Tim Keller has done it again.
Not too long ago his book, The Reason for God, hit the presses and it was quickly described as being in the same league as Lewis’ Mere Christianity. That praise was justified, as Keller had studied the zeitgeist well and understood the questions people were asking. There was a large swath of young people who needed to read exactly what Keller wrote at that time.
However, time, tide, and formation wait for no one. As the polls are revealing, a larger number of people are identifying as “nones.” These are people who have no religious affiliation. As one “none” explains in her book, it often isn’t that the nones are opposed to religion, they just don’t see the point.
On the other hand, judging by the commenters on the internet, there are a large number of people who find religion repugnant. According to this view, religious people are ignorant, naïve, or perhaps even simply evil. They argue that religion is inherently irrational because it relies on faith; in contrast, non-religion (or whatever they try to label their faith commitment) is based on objective science. Therefore, rejecting religion is the only logical solution.
Keller’s recent book, Making Sense of God, will speak to either of these groups.
Much like any book, the antagonistic skeptic will be unlikely to dig into this volume and glean anything from it. However, Keller is irenic, so anyone who is actually looking for a credible case for Christ can find a good representation of it in Keller’s book.
The book begins with a preface, which introduces a reality many are unaware of: secularism is based on faith. Although the question of religion vs. non-religion is often pitched as faith vs. reason, Keller announced that isn’t the case. The reader must be patient as he carefully unfolds his argument over the following chapters.
Keller explains that, contrary to the popular myth of secularists, religion isn’t dying. It may be on the decline in the Unites States, but in the world at large, the number of faithful are growing. Thus, it isn’t that the secularists are paving the way into the future by resisting religion, rather, they are simply resisting the inevitable growth of faithfulness.
The next chapter explains that secularism relies on just as much faith as any religion does. No one is purely rational, and most professional philosophers recognize that. Everyone has certain basic assumptions that must be taken on faith. You can’t, for example, empirically prove that the scientific method is the best--never mind the only--way to understand more about the world. This doesn’t mean that religion is necessarily correct, but it means that religion should not be immediately dismissed as something intrinsically different that secularism.
Having established the possibility of rationally considering religion as another competing worldview to secularism, Keller shifts into a shift into a defense of religion itself. Throughout the beginning of the book, he argues for the possibility of religion generically, but the informed reader will see that Keller is moving toward Christianity as the best and only viable option for all problems.
Keller argues that religion provides meaning that suffering can’t take away, satisfaction that is not based on circumstances. He shows that “do no harm” is an insufficient ethical principle, because it fails to represent the true complexity of our interconnections. The modern concept of the autonomous self is an unworkable, unjust myth. Something must be added to secularism to answer these problems, and that something is the Christian faith.
Similarly, Keller shows that the modern idea of the self is incoherent and insufficient. Humans cannot find their identity from within, because that is self-defeating. In contrast, belief in the Christian faith offers an eternal, unchanging identity that does not crush the individual nor exclude all others. This leads to a hope that cannot be eliminated based on circumstances. There is an eschatological future of joy for the human that has faith in the one true God.
Traditionally atheists have resisted the concept that they can’t be moral. It is true that atheists are often nicer than Christians, but more and more secular thinkers are recognizing that despite their many flaws, Christians tend to be much more active in doing the good things that need to be done. This is because they have a morality rooted in God. This is something that religion adds to the secular conversation. At the same time, Keller critiques many churches that have morals for being legalistic. He offers his critique, but at the same time encourages the skeptic to recognize that this is a failing of particular congregations, not of Christianity. True Christianity has morality that enlivens and does not crush the soul. The cross shows how that can happen.
The last few chapters are a more traditional apologetic for faith in Christ. Keller presents the gospel winsomely and in a way that someone who has journeyed so far into the volume will recognize the sincerity of the invitation.
It’s a sign of the times that Keller would have to lay the groundwork so carefully for faith in Christ. This is the shape of evangelism in the future. We need to begin farther and farther back in our conversations with many people. It becomes less safe to assume that someone knows the story already and we are just calling to repentance.
More and more, when people are told they need to repent, they are likely to ask from what. Our age is secular, religion has been maligned by its enemies and misrepresented by many of its adherents. Keller provides the necessary dialog to bridge the gap between a skeptical world and Christianity.
I commend this volume to the skeptic as a good argument for faith, especially faith in Christ. For the Christian, this book should be read, digested, and studied in preparation for answering the questions of unbelieving friends. This is more likely to answer the necessary questions than the memorized outline of Evangelism Explosion. For the parent, this is the sort of volume you should read with your children, so that even after they’ve prayed the prayer and walked the aisle they understand the reasonable basis for their faith.
Making Sense of God is a masterpiece. Having read it, I will read it again. It is well-written, well-researched, and on point. Keller has done a service to the Church in writing this volume. My hope is that many will read it, both those inside and outside of Christianity.
NOTE: I received a gratis copy of this volume with no expectation of a positive review.