Saturday, December 19, 2009

Book Review: The Reason for God

The Reason for God: Belief in an age of scepticism.
by Timothy Keller

You've got to love the quote on the introduction: '"I find your lack of faith - disturbing", Darth Vader'. It started well, and didn't disappoint, what's more, it far exceeded my expectations, even those given by another positive review.

His book is aimed at the "postmodern" sceptic, not so much the "modern" sceptic of a generation or two ago, though his answers will generally be good for the "modern" sceptic as well. He does also consider the "New Atheism" of Dawkins, Hitchens etc. In his experience of outreach he probably encounters a wide range of sceptics.

I read my father’s copy, and was so impressed I bought my own copy to lend to others.

I think he is gentle and engaging. He also gives some of his own history and testimony which helps to see how he was struggled with different issues in coming to firm faith in Christ and answering his doubts. This, along with his own humility and self-examination, have helped him in to present in this book sincere and clear yet powerful arguments that can engage both the sceptic and seeker. He is well equipped for such a book, from his own life experiences, his church planting of an inner-city church New York City, which has grown to 5000 members and planted many subsequent churches - he has the heart of a pastor, the passion of an evangelist, as well as being Biblically faithful and well read. Many of his arguments in the book have come from his own experience at reaching out to post modern New Yorkers and so he knows how to engage and address the intellectual and spiritual questions they ask. Showing as the scope of his reading, he refers to Kiekegard, C S Lewis, N T Wright, A Plantinga, Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Sayers, just to name a few, as well as secular thinkers and philosophers.

The book is divided into two halves. The first dealing with common questions raised against Christianity over seven Chapters. e.g. "There Can't Be just One True Religion", "How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?". On all these he argues powerfully and convincingly, yet drawing the readers in, for his goal is not to knock down their arguments but to draw them into examining their own unstated beliefs for themselves, and at least becoming a better thought-out atheist for example.
Primarily in this section, though throughout the book, he is very clear yet gentle in bring the sceptic when criticising the "unproven" faith to see they also have their own unproven faith. And further that those who reject absolute truth, or the idea there is only truth or true religion, are really just ascribing belief in another "preferred" absolute truth.

He then has a powerful "intermission" chapter where he invites the reader to seriously consider "Christianity", not in the sense as consider a "proof" for it - he argues against "strong rationalism" where one expects to have some “absolute proof” for anything, but argues for "critical rationality" where essentially we can test and justify our belief and argues with C S Lewis, that Hamlet to find out about the author, needs the author Shakespeare to write himself into the story. In fact that's how we see Jesus.
The second section he introduces both reasons for belief and introduces important aspects of the gospel and why they make sense themselves and of reality. He deals with topics such as sin, grace, the cross, resurrection.
I was a little confused with his chapter title "The knowledge of God". I think I was thinking in terms of "Special Revelation" though he is pointing to what might be term "General Revelation" in terms of our knowledge of right and wrong ("morality") that God gives everyone, though he argues it convincingly for a postmodern audience.
He does defend sacrificial substitutionary atonement, but not quite propitiation. He does defend Hell, and doesn't seem to have a problem with it being eternal, unlike some other Evangelicals. He does take a lot from C S Lewis. He does give the hint he is defending propitiation, which I will treat as that God’s wrath, his personal anger against us for our rebellion and sin, is appeased by Jesus death, who as our substitution faces it instead and thus God is satisfied. He does quote antagonists who object to the idea "of a wrathful God who needs pacifying", and see that the cross is "divine child abuse". I think he lays the foundation in this chapter and others for propitiation but might not be explicit in his defence as I was expecting as a reader from his intro to the chapter. I might be wrong on this but that's what I got from it. Maybe he is leaving that detail until the readers have laid the ground work, in developing a biblical world view. These are small issues, and I expect he is being more apologetic than just purely preaching the gospel. He does help even those readers who do understand propitiation to think more about the cost.

My favourite chapter of the book is the last one in this section "The dance of God" where he uses the ideas of Jonathan Edwards, C S Lewis and others. He builds on the work of previous chapters for a God of love and shows why the Trinity is the reason there can be both a loving and personal God. The main reason that non-trinity God can't be personal or loving, is because they never could love or relate until creation happened, and therefore it wouldn't be in their nature. On the other hand the Trinity shows that a "divine dance" between the members of the trinity has been going on for all eternity which is in its nature personal and is filled with love. What's more, God has created us to draw us into this dance which will continue for all eternity. For this reason we were redeemed.

He ends with a "Where to ..." chapter which among other things helps the reading to see what might be stopping them moving forward in faith or further enquiry. But he ends with the conclusion that we don't find God but it is he who finds us, this being out of his grace.

I don't think my review can quite do the book justice. Some of his arguments I have quoted or summarised are stronger still in the book. This is a very good book.
I haven't given this to any non-Christians yet, but will be praying for opportunities. As the book covers indicate, I'm not the only one with this goal.

1 comment:

  1. The Briefing had a review of this one recently, and it also found issue with his chapters on atoenment and sin but expresses this more strongly, as he doesn't emphasis sin being an offense against God, "and God's retributive justice because of that sin.
    The reviewer recommends that if using this book, being "prepared to explorer further with them".