Preperatory thoughts on Keller’s influence and my own pastoral development before the review begins:
Tim Keller’s new book, “The Reasons for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism,” is my next blog-review. Here’s a little background that might help you as you read my review of Keller, and as I make personal notes in its midst. I interned while in seminary at WTS with Ron Lutz at New Life for four years where Tim Keller, Jack Miller, and more (Harvie Conn, Tremper Longman, Bruce Waltke, Anthony Bradley, David Powlison etc.) served and worshiped. Tim Keller, Jack Miller, Ron Lutz, Clair Davis and David George who now pastors Valley Springs PCA outside Sacramento, Ca.
They all used to go and do boardwalk ministry on the Jersey shore together as students at WTS(actually it was Ron Lutz, Clair Davis, and Tim Keller that had a prayer accountability together, I think David George was in the mix somehow but I’m not sure). A few summers back I got to meet David and enjoyed an afternoon talk with him and my wife, long story short we were out in Ca trying to make contacts for ministry and my buddy is David’s Emerging Church pastor who also runs a concert venue out of the church. And a few WTS alumni friends of mine now pastor with Tim Keller as assistants at Redeemer.
So my educational, pastoral, and interpersonal relationships are in their own small way connected to Tim Keller. I have no direct personal knowledge or relation to Keller but I feel that in some ways circles of influence in his and my life have crossed. Due to this my assumption before opening Keller’s new book was that there would be some shared assumptions and values in answering unbelief both in the world and the church, so far I’ve found that to be the case. Tim’s answers to the world reflect in several ways the many streams and conceptions that WTS holds as a community, and his answers to the church remind me a lot of Ron Lutz’s tone and message, and of coarse Jack Miller’s Sonship principals regarding the gospel and new identity.
We’re living in a polarized yet on the rise time, when both skepticism and faith are growing by leaps and bounds in cities in the most unthinkable of places like London, like New York. When Keller moved to Manhattan in the 1980’s with his family and said we’re planting a church here people said your crazy, particularly because of the orthodox positions of his church but here they are today at 5,000+ strong with over a dozen daughter church plants, influencing several thousand other churches all over the world.
In a time of polarization Keller’s own story seems uniquely fitted to minister within it, having grown up in a Lutheran conservative background but entering into the other side of the gambit Keller knows that neither ends up with a complete answer. He needed answers as a college student but couldn’t find them, three things happened to change all of that: 1) there was an intellectual one; 2) a personal one; and a 3) social one. Believe or not Keller still sees these as some of the major barriers people must cross today.
What does today look like? Well I already mentioned that the sides of skepticism and faith are both on the rise and polarizing how does Keller answer this dilemma, listen in, “First, each side should accept that both religious belief and skepticism are on the rise…[Tim] recommends that each side look at doubt in a radically new way.” What this means for believers is that they begin to see the presence of doubt as a healthy thing, an antibody in their life so that when harder issues or arguments come to bear upon them they know what its like to live with them. For unbelievers it means that they need to realize that their own skepticism is based on a leap of faith. What this will do is encourage humility and a genuine earnestness to listen to the other side which in turn will give your own position greater clarity.
Enter the Clowney, Conn, Dillard, Schaffer, and many other WTS professors and alumni who are passionate about “third way” approaches to tough issues. Keller’s third way on the polarization and rise of these two not to mention the divergent nature between liberal and conservative Christian traditions, is none other than this hope and reality;
“The new, fast-spreading multi-ethnic orthodox Christianity in the cities is much more concerned about the poor and social justice than Republicans have been, and at the same time much more concerned about upholding classic Christian moral and sexual ethics than Democrats have been.
Are these types of Christians real, can real skepticism and real faith collide? Keller gives three stories that bear out a more positive exposition of the faith – June a Ivy League grad living and working in Manhattan; Jeffrey was a New York City musician, raised in a conservative Jewish home; and Kelly an Ivy League atheist. Stories of real New Yorkers engaging this new spiritual third way literally line Keller’s work. Keller sends his readers off with a reminder from Jesus own approach to doubts, engage them and explore them, a deepened understanding of them will “exceed anything you can imagine,” Jesus is not afraid of doubts.
There Can’t Be Just One True Religion 01
“What is your biggest problem with Christianity? …One of the most frequent answers I have heard over the years can be summed up in one word: exclusivity.” O.K. maybe you’re let down by the first ‘Leap of Doubt’ Keller engages, perhaps you thought New Yorkers would have moved on to some higher cultural argument against the faith than exclusivity, well if you were let down by the first leap you won’t be let down by Keller’s response, check it out;
It is widely believed that one of the main barriers to world peace is religion, and especially the major traditional religions with their exclusive claims to superiority. It may surprise you that though I am a Christian minister I agree with this. Religion, generally speaking, tends to create a slippery slope in the heart.
