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.