Book Review: The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008. 254pp. $16.00.

0cec69c028853f708858c875b6693795_400x400In his 1952 book by the same name, C.S. Lewis attempted to defend what he coined ‘mere’ Christianity. He described Christianity as a house that included Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and various strands of Protestantism. When a person is first converted, that person is a mere Christian in the great hallway of the house. From that hallway, a mere Christian can and should choose to go into one of the various rooms (denominations). Lewis was not as concerned with getting unbelievers into his particular room as he was with getting them into the great hallway. In keeping with Lewis’ emphasis on converting unbelievers to mere Christianity, Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, seeks to meet unbelievers in their doubts and lead them into the great hallway. In Keller’s own words, “I am making a case in this book for the truth of Christianity in general—not for one particular strand of it” (121).

Summary

In The Reason for God, Keller strikes a very pastoral, almost conversational tone. He is not primarily speaking to Christians; his intended audience is made up of doubters. Like C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Cornelius Van Til’s Why I Believe in God, rather than being an apologetics textbook, The Reason for God presents as a conversation piece for Christians and unbelievers. The main body of the book is broken up into two main parts—Part 1: The Leap of Doubt, and Part 2: The Reasons for Faith.

The Leap of Doubt

In this section, Keller addresses a host of misconceptions about God and Christianity. In the first chapter, he addresses the assumption that exclusivity in religion leads to bigotry by demonstrating that Christianity, while being exclusive, is a religion comprised of members who should themselves have been excluded. Writing Chapter Two, in dealing with the problem of suffering, Keller paints pictures of God and of heaven that are so desirous that, in theory, it retroactively erases all pain experienced this side of death.

Chapter Three is a case for the glory of slavery in the service of a King who became a Slave and died for His subjects. Keller’s goal in the fourth chapter is to point out the inconsistency of committing injustice while claiming the name of Christ. In Chapter Five, he demonstrates the fact that the God of the Bible is not a God primarily comprised of an all-inclusive love, but neither is such a god found in any of the texts of the myriad religions of the word. The seventh and final chapter of Part One demonstrates the folly of trying to interpret God and the Bible through the lens of a modern approach to history and culture.

The Reasons for Faith

After a brief intermission where Keller offers a brief apologetic for his approach to the subject matter, he returns with Part Two: Reasons for Faith.  Having briefly dealt with several reasons unbelievers may have to doubt Christianity, he turns to a positive case for faith. Chapter Eight is Keller’s case for the Christian approach to empirical evidences and against evolutionary science’s unsatisfactory attempt at dismissing divine evidences. He points to internal evidences such as moral obligation, in Chapter Nine, as evidence for God’s existence.

With Chapter Ten, Keller attacks the issue of sin and shows the necessity of the cross. Chapter Eleven is devoted to the demonstration of grace’s triumph over self-righteousness. His twelfth chapter is a demonstration of the relational and social implications of the cross. In Chapter Thirteen, he lays out his apology for the resurrection. The fourteenth and final chapter is a brief treatise on the glories of heaven. Keller concludes this work with an epilogue titled: Where Do We Go from Here? In this section, he walks the unbeliever through the process of conversion and incorporation into the body of Christ.

Critical Evaluation

Christians can gain much from reading The Reason for God. One thing that is immediately noticeable is the fact that no one can write on this subject without upsetting some, if not all, parties: believers and unbelievers, liberals and conservatives, evidentialists and presuppositionalists. However, Keller strikes a tone in this book that can be described in no other way than pastoral. While a case may be made that he makes too many concessions, he does not draw lines in the sand and die on hills where it is not dictated by the subject matter. When writing with such pastoral overtones, it can be difficult to toe the line between unbiblical compromise and gross reactionism. Keller is not always successful in toeing this line, but no one could argue that he has not made a valiant effort at doing so.

Furthermore, though Keller is very accessible and pastoral in his writing, it must be noted that he is widely read on the subject matter at hand. He quite obviously reads broadly, quoting from a wide array of Christian and non-Christian authors. The subject is doubtlessly one of great importance to him, one that he does not think worthy of minimal research and much conjecture. Keller’s heart and his effort in The Reason for God is to be commended highly.

However, there are a few concerns that arise in his method of argumentation. Keller approaches the doubt of an unbeliever as something that is ethically neutral. He makes the gross error of equivocating the common with the honorable. Everyone has their doubts. Thus, it must be honorable to put your doubts on display, right? Wrong. If Christians were to understand doubt for what it is: the sinful suppression of truth, they would reject this equivocation and cease treating the doubts of Christians and non-Christians as something to be praised.

