The Reason for God by Tim Keller

Book Summary


“I find your lack of faith – disturbing” Darth Vader

What an interesting quote to start off this book intended to help those

The Thinker by Rodin

struggling with faith! In this book, Tim shares from his vast experience of sharing the gospel with New Yorkers. I have found the book to be immensely helpful. Tim says that the book is a “distillation of the many conversations he had with doubters.” When the book first came out, I sent it to a “doubter” and it provided a good starting point for the discussion.

Tim starts with the following question:

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.

Tim describes three barriers that he faced as he moved into faith:

    • Intellectual
    • Personal – Did he have a personal relationship with God?
    • Social – Were there others with whom he could walk this journey?

Addressing doubt he says:

A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.

Part I The Leap of Doubt

Chapter 1 – There Can’t Be Just One Religion

One of the “doubters” that Tim listened to said:

If Christians continue to insist that they have ‘the truth’—and if other religions do this as well—the world will never know peace.”

Tim often asked people:

“What is your biggest problem with Christianity? What troubles you the most about its beliefs or how it is practiced?” One of the most frequent answers I have heard over the years can be summed up in one word: exclusivity.

Describing a panel of Jews, Muslims and Christians at a local college, Tim reports that they all could agree on the following:

“If Christians are right about Jesus being God, then Muslims and Jews fail in a serious way to love God as God really is, but if Muslims and Jews are right that Jesus is not God but rather a teacher or prophet, then Christians fail in a serious way to love God as God really is.”

But this disturbed some of the younger people who felt that:

what mattered was to believe in God and to be a loving person yourself.

How do we address the divisiveness of religion? Tim sees the culture taking three approaches:

    • Outlaw religion
    • Condemn religion
    • Radically privatize it

Outlaw Religion

 The Soviets, Communist China, the Khmer Rouge, and Nazi Germany all tried this. But as:

Alister McGrath in his history of atheism [says]: The 20th century gave rise to one of the greatest and most distressing paradoxes of human history: that the greatest intolerance and violence of that century were practiced by those who believed that religion caused intolerance and violence.

Condemn Religion

Here are the major ways that people today attempt to condemn religion:

    • “All major religions are equally valid and basically teach the same thing.”
    • “Each religion sees part of spiritual truth, but none can see the whole truth.”
    • “Religious belief is too culturally and historically conditioned to be ‘truth.’”
    • “It is arrogant to insist your religion is right and to convert others to it.”

Some of the arrogance is seen as follows:

Skeptics believe that any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality cannot be true. But this objection is itself a religious belief. It assumes God is unknowable, or that God is loving but not wrathful, or that God is an impersonal force rather than a person who speaks in Scripture.

It is no more narrow to claim that one religion is right than to claim that one way to think about all religions (namely that all are equal) is right. We are all exclusive in our beliefs about religion, but in different ways.

Radically Privatize it

The claim is made that we should keep our beliefs to ourselves and unite around policies that work for real people:

However, Stephen L. Carter of Yale responds that it is impossible to leave religious views behind when we do any kind of moral reasoning at all. Efforts to craft a public square from which religious conversation is absent, no matter how thoughtfully worked out, will always in the end say to those of organized religion that they alone, unlike everybody else, must enter public dialogue only after leaving behind that part of themselves that they may consider the most vital.

Although Keller sympathizes with those who address the divisiveness of religion, he believes that Christianity has the answers that can save the world. It starts with a Biblical world view about the image of God:

The Biblical doctrine of the universal image of God, therefore, leads Christians to expect nonbelievers will be better than any of their mistaken beliefs could make them. The Biblical doctrine of universal sinfulness also leads Christians to expect believers will be worse in practice than their orthodox beliefs should make them.

Keller claims that during the first two centuries when urban plagues were wiping out whole populations, Christians ran towards the plague rather than away from it. He asks:

Why would such an exclusive belief system lead to behavior that was so open to others? It was because Christians had within their belief system the strongest possible resource for practicing sacrificial service, generosity, and peace-making.

Chapter Two – How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?

Tim opens this chapter with the following:

For many people it is not the exclusivity of Christianity that poses the biggest problem, it is the presence of evil and suffering in the world. Some find unjust suffering to be a philosophical problem, calling into question the very existence of God. For others it is an intensely personal issue. They don’t care about the abstract question of whether God exists or not—they refuse to trust or believe in any God who allows history and life to proceed as it has.