Yes he did go there, Keller agreed, but hang out because the ending is where his ‘hook’ will stick and produce a world of good in you. There are three responses to the destructive nature of world religion: to outlaw it; to condemn it; or to keep it private. Keller shows just how well read he is in the way he both lays out these defeaters and answers them, from world events, to sociology, to philosophy and religious studies. Keller has made his way around the room of these arenas.
To read how he responds to these options buy the book, here’s his third way ending; for Keller Christianity is the best chance to save the world. How so?
Christianity has within itself remarkable power to explain and expunge the divisive tendencies within the human heart…
It is common to say that “fundamentalism” leads to violence, yet as we have seen, all of us have fundamental, unprovable faith-commitments that we think are superior to those of others. The real question, then, is which fundamentals will lead their believers to be the most loving and receptive to those with whom they differ? Which set of unavoidably exclusive beliefs will lead us to humble, peace-following behavior?
We cannot skip lightly over the fact that there have been injustices done by the church in the name of Christ, yet who can deny that the force of Christians’ most fundamental beliefs can be a powerful impetus for peace-making in our troubled world?
How Could a Good God Allow Suffering? 02
Keller lives in NYC so evil and suffering in a post-911 world is no stranger to him and his faith community. The question isn’t has Keller experienced suffering first hand personally, he has both in a bout with cancer and in his wife’s ailments; neither is the question has Keller scene catastrophic evil and suffering; rather the question is what does Keller say in regards to it? For Keller evil and suffering are not evidence against God but for him, and in God’s plans of redemption not only the presence of but the purpose behind all suffering has redemptive relevance and that relevance is found in the death and resurrection of God’s beloved Son.
Evil and suffering isn’t evidence against God, but rather its evidence for Him: “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.” For Keller Alvin Plantiga’s “no-see-ums” response defeats this argument, just because you can’t see a reason doesn’t exhaust the possibility that there is a reason. No man or institution can claim that they’ve exhausted all possible answers to that terrible questions ‘why’. And if God is great and transcendent enough for you to be upset with him, isn’t he great and transcendent enough to have the answer that alludes you? Keller doesn’t the leave the question here, in a very touching way he says not only does God have the answer but God has experienced the terrible mystery that suffering is in the death of His Son. How then is evil and suffering an evidence for God? If you believe there are such things here, you must have some supra-natural standard by which to make such a universal claim, for Keller that in itself again points back to the existence of God. He doesn’t leave his readers here though, he takes it a step further, Christianity is the only explanation that enables its followers to have hope and courage within it.
Is the answer to evil and suffering only philosophical, or is there a more personal response Christianity offers?: Tim points his readers to Jesus for that personal answer, unlike all other martyrs who died with a note of glorious resolve and triumph Jesus dies with a broken question – why have you forsaken me? Suffering typically involves deep feelings of forsaken-ness, in a world of suffering who better than Jesus himself can touch and heal these feelings? Keller describes what Jesus last moments where like upon the cross;
Jesus’ cry of dereliction – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”- is a deeply relational statement. Lane writes: “The cry has a ruthless authenticity…Jesus did not die renouncing God. Even in the inferno of abandonment he did not surrender his faith in God but expressed his anguished prayer in a cry of affirmation, ‘My God, my God.'” Jesus still uses the language of intimacy – “my God” – even as he experiences infinite separation from the Father…The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.
Ultimately the personal answer to suffering and evil is found in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These offer the world both consolation in the midst of suffering, and the hope of restoration. Not just a temporary answer to ease the pain of lose, but an indestructible promise that in God’s time all things will be restored by His Son.
Christianity is a Straitjacket o3
The mantra of America is that true freedom “is freedom to create your own meaning and purpose.” Against this vision Christianity can and does look like an enemy of social cohesion, cultural adaptability, and authentic person-hood; it looks like a straitjacket. What’s an answer to this straitjacket picture? Keller says its based on mistakes about the nature of truth, community, Christianity, and liberty.
Truth: Truth isn’t just one person’s power play against your own, because even that conception of truth itself would have to be an additional power-play, its self-defeating. Some kind of truth claim seems unavoidable, this in turn has implications for how we define community and liberty.
