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, etc.)served and worshiped. Tim, Jack, Ron, 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.
So without further adue here’s the first of many blog-reviews on “The Reason For God”.
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 multiethnic 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.
Chapter 1: 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.” Ok maybe you’re let down by the first ‘Leap of Doubt’ Keller engages, perhaps you thought New Yorkers would have moved onto some higher cultural arguement 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 condem 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?