Keller believes that, despite the common perception that evil disproves the existence of God, Christian and skeptical academics now agree that this argument is completely bankrupt. Tim asks “Why isn’t evil an argument against the existence of God?” He makes the following points:

    • Evil and Suffering isn’t evidence against God – Here is the basic argument used by skeptics: “If a good and powerful God exists, he would not allow pointless evil, but because there is much unjustifiable, pointless evil in the world, the traditional good and powerful God could not exist. Some other god or no god may exist, but not the traditional God.” Keller claims: “Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise, namely, that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless.” And further: “This reasoning is, of course, fallacious. Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one. Again we see
      Alvin Plantinga

      lurking within supposedly hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties. If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can’t be any! This is blind faith of a high order.” Finally, he cites Alvin Plantinga (a great Friesian name) analogy: If you are in a tent camping and you look for a Saint Bernard in the tent and don’t see one, it is a safe assumption there is not a Saint Bernard in your tent. But if you look for “no-see-ums” and don’t see any, that doesn’t mean that they are not there.

    • Evil and Suffering May be Evidence for God – Keller cites C.S. Lewis and
      C.S. Lewis

      Plantinga about how our sense of “rightness” – i.e. evil and suffering are not right and just – may point to One who provides a moral framework for judging what is good and what is not good. Lewis said that when he solidified his atheist position because of the problem of evil and suffering, it actually made evil and suffering more problematic.

One of the interesting points he makes in this chapter that I had not thought of before was that Jesus did not face death like many of our heroic martyrs. Jesus believed that God had forsaken Him. He was overwhelmed to the point of death. Keller asks “Why?” He says that we need to understand the depth of the suffering of Jesus as the suffering of God. Jesus did not face death as heroically as many martyrs because He suffered as one who took upon Himself the sins of the world. His suffering far outweighed that of anyone else. This ultimately is the only answer that we can give to the problem of evil and suffering. We cannot fully explain evil and suffering, but when we look at the cross we know that God has, in some mysterious way, entered into our suffering. Keller says:

if we embrace the Christian teaching that Jesus is God and that he went to the Cross, then we have deep consolation and strength to face the brutal realities of life on earth.

Quoting Dostoevsky:

Fyodor Dostoevsky

I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.

And Lewis:

They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.

Chapter 3 – Christianity is a Strait-Jacket

In this chapter, Tim tackles the question: “Is belief in absolute truth the enemy of freedom?” He begins by attempting to define freedom. Quoting from the movie “I, Robot” he claims that for our culture, “freedom means that there is no overarching purpose for which we were created. If there were, we would be obligated to conform to it and to fulfill it, and that is limiting.”

I remember when one of our grandsons was very little, he asked his mom the following questions:

Grandson: Grandma is your mom, right?
Mother: Yes
Grandson: Who is Grandma’s mother?
Mother: Gigi. She died and is now in heaven.
Grandson: [After a long pause] That means she can do whatever she wants.

Even at four years old, we recognize that a higher authority limits our freedom. But our culture has enshrined freedom into law via the Supreme Court:

Supreme Court’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning of the universe, and the mystery of human life.” Notice that the statement does not say we are just free to “discover” truth for ourselves but rather to “define” and create it. Stephen Jay Gould concurs:

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out dinosaurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise available…. We may yearn for a “higher” answer—but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers for ourselves…

Keller then addresses the objection that all truth is a power-play. He claims that this leads to a kind-of seeing through everything and coming to nothing. Quoting Lewis:

But you cannot go on “explaining away” for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on “seeing through” things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too?…a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.

He then takes the same tact we take when someone says: “There is no absolute truth.” That is an absolute truth claim. If we say all truth claims are power-plays, then so is this statement.

Next, Tim attempts to make the claim that true community cannot be inclusive. He uses this illustration:

Imagine that one of the board members of the local Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Community Center announces, “I’ve had a religious experience and now I believe homosexuality is a sin.” As the weeks go by, he persists in making that assertion. Imagine that a board member of the Alliance Against Same-Sex Marriage announces, “I discovered that my son is gay and I think he has the right to marry his partner.” No matter how personally gracious and flexible the members of each group are, the day will come when each group will have to say, “You must step off the board because you don’t share a common commitment with us.” The first of these communities has the reputation for being inclusive and the second for being exclusive, but, in practice, both of them operate in almost the very same way. Each is based on common beliefs that act as boundaries, including some and excluding others. Neither community is being “narrow”—they are just being communities.

Then, Keller addresses the complaint that Christianity is culturally rigid – the enemy of pluralism and multiculturalism.  He points to the growth of Christianity in Africa and China as examples of how the gospel is appealing across many cultures. Keller turns the tables and says that secularism is much more culturally rigid.

[African scholar Lamin] Sanneh argues that secularism with its anti-supernaturalism and individualism is much more destructive of local cultures and “African-ness” than Christianity is. In the Bible, Africans read of Jesus’s power over supernatural and spiritual evil and of his triumph over it on the cross. When Africans become Christians, their African-ness is converted, completed, and resolved, not replaced with European-ness or something else.

