Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Penguin, 2008. $16.99 (combination book with The Prodigal Son). 310 pages.
Faith in an age of skepticism is harder to come by than it was in previous times. Cynicism and snide Humean naturalism tend to disregard ideologies like those found in the Christian faith. However, Dr. Timothy Keller has found a way to combat such cynicism. Dr. Timothy Keller is the founding and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the heart of Manhattan, New York. People told Keller that an evangelical church in the heart of New York City would not make it. Those skeptics were wrong. Keller’s church has made and indelible imprint in the Great Apple as it has grown to more than 5,000 congregants.1 In his book The Reason for God, Keller demonstrates the winsome and sage teaching that has inspired countless individuals in Manhattan.
The Reason for God (henceforth RFG) seeks to “lay out pathway that many…Christians have taken through doubt, the second half of the book is a more positive exploration of the faith they are living out in the world.”2 Essentially, the book engages the doubts that are often given against the Christian faith and then defends the core essentials of the Christian faith. The book is divided into two sections with fourteen chapters overall.
Part One of RFG challenges the skeptics’ doubt. Chapter One examines the exclusivity of Christianity. Are Christians bigoted in claiming there is only one way to heaven? What about nations who have sought to outlaw religion? Chapter Two examines the issue of God and suffering. Why would a loving, powerful God allow for suffering to occur? Keller approaches the issue from the final redemption found in Christ. Chapter Three evaluates the skeptic’s claim that Christianity is binding and takes away a person’s freedom. Keller shows that a person has more freedom in the Christian life than outside it, because true love leads towards a loss of some independence.3 Chapter Four argues against the claim that Christianity is responsible for the injustices of the world, while sensitively acknowledging the past failures of the church. Chapter Five examines the issue of God sending people to hell. Keller argues that “hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity.”4 I was fascinated by Keller’s response seeing that he is reformed. Yet, I was certainly pleased with his answer to the conundrum. Chapter Six argues that science has not, and in fact will not, disprove Christianity, and shows that the skeptic’s problem with miracles is based more on a philosophical objection rather than a scientific one. Chapter Seven examines the issue of taking the Bible literally. Keller argues that a person can and should accept the claims of the Bible. Otherwise, a person possesses a kind of “Stepford God”5 form of theology.
Part Two provides reasons to accept Christianity. Chapter Eight provides reasons to accept God’s existence. Chapter Nine argues that a person has a knowledge of God already, whether they accept God or not. Chapter Ten examines the problem of sin and argues that a person’s identity can only be known in God. Chapter Eleven differentiates the gospel message from that of religion. Chapter Twelve explains the message of the cross. Chapter Thirteen defends the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. Finally, Chapter Fourteen describes the final redemption anticipated in the Christian message as there will be a new heaven and a new earth. What are some of the strengths of the book?
RFG systematically dismantles Humean naturalism. Keller’s approach fairly engages skeptical claims made against Christianity. RFG provides a balanced approach, as well. Keller does not bombastically present the message of the gospel in a way that offends, unlike some. Rather, he is quite compassionate to the skeptic in his approach. Thus, the skeptically minded person will not be overly offended reading RFG. Keller’s approach is fascinating as it philosophically-based. While Keller’s text holds many strengths, RFG holds a few weaknesses, also.
Keller could have presented the case much stronger than he did for the existence of God. Keller tended to emphasize the inability to “prove” or “disprove” God’s existence more than giving a stronger cumulative case for God’s existence. Do not misunderstand me. Keller did an exceptional job demonstrating the reason to believe in God and in Christ. However, it would have been nice if he provided a stronger case, emphasizing the robust evidences promoting God’s existence. Here, Keller could have improved his case by giving scientific reasons to believe in God’s existence as you would find in other apologetic works. It is especially interesting that Keller does not focus on the objectivity of truth more than he does.
RFG is an exceptional book. Keller provides insights for the Christian faith not found in other Christian works, especially the issue of identity and the philosophy of Soren Kirkegaard (see chapter 10). I highly recommend Keller’s book. Those who desire a deep scientific understanding of the faith may not be satisfied with RFG. However, those who seek a cumulative case for the Christian faith from a philosophical point-of-view will be greatly pleased with RFG. Individuals who have not been exposed to philosophy may find Keller’s book slightly more difficult to read than those who have. However, a lack of philosophical exposure should not hinder one’s overall understanding of RFG, it may only take a little longer to digest. Keller’s book is greatly accessible to general readers. I give the book five glowing stars.
© July 31, 2016. Brian Chilton.
1 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin, 2008), xiv.
2 Ibid., xix.
3 Ibid., 50.
4 Ibid., 80.
5 Ibid., 118.