Reviewing the Reason for GodApril 11, 2008
Appreciation to John Percival, my former colleague and Associate Pastor of St Peter’s Barge, Canary Wharf, London, for permission to post this helpful review.
Review of Tim Keller’s, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism, Dutton, New York, 2008, $24.95
If you have longed for a book to give a sceptical friend or to help you think about your faith in a deeper and more culturally engaged way then this is the book you’ve been waiting for.
Keller will be known to many as the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Traditionally the graveyard of American evangelicalism, Keller has planted a church in the middle of the city among the types of people who have always been thought of as the hardest to reach: the urban, the young, the sceptical and the postmodern. One feature that makes this book so rich and unique is the way that it reflects his experiences.
Keller starts with the concept of doubt and invites both believers and sceptics to examine and confront their doubts: for the believer, being honest about personal and cultural objections to faith; for the sceptic, being willing to question deeply cherished beliefs.
The book is split simply into two halves. The first half seeks to deconstruct doubt, and looks at the seven most common “defeaters” to Christian belief that Keller has encountered: the exclusivity of the Christian claims, the problem of suffering, Christianity as a moral straitjacket, the track record of the church, hell, science, and whether we can take the Bible literally or not. The second half seeks to build a more positive case for Christianity and examines the clues for God in creation and human nature before covering the more traditional turf of sin, redemption, and resurrection, finishing with a characteristically winsome appeal for our response.
What separates this book out from its predecessors is firstly Keller’s style. His writing is disarming, honest, and compelling, and is interspersed with real life anecdotes from the many people who have come to him with questions. The second thing to note is that Keller brings arguments to bear on his subject matter that will be new even to many Christians. He consistently engages with the toughest contemporary nuts to crack (even addressing issues such as social justice and human rights) and it is not without significance that his book has been described as a modern day Mere Christianity. Keller would no doubt shirk from the parallel but acknowledges Lewis’s influence (along with that of American theologian Jonathan Edwards) at many points.
This is great stuff from start to finish. Whether you are a sceptic seeking answers, a believer struggling with doubts, or just seeking to be better equipped to share your faith, then this is the book for you. Keller’s stated aim is to make a case for Christianity in general, and he does this humbly and truthfully in a way that would be especially accessible to the thinking outsider. Significantly, this book is distributed by a secular publisher; it has already made the Top Ten list of New York Times’ bestsellers, and it is gratifying finally to have a Christian book that engages with the likes of Dawkins et al on their level and in their natural habitat. Let us pray that many people buy this and read it: the more the better.