At the end of Keller’s “Introduction,” he describes two scenes where Christ dealt with doubt in others. When found in the apostle Thomas, Christ is said to exhort Thomas to believe and to give him the evidence for which he asked. This is an incomplete account of the confrontation. Christ also rebuked his sinful doubt, “do not be unbelieving” (John 20:27; NASB), and compared him in a negative light with those who do not doubt (vs. 29). In the same way, the father of the epileptic boy in Mark 9 obviously understood the sinfulness of persistent doubt when he said, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (vs. 24). The Greek word here rendered “help” is a word meaning “come to the rescue of.” The direness and sinfulness of doubt are not adequately conveyed in Keller’s approach to unbelievers. Rather, he appears content to applaud their honesty, and join them in it, as long as it moves them to the next point in the discussion.

Of further concern is Keller’s doctrinal minimalism. He admits, as does Lewis in Mere Christianity, that he does see a point where every Christian ought to assume a broad-reaching doctrinal and corporate identity. However, his primary concern in the book is to make a case for “the truth of Christianity in general” (121). As such, the question must be asked how soon a new Christian ought to find a local church. Keller addresses this issue only as a byword, and only after much admitted trepidation, in his Epilogue. He affirms that new Christians must find local congregations with which to identify, but all-the-while passively validating their residual disdain for the bride of Christ (246-247).

Conclusion

In The Reason for God, Timothy Keller sets a commendable example for approaching unbelievers. He is always very cautious to breach the tough topics with much gentleness and humility. However, his method is not representative of a proper hamartiology (doctrine of sin). Doubt is not neutral as it relates to sin; it certainly is not commendable. Christians who engage the unbelieving world do them no favors by pretending that it is, whether in word or deed. Readers would do well to imitate Keller’s tone and patience with the unbelievers with which they come into contact. They would do just as well to approach his many concessions with great discernment, careful not to die on non-essential hills, but willing to draw the line in the sand on matters that are unquestionable in God’s Word.

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Pick up The Reason for God today:ReasonForGod_040809.inddThe Reason for God paperback

by Timothy Keller

CCF Episode Twenty-One: The Gospel According to the 1689

CredoCovPodcastMaster

In this episode, Billy and JD sit down to discuss the gospel as it is summarized in The Baptist Confession.

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There is a chapter in The Baptist Confession called “Of the Gospel and the Extent of the Grace Thereof.” Quite a mouthful, ay? Anyway, I just wanted to make note of it, since we really didn’t take time to explore it in this episode. It’s there. Perhaps the reason we don’t spend a whole lot of time on discussing that one chapter is because we see it primarily as functioning as a type of summary of the confession itself, insofar as the confession is a summary of the gospel and its implications. Anyway, if you’d like more reading on this chapter, check this out from Dr. Bob Gonzales:

This chapter on “the gospel” is not found in the Westminster Confession. The Congregationalists added this chapter to the Savoy Declaration, and the Baptists incorporated it into their Confession.” Read more…

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The book we skimmed over:

BaptistConfessionLeather1689

 

The Baptist Confession & The Baptist Catechism
edited by James Renihan

We’d love your participation. Contact us with your comments and questions about the confession’s contents:

CCF Episode Fourteen: Adam and the God of Covenants

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In this episode, JD and Billy sit down with Pastor Jason Delgado and Jack DiMarco to discuss the first two chapters of Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ by Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen. Featuring music from Least of These and Beautiful Eulogy.

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The book we’re currently reading…coxeowen2

Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ by Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen

We’d love your participation. Contact us with your comments and questions about the books contents:

CCF Episode Thirteen: How We Came to Covenant Theology

CredoCovPodcastMaster

In this episode, JD and Billy sit down with Pastor Jason Delgado, Mike King, and Jack DiMarco to discuss how they came to affirm Covenant Theology. Featuring music from Michael Padgett and Indelible Grace.

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The book we’re currently reading…coxeowen2

Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ by Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen

We’d love your participation. Contact us with your comments and questions about the books contents:

CCF Episode Five: The Biblical Case for Creeds and Confessions

In this episode, Billy and JD sit down with Pastor Jason Delgado (Sovereign Joy Community Church), and Michael King to discuss the biblical case for creeds and confessions in The Creedal Imperative by Carl Trueman. Featured songs by The Followers and Beautiful Eulogy.

