This has been a rather long series looking at Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God. There are a number of excellent points and insights, and some room for disagreement and further discussion. Before moving on, however, wrap-up now seems in order.
In this book Keller deconstructs arguments against the Christian faith demonstrating that none of them need be deal breakers. We can track with this – the Christian faith is not inherently irrational or demonstrably false. Despite claims to the contrary, it is possible to be intelligent, educated, rational, and Christian. In fact, it is possible on the basis of reason alone to make a plausible argument for the existence of “God” – for deism, or even for theism. Part One The Leap of Doubt should be valuable to anyone struggling with these kinds of questions – or working and relating to those who do (and this likely includes all of us, clergy, parachurch workers, missionaries, and “ordinary” laypeople).
Keller also gives a good exposition of historic Christian orthodoxy – problem (sin) and solution … cross, resurrection and the Trinity. He comes from a reformed tradition, and conservative evangelical faith. As a result he, at times, overemphasizes a creation, fall, redemption, new creation reading – but his overall picture is a reasonable description of Christian orthodoxy. His discussion of cross, resurrection, and Spirit provides an excellent starting point for further discussion and interaction. The Christian worldview provides a coherent way of interacting with the world – making sense of the way things are, creating motivation to work for the common good, and providing hope for a better tomorrow. Faith in the Christian God is a soundly rational belief.
But the book doesn’t quite end there. Keller, like all good evangelical preachers, finishes with an invitation and call for discipleship in his epilogue – Where Do We Go From Here?
So what does Keller have to say?
First – Christianity is an all or nothing commitment. Jesus Christ is Lord.
A Christian is, literally, “Christ’s One,” someone who is not just vaguely influenced by Christian teaching, but who has switched his or her most fundamental allegiance to Jesus. Christians understand the all-or-nothing choice that is forced upon us by the magnitude of Jesus’s claims. (p. 228)
Keller illustrates his point with Flannery O’Connor’s “Misfit” (Ah – we can’t dismiss him too quickly when he quotes O’Connor) and a quote from Bono.
Second – Following Christ does not require reasoned certainty or even complete doctrinal clarity. The correct order isn’t reason, certainty, obedience, but explore, follow, grow. (And the correct order is certainly not hear, believe, stagnate.)
Third – Christianity is corporate. Repentance and faith are both individual and communal. We cannot properly follow Christ as isolated individuals. Keller is aware that the Church is far from perfect but this does not change the facts.
I realize how risky it is to tell my readers that they should seek out a church. I don’t do it lightly, and I urge them to do so with the utmost care. But there is no alternative. You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place. (p. 237)
Scot’s book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow (despite.the.overabundance.of.periods) is a great resource for the “where do we go from here?” question as well.
Finally – Keller finishes his presentation using O’Connor’s story “Revelation” to illustrate the trauma of grace. Keller finds the revelation in O’Connor’s story to be God’s grace. Like Mrs. Turpin we must change our worldview to realize that we are saved by the grace of God – not through our own righteousness, real or imagined. Many years ago, just before my first series of posts on Keller’s book, Scot ran a series On Reading Fiction with the help of an English Professor friend (Dan de Roulet) that looked specifically at this story by O’Connor. You can find the five posts here: One, Two, Three, Four, Five. It strikes me that the message Keller sees in the story is not the only message or the complete message one can draw from it – and is, like all of ours I expect, colored by his overall view of the gospel.
Ok. So Keller has had his say — but where do we go from here and more importantly why? The Christian God is a rational hypothesis. But inherent in the Christian story is a call to faith, repentance, and total allegiance – to God and to his kingdom. If we get real – get serious — this commitment is dangerous. The call to follow Christ is not a call to afternoon tea in the garden with birds to watch and flowers to smell. It isn’t a call to a perfect human small group fellowship, a bit of heaven on earth. Obeying the call to follow Christ does not guarantee a life of wealth, health, or happiness. In fact the call requires service and self-denial; it requires us to interact with fallen humans in a spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in Christian community and in the world; and it may in fact require us to forfeit livelihood, respect, or even life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – to take up a cross and follow.
Don’t we need more than reasonable and rational before taking such a leap of faith?
Many hypotheses are reasonable and rational – and most are not so costly.
Why do we think that the story is true – and thus worth the cost? Why should we follow?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net