Next Keller tries to make the case that freedom is not as simple as Kant made

Immanuel Kant

it out to be: the absence of constraint and confinement.  Again, Tim turns the tables and says the opposite. Citing examples of learning any complex task, he claims that constraint and confinement to a rigid set of rules give the artist, the musician, and the athlete the freedom to  do what they do with complete freedom.

Last, Tim tackles the issue of love and claims that it limits our options more than we think.

One of the principles of love—either love for a friend or romantic love—is that you have to lose independence to attain greater intimacy. If you want the “freedoms” of love—the fulfillment, security, sense of worth that it brings—you must limit your freedom in many ways. You cannot enter a deep relationship and still make unilateral decisions or allow your friend or lover no say in how you live your life. To experience the joy and freedom of love, you must give up your personal autonomy.

Quoting Lewis:

Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. Freedom, then, is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us.

Chapter 4 – The Church is Responsible for so much Injustice

This chapter opens with an account of a professor (Mark Lilla) who “de-converted” in college when he encountered a Christian community that was authoritarian and hierarchical. This was the same community (The Word of God Community in Ann Arbor) where I found Jesus. He was there 5 years after me and that might account for the different perspectives. But authority and hierarchy are not necessarily bad things. I am sure there is more to the story for this professor, but I read the article in the New York Times and he doesn’t fill in too many details.

I take exception to Keller’s example with him since in the article he found the Christian community a “crushing disappointment.” Keller states:

Disillusioned by the combative and exploitative way he thought they used the Bible to control people’s lives, “the thought penetrated my mind—that the Bible might be wrong…. It was my first step out of the world of faith…”

This is not what Lilla actually said. Every author can quote things out of context by accident or neglect, but my faith in the integrity of Keller’s research and the people that helped him went through a “crushing disappointment.” This is now the 3rd time in the books by Tim Keller that I have found him take something completely out of context to make his point. I don’t go back and check author’s sources very often, but in the few times I did with Keller (because they were suspect), I found him doing this. What the college professor actually said was:

After a few months [at the Word of God community] I got myself into a squabble with someone over Scripture, and sat down the next day to study the verses my adversary had marshaled against me. To my surprise, I concluded he was right about what the Bible said. But in my heart I also knew he had to be wrong about the doctrine at hand. Which meant — it was the first time the thought really penetrated my mind — that the Bible might be wrong. My face flushed and I closed the book. It was my first step out of the world of faith and toward the world I live in now.

Keller claims that Lilla’s “first step out of the world of faith” was because of the way the community used the Bible (which is what this chapter is about – Christianity cannot be true because the Christians are not Christlike (to paraphrase Nietzsche)). But in fact, it was when Lilla saw that the person he squabbled with was correct about what the Bible taught – something which Lilla knew could not be true – that is when he thought – “the Bible might be wrong… [and] was my first step out of the world of faith.” Lilla’s real problem was not with the Christian community. Ultimately it was his view of biblical inerrancy that started him on the road to de-conversion (much like Bart Ehrman).

All that aside, Tim begins by addressing the behavior of Christians that has “undermined the plausibility of Christianity for so many people.” He addresses three issues:

    • Character flaws – “If Christianity is the truth, why are so many non-Christians living better lives than the Christians?”
    • The issue of war and violence – “If Christianity is the truth, why has the institutional church supported war, injustice, and violence over the years?”
    • Fanaticism – Even if Christian teaching has much to offer, why would we want to be together with so many smug, self-righteous, dangerous fanatics?

Character Flaws

There is no lack of material here documenting that we Christians are a deeply flawed people. Tim builds the case that we cannot really compare Christian and non-Christian behavior on an individual basis. He uses an example of two women – one who had a good upbringing and was not a Christian but exhibited Christ-like behavior – the other one was badly abused and came to Christ a short time ago. Keller says:

Unless you know the starting points and life journeys of each woman, you could easily conclude that Christianity isn’t worth much, and that Christians are inconsistent with their own high standards.

I think Tim could develop this more.

Religion and Violence

In this section, Keller takes up Christopher Hitchens’ argument that religion leads to violence. Keller claims that:

Societies that have rid themselves of all religion have been just as oppressive as those steeped in it.


Early on in my walk with Jesus, I heard the following

A Jesus fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do

I took the grain of truth from that and have endeavored to love Jesus today more than I did the previous day. Tim now addresses the problem of our embarrassing brothers and sisters. Oh how we wish they were not part of the Body of Christ! Keller claims that fanatics are intolerant and self-righteous and superior. He then says:

The people who are fanatics, then, are so, not because they are too committed to the gospel but because they’re not committed to it enough.