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https://archive.org/download/CCFEpisodeFive/CCF%20Episode%20Five.mp3

Subscribe to future podcast: RSS | iTunes [official page pending]

The book we’re going through:

Creedal Imperative

The Creedal Imperative Paperback
by Carl R. Trueman

We’d love your participation. Contact us with your comments, questions, and observations about the book’s contents:

LBCF of 1677/1689 – Chapter Twenty, Of the Gospel, and of the Extent of the Grace Thereof

1. The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners.
( Genesis 3:15; Revelation 13:8 )

2. This promise of Christ, and salvation by him, is revealed only by the Word of God; neither do the works of creation or providence, with the light of nature, make discovery of Christ, or of grace by him, so much as in a general or obscure way; much less that men destitute of the revelation of Him by the promise or gospel, should be enabled thereby to attain saving faith or repentance.
( Romans 1:17; Romans 10:14,15,17; Proverbs 29:18; Isaiah 25:7; Isaiah 60:2, 3 )

3. The revelation of the gospel unto sinners, made in divers times and by sundry parts, with the addition of promises and precepts for the obedience required therein, as to the nations and persons to whom it is granted, is merely of the sovereign will and good pleasure of God; not being annexed by virtue of any promise to the due improvement of men’s natural abilities, by virtue of common light received without it, which none ever did make, or can do so; and therefore in all ages, the preaching of the gospel has been granted unto persons and nations, as to the extent or straitening of it, in great variety, according to the counsel of the will of God.
( Psalms 147:20; Acts 16:7; Romans 1:18-32 )

4. Although the gospel be the only outward means of revealing Christ and saving grace, and is, as such, abundantly sufficient thereunto; yet that men who are dead in trespasses may be born again, quickened or regenerated, there is moreover necessary an effectual insuperable work of the Holy Spirit upon the whole soul, for the producing in them a new spiritual life; without which no other means will effect their conversion unto God.
( Psalms 110:3; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 1:19, 20; John 6:44; 2 Corinthians 4:4, 6 )

LBCF of 1677/1689 – Chapter Nineteen, Of the Law of God

1. God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart, and a particular precept of not eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
( Genesis 1:27; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10, 12 )

2. The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man.
( Romans 2:14, 15; Deuteronomy 10:4 )

3. Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties, all which ceremonial laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are, by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only law-giver, who was furnished with power from the Father for that end abrogated and taken away.
( Hebrews 10:1; Colossians 2:17; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Colossians 2:14, 16, 17; Ephesians 2:14, 16 )

4. To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use.
( 1 Corinthians 9:8-10 )

5. The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.
( Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8, 10-12; James 2:10, 11; Matthew 5:17-19; Romans 3:31 )

6. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience; it is likewise of use to the regenerate to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to shew what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse and unallayed rigour thereof. The promises of it likewise shew them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works; so as man’s doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law and not under grace.
( Romans 6:14; Galatians 2:16; Romans 8:1; Romans 10:4; Romans 3:20; Romans 7:7, etc; Romans 6:12-14; 1 Peter 3:8-13 )

7. Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it, the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.
( Galatians 3:21; Ezekiel 36:27 )

The Baptist Catechism – Questions 17-23, Sin and the Fall

Q.17: What is sin?

A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

( 1John 3:4 )

 

Q.18: What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?

A. The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit.

( Genesis 3:6,12 )

 

Q.19: Did all mankind fall in Adam’s transgression?

A. The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him in ordinary generation sinned in him, and fell with him in his first transgression.

( Genesis 2:16-17; Romans 5:12; 1Corinthians 15:21-22 )

 

Q.20: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?

A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

( Romans 5:12 )

 

Q.21: Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?

A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.

( Romans 5:12-21; Ephesians 2:1-3; James 1:14-15; Matthew 15:19 )

 

Q.22: What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?

A. All mankind by their fall lost communication with God, are under His wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever.

( Genesis 3:8,10,24; Ephesians 2:2-3; Galatians 3:10; Lamentations 3:39; Romans 6:23; Matthew 25:41,46 )

 

Q.23: Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

A. God having out of His mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.

( Ephesians 1:4-5; Romans 3:20-22; Galatians 3:21-22 )

The Baptist Catechism – Questions 14-16, Divine Providence and Our First Parents

Q.14: What are God’s works of providence?

A. God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures, and all their actions.

( Psalm 145:17; 104:24; Isaiah 28:29; Hebrews 1:3; Psalm 103:19; Matthew 10:29-31 )

 

Q.15: What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?

A. When God had created man, He entered into a covenant of life with him upon condition of perfect obedience: forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death.

( Galatians 3:12; Genesis 2:17 )

 

Q.16: Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?

A. Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.

( Genesis 3:6-8, 13; Ecclesiastes 7:29 )

LBCF of 1677/1689 – Chapter Seven, Of God’s Covenant

1. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.
( Luke 17:10; Job 35:7,8 )

2. Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
( Genesis 2:17; Galatians 3:10; Romans 3:20, 21; Romans 8:3; Mark 16:15, 16; John 3:16; Ezekiel 36:26, 27; John 6:44, 45; Psalms 110:3 )

3. This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.
( Genesis 3:15; Hebrews 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 11;6, 13; Romans 4:1, 2, &c.; Acts 4:12; John 8:56 )