Review of “The Reason for God” by Dr. Tim Keller

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.

Sources Cited

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.

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The Evidence for Effective Prayer: What It Is and Why It Works

Prayer is one of the most important spiritual disciplines for a believer. But many skeptics have asked, “Does prayer work?” In fact, some skeptics will point to particular studies that demonstrate the so-called ineffectiveness of prayer. Because of such studies, skeptics will proclaim that God is non-existent. However, for one to understand prayer, one needs to understand certain things about prayer. This article will seek to demonstrate that proper prayer is effective. However, prayer is not necessarily effective for all people, for God is not a plaything that can be directed by a person’s whims and fancies. The Bible demonstrates that prayer must have certain qualities. In addition, this article will provide just a few examples of the power of effective prayer. Thus, if one were to look for a thesis, it would be that effective prayer (or prayer properly conducted) is effective.

What Constitutes Effective Prayer?

God is not an inanimate object who can be tested like a chemical compound or a piece of matter. God is an animate being. Due to this, the prayer can be deemed effective when the following three attributes are included:

Effective Prayer Requires Knowing

For prayer to be effective, it requires that one possess and intimate and personal relationship with God though Jesus Christ. When Jesus was asked by his disciples how they should pray, Jesus began the model prayer by saying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name” (Matthew 6:9).[1] Thus, prayer must be relational in nature. It requires one knowing the person who is being petitioned. Jesus also noted that prayer should not be performed in order to put on a show. Rather one should “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

Effective Prayer Requires Believing

Jesus said, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:22-24). Thus, prayer requires faith by the person praying that God can do what is being requested. A note of caution must be added here. In the model prayer, Jesus describes that one must pray according to the will of the Father. That is to say, it may not be the will of God for you to own a multi-million dollar home even as much as you may desire one. Therefore, a balance between the faithful prayer of a person contrasted with the will of God must be kept.

Effective Prayer Requires Obeying

Jesus said that “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). James states that one should “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Peter indicates that prayers can be hindered. Peter states that “husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as a weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). What does all this indicate? It means that if one is not living an obedient life unto the Lord, then their prayers may not be answered. One cannot expect God to work a miracle in their lives if they are living in a rebellious fashion. God is not mocked. James did not say that the prayers of a rebellious person have great power. Rather, the prayers of a righteous person do.

Is there Evidence that Effective Prayer Works?

Does prayer work? It sure does. I have provided three examples of how prayer is powerful.

Vision Restored for Woman in Hendersonville

When I was attending Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute in Hendersonville, North Carolina, the wife of a fellow student injured her eye while playing baseball with her kids in their backyard. One of the kids had hit the ball into a field. As she bent over to pick the ball up, she fell and stuck her eye against a stick. The stick penetrated the side of her ocular cavity and severed her optic nerve. The husband asked for the school to pray for his wife. Some of us went to the hospital to see the family. After our visitation, we had a powerful group prayer for the woman. The next Tuesday, the husband was in chapel. With tears rolling down his eyes, he said, “Brothers, this weekend, my wife began seeing objects in black and white. Yesterday, she began seeing objects in color. I want to tell you that she sees better out of that eye now than she did before the accident!!!”

Personally Saved from Blast of Bolt

For those of you who know my testimony, I had rebelled against participating in the ministry for seven years. However, God sent a shot across the bow. I was in an outdoor building and was caught in the midst of a severe thunderstorm. Lightning was popping around the building. I was caught in a building with poplar trees on one side and with metal objects strewn throughout the building. Lightning was striking so close that the hairs on my body were standing on edge—a clear sign that a strike is imminent. I began to pray that God would deliver me from this storm—even if it meant that I reenter the ministry. 30 minutes later, I was able to walk out of the building without a scratch. However, a hole was left in the ground behind the building where the lightning had struck so hard.

The Miraculous Healing of Gracia

Craig Keener has written a two-volume work on miracles entitled, appropriately, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. In his book, Keener describes some of the testimonies of his father-in-law, an evangelist named “Papa” Jacques Moussounga who is originally from the Congo. According to Jacques and reported by Keener…

when his youngest daughter, Gracia, was seven months old, she was sick with cerebral meningitis, and they took her to A. Sisse Hospital. But the next day, Barhelemy Boubanga, a hospital administrator, sent word that Gracia had only twenty-four hours left to live. That night Papa Jacques and Antoinette Malombe (or Mme Jacques)…remained all night in the hospital, praying; Mme Jacques felt that the child would really die, she went into the bathroom and cried and asked God to give the child back; nevertheless, she felt despair. When the French doctor and the nurse (a nun) entered the room in the morning, the doctor asked tentatively whether the child was still alive, they were surprised to see that she was. The doctor asked to what God they prayed, and when he learned that they prayed to Jesus, he commented, “You pray to a true God.” Gracia recovered only gradually, remaining in the hospital for more than a month, though soon afterward she recovered fully. At the time of my writing this account, Gracia is thirty-five years old and healthy. She was present when I interviewed her mother about this recovery, to confirm and supplement her parents’ account based on what she had been told as a child” (Keener 2011, 336).