Community can’t be completely inclusive: Ok so maybe the truth is what you make it idea is itself made up, but Christianity is still exclusive and because of that its a social straitjacket! Keller doesn’t beat around the bush, you do have to believe and practice or hold as values certain things to be apart of the community, period. But such is the case with any other community in the world, every community excludes others in some way or form otherwise there would be no distinctives to hold them together. The question isn’t which community isn’t exclusive and therefore is right, but rather which community causes its members to engage other communities with dignity, humanity, and care.
Christianity isn’t culturally rigid: “Christianity is also reputed to be a cultural straitjacket…It is seen as an enemy of pluralism and multiculturalism. In reality, Christianity has been more adaptive (and maybe less destructive) of diverse cultures than secularism and many other worldviews.” Keller kicks over the straw-man argument made at times by secularism that says Christianity destroys parent cultures as it moves into the cultural neighborhood, in fact he demonstrates that it all depends on the nature of the parent cultures – at times its secularism that destroys and at times its Christianity. We should expect Christianity to do a bit of both affirming and confronting culture, Keller using Andrew Walls perceptions unfolds this;
Biblical texts such as Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21-22 depict a renewed, perfect, future world in which we retain our cultural differences (“every tongue, tribe, people, nation”). This means every human culture has (from God) distinct goods and strengths for the enrichment of the human race. As Walls indicates, while every culture has distortions and elements that will be critiqued and revised by the Christian message, each culture will also have good and unique elements to which Christianity connects and adapts.
Freedom isn’t simple and love is more constraining than we might think: Freedom is not the absence of discipline and constraint but nor is it necessarily their presence either. “Disciplines and constraints, then, liberate us only when they fit with the reality of our nature and capacities.” ‘When love comes to town’ everything changes and freedom as independence goes out the window, the most freeing thing in the world is to give yourself over entirely to the one you love, this is exactly what happens in Christianity, Jesus gets all of us, freedom.
The Church is Responsible for so much Injustice 04
The way this argument is mounted against the church is by taking note of Christians’ glaring character flaws; there support of war and violence; and the issue of fanaticism. Keller seeks to answer each of these in turn.
Character flaws: “If Christianity is all it claims to be, shouldn’t Christians on the whole be much better people than everyone else? This assumption is based on a mistaken belief concerning what Christianity actually teaches about itself.” You don’t clean up and then come to Christ, you come to Christ because you’ll always need to clean up and his Spirit more than your good intentions makes all the difference in the world. To mix metaphors the church is a hospital ward full of sick people, of course its going to look worst than the world outside.
Religion and violence: Religion is no better than secular societies, both have produced countless pictures of violence. Keller doesn’t say religion is free of this accusation but he does say that everyone has their share in the violence at play in the world; “
We can only conclude that there is some violent impulse so deeply rooted in the human heart that it expresses itself regardless of what the beliefs of a particular society might be – whether socialist or capitalist, whether religious or irreligious, whether individualistic or hierarchical. Ultimately, then, the fact of violence and warfare in a society is no necessary refutation of the prevailing beliefs of that society.
Fanaticism: Keller says that fanaticism is one of the biggest concerns today regarding religion, what frees Christianity of that fear? Realizing that not everything under the banner of Christian is actually that, in fact Keller says that Christianity is not basically a form of moral improvement. Those who are fanatical actually embody a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.
Justice, Jesus, and finding the answer: At this point some people may be throwing their hands up in the air and saying well then am I not to be critical of religion at all?!? Keller says no, Jesus was in his Sermon on the Mount and he is to. Religious people can easily use the very things that are good as leverage tools which leads to both an emphasis on external religious forms as well as greed. “In Jesus’s and the prophets’ critique, self-righteous religion is always marked by insensitivity to issues of social justice, while true faith is marked by profound concern for the poor and marginalized…The shortcomings of the church can be understood historically as the imperfect adoption and practice of the principles of the Christian gospel…The answer is not to abandon the Christian faith, because that would leave us with neither the standards nor the resources to make correction.” When people like Jesus, give their lives to liberate others they are realizing the true Christianity!
How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell? 05
Relativism in one form, degree, or expression has reared its head in several of Keller’s chapters so far, and such is the case as well here. Hell is a problem because it stands right in the path of relativism. One of the 800 pound gorillas of relativism is Western culture and its not afraid of throwing around its ethical weight. But Keller asks an important question, “Why, I concluded, should Western cultural sensibilities be the final court in which to judge whether Christianity is valid?” If Christianity isn’t the product of any one culture but is itself trans-cultural then at some point in every culture its going to butt heads.