I don’t think Tim goes far enough on this. There are plenty of fanatics similar to what Tim describes. But there are others who are sometimes labeled as fanatics who non-Christians find problematic.  One of our grandson’s lives his life in Jesus in such a way that some members of our family consider him a fanatic. But he doesn’t fit Tim’s definitions. He is, in my opinion,  more “all in” then others. He is less concerned about money than some of us – but he does ask for support which riles certain family members. “He should get a job.” You get the gist. I think this section could be significantly improved to help us have the tools to explain (in my case) to other family members our fantastic “fanatic” grandson.

The Biblical Critique of Religion

Tim points out that the Bible doesn’t shy away from critiquing God’s people for their religion:

As Swiss theologian Karl Barth put it, it was the church, not the world, who crucified Christ.

Jesus and the prophets continually denounce self-righteous religion which is insensitive to the issues of social justice and the poor.

The Swiss theologian John Calvin, in his commentaries on the Hebrew prophets, says that God so identifies with the poor that their cries express divine pain.

Tim closes the chapter by talking about how Christians have worked for the marginal, the poor and for justice.

When people have done injustice in the name of Christ they are not being true to the spirit of the one who himself died as a victim of injustice and who called for the forgiveness of his enemies. When people give their lives to liberate others as Jesus did, they are realizing the true Christianity that Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and other Christian voices have called for.

Chapter 5 – How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?

Here Keller attacks one of the main objections to traditional Christian belief. He states the problem:

[Skeptics] suggested that any Christian who thinks that there are people bound for hell must perceive such people as unequal in dignity and worth. … Although this objection to hell and judgment may seem to be more of a feeling of revulsion than a doubt, we still can find a number of very specific beliefs hidden inside it. Let’s look at each one in turn.

Here are the specifics hidden beliefs inside this objection:

  • A God of Judgment Simply Can’t Exist – Keller address this as follows: “secular Westerners get upset by the Christian doctrines of hell, but they find Biblical teaching about turning the other cheek and forgiving enemies appealing. I then asked her to consider how someone from a very different culture sees Christianity. In traditional societies the teaching about “turning the other cheek” makes absolutely no sense. It offends people’s deepest instincts about what is right. For them the doctrine of a God of judgment, however, is no problem at all. That society is repulsed by aspects of Christianity that Western people enjoy, and are attracted by the aspects that secular Westerners can’t stand.” 
  • A God of Judgment Can’t Be a God of Love – Tim addresses this with the following arguments: “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it…. Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference…. God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer…which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being. … The Bible says that God’s wrath flows from his love and delight in his creation. He is angry at evil and injustice because it is destroying its peace and integrity. … Only if I am sure that there’s a God who will right all wrongs and settle all accounts perfectly do I have the power to refrain. … Volf and Milosz argue that the doctrine of God’s final judgment is a necessary undergirding for human practices of love and peacemaking.
  • A Loving God Would Not Allow Hell – Tim first defines hell: “In short, hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity.” AND “In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud. ” Finally, he quotes Lewis: “There are only two kinds of people—those who say ‘Thy will be done’ to God or those to whom God in the end says, ‘ Thy will be done. All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.
  • Hell causes us to view people unequally – We must not make settled, final decisions about anyone’s spiritual state or fate.” And then he adds this illustration: “Imagine two people arguing over the nature of a cookie. Jack thinks the cookie is poison, and Jill thinks it is not. Jack thinks Jill’s mistaken view of the cookie will send her to the hospital or worse. Jill thinks Jack’s mistaken view of the cookie will keep him from having a fine dessert. Is Jack more narrow-minded than Jill just because he thinks the consequences of her mistake are more dire? I don’t believe anyone would think so. Christians, therefore, aren’t more narrow because they think wrong thinking and behavior have eternal effects.
  • “I Believe in a God of Love” – Today many of the skeptics I talk to say, as I once did, they can’t believe in the God of the Bible, who punishes and judges people, because they ‘believe in a God of Love.’ I now ask, what makes them think God is Love? Can they look at life in the world today and say, ‘This proves that the God of the world is a God of love?’ Can they look at history and say, ‘This all shows that the God of history is a God of love?’ Can they look at the religious texts of the world and conclude that God is a God of love? By no means is that the dominant, ruling attribute of God as understood in any of the major faiths. I must conclude that the source of the idea that God is Love is the Bible itself. And the Bible tells us that the God of love is also a God of judgment who will put all things in the world to rights in the end. The belief in a God of pure love—who accepts everyone and judges no one—is a powerful act of faith. Not only is there no evidence for it in the natural order, but there is almost no historical, religious textual support for it outside of Christianity. The more one looks at it, the less justified it appears.