Keener provides several other examples of amazing miracles being performed by effective prayer. Keener also records the amazing testimony of Evangelist Daniel Kolenda who…

reported that after a meeting on December 12, 2009, a weeping mother asked him for prayer. She was holding the limb body of her three-year-old boy, whom both she and the ushers at this meeting in Nigeria believed to be dead; the ushers had tried to send her to the medical tent earlier, but she insisted on waiting until the service was over for prayer. He prayed for about thirty seconds and handed the child back. The next night the mother was back. ‘She had brought her son, and he was perfectly well. They told us that the child had come back to life almost immediately after the prayer’” (Keener 2011, 555).

So you don’t believe prayer can be effective? Tell that to the child who was healed and to the other child who was resuscitated.

Conclusion:

Effective prayer is powerful. I would argue that there is a great deal of evidence for the power of such prayers. However, I remain skeptical pertaining to so-called studies performed in demonstrating the effectiveness of prayer. Why? It is because that prayer is relational. God is not a plaything. God is a person. Thus, if one desires evidence pertaining to the power of prayer, go speak to one who has firsthand witnessed the power of God working through effective prayer.

Source Cited:

Keener, Craig S. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. Volume One. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.

miracles

© June 22, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Being Skeptical of Hyper-Skepticism

A healthy dose of skepticism is a good trait to possess. This helps us to discern fact from fiction and keeps us from being someone’s pawn. The Bible shows that discernment is necessary. John writes that one should “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1, ESV). Therefore, one should not trust everything that comes along life’s way. However, when one becomes overly skeptical, it is easy for one to become just as easily duped. In fact, it may be said that extreme skepticism (henceforth termed “hyper-skepticism”) can lead one to a point that nothing can be accepted.

Hyper-skepticism is a growing problem. In fact, I recently conversed with an individual on the issue of hyper-skepticism. Throughout our conversation, I discovered three enormous problems with hyper skepticism.

 skepticism_question everything

Problem 1.      Hyper-skepticism leads to a lack of trust in experience.

The first problem that comes from hyper-skepticism is a lack of trust in experience. In fact, the conversation I held with the individual began in this realm. The antagonist did not believe that one could believe in religious experiences. However, I provided data that corresponds not just with one person’s experience, but the experience of countless others. For example, one cannot deny the incredible testimonies of Muslims who have had experiences with Christ which have led them to convert to Christianity despite the threat of execution. This was not good enough for the skeptic. This led me to ask how one could trust their experience in anything. Surprisingly, the antagonist agreed. This leads to further problems which will be dealt with in a moment.

When skepticism gets to the point that one’s experiences cannot be trusted, then how can one learn anything about life and reality? The experiences of life mold one to become a better person. I would argue that one of God’s greatest teachers in life is that of experience. Solomon wisely writes that “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1, NASB). Life provides such reproof, or correction. Solomon rightly states “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly” (Proverbs 26:11, NIV). This is the problem with hyper-skepticism. If one’s experiences cannot be trusted, then how does one ever learn? Furthermore, it would seem that the lack of trust in religious experiences stems more from an anti-theological bias rather than intellectualism. How intellectual would it for the skeptic to resist God’s extension of grace towards the skeptic? In such a case, hyper-skepticism has little to do with intellectualism and more to do with a heart of rebellion.

 skepticism-sm

Problem 2.      Hyper-skepticism leads to a lack of trust in empirical data.

The second problem of hyper-skepticism emerges from the first. If experiences cannot be trusted, then how can empirical data be trusted? Wait Pastor Brian!!! Empirical data is outside of one’s senses, isn’t it? Then how does this relate to one’s sensual experiences? Consider this: one must use their senses to evaluate empirical data. As you are reading this article, you are evoking at least one of your senses: sight. Therefore, you are reading the empirical data (the words) by your sensual experience (sight). The same is true for the scientific method. When a scientist evaluates a claim, she may write down particular formulae. This uses sight and touch. She will then test her theory. The testing may include a wide variety of senses (sight, touch, hearing, smell, and perhaps tasting). Therefore, if one cannot trust one’s experiences (sensual data), then empirical data is out of reach. The scientific method collapses from hyper-skepticism.

