Keller Explains Galatians

Keller_review_20200629

Timothy Keller. 2013. Galatians for You. USA: The Goodbook Company.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Commentaries are books about books and they come in handy when we read a culturally distant book like the Bible.  Biblical culture has at least three attributes that line up poorly with American culture.  The Bible is highly relational, reflective, and laconic (carefully chosen words) while American culture is transactional, superficial, and wordy—we are inundated daily with verbal and visual messages.  Consequently, one of the most difficult challenges in leading an adult Bible study today is finding a commentary that is both accessible and informative.  Timothy Keller’s, Galatians for You, meets both criteria.

Background

Keller is the founding pastor (church planter) of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (www.redeemer.com) in New York City which is famous for successfully evangelizing young professionals. He received his masters of divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) and doctorate from Westminster Theological Seminary.  He has written a number of books, including: The Reason for God (New York: Dutton, 2008) and The Meaning of Marriage (with Kathy Keller; New York: Dutton, 2011).  When GCTS set out a box full of Galatians for You in the library at for free distribution last spring, I snapped up a copy.

Series Description

Galatians for You is the first in a series of “for You” study guides. Why start a series with the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Galatians?  In an online video introduction (http://bit.ly/19XgT4B), Keller gives three reasons:  1. it provides a good summary of the Gospel, 2. it explains the uniqueness of salvation by grace and how it differs from the law, and 3. it helps explain how the Gospel transforms us through grace and fosters the fruits of the spirit.

Organization

Galatians for You is organized in 13 chapters.  In the book, 2 to 3 chapters are devoted to each of the 6 chapters in Galatians. These chapters each divide into two parts focusing on:  1. explaining the Biblical text and 2. applying the issues raised.  Both parts have study questions. A brief introduction precedes and a glossary, appendix, and bibliography follow these chapters.  The introduction summaries the theological issues presented in the letter and provides historical context.  The glossary defines technical terms appearing the text.  The appendix provides a brief explanation of the new perspective on Paul raging in theological circles.

Keller’s art begins with simple communication.  In his introduction, for example, he uses simple words to describe:  the gospel [as] the A to Z of the Christian life (9).  And his personal touch stands out as he identifies with Paul as a fellow: church-planting missionary (10).   Keller writes using lists and bullet points and shares both both information and emotion.  For example, his historical review consists of just three bullet points and his introduction observes Paul is both surprised and angry (13).  These characteristics identify him as a post modern writer and make his writing read like a blog.

Writer’s Craft

Keller’s craft runs through the entire commentary.  For example, salvation by grace differs from (presumed) salvation by law because grace depends on a promise while law depends on performance (78).  He writes:  For a promise to bring a result, it needs only to be believed, but for a law to bring a result, it has to be obeyed (11).  He classifies Christians (Paul’s audience) falling into four categories depending on whether they obey the law and/or rely on the law (versus grace) for their salvation.  These categories emerge: 1. law-obeying, law-relying (modern Pharisees), 2. Law-disobeying (libertines), law-relying (cultural Christians), 3. Law-disobeying, not law-relying (secular or relativistic), and 4. Law-obeying, not law-relying.  Keller observes that most Christians struggle to live out group 4 (obey the law out of gratitude), but often slip into one of the other three categories (117-118).  Keller’s willingness to struggle with these issues gives his writing depth. En un español se diría que es profundo.

Assessment

Keller’s Galatians for You is a joy to read.  Many commentaries and study guides written for a lay audience fail to engage the text and completely ignore the struggles that a post-modern audience faces.  Keller is strong on both points.  I look forward to teaching this text.

Keller Explains Galatians

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Obituary_HFH

 

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Arguments for God’s Existence

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

A core tenet of the scientific method lies in using reproducible empirical evidence to validate or fail to validate a hypothesis. Because God created the heavens and the earth, he lies outside the created order, where direct evidence might be found. Therefore, scientific testing of the existence of God is impossible. However, we can infer the existence of God from the created order, much like we might observe fingerprints of a potter on the pottery—a kind of indirect evidence.

Introduction

In part three of his recent book, Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller (2016, 217) summarizes six arguments for the existence of God from: 1. existence, 2. fine tuning, 3. moral realism, 4. consciousness, 5. reason, and 6. beauty. These bear repeating.

