Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Reason for God

Over the weekend, as I had hoped, I finished Tim Keller's new book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. When I bought it, I didn't know what to expect (aside from the title, of course); as I noted the other day, I smiled in recognition of Keller's method, which hailed from Cornelius Van Til, the Dutch Reformed apologist who taught for nearly 40 years at Westminster Theological Seminary.

But the book is more and less than a manual on apologetics. It is more in that it is incredibly winsome, well-written, and well-argued (qualities that many "apologetics" books fail to have). The first part of the book deals with seven "defeater" beliefs that skeptical people bring to their investigation of Christianity: in my language, they include pluralism; the "problem" of evil; western views of liberty and Christianity; the historical flaws of the church; the "justness" of hell; science and faith; and the authority of an inspired Bible.

In dealing with these skeptical positions--which are not new by any means, but rather represent the continued legacy of modernity in a "post-modern" world--Keller walks inside and demonstrates the internal inconsistencies both of the positions and the worldviews that make them appear appropriate. He does this so well that I found myself making stars and comments in the margins so that I can try to remember the arguments as I deal with family, friends, and neighbors.

The second part of the book presents a well-reasoned presentation of the Gospel that is not merely a Gospel tract, but serves as the flip side of the defeater beliefs. Not only do these skeptical positions not make sense of all the data, there is a better explanation of the data--and that would be "mere Christianity," with its emphasis upon creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. That story line--or maybe better, that opera--invites us into a dance in which we become most human because we have the very image of God in us restored.

Not only is this book more than a manual on apologetics, it is less. By that I mean, this strikes me as a book that is meant to be used, given away, and shared over coffee with unbelieving friends. This would be a great book for a small group of friends to begin to investigate Christianity, to give to an unbelieving relative who has asked you for reasons for your faith, to center an approach to evangelism around. The ideas will work their way into sermons. And so, it is less than most books on apologetics, which seem to be geared mostly to believers at a semi-academic level to prepare them in the most abstract way to reason--but not actually with real unbelievers.

This is simply a wonderful book, a useful tool for God's work--but it will only make a true impact for the Kingdom if it is used, given away, and shared with others.

5 comments:

Gavin Ortlund said...

I was going to wait to buy this, but you convinced me to get it now. If I get into trouble with my wife for spending too much money on books, I will use your blog as my excuse!

Geoffsnook said...

That sounds like a good book to give to my skeptical neighbor who didn't read the last book I handed her. I'm glad that the book isn't a 'manual'; we have plenty of those kind of books out there. Sounds like a book that will bless some unbelieving folks out there. Thanks for quick review.

Ramona Lisa said...

I appreciate your review & recommendation. As a Christian counselor, I'm always looking for a great book to give to clients and friends. And I'm also a fan of Tim Keller's Bible studies--so I'm excited to give it a whirl!

Blessings, Ramona

Matt Blazer said...

Wouldn't it be more effective to read what they want to read? Then apply Keller's book to the arguments in those books? Then we are being incarnational, listening well, showing we care... then reasoning in the insights we get from whatever book they have given to us - probably a more effective lens of insight than our own perceptions.

Apologetics as a spiritual discipline instead of an academic one.

I love the sermon series (defeaters)

Is he more dependent upon Van Til than Plantinga? Or is he simply using both heavily?

The Apostate said...

Mr. Lucas,
As a former evangelical, it is fairly safe to say that Keller's book is written by a Christian for Christians or, at best, people with very little knowledge of Christianity and/or its rebuttals.
I myself am always ecstatic to read books with such highly decorated titles, and I welcomed the gift from my grandfather (a wise and joyous Christ-centered man himself). But Keller does his faith no favours my picking at the same old straw men and not engaging with any academics with any sort of integrity. Christians should be demanding more, not less, from people who pronounce "reasons" for God. This book is more likely to end up on the bookshelves of evangelicals, alongside the likes of McDowell and others who have attempted apologetics.
Just my opinion.