Matthew R. Perry

Book Review: “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller (Part I)

In Book Review, Culture on February 28, 2008 at 2:54 pm

When news came out that Tim Keller was writing another book, excitement shot around the reformed blogosphere.  When news came out that Keller’s book would be published by Penguin Books, we were thrilled that his voice would be heard (read) on a wider landscape than just among Christian evangelicals. When we heard that his book would address the secular humanists’ skepticism of all things theistic, we were thankful that such a balanced and well-spoken voice would represent us in such a wonderful way.

Now, his book is out. Westminster Theological Seminary’s online bookstore noted that Keller’s book is the fastest selling book in their storied history (high praise, since they have the best book deals online, bar none).  This book, along with his corresponding online site , provide a welcome understanding of the role of Christ, the Gospel, and the Christian church in our culture and world.

This book is a smooth read — as if you were sitting down and having a conversation with Keller himself.  Keller starts off by disarming critics and disturbing conservative theists.  When the introduction is titled, “The Enemies Are Both Right,” theists looking for an ally may have been taken aback by his apparent concession of room to the atheists.  But notice this rather insightful paragraph:

We have an impasse between the strengthening forces of doubt and belief, and this won’t be solved simply by calling for more civility and dialogue.  Arguments depend on having commonly held reference points that both side can hold each other to.  When fundamental understandings of reality conflict, it is hard to find anything to which to appeal.  … I want to make a proposal that I have seen bear much fruit in the lives of young New Yorkers over the years.  I recommend that each side look at doubt in a radically new way (xvi).

Keller introduces this radical new way of seeing doubt as a way to educate and explore rather than something to be avoided.  Atheists have doubts about Christianity — but they should not avoid it, but honestly explore those doubts to see if they have any credibility.  Theists should look at the arguments made by the atheists to strengthen their own understanding of the Scriptures.

The core of the book is for each side to examine their beliefs and the “leaps of faith” to which each side holds.  Keller says:

This … book is a distillation of the many conversations I’ve had with doubters over the years.  I’ve tried to respectfully help skeptics look at their own faith-foundations while at the same time laying bare my own to their strongest criticisms.  … Respectful dialogue between entreached traditional conservative and secular liberal people is a great good, and I hope this book will promote it (xix).

This book does just that!  In the next part of this review, I will examine Part One, entitled “The Leap of Doubt.”  In this section, Keller fleshes out what he calls “defeater beliefs” that many secular folks levy toward Christians to apparently show why Christianity is not viable in our contemporary age.

  1. “Atheists have doubts about Christianity — but they should not avoid it, but honestly explore those doubts to see if they have any credibility.”

    This is a common strawman attack on the atheist position; it completely misses the mark. Atheists don’t have doubts in the way asserted here, as if they are atheists merely through an ignorance of Scripture. Most atheists are well-versed in Scripture; it is why they are atheists in the first place.

    “Theists should look at the arguments made by the atheists to strengthen their own understanding of the Scriptures.” Another common mis-characterization of the atheist argument. The Scriptural argument is essentially that atheists are fools because the evidence for God is overwhelmingly obvious (i.e., the argument for design). The argument for design has been refuted by every philosopher since the ancient Greeks; no apologist has ever made a successful argument for it.

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