word for this—perichoresis.” (214-215) Perichoresis is the Trinity modeling life in community for the church.
Keller’s book ends with an invitation to faith. Citing Flannery O’Connor, he writes: “To Know oneself, is above all, to know what one lacks.” (227) The hope of our age is that we will individually and collectively wake up—like the drunk who wakes up in an alley—and recognize that we desperately need God. Keller advises—take a spiritual inventory—identify your own stumbling blocks (231). Then, repent, believe in Christ, and find a community of faith (232-235).
 See my earlier review: Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Relationship in Community, Part 1 (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-RT) and Part 2 (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-S0).