Still it seems contradictory that a God of love is also a God of wrath, Keller replies, aren’t loving people also angry people? In fact aren’t there instances where the absence of judgment is the presence of injustice. Yes. Part of the problem of people allowing for hell is there perceptions of what is, and how one arrives at it. Its not the place where your last chance to turn has ended, nor is it the place where you are tortured not according to your will, at least not entirely. Hell, says Keller, “is the trajectory of a soul, living in self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever…hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity.”
Hell is not a whip the church swings around at those she knows are going there, the fact is nobody but God knows the final destination of someone. And heaven isn’t the cosmic cookie pastor John passes out on Sunday to those he likes. Still the power and appeal of not believing in hell is seductive in our culture. For Keller though, this is one seduction that under scrutiny falls apart;
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.
Science Has Disproved Christianity 06
Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, and Sam Harris; if you’re up at all on the science vs religion debates these names have surfaced several times for you and probably sound like a scratchy track on an old LP. Here’s the heart of the question this chapter posses and Keller seeks to answer, “Has science essentially disproved Christian beliefs? Must we choose between thinking scientifically and belief in God?” Keller answers no to both of these.
Aren’t Miracles Scientifically Impossible? Behind this question is an assumption, ie that science makes no faith claims of its own, that its presumptions are fair and judicious; but Keller via Plantinga’s critique of Macquarrie. See Macquarrie is right in saying that science must always assume there is a natural cause because really that is the ONLY cause scientific methods are able to measure and prove. BUT it’s quite another thing “to insist that science has proven that there can’t be any other kind.” In a metaphorically colorful way Plantinga responds that Macquarrie’s argument amounts to a drunk looking for his car keys at night under a street light, he never leaves the light and insist that because that is the only place he can see they must be there.
Isn’t Science in Conflict with Christianity?This question is a culturally plausible one to raise after all how many of us have witnessed the ugly battles back and forth between Young Earth Creationists and Evolutionists. The arguments, as much as the contention itself, have soured in many of our mouths. Keller provides a third way, not one he invented to be sure (see. B.B. Warfield). Since this is one of Keller’s points that needs careful listening I will quote him in tota;
However, Christians may believe in evolution as a process without believing in “philosophical naturalism” – the view that everything has a natural cause and that organic life is solely the product of random forces guided by no one. When evolution is turned into an All-encompassing Theory explaining absolutely everything we believe, feel, and do as the product of natural selection, then we are not in the arena of science, but of philosophy [and I would add religion]. pg. 87
There are basically four options that science and religion can take to relate to one another: conflict, dialogue, integration, and independence. Keller in my opinion takes an integration & dialogue approach to science & religion, and he is not alone in this, Stephen Jay Gould himself disagrees with Dawkins because he doesn’t believe that science is able to account for everything. So instead of thinking about Christianity in conflict with science, rather consider that all four of the relationships manifest themselves depending on which form of Christianity may be engaging which form of science, ie fundamentalistic literalism will have a much more conflict-natured relation to say those whom are in concert with Dawkins, while a post-conservative or progressive form of Christianity would have a dialogical relation with people like Gould on certain points.
Doesn’t Evolution Disprove the Bible? Keller acknowledges that there are several approaches both to the genre and interpretation of Genesis 1, as well as to the way evolution ought to be engaged, therefore; “Since Christian believers occupy different positions on both the meaning of Genesis 1 and on the nature of evolution, those who are considering Christianity as a whole should not allow themselves to be distracted by this intramural debate.” And just so you know where Keller comes down, “For the record I think God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-encompassing Theory.”
And Keller is quick to note that miracles are hard to believe, as they were for the original audience of them as well Matt. 28. But belief is not where they are seeking to lead you and I, rather they are intended to move us to a place of worship, awe, and wonder. And here in the closing of this chapter is for me the most significant point to hold on to;
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. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. his miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. 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.
You Can’t Take The Bible Literally 07
How do you “Dismantle the Atomic Bomb” (play on U2’s album) that Christianity is, either you undermine the reality of God, disprove the resurrection of Christ, or demonstrate that the Bible is un-credible and historically disjointed through poor transmission, or that the Bible is not entirely trustworthy either because – its scientifically impossible, historically unreliable, or culturally regressive. The first of these was addressed last chapter, the other two are addressed in this chapter.
“We Can’t Trust the Bible Historically”The Jesus Seminar, Dan Brown’s Davinci Code, and more have sought to suggest that the Bible’s gospel’s are late and therefore untrustworthy. Keller relies a lot on Richard Bauckham’s recent monograph that responds to these criticism, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, here’s the short and sweet – they are, the evidence is so decidedly in their favor that this point is moot, their content is far too counterproductive at times for them to be otherwise, and their literary forms are too detailed to fit into the genre of legend.