From Existence

For existence to even be, it had to have had an uncaused cause (Keller 2016, 218). Think about the evolutionary hypothesis that posits that life spontaneously emerged from non-biological substances and evolved until the creation of human beings. But who created the non-biological substances? The usual response is that the universe just always existed. However, according to the big bang theory, the universe has not always looked like it does today. According to one online dictionary:⁠1

“a theory in astronomy: the universe originated billions of years ago in an explosion from a single point of nearly infinite energy density.”

Given that the universe shows evidence of an uncaused cause, it is reasonable to infer that God created the universe in his own inscrutable way.

From Fine Tuning

Constants in physics appear to be precisely adjusted to allow life to exist. Keller (2016, 219) writes:

“The speed of light, the gravitational constant, the strength of the strong and weak nuclear forces—must all have almost exactly the values that they do have in order for organic life to exist…the chances that all of the dials would be tuned to life-permitting settings all at once are about 10-100.” 

Given the small probability that the laws of physics randomly aligned in this way, many scientists have concluded that the universe was intentionally planned. It is kind of like finding a working clock on the beach. No reasonable person would assume that this close was randomly created—the existence of a clock suggests a clock maker.

From Moral Realism

Most people, even ardent atheists, believe that moral obligations, like human rights, exist that we can insist everyone abide by. Keller (2016, 221) writes:

“…some things are absolutely wrong to do. Moral obligation, then, makes more sense in a universe created by a personal God to whom we intuitively feel responsible than it does in an impersonal universe with no God.” 

Even an argent atheist would not idly stand by and watch another person drown or be killed in a burning house when something could be done to aid them. This kind of moral obligation is something that virtually everyone feels, yet is counter-intuitive from the perspective of personal survival—water rescues and running into burning buildings routinely kill rescuers, even those trained as lifeguards and firefighters. Why do we feel obligated to put ourselves at such risk? Christians answer that God created us with a moral compass.

From Consciousness

Keller (2016, 222), citing Thomas Nagel (2012, 110), writes that “all human experience has a subjective quality to it.” It is pretty hard to argue, as does Francis Crisk (1994, 3), that

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (Keller 2016, 224)

Keller (2016, 224) summarizes: “Consciousness and idea making make far more sense in a universe created by an idea-making, conscious God.” 

From Reason and Beauty

Keller (2016, 225) reports that has been popular in recent years to argue that our reasoning and appreciation of beauty both developed from the process of natural selection because they helped our ancestors to survive. Evolutionary psychologists have gone a step further arguing that even our faith in God is a product of evolution and natural selection.

The problem exists, however, that many animals seem to have survived just fine without developing any capacity to reason at all. Furthermore, if our faith is a product of natural selection, why wouldn’t we trust our reasoning capacity to tell us the truth? The arguments for beauty parallel those for reason.

Keller (2016, 226), citing Luc Ferry (2011), writes: “truth, beauty, justice, and love … whatever the materialists say, remain fundamentally transcendent.”  In other words, they all point to the existence of a loving God.

Limits to the Proofs

Most proofs of God’s existence focus only on making it sensible to believe in God in an abstract or philosophical sense. They really do not give us a detailed picture of God’s character, as revealed in the Bible.

Philosophers remind us that God transcends our universe because he created it—God stands outside time and space. He is also holy—sacred and set apart. God’s transcendence makes it impossible for us to approach God on our own; he must initiate any contact that we have with him. Christians believe that God revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Uniqueness of Christ

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes the case that God not only exists, but that he is God of the Old and New Testaments. Keller (2016, 228) makes the stunning observation that only Christianity is truly a world religion; it has had indigenous believers fairly evenly distributed across all regions and continents of the world, long before it became a religion in Europe and North America. He writes: “today most of the most vital and largest Christian populations are now nonwhite and non-Western.”

The arguments for God’s existence must be compelling (or Christians must have come to faith for other reasons) because Christianity continues to grow in spite of strong influence of secularism in the West and obvious persecution of Christians outside the West. 

References

Ferry, Luc. 2011. “A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living.” Translation by Theo Cuffe. New York: Harper Perennial.

Crisk, Francis. 1994. “The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul.” New York: Simon and Schuster.

Timothy Keller.  2016. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  New York: Viking Press.

Nagel, Thomas. 2012. “What is It Like to Be a Bat?” Mortal Questions, Canto Classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Footnotes

1 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/big%20bang%20theory.

Arguments for God’s Existence

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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