Chapter 6 – Science has disproved Christianity

Addressing arguments made by many of the new-atheists, Keller addresses the following questions:

Aren’t Miracles Scientifically Impossible? – Keller addresses the two hidden assumptions in this statement:

    1. No Supernatural cause for any natural phenomenon is possible –  This is a philosophical assertion that cannot be tested scientifically
    2. There can’t be a God who does miracles – If there is a Creator God, there is nothing illogical at all about the possibility of miracles. After all, if he created everything out of nothing, it would hardly be a problem for him to rearrange parts of it as and when he wishes. To be sure that miracles cannot occur you would have to be sure beyond a doubt that God didn’t exist, and that is an article of faith.

Isn’t Science in Conflict with Christianity? – Stephen Jay Gould, the late Harvard scientist and evolutionist who was himself an atheist, knew all about these studies [made by Richard Dawkins], but could not conclude with Dawkins that science necessarily clashed with Christian faith. He wrote: “Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs—and equally compatible with atheism.”

Looking at miracles in the Bible, Keller states:

The most instructive thing about this text [Matthew 28 where Jesus ascends and some doubted]  is, however, what it says about the purpose of Biblical miracles. They lead not simply to cognitive belief, but to worship, to awe and wonder. Jesus’s miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce. You never see him say something like: “See that tree over there? Watch me make it burst into flames!”

Why? We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order.

Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.

Doesn’t Evolution Disprove the Bible? – If “evolution” is…elevated to the status of a world-view of the way things are, then there is direct conflict with biblical faith. But if “evolution” remains at the level of scientific biological hypothesis, it would seem that there is little reason for conflict between the implications of Christian belief in the Creator and the scientific explorations of the way which—at the level of biology—God has gone about his creating processes.

Chapter 7 – You Can’t take the Bible Literally

Quoting Anne Rice, who as a skeptic and well known author, researched attacks on Christianity:

Some books were no more than assumptions piled on assumptions…. Conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all…. The whole case for the nondivine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified…that whole picture which had floated around the liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for thirty years—that case was not made. Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’d ever read.

Then Keller says:

The Christian faith requires belief in the Bible.  This is a big stumbling block for many.

I don’t think he means this like it reads. Many people came to faith in the first few centuries without a Bible. Tim knows that. I think he means: “The Christian faith is based on the truths in the Bible. And the Bible is a big stumbling block for many.” He then addresses the following questions:

    • “We Can’t Trust the Bible Historically” – Keller responds:

The timing is far too early for the gospels to be legends. … All [these manuscripts and the dating] decisively refutes the idea that the gospels were anonymous, collective, evolving oral traditions. Instead they were oral histories taken down from the mouths of the living eyewitnesses who preserved the words and deeds of Jesus in great detail. …

The growth of the church It would have been impossible, then, for this new faith to spread as it did had Jesus never said or done the things mentioned in the gospel accounts. If a historian were cynical, you would say Constantine chose Christianity because it had already won and he wanted to back a winner. 

The content is far too counterproductive for the gospels to be legends. … for example, that one of the great controversies in the earliest church was that some believed Gentile Christians should be required to be circumcised. In light of that great conflict, it is remarkable that nowhere in the gospel accounts does Jesus say anything about circumcision. … Why would the leaders of the early Christian movement have made up the story of the crucifixion if it didn’t happen? Any listener of the gospel in either Greek or Jewish culture would have automatically suspected that anyone who had been crucified was a criminal, whatever the speaker said to the contrary. …[And what about] asking God in the garden of Gethsemane if he could get out of his mission? Or why ever make up the part on the cross when Jesus cries out that God had abandoned him? These things would have only offended or deeply confused first-century prospective converts. … Why invent women as the first witnesses of the resurrection in a society where women were assigned such low status that their testimony was not admissible evidence in court? … why constantly depict the apostles—the eventual leaders of the early Church—as petty and jealous, almost impossibly slow-witted, and in the end as cowards who either actively or passively failed their master? … The gospel of Thomas and similar documents express a philosophy called “Gnosticism,” in which the material world is a dark, evil place from which our spirits need to be rescued by secret illumination, or “gnosis.” … This fits in very well with the worldview of the Greeks and Romans but is utterly different than that of the first-century Jewish world of which Jesus was part. …. 

The literary form of the gospels is too detailed to be legend. Quoting Lewis:  I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends, and myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know none of them are like this. Of this [gospel] text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage…or else, some unknown [ancient] writer…without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic, realistic narrative…  In modern novels, details are added to create the aura of realism, but that was never the case in ancient fiction. …. disciples in the ancient world were expected to memorize [their] masters’ teachings, and that many of Jesus’s statements are presented in a form that was actually designed for memorization, and [thus] you have every reason to trust the accounts.