“We can’t trust the Bible culturally.” Two big points people grab onto is that the Bible supports slavery and the subjugation of women. First things first, Keller urges people “…to consider that their problem with some texts might be based on an unexamined belief in the superiority of their historical moment over all others. We must not universalize our time any more than we should universalize our culture. Think of the implication of the very term “regressive.”” Keller responds quickly to the first example of slavery and notes that the Bible in fact doesn’t support the ‘cattle’ slavery of the colonization period, and that within the bible it provided the hermeneutical indications that slavery would in the spiritual familial bonds of being “in Christ” would be eclipsed. This is partly why latter Christians do go on the campaign to abolish slavery. Also he reminds his readers not to miss the major motifs of scripture for the sake of difficult minor motifs. On the latter point of the subjugation of women Keller stresses that there is a variety of positions.
A Trustworthy Bible or a Stepford God? If you’ve ever seen the movie Stepford wives you know where Keller is going with his closing section in this chapter. God needs to be able to correct and disagree with us or he’s not a real person, but rather a robot. “…a Stepford God! A God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction…So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God. It is the precondition for it.”
“Intermission means literally to be between journeys or missions. That is where we are now.” Between reasons against Christianity, and reasons for Christianity lies this chapter in Keller’s matured magnum opus. Here is where Keller stops to answer a question an old colleague of his has raised in the comment chains of earlier reviews of Keller’s book at this blogsite. What is Christianity? “For our purposes, I’ll define Christianity as the body of believers who assent to these great ecumenical creeds.” The Apostle’s, Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian creeds offer the world the fundamentals of the Christians view of reality – Keller turns to catholicity….hmm…wonderful turn indeed! When it comes to sin and grace Keller nevertheless maintains a more Protestant perspective than Catholic which is no surprise given his Presbyterian stance.
Now that Keller has clarified which Christianity he’s about to argue for, the next logical questions is of course which rationality he will use to argue thus? Praising Nagel critique of “strong rationalism” as a reason why he is able to be more of a mediating skeptic voice than Dawkins or Harris, Keller says that his own position is that of “critical rationalism”, those familiar with Ben Meyer’s book “The New Testament and Critical Rationalism” or NT Wright’s first volume “New Testament and the People of God” will of course immediately resonate with Keller’s position. In a nutshell critical rationalism “assumes that there are some arguments that many or even most rational people will find convincing, even though there is no argument that will be persuasive to everyone regardless of viewpoint.”
Just where can we expect to find reasons for God you ask? Well Keller will no doubt explore that in full in pages to come, but for now he reminds his readers that God is not an object one can find like discovering America or the moon, he much like William Shakespeare is the author of the most beautiful of all tales – creation. So if you look for him and don’t see him, perhaps you need to step back and ask who is penning this amazing drama you live within. Keller, like Van Till and William Edgar ask you as their reader to put on the spectacles of Christianity and consider just how much sense it makes of the world you live within. And as you learn to read the drama that is life afresh look back particularly to Jesus Christ, because this is one play where the author has managing to write himself into the drama as its center, goal, and purpose…
The Clues of God 08
“Though there cannot be irrefutable proof for the existence of God, many people have found strong clues for his reality – divine fingerprints – in many places.” The rest of the book is given over to laying out those prints and shining the necessary light needed to view them. Keller’s point about there not being irrefutable proofs for God may rub Christians from the Evidentialist camp the wrong way, but I think his point is spot on from both a Reformed Epistemological standpoint and a Presuppositionalist standpoint.
Strong rationalism miss Christianity not because they epistemology is leads them into the light of reason but rather because their epistemology is itself lacking the light of creaturely humility. Its in that light that clues become more persuasive, the first clue is the mysterious Bang at the beginning, while it doesn’t prove the personal God of the bible it does begin to take us down the road toward him. Van Til or Bill Edgar would call this step by Keller ‘inviting unbelievers in supernaturalism to view the world from the vantage point of belief’. The next clue is the cosmic welcome mate where Keller basically makes the point that the presence of organic life in the form and complexity it is today makes more sense from the vantage point of a personal creator than chaotic chance. Not only does this point toward a supernatural, personal creator but the BIG FAITH commitment of science itself – continued regularity of nature – makes more sense with God in the picture than having him absent. Take God out and you lose beauty in nature as well, after all beauty would just be a subjective perception open to every person’s delight, losing its locutionary force.
