Making Sense of God - A Review

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.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

If you are Christian that struggles with prayer, then Tim Keller’s recent book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, is for you. Of course, this means that I am recommending this book to every Christian on the planet because we all struggle with prayer at some point in our lives.

I like Keller’s stuff. I have read most of his books and have listened to many of his sermons. This is, perhaps, his best book so far. That is really saying something.

Despite my appreciation of Keller’s work, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get when I picked up this book. Most books with the word “prayer” in the title end up being glorified self-help books that present a moralistic vision that guilts the reader about not praying enough or not praying correctly. Other books provide simplistic formulas for prayer that may be helpful in the short term, but which fall short of helping the reader construct a theology of and methodology for personal prayer.

Prayer is a masterpiece on this very important spiritual discipline. In a world filled with a myriad of views on the nature of prayer, the methods of prayer, and the efficacy of prayer, Keller’s book stands above the rest.

This book critiques the most common popular errors about prayer. Keller disabuses his readers of the notion that an omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign God would not expect his people to pray. Keller writes:

“If we believed that God was in charge and our actions meant nothing, it would lead to discouraged passivity. If on the other hand we really believed that our actions changed God’s plan––it would lead to paralyzing fear. If both are true, however, we have the greatest incentive for diligent effort, and yet we can always sense God’s everlasting arms under us. In the end, we can’t frustrate God’s good plans for us (cf. Jer 29:11).”

With arguments like these, Keller eradicates the notion that theology–-understanding what God is like––is unimportant to prayer. This book convicts the reader of the importance of prayer, but reminds the reader of the reality and availability of grace.

Keller seeks to present a vision of prayer that is theological, experiential, and methodological in one book. He does this well.

The theological frame for this volume is built from Scripture. Keller emphasizes that the Psalms are largely a collection of prayers. They provide examples of how God’s people have prayed in the past, which can be appropriated by God’s people today. Keller also explores what great theologians of the past have written about Prayer. Augustine and Luther both wrote letters to parishioners on the topic of prayer. In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin has an excellent treatise on prayer. Keller summarizes and shares the pith of these pastor-theologians’ writing on prayer. The depth and breadth of the research are part of what makes this new volume a classic text.

The experiential aspect emphasizes the nature of prayer as a conversation with God. We speak to the God who hears and he communicates to us. Contrary to more theologically enigmatic perspectives on prayer, Keller rightly acknowledges that “if prayer is to be a true conversation with God, it must be regularly preceded by listening to God’s voice through meditation on the Scripture.” In other words, Keller’s vision of prayer is more holistic than others, because it includes substantial reflection on the Word of God as an essential part.

This book would be incomplete if it did not provide some helpful specifics that teach the reader to pray. He has chapters dedicated to theological and practical discussion on prayer as worship, as communion with God, and as a means of seeking help from God. Keller also provides some down to earth suggestions for making progress in this important spiritual discipline.

In a world where being Christian and popular at the same time often requires compromise, Tim Keller has managed to shatter the stereotype. Keller’s books sell well because they are well-written, thoughtful, and deal with culturally important topics. Keller’s books are worth owning because they winsomely communicate orthodox truths with depth and accuracy. This book is no exception on either count.

Note: A gratis copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher. There was, however, no expectation of a positive review. All opinions above are my own.

Some additional helpful links:

1. A 1990 sermon by Keller on Prayer from Redeemer Presbyterian.

2. A host of resources on prayer from Redeemer Presbyterian.

3. An index of Tim Keller resources from Steve McCoy's personal site. Multiple linked sermons, interviews, articles, etc.