    • “We Can’t Trust the Bible Culturally”- It seems to support slavery and the subjugation of women

Keller addresses this in a variety of ways (not listed here)

Consider the views of contemporary British people and how they differ from the views of their ancestors, the Anglo-Saxons, a thousand years ago. Imagine that both are reading the Bible and they come to the gospel of Mark, chapter 14. First they read that Jesus claims to be the Son of Man, who will come with angels at the end of time to judge the whole world according to his righteousness (verse 62). Later they read about Peter, the leading apostle, who denies his master three times and at the end even curses him to save his skin (verse 71). Yet later Peter is forgiven and restored to leadership (Mark 16:7; John 21:15ff.).

The first story will make contemporary British people shudder. It sounds so judgmental and exclusive. However, they will love the story about how even Peter can be restored and forgiven. The first story will not bother the Anglo-Saxons at all. They know all about Domesday, and they are glad to get more information about it! However, they will be shocked at the second story. Disloyalty and betrayal at Peter’s level must never be forgiven, in their view.

To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn’t have any views that upset you. Does that belief make sense?

If Jesus is the Son of God, then we have to take his teaching seriously, including his confidence in the authority of the whole Bible. If he is not who he says he is, why should we care what the Bible says about anything else?

what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you?


Now Keller attempts to define Christianity by addressing the following questions:

Which Christianity? – For our purposes, I’ll define Christianity as the body of believers who assent to these great ecumenical creeds. They believe that the triune God created the world, that humanity has fallen into sin and evil, that God has returned to rescue us in Jesus Christ, that in his death and resurrection Jesus accomplished our salvation for us so we can be received by grace, that he established the church, his people, as the vehicle through which he continues his mission of rescue, reconciliation, and salvation, and that at the end of time Jesus will return to renew the heavens and the earth, removing all evil, injustice, sin,

Which Rationality? – The new atheists insist that there isn’t sufficient reason to believe in God.  Dawkins claims that the claims of God’s existence should be open to rational demonstration. But Keller asks: Which Rationality?  He claims they are basing their challenge on what he calls “strong rationality.”  Or “no one should believe a proposition unless it can be proved rationally by logic or empirically by sense experience.” Keller claims that “most philosophers think that strong rationality is nearly impossible to defend.” Keller proposes “critical rationality” whereby “it assumes that some systems of belief are more reasonable than others, but that all arguments are rationally avoidable in the end.” We “should not expect conclusive proof.” 

Part 2 – The Reasons for Faith

Chapter Eight – The Clues of God

The philosopher Alvin Plantinga believes that there are no proofs of God that will convince all rational persons. However, he believes that there are at least two to three dozen very good arguments for the existence of God.

Keller lists the following:

    • “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
    • The Cosmic Welcome Mat – or the Fine-Tuning of the Universe or the Anthropic Principle
    • The Regularity of Nature
    • The Clue of Beauty – In other words, while great art does not “hit you over the head” with a simple message, it always gives you a sense that life is not a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” It fills you with hope and gives you the strength to carry on, though you cannot define what it is that moves you.
    • [I would add] The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics

Next Keller notes that the way these clues are normally addressed today is through evolutionary biology. Keller claims that this:

Clue-Killer Is Really a Clue

He says that because some things cannot be explained by evolutionary biology like the big bang and beauty and meaning, this should give us pause to reconsider the claims for God’s existence. But he admits that all of this doesn’t prove God exists but makes a case for the reason for God.

Chapter 9 – The Knowledge of God 

Tim opens this chapter by saying that, contrary to most people’s perception, he feels that our twenty-somethings have a finely tuned moral compass – but that there are some problems with it:

    • Free-Floating Morality – There is no anchor to their morality. He addresses this problem and shows how he helps skeptics see that they really believe in some absolutes with regard to morality.
    • No one should impose their morality on others – He shows how there are things that some people do that is consistent with their own personal morality – but that these young people think are absolutely wrong. Quoting a sociologist: “‘Moral’…is an orientation toward understandings about what is right and wrong, just and unjust, that are not established by our own actual desires or preferences but instead are believed to exist apart from them, providing standards by which our desires and preferences can themselves be judged.

Next, he tries to help the skeptic see what is behind the evolutionary theory of moral obligation and attempts to show how this is a fiercely debated topic and that there is not a common consensus on this.  This brings up the topic of “where do rights come from?” The culture will agree that some things are moral rights – but Keller attempts to challenge these assumptions. It is bad to napalm babies and starve the poor and buy and sell humans – but “Sez who?” That is the problem he pushes – challenging the skeptics assumption. Showing them that their is a moral law to the universe. And where does that law come from? He believes it comes from knowing God. The case laid out in this chapter is complex but is well worth getting the book to fully appreciate his reasoning.

Chapter 10 – The Problem of Sin

In this chapter, Tim attempts to bring up the elephant in the room for many skeptics: the world is broken and we are broken. He addresses the following questions / topics:

    • Sin and Human Hope
    • The Meaning of Sin
    • The Personal consequences of Sin
    • The Social consequences of Sin
    • The Cosmic consequences of Sin
    • What can put it all right?