There is a Clue-Killer but Keller says its actually a clue in itself. The clue-killer is the “school of evolutionary biology that claims everything about us can be explained as a function of natural selection.” The argument goes that religion was something we received along the way to help us adapt to our surroundings, but now we don’t need it. The problem with this, Keller says, is that if you follow this school’s logic of thought “Evolution can only be trusted to give us cognitive faculties that help us live on, not to provide ones that give us an accurate and true picture of the world around us.” And here’s the real hitch of it all;
What is not fair is to do what so many evolutionary scientists are doing now. They are applying the scalpel of their skepticism to what our minds tell us about God but not to what our minds are telling us about evolutionary science itself…
It comes down to this: If, as the evolutionary scientists say, what our brains tells us about morality, love, and beauty is not real – if it is merely a set of chemical reactions designed to pass on our genetic code – then so is what their brains tell them about the world. Then why should they trust them?
The Clue-Killer becomes a clue itself at this very point, its reasoning is self-defeating but if you presuppose that God is real then there is a basis for “believing that cognitive faculties work, since God could make us able to form true beliefs and knowledge.” The evolutionary biologist school of thought is using ‘borrowed capital’ from the Christian set of presumptions. At this point perhaps you’re aggravated at the slight of hand trick, but its not a trick, and Keller is not so bold as to say that his arguments thus far have closed the deal. Listen in; “Of course none of the clues we have been looking for actually proves God. Every one of them is rationally avoidable. However, their cumulative effect is, I think, provocative and potent.”
The Knowledge of God 09
20’s and 30’s aren’t the relativistic amoral people conservative writers make them out to be, but they do struggle with their moral outlook. They believe things strongly but their basis for why isn’t as clear. “It’s almost like their moral intuitions are free-floating in midair-far off the ground.” Part of the reason for this is that people believe very strongly that you shouldn’t impose your moral views on others, its OK to have moral values but not to have moral obligations that everyone must embrace. What are moral obligations?
Moral obligations is a belief that some things ought not to be done regardless of how a person feels about them within herself, regardless of what the rest of her community and culture says, and regardless of whether it is in her self interest or not.
Still nevertheless most people are quick to say that there are some moral obligations that all people must have the right to freedom, life, and love. One reason why people say we have these things is the evolutionary model of moral obligation. The model basically argues that there are certain values to yield benefits to everyone who practices them and that that is why it is in place universally, of course the problem is that history is replete with examples to the contrary. Cultural relativism further aggravates the situation because it posits that no culture can set standards for others, of course even those within the field are setting moral values on their scientific pursuits that make an imposition upon the cultures. What about the difficult issue of human rights? Here’s the cold hard truth, “If rights are nothing but a majority creation then there is nothing to appeal to when they are legislated out of existence.” Rights, says Keller, “cannot be created – they must be discovered, or they are of no value.”
Arthur Leff once said, “…Either God exists or He does not, but if He does not, nothing and no one else can take His place…” Keller says, “If there is no God, then there is no way to say any one action is “moral” and another “immoral” but only “I like this.”” We all know human rights exist which begs the question of God, and his divine fingerprint. As Keller sees it the knowledge of God in you is the ground of morality, and you’re left with two options either to simply refuse to think about the implications of this argument or to recognize that you do know He is there.
The Problem of Sin 10
Could even sin be a clue that God exists? Keller says yes indeed. “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world.” If sin is a clue that God exists why do so many people use it against God? Keller says they simply don’t understand what the Christian view of sin is.
First sin is a reason for hope, not just despair. As we see how truly broken our world and ourselves are we can begin to appreciate just what kind of salvation a personal Creator would have to enact. SO JUST WHAT IS SIN? “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….[sin] is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things.” Everyone no matter if they’re Joe Blow or Madonna has to find some way to “justify their existence.” And when you and I turn to anything other than God we Sin.
What are the personal consequences of Sin? One consequence is the loss of your true identity, and with that any sense of personal stability and peace. Ultimately “A life not centered on God leads to emptiness. Building our lives on something besides God not only hurts us if we don’t get the desires of our hearts, but also if we do.” Sin’s consequences don’t stop there, the consequences of sin are not just personal, but social and cosmic. The real culture war is fought in the hearts of humanity that are ravaged by sin. These social dislocations are also part of the cosmic dislocation and corruption brought on by sin. Keller says;
Human beings are so integral to the fabric of things that when human beings turned from God the entire warp and woof of the world unraveled…We have lost God’s shalom-physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally.
Sin is pretty bleak, right…sigh. What can put it all right? Remember, “Sin is not simply doing bad things, it is putting good things in the place of God. So the only solution is not simply to change our behavior, but to reorient and center the entire heart and life on God.” Here’s the deal for Keller, we all are living for saviors and lords whom we hope will reverse the sin problem, though we may even define that problem differently; and all these savior/lords are oppressive save one. “Jesus is the one Lord you can live for who died for you – who breathed his last breath for you. Does that sound oppressive?” At the risk of sounding like a silly commercial – Jesus satisfies – in every sense of the word!
