Book Review: The Reason for God

Tim Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is one of the bigger names in the church planting world. Having planted a thriving, reproducing, solidly evangelical church in one of the capitals of post-Christian America, he is also a well-respected voice on reaching secular culture with the Gospel. It’s in this vein that he’s written his new book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

The Reason for God is being hyped as a Mere Christianity for the 21st century, although Keller quickly protests, “I don’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as a writer like C.S. Lewis.” It’s also a sane, intelligent response to recent anti-religion books like God is Not Great and The God Delusion (which at many points are neither sane nor intelligent). The book is structured in two halves, the first addressing seven objections to Christianity (such as “How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?”) and the second putting forward a positive argument for central tenets of the Christian faith (e.g. the knowledge of God, sin, the cross, the resurrection).

The Mere Christianity comparison is not an unfair one at all. In fact, in some ways Keller’s book is better. His theology is both more robust and more sound (no one, including C. S. Lewis, ever accused C. S. Lewis of being a great theologian). Also, Lewis defends a sort of “lowest common denominator” Christianity, and while Keller does try to distill the most important doctrines, he deliberately centers the faith in the historic creeds without diminishing the importance of other doctrines. His approach is not vastly different, but better explained.

Keller has a gift for putting forth absolutely devastating arguments without being argumentative. He has some great game-set-match observations here, but he never sounds like he’s angry at nonbelievers for being nonbelievers; he never sits back with arms folded and waits for them to crumble. He shows, for example, that statements like “All religious claims to have a better view of things are arrogant and wrong” are, on their own terms, arrogant and wrong (11). People’s claims that religious beliefs are historically conditioned are themselves historically conditioned (10). But this was one of my favorite observations:

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. (82-83)

This book is effective because it understands the fact that all true human knowledge is grounded in the God of the Bible and what he chooses to reveal to people. The Christian view of the world is not only reasonable; it is the only reasonable way of looking at the world. Other worldviews succeed only to the extent that they operate on “borrowed capital” from the Christian worldview. The book does have a couple of weaknesses—the chapter on Christianity and science is weakened by Keller’s view of creation, which caves somewhat to the prevailing scientific view—but it presents a great challenge to non-Christian views, and a great argument for the truth of the Gospel. I highly recommend it, especially if you have skeptical friends who are willing to engage in real conversation.

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