Neither the language of medicine nor of law is adequate substitute for the language of [sin.] Contrary to the medical model, we are not entirely

Simone Weil

at the mercy of our maladies. The choice is to enter into the process of repentance. Contrary to the legal model, the essence of sin is not [primarily] the violation of laws but a wrecked relationship with God, one another, and the whole created order. “All sins are attempts to fill voids,” wrote Simone Weil. Because we cannot stand the God-shaped hole inside of us, we try stuffing it full of all sorts of things, but only God may fill [it].

Andrew Delbanco is a humanities professor at Columbia University. Some years ago he was doing research on Alcoholics Anonymous and was attending AA meetings around the country. One Saturday morning in a New York City church basement he was listening to a “crisply dressed young man” who was talking about his problems. In his narrative he was absolutely faultless. All his mistakes were due to the injustice and betrayals of others. He spoke of how he was going to avenge himself on all who had wronged him. “His every gesture gave the impression of grievously wounded pride,” Delbanco wrote. It was clear that the young man was trapped in his need to justify himself, and that things could only get worse and worse in his life until he recognized this. While he was speaking, a black man in his forties, in dreadlocks and dark shades, leaned over to Delbanco and said, “I used to feel that way too, before I achieved low self-esteem.” Delbanco wrote later in his book, The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope: This was more than a good line. For me it was the moment I understood in a new way the religion I had claimed to know something about. As the speaker bombarded us with phrases like “got to take control of my life,” and “I’ve got to really believe in myself”—the man beside me took refuge in the old Calvinist doctrine that pride is the enemy of hope. What he meant by his joke about self-esteem was that he learned no one can save himself by dint of his own efforts. He thought the speaker was still lost—lost in himself, but without knowing it.

Kierkegaard wrote a fascinating little book called The Sickness Unto Death in 1849. In it he defined “sin” in a way that is rooted in the Bible but also is accessible to contemporary people. “Sin is: in despair not wanting to be oneself before God…. Faith is: that the self in being itself and wanting to be itself is grounded transparently in God.”

Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from him.

Kierkegaard asserts that human beings were made not only to believe in God in some general way, but to love him supremely, center their lives on him above anything else, and build their very identities on him. Anything other than this is sin.

Most people think of sin primarily as “breaking divine rules,” but Kierkegaard knows that the very first of the Ten Commandments is to “have no other gods before me.” So, according to the Bible, the primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things.

Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Denial of Death. He begins it by noting that a child’s need for self-worth “is the condition for his life,” so much so that every person is desperately seeking what Becker calls “cosmic significance.” He immediately warns the reader not to take this term lightly.

Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially “deify.”

Every person must find some way to “justify their existence,” and to stave off the universal fear that they’re “a bum.”

Without God, our sense of worth may seem solid on the surface, but it never is—it can desert you in a moment. For example, if I build my identity on being a good parent, I have no true “self”—I am just a parent, nothing more. If something goes wrong with my children or my parenting, there is no “me” left.

In a Village Voice column, Cynthia Heimel thought back on all the people she knew in New York City before they became famous movie stars. One worked behind the makeup counter at Macy’s, one worked selling tickets at movie theaters, and so on. When they became successful, every one of them became more angry, manic, unhappy, and unstable than they had been when they were working hard to get to the top. Why? Heimel writes: That giant thing they were striving for, that fame thing that was going to make everything OK, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to fill them with ha-ha-happiness had happened, and the next day they woke up and they were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable.

Christians, however, are accustomed to the idea that “there is a deep interior dislocation in the very center of human personality.”

In The Nature of True Virtue, one of the most profound treatises on social ethics ever written, Jonathan Edwards lays out how sin destroys the social fabric. He argues that human society is deeply fragmented when anything but God is our highest love. If our highest goal in life is the good of our family, then, says Edwards, we will tend to care less for other families. If our highest goal is the good of our nation, tribe, or race, then we will tend to be racist or nationalistic. If our ultimate goal in life is our own individual happiness, then we will put our own economic and power interests ahead of those of others. Edwards concludes that only if God is our summum bonum, our ultimate good and life center, will we find our heart drawn out not only to people of all families, races, and classes, but to the whole world in general.

The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves”—our personal happiness centered on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, despite this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you cannot do. If I am a grass field—all the cutting will keep the grass less but won’t produce wheat. If I want wheat…I must be plowed up and re-sown.

Chapter 11 – Religion and the Gospel

In this chapter Tim attempts to separate what the culture sees as religion from the pure gospel (or good news). In this chapter he addresses the following questions / topics:

    • The damage of legalism
    • The difference of grace
    • The threat of grace

There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord. The first is by saying, “I am going to live my life the way I want.” The second is described by Flannery O’Connor, who wrote about one of her characters, Hazel Motes, that “he knew that the best way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.”

