The Reason for God by Tim Keller (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Reason for God by Tim Keller (Book Review)

I'll tell you what I think of Tim Keller's new book right out of the gate, because there's no reason to prolong the suspense--and there may not be any suspense to prolong. The Reason for God spent considerable time on the New York Times bestseller list, and justifiably so. Keller has written a first-rate apologetic work with this volume, his first book in a decade.

If you're at all familiar with the topic of Christian apologetics (in this sense, a reasoned defense of the faith, not a series of mea culpas), the format and content of The Reason for God may seem familiar. Keller tackles major objections to belief in Jesus (hell, suffering, exclusivity, science, biblical integrity, Christian injustice) before adopting a positive tack to present reasons for faith in the second half of his book. Chapters are salted liberally with quotes from Christian thinkers, atheistic thinkers, and representative sound bytes from "everyday" outsiders to Christianity.

Tim Keller excels at a kind of sympathetic rationality which, in essence, shows respect for an opposing argument before demolishing it. (Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins are a couple of the bigger names Keller takes aim at.) Keller reveals that he understands the position of the skeptic quite well, and has an affinity for honest questioning. He wisely meets people at the point of their doubt, and implies that doubt and transparency are all you need to begin an exploration of faith.

Keller's approach to the topic of doubt is likely a hallmark of this book. He suggests that "all doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs. You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B." Keller develops this concept further by arguing that religion is implicit to all people. Whether you call it a "worldview," a "narrative identity," or whatever, everyone has an unprovable set of faith assumptions about the nature of reality. In my opinion, this insight, and the way in which Keller articulates it, is the strength of The Reason for God.

In terms of content, Keller reveals a debt to C.S. Lewis, but draws widely from the "greats" in the Christian pantheon of authors (G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Augustine) while utilizing contemporary thinkers too (Peter Kreeft, Alvin Plantinga). Keller is not an amazing writer in terms of "voice" but he is articulate, persuasive, and has a deft touch. If you wonder what it feels like to be strangled by a kind-looking man wearing kid gloves, ask an argument that Keller has disagreed with.

Ultimately, The Reason for God is an excellent do-it-all apologetics book for the 21st century. Read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, chase it with Keller's book, and you'll be ahead of the game--so long as you remember that the goal is to sit down and discuss what you read over coffee.

*** I award this book three stars--don't miss it.

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