Book Review: The Reason for God by Tim Keller

31 10 2009

In spite of the technology explosion which we have witnessed in recent years, the simple format of the book continues to wield considerable power in shaping our worldview and beliefs. Anyone in doubt of this needs only to think of some of the issues handled in recent works by Dawkins, Hitchens, or Humphries to realise how polemically and ideological important the printed word continues to be within our culture. As an evangelical Christian I find myself dismayed at the quantity of material pouring from the printing press which militates against the tenets of my faith and that of millions of other people. People browsing through the hoards of titles in Waterstones now have a veritable smorgasbord of titles to read which will assure them that there is no God, and that Christians are a bunch of outdated, unscientific, unthinking oafs who will eventually cease to populate the gene pool.

Given the militancy of this movement it is easy at times to feel overwhelmed, and uncertain of how to answer the claims levelled by those opposing the Christian faith. A substantial answer to that question is to be found in Tim Keller’s excellent book The Reason for God, published in 2008. This is a work which meets the claims of popular atheism head-on, but with grace, rigour and an intellectual force which are entirely endearing, and hugely convincing.

Keller’s tone throughout the book is free of shrill over-reaction, with a decision made on the part of the author to write about the issues of God and belief with sensitivity and clarity. The end result is a book which is easy to read without being intellectually light, and which manages to present the Christian faith in ‘reasonable’ terms without abandoning or watering down its doctrines.

The book is divided into two sections. The first deals with common objections to the Christian faith. Keller looks at seven individual issues ranging from the exclusive claims of Christianity in a multi-faith world, to suffering, injustice, hell and science. The mood of this section is at once devastatingly contrary to popular atheism, and respectful of those who may find themselves cynical or sceptical about Christian belief. No doubt Keller’s treatment of these issues will not convince all atheists who take the time (risk?) of reading it, nor will it necessarily reflect ALL that is true of historic Reformed belief in any one area, but speaking broadly these chapters offer an excellent critique of areas where writers such as Dawkins take a ‘leap of doubt’.

The second section of the book presents the case for God. It is here that Keller sets out his beliefs about how God has revealed Himself to us, whatis wrong with our world and our hearts, and how we might be made right with God. The chapters are clear and methodical and don’t shy away from presenting such historic doctrines as penal substitution etc. The epilogue shows those whom God has convicted through the argument of the book how they might come into relationship with him.

My overall impression of the book is that it is an excellent resource. For me a key section of the book is in the ‘Intermission’ where Keller deals with his approach to writing the book. In one paragraph he states:

It is important for readers to understand this. I am making a case in this book for the truth of Chrtistianity in general – not for one particular strand of it. Some sharp-eyed Presbyterian readers will notice that I am staying quiet about some of my particular theological beliefs in the interest of doing everything I can to represent all Christians. Yet when I come to describe the Christian gospel of sin and grace, I will necessarily be doing it as a Protestant Chriatian, and I won’t be sounding notes that a Catholic author would sound’ (p.117).
This must be borne in mind throughout the book. There are areas where I would diverge from Keller, particularly in his description of eternal punishment and his handling of some of the issues around Genesis 1-2. But in many ways these quibbles must be dismissed out of respect for the overall aim of the book which is a general apologetic for Christian belief.

Taken on the terms in which Keller sets his book it is a powerful resource for outreach, as well as the consolidation of one’s own faith. I don’t know how common an experience it is, but I have had sustained periods of niggling doubt at times in my Christian life – and a book like this is wonderful material for reminding one of the powerful spiritual and intellectual underpinnings of their faith.

As the Christmas season approaches this book would make a tremendous gift for unbelieving friends and family members, as well as to Christian brothers and sisters who will find their faith affirmed and their confidence for witnessing reinforced.

Tim Keller is to be thanked for this thoughtful, credible and God-honouring treatment of a very current and important theme. A tremendous book.
Advertisements




Quote of the Week – 30th October 2009

30 10 2009
The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself or less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less. I don’t need to notice myself – how I’m doing, how I’m being regarded – so often
Tim Keller, The Reason for God, p.181