Religion operates on the principle “I obey—therefore I am accepted by God.” But the operating principle of the gospel is “I am accepted by God through what Christ has done—therefore I obey.”

A Christian’s worth and value are not created by excluding anyone, but through the Lord who was excluded for me. His grace both humbles me more deeply than religion can (since I am too flawed to ever save myself through my own effort), yet it also affirms me more powerfully than religion can (since I can be absolutely certain of God’s unconditional acceptance).

The Christian’s identity is not based on the need to be perceived as a good person, but on God’s valuing of you in Christ.

Chapter 12 The (True) Story of the Cross

Having attempted to define the gospel, the story of the cross comes next. He starts by providing the reasons for the cross:

    • Real forgiveness is costly suffering – His illustration here is very helpful showing that all true forgiveness is going to cost. He is attempting to refute the idea: Can’t God just forgive everyone without Jesus having to die?
    • Real love is a personal exchange – By exchange he says that to truly love someone you have to enter into both their joys and their sorrows.

In The Cross of Christ, John Stott writes that substitution is at the heart of the Christian message: The essence of sin is we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us. We…put ourselves where only God deserves to be; God…puts himself where we deserve to be.

John Stott wrote, “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”

The fact that Jesus had to die for me humbled me out of my pride. The fact that Jesus was glad to die for me assured me out of my fear.

Chapter 13 – The Reality of the Resurrection

Keller was obviously very influenced by a book by N. T. Wright that I am still

N. T. Wright ‘s book

reading. It defends in a scholarly fashion the historicity of the resurrection. The major points he covers are:

        • The empty tomb and the witnesses – He makes the standard case that the New Testament documents (especially the letters of Paul) are so early, that the eye witnesses were still alive.
        • Resurrection and Immortality – Here he builds heavily on the new thoughts brought out by Tom Wright about what resurrection meant to a 1st Century Jew and Gentile.
        • The explosive growth of witness – His major point is that we practice chronological snobbery when we think that the resurrection was any more implausible to the 1st century person than it is for us.
        • The Challenge of the Resurrection – Tim makes the case that everyone must come to terms with the evidence for the resurrection. If it happened, everything must change.
N. T. Wright

In a sermon, N. T. Wright said: The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won…If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense—[then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my personal spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world—news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things—and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all.

Chapter 13 – The Dance of God

Building heavily on C. S. Lewis’ imagery of the dance of God as a way to describe the Trinity, Tim tries to explain the inexplicable and mysterious.

In 1938…I was suffering from splitting headaches; each sound hurt me like a blow…. I discovered the poem…called “Love” [by George Herbert] which I learnt by heart. Often, at the culminating point of a violent headache, I made myself say it over, concentrating all my attention upon it and clinging with all my soul to the tenderness it enshrines. I used to think I was merely reciting it as a beautiful poem, but without my knowing it the recitation had the virtue of a prayer. It was during one of these recitations that Christ himself came down and took possession of me. In my arguments about the insolubility of the problem of God I had never foreseen the possibility of that, of a real contact, person to person, here below, between a human being and God. —Simone Weil, Waiting for God

When people say, “God is love,” I think they mean that love is extremely important, or that God really wants us to love. But in the Christian conception, God really has love as his essence. If he was just one person he couldn’t have been loving for all eternity.

I quoted C. S. Lewis saying that the only place besides heaven that is free from the pain and suffering of relationships is hell.

Epilogue – Where do we go from here?

This chapter is an appeal to the reader to commit themselves to become a follower of Jesus. In the process he encourages the seeker to:

    • Examine your motives – I know that I got interested in Christianity because I wanted a girl-friend!  And a Christian group on campus had a lot of very nice co-eds!
    • Count the cost
    • Take an inventory / Take stock of what is holding you back – are there content issues; coherency issues – things that don’t hold together about the gospel to you; cost issues – what would have to change? Would you have to become a Republican? e-gads!
    • Make a commitment / Move towards Jesus
    • Commit to Christian community

To know oneself, is above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against the Truth, and not the other way around. —Flannery O’Connor, “The Fiction Writer and His Country”

And then the heart of Eowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. —J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

We have to recognize that virtually all of us begin our journey toward God because we want something from him.

We usually begin the journey toward God thinking, “What do I have to do to get this or that from him?” but eventually we have to begin thinking, “What do I have to do to get him?” If you don’t make that transition, you will never actually meet the real God, but will only end up believing in some caricature version of him.

There is no question that becoming a follower of Jesus is the most rational thing I have ever done – and yet I know that as the apostle Paul has said, that it was God who found me rather than me finding God. May this summary tweak your interest in stopping and turning around and see the “Hound of Heaven” pursuing you no matter where you are on the continuum of faith.

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