The apostle Thomas has been dubbed with the title “Doubting Thomas.” This is due to Thomas’ claim that he would not believe in Jesus’ resurrection unless he saw the risen Christ for himself. Jesus appeared to Thomas and said to him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it into my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27, ESV). Thomas responded by proclaiming “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28)! Thomas believed the data that was in front of him. In fact, Thomas was no longer a skeptic. Thomas was a believer. Thomas’ belief in the risen Jesus led him to eventually suffer martyrdom in Madras, India as identified by ancient testimony (see the article “Embarrassing Details Concerning the First Easter” here at pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com for more information concerning Thomas’ martyrdom at https://pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/top-5-embarrassing-details-concerning-the-first-easter/). What if Thomas had not believed his experience? Thomas certainly would not have suffered martyrdom. Thomas would have said to have been foolish in such a case.

The skeptic I debated conceded the point that nothing could be known with hyper-skepticism and made the claim that certain experiences can be trusted. But this opens up the gate to all experiences. If someone is sick, would they deny their symptoms and pretend like they were not sick? How foolish! The sick person would seek medical treatment due to the experiences they were having. Should one pick and choose what experiences in their daily life is valid and which ones are not? No one lives life like this unless one is on some form of hallucinogenic drug. But religious experiences are not based on hallucinogens as argued by the debater. Why deny religious experiences if there are good reasons for believing their authenticity? It is true that some who have claimed to have religious experiences had other motives behind their claim. Some skepticism is healthy; however, for the skeptic to devalue all religious experiences when those experiences are held by those who certainly do not meet the standard of schizophrenia, or subject to hallucinations, due to an anti-theological bias is absurd. It leads towards the hyper-skepticism that has been evaluated in this article.

 conviction

Problem 3.      Hyper-skepticism leads to a lack of knowledge in existence.

Finally, if one cannot trust one’s experiences or empirical data, then nothing is knowable. Even Rene Descartes “cognito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am) collapses with hyper-skepticism. How then can one even trust one’s existence? If nothing can be trusted, then not even one’s own existence is safe. Perhaps the person is just a delusion. Perhaps all existence is a delusion. Again, this leads to absurdity. Descartes’ point is that one can know one’s existence and that person’s existence lends itself to the ultimate existence of a Creator. However, with hyper-skepticism, such cannot be said. In fact, hyper-skepticism lends itself to nothingness. Yet, the conscious, thinking, observer clearly knows that “nothing” is “no-thing.” We do not live in a world of “no-things,” we live in a world of existent realities. Therefore, hyper-skepticism should be devalued and rejected wholeheartedly by any truth-seeker.

Certainty-in-Marketing

Conclusion

Luckily, things are knowable. Some certainties do exist. Norman Geisler in his book The Big Book of Christian Apologetics lists five certainties:

“Logical Certainty. Logical certainty is found largely in mathematics and pure logic…

Metaphysical Certainty. …For example, I know for certain that I exist. This is undeniably so, since I cannot deny my existence without existing to make the denial…

Moral Certainty. Moral certainty exists where the evidence is so great that the mind lacks any reason to veto the will to believe it is so…In legal terms, this is what is meant by ‘beyond all reasonable doubt.’…

Practical Certainty (High Probability). Practical certainty is not as strong as moral certainty. Persons claim to be ‘certain’ about things they believe have a high probability of truth…

Spiritual (Supernatural) Certainty. If we grant a theistic God’s existence, he could give supernatural assurance that something is true. Likewise, if God speaks directly to a person…, then that person could have a spiritual certainty that transcends other kinds of certainty, because it comes directly from God…” (Geisler 2012, 74).

There are indeed things that can be known with a great deal of certainty. Religious experiences allow for a certainty that God not only exists, but is actively involved in creation and in the lives of human beings. Unfortunately, the hyper-skeptic may never be able to experience such a certainty, or any certainty for that matter, while they hold to their unjustified hyper-skepticism.

 

Bibliography

All Scripture marked (ESV) comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

All Scripture marked (NASB) comes from the New American Standard Bible. La Habra: Lockman, 1995.

All Scripture marked (NIV) comes from the New International Version. Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011.

Geisler, Norman. The Big Book of Christian Apologetics: An A to Z Guide. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012.

 

© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.