Monday, December 1, 2008

Book Review: The Reason for God by Tim Keller

As a preliminary, I knew nothing about Tim Keller before reading this book except that he had spoken at one of Desiring God's Pastors Conferences. As such, I was intrigued to read a book which seemed to be gaining such national attention and yet was written from a theological perspective that was at least friendly to my own.

Keller initially approaches the book as someone who is writing to answer objections which he regularly encounters as a pastor in New York City, where he pastors Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The first seven objections he deals with are as follows:

1. There can't be just one true religion
2. A good God could not allow suffering
3. Christianity is a straitjacket
4. The church is responsible for so much injustice
5. A loving God would not send people to hell
6. Science has disproved Christianity
7. You can't take the Bible literally

I was pleased by Keller's responses to all of the objections except for the one on hell. I would have liked very much to see a more orthodox discussion of God's self-love as being his first commitment, and therefore God must send people to hell if he is to honor himself above all others; otherwise he would be an idolater. But alas, Keller seems to take the C.S. Lewis approach and deal with hell as more of a psychological place where we get just what we want after we die (he frequently quotes from The Great Divorce in this section), if we die apart from Christ.

I know that in the chapter on science and Christianity, many believers will take umbrage with Keller's acceptance of theistic evolution. For my own various reasons, this was less than a concern for me.

As someone who really doesn't consider himself a "full-on" presuppositionalist or a proponent of classical evidential apologetics, I felt that Keller's apologetic approach was both scattered and refreshing. There was no point at which you thought, "Okay, he's quoting Alvin Plantinga. He's an evidentialist," because in the next breath he would begin taking the presuppositional line that everyone already knows there is a God. In contrast to the Van Tilian school of thought, however, Keller merely argues that everyone knows there is a God, whereas the Van Tilian claim is certainly stronger; namely that everyone knows the Christian God exists.

After dealing with these objections, Keller goes on in the second half of the book to make seven positive arguments, rather than just staying on the defensive for the entirety of the book. His chapters include:

1. The clues of God
2. The knowledge of God
3. The problem of sin
4. Religion and the gospel
5. The (true) story of the cross
6. The reality of the resurrection
7. The Dance of God

The chapter on the clues of God, to my mind, was not unique; it was really meant to argue that probabilistically speaking, the existence of God is very likely where, again, I knew that presuppositionalists would want a stronger claim than just that. For my part, I thought this chapter on what was essentially classical apologetics did more good than bad for Keller's case since he really seems to be taking more of an "all things considered and being equal" approach, which still leaves certainty out of the picture. Most people think this way, rather in terms of certainty and knowledge, and on those grounds I appreciated what he was doing.

At the end of the day, Keller has given a strong contribution to the world of mainstream apologetics. The book is readable, it is understandable to almost anyone (it's written for the average person), and it contemporizes such heroes as Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis, putting them in a new and modern context. There are times when I thought Keller seemed to be chasing the rabbit hole a bit too far when he started dealing with some issues (especially near the end of the book), but in the end he always came out showing how his rabbit chase answers the subject under discussion.

A fine book that goes beyond apologetics to encourage people to have a solidly based worldview in an age of skepticism; I only wish I'd written it first.


  1. On page 77 ,Keller criticise somebody in a fire for asking for water!

    Is it really Christian love to condemn burning people for daring to ask for water to be brought to them?

  2. Hey, Steven.

    I have to apologize right off the bat, because I have returned the book after finishing it, and am unable to look up the exact quote you're referring to. However, I think you are referring to Keller's discussion of the rich man and Lazarus.

    Keller referred to the rich man in hell as retaining his stubborn superiority by thinking he could still order around Lazarus like he was his lackey. This is a fresh perspective on this passage, to my mind. I have really never heard anyone approach the story from this angle before, to be quite honest.

    While I do think it is Christian love to bring someone water if they are suffering as badly as the rich man is in the parable, however, as Abraham explained to the rich man, in the story there was a gulf fixed between them which made such an act of kindness now impossible.

    In this life, such kindnesses should never be refused, but I think part of Keller's point in the chapter on hell was that after death, one's eternal destiny is fixed and decided, and such things can no longer be reversed.

    So finally, in answer to your question, "Is it really Christian love to condemn burning people for daring to ask for water to be brought to them?" My answer is that yes it is, if you're being truthful.

  3. I guess Christians really want people to really suffer, especially if they had a servant.

    Jesus ordered his disciples to fetch donkeys.

  4. I think you've hit the nail on the head, Steven. You just keep following that line of thought and see where it gets you.


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