Everyone likes a good book that provides tools for apologetics, right? Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, has provided an articulate, readable, and helpful book for thinking people who seek to better understand and explain Christian belief. In this work he provides answers to some of the most common objections raised concerning the existence of God, and the ”reasons for faith” found in the Christian tradition.
In his introduction, Keller begins by saying:
There is a great gulf today between what is popularly known as liberalism and conservatism. Each side demands that you not only disagree with the other as (at best) crazy or (at worst) evil. This is particularly true when religion is the point at issue. Progressives cry out that fundamentalism is growing rapidly and nonbelief is stigmatized. They point out that politics has turned toward the right, supported by mega-churches and mobilized orthodox believers. Conservatives endlessly denounce what they see as an increasingly skeptical and relativistic society. Major universities, media companies, and elite institutions are heavily secular, they say, and they control the culture.
Which is it? Is skepticism or faith on the ascendancy in the world today? The answer is Yes. The enemies are both right. Skepticism, fear, and anger toward traditional religion are growing in power and influence. But at the same time, robust, orthodox belief in the traditional faiths is growing as well. (ix)
Following this acknowledgement that both religious and secular outlooks are gaining adherents and are at an impasse, he recognizes the need for an alternative to the increasing polarization between these two extremes. Keller’s own ministry has found that what may be emerging is a “spiritual third way.” He believes younger Christians, who have wrestled with doubt and come out the other side, “are the vanguard of some major new religious, social, and political arrangements that could make the older form of the culture wars obsolete”(xix).
The book has two major divisions. The first part, titled “The Leap of Doubt,” addresses these concerns:
- There Can’t Be Just One True Religion
- How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
- Christianity is a Straighjacket
- The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice
- How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
- Science Has Disproved Christianity
- You Can’t Take the Bible Literally
In this portion of the book, Keller draws from philosophy, theology, and examples from his ministry to address these objections to religious belief. Each chapter begins with a quotation from persons expressing these objections–presumably persons that could be met on the streets or in cafes in New York City (and perhaps your community). Keller is not afraid to engage leading atheist thinkers, including Ricard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. His responses to these objections are well-reasoned and invite conversation. Because many of these objections are so common, I found Keller helpful. At the very least his answers provide a platform from which one might develop their own responses to thinking people who may have objections to the existence of God.
In the second part of his book, entitled “The Reasons for Faith,” Keller presents reasons one might at least consider the existence of God, and whether the truth concerning that God might be found in the Christian story. Here are the chapter headings:
- The Clues of God
- The Knowledge of God
- The Problem of Sin
- Religion and the Gospel
- The (True) Story of the Cross
- The Reality of the Resurrection
- The Dance of God
As I hinted above, this book is good. Throughout the book you hear excerpts from Keller’s story and ministry, largely drawing from his experience of planting a church in an area thought to be devoid of hope for the proclamation of the Gospel. When Keller told others of his desire to plant a church in NYC, people scoffed. Over time, Keller’s church has reached over 5,000 persons. When Keller tells his story, it makes sense. He is an intelligent, thoughtful person.
Dr. Keller, in his preaching and in his ministry, has sought to create a welcoming space for thinking people and provide them with reasoned, compelling answers for believing that the Christian story was true. The worship services which take place at Redeemer have no frills, and are simply composed. In his book Keller describes the impressions of church gurus who visit Redeemer and are surprised at the lack of flash.
Substance seems to drive Keller’s ministry at Redeemer. He knew that citizens in New York are thoughtful, creative, energetic, and inquisitive people. Therefore, Keller made it a practice to remain in their worship space following services so that people could ask questions about the sermon. Sometimes discussion would last over an hour following the conclusion of the service. In these spaces Keller could provide answers, allow his heart to be made known, and challenge his interlocutors when they raised objections. These conversations also allowed Keller to better understand the city in which he was conducting his ministry.
Keller is Presbyterian, though he does his best to make this book accessible to persons from a broad range of the Christian tradition. I appreciate Keller’s book because it is open, thoughtful, and articulate. His telling of the Christian story does not shy away from categories of sin, the need for repentance, and an understanding of the atonement which includes belief that Jesus’ death is more than illustrative of the sacrificial type of life we ourselves should lead. Keller asserts that Jesus’s death and resurrection possesses a cosmic significance affecting our redemption. In the death of Christ we are justified, as Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins.
I found this book helpful and would recommend it. It includes both philosophical and theological treatments that are intellectually engaging, as well as personal stories which illustrate his key points. If you’re seeking to improve your own ability to articulate your faith, or perhaps are seeking a resource to help you engage non-Christian friends, family, or persons in your community, you may find this a helpful resource.
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