Religion and the Gospel 11
Maybe you’re a reader who can relate to much of Keller’s arguments about a personal Creator but you’re not satisfied that Jesus is the only savior that matters. After all isn’t Christianity just another religion to choose from at the spirituality drive-thru window? “All other major faiths have founders who are teachers that show the way to salvation. Only Jesus claimed to actually be the way of salvation himself.” Christianity isn’t based on an soteric theorem, its based on a person. Religion and irreligion, says Keller, are two separate forms of self-centeredness.
Keller uses an illustration from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to bear this out. irreligion often vaunts itself up by breaking all the rules and being bad, but religion often vaunts itself up by keeping all the rules and being very good AND self-righteous. One parades the evil within one’s self outside to others, and the other for reasons of pride and self-righteousness does just the opposite.
Most people are familiar with the Jim Baker’s of the Church, but they have no real appreciate for the Joe Pharisee’s that surround them – both confuse people about the real nature of Christianity. “There is then a great gulf between understanding that God accepts us because of our efforts and the understanding that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done.” The Gospel is neither religion or irreligion. Just what is it according to Keller?
The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me…
This gospel identity gives us a new basis for harmonious and just social arrangements. A Christian’s worth and value are not created by excluding anyone, but through the Lord who was excluded for me.
This may sound quiet quaint, but Keller assures us that radical grace is actually quiet threatening. How so you ask? When we get the nature of God’s grace we finally understand that we are even MORE subject to God’s sovereignty than we did before.
The (True) Story of the Cross 12
The cross of Jesus has been treated as a form of Divine child abuse by some both inside and outside the church. Still it is the central symbol of Christianity even to this day, and Keller says it needs to remain so, its presence is a clue for God. Why should we keep it in place?
First, real forgiveness is costly suffering. When we have the opportunity to forgive we’re faced with three options; make them pay for what they’ve done and don’t forgive them; forgive part of what they’ve done and absorb part of the lost ourselves while also making them repay some of it; or absorb all the cost which is what God did in Jesus.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Keller’s key example, shows us just how practically important the cross is in the way he was able to forgive even to the point of death for the sake of another. “Forgiveness means absorbing the debt of the sin yourself. Everyone who forgives great evil goes through a death into resurrection, and experiences nails, blood, sweat, and tears.”
The second reason we cannot abandon the cross is that real love is a personal exchange which the cross so supremely depicts. “In the real world of relationships it is impossible to love people with a problem or a need without in some sense sharing or even changing places with them.” Life-changing love involves substitutional sacrifices, period.
In Jesus suffering on the cross the great reversal has occurred. “To understand why Jesus had to die it is important to remember both the result of the Cross (costly forgiveness of sins) and the pattern of the Cross (reversal of the world’s values). On the cross neither justice nor mercy loses out – both are fulfilled at once.” The cross is unlike any other human story of going the distance for others. The cross reminds us that Jesus didn’t just do it for inspirational reasons, he did it for life-changing reasons – for us. Jesus died for a real exchange of our sin for his righteousness and by that neither justice or mercy loses out!
The Reality of the Resurrection 13
“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? This issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” As clues or fingerprints for God go the resurrection, says Keller and Wright for that matter, is a big one! Here’s the thing most skeptics, like most Christians, take the ‘fact’ of the resurrection pretty lightly and either believe it or deny it out of hand. That is not enough if its as important as Keller says in the quote above. The burden of proof lies on everyone’s shoulders.
Most skeptics believe that the resurrection accounts were created out of necessity for the early followers and not out of a real physical resurrection. Skeptics say that the resurrection accounts in the Gospels are late and unbelievable due to that, the problem of course is that they are not late, and they are not the only genre’s of literature in the NT to mention Christ’s resurrection, Paul’s Corinthian epistles do as well and they are among the most well received pieces of NT literature in the liberal or conservative world. According to Keller relying on NT Wright’s magnum opus work “Resurrection and the Son of God”, “Whatever else happened, the tomb of Jesus must have really been empty and hundreds of witnesses must have claimed that they saw him bodily raise.”
Some would say here that it was easier for ancient people to believe in bodily resurrection than modern people so that’s why the claim wasn’t challenged in the first few centuries after Christ, but the problem with this argument is that an ‘individual’ person resurrected was not believable for the Jews and bodily resurrection by the Greeks was passe because they valued the spiritual over the material. Nor does it explain why the apostles would die for a lie. Here’s the real piece of clue that for Keller is most gripping about what occurred after the claims of Jesus’ resurrection, a massive shift in world view thinking among the early followers shortly after Jesus’ death. Listen in as Keller summarizes Wright;
As N.T. Wright points out, every one of these beliefs was unique in the world up to that time, but in every other instance that we know of, such a massive shift in thinking at the worldview level only happens to a group of people over a period of time. It ordinarily takes years of discussion and argument in which various thinkers and writers debate the “nature of the resurrection” until one side wins. That is how culture and worldviews change.
You may be saying that these lines of reasoning just don’t do it for me as a reader, Keller is quick to note that nothing in history can be proven the way something in a science lab can. Refreshing honesty by an apologist of any historical moment. Here’s the thing the only way anyone back then or today can ‘get’ the full weight of these clues is by “letting the evidence challenge and change their worldviews, their view of what was possible.” Here’s one last thought why you should consider the resurrection of Christ, “If the resurrection of Jesus happened, however, that means there’s infinite hope and reason to pour ourselves out for the needs of the world.” As NT Wright once said in a sermon, “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.”
The Dance of God 14
The last clue for God Keller provides comes from the drama of scripture itself, “The Bible has often been summed up as a drama in four acts-creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.” Within this story or drama stands the Triune God who’s own love affair with himself provides the reason for all of us to dance. Keller says that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are pulsating in joy and love around one another and have been doing so for all eternity. Here, in this chapter, all that Keller has been laboring to share with his readers comes to a head.
Ultimate reality is a community of persons who know and love one another. That is what the universe, God, history, and life is all about. If you favor money, power, and accomplishment over human relationships, you will dash yourself on the rocks of reality…[it is] impossible…to stay fully human if you refuse the cost of forgiveness, the substitutional exchange of love, and the confinements of community….We believe the world was made by a God who is a community of persons who have loved each other for all eternity. You were made for mutually self-giving, other directed love. Self-centeredness destroys the fabric of what God has made.
If you haven’t already picked up on it, Jonathan Edwards Trinitarian thoughts as well as Augustine’s, have both been very influential to Keller. Creation, says Keller relying on Edwards famous essay on why God created the world, is made by God for our mutual joy and satisfaction, that we might dance in the glory of it with God. But with the entrance of Sin that dance has been lost. As we’ve willfully chosen to leave our partners on the floor we’ve experienced that the ‘dance floor’ (ie creation) has its self been lost. Due to sin alienation is now the order of the day, but there’s hope. Jesus death and resurrection for us was his way of inviting us back to the dance with God. And as we all respond to him all that was lost in the original dance will be restored – even more!
How do we respond to the clues and the dance Keller has proposed?
When we look at the whole scope of this story line, we see clearly that Christianity is not only about getting one’s individual sins forgiven so we can go to heaven. That is an important means of God’s salvation, but not the final end or purpose of it. The purpose of Jesus’s coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world. God created both the body and soul, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both body and soul. The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world.
Our response begins in realizing that the Gospel of Jesus is as full as Keller has laid it out to be, and that the costly and expensive rescue mission of Jesus now becomes our own to follow in with. Simply put the story of the Gospel makes sense of it all!
Epilogue: Where Do We Go from Here?
So you’ve read the book and you’re willing to take the plunge as they say, where do I go from here?
First, examine your motives, Keller says realize that you probably will have mixed motives but still examine them.”Are you getting into Christianity to serve God, or to get God to serve you?” Go after him and not what you think he wants you to do.
Second, count the cost, “Christians are people who let the reality of Jesus change everything about who they are, how they see, and how they live.”
Third, take inventory regarding your reservations about the Christian faith, separate your content issues from your coherency issues from your cost issues. Be honest with yourself, and do this in a community of faith because you’ll need others to be honest with you as well.
Fourth, make the move, ie repent and believe. Keller knows this isn’t a popular term and in a world that celebrates purple, green or inbetween’s it would be nice to skip this traditional response but its nevertheless an important one to make. “Repentance is not less than being sorry for individual sins, but it means much more.” Begin to wrestle with the more aspect of it. The flip side of the coin is to believe in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and its significance for salvation. Just as in repentance, belief is “not less than believing these things with your intellect, it is much more.” Begin to wrest with the more aspect of it.
Fifth, commit to community. To be a Christian takes two things and a third – repentance & faith; but also community. “You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place.”
Keller closes his work reminding his readers that though it may feel as though they were the ones seeking God out as they examined and ‘tried on’ the clues of God in their perceptions of the world, they will latter find that it was God who was all along pursuing them…